Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Greek parliament imposes debt diktat

As Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos knows only too well, the measures being imposed on all but the super rich in Greece are raising the spectre of massive social division.

Venizelos, popularly known as the “Bull of Athens,” due to his thickset features and heavy shoulders, perhaps ironically bears the name of noted revolutionary and Greek founding father Eleftherios Venizelos.

It was today's Venizelos, a former opponent of Papandreou, who did the dirty work for the former Prime Minister by persuading the left in Pasok to agree to accept the EU-IMF imposed austerity measures.

He has made repeated appeals for national unity, imploring members of parliament not to resist the massive cuts that will wreck Greek society. He warned: "We are running the risk of burning ourselves. We must steer the ship to the safe harbour of debt restructuring. It requires national unity and for us to send a message of credibility.”

In response, the Greek parliament agreed massive minimum wage and pensions cuts in a bid to secure the bail-out deal intended to stave off the first bankruptcy of a eurozone state.

They have imposed a 22-percent cut on the standard minimum monthly wage of €751. For those under the age of 25, the cut will be even more brutal, a 32-percent reduction.

In addition, in another form of collective punishment for workers still holding on to jobs, they imposed wage freezes on some staff groups until the unemployment rate, currently 21 percent, falls below 10 percent.

Monthly pension payments above €1,300 euros will be reduced by 12 percent. Supplementary’ pensions, which are paid for out of workers' own contributions, will be slashed by up to 30 percent.

The trigger for the default, as Moritz Kraemer, S&P’s Head of Sovereign Ratings for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, explained it, was the Greek government’s ‘retroactive insertion of collective action clauses’ against private holders of Greek debt.

The crux of the matter is this: the bail-out deal depends on a sufficient proportion of bondholders agreeing to accept losses of 53.5 per cent on the nominal value of their Greek holdings, with actual losses put at around 74 per cent, but, according to S&P’s classic capitalist ‘methodology’, the Greek decision to replace agreement to losses with enforcement against investors was enough to send its assessment off the credit rating scale and into default.

In times of crisis it requires the remnants of democratic forms of government to impose a brutal collective punishment on those who depend on wages and pensions for their livelihoods, shrinking the economy bloated with decades of credit and debt, whilst protecting the “rights” of investors to compete for the last remaining profits to be squeezed out of those still in work.

Central banks are pouring hundreds of billions more into the monetary clouds buying themselves time to ‘restructure’ economies in trouble. Portugal and Spain are next in the firing line.

No amount of austerity will solve the crisis in Greece. Placing the burden on the 99% in society, as the supine parliamentarians have done, only makes things worse. Even the one-day general strikes undertaken by the Greek trade unions, and fighting outside Parliament have not brought about a change of direction from the political parties. Support for Pasok, which is the governing party, has fallen to only about 20 percent according to current polls.

But Venizelos is right about his country’s “historical and existential crisis”. Greece has indeed lost its right to self-determination, which it fought for so hard centuries ago. But there is an alternative for all those who want to free themselves from diktats from Brussels, the IMF and the ratings agencies. That is to form networks of democratically controlled assemblies and to reshape its economy on a not-for-profit basis, alongside other countries inside and outside the European Union.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The end of the beginning

These are the words of George Barda, a member of Occupy London, who along with dozens of others, was thrown out of the encampment outside St Paul’s in the early hours of this morning.

Riot police and bailiffs, carrying out a court order secured by the City of London Corporation, wrecked the neat cluster of tents at the foot of the Cathedral into debris and rubble. The occupiers who had made the camp their home struggled to retrieve their meagre possessions. Some were made instantly homeless. Others were kneeling in prayer on the imposing steps going up to the Cathedral entrance. No matter - police still dragged them away. Some 20 arrests took place.

Rev Giles Fraser, whose early intervention as Canon Chancellor at St Paul’s had split the church elders, was prevented by police from reaching the protesters. Meanwhile a mile or so away, the occupied School of Ideas was also evicted despite their case still going through the courts.

By occupying a space bang in the very heart of the City of London, Occupy London constituted a challenge to the status quo that could not be ignored. The Church of England hierarchy, the City of London and the Metropolitan Police have been itching to evict them from the word go.

Physically, the occupiers endured a harsh winter, constant noise and frequent harassment. Through Tent University and hundreds of sister sites around the country, Occupy London, inspired by movements in Egypt and the United States, pioneered the freeing of spaces for political debate where none had existed before.

The issues they sought to address are more burning than ever. They sought to highlight the need to address the social, economic and political injustices of the system in a democratic way. How this is to be done is being hotly debated. There are no easy answers, but one thing is clear: the “solutions” put forward by the existing political parties serve only the interests of the 1%.

The general assembly at 7pm tonight on the steps of St Paul’s will be discussing the next steps for Occupy London, including plans for a long walk around the metropolis in May.

A World to Win salutes all those who took part in Occupy London. Doing what you have done is a bold and courageous move in the right direction. It is indeed right to reflect on what has been achieved and develop ways to extend and expand the original aims of the movement. Finding economic and political alternatives to the rule of the 1% is the way to go.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, February 27, 2012

Corporate version of the CIA exposed

Are the Yes Men – a group of anti-corporate activists who stage amazing stunts – just an insignificant bunch of pranksters? Those who control one of the world’s biggest spy companies and their corporate paymasters don’t think so.

The Global Intelligence Files, five million emails obtained by the Anonymous hacker group and released by WikiLeaks this morning, reveal that Dow chemical corporation paid an intelligence firm, Stratfor, to spy on the Yes Men.

Dow Chemical is the owner of Union Carbide, the company responsible for the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal, India in which thousands died and more than half a million suffered terrible injuries. (Dow is also a sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics).

But snooping on the Yes Men is only the tip of Stratfor’s vast iceberg of espionage. Its tentacles around the world show that the CIA has a serious rival in the private sector. The company runs networks in governments and media companies especially those close to the Israeli government and Mossad. The latter are referred to within the company as the “Confed Fuck House”.

Stratfor, which is based in Texas, counts the US government plus other countries, and arms manufacturers, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Ratheon amongst its paymasters. It trains US marines and “other government intelligence agencies” in becoming “government Stratfors”.

WikiLeaks’ Global Intelligence Files are an email trail, tracking networks of informants who are paid through Swiss bank accounts and pre-paid credit cards. They include “government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world”. WikiLeaks has found Stratfor’s list of informants and evidence of secret deals with media organisations, including Reuters, plus records of many payoffs.

Knowing there is good money to be made by exploiting corporate fears about whistleblowers and leaked information, Stratfor has been anxious to exploit what it called the “leak focused” gravy train. “This is an obvious fear sale, so that’s a good thing,” writes one operative. But in the case of General Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s notorious ISI intelligence service, Stratfor generously provided complimentary membership.

Its noxious methods are clear: “You have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control,” CEO George Friedman wrote on 6 December 2011 on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant on the medical condition of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

They also reveal close cooperation with Goldman Sachs, whose managing director Shea Morenz joined Stratfor’s board of directors in 2011. He worked closely with Friedman to set up an offshore share structure which could use intelligence to “trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like”.

The emails, which are presently being analysed by media organisations and members of the public, point to the fears haunting those at the top of corporate and state trees. They include contain classified information about US government and Stratfor’s attacks on WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

Assange remains under house arrest, where he has been since December 2010, fighting extradition to Sweden over alleged sex crimes. A decision from the UK Supreme Court on his extradition to Sweden is expected in March. Meanwhile, prosecutors in the US are still trying to pin him down under the 1917 Espionage Act.

Thanks to the socialised nature of today’s technologies and courageous whistleblowers, like Bradley Manning, it has become impossible to keep secret the vast web of connections between the corporations, intelligence agencies and political rulers. This latest cache should give confidence to all those seeking to end their rule.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, February 24, 2012

Exposed: welfare-to-work industry gravy train

The workfare scandal of forcing the unemployed to work for businesses for free or lose benefits has lifted the lid on outrageous profiteering at the expense of the jobless and taxpayers in general.

And we’re not just talking Tesco, Argos, Poundland and the other companies who may have got cold feet when the anti-workfare campaign took off and threatened to lead to consumer boycotts.

There’s an entire welfare-to-work industry out there that, beginning with New Labour and continuing with the ConDems, has been making a fortune out of lucrative government contracts.

Leading the pack is A4e, founded by Emma Harrison who yesterday quit as the government’s “families champion” following a string of fraud allegations against her company which police are investigating.

Her firm got on the Whitehall gravy train in 1997 when the Blair government launched its “New Deal” programme aimed at getting “socially excluded” or “problem” groups into work.

A4e and Harrison never looked back. Last year, the firm had an income of £180 million from government contracts, MPs on the public accounts committee were shocked to hear. Harrison herself boasts that she lives in “utter luxury” in a 20-bedroom mansion in the Peak District. She can afford it, paying herself a dividend of £8.6 million last year.

In the 2010 New Year’s honours list, drawn up under the Brown government, she was awarded a CBE for “services to the unemployed”. Seriously. The Daily Mail reported that some A4e “placements” have only lasted one day. The company can make up to £13,000 per unemployed person if all goes to plan, whatever that may be.

As is well documented, the assault on the unemployed and people with disabilities began under New Labour with the aim of “making work pay”, starting with the so-called New Deal projects and then Pathfinder schemes. The punitive approach was later followed by compulsory reassessments for those claiming disability allowance. Trial workfare projects were also launched. The ConDems have built on all these – with a vengeance.

In early 2008, James Purnell, then work and pensions secretary, announced a four-fold increase in the market for private companies and voluntary organisations to get the long-term unemployed off benefits. He said: “The private and voluntary sectors already play a role in delivering our work programmes. I want to take this to the next level, free them from central control and allow them to innovate. Their involvement is here to stay and set to grow. For the providers the rewards will be high, with longer contracts and a growing market.”

How right he was. Indus Delta is an online welfare-to-work industry website, detailing all the lucrative projects coming up and listing the major providers. There are no fewer than 67 companies involved. Apart from A4e, there are well known names like Balfour Beatty, the security company G4S and Manpower. Global firms like the US-based Maximus and Australian Sarina Russo are there too.

The largest provider of the ConDem’s infamous Work Programme is Ingeus, which is 50% owned by the global accountancy firm Deloitte. Ingeus-Deloitte last year won an £103 million Work Programme five-year contract just for West London. A licence to print money, is it not?

By the time New Labour left office, contracting out of services and supplies formerly undertaken by the state had reached mammoth proportions. Total government contracts were estimated to be worth £80 billion a year, far more than in any other capitalist economy. You name it, it was outsourced or made into PFI public-private contracts, where the state picked up the bill when things went wrong. For example, 60 hospitals are in financial crisis as a result of PFI deals and the government is bailing them out.

A4e is just a small part of the market state that has all but replaced the welfare state. This undemocratic, authoritarian state directly serves the banks and big business, punishes the poor and is driving down living conditions like never before. Abolishing workfare and ending the demonisation of the disabled requires a totally new democratic constitutional settlement that ends the rule of the rich, the powerful and their hangers-on.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 23, 2012

'Booted by the suited' for opposing Glasgow centre closure

Grace Harrington was sitting quietly in the public gallery of Glasgow City Chambers listening to Labour councillors agreeing a further £43m of budget cuts. Out of the blue, she was grabbed by staff and "huckled", as the expression goes, out of the building.

When she asked why she was being subjected to this treatment, she was informed she was “not a model citizen” and further that she was banned from the City Chambers for life.

Grace is the mother of a man with learning disabilities; for many years her son has met daily with friends at the Accord Day Centre in Glasgow's East End. The centre is being demolished to make way for a bus park for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

At first parents and members of the service were told they would get a 'like-for-like' replacement, maybe a custom-built building within the new Tolcross Aquatic Centre. They were encouraged to put down their ideas for what the new centre would be like. Everyone was excited about the future.

But this proved a cruel joke. Last year they were informed there would be no replacement; the best they could hope for would be a room in local community centre, and so their struggle began.

It has been long and bitter, with the council behaving like arrogant bullies throughout. First they said there was no money; then they denied they had made any commitment. In a final insult they claimed it is all for the good of the members: day services are old-fashioned and the Accord Centre would have been on a closure list anyway.

According to current social work “newthink”, everyone must be “independent” and have a “personal budget” that they spend on everyday activities like “normal” people. The fact that the budgets don't cover the real cost of what people want or the support they need is irrelevant.

The fact that what the members of the Accord want is the centre they were promised, is ignored. Choice only counts if you choose the “option” they tell you to.

The replacement is an inconveniently shaped room in a community centre that is facing closure. The Banbury Community Centre, built in a tough old area, is not seen as safe by local people. It seems likely the council only invested in space for the evicted Accord Centre members to encourage the Glasgow Housing Association (formerly the council's housing department) to keep it open.

The members of Save the Accord Campaign have fought tenaciously, and with their excellent slogan "Booted by the Suited", have marched and spoken at meetings and challenged every lie and distortion.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond told them that he would step in to help, but nothing came of his promise except a few headlines for him.

The Accord Centre has been demolished around the members, stripped of all its equipment and the fence between it and the road torn down. Some parents have been told that it will close finally tomorrow; no letter has been sent out but it seems council officials are phoning parents individually.

Whilst no money could be found to replace the Accord, Glasgow City Council has spent millions on dodgy land deals in the East End.

The impact of big sporting events on communities is never the wonderful regeneration that politicians claim. It just makes money for developers, and increases land values, shutting out any future social or community benefit.

The experience of the Accord Centre is a powerful argument to put an end to communities being “booted by the suited” for good, by transferring land ownership, planning and decision-making to democratic People's Assemblies.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Down with the 21st century Troika!

Whoever coined the term ‘Troika’ for the combined staff of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission has a grim sense of recent history.

During the 1930s, Troikas – commissions of three appointees - were instruments of Stalinist repression operating at every level of administration. They were introduced to circumvent the legal system with a means for quick execution or imprisonment following a conviction without trial.

Troikas were responsible for sentences of death or exile for more than 600,000 Soviet citizens. They had other punishments available too. They and other parts of the Stalinist machine were used to consign upwards of 20 million people to forced labour camps.

And forced labour camps using and consuming 15 million workers from close to 20 European countries were also the basis of the economy in Nazi Germany before and during World War Two.

What have all these terrible episodes of 20th century European history got to do with today, you may ask? Surely the EU-ECB-IMF version of the Troika has nothing like labour camps in mind?

Well, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on that one. But the logic and the consequences of the actions they are pursuing in Greece (soon to be visited on other countries) – unless they are halted – are just as terrifying.

Greek workers are to be reduced to pauperism to deliver the terms of the €130 billion bail-out agreed in principle this week. For the Greek economy to approach anything like competitiveness, its workers would have to be driven to work for lower levels of pay than anywhere else. That is equally certain to stoke up the revolt.

Germany’s stronger economy, is already dependent on ultra-low rates of pay. Its low wage sector grew three times as fast as other employment in the five years to 2010. Pay in Germany, which has no nationwide minimum wage, can go well below one euro an hour, especially in the former East German region. Greek workers will have to labour for less.

Having done its work in Greece, the Troika must now turn its attention back to the rest of Europe where conditions are deteriorating fast. But their efforts won’t be enough to keep a lid on the volatility and growing social resistance around Europe.

Back in December, Pedro Nuno Santos, vice-president of the Socialist Party in Portugal’s parliament, transmitted something of the feeling of the protests in the streets against the new right-wing government’s plans to raise the working week to 42 hours. and cut wages by 16% for the higher paid, and 8% for lower paid public workers.

"We have an atomic bomb that we can use in the face of the Germans and the French: this atomic bomb is simply that we won't pay," he said. "Debt is our only weapon and we must use it to impose better conditions, because recession itself is what is stopping us complying with the (Troika) accord. We should make the legs of the German bankers tremble," he said.

Santos’ call for southern European states to join forces to resist the austerity dictates of the stronger northern economies was quickly replaced by the 17 eurozone countries agreement on a stricter fiscal discipline which will loom large in the Troika’s armoury over the coming period.

The scale of today’s global crisis, prepared by decades of ballooning fantasy finance, overshadows the 1930s. We cannot begin to imagine the consequences of allowing capital to continue to its reign. Strikes and street protests have to become part of a wider revolutionary struggle for power over capital and crony political state systems. We cannot defeat the modern Troika without that perspective. And to succeed, we need a global network of organisations that are committed to seeing this struggle through to the end.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Greeks sold into debt slavery

“It's no exaggeration to say that today is a historic day for the Greek economy,” said Lucas Papademos, banker and unelected prime minister of Greece. Yes indeed. February 21 was the day he signed his country’s people into debt slavery for the foreseeable future.

He also abandoned his country’s right to self-determination, turning Greece into a department of the Brussels bureaucracy, which will now have a permanent team of officials in Athens to enforce cuts and make pay-outs.

The terms of the second bail-out of Greece’s sovereign debt are so harsh that even officials inside the European Union secretly acknowledge they can’t be met. Even if every Greek worked round the clock for nothing, the country’s debt mountain cannot be made manageable.

A confidential 10-page “debt sustainability analysis” by EU officials says the spending cuts demanded will deepen a five-year old recession, making it extremely difficult – in actual fact, impossible – for Greece to gain from the €170bn bail-out.

“The Greek authorities may not be able to deliver structural reforms and policy adjustments at the pace envisioned in the baseline,” the report cautioned. Here the resistance by Greek workers, which has already produced several general strikes and violent confrontations with the state, is a key factor. The report’s key passage (with translation) says:

“Greater wage flexibility [eurospeak for wage cuts] may in practice be resisted by economic agents [trade unions]; product and service market liberalisation may continue to be plagued by strong opposition from vested interests [workers] ; and business environment reforms [free market competition] may also remain bogged down in bureaucratic delays.”

So the bail-out might have to rise to €245 billion, the report admits, because one thing is certain – Greece won’t be able to borrow on the financial markets this side of the Messiah making an unexpected return. Under the bail-out terms, banks and private investors are being asked to accept a write-down of 53% in what they loaned to Greece (while the European Central Bank keeps 100%). Bankers may yet revolt against these terms and derail the bail-out agreed after 14 hours of negotiations.

There is absolutely nothing in the bail-out but new loans to service existing and upcoming debt. This is a desperate deal to keep the ailing euro afloat at the expense of the entire population of a member state. Already unemployment for the under-25s in Greece is nearly 50%, having risen by more than a third since November 2010. The national suicide rate has doubled from 2.8 per 100,000 people in 2008, to about 6 last year. Hundreds of people are sleeping rough on the streets. Half of the country’s small businesses cannot pay wages and Greeks have withdrawn about a third of the money on deposit at the banks, fearing financial meltdown.

The Greek state is now in turmoil, not trusted by large sections of the population. "The political system is incapable of handling the situation. The people who created the problem are now going to solve the problem: that's the paradox," said broadcaster Stelios Kouloglou.

Between them the two ruling parties, Pasok and New Democracy, now only command a third of the votes in the latest opinion polls. No one knows what the general election scheduled for April will produce. That could derail the bail-out because smaller parties have not signed up to the deal unlike Pasok and New Democracy were made to. A military junta ruled Greece from 1967 until 1974 and with the country beginning to resemble a failed state, a new intervention by the colonels is not to be dismissed.

What the bail-out shows yet again is that the global debt crisis is insoluble within the present profit-driven economic framework. Reduced living standards produce lower tax revenue, more unemployment, higher welfare benefits and more bad loans for banks to deal with. This is not a Greek but a global problem, with countries like the US and Britain amongst the most indebted. The prospect for “economic justice” under these conditions is less than zero. For that to happen we will have to make capitalism history.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wrecker of the Year more like it

As a Traveller, I am sickened by the nomination of Tory council leader Tony Ball for the "Leader of the Year" award organised by the Local Government Information Unit and investment advisors CCLA.

Ball, the leader of Basildon council, is being cheered on for masterminding the brutal mass evictions from the Dale Farm Travellers’ site in Essex last October at the cost of some £7m taxpayers’ money.

I was an eye-witness to the military-style assault. Police infantry attacked the back fence while their brass hats spoke to Traveller reps at the front gate. Wielding iron bars and Tasers, they broke through the fence, and smashed their way through men, women and children to link up with officers who attacked from the front. Then they brought in reinforcements to allow bailiffs to enter the site for the first time.

Bailiffs soon set to removing those people who had locked on to cars, trucks and concrete blocks to try delay the now inevitable. They did this with a screen raised around the people to hide their rough handling of protesters. The residents and their supporters, in an attempt to avoid more violence, left the site within 24 hours, marching arm in arm as a police helicopter hovered, all under the eyes of world’s press.

Within days, the fences separating the pitches were gone despite the court order that they were to remain. Chalets and caravans were demolished by diggers and bulldozers and deep craters hollowed out in the pitches people still had a legal right to access, while those that those deemed illegal were barely touched!

Water and sewer pipes were deliberately smashed. People who had the right to be still on site were intimidated off while the police stood idly by and only acted if a bailiff was resisted in their bullying! The world media watched as Essex police tarnished the name of Britain while acting as agents of the council!

Just what was it all for and about?

Well, in a nutshell, people bought an old scrap yard which was next to a Traveller site. They were led to believe by council officials, who have since denied it, that any planning application would be received favourably. But it was not.

So, after striving for a decade to remain in their homes, they were finally told to leave by the High Court. That was only after a huge effort to try convince the law that Dale Farm residents needed a home. Children were born, people passed away and life went on there until that day in October.

This was and remains a complex matter: Does a scrap yard on land suddenly became important Green Belt land when Travellers move onto it! Wrecker of the year Ball has never answered this issue, although it has emerged that council was drawing up a list of Green Belt land that could be developed in the Basildon area before, during and after the eviction of Dale Farm!

And indeed, soon after the eviction, the council okayed an application to build a dogs’ home with two houses on Green Belt land a mile or so away from Dale Farm! Prime Green Belt land is okay for a dogs’ home, but disputed Green Belt land which once housed a scrap yard is not suitable for Travellers!

The issue of Dale Farm has proved divisive. But the question people might ask themselves is: Do planning laws supersede basic human rights? Think about that when Ball is sitting amongst local government bigwigs next week, hoping he will be crowned “Leader of the Year”.

Phien O'Reachtigan
Traveller Solidarity Network member and national spokesperson of the Irish Traveller group Pavee Advise Assist Direct (PAAD)

Travellers are calling on supporters to join them to protest against Ball’s nomination at 7pm, Monday, February 27 outside Westminster City Hall. More details.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Demand the release of Khader Adnan!

“I am defending my dignity and my people’s dignity and not doing this in vain.” The words of 34-year-old Palestinian detainee Khader Adnan, who is close to death, tied to his bed in an Israeli hospital after more than 60 days on hunger strike.

Despite his physical weakness, Adnan is surrounded by prison warders, handcuffed and with a foot strapped to the bed. This brutal, inhuman treatment is meted out to Adnan by the Israeli state because he dares to challenge the arbitrary policy of administrative detention.

Over the years, thousands of Palestinians have been seized from their homes in the occupied territories and held without charge on the grounds that they could commit an offence in the future! Some of the regulations are inherited from the period of British mandate rule of Palestine.

In his letter, delivered by Jalal Abu Wasil, a lawyer from the Palestinian ministry of prisoners affairs who visited him in hospital, Adnan said: “The Israeli occupation has gone to extremes against our people, especially prisoners. I have been humiliated, beaten, and harassed by interrogators for no reason, and thus I swore to God I would fight the policy of administrative detention to which I and hundreds of my fellow prisoners fell prey,”

He called on the major powers and the United Nations to compel Israel to respect the human rights of prisoners. The predictable response to Adnan’s appeal has been silence. Silence from the White House. Silence from the Foreign Office in London. A few weasel words from the European Union.

Adnan, a mathematics graduate who runs a small bakery, was seized from his family home in a village outside the West Bank of Jenin in a 3a.m raid last December. It was not the first time the Israelis had detained him. Never charged with any offence, Adnan decided enough was enough and began his hunger strike soon after.

Inside Israel itself, the information centre B'Tselem, which campaigns against administrative detention, called on the government to either charge Adnan or release him. There was a sharp rise in administrative detention last year, from 219 in January to 307 in December. Seventeen Palestinians have been held continuously for two to four and a half years, and one man for over five years. B'Tselem says:

“The manner in which Israel uses administrative detention is patently illegal. Administrative detainees are not told the reason for their detention or the specific allegations against them. Although detainees are brought before a judge to approve the detention order, most of the material submitted by the prosecution is classified and not shown to the detainee or his attorney. Since the detainees do not know the evidence against them, they are unable to refute it. The detainees also do not know when they will be released: although the maximum period of administrative detention is six months, it can be renewed indefinitely.”

Such is the Kafka-style fate that awaits militant Palestinians who want nothing more than self-determination for their people. But that is denied them by a state suffused with Zionist, nationalist ideology that promotes ethnic exclusiveness to the detriment of “outsiders”. Such a state has no long-term viable, sustainable future because it is an historical anachronism.

Physicians for Human Rights in Israel issued a medical report supporting a petition to the Supreme Court for his release. A doctor said that even though Adnan had agreed to be treated with an infusion of liquids and salts, augmented by glucose and vitamins, he had refused to end his hunger strike and was in "immediate danger of death". Meanwhile, Randa Jihad Adnan, the pregnant mother of two young daughters aged four and one and half, says: "I know my husband. He will not change his mind. I expect him to die."

If that happens, the Israeli state will have yet more blood on its hands.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Women hit hardest by the crisis

The lives of women in Britain are being devastated by rising unemployment, rising prices and the coalition's spending cuts.

Unemployment now stands at 2.67m and of this total 1.1m are women, the highest number for 23 years. Job losses are rising twice as fast for women as for men.

The TUC estimates that 80% of the 700,000 job losses planned in the public sector will be women. In local government 1 in 10 jobs are to be cut and 75% of local government employees are women.

Of course, the official unemployment figures disguise the real picture. Using the American measure of unemployment - which includes unemployed, discouraged, marginally attached and under-employed workers - would mean unemployment in the UK standing at 6.3 million.

An analysis by the TUC also shows that under-employment - people doing temporary or part-time jobs because they can't find permanent or full-time work - has risen to a record 1.9 million.

Last year the UK's major stores were closing shops at a rate of 20 a day, cutting one of the main private sector employment opportunities for women. Women are more likely to work several part-time jobs, and losing one of them leaves them facing debt and poverty.

It is estimated that 73% of the money raised by the Treasury by cutting or freezing tax credits and changing tax rules will be taken out of women's incomes. The cruel cuts in disability benefits contained in the Welfare Reform Bill, will hit women disproportionately in their role as carers. Many disabled women rely on Disabled Living Allowance to be able to go on looking after their families.

A growing number of women approaching debt charities for help have taken out payday loans to cover household bills, and then been unable to pay them back. These high interest loan companies target women with their ads on TV and in magazines.

Around 1.8 million households (almost 9% of the total) spend more than 25% of their income on unsecured debt repayments and an estimated 1.6 million (7.9%) spend more than half of their income on debt secured on their home - i.e. mortgages and bank loans.
More than 50,000 women declared themselves bankrupt in 2011 and 63,000 in 2010.

Over 100,000 UK families relied on food parcels last year, and you only need to look at what is happening in Greece to know that the worst is yet to come. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) projects that the poorest UK households will see a 3.5% slump in their incomes in 2012/13 and even steeper falls of a further 6.3% in 2013/14.

Equality for women is just another of the myths we are fed from birth. When society as a whole is based on generating profit and driven by the market, their unprofitable role as carers of children, the sick and the elderly is always undervalued.

Women have most to lose from the slump and most to gain from a democratic transformation to a society driven by co-operation and care for each other. Taking inspiration from the women of Egypt and Tunisia as their example, women in Britain can take the lead in bringing about fundamental change.

They are already in the forefront of the struggle against cuts and job losses. Without women members, the British trade union movement would no longer exist. They took strike action in their hundreds of thousands last year in defence of pensions, a fight their leaders have now abandoned.

By forming democratic People's Assemblies in every area, we can unite communities in actions that will lead to the creation of a political and economic democracy where women can finally become truly equal.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The fate of Greece a warning to all of us

Greece has “reached the limits of the social and economic system”, according to its public order minister Christos Papoutsis, and its “people cannot take any more”. It’s a message that will reverberate around the whole of Europe this year.

As unemployment soars to new highs in Britain, especially among young people, the system has indeed reached its “limits”. To those charting the course of the rapidly deepening crisis, the Greek drama is just the full-dress rehearsal. A global slump of terrifying proportions is threatening, only held back by central banks making cheap credit available to stricken banks and the printing of money by state agencies.

Papoutsis is a hated figure inside Greece. He is a minister from Pasok, who amazingly still call themselves “socialist”, who joined with others on Sunday to impose yet more savage cuts in spending, reduce pensions and sack thousands of public sector workers. Yesterday, the Greek cabinet under Lucas Papademos, the unelected prime minster and Goldman Sachs advisor, met in the wake of the violent protests that accompanied the vote in parliament.

On Sunday, Papademos bullied the Parliament into agreeing the terms of the latest IMF, European Central Bank (ECB) and European Union bailout. He threatened the country with a much worse result if Greece were forced to leave the eurozone in the wake of a default.

Papademos is well-qualified to act as the voice of capitalist finance. Amongst his many posts, he was senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in the 1980s, and vice-president of the ECB from 2002 to 2010. His assault on democracy forced coalition parties to expel more than 40 MPs for failing to back the bill.

Clearly shaken by the riots and burning buildings in the centre of Athens, Papoutsis was begging for mercy. "The government is making superhuman efforts”, he said. “From now on, Europe has to take the responsibility", washing his hands of any further responsibility.

But his appeal fell on deaf ears. Eurozone finance ministers cancelled today’s meeting with Greece when it became clear that the Athens government had again failed to deliver on the latest round of assaults designed to consign its people back to and beyond the poverty of the 1930s. They want more cuts and an undertaking that whoever wins April’s general elections will implement the EU’s demands. Democracy? Forget it.

The day after the vote in Athens, credit ratings agency Moody’s went fishing for more and bigger victims. They put the UK, France and Austria on negative outlook. By raising the prospect that the three countries would lose their triple A ratings due to exposure to the eurozone debt crisis, Moody’s issued instructions to these governments: the pace of the assault on living standards must be accelerated and its scope broadened out to the rest of Europe’s population.

Every day, further evidence emerges of the unstoppable catastrophic implosion of the capitalist economy. In the last quarter of 2011, Greece’s GDP dropped by 7% compared with the same period last year, a steeper decline than the 5% recorded in the third quarter, according to preliminary data published by Elstat, the national statistics body. Greece’s economy has now shrunk in every quarter but one since mid-2008.

It’s not only Greece that has reached the limits of the social and economic system. It is now time to make a leap to something new. As with the Telaithrion Project in Greece, in every country people are experimenting with different ways of living and producing the necessities of life and a great deal can be learned from them. The Transition Initiative has gone global since its launch in 2007.

But the challenge is to go beyond alternatives. Whilst the current profit-seeking capitalist system exists it is obliged to drive up the rate of exploitation of what corporations see as theirs to take – human labour and the natural resources of the planet. The system must be dismantled and its components used to build anew. Let’s compost capitalism.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Don't belittle the Occupation

As Occupy London waits on the Court of Appeal’s decision on whether the City corporation can proceed with its eviction of the camp outside St Paul’s, the obituaries are already being written.

In the Guardian, which for a time assumed the role of newspaper of the Occupation, columnist John Harris bemoans the camp for failing to come up with an “exit strategy”, for over emphasising consensus decision-making and, as a result, failing to offer clear alternatives.

The occupation “had such profound problems articulating what it wants” and now, according to Harris, “the story is now seemingly one of decline, exhaustion and imminent defeat”. He is disappointed that the Occupation has no plans to out with a bang.

Readers are informed: “We all know the drill: clear demands have been spurned, any idea of leadership remains anathema, communing with mainstream politics is largely off the menu, and the running of everything is almost painfully collective.”

This painfully liberal whine begs a number of questions: What would “victory” look like in the eyes of Harris and the Guardian? The overthrow of the system? Hardly a cause that the Guardian that backed the Lib Dems in 2010 and New Labour for a decade, argues for.

As to the Occupation’s failure to “articulate demands”, it is not alone. Even the Financial Times has spent weeks and hundreds of column inches debating the crisis of capitalism in the search for “solutions”.

In Britain, the ruling political class has failed to come up with a single “demand” or proposal that does anything other than lay the burden of the economic and financial crisis on the backs of ordinary people. Such is the state of present-day democracy.

The occupation movement that began last October and spread to 1,000 locations at its peak, was a response to this social and political impasse, which was remarkably similar in content if not in form wherever the tents were pitched.

In truth, there are no simple “demands” that can form a coherent response to an historic crisis that embraces democracy, economics, finance, ecology, international relations and other features of globalised capitalism. No wonder Occupy London has had problems “articulating what it wants”.

Some at St Paul’s have favoured revolutionary alternatives while others, like those in the economics working group, have concentrated on plans for reform and re-regulation. Yet others have been content to see the practice of the occupation itself as a statement and wanted to go no further.

Occupy, to its merit, has provided an open space for debate and dialogue on these issues, even if this diversity has often been lost in the search for consensus and an over-emphasis on process. And if Occupy London attracted people with mental health and addiction problems, that is evidence of a crumbling welfare state more than anything else.

Harris tell us that the state organises in a “top down” or vertical fashion, citing the events in Athens, and implying that Occupy’s disavowal of formal leadership/organisation puts it at a disadvantage. But surely the challenge is not to replicate or mimic in actions, an alienating, hierarchical state that functions to maintain the status quo?

Following that path must lead inevitably to incorporation into the very same system of capitalist state rule. That has been the experience of the Labour Party and, to a great extent, the trade unions whose bureaucracy would make Byzantium jealous. In any case, the power Harris refers to is not subject to reform and is itself dominated and weakened by the interplay of market forces.

There is a unassailable case for a revolutionary transformation in society, one that breaks the state’s intimate relationship with capitalism and creates the conditions for new forms of democratic, horizontal rule in every sphere. Whatever happens next, Occupy London will come to be seen as part of this process.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, February 13, 2012

Whitney Houston - another untimely death

Some critics have blamed Whitney Houston’s death on herself, saying it was “self administered”, talking of the “squandered talent of someone who had it all but threw it all away”.

But New York reporter-music critic Barry Michael Cooper’s tribute is far nearer the mark. He rightly says that Houston’s untimely death is our loss: “Whitney was an American Nightingale, because she sang with unmistakable beauty from a really dark place, a place where few other birds are singing. That's why we heard her euphonic voice loud and clear.”

As performers mourned her passing at the Grammy Awards ceremony last night where she had been due to appear, Cooper warned of the dangers of fame, describing the award as a “monster that whispers sweet nothings with the hot breath of cool lies”.

During her short lifetime, Whitney Houston became one of the best-selling artists of all time by the age of 29. The figures are staggering: over 170 million worldwide record sales and just about every award in the music industry.

The incredible success of her rendering of Dolly Parton’s song "I Will Always Love You" broke all musical records, making it became the best-selling single by a female artist in music history. She made her first film The Bodyguard in 1992, starring with Kevin Costner. When it was released, selling more than a million copies within a single week. She was the first musical act to achieve this.

Born into a musical royalty, with Aretha Franklin as her godmother, she began singing in church and was offered a contract at the age of 14, which her mother Cissy turned down so that Whitney could finish her schooling. But after that there was no looking back.

By the late 1980s, she was the first female artist in musical history to debut at number one in the Billboard 200 albums chart. She broke even the Beatles record sales with seven consecutive number ones. The songs included “Didn't We Almost Have It All", "So Emotional", and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go".

Of African-American descent, but with Native American, Dutch and Italian ancestors, Houston was strikingly beautiful.

It was her phenomenal gift of using her five-octave range that broke down barriers and opened the way for African-American as well as white female artists. She was the first black female artist to achieve success on MTV, hitherto dominated by white performers. The bravura and power of her voice became “the template for female vocal performances for the next 30 years”, as one critic has said.

Houston supported the campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and as a young model refused to work with agencies linked to apartheid South Africa. She helped raise money for the United Negro College Fund and set up a children’s foundation.

But by 2000, Houston began showing signs of strain, suffering from drug abuse and weight loss. Her marriage to singer Bobby Brown was on the rocks. She admitted to taking cocaine and other drugs in two separate television interviews. She continued to record, tour and perform with some success – but also media brickbats – whilst fighting her drug habit.

After the runaway success of The Bodyguard, Houston honed her acting skills in Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife, breaking new territory in roles that showed African-American women as talented professionals.

Houston captured the hearts of hundreds of millions of people around the world with her stunning vocal skills. As with the greatest performers, she was a vehicle for people’s greatest hopes, dreams, loves and fears. Her tragic passing, like those of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse – she was also honoured posthumously at the Grammy’s last night – is yet another warning that for some, the pressures of the system are too noxious to bear.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, February 10, 2012

Dracula is alive and well in Brussels

Eurozone finance ministers gave Dracula-style bloodsucking a bad name last night when they rejected proposals brought from Athens for even more severe austerity measures.

Their message was loud and clear: Nothing less than the reduction of Greece to a vassal state will satisfy the major capitalist powers who run the European Union.

Greece will be reduced to absolute penury – the population is not far from that already – and be expected to import goods from Germany, France and other north European economies.

All this to save the doomed single currency project and prop up the continent’s banks which are presently dependent on massive hand-outs by the European Central Bank.

Greece cannot be allowed to default by the EU because the financial markets would then move on to other heavily indebted EZ states like Portugal and Spain, driving up their borrowing costs. So the Greek people must be made to suffer pain beyond human endurance.

Yesterday the national government in Athens led by an unelected prime minister and Goldman Sachs adviser came to Brussels with a €3.3 billion cuts package hopeful of securing a €130 billion bail-out in exchange.

Under a draft agreement between the major parties, the minimum wage in the private sector was to be cut by 22%, pensions reduced further and tens of thousands of more jobs abolished in the public sector. It’s not enough, they were told when they got to Brussels.

They were sent back with instructions, yes instructions, to come up with another €325 million in cuts, get them voted through parliament by Sunday with a pledge from all parties that they would honour the cuts whatever the result of the upcoming general election.

They were also warned of more intensive involvement in the Greek economy to improve tax collection and accelerate the sale of state-owned assets. “In short, there is no disbursement before implementation,” said the well-fed Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg.

And yet the cuts already implemented have helped create an unemployment rate of well over 20% and seen Greece’s national output plummet by 11% in a year. No wonder trade unions staging a 48-hour strike from today described the cuts package as the “tombstone of Greek society”.

More cuts will not only deepen the economic crisis – they will actually make it more difficult for Greece to repay its massive debt, requiring even larger bail-outs in the future.

But all this is apparently of no consequence to the EU’s dominant power, Germany. Perhaps the country’s historians will make a parallel comparison with the harsh Versailles treaty imposed on Germany after defeat in World War One. Impossible reparations payments broke the country’s economy and stimulated the growth of far-right nationalism.

For all intents and purposes, Greece has lost its right to self-determination in the face of decisions taken by overwhelmingly more powerful states in the EU. Democracy has been replaced by unaccountable rule from Brussels.

The country’s political class is set on a course to further disaster and the virtual enslavement of the population. If they had an ounce of concern for the people, political leaders would tell Brussels to go to hell, repudiate Greece’s foreign debt and declare default. But we know they won’t.

Limited strikes aimed at changing their minds won’t work because the political class is committed to the capitalist system, whatever the cost. Therefore, Greece’s unions, students, unemployed, small shopkeepers and farmers should form their own united democratic institutions in the face of dictatorship from Brussels.

A democracy for the people, expressing the power of the majority in place of the corrupt political institutions at the heart of the Greek state would allow working people to stand up for their rights. They could then make an appeal to millions of others struggling against austerity in Europe to come to their aid and launch a European spring.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Save the bees from corporate greed

Two crucial scientific studies have confirmed that pesticides and insecticides at even low, undetectable levels are linked to the massive collapse of honey bee colonies.

Chemical firm Bayer, which produces the nicotine-based imidacloprid, has always dismissed any connection between the use of its insecticide and the disappearance of bee colonies in the United States and Europe.

But from the University of Maryland, we learn that sub-lethal doses of imidacloprid weaken bees, so that they lose their immunity to a common parasite Nosema.

Though the doses were not high enough to affect longevity or the ability to forage, the increase in the Nosema parasite infestation shows that even undetectable levels of the pesticide affect the immune system of bees.

The researchers conclude that interactions between pesticides and pathogens like Nosema, "could be a major contributor to increased mortality of honey bee colonies, including colony collapse disorder, and other pollinator declines worldwide."

Scientists at the University of Purdue, Indiana, analysed bees found dead in and around hives from several apiaries over two years and discovered the presence of neonicotinoid insecticides in all of them. These products are used to coat corn and soybean seeds before planting.

They were present on nearby dandelion flowers up to two years after treated seed was planted and in corn pollen gathered by bees.

"We know that these insecticides are highly toxic to bees; we found them in each sample of dead and dying bees," said Christian Krupke, associate professor of entomology and a co-author of the findings.

Other bees at the affected hives exhibited tremors, uncoordinated movement and convulsions, all signs of insecticide poisoning.

All corn seed and about half of all soybean seed planted in the US is coated with the sticky insecticide, and to keep the seed flowing freely in the planters, it is mixed with talc.

"Given the rates of corn planting and talc usage, we are blowing large amounts of contaminated talc into the environment," Krupke said. "This material is so concentrated that even small amounts landing on flowering plants around a field can kill foragers or be transported to the hive in contaminated pollen."

Bees that do not die directly as a result of the insecticide suffer other effects, such as loss of homing ability or lowered resistance to disease or mites. In other words, bee colony collapse is due to multiple problems, but it is likely that the loss of resistance to viruses, mites and parasites is itself connected to the use of these deadly chemicals.

(And while we are on the subject - what is the cumulative effect on human beings eating food grown in this way? It can't possibly have no effect. Perhaps we should be told.)

Late last year, Monsanto (inventor of the neonicotinoids and many other deadly agro-industrial weapons) bought up one of the key companies looking at genetic modification of honey bees to survive colony collapse.

Beeologics, based in Florida and Israel, has developed a product called Remembee, an anti-viral agent that works by interfering with the bees' DNA, its genetic make-up.

Kelly Powers, a Monsanto PR person, said at the time, without a trace of irony: "I don't need to tell you how important bees are to farmers who rely on pollination, and Remembee has great promise, pending approvals."

First they create the chemicals that harm the bees - then they manipulate their genes to resist some effects of the poison. And at every point - big fat profits!

If anything requires genetic modification, it’s corporations like Monsanto and Bayer, for the sake of the eco-system as a whole. The consequences of a world without pollinating bees are too shocking to contemplate.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Beware the light at the end of the tunnel

Some optimists are saying that things are beginning to look up because of a fall in unemployment, particularly in the US but also to some small extent in the UK. Yesterday, those closer to the action put things in perspective.

Ben Bernanke, chairman of the US Federal Reserve, dampened the optimism that had seen stock markets rise. January’s fall in the unemployment rate to 8.3% “understates weakness in the U.S. labour market”, he said. “It is very important to look not just at the unemployment rate, which reflects only people who are actively seeking work. There are also a lot of people who are either out of the labour force because they don’t think they can find work or in part-time jobs.”

That’s another 15.1%. Bringing the total to more than 23%.

But what about the unexpected 243,000 increase in jobs? Bernanke wasn’t impressed. He’s keeping the interest base rate as near to zero as it can go – at 0.5%, until 2014 - to avoid a further brake on the economy. And even with inflation below the 2% target, the fact that it remains above the interest rate means that businesses are being paid to borrow. No wonder there’s a few jobs appearing.

Meanwhile, millions of families have already lost their homes and millions more are stuck with impossible mortgage payments on houses whose market value has dropped like a stone. As Bernanke put it “the amount of negative equity in the United States is about $700 billion (£447 billion), which is enormous and so there is no conceivable programme [that will get] everybody in the country above water.”

The US is only one part of the global capitalist economy, albeit a very large one, and the health of the two are inseparable. The increase in US jobs is supposed to reflect confidence that there’s a solution in sight for the eurozone crisis, but who’s kidding who?

The process of dismantling the monstrous, decades-long accumulation of credit and debt is underway. “They” call it “deleveraging” and tell us that we’ve all been living way beyond our means. The consequences are just beginning to appear.

Greece was gripped yesterday by another general strike as its government again postponed agreement to the €130 “bail-out” that would see wages slashed by another 20-30%, another 15,000 public sector jobs eliminated, and pensions chopped. People with good jobs, homes and cars last year, are this year homeless, hungry and cold on the streets.

Spain’s economy shrank 0.3% in the last quarter of 2011, and is expected to be officially in recession in 2012. France cut its growth forecast from 1% to 0.5%. Unemployment in the eurozone has been rising throughout 2011, hitting a new record of 16.5 million in December, and it is expected to continue rising throughout 2012. In the 27 EU countries, 23.8 million are unemployed – 9.9%.

And don’t forget Iceland, where the banking crisis hit early and hard. It is now on the brink of new catastrophe. Thousands of households face poverty and loss of property because of loans that, in some cases, have more than doubled as a result of the last currency crash and subsequent price inflation.

The International Labour Organisation says this in its Global Employment Trends 2012: “After three years of continuous crisis conditions in global labour markets and against the prospect of a further deterioration of economic activity, there is a backlog of global unemployment of 200 million – an increase of 27 million since the start of the crisis.”

Astonishingly, the ILO says that 400 million new jobs will be needed to avoid a further increase in unemployment. “Hence, to generate sustainable growth while maintaining social cohesion, the world must rise to the urgent challenge of creating 600 million productive jobs over the next decade.”

That is simply not going to happen. Even the ILO admits that a “dangerous third stage” in the world economic crisis is on the cards, noting that “policy space has been seriously limited, making it difficult to stop, or even to slow down, the further weakening of economic conditions”. The light at the end of the economic tunnel is actually a train crash in the making.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A tale of two Britains

On the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birthday just about everyone wants to lay claim to the most famous author of Victorian England. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall laying a wreath in Westminster Abbey surely takes the biscuit, however.

Dickens expressly stated his wish not to be buried there. And the privilege, wealth and inherited rank represented by Charles and Camilla, symbolising a Britain brutally unequal as it was in his days, would surely make him turn in his grave.

All this hero-worship (and blatant commercialisation) might queer the pitch for literary purists. But writers, actors and museum curators who have revisited the author’s life and work have brought him into the 21st century with a vengeance.

Actor Simon Callow, who is reading in a birthday tribute at St Mary’s church, near the author’s Portsmouth birthplace, who attacked the way that the Establishment ignored Dickens’ desire to be buried in Rochester cathedral, speaks movingly of the writer’s personal and literary achievement:

“The reason I love him so deeply is that, having experienced the lower depths, he never ceased, till the day he died, to commit himself, both in his work and in his life, to trying to right the wrongs inflicted by society, above all, perhaps by giving the dispossessed a voice. From the moment he started to write, he spoke for the people, and the people loved him for it, as do I.”

Dickens was one of eight children. When he was only 12 years old, his father was arrested for debt and sent to Marshalsea Prison in Southwark, where the young boy spent his weekends. He somehow lifted himself out this abject existence and, as Callow writes, “threw himself into life with a blazing enthusiasm, becoming a beacon of energy and fun. The rest of his life was a negotiation between those high spirits and the dejection with which he had been acquainted so early.”

While he shared prejudices of the era, including anti-Semitism, he responded to criticisms and sought to redress his portrayal of the Jewish criminal Fagin in Oliver Twist, by halting the printing of the book in order to change the text. On his first visit to the United States in 1842, he spoke out against slavery.

Best-selling Swedish novelist Henning Mankell, author of the outstanding Wallender detective series, sums up the multifaceted aspects of the man’s genius. Dickens introduced something “new and brave,” Mankell writes.

He points to Dickens’ sympathy for the large number of women who were forced into prostitution by their circumstances. Mankell rightly says that Oliver Twist is a political novel: “When young Oliver takes his empty bowl and asks for more food, it is one of the most revolutionary acts ever depicted in a novel. How many people have found courage and power from this act of defiance?”

Dickens’ stories seethe with a multitude of unforgettable characters, literary and stylistic innovations and above all, through the stories, there is an anatomical dissection of patriarchal, brutal Victorian capitalism.

Dickens’ close contemporary and the other supreme anatomist of 19th century capitalism, Karl Marx, wrote of him and “present splendid brotherhood of fiction-writers in England” that they "...issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together.”

Dickens’s greatest achievement was the way he embraced all the contradictions in the society of his day, setting the lives of individuals into a complex web of social relations. He showed the brutality of capitalist society economically and psychologically and, significantly, how people defied it.

The brilliant opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities could have been written about today:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...”

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

There’s an exhibition about Dickens and London at the Museum of London

Monday, February 06, 2012

Hypocrisy all round over Syria's fate

Manoeuvres at the United Nations over a resolution on Syria cannot disguise the hypocrisy on the part of the major Western countries and the opportunism on the side of Russia and China.

Always in big power struggles, the victims are ordinary people. The merciless bombardment by Assad’s forces in Homs with heavy weapons today reinforces the fact that the losers in this case are the Syrian people.

Russia’s veto of a resolution calling for a transition to free elections and for president Bashir al-Assad to step aside owed more to its military and commercial concerns than any concern for upholding the international rule of law and non-intervention.

Not much has changed in Russia’s attitude to Syria since the fall of the Soviet Union. Moscow propped up the Damascus regime of Hafez al-Assad from the 1970s, supplying it with arms and gaining a naval base at Tartus in return. In 1982, Soviet arms were used to crush a lengthy revolt centred on the city of Hama, which left up to 25,000 dead.

During the current uprising, which began a year ago inspired by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, the former Soviet Union has continued to supply weapons to the regime for use against civilians.

For Moscow, Syria is a long-term investment that has to be protected. Concerns about possible Western-led intervention in Syria were apparent. But the “right” to crush “internal opposition” was greater, as Moscow has repeatedly demonstrated in Chechnya.

Like Moscow, the United States, Britain and France have their own strategic interests. Although nominally a secular state, Bashir al-Assad’s regime is politically close to Iran through ties of religion. The Alawite minority in Syria which rules the country are Shia Muslims while 75% of the population excluded from power are Sunnis.

As part of their attempt to isolate Iran in the dispute over nuclear weapons, Washington would like to prise Syria away from its alliance with Tehran. America’s apparent support for democratic change in Syria has this objective in mind. The vetoed UN resolution came out of an Arab League mission that was largely influenced by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These are two Sunni-led absolute monarchies with absolute no concern for democracy or the rights of the Syrian people.

The feigned outrage by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton over the Russia-China veto should be dismissed out of hand. Washington has deployed its veto at the UN some 79 times since 1970, the majority of them on Middle East issues.

In 1972, the veto blocked a resolution condemning Israel for killing hundreds of people in Syria and Lebanon in air raids. A year later, the US stopped a resolution which affirmed
the rights of the Palestinians and called on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. Self-determination for the Palestinians was vetoed in 1976 while in 1979 a resolution calling for an end to all military and nuclear collaboration with apartheid South Africa was vetoed.

A bid to end the embargo of Cuba fell by the wayside in 2003 when the US used the veto in the Security Council. Calls for the end of the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2009 were thwarted by Washington. Most recently, resolutions calling for the immediate and complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities were met with a veto. Nothing much changes in Washington, whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in the White House when it comes to the rights of the Palestinians.

Relying on UN resolutions never did anyone any good. The Syrian people will have to find a way to determine their own democratic future independent of the plans and strategies of the major powers.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, February 02, 2012

How nuclear power decision was 'fixed'

Parliament was conned by New Labour and the ConDem coalition into supporting new nuclear power stations by distorted evidence and research that ignored important alternatives to achieve emissions cuts, including energy saving measures.

The truth behind this massive deception is revealed in new report that describes the way the decision was taken to build 10 new nuclear power stations as “a corruption of governance”.

MPs were told that without an expansion of nuclear energy, the UK would be unable to meet its target for reduction of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The phrase "unable to keep the lights on" was used time and again.

In reality, the decision to build the 10 power stations was taken first, behind the scenes, and all the research and modelling from then on was designed to prove they were needed. Figures for future energy demand were largely invented and placed at the absolute highest level.

Unlock Democracy and the Association for the Conservation of Energy, joint authors of the report, made repeated requests to the Department for Energy and Climate Change to see the demand projections justifying nuclear claims. Finally, they received this admission: "DECC has not made any long-term projections of electricity demand supply. Our latest projections were published up to 2022 and we have previously published figures to 2025. DECC is developing scenarios of potential electricity demand/supply to 2050 but don’t have any definite figures for this yet."

The government claimed that by 2025 an additional 60 gigawatts of power generation would be needed. But the consultants employed by the government were not even asked to assess actual need for new capacity, and they did not do so. They simply assessed the options for achieving the government's stated goal of achieving 29% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. As the report explains:

"In a nutshell what [the consultants] did was add up the government’s proposed policies, including the 29% renewables figure and the proposed new nuclear capacity (plus other proposed new capacity) and call that a ‘central assumption’ of need'. However this is not an assessment of need, it is an estimate of predicted generating capacity, which is altogether different."

Then the Brown New Labour government referenced this simple addition as the independent analytical source for their assumption of future need, say the two organisations who point out that they are not formally opposed to nuclear energy.

"In other words, the pre-determined policy of 10 new nuclear power stations created the ‘central assumption’ of the need for them. Rather than the need driving the policy, the policy dictated the so-called need," the report states.

The incoming coalition government commissioned some further research, modelling 16 different “pathways” to meeting both future energy needs and emissions targets by 2050. These were the basis for last year's vote accepting the need for an expansion nuclear power, but they were based on the same assumptions.

The claim is that the demand for electricity will double or even triple by 2050 but there is no evidence for this. In fact one of the government's own documents states that four different scenarios were modelled on the need for electricity until 2025 and these “scenarios all suggest that electricity demand in 2025 will be at approximately the same levels as today”. And the National Grid is planning on the basis of a similar assumption.

Just before this report was published, realising the cat was out of the bag, the DECC did finally publish some figures showing that focusing on funding for energy saving brought cost savings and greater CO2 reductions.

So it is clear that under pressure from the energy corporations, the government agreed in principle to build 10 new nuclear power stations and then manipulated the data to prove they were needed. These will cost the taxpayer billions of pounds, require public provision of storage for dangerous waste, and keep people on the treadmill of ever-increasing bills.

It would be cheaper for the public purse, and cheaper for consumers, to focus instead on energy saving. But there's no profit for the energy giants in that scenario, so it was hidden from MPs. Will they now revisit this decision and rescind it? Not likely!

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

They were all in it together, not just Goodwin

At last! Something we can agree with Labour’s former chancellor, Alistair Darling, on. Fred Goodwin (formerly Sir) should not be singled out by the establishment.

Goodwin certainly had a big hand in the virtual destruction of the three-century old Royal Bank of Scotland, but he was far from alone in his responsibility for the causal chain of events that brought the global financial system to the brink in 2008.

There’s an entire class of people whose positions should be on the line for allowing and encouraging the massive expansion of the system of credit and debt.

The Financial Services Authority, the toothless body created by the previous government, cheered from the sidelines as balance sheets more and more resembled a house of cards.

Darling’s New Labour government was at the forefront of ensuring London’s role as the base for the world’s banks and other gambling houses.

But can any of them be blamed for doing their jobs? Surely they were just doing what was necessary to keep the economy on the growth path? Yes indeed.

Having thrown in their lot with capitalism - the social and economic system that distributes profits extracted from the value-generating activities of those employed in the production of commodities to otherwise disinterested shareholders - they also became its playthings.

But it was their choice, and they are collectively responsible. And as the crisis intensifies it exposes more of those who constitute that collective web of responsibility.

Now the inner logic of the system has brought 25 of the 27 governments of the European Union together in a most terrible Faustian pact.

What they are calling a “fiscal union” is a drawing together of the otherwise helpless in an unprecedented assault on their populations. Their intention is to ensure that the entire population of Europe gets to experience the austerity conditions already wrecking the lives of the 50% of young people without jobs in Greece and Spain.

And all with the objective of a “return to growth” at some time in the distant future.

So what are the prospects?

Fresh from chairing the global economy session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, eminent Financial Times commentator Martin Wolf has this to say about the fiscal union:

“The IMF now forecasts a recession in the eurozone this year, with a decline of 0.5 per cent in overall gross domestic product. GDP is forecast to fall sharply in Italy and Spain, and stagnate in France and Germany. This is a terrible environment for countries seeking to cut fiscal deficits. Forecasts are far from satisfactory for other high-income countries. But the eurozone is the most dangerous part of the world economy: only there do we see important governments – Italy and Spain – menaced by a loss of creditworthiness.”

And in a chilling forecast, Wolf looks back to guess at the future:

“Just as it was not the dominant cause of the collapse, but rather sloppy lending and improvident private borrowing, so fiscal discipline is not the cure. This attempt to vindicate the catastrophic austerity of Heinrich Brüning, German chancellor in 1930-1932, is horrifying.”

A repeat of the ensuing events in Germany is indeed horrifying to contemplate. There can’t be such a repeat. The debt-fuelled growth that produced global corporations more powerful than any single country means that today’s crisis affects all countries simultaneously.

The capitalist system of production and its inseparable financial twin have been on life-support since 2008. It’s time to pull the plug.

Young, workers, the unemployed, students and older people must now draw together in a global network of People’s Assemblies. They can establish the power not only to settle accounts with those responsible for the crisis but build a society motivated by meeting human needs in place of the narrow interests of shareholders.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor