Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Protests trouble Saudi visit, but Labour insists on business as usual

SAUDI King Abdullah has flown into Britain for a state visit, arousing a sandstorm of controversy, with his claim that the British government has not done enough to counter terrorism, and charges by a conservative think tank that hate literature found in British mosques had been funded by the Saudis.

The monarch has claimed that London's terror bombings might have been averted if the British security services had heeded Saudi intelligence warnings, a claim which the British government denies. He has also declared that the row over bribes and backhanders paid to Saudi officials for arms deals is a "British affair" and not his business.

It was reported that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, now the Saudi king's national security adviser, received payments amounting to £1 billion from BAE systems (former British Aerospace). But the Blair government halted a Serious Fraud Office investigation, just as the Thatcher government squashed a report on the al Yamama deal by the National Audit Office. (There were reports suggesting that not only did Thatcher herself promote that deal but a member of her family may have personally benefitted). In a rare show of independence the Labour government has refused to co-operate in US investigations into the BAE deals. Allies are also competitors, and business is business.

Robert Fisk, a journalist well-known for his Middle East reporting, finds it ironic that King Abdullah should "lecture us on terrorism".

" Weren't most of the 11 September 2001 hijackers from – er – Saudi Arabia? Is this the land that is really going to teach us lessons?" , Fisk asks. "The sad, awful truth is that we fete these people, we fawn on them, we supply them with fighter jets, whisky and whores. No, of course, there will be no visas for this reporter because Saudi Arabia is no democracy".

"Yet how many times have we been encouraged to think otherwise about a state that will not even allow its women to drive? Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister, was telling us again yesterday that we should work more closely with the Saudis, because we 'share values' with them. And what values precisely would they be, I might ask?"

Fisk reminds us how the Saudi regime backed Saddam Hussein's war on Iran, including the massive gassing of Kurds at Hallabja, with British and US military equipment paid for by the Saudis. He mentions political prisoners, and quotes a description of public beheadings in the Saudi kingdom, though as he says they probably won't discuss these things when King Abdullah dines with the Queen at Buckingham Palace this evening..

What kind of "shared values"?

Huge arms deals and terror intelligence links
· Security threat cited when fraud inquiry was dropped
· Whitehall official questions king's claims

Richard Norton-Taylor
Tuesday October 30, 2007

Arms and intelligence have been at the centre of Britain's unique and close relationship with Saudi Arabia for decades. They still are.
Only last month the two countries announced a deal for the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft to the desert kingdom for £4.4bn. Whitehall officials said the potential total value of the contract would be much higher, though they will not say whether it might approach the scale of the £20bn-plus al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia negotiated by the Thatcher government and involving the sale of Tornado jets, also made by BAE Systems.
The Eurofighter deal was being put together at the time that a bribery investigation by the Serious Fraud Office involving allegations against BAE was dropped.
Tony Blair at the time made no mention of the arms deal. Instead, he said that the Saudis had privately threatened to cut intelligence cooperation with Britain unless the fraud inquiry was stopped.
Mr Blair went so far as to say that Britain's national security would be at risk unless the fraud inquiry was abandoned.
Yesterday, however, the question of what Britain did with Saudi intelligence surfaced. As King Abdullah arrived in London for a state visit, he claimed that Britain did not act upon information provided before July 7 which he said "may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy". The claims are not new. More than a year ago the parliamentary intelligence and security committee said it had "looked in detail into claims that the Saudi Arabian authorities warned the British agencies [a reference to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ] about the attacks".
Some information was passed by the Saudis about "possible terrorist planning for an attack on the UK". The intelligence was assessed to be "not credible".

The Guardian's intelligence specialist goes on to observe;.
The Saudis, however, have an interest in raising the issue and to be seen to be proactive now in the fight against terrorism. Saudi money helped to prop up the Taliban and fuel the spread of Islamist extremism in the madrasas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden is a Saudi, and 15 of the 19 hijackers of the airliners involved in the September 11 2001 attacks on the US were Saudis. A significant number of foreign fighters joining al-Qaida in Iraq are Saudis, according to western military and intelligence agencies. Washington has been critical of what the US has perceived to be Saudi dilatoriness in rooting out those suspected of funding terrorists.

We might add that George Dubya probably does not like being reminded that the Bin Ladens were his business partners not long before Osama hit the news. The Bush administration announced in July that it plans to sell to sell $20bn (£9.8bn) of advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, alongside a 25% increase in US military aid to Israel.

Protests tomorrow - beyond Our Ken?

Acting Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who is a petroleum economist by profession, has said he will boycott the Saudi visit.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has the excuse of paternity leave to give it a miss. But we have not heard from Ken Livingstone, that well-known defender of democracy, women, and gay rights, who is hosting another banquet for the Saudi king at the Guildhall tomorrow. Maybe Ken will take the opportunity to raise a few of the points that won't have raised at the Palace do?

As Peter Tatchell says: "As well as flogging and executing gay people, Saudi leaders are guilty of detention without trial, torture and the public beheading of women who have sex outside of marriage. Migrant workers are de facto slaves. The media is heavily censored. Trade unions, political parties and non-Muslim religions are banned. The country is a theocratic police state."

Labour left-winger John McDonnell asks why the prime minister is prepared to condemn lack of democracy in Burma or Zimbabwe, but "remains silent when it comes to the Saudi dictatorship?" The MP has submitted an Early Day Motion, 2102, in parliament and is also supporting this demonstration tomorrow:

Socialist Youth Network
Youth Wing of the Labour Representation Committee

Wednesday 31st October 6pm – 8pm
Saudi Embassy,

30-32 Charles Street, W1J 5DZ

Speakers include: Yahya al-Alfaifi (Saudi trade unionist),
Katy Clark MP, John McDonnell MP, Marsha-Jane Thompson (SYN Co-Chair), Sandy Mitchell (former British prisoner in Saudi Arabia), Murad Qureshi AM, Peter Tatchell


Sunday, October 28, 2007

An Oxford Whodunnit?

BESIDES its famous dreaming spires and reputation for lost causes, Oxford has been home to several donnish mystery writers and background scene of many a green-cover Penguin before Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse and Lewis stepped into its halls and streets.

The episode of the Vanished - or Banished - Professor has become a bit of a whoddunit, with clues and red herrings inserted to misguide us, even though we can guess the denouement.

Professor Norman Finkelstein, late of De Paul University in Illnois, was due to speak in a debate before the Oxford Union on the motion “This House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.” Incidentally, if that is accurately reported, I wonder whether I am alone in missing the words "secular democratic" between "one" and "state"? Perhaps it's my age, making me nostalgic for the old slogans. I trust the disappearance of those two words had no significance (though in other political contexts, and different company, I would not be sure of that).

Anyway, the speakers for the motion were to be Avi Shlaim, Ghada Karmi and Ilan Pappe. Professor Finkelstein was due to speak against, since like me he apparently believes a two-state policy is necessary. With him the speakers for two states were to be Peter Tatchell and Northern Ireland Unionist politician David Trimble.

Only it did not happen. That is, there was a debate, but without any of the advertised speakers. The star of the show, stepping in after persuading the Oxford Union president Luke Tryl to drop Norman Finkelstein, was Peace Now -UK co-chair Paul Usiskin; at least that's what we were told by the Jerusalem Post and Paul Usiskin. We were surprised to think that he could have so much influence.

It seems he didn't, at least not on his own. According to letters cited by Norman Finkelstein, the move to bloc him came from Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has made it his business to monitor anti-Zionist views on American campuses and headed the campaign which led to Professor Finkelstein losing his tenure at De Paul; the same Dershowitz who boasted that he could "bankrupt and devastate" the British academics' union UCU through the courts if it went ahead with a boycott policy against Israel.

This culprit sounds more plausible than Usiskin's claim, but the very idea has set Zionist lobbyists and apologists protesting that it's preposterous, it wasn't Dershowitz, it wasn't any of us at all, it was the other speakers who dropped out, and particularly Lord Trimble - prompting my fellow-blogger Mark Elf to ask "Was it the ex-Orangeman or the Jaffa Orangeman?"..

Reading their comments in letters and blogs I'd almost say they were singing from the same siddur, except that like in the kind of little shul where zeal exceeds decorum, they are not all on the same page.

On the other hand this letter seems straightforward enough:

Dear Dr Finkelstein,

...Many people expressed concern that the debate as it stood was imbalanced and people felt that as someone who had apparently expressed anti-zionist sentiments that you might not be appropriate for this debate. I tried to convince them otherwise but was accused of putting forward an imbalanced debate and various groups put pressure on me. I received numerous emails attacking the debate and Alan Dershowitz threatened to write an Oped attacking the Union. What is more he apparently attacked me personally in a televised lecture to Yale.
I hope that you understand my position, this is not ideal and I would be happy to welcome you as an individual speaker to the Union in a forthcoming term. I know that the President-Elect Emily Partington would be keen to host you in Hilary. I just did not want to see the debate compromised and given the Irving Griffin Controversy I couldn't fight a battle on all fronts.

Best wishes


It also fits what Finkelstein heard from Israeli soldier and film-maker Ronen Bercovich, that Tryl had told him Dershowitz was one of those who "demanded that Finkelstein should be removed from the debate".
See letters in Guardian :

Here too is the report from the Jewish Chronicle:

Speakers snub Oxford debate in panel row
By Nathan Jeffay
A debate on Israel at the Oxford Union took place on Tuesday without any of the scheduled speakers, after a row over the make-up of the panel.

Three of the academic community’s most vocal critics of Israel — Israelis Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe, and Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi — were due to propose the motion: “This House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

But members of the Jewish community, including Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz and Peace Now UK co-chair Paul Usiskin, complained to the Union that it had given the anti-Israel side a “fourth voice” by having US political scientist Norman Finkelstein in the pro-Israel team, which also comprised Peter Tatchell and Northern Irish politician Lord Trimble.

Dr Finkelstein, who recently lost tenure at Chicago’s De Paul University in a row over his views on the Holocaust, is “an extreme left-wing opponent of Israel” and provided a “covert ally” for the anti-Israel side, claimed Mr Usiskin.

Union president Luke Tryll withdrew the invitation to Dr Finkelstein, conceding that, with his presence “the debate would not be fair”. He asked Mr Usiskin to stand in.

Dr Finkelstein said that the union had “shamefully capitulated” to the “bullying tactics” of Prof Dershowitz who, he claimed, is “determined to hound me out of public life”. Mr Tatchell then pulled out over the Finkelstein issue, saying: “I don’t agree with Norman on some things but I know of nothing he has said to justify his invitation being withdrawn.

“The attempt to ban him goes against the principles of free speech that the Oxford Union claims to defend.”

Lord Trimble also withdrew, due to “diary pressure”.

Dr Shlaim, who was due to speak against Dr Finkelstein, wrote to Mr Tryll saying: “Disinviting a speaker raises questions about the Oxford Union’s commitment to free speech. Unless the invitation to Norman Finkelstein is renewed, I will not take part.”

Note incidentally that whereas the debate was about solutions to the Palestine-Israel conflict, for the Jewish Chronicle's reporter it was between "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel" sides. That's more honest than the pretence by Dershowitz, Usiskin and Co. that Finkelstein was not really going to make the case for two states. Had he been allowed to make that case, as someone who supports the Palestinians cause, it would have been strengthened. But here we can see a crack in their Orwellian facade. For "two states" in their code, read one state -Israel, with the Palestinians confined to reservations.

Finkelstein doesn't support two states, they protest; and we are supposed to be satisfied with their version, rather than hearing what the man has to say for himself. But who was responsible for stopping Professor Finkelstein? According to the JC, Trimble cited "diary pressure" as the reason he could not attend. Hardly a spirited protest against the invitation to Finkelstein. As for the other invited speakers, rather than withdrawing because Finkelstein was coming, as one of the dissimulators claimed, they withdrew after hearing that Finkelstein was barred.

Maybe Lord Trimble will come in to rescue the Zionists, or maybe he will protest against being used by them, but so far he has wisely stuck to that busy diary. Peter Tatchell, on the other hand, has spoken out honourably, both on this episode and related issues, and he deserves credit, and quoting:

I was also due to speak in the Oxford Union debate on Israel-Palestine but withdrew because of the dis-invitation of my fellow guest speaker, the US Jewish academic, Norman Finkelstein.

I was astonished that the Oxford Union is prepared to host Nick Griffin and David Irving in an upcoming debate - in the name of free speech - but not Norman Finkelstein.

I was not the only one to feel this way. All three main speakers in support of the motion had already withdrawn from the debate in protest at Norman's exclusion. Without Norman and the three distinguished proponents of the motion, the debate could not proceed with any credibility or legitimacy.

Norman Finkelstein is critical of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. I concur with some of his criticisms. I don't agree with Norman on certain things. But I know of nothing that he has said to justify his invitation being withdrawn by the Oxford Union. The ban on Norman Finkelstein goes against the principles of free speech that the Oxford Union claims to defend.

We were due to debate the following motion last Tuesday, 23 October 2007:

"This House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict."

While I agree that one state based on peace, justice, equality and security for all Jews and Arabs would be the ideal solution, I do not agree that it is the only solution - nor do most Palestinians, who now support a two-state solution.

The priority is to establish some form of independent Palestinian state - however imperfect - as soon as possible. A two-state solution is more likely than a one-state solution.

On a positive note: The Oxford Union has sought to make amends by agreeing to host a further debate on Israel-Palestine early next year, where Norman Finkelstein and pro-Israel advocate, Alan Dershowitz, will be invited to speak.

Regarding the Oxford Union's up-coming free speech debate:

The decision to invite Nick Griffin and David Irving is a big mistake. Those who peddle hatred and historical distortions should not be rewarded by being feted by acclaimed institutions. I don't believe the defence of free speech requires the Oxford Union to proactively offer these hate-mongers a prestigious platform to secure respectability for their odious views.

I say this as a human rights campaigner, and as the Green Party's candidate for Oxford East.

I sometimes think Peter Tatchell gets his perspectives wrong. Not this time. He has got things absolutely right and spot-on.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fools at Oxford

BNP's Nick Griffin

BARRED: Norman Finkelstein

WHEN the Oxford Union debating society announced it was inviting Holocaust revisionist David Irving, and British National Party leader Nick Griffin, there was naturally the widespread publicity that the organisers wanted.

Anti-racists and minority groups protested, smarmy right-wingers rehearsed their usual jibes that we Lefties don't like free speech, and I felt nostalgic for the days when an expectant crowd outside a lecture theatre at Lancaster was enough to scare the authorities into cancelling a visit by the National Front's Martin Webster, so the waiting police and ambulances could be sent home.

Of course, Oxford is different. The Oxford Union is not some northern university Monday Club. Its members don't need lecturers assuring them of racial superiority. They've known, some of them since prep school, that they are superior, and they have daddy's dosh and their own career prospects to prove it.

But here's a case that shows Oxford students can be sensitive to other's concerns, and listen. It has been brought to my attention by Ginny, an American resident here, who read it in the Jerusalem Post and wondered why it had not made the Guardian or Independent.

Oxford cancels one-state debate
Jonny Paul, Jerusalem Post correspondent
Oct. 22, 2007
The Oxford University Student Union debating society has been forced to cancel a debate on the Middle East following the withdrawal of the proposers of the motion: "This House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict."
Prof. Avi Shlaim of the university's St. Antony's College at Oxford, and Dr. Ilan Pappe and Dr. Ghada Karmi, both of Exeter University, were due to present the one-state solution at Tuesday's debate.
Norman Finkelstein, formally of De Paul University in Chicago, Peter Tatchall, a gay rights activist, and David Trimble, a former first minister of Northern Ireland, were due to present the case for a two-state solution. Shlaim and Pappe are both Israelis.
When Peace Now-UK co-chair Paul Usiskin saw Finkelstein's name on the team opposing the motion, he expressed concern that "a far-left detractor of Israel" had been chosen to defend the existence of the Jewish state.
He told the Student Union they were "seeking sensation over substance" and were denying a proper and balanced debate.
Following talks with Oxford Union President Luke Tryll, the union decided to drop Finkelstein and invited Usiskin to participate along with Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow of the Middle East program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, who is also Israeli.
Usiskin told The Jerusalem Post that a Jewish student informed him Sunday that the proposers of the one-state solution were disgruntled at his inclusion in the debate and demanding Finkelstein's re-invitation. When this was refused, Shlaim, Pappe and Karmi withdrew from the debate.
"They clearly thought they had it sown up," said Usiskin. "I believe they're desperate for another arena in which to deligitimize Israel, after the failure to begin the academic boycott of Israel - in which all three were key. What they expected was a clear field for a one-state solution as the start of creating that new arena. Those of us who believe in Israel and support a two-state solution remained steadfast and denied them their victory."

Ah yes, I see he mentions the academic boycott issue. Now, didn't its opponents tell us that was a threat to academic freedom, or something?
Seems we won't be hearing that argument again.

I could not help noticing in passing that in a debate concerning the future of Palestine, the organisers had evidently seen fit to only invite one Palestinian, a woman long resident in Britain, among six speakers. Peter Tatchell is a nice fellow and could perhaps introduce the topic of gay rights in Palestine, as he has tried to do on more than one demonstration, but he is not an obvious choice to talk about Palestine and attempts to find a "two states" solution. As for David Trimble -well I suppose we can give the organisers marks for imagination.

Had Afif Safieh still been head of the Palestinian general delegation to the UK, I expect they could have invited him to speak on Northern Ireland. Afif would have made a witty and erudite speaker, but I expect as a diplomat he would have had more sense than to accept the invitation. Still, it is just a debating society, and it seems the speakers are chosen in the hope of putting bums on seats, by gaining publicity, and attracting students to hear a 'clever' celebrity, and be impressed by debating style, rather than listen to experts in the hope of learning something.

More specifically, though, what is striking about this story is that once again the Zionist lobby has succeeded in shutting the door to Professor Norman Finkelstein. This is the Jewish academic who upset the Zionists by denouncing the use they made of the Holocaust (of which his parents were survivors), and was the victim of a concerted campaign to deny him tenure at De Paul University. Having succeeded in pressuring a Catholic University in the United States, are the Zionist witch-hunters going to get away with it at Oxford University?

I've not yet met or had contact with Norman Finkelstein. I do know Paul Usiskin, though. We first met in 2002 at the founding conference of European Jews for Just Peace, in Amsterdam. Usiskin turned up claiming credentials as representing Peace Now-UK, and Rabbis for Human Rights; though he is no rabbi, and when I asked whether Rabbis for Human Rights (who have done some impressive work in Israel and the Occupied Territories) had many supporters in Britain, he was not very forthcoming, still less convincing.

Peace Now UK was set up as an explicitly Zionist group. When some of its leading activists joined with Jewish Socialists and expatriate Israelis to form Just Peace UK as a campaigning alliance they were soon replaced in a coup directed by the Zionist back-room boys, and disowned for associating with dangerous "anti-Zionists" . So it was a nice surprise when one of the replacements turned up at Amsterdam, took part in the conference, mingled amiably enough with other delegates, and voted with us for the final resolution, which committed European Jews for Just Peace to campaign for:
". . .an immediate end of the occupation of the occupied territories: West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem with recognition of the 4th June 1967 borders;
2. complete withdrawal of all Jewish settlements in all the occupied territories
3. the recognition of the right of both states to have Jerusalem as their capital;
4. the recognition by Israel of its part in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem...
In other words, EJJP is serious about what people call a "two-state solution" (I prefer to say two-state policy, because it is up to the peoples in the Middle East to determine their future, and not for us to impose our ideas of what should constitute an all-time solution).
What was no surprise to those who knew him or his associates was that within a week or so of returning to London, Paul Usiskin told the Jewish Chronicle how shocked he had been by some of the views he had heard in Amsterdam, and that Peace Now-UK wanted nothing more to do with European Jews for Just Peace, nor with its British affiliates.
I guessed what had happened, though I forgot to ask whether he had also reported back to Rabbis for Human Rights and if so, had they also asked to disaffilate? Or if they had been aware they had been represented by Paul Usiskin in the first place.
Since then the UK affiliates of European Jews for Just Peace, notably Jews for Justice for Palestinians , have grown both in support and range of activities, far obscuring anything managed by Peace Now-UK, or as it has been dubbed "Peace - but not now". (The Israeli parent body of which, though not the vanguard of the Israeli peace camp, does occasionally stir from its conservatism, and do something useful, such as producing a report on settlements, which is more than be said for its ostensible UK supporters).
After Usiskin's apparent success in stopping Norman Finkelstein maybe be should revise the jibe, and call it POLICE NOW! Because it's real role has not been to fight for "two states" - i.e. for the Palestinians right to a state alongside Israel, which would mean fighting the occupation, siege and settlements which other British Zionists support; but to clobber anyone to the Left, and particularly Jews like Finkelstein who have upset the Establishment.
What may seem surprising is that the Oxford union president has apparently bowed to a nobody like Usiskin, or been fooled by the latter's claims to represent anything significant or credible. Norman Finkelstein is inclined to suspect that Zionist witchfinder general Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard professor who engineered the campaign to oust him from De Paul, is also behind the move to exclude him from the Oxford debate. Maybe. We don't know what went on behind the secenes, but we do know Oxford, behind its hallowed stone, has a warm place for American dollars.
Oxford has also been known as the "home of lost causes", which might be comforting when we looked at some of the speakers the Oxford Union invites. But it is more worrying to think that the Oxford Union is jumping off point for many a career politician, and both Oxbridge universities with their high public school intake continue to fill so many posts in the British Establishment.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Nice work if you can get it...

An article by Frank Rich in the New York Times today looks at what lay behind a US Air Force officer's suicide in Virginia, and finds a picture of big money and corruption thriving on the daily business of killings in Iraq.

Charles D.Reichers, 47, the US air force's second highest procurement officer, killed himself by running his car engine in the garage at his Virginia home.

Two weeks before this the Washington Post had reported that the Air Force had asked a defense contractor, Commonwealth Research Institute, to give Reichers a job with no known duties while he waited for official clearance for his new Pentagon assignment. Mr. Riechers, a decorated Air Force officer, told the Post: “I really didn’t do anything for C.R.I. I got a paycheck from them.”

He recieved $26,788 for two months in this position. I am sure we would all like that kind of money, but the US papers suggested that maybe besides the privilege of having an air force officer on board, the company might have been looking forward to returned favours when its airman landed at the Pentagon and there were contracts coming up.

As Frank Rich points out, mind you, Mr.Reichers' little earner would not show up as even a rounding error in the accounts of the Iraq-Afghanistan war.

"So far some $6 billion worth of contracts are being investigated for waste and fraud, however slowly, by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. That doesn’t include the unaccounted-for piles of cash, some $9 billion in Iraqi funds, that vanished during L. Paul Bremer’s short but disastrous reign in the Green Zone".

Instead of the values of "democratic governance" which the United States was supposed to be sending to Iraq, "wholesale corruption of government contracting sabotaged the crucial mission that might have enabled us to secure the country: the rebuilding of the Iraqi infrastructure, from electricity to hospitals. "

Eric Prince, who used to be media-shy and little-known, has been giving interviews allover the place in the past week. His company, Blackwater USA, stands accused of the deaths of 17 innocent Iraqis mowed down in on September 16 in Baghdad. Thanks to legal loopholes granted by Bremer when the occupation started, these contractors don't have much to worry about in the way of prosecutions.

No, Mr. Prince is moving on. "As he told The Wall Street Journal last week, Blackwater no longer cares much about its security business; it is expanding into a “full spectrum” defense contractor offering a “one-stop shop” for everything from remotely piloted blimps to armored trucks. The point of his P.R. offensive was to smooth his quest for more billions of Pentagon loot".

Charles D.Riechers' job at the Pentagon, managing a $30 billion Air Force procurement budget, had been previously held by an officer named Darleen Druyun, who in 2004 was sentenced to nine months in prison for securing jobs for herself, her daughter and her son-in-law at Boeing while favoring the company with billions of dollars of contracts. Ms. Druyun’s Pentagon post remained vacant until Mr. Riechers was appointed. He was brought in to clean up the corruption.

A Bush-appointed Pentagon inspector general delivered a report to Congress on Druyun's corruption in 2005. But large chunks of it were blacked out, as were the names of many White House officials. The inspector general also assured Congress that neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Paul Wolfowitz knew anything about the crimes. Senators on the Armed Services Committee were incredulous. John Warner, the Virginia Republican, could not believe that the Pentagon’s top two officials had no information about “the most significant defense procurement mismanagement in contemporary history.”

But the inspector general who vouched for their ignorance, Joseph Schmitz, was already heading for the exit, his next job being as the chief operating officer of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company.

Eric Prince and his family have made six-figure contributions to Republican politicians, and have life-long connections to the religious Right in America. Blackwater also uses high-powered lobbyists whose other clients include the company building America's new embassy in Iraq, said to be Vatican sized, and already running $144 million over its $592 million budget.

America has spent twice as much so far "rebuilding" what it destroyed in Iraq than it did after World War II in Japan. But Iraqis still can't depend on electricity or clean water supplies. Where the money has gone is a story that some witnesses - Iraqi or American - don't live to tell. In the "home of the brave" itself, war veterans and their families may have to ask for welfare. But don't say the war was for nothing. For some people it has paid very well.

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Iranian reply to Stop the War's gatekeeper

Workers Left Unity is one of the Iranian groups involved in Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), which has been barred from affiliation to the Stop the War Coalition in Britain, and denounced as "enemies", without being given the chance to put forward its views, and without ordinary members of the Stop the War Coalition getting the opportunity to hear what these comrades have to say.

Andrew Murray, the STWC officer responsible for the exclusion notice, claimed that Hands off the People of Iran was just a front for the Communist Party of Great Britain. Lesser apologists for the Stop the War leadership are attempting an ignorant Stalinist-style witch hunt by
talking vaguely about unnamed Iranians "associated with the CIA".
Naturally the smear operators can neither risk naming names nor offer any evidence for their accusation .
Whether they have been up to this by others we don't know. But I am sure most anti-war activists will want nothing to do with such dirty and discredited techniques.

Meanwhile here one of the Iranian comrades, from Workers Left Unity, replies to what Andrew Murray had to say:

Amir Javaheri Langaroudi (Etehadchap Kargari) replies to the allegations byAndrew Murray

A standard reply has been sent by Andrew Murray (Stop the War Coalition chair) in response to the emails and protests by HOPI supporters over the exclusion of the campaign. In this reply Murray states:
“Our decision in respect of these two organisations is, however, political.Both are effectively controlled by the Weekly Worker group (“CPGB”) - indeed their spokesman in the current controversy is the Weekly Worker’s national organiser. This body has been hostile to StWC from its inception. It declined to support the objectives of the Coalition, which they now pray freely in aid, when they were first adopted in October 2001.”

In response to this outrageous claim, a number of points have to be clarified:

HOPI was set up by Iranians in exiles in UK and USA, many of them activists and members of Workers Left Unity -Iran (Etehadchap Kargari) in response to calls by antiwar students, workers.The first calls for such a campaign appeared in Farsi on the website of Etehadchap and Rahe Kargar in the summer of 2005.

Some of our activist spoke at dozens of meetings calling for such a campaign throughout 2005 and 2006. Radio Barabari (‘Equality’) broadcasting daily to Tehran reported our call extensively and we received support from leftist students at Iranian University, worker activists and many others.Outside Iran, editors of Iran Bulletin - Middle East Forum, the central committee of the organisation Rahe kargar (Iran) and second generation Iranian students who produce a monthly journal reporting workers struggles in Iran, Iranian Workers Bulletin, supported this call and a letter in English was sent to a number of British/US organisations, individuals, and local STWC branches calling for help in setting up a campaign along these lines.

The Green Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain were amongst the first British organizations to responded positively to this call, allowing us for the first time to set up a campaign regarding Iran that goes beyond the usual circle of Iranian exiles and their supporters inside the country. Indeed both organisations, plus Communist Students that joined HOPI later,have been amongst the most active British supporters of the campaign.However, the campaign’s publications in Farsi and English are the result of constant cooperation and consultation between Iranian and British comrades.

Rather than becoming an 'alternative' to the StWC, HOPI sees its main task as giving give a voice within Coalition to left activists inside Iran, who were deeply hurt and angered by pro Hezbollah slogans raised in last summer's anti-war demonstrations in London and elsewhere.

If Andrew Murray is referring to the list of members and supporters of the campaign, then currently Green Party members and independent leftists and activists constitute the vast bulk of our supporters. HOPI's Iranian activists and speakers include

a.. Mohamad Reza Shalgouni - Founder of the Revolutionary Organization of Iranian Workers - Rahe Kargar Member of Irons' Palestine Group who spent 8 years in the Shah’s prisons.

b.. Torab Saleth a former member of the International Executive Committee of the USFI (United Secretariat of the Fourth International) and currently an activist of Workers Left Unity Iran.

c.. Ardeshir Mehrdad - author and activist on the Iranian left with over35 years of political activity. Also of Workers Left Unity Iran.

d.. Ruben Markarian a former member of the Central Committee of RaheKargar and a cadre of this organisation.

e.. Nader Sadeh - member of Haste Aghaliyat ( Fedayin)f.. Azar Sheibani, Firouze Rad - activists in the Campaign for Abolition of all Misogynic Gender Based legislation & Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran

There are many other that we can refer you too and that would be more than happy to give you a rundown of their history in the movement.Is Andrew Murray suggesting that the CPGB has recruited all of these Iranianactivists or infiltrated their organisations in order to set up HOPI?! This is beyond comprehension.But let us assume for a moment that the ludicrous suggestion by Murray is correct and the Weekly Worker group set up HOPI as a rival to StWC.

Why would it want to now affiliate to the Coalition? In order to take it over? ow on earth would this be possible? So, your ‘political’ reason for excluding it seems rather sectarian!
We, in Etehadchap Kargari, are determined to continue our activities in HOPI. The support we got in response to our call in Farsi to unite in campaign like HOPI has been impressive. This is one of the most successful campaigns we have undertaken in the last few years.

In Solidarity
Amir Javaheri Langaroudi

On behalf of the coordinating committee of Etehadchap Kargari


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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Carnage in Karachi

PAKISTAN'S military establishment and state security has been implicated in the huge suicide bombing which killed 138 people on the streets of Karachi, and wounded 300.

The bombing was ostensibly aimed at returning former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her motorcade. But whoever organised and carried out this atrocity clearly did not care how many innocent people they killed or maimed.

The attack had echoes of the attempt on Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi many years ago by a Muslim terror group enlisted for the purpose by British Intelligence. Then too the target escaped unhurt while the victims were ordinary people on the street. But this Karachi killing was so much bigger.

In this it resembled some of the bombings in India which the authorities there blamed on Pakistani intelligence.

Benazir Bhutto said she had received information about assassination plots - including names of ringleaders and telephone numbers - days before she flew to Karachi. The information came from a "friendly government". She had included the details in a letter sent to President Musharraf on Tuesday. "I told him that if something should happen to me the government should know certain things," she said at a high-security press conference at her Karachi home.

"This was a dastardly and cowardly attack," she said. "We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover."

"We are prepared to risk our lives and we are prepared to risk our liberty, but we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants."

"With much detail in their hands the government would have been able to apprehend them. But I understand their difficulties," she said.
As Bhutto's motorcade maded its way through the Karachi streets before the bombing street lights suddenly went off, without explanation.

She described a scheme in which undercover army commandos would contrive a gunfight outside one of her homes in Karachi or Larkana, before killing her. "I'm not accusing the government. I'm accusing certain people who abuse their powers. I trust nothing will happen," she said.
Ms Bhutto has previously accused the head of Pakistan's Military Intelligence agency and retired army officers of sympathising with the extremists who tried to kill her. After the blasts, her husband, Asif Zardari, directly accused the intelligence agencies of involvement.
But Ms Bhutto was careful not to direct accusations against President Musharraf, with whom she was negotiating a power-sharing deal. Meanwhile one of the Taliban leaders denied responsibility.

Some British media reports expressed surprise that Bhutto had not bowed to threats, but had gone ahead and returned to Pakistan as planned - almost implying the bombing and carnage was her fault. Others suggested that notwithstanding the death and suffering, the atrocity might have its benefits in forcing Bhutto and her Pakistan People's Party closer into co-operation with the military.

Britain and the United States are hoping that Bhutto's return can restore a semblance of democracy to strengthen the pro-US regime, and perhaps reduce the cost of corruption, as well as well as restarting progress on relations with India over Kashmir. But many ordinary PPP supporters and Pakistani workers hope a more democratic government might do something for the poor and restore union rights.

That would not please the military chiefs who have done well for themselves, nor is it part of the agenda for religious terror warlords. British and US interests might also consider it too much of an overhead. Whoever organised this atrocity most likely deliberately chose to kill and terrorise ordinary working people.

A reputable organisation of Muslims in Britain, the Muslim Institute, has strongly comndemned the Karachi bombing.

Muslim Institute

Immediate release: 19th October 2007

UK Muslim organisation condemns the bombing of Ms Bhutto’s convoy and condoles with the families who lost loved ones.

Muslim Institute has expressed its revulsion and horror at the dreadful terror attack yesterday on Ms Benazir Bhutto’s peaceful convoy and condemned it as senseless and despicable act that resulted in loss of lives and mass carnage in celebratory procession through the streets of Karachi.

Amjad Hussain has said, ‘I impress upon the government of Pakistan to make a genuine and thorough police effort to get to the bottom of this and apprehend those who masterminded this appalling atrocity. I want religious scholars and civil society alike to unite and re-claim the heart and soul of Islam and isolate the extremist fringe who misuse Islam for indiscriminate killings.

'I am sure the government of Pakistan will show resolve in the face of this travesty and re-double its efforts to remain engaged with all the stakeholders and political parties in Pakistan. The path towards democracy is the only alterative to extremism and the creation of pluralistic and forward looking Pakistan.'

Amjad Hussain is Research Fellow and spokesman on South Asia & Human Rights.

Note to the editor:

Muslim Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation. Its aim is to inform, encourage rational and objective debate with a view to making difference towards the development of democracy & human rights in Muslim World.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Brown's red carpet out for Saudi royal dictator

Why are the carpets for royal visits traditionally red? To hide bloody trail dripping from hands perhaps.
But Gordon Brown isn't first to
welcome King Abdullah. Here is Saudi ruler in Beijing with China's
President Hu Jintao. Business is business.

"And just to prove that we're sincere,
We'll sing the Red Flag once a year"

DON'T know if they still sang the Red Flag at the end of this year's Labour Party conference - in a spirit of post-modern irony perhaps as delegates filed past the big commercial lobbyists in the foyer - but Gordon Bown's New Labour government is preparing to roll out the red carpet for a reactionary royal dictator.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is due to arrive in London for a state visit on October 30. Having buried the serious fraud office investigation into bribes for Saudi arms deals, just as they helped Mrs.Thatcher shove away an earlier report from the National Audit Office, the Labour leaders have also said they won't help a US case against British Aerospace (the cheek of our competitors!). Nor are they prepared to help British citizens alleging wrongful imprisonment and ill-treatment in Saudi Arabia.

So with the Bush administration pledging more military aid to the Saudis, Brown and the British bosses must be rubbing their hands at the thought of more juicy contracts.

Over in Swansea there's a man who will probably see the visit differently.
Trades unionists in the Welsh city were out campaigning over the National Health Service one Saturday when a young man offered to help them handing out leaflets. Afterwards they got talking. They learned that the man who had joined them was Yahya al-Faifi, and that he had come to Wales to get away from persecution in his native Saudi Arabia for his trade union activity. Yahya had been sacked from his job and put under police surveillance after organising a meeting for fellow-workers to discuss their wage grievances, and whether they should accept a new contract, at Dhahran air base.

When he heard that other Saudis had been arrested and jailed merely for petitioning for the right to form a union, Yahya decided to seek refuge abroad before the authorities came for him. That he came to Britain was appropriate. His employer at Dhahran had been BAE systems, that is, what used to be called British Aerospace.

The Swansea trades union council have helped Yahya find work, and he has been helped by them also in setting up a General Federation of Free Workers Trade Unions Struggling Against Oppression in the Arabian peninsula, with a support group, the Campaign for Democratic Trade Union Rights in Saudi Arabia.



One Labour MP who is not afraid to upset Brown's plans to welcome the Saudi ruler is John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, who might have been left-wing challenger for the Labour leadership if more MPs, and our national union leaders, had put their money where their mouths had been, instead of putting their mouths to kissing Gordon Brown's backside.

Anyway, here's what John McDonnell has written:

Friday, October 12, 2007

Government to Welcome Saudi King,
Famed Dictator of Oppressive Regime.

Today I tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament protesting at the upcoming state visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.I tabled the motion because like many others I am angry that the Government will be paying the Saudi king a warm welcome while thousands of incarcerated Saudis face the most brutal forms of torture and the threat of public execution.This is a dictatorship that allows no political parties, free elections, independent media or trade unions and deprives women and gays of their most basic rights.

The invitation to King Abdullah reflects the double standards of the British Government which talks about promoting human rights, but allows the economic interests of oil multinationals and the defence industry to dictate our foreign policy.The full text of EDM 2102: State Visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia reads as follows:

That this House notes with concern the state visit of King Abdullah bin Abdul Azaz al Saud of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom on 30th October 2007; believes that Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive societies on earth, with no political parties, free elections, independent media or trade unions; views with alarm the systematic human rights abuses that exist within the Kingdom, such as the lack of basic rights for women, the practice of public beheadings and the repression of homosexuals; condemns the recent sale of 72 Eurofighters to such a barbaric regime; and calls upon the British Government to base its foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia on democracy and human rights rather than on narrow economic interests.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hands off the People of Iran -and hands off these campaigners!

PRESIDENT Putin's visit to Tehran this week could deliver a much-needed shot across the bows of US neo-cons and warmongers whose answer to the bloody mess they have made in Iraq is to repeat the crime on a much bigger scale with war on Iran.

lt might at least give the British government second thoughts about following America's path to war again. We don't know if George Dubya is capable of thought or could tell where Iran is, or its difference from Iraq. But Gordon Brown did make his name for prudence.

It was the fall of the Soviet Union that gave Washington's neo cons the confidence that they could do as they liked. Together with crusading Christian fundamentalism and the powerful Zionist lobby it freed Republicans like Bush and Cheney from their traditional oil-interest concern for Arab opinion. Not that Washington's Saudi allies have minded too much seeing Iraq brought down, still less the prospect of dealing Iran a blow - provided America can get away with it. (It was to counter Iran in fact that the Saudis -as well as some US oil interests - initially backed the Taliban).

Russia's re-entry on to the Middle East scene owes more to geopolitics and perceived national self-interest than any ideological opposition to imperialism. (or sympathy for oppressed Muslims - anyone remember Chechnya?) It is nevertheless to be welcomed if it creates a counter-balance. And a shot across America's bows need not be a shot in the arm for President Ahmadinejad. On the contrary, his rule depends on people feeling threatened from outside and under siege, as much as on sustaining religious fervour and using brute repression when necessary.

The danger of war on Iran is due to be the main issue on the agenda of the Stop the War Coalition's conference on October 27. At least, it was. We might have expected a united stand, against aggression that could bring an all-round calamity. But that's reckoning without the genius of the Stop the War Coalition's leadership for self-inflicted injury.

On every big demonstration against the war in Iraq there have been Iranians marching, just as there have been Iraqi and Kurdish comrades, many of whom had experienced repression and exile because of their opposition to the Baathist regime. They did not wish to see their people suffering further misery and destruction from the same imperialist powers that once backed Saddam Hussein. Their presence was the answer to slanders from the pro-war liberals and Labourites who pretended you were either for the war or for Saddam Hussein, which is of course why the pro-war hacks ignored them.

Many of the Iranians similarly are left-wing comrades, of various political tendencies, who struggled under the Shah's tyranny, only to be robbed of their victory when the ayatollahs took over. Among those I've met is a former leader of the Iranian oilworkers' union, now a refugee in Britain. "We workers had the power," he lamented, remembering how they held the refineries when the Shah was overthrown, "but we let others take it from our hands". He saw this as a warning and a lesson for all. Not a reason to withdraw from the fight but for clear sighted working class leadership and thought in struggle.

In March 2005, a group of left-wing Iranian refugees set out from Birmingham to march to London where they joined the Stop the War demonstration. Their message was that they were against the Islamicist regime but also against war on their country. Along the way they were helped by anti-war activists but when they phoned the Stop the War office, to ask if they could have a speaker on the platform in Trafalgar Square they were asked what they thought of the Iranian government, and when they gave the obvious answer, told they could not speak. Later that year CND - which is part of the Coalition -had a speaker from the Iranian embassy.

Stop the War have said they had no record of the 'phone call that time, and claimed they did not know about the Iranians requesting to have a speaker. They certainly can't say this about the latest incident.

It was learned last week that the Stop the War Coalition had rejected applications to affiliate by two recently formed groups, Communist Students and Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI). Motions submitted by them for annual conference were thus ruled out of order. Two people nominated by Hands off the People of Iran, Yassamine Mather and Ben Lewis, are disbarred from standing for the steering committee.

Both organisations received e-mails from Andrew Murray, on behalf of the executive, telling them they were "entirely hostile to the Coalition, its policies and its work" and would not be allowed to participate in the StWC's AGM on October 27.

The founding declaration of Hands off the People of Iran says:
"No to imperialist war! No to the theocratic regime! We recognise that there is an urgent need to establish a principled solidarity campaign with the people of Iran. The contradictions between the interests of the neo-conservatives in power in the USA and the defenders of the rule of capital in the Islamic Republic has entered a dangerous new phase. US imperialism and its allies are intent on regime change from above and are seriously considering options to impose this - sanctions, diplomatic pressure, limited strikes or perhaps bombing the country back to the stone age

One might not like the style or agree with the formulation, but in what way is this perspective "hostile" to the aims and policies of the Stop the War Coalition? This broad alliance has ranged from Muslims to Maoists, from people shouting for "Victory to the Iraqi Resistance!" (as though we all knew what that was, and victories were won by shouting) through to those content with "bringing the troops home", and those who would have the occupation replaced by the UN. Would the Coalition really collapse if it included people openly opposed to the Iranian government? Particularly as Andrew Murray himself says he is against the "dictatorial regime".
Oddly enough, Communist Students had affiliated on September 19.
Yet now Andrew Murray is telling objectors that both it and HOPI cannot be admitted because they are mere "fronts" for the Communist Party of Great Britain (Weekly Worker) whose views have been "overwhelmingly rejected" by Stop the War conferences. But the CPGB remains in the Stop the War Coalition - unless expulsions are on the way. And if Andrew Murray is so confident that its policies would be rejected why are the Stop the War officers so bothered about keeping the two groups and their motions out?

If Hands off the People of Iran was really just set up as some devious CPGB stunt, they have been clever with it. The supporters' list includes some well-known figures whose standing in the anti-war, labour and progressive movements few would doubt (e.g.John Pilger, Ken Loach, Naomi Klein, MPs John McDonnell and Harry Cohen, and Green MEP Caroline Lucas...). But more important, this initiative has the backing of serious Iran left-wingers like the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran, and Workers Left Unity Iran.

The people running the Stop the War Coalition might not like them. But they are nobody's stooges, they are not fronting for the CPGB, and they don't need lectures from Andrew Murray, a member of the Communist Party of Britain, nor from the erstwhile George Galloway fan club in the Socialist Workers Party, his allies on the Stop the War executive, about how to cope with Islamic reaction or "our duty" towards the people of Iran.

We have always rejected the slander from pro-war liberals that opposing the war in Iraq made us defenders of Saddam Hussein. Yet it is hard to believe that the people running Stop the War now recognise the difference between defending Iran and its people and defending the reactionary regime. Maybe they should pay attention to what Iranian comrades are saying instead of trying to shut them out for fear of confusing the rank and file - or upsetting certain dubious allies?

The Stop the War leadership is behaving like right-wing Labour, and worse, making up the rules as it goes along. Whatever we think of the CPGB, any nuisance it might cause is nothing compared to the damage that this exclusion could inflict. It is not too late too admit an error.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Eid Mubarak



Thursday, October 11, 2007

NHS: Safe in whose hands?

BRITAIN has always been proud of its National Health Service, introduced by Labour in 1948, and in case anyone ever forgets its worth you can always hear what admiring Americans have to say.

The other evening there was an item in the TV news about a kid who had died in that wealthy Land of the Free because of a condition that had started with his teeth, only his mother could not afford to pay for dental treatment. This week by contrast there's a programme about more affluent Americans paying for cosmetic surgery, the money to be made in the nip-and-tuck and 'silicone valley' industry. Meanwhile the New York Times reported on October 7 how "Medicare recipients had been victimized by private insurers that run the drug benefit program, according to a review of federal audits". To read how a native New Yorker living here appreciates the NHS, see "As long as you've got your health", http://www.mikemarqusee.com/index.php?p=253#more-253

To mar our faith and pride in the NHS however, there has been the scandal in recent years of people becoming more ill after entering hospitals than they were before, and even dying from 'superbugs' they've picked up.

A report issued today by the government's Healthcare Commission says 90 patients at the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells hospitals in Kent died due to infection from Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhoea and has taken over from MRSA as the main threat to patients.

Evidence will be referred to Kent police and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) about how the trust's slack infection controls contributed to the deaths. They will decide whether to bring criminal charges, which could include murder, manslaughter or breaches of health and safety legislation, said Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission.

This week Alistair Darling, the chancellor, stepped up the fight against hospital-acquired infections by providing £140m in the comprehensive spending review to combat C difficile and £130m to screen all patients coming into hospital for MRSA.

But the commission said the evidence from Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells had national ramifications. It said the cases showed the need for changes in clinical priorities and told the NHS to start treating C difficile as a diagnosis in its own right.

The report found 1,100 patients contracted C difficile at the trust's three hospitals between April 2004 and September 2006. A total of 345 mainly older patients with multiple medical problems died.

The commission concluded that 90 patients "definitely or probably" died as a result of infection. Sixty of these deaths occurred during two outbreaks when the trust failed to introduce adequate counter-measures - the most deadly case of superbug infection in NHS history.

It has been known since the 1960s that using antibiotics to fight infections could bring about an opposite, as viruses acquire and pass on immunities to others. An outbreak of gastro-enteritis among babies in Britain proved untreatable with the normal medications. Scientists and farmers became concerned that anti-biotics routinely being added to manufactured animal feeds to counter infections might be causing new ones, which could spread to humans.

Some progress is now being claimed in means of overcoming the "superbugs".
It is urgently needed.

But unlike MRSA, C difficile is not a super virus, but a bacterium normally resident in human stomachs. The dangerous new strain is spread by spores in a person's faeces, which can be present around the bed of an infected person. In other words, if it is spreading in hospitals it is because there is shit left around on the floors, or on the hands and clothing of carers. The Kent outbreak may have been the worst, but it was not isolated. The number of cases has risen sharply in the past two decades, from less than 1,000 in the early 1990s to 22,000 in 2002, and 44,488 in 2004. It was recorded as the underlying cause of death in 2,074 patients in England and Wales in 2005, according to an official survey. It has also occurred abroad.

The government's report blames the local trust responsible for the Kent hospital, opposition Tories and Liberals blame government targets for taking attention away from duties to patient care. Labour boasts about how much money it has put into the NHS, but apart from blaming staff salaries, nobody inquires where it has gone, nor why so many NHS trusts are cutting services. What none of the politicians seem to ask is whether devolving authority to trusts, which are meant to compete for resources (supposedly giving patients -or "customers" in trendy business-talk- "choice") has actually worked. Nor will the politicians or newspapers say whether privatising such services as cleaning and laundry has made hospital hygiene worse, as we suspect.

The Tories want to devolve further, behind talk of "bringing back matron", reminiscent of John Major's sentimental guff about warm beer and old village ladies cycling to Church. If the public only thinks about hospitals from watching "Carry On Nurse" and TV hospital soaps the demagogy about letting "doctors and nurses run the NHS" might work. Being cynical, I reflect that their proposals not only mean saddling highly trained professionals with worries other than patient care, and do away with economies of scale when purchasing services and goods, but open further opportunities for corruption and even theft.

My friends in education can tell a few tales of what happened when heads and others were let loose in the market with chequebooks, and then there are the further opportunities that open up when people can set up businesses on the side. As for local government - well, we loose track of what's public and private these days. We can resist anything but temptation, and like other villains, the privatisers know that one way of overcoming resistance is to make people into accomplices by offering a sniff at the spoils.

Labour meanwhile is creating new business opportunities for companies to make a profit taking over what primary care trusts do, commission health care and even recruit NHS-trained staff like radiographers to work in NHS hospitals. It's ingenious. They're growing as fast as those superbugs.

Bring back teamwork, not the market

I'VE no real knowledge of medical matters, and my job in the NHS gave only the odd glimpse of changes in its working. Mind you, it's more than you get watching telly. I once tried to explain to my aged parents that no, I wasn't a porter moving patients, and my stores did not contain pills or bedpans and bandages, but pipe fittings, screws and electrics. "What's that got to do with a hospital?" "Well, if the lights went out in an operating theatre you wouldn't want to send someone rushing out to Woolworths on the high street hoping they were still open so you could buy a lamp." Actually the lighting was maintained so that it should not go out, and -contrary to the impression I saw in one programme, we also had emergency generators which came on if there was a power cut.
One of the carpenters was remarking on how people pushed through doors he was working on, once knocking him off his ladder. "It's as though I'm not there". "It's because they don't see you on TV hospital programmes, so in their mind you don't exist".
When I started working at the hospital, there was a view widely held that we were all part of a team. If you were a consultant, or a cleaner, or a carpenter, a nurse, a porter or a plumber, you were all contributing to the hospital's success. It wasn't all pervasive. There were old social prejudices and snobberies to overcome, and I remember blokes in our department saying you could expect to be treated as inferior if "you wear green overalls" (dark green being at that time the colour of overalls supplied to maintenance workers and cleaners).

On the other hand I remember the chippies being justifiably proud of the letters of thanks pinned up in their shop, from patients and staff in the children's wards, which they had provided with a magnificent dolls house, and a specially devised easel designed to be fitted over a bed so youngsters confined to bed could do art.

Then the privatisers came. The cleaners who had been loyal members of the hospital team were suddenly working for a separate firm, those that kept their jobs, and could no longer count on security, fringe benefits or the same wages. Then it was the security staff. Then the catering. As for our department, we started losing some work that we had done, such as looking after medical school accomodation, to contractors. We had a 'consultation' meeting lecturing us on the need for all of us to show "efficiency".

One of the engineers asked whether this would be measured by the service we provided or how much money we saved. His fellow-managers fidgeted nervously and looked embarassed, and he wasn't given a clear answer, but I noticed later though he seemed good at his job and respected by the lads he was put on short-term contract.

Meanwhile, the flip-chart fusiliers, felt-tips bulging from pockets, had made the rounds, proclaiming the new market gospel. Gone was all that stuff about teamwork. The patients who came into the hospital - often old-friends and neighbours -were "customers". The wards and departments that dealt with their problems or happy new arrivals were our "customers" - if you had to clear a blocked loo or replace a fluorescent tube. A cause for merriment when one of the foremen wondered what his wife, a ward sister, would say if he told her she was now a "customer". Not to mention the three electricians and a mate whose partners were "customers" in maternity at the time. (Well, considering the number of local factories that had shut down they were doing their bit to keep productive industry going in that part of London).

Whatever their idea of efficiency was, administration expanded in spending and space as the workshop and staff were reduced, I suppose so they could farm out more work, but I got out while the going was good.

I do know that with security privatised, and the gatehouse disappearing, a lot of what you might call unauthorised privatisation took place. There had always been some pilfering, and the hospital once got tough -with two ancillary workers caught eating left-over patients' food, instead of binning it. There were also the opportunist tea-leafs sneaking around to lift an unguarded purse from staff or patients. Low lifes. But when one hears that a mobile X-ray machine went missing, and a small crane, as well as a dozen fax machines temporarily stored in the Blood Transfusion centre's basement, one can't help being impressed - as well wondering about the customers.

I'm told the crane might have been handy for a garage, who could use it taking car engines out, but an X-ray machine? Well according to the medical students' magazine at the time it was quite common for NHS staff needing some expensive piece of equipment to find it had been "borrowed", and was being used in some private clinic down the road where specialist consultants nominally employed by the NHS were earning a bit extra.

Having had occasion to visit a hospital in my area a few years ago, and been shocked at the state of the toilets, I'm not surprised some people are getting more ill than they were before going in. That was certainly how I felt. One of those hidden camera TV programmes last year showed how a private cleaning company encouraged fiddles and made staff cut corners. Anyone too conscientious would lose money, and probably their job too.

Should it be left to "matron" to supervise, as though senior nursing staff aren't busy enough? Or should jobs like cleaning be brought back in-house, with proper training and incentives to do a good job, and be recognised as part of the team in a hospital that belongs to the community? It's not the whole answer, but it is part of it. So is giving both hospital workers, whatever their profession, and hospital users in the community, greater scrutiny and information over what goes on, and a real say in running things. After all, we are not just "customers" -it is our NHS. Or should be.


Archbishop Unbanned

AFTER our story about Archbishop Desmond Tutu being barred from accepting an invitation to speak on a Minnesota campus, the good news is that following protests, the college authorities saw sense and have invited the South African churchman back after all.

The University of St.Thomas, a Catholic institution, had initially listened to Zionists, including some rabbis, who said Tutu was "offensive" because of his criticisms of Israel, which concerned the Occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians.

But other American Jews, on and off the campus, denied that the archbishop had said anything antisemitic, and urged the authorities to rescind their ban.

I may as well let Jewish Voice for Peace, the US organisation which drew attention to this issue and campaigned for Tutu to be allowed to speak, urging letters to St.Thomas' dean, take over the story.

"We have just learned that the president of the University of St. Thomas acknowledged he made the wrong decision and invited Archbishop Tutu to campus!

Your letters worked! Thanks to you, we generated over 2,700 letters of protest. Please support our work.

With your help, we kept the issue on the news and the editorial pages of a number of local, national, and international newspapers (see a partial list below), including an op-ed published today by JVP's Cecilie Surasky and Mitchell Plitnick.

This op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune finally demolishes the myth that Tutu compared Israel to Hitler, putting the libel to rest in an American paper for the first time.

After an exchange of letters between JVP and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), which mistakenly attributed the false quote to Tutu, the JTA reported today that the Zionist Organization of America incorrectly quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu as comparing Israel to Hitler and apartheid, despite the ZOA's protests to the contrary.

At the same time, eighteen member's of the university's law faculty released a letter urging the university to reissue the invitation.

Help us to continue doing our work.With your help, Jewish Voice for Peace spearheaded a true voice of reason—a voice of Jews and allies that oppose censorship and will not stand idle when people of conscience are falsely called anti-Semitic simply for opposing the policies of the Israeli occupation. Help us to continue doing our work.

The press is paying attention (partial list):
Editorial: The Tutu Heave-Ho,
The Jewish Daily Forward, Oct 12
Mitchell Plitnick and Cecilie Surasky: A disservice to Jews, with best intentions, Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune, Oct 10
School drops Tutu speech, but ADL says let him speak,
Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Oct 10
ZOA defends Tutu news release that contained incorrect quotes, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Oct 10
ADL urges university to invite Tutu, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Oct 9
Freedom Rider: Desmond Tutu Silenced, Black Agenda Blog, Oct 10
Concerns over Tutu speech, Totally Jewish, Oct 10
Land of the free? American debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being stifled by an insidious form of pre-emptive censorship,
The Guardian, Oct 9
Editorial: A profile in cowardice, The Minnesota Daily, Oct 9
Faculty members in St. Thomas School of Law weigh in on Tutu controversy, Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, Oct 9
Tutu barred from speaking at school, African Path, Oct 9
Universities bow to right wing pressure, censor scholarship, cut off debate, The Michigan Journal , Oct 9
Protests greet American university ban on Desmond Tutu,
Ekklesia, Oct 9
A campus conundrum: Should all be heard?, Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune, Oct 9Free speech on campus? Not always, ScrippNews, Oct 9
Banning Desmond Tutu is NOT Minnesota Nice. It's Downright Icky., Huffington Post, Oct 8
St. Thomas scratches Tutu because of views,
Rochester, MN Post Bulletin, Oct 8
Letter on Abp. Tutu and St. Thomas, Mirror of Justice, Oct 8
The Tutu episode -- whither academic freedom?,
Twin Cities Daily Planet, Oct 7
Two open letters to Father Dease, Twin Cities Daily Planet, Oct 7
US university urged to lift ban on Tutu, Jerusalem Post, Oct 6
Minnesota university urged to reverse ban on speech by Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu, International Herald Tribune, Oct 6
Editorial: St. Thomas wrong not to invite Tutu,
Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune, Oct 6
Editorial: Our View: Nay to U of St. Thomas, yea to SCSU,
St. Cloud Times, MN, Oct 6
Editorial: Our View — A missed opportunity, Mankato, MN, The Free Press, Oct 6
Was Desmond Tutu comparing Israel and Hitler?, Haaretz, Oct 6
St. Thomas urged to reverse decision and invite Tutu to campus, Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune, Oct 6
University of St. Thomas president defends decision to not allow Desmond Tutu to speak on campus, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Oct 6
U of St Thomas letter about Tutu from president to students, MuzzleWatch, Oct 5
Tutu: Anatomy of a smear, the appalling double-standards of the thought police, MuzzleWatch, Oct 5
Is Tutu anti-Semitic?, South Africa's The Star, Oct 5
Desmond Tutu Unwelcome at St. Thomas University, The Third Way, Oct 4
U.S. college decides against hosting Desmond Tutu, citing his criticism of Israel, International Herald Tribune, Oct 4
University of St. Thomas won't let Desmond Tutu speak on campus, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, Oct 4
Archbishop Tutu barred by U. of St Thomas because of criticism of Israel, American Muslim, Oct 4
St. Thomas urged to reconsider its decision not to invite Tutu, Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune, Oct 5
Desmond Tutu, Persona Non Grata,
Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct 4
Tutu Excluded: Double Standard at the University of St. Thomas, Informed Comment, Oct 4
St. Thomas won't invite Nobel Peace Prize winner Tutu to speak,
KKMC, Minot, MN, Oct 4
Archbishop Tutu barred by U. of St Thomas because of criticism of Israel, MuzzleWatch, Oct 3
Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu Banned From Campus Over Israel Criticism, AlterNert, Oct 3
Tutu appearance canceled amid Jewish concern, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Oct 3
Banning Desmond Tutu, Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, Oct 3..

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