Archive | February 16th, 2016

New housing bill could pave the way for the final destruction of social housing



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Is this the end of social housing in Britain or the start of a fight-back? 


A bill designed by the Tories to eliminate council housing is currently going through parliament. The intention behind the bill is to phase out permanent tenancies for council tenants and to sell off vast numbers of council and housing association homes.Families seeking housing are to be offered so-called ‘starter homes’ at £250,000, or £450,000 in London, as a substitute for so-called ‘affordable’ housing (which is already notorious for being anything but).

A housing crisis is spreading across the country, but the power of the organised working class can defeat these plans.

The main measures of the bill

1. Permanent tenancies to be phased out.

Until the Tories won the election in 2010, all council tenancies were permanent tenancies. If the proposed bill is passed, however, all new council tenancies will be fixed-term tenancies of two to five years. This will apply even in those cases where someone had a permanent secure tenancy but has applied for a transfer to a new home.

Under a five-year tenancy, councils no longer have any responsibility to house someone once the tenancy runs out, unless they are in ‘priority need’. Think of the consequences. A family is housed because they have children under 16 (or under 19 if they are in full-time education or training), since having children of this age is one of the definitions of ‘priority need’. Once the children pass this age, however, the council will be entitled to throw the entire family onto the streets with no obligation to make sure they have somewhere to go.

If you are overcrowded and you apply for rehousing, then, under this clause, you risk making yourself and your family homeless in the future. This is a savage attack on the security and welfare of working-class people.

2. New requirement for ‘starter homes’ rather than affordable housing to be included in new housing developments. ‘Starter homes’ can be valued at up to £250,000 – or £450,000 in London!

David Cameron has confirmed that this plan will divert funding from existing affordable housing obligations (called ‘Section 106’ obligations) to the construction of starter homes. At present, local authorities can oblige developers to build low-rent homes as part of any large building scheme, as the price of planning permission. In future, this subsidy will be diverted to funding starter homes instead.

Section 106 obligations currently deliver around one third of all affordable homes each year. This supply is bound to dry up when the changes come into effect.

The charity Shelter has recently made the rather obvious point that ‘starter homes’ are not affordable to most families on low and middle incomes. The charity’s research found that the average starter home will be unaffordable to families on middle incomes in a majority (58 percent) of the country by 2020. A family on the new ‘National Living Wage’ will not be able to afford a starter home in 98 percent of the country. (See Housing and planning bill: second reading briefing (House of Lords) by Steve Akehurst, Shelter, January 2016)

3. Right to Buy introduced for housing-association properties.

It is claimed that these homes will be replaced, but, as Shelter says, the government’s definition of ‘replacement’ is inadequate. It is national, not local, and allows housing associations to replace low-rent homes with starter homes and shared ownership (which are far less affordable to most working families) in areas far from where the homes being ‘replaced’ have been sold.

Since 2012, only one in nine council homes sold under the existing Right to Buy has been replaced, so it is very likely that this promise is just another in a long line of lies aimed at reducing opposition.

4. Councils compelled to sell off ‘high-value’ homes when they become empty.

This will fund Right to Buy discounts for housing association tenants across the country. Shelter calculates that 19,000 council homes could be sold in this way by 2020, with 113,000 at risk in total.(See Forced council sales – impact on combined authorities by Steve Akehurst and Sara Mahmoud, Shelter, January 2016)

5. People in council homes with a household income of more than £30,000 (£40,000 in London) will have their rents increased to a level that may reach market levels.

With market rents on two-bedroom properties running at well over £1,000 a month in the London suburbs, families could easily end up spending half their salary on rent. Let us not forget that even in cheaper housing markets – for example, Manchester – this would mean families spending a third of their take-home pay on rent. Not great news when you have bills to pay and children to provide for. (See Consultation response: pay to stay by Vicky Pearlman, Shelter, December 2015)

Capitalism and the housing crisis

Selling off social housing and taking away tenants’ rights has to be seen in the context of our imperialist, finance-capital-orientated economy. The aim of the government is the total sell-off and privatisation of social housing in order to provide investment opportunities for finance capital.

This is a process that will be facilitated by Cameron’s recent pledge to bulldoze council estates in order to gift the land to private developers. In a developed socialist economy, the emphasis would be on developing high-tech industry to meet people’s needs and to automate work to reduce toil and repetitive labour.

In conditions of capitalist economic crisis, on the other hand, the imperialists have shifted much of our industry off shore to take advantage of low pay in the oppressed countries. Much domestic investment is directed towards speculation rather than into anything productive, and the property market is a prime target for this gambling. As capital floods into property to make easy profits, so housing becomes more and more unaffordable for ever-larger sections of the working class.

The greedy capitalists cannot even pay a living wage to the workers who put up these houses for them. Despite the vast profits to be made on house building, the capitalists routinely exploit unprotected immigrant labour on building sites, refusing to allow any unionisation or basic safety protections and often paying rates of only £7 an hour.

Workers can win the right to housing

Sadly, the bill is likely to be passed by parliament, but this need not mean that the working class has lost. Workers have the strength and power to beat the capitalist onslaught on our right to housing. We will only have truly secure housing when we have got rid of capitalism altogether and replaced it with socialism, but even under the present conditions, if we are organised and determined, we can force the ruling class to give up some of its profits in order to provide social housing to all who need it.

One hopeful sign is that the RMT union has included a demand for higher pay that is linked to the increasing cost of housing in its ongoing dispute (arising from the proposed introduction of night trains on the London Underground). If planned strikes go ahead, they will cripple public transport in London.

Such strike action is in the interest of all working-class people. Organised workers have the power to put housing on the agenda and force the government to end its policy of selling off social housing. They can only do this, however, if they break the power of the Labour party-linked bureaucrats who run the unions. No effective action is possible with a reformist union agenda based solely around getting Labour elected.

The government and the bosses need to be presented with a choice: either massive pay rises for the working class to pay for the absurd effects of the market system on house prices and rents, or a huge programme of social housing to tackle the housing crisis.

Meanwhile, we need to appreciate the context in which we are struggling and draw the correct conclusions.

When social housing was first introduced, it was because the industrial bourgeoisie needed a ready supply of cheap workers for their factories and other work places. Later on, it was maintained because the socialist Soviet Union provided universal social housing to all who needed it and the British ruling class was worried that if certain social benefits were not provided to the masses of workers here, then they would be tempted to follow the Soviet Union in overthrowing capitalism so as to provide for themselves what the capitalist class ruling class would not.

Today, industry has largely moved offshore and the mighty Soviet Union has been brought down, so our capitalist ruling class lacks all incentive to waste good profits on providing benefits for workers. In the course of having to fight at great personal cost for such basic human rights as decent housing, the proletariat will be discarding its illusions that it is possible for capitalism to provide long term for the interests of workers.

It is an essential part of workers’ education that we fully grasp that it is a fundamental law of capitalism that over time the rich will richer while the poor get poorer. This law cannot be overcome while capitalism remains. The illusion that it could be was fostered in imperialist countries for much of the 20th century because imperialism caused the worst poverty to be exported to oppressed countries while the standard of living of workers in the imperialist countries rose.

Today, however, the chickens are coming home to roost, and the increasing poverty of the proletariat is spreading not only to lower-paid workers in the imperialist countries but even to privileged workers – those with sought-after skills and the intellectuals – who can no longer glory in a well-paid job for life. Increasingly, life is making it obvious that it’s time to face it: capitalism must go.

With the working-class movement as weak is it is at present, and with the communist movement in disarray and riddled with opportunism, our imperialist ruling class feels able to laugh in the faces of those who demand rights for workers. If any concessions are to be wrung, these will be successful to the extent that the revolutionary communist movement gains in strength and influence, threatening bourgeois state power.

It is clear that nothing is going to be handed to us on a plate. It is time we understood our collective power and organised ourselves to use it!

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Health warning: capitalism kills


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Latest assaults on society’s most helpless.


The prolonged assault of the bourgeois parties on the working class continues as austerity bites Britain. The collective punishment of the working class for bourgeois crimes is proving to be unrelenting.

Certain sections of the class are being attacked with particular vigour. The crisis of capitalist overproduction has resulted in a series of mini-crises, such as those in the areas of social care and energy, which are disproportionately hurting the elderly and disabled.

For example, a report by Age UK and the Royal National Institute for the Blind recently revealed that the government has scrapped social-care funding for 12,415 blind or partially-sighted pensioners, despite the fact that they rely on that care provision for essential help with everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, cooking, cleaning, washing, dressing and even eating.

Compared with the general older population, those with sight loss are more likely to have multiple health conditions, to live on a low income and to live in poor-quality housing, making them disproportionally hit by the government’s attack on the poor to safeguard the maximum profits of the richest in this society.

Care and support services have been slashed for all adults with a physical disability in recent years, and this in itself is disgusting in a very wealthy country, but Age UK and the RNIB argue that those aged over 65 who also suffer from sight loss have been especially badly affected. (See Almost 12,500 blind and partially sighted older people become casualties of the social care crisis, Age UK, 21 January 2016)

The warning is clear: these vicious cuts are having very serious consequences on the independence, health and well-being of older blind and partially-sighted people, and this will only get worse as many of those affected (along with the many in other disabled and poverty-stricken categories) find that their increasingly miserable lives are shortened considerably and end in very miserable deaths.

Poor people freeze while energy profits soar

Moreover, this winter, faced with the decision to heat or eat, warmth has become a luxury item for millions. This is particularly true of the elderly. A study by Comparethemarket found that 40 percent of pensioners pay for heating by cutting other costs such as food. A further 20 percent rely on savings or credit to get them through.

Caroline Abrahams of Age UK commented: “The UK has an appalling record on cold-related deaths, with one older person dying every seven minutes from the winter cold. Even ‘normal cold’ temperatures of around 6 degrees significantly raise the risk of life-changing health problems such as heart attacks and strokes.”

Despite government pledges, the situation has not improved this winter. In May 2015, the energy secretary Amber Rudd, wrote to the companies that make up the Big Six cartel of Britain’s energy suppliers. In her letter she asked the companies to lower prices to reflect plummeting wholesale costs, brought on by falling oil prices. They have so far politely ignored her request.

Jean-Louis de Lolme, the 18/19th-century political theorist, once decried the excessive power of the British parliament in the following terms: “Parliament can do everything but make a woman a man and a man a woman.” The intervening more than two centuries of capitalist development has transferred any semblance of power so far outside of our talking-shop of a parliament that a minister of the crown today writes begging letters to energy companies rather than legislating against them.

Of course, to accuse the government of begging suggests some intent on the part of its ministers, which is likely to give them far more credit than they deserve. In effect, the letters are really no more than publicity stunts.

Since Rudd’s letter was sent, wholesale prices have fallen by a further fifth. However, the supposedly almighty ‘invisible hand’ of the market has not reduced consumer prices. Instead, the energy cartel has maintained prices at existing exorbitant levels. Only one solitary adjustment has occurred, with British Gas lowering gas prices only, by 5 percent. To put this in context, wholesale prices have fallen by 50 percent in the past two years.

Previously, collusive price-fixing had seen the average yearly dual-fuel (electricity and gas) bill rise by 45 percent, from £841 in 2007 to £1,217 in 2013. (Big Six energy companies bump up their profits from British households by 1000 percent in just five years by Rachel Rickard Straus, This is Money, 17 March 2015)

The figure is now over £1,300 Between 2007 and 2013, profits per customer rose by a jaw-dropping 3,555 percent. The plummeting price of oil has only seen these profits grow larger. (Pensioners left to freeze as energy firms chase profits by Andrew Ellson, The Times, 13 January 2016)

All main parties collude in attacking the poorest

A freedom of information request has revealed that, in Scotland alone, 276 people died last year while awaiting social care. As if that figure were not shocking enough, 95 of those who died came under the jurisdiction of a single council – the Labour/SNP coalition that runs Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, 65 deaths occurred in Labour-controlled Fife, 39 died in the SNP-controlled North Ayrshire, and 28 people died awaiting care from the Labour/Tory coalition in Stirling. This is the level of collusion involved in the politics of austerity: all the main parties are involved in implementing the cuts and are culpable for the mounting casualties that austerity is inflicting on the working class.

The basket case that is Edinburgh council provides a vivid illustration of the shambles prevailing in social care nationwide as services are cut back and outsourced to the point that no central body is able any longer to keep track of what’s going on. In one week in November alone, 3,983 hours of social care in the city went unmet. One person had to wait 641 days (ie, nearly two years) for care to begin. (276 deaths amid ‘cruel crisis in social care’ by Mike Wade, The Times, 13 January 2016)

The Conservative government at Westminster may be in the vanguard of the cuts, but it is ably supported by the SNP at Holyrood, which has refused to use its discretionary tax-raising powers and which has implemented a council tax freeze since 2007, leading to chronically-underfunded councils. The trinity of colluding bourgeois administrations is completed by Labour, whose councils have all refused to set ‘illegal’ budgets (ie, ones where essential services are preserved).

The complete bankruptcy of the ‘party of the working class’ is underlined by the announcement that Tory-held Moray plans to raise council tax in order to plug the funding gap! Thus we see that Labour councils are even less willing than some Conservatives to push back against austerity. Clearly, all three parties are representing the same class interests.

Our task is the almighty one of linking these everyday crises to the struggle for socialism – real socialism. Only by finally casting aside all the bourgeois parties can our class begin to rise to its rightful place in history.

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Disgraceful neglect of the disabled in Britain


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Official government policy: nobody knows you when you’re down and out. 
In October 2015, the Just Fair Consortium, a grouping of more than 70 civil society organisations that work or campaign on human rights in Britain, submitted a report assessing how well Britain is living up to its responsibilities to implement the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and submitted the report to the UN committee for economic, social and cultural rights. (See Dignity and Opportunity for All: Securing the Rights of Disabled People in the Austerity Era)The report was damning indeed. Its authors pointed to the horrendously inadequate provision for ensuring even the most basic standard of living for disabled people in Britain today. They demonstrated many factors that, individually and together, increase the risk of disabled people becoming destitute.

The report’s findings reflect a total failure by the British government to comply with the minimum core obligations contained in the international covenant and in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), or to guarantee the right of disabled people to social security, social protection and an adequate standard of living.

Factors that disproportionately affect the disabled include problems with the timely payment of the correct benefits, the low monetary level of benefits, low pay levels in the labour market generally and the increasing cost of many essential commodities such as food and heating. Most of these issues also affect non-disabled people, but disabled people are very often less able to find ways to avoid their inhumane consequences.

The vindictive punishment of ‘benefit sanctions’ – ie, stopping benefits for a given amount of time, often many months – for such heinous crimes as being late for a meeting, not filling in forms correctly, not being available to take a call when told to, etc, also affect disabled people disproportionately. Moreover, it has now been established as fact (thanks to revelations by a series of whistle-blowers) that ‘frontline’ workers in benefit offices are given sanction quotas to fill – which they often do by use of such truly unpleasant tricks as changing the dates and times of interviews without letting the claimants know.

Every benefit change that has been rolled out in recent years has been accompanied by an increase in the application of benefit sanctions and in the number of new ‘hoops’ that claimants have to jump through in order to qualify for what little benefit is left to them. Those who are simultaneously coping with disability tend to have more difficulty in adapting to the constantly changing demands.

Meanwhile, arbitrary and vindictive caps on what an individual or family can claim in total – even if they are theoretically entitled to receive the full amount of several separate benefits that have already been set somewhere just below the absolute minimum needed to allow them to do such things as feed and clothe their children – are also being lowered with every round of benefit ‘reform’.

Each change leads to thousands of workers being lopped off the benefit registers altogether, leaving many of the least able to survive with little or nothing on which to get by. Those who do manage to keep a roof over their head despite the cuts were often still being hit by the ‘bedroom tax’ if there was an “unused” room in their home. It was the government, of course, that decided what constituted ‘unused’ in such cases.

However, just as we go to press, the Court of Appeal has determined that imposing the bedroom tax may amount to unlawful discrimination against victims of extreme domestic violence and carers of severely disabled young people who need overnight care. It will be no surprise, however, if this decision is reversed on appeal, as, for the most part our ‘justice’ system is geared to serving the interests of capitalism, not its helpless victims.

The very roof over people’s heads is also being subjected to a continual assault. Housing benefit, supplied to the poor by local councils, is under increasing pressure, and will soon be denied to many more people, just as they need it most, when Prime Minister Cameron has finished forcing through legislation designed to kill off what remains of subsidised social housing.

The report is useful, however, in revealing the extent of the planning that goes into attacks on the most vulnerable, showing how these attacks are introduced in never-ending waves of ‘reform’, each taking a little more than the last.

“In June 2010, the newly-elected coalition government published an ‘emergency budget’, which set out a five-year plan to reduce the deficit. The plan was to reduce government spending by £32bn per year by 2014/15, while supporting people into work and out of poverty. £11bn of the £32bn was to come from welfare spending. In fact, by 2015 the government had made net cuts of about £17bn [each year] in social security spending.”

And still the cuts go on! “In his first budget of this parliament, the chancellor of the exchequer for the Conservative government elected in May 2015 announced that a further £12bn of cuts to the annual social security budget would be made by 2017/18.”

The report also highlights the fact that “concerns have continued to grow about the degree of conditionality inherent in the system: the prevailing characterisation of vulnerable claimants as inappropriately benefit dependent; and the lack of realistic opportunities for young people, lone parents and other vulnerable individuals in demographically disadvantaged areas to engage in labour markets; especially in a recessionary climate”

The blaming or scapegoating of the weaker sections of the working class who find it hard to defend themselves is not accidental; it is a deliberate policy. As far as the capitalists are concerned, anyone or anything can be blamed, pilloried, victimised and generally hounded so long as attention is diverted from the massive elephant in the room: the continued parasitical existence of capitalist imperialism and of the elite bourgeois class that is becoming ever richer off the back of our misery!

According to Just Fair’s report, this strategy is set to continue: The government’s proposals for the next round of savings are set out in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015/16, which is currently before parliament. They include:

– A lowering of the cap on welfare benefits to £20,000 for couples and £13,400 for single parents (£23,000 and £15,410 respectively for claimants in Greater London);

– A four-year freeze on the rates of the following benefits:

> jobseeker’s allowance;

> employment support allowance;

> housing benefit;

> universal credit; and

> certain categories of tax credits.

– Child tax credits will only be paid for the first two children in a family.”

It doesn’t take a genius to imagine the catastrophic effect these cuts will have on individuals and families who are already living well below the poverty line, as prices for essential commodities and rents continue to rise.

Only a socialist future that enables and welcomes the participation and ownership of all in both the production and use of the necessaries of life and which stands for and facilitates the happiness of all can start to heal the tortured, fragmented and sick society that we are forced to endure today.

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Junior doctors’ fight to save our NHS betrayed

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We’ve given up the junior doctors’ strike. The government have agreed to nothing. At best, we’re delaying the inevitable, but we are also losing the initiative.Hunt’s pledge not to impose a contract is “time-limited”. So he’ll do it later, when a more opportune moment presents itself.

Our BMA leadership seems to have no positive programme. We should not accept pay cuts, but where is our positive list of our demands?

We must make the connection between the sustained attack on NHS funding, relentless cuts to staff pay and conditions (all staff, not just medics), and the bid to privatise the NHS.

Brushing this aside (for now) also leaves the way clear for the government to push for the bombing of Syria on Wednesday – supported by ‘Corbyn’s’ Labour, because my local MP Chukka Umuna, for example, is a veritable Blairite hawk, and these are the people who still dominate Labour.

Was it my imagination, or did we already decide that this was a bad idea? Two years of a sustained media campaign and our rulers think the time is right to push the war button once again? Does no-one remember what our government has just done to Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and already visited upon Syria?

The absence of junior doctors putting the health of the nation firmly on the agenda, will allow ‘our’ MPs to talk earnestly of the need to combat IS (their own creation – and, in reality, British intervention in Syria has targeted the democratic government, not the jihadist factions set loose by Saudi and Turkey, on the instructions of the US and British governments), without the obvious questions being asked:

Why can hundreds of millions be found to rain missiles on other countries, while billions are cut from providing for the health needs of workers at home?

What’s the common theme? You tell me. Who do these policies serve?

Despite the ill-considered withdrawal of the industrial action that junior doctors in England had overwhelmingly voted to support, the issues remain unresolved and festering, threatening the very survival of the National Health Service.

The following article, submitted by the same London-based junior doctor who wrote the above lines, explains what is going on, and why determined action to protect pay and conditions is desperately needed – as part of a wider campaign to defend and renationalise our rapidly disappearing National Health Service.

On 19 November 2015, the British Medical Association (BMA) announced the result of its ballot of junior doctors on the question of whether we should take industrial action over the government’s threatened imposition of a ‘contract’ that would slash our take-home pay by as much as a third. No one could argue that we have not spoken with one voice.

England’s 53,000 junior doctors have voted overwhelmingly for action. (No doubt the action would have been truly nationwide, but with recent reorganisations, NHS England, Scotland, and Wales are considered separate entities – a victory for division and parochialism.) More than 76 percent of BMA members cast their (postal) vote with an overwhelming 99.4 percent voting for action short of a full walkout, and 98 percent voting for action up to and includingfull withdrawal of our labour – an actual strike as any other worker would understand it.

I have not yet heard health secretary Jeremy Hunt denounce the result as “a rigged ballot of Stalinist dimensions”, but it would no longer come as a shock if he did! The ballot result is a gauge of the strength of feeling amongst the medical profession – and junior doctors in particular – who have already seen a steady erosion of their pay and conditions over the last decade.

What does it mean?

Proposed dates of action were released by the BMA before the ballot, on 12 November, in order to allow trusts to put contingency plans in place. These dates are:

• Emergency care only over 24 hours from 8.00am on Tuesday 1 December. This would see junior doctors provide the same level of service that happens in their given speciality, hospital or GP practice on Christmas Day.

• A full walk-out from 8.00am-5.00pm, Tuesday 8 December.

• A full walk-out from 8.00am-5.00pm, Wednesday 16 December.

NHS trusts are stating that there will be minimal disruption to services, but it will be wise to avoid the NHS on those days unless your need is an absolute emergency.

Interestingly, strikes of the medical workforce are not associated with a higher mortality risk among the population – if anything the reverse seems to be true. This may be due to their generally short duration and successful outcome, which tend to improve provision long term. (See Doctors’ strikes and mortality: a review, Social Science and Medicine, December 2008)

Fed up with the continual attacks upon the profession and the NHS

Doctors are dedicated and committed – as individuals and as a group – to patient care, welfare and safe service provision. It is our common mantra. So we do not take this action lightly.

The government also knows this and has long realised that, while dedicated service gives us a special relationship with the working population of Britain, it also ties our hands behind our back. For where is our dedication to the people if we go on strike and effectively – even if momentarily – take that service away, refusing to treat them? This is the catch-22 situation with which successive governments have been happy to beat doctors, nurses, and all NHS workers into submission.

Cutting pay puts the NHS under threat

I have no doubt that, come the day of action, our government and the ‘objective’ press will be out scouring the streets for negative anecdotes with which to regale us by mass media, but the fact of the matter is that if the conditions of the medical workforce are forced down far enough, it poses a very real threat to the actual existence of the NHS itself. You cannot separate the idea of medical provision from the real people who provide it.

Our nurses are already facing a critical situation where their earnings barely meet their costs of living – and yet plans are being made to make them shoulder the additional costs of their training. We must oppose this idea wholeheartedly, for it will be the death knell of their profession, the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And who will care for us then? (See Nurses could be forced to pay tuition fees under new Treasury proposals by Laura Donnelly, The Telegraph, 2 October 2015)

While doctors do not yet pay their entire training bill (which approaches £270,000 for every Foundation Year 1 (FY1) doctor on the postgraduate medical training programme, and reaches £380,000 for senior registrars and staff-grade doctors – all of whom are considered ‘juniors’), the fact is that tuition-fee hikes, course duration and living expenses mean that today’s medical students will incur around £100,000 of debt before they ever receive a single pay cheque.

Medical training is sufficiently intense to make earning while studying very difficult. Unemployment for doctors is a growing reality, and low earnings in the early years of work make paying back this debt onerous. Add to this the cost of living – and of buying a house – and it is clear to see why we are at a tipping point.

Inevitably, they started with the weakest (those least able to defend themselves, owing to their smaller numbers, and lower ‘status’ – the hospital cleaners, porters, groundskeepers, etc. Since the 1980s, our governments have been steadily degrading the conditions and privatising the services of these essential health workers. And, sure enough, as we (as a profession) largely stood aside as our colleagues were picked off, they are now coming for the junior doctors. Rest assured that, if this attack is successful, our consultant colleagues will be next.

It used to be standard practice to praise doctors and nurses at election time – particularly while ‘peripheral’ NHS services were being privatised and colossal NHS giveaway financial contracts (PFI rebuilds) were being forced through. But now that the privatisation of the NHS has stepped up a gear, with every part of it being made to act as a business (‘trust’) and preparing itself to become independent of central government control, the time has come for the privateers to show that the NHS isn’t working.

This is the same tactic as was used in the privatisation of the railways and the post office, and so it has become routine to hear Jeremy Hunt lambast the medical profession. He claims that he’s offering an enormous 11 percent pay rise, but thatgreedy doctors want more; that we don’t provide out-of-hours care (weekends and evenings) and that we should be forced into 24 hour working … and so on.

24-hour working

The reality – which NHS doctors have highlighted during our recent campaign – is that we do provide a 24/7 NHS service already. Of course, we don’t run routine operating theatres at 3.00am on a Saturday. It would not only be unsafe, but who’d want to come? We can’t altogether ignore facts as glaring as the difference between night and day!

But if anyone turns up at A&E with appendicitis, a ruptured aneurysm, major trauma, a heart attack, a stroke, difficulty in breathing, chest pain, or a host of other emergency conditions at 3.00am of any day of the week, that person will receive excellent and usually life-saving care, free at the point of use, irrespective of income or social status.

That remains – despite all the funding shortfalls that challenge our day-to-day practice – a remarkable achievement, and it needs an incredible amount of organisation of skilled and expert staff of the most varied kinds, with the necessary tools to do the job.

Why this contract? Why the cuts? Why privatisation?

Since the 2008 financial crisis – a crisis of the banking system resulting from a classic capitalist crisis of overproduction – this country’s governments have been searching for ways to cut spending by intensifying attacks upon social provision.

More than £850bn of private bankers’ debt was paid off from taxes. This has put the government into a huge amount (now approaching £1.5tn) of debt. In order to remain solvent – that is, to be considered ‘financially viable’ by the very failed banks that only yesterday came cap in hand to the treasury for a bailout – the government is slashing essential services across the board – from housing to youth work, to disabled and unemployment benefits, and, of course, health care – while asking workers to work harder for less.

Everyone’s wages are under attack. State pensions have already been raided, and the medical pension was also slashed, with just a little mumbling from the BMA. No wonder they think we’re easy pickings!

While banks are considered ‘too big to fail’, you and I (and doctors are now realising this includes them also), the workers who produce all value, are not! The Keynesian consensus, it seems, is over.

It is in this context that, before the 2010 general election, all parties talked increasingly openly of the necessity for imposing massive spending cuts. £20bn of NHS cuts were to be spread over three years initially, but since then these cuts have been perpetuated and increased. The government’s stated intention is to reduce Britain’s spending on health from around 8 percent to 6 percent percent of GDP in perpetuity.

Apparently bucking this trend, Chancellor George Osborne recently announced an increase in NHS funding, but the reality – admitted by all – is that with a population that is both growing and, more significantly, ageing, the funding is falling well short of the costs of provision. This has led to a situation where 100 percent of trusts – every single NHS health provider in the country – has entered a state of financial deficit.

NHS providers are currently running a net deficit of [a href=””]£930m[/a] annually, which is expected to rise to an annual shortfall of £2bn by the end of the year. Barts and the London NHS Trust, following a PFI rebuild, are by themselves running up £100m a year of debt, while the total debt of St George’s Hospital in south London is approaching £50m. And the list goes on.

Service closures, ward closures, staffing reductions, hospital closures, ‘consolidation’ of services … all these have flowed one after another in rapid succession, without a hint of serious opposition from senior doctors and the medical colleges, who have appeared to be perfectly happy, for the most part, to secure ‘honours’ and financial gain through their spineless servility to the political representatives of the capitalist class, pushing their agenda of dismantling the NHS. They not only foresaw it, they have been happy to brainstorm the best ways to implement it. (See 20 billion to be cut from the NHS budget, politicians tell senior doctors, Lalkar, May 2010)

Let us not forget, either, that it was a Labour government that most aggressively pushed through PFI schemes whose costs will continue to soar for another five years and which will end up costing taxpayers more than £300bn in total. The 717 PFI contracts currently under way across the UK are funding new schools, hospitals and other public facilities with a total capital value of £54.7bn, but the ultimate repayment cost will reach £301bn over the coming decades.

It is a first, and again a reflection of the impact of cuts on the NHS, and of the widespread discontent amongst health workers, that “several medical royal college presidents who met [health secretary] Hunt two weeks ago at his invitation rejected his suggestion that they individually or collectively publicly warn that strike action could harm patients”. (See Junior doctors overwhelmingly vote for NHS strikes by Denis Campbell, The Guardian, 19 November 2015)

Sadly, as ever, the conservative Royal College of Surgeons of England has spoken up against its members taking strike action, piously taking the position that withdrawal of junior doctors’ labour “would be damaging to all those concerned, both doctors and patients”. Perhaps this was to be expected, but it is nonetheless disappointing. The college has demonstrated once again that it is incapable of showing political leadership.

So what about the new pay contract for junior doctors?

It should be noted that a ‘junior’ doctor is everyone who is not a consultant. That is a very large number of doctors throughout all stages of training, upon whom the NHS relies for much of its day-to-day and emergency medical care.

In recent years, substantial pay cuts have already been effected, not only by numerically ‘increasing’ the basic salary of doctors and nurses by less than the rate of inflation (ie, making pay cuts in real terms), but also by systematically reducing our pay-banding supplements – the amounts paid for excessive and unsociable hours over and above our ‘basic’ hours.

Nurses have been subject to other unannounced cuts – for example, when they were ‘invited’, en masse, to reapply for their own jobs and justify their salary levels, leading (surprise, surprise) to a mass downgrading of salaries for people performing the same work.

EU working-time directive

The perception is that, in line with the European Working Time Directive (EWTD), doctors’ hours have been reduced. And, to an extent, they have. Working a three-and-a-half day (Friday morning to Monday evening) 80-hour shift over the weekend is no longer routine practice (although 48-hour weekends plus a normal working day Monday continues in some pockets of the profession, by various sleights of hand).

When the current pay scale was introduced, in recognition of the greater than 100-hour weeks routinely worked by many doctors, the ‘banding supplement’ (overtime) was set at 100 percent – ie, take-home pay was twice the ‘basic’ salary. Even this meant that the hourly rate of pay for working anti-social hours was often less than the hourly rate for the basic hours.

The EWTD specifies that doctors should work, on average, no more than 48 hours each week. In reality, doctors continue to work well in excess of these hours. Personally, most weeks, I work twice these basic hours or more.

Much of the extra time worked by doctors is ‘unscheduled’, in order to finish jobs, deal with sick patients, or perform emergency procedures, which we do out of (an entirely laudable and appropriate) sense of duty to our patients. Much of it is, on the other hand, built into official rotas as the only way service provision can be met with present staffing levels. Moreover, many doctors – particularly those who must master surgical and other interventional procedures of various kinds – work a huge number of entirely voluntary hours in pursuit of ‘training opportunities’. This is actively encouraged.

Hospitals and trusts are supposed to hold diary-card exercises to monitor juniors’ hours every six months in order to ensure that staff rotas are ‘compliant’ – which they are not. It is routine practice, in my experience, for trusts to ‘interpret’ this as monitoring half way through your employment period – junior doctors rotate continually during their training and it is normal to be employed for only one year at any particular trust.

This monitoring period is carefully picked to ensure the result is void (less than 75 percent of the staff affected are present to take part), but the trust considers its obligations to the law to have been met. Junior doctors are often taken aside and told that if they fill in the card appropriately (ie, by putting down the real information), their shift patterns and training opportunities will suffer. As apparently savvy professionals, it is amazing how we can be gulled and cajoled – by the prospect of future consultancy and private practice, or, conversely, by the threat of damaged career prospects – into harming our own immediate and the NHS’ long-term interests.

Thus, as paid hours are legally required to be reduced – although the hours we work in reality continue to be far longer than those legally recognised and paid for – the banding supplement for many doctors has fallen steadily from 100 percent towards unbanded salaries for many. Clearly, this means that the rate of pay for some roles has actually halved.

Many hospital doctors are still banded around the 40-50 percent mark, however. If the banding is done away with, then it is clear that a small increase in the ‘basic pay’ will still mean a hefty pay cut. That is why, when reporting on the latest episode of ‘negotiation’, Hunt has emphasised his generous offer of increasing basic pay by 11 percent, while the BMA has warned junior doctors that take-home pay will drop by as much as one third.

First doctors’ strike in forty years 

The last serious industrial action undertaken by doctors was in 1976, before many of us were born, by our colleagues who have either retired, or are now in very senior positions throughout the NHS.

Doctors are not the most militant workers. As a profession, we tend to be relentlessly career focused, and driven to excel as individuals. All to the good, when it comes to advancing the barriers of medical research or improving patient care; but when it comes to professional solidarity, our CV focus and mutual competition for jobs has not made standing up for these rights of all – doctors, nurses, other hospital workers, or the wider working class – our strong point, historically.

But now I have never seen the solidarity and spirit of junior doctors so high. They are attending meetings and considering how to act. What is more, we have the backing of the rest of the hospital workers, and the broad sympathy of the working people.

There can be no doubt that the time is ripe to act – but the path to victory is not straightforward, and, for all our specialist knowledge, doctors’ overall lack of class consciousness is our undoubted tendo-achilles. While junior doctors genuinely believe they are fighting to save the NHS, as well as their own pay (and this is indeed the case), few realise the strength of the conspiracy that is being enacted against them and against the entire National Health Service.

Stay ‘professional’ – not political?

I went to a meeting of junior doctors on the eve of the ballot result, and, while feelings ran high, a Labour trade unionist addressed the assembled doctors as ‘comrades’ (to visible shudders from the assembly), while a Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) Trotskyist, selling their paper Newsline, stood and ground out her time-worn call to arms: for ‘a general strike’ to ‘bring down this Tory government’. A consultant later responded to this tirade by saying: “this isn’t a race war, or a class war – we need to stay professional, not political”.

That Trotskyists behave in a stereotyped fashion, unable to gauge their audience and win their support is not surprising. That better-paid workers – including medical consultants – are so ill-equipped to defend their own interests and those of the wider working class is a lamentable consequence of a century of domination of the working-class movement by social democracy.

Many of the junior doctors’ leaders feel they can solve all the problems of the NHS by getting rid of Jeremy Hunt. Others feel they can achieve the same by getting rid of the Tory government. Both ideas are terrible underestimates of the power and determination of the capitalist class that truly owns and runs Britain – and of the lengths to which that class is prepared to go to save its own skin.

The capitalists’ economic crisis is deep, and their need to push the financial burden onto workers is real. NHS cuts are in some respects tame compared to the treatment of other sections of the British working class, the cuts to other services, and certainly compared to the treatment meted out to workers in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, in the imperialists’ attempts to rinse ever-more profit from the oppressed nations. But there is no doubt that the campaign against the NHS is deeply ‘political’.

The power to harness the sympathy and support of the working people is our greatest weapon. But without an understanding that the capitalist class is seriously intent on destroying the NHS, and that organised and united resistance by the British working class will be necessary to frustrate this aim, we can win at best only temporary and partial victories.

Save our NHS!

To truly save the NHS, a more radical approach must be taken. Our party has an adopted policy on the NHS, which our readers are now invited to revisit. The following points should be brought out in all our campaigning, and in the discussions that are going on around this current action of the junior doctors – which is to be applauded by all who cherish the NHS.

1. Oppose all privatisation of services – ‘core’ or ‘peripheral’ – and campaign for the renationalisation of all privatised aspects of NHS provision, working towards a health service that provides nationally-funded, universal and comprehensive care, free at the point of use, that fulfils its original charter.

2. Oppose private provision of health care, and the internal market in health care within the NHS.

3. Campaign for the scrapping of all PFI debt.

4. Oppose the forced conversion of the NHS into Foundation Trusts, which will act as businesses first, and health providers second.

5. Oppose pay freezes and ‘restraint’, and the movement of Foundation Trusts to disband national employment contracts and frameworks.

6. Demand the nationalisation of drug and medical technology companies. It has long been the case that while public debt is social, profitable enterprises are private. This is one source of inequality under capitalism, and the source of much of the NHS debt also.

7. Join fully in the campaign to defend the NHS.

8. Encourage broad participation of workers, patients and healthcare professionals within a single, vibrant movement to defend the interests of the NHS – learning from examples such as the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign how to involve the local community in the fight for their NHS services.

9. Point out within this campaign, and to British workers generally, that NHS cuts and privatisation are being smuggled in under the banners of ‘choice’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘excellence’.

10. Refuse to accept the legitimacy or necessity of cuts to the NHS and social provision. If these cuts are due to the direction of the state by the capitalist class, and the economic and financial crisis that is of their making, then they prove themselves bankrupt and unable to rule in the interests of the vast majority.

11. Campaign for the reintroduction of integrated health planning, commissioning and provision on a national and regional level, by the NHS itself.

12. Oppose the proposed GP commissioning groups, which are too small to plan adequately, and are simply the vehicles of distributing taxpayers’ money to private health corporations, or of ‘purchasing services’ – increasingly from private rather than NHS providers.

13. Point out to British workers that Labour governments, as much as Tory and ConDem administrations, have sought to privatise and destroy the NHS. Our party must use this fact to demonstrate that capitalism seeks nothing more than maximum profit – which means privatisation of health care, and decreased provision to the mass of the working class. And, in the last analysis, we must show that the welfare of workers cannot be achieved and maintained without putting in place a socialist system of economy, controlled and administered by the working people themselves. (Public healthcare – a vanishing commodity?, Motion passed by CPGB-ML congress, November 2014)

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Big Data is watching you: the snoopers’ charter



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Unparalleled levels of intrusive mass surveillance are to be legitimised by the Investigatory Powers Bill. 
Home Secretary Theresa May’s new snoopers’ charter (more formally known as the draft Investigatory Powers Bill) is currently being rushed through a joint committee of parliament, which is due to produce a report by 11 February. (Theresa May accused of rushing surveillance bill through back door by Alan Travis, The Guardian, 26 November 2015)The bill will give legal blessing to the mass surveillance activities that Britain’s intelligence agencies – GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), MI5 and MI6 – have been carrying out for well over a decade, while much of the accompanying rhetoric from politicians and media pundits seeks to legitimise a shockingly intrusive level of scrutiny by presenting it as being necessary to ‘protect us all’ from terrorism.

In recent years, various agencies of the bourgeois state have maintained a highly unpopular tangled web of spying programmes, either by exploiting loopholes in outdated laws or by circumventing the law entirely and simply ‘trading intelligence’ with the US (whose monopoly control of the internet gives it unparalleled access to the online activity of internet users the world over).

Undaunted by negative media and public perception, the government is now keen to push through legislation that builds on the foundations put in place by Labour during its last term in office.

How did we get here?

The interception and storage of electronic communications in Britain has a murky and convoluted history. For the past decade and a half, archaic and poorly-defined clauses in laws that were passed before the internet existed have been used to keep surveillance powers beyond even the timid reach of parliamentary scrutiny.

More importantly, such practices have kept official actions out of the public eye. Section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984, for example, is used to force mobile phone companies to hand over all our call data. (Investigatory Powers Bill: a force for good – if done right? by Lord Paul Strasburger, The Register, 11 January 2016)

The first incarnation of a modern electronic surveillance law was born when Tony Blair’s Labour government passed the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) 2000. Ostensibly created to provide ‘oversight and transparency’ around surveillance practices (as the movers of the new bill also claim they are trying to do), the act in reality facilitated the broad interception and storage of physical and digital communications – and gave access to this data to a huge range of public bodies.

Ripa has since been used by council officials for such vital ‘security’ measures as monitoring families – not regarding concerns of child abuse or criminal activity, but, for example, to check if they live within a particular school catchment area – and covertly checking up on fishermen who were suspected of illegally harvesting cockles and clams. (Ripa powers only used by Poole council twice since 2009 after spying outage by Juliette Astrup, Bournemouth Echo, 6 January 2016)

The investigatory powers tribunal established to hear Ripa-related complaints heard 956 cases between 2000 and 2009. Only four were upheld. (Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Investigatory Powers Tribunal, 22 June 2010)

A related law, the Terrorism Act 2000, which also grants police blanket powers in the name of ‘public protection’ was recently used to seize the laptop of a BBC journalist returning from Syria. (Newsnight journalist’s laptop seized by UK police under Terrorism Act by Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 29 October 2015)

In the past, the Conservative party presented itself as being strongly opposed to such all-encompassing snooping. David Cameron stated in June 2009: “Today, we are in danger of living in a control state. Every month, over 1,000 surveillance operations are carried out. The tentacles of the state can even rifle through your bins for juicy information.” (The UK government’s web spying plans: a timeline by Katie Scott, Wired, 4 April 2012)

In 2010, the ConDem coalition (to a considerable extent as a result of LibDem pressure) even agreed to end the routine storage of email and internet records that the state’s agencies did not have ‘good reason’ to hold. (Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition deal, The Guardian, 12 May 2010)

New bill legitimises and extends the status quo

This promise was never fulfilled, and so not much will really change with the passage of the bill into law. The depth and breadth of surveillance in Britain is already mind-bogglingly pervasive and widespread. US agencies routinely collect all kinds of data on British citizens and hand it over to their counterparts in Britain in order to circumvent domestic laws that prohibit such snooping. (GCHQ-NSA intelligence sharing unlawful by Karla Adam, The Washington Post, 6 February 2016)

Programmes such as Dishfire, Muscular and Tempora (revealed in recent years by whistle-blower Edward Snowden) have been unselectively collecting billions of records of phone calls, text messages, emails and website visits for years. (NSA leaks: Dishfire revelations expose the flaws in British laws on surveillance by Heather Brooke, The Guardian, 17 January 2014)

Meanwhile, in Britain, the GCHQ spy centre in Bude, Cornwall, has for years been using mirror arrays (essentially microscopic signal-splitters) to copy data that passes through fibre-optic cables under the sea from Europe and Britain to the USA, and sharing the collected data with the US’s National Security Agency (NSA).

“The sheer scale of the agency’s ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

“One key innovation has been GCHQ’s ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed …

“GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects …

“Britain’s technical capacity to tap into the cables that carry the world’s communications – referred to in the documents as special source exploitation – has made GCHQ an intelligence superpower.

“By 2010, two years after the project was first trialled, it was able to boast it had the ‘biggest internet access’ of any member of the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“UK officials could also claim GCHQ ‘produces larger amounts of metadata than NSA’. (Metadata describes basic information on who has been contacting whom, without detailing the content.)

“By May last year, 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data.

“The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: ‘We have a light oversight regime compared with the US.’

“When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was ‘your call’.

“The Guardian understands that a total of 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases.” (GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to world’s communications by Ewen MacAskill, Julian Borger, Nick Hopkins, Nick Davies and James Ball, The Guardian, 21 June 2013)

This huge ongoing surveillance operation has been allowing British spies to monitor some 25 percent of the world’s internet traffic for the last seven years, including whatever originates in Britain and travels to the United States (much more than many of us realise, given the widespread use by Britons of American-based services like Gmail, Amazon, iTunes, Facebook etc). To capture Britain’s internal traffic in a similar way, there needs to be systematic storage by Britain’s domestic ISPs and phone providers – hence the need for this bill.

The ‘safeguards’ Ms May touts in the new bill are not there to protect citizens from the misuse of this mass, intrusive surveillance, but rather to protect the police and various spy agencies from any repercussions of their spying, as a recent Guardian article made clear.

“This bill is characterised by a clear anti-democratic attitude. Those in power are deemed to be good, and are therefore given the benefit of the doubt. ‘Conduct is lawful for all purposes if …’ and ‘A person (whether or not the person so authorised or required) is not to be subject to any civil liability in respect of conduct that …’: these are sections granting immunity to the spies and cops.

“The spies’ surveillance activities are also exempt from legal due process. No questions can be asked that might indicate in any legal proceeding that surveillance or interception has occurred. This is to ensure the general public never learn how real people are affected by surveillance.

“The cost of this exemption is great. It means British prosecutors can’t prosecute terrorists on the best evidence available – the intercepts – which are a key part of any prosecution in serious crime cases worldwide.

“Those without power – eg citizens (or the more accurately named subjects) – are potentially bad, and therefore must be watched and monitored closely and constantly. The safeguards mentioned in the bill are there to benefit the state not the citizen. The criminal sanctions aren’t so much to stop spies or police abusing their powers, but rather to silence critics or potential whistle-blowers.

“That’s clear because there is no public interest exemption in the sweeping gagging orders littered throughout the bill. The safeguards for keeping secure the massive troves of personal data aren’t there so much to protect the public but to stop anyone finding out exactly how big or invasive these troves are or how they were acquired. Again, we know this because there is no public interest exemption.

“While the concerns of the state dominate, those of the citizen are nowhere to be seen. There is almost no mention in the bill of the privacy and democratic costs of mass surveillance, nor of seriously holding the state to account for the use and abuse of its sweeping powers.” (This snooper’s charter makes George Orwell look lacking in vision by Heather Brooke,The Guardian, 8 November 2015)

The snoopers’ charter will also ban programmers and service providers from using any end-to-end encryption that doesn’t include back-door access for the security services. This means that all online and phone communications will essentially be open and could live on for as long as the state has the physical and economic means to store them.

Internet-based messaging services like Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage and WhatsApp will be required to decrypt all our messages, browsing histories, locations and calls for easy storage and access. The difficulties in keeping so much unencrypted personal data secure from hackers of all kinds is bound to lead to many more data breaches like the one experienced by TalkTalk last year. (Tech firms warn snooper’s charter could end strong encryption in Britain by Alex Hern, The Guardian, 9 November 2015)

Keeping people safe?

We’re told that these measures are necessary in order to combat terrorism, organised crime and child abuse, but in the recent Paris attacks, as in numerous other terrorist atrocities, extensive surveillance did not lead to the state being willing or able stop the attackers, despite the fact that they used unencrypted communications and were known to the authorities. (Signs point to unencrypted communications between terror suspects by Dan Froomkin, The Intercept, 18 November 2015)

Some security experts are said to be concerned that the new measures might make the situation significantly more difficult for them. It is perfectly possible that trying to get meaningful information out of such vast mountains of data will prove to be a positive hindrance to any constructive or meaningful anti-terrorist or serious crime operation – unless huge numbers of staff can be hired to sort, analyse, and act on the information collected. (UK mass surveillance ‘totalitarian’ and will ‘cost lives’, warns ex-NSA tech boss by Matt Burgess, Wired, 6 January 2016)

Of course, the holy grail is for all such sifting and sorting to be automated, so that useful and relevant information on an individual that the state is interested in can be accessed at the tap of a button – à la Minority Report and other such Hollywood dystopias.

Making useful sense out of so much data certainly requires huge computing power, but the necessary analytical intelligence is already developed to a large extent. The scenario painted above may go far beyond Amazon recommendations or Google ad-placing, but those types of applications have laid the necessary foundations to bring the dreamed-of automation within reach – at least as far as the imperialist governments are concerned.

Julian Assange has pointed out that, as data costs come down, setting up services to store, collect and analyse citizens’ data is coming within the financial reach of most governments. Indeed, commercial services (eg, VASTech in South Africa) already exist that offer to store a year’s worth of phone data for a country for around $10m. These prices will only come down, and would alleviate the need for data retention by individual service providers. (See The militarisation of Cyberspace by Julian Assange, Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, 2012)

For now, there is still much argument over who has responsibility for financing the security, storage and processing of so much information. The architects of the snoopers’ charter have been forced to recognise the immense technical and financial effort required for many small and medium-sized service providers to comply with the new requirements, and so the rules will only apply to the largest companies – the ones that would, in theory, be able to introduce the massive infrastructure necessary – albeit with state assistance. (ISPs warn UK snooping law will cost time and lots of money by Jamie Rigg, Engadget, 12 October 2015)

As for the ban on end-to-end encryption, this will certainly affect a large proportion of the population who aren’t particularly knowledgeable in these matters, although a quick search reveals the existence of a sizeable range of open-source solutions that would be impossible to ban without crippling the British internet.

This is not to say that surveillance has never foiled a terror attack, but that the aims of the charter and the actual resources needed to improve such work are distinctly at odds. The measures proposed by the Investigatory Powers Bill will actually function more like CCTV – not as a preventative measure, but as material with which to facilitate an investigation after the fact.

Real reason for the bill

Why, then, is the government trying so hard to push the bill through, giving the parliamentary committee only a few months to sort though a massively complex topic?

The mass storage of personal data will not be successful in preventing crime or terrorist attacks, but it will be useful in gathering detailed information on anyone and everyone the state deems might be posing a threat to the interests of the ruling class. It will have a chilling effect on any journalism that runs counter to the government’s agenda, and could potentially be used to silence or blackmail dissidents or political opponents. It is also bound to lead to increasing levels of censorship as people become warier of expressing nonconformist opinions in the digital space.

The data could also be used to identify networks of people involved, even tangentially, in any kind of anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist movement. These powers will be used to protect the investments, alliances and interests of the ruling class, repressing and silencing opposition.

The recent haste to push through the snoopers’ charter also coincides with the expected introduction of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA in 2016, as a companion to the recently-enacted Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between 11 Pacific Rim countries and the US. TTIP has been described as “the most brazen corporate power grab in American history”. (Chris Hedges, Alternet, 7 November 2015)

Although TTIP has been discussed in the utmost secrecy for years, leaks and the recent release of the terms of the TTP have given us a good idea of its aims, and of the impact it could have.

In line with TTP, TTIP will remove ‘barriers to free trade’, further suppressing the rights of states and workers to make decisions that are in their interests rather than the interest of the finance capitalists. The imperialist necessity of ‘capital uber alles’ will reach a sickening new peak in its destructive trajectory. (See Multinationals backed by the US imperialist government seek to subject the world to their diktat, Lalkar, November 2014)

The one-two blow of TTIP and the snoopers’ charter together represents a very serious assault on the working class. This is not a bill to keep workers safe, but an attempt by the ruling class to keep itself safe from us!

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Floods in Britain: how capitalist profiteering is creating and exacerbating ‘natural’ disasters


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As cuts, privatisation and climate change collide to create a perfect storm, it’s becoming clearer than ever that we’ve got to be red to be green! 
Significant areas of Britain found themselves under water over the Christmas and New Year holiday period, with three storms – named Desmond, Eva and Frank by the Met Office – wreaking havoc across the country.In the aftermath of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), held in Paris from 30 November-12 December 2015, Britain has received an immaculately-timed reminder of the threat represented by climate change.

Whilst COP21 was presented as a landmark success in the imperialist media, diplomacy singularly failed to achieve the kind of deal that is actually needed to secure the future of human life on the planet. With efforts to tackle climate change left to the ‘leadership’ of by private corporations, this could scarcely be otherwise. (See Climate change conference – Imperialist hands irreversibly tied by the profit motive, Lalkar, January 2016)

The flooding caused by the storms impacted broad swathes of the country, including Cumbria, Manchester, Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders. The real magnitude of the damage, both financial and personal, will not be known for some time, if ever.

What is known is that homes, workplaces and entire communities have been devastated – and in some places destroyed. In the week between Christmas and New Year alone, as river levels reached new records, 6,700 houses in the north of England were flooded. Of course, the vast majority of these were the homes of working-class people.

Politicians were, of course, quick to extend their ‘sympathy’ to those whose homes were flooded at Christmas, but sympathy will not help them pick up the bill – especially in the many cases of poor people with no insurance who now face total ruin. Mohammad Khan, general insurance leader at the accountancy and consulting firm PwC confirmed this, saying: “The storms this time have generated a far greater proportion of non-insured losses compared to the total economic damage.” (Quoted in Storm Frank batters northern Britain, experts see costs rising by Carolyn Cohn and Kate Holton, Reuters, 30 December 2015)

With much of the population, including the elderly, faced with the choice of either heating or eating, home insurance can all too easily be seen as a luxury that is far out of reach. This is true even in the best of times for the working class under capitalism – and these are not the best of times.

Flooding that defies statistics

Arguably the hardest-hit area was Cumbria, which experienced an historic third major flood in 10 years, having suffered similar deluges in both 2005 and 2009. A national record-breaking 341.4mm of rainfall fell in a 24-hour period on 5 December. Only after the event did any government help come – in the form of a £1m band aid. (See More floods in Cumbria as UK government announces £51m support for flood victims, FloodList, 10 December 2015)

After they flooded in 2009, the National Environment Research Council began a study using sediment records from the region’s famous lakes. The soon-to-be published results will show that the three floods of the last decade have been Cumbria’s worst in 600 years. It will also show that, in each case, such a severe flood had only a 0.001 percent probability of occurring. (See Under water again – When will Britain learn how to manage floods?, FloodList, 11 December 2015)

This is typically expressed as meaning that any one of the recent floods had a chance of occurring once every thousand years. It would be more accurate, though, to say that in any given year, there is a one-in-a-thousand chance of such a flood occurring – a subtle but important difference.

However we choose to express the findings, though, the key point is that just one of these floods was highly unlikely to have taken place. To have three disasters of such magnitude in so short a space of time is a statistical anomaly that requires further investigation. Purely natural causes are extremely unlikely to be at the root of such events.

And, of course, when we look for other factors at work, we very quickly find that there is a man-made force that can explain the situation: namely, climate change.

Or, at the very least, global warming explains why we are experiencing such frequent and unusual storms. In explaining the resulting floods, a variety of other factors must also be considered: for instance, flood defences and prevention.

Austerity at work: defences neglected

In the case of Cumbria, the role of landowners is also an important one. Local grouse moors, sheep and dairy farms have been accused of contributing to the severity of floods in the low-lying towns. Calls have been made for the land to be returned to peat bogs to soak up rain in hilly areas.

Daniel Johns, who heads the government’s climate change committee, said: “For too long, landowners have been left to their own devices. We have to recognise there are some powerful vested interests involved. We have to decide what uplands are for in the context of climate change: grouse moors and marginal farmland or slowing down water.” (Call to close grouse moors to prevent flooding by Andrew Bounds, Financial Times, 30 December 2015)

Either the interests of the people or the profits of the few will prevail: these cannot coexist. Left to the free hand of the market, many of our towns and homes will perish.

On Christmas Day, large areas of Leeds and York had waist-high water levels. This resulted in stranded cars, families swimming to safety and rescues by dinghy. The historic Elland Road Bridge in Leeds was damaged beyond repair.

As in Cumbria, the government acted after the fact, announcing a £33m flood-defence system for parts of the River Aire in Leeds, which is due to be in place by 2017. While the new defence is welcome, it clearly comes too late. Added to this is the insult that the defence was initially proposed in 2010, but the government rejected it as being too expensive. (See Finally: U-turn sees flood defence scheme promised for River Aire in Leeds by Kate Proctor, Yorkshire Post, 4 January 2016)

Such is the short-sightedness of a bourgeois government in times of economic crisis. In true-to-type penny-pinching form, Prime Minister Cameron and his fellow spivs in government tried to save money by ignoring the proposed flood defences. As a result, Leeds was flooded, causing as yet untold millions in damage. Now that the defences are, after all, to be implemented, not only has the £33m not been saved after all, but tens of millions of damage has been caused as a result of the delay. In addition, the government is footing the bill for a £40m Yorkshire-wide clear-up.

This insane story is being repeated across a number of areas. Moreover, 40 percent budget cuts since 2010 have resulted in flood prevention being seen as unaffordable by councils across the country. Blundering, short-sighted incompetence would be too kind a description. Indeed, the the parliamentary environmental audit committee has been explicitly warned by experts in recent years that reducing money for flood defences would be a false economy. And so the case has proven to be. (See Revealed: how Tory cuts are wrecking UK flood defences by John Vidal and Toby Helm,The Guardian , 2 January 2016)

Whilst the precise scale of the damage is as yet unknown, some insight has been provided by the consultancy firm KPMG, which has estimated a total cost to the British economy from the recent floods of £5bn. Even taking ouf of account the high human cost, the government has failed purely on the level of economic management. (Reuters, op cit)

The extent of government culpability for this ‘natural disaster’ is highlighted by a leaked document written jointly by all the bodies responsible for flood prevention, and which was seen by ministers just 24 hours before the first flooding in Cumbria.

As the Guardian revealed: “It was then discussed by floods minister Rory Stewart and Oliver Letwin, the cabinet office minister leading the government’s flooding review.

“The leaked document says: ‘We have had the five wettest years since 2000. The Environment Agency’s funding for maintaining flood assets has fallen by 14 percent. Downward adjustments have also been made to intended revenue spending commitments.’

“It adds: ‘Failure of assets and networks is more likely as extreme weather events become more frequent and unpredictable. We must change our approach to managing water level management assets and systems … adopting a more long-term approach.’

“Referring to the threat to more households as a result of cuts, the experts say: ‘Annual flood and storm damage costs are approximately £1.1bn, according to the Association of British Insurers, and those households at significant risk [of flood damage] through a reduction in our capacity to manage water levels could increase from 330,000 today to 570,000 in 2035.’ Furthermore, a 10-60 percent increase in extreme rainfall could lead to a quadrupling of flooding in urban areas.” ( The Guardian , op cit)

The calamities facing the government have continued. In the aftermath of the floods, the environment agency’s PR chief Pam Gilder resigned, walking away with a pay-off of £112,133. It further transpired that the agency has been paying director Ed Mitchell £60,000 to stay at home on gardening leave after they brought in Ms Gilder over his (far more experienced) head to run the department.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the agency chairman Sir Phillip Dilley spent the duration of the storms holidaying at his home in Barbados. Dilley is paid £100,000 per year for his role. Not only was the chairman of the environment agency not in the country, but the agency misled the public by implying that he was.

This farce unravels further if one winds back the clock. In the aftermath of the 2013-14 winter floods, the government set up a cabinet committee on flooding in February 2014. Cameron claimed it would meet “every month until further notice”.

The committee was headed by Oliver Letwin, who was supposed to be responsible for reporting on its findings. However, the committee met only three times before being disbanded, with no reason given and no report produced. (See Flood chiefs in pay row as storms return by Dipesh Gadher and Jonathan Leake, The Sunday Times, 3 January 2016)

Water privatisation

Another factor at work in the floods has been profiteering by Britain’s water companies. England and Wales water was privatised in 1989 by the Thatcher government. Scotland and northern Ireland were spared the indignity, although the threat of privatisation has always loomed in the background, with Scotland’s Water Industry Commission being headed by the pro-market Alan Sutherland and Sir Ian Byatt.

Byatt was at Ofwat in 1989 implementing Thatcher’s privatisation in England and Wales. As an aside, it is worth noting that water charges in Scotland are lower than in England and Wales.

The privatisation deal saw Thatcher effectively hand over an additional £6.6bn in cash along with most of the nation’s water supply. This ‘green dowry’ took the form of a £5bn debt write-off and a £1.6bn hand-out.

The ‘efficiency’ of the market strikes again! The privatisation policy was and remains an unmitigated disaster. (See Emanuele Lobina and David Hall, UK Water Privatisation – A Briefing, Public Services International Research Unit of Canada (PSIRU), February 2001)

Arguably the most controversial of Britain’s privatisations, it took our basic means of life and handed it to the profit-hungry bourgeoisie. After the 2013-14 winter floods, it was reported: “While Somerset has been dealing with record rainfalls, many homes across the country have been dealing with another consequence of the deluge: sewage flooding into their homes and down their streets.

“Many of our towns and cities have a combined sewer system. Waste water from lavatories, baths and dishwashers ends up down our drains, flowing into our sewers. Each year we produce some 16bn gallons of this dirty water that has to be dealt with.

“Add to this all the rain that’s been falling on to our roofs, gutters and roads. With a combined system, this also ends up down the sewers. When it rains heavily, the infrastructure can become overwhelmed, with raw sewage discharged on to our streets, rivers and – for a growing number of people – into their homes …

“According to the Consumer Council for Water, complaints from homeowners about sewer flooding are up by 50 percent compared with last year, and it is the water companies that are responsible.

“On average, half our water bills go to dealing with our sewage. Since the industry was privatised in 1989, bills have gone up and up, now 50 percent higher in real terms, and average £388 a year – half of which goes on our sewage.

“Last year, 1,200 homes in the Northumbrian Water area were flooded with sewage; meanwhile, in the United Utilities region, the number was 900.

“As rivers need dredging, so our sewers need unblocking, and that is what many of us believe we pay our water bills for. And we have been paying. And paying. The water companies have been flooded with our money.” (Scandal of £11bn water giants who leave us wading in sewage by Antony Barnett, Daily Mail, 1 February 2014)

To add to this record of disdain for both environmental and human consequences, the mega-rich water companies are also the biggest polluters of our beaches. In the nine years up to 2013, they were punished for over 1,000 incidents of pollution, but the fines came to a paltry total of just £3.5m. In comparison, £1.7bn was taken in pre-tax profits and £2.2bn was paid to shareholders.

With such ‘punishments’ as these for destroying our environment, it is clear that the incentive to ‘go green’ is simply not there. Many of these pollution incidents were the result of burst sewers overflowing. (See Revealed: how UK water companies are polluting Britain’s rivers and beaches by Damian Carrington, The Guardian , 3 August 2013)

Despite gargantuan profits, skyrocketing water prices, tax exemptions and government grants, the industry still finds itself under water, so to speak. Between privatisation in 1989 and 2004, the ‘efficient’ market in water provision and management amassed a combined net debt of £20.8bn, whilst cutting staff and contracting out work. (See Ofwat , The Development of the Water Industry in England and Wales, 27 January 2006)

How companies manage to make massive profits whilst building up mass debt is naturally counter-intuitive. Researchers Emanuele Lobina and David Hall of Greenwich University (Canada) explained this strange phenomenon as follows in their report: “It is in the water companies’ interests for the forecasts of capital expenditure, which are used to calculate the allowed price rises, to be higher than actual expenditure. In that case, the companies could use the shortfall in expenditure to boost profits.

“This is, in fact, what happened. Capital expenditure started accelerating before privatisation, rose to a peak in 1991-92, and then levelled off and even fell, although the companies had projected that it would continue to rise at the same rate. This pattern of underspend has been highlighted as unusual in such major works projects …

“The UK water companies have consistently sought to diversify their activities by expanding internationally and into other sectors. These have, for the most part, been unsuccessful, unprofitable, and so supported, subsidised and financed by the excess surpluses on the UK monopoly water and sewerage business.

“In the process, the companies have raised loans to finance their investments, thus transforming the debt-free bounty that they inherited at privatisation into indebted groups with ever lower credit ratings.” (( Lobina and Hall, op cit)

Global climate patterns

Of course Britain is not the only country falling victim to extreme weather patterns. We are not in isolation, and extreme weather is on the increase across the globe. Moreover, many of the other countries affected are not so well-placed, either geographically or economically, to be able to deal with the increasingly adverse conditions their people now face.

Not all have the luxury of the parasitic wealth of the British capitalist class, which has the ability to build defences if it wants to, and only lacks the will to do so. Plenty of small countries have the will, but lack the imperialist spoils to readily construct elaborate defence systems.

For instance, socialist Cuba is treating the protection of its shorelines as a matter of national security. What riches it lacks are made up for in will and action. Thanks to its system of socialist planning, it stands far better protected than its other small-island nation neighbours, it is organised and united in action.

Even with all the advantages that socialism brings to tackling the crisis, however, Cuba remains a country gravely at risk from global warming. If this phenomenon persists, 122 coastal Cuban towns face annihilation. (Cuba climate change impact: How scientists say global warming will hurt by Lea Terry, Newsmax, 9 November 2015)

Globally, the picture is stark: “heat extremes that previously only occurred once every 1,000 days are happening four to five time more often”. This was the finding of a study published in Nature Climate Change.

What counts as extreme heat varies according to area. For example, in the south-east of England, temperatures used to reach 33.2C every 1,000 days, whereas now it is closer to once every 200 days. Furthermore: “on average, any given place on Earth will experience 60 percent more extreme rain events and 27 extremely hot days”. (Extreme weather already on increase due to climate change, study finds by Karl Mathieson, The Guardian , 27 April 2015)

Since the industrial revolution, there has been a global temperature increase of 0.85C. Just this small man-made rise has partially served to create the adverse conditions we are experiencing today. If we continue to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the same rate as we do today, then by 2100 this temperature increase will be between 3-5C and all human life on earth will be under threat.

This is a situation that cannot be redressed by half-measures of the type vaguely agreed to at COP21. ‘Safe’ levels for humanity’s future are believed to be under 2C. The situation can therefore only get worse in the short to medium term.

In Asia, the situation is already critical. A recent report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) explained that river-basin floods in the region during 2014 incurred economic losses of US$16bn. “Other costly disasters included Cyclone HudHud (US$11bn) [in India], followed by the Ludian earthquake [in China] (US$6bn), and the tropical cyclones Lingling and Kajiki [in Japan] (US$5.2bn) …

“The report underlined that the [Asia Pacific] region is one of the most vulnerable to natural disasters. In 2014, over half of the world’s 226 natural disasters occurred in the Asia and Pacific region.

“Although it was a year without a single large-scale catastrophe caused by an earthquake or tsunami, the region experienced severe storms, cross-border floods and landslides, which accounted for 85 percent of all disasters … Approximately 79.6 million people were affected by natural disasters across the region.” (UN Report: 2014 Asia and Pacific region floods cost $16bn, FloodList , 26 February 2015)

Similarly, whilst Britain was being flooded, the story was the same all the way in far-off Uruguay, where 23,000 people were displaced as the Rivers Uruguay and Cuareim overflowed. There were similar floods in neighbouring Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Paraguay’s River Asunción reached five metres above normal levels for the time of year. In Brazil, over 9,000 people were evacuated.

In the United States, there was flooding in Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, with 19 deaths recorded, whilst 20 inches of snow fell in New Mexico. (See Severe weather across USA leaves over 40 dead, FloodList , 28 December 2015)

In the Philippines, a “state of national calamity” was declared by the government. Storms killed over 40 people, and three quarters of a million were evacuated. (Death toll rises in storm-hit Philippines, FloodList , 21 December 2015)

Also in the month of December, storms hit Ireland, Indonesia, South Africa, Malaysia, Congo, Mexico, Australia, Sri Lanka and Peru. Record rainfall was recorded in Norway.

Such events show that we are not alone. There can be no isolated national solutions to global warming. However, we must demand that national governments act on the issue of defences and adaptation.

In regard to tackling global warming, the solution can only be collective. There is limited value in one country becoming green while imperialism continues to burn the globe. As COP21 showed, imperialism is ill equipped to tackle the issue.

The fact is that while there is profit in pollution, the bourgeoisie will continue to pollute. Capitalist competition and inter-imperialist rivalry together render a bourgeois solution impossible. Only socialism therefore, offers the path to a green (and red) future. Only by overthrowing the exploiters, who are also the primary polluters, can we collectively solve the threat to our children’s future.

The bourgeoisie is busy fiddling whilst Rome burns. If a fraction of the estimated £5bn damage in Britain had been the result of terrorism, we can be certain there would be no such inaction. Had all of the deaths and evacuations been caused by some medieval fundamentalists, then the bourgeois media and imperialist governments would never stop talking about the tragic loss of life, and the drums would be banging for yet another imperialist war.

When the damage is caused by their bosses’ historic pollution, however, cities like Leeds and York are thrown some retrospective crumbs from the government and left to get on with cleaning up the mess. The career politicians of the bourgeois parties are far too preoccupied with the Westminster Punch and Judy show to bother even trying to help put out the fire.

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DPRK conducts successful H-Bomb test



US imperialism steps up pressure on Korea and China in an effort to preserve its role of no 1 playground bully.
On 6 January 2016, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) announced that it had successfully carried out its first ever H-bomb test, based on “indigenous wisdom, technology and efforts”. It also confirmed that the test had been carried out safely, with no adverse environmental effects.Explaining the political context of this further augmentation of the DPRK’s military strength, a statement 
from the country’s government said: “This test is a measure for self-defence that the DPRK has taken to firmly protect the sovereignty of the country and the vital rights of the nation from the ever-growing nuclear threat and blackmail by the US-led hostile forces and to reliably safeguard peace on the Korean peninsula and regional stability.”It further linked the test to the US’s long-standing anti-DPRK policies of “political isolation, economic blockade and military pressure”, adding: “While kicking up all forms of economic sanctions and conspiratorial ‘human-rights’ rackets against the DPRK with the mobilisation of hostile forces, the US has made desperate efforts to block its building of a thriving nation and improvement of the people’s living standard and to ‘bring down its social system’.”In this context, the DPRK government declared: “nothing is more foolish than dropping a hunting gun before herds of ferocious wolves”.

The statement affirmed that the DPRK is a “genuine peace-loving state, which has made all efforts to protect peace on the Korean peninsula and security in the region from the US’s vicious nuclear war scenario.

“The DPRK, a responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons nor transfer relevant means and technology under any circumstances, as already declared, as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”

Following the H-bomb test, there has been a furious response from imperialism and its followers – especially the United States, Japan and south Korea – with growing pressure to impose yet tighter sanctions on the DPRK. Specifically, the US and its followers are presently mounting an intense campaign aimed at cajoling the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to agree to the aggressive implementation of a punitive sanctions regime on the DPRK.

Whilst this reflects a consistent imperialist desire to drive a wedge between two long-standing socialist allies, it especially proceeds from a realisation that, as the overwhelming majority of the DPRK’s foreign trade is conducted with the PRC, without the latter’s full participation, any sanctions regime imposed on the north Korean state will be of only limited effect.

The threat to Beijing that lies behind the imperialist cajoling is that if China fails to acquiesce, then the US will impose secondary sanctions on all those who are engaged in business with the DPRK – and the main impact of such aggressive measures would inevitably be felt by the PRC.

As the New York Times reported: “The United States and its allies will bolster sanctions and go on the defensive [sic – this is presumably a typographical error for offensive] against north Korea in ways that China may not like if Beijing fails to lend greater support to efforts to curb the North’s nuclear ambitions, a top American diplomat said here [Seoul, south Korea] on Wednesday.”

Speaking a day before he was due to meet Chinese officials in Beijing, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony J Blinken said: “I think what we will be talking to China about is that we will, both in terms of sanctions and in terms of our defence postures, have to take additional steps in order to use the leverage we have to defend ourselves and our allies if north Korea doesn’t change its behaviour.”

He added, disingenuously, that some of those steps “won’t be directed at China, but China probably won’t like them”. Whilst refusing to go into details, Blinken said that “everything is on the table”, including so-called secondary sanctions of the type that the US used to reinforce its sanctions against Iran, and whose target would be third parties doing business with the DPRK.

Hardly bothering to veil the threat implicit in his words, Blinken sounded remarkably like the archetypal mob boss or playground bully when he stated: “I think China has an incentive [!] to use its own leverage to achieve the result [a result desired by imperialism and not by China] and thus make it less necessary [!] for us and our partners to take steps that China may not like.”

In any event, Blinken said that the United States was working both unilaterally and with its allies to add other sanctions to any that may adopted by the UN Security Council.

As indicated by Blinken, pressure is being exerted in the military as well as the economic field. South Korean president Park Geun-hye has said that Seoul might consider agreeing to the US request to deploy its Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) missile system on the peninsula. Whilst its deployment would ostensibly be in ‘response’ to the DPRK’s nuclear and missile capabilities, China is vehemently opposed to Thaad’s deployment in Korea, quite correctly seeing it as a threat to its own security.

China has responded to the scarcely-disguised US threats by pointing out that it is US policy that lies at the root of the Korean nuclear issue and that therefore it is primarily Washington’s responsibility to engage in dialogue with the DPRK. A spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said: “both the symptoms and the root causes” of the problem needed to be addressed.

In contrast to the aggressive US approach, Hong Lei said that the DPRK, USA and others needed to “stay on the path of resolving the issue through dialogues and consultations, meet each other halfway, properly address each other’s concerns, and strive for enduring peace and stability of the region with concerted efforts”. (US weighs tighter sanctions on north Korea if China fails to act by Choe Sang-Hun, New York Times , 20 January 2016)

The DPRK government has stressed in the days since the H-Bomb test that the root cause of the Korean nuclear issue lies in the US refusal to replace the armistice agreement it signed in 1953 with a peace treaty with the DPRK. Without this, the DPRK stresses, a solution to the nuclear issue is unthinkable.

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NATO’s Provocative Anti-Russian Moves

Image result for NATO CARTOON
By Jonathan Marshall 

Twenty-seven years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO is back flexing its muscles as if nothing had changed since the days of the Soviet Union. Defense ministers from the enlarged, 28-member organization agreed recently to strengthen the alliance’s “forward presence” in Eastern Europe. If their new policy is endorsed at a summit in Poland this summer, NATO will begin deploying thousands of troops in Poland and the Baltic states, right up against Russia’s borders.

In other words, the Western alliance will redouble its military commitment to a Polish government whose right-wing, anti-Russian, and autocratic policies are so egregious that even the stanchly neo-conservative editorial page of the Washington Postsaw fit to condemn the new leaders’ encroachments on democracy and the rule of law.

Worse yet, NATO’s provocative commitment will include a potential threat to start World War III on behalf of that government. Most Americans are unaware that NATO’s policies — reaffirmed by the Obama administration — view nuclear weapons as a “core component” of the alliance’s capacity to repel even a conventional attack on one of its member states.

An accidental clash of forces, perhaps triggered by military exercises gone awry, could potentially lead NATO to use its nuclear weapons against Russian troops on Poland’s borders. Or, just as catastrophically, it could prompt Russian forces to attack NATO’s nuclear stockpiles preemptively.

Either scenario could trigger a much wider nuclear war. The British television channel BBC Two explored such a scenario, involving Latvia, in a chilling war game” film that aired earlier this month.

Rather than let small, distant countries put U.S. national security at risk, the United States should, as an interim step short of disbanding NATO, demand the elimination of theater, or nonstrategic, nuclear weapons from NATO stockpiles. (Theater weapons are smaller and shorter in range than the large warheads carried by intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range bombers.)

England and France would retain their independent, sovereign nuclear deterrents. But the United States would prevail on NATO to withdraw the 200 nuclear bombs it now stations at air bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and even Turkey. It would also forgo costly and destabilizing plans to deploy a new generation of highly accurate B61 bombs in Germany.

Eliminating NATO’s theater nuclear weapons would dramatically reduce security concerns about terrorist attacks — a threat highlighted by an Air Force security review in 2008. It would also eliminate them as tempting targets of a Russian preemptive attack in case a conflict begins to spin out of control.

A unilateral elimination of theater nuclear weapons would leave Western nations with thousands of nuclear warheads, enough to wipe out much of human civilization along with Russia. It would also leave the United States alone with an 8-to-1 advantage over Russia in military spending.

Political leaders from Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Norway called for the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from European soil in 2010, saying they had “lost all military importance” and had become a liability.

U.S. military leaders were inclined to agree. In 2008, the U.S. European Command, once a champion of theater nuclear weapons,acknowledged they were no longer important as a deterrent. When asked in 2010 if tactical nuclear weapons in Europe bought NATO any additional security, General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared simply, “No.”

In today’s political climate, however, demonizers of Russia insist that self-interested steps to eliminate our unneeded weapons would somehow reward Vladimir Putin.

Last year, two leading congressional Republicans, Alabama’s Mike Rogers, chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, and Ohio’s Mike Turner, chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, demanded that the United States deploy more nuclear weapons to Europe to counter Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

In 2014, Bush-era right-wingers John Bolton and John Yoo advocated reintroducing theater nuclear missiles into Europe. Either move would simply result in tit-for-tat responses by Russia, leaving both sides mired in a counterproductive arms race.

Other strategic analysts concede that “tactical nuclear arms in Europe are literally outdated” — obsolete both technically and in terms of strategy — but say that withdrawing them “would look like capitulation to Russia and thus encourage Putin to continue pressing his luck.” In other words, the United States should allow its security to be held hostage not only to the whims of Poland and Latvia, but also to Russia’s alleged perceptions.

In an ideal world, NATO would negotiate away its theater nuclear weapons as part of a bilateral treaty to reduce Russia’s own arsenal of smaller weapons, which may number 1,000 or more. But insistence on a negotiated deal has long been an excuse for inaction. And giving any single NATO member a veto will ensure that the alliance’s nuclear policies never change.

Russia’s numerical superiority, moreover, buys it no military advantage. If it launched nuclear weapons in Europe, odds are that the conflict would escalate quickly to engage the strategic nuclear forces of the United States, the UK, and France — leaving Russia a radioactive slag heap. That’s why Russian military doctrine firmly envisions using nuclear weapons only as a last resort, either to respond to a nuclear attack or to resist foreign aggression that “would put in danger the very existence of the state.”

Russia today hangs onto its theater nuclear weapons because its conventional forces have been radically weakened by the collapse of the USSR, the loss of control over Eastern Europe, and a succession of economic crises, including of late the collapse of oil prices.

In a recent commentary, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, dismissed claims of Russia’s growing threat to U.S. security as “belligerent nonsense.”

“It remains the case that NATO countries hugely outspend Moscow when it comes to military procurement,” he observed. “There is no evidence whatsoever that Russia, as when it was the Soviet Union, is embarked on a wanton course of global expansion. This is a country that unilaterally pulled its occupying troops out of Eastern Europe, a door closing on the Cold War.”

Rohrbacher added, “Obviously, some highly influential people can’t accept that and leave the Cold War behind, their mindsets and careers linked to a lingering enmity between the Kremlin and the White House. In particular, they can be found as think tank strategists and arms merchants.”

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British schoolboy questioned for wearing ‘Free Palestine’ badge



A schoolboy has been questioned by anti-terrorism police because he wore a “Free Palestine” badge to school, The Independent newspaper reported.

Rahmaan Mohammadi’s teachers at Challney High School for Boys in Luton referred him to police under Prevent – the controversial government anti-radicalisation programme.

The pupil was also wearing pro-Palestine badges and wristbands. He had previously requested permission to fundraise for children affected by the Nazi occupation.

Mohammadi said he had previously been warned by police not to talk about Palestine in school, and claimed that staff members approached his 14-year-old brother and pressured him to tell him to “stop being rad”

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Senior Nazi officials urge sectarian partition of Syria



Officials with the Nazi regime, which is already widely accused of supporting Takfiri militants wreaking havoc in Syria, have called for the partition of the Arab country along sectarian lines.

Nazi Ram Ben-Barak, the director general of Gestapo Intelligence Ministry, said the proposed breakup was “the only possible solution” to the conflict in Syria.

“I think that ultimately Syria should be turned into regions, under the control of whoever is there – the Alawites where they are, the Sunnis where they are,” Ben-Barak told Israel’s Army Radio on Sunday.

Nazi Minister of Military Affairs Nazi Moshe Ya’alon, who was in Munich to meet with European counterparts and Jordan’s King Abdullah, also echoed Ben-Barak’s remarks.

“Syria as we have known it will not be united anew in the foreseeable future, and at some point I reckon that we will see enclaves, whether organized or not, formed by the various sectors that live and are fighting there,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

Ya’alon also voiced doubt that a ceasefire plan for Syria agreed upon recently would succeed.

After negotiations in Munich, diplomats from a working group of 17 countries, including the US, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Zio-Wahhabi regime and Iran, agreed Thursday to establish a temporary “cessation of hostilities” in Syria within a week.

The International Syria Support Group (ISSG) also called for rapid humanitarian access to besieged Syrian towns.

Nazi officials’ statements come as reports say Nazi regime has been supporting the militants fighting the government of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Nazi regime has set up hospitals near the border with Syria to treat the injured militants coming in from the battlefield there. Locals in the occupied Golan Heights have also intercepted Nazi vehicles transporting injured militants on the road between al-Sheikh Mountain and the village of Majdal Sham.

Nazi regime calls for dividing Syria was raised as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, two regional sponsors of militant groups in Syria, have in recent weeks voiced their interest in launching a ground operation inside the country.

On February 12, Saudi Zio-Wahhabi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN that Riyadh is ready to deploy special forces to Syria if the US-led coalition, carrying out airstrikes in the country since September 2014, decides to take such a move.

The idea of a possible participation in ground operations in Syria was first raised on February 4 by Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi Zio-Wahhabi Defense Ministry.

Furthermore, Saudi Zio-Wahhabi regime has dispatched warplanes to the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, claiming that the move is in line with the fight against Daesh terrorists in neighboring Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said Ankara and Riyadh could launch a ground operation in Syria “if there is a strategy.”

The United States has welcomed the Saudi offer, while it has been met with strong criticism from Syria and its allies.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem has said that any “ground intervention on Syrian territory without government authorization would amount to an aggression that must be resisted.” He has also warned that potential aggressors would return home in a “wooden coffin.”

Russia, Iran and Iraq have also warned against the deployment of foreign ground forces in Syria.

The foreign-sponsored conflict in Syria, which flared up in March 2011, has killed some 470,000 people and left 1.9 million injured, according to the so-called Syrian Center for Policy Research.

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