Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Protest will greet Iraq oil minister

This graphic and highly-readable fact-filled book by Jon Sack is well-worth purchase at £3 from Hands Off Iraqi Oil!

IRAQ's oil workers struggled to make do and mend so they could maintain their industry despite sanctions and war, not just to defend their jobs and livelihoods but because they say the oil which could enable Iraq to rebuild belongs to the Iraqi people.

Having struggled out from under the ruins of Saddam Hussein's repressive regime, the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions is waging a two-edged fight - against laws inherited from Saddam's regime which restrict union's independence and workers' right to organise; and against the occupation-sanctioned government's willingness to welcome back foreign oil companies.

Hassan Juma'a Awad of the IFOU has won hearty applause from peace campaigners and trade unionists over here, not only for the simple yet sincere and impressive way he has spoken for the workers he represents in Iraq; but perhaps because when he mentions anti-union laws kept on the books, or talks about resisting privatisation, British workers can recognise a brother facing familiar issues. With the difference of course that our unions have funded the party in government, the same government which invaded Iraq, maintains the anti-union laws and is promoting privatisation here and everywhere.

Anyway last night after a number of problems, diversions and delays I managed to draft a resolution on Iraqi oil and trade unions which my local trades union council is rushing to get in to meet a tight deadline in the hope it can reach a conference of trades union coucils later, if the London association agrees. Today I recieved a communication from Hands off Iraqi Oil! , a coalition of War on Want, Naftana, Iraq Occupation Focus, Voices in the Wilderness and other groups, which tells of another way we can act in support of the Iraqi oil workers


Demonstrate at the Middle East Energy 2008 conference attended by Iraqi Oil Minister Dr Hussein al Shahristani

When? Tuesday 5th February 2008
Where? Royal Institute of International Affairs

10 St James’s Square, London SW1Y 4LE (map:
What time? From 8.30am

Called by the Hands Off Iraqi Oil campaign,

Tell Iraq’s Oil Minister:

No Oil for Occupation! – privatisation laws and contracts signed under occupation can have no validity. The vast majority of Iraqis want an immediate end to the military and economic occupation of their country. Most Iraqis also want their resources to stay in the public sector.

Trade Union Recognition Now! – stop using dictatorship laws to repress trade unionism

Dr Shahristani also refuses to recognise trade unions in Iraq. He has issued decrees for the national oil company not to negotiate with unions and ordered the shut-down of union offices.

Iraq’s economic future and potential independence hangs in the balance. Iraqi oil accounts for approximately 90% of government revenue. Whoever control’s Iraq’s oil development has a controlling stake in the country’s overall development. Since 2003, the British and US governments, and international oil companies have been pushing for an oil law which will hand over control of Iraq’s oil to foreign companies

In spite of massive military, political and economic pressure, from Britain and the US, opposition at every level of Iraqi society has meant that this law cannot be passed in its present form.

Despite mass opposition to the draft Oil Law, Oil Minister Dr Hussein al Shahristani has declared Iraq ‘open for business’ and invited oil companies to invest under existing Baath regime legislation.

Trade Union Recognition Now!

Dr Shahristani is also applying Saddam Hussein's anti-union laws, re-imposed by the occupation authorities and now kept on the law books by the Iraqi authorities. This is clearly unacceptable and ironic given Shahristani’s imprisonment by the Ba’ath regime for over 10 years.

Iraq’s trade unions have called the contracts pushed by the foreign companies and the Oil Law – Production Sharing Agreements – a ‘red line’. PSAs will allow foreign companies to control the development and depletion of oil reserves for 25 years. Once signed, PSAs will not be re-negotiable. Iraq’s sovereignty will be surrendered and its economic future effectively mortgaged to the agendas of oil companies.

End the military and econmic occupation

We are asking the Minister of Oil to listen to the Iraqi people, particularly those who work in the oil sector, in their demands for a democratic process for deciding how and by whom Iraqi oil will be controlled.

We are calling for an immediate end to economic and military occupation by foreign interests.

No to PSAs, No Oil for Occupation!
All Troops and Occupation Institutions Out Now!
Union Recognition and Resource Democracy Now!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Martin Amis makes more than a monkey out of Manchester

KARL Marx once quipped wryly about his great work Capital, that seldom could anyone have written so much about money in general while holding so little of the specific.

Martin Amis has written a novel called Money, but he certainly knows how to get hold of the stuff.

MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY recently had to get rid of 750 jobs, including teaching staff, so it could climb out of £30 million in debt, the uni authorities said, no doubt with tears in their eyes.

But never mind, things are looking up, it seems. The university has found the dosh to pay Amis an £80,000 salary as Professor of Creative Writing. If that does not sound much, it's for only 28 hours work - a year - teaching graduate students. He does not have to move to the North West city, just honour it with the occasional visit.

Apparently the Uni thinks this appointment was quite a coup, worth paying for to acquire prestige. Unlike your clogs and grime northern realists, Amis, 58, son of novelist Kingsley, has made his name for style and imaginative use of English, more froth than ale mebbe, but they say it attracts the students. I can imagine. He is also getting invited on TV, so he can lament our loss of pride in empire and respect of state, and denounce "multiculturalism", blaming it for terrorism.

Just the thing for a city raised on cotton from the slave South and Egypt, whose history is of Peterloo, Plug-plot riots, Chartists and Manchester Martyrs, Pankhursts, and Pan-Africans. Maybe the Arndale would never have been bombed if Mankies hadn't been so fond of Irish pubs, and bands playing the Minstrel Boy on the Catholic Whit Walks. Martin Amis wants us to stop being so tolerant of Muslims.

Amis was signed up by the university last year, but only now has reporter Yakub Qureshi, using the Freedom of Information Act, been able to bring out in the Manchester Evening News just how much the visitor from London is costing.

As he points out, Manchester University recently shed 750 posts by redundancy or early retirement to get itself out of £30m of debt.

"About £10m of that debt was taken on to pay for the appointment of Amis and other top academics as the university pushes to be recognised as one of the world's top institutions by 2015. Today union leaders criticised the size of the salaries. Most visiting lecturers are paid between £20 - £50 an hour."

He goes on:

"As part of his duties, the writer runs a 90-minute seminar for students on the post-graduate writing course. But these tutorials run for only 12 weeks in the year - meaning his total teaching time is just 18 hours.

"And, unlike other lessons in the course, his subject is not assessed, meaning he is not required to carry out any marking of students' work.

"His contract stipulates he must make four public appearances and teach one session at the summer writing school - each of the five appearances lasting around two hours. The total annual commitment of seminars and appearances is 28 hours, although these hours do not include preparation or research time.

"Other staff at the university expressed surprise at the massive hourly wage.
Dave Jones, senior Unite union organiser who represents 600 technical staff at the university, said: 'We understand why people like Martin Amis are being sought by the university and recruitment is a competitive business.

"'But I think those staff who are left after the various redundancies and early retirements need to know that there will also be investment into their careers as well, along with the new structure of the university.'"
"£3,000 an hour for Amis, Yakub Qureshi, Manchester Evening News. 25 January, 2008.

Why do universities need to compete, and who are they supposed to impress to gain their "world reputation" ? (I'd have thought Manchester's name in science, what with Jodrell Bank and the Christie Institute, was sufficient, but I'm just a layman). Is this business of selling yourself with big name visiting professors billed like pop stars anything to do with advancing scholarship, serving the surrounding community, or offering a sound education? I'd be interested to see what happens if Amis falls out of fashion, as literary tastes change, do they replace him?)

I used to be proud when people asked me where I was from to say "Manchester" (we've a couple of good football teams). Mind you, I would like to specify that I'm from the cultured side, that is Salford, a city in its own right, you may know it as "Dirty Old Town", but it inspired Lowry, Al Read, Shelagh Delaney and my schoolmate Mike Leigh, and before them Fred Engels, and novelist, Walter Greenwood, who had summat to write about, and didn't need any posh London boy coming to teach him "creative writing".

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

After people's peace effort, Israeli army blocks humanitarian relief

IN case we were thinking "at least they've got better weather", this
was the bleak prospect facing the convoy drivers heading for Gaza.
And remember people there were without fuel or power last week because of the blockade.

WE were congratulating ourselves on a fair-size crowd in Whitehall yesterday, in a lively demonstration demanding an end to the siege of Gaza. If feeling had been growing with every report of people suffering and dying as Israel tightened the screws, spirits were lifted by the sight of
people in Gaza taking action by tearing down the barrier to Egypt so they could stream across and bring back food and other things their families need.

I was glad I made it yesterday, after a touch of Winter ailment and some trouble with my feet (don't ask). But at least I can get medication, which many people in Gaza can't. Anyway, before I could congratulate myself, whom did I meet but Mike M., not long out of hospital where he had been undergoing cancer treatment. A native New Yorker and Jewish socialist, he felt he had to be on this demo. "I am starting to feel a bit better now," he reassured me, "and a lot angrier over what's been happening".

Our demonstration in the gloom of a January late afternoon in London was part of an international day of action, with events in Rome and San Francisco, and other cities, but perhaps most important at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, with people coming together from both sides of the fence. Having to go on from the demonstration to a social engagement I didn't have time to see if anything of this was on TV.
Probably not.

But here from an alternative media channel is some footage of the Erez protest:

Among the speakers were Jeff Halper of the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (who speaks in English) and veteran peace activist Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom (in Hebrew). Uri has been so kind as to forward a translation of his speech along with the report from Gush Shalom:

GAZA: LIFT THE BLOCKADE" - The Relief Convoy on its way
The initiative for the large action that took place today (26.1.08) started when the well-know psychiatrist, Dr. Eyad al-Sarraj, the human-rights activist from Gaza, met in the Gush Shalom office with a small group of Israeli peace activists, in order to tell them about the desperate situation in the strip. It was decided on the spot to organize in Israel a relief convoy for the Gaza Strip people, and to fight by all political and juridical means for the right to get it in. It was agreed that two parallel protest rallies would be held simultaneously on the two sides of the wall.
26 Israeli peace groups joined the initiative, under the single slogan: "Gaza: Lift the siege!" Many activists from different organizations worked day and night. Gush Shalom prepared a special poster and started a fund-raising campaign among its sympathizers. Hundreds of checks came pouring in from Israel and a dozen other countries, enabling the Gush to carry alone the full costs of the supplies. Many added words of thanks for the opportunity given them to express their opinion this way and join the struggle.
Warm thanks to all of them!
In consultation with Dr. al-Sarraj it was decided to buy not only five tons of essential foodstuffs - flour, sugar, rice, oil, salt, beans and lentils - but also water distillers. "The water in the Gaza Strip is undrinkable," al-Sarraj reported, "therefore there is an urgent need for distillers."
The weather forecasts promised rain and thunderstorms all over the country. In spite of this, old and young peace activists came to the starting points in six towns. As requested by the organizers, hundreds of families came in their private cars. Together with the people who came by bus, their number reached about two thousand.
"In the night we were woken up by strong thunderbolts. It started to rain cats and dogs, and we were very worried: who is going to get up early on Shabbat morning in such stormy weather in order to participate in an open-air protest rally and carry sacks of food?" recounted one of the organizers.
Ya'akov Manor had the idea to ask the demonstrators to bring private relief parcels and to add personal letters "from family to family". The response was beyond all expectations. Families brought not only food and mineral water, but also blankets, warm clothing and many other useful articles, even electrical stoves. The parcels were fastened to the tops of the cars or put in the baggage holds of the buses. They added up to two tons.
When the demonstrators assembled in the towns - Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Nazareth and others - a slight rain was falling. But all who hoped for a brightening up were soon disappointed: during the drive to the Erez border crossing, a very heavy rain started to pour down, making it almost impossible to see the road, and slowed down
the huge convoy towards the Gaza strip extremely difficult.
About half of the protesters were Jewish, the other half Arab. The rally was conducted the same way: Side by side with the Jewish speakers - Uri Avnery, Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Professor Jeff Halper and former minister Shulamit Aloni (who was ill and sent a written speech, read by Teddy Katz), speeches were made by advocate Fatmeh al-Ijou, and MKs Izzam Mahul and Jamal Zahalke.
At the height of the rally, the moderator, Huloud al-Badawi, called Dr. Sarraj by cellular phone. He was participating at the parallel rally in Gaza and his words were conveyed by loudspeaker. They amounted to a stirring call to the Israeli peace camp to support the Palestinians in their struggle against the blockade.
A sensation was caused by a young woman from Sderot, Shir Shusdig, who called out: "For seven years I am suffering from the Qassams in Kibbutz Zikim and Sderot. I know that the people on the other side are also suffering very much. That's why I am here!"
Jeff Halper mentioned that demonstrations of solidarity with the people of Gaza were taking place in dozens of cities around the world. Advocate al-Ijou pointed out that the Attorney General had asserted in a Supreme Court hearing that the blockade on Gaza was similar to the boycott against the former apartheid regime in South Africa. "This is absurd when it comes from a government which is building apartheid roads all over the West Bank!"
Miraculously, the rain stopped just before the rally, and started again a few minutes after it was finished.
Since the Israeli army has not allowed the relief supplies into the Gaza strip, they were stored in a neighboring kibbutz. If the military will not permit their transfer to Gaza in the next two days, we shall apply to the High Court of Justice and start a legal fight until we succeed.

Uri Avnery's speech at the rally:

Three days ago, a wall fell here –
Just as the Berlin Wall fell,
Just as the apartheid wall will fall,
And just as all walls and fences in this country
Will come down.
But the inhuman blockade
That has been imposed on
A million and a half human beings in Gaza
By our government
By our army,
In our name –
This siege is continuing in its full cruelty.
We, Israelis from various political camps,
Have come to bring basic supplies
And to say to the Israeli public
And to the whole world:
We will not participate in crime!
We are ashamed of the blockade!"
Our hearts are with our Palestinian brothers
Who are at this moment demonstrating with us
On the other side of the fence –
Don’t lose faith that one day
We will meet together in this place
Without fences, without walls,
Without violence, Without fighting,
The sons of two peoples living next to each other
In peace, in friendship, in partnership.
Our hearts are with our brothers, the residents of Sderot –
The threat of Qassams must stop!
It won’t stop by a policy of "an eye for an eye",
Or a hundred eyes for one eye,
Or a thousand eyes for one eye,
Because that only leaves us all blind.
It will end when we speak to the other side –
Yes, yes, even with Hamas!
And we'll together create a total and mutual ceasefire –
Without Qassams, without murderous incursions,
Without mortars, without extrajudicial assassinations,
Without blockade, without starvation.
This is our call, this is our demand:
Set up an immediate ceasefire!
Open the crossings immediately!
Make peace with all parts of the Palestinian people!

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Convoy heading for Gaza carries our hopes for all

CONGRATULATIONS to the people of Gaza who have broken down the barrier with Egypt so they can obtain food and other supplies which were running short due to the Israeli siege. It seems the Egyptian government may now have been shamed into ceasing to play its part in the blockade.

Today another people's initiative will try to take aid into Gaza, in defiance of the Israeli government, and it has been organised from the Israeli side, in consultation with Gaza Palestinian health organisations and others. Of course however much help they can bring, it will be a small part of what is needed, and that is assuming the Israeli forces let them through. But this aid convoy is carrying something else. It is not an act of mere charity, but of solidarity between peoples. In exposing the inhumanity of the Gaza siege, the Israeli blockade busters are also showing up the governments that could help Gaza and could bring pressure on Israel to lift the siege.

They are also breaking down barriers of hatred and fear, and showing the way to a happier, more human Middle East for all. This convoy is bringing food, essential household items, and medical supplies. It is also carrying our hopes.

Here is the convoy appeal:

On Saturday January 26, nobody stays home!
End the Siege!
Relief convoy to our neighbors in Gaza

Does it help the children of Sderot when we force the children of Gaza to drink polluted water? It seems the government of Israel thinks so (if they think).

Gaza is under siege! Hundreds of commodities needed for maintaining daily life are not allowed into the Strip, by order of the Government of Israel. Even the entry of water filters - vital for purifying the water drawn from Gazan wells, which are heavily polluted by brine, oil and sewage - has already been prevented for over half a year. The Israeli media doesn't succeed (and doesn't even try always) to convey to the public a true impression of how severe the situation is. But anyone who has talked to Gazans in the past months understands that the situation has long since developed into a regional disaster, which puts us, too, in danger.

As is well known, the Gaza Strip is a small, poor, overcrowded territory even in "ordinary" times. The occupation of the Strip did not end with the "Disengagement"; on the contrary, passage of persons and goods, in and out of the Strip, was made far more difficult by the Israeli authorities, and no one can enter or leave, by land, sea or air, except by permission from the Israeli security services. As far as Gazans are concerned, Disengagement brought no liberty, but just made occupation that much worse!

However bad the suffering is of the residents of Sderot, Ashkelon and the kibbutzim and moshavim in the area under the barrage of Qassam missiles, mortar shells and sniper bullets, it is in no way a justification for a cruel siege which severely harms a million and half civilians - men, women and children. The siege is an immoral act and a violation of International Law - and from a practical point of view, increasing the bitterness and suffering in Gaza leads to an intensification of attacks on the Israeli side, not to their end. Unlike what we have been made to believe, residents of Sderot and residents of Gaza are not to be seen as opponents: both are victims of a stupid and vicious policy of the Government of Israel.

In the convoy, departing from all over Israel on Saturday January 26, 2008, we will take with us a large quantity of water filters and firmly demand of the military authorities that they be allowed into the Strip where they are urgently needed, together with basic foodstuffs - flour, rice, oil, salt, lentils, beans - for distribution to residents driven to extreme poverty and despair by the siege.

On the border of the Strip we will conduct a protest rally, simultaneously with a rally held by our Palestinian friends on the other side. Together, we will demand of the Government of Israel to remove the siege of Gaza forthwith! We intend to hold the rally where we can have eye contact with the Palestinians, at a distance of no more than one kilometer.
Our friends on the Palestinian side, peace and human rights activists of the Palestinian International Campaign To End The Siege such as the well-known psychiatrist Dr. Eyad Sarraj, will go to the border area despite the great difficulty and risk, in order to greet and support us. It is far easier for us to go towards them and support them. In a joint Israeli-Palestinian action on both sides of the border we will present a true alternative to the continuing escalation, to the shooting and killing, destruction and suffering, missiles and tanks. An alternative of ceasefire, of a true end to direct and indirect occupation, an alternative of peace and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians, for Sderot and for Gaza.

The convoy will include both buses and private cars. It is very important to arrive with a car, if you have
one, in order to create a long and highly visible convoy. If at all possible, let us know in advance, even before
Monday Jan. 21, to Ya'akov 050-5733276 or Teddy 052-5017141. It is especially important to let us know as soon as
possible if you can come with a car - so that we can make better preparations.

Donations to help buy products for the convoy, and defray other expenses, can be transferred via POB 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033, Israel, or handed to our activists during the convoy itself (checks should be made out to Gush Shalom, and prominently marked 'For Gaza Convoy').

We have made considerable and lengthy efforts to coordinate this activity. The convoy will depart from organized rendezvous points at predetermined hours, in order to arrive together and create a long convoy. The rendezvous points are as follows:

Haifa: Solel Boneh Square (buses & private cars) 7:45

Tel-Aviv: Arlozorov Railway Station (buses) 8:15
Reading Parking Lot (private cars, joined by the buses from Arlozorov 8:30

Jerusalem: Liberty Bell Park (buses) 8:30
Teddy Parking Lot (private cars, joined by the buses from Liberty Bell 8:45

Be'er Sheba: University Gate (buses & private cars) 10:15

Signs, posters and cloth banners for the buses will be available at the rendezvous points. Please arrive in time to 'decorate' the cars. Everybody is asked to bring from home commodities needed in Gaza (milk powder, mineral water [not of Eden Springs], oil, flour, school supplies [satchels, pens and pencils etc.] and cigarettes) as a family package for a Gazan family. If you want you can add a personal letter in Arabic or English to the recipients.

Those who arrive in their cars are asked to tie a symbolic aid package to the roof of the car (if you were not able to do it before arriving, please bring the products and a rope with you, and we will help you tie them at the rendezvous).
We also ask all of you to bring drums, whistles, and those who have them - a shofar, in order to make a huge outcry of breaking down the wall of the siege. Please bring food and drink for a whole day.

Registration for Tel-Aviv and Haifa:
taliashiff@gmail.comTalia Shiff 052-3738832

Registration for Jerusalem and Be'er Sheba:
moshepesach@yahoo.esMoshe Pesach 050-9702338

Participating organizations:
Gush Shalom, Combatants for Peace, Coalition of Women for Peace, ICAHD - The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Bat Shalom, Bat Tzafon for Peace & Equality, Balad, Hadash, Adalah, Tarabut-Hithabrut, Physicians for Human Rights, Alternative Information Center, Psychoactive - Mental Health Professionals for Human Rights, ActiveStills, Student Coalition Tel-Aviv University, New Profile, Machsom Watch, PCATI - Public Committee Against Torture.
Details on the Palestinian International Campaign to End the Siege to which we are allied:


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Monday, January 21, 2008

January 26: A day for Gaza

THIS demonstration is in Nazareth, in support of the people in the Gaza strip, against the Israeli siege and raids.

The Israeli state is cutting off food and medical supplies from reaching people in Gaza.

On Sunday 20 January, Gaza ’s only power station was forced to shut down, after Israel cut fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip.

By cutting electricity it is not just leaving homes and hospitals in darkness, and refrigerators not working, but stopping the working of kidney machines, and water pumps and sewage works. It is the collective punishment of an entire population, but especially its most vulnerable members. It is creating a human catastrophe.

The World Health Organisation reported two months ago that 86 essential medicines were out of stock in Gaza, and another 138 would be running out within a few months. Physicians for Human Rights in Israel has joined with Palestinian organisations in an emergency appeal for medical supplies for Gaza. Together with others it intends to deliver them, and food supplies.

The Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom has placed the following ad in the daily Ha'aretz:

The cruel blockade of Gaza
Intensifies the hatred,
Intensifies the bloodshed.

All Israeli peace movements,
In cooperation with Gaza
Human rights activists,
Will participate on January 26
In a large convoy
To bring essential supplies
To the Gaza Strip,
Express their protest,
And demand:
Lift the blockade!

Join the convoy! Take your family with you! If you own a private car: please bring it, in order to add to the convoy! For details and registration: call urgently 03-5221732.

My friend Dani in Haifa, an Argentinian-born left-wing Israeli who sent the photograph from Nazareth, says he is co-ordinating vehicles joining the convoy from the north and Haifa.

The campaigners know their collections and the convoy will not be enough to end the problem which the Israeli government and military are creating. Their action is about solidarity, not mere charity. They are not combining to assuage their consciences, but to challenge the blockade, and the consciences of other governments and international organisations which are helping Israel get away with it.

This weekend, as the aid convoy challenges the blockade there are going to be demonstrations around the world in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Here in London demonstrators will gather in Whitehall opposite Downing Street at 4pm on Saturday, January 26, to demand that the British government helps the Palestinians of Gaza, and above all, that it puts pressure on the Israeli government to end its blockade.

There are also three early day motions before parliament, 305, 624, and 698, concerning Gaza.
Find out if your MP has signed. If he or she won't perhaps you should be urging people to choose a better MP.

Collective punishment of a civilian population is a war crime.
We can either denounce and campaign against the criminals, or we become accomplices. We cannot say "we did not know".

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

It's the system, wise guys.

JUST out of curiosity, I watched a late night studio discussion featuring Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, some forgettable nonentity from the Liberal Democrat Party, and a Tory woman who looked like she might have stormed out of the Young Cons dance after Nigel left her a wallflower while he courted and danced with that floozy Ffiona all night. She was in High Dudgeon, or that was the constituency for which she had been selected.

I suppose you know you're getting old when the Young Tories start to look a bit young. I've never been drunk enough to find them attractive.

Anyway, someone - it might have been the man from the Mirror - remarked wryly on the setback for New Labour thinking if they have to nationalise Northern Rock, which had to be explained to chair Richard Dimbleby. The Tory blamed the government for not riding to the company's rescue before the queues grew outside the banks(what did happen to tough 'enterprise culture' and doing without Nanny State?) The Lib Dem made up for accusations that his party had been all over the place about the bank by throwing in a gratuitous remark about trade union funds when the topic was Peter Hain's failure to register big donations.

As though open and above board contributions from organisations representing and accountable to many thousands of working people were no different from sums discreetly paid under the counter by mystery individuals with questionable interests or motives. It's good to be reminded occasionally of why our unions broke with the Liberals in the first place, even if the party they founded has wound up as bad as those it was meant to replace.

What never crept in to disturb the conventional party games was any acknowledgement that Northern Rock's failure, though it had its own causes in management's ambitions to play out of their league (which presumably the shareholders did not mind so long as they thought profits were coming in), was part of something much bigger.

Two items of news on Wednesday might have suggested this.

Taylor Wimpey, the UK's leading homebuilder, said its order book at the end of 2007 was down 19% on 2006. The group, which was formed in July from the merger of George Wimpey and Taylor Woodrow, also pointed to an "exceptionally" challenging environment in the US, which accounts for about 25% of its overall sales.

The group said market conditions in the UK were "subdued" in the second half of 2007, but it focused on margin improvements rather than volume growth, enabling it to reach its target of an operating margin of more than 14% in 2007. Home sales fell nearly 6%.

Pete Redfern, chief executive, said Taylor Wimpey expected the spring selling season to be more subdued than it was last year. "How quickly that starts to recover will depend on cuts in interest rates and the behaviour of the mortgage banks." He added that consumer confidence depended on the general economy and how people saw their personal financial situations.

The company's ability to maintain its margins in the UK in 2008 is dependent on improved buyer confidence, but Redfern insisted two other factors were in the company's control.

The number of its outlets has risen 12% to 500, which he said increased the company's ability to sell houses. The group also still has the bulk of its merger savings to come through.

The company said market conditions in the US remained exceptionally challenging through the second half of 2007, with weak consumer confidence continuing to have an adverse effect on visitor, reservation and cancellation rates.

Canada performed well, but overall unit sales in the North American division fell 24% and the average selling price dropped 19% last year.

The group said: "We are not expecting market conditions in the US to improve during 2008. Our strategy remains to focus on recovering cash from existing sites, reducing the cost base and focusing on achieving a steady sales rate."

The Spanish housing market, where it has a small presence, was also expected to remain weak this year. Redfern stopped short of saying the group might pull out of the country: "I don't think we're going to make any short-term change. Long term, who knows?"

The housing shortage in Britain, the cost of housing, the pressure for more land, and the burden of debt born by home buyers are too well-known, but whatever the theory of "supply and demand" says,this sector may spearhead rather than prevent recession.
Britain's biggest mortgage lenders, Alliance& Leicester and Britannia building society, have doubled the minimum deposit demanded from first-time buyers in the latest sign that banks are anticipating a downturn in house prices.

The same day brought this news:

$18bn write-off at Citigroup prompts slide in markets

* Guardian Unlimited, Wednesday January 16 2008
* Andrew Clark in New York and Larry Elliott

Shares in London saw their worst one-day fall yesterday since the height of the credit crunch last August after the world's biggest bank, Citigroup, fanned recession fears by announcing the biggest loss in its 196-year history. Amid speculation that the US Federal Reserve might announce an emergency cut in interest rates to help Wall Street and revive the economy, ...

JP Morgan, the bank that has found a high-paid job for Tony Blair, has also been having to take steps to try and stay out of trouble, and then it was Merrill Lynch, which has been desperately raising cash from Far East investors.

The US administration's efforts to avert recession only seem to have made matters worse as investors get the jitters.

Leading shares came within a whisker of breaking their three-day losing streak yesterday, helped by a smattering of speculative takeover talk. The announcement just before London closed of President Bush's proposed $140bn (£70bn) package to support the flagging US economy immediately sent shares on both sides of the Atlantic into reverse. Bush's opponents cast doubt on whether the president's proposals would be enough to stave off recession.

So having been nearly 130 points higher, the FTSE 100 closed down 0.7 points at 5901.7.

Financial firms with UK property funds were among the leading fallers, following Scottish Equitable's decision to prevent investors from withdrawing their funds for a year. Protestations from other companies that they had no immediate plans to follow suit were to no avail. So Standard Life lost 14.25p to 211.75p, well below its 230p flotation price, while Prudential fell 37p to 596.5p, and Schroders 60p to £10.19.

John Duffield's New Star Asset Management - which said it had more than 20% cash reserves to meet any withdrawal demands from investors - slumped 45.75p to 101.25p as it also issued a profit warning and cut its dividend.

Banks were again under pressure as both JP Morgan and Panmure Gordon issued downbeat notes in the wake of the latest write-offs from Merrill Lynch and other major investment banks.

Panmure pointed to the possibility of another round of provisions from UK banks, while JP Morgan cut its price targets across the board by 4% (HSBC) to 23% (Alliance & Leicester). It said: "We argue that UK banks do not offer enough of a discount to the sector."

Barclays fell 16p to 450p, Royal Bank of Scotland 12.75p to 373.25p, and Alliance & Leicester 4p to 727p. HSBC bucked the trend, edging up 1p to 760.5p.

I know our politicians are afraid of talking about recession in case they are accused of talking it up - as though the big guys on the markets are really waiting to hear what some MP has to say. But it's more than that.

They figured if they got enough people saddled with mortgages just to have a decent roof over their head, and kept talking about house prices, that meant people were buying into capitalism. They also persuaded a lot of people down the career ladder that this was the only possible system, that governments knew how to handle it, or better still, would not need to anymore. I don't expect them now to come up with answers. I'm not even that clever myself. But we can all see when it is going wrong. Imagine if one our leaders was to say "it's the system", instead of pretending everything is fine and just needs the right the right smart ass politician who is trading jibes right now.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Investigate MI6 link with fascist terror

BOLOGNA, August 2 1980. Bomb at railway station killed 82 people.

BRITISH intelligence was involved in plotting a right-wing coup d'etat in Italy. The British and US governments considered the plan in order to forestall the possibility of the Communist Party being elected to government.

This has been unearthed by an Italian researcher going through British Foreign Office papers released under the thirty years rule. It must raise questions about whether the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, was involved along with the CIA in the "strategy of tension" pursued by Italian fascists for a number of years,under which bombings in public places
killing innocent civilians were aimed at terrorising people into acceptance of "strong government", that is, military dictatorship.

In 1976 the Cold War was raging, Henry Kissinger was US Secretary of State, and Europe already had an example of how democracy could be brutally torn away, in the Greek colonel's coup, which had been carried out according to a NATO contingency plan.

After 30 years ruled by the corrupt Christian Democrat party (DC), Italians were looking for change, and the Partito Comunista Italiana (PCI), which was the main party of the Italian workers movement just as Labour held sway in Britain, seemed best-placed to win people's confidence. Led by Enrico Berlinguer, it was also the most moderate of Europe's Communist Parties, moving towards reformism. But that did not
persuade the US State Department to accept it, nor apparently the British Foreign Office.

With elections due on June 20, 1976, and the possibility that the Communists would take first place and be able to form a coalition government, Kissinger expressed concern that having a Communist Party in office would break up NATO. It seems he was not the only one.

A secret Foreign Office memo dated 6 May 1976, entitled Italy And The Communists: Options For The West, floated one possible course of action as "action in support of a coup d'etat or other subversive action". The authors admitted: "By its nature, a coup d'etat could lead to unpredictable developments." But they added that, in theory at least, "it could be promoted. In one way or another, the force of the right could be counted on, with the support of the police and the army". The idea of a coup to remove the PCI or stop it coming to power "could be considered attractive" – but the idea was rejected as "unrealistic".

In the event the PCI came second in the elections, gaining 43.3 per cent of the vote, against the Christian Democrats' s 38.7 per cent.

How Britain plotted coup d'état to topple Italy's Communists
By Peter Popham in Rome. Independent 14 January 2008

But the "strategy of tension", already begun by fascists and elements within the Italian security(!) establishment before this, did not cease, but escalated. In probably the worst incident, 82 people were killed by a bomb in a railway station waiting room at Bologna.
Several of the fascists whom Italian authorities were investigating were able to take refuge in Britain, and successive Home Secretaries always dragged their feet over requests for extradition.

In the most notorious cases, Alessandro Alibrandi surfaced at meetings of the League of St.George, a British far-Right organisation, before returning secretly to Italy where he was killed in a gun battle with police; Roberto Fiore remained in Britain for many years, working with British fascists, and setting up right-wing charities and businesses before returning to Italy where he is active in fascist politics again. Italian investigators reportedly ascertained that Fiore enjoyed protection in return for providing MI6 with information obtained while he was with the Falange in Lebanon.
(Terror Fugitive is MI6 Messenger Boy, Searchlight, June 1989 )

Besides the armed wing of the Italian fascists, Britain has also helped the more "respectable' fascist leaders. Gianfranco Fini was invited to lecture at Chatham House in 1995, and by 2002 he was able to meet Labour's John Prescott as a minister. But then Labour was in office ion 1976 when the right-wing coup plot was considered. Harold Wilson might have considered whether the same plotters were working against him.

It is worth remembering that Wilson's Labour government had also been in office when MI6 combined with the CIA to prepare the Indonesian military coup, which brought the massacre of
up to a million "communists".,3604,530478,00.html
Elected governments come and go, but the secret government continues. What needs to be investigated is just how strong the links have been between Britain's intelligence services and the far-Right forces in Italy and the rest of Europe.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Two little victories, and one backstabbing

I'VE known Tony Greenstein for more than 25 years. Back in 1981 when it was rare to come across a Jewish name on a letter criticising Israel and Zionism, I noticed his, and we corresponded for a time. I found we disagreed on the PLO and Yasser Arafat's willingness to accept a state alongside Israel, which I supported as a step that could lead to a peaceful solution, whereas Tony suspected it would prove the formula for a sell-out. In 1982, we both campaigned against Israel's invasion of Lebanon, but soon parted when Tony took part in a walk-out from the Labour Committee on Palestine which he had helped found, while I was elected to its committee.

The breakaway with which Tony was linked was inclined to support a rejectionist Salvation Front that challenged Arafat's leadership, and was outspokenly anti-Zionist. That the two committees were also tied to different factions in the British Left only intensified the bitterness and suspicions accompanying our differences. We can still argue. I am a member of the Jewish Socialists' Group, Tony founded the more specifically oriented Jews Against Zionism.

Our approaches differ. But back in the 1980s both Tony and me took blows from Zionist thugs, not content with libelling us in their hate lists, and over the years whatever our differences, we have remained essentially on the same side, against Zionist oppression, for Palestinian rights, and against antisemitism and all forms of racism. We were both in the Socialist Alliance, too, and opposed to its liquidation by the SWP and allies for their ill-fated venture into Respect.

So I was naturally pleased to see a couple of victories scored by Tony Greenstein and his comrades in Brighton towards the end of last year, and count them for our side. First, came in the form of an apology from ex-Communist Party moderniser turned Murdoch 'Times' columnist David Aaronovitch, for retailing, along with some psychobabble about Jewish anti-Zionists not liking their parents, a claim by one "Mikey", said to be a Michael Ezra, that Tony Greenstein had been bullying Jewish students for thirty years. Anybody who knows Tony Greenstein, brave perhaps but not exactly a towering "shtarke", and knows Jewish students, might have found the accusation ludicrous. But Tony was not amused, and sought redress.

Since Aaronovitch moderates comment on his own blog, he had to take responsibility for what was on it. And in November he issued this apology:

At the beginning of July, an item was posted on my weblog which stated that Tony Greenstein had been "intimidating" or "harassing Jews’ at NUS conferences for 30 years. Tony Greenstein believed that this accused him of committing an offence of incitement to racial hatred under s.3A of the Race Relations Act 1976 and that it also implied that he is anti-Semitic.
While Tony Greenstein and I have had our differences, notably at NUS conferences, neither I nor The Times meant to suggest that he has been breaking the law for thirty years or that he is anti-Semitic. Our apologies for any
embarrassment caused.

By way of recompense, Tony requested that Times newspapers paid an appropriate sum to the Friends of Bir Zeit University. Quite a satisfactory outcome then.

Secondly, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has upheld two complaints against Chief Superintendent Kevin Moore, Divisional Commander of Brighton Police, over the handling of a demonstration about the Lebanon war in Brighton in August 2006. The IPCC rebuked Moore for trying to justify the heavy police presence (outnumbering demonstrators) and behaviour by branding the peace and solidarity campaigners as "antisemitic' and accusing them of trying to "provoke" incidents.

Pointing out that many Jewish people like himself took part in the march, Tony has called for a formal apology from the Sussex police. He is also bringing a separate legal action against the police for assault and battery.

One doesn't have to be Tony Greenstein's greatest fan - and I'm certainly not - to be pleased about these victories. They are gains for all of us who are fighting for justice and peace for the Palestinian people, against Zionist propaganda, and against media lies and police repression.

But Tony has made other enemies besides the obvious ones. He has dared to expose the real antisemitism being purveyed behind the pretensions of Gilad Atzmon, his master Israel Shamir(who doubles as a Swedish antisemite), and ally Paul Eisen (who turned aside from his supposed aim of promoting the memory of Deir Yassin, to champion the Nazi holocaust denier Ernst Zundel). Whatever really motivates these characters, Tony believes quite reasonably that they are a godsend to the Zionists, and that the Palestinian solidarity movement is well-advised to steer clear of them.

This has brought attacks on him and left-wing Jews generally from Atzmon. (I don't question the Israeli's talents as a musician but I have my doubts as to whether he writes all his own material), But perhaps more worryingly this is being followed up by, among others, a Mr.Paul de Rooij, on the website of Cork PSC, of all places, though Rooij apparently lives in London. In reply to a complaint by Tony he has written that he has "difficulty distinguishing your actions from those of Engage. Furthermore, lately I only hear about you when you are railing about 'anti-Semitism', but seldom hear anything dealing with Palestinian solidarity. ", going on to explain that Zionists have exploited antisemitism and the Holocaust, and suggest that Tony "turn your attention to those who have wrapped themselves in the flag of the holocaust...", claiming he can find no such articles.

I know that Tony Greenstein has not only been active on Palestine for many years, but has written extensively on Zionist collaboration, as well as abuse, of the Holocaust, and long before messrs. Atzmon and Eisen appeared on the scene. If Paul de Rooij is genuinely unaware of this then rather than proclaim his own ignorance as the last word he needs to get out a bit more, do some proper research, and learn from those who know what they are talking about. Instead he tells Tony "I think you and your friends owe GiladA, PaulE, MaryR an apology".

That last is Mary Rizzi, whose website "Peace Palestine" features pictures of Tony Greenstein and three other individuals, with quite different politics, and in case its readers wonders what they have in common, has the simple label "JEW" on each of them. Now that's what I prefer, someone who does not beat about the bush with pretentious pseudo-intellectual arguments, but gets right down to business. That way we know where we are.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Blair between God and Mammon

IT'S hard making a living at the top. Some of our leading politicians are having to take two jobs, even in retirement. Our old Prime Minister Tony Blair might seem to have enough on his plate jetting around as Middle East peace envoy for the Quartet of powers, but we learned the other day that he has also taken a part-time job with the Wall Street bankers JP Morgan Chase and Co.

Blair will give JPMorgan's senior management team "strategic advice and provide insights on global issues," said Ruti Winterstein, a Blair spokeswoman in Israel, where he had arrived as warm-up for George W. Bush's visit.

"He will continue as Quartet representative in the exact way, with the same level of commitment and time input," Winterstein said.

Exactly how much Blair will be paid for his "advice" was not announced. Estimates have ranged from £2 million (Daily Telegraph) down to a mere $1 million a year (BBC), which is no more than he collected for one speech in China (the People's Republic is clearly becoming a VIP Republic these days). But it is only a part-time job. And with his family to think of our Tone has told people he expects to agree to "a small handful" of similar appointments with other companies. .

"I have always been interested in commerce and the impact of globalization," he was quoted as saying. "Nowadays, the intersection between politics and the economy in different parts of the world, including emerging markets, is very strong."

To add to his portfolio, Blair is rumoured to fancy becoming the president of the European Union, according to the 'Telegraph'. But would this be a step up from the bank, or them making him a branch manager?

JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon said Blair would be "enormously valuable" to the company."There are only a handful of people in the world who have the knowledge and relationships that he has," Dimon told the Financial Times.

Blair is not the first former leader found a cosy niche in retirement of course. Former Tory prime minister John Major joined George Bush senior as an adviser to the Carlyle Group, the US equity group nicknamed the "presidents club" which bought into Britain's privatised defence establishment before selling it on.

But the man who symbolised "New Labour" 's capitalist policies is most ambitious. And having recently announced his long-suspected conversion to Catholicism, he is showing himself no sluggard when it comes to grabbing the material prizes of this world.

Blair will be remembered by a generation as the man who lied to take his country to war.
James Pierpoint Morgan is remembered in American history as the rich young man who swindled his way to greater riches out of his country's war. It was in 1861 that Morgan saw his opportunity, and took it. He bought 5,000 rifles at auction which the Army had sold off as obsolete and dangerous. Morgan paid $3.50 each for these useless old weapons, then sold them back to the Army for $22 apiece, as "new carbines in perfect condition". He made $90,500.

The Civil War was raging. General Fremont's men tried using Morgan's "new carbines", and shot off their thumbs. The government refused to pay Morgan's bill. Morgan sued them. He was awarded $13.31 a carbine. So he sued again. The court awarded him the full price because "a contract is a contract". And a con man is a con man. But do it big, and with enough chutzpah. War, what is it good for? Well it made JP Morgan's fortune.

After the Civil War, Morgan loaned money to the U.S. treasury at high interest rates. In 1871, he financing the Army’s payroll and in 1877, he refinanced the government’s debt. After his father, Junius, died in 1890, J.P. Morgan consolidated his empire, with firms in New York, Philadelphia, London and Paris. Several times in the 1890s, he sold the government gold to shore up the dollar. He also sold official U.S. and British government bonds.

During the First World War the house of Morgan acted for the British government, purchasing weapons and other goods in the United States. Not content with leaving the business of war to others, Morgan lined up with the big steel companies to form the Navy League, encouraging America to enter the war. The bank also lent money to fund Britain's war effort.

After the war, with the menace of Bolshevism at large, bankers and capitalists saw a remedy.
A former socialist called Benito Mussolini led his Blackshirts in a "march on Rome". It was a Morgan partner, Thomas Lamont, later to be chair of the JP Morgan company, who arranged a $100 million loan for Mussolini in 1926, and told people what "a great job" the fascist leader was doing.

JP Morgan has come a long way, from flogging dodgy second-hand rifles back to the US army to putting a dumped and discredited prime minister back into use. And it seems they are taking on another bankrupt British institutions.

Northern Rock sells assets to JP Morgan for 2.25 billion pounds

LONDON (AFP) — Stricken British bank Northern Rock said Friday it had sold part of its mortgage book to US investment bank JP Morgan for 2.25 billion pounds (4.39 billion euros, 2.97 billion dollars) in cash.

The troubled lender, which has been mired in a funding crisis since September, said it would use the cash towards repaying its emergency central bank loan.

"The proceeds from the sale are payable in cash and will be applied by the company to reduce its current funding from the Bank of England," Northern Rock said in a statement. The sale completes on Friday.

Meanwhile back in the Labour Party...

PETER HAIN has a job explaining how he overlooked over £100,000 in concealed donations, mainly from wealthy businessmen, used to pay for his unsuccessful campaign for the deputy leadership. I'm naively wondering how such bills are run up in an internal party campaign, and by an also-ran . But then I'm not used to money. It looks like a sad end for a one-time popular anti-Apartheid campaigner and respected minister.

LEE JASPER, one of London Mayor Ken Livingstone's well-paid team of advisers, must be breathing a sigh of relief after an internal inquiry said it found no evidence of wrong-doing in the affair of public funds channeled through organisations in which he had an interest. But with elections coming, I doubt this will be the last we hear of it.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Foreign Office funny business kept out of court

FOREIGN Office civil servant Derek Pasquill stepped free from the Old Bailey yesterday after waiting two years to face charges that could have led to his imprisonment under the Official Secrets Act.

Pasquill had been accused of passing official papers to journalists, who had used the information to expose divisions within government and officialdom about the US practice of "extraordinary rendition" -whereby "terror suspects" are secretly spirited away to countries where they can be tortured - and the British government's relations with Muslim groups.

The case was dropped after it was revealed that senior officials believed Pasqual's leaks actually benefited rather than harming Britain. That meant a prosecution could fail. This was said in letters from soon after his arrest two years ago, but the police and prosecution were only told last month, and the defence only heard about them on the morning the trial was due to open.

Guardian security correspondent Richard Norton-Tayler says 'Sources familiar with the case said several ministers were aware that they could be called by the defence. They included the former communities secretary Ruth Kelly, her successor, Hazel Blears, and David Miliband, the foreign secretary.

'After he was discharged, Pasquill told the Guardian he had suffered a "very unpleasant ordeal", adding: "I am relieved I have now been completely vindicated in my actions exposing dangerous government policy and changing its priorities."

A Foreign Office spokesman said leaking official documents was "absolutely contrary" to good government. "As Mr Pasquill may be subject to internal disciplinary procedures, any further comment would be inappropriate."

I've known cases dropped before when those with authority realised the accused might be looking forward to the confrontation and hoped-for publicity. It happened to the delight of some young friends of mine charged for disrupting an Iraqi oil investors conference. But they were not senior civil servants and didn't face the Old Bailey, only Thames Magistrates Court.

This was different.

Because the man facing prosecution was a Foreign Office official and the case had a bearing on the Middle East, it brought to my mind what happened to another Foreign Office man, Andrew Balfour, back in 1989. Balfour, an official at the British embassy in Dubai , was recalled to London then lifted by Special Branch as he came to work in Whitehall, and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act(PTA). While he was held his home in Walton on Thames was turned over thoroughly by the police.

It was unusual for an Englishman to be taken under what many saw as an anti-Irish law, never mind a Foreign Office diplomat. In the end the accusation made against Andrew Balfour seemed to be that he had sought advantage for his brother-in-law's business in exchange for giving a visa to an Iranian businessman whom the FCO claimed was running guns which might be used by terrorists.

This businessman, a Mr.Ansari, was also arrested under the PTA, but released without charges. Balfour himself was dealt with by an internal disciplinary hearing, and dismissed in 1990. At an Industrial Tribunal claiming unfair dismissal he claimed that MI6 had instructed him to befriend Ansari among others. Ministers asked for "public interest" immunity so the Tribunal evidence would not be public.

A person in a corner could make up the "MI6 told me to do it" story. But before he was sent to Dubai, Balfour had been removed from Damascus, because the Syrian government objected to his activities.
('A Who's Who of the British Secret State', Lobster special, May 1989)
Was Balfour perhaps fall-guy for a failed operation? Was this one of those cases where MI6's deviousness ran into the zeal of M15?

In the Pasquill case there has evidently been a row going on in the Foreign Office for some time. Late in 2005 former Observer journalist Martin Bright started receiving copies of Foreign Office internal documents, e-mails and minutes revealing concern that British officials felt they were being kept in the dark about "extraordinary renditions", which might involve prisoners taken by British officials, and according to one official were "almost certainly illegal".

Derek Pasquill was concerned that the government, particularly former Home Secretary then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, was cultivating contacts with the Muslim Council of Britain, at the expense of other Muslim organisations.

He was also worried about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office developing secret connections with the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to replace the Egyptian government with an Islamic state.

Articles by Martin Bright pursuing these themes appeared in the New Statesman, the Observer, and a pamphlet published by the Policy Exchange 'think tank'. The New Statesman won praise, and Martin Bright earned Exclusive of the Year at the Magazine Journalism Awards of 2006.

Mention of Policy Exchange rings a bell of caution for me, if not apparently for Mr.Bright. It is headed by former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore. Would that his passion for openness and investigative journalism had led him to scrutinise the affairs of his old boss Lord Conrade Black, who has just begun a jail sentence for fraud.
Moore has remained loyal to Black to the end. They share similar views on the State of Israel, even if Black called Moore a "pub bore" on the issue of Ulster.

Moore has complained of the BBC's "anti-Israel" bias, and accused it of being over-cautious when Alan Johnson was held captive in Gaza. But worse was to come. Policy Exchange's Islam experts have been grilled by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight about questionable evidence used to support a story they fed the media on "extremist" literature in mosques, particular some receipts of doubtful provenance. Policy Exchange is still complaining about this ill-treatment.

Tory shadow Security minister Dame Pauline Neville-Jones also made use of the Martin Bright's material. But would a former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, whose position in the privatised Qinetic defence establishment probably affords good contacts, really need to read the
New Statesmen to hear what went on in her old department? And considering Pauline Neville-Jones notorious ability to do business with Slobodan Milosevic, and more recent trip to rub shoulders with Israeli 'anti-terrorism' officers and neo-cons at high-powered US seminars,one wonders what kind of Muslim would be "moderate" enough to be mutually acceptable.

The truth is that US and British intelligence services have been prepared to use the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) and much more extreme and violent groups whenever it suited their intrigues, and since long before the hapless Jack Straw, whom Bright seems to blame for recent dalliances, had come on the scene. The Bush administration has also acknowledged that the reactionary Jamat i-Islam serves its purpose in Bangladesh. And in Iraq the occupiers have bequeathed Islamic reaction and sectarianism, intent as they are on consigning a modern secular country to backwardness. Setting the seal on such an alliance, Henry Kissinger, who once called for an alliance against radical Islam last month received Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), in Washington, and urged him to remain steadfast.

This should give the Left pause for thought, mind. The Muslim Association of Britain, to which the anti-war movement attached such respect, is a product of the Muslim Brotherhood. Jamat e-Islami has worked through the Muslim Council of Britain, as well as reportedly furnishing several Tower Hamlets councillors. Neither is so fanatical they wouldn't ditch radical causes and left-wing alliances for more rewarding deals with those in power.

Questionable as the motives are of some of those pursuing this issue, the row among those in authority and those behind the scenes has done a good job in bringing the contradictions and two-facedness of official policy into the open. It may have had an effect too,not only in making the government retreat from privileging the Muslim Council of Britain, but in dropping its collaboration with "Extraordinary rendition" (or state-sanctioned kidnapping).

If the move to prosecute Derek Pasquill was aimed at intimidating all civil servants, as well as sparing ministers embarrassment, it's to be hoped the collapse of the case will encourage more to speak out. Whatever the arguments, we should defend the whistleblower, because we have a right to know what is going on.


Monday, January 07, 2008

This Bishop speaks Bosh; Disestablish the Church!

ON a weekend when most Church of England clergymen would have been preaching to half-empty pews, the Anglican Bishop of Rochester was accorded nationwide airing for his views, on radio and TV news, lunchtime and evening. The Bishop,Michael Nazir-Ali, had claimed there were places in England that had become "no go areas" for non-Muslims,because of Muslim extremists encouraged by policies of multi-culturalism.

He named no areas. But as evidence of attempts to "impose an Islamic character on certain areas" he cited the amplification of the muezzin's call to prayer from the minarets of mosques. If that is intimidatory or discomforting to those of us who are non-Muslim, I suppose I should have felt uncomfortable as a non-Christian growing up in an area where church bells rang out loudly every Sunday morning as I was going to Hebrew class. Not to mention the Sunday school processions with Boys Brigade bands blowing bugles and banging big drums.

If there are neighbourhoods where people are threatened if they don't "belong" that's bad. I suspect the culprits are yobbos for whom religious or other extremism is but an excuse. It is still safer being a non-Muslim in areas where many Muslims live than being perceived as different in some areas where the Bishop's co-religionists (at least nominally) still hold unrivalled sway. Indeed, Christian clergyman though he is, the Karachi-born bishop's face alone would make him a target.

It is true that wherever religion provides a cloak for claiming privilege and political power, messages about loving thy neighbour are liable to give way to oppression and thuggery, whichever the brand of faith that's being asserted, and whether its banner is raised by generals, political opportunists, neighbourhood gangsters or members of the clergy themselves. We recently saw on television ugly scenes of Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem who considered it their duty to stage nightly harassment of a Christian family. Zionist settlers claim religious sanction for terrorising Palestinians in Hebron. From India comes news that Hindu extremists attacked Christians in the state of Orissa over Christmas, ransacking and burning six churches. Leaders of Iraq's ancient Christian minority had said they would not be able to celebrate Christmas in Basra this year because they feared attack from Islamic militias encouraged by the Iraqi government. From what I remember they did not have this problem under Saddam Hussein. But then as we have seen in that part of Ireland which is governed as part of the UK, Christians are not always gentle, meek or mild when determining which sect should inherit the earth.

As his attack on "multiculturalism" indicates, Bishop Nazir Ali was not calling for live and let live, religious tolerance. Whatever confusion may be sown by well-meaning liberals or not so well-meaning characters using cultural relativism to excuse accommodation with backward elements and half-fabricated traditions, the current fashion for condemning "multiculturalism", like the worn-out stories of "political correctness", is really an attempt to rehabilitate bigotry and chauvinism. Bishop Nazir-Ali himself is on the conservative wing of Evangelism, sharing the Muslim fundamentalists' distaste for gay and lesbian rights, though not of course advocating the Iranian regime's drastic way of "curing" them. He has urged restrictions on the Muslim veil. Not as a secularist of course. Nor is this evangelist content to rely on preaching. In place of multiculturalism he urges government to reassert Britain's "christian roots", whatever these are.

It would not do to remind some of those applauding the bishop that their professed religion was founded by Jesus of Nazareth, in the Middle East, not Essex. His remarks against multiculturalism were welcomed by Tory spokesperson David Davies, but I'm sure he will also be quoted by others further to the Right, like those who went rampaging through Oldham claiming they were entering a "no go area". Being able to quote a "Paki bishop" will only add to their fun.

Labour's Hazel Blears, a "townie" of mine so to speak, has rightly rejected the bishop's claims, and declared Britain is a "secular democracy". I wish. Perhaps she has got confused about the government in which she serves, as she seemed to do when turning up at a health protest in Salford. her heart is on the right side perhaps, wherever her head is. Britain still has the anachronism of an Established Church, headed by that other antiquity the Queen, with MPs regardless of faith or lack of it expected to pronounce on its affairs, and bishops entitled of right to sit in the Upper House of Parliament. Why else, apart from wanting to encourage his views, should the popular media pay attention to the opinions of some cleric, from a Church whose declining attendance makes it doubtful whether it can still claim majority status among believers, let alone the rest of us?

What's worse, this government has encouraged faith schools subsidised by the public, and handed state education provision and resources over to city academies, where wealthy individuals and institutions can impose what beliefs they like. Former prime minister Tony Blair, now a declared Catholic, sent his son to the Brompton Oratory school (no mere state Catholic school would do) and was happy to consign other school students to an academy run by Creationists. His appointment of Opus Dei member Ruth Kelly as Minister for Integration might have been a clue to his subsequent affirmation. Not quite "British roots" perhaps but certainly "Christian" enough.

Hazel Blears is right in a sense, mind you. So far as most people's inclination goes, whether or not they believe in any religion themselves, Britain should be a secular democracy, where your faith or ability to live without it is nobody else's damn business, least of all government's. Bishops, rabbis and imam's deserve no authority beyond the voluntary respect of their particular followers, and religious bodies should have no right to frighten and brainwash young kids. How does that grab you, bishop?

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

A peacemaker was murdered, but the death merchants were safe

DOCUMENTS released this week show that Britain was selling £70 million worth of military equipment to Iraq in 1976, and the trade was growing. James Callaghan's Labour government was in office at the time. A Foreign Office analyst advised it that the Ba'ath party would remain in power in Baghdad, and that the best man in the regime was one Saddam Hussein.

This picture of the British government cultivating a valued arms customer, if not ally, comes on the thirtieth anniversary of the murder in London of Palestinian envoy Said Hamammi. Hammami, a frontrunner for the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, was gunned down in his Green Street, Mayfair, office on January 4, 1978. The killing of the PLO's man in London was claimed by Abu Nidal's renegade Fatah Revolutionary Council which was sheltered and used by the Iraqi regime. In this it could have been linked to an ongoing war between the PLO and the Iraqi state's agents that was fought out in Europe.

Documents released by the National Archive show that, in 1976 and 1977, a variety of equipment was sold to Iraq, including 20 Cymbeline mortar-locating radar - at a cost of £11m - combat support boats, and £7.4m of weapons effects simulators. Iraq also paid Britain £500,000 to train Iraqi pilots, and some Iraqi officers were trained at Sandhurst.

British officials harboured no illusions about the Ba'athist regime.
A letter dated 14 February 1977 from Archie Lamb, the British ambassador in neighbouring Kuwait, notes that "the Kuwaitis regard the present regime in Baghdad as nasty and brutish".

"Not an opinion from which I imagine many of us would dissent," the letter adds.

In reply, an I McCluney, of the government's Middle East department, writes: "The most likely development in Baghdad is a continuance of Baath socialist government even, I submit, without Saddam Hussein - who is in any case, I believe, one of its more respectable figures."

The Iraqi regime was at this time officially headed by General Ahmad Hassan al Bakr. Saddam Hussein did not officially take over till 1979.

The British government had to weigh constraints designed to assuage concerns in Israel, Kuwait and Iran against the profits to be made by cementing improved relations with Iraq with lucrative arms deals.

A month after a memorandum of understanding was signed specifying what could not be sold to the Iraqis, the Foreign and Defence Secretaries
sent a memo to other ministers, in April 1976, saying: "The confidence engendered by a more comprehensive supply of defence equipment is likely to have a favourable effect upon general commercial relations between the two countries."

The memo cited access to major contracts, and Iraqi oil wealth.

It added: "In light of the above considerations, it is recommended that we should tell the Iraqis that we would be prepared to supply the optical version of Rapier [surface-to-air missile], the Scorpion family of armoured vehicles and the 105mm Light Gun."
Story from BBC NEWS:

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), struggling for national self-determination, felt threatened on all sides in the late 1970s. While Israel and its allies waged open war against it, Arab governments alternately repressed it or tried to use their patronage of factions to bring it under their control. Even as they paid lip-service to the PLO's status as "sole representative of the Palestinian people", and their "inalienable rights", Arab kings and dictators did not relish the idea of a "secular democratic state" in Palestine or anywhere.

Driven from Jordan after 'Black September', the Palestinians established their base in the refugee camps of Lebanon, only to find that when they came under attack there, not only from Israel but from the Christian Falangists, their supposed Syrian allies lined up with the latter, as seen in the 1976 siege of Tel al Zataar. Then Egyptian President Sadat made his dramatic November 1977 trip to Jerusalem to make peace with Israel.

While more militant Arab regimes proclaimed their support for the Palestinians and denounced Sadat as a traitor, Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership were bound to wonder what such "support" was worth, and whether between the "moderates" and "refusalists" they would be left with any room to manouevre. Iraq decided it would not support the Refusal Front anyway.

Seeing the possibility after the 1973 war of Arab states negotiating partial Israeli withdrawal from conquered lands, the PLO leadership, not wishing to see Israeli occupiers merely replaced by for example, Jordanian rule again, had begun moving towards the formula of establishing its own state "in any part of the homeland from which the Zionists are forced to withdraw".

Said Hammami had no illusions about the belligerence of the Israeli state, particularly of a government headed by Menachem Begin. Born in Jaffa in 1941, he had to flee with his parents and thousands of other Palestinian families when the old port city was stormed by forces mainly from Begin's Irgun Zvai Leumi in April 1948, clearing out Palestinians so it could be taken into the Jewish state.
(It seems the "ethnic cleansing" has resumed this week, with evictions in Jaffa organised by property companies and the state).

It was as a student in Damascus that Hammami became active in politics. After working briefly as a teacher he left the Ba'ath party to join Fatah, and having distinguished himself as a fighter in the Golan and commanded a unit in the historic battle of Karameh, as well as showing qualities as a speaker and political leader, he was elected to the Palestinian National Council at the age of 30.

Yasser Arafat appointed Said Hammami to be the PLO's first diplomatic delegate in London. Having read English Literature at university, Hammami also showed a grasp of British politics, widening the PLO's range of contacts among politicians and journalists, and with the labour movement which had traditionally been pro-Zionist.

He had also been one of the first Palestinians to open channels to "the other Israel", through contact with the Marxist 'Matzpen' group, the journalist Maxim Ghilan and the maverick figure Uri Avnery who is today the doyen and grand old man of the Israeli peace camp.

With the same boldness that he had shown as a fighter, Said Hammami wrote in the "Times" in 1973 outlining his perspective for a Palestinian state to be set up alongside Israel, not as the once and for all time "solution" but as a way out of the impasse and eventually leading to conditions for a peaceful merger into one state.

It was not Said Hammami's vision alone. But in setting it out, and winning an audience, he made himself a target not only for Arab "rejectionists" who feared any talk of a peace, but for Israeli warmongers too, and their backers in the West, who had no wish to recognise the PLO's place in any real peace process, nor to see it with such a capable spokesperson.

It was the Abu Nidal group who were held responsible for the murder of Said Hammami, just as they tried to kill Israel's London ambassador Shlomo Argov in 1982,giving Israel its pretext for the Lebanon invasion that year aimed at destroying not Nidal's breakaway but the PLO and its people.

Undaunted, within days of the murder of Said Hammami, Yasser Arafat was receiving a delegation of US congressmen in Damascus, and telling them of his support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The clandestine talks also went on. Then on May 4, 1978, less than six months after the muder of Said Hammami in London, gunmen killed Egyptian Jewish communist Henri Curiel at his home in Paris, where he had been under surveillance by the French security services as well as a hail of calumny from the CIA's journalists. Curiel had been meeting another Palestinian fighter turned dove, Issam Sartawi, that morning. His killing may have been organised by the South African intelligence services, because of his assistance to anti-Apartheid militants. But well-informed Israelis told me they believed Mossad at least pointed the assassins at Curiel.

Was there a division of labour then, between Abu Nidal's hitmen and the Israelis?
Issam Sartawi had a simpler explanation, telling a London meeting in 1983 that Mossad had penetrated Abu Nidal's group and was using it a cover. Sartawi himself was assassinated in Lisbon that year after Zionist lobbying had failed to stop his invitation to the Socialist International. I will have more to say on that nearer the anniversary.

As for Abu Nidal (Sabri el-Banna) himself, while ordering the killing of others he seems to have led a charmed life, most of it sheltered by Baghdad, but also making visits to London, both for medical treatment and to visit his bank, the Sloan Square branch of the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI). According to a documentary about the collapsed BCCI, he was able to purchase arms here, and had a police escort to the airport. Perhaps the business done with Saddam Hussein extended to looking after his proteges?

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hannah Deterville: Ten years since schoolgirl murdered

ON NEW YEARS DAY ten years ago I met my pal Frank by arrangement outside the Grand Junction Arms at Harlesden, and we took a walk along the canal towpath to Alperton, where we stopped for a drink. Then we resumed our canal-side walk as far as Perivale, from where we walked up Horsenden Hill. There were a few people with children flying kites on the hilltop.

We went down the other side of the hill, through the oak wood, and out to Sudbury, from where we took the bus to Wembley, and walked down the Ealing Road, where Frank was delighted to find the Asian shops open so he could purchase some delicacies to take home. We finished up at Alperton again, with a meal at my favourite curry house, before taking our buses home.

A good day to start the year. The following day was more boring. I did some washing, had a few pints with the regulars in the Junction, went home. The reason I particularly remember that day was something that happened, of which I was not aware, and to someone I never met.

It was after I had returned to work that I came home one evening and was sitting down to my tea when some familiar-looking greenery caught my eye on the TV and I heard the words "Horsenden Hill". It was not a pleasant news item. Responding to an anonymous message police had gone to the hill and found a body hidden among some bushes. It was identified as that of a 15-year old girl called Hannah Deterville who had disappeared on the evening of January 2.

It was lead story in the local paper that week. The murdered young girl (she had been stabbed twenty times) had lived with her parents in Queens Park, west London. Police did not think the murder had been committed where she was found, but that whoever had hidden the body knew their way around the place.

Because I had been to the hill with my mate the day before it happened this case attracted my attention. Because I used public transport the mention of two places - Queens Park and Horsenden Hill - made me think automatically of the 187 bus route, which in those days ran from behind Queens Park station to South Harrow, passing near Horsenden Hill.

If a girl from Queens Park had been killed by someone who lived near the other end of that route, could they have met somewhere in between? Harlesden? Park Royal hospital? There had been a couple of dodgy-looking characters hanging around there. But what about the area around Park Royal station? Whenever I came through it of an evening, particularly at weekends or in school holidays, there were young people meeting up with their mates to go to the nearby entertainment complex - bowling alley, cinemas, McDonald's etc- south of the A40 on the former industrial estate.

Suppose the 15-year old had gone up there with some school pals, but then got separated from them in the course of the evening, and been approached by some bloke who seemed OK, and said he could give her a lift home? It is just supposition. I knew nothing about Hannah or where she could have gone that evening, nor if the police already knew something. However, after thinking it over, and seeing nothing about any progress being made in the case, I decided to write to the police officer who was heading the investigation, setting out my thoughts. I suggested that if posters were put up at Park Royal station and other places showing Hannah Deterville they might jog someone's memory, to say if they saw anyone talking to her or if she had got in a car, for instance. Having posted my letter I reflected that the police probably get loads of letters, and would just think I was a crank spinning theories and wasting their time.

In fact, I got a 'phone call at work from the detective in charge of the case, who thanked me and said the information I supplied about the 'bus route might be useful, as riding around in cars all the time they did not know about such things. He was going to come down and meet me in my lunch hour the following day, but then he rang to say he would not have time.

I got in touch with an old friend from my youth, Professor David Canter, who had done pioneer work on the psychology of the built environment before becoming a specialist advising police on criminal profiles and patterns of behaviour in relation to location. Dave thought my reasoning on the bus route sounded reasonable, though without knowing the particular case. But he also warned me to be careful about contacting the police because whenever someone shows too much interest in how they are getting on with a case they start becoming suspicious as to what your interest is, and whether you are a friend making inquiries for the criminal, or even yourself the person they should be looking for. This got me worried for a while.

I never did see any posters at Park Royal or elsewhere on that route between Queens Park and Horsenden Hill where I thought Hannah might have met her killer. I did see a poster asking for information and help at a bus stop on Haven Green, Ealing, some time later, only this was apparently posted by Hannah Deterville's family. The only police poster I remember seeing on this case was at Edgware Road station, in quite the opposite direction. Of course the family could have had some idea where Hannah might have gone that fatal evening, and the police may have had their reasons for focusing where they did. I would have felt a shameful impostor intruding on the family's grief with my speculation, and there was nothing more I could usefully tell the police.

(When the Ealing Gazette, to which I had confided some of my ideas, referred to me a year later as an "amateur sleuth" and said I accused the police of dragging their heels, I thought "Oh no, now I am in trouble!", particularly as I was questioned by police soon after about an incident near my home. Fortunately they soon realised I was telling the truth and was not involved).

The sad fact is though that ten years after Hannah Deterville was murdered there is still no solution to the case. We must assume that the killer - or killers (it is thought it would have taken two people to carry the body to where it was hidden) are still at large. What's more, several other young women have been killed or disappeared in the area since then, and while we don't know, we can't help wondering about connections, and fearing the.worst.

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