Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Derry IRA dead remembered

Published Date: 29 June 2010

A large crowd took part in the annual commemoration march on Sunday to remember IRA members from Derry who died during the Troubles.

The march took place from the Creggan Shops to the republican plot in the City Cemetery where former mayor of Derry, councillor Paul Fleming was the main speaker.

The event was chaired by Sinn Féin councillor Elisha McLaughlin and was organised

to mark the 40th anniversaries of Thomas McCool and Joe Coyle, the first IRA men from Derry to be killed in the Troubles. They died in a blaze in Mr McCool's Creggan home on June 27th 1970 while they were preparing explosives. Two of Mr McCool's children were also killed in the fire. A third IRA volunteer, Tommy Carlin, died from his injuries a week later.

At Sunday's commemoration, Niamh Duffy, a granddaughter of Mr Coyle read out the Derry Roll of Honour, while Siobhan Kiely, a granddaughter of Thomas McCool, read the Derry Roll of Remembrance.

18 year-old Ógra Shinn Féin member Pádraig Barton, who was killed in a road accident earlier this month, was included on the Roll of Remembrance for the first time.

Wreaths were laid at the republican monument on behalf of Óglaigh na h'Éireann, Derry Sinn Féin, and the Derry Republican Graves Association, by members of Ógra Shinn Féin.

Michael McCrossan of Ógra Shinn Féin gave an update on the work the group are involved in the city.

In the main oration, colr. Fleming discussed the death of each IRA volunteer from Derry who died during the Troubles and said their memory motivates the republican leadership today.

"The struggle that they helped create and build has laid the foundations for where we are today. We have moved forward in many ways but there are still challenges for us. As Bobby Sands said, everyone has a role to play in that.

"This generation of republicans will ensure that our children and grandchildren will have a better quality of life, free from British oppression. The basis of that struggle was laid by the volunteers we are here to commemorate and we will build an Ireland that is a fitting tribute to their memory," he said.

The commemoration ended with Sara Griffin singing the National Anthem.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Holding the whole world to ransom: Who owns the money?

Wednesday, 09 June 2010 22:01

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

Who owns the money?

FRFI received the following letter from subscriber Cilla Dunn concerning the economic crisis, asking to whom or to what, in reality, countries are indebted. Our US correspondent, STEVE PALMER, replies.

I have read many of Steve Palmer’s articles on the economy in FRFI and I thought you might explain to me the one thing I really don’t understand.

These ‘deficits’ that the UK and Europe, the US and many other countries are so worried about paying back – to whom are we indebted? What firm, bank or person has this sort of money?

The papers say ‘the private sector’, no names (except I did read ‘London & Capital’, an investment firm, and ‘Pimco’). Please write and tell me who these people are that are holding the whole world to ransom. It would be so interesting. Or does nobody know?

Yours, Cilla Dunn

You ask a great question: who owns all this money that we talk about when we describe finance capital? You mention London & Capital and Pimco. Both these companies are prominent ‘wealth managers’. But they are not the owners of the wealth they manage – they take money from clients and invest on their behalf, using their contacts, influence, gambling skills and knowledge to try to increase the value of the invested capital. These firms gather together rich people’s money and ‘put it to work’, buying and selling property, stocks, bonds, commodities and other forms of wealth.

Their ‘clients’ are mainly what Marx called ‘money capitalists’. As capitalism develops, the management of capitalist industry becomes increasingly separated from the ownership of capital; what emerges is what Marx called ‘a new financial aristocracy, a new variety of parasites’.1 He noted ‘the growing power of these bandits, who are augmented by financiers and stock-jobbers’.2 The existence of this parasitic stratum of ‘rentiers’ was obvious3 even to bourgeois economists both before Marx wrote Capital (Ramsay4) and after (Wicksell,5 Keynes6).

Who are the bandits?

According to Merrill Lynch (another ‘wealth management’ company), there are about 8.6 million ‘High Net Worth’ individuals, worldwide.7 Ignoring residence, cars and so on, these people have at least $1 million of investable assets. These are the customers of Pimco, Merrill Lynch, London & Capital etc. Let’s call such people ‘the rich’. They include wealthy lawyers, doctors, accountants, business owners, film stars and so on. These are a small proportion of the world’s population: if we took Wembley stadium as the world’s population, of 90,000 spectators, only a tiny handful would be rich – 110 or so. Altogether, this 0.13% of the world’s population owns about $32.8 trillion of assets – that’s $32,800,000,000,000. This is more than twice the entire annual income of the 5.6 billion people – over 80% of the world’s population – who live in what the United Nations defines as low and middle-income countries.

The ‘wealth managers’ are much more interested in what they call ‘Ultra High Net Worth’ individuals – the very rich, who have $30m or more of investable assets. These will be top executives of large companies, the famous bonus-receiving bankers, perhaps a few rock stars, sports people, prime ministers and others. Merrill believes there are about 78,000 of these. Although these are 0.9% of the rich (just one person in Wembley), they account for 34.7% of rich people’s wealth, about $11.4 trillion. The annual income of the United States is about $14 trillion.

Yet the very rich pale into insignificance compared to the ultra-rich: the billionaires. This year, there are 1,011 billionaires in the world who between them own $3.6 trillion8 – 0.01% of the rich own 10% of rich people’s wealth. The richest man in the world is estimated to be Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu, who has a fortune of $53.5 billion. That’s more than the entire annual income of Ecuador (population 13 million) or Sudan (41 million). He is closely followed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, with $53 billion. In third place, with $47 billion, is investor Warren Buffett, who recently bought himself the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

So we see that a tiny number of people are the main investors who are ‘owed’ money. According to UN estimates,9 the richest 2% of the world’s population own more than half of all global wealth. 99.87% of the world’s population do not get as far as being millionaires, never mind billionaires – indeed, most get nowhere near that. The bottom half of the world’s population has barely 1% of the world’s wealth. Even within rich countries, most of the population have little wealth: in Britain, the bottom half has 5%; in the United States, 2.8%.

What about other entities such as foreign governments? The US total Federal government debt at the end of 2009 was $7.8 trillion, almost all of it in US Treasury securities of various kinds. Of these, some $3.7 trillion was held overseas; domestically $795 billion was held by households; about $500 billion by State and local governments.10 The rest was divided up amongst a range of financial institutions, especially mutual funds, pension funds and insurance companies, who in turn are conduits for the private investors mentioned earlier. Of overseas holdings of $3.7 trillion at the end of February, $878 billion was held by China; $769 billion by Japan; $234 billion by the UK. So these three account for about half of all overseas holdings of US Federal debt, or a quarter of the total debt. They are followed by the ‘Oil Exporters’ – $219bn; Brazil – $171bn; Hong Kong – $152bn, and then various other countries.11

Central banks often hold these as part of their reserves, and US Treasury debt is generally treated as a ‘safe haven’ from the turbulence of other markets. Investors buy Treasury bonds not to get rich but to have a secure investment. How long it will stay secure is debatable: the US is in a very vulnerable position, where it is dependent on foreign lending from states and foreign finance capital, and this cannot continue for ever. At some point, holders of Treasuries will be forced either to unload their holdings or watch them collapse in value – an event which will be spectacular. Although these holdings are much smaller than those of private investors, and not nearly as volatile, they are strategically important and brittle.

Sovereign wealth funds have also been in the news.12 These are large government-sponsored funds which invest to preserve the wealth of states which have large surpluses from commodity sales, such as oil. They have total portfolios of around $3.8 trillion, some of which includes US government securities. Most of their investments are made abroad: about half in equities, a quarter in bonds and some 15% in bank deposits. Some $60 billion of their money went into the financial sector in 2007-8, including Citigroup, UBS, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley. A further $6.5 trillion is held in other sovereign investment vehicles, such as pension reserve funds and development funds, whose composition is not known with any certainty. The $10.3 trillion in these funds plays an important role and represents the collective wealth of ruling groups and states in a few countries.

So much for the rich and their governments. What about you and me? Are we responsible for this mess in any way? Are we helping ourselves when we help out the banks? What about workers’ savings? What role do they play in this mess? In the 21st century these savings by or on behalf of the better-off workers, the labour aristocracy and the middle class have grown to colossal proportions, mainly in the shape of pension funds. Morgan Stanley estimates13 that pension funds worldwide hold over $20 trillion in assets, the largest for any single category of investor, much larger than those favourite targets of opportunist criticism, the hedge funds and private equity capitalists.

A good example is CalPERS – the California Public Employees Retirement System – which has assets of over $200 billion under management – about four times the fortune of the wealthiest billionaire – covering about 1.6 million people. In order to deliver retirement benefits, these pension funds are driven to engage in the same aggressive speculation and exploitation strategies as the financial aristocracy: by 2007, ‘for the fourth straight year, CalPERS recorded another double-digit investment return, closing 2006 with a 15.4% gain and $230.3 billion in assets... “It was a strong equity market year. We beat our benchmark,” said Russell Read, CalPERS chief investment officer. “What we are focused on right now is how to achieve that type of outperformance going forward.”14

It is important to remember where this money is coming from in the first place. Read said the fund plans to pursue more public and private market opportunities overseas, especially in fast-growing emerging markets in Asia and Africa. In the past year, Read has touted private equity investments in natural resources, especially energy. A lot of that growth is being driven by increasing demands by China. ‘We are seeing some opportunities in Africa come across our desk for the first time ever,’ he said.15 Somewhere in Africa impoverished peasant families are going to be helping a California employee enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Pension funds have lashed themselves firmly to the fate of capitalism. In 2006, of the $10.3 trillion of US pension fund assets, 53% was invested in company equities.16 Indeed, State and local government pension funds’ share was even higher, at 65%. Of $19.4 trillion of total US equities, pension funds owned $5.5 trillion – 28.5%. The top 25 pension funds had an average of 13.5% of their assets in foreign equities, and in some cases over 20%, tying them tightly to the fate of US imperialism.

So worried have the labour aristocracy and middle class become about their savings that they are demanding, through the opportunist left, ‘democratic control’ over what happens to their share of the loot: ‘The left should stress that ordinary people are entitled to a more rational organisation of financial affairs that takes their own interests to heart. They also have a democratic right to exercise scrutiny and control over credit and monetary policy.’17 In other words, ‘ordinary people’ – better-off workers and the middle class – should have a right to decide how to go about exploiting the rest of the working class and the rest of the world – just like real rich people. Go down this ‘democratic’ path and you will end up trying to preserve this wealth by justifying the division of the world into exploiting and exploited nations and by defending imperialist wars.

These, then, are the people who, as you rightly say, are holding the whole world to ransom: the rich, the very rich, the almost unbelievably rich – and even sections of the working class in a handful of countries – profiting to a greater or lesser extent from the maintenance of this system. We are poor so they can be rich. And when their wealth is under threat, they expect us to bail them out. The call for cutbacks, economising, belt-tightening, sacrifice, rationalisation, streamlining, austerity measures and the rest of the hypocritical nonsense spouted by the ruling class and their hangers-on, is a demand that we keep sacrificing to preserve and increase the wealth of these robbers, parasites and their accomplices.

1. Marx, Capital, Vol 3, Chapter 27, Collected Works (MECW) 37, p436.

2. Marx, Ibid, Chapter 33, MECW 37, p542.

3. But its existence is denied by revisionist Marxists, such as Costas Lapavitsas – see ‘Two Approaches to the Concept of Interest-Bearing Capital’, International Journal of Political Economy, Spring 1997, pp85-106.

4. Thus Ramsay, An Essay on the Distribution of Wealth, 1836, quoted by Marx in Theories of Surplus Value MECW 33, pp278-9; also Capital, Vol 3, Chapter 22, MECW 37, p359

5. Knut Wicksell wrote an entire book, Interest and Prices, 1898, devoted to the effect of rising prices on money-capitalists, whom he saw as a distinct group, op cit, p1.

6. J M Keynes, A Tract on Monetary Reform, London, 1924, p13.

7. World Wealth Report 2009, Merrill Lynch/Cap Gemini, 2009. Figures are for 2008.

8. Matthew Miller and Luisa Kroll, ‘Bill Gates no longer world’s richest man’, Forbes Magazine, 10 March 2010.

9. Davies, Sandstrom, Shorrocks and Wolff, ‘The World Distribution of Household Wealth’, United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research, Discussion Paper 2008/03, February 2008, p7.

10. From Table L.209 Treasury Securities, Flow of Funds Report Z1, US Federal Reserve, March 2010.

11. US Treasury, Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities, 30 April 2010, from: www.ustreas.gov/tic/mfh.txt.

12. See IFSL Research, Sovereign Wealth Funds 2010. March 2010, from: www.ifsl.org.uk/

13. The Economist, 17 January 2008

14. Gilbert Chan, Sacramento Bee, ‘Banner Year for CalPERS’, 17 March 2007.

15. Ibid.

16. Carolyn Brancato and Stephan Rabimov, The 2008 Institutional Investor Report, The Conference Board, New York, 2008, p15.

17. This appears, without rebuttal by the SWP interviewer, in Costas Lapavitsas, International Socialism 117, ‘Interview: the credit crunch’, see: www.isj.org.uk/?id=395. See also, for example, the touching appeal by various European celebrity ‘radicals’ and ‘Marxists’ begging for reforms to control the international flows of capital in the interests of ‘the people’. ‘Speculation and Collapse: Enough’, l’Humanité, March 27 2008: www.humaniteinenglish.com/article877.html


Saturday, 26 June 2010

Bloody Sunday, 1972; Mavi Marmara, 2010

Published Jun 25, 2010 7:59 PM

Like with “man bites dog,” when imperialists admit a crime it is big news.

Sometimes it’s a mistake, as when German President Horst Koehler in May admitted that the German government was sending youth to die in Afghanistan to expand German economic interests. He didn’t really slip and say “German imperialist interests,” but he still had to resign.

Often something important can be learned on those rare occasions when an imperialist admits to crimes.

Britain’s new Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron finally confessed. He didn’t go so far as to apologize to the people of the six Irish counties that Britain still occupies. But he did bring up the events of Jan. 30, 1972, which has become known as Bloody Sunday.

The people of Derry in north of Ireland were marching for their self-determination when the British-led army and police opened fire and shot 26 unarmed Irish protesters. Fourteen of them, including seven teenagers, died. Now Cameron has admitted — 38 years too late — that the slaughter was completely uncalled for.

Whatever was behind this admission, it is instructive, especially if you make some comparisons. First, with what the British imperialists said back in 1972, when they were covering up their crime; then, with what the Israelis say today to cover up their murderous attack on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on its way to Gaza. This May 31, heavily armed Israeli commandos fired on and killed at least nine unarmed civilians on board the ship as it was attempting to break through the blockade of Gaza with humanitarian aid.

Lt.-Col. Derek Wilford, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, said in 1972, “My troops behaved correctly.” (London Times, March 7, 1972) “There would have been no loss of life in Londonderry’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ last January 30 if the organizers of the illegal civil rights march had not created a dangerous situation.” (London Times, April 20, 1972) The British even said the murdered teenagers had first fired on the troops.

It was a “blame the victims” statement, just like all of those out of Tel Aviv these days. “The people on the ship were armed terrorists, linked to al-Qaeda,” they say. “They brought it on themselves.”

British imperialism lied in 1972 and kept up the lie for the next 38 years. The oppressive Israeli state is lying in 2010 and we can expect it will keep lying unless, like the German president, someone makes a mistake.

The modus operandi of every oppressor is to blame the victims and martyrs. The British oppressors did it in 1972. The Israelis are doing it now. It may be a long time before they admit they slaughtered unarmed civilians. That shouldn’t keep the rest of the world from recognizing this war crime today and mobilizing to boycott, divest and impose sanctions on the Israeli state.

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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

COMMUNIST CALL TO RESIST: This 'bonanza budget for big business'

Tuesday, 22 June 2010 13:16

This budget is a bonanza for the rich and big business, dictated by City bankers and speculators. The unemployed, pensioners, working people and their families are to pay for the crisis of capitalism.

The budget hugely damages the prospects for economic recovery, destroying not only public sector jobs but many of the 2.3 million private sector jobs dependent on public spending.

The Blue-Yellow coalition government is taking the axe to welfare benefits, public services and public sector workers - while also cutting tax on big business profits:

Public spending and services to be slashed by up to 25 per cent.

Almost three-quarters of public sector workers to take a cut in real wages.

VAT increase to hit the lower paid, pensioners and unemployed hardest.

Child benefit frozen and targets to abolish child poverty abandoned.

Cuts in pregnancy, disability and housing benefits and entitlements

Deep cuts in corporation tax, declaring Britain 'open for profiteering'

Handing over high-speed rail, air traffic control and student loans to the City and big business.

This is a bogus Budget demanded by City bond traders and other spivs and speculators whose overriding concern is profit, backed by threats of financial sabotage.

The fact is that Britain's £149 billion deficit and National Debt are both sustainable without slashing public services or raising VAT, even more so if taxes are raised on the 10 per cent of the population who own 44 per cent of Britain's wealth.

A 2 per cent wealth tax would raise around £78 billion a year, providing loopholes were closed - enough to close the budget deficit within two years.

A 20 per cent windfall levy on the monopoly profits of the banks, utilities, oil corporations, retail chains, arms companies and pharamaceutical giants would reap another £16 billion.

A 'Robin Hood' tax on City transactions would raise £30 billion a year.

Dumping plans to renew Britain's useless nuclear weapons system would save an extra £76 billion, while the US war in Afghanistan is costing us £4 billion a year.

Instead of these policies, this Tory government has reverted to type despite all David Cameron's soft-soap during the General Election.

The Liberal Democrats have betrayed every speech and election address peddled by their candidates during that campaign. Every manifesto promise they break will ensure that they quickly become yesterday's party.

Their pretensions to offer a progressive alternative to the Tories and New Labour, to defend public services and oppose Trident have been exposed as a cynical lie.

The working class and peoples of Britain now need a massive, united response from the labour movement at every level.

The TUC must convene an emergency conference of labour movement, community and progressive organisations to draw up a plan of action to fight this enormous assault on working people, their families and a civilised society in Britain.

For its part, the Communist Party believes that every form of protest will have to be mobilised - from national demonstrations and parliamentary lobbies to industrial action and local community campaigning - in order to turn back this Tory-big busiiness offensive.

We need united action by millions of people across Britain on the scale of the campaign which brought down the Poll Tax.

We also urge the labour movement to step up the fight for the People's Charter as the positive alternative to the neo-liberal agenda being promoted by the City, Britain's Blue-Yellow coalition government, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.


Thursday, 10 June 2010

This attempt to rehabilitate empire is a recipe for conflict

Prepare for an outbreak of culture wars if Michael Gove's appeal to colonial apologists to rewrite school history is taken up

o Seumas Milne
o The Guardian, Thursday 10 June 2010

David Cameron's coalition government likes to present itself as consensual, even touchy feely. However threatening its policies, the message is "we're all in this together". But if the latest plans of his close ally Michael Gove were to come to fruition, prepare for an outbreak of culture wars under the new regime: conflicts that would be fought out in classrooms across the country.

Last week the new education secretary publicly appealed to pro-empire TV historian Niall Ferguson to help rewrite the history curriculum for English schools. Considering this is a man who has unashamedly championed British colonialism and declared that "empire is more necessary in the 21st century than ever before", letting him loose on some of the most sensitive parts of the school syllabus in multicultural Britain might have been expected to provoke uproar.

Instead it passed almost without comment. The same was true when the neoconservative Gove suggested in March that Ferguson should join the even more extreme Andrew Roberts to bring school history teaching into line with Tory thinking. The passivity won't last. Given the education secretary himself believes history lessons should "celebrate" empire, Roberts is clearly the right man for Gove. The British empire was an "exemplary force for good", Roberts has claimed, and imperialism "an idea whose time has come again".

When it comes to the failings of the school history syllabus, Gove and Ferguson in fact have a point – and one shared by historians across the political spectrum. The delivery of disconnected gobbets, the fixation on Nazi Germany and the Tudors, the practical exclusion of vital swaths of history including empire, and the lack of any long-term narrative are certainly an obstacle to understanding the modern world – even if Gove's other agenda of making children chant the kings and queens of England in rows of desks evidently belongs in a Tory 1950s theme park.

But the question, as Colin Jones, president of the Royal Historical Society, puts it, should be: "Which narrative?" If Britain had genuinely come to terms with its imperial history, no senior politician would have dared suggest celebrating it or mobilising apologists to sanitise its record for schoolchildren.

The British empire was, after all, an avowedly racist despotism built on ethnic cleansing, enslavement, continual wars and savage repression, land theft and merciless exploitation. Far from bringing good governance, democracy or economic progress, the empire undeveloped vast areas, executed and jailed hundreds of thousands for fighting for self-rule, ran concentration camps, carried out medical experiments on prisoners and oversaw famines that killed tens of millions of people.

When British colonialists arrived in Bengal, it was one of the richest parts of the world. Within decades it had been reduced to beggary by the deliberate destruction of its economy through one-way tariffs. In late 19th-century and early 20th-century India, whose economy barely grew in two centuries of British rule, 30 million died of hunger as colonial officials enforced the export of food in the name of free market economics – as they had earlier done in Ireland.

And far from decolonising peacefully, as empire apologists like to claim, Britain left its colonial possessions in a trail of blood, from Kenya to Malaya, India to Palestine, Aden to Iraq. To this day, Kenyan victims of the 1950s campaign of torture, killing and mass internment are still trying, and failing, to win British compensation during a "counter-insurgency" war that, by some estimates, left 100,000 dead.

No wonder Hitler was such an enthusiastic admirer of Britain's empire, which he described as an "inestimable factor of value". The echoes of Nazism in the colonial record are unmistakable. But while there is of course no plan to amend textbooks to include a balance sheet of positive and negative features of the Third Reich, that's exactly the approach favoured by Ferguson, Roberts and Gove when it comes to the swashbuckling "island story" they want to construct out of colonial barbarism.

This drive to rehabilitate empire has its origins in the aftermath of the cold war. Influential voices on both sides of the Atlantic began to press for new types of colonies in the US-run world order, and liberal interventionism was all the rage. But it really took off after 2001, as the US neoconservatives masterminded the occupation of first Afghanistan and then Iraq. Mainstream figures such as Robert Cooper, former adviser to Tony Blair and now a senior EU official, called for a "new kind of imperialism"; Ferguson demanded that the US learn from the British empire and crush resistance in Falluja with "severity"; and even Gordon Brown insisted that the "days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over".

In fact there had never been any such apologies. But as the scale of the Iraqi catastrophe became apparent, cheerleaders for both new and old empires gradually fell silent. Now it looks like they're about to be given a new lease of ideological life in Britain's classrooms.

Part of the motivation appears to be a doomed and perverted attempt to create a sense of national identity out of a historical inheritance that should be utterly rejected. But this is also being mooted at a time when British troops are fighting a modern colonial war in Afghanistan and the government is backing intervention and occupation in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Palestine – all former British colonies. When General Sir David Richards, head of the army, insists the Afghan war is a "signpost" for future conflicts, the case for softening up future generations to the demands of empire might seem appealing to some in power.

But it's a poisonous fantasy. What is needed are not expressions of guilt or apologies so much as genuine exposure to the historical record, to serve as an inoculation against falling into the imperial trap of the future. Not only will any attempt at an "even-handed" rehabilitation of empire be rejected by historians, teachers, students – and perhaps even Liberal Democrat ministers. But, in contrast to the colonial period, there are now millions living in Britain whose families had direct experience of colonial tyranny – as well as powerful successor states who will object vociferously to any imperial whitewash in British schools. If people like Ferguson and Roberts are allowed to get their hands on school history, it will be contested every step of the way.


Monday, 7 June 2010

Pyongyang: Cheonan was false-flag sinking

By Kim Myong Chol
(an "unofficial" spokesman of Kim Jong-il and North Korea)

With a huge electronic intelligence-gathering machine at its disposal, the Chinese Navy keeps a close watch on the movements of the United States Navy in the West Sea (Yellow Sea). China's emerging blue-sea navy is confronted with the US Seventh Fleet across the West Sea, the East China Sea and the rest of the Pacific.

It is no wonder then that the Chinese navy's intelligence arm could piece together an accurate account of the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan with a loss of 46 lives in the early hours of March 26.

The Chinese findings may be one of the reasons why the Chinese government has refused to support American and South Korean demand to join in sanctions against North Korea.

Their leakage indicates that despite its present neutrality, less prudent American or South Korean behavior may well prompt the Chinese government to have the navy make a bombshell official announcement implicating the US Navy.

In a highly significant development, the Chinese navy took the extraordinary step of quietly letting two American Internet sites know the findings of an independent technical assessment its naval intelligence arm made of the corvette's sinking, which took place about 1 nautical mile (1.9 kilometers) off the south-west coast of Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea.

Chinese findings
One of the US websites was the Washington-based investigative Wayne Madsen Report [1], while the other was New America Media, a California-based website that is the US's largest coalition of ethnic media with over 2,500 partners [2].

New America Media posted an article on May 26, "Did an American Mine Sink South Korean Ship?". The Madsen Report article, dated May 28, was entitled "Beijing Suspects False Flag Attack on South Korean Corvette."

The NAM story said: "In the recent US-China strategic talks in Shanghai and Beijing, the Chinese side dismissed the official scenario presented by the Americans and their South Korean allies as not credible."

The two articles basically agreed that a US mine ripped the Cheonan in two and sent the hapless South Korean corvette down to Davy Jones' locker. But they differed in two key aspects; one was the type of the mine used in the friendly-fire attack - limpet or rising - and the other was the nature of the friendly fire, deliberate or inadvertent.

These differences are probably due to Chinese-English translations, identification of the blast or analysis of the motivations behind the incident among Chinese experts.

The New America Media story identified the mine as a rising mine for shallow water operations, calling its launch "an inadvertent release" of a torpedo-firing mine. Rising mines lie on or under the sea floor and are equipped with acoustic sensors so it can rise and explode if a ship or submarine passes within range.

The Chinese term for a torpedo-mine is a "rising mine" and "rocket mine" and the American "captor mine" (MK60 Captor or encapsulated torpedo for deep-water operations) and "mobile mine" (MK67 for shallow water use).

The NAM article did not see any political purpose in the friendly fire but stressed that "any attempt to falsify evidence and engage in a media cover-up for political purposes constitutes tampering, fraud, perjury and possibly treason".

In striking contrast, the Madsen Report version classified the culprit as a limpet mine, as the name suggests attached to a target by magnets, and defined the friendly fire as "a covert program" deliberately intended to be "a false-flag attack designed to appear as coming from North Korea".

The MS report made a stunning revelation: "A [US Navy] SEALS diver attached a magnetic mine to the Cheonan, as part of a covert program aimed at influencing public opinion in South Korea, Japan and China."

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on May 30 that a morning phone call from US President Barack Obama two days earlier had induced the reluctant Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned on Wednesday, to keep US Marine Corps air bases in Okinawa and dismiss Mizuho Fukushima, the Social Democratic Party leader, from a cabinet post.

The MS report made the following observation:
One of the main purposes for increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula was to apply pressure on Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to reverse course on moving the US Marine Corps base off Okinawa. Hatoyama has admitted that the tensions over the sinking of the Cheonan played a large part in his decision to allow the US Marines to remain on Okinawa. Hatoyama's decision has resulted in a split in the ruling center-left coalition government, a development welcome in Washington, with Mizuho Fukushima, the Social Democratic Party, leader threatening to bolt the coalition over the Okinawa reversal.

The MS report wrote: "Beijing, satisfied with North Korea's Kim Jong-il's claim of innocence after a hurried train trip from Pyongyang to Beijing, suspects the US Navy's role in the Cheonan's sinking, with particular suspicion on the role of the [USNS] Salvor."

The two American stories wrote that Chinese naval intelligence based their suspicions on the following facts:

Fact One: Baengnyeong Island hosts a Secret Joint US-South Korean Naval Base for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations. Absent civilian traffic around it, "the noiseless conditions are near-perfect for picking up the slightest agitation, for example from a torpedo and any submarine that might fire it". The joint US-South Korean naval base is staffed by American and South Korean naval special operation force personnel.

Fact Two: An Aegis ship-led US flotilla was operating in the South Korean waters in question at the time of the sinking of the South Korean warship.

Fact Three: The US flotilla included a mine-laying USNS Savor, stationed close to Baengnyeong Island.

Contrary to the belief that the ship was under the command of the Seventh Fleet, the NAM story noted that the USNS Salvor was "controlled by the innocuous-sounding Military Sealift Command and is closely connected with the Office of Naval Intelligence since their duties include secret operations such as retrieving weapons from sunken foreign ships, scouting harbor channels and laying mines, as when the Salvor trained Royal Thai Marine divers in mine-laying in the Gulf of Thailand in 2006, for example."

Fact Four: The US Navy SEALs "maintains a sampling of European torpedoes for sake of plausible deniability for false-flag attacks. Also, Berlin does not sell torpedoes to North Korea, however, Germany does maintain a close joint submarine and submarine weapons development program with Israel."

Chinese findings carry clout

The Chinese findings goes a long way to explaining why Obama made an April 1 phone call to offer South Korean President Lee Myung-bak the privilege of hosting in Seoul in 2012 a second of the then nuclear summit to be held in Washington April 12. (See See Pyongyang sees a US role in Cheonan sinking, Asia Times Online, May 5).

The offer was aimed at appeasing the embarrassed South Korean premier into covering up the truth of the US friendly fire sinking of the corvette, in a bid to prevent a tsunami-like nationwide eruption of anti-American sentiments and the resulting massive opposition to the US bases in South Korea and Japan.

South Korea is in no way fit to host such a a nuclear summit. Any one of the nuclear powers such as Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France should have been invited to host this dialogue's second event.

The Chinese findings illustrate once again that two presidents, Obama and Lee, have no care for human lives and show that Lee wept crocodile tears over the death of his fellow countrymen sailors, using their loss to become a "a favorite man of Obama" in the words of US Vice President Joseph Biden.

The Chinese findings also explain why US Forces Korea Commander General Walter Sharp unexpectedly attended the April 3 funeral of a South Korean rescue diver, Han Ju Ho, who died while participating in the search for missing sailors from the corvette. Sharp was seen consoling the bereaved family in an unprecedented expression of sympathy.

Han Ju Ho was called a legendary veteran member of the South Korean underwater demolition team that took part in the covert ASW program of the joint US-South Korean base on Baengnyeong Island.

Now it is obvious why the US envoy in Seoul, Kathleen Stephens, and Sharp went out of their way on April 7 to fly to a South Korean amphibious landing ship to have a look at search and rescue operations for the sunken corvette.

The two pledged total support to the rescue operations, but as it turned out, the Americans showed how little the lives of South Korean soldiers matter to the US. South Korean troops are useful to the Americans as their cannon fodder, nothing more and nothing less.

The pro-American conservative South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo on April 1 wondered why the US SEALs aboard the USNS Savor did not join the South Koreans in the search and rescue operation as of March 31.

The daily expressed what it termed as "speechless" dismay at the refusal to dive by US SEALs who cited fast currents, low underwater temperatures, and deep waters, while the South Korean rescue team was left to struggle alone all the day against heavy odds.

The Los Angeles Times reported from Seoul May 28 on the South Korean public skepticism to the May 20 final forensic report on the sinking of the corvette: Younger South Koreans "see the Cheonan incident in less threatening terms. They contend that for all its bluster, North Korea is not an existential threat to their country. And they are suspicious of the motives of a conservative government they regard as descendants of the military regimes that ruled South Korea before it became a democracy in the 1980s."

"The government is lying," a 17-year-old high school student, Kim Da-yeon told the newspaper, wearing a Beatles T-shirt over her plaid school uniform, as her friends nodded with enthusiasm.

"The girls had stumbled on the demonstration in front of City Hall on a day off from school and picked Korean flags, but they said in unison that they didn't agree with the anti-North Korean sentiment. "The North Koreans are our friends, our family," they said, according to the newspaper report. "We don't want to fight them.''

1.) Beijing suspects false flag attack on South Korean corvette, Online Journal, May 28.
2.) Did an American Mine Sink South Korean Ship? New American Media, May 27.
Kim Myong Chol is author of a number of books and papers in Korean, Japanese and English on North Korea, including Kim Jong-il's Strategy for Reunification. He has a PhD from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's Academy of Social Sciences and is often called an "unofficial" spokesman of Kim Jong-il and North Korea.

(Copyright 2010 Kim Myong Chol.)


Sunday, 6 June 2010

IRGC ready to escort Gaza aid ships

Sun, 06 Jun 2010 14:17:15 GMT

Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has expressed readiness to escort aid convoys seeking to pierce the three-year Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The announcement comes nearly one week after Israeli navy commandoes killed nine activists onboard the Turkish flagship of the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla, a convoy of nine ships carrying aid to the impoverished Palestinians trapped inside the enclave since 2007.

"In the wake of (last week's) unfair attack, it is Iran's duty to defend the innocent people of Gaza," Mehr News Agency, quoted Ali Shirazi, the Leader's representative in the IRGC naval forces, as saying on Sunday.

"Iran's naval forces are ready to escort the peace flotilla to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities," Shirazi added.

Shirazi went on to say that if the Leader of the Islamic Revolution issued a decree, the IRGC naval forces would immediately dispatch escort ships.

Despite international outrage over the deadly assault, which has triggered massive protests in Europe and the Middle East, Israeli commandoes boarded another aid ship on Saturday.


Far-right thugs menace Rome's tourist spots in wave of violence

Rise in race attacks is fuelled by drink and election of former neo-fascist as mayor

Tom Kington, Rome The Observer, Sunday 6 June 2010

Last week's attack, in Rome, took places close to one of the Italian city's most famous tourist attractions, the Colosseum.

On the surface, the good times returned to the Coming Out bar in Rome last week. Music boomed as crowds of drinkers spilled out into what has been dubbed Gay Street to perch on the railings, inches from a brightly lit Colosseum.

But for many gay and lesbian revellers the atmosphere was soured by the memory of how, just days earlier, one drinker was badly beaten on his way home by a gang yelling: "Filthy faggot."

"We have been joking about the attack to cut the tension, but friends are warning us to take care," said Giovanni, a 33-year-old marketing man from Padua.

The attack was the latest in a string of assaults on gays, immigrants and even tourists that have been linked to extreme rightwing thuggery in the traditionally tolerant eternal city, fuelled by a spiralling consumption of alcohol and following the election of former neo-fascist, Gianni Alemanno, as mayor.

"These thugs don't get any support from the town hall, but they feel justified and encouraged by the political climate," said Flavia Servadei, who opened Coming Out in 2001.

The assault near "Gay Street" was the eighth incident of homophobic violence in Rome in just nine months, including a serious wounding of a gay man by a veteran neo-fascist, two attempts to burn down a gay disco, and the lobbing of a firecracker into the crowd outside Coming Out.

In March four men boarded a night bus in the trendy Trastevere district and methodically beat up a black man and a homosexual student.

"Young people in Rome who are joining extremist groups, and who are no longer being warned off violence against minorities, are increasingly deciding that such violence is legitimate," said Paolo Patanè, the president of Italian gay rights group Arcigay, which is pushing to make homophobia a crime.

With almost a third of young Italians out of work and immigrants now accounting for 7% of the population, racist attacks in Rome have also become a regular occurrence.

In March, 15 masked men armed with sticks destroyed a Bangladeshi-owned internet café, injuring four. In the tough neighbourhood of Tor Bella Monaca, immigrants from Moldavia, Senegal, Bangladesh, Albania, China and Tunisia have all been beaten up or stabbed in recent months. Last month four men were arrested in possession of machetes on suspicion of planning to assault the head of Rome's Jewish community.

Wearing jeans, polo shirts and sunglasses, the youths swigging lager and looking for trouble in piazzas today resemble their rightwing forebears like Alemanno, who battled young Communists during Italy's politically charged 1970s and 1980s. "The difference is that today they are less ideological and more interested in identity, in opposing anything and anyone who is different," said Michele Sorice, a sociologist at Rome's Luiss university.

The other generational shift is an emphasis on alcohol, as the old Italian fixation with maintaining a bella figura gives way to pride in losing control. City officials said they were considering a repeat of last summer's ban on drinking in Rome's piazzas to cut violence.

"Alemanno is not responsible for the political climate in the city; he is a product of it," said Claudio Cerasa, author of The Taking of Rome, a book about the rise of the right. "Just look at the way student elections were going before he was elected in 2008." In student council elections in 2007, after decades of leftwing rule, a quarter of Rome's schoolchildren voted for Blocco Studentesco, an affiliate to the far-right Casa Pound.

Casa Pound leader Gianluca Iannone is described by Cerasa as a "fascist for the third millennium" who mixes eulogies to Mussolini with praise for Che Guevara and now counts on 2,000 recruits up and down Italy as well as sympathisers on Rome's city council.

But judging by the proliferating swastikas, the problem is that a number of Romans appear quite happy to stick to the old ideas.

"There is a simply a different atmosphere here to towns up north like Venice and Padua," said Piero, nursing his drink nervously at the Coming Out bar. "People on the far right here feel they have political cover."


Saturday, 5 June 2010

Six-and-a-half billion reasons to be cheerful

1 June 2010

Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, tells spiked why eco-catastrophists are so wrong about humans and our impact on the planet.
Tim Black

Never has catastrophe seemed so mundane. The end, we are told, is always approaching. No sooner has one super-resilient-flesh-eating-virus been forgotten than an imminent ecological collapse or a new strain of influenza takes it place. All of which makes Matt Ridley – journalist, businessman and author of several books on genetics and biology – such a refreshing person to talk to. ‘Yes, we are too gloomy about the future’, he says, cheerily.

That’s the thing about Ridley: whatever else he is – diffident, humorous, engaging – he is also resolutely optimistic. And it is this, his optimism, which he has sought to justify, to rationalise, in his new book The Rational Optimist. Given today’s readiness to imagine the apocalypse, especially in environmental terms, being an optimist is a very unfashionable position to take.

‘The imagining of imminent catastrophe is a routine habit and it’s been going on all my life’, says Ridley. ‘And to start with, when I was younger, I believed it. I thought people had good reason to raise the possibility of these catastrophes. When I was first becoming an adult it was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and all this anxiety about DDT and other chemicals, and how they were going to cause an epidemic of cancer. Then it was the population scare. And then it was the oil running out. And then it was acid rain. And then it was the Ebola virus. And then it was global warming. And on and on it goes… I’ve heard enough cries of wolf during my lifetime to become sceptical about imminent environmental catastrophe.’

Ridley’s unwillingness to accept the doom-laden predictions of environmentalists is not just born of his own experience. Wider history, too, is testament to the unreliability of the catastrophic, morbid mindset. Just after the end of the First World War, Britain’s Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George lamented: ‘How can Britain run an A1 empire with a C3 population [medical categories for army recruits]?’ This was no isolated complaint – it was indicative of a wider sense of Britain’s national decline refracted through the prism of biology. ‘If you go back to the turn of the twentieth century’, Ridley says, ‘there was an absolute domination of the book-publishing world by “declinism” literature, particularly about the so-called “degeneration of the race”. In the view of many at the time, this was because “stupid” people were having too many babies, the lower classes were evil, nasty and full of tuberculosis, and didn’t have the requisite physical strength. All this ludicrous stuff was hugely dominant.’

The biological deterioration of the British never came to pass, but catastrophists are nothing if not persistent: they always return with a new scare, or an old one tweaked and updated. ‘You can’t keep banging the same drum, something that environmentalists seem to have learnt’, says Ridley. ‘This is why you get this succession of scares: the GM crops scare comes along in 1998 as the Ebola virus is fading from the news.’

Ridley experienced the life and death of a scare at first hand during the 1980s: ‘For me, acid rain was the most influential one, because I covered it very closely as a science correspondent at The Economist. And at the time, I was a routine alarmist, like everyone else. But gradually worries were forming at the back of my mind. Some of the things that were being said, such as all the trees were dying in Germany, just didn’t seem to be quite true.

‘And now the data’s in, both on the Eastern seaboard of America and in Western Europe, it turns out that forests did not retreat in the 1980s – they actually expanded! There were a few isolated die-offs from some local pollution incidents but none of these were due to acid rain. In fact, because acid rain contains nitrates, it actually proved to be a fertiliser and accelerated forest growth. That isn’t to say acid rain had no effect. It had some effects, particularly on the acidification of some water courses, but not as many as people said, and not as permanently. The acid rain story was a case of huge exaggeration.’

And the aftermath? Is there ever a reckoning with such ‘exaggeration’? ‘When one of these scares doesn’t pan out’, says Ridley, ‘you don’t get a great big, drains-up inquiry into what went wrong, like we’ve had with Iraq. It’s quite the opposite. The issue will simply be allowed to fade away. It will just stop being talked about. Acid rain, for instance, just drops out of the news around 1990, only partly because of the Clean Air Act just then passed, which people presumed was going to solve the problem – despite it largely being a non-problem all along.’

So what of the latest, most dominant form of catastrophism: climate-change alarmism? ‘The thing about global warming is that it’s all about things that are still to happen in the relatively distant future. Hence it is very difficult for people to grow sceptical about it because of the difficulty of falsifying it.’ This is not to suggest that climate change has been falsified by any means, Ridley stresses. ‘I’m not denying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas – and I never have – but I do think that we are gradually seeing the public wake up to the fact that the empirical and theoretical study of climate supports a small degree of warming and not yet a catastrophic effect from that small degree of warming. A lot of people are wising up to that, particularly over the last year. And you’re seeing that in recent opinion polls.’

While climate change might not seem to be the inexorable disaster it was just a couple of years ago, Ridley has observed another, often related threat looming ever larger. And it’s not a new one. ‘The population bomb is one that still rumbles on, and as spiked’s Brendan O’Neill has pointed out, it is remarkable the number of people who are reviving it, in a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger way. They’ll sidle up to you and say “you know, maybe it’s not climate change that’s the real problem, maybe it’s because there are too many people” as if they were saying something new. One fact of which the population crew are seemingly unaware is that the rate of human population growth has been falling since 1967. It is now half of what it was in the 1960s.’

When it comes to this revival of Malthusianism, Ridley’s anger is clear. ‘There’s a general misanthropy to it’, he says. ‘If you read about the origins of the population movement, particularly in books like Fred Pearce’s Peoplequake, you realise how much of it was tied up with twentieth-century eugenics and concerns about IQ and the over-reproduction of people with low IQ. This had been a worry for many in the first half of the last century and it leaked into the second half, too. But it gradually changed from “there are too many poor people and stupid people having babies” to “there are too many people having babies altogether”. There’s such a misanthropic tone to it, even to this day.’

Listening to Ridley, it is clear that one thing he is not is misanthropic. Rather he seems animated and inspired by human achievements, by our collective, historically evident ability to continue to innovate, to change and improve the conditions under which we live. This is why overpopulation fears seem to Ridley to be such rubbish. ‘If we continue to improve agricultural yields at the rate we have been doing – and we have nearly trebled cereal yields from the same acreage in the last 50 or so years – then by the middle of this century we will not only be able to feed the nine billion people expected to be on the planet with the same acreage, we will actually be able to do so with a noticeably smaller acreage. So for the total farmed area allocated for cereal crops, you’d need roughly three quarters the size of Australia instead of roughly the size of Russia.

‘So, couple the population growth rate with the improvements in things like agricultural yields, and a fall in things like the amount of copper you need to provide a telephone wire or the amount of water you need for irrigation because of efficiencies, and it becomes possible to imagine a future in which more people have less impact on the planet. That’s exactly the opposite of what the environmental movement tends to say.’

The reason for environmentalists’ pessimism, Ridley argues, is that they unthinkingly extrapolate from the present state of society – the current means of production and so on – and project it into the future. In doing so, they fail to imagine the future in any terms apart from those of the present. So, assuming population rises, while the current means of production remain the same, the environmentalist concludes that we cannot go on as we are. ‘But’, Ridley points out, ‘we ain’t going to go on as we are’.

‘For the last 100,000 years at least, we have actually changed how we live on the planet in ways that are surprising and result from innovations that we can’t forecast’, he says. ‘So if you stand in the 1950s and ask “what’s the future going to be like?”, people extrapolate the improvements in transport that they’ve seen in their lifetime and talk about personal gyrocopters and supersonic transport and interstellar travel. Nobody mentions the internet and the mobile telephone. Likewise, you and I standing here will extrapolate into the future that we’re going to have even better mobile phones and even more websites. But I suspect that in 50 years’ time both of those phrases will be laughably old-fashioned. In the twenty-first century it might all be about bio-tech, or it might all be about something else. So while one can extrapolate just to see how much change can occur quantitatively, you’ve always got to bear in mind that qualitative changes will throw off those extrapolations.’

This is not to suggest that Ridley does not himself extrapolate. Indeed, some of his optimism is grounded in extrapolation. ‘I do believe in extrapolating – I already talked about if agricultural yields improve at the same rate as they have in the last 50 years we’ll be able to feed far more with far less. This is a big increase, and a big “if”, and there are times in history when trends don’t continue, so one mustn’t be a naive extrapolator. On the other hand, extrapolation does sometimes open up one’s mind to the possibility of how different the future will be.’

This openness to the future, to the possibility that life will get better, ought not to be confused with blind faith. ‘Rational optimism is not naive, personal and hopeful’, concludes Ridley. ‘It is something one arrives at by studying the facts. Moreover, rational optimism is based on the fact that there is a reason to be optimistic – namely that there is a grand theme in human history called the exchange and spread of specialisation, which, by enabling us to work more and more for each other, does raise living standards. So there is actually a rationale for my optimism. It is not just hopeful.’

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley is published in the UK by Fourth Estate. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).) To find out more about the book, visit the Rational Optimist website.


The real story from Mavi Marmara: They were shooting to kill

Thursday 03 June 2010
by Paddy McGuffin

The Israeli massacre of unarmed campaigners aboard a ship carrying aid to Gaza is the "Sharpeville and Soweto of the Movement for Palestinian Solidarity," one of those who survived the bloodthirsty assault has said.

Speaking to the Star from Istanbul shortly after his release from an Israeli jail British campaigner Kevin Ovenden, who was aboard the Mavi Marmara - the boat that bore the brunt of a terrifying raid by gun-toting Israeli commandos - described the attack as a "murderous assault" and "an act of political terrorism."

Israeli security forces stormed the Mavi Marmara in international waters on Sunday night as it ferried 500 unarmed protesters towards Gaza.

The assault killed nine and injured dozens more, sparking worldwide condemnation.

Israel attempted to claim that its shock troops acted in self-defence after coming under attack, blaming the protesters for provoking the situation and being "terrorist supporters."

But Mr Ovenden told the Morning Star: "This was a peaceful humanitarian mission in international waters. The youngest person on board was not yet one, the oldest was 88 years old.

"We had no weapons on board. The Israelis are displaying knives taken from the kitchen. People did defend themselves with whatever was at hand.

"The attack started with percussion grenades and we feared they would use tear gas. The Israeli commandos attacked from all sides and began shooting almost immediately, initially with so-called rubber bullets but certainly within two or three minutes we heard the unmistakable sound of live rounds.

"A colleague from Viva Palestina, Nicci Enchmarch, was next to a Turkish man who was holding a camera. He was shot through the middle of the forehead. The exit wound blew away the back of his skull and she cradled him in her arms as he died."

At least four of those killed were shot through the head, he said.

Mr Ovenden praised the Turkish crew of the vessel as "truly heroic in their attempts to prevent further loss of life," saying they had taken two injured Israeli soldiers inside the ship to prevent them being hurt further in the panic and chaos.

Appeals to the Israeli forces telling them their soldiers were safe and that there were wounded people who needed assistance were ignored, he said.

"Where people had been sleeping was turned into a makeshift triage area. This turned into a makeshift mortuary. Despite repeated requests the Israeli forces refused to evacuate any of the injured for more than an hour.

"I saw severely injured people dragged like sacks of potatoes up the stairwells, their bodies banging against the steel."

Mr Ovenden was transported to BeerSheeva jail where he was held until his eventual release and extradition.

The brutality and degradation continued throughout their ordeal only improving slightly when the British consular official arrived at the prison.

Summing up the horrific events aboard the Mavi Marmara, he said: "This is the Sharpeville and Soweto of the movement for Palestinian solidarity and it must mark a turning point in world opinion and in the actions of governments around the world to end this immoral and illegal siege and the treatment the Israelis mete out to Palestinians.

"We experienced it for 48 hours but they have endured this for 62 years."

Despite the horrific ordeal Mr Ovenden said he would be prepared to make the trip again after the families of some of those murdered asked that their loss not be in vain.


Friday, 4 June 2010

David Laws's life goal was to cast people out of work

I regret the manner of his fall, but he wasn't honest with public money, while his cuts agenda is terrifying to contemplate

Polly Toynbee guardian.co.uk, Monday 31 May 2010 23.13 BST

Who would be a politician? As yet another Icarus falls, many would-be politicians will shy away, appalled by the British press acting as the nation's moral Taliban. Few people live without hypocrisy, with no contradictions between principle and practice, nothing embarrassing that risks exposure. David Laws had every right to hide his private life. But scrupulous honesty with public money was essential for this Savonarola about to conduct a bonfire of others' benefits, services and livelihoods.

Desire to conceal the truth about his lover may have caused the duplicity over his £40,000 rent claims, but other expenses also show him falling short. He claimed £150 a month for utilities and £200 a month for service charges until receipts began to be demanded, when his claims abruptly dropped to £37 and £25 respectively – trifling sums for a rich man, but for the lord high axeman political death. How does he take away a baby's child trust fund while being so casual about similar sums himself? How does he tell classroom assistants the loss of their job is a price worth paying?

As for the right to privacy, it doesn't exist for benefit claimants. Iain Duncan Smith and other scourges of welfare protest that single mothers cheat the system by claiming not to be living with or sleeping with anyone else. While the tax system assesses individuals, the benefits system assesses household income, demanding to know, in nosy detail, who is in your bed and how often. Snoopers are common. People live in fear of falling out with malicious neighbours. James Purnell had ads put up in bus stops in poor areas exhorting people to grass up their neighbours. No ads appeared in City wine bars calling for informers against tax frauds costing the state between 40 and 100 times more than benefit cheats.

While outrageous fraud cases do hit the headlines, most of those caught for working while claiming only do odd hours, temporary and uncertain, too risky to declare when there are long delays in reclaiming benefits. But this toughness on the poor with a reason to cheat, and laxness on tax evasion or MPs' expenses, sets politicians up for a stern dose of their own medicine.

This is the faultline between £64,000-a-year Westminster MPs and millions of people's daily lives. Britain's median income is only £24,000 – and MPs (and journalists) forget at their peril that they are in the top 10%. The oddity about British attitudes right now concerns the class fury easily aroused by hypergreed in the boardroom or the Queen demanding £6m more at a time like this. The incomes of over half the population hardly rose in the boom years, yet now those people risk paying a heavy penalty for the behaviour of bankers and City types clamouring for deeper cuts, their press diverting anger from the true cause of this catastrophe towards the "bloated" public sector.

The same Daily Telegraph that berates the public sector and castigates MPs' expenses is owned by a pair of tax exiles refusing to pay their public dues. The same owners are running a vociferous "Hands Off Our Assets" campaign against raising capital gains tax. David Cameron and George Osborne declare they are "listening" to a bullying clamour for loopholes so large that most of the rich will hardly pay more. (Only 130,000 shareholders and 250,000 second-home owners must pay, as gains of less than £10,100 a year attract no tax). Expect an outburst of public anger if the government backtracks to allow huge loopholes: Vince Cable last week on Radio 4 adamantly ruled out as unworkable any kind of "taper" arrangement.

An edgy rancour about unfairness erupts easily these days yet doesn't quite express itself as class politics. Class simmers everywhere with unfocused resentments since Labour deliberately stopped being a conduit for the inchoate indignation of the bottom half or two-thirds. After next April's budget when public employees cascade on to the dole, will this scratchy resentfulness crystallise into a political movement? Or will the sense of social injustice be skilfully channelled by government and press into outbursts against dole cheats, immigrants, overpaid public-sector chiefs, MPs and each new scapegoat of the day?

It is by no means clear if Labour's leadership candidates have an economic strategy to oppose unemployment on the scale we are about to witness. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warns there will be 25% cuts in unprotected departments – a quarter of staff in schools, nurseries, colleges and universities, police, prisons, social care, child protection, street cleaning, parks, road repair. Nor will NHS jobs be preserved. The terrifying scale has not begun to sink in with the public, or politicians still claiming that the deficit is the priority: it won't be soon. The US treasury is warning Europe against the frenzied cutting each country is embarked on, risking a downward spiral when growth should come before cuts.

On resigning, David Laws said: "How much I regret having to leave such vital work, which I feel all my life has prepared me for." How odd that his relished life goal was to cast people out of work. As editor of the Orange Book that staked out new turf for Liberal Democrats as state-shrinking economic neoliberals, he called for a rejection of "soggy socialism" and breaking the NHS into a private insurance system. Laws's faction rejected the heritage of Beveridge and Keynes, the two great Liberal giants.

So perhaps Labour negotiators in the days after the election should not have been so shocked when Laws and Alexander demanded that the Tories' £6bn of cuts should be implemented this year, although they had campaigned against cuts in the election. Laws's biggest cut last week was £700m from Labour's Keynesian stimulus to kickstart manufacturing and growth.

He would have been a Tory, were it not for repugnance at section 28 social Conservatism. I regret the manner of his fall, but not the departure of one who expressed little sympathy for the lives of others being damaged by a too harsh interpretation of economic necessity.


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Change is finally afoot for China’s workers

By David Pilling
Published: June 2 2010 20:24 | Last updated: June 2 2010 20:24

Listen to the following statements about the strike at Honda’s transmission plant in Guangdong province, one that has brought the Japanese company’s car production throughout China to a juddering halt. The first goes like this: “The strike reflects the low wages the bosses are paying the workers. The system does not provide a legal base for collective bargaining.” The second, like this: “In the three decades of opening-up, ordinary workers are among those who have received the smallest share of economic prosperity. The temporary stoppage of production lines in the four Honda factories highlights the necessity of organised labour protection in Chinese factories.”

The first speaker is Han Dongfang, a former railway electrician who, in 1989, tried to unite workers and students during the Tiananmen Square protests. He was jailed for his troubles, contracted tuberculosis in prison and had a lung surgically removed. Now living in exile in Hong Kong, he works as a trade union activist, monitoring workers’ rights in mainland China.

The provenance of the second – almost identical – statement is more surprising. It is an editorial in the Global Times, a tabloid founded by the People’s Daily. Chinese newspapers are not in the habit of writing about strikes, let alone endorsing them. Anything that smacks of an alternative pole of power or tarnishes China’s image as a hassle-free investment destination has generally been taboo. In any case, strikes are rare since independent labour unions are banned and “official trade unions” rarely, if ever, organise industrial action.

So why are a leading dissident from Tiananmen Square and a newspaper with close ties to the Communist party speaking with one voice on such a delicate issue?

First, government authorities, through the media, are simply acknowledging reality. The years of an endless supply of cheap labour, on which the first three decades of China’s economic lift-off was built, are coming to an end. That is partly demographic. Because of China’s one-child policy, the supply of workers under 40 has dwindled by as much as a fifth. Fewer workers mean more bargaining power. Honda staff are demanding no less than a 50 per cent rise. Foxconn, a China-based Taiwanese contract manufacturer plagued by a recent spate of worker suicides, has just granted a 30 per cent wage increase.

Unlike the first wave of migrants who came to the cities in the 1980s and 1990s, the current batch has more options and higher aspirations. Many are not content to save money for a few years before returning home. They want to settle in the booming cities. That means they need higher wages. If they can’t get them, there are opportunities at home. Under cost pressure, some factories have shifted inland, away from the factory towns on the east coast and the Pearl River Delta, and closer to the provinces from which most migrants come.

The second reason for the cautious sanction of industrial action is that the Communist party has a stake in better working conditions. Providing cheap Chinese labour to multinationals from Japan, the US and Europe was a means, not an end. Deng Xiaoping said it was glorious to get rich, not to make foreign-invested capital rich. As elsewhere, the share of labour in corporate profits has been falling. That runs contrary to the emphasis placed by China’s leadership on a “harmonious society”. Chinese media coverage of the Honda strike, as well as of the Foxconn suicides, has been heavy with analysis of the widening income gap.

There are other signs that the scales may be tipping labour’s way. In 2008, Beijing enacted the labour contract law, stipulating that workers be given written contracts. Coupled with growing wage pressure, this changed atmosphere has obvious implications for foreign investors grown accustomed to a low-wage, strike-free, hire-and-fire environment.

Yet few are likely to pull out. That is because China has ceased to be merely a low-cost production centre. For many companies, it is also becoming an important market and an integral part of their global supply chain. Walmart sources $30bn worth of goods from China each year. Japanese car manufacturers, such as Honda, have brought with them a network of components makers, and built ties with Chinese parts suppliers. What goes for cars goes for iPads, mobile phones, digital cameras and colour photocopiers. Such a clustering effect makes it almost impossible for manufacturers to pick up sticks and start afresh elsewhere.

For all these reasons, Beijing may continue to offer cautious support to an emboldened workforce, though it will keep a watchful eye on wage inflation. But on no account will it tolerate any hint of organised labour evolving into a political force. Even Mr Han, whose political activities in 1989 landed him in jail and exile, has reached the pragmatic conclusion that labour rights and political rights must be separate. “I’m trying my best to depoliticise the labour movement in China,” he says. When a Chinese labour activist wants to take the politics out of collective bargaining and official China is cheering on strikers, change is clearly afoot.

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