30/12/2005

POLICE STATE

On January 1st, police in Britain are to be given sweeping new powers. Police, from Sunday onwards, will be allowed, if they think it “necessary”, to hold anyone they suspect of any offence – motorists who are not wearing seat belts, for instance, or who commit the felony of driving in a bus lane, or even your young ne'er-do-well who throws his fish supper wrapper away in the street.

Moreover, the police will be allowed to store a digital photograph of you on a database even if you have been found innocent of the charge you were originally arrested for.

The Home Office is changing the law because current legislation on what is an arrestable offence is, they argue, “bewildering”. On the one hand you have the Home Office suggesting your average cop is too daft to make his/her mind up as to what is a criminal offence, while at the same time asking the police to make an on the spot decision on whether or not it is “necessary” to arrest your average lawbreaker for gobbing his wad of chewing gum onto the pavement.

Were it not bad enough that Britain has more CCTVs spying on us than any other country on the planet (an estimated 300 cameras will have watched you when you get back home after a day’s bargain-hunting in Newcastle), that the British police have the biggest DNA database in the world, that your location can be tracked to within 6 feet when you use your mobile phone, but from next March, almost every car journey made in this country will be logged by CCTV and satellite cameras, and stored away for future reference on a police database. Terrestrial and space based cameras make it possible for the state to recognise your car number-plates anywhere you go and, we are told, quite soon they will be able to recognise human faces as well.

Forgive me for sounding alarmist, bit I’m banking that in a few years every single adult in Britain will have their mug-shot on a police database, that the day will come when your movements will be logged the moment you leave your house in the morning.

No doubt people, like me, concerned about increased police powers and increasing state intrusion into our daily affairs will be met with the imbecilic line: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about.” The point is that this has nothing to do with our innocence. It’s all about mistrust; about the state saying we can not trust a single one of you as far as we could kick you. The state is saying you have a brain and are capable of thought, so you are therefore a potential threat to very powerful interests and consequently need to be tracked 24-7. This is the state saying they want to know everything about us from the moment we’re born until the second our heart stops beating.

When you consider the state has access to the NHS database, to info transmitted each time we use credit cards (the spy in your wallet), to info that will be contained on the coming national id cards, the info gleaned at the NSA base at Menwith Hill that scrutinises our phone conversations and scans our email, the info amassed by Echelon, perhaps the most powerful intelligence gathering organization in the world and sponsored by the USA and the UK, then it’s time to sit up and start worrying.
Our civil liberties are being eroded by the second. You can either sit back and accept it as inevitable and reconcile yourself to a lifetime of mind-numbing conformity, never daring to think an out-of-the-place thought about the system that exploits you, or you can organise with others in an attempt to wrest state control from those who use it as a means of utter oppression on behalf of the master class. But don’t take too long to think about it – your thoughts will one day not be your own

26/12/2005

Boxing Day Barbarians

Yesterday, across the country, 250 gangs congregated in furtherance of their class interests, turning a blind eye to a law that forbids such activity and went out purposely to rid their land of what they see as vermin

No, this was not a mass action by anarchist groups intent on ridding the country of the landowning class, but rather the landowning class, dressed in silly costumes that emphasise their power and privilege, cocking a snook at a 10 month ban on fox hunting and turning up in their thousands across the country for the ritualistic boxing day sport of hunting and ripping to shreds terrified and defenceless animals.

Were these 250 gangs of proletarians demonstrating against an injustice or something they felt passionately about, the police would have been out in force. Public assembly legislation would have been used against them; the riot act would have echoed around the country, there would be baton charges, cracked skulls and mass arrests. But no, this was a wealth owning minority, carrying out illegal activity on their “own land” and the law was powerless to intervene.
If we can draw one conclusion from this brazen mass defiance of the hunting ban it is that when it comes to issues of law, the rich and powerful are fully aware which side of the class divide the law is there to serve - that of wealth, privilege and power. They possess the land, the wealth, and power, and isn't possession nine tenths the law?

As John Lennon once famously said: "Possession isn't nine-tenths of the law. It's nine-tenths of the problem." Too bloody true. It seems that only when we sort out the real issue of who possesses what will we be in a position to put an end to the barbaric pastimes of the privileged few.

20/12/2005

Chrimbo Musings

The Christmas season nowadays starts round about early November, just after we have finished celebrating the barbaric execution of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators. That’s about the time the seasonal ads start appearing on your TV set, reminding you that within seven weeks you will be obliged to empty what little hard-earned money you have in your savings account and to spend the same on presents, the recipients of which, in 999 out of 1000 cases, never really need.

Christmas is undoubtedly a secular festival these days, all religious claims to it having long been conceded to the master class who use it as a midwinter morale booster for their exhausted workers, and a money- spinner. And how the masses warm to the event, numbing the pain of their alienation in an orgy of over-spending, over-eating and over-drinking!

The truth is the whole dammed thing is an expensive ritual - a wallet-emptying convention devoid of any real and spontaneous show of affection - that many, if asked, would rather do without. Just look how embarrassed people feel upon receiving an unexpected card or gift and having none to give in return – a situation that reinforces one of the basic tenets of capitalism: ‘you get nowt for nowt’. How many people feel uncomfortable about writing out Christmas cards to send/give them to people they think they are bound receive one from, people they are acquainted with only on a superficial level, fearing that such an unreciprocated act will signify meanness?

I do not mean to imply that humans are greedy and selfish and uncaring. Far from it! I am a socialist because I think exactly the opposite - that humans are innately good, that they work best when faced with the worst, that they will go to any lengths to alleviate the misery of others and that they have the ability to fashion a world in their own interests. But Christmas is all about giving on cue, about affection on demand, about a “season of goodwill to all men”. And I really do not think humans need to be reminded to give on cue, to have their affection synchronised to the Gregorian calendar, to show goodwill to all people. We have developed the advanced technological society we enjoy now exactly because we give and share and care without being asked to, or being reminded to, or having the open show of affection ritualised – indeed, our very survival as a species has always depended on it.

I believe capitalist society suppresses our emotions, stultifies just what it is to be really human and goes a long way to create a society of atomised individuals, pursuing their own selfish interests. In such an anti-human climate Christmas seems a bloody miracle!

Granted, kids love it – it’s all about magic, about a fat, unshaven, jolly geriatric in a red suit who, with his band of trustee, anal retentive, reindeer, can cover the earth’s surface area of 196,940,400 square miles within 12 hours whilst showering presents on the deserving. And, granted, the heartily religious love it – it’s a time for remembering when, 2,000 years ago, a 13 year old Palestinian lassie had a virgin birth, having been impregnated by a God (nowadays that gets you on the sex offenders register, as does entering the bedrooms of youngsters in a silly red disguise to leave presents).

But do we need Christmas? I can only conclude that until we have abolished capitalists from the earth and gods from the skies the answer has to be yes. If it was not Christmas, then another event which necessitates the suspending of the normal functioning of the rat-race, demanding the proverbial letting down of one’s hair and the partaking in an orgy of consumption, would take its place. It’s sad, but the exploited masses just need that fix. Religion has sod all to do with it.

19/12/2005

Capital and Other Kids' Stuff

The Independent reports how an online opinion poll conducted by the business organisation Luton First to mark National Kids’ Day reveals that “the next generation of teenagers looks set to be more materialist than ever before.”
Ranking the things they thought most important from 1-10, the survey found the values of your average 10-year-old to be:

1. Money and getting rich
2. Being famous
3. Football
4. Pop music
5. Animals
6. Families
7. Computer games
8. Holidays by the sea
9. Nice food
10. God

Evidence if ever it was needed that capitalism’s brainwashing machine is working perfectly! A couple of hundred years ago and your average 10 year old would have cited God, the “heavenly father”, as their number one. He has since been kicked into 10th place and his number one ranking taken by another God - Mammon - the god worshipped by capitalists for generations.

And animals taking the fifth notch ahead of their families? Harry the hamster and Billy the goldfish steal affection from kids’ parents?

“Dad, can I have a fiver for the pictures?”

“Bugger off, yer little sod; ask yer ferret.”

I’m just wondering if this survey of ten year olds, which bears on their capitalist aspirations, has anything to do with the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales (the age at which you can be legally tried for an offence in a court) – which is, interestingly, 10 years of age?

16/12/2005

Bugger Henry Moore. What about 'Viking in Mosaic'?

Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, Reclining Figure (pictured) , is the latest art masterpiece to have been half-inched. In the past century art thieves have swiped many notable works of art (for hundreds of years, in fact, if you count in the Elgin Marbles). They include da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Munch’s The Scream and Turner’s Shade and Darkness. And it is not uncommon for the media to approach such thefts as if they were of national importance, the art thieves guilty of treason. The theft of some works of art , however, is not reported in the mass media and neither are they ever recovered. One such work of art was entitled Viking in Mosaic.

Viking in Mosaic was stolen in 1971. Its theft was not investigated by the police and it was never reported in the press. Why? Because it was created by me when I was 11 years old. Yup, me! The work was hanging on my 4th form class wall as ‘painting of the month’ when the ageing, red-brick prefab block of St Aloysius RC Primary was burgled one night.


The burglars never got much – they never ever did when they burgled the prefab block, which was about every other week – but amongst their haul this time was my mosaic Viking picture that I had spent many an art lesson on. It was brill! I was a canny artist in those days and had put a lot of work into this piece. The Viking was made from a dozen different materials (felt, scrap pieces of linen, string, fur) and he had a spear made from a drinking straw with a tip made from a silver milk bottle top, and a shield made from corrugated cardboard.

But it was most definitely stolen, I shit you not. Whether it was stolen to order by some jealous 3rd former who had too much pocket money and miffed that I had won that year's school Easter Egg Competition (I was a god wee artist back then), or was nicked by opportunists who saw the work as an investment, or maybe by thieves who just needed the fucking straw for the cartons of juice they also nicked, I will never know. And it was never ever found.

And was I bothered? Was I heckers!! They had actually stolen my art! Mine! I was chuffed as hell that someone had nicked it. I wanted their bloody autograph! Likewise, as far as I am bothered anyone who has the balls to have a got at something that weighs over 2 tons can keep it. Nicking something that big (10’ by 8’) is an art in itself and the thieves have certainly drawn more attention swiping it than Moore ever got creating it, which is more than I can say for Viking in Mosaic. Moore, looking down from artist’s heaven, should likewise be chuffed.

15/12/2005

Richard Wilson or Evald Ilyenkov?

Like any revolutionary socialist worth his/her salt I can’t go past a second hand shop without popping in to see what books are on offer. You just never know what you will find. I remember walking up Clapham High Street not so long a go with a few comrades. As we passed the Save the Children shop we spied a large box of books they were throwing out. Like a pack of rabid dogs we descended on it and, heads down, arses up, rummaged about in it with glee. Minutes later we continued on our journey each with handful of books.

You just never know what you’re going to find in a second hand shop. My nearest charity shops are in Jarrow. I frequent them often and nine times out of ten come away empty handed. About a year ago, however, in the Scope shop just off Ellison Street, I came across a copy of Evald Ilyenkov’s Leninist Dialectics and The Metaphysics of Positivism - not a title you want to try repeating after 5 pints of brown ale – for one thing you’d slaver all over your shirt and for another someone would give you kicking for being a wanker.

I bought the book not with any intention of reading it – a quick skim reading of the book revealed you needed a an MA in Pure Applied Jargon and an MSc in Intellectual Masturbation to get past the first chapter – but out of pure curiosity (if I was a cat I’d have been long dead). Who the hell, I wondered, in Jarrow, would have this on their shelf? Was this a sign that in The Town That Was Murdered* there was a sign of life?

Yesterday, I bought another book in the Scope charity shop: I don’t believe it: Richard Wilson’s Book of Absurdities ( I’ve just done a friggin’ google search for this book and found it is selling on eBay for 1 pence, which is 100 times more than I paid for it). It’s the kind of book you quote from when you’ve had five pints of brown ale and get a kicking for being a boring bastard. I bought it because after a long year on the barricades I needed to wind down with something light.

The book is little more than a collection of amazing and weird facts and catalogued under various headings such as Nutty Notices, Misleading Names and Ghastly Gaffes.

Within minutes of opening it and flicking the pages I had learned that the Bible does not mention that Eve ate the forbidden apple (I’m gonna have to check that one out), that the Greek playwright Aeschylus died when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head and that William Tell could not have shot an apple from his son’s head with a crossbow as crossbows were not known in Switzerland in the 13th Century.

I came home and read the entire book in an hour. Putting it down I considered that there was more in this book of interest to your run-of-the-mill Marxist (not the Groucho tendency) than in a dozen readings of Ilyenkov’s little book. Moreover, I knew I could pass it on to a comrade who would find it every bit as interesting as I have. And I wondered just who had handed this in at the charity shop. Was this a sign that there was life in The Town That Was Murdered*?
* The Town That Was Murdered is a history of Jarrow, which includes a much quoted chapter on the 1936 Jarrow March, and was written by the town's MP Ellen Wilkinson in 1939.

UPDATE

Acccording to the aformentioned Richard Wilson book on weird and wonderful facts, Pontius Pilate was a Scot. Seemingly his father was a governor of that part of the Roman Empire. Pilate was born at Fortingall near Dunkeld. St Andrew would turn in his grave.

13/12/2005

Hail to the Chimp

Rarely do I not owe the morning's first smile to Steve Bell, the multi-prize winning Guardian cartoonist and the man who turned a president into a chimpanzee. The Bush-monkey idea has, in the past five years, been copied a million times around the world. The idea crops up on hundreds of websites. I've seen tee shirts with the image on, badges, posters and even a huge papier mache head-piece being worn at the anti-G8 at Gleneagles back in July.

In this morning's Guardian, Bell writes how the Bush-monkey idea came to him. Says Bell:
"I first drew Bush as a monkey after his installation by the Supreme Court, exactly five years ago. It was by accident. I was trying to depict him as a spiritual heir to Ronald Reagan, another useless chump whose most celebrated movie hit was Bedtime For Bonzo in which he starred with a chimp. So Bush became a chimp before I ever realised how closely he resembles our hairy forebears. Somewhat dim-wittedly, in retrospect, I had been trying to depict him as a turkey, because Bush's reputation for uselessness was growing as we got to know him, and (barring underpants) there is no better symbol of uselessness than that poor, maligned bird. But no amount of drawing him as a turkey would ever make him look like a turkey."

"...There was something about the way he held his arms as he walked up; then, as he faced the cameras, his mouth formed into a distinct pout. He moved like a chimp, walked like a chimp and even talked like a chimp. This was no play acting; George Bush actually was a chimp.

"...Some have written complaining that my depiction lacks subtlety and fails to convey his unique qualities and depth of character as a politician. I reply that I would be failing in my duty if I refused to acknowledge his unique qualities as a chimpanzee, for how often does a leader of the free world come along who resembles a monkey in every particular? Depth of character requires complexity, even contradiction. Bush betrays no such doubts or uncertainties. His confidence in his line of communication with the Almighty is total for the very simple reason that he knows he is God, and that is his most chimp-like feature."

For further Bell cartoons, try the Guardian's Steve Bell archive.

1000 Days of War

Thus ran the huge headline in this morning's Independent. One thousand days! It really does not seem that long ago that Darren and I were at the gates of Hyde Park on a freezing morning in February 2003 , handing out leaflets to the multitudes who had turned up for the biggest political gathering in British history (estimates for the number who turned up that day range from 1-2 million). If I remember that day for anything, the masses apart, it is for the lack of toilets and the fact that I was busting for a pee for hours, my discomfort not helped by the biting, bladder-chilling weather (Darren, like the typical Glaswegian, has a 20 litre bladder capacity so was unaffected).

But I digress. 1000 days of post invasion occupation! And it must be close on 1000 days since Bush nonchalantly strolled to the presidential podium to announce "mission accomplished", for the official "war"lasted only weeks.

And of the allied 'victory'? The Independent provides some painful statistics that ought to be carved on stone tablets and rammed down Bush's throat:

$204.4billion: the cost to the US of the war so far. The UK's bill up until March 2005 was £3.1 billion

2,339 Allied troops killed

98 UK troops killed

30,000 Estimated Iraqi civilian deaths

0 Number of WMDs found

8 per cent of Iraqi children suffering acute malnutrition

$35,819m World Bank estimated cost of reconstruction

53,470 Iraqi insurgents killed

67 per cent Iraqis who feel less secure because of occupation

$343 Average monthly salary for an Iraqi soldier.

Average monthly salary for an American soldier in Iraq: $4,160.75

66 journalists killed in Iraq. Journalists killed during Vietnam war: 63
5 foreign civilians kidnapped per month

47 per cent Iraqis who never have enough electricity
20 casualties per month from unexploded mines

20 per cent Inflation rate 2005

25-40 per cent Estimated unemployment rate, Nov 2005

251 Foreigners kidnapped

70 per cent of Iraqi's whose sewage system rarely works

183,000 British and American troops are still in action in Iraq. There are 162,000 US troops
and 8,000 British with 13,000 from other nations

90 Daily attacks by insurgents in Nov '05. In Jun '03: 8

82 per centIraqis who are "strongly opposed" to presence of coalition troops
15,955 US troops wounded in action
I could add another statistic - the number of times I wrote letters to the local press before, and indeed since, the war started, voicing my socialist objection, only to have those letters binned.
There are perhaps other important statistics to consider. For instance, the number of people who became totally disillusioned by politics in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. After all, over 1 million had turned up that cold day in February to voice their objection to the invasion (and many more around the world) only to have Blair and Bush totally ignore their protests. Many on the left thought this day would be a catalysts of sorts - that this day of action would result in the swelling ranks. Christ, how they were mistaken.

And another statistic - the number of reasons that Bush and Blair cited for invadingIraq and staying there: that Saddam had WMDs, that Saddam could lob a missile at the UK within 45 minutes, that they were restoring democracy in Iraq, that Saddam had helped Al Qaeda with the attack on 9/11 and that this was all about rooting out terrorism.

I feel a PhD thesis coming on so will say no more.

11/12/2005

Cannabis - Tony Blair knows best

So Tony Blair wants to do yet another U turn, this time on the classification of cannabis! Recent reports suggest he wishes to overturn the decision the government made two years ago to downgrade cannabis use. His change in attitude is allegedly down to a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). They claim that there is a definite link between cannabis use and mental illness, that cannabis causes psychosis in regular smokers of the weed.

That such a change in legislation is proposed only two weeks after the government sanctioned round-the-clock binge drinking, allowing pubs and clubs to sell alcohol 24 hours a day, makes you wonder what the hell Blair is up to. Anyone who has ever been to British city centre on Saturday night can tell you that the unregulated sale of alcohol is by far a greater threat to society than the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Is the Labour cabinet continually stoned? On the one hand you have the government okaying 24 hour drinking, just ahead of Xmas, and on the other you have the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, launching the government’s annual crusade against drink-driving, and in a pub of all places - okay, so it was on the set of the Rovers Return, but still, it’s perceived as a friggin’ pub, and what the hell if he did order an orange juice!

Not so long ago we had Dave Blunkett, Home Secretary, relaxing penalties on cannabis use whilst at the same time unveiling harsher penalties for selling the stuff. Eh? Forgive me if I rabbit on here a moment – this is the Marxist in me - but isn’t there an issue of supply and demand here? Firstly you increase demand by decriminalising the bloody drug and then limit supply by imposing harsher punishment for the suppliers. Doesn’t this drive up the price? And how do you get the money to buy it? Crime?

And then along comes a new Home Secretary, Charlie Clarke, and he says that there should be limits on the amount of ganja you can carry before you are assumed by the cops to be a supplier – and he reckons that 4oz should be enough. Anyone ever seen what 4 oz of cannabis resin looks like? It’s a fair little chunk. Opinion is divided on just how many spliffs you can get out of this but figures I have sourced range from 250 to 800 joints. For your own personal use!! That’s enough to take you to the moon and back. And what of the cost of this? About £250 if you have a canny supplier.

But I digress. Back to the findings that cannabis use causes psychosis. I’ve just accessed an online dictionary which has given me a definition of the condition: “A severe mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning.”

I know a fair few ganja smokers, some of them heavy users – I’m fond of the odd joint myself – but I can honestly say I have never came across any with these symptoms (they undoubtedly exist in places like the White House and the Pentagon and Buckingham Palace). Granted ganja, whilst you’re smoking it, can slow down your reasoning, cause you to have what you assume are profound and innovative ideas, make you talk bollox, cause you to laugh at anything, for instance, but the effects are not, to my knowledge, what the ACMD claims for the drug.

Sitting talking to a uniformed police officer not so long ago (and no, I was not under arrest), I asked him what he thought about the legalisation of cannabis. He replied that if it was fully legalised then his job would be a lot easier. I asked him to explain and he pointed out that people smoking cannabis were a lot friendlier, more relaxed and chilled out. He had never encountered any aggro from them. The real problem he said was with drunks. He really dreaded being called out to incidents involving the intoxicated as it often involved violence and a lot of upset.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see the police approving of Blair’s new cannabis policy. There again, Blair ignored police concerns about 24 hour drinking. What the hell do the police know anyway? That’s why we elect leaders – coz they know best.

10/12/2005

Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture

It is one thing to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and quite another to give a Nobel Lecture, having received it, that is itself deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize, but such was Harold Pointer’s brilliant Stockholm speech, which was broadcast Wednesday night.

That the BBC failed to mention it in their news broadcasts makes me wonder how many TV stations round the world did actually mention it, for this was something you would never see broadcast on prime time TV in the USA in a hundred years – it was just too close to the bone for your average repuke.

Pinter commenced his lecture with an analysis of his own artistic genre, about how important it is to ask what is true and what is false in art, and he even cited examples of how his plays come into being. He writes:

“I have often been asked how my plays come about. I cannot say. Nor can I ever sum up my plays, except to say that this is what happened. That is what they said. That is what they did.

“Most of the plays are engendered by a line, a word or an image. The given word is often shortly followed by the image. I shall give two examples of two lines which came right out of the blue into my head, followed by an image, followed by me.

“The plays are The Homecoming and Old Times. The first line of The Homecoming is 'What have you done with the scissors?' The first line of Old Times is 'Dark.' In each case I had no further information.”

His own art covered, Pinter coolly and calmly, with irony, rhetoric and humour tore into US foreign policy. He said:

“You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

And:

“I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, 'the American people', as in the sentence, 'I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people.'“It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.”

Your appetite whetted? Then go read it on The Guardian’s website!

One of these days, just one of these days, someone is gonna give a Nobel lecture and demand the abolition of the wages system and the establishment of world of free acess to the benefits of civilisation.

A stocking-filler with a difference

I’m taking a lead from Darren, the Inveresk Steet Ingrate, and using this blog to advertise a Xmas stocking filler. It’s not often I recommend that someone buys a particular gift – I think the last time was when told someone to buy Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
But I shit you not – this is one helluva DVD. Fifty minutes of the best anti-capitalist argument you’ll ever hear! The film, made by 4 members of The Socialist Party in the UK, (including me as producer!!!) and beginning with a look at how we treat our children explains, in non-jargonised terms, the insanity of a system that places profit before human need. Please note, this is not some leftie Party political rant, just a sane look at an insane world that is very much crying out for real change, change that can only be brought about by a majority, acting in their own interests and without leaders.

We made this film in Hebburn, just across the Tyne from Newcastle, back in March on a budget of £80.00 – the cost of travelling expenses, the hire of a church hall, and cheese pasties and fanta drinks. One comrade, Carol, had some state of the art film equipment that was loaned the project and she kindly offered her years of video production experience to edit the film.

The film was uploaded to http://www.socialist-tv.com/ (and can still be seen there if you’re skint and can’t afford to buy it) and was streamed about 30,000 times in 5 months. It was shown on public access TV in the USA and requested by a TV company in Venezuela. Professors at universities across the USA asked if they could include it in their political courses and it even found its way on to many torrent sites where it has been downloaded thousands of times. Eventually, in spite of the film not mentioning the “S” word once, the Socialist Party agreed to finance its mass production.

The film is available in Pal and NTSC formats. The text on the colourful DVD insert and the jacket design of the DVD can be seen at the Portland Indymedia site. The UK version of the DVDs are shrink wrapped and in factory condition.

If you want a copy, then email: spgb@worldsocialism.org or send your £5.50 to 52 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UN or the equivalent in $US. And, hey, none of yer friggin' Monopoly money!

09/12/2005

Stop the Warbiz (book review)

Stop the Warbiz by Ben Peri, (Authorhouse 2005), is one of those books you just wish you could mass produce and post through every letterbox in the country. In 357 well-sourced pages, Peri takes on the US war-for-profit machine like a rabid rottweiler might a postman. From Chapter 1 (the unbearable truth about the fabricated Pearl Harbour of the 21st Century) to Chapter 10 (the 2004 boxing day Tsunami), Peri unleashes a barrage of questions – and indeed offers many answers – about the White House’s war abroad and at home.

Stop the Warbiz strips away the web of mystery surrounding 9/11 and the consequent ‘war on terror’; it looks at rigged elections, the Patriot Acts and the increasing surveillance and invasion of privacy in the USA, the 800 camps that make up the hidden "American Gulag," and the red and blue lists of citizens to be executed when the green light is given from on high.
The book reveals how the government and media have created a culture of fear that is gnawing away at US civil liberties; how behind the “warbiz” is the oil-military-industrial complex - prepared to use any means to instigate their New World Order

The book is a mine of traceable facts – web links abound – and includes over 70 pages of appendices that cover the CIA, the little known of remote control anti-hijacking systems in aeroplanes, Bilderberg, Warbiz contributors to political parties and the contributions of the oil and gas industry to the US political system.

Ben Peri is an international analyst, consultant, journalist, reporter, columnist, and an advocate of free speech. Ben is a neutral, acute, and unbiased observer of the international political scene.
A man of no concession, Ben believes evidence supported by facts speaks louder to the truth than often shaky, mischievous, misleading, or influenced declarations and testimonies.

Ben's passion for ending wars and putting the business of wars “out of business” runs deep and has fueled his efforts on The Fingerprint of the Devil and Stop the WARBIZ for the past four and a half years.

08/12/2005

Rendition to Torture

Once again, the US is in the proverbial “dock” over revelations that it allows a practice known as “rendition to torture”, whereby terror suspects, upon arrest, are secretly flown to far off countries to be tortured for months on end.

Condoleeza Rice, the US Secretary of State and Klingon look-alike, is currently on a damage limitation exercise in Europe and telling anyone who will listen to her, and who can keep a straight face, that the US is not into that sort of thing, that it does not condone torture. She admits that the US has made mistakes in the war on terror and has said that where possible those wrongs will be righted, but pathetically covers these transgressions with the claim that at least CIA methods have saved European lives.
Granted, there are a lot of gloopy people in Europe – I’ve met a fair few myself - or else we would not have the leaders we have here, but for her to come here and say the US is not into torture suggests Rice thinks Europe is chocabloc with lobotomised cretins.

Let’s get a couple of things straight. Firstly, the US does not give a monkey’s f*** for human rights. This much was made abundantly clear when George (Dubya) Bush took office and, acting on advice from one Alberto Gonzales, withdrew the US from the Geneva Convention and cancelled Clinton’s signature from the International Criminal Court. Well, if you’re aiming to torture whoever you want, where ever you want, then it makes sense not to be a signatory to a document stating you believe people should not be tortured, that all people should be treated with respect and human kindness.

Secondly the CIA is actually above the law. Not a lot of people know this but on 27/12/2000 Congress passed a law to protect the CIA from any legal action whatsoever (the relevant law is: 114 STAT. 2840 PUBLIC LAW106-56 DEC. 27, 2000. SEC.1001. (a) and (b)). The latter makes sound sense – if you’re hell bent on world domination and are prepared to go to any lengths to secure it then you have to make damn sure your intelligence services are free from prosecution.
According to Human Rights Watch, The Bush administration is now the only government in the world to claim a legal rationalization for abusing prisoners during interrogations.

White House officials recently approached members of the U.S. Congress to seek a waiver that would permit the CIA to use cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment on prisoners in U.S. detention outside the United States.

In a 90-9 vote, the U.S. Senate accepted a measure backed by Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham that would proscribe the military and CIA from using “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment” in the case of any captive, anywhere in the world. But in October, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA director Porter Goss met with Sen. McCain to propose a presidential waiver for the planned legislation. The suggested waiver stated that the measure “shall not apply with respect to clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States, that are carried out by an element of the United States government other than the Department of Defence. . . if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack.” The waiver which clearly applies to non-military counter-terrorism operations against non-citizens overseas, declares that such operations need to be “consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and treaties to which the United States is a party.” But the Constitution does not vigorously restrict the conduct of the CIA overseas, and pertinent domestic laws contain abundant loopholes. What is more, administration officials have previously told Congress that they do not deem CIA personnel operating outside the United States to be bound by legal prohibitions against “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment” under treaties to which the United States is party. This exemption carries coded language that could give the CIA the go ahead to treat prisoners inhumanely. Human Rights Watch said the waiver would also open the door for outright torture, as interrogators would find it impossible to draw lines between illegal and “allowable” mistreatment. Bush administration officials, under questioning from members of Congress in the past, have failed to clearly define differences between torture and lesser forms of mistreatment. They have also made inaccurate statements about the definition of torture; for instance, administration officials have claimed that “waterboarding” (suffocating a person until he believes he is about to drown) is not a form of torture.

The widely publicised photos from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, show not isolated cases of brutality by unsupervised personnel – as has been claimed – but CIA torture techniques that have been used for 50 years all over the world.From 1950 to 1962, the CIA carried out research into psychological torture that cost an estimated $1 billion, producing a new method of torture that was psychological, “no touch torture”, not physical.

Your common or garden physical method meant interrogators had to inflict pain, by rough beatings, but this often produced heightened resistance, especially in obstinate prisoners, or undependable information. With the new psychological concept, on the other hand, interrogators used two new methods, disorientation and self-inflicted pain, to make prisoners feel responsible for their own suffering.

Though ostensibly less violent, "no touch" torture can produce lasting psychological scars on both victims and interrogators. The victims often need much psychological help to recuperate from a trauma every bit as debilitating as physical pain. The interrogators can undergo a perilous increase of ego, leading to increasing barbarity and lasting emotional scars.

After codification in the CIA's "Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation" manual in 1963 (this is now declassified and can now be downloaded from the National Securuity Archives website – they’ve lots of other juicy stuff there too) the new technique was circulated to police in Asia and Latin America through USAID's Office of Public Safety (OPS). In the wake of accusations of torture by USAID's police novices in Brazil, the US Senate closed down OPS in 1975.

With the demise of the OPS, the CIA propagated its torture techniques through the US Army's Mobile Training Teams, which in the 1980s were operating in Central America. In 1997, the Baltimore Sun published alarming extracts of the "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual" that these Army teams had distributed to allied militaries for two decades.

These manuals ceased to be used in the early 1990s, but torture continued apace right up to 9/11 and beyond with the hunt for Al Qaeda suspects, with US intelligence agents handing suspects over to foreign agencies for processing.

When Bush kick-started the current ‘war on terror’ the ‘no touch’ torture techniques recommenced, firstly in Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base, where prisoners actually died during interrogation and then in Iraq, where interrogators have likewise killed their victims. Similar prisoner abuses have been reported at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The US is as guilty as hell of not only torturing its suspects just as Britain and other countries are accomplices in so far as they allow their airports to be used by CIA chartered planes carrying their victims to be tortured in whatever god-forsaken hell hole they have lined up for them. The photographic evidence for psychological torture cannot be denied and neither can the testimony of those lucky enough to have been freed by their interrogators.

What planet Condi Rice comes from is anyone’s guess – the Klingon planet Narendra III?

07/12/2005

When The Truth Hurts

Under a section headed ‘Open Government’, The Labour Party election manifesto of 1997 declared how “Unnecessary secrecy in government leads to arrogance in government and defective policy decisions”. It made reference to the Scott Report on weapons sales to Iraq under the Conservative Party and pledged that Labour would fight for a Freedom of Information Act and more open government. Many voters were highly impressed with New Labour’s alleged crusade for accountability and gave them their full support at the election.

In December of that year Tony Blair proudly revealed the White Paper Your Right to Know: The Government's Proposals for a Freedom of Information Act. The document advocated “establishing a general right of access to official records and information”, and stated this would lead to more open and accountable government.

The much awaited Freedom of Information Act. received Royal Assent on 30 November 2000 and was brought fully into force on January 2005.

In June 2005 a report by the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which assessed the first three months of the new Freedom of Information Act, found that Ministers and Whitehall bureaucrats were failing to open up the government and disclose information punctually to the public as previously pledged. The report showed that Whitehall departments had not revealed all the information asked for by the public in half of all cases and that there had been hold-ups in a third of all requests.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said in The Guardian (24th June 2005) that that some departments had been so bad that "in any other field, the government would be sending in a hit squad to take the functions over from them because they couldn't do the job". Pointing particularly at the Home Office, he continued: "The legislation seems to have passed them by. They are living in a time warp."

In July, with Blair gearing up for his G8 meeting in Gleneagles, the government decided to release more than 500 documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act – previously blocked documents produced by the Strategy Unit under Lord Birt, a Blair adviser. However, in an exercise highly reminiscent of the infamous episode when the former adviser Jo Moore sent an email on 9/11 suggesting it was a good day to ‘bury bad news’, the government chose to release them on the Friday evening of the Live 8 events around the country, in the full knowledge that the weekend press would focus so much on the Live 8 concerts they’d have little concern for anything else.

So, when the Daily Mirror on Tuesday, 22nd November, printed a report, headed "Bush plot to bomb his Arab ally", which referred to a leaked 5 page government memo contending that US President George Bush considered bombing Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar and was talked out of it by Blair, readers eagerly awaited further revelations and wondered how the government would react to the disclosure. But did the Blair government greet the openness that such an enquiry could bring and comply with requests for further information on the matter? Not on your Nelly! The government rather had the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, threaten the Mirror and other newspapers with the Official Secrets Act – elevating the disclosure of any further information - clearly in the interest of the public - to a treasonable offence.

It is somewhat ironic that a government, which had blatantly and dramatically lied to the British public over Iraq’s WMDs so much in an attempt to get them to support a war in Iraq, a war which was presented as being very much in our interests, should now be saying that disclosure of the memo was not in the national interest, when surely such an attack on Al Jazeera’s Qatar base could have resulted in retaliation against the British public at home and abroad.

And it was not as if the USA had not already set a precedent in attacking Al Jazeera offices. During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, a US ’smart bomb’ hit the Kabul offices of Al Jazeera. Two years later, in April 2003, the war in Iraq in full swing, the Baghdad office of Al Jazeera was hit by a missile. In the latter incident not only had Al Jazeera provided the Pentagon with its co-ordinates, fearing another ‘mistaken’ attack, but witnesses in the area saw the plane fly twice over the building before it was hit. That same day the Baghdad office of Abu Dhabi TV was also hit.

What possible motive could the US have had for wishing to bomb Al Jazeera? Well Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, a country considered a US ally and its staff are gleaned from all around the world, even Britain, so there can be little question of the TV station being considered an enemy. Al Jazeera’s only agenda is to report the news to an audience of 50 million and in a difficult climate. When the TV station first began broadcasting it won much acclaim in the US. The New York Times eulogized it as a “beacon of freedom” and White House officials saw it as living testimony that the Arab world wanted democracy and freedom of speech. But then the US top brass realised that Al Jazeera has a ‘tell it like it is’ method of reporting; that it was not going to bury the truth like so many western TV stations. It began reporting in gruesome detail what it saw, so much so that it has a nifty sideline in selling footage to foreign TV companies. Moreover, it aired the alleged Usama bin Laden video tapes to the Arab world. Clearly the TV station was becoming something of a “turbulent priest” that the kings of oil wanted rid of.

When, in 2003, Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary claimed Al Jazeera was “endangering the lives of US troops”, it was Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence who upped hostility to the TV station by falsely claiming it was collaborating with Iraqi insurgents. At the behest of their US puppet-masters, the newly elected Iraqi government had Al Jazeera thrown out of the country.

Back in June of 2005, Donald Rumsfeld further complained about Al Jazeera tarnishing the good old US image “day after day”

When US forces launched a massive and merciless assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, stopping all men of military age from leaving the city before the attack and with many hundreds of civilians dying in the consequent napalm bombardment, Rumsfeld commented on Al Jazeerah’s coverage of the atrocity:” I can definitely say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.”

During the State of the Union address in 2004, Bush referred to reports from Al Jazeera and other Middle Eastern media outlets as “hateful propaganda coming out of the Arab world.”
George Orwell once said: “during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Well, events before and since the invasion of Iraq have revealed we certainly live in times of universal deceit, so maybe Bush wanted Al Jazeera knocked out for its revolutionary act of telling the truth about the occupation of Iraq.

In prosecuting the former Cabinet Official David Keogh along with Leo O’Connor, a researcher to the former Labour PM Tony Clarke over the leaked memo, and in threatening the media with the Official Secrets Act, the government is guilty of the same crime that the story focused on – namely that of attempting to strangle the truth. Blair, on the one hand, allegedly advises Bush, it would not be wise to bomb Al Jazeera, who would have been bombed because they reveal the truth which the US finds harmful, yet clamps down on all attempts to bring the circumstances surrounding the memo to public attention, because to do so would likewise harm Bush.

And this from the same government which announced in their White Paper back in 1997, that “the perception of excessive secrecy has become a corrosive influence in the decline of public confidence in government…[and that]…people expect much greater openness and accountability than they’re used to.”

George Orwell left us with another memorable quote: "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future." This is exactly what New Labour, indeed the Bush-Blair bandwagon, is all about – controlling the future via their control of the present and what information is available to us and in the interests of their own backers. In preventing the truth surrounding Bush’s remarks becoming public knowledge the government is doing more harm to ‘national security’ than any full disclosure of the alleged “let’s bomb Al Jazeera” remark could. The Labour government ceases to be “open to scrutiny” and accountable to the people and instead becomes the puppet of US foreign policy its detractors always claimed it to be, losing what trust supporters might have had in it.

Of course none of the above should come as a surprise to the well informed, highly attuned to the Machiavellian goings-on of the executive of big business, namely governments. Few governments rule by force nowadays; most rule by consent, a consent granted by a misinformed and constantly lied-to public. Were governments really open with the truth, they would live as long as it would take the masses to tie their nooses.

Indeed, it was George Bush Snr who once said: “If the people knew what we had done, they would chase us down the street and lynch us.”

One thing, however, that the Socialist Party can pride itself on is its openness. We have no secrets; nothing we say or do is said or done behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny. Our EC meetings, Conferences and Delegate Meetings are always open to the public and there is nothing stopping members of the public speaking at the same. Moreover, all of the reports of these meetings are available for scrutiny, even posted on the www. And there are reasons for this – not only do we believe in accountability and feel it important to win the trust and respect of our fellow workers, we further envisage socialist society to be free, open and democratic, with all delegates wholly accountable to the people who elect them, so it makes sense that an organisation advocating such a society should hold its own democratic procedures up as a model.

And as advocates of democracy, free speech and accountability, we will be closely watching the trial of David Keogh and Leo O’Connor at Bow Street Magistrates Court on January 10th, though without much hope that this case will result in a triumph in the cause of government accountability. For Blair and Bush there is just too much at stake – the truth.

17/09/2005

HUGO CHAVEZ: REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST OR LEFT WING REFORMIST?

For years, the left in Britain and elsewhere, have sang the praises of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, ready always to defend the “gains” of the Cuban revolution as that country withstood everything the US had to throw at it. Now there is a new revolutionary on the block, cast in the Castro mould, flicking the V’s at Western imperialists as he implements social reform after social reform and, like Castro, wining the applause of radicals around the world. His name is Hugo Chevaz, President of Venezuela, and he is the mastermind of the country’s “socialist” Bolivarian revolution, presenting the “threat of the good example” that continues to panic right wing USA.

It is understandable why the left love him when he is regularly heard mouthing slogans and making the kind of demands you normally see in papers like Socialist Worker. Addressing the 2005 edition of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, earlier this year Chavez said:

"It is impossible, within the framework of the capitalist system to solve the grave problems of poverty of the majority of the world’s population. We must transcend capitalism. But we cannot resort to state capitalism, which would be the same perversion of the Soviet Union. We must reclaim socialism as a thesis, a project and a path, a new type of socialism, a humanist one, which puts humans and not machines or the state ahead of everything. That’s the debate we must promote around the world, and the WSF is a good place to do it."

By all accounts, Chavez was not inebriated, or stoned when he made this statement. He was sober and deadly serious. He had never talked about much socialism before, only about being a “Bolivarian, a humanist and a supporter of the Cuban revolution. But now he bandies the word “socialism” around with the glee of a five year old learning a new schoolyard profanity, and regularly mentions Marx, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg.

“Socialism” is the buzzword of Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution”. It is a word Chavez is keen to expunge of what he sees as its negative connotations, namely state capitalism – despite the fact that he seems unclear just what is meant by the term. Speaking recently to senior heads of the country’s military, Chavez asked that they carry the question of socialism ”into the barracks”, to initiate debate and to reassess everything they had hitherto been told about socialism and to help strengthen the ideological offensive.

In the TV programme Alo Presidente, broadcast on September 1st, he pleaded for Venezuelans to “leave to one side the ghosts with which the idea of socialism have been associated” and revealed the result of an independent opinion poll carried out in May and June. He informed his country that 47.9 per cent said they preferred a ‘socialist government’, that 25.7 per cent said they preferred a capitalist government and that some 25% were yet to respond.

Since Hugo Chavez declared that the way forward for Venezuela was to steer towards socialism, this has turned into the main debate within the revolutionary Bolivarian movement, and society generally

Reforms
There’s perhaps no denying that Chavez’s heart is in the right place even if he is somewhat muddled as to the meaning of the word “socialism,” and that he has decent intentions. But his “socialist” agenda amounts to little more than one vast reformist programme that is largely being financed by the country’s oil, which is currently selling for five times its 1999 price.
The generous profits from oil price rises have gone into financing programmes to improve health, provide cheap food, extend educational access, and to organise some land reform. Chavez has initiated operations aimed at ending poverty and improving the economic and cultural lives of Venezuelans. He is keen on educating the population via literacy drives. He is re-nationalising universities and building new housing. The state has taken over some sections of industry and a TV station has been set up to transmit the “socialist” ideas of the Bolivarian revolution.

While Chavez faces a lot of opposition in urban centres, it is clear why, in the poor working class shanties surrounding the city, support for the government is vocal and widespread.
Cooperatives
Chavez, is also keen on workers’ cooperatives. In his 1st September TV broadcast he pointed out that the kind of cooperative he is proposing is one that “generates collective wealth through joint labour, going beyond the capitalist model which promotes individualism”.

If company owners found the going difficult, he said, the state was prepared to come to their aid with low interest credit, though on the understanding that “the employers give workers participation in management, the direction and the profits of the company.” And which capitalist could resist that offer? Chavez observed that 700 closed companies had been identified with a view to expropriation; that many had assets and the machinery ready to start producing.
Expropriation comes at a cost to worker organisation however. The fist company to be taken over was the paper mill Venepal, now renamed Invepal. There, union leaders broke up the union – against the better advice of others in the trade union movement – and now look forward to buying out the state’s stake in the company so they will have sole control over company and profits. Overnight former militant trade unionists have turned into aspiring capitalists.
Threat
As far as the US is concerned with Venezuela, the “threat if the good example” that the Bolivarian revolution poses is the least of their problems at the moment. The real concern stems from the fact that Venezuela has considerable oil wealth. Venezuela is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world – 13 per cent of the world’s oil comes out of the country - and Chavez controls the largest oil supplies outside of the Middle East.

At a time of rising oil prices, instability in the Middle East, and with China emerging as a major challenge to US economic interests in the near future, Chavez earlier this year signed an agreement with China's vice president Zeng Qinghong, smoothing the way for the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation to invest in the development of Venezuelan oil and gas reserves. Chavez further agreed to sell fuel and crude oil to China at reduced prices to compensate the high shipping costs of oil to East Asia.

Moreover, Caracas recently signed up to a much publicized agreement for a group of sales reps from the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela) to be trained by Iranian experts on strategies for penetrating the Asian market.

And who else does Chavez cosy up to? None other than arch enemy of US conservatism Fidel Castro. In the past two years, Venezuela has supplied Cuba with vital shipments of subsidized oil to ease the country’s perpetually faltering energy and transport systems, and in return Cuba has sent an army of professionals to Venezuela to help the ongoing social programmes, inclusive of 14,000 doctors, 3,000 dentists, 1,500 eye specialists and 7,000 sports trainers.
And then there are Venezuela’s recent Arms purchases – i.e. 40 helicopters from Russia, attack light aircraft and 100,000 Kalashnikovs from Brazil, which will no doubt provide the Bush regime with the excuse to channel still more weaponry to neighbouring Bogota, escalating regional tension and the likelihood of future instability.

Little wonder the US is becoming a mite anxious at the ongoing antics of the Latin American upstart Chavez. And just to make matters a little more precarious, Chavez has repeatedly made it plain that if the US starts flexing its muscles at Venezuela then he would not hesitate to cut of all oil exports to the USA.

Pat Robertson, tele-evangelist, entrepreneur, one-time presidential candidate and close friend of the Bush family, undoubtedly expressed the sentiments of many US neo-cons when, speaking on his TV show on 22nd August, he referred to Chavez as "… a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us badly."

He said: “You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he [Chavez] thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war, and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.”
Acknowledging that the US had the ability to bump Chavez off, Robertson continued: “…I think that the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”

Robertson’s “un-Christian” outburst quickly brought condemnation from the republican hierarchy, keen to keep Bush away from further criticism. Whilst Robertson may claim not to know “about this doctrine of assassination “, the simple fact is that consecutive US governments have attempted, arranged or supported the elimination of scores of leaders around the world. That Chavez has lasted so long is undoubtedly due to the international attention he has attracted of late.

Not Socialist
Rest assured, Venezuela is no nearer socialism than Russia was when it claimed to have established it. Not only is it the case that it is impossible to establish socialism in one country, but it could never be established by a leader. If Chavez can take his country into socialism, which is downright absurd, then some other leader could just as easily lead them out of it again. Similarly, the reforms he has implemented could be taken away the moment he is removed from office.

The country still has a monetary system. The banks and big business, particularly oil interests, are still in private hands. There have been no seizures of land. International oil companies have bent over backwards to provide new investment, in spite of Caracas having increased the royalties that they have to pay. There is till commodity production, still exploitation, still trade on the terms laid down by international capital and still armed forces ready top defend the economic interests of Venezuela’s capitalist class.

One thing looks certain – that the popularity of Chavez amongst the poor will carry him to another electoral victory next year and assure Venezuela of another six years of Bolivarian reformism, another six years of capitalism with all we associate with it, regardless of how Chavez wishes to disguise the word.

22/06/2005

MAKING POVERTY HISTORY IN EDINBURGH

Who is the G8? In a nutshell, it is a clique of the 8 leading industrial nations who have self appointed themselves rulers of the world. The G8 leaders are actually the executive of the capitalist class of their respective countries and are the staunchest defenders of neoliberal corporate globalisation, the custodians of privilege and corporate power and the guardians of world capitalism. They help rule the world and maintain the playing field for profit-hungry western corporations. They are all male, all caucasian, and together they have the power to dictate who eats and who starves, who lives and who dies, to declare war regardless of the wishes of the people who elected them. Their policies have resulted in global poverty and environmental destruction. They are meeting in Edinburgh this July to decide on which international strategies they can commonly pursue, allegedly in the interests of the people of the word and the natural environment.

Lined up against the G8 leaders this July in Edinburgh is the campaign group Make Poverty History, a loose coalition of some 450 NGO’s, Unions and charitable organisations, united in the demand for fairer trading conditions for developing nations, debt cancellation and increased and improved aid.

By far the biggest development organisation within the MPH is Oxfam, which has been widely accused of pandering to the whims of New Labour and propagating objectives which are identical to those of a Blair government frantic, in the face of the Iraq fiasco, to implement a foreign policy that campaign movements can stomach. Indeed, there are many larger than life individuals and groups associated with the MPH movement who identify with the objectives of Messrs Blair and Brown. The celebrity Bono, for instance, referred to the smiling duo at the last Labour Party conference as the “Lennon and McCartney” of poverty reduction.

Foul mouthed celebrity, Bob “fucking “ Geldof, a week after Bono’s remark, revealed he was backing Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s attempts to deliver development to Africa because of their Christian values. Geldof can well support New Labour and obsessively promote the agenda of the MPH campaign, but, frigging hell, you have to begin asking questions when even Blair has been spotted wearing a white Make Poverty History wristband.

The praise is of course reciprocal. On June 3rd, Gordon Brown expressed his support for Sir Bob the Gob’s Live8 concerts and encouraged demonstrations at the G8 summit, as long as they take the form of a "peaceful march". Any other government would have feared a march by one million demonstrators, but not New Labour. Blair and Brown are so happy with the convergence of their own overseas agenda and the demands of the MPH campaign that they rather see a million person march as being a rally in support of Labour Party policies.

Chancellor Gordon Brown is nowadays advised on international development by former Oxfam trustee and former director at the US bank UBS Warburg, Shriti Vandera and Blair has the backing of Justin Forsyth – one time Director of Policy and Campaigns at Oxfam - on the Downing Street Policy Unit. Said the latter back in 2002: “When you speak to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, they really understand [the] issues. They are easily some of the best leaders when it comes to talking about development and dismantling subsidy, and they are making the right arguments time and again.”

Of course there are some within MPH that see through the scam. War on Want dismay at the way New Labour’s overseas policies are winning widespread acceptance and undermining their own campaigning efforts. And neither is Christian Aid happy at Oxfam’s over-cosy, less critical relationship with the government. Friends of the Earth likewise believe there are disadvantages to the privileged position Oxfam enjoys with the government, believing the demands of campaign movements are becoming diluted and generalised.

They have a point. Blair sees himself as somewhat spearheading the MPH campaign at Gleneagles and queries why the MPH are heading for Edinburgh when he speaks their jargon. In Dundee, in March of this year, he commented: “It would be very odd if people came to protest against this G8, as we're focusing on poverty in Africa and climate change. I don't quite know what they'll be protesting against.”

MPH has been so linked to the government as to be rendered toothless. When the main players in the MPH demanded a meet with the government, Whitehall couldn’t accede fast enough. So closely have Blair and Brown been identified with the objectives of the MPH coalition that they have been criticised by other EU member states for softening their pro-liberalisation stance.
And who as it that rallied to the defence of the government to counter the claims of Blair’s cynics in Europe? None other that Oxfam who issued a statement criticising Blair’s detractors for trying to hamper Britain’s attempt to help the world’s poor. It is no secret that Oxfam has informed other developmental groups linked to MPH that it is important not to be perceived as being confrontational with the government now that Blair and Brown are singing from the same hymn sheet as the MPH.

Meanwhile, John Hilary, Director of Campaigns and Policy at War on Want, says that the British contingent at the WTO told him to “get real. The development agenda does not go very far. We have to be pro-business and pro-trade (New Statesman, 30th May, 2005).”
Hilary appears to have been well informed when one considers the agenda emerging from the much praised Commission for Africa Report.

The BBC, (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4337239.stm) responding to the launch of the Commission for Africa Report, published on March 11, which is the showpiece of the Blair government’s strategy for the G8, listed eight areas necessitating action by the West, inclusive of doubling or trebling aid, cancelling debt, spending more on HIV/AIDS, financing African universities and the removal of trade barriers to African exports in the West. (The report can be downloaded in full or in sections at:

Now there is much here, in the CAR, to whet the appetite of the anti-poverty campaigner. But, you need only read the prĂ©cis of the various chapters to suss out what is in fact the real schema. In chapter 7, for instance, objectives for fiscal growth in Africa are alleged to be possible 'only if the obstacles of… a discouraging investment climate are overcome'. And it proposes the 'public and private sector working together to identify the obstacles to a favourable investment climate'. How else can this be interpreted other than in suggesting more liberalisation and privatisation and more opportunities for western corporations to exploit African resources and labour?

The summary of Chapter 8 says: 'Investments in infrastructure and the enabling climate for the private sector are at the top of the agenda.' Is this not the government spearheading neoliberal reform in Africa on behalf of big business?

Business Action for Africa (BAA) has been in cahoots with the Commission for Africa. This coalition of 250 business representatives met with the CFA in February following formal dialogue between the CFA and the private sector on the continents of Africa, North America and Europe - a meeting arranged via the Business Contact Group, itself set up to provide private sector input to the Commission for Africa, and the result of a meeting co-chaired chaired by Gordon Brown and Reuter's chairman, Niall Fitzgerald.

Referring to the Business Contact Group, Corporate Watch observed: “Its 16 or so corporate members read like a roll call of the most exploitative and despised companies currently operating on the continent including Anglo American, Shell, De Beers, Rio Tinto and...Diageo, who also own the Gleneagles hotel where the G8 Summit will take place. Its programme was managed by Shell International's Senior Business Development Advisor for Africa. Also managing the Contact Group is the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC). The Corporate Council on Africa and the Canadian Council on Africa also gave input, thus allowing oil corporations, ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco, a say.” (http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=1535)

Dave Miller, writing for Znet in an article entitled Spinning the G8, commented: “The corporations involved can barely contain their excitement. The 'outlook' of the business community is a 'positive one' says one of the CFA commissioners. 'It believes Africa is the next frontier for investment'. James Smith, the UK chair of Shell, which co-hosted the meeting, noted that progress 'requires that the private sector has a bigger role'. The chair of the Commonwealth Business Council, the business lobby group co-hosting the meeting, read out the concluding statement. Dr Mohan Kaul affirmed that 'getting the conditions right for doing business in Africa is the biggest single investment for the future well-being of its citizens'. A 'vibrant and successful private sector… is required' he noted. (http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=7852)

EU states may well be critical of Britain’s new pro-Africa stance as being influenced by celebrities and NGOs, but the truth is that affiliates to the MPH, in applauding Brown and Blair, are the unwilling accomplices of a government which forms the vanguard of the latest corporate drive to open up markets throughout the developing world.

Gordon Brown may well bang on about writing of the debt of poor countries, but the fact is that whilst developing countries owe something like $2.5 trillion, over 60% is owed to private western investors, not the big international institutions like the World Bank, and it is not the debt owed the former that will be written off. Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance only owes the latter $68 billion, yet owes much smaller lenders over three times this amount.

In cancelling the debt owed to the big gangsters of global capital, it can be found there are countless smaller financial thugs demanding they get back what they initially loaned plus interest. Brown’s plan simply means countries have more space now to pay the little lenders off and these lenders, knowing they – developing countries - now have more money to splash out, will be shouting “Righto, we’ know you’ve got the dosh and we know where you live. So, no excuses. Cough up or we’ll send the boys round. Got it?”

Increasingly, in the last decade, there has been a worldwide reaction against neoliberal globalisation, corporate power and the injustices associated with modern-day capitalism. Everywhere where the world’s ruling elite have assembled to decide their next step they have been met with protests and demonstrations that have attracted hundreds of thousands. Demonstrations at Seattle, Gothenburg, Cologne, Evian, Birmingham, Prague, Genoa and Quebec, have stimulated debate on the nature of modern day capitalism. Thousands of articles have been written on the subject and hundreds of books have been published that explore the aims, objectives and the alternatives offered by the anti-globalisation movement.What is now clear is that the anti-globalisation/pro-development movement, however well-meaning, does not seek to replace capitalism with any real alternative social system. At best it attracts a myriad of groups, all pursuing their own reformist agenda. Some call for greater corporate responsibility. Some demand the restructuring of international institutions like the IMF, World Bank and the WTO.. Others call for the expansion of democracy and fairer trading conditions, debt cancellation and more aid. All, however, fail to address the root cause of the problems of capitalism and rather promote the damned system they are critical of by applauding any meagre reform.One thing is certain: no amount of high table reform is going to legislate poverty out of existence as the MHP coalition believes. Capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of the world’s suffering billions, because reform does not address the basic contradiction between profit and need. Moreover, reform can be so packaged and camouflaged as to be acceptable to protestors whilst leaving their real grievances unaddressed. The world’s leaders simply cannot be depended upon to implement real change because they can only ever act as the executive of corporate capitalism.

The protesters at the G8 might think they are united in common cause, but in truth they are only united in supporting capitalism and in their mistaken belief that poverty can be legislated out of existence, They have no blue print for change other than the three demands put forward by the Make Poverty History campaign – Fair trade, more aid and debt cancellation. – and this is about as radical as it gets. In mirroring in their objectives the overseas goals of Blair and Brown they are anything but the modern day revolutionaries they claim to be and are rather guilty of class treachery.

It is now no utopian fantasy to suggest we can live in a world without waste or want or war, in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation. That much is assured. We certainly have the science, the technology and the know-how. All that is missing is the will – the global desire for change that can make that next great historical advance possible; a belief in ourselves as masters of our own destiny; a belief that it is possible to free production from the artificial constraints of profit and to fashion a world in our own interests. And how soon this happens depends upon us all – each and every one of us.

15/05/2005

WILL IRAN BE NEXT?

On May 10th, the Iranian government began what may turn out to be a full blown global crisis when it announced that it is to continue with its nuclear programme. Although Tehran claims it is intent on forging ahead and enriching uranium for civil purposes, the Bush administration is rehashing one of the lies that it used to invade Iraq: namely, that Iran will be manufacturing nuclear weapons that it may well give to terrorists.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which carries out regular inspections in Iran, recently issued a report declaring that it has found no proof of a nuclear weapons program in Iran. Moreover, according to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Iran is a signatory, and to which the US cocks a snoot, non-nuclear countries do in fact have the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, on condition they inform the IAEA of their progress.


There is nothing to substantiate Washington’s claims that Iran is intent on producing a nuclear arsenal, yet before the Iraqi war is finished, the hawkish neoconservative misinformation machine in the US is at work creating fear that the US is in danger from Iranian nukes unless, we can infer, America pre-emptively attacks Iran.

Washington has argued that with all its oil Iran does not need nuclear energy - a statement that smacks of hypocrisy for many reasons, not least because it was Washington that enthusiastically encouraged the Shah’s nuclear programme in the 1970s – and that its desire to continue its nuclear research is clear evidence of its malicious intentions. Again, whilst the US sounds off about other countries having advanced defence systems, we find that the biggest stockpiler of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is the US itself, and which has a proven track record of having used them. The world’s number one rogue state – the US – furthermore feels it has the moral right to rubbish the nuclear test-ban treaty so its weapon’s scientists can enhance the US’ new theatre nuclear weapons, like bunker-busting mini-nuclear weaponry and to develop space-based weapons systems capable of annihilating whole armies from space in an instant.

Iran - not so long ago named by President George W. Bush as one-third of the "axis of evil” - is surrounded by U.S. troops in Afghanistan to the east and Iraq to the west, countries that have been flattened by American bombs in the past four years, not to mention the Fifth Fleet and numerous U.S. bases in the southern Gulf States. Naturally Iran feels a little threatened so it could be that Tehran is working on the assumption that those countries that possess nuclear weapons - Israel, Russia, India, Pakistan, China, and North Korea – generally get treated a lot better by the U.S. than smaller countries that do not.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Undersecretary of state John Bolton was credited with the words: “real men want to go to Iran”. Iraq, it was suggested, was just the first stage of a five-year plan. Iran, with a larger population and better defence systems would certainly not be as placid a foe as the Iraqi forces were and US casualties would be many times those suffered during the invasion of Iraq were the US to launch an invasion of Iran. So, leaving aside the fallacious argument that Iran is intent on building nuclear weapons it can sell to enemies of the US, what other reasons could there be for these ‘real men’ to want to attack Iran?

Well, Tehran is seen as a real threat to the US economy. A year ago this month (June 2004) Iran announced its plans to set up an international oil exchange (or bourse) denominated in the Euro currency and that this would be in operation by 2006. For several years oil producing and consuming countries have expressed their interest in trading through such an exchange so, logically, such an oil bourse would vie with London’s International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) as well as competing with the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), both of which are owned by US corporations. Since the US Dollar has been so far the global standard monetary fund for oil exchange, oil consuming countries have had little alternative but use the $US to pay for their oil. Oil consuming countries are thus required to keep the Dollar in their central banks as their reserve fund, thus underpinning the American economy. But were Iran and other oil-producing countries presented with the Euro as an alternative choice for oil exchange the American economy would go through a real crisis. It is possible the crisis could come at the end of 2005 and the commencement of 2006 when oil investors would be faced with the option of paying $50+ a barrel of oil at the American (NYMEX) and at London’s (IPE), or pay 37 Euros a barrel at the Iranian oil bourse. Such a choice would reduce trade volumes at the US Dollar-dependent (NYMEX) and at the (IPE). A triumphant Iranian bourse would solidify the petroeuro as one more global oil-transaction currency, thus ending the petrodollar’s supremacy as the foremost international oil currency.

The international trade of oil in petrodollars has kept the US dollar artificially strong for 30 years, enabling the US to amass vast foreign-funded government debt and trade deficits. Whatever Tehran’s motives, we cannot ignore the fate of neighbouring Iraq, which had already begun to trade in Eurodollars before the allied invasion. One of Washington’s objectives in Iraq was to install a pro-US stooge government, set up military bases before the onset of peak oil and to convert Iraq back to the petrodollar, thus frustrating OPEC’s desire to begin using the euro as an alternative currency of oil transaction. Indeed, one of the first steps taken by Iraq’s provisional government was in returning the country to the $US oil standard.

We must also look to US geopolitical strategy if we seek a real reason why Iran is seen as a threat to the US. The country, for one thing, is strategically placed, sandwiched between Iraq and Afghanistan, straddling the Middle East and Central Asia and must be subdued if the US is to control the region’s oil supplies (it’s not so much that the US wants all the oil, rather the US wishes to be in control of its distribution, to whom, and on its own terms).

The US is seriously concerned about the onset of peak oil and which experts say will come within ten years, the fact that extant reserves will probably be gone within 30 years and that long before that time China will have the same oil demands as the US. China is already securing long-term oil contracts with Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela, seeking out oil contacts via Canada and has previously, somewhat audaciously, made a bid for the US oil company Unocal. It is thus imperative for US capitalists that a rising competitor – China, itself the world’s chief consumer of grain, meat, steal and coal – is prevented from gaining a tighter stranglehold on world resources. The two counties may appear to be on friendly terms, but both are jockeying for position in expectation of a showdown. For US capitalism, there is simply far too much at stake. Should China grow in economic strength, sell off its dollar holdings, US imperialism will crumble. Therefore, in securing future US global resource flows, Iran has to be taught a lesson by US gangster imperialists – don’t mess with out interests; don’t run a racket on our turf without our permission; don’t deal with another mob.

An attack on Iran may be only weeks, months away. This may sound like speculation, maybe it is, but consider why, in June of last year, Israel took delivery of almost 5,000 "smart bombs" from the United States, bombs capable of penetrating six-foot concrete walls such as those that could well encase Iranian nuclear installations. There have also been numerous reports of clandestine US reconnaissance missions inside of Iran, and of U.S. spy drones violating Iranian air space.

As we approach the final year of Bush’s ‘Five-year plan’, expect war in the Middle East to feature prominently in the headlines of the world’s press. We hope we are wrong – for the sake of the hundreds of thousands of workers that would die a result of a US attack upon Iran – but history shows that where the interests of mega business is threatened, blood has to be spilled..
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