Saturday, April 29, 2006
According to this from Reuters, Defence Secretary Dr John Reid has been caught with the evil, evil, evil cannabis in his Scottish home.
I am shocked and horrified... but he wont be charged as it only has a 'street value' of 85 pence.
I was soooo excited for a moment... on the back of Prescott affair 'exploited power' (BBC), Nurses wish Hewitt the very best of luck . . . in her next job (Times) and Blair won't guarantee Clarke's job (Guardian) it would have been the icing on the cake.
It's just a shame that these people can never be brought to book for the things they really should be.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Basque leader is jailed for praising former head of Eta
Elizabeth Nash in Madrid
28 April 2006
Arnaldo Otegi, the radical Basque politician and a key figure in the incipient peace process, has been jailed for 15 months for glorifying terrorism.
Spain's High Court also banned Otegi, one of the most prominent and outspoken leaders of Basque nationalism, from standing for political office or voting for seven years at yesterday's hearing. Otegi, 47, the leader of the outlawed pro-separatist Batasuna party, is thought to have played a decisive role in persuading Eta armed separatists to declare a permanent ceasefire last month.
He had long been in discreet contact with members of the ruling Socialist party to prepare for the ceasefire, and is considered Spain's nearest equivalent to Sinn Fein's leader, Gerry Adams, in his importance to the Basque peace process.
While Basque Socialists consider him a key interlocutor, Otegi is one of the few non-combatant radical Basques with clout among Eta's military hotheads - because of his record as a former Eta hitman. He is likely to be a vital participant in future peace talks.
"I think the bases for the abandonment of violence are firm and will not be affected by these kind of events," the Socialist parliamentary spokesman, Ramon Jauregui, said.
Otegi was sentenced for praising the Eta leader Jose Miguel Benaran Ordenana, known as Argala, at a memorial service in 2003. He denied at his trial this month his homage amounted to the glorification of terrorism or Eta. "My message was only an act of remembrance for a person murdered 25 years ago for political reasons," he had said.
Argala was suspected of masterminding the assassination in 1973 of Franco's right-hand man, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, whose death in an explosion shook the dictatorship's foundations. Argala was amnestied in 1977 and murdered a year later, supposedly by extremists seeking vengeance for Blanco's death.
Otegi is on bail in connection with a trial to establish Batasuna's links with Eta. He was sentenced to a year in jail in November for insulting the king, whom he accused of being "responsible for torturers", but the term was waived as "a first offence". He can appeal to the Supreme Court, which has the last word on whether he should go to jail for the latest offence.
Before the court ruling yesterday, Otegi sought permission to travel to Dublin to take part in Sinn Fein events, invited by Gerry Adams. Mr Adams is said to have advised him on how to orchestrate Eta's transition from armed action to peace talks, and has praised him publicly.
For the record: I'm still celebrating the assassination of Carrero Blanco as an important blkow against a fascist regime.
But is you want to skip the argument and leap to the conclusion, this is how the article ends:
Generally, in local elections left of labour candidates except where there are special circumstances, get votes of around 2% or 4%. Anything above that is good, and suggests that the campaign has some resonance, anything below that suggests that you are doing something wrong: perhaps your leaflets shouldn’t have mentioned the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Hegelian dialectic after all.But we also have to judge what the impact of our campaigns is on developing networks of relationships with other activists in the town, the degree to which it is having an impact on the local Labour party. How many activists are involved in the campaign, etc. Crudely these factors will be reflected in the size of the vote as well.
In local elections it doesn’t matter so much that the left are standing under different banners, and we can all play to our own local strengths. I am hoping that when we look at the elections outside East London that we will see an average vote of around 4%, with some isolated results above 10%. That would be progress on the Socialist Alliance. Except in areas where there may be large Moslem populations I am not expecting Respect to do any better than the rest of the left.So what about Tower Hamlets and Newham? Galloway has set the bar high by suggesting that they will win control of a council, more likely they will end up with small but significant opposition groups on both councils. This will both be a big step forward, and also a very significant challenge. Once they have a few councillors it will no longer be enough to talk about Iraq, they will have to deal with next year’s budget, and can they hold their coalition together to lead a militant mass campaign for better funding, which may include surcharges on councillors?
It is an exciting prospect that a group of Respect councillors in Tower Hamlets could lead a fight over the issue of the Council tax, which is an issue that transcends the exceptional nature of their predominantly Moslem vote. Galloway has said it his ambition to fly the Palestinian flag over the town hall, but remember when John Lawrence was leader of St Pancras council in the 1950s he flew the red flag over the town hall – are Respect ready to take up that example?
However it pans out, if Respect win a significant group on either council this could provides the platform for the left with a practical basis for collaboration in a struggle against the council tax, and local government underfunding. It is through such practical collaboration over specific concrete projects that a new left can be built, and which could pull the Greens behind us.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Imagine my surprise when under Rule 2.10, Objects of the Union, it says:
"To secure the return of members to parliament and public authorities who will support the policies of the union and further the interests of members through political means, provided the candidates are pledged to collective ownership, under democratic control, of the means of production, distribution and exchange" [My emphasis]
Now in fact the GMB stumps up hefty amounts of cash for the Labour Party in elections. The Labour Party, since the removal of Clause IV, no longer shares these aims, and the GMB's money is spent by the Labour Party as it sees fit, and not only in furtherance of candidates who meet rule 2.10 of the GMB constitution.
The question is therefore, have all the GMB's contributions to the Labour party since Clause IV was abolished been unconstitutional, and ultra vires?
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Hewitt seems additionally concerned that health workers are not angry enough yet and so has been stirring it with bizarre statements like this is the "best year ever for the NHS" in the midst of lay offs, the closure of services and wards, and a whole number of trusts around the country just simply bemused as to how they are going to cut the required millions from their budgets.
Personnel Today did a survey of 200 NHS Human Resource directors and whilst finding that many trusts have escaped without too much injury because the deficits are concentrated in a large minority of NHS trusts others "are freezing vacancies, redeploying staff to other roles or organisations, redesigning roles, and reducing the use of agency and temporary staff." (1) to avoid redundancies.
7,000 jobs have already been lost in England alone, with a further 13,000 predicted, so it's hardly surprising that Hewitt has had a hard ride with the RCN and Unison conferences this week. Some nurses have even been talking of strike action. Don't worry though, laid off in England? Labour's Andy Kerr says get on your bike to Scotland and fill their vacancies, lucky you. (2)
In some quarters the blame has been laid at the door of wage rises, but headline grabbing salaries of a handful of GPs have obscured the fact that the majority of NHS workers are on the lowest pay grades and are paid a pittance.
It's the priorities of the government that is part of the problem. For instance, the number of managers in the NHS has doubled in the last ten years (3) frankly that's twice as many people to bully, obstruct and irritate the workforce, not helpful. But the largest area of growth in government spening in the NHS has been in drugs and the private sector.
One pound in every eight that the NHS goes tot he drug companies. Let's nationalise these drug cartels which would simultaneously cut the drugs bill and remove the privateers from decisions about what drugs, if any, a patient requires.
The money going to private companies to supply pay roll services, catering, maintenance et al is a disgrace when they are providing services that were all previously done in house at less cost with the erosion of working rights. Then add on the money for the PFI and other part privatisation projects up and down the country that seemed such a good idea to local authorities at the time to get a quick fix investment - but then the loan shark is on your back for decades.
This process is not abating but continuing. For instance the NHS Logistics Authority which organises supply of food, blankets and medical equipment was announced in early April (4) sold off to a US company, Novation, that is currently being investigated by ther Senate for dodgy practices.
One area of this crisis that has been largely ignored though is that it's the most vulnerable workers who get given the elbow first. I am referring here to agency workers. When HR managers say they are going to reduce the "use" of agency and temporary staff it sounds innocuous we're talking about lay offs that don't appear on any balance sheets.
It may surprise some to learn that agency workers are not doing it for a hobby or to spite NHS workers. One billion pounds of NHS money goes towards the supply of agency staff - but the problem is not the staff but the fact that the government prefers to have a supply of easily discardable staff and pay the private sector a cut so they don't need to give these workers rights or security of employment.
Thousands of these workers have simply lost regular work at a moments notice over the last months but, despite being essential staff, media and government alike continue to simply regard them as expenditure. In the last twenty years we've returned to the position where hands are hired each morning at the gates of the dock. But, no, I'm, being silly. It's done by phone thse days.
The problem with being an agency worker is that you are continually aware of your lack of agency. If you annoy the manager of a unit they just don't ask you back, no disciplinary, no legal protection, nothing, which simply encourages managers to make personal decisions rather than professional ones. Got a complaint about bullying? Seen the abuse of patients? Is raising it worth losing your job over?
We should return to the position where temporary staff are seen as peripetatic and employed by the NHS as 'bank staff'. Kick these cow boy operators out of health care, not just because it would reduce cost but because it would raise the standard of care these workers can deliver and give them the kind of rights that every worker deserves.
The nurse on the left is discardable just cos she's with the agency
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Immigration and crime are the key issues and indicate a predictable 'heightened climate of racism in France since last fall's ghetto riots' and '[t]he resurgence of that violence on the margins of the two successful nation-wide general strikes against a reactionary youth labor contract last month -- even though that much-televised disorder was mostly generated by only a few hundred ghetto youths out of millions of peaceful demonstrators -- also contributed to the increase in security hysteria and anti-immigrant sentiments this new poll' .
Friday, April 21, 2006
The first thing I noticed is that the panel line up was unremittingly right wing. Charles Clarke, Shadow Chancellor and Cameron clone Osborne, Vince Cable - pro-privatisation co-author of the Orange Book and new Lib Dem deputy leader and some journalist who has just left the Telegraph cos it was too liberal (Janet Daley, I had to look it up again).
Usually there is at least one person who is bearable but there didn't seem to be any ray of light here. Not a good sign, but then the programme began and I have to say I thought the audience leant to the right as well, which was really disappointing.
A precis of the views from the floor
The NHS - all those greedy workers sucking up wages are a real problem.
That bloody Chameleon advert - it's a bit of a laugh isn't it.
Law and Order - rehabilitation? We must lock up 'criminals' to be safe in our beds
The BNP - they've got a bit of a point haven't they?
The Monarchy - a rousing chorus of God Save the Queen
I expected the panel to be bad but when 90% of the audience burst into applause over how great the Queen is... jeeez!
Counting those that I know there were about ten progressive activists in the audience all with their hands up - none of them called for their questions or comments during debate unfortunately (although I'm not suggesting conspiracy on the latter at least)
Incidently before it began that nice old chap Dimbleby told us they never cut anything from the show - well they did! There was a juicy bit of slander they chopped out... man I'm used to being lied to but it still hurts. It was over negative campaigning and a mad UKIP woman in the audience attacked the Tory for Cameron's anti-UKIP rant the other day. Osbourne said, but you are closet racists and the UKIP founder, Alan Sked, agrees. She then replied something like "he's a warped, twisted and bitter little man." But that outburst did not make it onto the show, cut out, expunged, eradicated... shame - it's nice to see these eccentric spittle flecked maniacs flap at each other.
But my main worry is that in a liberal town like Cambridge, where racism and homophobia are notably lower than many places, it was the right that dominated the floor. With a socialist political alternative never further away, with the mass public sector strikes a flop, with the anti-war movement running out of steam, ideas and utterly directionless is the UK moving to the right?
Monday, April 17, 2006
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Friday, April 14, 2006
"With his dapper appearance and urbane manner, 66-year-old Fausto Bertinotti does not look like the harbinger of "misery, terror and death" that Silvio Berlusconi has accused Italy's communist leader of being. The head of Italy's biggest hard-left party, Communist Refoundation, often called a "cashmere communist" because of his taste for expensive clothes, Bertinotti is set to play a key role in Romano Prodi's new government. Bertinotti has said he would not become a minister himself, but as his party secured third place in Prodi's centre-left election victory, it will demand significant spoils after more than 2 million Italians gave him their vote.
"...Confounding the Prime Minister's constant warnings of "baby-eating" communists, Bertinotti has taken a left-wing but hardly extreme stance, calling for lower tax on labour and higher taxes on capital gains - a policy broadly adopted by Prodi's "Union" coalition. "There's nothing wrong with being rich, as long as you pay taxes," he has said.
"...It is not just Berlusconi voters who fear Italy's communists. Many moderates in the centre-left are concerned Bertinotti could hold Prodi to ransom unless he gets his way. He was responsible for sinking Prodi's first government when, in 1998, he turned against him in a confidence vote due to disagreements over labour policy.
"...New lawmakers who may enter parliament under Refoundation's banner include Vladimir Luxuria, a transvestite who aims to be Europe's first "trans-gender" lawmaker, Francesco Caruso, a leader of the anti-globalisation movement, and Haidi Giuliani, mother of a demonstrator shot dead by police at G8 protests in Genoa in 2001."
I love the way commentators make out that the PRC are fair weather friends, as if leaving the government was just some sort of wrecking technique. The Prodi government was pursuing free market policies that the PRC totally opposed and so they could not continue to support the government. The PRC was absolutely consistent and principled - and it is a testiment to their willingness to work with others that they are giving it another go.
But that doesn't mean the coalition is going to be easy sailing - if Prodi isn't willing to give significant concessions to his coalition partners he wont deserve to stay... Italian election results in detail
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
However, I am still far from convinced that the USA has the political ambition or military capability to take out Iran’s dispersed nuclear development programme, without incurring a backlash that even the most hawkish pentagon planner would be able to see coming.
It seems some others still agree with me, and they are people better qualified and informed than I am. In Pakistan recently Tariq Ali said that he thought an attack on Iran unlikely, although I haven’t been able to find anything from him in writing about this subject.
The very well informed, and shrewd commentator, Rahul Mahajan, who writes the Empire Notes blog, is also sceptical.
In a very well argued piece, Mahajan points out that the same predictions were made by Seymour Hersch a year ago, and “all that has changed since then is that Bush has recklessly spent down his political capital, at home and abroad. There is more cooperation with Europe, but Europe doesn’t want military action.
“Some would say that this is also an exact repeat of the leadup to the Iraq war, complete with statements that Iran has a chance to resolve this diplomatically, or the U.S. will go to war. The difference, of course, is that the Iraq war was undertaken in an era of expansive military triumphalism, when nearly all informed opinion thought the Vietnam syndrome had been kicked forever; a mere three years later, we live in an era of stark pessimism about the ability of the United States to transform the world by violence.
“So I think what we are seeing is what military analyst Fred Kaplan calls a game of “nuclear chicken.” The United States and Iran are locking themselves into a collision course, each saying that it will not back down under any circumstances. The threat of military strikes against Iran shows not the likelihood of military action but the desperation of the United States, which seems to have exhausted all its cards and can only hope to scare the Iranians into negotiating.”
After all, you would hardly expect the US government to make an anouncement like: "We are worried about Iran getting Nukes, but we have bitten off more than we can chew in Iraq and Afghanistan, and used up all our good will with our allies, so we are just going to have to let them do what they want"
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
I was out leafleting today for our Socialist Unity candidate Roy North in Gorse Hill and Pinehurst ward in Swindon. Afterwards I popped into the local Italian shop, which is in the ward, and was met with beaming smiles. They told me Berlusconi had lost both houses of parliament, and it was the votes from abroad that swung the senate. Certainsly the left have won a very narrow victory! And the votes from abroad swinging left is significant, as there was real concern that Berlusconi had only introduced postal votes for Italians living abroad in order to allow him to steal the election fraudulently or otherwise.
Berlusconi is the most dangerous politician in Europe, not only has he included the post-fascist Gianfranco Fini’s National Alliance in government, (who get around 12% of the vote), he has also courted for the last year the hard core fascists like Alessandra Mussolini’s Liberta d’Azione, and Roberto Fiore’s Forza Nuovo. Despite the fact that the hard right win less than 1% of the vote, had he won the elelction this time Berlusconi would have brought fascists into government for the first time since 1943. In fact, it is brilliant news that Mussolini's Alterntiva Sociale (AS) of which her own Liberta d’Azione is just one part, failed to win a single seat, and got just 0,7% of the vote.
Of course now the hard work begins. It seems Rifondazione Comunista have won 41 seats and Comunisti Italiani 16 seats. They have to make their presence in the government into a sheet anchor against Prodi’s acceptance of neo-liberalism. They need to be prepared to resign from the government and turn to class struggle if and when the government turns on its working class supporters.
Also, the two parties, Rifondazione Comunista and Comunisti Italiani, split over the question of participation and non-participation in the last centre left coalition. Now they are both participating there is no principled reason for the two organisations to have separate existence. The hard left in Italy needs to unite to counterbalance the social democrats of the other parties: Democratici di Sinistra, Margherita, Socialisti Democratici and Verdi.
The plan was to use a mass opposition demonstration as legitimate cover for a seizure of power. When the opposition demonstration happened the organisers directed the marchers to march on the presidential palace where chavez suppoters were concentrated. At this point fighting broke out. Snipers (possibly the metropolitan police) started firing into the Chavez crowd and Chavistas fired back in the direction of the snipers. The end rsult was that a nunber of Chavistas and oppositionists were injured and killed. Significantly. as you will know if you have watched 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' the images were manipulated by the (naturally) opposition controlled media to present an image of Chavistas firing into unarmed demonstrators.
It was in this context that the military went to work arresting Chavez and installing Pedro Carmona as president. It is interesting that the class character of the coup was made so explicit: pedro carmona was not a soldier or a politician - he was the head of the business confederation. HIs government which dissolved the constitution and the national assembl, which violently hunted down chavistas the next day was described by a US state department spokesman as a 'civilian transitional government'.
As we know the story has something of a happy ending. tens of thousands thousands of venezuelans - many of them shanty town dwellers - combined with lower ranking soldiers to defeat the coup on april the thirteenth. Yet relatively few of those involved including carmona have been brought to justice. People who attack Chavez for recently 'packing' the supreme court forget that in 2002 the supreme court blocked prosecutions for the coupsters on the basis that 'no coup had happened'. The situation in Venezuela today is both similar and different to that which gave rise to the coup. Certainly chavez is far more popular. Yet in terms of actual power many of the commanding heights of society and the economy remain in the hands of people who have tried to destroy the bolivarian revolution, people whose interests run counter to any redistribution of wealth. Meanwhile US rhetoric has become more explicitally agressive. Now is still a crucial time for the left to take an interestin, and more importantly take a position on, Venezuela
Monday, April 10, 2006
"This is because of the Americans. It is their doing while (our) politicians just sit in their seats of power. Is this what they call a democracy?"
Ibrahim al-Jaafari's future as Iraqi PM certainly looks uncertain as he is a complete failure at bringing a legitimating façade to the new regime.
US troops do not want to be forced to leave for the simple reason that part of the reason-detre of the invasion was to establish a permanent military presence in Iraq – the future invasion of Iran needs land borders to operate from and Afghanistan and Iraq are key pieces in that picture (see this piece in Green Left Weekly) A civil war, or robust insurgency, rules out the US using its forces in Iraq for anything other than maintaining their own presence.
Leaving aside my concerns about the ontological contradictions (I will get my money’s worth from that sociology degree) between supporting the insurgents and mourning those they kill, when it comes to defining what is happening in Iraq the left seems to be hedging its bets.
The Socialist Party describe it as “sectarian feuding” but also state that “the disintegration of Iraq in factional civil war has provided an ideal terrain for terrorist networks to flourish.” (Iraq three years on) Martin Smith is uncharacteristically measured and balanced on this in Socialist Worker (Let's ensure that Iraq is Blair's epitaph)
Although I liked the nuanced take in Eddie Ford’s piece in Weekly Worker (link) “What we are currently confronted with in Iraq is a combined armed struggle which is part directed against the US-UK occupiers and part directed against other Iraqi forces and national/religious elements. Especially given the fragmentation, that means that the occupation forces and this or that Iraqi faction engage in a crazy dance of conflict/compromise/cooperation. There are not two sides. There are many sides.”
I have two questions that I think we need to discuss
- Is there a civil war in Iraq? (as opposed to regular disruption and disorder)
- And do we think that there should be a civil war to oust the occupation?
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Oh - my - God
Anti-terrorism detectives escorted a man from a plane after a taxi driver had become suspicious when he started singing along to The Clash.
Detectives halted the London-bound flight at Durham Tees Valley Airport and Harraj Mann, 24, was taken off.
The taxi driver became worried on the way to the airport because Mann had been singing along to The Clash's 1979 anthem "London Calling," which features the lyrics "Now war is declared -- and battle come down" while other lines warn of a "meltdown expected".
Mann told newspapers the taxi had been fitted with a music system which allowed him to plug in his MP3 player and he had been playing The Clash, Procol Harum, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles to the driver.
"He didn't like Led Zeppelin or The Clash but I don't think there was any need to tell the police," Mann told the Daily Mirror. A Durham police spokeswoman said Mann had been released after questioning -- but had missed his flight.
"The report was made with the best of intentions and we wouldn't want to discourage people from contacting us with genuine concerns," she said.
We've said it a thousand times, but it's worth repeating, just because its called "anti-terror legislation" does not mean it will be used to target terrorists. You could be an old man heckling at Labour Party conference, you could be demonstrating against capitalism or you could be out on the town and have been unwise enough to look foreign - you give the police the powers and they will misuse them. That goes for the incitement to religious hatred bill, ASBOs, the lot, they give them names you cannot possibly disagree with to act as a cover for the consistent accumulation of power in the hands of the state. When even Rumpole of the Bailey opposes the terror legislation (that story in the Independent) you know they've gotta be wrong.
More and more Blair, Bush and co want to create a climate of fear where even the singing of classic lyrics can lead to you having your collar felt. Now I'm sure Joe Strummer is pleased he's still deemed so dangerous even from beyond the grave but as the Clash said "go easy... step lightly... stay free"
Saturday, April 01, 2006
One week from election day Berlusconi supporters are braced for defeat. In fact he's been trailing in the polls to his center left rival Prodi for two years, so he'll have to pull something spectacular out of the bag to stay in the top spot.
Mind you, my one experience of Prodi was on Channel Four News when he was interviewed over the bribery scandals - and he seemed to spend his whole time defending or minimising Berlusoni's wrong doings. Blimey, hardly a fire brand.
Anyway, the important thing is that Berlusconi should be getting the boot. Who knows maybe he'll go to jail next...