Respect Rejects Racism

It has come to my attention that a prominent Respect member in Tower Hamlets has made antisemitic remarks.

We can't stand racism. It rots the core of our humanity. It is the tool of those who seek to divide and rule. It especially angers me when people who have been victims of bigotry themselves, and who know what that feels like, make bigoted remarks against others. I won't tolerate it, and neither will the Respect party.

I completely endorse the decision of our national officers to expel the member in question with immediate effect. We cannot give an inch to racism, prejudice, and intolerance, whether directed against Jews, Muslims, women, immigrants, the Roma community, homosexuals or any other section of society. Antisemitism has proven to be one of the most virulent forms of racism through the ages. It has to be opposed whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head.

With racism set to increase as the full impact of the recession kicks in, we need to hold on even more tightly to the political wisdom and deep morality in the old trade union slogan 'an injury to one is an injury to all'.

It's not David

Let’s start with the good news. The new Labour leader is not David Miliband. By the narrowest of margins, Labour has decided not to elect the person who was ‘unrepentant’ about the Iraq war but who believes that Labour should raise the white flag in the face of the Tory war on public services.

And there’s more good news. Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, and the rest of the authoritarian, warmongering and privatising Blairites, have tasted another defeat. In fact, with Ken Livingstone having won a crushing victory over Oona King the day before to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, the Blairites have not had a good week at all.

Call to Freeze Pakistan's Debt

The global anti-poverty campaign ONE International is Calling upon the IMF to freeze Pakistan’s debt as the country recovers from one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded.

More than 20 million people have been displaced by the floods that hit Pakistan in July. A fifth of the country was under water, with 2 million acres of crops destroyed. Thousands of people have lost their lives and millions more have lost their homes. Severe threats of water-borne disease and malnutrition are putting survivors of the initial floods at further risk.

With 60% of the population already living below the poverty line, Pakistan will need all its available resources to help it recover from this crippling crisis and to fight long-term poverty. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) – the institution that oversees debt repayments - can play a key role in this. By freezing Pakistan’s estimated $3billion annual debt repayment for two years, the international community can give Pakistan vital extra resources to spend on recovery and rebuilding, rather than debt-repayment. Currently every dollar spent on debt servicing is one that could be spent on the flood victims. Strong oversight mechanisms should be put in place to ensure this money reaches the people who need it most. Head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Khan, is the target of the petition.
Please sign the petition here

Aaifa Siddiqui sentenced to 86 years

It has been a bad week for human rights in the United States. Last night Teresa Lewis, a woman described as being 'borderline mentally retarded', was killed by lethal injection in the state of Virginia. She was the first woman to be executed in Virginia since 1912. On Wednesday another woman suffered at the hands of the American penal system. Aafia Siddiqui has not been killed by the American state. She has been given a living death sentence instead.

The Pakistani neuroscientist has been jailed for 86 years - on charges that this disturbed mother of three tried to kill US agents and military officers after allegedly snatching a rifle from one of her interrogators. There are two facts about this claim we know for sure. The only person shot was Aaifa, and her were fingerprints never found on the alleged weapon. Aaifa's arrest took place against a background in which it was alleged she was an Al-Qaida agent plotting an attack. Part of the evidence being provided by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. His claims are highly suspect, especially considering he was water-boarded 183 times by the CIA in a single month. Despite the claims, Aaifa was not found guilty of plotting any Al-Qaida style attack.

Vince Cable's Hot Air

It does not take much political courage these days to lay into the banks. Even children know many of our bankers are lucky not to find themselves in jail for their irresponsibility so it is easy for politicians to crank up the indignation. Vince Cable's speech is a case in point. It was high on rhetoric but short on content. As Michael White commented, there was not much in the speech that the Financial Times would have disagreed with. And on the banks, after you take out some name calling, there is very little left.

Yet two years after the collapse of Lehman's Bank, the event that triggered the global financial crisis, all the factors inherent in the banking system responsible for the crisis are still very much in place. The banks have shamelessly taken public money while resisting regulation. The appointment of Bob Diamond, the 'poster boy for casino capitalism' as the new chief executive of Barclays is evidence, if more was needed, that they really don't give a damn what the public think because they feel that no matter what, they are indispensable. Well, they are not, as the New Political Economy Network point out in their excellent e-book.

Banking in Britain delivers very little social benefit for the economy. Between 1996 and 2008, while all those profits were being made, productive business investment remained at a steady 10 per cent of GDP, and lending to manufacturing was flat. In other words, banks – as they currently operate – do not allocate capital usefully in our economy…Banking has become an industry that makes money only for itself. Ever expanding, and entangling banks in a state of mutually assured destruction, it concentrates wealth in a few hands. It is a kind of transaction-generating machine that operates in its own interests….Market fundamentalism has created a crisis of economic coordination, and this is an important aspect of the financial crisis. Too much capital is allocated to leveraged and unsustainable asset- price growth.Too little is channelled into productive, socially useful investment that might generate sustainable economic growth.

Interview with Tariq Ali

There is very interesting interview with Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani political commentator, writer, activist and editor of the New Left Review, on Democracy Now in which he talks about the impact of the floods in Pakistan and Obama's record. You can watch it here.

Business leaders say government cuts threaten recovery

Criticism of the government's economic policy is finding support in some unexpected corners. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warn today that recovery is jeopardised by a lack of investment in “those areas which most galvanise growth, namely infrastructure and capital investment." Their comments echo those made earlier in the week by the Director General of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These are both traditionally very right-wing institutions, strong advocates of neo-liberalism and pure, unfettered free markets. Y'know, like the ones responsible for the current mess. Their comments reflect growing concerns in elite policy circles about the impact of rolling back state spending in the middle of a recession.

Damage is done

On Saturday, the news broke of the arrest of six street cleaners in Westminster on suspicion of plotting to kill the pope. The Daily Express was in tabloid heaven: MUSLIM PLOT TO KILL POPE was the screaming front page headline.

Not a plot by terrorists, I note, or even by ‘Islamic terrorists’ (as the first words of the Express article describe them). No, the headline has to point the finger at all of us; it is a ‘Muslim plot’.

Now, I don’t know any more about the background to this case than I have read in the papers. I have no idea how seriously or otherwise the police should have taken the information they received. And no doubt many people would understand a 'better safe than sorry' approach. But on Sunday, I read that the police decided there was “no credible threat” and released all six men without charge.

In short, the police received information, arrested some suspects, questioned them for a day, and then released them. On the face of it, it sounds like a normal criminal investigation.

So, now it is Monday, and I am looking at the Daily Express. Is there a front page headline screaming “NO MUSLIM PLOT TO KILL POPE AFTER ALL”?

No, I didn’t think there would be either. The damage has been done.

Only 1-in-3 Lib Dem voters support cuts

With the Lib Dem conference about to open it feels timely to revisit one of my regular themes: the great deceit the Lib Dems perpetuated on British voters at the general election.

According to a poll for the Sunday Times just 1-in-3 Lib Dem voters support the scale of government cuts. And over 50% think Nick Clegg is only interested in the trappings of power.

Simon Jenkins captures that sentiment, with some humour, concluding that Clegg's gift to the Liberal Democrats is a "ticket to oblivion". Let's hope so.

As I have said before the Lib Dems are the soft underbelly of this deeply reactionary government. The heavier the blows landed on them in forthcoming elections, the more chance we will have of halting Clegg and Cameron’s plans to introduce 21st century Thatcherism.

Trades Unions vote to boycott Israeli occupation

As the Viva Palestina convoy prepares to leave for Gaza, the annual TUC conference has voted unanimously to “work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and construction of the Apartheid Wall.”

The TUC also called for an immediate end to the siege of Gaza, condemned the Israeli attack on the ships taking humanitarian aid, and demanded a full independent inquiry into the attack on the Mavi Marmara.

The Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Huge Lanning, said:

"It is a massive step forward in the movement for justice for the Palestinian people, and reflects growing public anger at Israel's aggression towards the Palestinians and those, such as the humanitarians on the Gaza aid flotilla, who try to help them...Trade unions were pivotal in helping to end Apartheid in South Africa and bring freedom to that country's people. Today's vote shows that Britain's unions are prepared to stand up again in support of an oppressed people - this time the Palestinians - and help them to win their freedom. This is an historic moment for the union movement in the UK, and one that it can be proud of."

There is an alternative to cuts

With a new report from the TUC showing the poor will be hit 10 times harder than the rich by the government's devastating austerity programme, the Public and Commercial Services Union have just produced a timely pamphlet outlining the case for an economic alternative. You can download it here.
PSC General Secretary Mark Serwotka rightly says we need a movement of popular resistance to stop the cuts:

“We are constantly told by a cabinet of millionaires that cuts are inevitable. Far from being unavoidable, their plans to cut government departments’ budgets by up to 40% are a political choice driven by ideology, not necessity.

“We will take every opportunity this week to say there is an alternative – one that will ensure the economy continues to grow and, crucially, protects the public services that we all rely on. While industrial action may be necessary, it is clear the most effective opposition would be the biggest popular movement we have seen for many years.”

Halal Only Menus

Residents across Harrow have vented their anger about proposals to have Halal-only menus in primary schools in the borough. Meat is meat. What does it matter how it’s killed? These parents should find other things to whine about. Halal meat is more hygienically processed anyway. The newspaper revealed exclusively how Harrow Council has employed a catering company to only prepare Halal meat – to serve youngsters in Harrow. This is nothing new to my knowledge, Tower Hamlets council has been doing Halal meat in schools for at least 3 years or more.

The Halal slaughter method (along with Shechita which is the name for pretty much the same method used by Jews) is not cruel at all. When the animal's throat is slit, it results in a massive drop in blood pressure causing pretty much instantaneous unconsciousness. As long as the cut is performed correctly the animal will feel a mere instant of pain compared to the intense suffering they can go through in abattoir's with the "normal" slaughter method. The link that has been made between this story and Britain becoming an Islamic State is a bit extreme. Whatever the religion of majority of British people, why can't we try and make life easier and better for people of all faiths and cultures? All children should be offered a choice. That way Muslims can eat what they want and non-Muslims can eat what they want.

Eid Mubarak!

Today, Muslims throughout the world are celebrating Eid, the festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. As always, after a month of fasting, it will be a joyful occasion, so Eid Mubarak to everyone!

War corrupts

One aspect of the war in Afghanistan that really gets under my skin is its reportage. With a few notable exceptions it is rare to read real critical journalism in the mainstream media about our commitment to a war that is nearly a decade old yet much further from being won now than when it first started. Instead, what often passes for journalism is thinly disguised bias from embedded journalists.

Don't get me wrong, there are human stories to be told about the lives and experiences of the occupying troops. Not only can such work be very dangerous, sometimes such close contact provides stories of real public value.

Just think of the revelations from the Rolling Stone journalist who got access to General McCrystal's inner circle and their real thoughts about the war. But the Rolling Stone example is very much the exception to the rule. And interestingly, the journalist responsible for the coup, Michael Hastings, found himself subject to attack from fellow journalists for breaching so-called 'ground rules' of journalism.

Instead, much of the coverage from journalists in Afghanistan could as well come from NATO's propaganda wing. You think that comment is a bit too strong? Just read this scorching critique from Seema Jilani. She paints a picture of adrenaline and booze fuelled journalists, embedded with diplomats in ex-pat bars, and detached from the lives of the Afghans who surround them. corrupts. But not always in the most obvious ways.

ConDem cuts declare war on equality

Ken Livingstone has published a damning analysis of the impact of government cuts on women. His report concludes that "women in London are paying twice as much as men for the government's cuts in public spending".

Up to 600,000 public sector jobs are under threat. Around 65% of public sector workers are women and will bear the brunt of these job losses. Women pensioners already suffer more poverty than men and public sector job losses and attacks on public sector pensions are likely to widen this gap even further. And women are far more likely to pay the cost of cuts in benefits and tax credits. A staggering 72% of these cuts are paid for by women and 38% from men - according to figures from the House of Commons library, commissioned by Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

The scale of this war on low paid women may even land the government in legal hot water. The Fawcett Society is taking the government to court, arguing that ministers were legally obliged to consider the impact of its budget measures on equality. Ceri Goddard, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, says:

"Women already earn less, own less, and have less control over their finances than men. Yet some £5.8 billion of the £8 billion of cuts contained in the budget will be taken from women, who will also be worst affected by the coming cuts to public services - 65 per cent of public sector workers are women....The blatant unfairness and the sheer scale of the impact this budget could have on women have left us little choice but to resort to the courts for action."

The ConDems are clinging on to the bizarre idea that they are 'progressive'. But as reports like this demonstrate, they are anything but. The clock is being turned back to the days before a welfare state, and women are expected to pay the bulk of the cost.

Blair's crocodile tears won't wash

Across every TV screen and newspaper appears the face of Tony Blair; the man who took us to war in Iraq; the man who justified this war by lies about weapons of mass destruction; the man whose decision to plunge Iraq into the nightmare of war has now cost the lives of at least 100,000 civilians.

Blair has, apparently, shed tears: ""Do they really suppose I don't care, don't feel, don't regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died", he says in extracts from his new book. But one thing he does not regret, and will not apologise for, is the decision to go to war itself.

He does not seem to understand that this is not about his personal feelings. Nothing is made better by knowing that he acted in 'good faith', even if we were to believe him. The deep and divisive political issues at stake are not resolved by the tears of Tony Blair.

He took momentous political decisions in the face of huge opposition. He now says he never guessed the "nightmare that unfolded". But as the Stop the War Coalition says: "The majority of people in Britain had no difficulty in seeing that the nightmare we faced was not Iraq, but Tony Blair and his war policies."