Monday, 30 November 2009

Copehagen and three key hurdles to effective action on climate change

Ten days after the Climate Research Unit (CRU) email "scandal" broke, delegations are heading to Copenhagen for the international climate summit. Those attending hope to establish a new global treaty on climate change. In particular, Barack Obama's aim of "sizable reductions in US carbon emissions," by "cutting its domestic emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020," has given commentators cause for optimism. However, some perspective is required.

Far from being a make-or-break event that will seal the future of the planet, the Copenhagen summit is a microcosm of the wider climate debate. In it, we are able to see the key barriers to any form of effective action on this issue.

The first is the growing influence of climate change scepticism over popular discourse. Right-wing newspapers such as the Daily Mail have been at the forefront of this trend, but a wave of conservative bloggers are hot on their heels. In Telegraph Blogs, James Delingpole suggests that "if you own any shares in alternative energy companies I should start dumping them NOW" as "the conspiracy behind the Anthropogenic Global Warming myth ... has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed." (See here for Carbon Fixated's hilarious Delingpole parody.) The Pedant-General at Devil's Kitchen suggests that the world of the "left-leaning liberal arts graduate[s]" of the environmental lobby "is being swept from underneath them and they are being shown—in ways that they do not really and have never had to understand—that the guys they thought were the goodies are in fact "at it" and that those they have spent a decade disparaging as deniers were in fact spot on." Mr Pink Eyes at America's Watchtower warns that although "Climategate has exposed the great global warming hoax," the media "are in bed with the Obama administration and his cap and trade agenda" and will "gloss over this story," meaning that "we must not let this story die."

Such leap-of-faith conclusions, akin to the "god of the gaps" of creationism, are unfounded. Nate Silver, at FiveThirtyEight, explains why the "Irrefutable proof of the Anthropogenic Global Warming Super-Duper Major-Mega International Socialist Conspiracy" is no such thing. Focusing specifically on the "hide the decline" email, he points out that "actually, what you have is a scientist, Dr. Jones, talking candidly about sexing up a graph to make his conclusions more persuasive."

The fact remains that "this is not a good thing to do -- I'd go so far as to call it unethical -- and Jones deserves some of the loss of face that he will suffer." However, to put things into perspective, it is worth noting that "unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that happens all the time in both academia and the private sector." I've already noted my own view that, for the sake of honesty and clarity, this needs to be investigated and people held account for any misdeeds. "But," in the words of Silver, "let's be clear: Jones is talking to his colleagues about making a prettier picture out of his data, and not about manipulating the data itself."

Leaping "from some scientist having sexed up a graph in East Anglia ten years ago to The Final Nail In The Coffin of Anthropogenic Global Warming" is facile and extremely dishonest on the part of those who should know better. Unfortunately, this is the conclusion that is permeating public consciousness.

The second barrier is the prevalence of liberal and reformist ideas amongst the green left. Rightly, groups such as the Camp for Climate Action and Workers' Climate Action have pointed out that "without the collective action of organised labour, we will be unlikely to make the changes to our economy we need, before it is too late." However, as a recent Shift magazine editorial noted, it is a less radical attitude that often prevails;
Let’s get this straight. There is nothing wrong per se with fighting for state concessions. The fact that an autonomously-controlled no-go area for police was maintained was essentially a concession to the camp’s ability to mobilise public anti-police sentiment. But the arguments brought forward by the pro-state campers were cynical at best: there is no comparison to be made between the demand for a minimum wage, for example, and the hope for higher taxes (on us, not the rich), population surveillance and control, or carbon permits. The former is a result of workers’ struggles for better living conditions and is not contradictory to an eventual fundamental break with state control. The latter is essentially the self-flagellating demand to punish and manage the behaviour of the majority for the crisis that is capitalism.
A radical movement recognises that "all calls on the state to lighten the load on the environment, will inevitably find the burden falling onto the human." So do the ordinary people living under our state-capitalist system.  They are right to rail against an environmentalism that is simply about "finding new ways to tax us," as the only beneficiaries will be the governments whose revenues are increased.

As the state of the environment, and the risk of climate change, remains a pressing issue, a change of direction is vital. We need to demonstrate to the wider public that there is an alternative to saving the world through taxes, and to outlandish conspiracy theories.

The third barrier to effective action on the climate is Copenhagen itself.  Or rather, the fact that all the world's hopes for a solution to climate change rest upon it. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon believes that the summit can "achieve a firm foundation for a legally binding climate treaty as early as possible in 2010." "An agreement is within reach," but the fact remains that it is likely to be one that will achieve little. According to consulting firm Cambridge Energy Research Associates, "a number of factors point to difficulties in achieving a breakthrough on short-term emissions targets at Copenhagen," particularly in the wake of "the current economic crisis." The Times of India reports further;
Leave aside a binding agreement on climate change, the 190-country Copenhagen conference on December 7 is unlikely to throw up even a political statement of high-sounding sentiments on the need to save the planet -- a statement, which countries were hoping, would give the direction for hammering out an agreement next year.

The setback came in the just-concluded two-day ministerial meeting at Copenhagen on November 16-17, where persistent schisms on even most basic things such as a political statement of agreement deepened as some industrialized countries -- led by Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands -- demanded that the political statement be the sole basis for reaching a "single legal instrument".

This meant that the Kyoto Protocol, already on the backburner, would be jettisoned altogether -- a position that's not acceptable to most developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol, which wants emissions to be brought down by 5.2% below the 1990 levels by 2012 (an impossibility now), also set down the moral principle that the biggest emitters should undertake the biggest cuts.

Not surprisingly, the biggest emitters -- the rich countries, including the US and the EU -- are opposed to the Kyoto Protocol. In this ministerial meeting, Japan and others demanded that the political statement make clear that all countries, including developing countries like India, must undertake commitments to reduce greenhouse gas levels under this proposed new instrument.
With the hopes for even a "statement for high-sounding sentiments" as low as they are, the chance of the radical changes necessary being agreed are null. To anti-capitalist climate activists, this will come as little shock. However, it is likely that such an outcome will dismay the "left-leaning liberal arts graduate" school of environmentalists, who will thus focus their hopes and energies on the next summit. And the one after that, and the one after that, etc ad nauseum. As Nick Reeves, executive director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), points out, "when it comes to global action on climate change, we've been here before."

The systems of state and capital are geared to operate in their own short-term interests. As such, demanding that they make more than piecemeal gestures on the environment is a wasted venture. Instead, we need to be using events such as the Copenhagen summit as an opportunity to highlight the issue and demonstrate how ordinary people can acheive sustainability through grassroots organisation. Climate Camp is an attempt at precisely this measure, but it should not be the only one.

If we are to see a serious effort against the threat of climate change, then these three hurdles must be overcome. Organisation, education, and an uncompromising radicalism are the key to any succesful act of resistance against the profit system, and the same remains true here. What we cannot do is bury our heads in the sand, ignore the sceptics, and rest our hopes on the supposed benevolence of big government.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Lessons from the climate change email scandal

Last friday, it emerged that "hundreds of private emails and documents allegedly exchanged between some of the world's leading climate scientists during the past 13 years have been stolen by hackers and leaked online."

According to the report in the Guardian, "computer files were apparently accessed earlier this week from servers at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, a world-renowned centre focused on the study of natural and anthropogenic climate change." Climate change skeptics immediately leapt upon the emails as proof "that some of the climatologists colluded in manipulating data to support the widely held view that climate change is real, and is being largely caused by the actions of mankind."

Since then, the Daily Mail has led the way with a barrage of stories [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] and editorials [1, 2, 3, 4] on the subject. Nick Griffin made a speech in the European parliament where he claimed that the story of climate change "is designed to provide the excuse for the political project of the globalists to replace national democracy with New World Order global governance." Conspiracy sites such as have also taken the story as proof of the evil machinations of the New World Order.

Away from the world of hysteria and reaction, George Monbiot writes in the Guardian how he is "dismayed and deeply shaken" by the emails. However, he has not made a grand and unfounded leap of faith towards global conspiracy;
But do these revelations justify the sceptics' claims that this is "the final nail in the coffin" of global warming theory? Not at all. They damage the credibility of three or four scientists. They raise questions about the integrity of one or perhaps two out of several hundred lines of evidence. To bury man-made climate change, a far wider conspiracy would have to be revealed.
However, as he states on his blog, "pretending that this isn't a real crisis isn't going to make it go away." Questions have been raised by the hacking, and they deserve more than "an attempt to justify the emails with technicalities." The fact remains that these emails have called into question the integrity of several scientists involved in climate change research. Moreover, even though it is but a few individual scientists, and it is likely they were acting under pressure given the power of the denial lobby in popular discourse, it has made damaged the trust people have in science. For the sake of transparency, a meaningless buzzword in politics but vital to scientific integrity, there needs to be a serious investigation into the matter and those guilty of manipulating data (if indeed that occurred) need to face the consequences.

At the same time, though, some perspective is needed. Fascists and tinfoil-hatters will no longer be the only ones claiming that global warming is part of "a globalist common purpose to tax and control us," and to "hand over billions to the third world" as part of an "anti-Western guilt trip scenario." Genuine, radical environmental activists need to act to demonstrate that this is nonsense.

Of course, there is little doubt that the state and corporations are trying to profit from climate change. But, as I wrote in On climate change, class, and capitalism, this is because it is inherent in their design to put short-term gains before long-term consequences;
In a capitalist society, then, anybody who takes the threat of climate change seriously will quickly be weeded out. Not because there’s a conscious effort to destroy the environment, but because that’s how the system operates. A rival who is unconcerned with long-term environmental effects will quickly undercut the profits of the environmentally conscious capitalist, thus undermining their position and their ability to make such decisions. This is why only those “green” measures that generate short-term profit are acted upon, and addressing the core issue with any seriousness is quickly sidelined.
What it should not be seen as is "proof" that "global warming is a con." It is proof of the short term self-interest of the state and capital, and that the integrity of a few individual scientists is in question. Nothing more. The fact remains that we face an ongoing global food crisis and struggle for natural resources in the present, with the potential of global catastrophe [1, 2, 3, 4] in the future.

Indeed, taxation and "green" profit will do nothing to stave off this threat. Any movement to roll back the danger of climate change must be based in an opposition to the cycle of consumption, profit, and destruction that feeds capitalism. That, not a denial of basic facts in favour of conspiracy, is the real lesson offered by what the Mail calls "climategate."

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Dancing on a mass grave - Oliver Kamm of the Times smears Media Lens

The following article is reposted from Media Lens. I am highlighting it here as an example of how those who dissect and challenge the propagandistic nature of the corporate mass media are dealt with by the object of their criticism.

One of our most relentless critics is Oliver Kamm, leader writer and blogger at The Times. Kamm joined the paper in 2008 having been an investment banker and co-founder of a hedge fund. In a 2006 blog, Kamm described us as “a shrill group of malcontents”, an “aggressively simple-minded lobby” guilty of "unprofessional and often comically inept exegesis" whose approach “demeans public life”. An impressive claim to make about one writer living off donations, one writer working in his spare time after finishing full-time work, and a virtually unpaid webmaster. David Cromwell, Kamm added, is “an ignoramus”.

In another blog, two years later, Kamm described us as a “curious organisation”, operating “in effect as a ‘care in the community’ scheme for numerous species of malcontent on either political extreme”. (

There is an overriding theme to Kamm‘s criticism. We are, he tells anyone willing to listen, “a reliable conduit for genocide-denial”. Indeed, we are responsible for nothing less than “the denial of genocide and the whitewashing of the single greatest war crime to have been committed on European soil since the defeat of Nazism”. (See comments following the Times Higher Education review of Newspeak at:

He goes on: “Genocide denial is the organisation's orthodoxy”. We are “an extreme, unsavoury and unrepresentative organisation whose function is the aggressive and often abusive targeting of working journalists”. (

Readers who have been receiving our alerts for many years - some hardy souls are into their ninth year - may be wondering what Kamm is on about. What genocide is it that we have been denying? Have we not been trying to +highlight+ allegations made by senior UN diplomats, such as Denis Halliday, of genocide in Iraq as a result of US-UK sanctions and the 2003 invasion? Indeed, when the Gandhi Foundation awarded us their 2007 International Peace Prize, the award was presented to us by Denis Halliday.

Kamm recognises the problem: “Even those who've heard of Media Lens may not be aware of its attitude to genocide-denial.” (

True enough. He adds: “Cromwell and Edwards's fantastic and bemused response to being exposed like this tells its own story.” (Ibid)

It certainly does - it indicates that we are bemused.

Kamm uses an intellectual sleight of hand. The term “genocide-denial” of course reminds one of “Holocaust denial”. Use of the former is intended to send a shudder of horror through readers. It is intended to suggest that we are comparable to the right-wing fanatics and neo-Nazis who deny the Holocaust. Indeed, Kamm is quick to make the connection:

“The stuff that they find so impressive is not merely the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial: it is the methodological equivalent too, using literally the same techniques. If the bodies can't be found, ergo, the genocide is a myth, according to this grotesque line of reasoning.” (Ibid)

Perhaps, then, one could slip a cigarette paper between us and Holocaust deniers. But to all intents and purposes we are the same.

Holocaust denial falls into a very special category. It is inextricably linked to anti-Semitic hatred, and has been used as a form of violence by other means - a way of continuing to demonise and attack the victims of one of history's worst crimes. Holocaust denial is not rejected because it is wrong to question and doubt claims of genocide. It is rejected because of the extreme racism and hatred motivating the doubt in this particular instance.

Beyond this special category, it is absurd to suggest that claims of genocide should be somehow beyond debate. Who decides when it is “the moral equivalent of Holocaust denial” to challenge such claims? Oliver Kamm of The Times? The British government? Media Lens?

The absurdity becomes clear as soon as we consider some examples. Was it “genocide-denial” when the BBC, ITN, the Observer and other media rejected Denis Halliday’s claim that sanctions, rather than the Iraqi government, were responsible for genocide in Iraq? Were Amnesty International responsible for “genocide-denial” when they told us in 2003 that, in the previous decade, Saddam Hussein had been responsible for executions in the “hundreds” per year, rather than in the 10,000s or 100,000s, as some political commentators suggested? Was it “genocide-denial” when newspapers challenged the methodology and results of the 2004 and 2006 Lancet studies that found nearly 100,000 and 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq since the 2003 invasion? Was it “genocide-denial” when the media favoured the Iraq Body Count study over the Lancet studies because “If the bodies can't be found, ergo, the genocide is a myth”?

Minding The Morons - "Srebrenica Denial"

More specifically, Kamm’s outrage centres around his claim that we promote material that argues that “the genocide at Srebrenica was all a hoax”. ( He actually follows us around the internet to make the point. When we published an article about the BBC on The First Post website last September, Kamm popped up in the comments section to warn readers that we promote “Srebrenica denial” using methods that “match those of the denial of the Nazi holocaust”. (,news-comment,news-politics,bbc-is-not-impartial-independent-nor-even-particularly-truthful)

When the Times Higher Education (THE) published a review of our new book, Newspeak, last month, we posted a response on their website - the first comment to appear. Kamm’s was the third:

“One point relevant to assessing the credibility of Media Lens's approach is that they maintain that reports of the Srebrenica massacre - an act of genocide, as determined by the International Court of Justice - are an example of Western corporate propaganda.” (

Kamm’s claims on Srebrenica may also come as a surprise to longtime readers. According to our archive, since 2001, we have published 2,777 pages of media alerts totalling some 1,026,606 words of material. Apart from affirming that a massacre did take place, we have written virtually nothing about Srebrenica. Our most significant discussion appeared in two media alerts published in late 2005 defending Noam Chomsky against the Guardian’s claim that he had denied there had been a massacre in Srebrenica. We helped create such a stir that the Guardian brought in an external ombudsman to examine the case. The ombudsman’s final report on the progression of events was published in the Guardian. It noted:

"6. Acrimonious correspondence with Noam Chomsky continues and an e-mail campaign, largely from an organisation called Media Lens, sparks off several hundred e-mails. Their website ('Smearing Chomsky - the Guardian in the gutter’ 4/11/05) urges readers to e-mail the Guardian editor and others." (‘External ombudsman report,’ The Guardian, May 25, 2006;,,1782133,00.html)

We sparked off “several hundred e-mails” - perhaps as many as 500 - affirming that Chomsky had +not+ denied there had been a massacre in Srebrenica. In our alert, we recalled that in his January/February 2005 article, ‘Imperial Presidency,’ Chomsky had described the November 2004 US assault on Falluja as involving “war crimes for which the political leadership could be sentenced to death under US law”. He added:

“One might mention at least some of the recent counterparts that immediately come to mind, like the Russian destruction of Grozny 10 years ago, a city of about the same size. Or Srebrenica, almost universally described as ‘genocide’ in the West. In that case, as we know in detail from the Dutch government report and other sources, the Muslim enclave in Serb territory, inadequately protected, was used as a base for attacks against Serb villages, and when the anticipated reaction took place, it was horrendous. The Serbs drove out all but military age men, and then moved in to kill them.” (Chomsky, ‘Imperial Presidency,’ Canadian Dimension, January/February 2005)

We unearthed this comment ourselves, quoted it with obvious approval, and added:

“Clearly, then, Chomsky considers Srebrenica nothing less than a counterpart to crimes ‘for which the political leadership could be sentenced to death under US law.’”

Curious behaviour for writers arguing that “the genocide at Srebrenica was all a hoax”.

Last month (October 15), Kamm wrote a blog entry, ‘The funny side of genocide.’ The entry is headed by a picture of us receiving the Gandhi Foundation’s prize. This was intended ironically - the article focused on our alleged role in “genocide-denial”. Kamm commented:

“I mentioned in my earlier post what has come to be known as ‘Srebrenica denial’. The term is apt not only because Srebrenica denial is morally similar to Holocaust denial, in depicting a documented genocide as a hoax, but because it uses literally the same methods. It holds that if the bodies can't be found then it must be because the victims never existed. I gave examples of a couple of fringe websites that publish this sort of material. But there's a site that I might have cited and didn't. It's Media Lens.” (

He added:

“The pre-eminent voice in the field of Srebrenica denial... is Ed Herman, a retired American professor of finance who has co-authored several books with Noam Chomsky. This sinister and absurd figure not only denies the massacre at Srebrenica: he is one of only two or three people I've ever come across who construct similar fantastic arguments about the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.” (Ibid)

The “sinister and absurd figure” is a brilliant and courageous political writer. He is co-author (indeed lead author) with Noam Chomsky of Manufacturing Consent - one of the classic works of political analysis.

With his usual civility, Kamm asks of Edward Herman, his co-author David Peterson and us: “why do I bother with these morons?” (Ibid)

Kamm clarified our role in helping Herman and Peterson do their dirty work. Of the Balkans, he wrote:

“Edwards and Cromwell are obviously clueless on the subject. They repeat and publicise what Herman says merely because Herman, with Chomsky, is the inspiration for their entire organisation: the originator of the so-called propaganda model of media power.” (Ibid)

It is certainly true that we have posted articles by Herman and Peterson discussing the massacre on our website. But it is simply false to suggest that they have argued that “the genocide at Srebrenica was all a hoax”. Herman and Peterson have written:

“The Srebrenica massacre took place in the month before Operation Storm, Croatia’s devastating attack and ethnic cleansing of some 250,000 Serbs from the Krajina, with over 1,000 civilians killed, including over 500 women and children...” (Edward Herman and David Peterson, ‘The Dismantling of Yugoslavia,’ Monthly Review, October 2007;

Their very rational concern is to discuss the “asymmetry in how the Srebrenica massacre and Operation Storm have entered the Western canon”. (Ibid) Their interest, then, is in precisely +comparing+ how these two horrific massacres were treated by Western politics and media. Herman and Peterson have also written:

"There is a good case to be made that, while there were surely hundreds of executions, and possibly as many as a thousand or more, the 8,000 figure is a political construct and eminently challengeable." (Herman and Peterson, ‘Milosevic's Death in the Propaganda System,’ ZNet, May 14, 2006;

Herman and Peterson, then, are +not+ denying that mass killings took place at Srebrenica. They also do not accept the figure cited by Kamm and others, but that they are perfectly entitled to do. The point is that while critics are free to take issue with their facts, sources and arguments, it is nonsense to accuse them of sins that are the “moral equivalent of Holocaust denial”. And to associate us with Holocaust denial on the grounds that we publish their material is desperate indeed.

In reality, we have posted any number of articles by different writers taking different views on Srebrenica. We have, for example, posted links to dozens of articles by mainstream radicals like Robert Fisk, George Monbiot and Seumas Milne, who have all affirmed that there was a massacre at Srebrenica.

The Missing Quote

In a comment on the Times Online website last month, Kamm took his smears to a different level when he wrote of us and Srebrenica: “they dance on a mass grave that they claim isn't there because Herman told them so”. (

This was extreme even by Kamm’s standards. To suggest that we had treated the massacred victims of Srebrenica with such contempt, and to suggest that we had claimed there was no mass killing, was appalling. As Professor Douwe Korff, a leading European human rights lawyer, told us: “If this Kamm chap can’t provide any evidence for his claim, it really is a most damnable libel.” (Korff to Media Lens, November 19, 2009) And of course we have never made any such claim regarding Srebrenica. On the contrary, as discussed, we have repeatedly affirmed that there +was+ a massacre.

In a series of exchanges on the Times Higher Education website we asked Kamm to provide a quote from us in support of his allegation. Unusually for him, he failed to reply. We then wrote to him on November 18, copying the email to the Times Online editor:

Dear Oliver Kamm

On October 18, on the Times Online website, you wrote of us regarding the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica: “they dance on a mass grave that they claim isn't there because [Edward] Herman told them so”.

We have made no such claim. If you can provide a quote by us in support of your accusation, please do so. If not, please remove this comment from the website.


David Edwards and David Cromwell

Kamm replied the next day. He did not offer evidence in support of his claim, nor did he agree to delete the comment from the website - the reasonable response given that he had invented the claim. Instead, he refused to discuss the issue with us and asked that any further correspondence be sent to the legal department at The Times and to his personal legal advisor. An odd reaction from someone who should be able to cut and paste the evidence into an email in a matter of seconds. His difficulty, of course, is that the evidence does not exist. The Times Online editor did not respond. We wrote to the Times Online editor again on November 23 and again received no reply. The comment remains in place but not a scintilla of evidence in support has been provided.

The problem is that mud sticks. As Chomsky noted of the Guardian’s claim that he had denied there had been a massacre at Srebrenica:

“Now I'm stuck with that, even though it is a deceitful invention of theirs.” (Email copied to Media Lens, November 3, 2005)

We, also, are stuck with Kamm’s invented smears.

Conclusion - Kamm’s Record

What of Kamm’s own record in accepting or protesting some of the great genocides of our time? As discussed, in September 1998, Denis Halliday, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, resigned describing the UN sanctions regime as “genocidal”. Halliday, who had set up and managed the UN's 'oil for food' programme in Iraq, was unequivocal that Western-led sanctions were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children under five. In an interview, Halliday told us:

“Washington, and to a lesser extent London, have deliberately played games through the Sanctions Committee with this programme for years - it’s a deliberate ploy... That’s why I’ve been using the word ‘genocide’, because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I’m afraid I have no other view at this late stage.” (Halliday, interview with David Edwards, March 2000;

In February 2000, Halliday’s successor at the UN, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned. In his book, A Different Kind Of War - The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, von Sponeck wrote:

“At no time during the years of comprehensive economic sanctions were there adequate resources to meet minimum needs for human physical or mental survival either before, or during, the Oil-For-Food programme.” (Hans von Sponeck, A Different Kind Of War, Bergahn Books, 2006, p.144)

In 1999, the year separating Halliday’s and von Sponeck‘s resignations, Kamm wrote in a letter to the Independent:

“The Clinton administration has been at pains to soften the sanctions regime... In October 1997 the US retreated from even a minor symbolic sanction - restricting travel for officials obstructing inspections - and agreed that Iraq should be allowed to sell oil to earn hard currency for food and medicine.” (Kamm, letter, The Independent, June 28, 1999)

Numerous experts in international law have condemned the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq as a grave war crime. It has likely resulted in the deaths of more than one million people. And yet, in a letter to the pro-war Observer on January 26, 2003, Kamm took a different view:

“War against Saddam will uphold the integrity of UN resolutions, counteract nuclear proliferation and overthrow tyranny. All credit to you for serving as the authentic voice of liberal principle.”

In May 2003, Kamm wrote:

“Contrary to the Liberal Democrats’ depiction of it as the biggest foreign policy error since Suez, Iraq was the most far-sighted and noble act of British foreign policy since the founding of Nato. Mr Blair’s record exemplifies foreign policy ‘with an ethical dimension’.” (Kamm, 'Help, I'm a pro-war leftie,' The Times, May 2, 2005)

In 2006, Kamm wrote an article entitled, “We were right to invade Iraq.”

The Blair War Crimes Foundation argues that Blair is guilty of serious war crimes, including:

“Deceit and conspiracy for war, and providing false news to incite passions for war, causing in the order of one million deaths, 4 million refugees, countless maimings and traumas.” (

By contrast, Kamm commented this week:

“I went on a Radio Five Live phone-in programme this morning and was asked by the presenter how I responded to the accusation that Tony Blair is a war criminal. The correct answer, which I gave, is: ‘With derision.’” (

Presumably, if someone responded “With derision” to the accusation that Slobodan Milosevic had been a war criminal, Kamm would view that as “genocide-denial”.

In October, Kamm wrote a blog with the title: “Tony Blair is a genocidal butcher.” He was quick to clarify:

“No, not really. But if I were a Guardian reader (dammit, I am a Guardian reader), that's what I'd know. Because, you see, according to Steve Bell, the former PM is, ha ha, exactly like Radovan Karadzic. Very droll.” (

Kamm recently made a short film for the BBC’s This Week programme supporting Blair’s (unsuccessful) bid to become EU President. The film showed images of Blair pressing the flesh with various world leaders to a soundtrack of ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie. Kamm said:

“Tony Blair is the dominant political leader of his generation. With Mrs Thatcher, he is one of only two British statesmen who is instantly recognised all over the world and whose name has real clout. His appointment as President of the European Council would give the institution coherence. It would be hugely annoying to the domestic constituency that accuses him of war crimes. He +should+ be President of the European Council.” (

In the exchange of emails on the THE website, we made the point that, if Kamm can accuse us of “genocide-denial”, then we can certainly repay the compliment. But in fact, as discussed, we do not believe the term has any place in serious debate. Nor do we consider Kamm a “moron” or “sinister” for disagreeing with us. Reasoned discussion and disagreement - and respectful tolerance of disagreement - are what free speech and democracy are supposed to be all about.

Merseyside BNP show themselves up as liars and hypocrites

Recently, I recounted how Peter and Andrew Tierney of Merseyside BNP attempted to intimidate a group of antifascists who had just been delivering leaflets in Halewood. As in all other situations, the BNP have been quick to twist the story and claim victimhood. However, this time their spin only serves to expose them as liars and hypocrites as well as fascist thugs.

Liverpool Antifascists, who at this point had nothing on them to identify them as anything other than passers-by, were circled by the brothers on their way back from delivering leaflets in Halewood. The pair took pictures, mouthed threats, and did their best to be “intimidating.”

The attempt was a spectacular failure. Liverpool Antifascists held their ground until the Tierneys, unable to provoke a fight despite threats and insults, got bored and scuttled off.

Now, on their blog, they are trying to claim differently. According to one post, “the fascist UAF tried to upset the day by intimidation and interfering in the democratic process, but were seen off by BNP supporting Halewood South residents.” That there is no UAF (Unite Against Fascism) group in Liverpool, and that Liverpool Antifascists did nothing more intimidating than walk past Tierney’s Land Rover on their way to the station are inconvenient facts that only serve to get in the way of a good piece of nonsense.

A later post contains the video of “the camera shy UAF” “being a nuisance to everyone around them.” Yes, Peter, turning away when you’re trying to film us and refusing to rise to it when you call us “shithouses” or threaten to “get some local lads down” certainly is a “nuisance,” isn’t it?

The lies are typical and to be expected. More telling, however, is the hypocrisy. When Liverpool Antifascists walked past Peter and Andrew Tierney, the only other BNP supporter present was a chubby but fairly young man who swore at us from the safety of the Land Rover. Still, the blog saw fit to worry about “our BNP old age pensioner thugs” (their words, not ours) “in case these UAF scum decided to attack us.” However, the older lady standing at the bus stop when the Tierneys were filming was only a “bag lady” and therefore didn’t deserve to be spared.

Even by the standards of the far right, Merseyside BNP are an unsavoury and demented bunch. With the evidence mounting in the run-up to Peter Tierney’s trial for assault, the main BNP website has simply ceased reporting news from Merseyside. The fascists posting on Stormfront and Vanguard News Network think that “violence is all the LBNP seem to get involved in.” Only Redwatch will give them any time, reposting the pictures and addresses offered by the local party, and showing that the connection between the site and the BNP, at least in Liverpool, remains strong.

That, on the back of such behaviour, they will claim to be victims of “intimidation,” only casts further doubt on Merseyside BNP’s every claim to victimhood. Several weeks ago, the accusations thrown by Tierney to draw heat from his assault of an antifascist were shown up in court as lies. Little wonder, then, that they have been disowned as a PR disaster.

As well as being active fascists, Peter Tierney and Merseyside BNP are violent thugs. They cannot be allowed to dispatch of this fact down the memory hole with their constant and fallacious claims to victimhood.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Law Lords reassert bank supremacy

As I write, the BBC has just broken the news that the Supreme Court "has overturned earlier court rulings that allowed the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the fairness of charges for unauthorised overdrafts." This does not mean that the banks have won their case for extortionate and exorbitant fees, but that they will not even face investigation.

Lord Phillips, president of the Supreme Court, has said that "this will not close the door on the OFT's investigations and may well not resolve the myriad cases that are currently stayed in which customers have challenged the relevant charges." However, given that the Court "not allow an appeal by the OFT to the European Court of Justice," it is a fairly safe bet that the case is dead in the water.

As the BBC state, the "ruling will come as a bitter blow to the consumer organisations who have campaigned against what they considered to be unfair overdraft charges." But that is not the full extent of the ruling's implications. Rather, as with the "new rules" trumpeted in September to promote "a responsible and long-term approach to remuneration," this decision reasserts the impunity of the banks in the economic order. Then, it emerged that "the curbs do not limit bonuses." Now, it is harder than before to challenge extortion by banks.

This only reinforces, then, what I said after the G20 summit in London this April. Capitalism, the subject of perhaps more defensive editorials this last year than in the preceding two decades, has rebranded itself. However, the fundamental principles of privilege, inequality, and usury remain as dominant as ever.

The "Magic Roundabout" under threat

The "Magic Roundabout" protest camp on the Isle of Wight arose in support for the workers occupying the Vestas wind turbine factory back in July. When the occupation ended, it remained as a show of continued defiance against the job losses and disdain for environmental issues that the plant's closure represents. Now, however, even this encampment is under threat.

According to the Save Vestas blog, "the people remaining on the ‘Magic Roundabout’ protest camp down on the Isle of Wight outside the now closed Vestas factory have been officially handed their eviction order by the land owner." Their analysis of the injunction and the accusations contained therein was scathing;
The documents filed to the courts include more or less identical submissions from Hanslip and the managing director of Vestas, Paddy Weir, who is unlikely to cash in on the £70,000 bonus he was granting himself for the smooth closure of the factory, until the protests die away. Indeed the statement by Paddy Weir is dated before that of the landlord himself and the photos of the camp submitted taken by staff employed by Vestas, suggesting strongly that the pressure for this repossession is a further desperate political move by the shamed company to be rid of a protest-site designated by the police under Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

The main grounds for repossession are that that our activities suggest that we have no intention of leaving the industrial estate anytime soon and that we are an ongoing nuisance to Vestas!

It is true that in the aftermath of the gales last week, we now have a new solid kitchen built by workers and local supporters recycling the wood from the pallettes on the industrial estate and rain-proofing from previous structures. It is true that our main tent has survived this extreme weather and still hosts visitors to the campaign locally and nationally, including last months’ lunch event with Green MEP Caroline Lucas. They submit as evidence last Saturday’s successful “Push the Green Button” event in town, supported by local unions, that provided information, free soup and tea, and a straw bale forum to discuss Vestas, Climate Change, working-class political representation and jobs and services: the main issues for the ongoing campaign. It is also true, as a protest site, that we do intend to maintain pressure on Vestas, while they continue to deny the occupiers their redundancy. The RMT union is still appealing against their dismissal.

We are also accused of causing health and safety issues and access issues for Gurit, which is laughable after months of 24hour operations at the site. The police visit or dirve round daily and we have complied with the minor adjustments that have been required of us, removing a a gaffer-tape smile face from a road traffic sign, and a small picnic table from the roadside.

Our favourite allegation is that we are deterring prospective employers from setting up on the industrial estate! Ours is a campaign for job creation, for the opening of the factory at the St Cross Business Park. We shall have little reason to camp on a roundabout when the factory is reopened with indoor union facilities. Apart form this, it is ironic that Hanslip can make this claim. Many of the buildings on the industrial estate have stood empty for years since they were built. The mock-facade of a construction site on the wasteground adjacent to the Vestas site was designed to spur Vestas into securing a freehold on the site before another company – this failed.

The campaign has been trawling through the opaque evaluations of the whole development of of the industrial estate, which more or less confirm what local people knew, that millions of public money have been thrown away to the Hanslips and Vestas, regeneration money that should have guaranteed long-term skilled employment opportunities on the island. The subsidy-chasing, socially irresponsible conduct of Vestas, and the lack of safeguard set-down by the Lib Dem council of the time and the regional development authorities, mean that the Isle of Wight has been set back more than a decade. The secretary of the Newport Trades Council is in the process of meeting the current council leaders to to put to them a report detailing the loss of thousands of skilled jobs over the last 50 years.

A third statement by a Rachel Fiddler of HTP Training, further up the estate, parrots these allegations and makes the ridiculous assertion that we pose a risk to vulnerable young working-class people who come to their offices. A major achievement of the camp has been its accessibility. It has been a safe, welcoming and supportive place for all, with children’s days, and an open-door policy. We have provided food and tea to local homeless people and to company for those staying at the Seven Acres mental health facility.

Ours is a camp(aign) that is developing a grassroots vision for socially useful work, and a society more broadly that values care, cooperation, justice and dignity.

The move today to evict us, is nothing more than a cynical and dishonest attempt to remove from the scene a new and positive part of the moribund industrial estate, which until the protests began were a symbol of the failure of the powers that be to deliver.
Mesages of support for those camped at the magic roundabout can be sent to is vital for the campaign, which now stands as a potent symbol of the fact that class-based action is the only way to face down the threat of climate change and as a vital, ongoing resistance to the callous, dehumanising profit instincts of capitalism.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

No War but Class War - November 2009

In the last few days, Honduran workers have secured an impressive and unprecedented victory in the fight for union rights in the country. According to the report on People & Planet, "never in history have people forced a multinational corporation to re-open a factory. It has shown that as students we can fight back against exploitation and the race to the bottom. We can campaign in solidarity with workers and WIN!"

Of course, this is far from the end of the struggle in Honduras. Since the military coup this June, Hondurans have suffered from a denial of basic rights and a climate of repression. However, this victory is a significant one. Not only is it an important step forward for the broader labour movement, but it sets a vital precedent against the use of sweatshop labour by multinational corporations.

Elsewhere in the Americas, the indigenous people of Ecuador and Bolivia have mobilised against capitalist exploitation of their land and resources. As I wrote earlier this month, their example is an important one for other indigenous peoples, such as those in the Niger Delta.

In the United States, according to WSWS, the United Auto Workers' (UAW) union "intends to force through the concessions on a plant-by-plant basis using the threat of factory closings and mass layoffs." The concessions in question were defeated "by a margin of 22,136 to 7,816" in a union-wide ballot. But still, in its role as "a right-wing appendage of the corporations and the state," UAW is determined to override the democratic will of the workers. Over the last 30 years, "on the basis of the program of “labor-management partnership” and “Buy American” nationalism, it has functioned as a labor police force for the employers, isolating and betraying every struggle against plant closings, mass layoffs and concessions." As such, "the first rejection of a national auto contract recommended by the UAW since 1982 and at Ford since 1976" offers "a harbinger of the return of great class battles." If the workers can organise and resist beyond the boundaries of the union bureaucracy, then American workers may see a reversal of the dominant, destructive trend of recent history.

Already the working class of America, traditionally viewed as the least willing to stand up for itself, is beginning to fight back. This month has seen transit workers in Philadelphia, teamsters in Chicago, and clerical, technical, and janitorial workers in Harvard stand up against attacks on jobs, pay, and conditions. Militants of the Longshore Workers' Coalition (LWC) are fighting, against considerable odds, to turn back concessions meade by the leadership of the ILA and force their union to fight for workers' rights.

The US Postal Service is following in the footsteps of its British counterpart, Royal Mail, "consolidat[ing] mail processing operations and cut work hours, in part by eliminating jobs." "With encouragement and assistance from the national union, locals have used media, petition campaigns, and pickets to organize postal customers, build community alliances, and enlist politicians to prevent station closings." However, the lessons of the recent betrayal of Royal Mail workers by the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) should provide a valuable lesson as workers decide how to proceed.

In South Africa, activists from the shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo were arrested during the ANC invasion of settlements at Kennedy Road. According to activist S'bu Zikode, writing for Libcom, "this attack is an attempt to suppress the voice that has emerged from the dark corners of our country. That voice is the voice of ordinary poor people. This attack is an attempt to terrorise that voice back into the dark corners. It is an attempt to turn the frustration and anger of the poor onto the poor so that we will miss the real enemy." As he states, solidarity is vital if they are to fight back against this injustice;
In this time when we are scattered between the Sydenham jail, hospitals, the homes of relatives and comrades, or even sleeping in the bushes in the rain, we are asking for solidarity. In this time when we do not know if the state will allow us to continue to exist we are asking for solidarity. In this time when we do not know if we will also be attacked in Motala Heights or Siyanda or anywhere else we are asking for solidarity.
In Greece, state repression against anarchists and other dissidents is ongoing. The latest incident comes on the 36th anniversary of the Polytechnic Uprising against the military junta on 17th November. According to Libcom;
21:30 17 November 2009 At the time of writing all central Athens is off-bounds and cordoned off by thousands of police forces as battles between protesters and police are developing after the end of the 36th anniversary march for the Polytechnic 1973 uprising and massacre.

It was perhaps the most massive protest march commemorating the Polytechnic Uprising in the last 25 years. And despite guarantees from the government the presence of the police in the city of Athens was massive and provocative to the extend that the official organising bodies of the march refused to start their long way via the Parliament to the American Embassy (believed to be behind the 7 year fascist junta) if riot police forces did not withdraw. After 16:00 policemen arrested a young man claimed to be in possession of a molotov cocktail, while during the hours preceding the march a dozen of protesters en route to the Polytechneio were detained for carrying gas masks. Police blockades have sealed off large areas of the Athens centre and are all day conducting mass stop and search operations even in the remotest northern and western suburbs of the city.

The march started moving at 16:30, shortly stopped at Syntagma square to commemorate the police assassination of two protesters in the Polytechnic march of 1980, while with some tension built up uproad, at the junction of the Athens Hilton, at 18:15 when riot cops threw a tear gas in the midst of the march attempting to break away the anarchist block. The tension was quickly diffused. The first block of the march reached the American Embassy at around 18:00, where hundreds of riot policemen stood in line guarding the building. After the traditional long stop, the march started dispersing in large blocks. At that time, the anarchist block numbering between 2,500 and 4,000 people (still the numbers are unverified) decided to return to Exarcheia via Alexandras Avenue where the Athens Police Headquarters Tower and the Supreme Court are lined. Upon reaching the Police HQs, the big anarchist block was cut in two by riot police forces, leading the protesters to counterattack against the cops and the glass-n-iron symbol of repression with rocks and nautical flares. The clashes initially forced the police forces to retreat and continued until outside the Supreme Court, with smaller blocks breaking up in the side-streets.

Soon after 19:00, under unspecified circumstances, a 100 strong block of protesters was surrounded at the junction of Alexandras avenue and Spyrou Trikoupi street by large riot police forces that immobilised them and brutally detained them. There are reports of people seriously wounded, as well as of two journalists (one working for the French press, and one for the radio-station Kokkino) detained or arrested. The bourgeois media claim that the people detained were unrelated to violence against the police.

Meanwhile protesters that had managed to reach Exarcheia square engaged police blocking the way to the Polytechnic in battle with use of rocks and molotov cocktails, forming barricades. The area is surrounded by police forces and off bounds even for state and bourgeois journalists. At the same time Exarcheia locals have gathered in a demo demanding the immediate retreat of the police from their area. According to the locals the policemen are extremely violent and bear no insignia of identification.

Up to this moment the countdown is about 250 detentions which the persecuting authorities will decide if they are arrests within the next 24h, while protesters are gathering outside the Police HQ Tower demanding their release.

At the same time, the State Persecutor has published a law-suit against the rector and the three sub-rectors of the Athens Polytechnic for allowing athens.indymedia to use its server. The law-suit is considered an unprecedented violation of academic freedom.

In Salonica, three different protest marches in commemoration of the 1973 Uprising were marked again by massive participation. After the end of the march protesters attacked riot police forces outside the Aristotelian University building barricades across Egnatia street.

In the city of Irakleion, in Crete, the Polytechnic protest march starting at Freedom Square and soon attacked riot police forces surrounding it. During the clashes 5 people were detained, out of which 1 has been upgraded to an arrest. More than 100 protesters have occupied the city hall as a response to the repression, demanding the immediate release of the comrades and the retreat of the cops from the city centre.
Meanwhile, "there has been a silent wave of high-school occupations across Greece." In response to legislation "which allowed the persecution of pupils for the occupation of their schools," "more than 35 high-schools in Salonica alone, and an unidentified number in the cities of Volos, Pyrgos, Ptolemaida as well as smaller towns of the mainland and the islands have been occupied by pupils." This ties into a much wider university occupation movement. In California, "demonstrators had occupied the [campus] building" of UC Berkley "to protest a 32 percent increase in student fees and job and program cuts." In Vienna, "the students’ demands include the abolition of tuition fees, the lifting of entrance restrictions at universities and colleges of further education, more rights for students to influence what happens in higher education, better equipment in all educational establishments, as well as the provision of sufficient and well-paid teaching staff."

Such movements are so intricately bound up in the wider class struggle, as both the Polytechnic Uprising of 1973 and the most recent victory in Honduras should remind us. The ultimate aim of class struggle is a world without inherent inequalities, and free, universal, all-round education is as vital to that vision as worker self-management is. It is common, within the state-corporate propaganda model, to see the needs of workers and students as antagonistic. If nothing else, these rebellions are important in reminding us that they are, in fact, intertwined.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

More intimidation tactics by Peter Tierney and Merseyside BNP

Today, activists from Liverpool Antifascists delivered leaflets in Halewood. These leaflets, titled British Jobs for British Workers? Don't be fooled by BNP lies, warned of the BNP's attempts to portray themselves as a working class family when, in fact, their leadership comes from the upper middle class and business sectors and they think of the white working class as "scum."

As they set off, from the Summerfield on Hillfoot Avenue, there was a brief encounter with a BNP supporter. Mistaking the antifascists for the BNP, he had joined them and asked whether Peter Tierney would be turning up soon. One activist explained to him that he was in the wrong group, whilst grabbing the opportunity to offer him a leaflet and explain why the BNP were not the party for anybody genuinely concerned with the plight of the working class. Events later in the day suggested that an antifascist making a similar mistake would have gotten more than a leaflet.

Despite the gloomy weather, there was a good turnout of activists, who managed to cover a significant area and deliver 500 leaflets in the surrounding working class estates. The event was extremely succesful and, as with a leafleting session around the shops the previous week, the response from the public was an overwhelmingly positive one.

On the way back to the original meeting point, however, the group encountered Peter and Andrew Tierney. The brothers, along with an unidentified third fascist, had been delivering leaflets of their own and were just about to leave in Peter's Landrover. When they recognised several of the antifascists, however, they were quick to grab their cameras and start taking pictures.

Within moments, they were circling around the tired group of leafleters, taking photos as close as they could and chasing around those who tried to turn their face away. Their clear aim was to intimidate and provoke a small group of passers-by (at this point, they had distributed all their material and had nothing on them to identify their allegiances) which included two women, one of them elderly. At one point Peter, still awaiting trial for assaulting an antifascist back in April, referred to one man as a "shithouse" for not rising to the provocation. His brother Andrew, whose photographs and videos have emerged on Redwatch and various other neo-Nazi hate sites, suggested instigating a third-party assault. "Let's get some local lads in, nothing to do with us, of course," were his exact words, after feigning gangster-status by declaring that the leafleters should leave because "this is our territory."

However, the antifascists held their ground. If they had left, they risked being followed, which left them particularly vulnerable once they had to part ways. And if they had arisen to the provocation, it looked as though more BNP supporters would have emerged from the nearby pub to support the Tierney brothers. Instead, they stayed where they were until the two thugs got bored, seeing they weren't getting a rise, and scuttled off.

To those familiar with the BNP, or indeed the Tierneys, this incident will come as no surprise. It also serves as a timely reinder that the party remain, despite their propaganda line, violent goons willing to threaten and intimidate anybody who dares oppose their fascist politics.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

On Nick Griffin's general election stand

Following the news that Nick Griffin will be standing against culture minister Margaret Hodge to be MP for Barking, the BNP have kicked off their General Election campaign. The typically grandiose and self-important annocement that "BNP raises the battle standard" invites several observations.

First, and most glaring, is the fact that the party (and Griffin) don't stand for who they claim to. On the party website, the link to Griffin's constituency website has disappeared, with it the claim that the party leader was ever "standing up for the North West." The occasional story about the plight of a bird sanctuary or a wind farm having long given way to a much broader level of propaganda which marginalises those he is claiming to represent.

The use of Honduran sweatshops to produce BNP merchandise, when the North West has 38,000 textile workers, has also yet to be addressed by the MEP claiming to stand for "British jobs for British workers."

Thus, the fact that Griffin is abandoning his constituency in an attempt to become the party's first Westminster MP should come as no surprise. No doubt "standing up for Great Britain," the slogan of the party's Obama-lite website revamp, will turn out to be equally fatuous. Indeed, there are already hints that a BNP MP will be as expenses-hungry as any other, with Griffin having already used members' money to extend his home in 2001 and his expenses as an MEP being used to pay the salaries of almost the entire national party.
The cash-grabbing shows no signs of letting up, either, with yet another BNP begging letter accompanying the announcement of the election campaign. The format is the familiar one of glory-invoking language intertwined with constant pleas for more money;
The establishment are so terrified of a BNP victory they have tried to finish us off through membership freezes, huge legal costs and constant media attacks. That's why your financial support is not only appreciated, IT IS ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL TO OUR ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND OUR SUCCESS!


For the last couple of days, the media has been awash with publicity over my decision to stand in the constituency of Barking in the forthcoming General Election. This has terrified the opposition, because Barking was our best result in 2005. The BNP, once again, is not fighting this election to gain decent votes in certain areas - WE ARE FIGHTING TO WIN, AND I WANT YOU BY MY SIDE!
The BNP claim to stand up for the working class of Britain, but are clearly only interested in feathering their own nests and clutching for power. The BNP's puppet union, Solidarity*, campaigns for the right of workers to be BNP members and little else. Industrial disputes which cannot be linked back to race and immigration are ignored entirely by the party. And the BNP, of course, views all workers willing to stand up for their rights (unless against foreigners) as "anti-British Communists."

As Andrew Gilligan points out in the Telegraph, "the BNP will be hindered in both Barking and in Dagenham by the general expectation that the Tories will win nationally, which usually tends to depress the far Right vote." Indeed, it was Thatcher's call for a "clear end to immigration" that siphoned support to the Tories from the National Front.

But antifascists should not be complacent for this kind of "victory." Rather than let one anti-worker party draw support from a more fascist anti-worker party, we need to be active on the streets, campaigning for working class unity against fascism. Indeed, what Gilligan calls "the BNP’s legendary capacity for unforced error" has already offered plenty of ammunition.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

On building settlements and breaking down walls in Palestine

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told al-Jazeera that "Washington wants an end to illegal Israeli settlements." The words rang hollow, however, with her praise for Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's "unprecedented restraint," which came "despite his refusal to halt settlement expansion," and her insistence that a halt to settlement expansion "was not a precondition for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians." Clinton's aim, as Obama's on several occasions past, is to offer concilliatory words whilst US-Israeli rejectionism continues apace.

At the same time, other developments within Israel offer a suggestion of what is to come. According to the Independent, "the Israeli education minister has unveiled plans to take teams of senior army officers to high schools across the country to help teachers "foster the motivation" of pupils to serve in combat units following a decline in conscription rates." The announcement has "infuriated liberals," but minister Gideon Saar is unrepentant, and has "also said that he would experiment with publishing individual schools' conscription rates, a move aimed at embarrassing those with a higher than average proportion of "draft dodgers"."

The move, according to the Independent, comes amid "growing right-wing criticism of draft evasion, coupled with dissatisfaction among part of the public that not serving in the army has become more accepted in the society than in the past." To the contrary, however, recent events suggest that Israeli society is becoming ever-more hawkish.

On Tuesday, BBC News reported that "four Israeli soldiers have been disciplined for protesting against the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank." Those involved "received sentences ranging from three weeks in jail to confinement to their base for hanging an anti-eviction banner at their barracks near Hebron." The action is only "the latest in a series of anti-evacuation protests by some soldiers," with "some high-ranking officials" "concerned at the increasing number of religious Jewish soldiers who have refused to take part in the planned evacuation of some Jewish settlements in the West Bank."

However, this does appear to be at least partly propaganda. Considering that the building of illegal settlements and converse eviction of Palestinians continues apace, reports of pro-settler "dissent," such as Haaretz's story that "two Israel Defense Forces soldiers were expelled from their brigade and given 20 days in military prison, just a few days after they waved a pro-settler banner during their swearing-in ceremony," seem conveniently timed. Not that the media are lying, since the Israeli press is perhaps more honest than western outlets in reporting the situation in Palestine. But, certainly the actual disciplinary acts seem calculated to draw maximum press attention at a time when the settlements are drawing (mild, non-committal) criticism from the United States. As former minister Yossi Sarid arued in relation to the presence of the IDF in schools, "this plan says something about the militaristic character of Israeli society. It is definitely getting more militaristic."

The prospects for future peace, then, do not look healthy. However, there are still those willing to resist. Friday saw the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. Unreported in the mass media, Anarchists Against the Wall marked this occasion with mass demonstrations, during which "demonstrators brought down a section of the eight meters tall concrete wall that cuts through the village [of Ni'ilin]'s land." The action was not without consequences, as "soldiers, positioned at the other side of the wall, fired scores of live rounds at the demonstrators as well as tear gas, and sprayed them with the "skunk-bomb" (a foul-smelling liquid)." Nonetheless, the event is a promising one.

As demonstrator Moheeb Khawaja said during the protest, "twenty years ago no one had thought the monster that divided Berlin into two could be brought down, but in only two days in November, it did. Today we have proven that this can also be done here and now. It is our land beyond this wall, and we will not give up on it. We will win for a simple reason - justice is on our side."

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Welfare Reform Bill: an uncompromising attack on the poorest

On Thursday, the Welfare Reform Bill returned to the House of Commons. Having had its final reading in the House of Lords, MPs have made their last adjustments to the bill and it is now set to become law. Over the past few months, womens' pressure groups All Women Count and Global Womens' Strike had been campaigning against various measures in the bill. In particular;
The Welfare Reform Bill threatens us with destitution by abolishing Income Support, the main benefit which recognises unwaged caring work. It forces mothers and other carers to be “available for work” and, if there are no jobs, to work for our benefits i.e. £1.60 an hour. Traumatised women fleeing domestic violence get only a three-month respite from jobseeking. Asylum seekers, who are not allowed to work, were the first to be made destitute. Some get a subsistence amount; in October, this was reduced to £5 a day.
Moreover, as Libby Brooks pointed out in the Guardian;
The bill is so lacking in concrete detail and so wide-ranging in scope – from compulsory drug-testing of claimants (opposed by Liberty) to the criminalisation of women who refuse to name the father of their children on birth certificates (opposed by Gingerbread) – that campaigners have been left befuddled as to where to concentrate their energies.

Despite this embarrassment of riches, one woman with firsthand experience has no problem pinpointing her least favoured gem – that women escaping domestic violence should be given but one month's grace before having to comply with job-seeking conditions. "By the time you get out, you don't know who you are any more," Marianne told me. "I was like a beaten dog in a corner. It took me three months to find somewhere to live. If I had gone for an interview, they'd have thought I was a nutter. Yet my future is now supposed to be at the discretion of a jobcentre adviser, who isn't even properly trained. It's a joke."
Several of these measures were the subject of amendments in the Lords, thanks to fierce campaigning from various pressure groups. However, upon returning to the Commons, the Bill lost a considerable amount of the amended legislation. Most notably, as the Guardian reported, "peers backed down over government plans to fine jobless single parents with pre-school age children if they did not prepare for work while receiving benefits." This compounds the financial squeezes faced by single parents after the introduction of a measure just last month "requiring single parents with children aged 10 or 11 to look for work, or risk losing benefits. Under the new rules, lone parents in this category will be switched from Income Support to the tougher Jobseeker's Allowance."

The Anarchist Federation have given their support to groups such as the London Coalition Against Poverty and Nottingham Claimants Action, both of which stand in opposition to the entire Bill. Their reasons for this are well founded, as covered in the AFed anaysis reposted here last Wednesday. The Bill is a fundamental attack on the welfare state, the only safety net we have against crushing poverty, and on the poorest and most vulnerable elements of the working class.

Perhaps the most tragic fact in all this is that the new legislation will be applauded by precisely the sectors of society it attacks. Though politicians are often accused of pandering to "tabloid mentality," it is in fact the other way around, with the media reflecting the opinions of elite sectors in order to manufacture the consent of the ruled. Hence the depth at which terms such as "sponger," "scrounger," or "dosser," and phrases such as "milking the system" have become ingrained into our collective consciousness.

Whilst, at a grassroots level, activists have been fighting against the vicious class war waged by the rich, the media has been telling us a different story. Tales of "scroungers" raising a "dynasty of deadbeats" litter rags such as the News of the World, the agenda behind such outrageous stories becoming clear when it uses them to advocate stripping single parents of welfare. Likewise, the Daily Mail will report with horror that "Labour's reign puts 300,000 families on handouts worth £20,000 a year," the context for this figure being buried in the article. The £20,000 figure is less shocking when added to the fact "a couple need to earn £25,000 a year before they can afford to have children," the actual figure for a family with two children being £27,600. Given that the quoted figure "include[s] a vast array of benefits, such as jobseekers' allowance, incapacity benefit, council tax benefit and housing benefit," and that those whose welfare reaches £20,000 are "families" or "households," emphatically not single individuals. According to A minimum income standard for Britain in 2009, the report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation cited above;
Working-age people on benefits remain well below the minimum income standard. Even though benefit rises in April 2009 exceeded the published inflation rate at the time, they were similar to the rise in the cost of a minimum household budget. This means that people on benefits have got no closer to reaching an acceptable living standard.
Thus, stories about "scroungers" and "the soaring welfare bill" are revealed as nothing but a pretext for dissecting a welfare system which already bars people from an "acceptable living standard." As Dr Paul Dornan, head of policy for the Child Poverty Action Group, wrote in a letter to the Guardian, "it creates a complex bureaucracy for issuing orders and punishments to claimants, and limits the childcare choices of the poorest parents. What has become unthinkable is a decent minimum income standard for all claimants and an entitlement to the good, personally tailored support that really helps to get people off benefits and into decent jobs." Moreover, according to Jean Brownlie of the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, "this bill is also an attack on workers in jobs, as it will exert downward pressure on wages and conditions ... poor people are being forced to pay for the financial crisis caused by the rich."

Thus, the only reasonable conclusion seems to be the one offered by Brownlie. "We need to oppose this bill by taking dissent to the streets, to the government offices, to the bankers and the bosses."