Saturday, March 31, 2007

Dr Who: rhinos in space

I am currently in a Zen like state of mind as programmes such as House and The Sopranos are back on terrestrial telly (my Zen existence disintegrates when I remind myself that I don’t have cable….). And now to complete things Dr Who is back. The Xmas episode was kinda sub-standard but I am willing to forgive Russell T. Davies as he usually is on top form…..most of the time. Now we have a brand spanking series with a new woman assistant. Well, guess what, I just had to review the first episode. And as Simply Red once crooned, if you don’t know me by now, pop pickers, then you will never never never know me.

We meet Martha Jones, who as a medical student encounters a rather "sick" looking “mister Smith” who inexplicably has two heart beats, during the ward round. She thinks stomach problems while the consultant thinks psychiatric!

There are strange meteorological problems afoot and I am not talking global warming either. There’s a build up of static electricity, raging storm clouds and pouring rain only hitting the hospital and nowhere else.

And before you can say cost cutting exercise, the hospital lands on the moon (honestly, they go to extraordinary lengths to impose PFI schemes nowadays). In defiance of science and the laws of physics (hey, this is fiction) the moon has air and before you know it a cluster of space ships hits the surface and enter the Judoon. A bunch of inter-galactic shock storm troopers who look remarkably like rhinos. These thuggish cops are on a mission to find a plasmavore, who is in the guise of a sweet innocent pensioner, who assimilates blood, rather quaintly, through a straw as opposed to using fangs (look, jokes about the blood transfusion service are tempting). The Judoon probe the “humans” in this hospital and in a British state kinda way indulge in shoot-to-kill tactics and ask questions later.

Anyway, the Doctor and the medical doctor have to find this pesky little plasmavore before the Judoon decide to execute everyone and to save the hospital staff and patients from lack of oxygen all in a matter of 45 minutes…..oh and return to earth. There’s lots of running around and Martha trying to elicit information from this enigmatic character known as the Doctor. And the gorgeous Martha gets to indulge in some 'genetic transfer' with him (Tut! before the watershed as well...).

Martha, in a similar way to Rose, has “emotional baggage” in regards to her family. Rose was brought up by her mum in a council flat while Martha’s parents are divorced yet affluent. Different social class, race and backgrounds yet both are asserting their independence and are strong women but feel there’s more to life. I am sure as the series progresses Martha’s character will be fleshed out and evolve (rather like Rose).

Martha can hold her own against the vile Judoon (critics say these critters are a rip-off from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). And no bloody screaming either (ah, the golden olden days of the average one-dimensional weak woman assistant in Dr. Who)….Thank-you Russell T. Davies. The one thing I like about Russell T. Davies he does create good strong women characters.

I give it 8 out of 10 (but I am biased). It looks like the BBC spent a couple quid more on special effects than ITV on their piss-poor but hilariously-funny-but-for-the-wrong-reasons, Primeval. Oh well, Torchwood is now a distant memory since Dr Who is back…

Rumour has it that the final episode stars the excellent John Simm playing a Blairesque prime minister who is really the Doctor’s arch-nemesis the Master in disguise. So that’s what is up with Tony Blair then…..

Friday, March 30, 2007

Uninsured patient billed more than $12,000 for broken rib

Here is a very unexceptional occurence in the US health system, which takes the breath away.

Friday, March 30, 2007
San Francisco General Hospital is the only trauma center ...David Lazarus

There are 47 million people in this country without health insurance. Richmond resident Joey Palmer is one of them.He learned how costly this can be after fracturing a rib in a relatively minor motorcycle accident and subsequently being hit with a bill for more than $12,000 from San Francisco General Hospital.

"There's no way I could pay something like that," Palmer, 32, told me. "I'm not a bum, but I'm not making a lot of money right now. How is anyone supposed to pay a bill like that?"

Iman Nazeeri-Simmons, director of administrative operations at San Francisco General, said she sympathizes with Palmer's situation."It's not us," she said. "It's the whole system, and the system is broken. We need to look closely at making changes and at how we can deliver care in a rational way."

Palmer's story illustrates the broader problem of runaway health care costs in the United States and a system that leaves millions of Americans to fend for themselves.It also underlines the importance of universal coverage that guarantees affordable health care to anyone, anywhere -- a goal that's become a central issue in California and in the current presidential campaign.

"We are the only developed country that doesn't cover all its people," said Stan Dorn, a senior research associate at the nonpartisan Urban Institute. "We also spend a lot more than the rest of the developed world."

The United States spent an average of $6,102 per person on health care in 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Canada spent $3,165 per person, France $3,159, Australia $3,120 and Britain a mere $2,508. At the same time, life expectancy in the United States was lower than in each of these other countries and infant mortality was higher. But those are just statistics. When you talk about America's health care crisis, you're really talking about people. And Palmer's experience speaks volumes. He was riding his motorcycle through San Francisco's Presidio on Sept. 19. It was late afternoon. Palmer was heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge and then home to Richmond. Suddenly his brakes locked, sending the motorcycle into a slide. Palmer slammed into a guardrail. He was pretty shaken up, but he could tell he wasn't badly hurt. A passer-by saw the accident and called for help. An ambulance arrived within minutes. Palmer said he told the paramedics that his ribs felt banged up, possibly broken, but that he was basically OK. He said he preferred to be treated in Contra Costa County, where he lives and would probably qualify for reduced hospital rates because of his income level.

Palmer is a woodworker who specializes in the decorative touches on wealthy people's yachts. He said he made only about $7,500 last year, getting by primarily with the assistance of relatives. Palmer said the paramedics were concerned that he may have sustained internal injuries and insisted that he be treated immediately at a hospital. So he was driven by ambulance to San Francisco General, the only trauma center in the city.

Palmer got lucky here. The ambulance was from the Presidio Fire Department, which is run by the federal government and doesn't charge for ambulance service. Had the trip been made by a private ambulance company, it likely would have cost Palmer between $700 and $1,000. On the other hand, what Palmer didn't know is that as soon as the paramedics radioed ahead to say they were bringing in an accident victim, San Francisco General, as per the hospital's procedures, issued a trauma alert to its staff.

Basically, that means a page was sent to doctors and anesthesiologists on call at the time. That page alone cost Palmer $4,659, and he hadn't even set foot yet inside the hospital. The actual hospital experience was, to put it mildly, a nightmare. After blood was drawn for a variety of tests (the cheapest of which cost $44 and the priciest $107), some X-rays were taken ($423).

Then, Palmer said, he was left in a room ($2,070) with a junkie "who was having a real bad trip." He asked to be moved elsewhere but was told no other rooms were available. So Palmer ended up on a gurney in the hallway. And he waited there for five hours.Palmer's bill indicates that he was twice given Vicodin ($22) to ease his pain during this interval, but he insists he took no medication.

"I finally saw someone and asked if I could check myself out," he said. "The guy said they were still waiting for the results of my CT scans. I said that I hadn't had any CT scans. It turns out they forgot to put me on the list." So Palmer was put on the list for CT scans. And he waited another hour.At last the CT scans were taken ($3,334) and then another round of X-rays because, Palmer said, the first batch apparently hadn't been done correctly."

Finally a doctor came to me -- it's now almost 2 in the morning -- and said, yes, I had a fractured rib and some bruised muscles," Palmer recalled. "That was that. End of conversation." Shortly afterward, he said, a clerical staffer approached with discharge papers for Palmer to sign." She asked how I intended to pay for everything," Palmer said. "I told her I didn't have any insurance. She looked at me and then asked if there was anyone I could sue."Several weeks later, he received a bill for $11,082 in hospital charges and a separate bill for $922 in doctors' fees.

Palmer's hospital visit was expensive and time consuming, but it wasn't unique. Many people could cite similar (and similarly costly) experiences in receiving "emergency" medical care at U.S. facilities. "We view health care as a chance to make as much money as you can," said Dorn at the Urban Institute. "The goal of health care should be improving people's health."

San Francisco General's Nazeeri-Simmons was unable to comment on Palmer's lengthy hospital stay because she didn't have access to his medical records. But with Palmer's permission, she was able to examine his billing file. "These charges are comparable to the entire health care market," Nazeeri-Simmons said. "They aren't out of line with what other hospitals are charging. They're actually lower."Not always. Trauma activation charges, for example, typically range from about $2,000 at some Bay Area hospitals to $7,000. At Marin General Hospital, the charge can run as high as $12,636.Nazeeri-Simmons said a sliding scale is offered for low-income San Francisco residents. But Palmer, as a resident of Contra Costa County, wasn't eligible for the program. "If you were uninsured and making less than $10,000, you would pay nothing," Nazeeri-Simmons said. "But that's only if you live in the City and County of San Francisco."After receiving his bill, Palmer complained to the hospital about how much he was being charged. Nazeeri-Simmons acknowledged that a second look was given to the bill at Palmer's request "and we decided to eliminate the trauma activation charge." That reduced the amount due by $4,659. But Palmer still owes more than $7,000 for an eight-hour hospital visit that involved, by his estimate, only about 15 minutes of actual care."It's unfortunate that he's in the situation he's in," Nazeeri-Simmons said. "But what is an individual hospital to do? Are we supposed to eat the costs?"

She said a government-run program similar to systems in place in all other developed democracies would almost certainly keep costs in check while ensuring that everyone has access to treatment (without being impoverished in the process). "Universal coverage would mean that a Joey Palmer doesn't get left out in the cold just because he was in the wrong county," Nazeeri-Simmons said.

For his part, Palmer said he'll try to pay off his hospital bill as best he can. And then, if he can swing it, he'll leave the country. He's thinking seriously about moving to France. "If you get sick over there," Palmer mused, "you can go to any hospital and it won't cost a fortune." He said that with a tone of quiet disbelief.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

ASBO Housing Benefit plan scuppered for the time being……??

Last week the Lords threw a spanner in the works regarding housing benefit sanctions to tackle anti-social behaviour. The Welfare Reform Bill and the government’s hilariously named Respect programme includes a section on having a two-year pilot scheme where sanctions will be used to those who have been evicted for anti-social behaviour and who refuse to address their behaviour using the support and help offered to them. After the two-year pilot it was expected to go nationally.

The government couldn’t get their own way as the Lords have said “the new sanctions were not intended to be imposed widely and that they would be judged to be a success if they were never applied as 'that would suggest that the households involved would have engaged in rehabilitation”. (Lord McKenzie of Luton).

Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter, said: ‘The House of Lords’ decision to prevent the government rolling out housing benefit sanctions nationally is an encouraging move.’
The ‘sunset clause’ will mean the government will be forced to return to Parliament to roll out the regime that will ensure primary legislation and “all that entails”.

Subject to the Welfare Reform Bill receiving Royal Assent the following areas will have the pilot scheme:

o Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council;
o Blackpool Borough Council;
o Dover District Council;
o Manchester City Council;
o New Forest District Council;
o Newham London Borough Council;
o South Gloucestershire Council; and
o Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

Organisations such as Shelter, Citizens Advice and Turning Point lobbied hard and pressurised the government to rethink its proposals towards dealing with anti-social behaviour. So they are cautiously welcoming this partial victory. It also shows that all is not well consensus wise in the establishment.

But…I am an eternal pessimist who sees the glass half empty and full of dragons (usually to do with dropping too much acid!) .The above local authorities will still pilot this programme by applying sanctions to people they deem displaying “anti-social behaviour”. Where are the safeguards?

The proposals state that anyone evicted due to anti-social behaviour could have their benefit cut by 10% for the first 4 weeks after a possession order is made. The reduction would be raised for the next 4 weeks and 100% for the maximum of 5 years.

Even with the programme not going nationally it could potentially cause more poverty and destitution....

The Blair Standard On Detainees

All the rabid frothing from Blair and his court jesters about Iran’s capture of British sailors and marines is - to use that now trite word - hypocritical. Those who have crowed the most are those who have no doubt climaxed at the sight of kidnapped orange jump-suited men and children and now dream of cruise missiles raining down on Tehran.

Had the Iranian regime followed the example of the "War On Terror" shackled the sailors and marines in chain-gang style, tortured them (while euphemistically calling it something else), refusing access to legal counsel, denied them the status of combatants and all the legal restrictions that go with it, flown them around in chartered planes and introduced to seasoned torturers, cruise missiles would be raining down on Tehran. Perhaps there is a woman in a U.S. "ghost prison" called "Fayetima Turneyma".

Had the Iranian regime followed the example on the "War On Terror" and said that commenting on the captives would be to capitulate to terrorism (no more ridiculous than the children held in Guantanamo said to be terrorists), the cruise missiles would be raining down on Tehran. It’s lucky, then, that the Iranian regime says no such thing and, instead, states that it is conducting its investigations and will come to a decision.

When Guantanamo detainees are pictured, tortured and forced to confess, that is part of the "War on Terror". When British sailors and marines are pictured tucking in to some food (let alone "waterboarded"), that is an outrage. As it is, unbelievably, amazingly, unimaginably, the Ayatollahs are operating at a much higher moral plane regarding detainees than the democratically elected and liberal Blair government.

Hypocrisy is said to be refusing to apply the same standards to yourself that you apply to others. The passionate Blair has surpassed the standard of hypocrisy quite admirably. Few have noticed that he refuses to apply the same standard to his conduct that he demands of others.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Blair's cunning crime crusade....

Oh rock ‘n roll New Labour. We are just an ASBO away from more law and order measures. Blair unveiled his latest Orwellian nightmare in his crime plan yesterday. Proposals that could come straight from a Philip K. Dick story. Unfortunately, this isn’t sci-fi….

The plethora of proposals include assessing the risk every kid in Britain runs of turning to crime. This is being dubbed a new style “11-plus”. Kids of prisoners, drug users and others at “high risk” offending will face being actively managed by social work teams. DNA samples taken from any crime suspect who comes into contact with the cops, “summary justice” measures, tougher community punishments, “hybrid prisons” will be set up to treat mentally distressed offenders, more privatisation, “rigorously enforce" the responsibilities of migrants in Britain and review the human rights laws to ensure they don’t restrict implementation of the government’s asylum and immigration policies.

And what a goodie bag of attacks on civil liberties these are. There have been 53 law and order bills passed since 1997 and even then Blair thinks tougher measures are still needed...!

How long before innocent until proven guilty, jury trials and the right of habeas corpus are jettisoned forever to join the right to silence as a distant dream of a justice system with at least a nod towards freedom from arbitrary and tyrannical government.

On top of this will come further demonisation of asylum-seekers. The one group who have the most to fear from a major league war criminal of a prime minister.

Just what kind of society are we sleepwalking towards?

The Passionate Pilgrim

While nearly all of our passionate PM's cheerleaders have found a new love in the Chesterton-esque Father Brown, some, however, still go weak at the knees at the sight of The Passion. Blair's cracktroop of Citizen Hip-hip-hurrahs and brainwashed Winston Smiths embarrass themselves daily with their twitterings. This tragicomic image - our passionate PM surrounded with his mad court jesters - ruined my rereading of Shakespeare's Sonnet The Passionate Pilgrim. Perhaps you'll have the same reaction. Anyway, it starts thus:

WHEN my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
Unskilful in the world's false forgeries.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although I know my years be past the best,
I smiling credit her false-speaking tongue,
Outfacing faults in love with love's ill rest.
But wherefore says my love that she is young?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love's best habit is a soothing tongue,
And age, in love, loves not to have years told.
Therefore I'll lie with love, and love with me,
Since that our faults in love thus smother'd be...

Home ownership falls

An interesting piece of news in the Guardian yesterday. Home ownership in England fell last year for the first time since 1953. There are 14.62 million owner occupied homes in 2006, 25,000 fewer than the previous year. There are 8.2 million mortgage holders.

If many people are being ‘priced out of the market’, some people are doing alright; there was a rise of 71,000 in the number of those buying their home outright. Home ownership stands at 70%, below the peak in 2000 when it rose to 71%.

David Stubbs from the University of the Bleedin’ Obvious (actually the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors), said that the key issue behind this was affordability. First time buyers are finding it harder to “get on the property ladder”. Since 1997 when the Reverend Blair moved into his new house (and started increasing his personal property portfolio) prices have increased by a staggering 11% a year. The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that “a strong buy-to-let sector is competing with first time buyers for property”.

In another stunning use of deductive powers Mr Stubbs added that the first fall in overall ownership was probably partly driven by rising inequality of income in Britain.

The figures undoudtedly also reflect the pressure that mortgage lenders are under. Mortgages today are based on five or more times the income of the mortgagee. Lenders are not too careful these days about checking the real income of individuals. This is the equivalent of what in the USA are called sub-prime mortgages (in which sector there is a crisis – 13% of borrowers are behind on their payments, and 30 of America’s sub-prime lenders have closed in the last 3 months); that is mortgages that people cannot really afford, and on which there is a good chance of default.

News recently emerged of a mortgage being given to a 102 year old – a 25 year mortgage!

This news probably indicates that home ownership has reached its limit. Moreover it underlines the need for a Council Housing building programme to address the housing crisis, something which the Blair government is ideologically opposed to. Since his government began in 1997 numbers on Council House waiting lists have increased by 1.5 million. However, need is undoubtedly much higher than that because many people will not have bothered to put their name on the list since they stand no chance of ever getting a home.

Monday, March 26, 2007

TUC Social Policy Forum: Welfare Reform Bill

I posted this on Union Futures but think it is useful for this blog as well.

“Can work, won’t work” (John Hutton)

The anger was palpable at today’s TUC Social Policy Forum regarding the dreaded Welfare Reform Bill. The delegates were a mix of trade unionists, welfare rights advisers and disability activists. The morning kicked off with a summary of the Welfare Reform Bill by a low-level civil servant from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Personally I found this a major problem as one of the unholy trinity of Brown/Hutton/Murphy should have been answerable not some junior civil servant. I wonder if the TUC did try getting a minister…. If not, why not? What struck me about the talk by the DWP representative, other than defending the indefensible, was the language.

Everything is about “customers” and “stakeholders”. It is expected that all existing “customers” in receipt of Incapacity Benefit will be migrated onto ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) by 2008. She reiterated that there will be proper safeguards and that nobody will lose their money. Reassuring? Don’t think so!

The next speaker was from Disability Benefits Consortium discussed the problems of the Welfare Reform Bill. I have to say as an activist in the mental health user movement it kinda disappoints me seeing the organisations represented by the Consortium as there aren’t grassroots activist based campaigns involved. Speakers on the panel and from the floor spoke of the need to hear the claimant’s voice yet organisations which claim to represent the very people have no activists at the forefront of the campaigns (my experience is with MIND).

Sue from the Consortium spoke of conditionality and sanctions where ESA claimants will be compelled to engage in work-focussed interviews and other activities under threat of deductions of up to 25% of their benefit. Personal Capacity Assessment (PCA) will be tightened up so it will be harder to prove you are unfit for work. Who will monitor the effectiveness of the changes to the PCA?

The Consortium argued for an independent organisation to carry out the work. New Labour said no but the Lords said yes. Medical assessments are contracted out to a private company called Atos Origin who are frankly useless at assessing people. They have lost the contract to…… Capita. None of these private companies are “fit for purpose”!

A claimant will have 5 days to give “good cause” why they cannot attend these activities and if they don’t their benefit will be cut by around 25%. The personal advisers based at Job Centre Plus don’t like this as it is their job to build up trust and this will be compromised when telling a claimant their money is being cut. From the DWP’s own research has shown that Job Centre Plus staff have very little understanding people with mental health problems and people with learning difficulties.

The other aspect of the Bill is the issue of employers’ attitudes. Onus of conditionality and threat of sanctions is on the claimant i.e. the powerless yet the same isn’t applied to employers.

1. 18% of employers say would exclude job applications from people claiming Incapacity benefit due to mental distress.

2. 10% would exclude people claiming IB because of physical health difficulties.

3. 90% of employers’ say it would be impossible or difficult to employ a visually impaired person.

4. 60% of employers’ discriminate against dependency issues such as people with a criminal record, mental health issues and incapacity.

So..who the hell is gonna do the employing?

New Labour speaks about partnerships with employers’ yet they won’t be penalised or sanctions applied to them for discriminating against disabled people. It should be about tightening up the Disability Discrimination Act, improving working practices and better flexibility for people not increased discrimination, stigma and fear. I know from personal experiences how hard it is to get a job with a “mental health history” that hangs around your neck like an albatross.

One PCS member spoke about how the DWP has sacked a number of people who have been off work sick. Another Unison member spoke about supporting people who have sacked because of sickness and how it is so hard to find another job and especially if the sickness if stress-related.

The Welfare Reform Bill is not anchored in reality. Emphasis is placed on the claimant’s “rights and responsibilities” but employers’ get let off the hook. The civil servant from the DWP said if people are being discriminated by employers’ then they could have a case under the DDA. BUT as someone rightly pointed out, how is this gonna happen with the tightening up of legal aid under the Carter proposals?

Claimants will be caught between a rock and a hard place. In the afternoon there was a brief discussion by the PCS about contracting out Job Centre Plus under the Freud Review and the ongoing butchery of the civil service by Gordon Brown. There will be closures of Job Centre Plus offices and there will be 11 regional super contracts going begging. Jim Murphy spoke recently to Faith groups about involving them in running welfare provision. The Salvation Army may lead a bid…!!

The “Third Sector” hasn’t the capacity to run welfare though the private sector does so it will be the continuation of marketising public services. Who will these organisations be accountable to? Their shareholders who demand maximised profits? It was argued that these private companies will engage in “parking and creaming”, which means they will “park” people they consider hard to get into work and “creaming” off those will they consider easy to get into a job. Hardly treating people equally or responding to the needs of the claimants, is it?

It was also argued that the language to describe claimants has worsened. Such as “feckless poor living the good life screwing the welfare state”! Yes, those people who live on £57.45 a week… absolute fortune! And we will see a division between the “deserving” and “undeserving poor”.

And public perception of the unemployed will be only worsened with negative stereotypes perpetuated by the likes of New Labour.

What is to be done?

These proposals came out of the meeting… more abstract than concrete and activism was kinda muted.

The TUC are consulting with other unions and unemployed centres to come up with a paper to take on Freud.

Maybe… a coalition led by the PCS alongside disability activists, welfare rights advisers and others from the Labour movement (with the backing of the TUC) to campaign against the Bill/Freud Review.

Also with strike action by the PCS it is integral to show our solidarity with them. One of the suggestions for something to do was to put resolutions to TUC conference and other union conferences on poverty and welfare reform.

There are other things we can do which are not just “Molotav cocktail Kalashnikov wielding proposals” (though occupying your local Job Centre Plus once it is privatised wouldn’t be a bad idea!) My own thoughts are that the above proposals are good but what about lobbying MPs, trying to push for an EDM and so on. It is a divide and rule tactic deployed by New Labour as it will be ordinary civil servants who will be expected to carry out the legislation against claimants and they too will be shafted by the privatisation of the services as well. Therefore working together and co-ordination is crucial.

The Welfare Reform Bill/Freud Review is not just an attack on claimants but on all of us as it will be the start of the slippery ideological slope where terms and conditions and labour costs will be driven down. It is a throwback to the past. The market will rule and profits will be made on the backs of misery. I wouldn't be surprised if Brown is paving the way for Workfare.

The 3rd reading of the Welfare Reform Bill is supposed to be happening tomorrow.

NB: The PCS have produced a paper called “Third Sector Provision of Employment-Related Services”

The TUC have produced a report on the Freud Review


1. and 2. The Labour Market Outlook (May 2006) Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

3. Beyond Stereotypes: Blind and partially sighted people and work, RNIB 2004

4. Quoted from Disability Benefits Consortium, Sue Christoforou (MIND Policy Officer)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Canada's Ex-Ambassador To Yugoslavia Speaks Out

Interesting words from James Bissett, Canada's Ambassador to Yugoslavia 1990-1992:

'This weekend marks the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. The implications of that action are still with us.

'The onslaught that began March 24, 1999, continued for 78 days, causing an estimated 10,000 civilian casualties and inflicting widespread damage on the country's infrastructure. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's unprecedented attack against a sovereign state was done without United Nations authority and in violation of the UN Charter and international law. It also set a dangerous precedent: It transformed NATO from a purely defensive organization into a powerful alliance prepared to intervene militarily wherever it chose to do so. And it paved the way for the unilateral U.S. invasion of Iraq.

'Bill Clinton and other NATO leaders justified the bombing on humanitarian grounds. It was alleged that genocide was taking place in Kosovo and that Serbian security forces were driving out the Albanian population. Later, it was disclosed there was no genocide in Kosovo. (Of course, the outcome appears to be an independent quasi-state of Kosovo, as shall be recommended next week to the UN Security Council.) Before the bombing, several thousand Albanians had been displaced within Kosovo as a result of the fighting between Serbian security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army. But nearly all of the Albanians who fled Kosovo did so after the bombing began. The real ethnic cleansing came after Serbian forces withdrew and more than 200,000 Serbs, Roma, Jews and other non-Albanians were forced to flee; more than 150 Christian churches and monasteries have since been burned by Albanian mobs.

'The bombing had little, if anything, to do with humanitarian concerns. It had everything to do with the determination of the United States to maintain NATO as an essential military organization. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of Warsaw Pact armies had called into question NATO's reason for existence. Why was such a powerful and expensive military organization needed to defend Western Europe when there was no longer any threat from Soviet communism?

'The armed rebellion by the terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army provided Washington with the opportunity needed to demonstrate to Western Europe that NATO was still needed. So, it was essential to convince the news media and the public that atrocities and ethnic cleansing were taking place in Kosovo.This was done with relative ease by a campaign of misinformation aimed at demonizing the Serbs and by assertions by Mr. Clinton, Tony Blair and other NATO spokesmen that hundreds of young Albanian men were "missing" and that mass executions and genocide were taking place in Kosovo. Compliant journalists and a credulous public accepted these lies.

'In April, 1999, at the peak of the bombing, Mr. Clinton gathered NATO's political leaders in Washington to celebrate the alliance's 50th birthday. The party was used as a platform for Mr. Clinton to announce a new"strategic concept" -- NATO was to be modernized and made ready for the new century. There was no reference to defence or the settling of international disputes by peaceful means or of complying with the principles of the UN Charter. The new emphasis would be on "conflict prevention," "crisis management" and "crisis response operation."

'Usually when a treaty is to be amended or changed, it must be approved and ratified by the legislatures of the contracting states. This was not done with the North Atlantic Treaty. It was changed by an announcement from the U.S. president, with little or no debate by the legislatures of member countries. It may well be that NATO should be in a position to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of another country, but it surely is essential that the ground rules for such intervention be in accordance withthe UN Charter and only after concurrence of member states. NATO should not become a convenient political "cover" to justify the use of military power by the United States.'

If Brzezinski Is Worried...

Zbigniew Brzezinski is probably America’s most important imperial thinker. Not as deranged as the neocons and not as shortsighted as Henry Kissinger (but that ain’t saying much, especially given Brzezinski’s crucial role in masterminding the jihad against the Soviet Union), Brzezinski is the man to run an empire. In some sense, one should be thankful he was not at the helm post-9/11: the empire would have expanded and strengthened. As it is, the empire has been weakened, but the destruction wrought in the process is nightmarish.

Essentially, the U.S. foreign policy elite are a combination Brzezinskists and Kissingerians, with the recently arrived (and despised) neocons, a lunatic strain of imperial thought who pretend not to adore Kissinger, now very much in the background, having virtually wrecked the U.S. empire. Another two terms of neocon foreign policy and the empire will be lost. Hence the outrage within foreign policy circles in the United States.

What Brzezinski says is important - not because of who he was but of what he represents. And if he’s worried, well, we all better be worried:

“If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.”

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Great Iraqi oil rip-off - continued

I attended the Socialist Resistance conference on the Middle East today. Instead of giving a detailed take on the day I want to concentrate on the talk given by Ewa Jasiewicz, who I have heard speak before at Labour Against the War (LAtW) and Iraq Occupation Focus events. Anyway, if you want to get a full flavour of the day I am sure Cecil B. Mac Uaid will be putting up the edited highlights of day on his blog.

Ewa represented the organisations Platform and Hands Off Iraqi Oil. She spoke about the impending Hydrocarbon Law that was put together by Iraqi technocrats overseen by the Bush administration and the IMF. It is expected to become law in May. If not, the Bush and the oil companies administration will be very very unhappy!

This law is utterly pernicious as it favours production sharing agreements that can last up to 25-40 years or indefinitely. There are "stabilisation clauses" that mean that the government won't be able to change tax rates or pass any new laws that affects the oil company profits. It is in reality, control of the oil from the Iraqis to the oil companies. This will in effect overide Iraqi sovereignity. This new law will be de facto privatisation. Iraq has the 3rd largest oil reserves and 12th for oil production. It is a lucrative business with western Oil companies grabbing up to 75% of the profits.

The Federation of Oil Unions in Iraq are bravely fighting this law. In a joint statement with other Iraqi trade unionists:

"The handing of control over oil to foreign companies, whose aims is to make big profits at the expense of the Iraqi people, and to rob the national wealth, according to long-term, unfair contracts, that undermine the sovereignity of the state and the dignity of the Iraqi people"..

There is strike action planned by the oil workers once this law is passed (May/June) and there will be inevitable bloodshed and to be blunt, a killing spree orchestrated by the goon squads employed by the oil companies. Ewa stressed the importance to show solidarity with the oil workers. The union has grown from 23,000 to 26,000 within the past couple of months.

Other initiatives to protest against this vile law is demonstrating outside BP AGM, flood emails to Blair and Beckett and there is an EDM tabled by MP Katy Clark that has received support of 24 MPs (including 1 Tory!). The need to raise awareness is imperative as Iraqi oil will go the same way as Colombia and Nigeria where violent repression including murder is used to crush opposition including trade unionists.

To the pro-war left, isn't it time you protested against the plundering of Iraqi oil as it goes against your principle of bringing "freedom" to the Iraqi people?

Friday, March 23, 2007

March for Independence


Independence First have organised a major event in Edinburgh for Saturday March 31st - starting at 1pm behind Waverley Station in Market Street - just four weeks before Scotland's potentially historic "Independence Election".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Olympics: "Make Good And Move Out"

Assessing the Olympic farce facing London, George Monbiot recently asked: “However, if it is true that all this is being done for the good of the residents, then why have they not been given time to speak?” Good question, George, but they have been asked (see my Olympi-had?). It's just their answers were ignored - and belittled.

The one word you can’t get away from when investigating the 2012 Olympics is “legacy”. It’s somewhat like that other New Labour word: “debate”. There is no “debate”, and likewise there will be no “legacy” for the residents of East London, other than the soaring council taxes they'll be asked to pay soon.

One thing that residents demanded during the “consultation” was “affordable accommodation”. The M.C. for the week-long consultation, Sir Steve, honoured in 1999 “for services to regeneration in East London”, was appalled. Sir Jacobs thundered: “Do we want to build housing for poor people?” and “Perhaps we don’t want affordable accommodation? You’re talking about housing for need. You’re being very old fashioned. Should we be housing people according to lifestyle rather than need?” These assembled consultants and London 2012 agents nodded in agreement. They had heard the words of the Lord, and they saw that it was good (and profitable).

Sir Steve had further words of wisdom for those who wanted “affordable accommodation”: “Make good and move out. My parents they made good and moved out”, and that making accommodation affordable in an area attracting rich people “means having sand in the cement”. Translation: the filthy and poor grainy sand mixed in with the rich and smooth cement.
The last thing you can say about London 2012 is that East Londoners weren’t consulted. Those not at the “consultation” have an excuse. Those that were can plead stupidity in believing the extravagant claims now being made when not so long ago they heard the true voice of London 2012.

Labour gives £1 million to death squad

Today the government announced a grant of £1.2 million to the Loyalist murder squad, the “Ulster Defence Association” or UDA. This is on top of £135000 given to them by the government six months ago.

As the BBC says: “The thorny issue of weapons was not mentioned in the government's announcement. … Loyalist sources say decommissioning is not yet on the agenda”

Let us remind ourselves of the sort of activities the UDA have been involved with. According to the University of Ulster’s CAIN project, the UDA carried out 112 sectarian murders under their own name, and a further 147 using the name Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF). Just to quote one period, the university says: “During the Stevens inquiry it became apparent that the UDA had access to a large number of security files on Republicans and suspected members of Republican paramilitary groups. During the 1990s the UFF stepped up its attacks on Catholics and Republicans. It also attacked SDLP politicians and councillors. There were a number of multiple killings including: five Catholics on 5 February 1992 in Belfast; three Catholics on 14 November 1992; six Catholics during 48 hours in March 1993; and six Catholics and one Protestant on 30 October 1993.”

Get that – the UDA had “security files” – how did they get them? The answer is they got them directly from the British state. In 1989 the UDA assassinated Sinn Féin Councillor John Davey on behalf of the British state, having only two days earlier murdered the respected human rights lawyer, Pat Finucane.

The UDA are literally a terror organisation designed to intimidate the six counties’ Catholic minority into submission.

Let us look at another example. In 1993 three UDA members walked into the Rising Star bar in Greysteel where a totally innocent Halloween party was in progress, they produced machine pistols and simply indiscriminately opened fire, one of them shouting “trick or treat” – eight people were killed. The UDA announced that the murders were for no other reason than because Greysteel had a “nationalist electorate"!

Last week Ian Paisley, a man who can pretty fairly be described as a fascist, became leader of the largest party in Stormont, and will be First Minister, and his party will be exercising a bigoted veto on all the activities of ministers, from whichever party.

The police service is so confident in its sectarianism, that senior officers can refuse to cooperate with a government inquiry into police collusion in murder without any disciplinary action. And waiting in the wings are the loyalist death squads, that have not been disbanded, not been "stood down", not been disarmed. But have been given £1 million of New Labour’s money.

Could the colonial nature of the six counties be made any clearer?

The Daily Mirror backs HOPE not hate campaign


Buy today's Daily Mirror!

Searchlight today announced that the Daily Mirror is supporting the HOPE not Hate campaign. Today's edition carries an 8pp supplement celebrating modern diverse Britain and opposing the politics of hate.

On Saturday a HOPE not Hate bus, organised by Searchlight and the Daily Mirror, will begin a 14-day journey across the country. It will start in Dagenham on Saturday morning and end in Glasgow on Friday 6 April. Along the route we shall be joined by national celebrities and visit local community groups at the forefront of offering a positive alternative to the BNP. Click here to see the route map.

The campaign is being backed by X-Factor winner Leona Lewis, boxer Amir Khan and The Apprentice's Alan Sugar.

Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and joint secretary of the Anti-Fascist Fortnight steering committee, told Searchlight: "This is really exciting news. The support of the Daily Mirror takes our campaign onto a new level. I would urge everyone to get involved."

HOPE not Hate literature
Searchlight has produced a range of HOPE not Hate literature which local groups and unions can distribute. These include newspapers, leaflets, postcards, posters, balloons and badges. View the merchandise here.

Anti-Fascist Fortnight
Over the next two weeks there will be anti-BNP activities across the country. It is really important that we translate opposition to the racist views of the BNP to positive action. If we are going to prevent the BNP from winning council seats then we need to get anti-BNP literature out through doors. Please do you best to spare some time to help out. You can view the activities here.

£8,000 to defeat the BNP: Please support Searchlight
Searchlight still needs to raise £8,000 to fund its campaign. Every penny raised will go straight to our campaign fund. The more money we raise, the more we can do. The more we can do, the more we can stop the BNP. The more we can stop the BNP, the better life will be. It's that simple.

We would like to thank those who have already given generously and we would urge others, especially those who are unable to attend our activities, to support the campaign through a donation.
To dontate to the campaig click here
You can download a fundraising leaflet here

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Peace vigils in Swindon

Yesterday we had two vigils in Swindon, one at lunch time and one after work, to commemorate the 4th anniversary of the war. Between them we had 16 people take part, including a delegation of Quakers.

We even had someone come up from Devizes to take part (but not Michael Ancram, Devizes Tory MP who was speaking at the "peoples' assembly" in London).

We got a full page of coverage in the local paper the Swindon Advertiser, and despite bitter cold it was a good experience, with a lot of positive response from passers by.

I cannot help feeling this was a much better option for activists, being out on the streets as engaged participants rather than sitting as an audeince to the pontifications of the great and the good for the rally organised by Stop the War nationally - the "peoples' assembly". Which by the way seems to have received no press coverage outside Socialist Worker, but I am happy to be corrected on this if you saw a report.

Tanya Reinhart Passes Away

Terrible news. The wonderful and humane writer and activist Tanya Reinhart has passed away.

Worth reading this appreciation from Desert Peace:

Sober Up You Drink-Soaked Popinjays

For all you “Lefties For War” who still believe with shampoo-like enthusiasm that “it’s worth it” here’s a sobering statistic from an ABC News poll (BBC News 24, Monday 19 March): “51 percent” of Iraqis believe it is “‘acceptable’ to attack U.S. and coalition forces”. Moreover, “94% of Sunni [Arab] Muslims” voiced this opinion. Given that almost every Kurd is against attacking “U.S. and coalition forces”, this translates to a majority of Shiite Muslims also believing that it is “‘acceptable’ to attack U.S. and coalition forces”.

Is this news? Not really. Anyone who has followed the occupation will know that most Arab Iraqis support attacks on “U.S. and coalition forces”. Most Arab Iraqis see their sectarian militias as protectors and the “U.S. and coalition forces” as oppressors, with Baghdadis referring to the Americans as Mongols. That this is all down to Al Qaeda and Baathist “fascists” is a soothing myth. But the Pro-War Left are not known for their "power of facing unpleasant facts", as Orwell said of himself.

On the same day, the Guardian reported Kadhim al-Jubouri (the man made famous by his attempt to smash down a statue of Saddam in Firdous Square) as saying: “I really regret bringing down the statue. The Americans are worse than the dictatorship. Every day is worse than the previous day.” Now, this really is something coming from a man who was tortured by Saddam’s goons. I also remember Mr al-Jabouri being interviewed not long after the statue was brought down. If memory serves, he said: “Do you think the Americans crossed an ocean to save us? Do you think they will leave? They will never leave.”

"Brown Is No Stalinist," Says Stalin

Lord Turnbull was issued with a writ today for defamation of character. Joseph Stalin’s lawyers said that their client was incensed with comparisons with Brown. “Brown is no Stalinist,” said the 127 year-old Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. Mr Stalin went on to say “I saved the world from Nazism. What has Brown achieved? PFI! What I say matters in the world. When Brown speaks about ‘neoclassical endogenous growth theory’, people laugh! Is that a sign of a leader? Brown is weak. I am strong. Brown fiddles and is indecisive when it comes to leadership. I strike with an icepick. Did you hear that, Turnbull? An ICEPICK.” A writ was also served to Mr Clark Kent. “I am the ‘man of steel’,” said Uncle Joe. “The man in tights is an impostor,” he fumed.

Why has the Brit-left forgotten about Ireland?

The silence from the British left about the recent elections in Northern Ireland has been somewhat deafening. It is as if the Brit left has a play list like Radio one, and only the top ten issues can be discussed. Both the Socialist Party, and the SWP reported the results only in terms of the votes that their own candidates achieved, and neither provided any substantive analysis in the lead up to the poll, or indeed afterwards.

What do we learn from them? According to the Socialist Party: “What was most clearly shown by this election was the need for a new political force to challenge the right-wing sectarian parties and represent the united interests of working-class communities on both sides of the divide. While there is very little in the Assembly vote that points to the potential for a new party of this character to emerge, the results do not tell the full story. ... the votes, although still small - 248 votes in South Belfast and 225 in East Belfast - were up on the last Assembly election. The party got a very warm response in working-class areas during the election and now has a good platform to build for mass non-payment of water charges in these communities.”

According to the SWP: “Socialists Eamonn McCann in Derry and Sean Mitchell in Belfast stood to provide an alternative to communal division and neoliberalism. Eamonn McCann received a substantial vote in the Foyle constituency, getting 5 percent of first preferences with 2,045 votes, while 19 year old student Sean Mitchell got 2.3 percent with 774 votes. Sean said, “It is a reflection of the support that we had on the doorsteps. When you are talking about water charges, poor housing and poverty, there are no lines on the map that cannot be crossed. ”

The British reader would therefore conclude that these were elections where the water charges were the most significant issue. And the only structural obstacle to achieving class unity between catholic and Loyalist workers is that no one has ever thought of it before. (Indeed the sigificantly higher vote for Mccann than any of the other left candidates proves the opposite, as he also stood on a platform made of the thin gruel of water charges and Iraq, but got a big personal vote because of his past assossiation with anti-imperialism)

But hang on. Weren’t these elections about the restoration of self rule through Stormont, informed by the surrender of Provisional Sinn Féin over the issue of policing? Didn’t the left groups notice this?

Just two months ago the Police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, issued a report following a £2 million pound investigation, concluding that the RUC had colluded with loyalist death squads, protecting them while they carried out 10 murders and 72 other serious crimes, including 10 attempted murders, 10 punishment shootings, 13 punishment attacks, a bombing in Monaghan, in the Irish republic, and 17 instances of drug dealing, as well as criminal damage, extortion and intimidation. Bear in mind that the Northern Irish Police Service (NIPS) is supposed to have been “reformed” since then, but the truth is revealed by the fact that “up to six officers at the level of assistant chief constable or detective chief superintendent in the Special Branch refused to cooperate [with the inquiry]. They either did not reply to requests for interviews or their lawyers sent letters on their behalf refusing to take part.”

It is in this context that the acceptance of the NIPS by Sinn Féin can only be interpreted as capitulation, but what have they gained for it? A step towards a 32 county republic? No – the restoration of Stormont with Ian Paisley as First Minister, and as the indispensable Splintered Sunrise blog explains: “The other significant concession … was that the actions of ministers would be subject to the approval of the Assembly, as opposed to the virtual autonomy ministers had under the Good Friday Agreement. Taken together with the provision for weighted voting, this means the DUP – with 36 of the 108 seats, but the majority of unionist MLAs – can not only veto legislation, but also non-legislative actions of ministers. It doesn’t take a genius to foresee that the DUP would vote against any proposal of a Provo minister, even one they agree with, just out of badness. In other words, we will have the content if not the form of majority rule.”

There is no mention at all of these issues in the Brit-left press. What is more, there is a clear shift from the SWP. It has been the traditional position of the Socialist Party (Millies) to argue that if they ignore the question of imperialism hard enough then oppressed Catholics in Northern could achieve workers unity with the bigoted prods who hate them. Historically the SWP had opposed this class reductionism, for example in 2002 Socialist Worker reported: “The problem stems from the top of society. The reason sectarianism is flourishing is because we still live in a sectarian state where the British have divided people and Catholics are oppressed.” Quite right - but now, Sean Mitchell is parroting the Millies’ line: “When you are talking about water charges, poor housing and poverty, there are no lines on the map that cannot be crossed. “There are no ‘no go’ areas for these issues.”” Again, Socialist Worker argues: “when workers fight back together – as they did a year ago when Protestant and Catholic post workers united against their bosses – there is a possibility for real change”

We socialists have to have a dream, so I can see that the prospect of saving £50 on your water rates will easily overcome the legacy of 900 years of oppression and occupation, and as a procession of Orange bigots marches through your area with bowler hats, sashes, pipes and drums, raging with hatred against you, you can look at them and say – “hey they aren’t paying their water rates either”.

Actually there are a lot on interesting things that could be said about the Northern Ireland election, that are relevant to Britain, and the British left.

In the lead up to the election some 500 former republican prisoners signed a letter published in the Irish news expressing distaste for the recognition of the PSNI and urging support for independent Republican candidates. Given 30 years of sacrifice by these brave men and women this is not suprising, they didn't fight a war just to get crumbs. In fact the vote for rebel republicans was smaller than might have been expected, but two factors may explain this: i) the rebel republicans are not offering anything new, and no one wants to go back to the war; ii) the election was a pro-ordained coronation for Paisley and Adams, as a precondition for the continuation of Northern Ireland’s mini-economic boom subsidised at the expense of the British tax payer.

Given the utter failure of the left in England and Wales to build even a half way credible alternative to Tony Blair, despite ten years of neo-liberalism from New Labour, we know that just because something is objectively necessary does not mean it will happen. Traditional republicanism cannot provide the answer unless it relates to the changes in Irish society and the economy – across the whole 32 counties. Appeals to the spirit of 1916 simply won’t cut it. Of course the left are a step ahead, they appeal to the spirit of 1917 instead! But there is utterly no prospect of the left advancing in Northern Ireland unless is does so on the basis of anti-imperialism - not in Iraq but in the six counties. This may be a long haul, but at least it could connect them with an actually existing progressive base. Unfortunately there seems no prospect of this, as the Irish left are infected with the same weaknesses as we have in Britain, either the mind numbing dullness of the Socialist Party, or the get-rich-quick pyramid-selling schemes that the SWP is addicted to.

But a very interesting aspect of this situation is the willingness of the British government to bankroll the whole deal with a mini boom paid for by London. Given this “peace dividend” it would simply have been impolite for Irish voters to turn out for parties opposed to the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, and much of the dispute between the NI parties was about how this largesse should be spent. According to Splintered Sunrise even the SWP got in on the act, arguing that more youth clubs would be the answer to policing (I am not convinced about that, if I was burgled I would rather have a police force I trusted than a scout hut where 15 year olds were playing ping pong)

Only this week the Department of Trade in Northern Ireland announced that the colony has “the highest number of jobs on record, while the unemployment rate remains below the UK average. Seasonally adjusted figures from the Quarterly Employment Survey estimated that there were 708,880 employee jobs filled in December 2006, representing a net increase of 2,810 over the quarter and an increase of 10,810 over the year. The overall increase over the quarter was driven by rises in Service Sector jobs (+2,440) and Construction jobs (+300), while manufacturing jobs remained static.”

So a familiar picture of the growth of the state sector and a property boom, with a stagnant manufacturing sector. Don’t you love Gordon Brown – the illusion of prosperity based upon huge personal debt, while no-one actually makes anything.

Which feeds into another very interesting aspect of the Irish situation, which is the economic boom in the 26 counties. During the 1980s, Irish SWP supremo Kieran Allen floated the idea that the 26 counties was no longer subordinated to the British economy and British political interests, a somewhat premature judgement I thought at the time. But since joining the Euro the economy in the 26 counties has significantly out performed the British (certainly so if we look at the real economy rather than finance capital), and most significantly this has included manufacturing growth and development of export markets independent of the UK. In 2005, Ireland supplied 46 per cent of its exports to the EU, 19 per cent to the US, 17 per cent to the UK and 18 per cent to the rest of the world. As Cambridge economist, Donald Adamson observed: “In the debate on whether Ireland should join the euro, an editorial in the Irish Times in March 1998 argued that failure to join would be tantamount to, “Ireland reclassifying itself, effectively, as a UK dependency.””

The logic of this is very interesting, as even Ian Paisley’s DUP is now arguing for Corporation tax harmonisation with the republic, cutting tax on business from 30% to 12.5% . So the unionists want to see an all Ireland tax rate, in recognition that economic integration of the 32 counties is more beneficial than linking the six counties economy to London! Nor are they the only unionists to think this, Scotland’s First Minister, “Union Jack” McConnell, wants to join the gang.

The response from the UK treasury underlines the colonial status of Northern Ireland, according to the Scotsman newspaper: “Last night, one government source in London insisted that there had never been any question of a tax cut for Northern Ireland, and said that Mr Brown would oppose such move because of the risk of encouraging calls for fiscal autonomy for Scotland.” So Northern Ireland’s economy is subservient to the interests of Britain’s, and its real material interest of greater economic integration with the 26 counties is vetoed for reasons totally extraneous to Ireland.

All this has some interesting implications for British relations with Ireland.

Firstly, the bowler hated bigotry of the Official Unionists was overlooked by the British media, and they were presented as misunderstood Tories, whereas Paisley has always been presented in Britain as a bulging eyed mad paddy. Given that it is around fifteen years or more since the last bomb went off on the mainland, perhaps the British tax payer’s subsidy of a Northern Ireland jointly run by Ian Paisley and Provisional Sinn Fein might become a political issue here. In England there is very little interest in maintaining the union with Northern Ireland – sorry Ian, your love is unrequited.

Secondly, the current constitutional settlement between Hollyrood and Westminster is unstable and inevitably at some time Scotland will become independent. There will likely then be a dispute between Dublin, London and Edinburgh about what happens to the six counties – unless they get their act together it doesn’t seem likely the left or republicans will play any part in deciding the outcome of that.

(On the claim that the SWP has offered no analysis: SWP blogger, Snowball, has pointed to the following article in Socialist Worker , but actually this doesn’t contradict my thesis, because although there is mention that Catholics are oppressed it puts the emphasis on there being two sectarian camps, as if the problem derives from Ireland, rather than British imperialism being the engine of sectarianism. As Liam Mac Uaid says in the comments below: "It's a peculiar sort of "analysis" of the north of Ireland that makes no reference to the imperialist victory or even the role of imperialism in Irish society. A lot of Alliance Party members would find those two pieces uncontentious and they are liberal pro-imperialists.")

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who Gave Woody A Woody?

“But once…one time, many years ago…I was living with this fabulous, interesting woman…I’m ashamed to say this, but [she] was the great love of my life. It was a very passionate relationship. I loved her very intensely. And, you know, we just made love everywhere. She was sexually carnivorous. We did it in stalled elevators…and in bushes and people’s houses, at parties in the bathroom. In the back of cars she’d put a coat on our laps…and grab my hand and stick it between her legs. She was really something. And she, you know, she was highly libidinous. You know? She wanted to make love with other women. She got into dope for a while. She’d break that thing…that you sniff when she’d have her orgasm. I was getting a real education. I was fascinated. I was absolutely nuts about her. And ultimately she wound up in an institution. I mean, it’s not funny, it was a very sad thing. She was great but nuts.”

Woody Allen's character "Gabe Roth" on one "Harriet Harman". Husbands and Wives, 1992. Perhaps this is the reason that Harriet's husband, Jack Dromey, couldn't keep on top of, as it were, New Labour's finances. The man was exhausted!

SOAS: Feminism, cultural relativism, academia and activism

“No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian or Canadian or woman or Muslim or American are no more than starting points which, if followed into actual experience for only a moment, are completely left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a world scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively white or black or Western or Oriental”. (Edward Said)

I attended a meeting on Feminism, Cultural Relativism, Academia and Activism at SOAS today. The room was packed with mainly young women with a couple of young blokes.

First speaker was Dr Laleh Khalili who is in the process of writing a book on colonial prisons. She has written about the experiences of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon that she visited in Nov 2001. She spoke about the anxiety and worry experienced by the refugees about imminent attacks by the West in reprisals for 9/11. As a researcher she was aware of how she was influencing the people she had met at the camps. She identifies herself as an Iranian woman who lives in the West with Eurocentric views. She argued that multiples identities play a significant role within the boundaries of the public domain and private sphere which are power laden social constructs.

The space between the personal and the political are fake barriers. When she visited the camps she explained about her Iranian background but veiled instead her American background. Personal history can open or close doors. She also saw herself as an affluent Western Iranian in a position of power and how this impacted on the people she was working with. She saw multiple identities such as being Iranian, American, Western and a woman and how this impacts on her work. She said feminism is relevant as it explains where you stand as a woman. And also other power relationships are woven in such as race, religion, sexuality.

I think what struck me listening to Laleh was the old slogan, “personal is the political” from the woman’s liberation campaign embedded in her talk and that it is still as important today.

Elaheh Rostami Povey spoke first about the academic Stuart Hall and how he defined his own Black identity. How identity is very complex. It also reminded me of the psychiatrist Frantz Fanon when he, living in French Martinique, saw himself as French yet when he moved to France was seen as “inferior” and not at all equal. After 9/11 Elaheh reclaimed her Muslim identity even though she is a secular Iranian. She identified with Muslims as a reaction to racism. She spoke about how she saw feminism as a “good ideology” though she has “mellowed in her old age”! She dislikes the term “gender studies” in academia as she believes it is an excuse not to talk about women.
Most of her academic work has been set in Iran and Afghanistan. She interviewed women in Iran during the early 1990s. Her hypothesis was that women were marginalised because of Islam and economic contribution was negligible. She found the opposite. Iranian society opened up opportunities for women in theocracy. Around 64% of university students are women.

She also spoke about how strong the fight for women’s rights in civil society. Muslim feminists argue that Islam is not repressive to women but the male interpretation of the readings of the Koran. The women’s movement in Iran has pushed for reforms. One successful reform is that women with foreign husbands can now pass their citizenship to their children (Egypt is the only other Muslim country to do this).
Anti-imperialist women are at the forefront of the democracy movement in Iran. Thirty women were arrested this month for protesting and showing solidarity with four other women who have gone on trial for organising a protest last summer. According to Povey they should be released within the next couple of days. She argued that any attack by imperialist forces on Iran will destroy the gains women have made.

Many of these women describe themselves as feminists and have been influenced by western feminism but have, correctly critiqued the limitations of Eurocentric feminism.

She then spoke about her interviews with Afghan women in Afghanistan, USA and UK. She found that before the invasion women felt better equipped to fight for rights and met little resistance from men. The occupation symbolises western culture to these women. In the USA and UK women have found it harder to challenge inequalities because they don’t want to break ranks and the bigger picture being racism. In her final bit of her speech she quoted Edward Said who described the “superior western culture” and the inferior “other” culture such as Islam.

Finally Lynn Welchman spoke about bridging the gap between academia and activism. She briefly discussed her book, “Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence against Women” (written jointly with Sara Hossain). She discussed the importance of alliances and letting people speak for themselves as opposed to someone speaking for them. She spoke about the rejection of blaming it on “culture” (“white women and men saving brown women from brown men”.) and how this has its own echoes in colonialism.

There was a brief question and answer session towards the end. All three spoke about the importance of feminism and how it has had an enormous influence on their consciousness. The need, as well, to strip away those identities along with the conflicts, the contradictions, privileges and the power. Incidentally, Laleh Khalili said she asked students in her class if any of them were feminists (this was around 3 years ago) and only one said yes. She found that depressing.

The chair asked the women in the room to put up your hand if you described yourself as a feminist. All the women in the room did (including myself...).

I am still digesting everything I heard and was interested in what the speakers said about identity and how we unravel those multiple identities as social constructs (I have been reading about this in Lynne Segal’s latest book, Making Trouble). And how we perceive ourselves along with others. The other interesting issue is about letting people speak for themselves which to me is really about self-determination.

(The picture is of an oil painting by Arab woman artist, Fatima Abu Roomi, entitled "Fatima")

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Welfare not Workfare

Who are the the biggest group of parasites bearing down on the British economy like a plague of locusts? Private equity investors? No. Overpaid business consultants ripping off government departments? No. For hardcore Bliar-ite John Hutton of the Department of Work and Pensions it is ordinary people facing illness and disability that stops them from either being able to work or who face discrimination because of their health that are bleeding us all dry. So there’s a change then, New Labour blaming the powerless for the economies woes.

Since the decline of mass unemployment since the mid-nineties (that is decline of: not end of) the benefits system and the miseries imposed on those who have to rely on it have slipped of the radar of the Left. With the Welfare Reform Bill though some of the most powerless in society will face even greater problems getting the money they need to live on while they are unable to work.

This bill is currently in the Lords and is on course for the royal assent sometime just after Easter. With so many other super reactionary bits of law being created at the moment not many people have picked up on what this bill will mean for ordinary people who cannot get a job because of the disabilities that they face.

In brief the parts of the bill concerned with benefits for those who cannot work due to ill health introduce a system where there are sanctions for people who do not satisfy the Department of Work and Pensions that they are taking steps to make themselves marketable to employers. The sanctions will be reductions in the amount of benefit that people get each week. New Labour wants to punish people for (1) being ill or having disabilities (2) for being out of work because of this! Mr Bumble the beadle’s spirit is truly alive and well and will remain so in the Dickensian system that people will face ( that might be you dear reader if that driver who comes at you a bit fast gets a call on his mobile at the wrong moment!).

For instance a person facing serious depression will be expected to attend Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to get them back to work in a crappy job forced on them by the local jobcentre. If the person is judged not to be co-operating with the Jobcentre they face having their benefits taken away; leaving them in destitution. CBT is a good example of the problems that the new benefits regime will face. Firstly it is a controversial form of therapy that slips into telling people to simply pull their socks up. To the extent that it is effective there is already a shortage of CBT qualified therapists so that it is difficult for a GP to find one for a patient who actually wants one. Where will the Jobcentre find the qualified therapists to foist on people who neither want or need CBT?

Part of the New Labour answer to this will be the private sector of course. The plan is to get the new benefits regime to be run by private companies who will have the power to apply the sanctions and will have an incentive to do so as they will be able to receive a slice of the savings that the Government will make by having people’s benefits cut.

All this will be on top of it being more difficult to convince the Department of Work and Pensions that you are not working because of ill health. The “Personal Capability Assessment”: the scoring system that is currently used to decide if someone is entitled to get benefit for being unfit for work is being made harder. This system of assessment already makes life a misery for a lot of people, many of whom win appeals against decisions that they are fit for work as the decision making process (like the decision making process throughout most of the benefit system) is riddled with prejudice and slapdash work by the Jobcentre.

The bill also brings in changes to the way Housing Benefit is administered and assessed. It is being “simplified” by basing entitlement to Housing Benefit on what local authorities, heavily directed by central government, think people should have available to spend on rent. This is instead of the current system which is based on the actual rent people must pay their landlord. The effect is likely to be to force council tenants and housing association tenants to leave their homes in much the same way that the current “reasonable rent” rules force tenants of private landlords to do so at the moment. The bill is therefore also part of the general attack on social housing and in particular on council housing.

What should socialists be doing?

The bill will become law now very soon. There are a number of things that can be done.

Firstly campaigning with the various local and national disability groups needs to be done. This may involve work around solidarity with individuals who are victimised by the new benefits regime.

Secondly support for civil servants facing job cuts. The Department of Work and Pensions has borne the brunt of the cuts in civil service jobs. Civil service workers who are themselves under threat are likely to toe the line in putting others under the cosh. This will set up a nightmare scene for us, a wet dream for New Labour of civil servants (the lowly type in Jobcentres, not well paid mandarins looking for to good pensions and cosy billets in private companies) being set against benefit claimants in a divide and rule tactic.

It is still important to get struggles up around the welfare benefit system for these reasons and also because New labour and any future Tory/coalition government is likely to take the path of putting most benefit claimants onto workfare schemes where you will be assigned a private company for whom you will work for in order to be paid benefits. This extremely exploitative system is already up and running in the USA. There needs to be a strong campaign around to stop it arriving here.

A longer version of this will appear in next month's Labour Briefing

Friday, March 16, 2007

A message from Kate Hudson

Dear CND Supporter,

I am writing to convey my sincere thanks for all of your support and hard work for the No Trident Replacement campaign over the past months. The vote in parliament on Wednesday was a significant step forward for our work. Although the government position was won, it was the largest rebellion on a domestic issue since Labour came to power in 1997. It is also the largest backbench revolt over defence policy since Labour first entered government in 1924.

Many MPs have shifted their positions to oppose nuclear weapons and more will do so in the months and years to come, as they realise the extent of the majority public opposition to new nuclear weapons. All the arguments are in our favour and more and more people are realising that. This is a key step in the process of winning the struggle for nuclear abolition. The tables are turning in our favour and sanity will ultimately prevail.

CND will continue to campaign tirelessly against Trident replacement and for initiatives which will eliminate nuclear weapons from Britain and the entire world. Your continued support is vital to encourage our government to adopt policies of peace and true security.

Kate Hudson
CND Chair

PS – We have several videos from last Wednesday’s rally and other actions in Parliament Square. Please visit our You Tube site at to see all of our latest videos.

Axis of Bozos: Blair & Wardle

A curious thing happened on Newsnight a couple of nights ago (no, don't be silly, Gavin Esler did not ask an intelligent question). Robert Wardle, Director of the Serious Fraud Office, claimed that he personally put an end to the investigation concerning alleged Saudi-BAe corruption.

On 16 January, however, Tony “the Passion” Blair claimed that he personally stopped the investigation because it was harming the national security of UK PLC. (You’d think that after Iraq that the bozos in power could get their stories right!)

“I can absolutely assure you that there is no doubt whatever in my mind - and I think in those of any of the people who have looked at this issue - that, having proceeded with this, the result would have been devastating for our relationship with an important country with whom we cooperate closely on terrorism [by making it worse], on security [ensuring that there's less of it], on the Middle East peace process [making very sure that international law is jettisoned],” the Passion said, ignoring the fact that basing his case on this was is illegal.

The Passion went on to claim that proceeding with the investigation would have “significantly, materially damaged our relationship with Saudi Arabia”, which is, as I say, a legal irrelevance, according to the OECD, the organisation charged with combating corruption.

“That relationship is of vital importance for us fighting terrorism,” the Passion continued, ignoring the glaring fact that most of the Salafist and Wahhabist fruitcakes in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia and that elements within the Saudi ruling elite finance a great deal of Islamic chauvinist terrorism.

It was another fine day for the so-called “War on Terror”- that is, the one the terror experts believe the chauvinists are “winning hands down”, as Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, put it. By supporting the feudal Saudi Mafia, ensuring the democrats and progressives are closed out, the only people in a position to take advantage are the extremists.

Israel - Arab women fight for the right to work

Yesterday I met with Khitam Na'amneh and Assaf Adiv who are visiting Britain on behalf of the Workers’ Advice Centres (Ma’an in Arabic) from Israel. Khitam is the women’s organiser, and Assaf is the national coordinator of the trade union that organises mainly Israeli Arabs, but also Jewish workers.

During their tour they have met many trade unionists, including the leaders of the FBU and RMT, the TUC’s international department, and had a meeting in the House of Commons organised by John Mcdonnell. Even meeting the tUC was a step forward as originally the TUC refused too meet them, beacsue they organise outside the Zionist trade union federation, the Histadrut, but after taking advice from the General federation of Palestinian Trade Unions (who themselves do not organise in Israel) the TUC changed their mind.

WAC does not organise within Histadrut simply because that is the situation they find themselves in. Histadrut is not interested in Arab workers, and Arab workers have no faith in it.

Some 20% of Israel’s population is non-Jewish, and around 50% of israeli Arabs live below poverty level. A key to this is that only 17% of Arab women work, and the WAC has been campaigning to get Jewish businesses - particularly in the agricultural sector – to employ these Arab women. The increasing deregulation and privatisation of the Israeli economy has also impacted on employment rights and wages, for both Arabs and Jews.

Since Oslo, and the closure of the border with the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has brought in fixed quotas of Chinese, Thai and Filipino workers to replace Arab labour, and it as also replaced some Jewish workers. Farmers love employing the Thai workers because they will work for 12 or 15 hours but be paid for only eight, and will sleep and eat on the job. Nevertheless WAC has been successful in pressurising farmers to employ 150 Arab women, and this is just the start of the campaign.

Last week, for International Womens’ Day, WAC organised a march through Tel Aviv of these Arab women workers mainly from Galilee demanding that the government stop “importing” cheap, exploited workers from Thailand and allow them – the Arab women – to earn a living. As they marched, they shouted slogans such as “No to unemployment,” “No to the new slavery of foreign workers,” “Yes to work, no to poverty,” and “Create job opportunities.”

The aim of the demonstration was to give the lie to the claims of Israeli farmers and the government who say that local Arab workers are not ready to work in agriculture, and that it is Arab society that prevents women from working and not the lack of jobs. The demonstrators protested against the Israeli government's decision to import a further 3000 Thai agricultural workers, in addition to the 26,000 that already work in Israel.

It should be noticed that the opposition of these Arab workers is not racist or protectionist. In fact the WAC works closely with NGOs who support the migrant workers. The issue here is that the migrant workers themselves are being used as part of a racist government policy to exclude Israeli Arabs from economic activity.

The march drew the attention of the Israeli media, and received prime time coverage in the first and second TV channels. A short video named “A day in the life of Siham,” produced by the Video 48 group, was also shown on Israeli TV.

Back to the IST

A little while ago I posted a piece on where the the SWP’s international current the IST is going. Since then the discussion has continued to run and run and run, with debates between supporters of the SW’s sister organisations in Australia, New Zealand and Canada debating the situation of the left in their countries with socialists from other political traditions.

It is worth having another look at the comments, which continue to grow - for those interested in the politics of the SWP, the state of the left in these other countries, or the general issues of left regroupment.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Scotland rejects Trident


Last night a majority of Scottish MPs voted to oppose the updating of Britain’s nuclear weapons. This was a rebellion of 15 Labour MP, all six SNP MPs, and twelve Scottish Lib Dems.

This is important as the elected representatives of the Scottish nation have rejected the genocidal “defence” policy of the British state. I hope that Scottish MSPs will urgently raise the issue in the Scottish parliament in Hollyrood, because even though defence matters are dealt with in Westminster, the constitutional position here is that English MPs have imposed nuclear weapons on Scotland, and even expect them to be based in Scotland at Faslane.

In May this year the Scots will go to the polls in what is fast becoming an independence election. Yesterday I posted a short article explaining how independence will economically benefit the working class in Scotland.

The bigger vote the Independence parties get, the worse the constitutional crisis for the British state. This Trident vote shows the potential for that crisis developing in a progressive direction, as an independent Scotland immediately raises the question of opting out of the imperial obligations of the blood soaked British state.

(by the way, I usually dislike the cheapening of the term genocide by overuse, but nuclear bombs are a weapon of genoicide, designed to wipe out whole populations)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Pooftahs" Not Included

Desmond Swayne, David Cameron's trusted bag-carrier, was trusted to do the Cameroonian thing in the case of Patrick Mercer, the frontbench Tory sacked for comments thought to be racist and unbecoming of a new newness New Tory. With real vim did Dizzy Des back up Cameron's decision to sack Mercer.

Well, fair enough, Des, if you feel that this sort of language deserves punishment. How long, then, before you, Dizzy Des, do the decent thing and resign for referring to gays as "pooftahs"? Perhaps David Cameron will do the decent thing and get rid of Swayne? I doubt it. A good and trusted bag-carrier is a rare find.

The Perfect Murder Of Baha Musa

It is said that there is no such thing as the perfect murder. Unless you’re a complete fool, you’ll know that is as true as almost any commonplace wisdom. My favourite is Santayana’s famous but over-repeated saying: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. A moment’s thought should prove how hollow this is. With the trite aphorism about the perfect murder in mind, it should be noted that the discarded murder in plain sight can be gotten away with too - provided you’re in the British Army.

In September 2003 Baha Musa, a 26 year-old father of two, was beaten to death by British occupation forces at the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment’s “detention centre” (translation: torture centre) in Basra. The media has recounted the whole terrible affair - from the perspective of the regiment who murdered an innocent man, though demonstrably guilty of being an Iraqi. According to the Telegraph (usually an outlet which bangs on about the victims of crime), the regiment is “haunted” by Musa’s death, though this regiment knowingly conducted torture. A case in point is the “choir”, a well-known regiment past-time: repeated assaults on the victim in order to him scream. (The British Army, I think, is not the best place to get acquainted with the famed British sense of humour.)

After yet more British servicemen were found innocent yesterday, the Guardian reported the depraved mutterings of former Colonel David Black, a member of the QLR’s Regimental Council. The mad Colonel said that “British servicemen needed to be able to operate confidently on our behalf without looking over their shoulders inhibited by the fear of such actions by over-zealous, and remote, officialdom,” who think it’s not quite cricket to torture and murder people.

Meanwhile the MoD put out the following statement: “In very difficult and dangerous circumstances in Iraq our forces do a superb job. However, we need to maintain both operational effectiveness,” by ensuring that cases against sick torturers and murderers do not make it to court.

Colonel Mendonca, the most senior of the cleared defendants, was recently the recipient of gushing praise from the nation’s media outlets. Here was an innocent man who was put through the ordeal of a fair trial after an Iraqi man was tortured and murdered on his watch. The charge was that Mendonca failed to ensure that his men did not torture and murder. One would assume that had Colonel Mendonca not failed in his duty then Baha Musa would still be alive. And though his regiment did torture and murder Baha Musa, Colonel Mendonca was cleared of the charge. But logic and jurisprudence, like the British sense of humour, is not best found in the British Army. The Telegraph reported that “While the officer was no apologist for abuse he said it was necessary to put in context the immense difficulties soldiers faced ‘under quite extraordinary stress’.” The torturers and murderers were “under quite extraordinary stress”, but not quite as stressed as Baha Musa, I would venture.

Should we be surprised that the military won’t find its own guilty? Cast your minds back to the gruesome case of Jabbar Kareem Ali, a 16 year-old boy who was hand-cuffed and thrown into a river. The boy died. The soldiers who threw the boy to his death were found innocent. It was, as they say, a cast-iron case. The only drowning the murderers/soldiers faced, however, was the praise from the media. The British Army is resorting to the policies of their forebears who ran Iraq not so long ago. For those who haven’t figure it out yet, those who remember the past are more than willing than those who don’t to repeat it.