Protectionism, xenophobia, bigotry….and protest

22nd January 2017


Donald Trump took the oath of office to become President of the United States of America on Friday with all of the grace and gravitas a former bankrupt and star of reality TV could muster.  His speech upon assuming office was a string of rhetorical soundbites, designed to play to the social media mentality he has sought to encourage during his candidacy and the build up to his inauguration.  Any liberal illusion, that Trump the President would in some way differ from Trump the candidate, was given no succour in a speech that effectively declared war on what little the Obama administration has achieved and anything else that Trump would deem un-American.

If Trump’s declaration that,

“When you open your heart to patriotism there is no room for prejudice.”

does not turn out to be one of the great oxymoron’s of our time it will be a miracle.

Trump’s exhortation to put “America First” and the rhetoric of his campaign to  ”Make America Great Again”, which closed his inauguration speech,  have sinister undertones of the 1950’s.  The anti-communist Cold War actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee are the dark shadow of much that has led Trump to this point.  That US jobs are being stolen by Mexicans, that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism must be eradicated, that the ‘swamp’ of the Washington liberal elite must be drained, are all phrases designed to divide.  They are designed to start off with an administration on an ideological war footing.

For those that have sought to sabotage the Obama administration from the outset Trump is the fruit of their labours.  Any efforts, however limited, that Obama has made in the direction of addressing inequalities in American society have been blocked or ridiculed.  Trump’s first action on taking office has been to sign an order which will give power to reverse so called Obamacare, which helped many struggling Americans have health insurance.  Gun control has been high on the Obama agenda but no inroads have been made.  Closing the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp has not happened.

While Obama has failed to lift the illegal US blockade of Cuba, the limited opening up of political dialogue with the symbol of democratic hope in the Caribbean will no doubt be reversed under Trump.  The White House website has immediately seen any reference to LGBT rights and climate change wiped from its pages.  The gains made in the eight years under Obama in these areas were limited but they were at least on the agenda.  Not now.

The sad fact is that the Obama presidency has allowed middle class liberal America to delude itself into thinking that racial prejudice, bigotry and anti-people politics were a thing of the past, that a corner had been turned.  The first African American in the White House with a dynamic and charismatic First Lady, gains that could not be reversed, surely?

Man Booker award winning author Paul Beatty however is dismayed at the shock of liberal white America, stating,

“This is nothing new.  To me that’s the part that feels disingenuous.  When people go, I don’t recognise this place.  And I’m like, where have you been?  That’s the part that bothers me.  With the police violence people are like, oh I didn’t know.  And it’s like people have been putting this in your face for ages and all of a sudden – why now?”

Beatty is right.  Rip the Obama mask from the face of the American body politic and there is a Donald Trump underneath ready to get out.  Police violence against black communities did not stop under Obama, nor did the shooting of unarmed black citizens in the streets.  It is not likely to be addressed under Trump.

However, the opposition to Trump is underway.

Hundreds of thousands turned out in Washington DC, other cities across the USA and around the world, in protest marches to denounce the Trump presidency yesterday, with demands to acknowledge women’s rights to the forefront of the opposition.

Liz Shuler, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO trade union confederation summed up the mood when she declared,

“We’re here not only to march, but we’re here to build a movement.  It’s a movement for paid family leave.  It’s a movement for equal rights.  It’s a movement for workers’ rights.  It’s a movement for immigrants’ rights.  We’re going to march together and stand together in solidarity to make sure our voices are heard.”

There can be no illusions under a Trump presidency.  It is a time to take sides and to make choices.




NHS crisis gathers pace

NHS.png15th January 2017

The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK is probably the last remaining vestige of the social democratic ambitions of the post war 1945 Labour government. A health service free for all at the point of use; comprehensive education; council housing; nationalisation of the key strategic industries and utilities; national insurance and pensions; and full employment as a stated political objective. These were the collective principles, of support for working class people, which were the touchstones of political debate from 1945 – 1979, when the ruling class decided enough was enough and the Thatcher government began the dismantling process.

The destruction of that legacy has not always been easy or straightforward. The heroic defence of jobs and communities, which was the impetus behind the Miners’ Strike 1984/85, is the most outstanding example of trying to stem the tide. Protests against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the tragic waste of resources on Trident nuclear submarines; demonstrations against the poll tax; inner city disturbances triggered by heavy handed policing but often the consequence of austerity and poverty; student protests against tuition fees; trade union action to defend jobs, wages and working conditions; all erupt at different times and require the ruling class to firefight in order to sustain their position.

By degrees though working class votes have been cunningly bought off. Share buying under the guise of ‘people’s capitalism’ was one trick. Home ownership through the sale of council housing was another. Comprehensive schooling has been gradually eroded, to be replaced incrementally by the insidious academy system. The legal restrictions placed upon trade unions have tied them in knots. The demonisation of trade union activity by the unholy trinity of the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express, aided by TV news media has poisoned the public perception of trade unions.

Local government, which for many years could play some role in mitigating the worst excesses of the Tories in power, is being restricted increasingly to the delivery of statutory services, with little scope for local innovation or diversity. While the Tories have enforced a programme of austerity upon the victims of the 2008 banking crash, the perpetrators are given tax handouts. The anti-people politics of UKIP are given unjustified levels of airtime while Jeremy Corbyn, as the official Leader of the Opposition, still struggles to get a hearing on the BBC.

So, in a week when the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross has described the situation in the NHS as a “humanitarian crisis”, and Jeremy Corbyn has declared it a “national scandal” there is clearly an issue to be addressed. Corbyn has been quite clear, stating that,

“The health service is at breaking point. But this crisis is not due to an outbreak of disease. It is a crisis made in Downing Street by this government – a crisis we warned them about.”

NHS Chief Executive, Simon Stevens, this week claimed that the Prime Minister was “stretching it” to suggest that the NHS had received the money required to sustain service levels until 2020.

Stevens told the Public Affairs Select Committee last week that over the next three years NHS funding will be “highly constrained” and that by 2018 spending per person in real terms “will go down.”

While this has provoked the inevitable denials from Downing St, Stephen Dorrell, former Tory Health Secretary and currently the chairman of the NHS Confederation, backed Stevens, saying

“He is obviously a Cameron appointee, he has widespread respect. We should be looking at the evidence of what is happening. Simon is not saying ‘it is all impossible’. What he is saying is that if we don’t invest particularly in social care but in a range of public services, and if the health service ends up as the only place where the light is on, then it won’t meet the demands being placed upon it.”

It is widely acknowledged that there is a growing crisis in Accident and Emergency units.

Health service chiefs have acknowledged that in some parts of the country A&E departments are now “very reliant on locums”, with most of the trusts needing around 10 to 12 “middle grade” doctors, but only having two or three. Such medics are junior doctors, who have finished basic training but are still learning specialist skills and have yet to qualify as a consultant.

In November a report by the Commons health select committee warned that A&E departments need at least 8,000 doctors, 50 per cent more than the 5,300 currently employed, to keep pace with the rise in emergency admissions in the last five years.

It is increasingly recognised that the logjam in the NHS is as a result, not only of insufficient funding, but of pressures in social care, which is under strain due to cuts in local government finances.

The population of the UK enjoys increasing life expectancy. However, living longer is not necessarily the same as living in good health. Privatisation has introduced the profit motive into care for the elderly, a disgraceful state of affairs and one that Jeremy Corbyn has said he will address. The lack of social care provision means people cannot be supported in their homes. Therefore more people have to stay in hospital for longer, slowing down the system.

Care providers are balking at having to pay staff the recently introduced living wage, wanting to pass the additional costs on to local authorities. Local authorities are stretched to breaking point and cannot afford the unfunded additional costs. Recruitment into social work as a profession is at crisis levels. Care provision is closing because private sector providers, being pushed to improve wages, are now squealing that they cannot make a profit.

The Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing are both saying that the NHS is now experiencing its worst ever winter crisis.

Jeremy Corbyn has accused Prime Minister, Theresa May, of being “in denial” about the state of the NHS. That is putting it mildly. Due to the dedication of its staff the NHS might squeeze through this winter but crisis management is no way to run the nation’s health provision.

The Health Service needs to be saved, rebuilt and restored to its rightful pride of place, as one of the truly great achievements of the Labour movement in the UK. Only Labour have a realistic chance to do that, the alternative does not bear consideration.


A vicious theocrat right to the end

14th January 2017

While the mainstream media has been quick to sing the praises of former Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died on Sunday, those involved in the long struggle for human rights and democracy in Iran are far from convinced of his reformist credentials.  Jane Green assesses the influence of one of the key figures of the Iranian theocratic state.


As a leading figure in the Iranian clergy, Rafsanjani was a key figure in the suppression of the opposition over many years in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Any attempt to suggest otherwise is a mere glossing over of the facts of his time in office as president from 1989-97, and his wider influence upon the shaping of the policies and practices of the Islamic Republic.

Prior to his election as president, Rafsanjani had acted as the commander-in-chief of the Iranian armed forces during the brutal Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 which wreaked havoc and devastation upon both countries and resulted in over one million dead.

As Speaker of the Iranian Parliament from 1980-1989 Rafsanjani played a key role in the selection of Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader, ensuring that the  reactionary theocracy in Iran was consolidated, over and above the original national democratic aims of the popular 1979 revolution.  This period not only saw the fratricidal war with Iraq but the widespread arrest, torture and execution of leading activists in the uprising against the Shah, who advocated fundamental economic and social reforms and were not prepared to submit to the rule of the clergy.  As the strong-man of the regime, Rafsanjani bore a large measure of responsibility for the mass execution in the summer of 1988 of more than 5000 political prisoners.

The regime suppressed all effective political opposition, forced trade unions organisation underground and presided over a return to medieval values with regard to the rights of women, education and other social issues.  Many activists were forced to flee the country on pain of imprisonment or execution and many of those who stayed were arrested and subjected to a wave of forced confessions and show trials.

Even those who did manage to find refuge beyond Iran’s borders were not safe, with the assassination of political leaders in exile taking place across Europe during Rafsanjani’s presidency.  During this period a number of leading opposition figures were assassinated in Paris, Vienna and Berlin and other cities.  His Minister of Intelligence, Fallahian, was indicted by the German courts for the assassination of leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran in a restaurant in Berlin in 1992.

Having reduced the economy to rubble as a result of the Iran-Iraq War, on assuming the presidency Rafsanjani turned to the World Bank and IMF, in order to secure the means to try and rebuild a shattered infrastructure.  As with any World Bank or IMF deal there were strings attached, such as liberalising foreign trade, privatising key sectors of the economy and further suppressing the wages and working conditions of the Iranian people.   One of his most damaging acts was to amend the labour law and introduce the concept of temporary contracts with no rights guaranteed.

Spurred on by the big business interests he represented, being himself a major landowner and large-scale cultivator and exporter of pistachio nuts with an estimated amassed personal fortune of 1 billion dollars, Rafsanjani embarked upon the task of making friends abroad.  Combined with the need to soften the effects of the economic crisis, Rafsanjani attempted to portray himself as a pragmatic statesman with a pragmatic foreign policy.

However, while peddling a softer image for overseas consumption, Rafsanjani continued to give a free hand to the most vicious groups inside Iran, encouraging the persecution of women resisting demands to wear the traditional ‘Hijab’ (head covering), or attacking demonstrators in Tehran, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Mashad protesting at food shortages and profiteering.  In 1995 he deployed helicopter gunships to suppress a three-day uprising of the poor in the working class town of Islamshahr.

Many media reports have been keen to overlook the brutality of the early years of the Islamic Republic, of which Rafsanjani was a key architect, in favour of the so-called reformist of later years, opposed to the hard-line stance of Ali Khamenei and supportive of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency.

Such distinctions in Iranian politics do not carry the same overtones as elsewhere.

Since the early 2000’s Rafsanjani had developed important differences with Khamenei and the regime’s fundamentalist and hard-line faction on the direction of the economy, foreign policy and how to treat the loyal (Islamic) opposition.  Rafsanjani was pro-Rouhani while Khamenei and the fundamentalist faction favoured the style of governing the country employed during the Ahmadinejad era.

However, despite the Western media promoting Rafsanjani as the moderate voice of the regime, he was a pro free market neoliberal who throughout his own reign ruled with an iron fist.  He was most certainly not a reformer, as starkly illustrated by his treatment of protesters during his presidency.  He was consistent only in his refusal to support any fundamental reforms and in his continual support and loyalty to the tenets of the regime.

There is much evidence from inside Iran to suggest that Rafsanjani held many dark secrets about key chapters in the history of the regime.  Had they ever seen the light of day, these would have caused immense damage.  Khamenei and the regime have breathed a sigh of relief that these secrets appear to have gone to the grave with Rafsanjani.  Hence, Khamenei has gone out of his way to accommodate and appease the Rafsanjani clan following his death.  The funeral, the subsequent three days national mourning and his burial in Khomeini’s mausoleum are all evidence of this.

There were hundreds of thousands participating in the funeral procession in the streets of central Tehran.  However, there are many reports that during the procession, a large section of the mourners were chanting slogans demanding change and freedom for political prisoners.

Pro-reform protesters shout slogans and carry posters at the funeral.

Chants were heard calling for reforms and expressing support for Mohammad Khatami (the former pro-reform president, 1997- 2005) and Mousavi, the main opposition candidate in the stolen presidential election of 2009, who has since been kept under house arrest and incommunicado.

In effect, the opposition found the funeral to be a ready-made opportunity to raise its slogans and make demands openly in the streets of Tehran, knowing that the regime’s hands were tied and that it was not able to openly employ the usual repressive measures.  In essence, the spirit of the 2009 Green Movement and unrest was shown to be very much alive.

While Rafsanjani was not in any formal office in recent years he still played a key role.  He acted as the standard bearer and champion of the forces who favoured economic liberalisation and the strengthening of the private sector’s role in the Iranian economy.  He championed the normalisation of Iran’s diplomatic relations with the US.  He was a close ally of the current president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

True to his legacy, Rafsanjani never showed remorse for his role in suppressing democracy and human rights in Iran.  He showed no regret at having been instrumental in establishing a theocratic dictatorship, which continues to oppress its people and deny their basic rights.

Friend of big business, friend of the Islamic dictatorship but no friend of the Iranian people; few tears will be shed for the passing of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani by the ordinary people of Iran.

This article was also published by the Morning Star.  Please see the link below:

A vicious theocrat right to the end


Turkey – the new frontline?

8th January 2017


Events over the past six months in Turkey suggest that the focus of Islamic State activities is shifting, from their flagging attempts to gain a foothold in Iraq and Syria, and onto the streets of Turkey.  The New Year’s Eve attack in the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 people, was the latest in a series of responses by Islamic State to the losses inflicted by Turkish troops inside Syria.  The killings follow on from the killing of 44 people outside an Istanbul football stadium three weeks ago and the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey on 19th December.

While not all of these actions can be ascribed to the activities of Islamic State they all contribute to the sense of political disjointedness inside Turkey, adding to the desire of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to extend the state of emergency, established following the failed coup, on 15th July last year.

The vacillating position of the Turkish government has not helped the situation.  Initially engaged in allowing Islamic State oil supplies to pass through Turkey, thus providing IS with much needed revenue, Turkey has more recently become engaged in the military operations against IS in Syria.  In part, this is cover for its own operations against the Kurdish PKK, who have been engaged in an independence struggle with the Turkish leadership for over 40 years.  It is also part of a wider regional power struggle, in which Erdogan is seeking to position Turkey as a key broker in the region.

Turkey is also in the ambivalent position of both being a member of NATO but being allied with Russia in the current ceasefire negotiations in Syria.  The conflict in Syria has resulted in a massive refugee crisis inside Turkey, with an estimated 3 million refugees having crossed the border from Syria.  Quite apart from the obvious problems this creates in terms of housing, feeding and schooling there is also the suggestion that Syrians are being used as cheap labour, displacing Turkish workers and adding to the already significant unemployment issue.

It is not hard to see how this situation can be exploited by the Islamists, already keen to destabilise Turkey and undermine its secular constitution.  The followers of Islamic preacher, Fethulah Gülen, in self imposed exile in the United States, are already regarded as being behind the coup attempt by the government.  However, Gülen is not trusted by the Left who see him as a tool by which the Islamisation of Turkey may be further advanced.

President Erdogan has taken the opportunity of the 15th July coup attempt to strengthen his grip on the state apparatus and root out any perceived opposition.  Estimates vary but in excess of 100,000 civil servants, journalists and lecturers are said to have lost their jobs, on the pretext of being Gülenist, as Erdogan attempts to silence any opposition.  The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Erdogan helped found, came to power on the basis that it would be more democratic, more European and more moderate on the world stage.

Turkey at present hardly fits this picture.

Turkey is at the centre of a struggle between rival capitalist interests, in the United States and Russia, over influence and access to markets in the Middle East.  It is also the flashpoint for the religious intersection of Islamic and secular politics in the region.  Alliances continue to shift as the players shift allegiances to shore up their particular side.

As ever, the losers are the people of Turkey, and the wider region, who become pawns in a power game which is not of their own making.  The basis of political struggle in the region must move away from geography and religion and onto an assessment of class interests.  Only then will the people of the region, whether from Turkey, Syria, Iran or Iraq, see that they have more in common than that which divides them.



Two state solution in jeopardy

2nd January 2017


The political pundits have packaged away 2016 and filed it under ‘bad year’, in the hope that 2017 is going to be better.  Unfortunately, there is nothing in the political firmament which suggests a more favourable alignment of the planets in the coming year.  The situation in the Middle East; the election of Donald Trump as US President; and the ongoing debate in the European Union, focused upon the outcome of the UK vote to leave, are all auguries of further struggle in the coming year.

The death throes of the Obama administration in the US has thrown up some issues, which Trump will have to deal with upon taking office later this month.  Not least will be the consequences of the United States refusal to use its veto in the United Nations Security Council recently, which resulted in the UN carrying resolution 2334, condemning the illegal Israeli practice of building settlements on Palestinian land.

The Israeli land grab has been going on for many years now.  The wall, which Israel has been building to encompass land which belongs to the Palestinians, has progressed unabated.  The wall functions both as a means to rob Palestinians of land, which is theirs, and also as a means of controlling access to Israel, which is vital for many Palestinians to earn a living.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reacted furiously to the UN vote.  Given that the resolution, passed on 23rd December, states that the settlement programme constitutes a “flagrant violation” of international law and that it has “no legal validity”, the response of Netanyahu comes as no surprise.

As The Guardian reported on 24th December 2016,

“The response included the recall of the Israeli ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, who voted for the resolution, the cancellation of a planned visit by the Senegalese foreign minister to Israel in three weeks’ time, and the cancellation of all aid programmes to Senegal.”

As part of the initial Israeli response Netanyahu  has publicly accused Obama of “ambushing” Israel at the UN with the “shameful” resolution.  He has also accused Obama of proposing and pushing the measure “behind Israel’s back.”  In an almost unprecedented move, Netanyahu summoned US Ambassador Dan Shapiro to seek “clarifications” on the decision to abstain.

The Israeli establishment have expressed further rage at the foreign policy speech by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, earlier this week.

In his speech, Kerry had the audacity to suggest that Israel comply with international law and seriously work towards a two-state solution to their differences with the Palestinians.

“The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.  That future is now in jeopardy” he said.

Kerry went on to state that,

“The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right-wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.  The result is that policies of this government, which the prime minister himself just described as more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history, are leading in the opposite direction.  They are leading towards one state.”

A “two-state solution” is widely accepted as the only realistic way forward to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is not only the declared goal of their leaders but of many international diplomats and politicians.

The solution would see a final settlement involving the creation of an independent state of Palestine within pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.  The United Nations, the Arab League, the European Union, Russia and the United States routinely restate their commitment to the concept.

The creation of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land continues to be an issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians, who see the settlements as an obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.  More than 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The response of US President-elect, Donald Trump, has been to suggest that the Israelis should not be treated with “disdain and disrespect” and he has urged Israel to “stay strong” until he assumes office later this month.

France will host an international conference, to lay down the framework for a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, in Paris this month.  The French Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Kerry’s speech was “clear, committed and courageous”.

The conference in France is scheduled for 15th January, the inauguration of the new President of the United States is set for the 20th January.  Both dates will have significance for all looking towards a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, not least the thousands of displaced Palestinians.