Monday, April 30, 2012

Olympics clampdown takes sinister turn

The Police-Military Games – formerly known as the London 2012 Olympics but now rebranded – are set to challenge Berlin 1936 for the title of most authoritarian sporting event of all time.

News that the defence ministry plans to site surface-to-air guided missiles on a block of flats in east London is only the latest indication of a massive clampdown under way. The use of deadly “drones” – used by the US as killing machines in Afghanistan and Pakistan – is also a possibility.

It is almost as if the state has issued a challenge to would-be terrorists to, in the language of the US military, “bring it on”.

Tens of thousands of armed police and troops will be deployed in a ring of steel around the Olympic sites. Heavy security will be imposed on public transport routes. And in a deeply sinister development, activists are becoming targets for pre-emptive arrests and court orders.

We saw this type of action last year when, on the eve of the royal wedding, dozens of activists were arrested before they had even protested. None had intended to disrupt the event – just to show their political opposition which, they thought wrongly, was their democratic right. Some are now challenging the legality of the arrests.

On Thursday, democracy activist Simon Moore will be up in court at Westminster Magistrates where the state will try to make permanent an interim so-called anti-social behaviour order (IABSO). This was served on Simon as he left Thamesmead prison after spending four days in jail. (ASBOs were introduced by New Labour. They are civil orders, the breaking of which is considered a crime).

The IASBO was imposed on Simon after he acted to support the local community in a protest on Leyton Marshes against the construction of an Olympic basketball training facility on open, communal land without any sort of consultation or agreement.

He says: “The action which began the chain of events [resulting in imprisonment] involved sitting in front of a lorry carrying cement at the entrance to the construction site on Leyton Marshes and refusing to move when asked to do so by a police officer. I have no remorse about my actions. I was doing what I know to be right.”

The IASBO, signed by a magistrate and sought by CO11, the Met’s notorious public order unit in charge of turning peaceful protests into mini-riots, warns Simon that he could go to jail for up to five years if he takes part in any activity that disrupts the Olympics, the state opening of parliament next week, the queen’s jubilee events as well as the Trooping of the Colour on June 16!

Simon absolutely insists that his peaceful demonstration on the Leyton Marshes construction site was not “anti-Olympics” but an attempt to highlight “a gross failure on the part of public bodies to represent the needs of the local people in the areas that are being used to host the games”.

He adds: “By continuing my participation with the campaign at Leyton Marshes I have been placed with a choice between doing what I know to be right or obeying a law that deems my activities criminal and thereby ending my participation. I choose to do what I know to be right.

“If this means breaking the law then that is what I will do openly and transparently. If I am arrested and or imprisoned as a result, I know that I have not broken my own sense of what I see as just which is truer to me than any law no matter who has created it. Being in prison doesn’t change that.”

Be warned: the hated, crisis-ridden ConDem coalition will use the full might of the state around the jubilee and the Olympics to try to generate a crude nationalism and intolerance this summer. Activists like Simon, who is well known in the Occupy movement, will be turned into criminals at the stroke of a magistrate’s pen if the authorities get half a chance.  

Paul Feldman
Communications editor


Thursday, April 26, 2012

A corporatocracy in all but name

The scandal engulfing the Cameron government over ministers’ close links with the Murdoch media empire, as well as promises made about BSkyB before the 2010 election, is symptomatic of a wider political disease called corporatocracy.

How governments were “bought” by the corporations, especially the so-called investment banks, is the story of how the state became a direct mouthpiece, advocate and sponsor of big business.

It parallels the rise of a global economy dominated by transnational businesses that find national borders an irritation and are prepared to move capital to the region or country where it is most profitable without a second thought.

Murdoch was doing no more than what a shareholder-driven business has to do. News Corp lobbied to win support for its aim of buying up shares in BSkyB. It made use of its connections to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt and prime minister Cameron.

The fact that the plan coincided with the hacking scandal, leading to the Leveson inquiry, blew their strategy out of the water. With the BSkyB deal off for the indefinite future, the Murdochs have no further need to protect ministers.

Murdoch’s media empire is moving away from supporting the Tories and is backing the Scottish National Party north of the border. Now commentators like Peter Oborne are speculating that the government itself could fall over the scandal. The fact that Cameron is regarded as a traitor by traditional Tories for getting into bed with the Lib Dems and being too soft on Europe is only fuelling the flames lapping at the door of No.10

The Labour Party is making a great deal out of Cameron’s difficulties but let’s not forget that the previous Blair/Brown governments were politically responsible for perhaps the biggest scandal of them all – the creation of a deregulated banking industry.

Deregulation was not the prime cause of the financial meltdown of 2007 but played its part when the unravelling began. If Cameron had his Chipping Norton set with Murdoch employees Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, then New Labour had its prawn cocktail circuit.

Blair and Brown assiduously courted the banks before and after the 1997 general election victory. They pledged “light-touch regulation” and Labour’s endorsement of the City and financiers in general.

Sir Fred Goodwin, who ran the Royal Bank of Scotland into the ground, by 1999 was actually in the government machine itself, chairing task forces on the work of credit unions (!) and the New Deal programme. In 2001, Goodwin attended a pre-election lunch for bankers at Chequers aimed at securing their support at an election. In 2004 Goodwin became one of eight bankers knighted under New Labour.

So when in 2007, RBS decided to take over the Dutch bank ABN Amro, no one in Whitehall or the Financial Services Agency demurred. ABN Amro was badly exposed to the US sub-prime market and RBS was severely weakened as a result. The rest, as they say, is history. Taxpayer bailouts followed by recession and spending cuts. Thank you Brown, Blair, Ed Balls (who in 2006 praised deregulation) and Yvette Cooper, chief secretary to the treasury.

The official report into the collapse of RBS identifies key moments between 2005 and 2007 when the Financial Services Authority created by New Labour backed off from challenging the bank’s low levels of capital and liquid assets.

Adair Turner, FSA chairman then and now, admitted recently: “Was there, however, a pervasive influence of assumptions about the City on the UK political dynamic? Yes, there was. There was a belief that light-touch regulation, or limited-touch, would make the City bigger, and that the City was a source of employment and tax revenue in particular. And therefore there was clear pressure on the FSA at times to say, go easy on the city. The FSA never used the phrase ‘light touch’, but politicians did, and they did it in speeches, which were directed at the FSA.”

Yes, the mainstream political parties are all in it together and have been for a long time. At our expense. The present state, the corporatocracy, is rotten to the core, undemocratic, beyond reform and ruling on behalf of the 1%.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Economic crisis meets disillusioned voters

Coalition Chancellor Osborne says that economic “recovery” is taking longer than expected, but this is a deliberate deception because all the indications are that recession in the UK is part of an international trend.

This is accentuated rather than slowed by government austerity programmes under the cosh of the financial markets, the IMF and the European Central Bank.

If conditions in Europe are anything to go by – and they most certainly are – the world economy is in an uncontrollable downward spiral.

The Office for National Statistics says Britain's annual output (GDP) fell 0.2% in the first quarter of 2012 after contracting by 0.3% at the end of 2011, putting the economy back into recession. Since these are provisional figures, it may well be a lot worse

On Monday, a Bank of Spain report showed gross domestic product in that country falling 0.4% in the first three months of 2012, adding to a 0.3 %  contraction in the previous quarter. Unemployment is 23% and growing. A continuing fall in property prices is choking the supply of bank credit as lenders are forced to make provision for increasing quantities of bad loans.

The Bank of Greece forecasts the Greek economy will shrink by about 5% this year – the fifth consecutive year of contraction. This year’s contraction comes after a 6.9% drop in 2011 and a cumulative shrinkage of more than 13% since 2008. Unemployment is to set to put one in five Greeks out of work this year.

Many private sector workers are facing wages delays as 300,000 companies do not pay salaries on time because of a drop in sales and scarce funds. Their pay is also plummeting by over 15%. Greece had one million companies in 2009, but 250,000 have since closed.

In Germany, which has carried the burden of the eurozone debt crisis, manufacturing output is shrinking at the fastest pace since 2009 while further spending cuts are on the agenda in France and Italy.

In the UK, public sector workers whose salaries have been frozen whilst inflation surges are the sharp end. A million young people are without work, condemned to becoming a lost generation.

With the ConDem regime staggering from one political crisis to another and becoming increasingly unstable, it is not surprising that only 24% now believe the current system of coalition government is working, according to the Hansard Society’s latest survey.

Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society's parliament and government programme, said: "2011 was one of the most turbulent and momentous years in recent history, but it appears that the economic crisis, the summer riots and phone hacking did not lead to any greater interest in or knowledge of politics.” She added: "The public seem to be disgruntled, disillusioned and disengaged.”  The survey showed:

* 42% of people said they were interested in politics - down 16% on 2010 and the lowest figure since the audit was first carried out
* 48% of people said they would definitely vote if a general election was called tomorrow - down 10% from last year and again, the lowest figure in the audit's history
* 30% said they were unlikely or absolutely certain not to vote - up 10% from 2010
The collapse of the Dutch government and the rejection of the major parties by voters in France are European-wide indications that, as one leading economics commentator put it, “the street might overwhelm the establishment”.

So, the economy is broken and people have lost faith in the political system. Now is clearly the time for a sustainable, not-for-profit economy that is freed from the need to “grow” directed by a new system of democracy based on a global network of Peoples Assemblies.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Big Pharma talks patent nonsense

Big Pharma never ceases to surprise but the demand from Novartis that the NHS uses one of its expensive products rather than a cheaper one really takes the biscuit.

In a bid to reduce drug costs, four NHS areas in the south of England are using a cheaper alternative to Lucentis to treat a common cause of loss of vision known as wet AMD.

Lucentis, which costs around £740 per injection, is the treatment officially recommended to the NHS in England by the independent advisor NICE.

Avastin, also made by Novartis, is not officially approved for eye conditions, but is being used when it is prescribed by a qualified opthamologist. It costs around £60 per injection.

"Avastin is internationally recognised as an effective treatment for AMD, and for example over 50% of AMD patients in the United States are treated with Avastin," the NHS trusts say.

Novartis is now going to court to claim that the hospitals are putting hospital patients at risk by using Avastin instead of Lucentis, which, coming from an industry known for all sorts of data manipulation, is really too much.

In the end, it’s about the corporation’s profits, much of which comes from supplying drugs to the NHS. The health service’s annual drugs bill is £12 billion, almost double the total cost a decade ago.

The judicial review launched by Novartis comes as the corporation renews its challenge in India against a law which prohibits indefinite extension of patents. For over six years, it has challenged a clause that prevents “evergreening”, a practice in which companies continuously extend the life of a patent by slight modifications.

This prevents generic manufacturers from producing the drug. India is a major exporter of generic medicines to developing countries, including 80% of the medicine now used to treat over 6.6 million people living with HIV/AIDS.

According to Nature magazine, Novartis is also seeking a 20-year patent on a new version of its 11-year-old anti-cancer drug Gleevec, which costs roughly $30 for one 100-milligram pill. A generic version of the drug can cost as little as $3.

Leena Menghaney, campaign coordinator of Medecins Sans Frontieres in India, who is leading the fight against the Novartis challenge, says the country is also facing a diplomatic offensive from the European Union and the United States. They want India to give into Big Pharma’s demands.

When India signed up to the World Trade Organisation's agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) in 2005, the country won a clause that states that a drug must show a marked difference in efficacy from previous versions to be patentable. “Whereas US patent offices often grant frivolous patents on routine pharmaceutical improvements to a drug, India's law is more stringent,” says Menghaney.

With final hearings in the Supreme Court scheduled for July, she warns: “If Novartis wins, many other medicines, even those that show no increased therapeutic efficacy, will be patentable in India, and the availability of affordable medicines will be threatened… Abusive “evergreening” practices, where drug companies maintain artificially high prices on medicines well beyond the original patent period by securing fresh patents on minor modifications of existing drugs, will become rampant in the future.”

Big Pharma – the top 20 corporations have an estimated $150 billion in resources – is more interested in protecting patents than developing new drugs against common diseases, or in persuading people to buy “lifestyle” drugs they don’t really need.

Scientists say that little new has come out of the industry over the last decade. Meanwhile, universities are starved of resources and money devoted to research. Big Pharma has an unhealthy grip on society’s collective throats that requires a strong dose of revolutionary medicine to get rid of.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Monday, April 23, 2012

Far right steps into political vacuum in France

French voters have used the ballot box to express widespread disillusionment with the main parties and their proposals for austerity measures.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the third place achieved by the neo-fascist Front National leader Martine Le Pen (who, incidentally, enjoyed the support of a column in the Daily Mail, a paper that courted the Nazis in the 1930s).

 Le Pen actually finished second in a number of high unemployment, declining areas of northern France which have been hit hard by the recession and the austerity measures imposed by president Nicolas Sarkozy.

 The result of the first round is to create huge political uncertainty in the heart of Europe at a time when the common currency is under constant pressure and with support for a “fiscal union” waning in a number of countries, including the Netherlands.

For Sarkozy, coming second to Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande earns him the dubious honour of the first incumbent president to lose the first round since the Fifth Republic was founded in 1958. Predictions of a low turnout were overturned by a surprisingly high vote.

But one out of three voters rejected not only Sarkozy but chose candidates from outside the two main parties.

Seasoned observers of French politics have noted:
 * “a disenchantment with politics” (New York Times)
 * “Few are voting in the expectation of a better tomorrow. The chief appeal during the second round will be 'Vote to stop X!' rather than 'Vote for Y!'” (Telegraph)
 * a “strong anti-system vote” ...“The first round result revealed a dissatisfaction and restlessness in France. The elites are despised. The economic future is feared. There is insecurity. All of that leads to volatility in the polls.” (BBC)

Lest anyone think this means Hollande in power would signify a victory for the left, his various nicknames – “Flanby” (after a caramel pudding), “living marshmallow”,“pedalo in a storm” – sum up the lack of threat he poses to the status quo. He recently visited the City of London to reassure the bankers.

But anything he may lack in left rhetoric is more than made up by the Left Party’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who succeeded in coming fourth with 10.8% of the vote. Mélenchon, dubbed the “Gallic George Galloway”, is an ex-Trotskyist from the International Communist Organisation (OCI). In the election campaign he called for a “civic insurrection” and a citizen’s revolution without going into further details.

Mélenchon has already promised support for Hollande in the next round in a bid to prevent Sarkozy from winning.

But, electoral horse-trading aside, the biggest shock of first round was the unexpectedly high vote for FN candidate, Le Pen, daughter of fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen. With 18% of the votes, she was the dark horse, who defying all predictions, beat even her father’s 17% result - itself unexpected - back in 2002.

 Le Pen has toned down her father’s anti-immigration, white supremacy stance since she become FN leader. But she reverted to his anti-Arab racism during the election campaign, saying “all Franco-Algerians” were a potential security threat. Le Pen and Sarkozy seek to outdo each other in attacking immigrants and defending “Frenchness”.

Fear of losing to Hollande will no doubt drive Sarkozy even further to the right in a bid to tap in to the FN’s constituency.

The first round results are an expression of the deep disquiet with the existing political system. A defeat for Sarkozy will intensify the crisis not only for Sarkozy and his party, the Union for a Popular Movement. It will destabilise the close relationship between France and Germany and the European Union project.

This is under considerable pressure. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilder’s far-right Freedom Party which is close to Le Pen’s in its anti-Muslim racism, refused to agree budget cuts over the weekend, pushing the coalition government towards collapse.

The far right parties in Europe are cashing in as the mainstream bourgeois parties as well as those like the Socialist Party in France who are also part of the political establishment desperately defend the indefensible status quo. Mapping out a clear, democratic alternative to the failed capitalist state and the unsustainable economic system it represents was never more urgent. Corinna Lotz A World to Win secretary

Friday, April 20, 2012

Confusion at the top masks a deeper crisis of legitimacy

Theresa May’s palpable discomfort over the Home Office’s inability to read a calendar can only add to the general disdain voters feel for the political class which goes beyond the issue of Abu Qatada and his intended deportation into the hands of Jordanian torturers. With Tory backbenchers flexing their muscles over House of Lords reform and a host of other issues, the uncertainty in government is palpable. A collapse of the ConDem coalition, wished for by papers like the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, is not out of the question. It could be hastened by the reported defection of some Tory MPs to the nationalist UKIP party in the coming days. UKIP is now reportedly polling higher than the Lib Dems. This is not an issue solely confined to the UK either. In France, Sunday’s first round of the presidential election is expected to produce a record low turn-out. No surprise there because the two principal candidates, Nicholas Sarkozy and Socialist Party’s Francois Hollande are committed to making public spending cuts. The left unity candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was a Socialist Party minister in earlier political life, is polling well over 15%, clearly an indication that the two-party system offers nothing to the majority of voters. In Greece, without a government for months since an EU-IMF-ECB coup that led to the installation of a Goldman Sachs advisor as prime minister, it’s a similar story. Next month’s general election is certain to see a massive rejection of Pasok and New Democracy, who have between them carved up Greek politics for generations. In the United States, Congress is deadlocked by the Republicans while the Democrats are finding it difficult to hide their disappointment at Barack Obama’s first term. There is no enthusiasm for Obama, who has presided over an economy in decline, or his challenger Mitt Romney and the race for the White House is said to be too close to call. In the UK, the break-up of traditional party politics is the form that the growing revolt against the cosy but totally ineffectual parliamentary system is taking. The most staggering example was the collapse of Labour’s massive majority in the Bradford West by-election, which saw George Galloway triumphant. In Scotland, Labour has lost control of Glasgow City Council for the first time in 40 years and is expecting a hammering at the hands of the Scottish National Party in local elections on May 3. In London, maverick populist Boris Johnson may well defy the general hatred of the Tories to stay on as the capital’s mayor. According to a report in the Financial Times, many MPs campaigning for the local elections have returned to Westminster telling the same story, that “voters appear disillusioned with all the major parties and are increasing turning to smaller parties as an outlet for their frustration”. Amber Rudd, Conservative MP for Hastings, says the disdain for mainstream politics was palpable on the doorsteps. “There was an exasperation and disengagement with politics that I’ve never seen before.” The YouGov tracker poll since the 2010 elections shows a rise in support for “others” – none of the three main UK parties – inexorably rising from 8% to 17% today. Neither the Tories nor Labour are likely to win an overall majority again on this basis. At the back of voters’ minds is a growing understanding that the political system itself – not just the parties – has failed them. At a time of economic crisis, the system has come down in favour of the masters of capitalism – the banks, corporations, hedge funds, bond markets and the rich. Key services like education and health are being turned into commodities where the markets not need decide what happens. We should use this tremendous disquiet to open up a wide debate not just about this or that party, but on the historic question of how to create a real democracy in place of the comprehensively undemocratic state that becomes more oppressive by the day. It’s the best way to block the clear danger of right-wing populism filling the vacuum. Paul Feldman Communications editor

Thursday, April 19, 2012

'Drill baby, drill' and damn the consequences

Measuring risk is the core business of Lloyd’s of London, the global specialist insurance market, so when it sounds the alarm about investment in Arctic oil, someone should be listening.

This is what Lloyd’s warns: "The environmental consequences of disasters in the Arctic are likely to be worse than in other regions."

The insurers say that "Arctic conditions will remain challenging and often unpredictable” and “at the same time, the resilience of the Arctic’s ecosystems to withstand risk events is weak, and political and corporate sensitivity to a disaster is high."

Along the same lines, the American Society for Progress has analysed what would happen if there were a similar explosion in the Arctic to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

They warn that the kinds of resources and facilities mobilised in the Gulf simply don't exist in the Arctic. Trained personnel, coastguard stations, icebreaking vessels, supply lines, developed ports and airports, the absence of paved roads – all would make it impossible to respond to a large-scale emergency.

Six hundred scientists from around the world wrote to Obama calling on him not to approve any drilling in the Arctic until there are technologies to deal with a spill. Their appeal fell on deaf ears.

But in spite of all these concerns, the Obama administration is giving in to pressure from oil interests to permit drilling and other governments too are pushing ahead with development.

For the Russian government of Vladimir Putin the melting of the ice caps represents an economic opportunity, not an environmental disaster. Russia signed a $7.9bn deal with BP last year, and Exxon Mobil and Chevron are also expected to be drilling off Greenland soon. Norway has temporarily rejected plans for drilling north of the Arctic circle. but will increase production in the Baring Sea.

A recent report from the US Energy Information Administration found that “studies on the economics of onshore oil and natural gas projects in Arctic Alaska estimate costs to develop reserves in the region can be 50 to 100 percent more than similar projects undertaken in Texas".

But not if the corporations only talk about safeguards, and don't really implement them. Not if it's all a big fraud and covered up by government safety agencies as happened in the Gulf. And not if the taxpayer comes riding to the rescue with big fat subsidies!

Putin has announced a new regime of tax breaks and VAT exemptions for oil giants drilling in the Arctic, reports the Financial Times.

It's easy to see why the corporations and their client governments are so desperate to ignore the risks and get on with it. Arctic oil could account for 30% of undiscovered gas and 13% of undiscovered oil. So “drill baby, drill” and damn the consequences.

Political leaders have a strange relationship to reality - you could call it Platonic. Plato said that all ideas are perfect – it is only concrete things that are imperfect. Governments take all their ideas about the nature of the world from the corporations and they don't let reality impinge too much until it's too late.

Eyeless shrimps and fish with tumours presented to horrified delegates at the annual Tulane environmental law conference in New Orleans, show that the long-term effects of the Gulf oil spill are far from over. But it took only months for the Obama administration to make peace with big oil and declare the effects not too bad, overall. Politicians, with their short-term memories, may have forgotten the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, but a whole area of Alaska now has a permanently changed eco-system as a result of it.

We need to do our own big risk assessment and recognise that leaving decisions about fossil fuel production to governments well past their use-by date, with a memory span of weeks, and corporations committed to absolutely nothing but shareholder profit, is sheer madness.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Desperate acts of desperate people

Last Thursday, a man in Modesto, California, whose house was scheduled for foreclosure, shot and killed the sheriff’s deputy and the locksmith who came to evict him.

Modesto authorities responded by sending 100 police and SWAT snipers and it ended Waco-style, with the building burning to the ground with the man inside.

US foreclosures – in which the lender takes legal possession of the property – rose from 2,203,295 in 2007 to 3,920,418 in 2011.

Rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in every part of the world are driving individuals who see no way out of their predicament to the most desperate of actions.

Earlier this month, across the Atlantic retired pharmacist, Dimitris Christoulas, shot himself on the steps of the Greek Parliament building in Syntagma Square after savage cuts in his pension payments.

Described as decent, law-abiding, meticulous and dignified, the 77-year-old had written in his one-page, three-paragraph suicide note that it would be better to have a "decent end" than be forced to scavenge in the "rubbish to feed myself".

Friend and neighbour Antonis Skarmoutsos said that “with his suicide he wanted to send a political message. He was deeply politicised but also enraged."

A committed leftist, Christoulas was active in citizens' groups such as "I won't pay", which started as a one-off protest against toll fees but quickly turned into an anti-austerity movement. He became a symbol of resistance for those who perceive austerity politics as unfair and ultimately self-defeating.

Suicide rates are soaring worldwide as governments act to contract their economies in response to the deepening global recession. Slashing public spending, freezing and cutting wages, shrinking and closing public services, eliminating jobs by the hundreds of thousands is the norm across Europe.

Austerity measures in the UK, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland and elsewhere are certain to accelerate in the coming months, driving millions to and beyond the limits of their tolerance.

Last November, as the Cameron-Clegg Coalition announced its plans to deny incapacity benefits to 1 million people, the bodies of Mark and Helen Mullins were found lying side by side in their rundown home in Bedworth, Warwickshire after an apparent suicide pact.

In a video filmed at a soup kitchen earlier this year, Mr Mullins told how his wife's mental health problems had left them in a benefits limbo: “The job centre decided Helen couldn't sign on as she was incapable of employment as she has no literacy and numeracy skills. “

He said. “However, the incapacity people wouldn't recognise her disabilities which led to month after month of seeing specialists. We're in a catch 22 situation.”

Without money, the couple were forced to live hand to mouth on vegetables they got from a soup kitchen in Coventry, a 12-mile round trip on foot.

For the 99% whose lives are being smashed by the crisis nothing can be more urgent than the construction of a replacement for the bankrupt system which chases after profits at whatever cost to the majority of the population.

The politics of protest whether in the form of strikes – such as the one-day 10 May action called by Unite and the PCS over pensions – demonstrations or even riots are limited in the face of this onslaught and can add to people’s frustration without troubling the ruling class.

All that is needed is the political movement – a global network of people’s assemblies - to create democratic governments which will break the power of the corporations, outlaw speculation and the extraction of profit via shareholding, and establish a society designed to satisfy the needs of people rather than the insatiable greed of private capital.

The elements for a not-for-profit alternative are in place – socially-owned and democratically-run workers’ and consumer cooperatives, credit unions, building societies, highly successful not-for-profit companies and services of all kinds. It’s not rocket science. It’s about going beyond resistance.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bahrain F1 race like a circuit of death

As the Formula 1 Grand Prix teams begin arriving in Bahrain for this weekend’s race, let’s hope they are not too disturbed by the fact that human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja is near to death as he continues his hunger strike.

Or that hundreds of protesters are still in prison after being detained, tried unfairly by military courts, and receiving harsh prison sentences, according to Amnesty International’s new report. Or that dozens have been imprisoned for life in the brutal crackdown that followed the uprising against the ruling Al Khalifa family in February and March 2011.

That led to the cancellation of last year’s Grand Prix. But Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has decreed that this year’s race must go ahead, lending succour to a regime that is truly despised by the majority of the population.

The defiance continues amid state violence, despite bringing in former Scotland Yard commissioner John Yates to tart up the image of the country’s police force. Yates quit the Met, you will remember, in the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal last summer. He recently wrote to Formula 1’s governing body president Jean Todt saying he feels safer living in Bahrain “than I have often felt in London”. No comment.

Amnesty pours cold water on Bahrain’s attempt to create a new image for itself with a series of “reforms”. The organisation’s report published today concludes:

Reforms have been piecemeal, perhaps aiming to appease Bahrain’s international partners, and have failed to provide real accountability and justice for the victims. Human rights violations are continuing unabated. The government is refusing to release scores of prisoners who are incarcerated because they called for meaningful political reforms, and is failing to address the Shi’a majority’s deeply-seated sense of discrimination and political marginalization, which has exacerbated sectarian divides in the country.

Prisoners still in jail include 14 leading opposition figures and a prominent trade unionist. Among them is al-Khawaja, who has been on hunger strike for almost 70 days in protest at his imprisonment. Immediately after his arrest in April last year, al-Khawaja’s jaw was broken and required major surgery.

In hospital he was blindfolded the whole time and handcuffed to the bed. Discharged against the recommendations of his doctor, al-Khawaja was placed in solitary confinement and has been beaten, suffered sexual assault and other torture.

Amnesty reports that the country’s the security forces remain unaffected by “institutional changes” introduced by the government. Several people have died in recent months as a result of what is described as the “reckless use of tear gas”. The number of deaths had reached at least 60 by April 2012.

That the F1 race is going ahead is in no small part the result of the work done by PR consultants to “correct inaccurate reporting”. At the heart of the operation is David Cracknell, former political editor of the Sunday Times and whose Big Tent Communications is current PR consultant for the government of Bahrain

Matt Hardigree, writing for the auto website Jalopnik, says that a series of emails from Cracknell have sought to convey the image of a peaceful Bahrain and that the F1 race should go ahead.

The e-mails sent to me — and other motoring journalists — are filled with statements attempting to delegitimize reports of torture and protests that attempt to paint Bahrain as safe. At the same time, Cracknell highlights what he describes as attacks on police. Reading his emails it's as if there are two Bahrains that exist simultaneously; one filled with violent, evil anti-government protestors who rage against the police and another that's mostly peaceful.

No doubt there will be protests in Bahrain against the holding of the race. Most likely they will result in deaths. But Formula 1 is extremely big business and the blood of a few Bahrainis is not going to be allowed to interrupt proceedings.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, April 16, 2012

Charities row about venal self interest

The Coalition’s proposal to limit tax relief on charitable donations to £50,000 per year or 25% of a donor’s income has touched a raw nerve within the government’s natural constituencies – so called “wealth creators” and those who back the notion of “the big society”.

At present there is no limit on the amounts that can be donated to charities, thus making it possible to avoid paying tax altogether. One thousand millionaires currently pay 30% or less tax while nearly one in 10 people earning more than £10 million a year pay less than 20% in income tax, according to the Treasury.

Outraged members of the rich list have joined up to complain that the Budget proposal would “deter future donors” in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph. Infringing their “right” to use their wealth as they see fit is a restriction on the “liberties” of the rich and the super rich. To paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies, “they would say, that wouldn’t they?”

The idea that you can appear righteous and generous by giving away some of your wealth to the worthy poor and other selected “good causes” goes back to Victorian times and has long been the foundation of old Toryism as well as liberalism.

Philanthropists like Joseph Rowntree combined Quaker beliefs to build model housing schemes and fund research into social issues. Others raised money for public parks.

But the notion of selfless generosity has gone out of the window in favour of venal self-interest. Offsetting tax by making donations to charity is a convenient way for millionaires to minimise their tax payments. In fact Osborne’s proposal would only affect those giving more than £200,000, so it hardly “punishes” anyone but the super rich.

The web of connections between charities, politicians, corporate and banking interests are more often than not incestuous. Former prime minister Tony Blair, for example, has let it be known that "this is absolutely the right moment for government to do all it can to promote philanthropy; and certainly nothing to harm it."

Not too surprising for a man whose Faith Foundation pays six figure salaries to its staff. And his wife Cherie Blair’s Foundation for Women is backed by top US banks, JP Morgan Chase Foundation and Goldman Sachs.

Behind the pious phrases of “giving back to the community” is not only greed but a deep-seated animosity to the notion of a state that can tap into the income of the rich to provide any kind of benefit to the rest of society including the health service, pensions, education and all the rest.

So why has the coalition made this move? The globalisation of industry and banking combined with tax avoidance, growing unemployment and an aging population has significantly reduced state revenues. So little surprise that the state is desperate to claw back tax money while giving the appearance – and that’s all it is – that “we’re all in together”.

But fear not, ConDem ministers! Shining knight Ed Miliband has come riding to the rescue. Trying to outflank the coalition with a demagogic attack on “big money” funding of political parties he has proposed a £5,000 cap on donations. This makes Osborne’s £50,000 limit on charitable donations look like a tax bonanza to the rich.

Miliband equates trade union donations with those given to the Tories by capitalists and bankers. This is really reactionary and shows what contempt the Labour leader has for ordinary workers. His proposed cap also opens the door for Tories to demand that union members in affiliated unions opt in to paying the political levy to Labour (at moment unionists have to opt out – i.e. make a conscious decision not to pay).

Yes, they are all in together – the major political parties, that is. That’s why so many people are deciding to hold on to their precious votes until there’s something better to use them on.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Friday, April 13, 2012

Countdown to attack on Iran has started

As talks open in Turkey over Iran’s nuclear programme, there is increasing evidence that a countdown to an attack on the Islamic republic by Israel and the United States has begun behind the smokescreen of face-to-face meetings.

The negotiations between Iran, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, seem designed to fail because there’s nothing on offer. A military strike in the autumn, on the eve of the American presidential election, is now openly being discussed in military circles.

A scenario similar to the one that proceeded the 2003 invasion of Iraq is unfolding. International law is being manipulated to justify a pre-emptive attack on Iran, even though there is no evidence that the country represents an imminent threat to either Israel or the US.

Anthony D'Amato, a professor of international law at Northwestern University in the US, claims that Iran says it wants to “to push the Israelis into the sea and that they are constructing nuclear weapons. That's enough for me to say that cannot be allowed. If the U.S. or Israel takes the initiative to block that action, it can hardly be said to be violating international law. It can only be preserving international law for future generations."

Other experts take a totally opposite view. But they can be easily ignored. After all, the Foreign Office’s most senior lawyer quit on the eve of the Iraq war after she submitted that it would an illegal act of aggression.

In fact, there is no evidence that Iran is actually building a nuclear bomb. Even the Central Intelligence Agency and Mossad admit that. But just as in 2003, over the fabled but non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”, the facts are either being ignored or simply distorted.

Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since July 2009, which is responsible for verifying Iran’s nuclear programme, stands accused of pro-Western bias and of “over-reliance on unverified intelligence and of sidelining sceptics”. IAEA reports have becoming increasingly hostile, leading one former weapons inspector to comment:

“What we learned back in 2002 and 2003, when we were in the run-up to the war, was that peer review was very important, and that the analysis should not be left to a small group of people. So what have we learned since then? Absolutely nothing. Just like [former US vice-president] Dick Cheney, Amano is relying on a very small group of people and those opinions are not being checked."

President Obama is being driven by the powerful Zionist lobby to support an attack by Israel or face losing key votes in the November election. On the other hand, there is no appetite among American voters for another war. In a recent poll, only 20% strongly favoured an attack that could lead to an Iraq-type conflict.

Ultimately, the intention of Washington and its allies is to create conditions for what they hope will be regime change in Tehran. They know that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities in itself would be meaningless because they are buried deep below ground. Instead, they hope a military attack would lead to the downfall of the Iranian theocracy and its replacement by a pro-Western “democracy”.

Yet leading figures in the Iranian opposition feature in a video showing activists and intellectuals speaking out against an attack. They say it would strengthen the hand of the regime, which has brutally cracked down on its opponents.

Sadeq Zibakalam, who teaches at with Tehran University , says: "A military strike will not help the democracy and reformist movement at all because it will cause militarisation of the country. The military, the revolutionary guards and radical elements will increase their power."

None of this is of concern to the major powers. Just as in Iraq, the long-term “prize” is the opening up of markets to global corporations and investment banks who are struggling in the capitalist recession. With Iran far better armed than Iraq was, the potential for miscalculation leading to international war is immense.

The campaign to stop an attack on Iran should begin now. Regime change should begin at home.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rangers own goal leads to ruin

The liquidators' report into the finances of Rangers FC lays bare the extent to which the Glasgow club has been itself been a football kicked from end to end by dodgy dealing and financial incompetence.

Rangers is carrying £114m worth of debt - mostly unpaid tax, but also money owed to ticket company Ticketus, and the two past owners, whose actions drove the club into the ground in the first place.

Current owner Craig Whyte, bought the club for a pound from property developer Sir David Murray when a tax avoidance trick backfired leaving the club owing more than £50m in tax. Whyte paid off secured bank debt of £18m and £2.5m in back taxes.

But he did it by mortgaging future tickets sales with the company Ticketus, and used a financial instrument called a floating charge. That means that though he didn't use his own money, he may nonetheless appoint his own receiver and claim assets equivalent to £18m.

Sir David Murray is also on the list of creditors - albeit for a smaller amount. His company Premier Property Group holds security for £110k on a parcel of land next to the Broomloan Stand at Rangers' Ibrox ground. Liquidators Duff & Phelps found the club was using tax and VAT receipts as cash flow, so now the debt to HMRC is even higher than when Whyte took over.

It was not until November last year that Rangers FC informed the stock exchange and the Scottish Football Association that Whyte was disbarred from being a company director. The SFA originally approved him but has now decided he doesn't pass the “fit and proper person” test. A bit late in the day!

Rangers were sitting top of the Scottish Premier League when the liquidators were called in. The SPL rules meant that 10 points were immediately deducted from their total.

Now the SPL on April 30 debates a change that would increase the penalty for insolvency to 15 points or a third of the club's previous year's points - whichever is the greater. The change would apply to Rangers if they are still in administration at the start of the season in August. That would make the club a less attractive prospective so Duff & Phelps have postponed announcing who their preferred bidder is.

But the potential bidders are nothing to get excited about - the usual
motley crew of local businessmen and international opportunists including:

- a consortium of car dealers, property developers and finance company bosses, led by current board member Paul Murray. It would include Rangers' second biggest shareholder Dave King. King is banned from disposing of any assets in the UK because he owes £250m in taxes to the South African government (where he lives).

- Tennessee tow-truck millionaire Bill Martin who may have never seen a football match in his life and possibly never set foot in Scotland. His sports background includes a failed attempt to start an ice hockey team in San Diego, and a short-lived rival auto racing circuit to NASCAR.

- a Singapore consortium led by businessman Bill Ng who claims to be a lifelong Rangers fan thought it is not clear whether he has ever seen Rangers play except on TV perhaps.

One thing is for sure - nobody is consulting the fans who have paid their ticket money, bought the strips, cheered the victories and mourned the defeats over the years. They have no say and no power.

Rangers debts pale into insignificance when you look at what's happening in England. At the end of last season Manchester United had debts of £590m; Chelsea £734m and Liverpool was within an ace of going into liquidation after the Glazers bought the club by borrowing money against its own assets.

And this is the face of 21st century football - clubs bought and sold speculatively and loaded with debt whilst communities get no benefits. Only TV companies, who stage matches at times to suit themselves, and corporate box freeloaders are considered. The players are almost as miserable as they are well paid and the whole thing has little to do with sport and is certainly no fun anymore.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Global economy can forget China 'rescue'

Once hailed as the country that would ride to the rescue of global capitalism, China is now gripped by political turmoil and, increasingly, serious economic difficulties that are already impacting on the rest of the world.

The renewed disorder on world markets is not only related to the likelihood that Spain and perhaps Italy will soon need bailing out because they are unable to finance their debt burden. Falling share markets are also a reaction to the news from China, where the world’s third largest economy has stalled amidst an unsavoury power struggle at the top of the ruling Communist Party.

In a spectacular fall from grace, Bo Xilai, son of a revolutionary hero, was yesterday suspended from the 25-member politburo and the larger central committee while his wife, Gu Kailai, was arrested on suspicion of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. Bo had already been dismissed as party chief in Chongqing.

Heywood was found dead in a hotel room in Chongqing on November 15. A mercurial and murky figure, Heywood was a close associate of Bo’s and is also thought to have worked for British intelligence in China. At the time of Heywood’s death, police in Chongqing informed British consular officials that he had died from “excessive alcohol consumption”. His body was quickly cremated.

From his power base in Chongqing, Bo earned a reputation for ruthlessly smashing organised crime, increasing foreign investment and running Maoist-style campaigns involving singing contests and sending people out to work in the countryside. He was seen as an opponent of and a threat to the pro-free market leadership in Beijing.

Bo upset the local business elites and outgoing Chinese premier Wen Jiabao targeted him personally in his farewell briefing at the National People’s Congress, warning that the country could not tolerate another upheaval like the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 that Mao set in train.

Behind the power struggle between elite factions/families in the party hierarchy is an economy that is unbalanced and heading towards an almighty crash. A sharp fall in imports indicates that the Chinese economy is not growing fast enough to take the strain of decline in consumer demand in other countries.

Imports in March increased at almost half the pace predicted by analysts, with the rate of growth more than seven times less than in February. The economy probably expanded 8.4% in the first quarter. That would be the slowest pace of growth since 2009. There is no way China is going to rescue world capitalism.

Michael Pettis, a professor at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management, says says the Chinese model is based on repressing consumption in favour of capital expansion. He warns:

As a consequence of this consumption-repressing growth model, Chinese growth is driven largely by the need to keep investment levels extraordinarily high. What’s more, the very high growth rate in investment, combined with significant pricing distortions, especially in the cost of capital, has resulted in massive overinvestment and an unsustainable increase in debt.

Add in concerns over “shadow banking” - underground lending and investing networks estimated to total $1.3 trillion - debt-laden regional authorities and rising inflation, and the political power struggle in China takes on a new significance.

The global crisis is now pretty much uniform in its appearance: political crisis at the top of the state, indebted economies unable to deliver much-vaunted growth to keep recession at bay and a widespread discontent amongst ordinary people. No resolution of multi-sided problems are in sight and a long period of social upheaval, assuming a revolutionary character, is definitely where we heading for.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Supermax prisons: America's own gulag

The European Court of Human Right’s extraordinary decision that a lifetime of solitary confinement in a “supermax” prison in the United States would not amount to a violation of human rights flies in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

In sanctioning the extradition of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad and three others on terrorism charges, the ECHR is condoning the most brutal form of confinement that some say is worse than being held at Guantanamo.

ADX Florence, a federal jail in Colorado, where the alleged suspects are heading for unless they win an appeal, is a so-called “supermax” prison where inmates are held under conditions that the New York lawyers association clearly views as inhuman. In a report last year, its committee on international human rights said:

These prisoners endure conditions of extreme sensory deprivation for months or years on end, an excruciating experience in which the prisoner remains isolated from any meaningful human contact. Access to a telephone, books, magazines, radio, television, even sunlight and outside air may be denied or severely restricted.

The policy of supermax confinement, on the scale which it is currently being implemented in the United States, violates basic human rights. We believe that in many cases supermax confinement constitutes torture under international law according to international jurisprudence and cruel and unusual punishment under the US Constitution.

The organisation Solitary Watch says that based on available data, there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated confinement on any given day in America’s prisons and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons.

Outside of supermax prisons, there is evidence of thousands of inmates with mental illness being held in solitary confinement and in one shocking case, shackled to the bed. Many are in prison simply because of cuts to mental health services and receive no treatment once behind bars.

A CBS report in 2009 described ADX Florence as a “21st century Alcatraz”, while a former warden told the programme that it was “a clean version of hell”.

The majority of ADX Florence is underground. Each cell has a desk, a stool, and a bed, which are almost entirely made out of poured concrete. Rooms may also be fitted with polished steel mirrors bolted to the wall, an electric light, a radio, and a black and white television which is remotely controlled and showing designated programmes.

The windows are designed to prevent inmates from knowing their specific location within the complex. Inmates exercise in a concrete pit resembling an empty swimming pool, also designed to prevent them from knowing their location in the facility. Communication with the outside world is forbidden, and food is hand-delivered by prison officers.

The New York bar association’s report finds that supermax confinement “is largely immunized from judicial review” and that what takes place in the institutions is regarded as “permissible treatment” under current case law. In other words, this is an extra-judicial process such as is used by dictatorships around the world.

While the ECHR judges found that if convicted, the holding of the suspects in supermax conditions would be acceptable, it is left to New York’s lawyers to uphold the rule of law and human rights:

The unmitigated suffering caused by supermax confinement, however, cannot be justified by the argument that it is an effective means to deal with difficult prisoners or is effective at controlling and punishing unruly inmates. Instead, the question is whether the vast archipelago of American supermax facilities, in which some prisoners are kept isolated indefinitely for years, should be tolerated as consistent with fundamental principles of justice. Even prisoners who have committed horrific crimes and atrocities possess basic rights to humane treatment under national and international law.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Spectre of Great Depression looms over Spain

A new phase of the financial and economic crisis threatens to drag Spain and other so-called “peripheral” countries in the eurozone into a 1930s-style depression and trigger a renewed global crash.

Spain’s failure to raise all the foreign loans it requires has sent markets tumbling and renewed pressure on the ailing euro. The European Central Bank’s decision to rein back on cheap loans to cash-starved commercial banks also adds to the sense of crisis.

Astute observers like economist and academic Nouriel Roubini believe that the pressure on countries like Spain and Portugal to slash spending coming from the European Union, the ECB and the IMF, could trigger major events.

“Japan had a Great Recession, and a Great Stagnation, but it never had a Great Depression,” he says. “But recession in some eurozone countries could become a depression, just like the 1930s.”

Earlier this week, treasury minister Cristóbal Montoro, presented the Spanish parliament with the harshest budget since the death of dictator General Francisco Franco. Prime Minster Mariano Rajoy described the situation as “extreme, at the limit and exceptional”.

This was the day after news came that youth unemployment in Spain's rose to 50.5% in January compared with an average eurozone youth unemployment rate of 21.6%. Total unemployment is up by 10% in a year to stand at 4.75 million.

The Spanish government agreed the details of a savage budget, brushing aside a 24 hour general strike which saw more than 1 million people take to the streets on March 29 against laws making it easier to sack workers.

Spending cuts averaging 17% and a further freeze on public sector workers’ wages will be imposed along with sharp rises in gas and electricity bills. Business taxes are being reduced. These measures can only accelerate the contraction of the economy already predicted to be 1.7% smaller this year.

But it wasn’t enough to satisfy the profit-hungry investors. Despite the severity of the budget measures, Spain’s debt was still forecast to rise to record levels, soaring to 80% of annual income.

In the latest auction of its bonds intended to raise the funds needed to keep the economy breathing, and the acid test of the market’s reaction, investors showed that they were losing confidence in the Spanish government’s ability even to make the interest payments. They forced up interest rates and only bought two-thirds of what was offered.

In Spain, as in other countries, the people have reached the limits of their endurance and a new kind of response is maturing. The Assembly of the Neighbourhood Los Austrias in Madrid played its part in mobilising for the general strike.

As Global Voices correspondent Lidia Ucher put it, the movement that sprung up on May 15 “has been a turning point in terms of supporting the calls of a part of civil society, organised in collectives, neighbourhood assemblies, and local or individually-led associations. In this general strike, the citizen movement has taken different forms in the streets, neighbourhoods, social organisations, and digital social networks.”

This new movement is seeking creative ways for all affected to join the action. Among the proposals from the neighbourhood assemblies was for those without jobs to support the withdrawal of labour, with a consumption strike, taking to the streets without paying to consume food for 24 hours. Another was to involve women in a “care and gender strike”.

Together with the Arab Spring, and the revolutions in North Africa, the 15M movement has been the inspiration for the worldwide Occupy movement. As the global capitalist crisis continues to seek its victims, the new movement for democracy should seek to go beyond more inventive protest which the state can cope with.

We need a strategy for mobilising millions of people to actually defeat the present political and economic system, which M15 rightly identified as the problem not the solution. Our aim has to be the creation of a not-for-profit society of ecologically sustainable production satisfying the needs of the 99%. That’s the only alternative to a capitalism heading for a new Great Depression.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Big Brother state comes calling

Make no mistake, the plans to extend surveillance into real-time monitoring of every type of electronic communication do not originate with the ConDem government. They represent the demands of the secret state tooling up for social confrontation.

The authorities were stung during last year’s riots in England when young people used social media, including encrypted Blackberry Messenger, to communicate with each other.

Now the pressure is on from inside the security services is to extend the surveillance state into every corner of people’s lives. They want instant access to what people are saying and who they’re communicating with, by email and the web through services like Skype.

The authorities will be able to establish patterns by seeing who we send texts and emails to and how frequently, which websites we visit and what we download and the people we phone and how often. Which video games people play online will also be covered.

No warrants would be required, allowing for instant data-mining on a vast scale. One campaigner called it “a bug in every home”. Another said: “You will never know when you are being watched, and nobody else will either, because none of it will need a warrant.”

Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said: “This is an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran. This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses. If this was such a serious security issue why has the Home Office not ensured these powers were in place before the Olympics?”

And both the Tories and Lib Dems, who opposed similar moves by New Labour in 2009 – which were only abandoned on cost grounds – are willing to comply. Undoubtedly, much of the operation will be “out-sourced” to private companies (who will undoubtedly lose/sell the information).

The £2 billion a year estimated cost is clearly seen as a priority while other government spending is being cut.

Under the plans due to be announced next month by home secretary Theresa May, the ConDems will build on a whole raft of measures introduced by the Blair governments.

These compelled internet service providers to keep everyone’s emails and make them available on request. A whole range of bodies were given unprecedented powers to conduct surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

Some three million operations have been carried out under this law in the last decade. Add in CCTV cameras, licence-plate readers, biometric passports (not to say supermarket “loyalty” cards) and Britons are amongst the most spied-on people anywhere.

While claiming that the purpose is to detect clandestine criminal activity and would-be terrorists, the secret state has a deeper agenda. This is to check on emerging social movements like Occupy and spontaneous upsurges of a generation cut off from work and resources.

Pre-emptive arrests using existing anti-terror laws might follow, creating a form of internment at time of social unrest. These are the scenarios being worked on at organisations like MI5 and other bodies that so secret that they are a state within the state.

Only a few libertarian Tories like David Davis and the odd Lib Dem MP are speaking out against the new plans. Labour wants “safeguards” but is otherwise in support. The real conspiracy, therefore, is that of the three major parties. They are prepared to endorse the Big Brother state plans of the security services rather than defend the liberties of the electorate.

We must conclude that a parliamentary state that is unable, unwilling or incapable of defending basic liberties (as well as living standards and services like the NHS) is not fit for purpose. A totally new democratic framework is required that will dismantle the oppressive inner state as a precondition for guaranteeing basic rights and liberties.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, April 02, 2012

Suu Kyi hails Burmese people's awareness

Ecstatic scenes have marked the electoral successes of Burma National League for Democracy party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. But the reconciliation she is calling for with the other political parties will not bring true democracy.

The NLD has claimed 43 out of the 45 parliamentary seats which it contested in Sunday’s by-elections. The army and its allies still dominate the 664-seat parliament.

It was the first time that the party’s leader has been allowed to campaign in an election. Daughter of assassinated revolutionary Aung San, modern Burma’s founding father, she founded the NLD in 1988. But she was placed under house arrest in 1989 and remained there for a total of 22 years.

The Nobel prize winner was banned from standing in 1990, but the NLD still won 59% of the vote, which guaranteed it 80% of parliamentary seats. The ruling military junta promptly nullified the election results.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now 66, survived an attack by 200 thugs acting on behalf of the regime whilst travelling in a motorcade in 1996. She defied illness to campaign in the poorest areas of Burma.

NLD party officials complained about poster defacing and the use of waxed ballot papers. Among other irregularities, the Democratic Voice of Burma, said that some 6,000 names were missing from the voters’ lists in Ward 1 of Myaung Mya constituency in Irrawaddy Division. But the presence of foreign journalists and teams of monitors was a first under a regime which has sought to hide its crimes.

Of course there is plenty of caution and realism mixed in with the joy. Many realise that the vote will not shatter the brutal control exercised by the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is a proxy for the military junta.

The release of political prisoners over the past year and increased political freedom is construed by many as the regime’s cynical attempt to get Western sanctions lifted.

Those in refugee camps are watching developments anxiously to see if it is safe to return home. The brutality of the regime towards Burma’s ethnic minorities created desperate conditions for many, forcing them to become refugees. The UN estimates that there are some 163,700 Burmese refugees in Thailand, and 229,000 in Bangladesh who have been in border camps for more than 20 years. Another 150,000 people are internally displaced.

Burma’s rich natural resources have allowed its ruling elite to negotiate deals with the Chinese government and profit-hungry investors. Villagers in Kachin state fear the resumption of work on the Myitsone Dam project on the Irrawaddy river. The dam, which is being financed by China Power Investment Corporation, will dislocate thousands of people. Ninety percent of its power is destined for China.

According to Zoya Phan of Burma Campaign UK, human rights abuses have increased over the past year. She points out that hundreds of political prisoners have been released, but many more remain in jail, while there is a continued failure to recognise the rights of ethnic minorities who make up 40% of the population.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s protracted and fearless campaign has provided the people of Burma with a powerful symbol of their aspirations. The have spoken through to reject their old rulers. She is right to say that “it is the rising political awareness of our people that we regard as our greatest triumph.”

Whatever the final results, the turn-out for the NLD shows that Burmese people were desperate to speak out. The results so far shed a big chink of light in a country blighted so long by military dictatorship and extreme poverty for the many. Now is the time, inside and outside Burma, to take up the torch and move from a little democracy to real economic and political democracy.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary