Thursday, May 30, 2013

Corporate plunder of Mozambique threatens millions

Two recent reports on Mozambique offer a shocking insight into the nightmare model of growth being forced on the continent in this new phase of global corporate neo-colonialism. Millions of small farmers and peasants are its victims.

The first looks at mining in the northern province of Tete, which has 23 billion tons of coal reserves. The government wants it to be producing 25% of the world's coal supply by 2030. To achieve that, mining concessions must pour out of the economics ministry, and thousands of the province's 1.5 million population face dispossession.

In a taste of what is to come, 1,500 formerly self-sufficient farming families have been forcibly removed from their homes, to arid areas, far from rivers and markets, to make room for the miners. They have lost access to fertile land, water and work and now rely on food aid, says a report from Human Rights Watch.

The second report looks at the ProSAVANA plan, presented as an aid partnership with the Japanese and Brazilian governments, but in reality a massive corporate land grab cooked up by “experts” with close connections to the corporations. It would seize over 10 million hectares of land in three provinces – Nampula, Niassa, and Zambézia – where four million people currently live and farm.

The plan has been made in secret, with no consultation whatsoever. A copy was leaked to a group of civil society organisations and their report deserves to be read in full because it exposes what is happening throughout Africa and parts of Asia too. The group says:

Corporations are the big beneficiaries of this Master Plan. They will get control over land and production and they will control the trade of the foods produced, which will be exported along the roads, rail lines and Nacala port that other foreign corporations will be paid to construct with public funds from Mozambique and Japan. Foreign seed, pesticide and fertiliser companies will also make a killing from this massive expansion of industrial agriculture into Africa.

ProSAVANA will wipe out seed saving, local knowledge and food cultures and traditional land management. It will force peasants on to fixed parcels of land, ending traditional, itinerant, mixed agriculture. They will be forced to produce under contract to the corporations and go into debt to buy seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. Many will be forced to sell up, allowing big local farming concerns to step in, and the friends of the government will be at the front of the queue.

Some Mozambicans will profit from this. Portugal's richest family has set up a joint venture with a company controlled by the friends and family of Mozambique's president. Mozambicans struggled for a decade in a bloody war against Portuguese colonial rule, which ended with independence in 1975. The party leading that struggle was FRELIMO, the governing party now colluding with the land-grabbers.

The claim is that farmers' rights will be protected by the World Bank's RAI (Responsible Agricultural Investment) standard but this is rubbish. Every land grab in the world claims to be operating on RAI and it has not prevented millions being driven out to let the corporations in.

Hot money is pouring into Africa, with some countries experiencing rapid increases in gross domestic product, but at the expense of millions of lives crushed in the rush for profit-driven growth. Mozambique is currently achieving growth of around 7.5% per year but its people remain amongst the poorest in the world.

The kind of farming being imposed is unsustainable and short term. It will lead to the creation of a dustbowl and will emit huge quantities of CO2. It will not increase access to food but will only speed up the export of calories from Africa to the rest of the world.

The movements that led the independence struggles throughout Africa have degenerated into pro-capitalist parties with no vision other than enriching the few at the expense of the many. They have no more conception of democracy than our own rulers here. Only a surge towards the formation of real democracies, in Africa and also here in the UK, can transform the situation. Then, together, we can co-operate for each others' development and end corporate plundering once and for all.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Credit crisis back with a vengeance as Bankia's customers take a hit

This column doesn’t usually express much sympathy with shareholders because a share gives the right to profits derived from other people’s labour. But the plight of shareholders in the Spanish bank, Bankia, requires us to make an exception.

Though shareholding in a joint-stock company predated the advent of capitalist production, it became one of its defining characteristics. To be a shareholder in an enterprise is, in fact, to be a capitalist.

These day, shareholders tend to be major financial institutions who’ve used their inflated holdings of other people’s cash to obtain part-ownership of global corporations. The day of the small shareholder has vanished, replaced by pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and the like.

These globalised ownership structures exist solely to extract value from the labour of people working on the production lines. These range from the sweatshops of low-wage countries like China, Latin America, Bangladesh, the Philippines to advanced, hi-tech production in Britain, the United States Europe and Japan.

We tend to worry even less about the fate of shareholders in banks, who hope and expect to become rich making money out of making money. 

Bankia, with Rodrigo Rato, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund as its chairman, was formed in 2010 from seven regional savings banks, following the global financial crash of 2007-8. All were dangerously exposed to the collapse of the property market.

As of 2012, when it was nationalised to prevent its collapse, Bankia was the fourth largest bank of Spain with 12 million customers. On the 25 May 2012, it requested a bailout of €19 billion, the largest bank bailout in the nation's history. Rating agency Standard & Poor reduced its credit rating to “junk” status, along with several other Spanish banks.

In 2011 the bank had offered shares for sale with the expectation of attracting new capital from international institutional investors. They wisely stayed away.

So the bank turned to its customers for help.

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who had their savings deposited in the bank were persuaded, or rather tricked, into exchanging their savings for shares.

The scale of Bankia’s losses mounts with every new assessment. The latest figure for 2012, published in March this year, puts it at €19.06 billion, the largest corporate loss in Spanish history.

Yesterday, for the first time, the savers-turned-shareholders were able to put their shares up for sale. They got a terrible shock. The price of shares on the Madrid stock exchange dropped like a stone. The bank had lost 99% of its value since it first entered the market less than two years ago.

The life savings of so many families have been wiped out. Completely.

This catastrophic collapse of value so far affects just a small part of the vast overhang of credit and debt left high and dry by the effects of the end of the post-war growth, seen most painfully in the receding European economy.

There’s much more to come. Bad debt has driven Slovenia’s economy into a recession. This afternoon infamous troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – will respond to Slovenia’s plan for bank recapitalisation costing €900m and a planned record sale of state assets.

But that’s a tiny amount compared to the spiralling, out-of-control credit crisis in China, without which even its slowing rate of economic growth would be impossible to maintain.

According to JPMorgan Chase unregulated, “shadow banking” is as large as 36 trillion yuan ($5.86 trillion). That’s equivalent to 69% of China’s gross domestic product and almost double what it was two years earlier.

The credit crisis which exploded in 2007-8 giving way to a global slump is far from over.  Very far. A renewed global crash can’t be far away. Bankia’s victims are amongst the first to feel its effects.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The state is a greater danger than the EDL

In the wake of Woolwich, the need to unite communities against threats of all kinds goes without saying. The question is, however, who do we unite against and for what purpose?

What is the greater danger to Britain’s diverse communities? Is it the racist hooligans of the English Defence League or the neo-fascists of the British National Party? They are small groups of backward men who like nothing better than a street brawl. For many of them, a punch-up with the police or rival football fans is just as much fun as attacking a mosque.

A far more serious threat is posed by a combination of a weak government, a state hungry for increased powers aimed at all of us and an economic crisis that is reinforcing gross inequality.

Since Woolwich, inevitably, the state tail has been wagging the Westminster dog and a prime minister against whom plots mount daily. Speaking through the mouthpiece of home secretary Theresa May, the state is demanding more powers to “combat extremism”.

Top of the agenda is the resurrection of the communications bill, which would allow the monitoring of all citizens' internet use without a warrant. This was dropped after a split in the coalition. May is seeking an alliance with Labour to bring the legislation. She has the support of two former Blairite home secretaries, Alan Johnson and Lord Reid.

Johnson says: "We need to get this on the statute book before the next general election and I think it is absolutely crucial. Indeed I think it is a resignation issue for a Home Secretary if the Cabinet do not support her in this central part of what the security services do."

May says she has always “been clear that access to communications data is essential for law enforcement agencies and the intelligence agencies". The bill would give police and security services access to details of all online communication in the UK - such as the time, duration, originator and recipient, and the location of the device from which it was made. It would also give access to all Britons' web browsing history and details of messages sent on social media.  

Emma Carr, deputy director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, finds it “remarkable” that politicians are calling for legislation to monitor the entire country “when all the evidence to date shows this horrific attack would not have been prevented by the communications data bill.” Actually, Emma, it’s not remarkable at all. MI5’s own incompetence is well established. They apparently tried to recruit one of the Woolwich attackers. Demanding more powers is a convenient way to avoid the truth while using the opportunity to take powers aimed at all of us.

Then the government wants to prevent people who defend terror attacks from appearing on TV and radio. How this would work is anyone’s guess. Presumably, broadcasters would have to check with the home secretary first.

As we pointed out in the wake of the Woolwich attack, the present authoritarian state is incapable of addressing any of the issues that form the background to terrorism or rioting. In fact, quite the reverse is true. While it can mobilise in the wake of an attack, it only creates conditions for far worse to come.

A neo-colonial foreign policy ignores, for example, the just demands of the Palestinians and props up a corrupt government in Afghanistan. By stirring the conflict in Syria, it has created a breeding ground for Al Qaeda while trying to keep the Assad regime in power for the sake of regional “stability”.

A relatively benign welfare state has been transformed into a market state where business interests openly predominate. Run-down inner-city areas are deprived of central government funds while well-paid jobs are few and far between. Inequality, bad housing, cuts in welfare benefits and the rest deprive about a third of the population to “join in with society”, says a new report.

So the real threat to our peace, security and future is actually the present political and state set-up. Addressing this takes us down the road of creating democratic alternatives. The Agreement of the People for the 21st Century is as good a place to start as any.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, May 24, 2013

Obama's 'just war' is the language of the Crusades

President Obama’s claim that America’s targeted assassination by remote-controlled drones is part of a “just war” reinforces the sense that his administration is equally if not more reactionary than that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama surely understood before he made his speech on America’s security that by invoking the language of the infamous Crusades, he was ensuring that the “war on terror” would continue indefinitely, even though he acknowledged this would be “self-defeating”.

The concept of a “just war” originates with Pope Urban II who in 1095 called the first Crusade aimed at restoring Christian rule in the Holy Land. This led to two centuries of warfare, which ended in the Crusade’s abject failure. Religiously-motivated “just wars” continued well into the 16th century and helped undermine the Catholic Church’s grip.

As Obama assumes the role of America’s very own Pope, would anyone be surprised if Islamic militants respond in kind to language that implies that non-Christians are “infidels” and generally not as “civilized” as the rest of us? Many jihadists believe in Holy War themselves. Now they’ve been invited to join one by an American president.

Let’s be clear, drone attacks are a form of state-sponsored terrorism and constitute extra-judicial murder. They are clearly unlawful by any definition of international law.  
The drone is Obama’s weapon of choice. Under his presidency, drones are killing people at seven times the rate than under the Bush administration.

America has built a Disposition Matrix, a database that officials describe as a "next-generation capture/kill list". But it is more than that, creating a blueprint for tracking, capturing, rendering and especially killing terrorism suspects. Thus the use of the term “disposition”.

There is no “due process”, no opportunity to answer charges. The last thing a victim hears is the sound of a missile arriving, shortly after being fired by an unmanned drone. The trigger is pulled in US military base somewhere else.

Some estimates suggest that more people have been killed by US drones than the 3,000 plus who perished when the Twin Towers were brought down in 2001. Many of the victims are bystanders, family members or just people at a gathering wrongly identified as would-be terrorists.

On March 17, 2011 some 40 individuals – including 35 government-appointed tribal leaders known as maliks, as well as government officials – gathered in Datta Khel town centre in North Waziristan in Pakistan. They were there to attend a jirga —  a decision-making, dispute resolution institution.  

At about 10.45 am, as the two groups were engaged in discussion, a missile fired from a US drone hovering above struck one of the circles of seated men. Several additional missiles were fired, at least one of which hit the second circle. In all, the missiles killed a total of at least 42 people. The results of this particular drone attack are among the many documented in an exhaustive report into the practice and legality of drone strikes. The report concludes:

Their [drones] presence terrorises men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they’re powerless to protect themselves … strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals.  

In his speech, Obama cited the warning by James Madison, father of the US constitution, who declared that “no nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare”. But Obama is ensuring that the opposite will prevail.

Federal authorities have been engaged in secret bugging of newspapers over the botched defence of the country’s Benghazi consulate building, while the tax authorities have selected targets on political grounds. Obama has retained the extensive state powers granted to Bush after 9/11. Taken together, the United States is increasingly the land of the unfree with a constitution that now protects only the interests of military-industrial-financial complex.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The state feeds on terror and ignores serious threats to society

Events in Woolwich yesterday show that the state is totally geared up for emergency action when it wants to be – committees meet, officials are called in, politicians focus their attention and insist something must be done.

One is entitled to ask why they can respond so strongly to a lone terrorist event when they are so entirely unable to react to long-term, serious threats to society – poverty, climate change, banking and tax corruption and youth unemployment to name a few? No committees met when it was reported last week that the concentration of CO2 has risen above 400 parts per million!

Cameron says the "British people" will "never buckle in the face of terror" and promised "terrorists will never win". But those who carried out yesterday's horrific attack and others like the Boston Marathon attack, were not aiming to win - they were aiming to die, and to strike a blow against their enemy as they did so.

Yet such acts of terrorism can no more “win” than the NATO powers can win their so-called war on terror. Instead, the world is now locked into a continuous conflict and the state adopts the rhetoric of “crushing” the terrorists, a rhetoric that is easily transferable to crushing all opposition.

The reaction of the state media shows the extent to which even intelligent journalists adopt distorted thinking in order to support the kind of imperialist and colonialist rhetoric that still colours so much public discourse in the UK. In an astonishing article on the BBC website, home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani says:

"For jihadists, it really comes down to the presence of soldiers - and an entire framework of belief that sees those personnel, whatever role they have been given under international law, as the enemy of Islam. That argument is often backed up with graphic images online of the suffering of ordinary women and children. It's all designed to whip up anger and a sense of burning injustice - the kind of injustice that leads people to be convinced that something must be done."

So women and children suffering in the Middle East and Afghanistan are just "images" and only serve to "whip up" a sense of burning injustice. They are not really burning injustices in themselves!  He goes on: "Now, most people who feel a sense of injustice obviously combat it in [sic] purely peaceful means. The point about terrorism is that the sense of injustice becomes a springboard for mental somersaults in the mind of someone who thinks that indiscriminate violence can create justice."

So "most people" obviously combat injustice by peaceful means? Would that include the troops sent to Mali by the French government? Or the first invasion of Iraq, after Saddam fell out with the West and invaded Kuwait? Or the second invasion, when, as Blair now admits, the goal was regime change? Or the invasion of Afghanistan in response to the attacks on the Twin Towers? Or illegal drone assassinations?

Of course not! These claim the sanction of “international law” and fighting to “preserve our way of life”, which, when it comes down to it, means sustaining corporate and financial power over ordinary people’s lives.

The last time the cabinet’s emergency unit Cobra was in almost continuous session was in 2011 when riots broke out in London and other cities – another outpouring of anger at burning injustice. On this occasion it was the injustice of police shooting a young black man and anger at the impact of the economic crisis being foisted on to the young and the poor.

The reaction was ruthless and the justice system was instructed by the government to repress those who were caught. First-time offenders were given long prison terms; young people got four years just for Facebook messages.  

Of course terrorism and rioting are not going to change the state of the world, or the state of the state. The state feeds on such acts and uses them to mobilise reactionary forces and reinforce repression against every community.

So the capitalist state is itself the problem, not the solution. It can never address the grievances that drive people to terrorism or to riot. Only when power is in the hands of ordinary people will the conditions exist for that to happen.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Crying wolf is not good enough, Martin

When one of the most respected commentators on the world economy repeatedly expresses his profound pessimism about the prospects of an effective response to the “real and present dangers of climate change”, it is surely worth some serious consideration.

Martin Wolf is chief economics commentator at the Financial Times. He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2000 “for services to financial journalism”. He is an honorary fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford, honorary fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, an honorary fellow of the Oxford Institute for Economic Policy (Oxonia) and an honorary professor at the University of Nottingham.

Despite his pessimism Wolf has clearly not given up on a campaign to convince his readers that there is still something that can be done. In his second column in two weeks triggered by the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide passing beyond 400 parts per million, he says that “judged by the world’s inaction, climate sceptics have won”.   
In his first column, he alleged that “collectively, humanity has yawned and decided to let the dangers mount.” 

Wolf is convinced by the consensus of scientific evidence and rightly damning of the sceptics who are “corrupted by the money and fame”, but he says that there are “deep-seated” economic reasons for “our” failure “to shift our choices away from the ones now driving ever-rising emissions”.

He writes that data on the burning of fossil fuels since the mid-18th century show a consistent rise in annual emissions of carbon dioxide. There was, he adds, a slowdown in the rate of rise of annual emissions in the 1980s and 1990s. But this slowdown was reversed in the 2000s, as China’s coal-burning increased. Today, 30%  of CO2 in the atmosphere is “directly due to humanity”.

There’s a consistent theme in Wolf’s analysis that he shares with the official, “politically-correct” presentation of the science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: We’re all to blame, and seemingly helpless to do anything much about it; apart, that is, from a faint, fading hope in an eight-point shopping list of increasingly more desperate and admittedly inadequate measures, aimed at the world’s governments.

But, fortunately, he is wrong. The objective source of his ideological error lies in his blinkered view of the social, economic and political conditions which, currently, govern –  and threaten – all of our lives.  As one of its chief advocates, it would be surprising indeed if Wolf issued any critique of the profit-driven economy that became the dominant force in the 18th century and ensured that “we” set out on the path of burning the fossilised remains of millions of years of vegetation. 

But it wasn’t “us”, as Wolf claims. Responsibility lies with the system of social relations that was ushered in and consolidated during the Industrial Revolution and beyond. “Us”, the majority, had no say, and still don’t in how things are done. Capitalism “freed” labourers from the land but at the same time deprived them of the tools by which they could generate an income for themselves and their families. Instead, we all became wage slaves.

This crisis-ridden capitalist system, dependent on the accelerating exploitation of what it necessarily regards as its God-given right to the planet’s resources is the clear and present danger, Mr Wolf. 

If “we” are to survive, the choice we have to make is to bring this period of history to its conclusion.  A month ago, on April 22, The United Nations marked International Mother Earth Day by acknowledging the leading role played by the Bolivian government. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said: “We need a paradigm shift – a transformation – in the way we produce, use and share energy.”

If we are able to bring about this change, it will be through the replacement of the current social relations. We’ll need a system in which we become stewards of the Earth, not exploiters.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

We have to move beyond 'post-democracy'

 The rise of Ukip and the parallel break-up of the Tory Party are part of a wider malaise across Europe that poses a threat to the established order. What happens next depends on whether we can get our act together in the face of growing reaction.

Ukip and the 5 Star Movement in Italy are just examples of the rise of populist, anti-politics. While these movements themselves are not fascist, their language, propaganda and nationalism has a threatening logic and opens the door to other forces. Nigel Farage rages against immigration and gay marriage, while Beppe Grillo is not hostile to Italy’s fascist past and is also anti-immigrant.

The swing to anti-politics – which can also take the form of not voting – coincides with and is driven by a rejection of austerity policies. Yet its origin actually predates the economic and financial crisis and is closely related to the globalisation process.
From the mid-1990s onwards, in Britain anyway, we entered a period which some refer to as “post-democracy”. Under this system, all the trappings of parliamentary democracy are retained, but the system is hollowed out. Corporate lobbyists and transnational, secretive, unaccountable agencies like the European Union and the World Trade Organisation actually determine policy. Elections become meaningless because the mainstream parties have been integrated into this process.

Ukip’s fear of the rise of the European “super-state” is not without foundation. The European Council has assumed fantastic legislative powers, while the European Parliament is the only one in the Western world that does not have the power to propose legislation and can only amend it. The Council operates in secret with its own secretariat and in reality calls all the shots. Of course, this has nothing to do with any known concept of democracy. In a challenging article for the new Statewatch journal, which monitors the EU and civil liberties Leigh Phillips notes:

The legislative decision-making apparatus is not parliamentary but intergovernmental and takes place primarily between diplomats behind closed doors. In truth, this is a form of treaty making rather than legislating, a method that historically was the realm of war, peace-making, and espionage. Great swathes of policy areas have been taken out of the domain of public, contestatory parliaments and placed in the hands of diplomats and civil servants.

Unlike most observers and to his credit, Leigh does not throw up his hands in horror at the rise of the Golden Dawn, neo-Nazi movement in Greece or Hungary’s Jobbik, with its Magyar Garda (Hungarian Guard) paramilitary association and what he describes as its “anti-Roma pogroms and unashamed Anti-Semitism”.

The question that he poses is what lies beyond “post-democracy”? We can’t return to the post-1945 social democratic consensus that lasted until the 1970s. That space is now occupied by the imperatives of corporate-driven globalisation. As Leigh says:

Depending on its particular flavour, anti-politics can exist as a cynical apathy that buttresses the neo-liberal post-democratic turn, or even wishes for an outright authoritarian turn with the arrival of a strongman saviour. But anti-politics can also be the germ of the overthrow of post-democracy if it embraces a progressive road that transforms anti-politics into the construction of (rather than just demand for) popular self-government.

Where his analysis falters, however, is in suggesting that “there is the possibility that the rejection of the political class transforms itself” into a belief in self-government” and “a desire for a transcendence of liberal political and economic structures”. Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence to indicate that democratic advances on this scale can take place without some decisive, organised intervention against prevailing state forces. That’s our responsibility to build. Nevertheless, Leigh reveals the dialectic in the break-up of the old order and his article is well worth reading in full.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, May 20, 2013

Palestinians start campaign for one state for all citizens

Momentum for a one-state solution for Palestine is building up just as the Israeli state is destroying even a remote chance of success for any Saudi-US Arab peace plan.

Last week, Palestinians marked the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948. It was also the day chosen by 22 senior Palestinian figures to announce “a popular movement project for a single democratic state in historic Palestine”.

Those calling for the creation of one democratic country between the Mediterranean Sea and the river Jordan were leading members of Fatah, the movement originally led by Palestine Liberation Organisation founder Yasser Arafat.

Their document, issued after a meeting held in the town of El Bireh in the West Bank, was the result of a two-year discussion. It declared that “the racist Israeli policy of separation and segregation has made the two-state solution (based on pre-1967 borders) unrealistic”. Therefore, the most desirable option” left for the Palestinian people and the one that will allow the right of return is, they say:  

“[A] democratic state for all its citizens, which will be based on a democratic constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and will guarantee freedom and equal rights, without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, skin colour, language, nationality, political opinion, social origin and place of birth.”

Professor Uri Davis, from Al Quds university’s Israel studies department, explained that the concept for such a state was still under discussion, but that he personally was in favour of one state for both Israelis and Palestinians.
The announcement came only a few days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dedicated Route 20, a new highway connecting Jewish neighbourhoods in northern Jerusalem.

Former Israel Defence Forces leader, Shaul Arieli of the Council for Peace and Security, said the new roads undermined the prospect of the re-division of the city and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. All peace plans put forward so far were based on a division of Jerusalem and transfer of portions of the city to a Palestinian state.

An Israeli expert on Jerusalem’s demography, Danny Seidemann, said that “the purpose of these highways is to clearly integrate the [Jewish] settlement blocs into the national highway network of Israel and thereby place East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs within Israel’s de facto borders”.

Their views were published in the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which notes that road could be “the nail in the coffin for plans to re-divide the capital and attach its Arab areas to a future Palestinian state”.
In other words, the road project completely scuppers the notion of a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, which the extensive Zionist settlement programme on the West Bank had already made unviable.

The highway has been denounced by United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard Falk who is calling on the Israeli government to halt its construction immediately. He says it will ruin the livelihoods of the 9,300 Palestinian residents. 

Netanyahu’s road-building is hardly surprising considering that the Israeli Prime Minister’s aides have denounced the Arab peace plan as “trick” intended to entrap Israel.

And, as Jonathan Cook, a distinguished journalist writing for the Israeli Occupation Archive, notes, Netanyahu’s government demanded that Google should not use the word “Palestine”, claiming it was damaging the peace process.

Wikileaks has disclosed documents proving that Netanyahu is only the last of many Israeli leaders with total contempt for peace negotiations. In cables from 1975, US diplomats describe Israel as “hell-bent on self-destruction”.

The Fatah leaders’ support for a one-state solution is a crucial break from the conciliatory position taken for years by PLO president Mahmoud Abbas and Arab League negotiators who, under American pressure, conceded Palestinian territory in the hopes of a deal. A World to Win welcomes the initiative, which opens up a way forward for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary


Friday, May 17, 2013

Amazon and Google having a laugh at taxpayers' expense

Whatever angle you come at it from, the state at national level, as well as key global agencies, exist to make life easier for corporations like Amazon and Google when it comes to taxation.

States everywhere may be short of revenue as the worldwide recession continues to takes it toll. But instead of demanding more from the corporations, the very opposite is happening. 

The ConDems are telling business they can pay less. In the March budget, they cut corporation tax for the third time since 2010. It’s now fallen to 24% and will be reduced to just 21% next year. The cut will cost the Treasury about £400 million in 2015-16.

Where’s this shortfall to come from? Chancellor George Osborne is demanding £11 billion more in spending cuts in 2015-16, a level which has even frightened most of the cabinet into passive resistance. Front-line services like fire face draconian cuts and mass redundancies following today’s announcement by the government’s former chief fire and rescue officer.

Of course, global corporations do everything they can to avoid paying tax on their operations in Britain. Instead, companies like Amazon are registered in lower-tax territories like Luxembourg. They claim that although they employ thousands of workers in Britain, they are not actually based here!

MPs on the public accounts committee can rant and rage all they want – as they did yesterday when they had Google up before them – but the fact is that the UK tax authorities are pretty powerless to do anything about it. Moral pressure cuts no ice with the Googles of this world.

Take the example of Amazon. A Reuters investigation shows that over the past six years, Amazon has paid just £5.9 million in tax on over $23 billion of sales to British customers.  Yet Amazon claims it runs a single European business out of Luxembourg.

Reuters says, however, has gathered evidence which shows that Amazon’s UK operations have a high degree of autonomy, and while the corporation likes to identity itself as a virtual company, this is far from the case. Microsoft and Expedia are other firms that claim a similar position in order to minimise tax bills.

The investigation explains: “The practice is based on international tax rules which allow companies to conduct ‘preparatory and auxiliary’ activities in a country without creating a taxable presence there. The UK tax authority, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), has never sought to define in court the limits of what an internet company can do in Britain before it is deemed to have a taxable presence.”

However, does such a limit actually exist? Not according to Jacques Sasseville, head of the tax treaty unit at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which advises rich nations on tax policy. He said where sales were conducted online, it was almost “impossible to prove a taxable presence in a jurisdiction, irrespective of how much activity is conducted in that country.”

So with the tax authorities pretty much powerless in the face of transnational, internet-based operations, Osborne is playing along. The cut in corporation tax to 21% puts the rate on a par with Luxembourg’s, although well above Ireland’s 12.5%.

Corporations exist solely to maximise profits, minimise costs (including tax) and increase the market value of traded shares. This is a legal obligation, enforced by the same capitalist state that is at their beck and call. Herein lies the problem.

The state and its agencies through essentially political actions sustain the economic system. They are a perfect example of the division of labour first noted by the economist Adam Smith as capitalism established itself in Britain. That’s why we should never look to the present state to sort out the corporations. That’s not the job of what is now a market state.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Making clothes for profit kills workers and wrecks the eco-system

The capitalist model for producing clothes – from start to finish, field to shop – is a global blight. It puts at risk not only garment workers, but textile workers, cotton farmers, retail workers and the global eco-system itself.

In Bangladesh, where over 1,100 workers were victims of industrial murder in the Rana Plaza collapse, the government helped employers keep wages down and unions in check. A decision to raise the minimum wage in the wake of the disaster won’t make a lot of difference.

One factor in keeping wages down in both Bangladesh is climate change. Thousands of people have moved from coastal areas to Dhaka in search of work because family-based fishing and agriculture is being wiped out by coastal erosion and collapsing fish stocks.

In Cambodia, where three workers were killed in a shoe factory fire earlier today, more than half a million people work in clothing manufacture. Many are driven into the factories by a massive land clearance programme.

Nearly a million hectares of land have been leased or sold to private companies for the development of agro-industrial plantations, much of it palm oil for bio-fuels. The companies, either Chinese or owned by members or cronies of the government, are ruthlessly clearing forest and jungle and destroying the livelihoods of local people.

Cotton is one of the world's most environmentally damaging crops. One kilo of cotton fabric grown by industrialised methods contains as much as 10,000 litres of fresh water. Cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants).

Most cotton is produced by smallholder farmers, but to compete in the world market they have been coerced into using industrialised seed and chemicals. Their working conditions are dangerous and the chemicals pollute their water supplies. They are in effect the ruthless exploiters of themselves and their families. Where there are larger producers, forced indentured labour and child labour, is common.

Exactly the same oppressive and inhuman working conditions prevail in cotton ginning and cotton cloth manufacture.

All these millions of workers – cotton growers, textile workers and garment workers – are feeding a profit-driven market frenzy. UK consumers buy 2.15 million tonnes of new clothing and shoes each year and send over 1.4 million tonnes to landfill. There the cotton and wool rot down eventually, but the synthetic fibres remain for many decades, leaching chemicals in the land and water courses.

People are conned into joining this marketing trick. Nothing is made to last, the clothes are inappropriate for our climate and massive spending on branding and advertising are needed to draw us a belief that we must constantly replenish our wardrobes.

This is all coming to an end however, with a collapse in sales of clothes and shoes across Europe. Many retailers are facing bankruptcy and their low-paid, part time staff thrown on to the unemployment lines. As this feeds back down the production chain, millions of production workers will suffer.

There is an alternative. The Better Cotton Initiative has shown that it is possible for growers to reduce their costs whilst still producing the same quantity of cotton, using conservation methods of agriculture instead of frequent applications of chemicals.

They are supporting farmers to group together to share expertise, and also to improve their communities and family lives. Making this the mainstream, however, will be achieved in the teeth of opposition from the agri-chemical giants and their government supporters.  

Set free from the global trade profit treadmill, co-operative approaches could transform all the other elements of the production chain. Textile mills working co-operatively rather than competing to be the cheapest, can produce the textiles we need for clothes, as well as all the medical and industrial cotton products we cannot do without.

Clothes made to last by garment workers, who control their own factories and can develop direct connections with those who buy the clothes they make, cutting out the fashion fraud, will have an incentive to produce products made to last rather than disposable junk.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Co-operative movement at the crossroads

Signs of a meltdown at the Co-operative group of companies are multiplying at an alarming rate. Following last week’s mark-down of bank debt to junk status, the malaise is hitting all of its operations including insurance, supermarkets and beyond. 

The head of the bank, Barry Tootell, has resigned. He was hired three years ago to lead the purchase of 632 Lloyds branches. That failed. The Co-operative was found not to be up to scale of the task.

Then came the news that the group was forced to consider selling its long-established insurance businesses as the bank struggles to meet a shortage of capital estimated to reach as much as £1.8 billion.

Increased centralisation in its distribution network has led to supply problems with smaller shops being left with empty shelves for part of the day. Staff are said to be furious at being forced to accept worsening conditions, including increased productivity and longer hours.

Customers are complaining that the range of Fair Trade goods, which have been at the heart of the supermarket’s ethical brand image, is being reduced, and prices are rising.

The Co-op’s problems are bad news for the Labour Party which depends on a huge £3.9 million overdraft from the bank, the latest in a long series of loans on favourable terms. The trade union-backed Unity Trust Bank is also concerned because it is 27.6% owned by the Co-operative.            

So what has gone wrong with a bank that has 6.5 million customers and claims an ethical approach to investment?

In 2009 the bank merged with the Britannia Building Society, an apparently good partner for the Co-op, with a shared concern for ethical trading and environmental issues close to its heart.  But appearances can be deceiving.

When Lloyds staff were going over the books in preparation for the takeover of branches they discovered the awful truth. In merging with the Britannia, the Co-op had acquired a portfolio of highly aggressive commercial property lending and buy-to-let mortgages, dangerously exposed to the downturn. Now the losses are mounting

What can be learned from all of this?

The co-operative movement began in 1844, and now involves a billion members of 1.4 million co-operative societies across the world – and it is spreading as the crisis deepens. 

But the movement is at a crossroads. Its members can no longer sustain the idea of a peaceful co-existence with its capitalist competitor. Many say that the UK Co-op lost its way years ago, attempting to ape the behaviour of the major supermarkets, whilst offering a caring, sharing alternative.

New and old co-operatives elsewhere in the world face similar problems.

On May 9, after along struggle, the 17 remaining workers of the 280 who famously occupied the US Republic Windows and Doors factory in 2008, officially opened the New Era Windows Cooperative after purchasing the production equipment and materials. But the 17 are working without pay.

Meanwhile In Spain’s sharply contracting economy, workers at the co-operatively-owned Mondragón Corporation voted unanimously to create a restructuring and employment fund. This is intended to guarantee the financial sustainability and employment of Fagor Electrodomesticos, a large domestic and commercial appliance manufacturer.

Half of the €70 million fund will come those companies in the group that have profits, draining a permanent fund usually used in order to set new projects in motion. The remaining 50% will come from all the companies in the group. They will hand over 1% of their gross salaries for six years.

So even in this most successful of co-operatives, co-existence within the capitalist model means the worker-members have to vote to absorb the effects of the global crisis.

These self-defeating acts of defiant compliance pose the question of replacing the for-profit capitalist model of production lock, stock and barrel. In a new framework, co-operative working would predominate rather than remain the junior partner that it is now.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SS Westminster heads for black hole

Westminster is fast becoming the political equivalent of an emerging black hole, with the political elite engaged in an increasingly futile struggle to overcome the collapse of their own system into a region where nothing, including light, can escape.

The edge of a black hole is known as the “event horizon”. It marks the point of no return. There is a strong possibility that point has been reached, judging by the mayhem in the mainstream parties, which an astounding opinion poll is bound to reinforce.

A dramatic ­Guardian/ICM poll reveals a previously unrecorded decline in 30 years of surveys in support for the Tories, Labour and LibDems at the same time. Support has literally drained away at a rapid rate of knots, washing up at the door of the right-wing populist Ukip under Nigel Farage. 

Ukip has soared to 18%, while the Tories have plummeted to 28%, Labour to 34% and the LibDems to a miserable 11%. The patent disintegration of mainstream politics has led to a rapid Titanic-like rearranging of deckchairs as the SS Westminster heads for the iceberg.

In a desperate bid to thwart Ukip’s anti-Europe stance and a backbench rebellion, David Cameron is rushing out a draft bill to introduce an in-out EU referendum, even though it has no chance of getting through parliament and could break the Coalition.

Vince Cable is allegedly involved in a dastardly plot to oust Nick Clegg as leader of the LibDems to prevent a wipe-out of MPs at the next election.

Labour is under pressure to sack the under-performing shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who is closely associated with the failed policies of the last Labour government. Ed Miliband is also being told to go down the “Blue Labour” path of being tough on immigration, benefits and spending or face the chop as leader.

The decision of Lord Sainsbury, formerly one of the party’s biggest donors, to stop giving to Labour can only strengthen the Blairite/Blue Labour factions.

The pressure on Miliband will also grow as a result of a report that shows traditional Labour supporters are more and more unsympathetic towards welfare recipients. A big group is saying that individuals are responsible for their own predicament. After more than 15 years of New Labour/ConDem propaganda along these lines, it’s no surprise that social attitudes have shifted.

Ukip have rounded up voters who – rightly – feel powerless and dominated by forces beyond their control. These include the massive, impenetrable European Union bureaucracy, the major corporations and banks and an unresponsive political system at Westminster.

Add into the mix a spurious fear of Rumanians and Bulgarians heading for Britain in their millions, and it’s a heady, dangerous brew that Farage is stirring. Ukip’s trajectory is unpredictable but the emergence of right-wing nationalist politics is succeeding where the fascists of the BNP and other have failed. 

Clearly, the response to Ukip cannot be to urge support for the mainstream parties. Labour, for example, is opposed to self-determination for Scotland on the grounds that it would create a permanent Tory majority in England! Hardly the stuff of principle.

Political and economic institutions, including the European Union, are indeed broken and oppressive. Events since the collapse of the financial system in a number of countries demonstrate that a virulent, dangerous, anti-democratic nationalism is making headway against the old order.

There is a real opportunity to pose a revolutionary, democratic alternative to the present state, both here and in the EU. We need to campaign for that right now, not wait until the political system becomes so unstable that dark forces within the state emerge to enforce order. They were ready to do that in the 1970s. Don’t think they are not waiting in the wings now.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Monday, May 13, 2013

The battle for revolutionary history

The plaque commemorating 17th century Leveller leader Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, unveiled in a Wapping churchyard yesterday, appropriately comes at a moment when a modest civil war has broken out about the country’s history.

Rainsborough, one of the ablest and most courageous officers in Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, was murdered by Royalists in 1648, at the siege of Pontefract Castle.

His was killed a year after the famous Putney debates in which he and others put forward an Agreement of the People. Tensions between the democratic forces and the emerging new ruling class were at their sharpest. During the debate, Rainsborough made this epic, revolutionary statement: 
For really I think that the poorest he that is in England have a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it clear, that every man that is to live under a Government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that Government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put Himself under.
 The Levellers’ demands were not realised during their lifetimes, but they put down a daring and far-seeing marker, to be partially realised in the form of parliamentary democracy.

Naturally, a period when Parliament and the Crown fought it out on the battlefield, ending with Charles I losing his head in 1649, is not exactly what education secretary Michael Gove wants to emphasise.

He has come under heavy fire for his new history curriculum, which is viewed by many as “too prescriptive and Anglocentric”. Enter radical historian Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke on Trent Central.

In yesterday’s Observer, Hunt lampooned pro-imperialist, ultra-conservative and ultra-successful historian Niall Ferguson. Ferguson, now a Harvard professor, who last year supported Mitt Romney’s election campaign, recently had to deny that he was homophobic. Ferguson had indeed made a personal attack on the economist, and old Labour idol, John Maynard Keynes which linked his sexuality to his ideas.
There can be no doubt that Ferguson has played a key role on the ideological front, with his histories of money, global finance, the role of the British Empire as well as in setting up the elite private New College of the Humanities in London.

Hunt is right to highlight the crucial importance of history in British public life and that the school history curriculum is, as Gove himself has said, “an ideological battleground for contending armies”.

Hunt goes on to praise the post-war schools of largely Marxist historians. For the first time writers like E.P. Thompson, Asa Briggs, Christopher Hill and Raphael Samuel provided an alternative narrative, based on the underbelly of historical change.

They played an important political role, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s, by revealing the social forces driving historical processes and the role of the masses in shaping change.

Hunt bemoans the “worrying conservative consensus” about “our national past”. And naturally the main media, which is indeed dominated by people like Ferguson and David Starkey, with their unashamed pro-capitalist political agenda.

This is not news. Marx pointed out long ago, that “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”

But should we be like rabbits in the headlights – terrified by the fact that the media and education is dominated by the ideology of those in power? Of course not. The notion that the ruling elites and their ideologists like Ferguson can brainwash us is a pathetic cop-out.

As one comment on Hunt’s piece says: “Information has proliferated so extensively that it no longer matters what people with agendas select or omit, the full story is only a few clicks away on the internet, and no statement can be made by a prominent individual without it being challenged.”

We should take courage and inspiration from 17th century revolutionaries like Rainsborough and continue his work by supporting the Agreement of the People for the 21st century.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win

Friday, May 10, 2013

Blairites on the march as Miliband falters

Political turmoil is not just engulfing the Tory Party over an in/out referendum on Europe. It is about to break over Labour in a big way as its Blairite wing gears up for a massive push against what they consider a weak Ed Miliband leadership.

Progress, the unashamedly New Labour pressure group, is not affiliated to the party but exerts considerable influence. So much so that the GMB union once tried to get the party conference to ban Progress.

That move came to nothing, but the trade unions still consider Progress as a “party inside a party”. They are not far wrong there. Chairman of Progress is shadow education minister Stephen Twigg, whose policies are hardly distinguishable from those of Tory secretary of state Michael Gove.

Twigg is one of four open Blairites inside the shadow cabinet. The others are Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Liam Byrne, whose support for the ConDem coalition’s “welfare reform” is viewed with horror by disability groups and benefits campaigners.

With the prompting stage right of former prime minister Tony Blair himself, David Blunkett and Lord Mandelson, the Progress group want Miliband to take “tough decisions” on the economy to show the electorate he means business.

Of course, while they were in power, the Blairites took the softest approach possible. They encouraged the City of London to run riot through self-regulation and helped to create the conditions that led to the financial crash that began in the autumn of 2007.

Never mind about that. Progress has commissioned a poll which backs up their view that the party is still seen as “nice” but incapable of being “tough” in a crisis. YouGov president Peter Kellner described the polling as "profoundly troubling" for Labour.

He added: "The central fact is that no successful opposition in the past 50 years has gone on to regain power with such a weak image and without achieving much bigger voting-intention leads at some point in the parliament."

So Miliband’s attempt to rebrand Labour as the party of “responsible capitalism” and in favour of “predistribution” whereby employers get money to pay workers a “living wage”, have fallen on deaf ears as far as voters are concerned.

The middle-classes undoubtedly find it all too vague while working class voters struggling to make ends meet as austerity bite hard, are unimpressed for other reasons.

The trade unions who stumped up the cash to get Ed elected over his Blairite brother David should – but probably won’t be – shocked.  They have been pinning their hopes on a majority Labour government coming to power in 2015 and riding to the rescue of their hard-pressed members. That prospect seems more unlikely with each passing day.

Instead, the Blairites are back in business. In truth, they never left the stage. They remade Labour as a party that embraced globalised capitalism and the market-driven economy. For all Miliband’s huffing and puffing, that’s where Labour remains to this day.

It’s likely to get worse. The infighting inside the Tory Party over whether to announce a referendum on European Union membership reflects the growing presence of the right-wing populist Ukip party. Labour is already adapting to Ukip on immigration and will be tempted to respond with a shift on its EU policy. That will only enrage the Blairites further.

All in all, the mainstream political parties are increasingly as discredited as the political system they operate within. The opportunity to create a movement that is fresh and, above all, democratic that can free society from the grip of the banks and corporations should not be passed up.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Defiant Hawking strikes a blow for the Palestinians

The brave decision by Professor Stephen Hawking not to attend a conference in Israel has predictably led to condemnation of the physicist’s action in joining the growing academic boycott of the country.

Hawking was due to attend the Presidential Conference, which is personally sponsored by Israel’s president, Shimon Peres. But pleas from Palestinian activists and academics persuaded the Cambridge-based scientist to pull out.

But for conference chairman Israel Maimon to condemn Hawking’s action as “outrageous and improper” is itself outrageous. Israel openly oppresses millions of Palestinians and while it continues to do so, Maimon’s claim that Israel is a democracy is preposterous.

In defending his decision, Hawking explains: “I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics… unanimous that I should respect the boycott…Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster."

He joins a growing list of leading academic and arts figures who refuse to work with the apartheid Zionist state.

The author Iain Banks will not allow his novels to be published there and Alice Walker turned down an Israeli publisher's request for The Color Purple, quoting Desmond Tutu's view that the Israeli version of apartheid’s crimes is even worse than black South Africans suffered.

During the 2011 Gaza bombing, 52 Nobel prize-winners called for a military and technological boycott. Students unions are joining, divesting their funds from firms that profit from the occupation and campaigning for universities to do the same.

The list includes Toronto, Sheffield, Manchester, Glasgow, Oberlin College Ohio, Sussex, University of California Colleges Irvine, Berkley and San Diego, and Brown University. Institutions in Brazil, France, Belgium and Italy are also on board.

Big names facing disinvestment include Caterpillar, Veolia, G4S, Carmel Agrexco, Sodastream and Hewlett Packard.

An attempt to use the law against the boycott suffered a setback in April when an employment tribunal dismissed a case taken against Britain's University and College Union by union member Ronnie Fraser.

Fraser's main purpose was to establish a new legal definition of "institutional anti-Semitism". The tribunal slapped that down very firmly, stating that "a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel…cannot amount to a protected characteristic” under the Equality Act of 2010.  You can read more about this and how Fraser was backed by the Zionist state here.

Does all of this balance out the support for the apartheid Zionist state from corporations and governments greedy for trade and influence? Prime minister Netanyahu was in China this week discussing billions of dollars worth of deals. The Israeli economy is going through a mini-boom, exporting stolen natural gas and the smart hardware and software developed to police the occupation.

But actually it is not a question of balance but of direction of travel and historic change.

There is a growing movement in the occupied West Bank to disengage entirely from the fake peace process and from Israel, and pursue instead the model of the First Intifada, with its commitment to self-reliance and self-determination.

The Palestine National Authority has nothing to offer. It is bankrupt, and can't even pay its staff. The Zionist state and the US are imposing collective punishment over the PNA's pursuit of statehood at the UN, withholding millions of dollars in tax revenues and aid.

Corrupted and stymied through its pursuit of the never-actually-on-offer two-state solution, the PNA watches powerless as Israel expands settlements, steal land and brutalise its people.

In Israel, a renewal of the social unrest that broke out in 2010 is imminent. Only a small number of oligarch billionaires are benefiting from economic growth in one of the most unequal societies in the world. The Netanyahu government just proposed a ruthless austerity budget and more protests are planned.

In taking the stand he has, Hawking has struck a blow for ordinary Israelis as well as Palestinians. Divesting themselves of fake diplomacy and false promises, they should work together for the purpose of creating a single, secular state where they can live and work together.

Penny Cole

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The market recipe for cooking the planet

The economic logic of the capitalist system is obstructing the critical transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources.

Though nothing could be more urgent than curbing the amount of coal, oil, and gas which is burnt, the market demand for the solar photovoltaic (PV) goods is far lower than the industry’s capacity to make them.

Last year the world had 60 gigawatts of PV manufacturing capacity, but fewer than 30 gigawatts were produced.

Far from a green revolution leading to growth and jobs induced by the scent of profit, hundreds of small German installers are now closing down, with the consequent loss of thousands of jobs.

After a period of expansion, the number of new solar power installed in Europe fell sharply for the first time in a decade last year. Globally, the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry had installed a total of 102 gigawatts by the end of 2012, up from less than two in 2001.

But new installation fell dramatically in 2012, taking Europe’s share of new capacity down from 74 per cent to 55 per cent in what the solar industry said was a “turning point in the global PV market that will have profound implications in coming years”.

Now European solar panel makers battered by a declining market have persuaded the European Union to propose import tariffs ranging as high as 68% to reduce cheaper imports from Chinese companies. This European initiative follows a similar US move last year.

Solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett places the blame for the developing, protectionist trade war on ‘a campaign by the companies that dominate energy markets, seeking to hold back renewables in defence of their interests’, leading to severe cuts in government support for alternative energy.

Leggett says ‘the incumbents in carbon fuels and nuclear are the root cause of the trade war. They have managed to curb soaring demand for solar, accelerating global price-cutting beyond what manufacturing economies of scale would have produced.’

A key contribution to the declining European PV market is to be found across the Atlantic in the USA where the relatively cheaper gas released by fracking has in turn reduced the demand for, and hence the price of coal.

North America’s turn to fracking pushed down US natural gas prices to 10-year lows last spring, prompting electricity generators to switch to gas from coal. Unwanted at home, US coal increasingly found its way on to European markets, where it has displaced more expensive gas as a fuel for power stations.

American coal exports to Europe increased by 29 per cent last year. The resulting oversupply, exacerbated by a slowdown in Chinese demand, sent European coal prices plummeting from $130 a tonne in March 2011 to around $86 now.

So there was a sharp increase in the level of the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming emitted by the European Union’s coal-fired power stations in 2012, as plant owners rushed to take advantage of high profits.

The rise was as high as 17 per cent according to Brian Potskowski of the Bloomberg New Energy Finance research group, while Europe’s total power plant emissions rose 3 per cent over the same period.

“I would say that the increase in power emissions is due in large part to the increased attractiveness of burning coal relative to gas in 2012,” he said.

In the capitalist dream world inside Leggett’s entrepreneurial head, the leaders of the countries where solar panel production takes place will issue ‘instructions to their ministries to think of common global energy security rather than narrow national energy insecurity.’

The rise in burning dirty fuels confirms a recent International Energy Agency’s report which showed that, “despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago”.

In the harsh reality of capitalist economics, the search for the highest profits determines the retreat to coal and accelerating climate change. The notion that market mechanisms, or indeed consumer choice, can even begin to solve the eco-crisis is a non-runner if there ever was one.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Death of a Godfather

For many Italians, Giulio Andreotti, who died yesterday aged 94, was simply “Mr Italy”. His political power and influence stretched from the immediate postwar period until the day of his death.

Along with his mentor, Alcide De Gaspari, he resurrected the Christian Democratic Party which had been destroyed by Fascism. He became prime minister seven times, despite (or perhaps because of) his involvement with some of the darkest forces in Italian politics.

He was known in his country as “Giulio il Divo” (the divine Julius after Julius Caesar) and even Beelzebub the devil. In Godfather III, a character modelled on him whispers a famous quote from the man: “Power wears out those who don’t have it”.

A cartoon joke summed him up. Asked to attend the funeral of the assassinated anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, a friend pleads: “The state must give an answer to the Mafia and you are one of the top authorities in it!” Andreotti’s bemused response is: “Which one do you mean?”

A devout Roman Catholic with close links to the Vatican, he enabled Italy’s ruling classes to cling on to power.

Andreotti early on revealed an uncanny ability to straddle opposing political forces, being involved with both fascist and anti-fascist newspapers during World War II. He became Christian Democratic party secretary in 1948, holding key ministerial posts. His “strategy of the two ovens”, allowed him to wheeler-deal between the right and left wings of the party, accepting “loaves” from each side.

During the 1960s, as defence minister, he was notoriously associated with the secret Masonic lodge, Propaganda Due, at the time when neo-fascists in the army leadership were planning a coup.

But it was during the 1970s and 1980s that his ability to exploit the craven opportunism of Italy’s Communist Party (PCI) came into its own. In the 1976 elections the PCI won 12.6 million votes to the Christian Democrats’ 14.2, far out-pacing the remaining parties. When PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer proposed a “historic compromise” Andreotti won the distinction of being the first Italian prime minister prepared to find accommodation to the PCI.

The PCI promptly repaid for its distant glimpse of power by helping Andreotti railroad through anti-working class austerity measures against the opposition of the 2-million strong party’s rank and file.

In the midst of this tense political situation, fellow Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades terrorist group. Andreotti refused to negotiate and Moro was killed in May 1978.

Andreotti had no qualms about serving in Socialist Party leader Bettino Craxi’s Cabinet during the period of political corruption and cronyism known as Tangentopoli.

In 1992 anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone was assassinated in a massive car bombing in Sicily. Charges of Mafia links now multiplied, including that Andreotti had conspired in the murder of investigative journalist, Carmine Pecorelli. Finally stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 1993 (but not before being appointed Senator for life by Christian Democrat crony Francesco Cossiga), he was brought to trial in Palermo and Perugia.

After a three-year trial, he was acquitted by the Perugia court in 1999, but in Palermo only escaped conviction on grounds of insufficient evidence. Italy's highest court established he had ties until 1980 with mafia gangsters, which were covered by the statute of limitations.

Andreotti’s connivance with media magnate Silvio Berlusconi further divided the Christian Democrats during the early 1990s. By 1994, the party had disappeared and Andreotti joined first the Italian People’s Party and then La Margherita. If the Andreotti epoch was a tragedy in Italian politics, that of Berlusconi, the second Mr Teflon, has most certainly been a cruel and ugly farce.

The corrupt Italian state is kept in power today by an unholy alliance between ancient Stalinists like president Giorgio Napolitano and Democratic Party leader (and Berlusconi relative) Enrico Letta, overseen by IMF-EU-ECB enforcer Mario Monti. 

The recent electoral success of the Grillo 5-Star movement illustrates the contempt which millions have for the undemocratic and unrepresentative political system. The Divo is dead, but his political legacy remains to be overturned.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary