Sunday, 28 December 2008
Following the massive attack Israel launched on Gaza today, Oxford Stop the War Coalition has organised a protest at Carfax 6pm to 7pm today (Sunday). Please come along and bring candles and placards.So far the sudden attack on Gaza has killed over 200 people and injured a further 300.
The violence is continuing. Beginning without warning, the attacks began by targeting police stations in order to undermine the internal security of the Gaza Strip. Over 50 of the dead were reportedly killed when the Gaza security headquarters was hit with a missile. Images coming out of Gaza City and other areas show dozens of men in police uniforms, dead or horribly injured, lying in the street as other civilians rush to bring the wounded to local hospitals. Timed when Children are leaving school.This attack comes after more than a year of strangulating sanctions which has left hospitals without basic materials or medicines to treat the mass-casualties. Israel has said this is "just the beginning" and has been threatening a massive strike on Gaza after a new ceasefire could not be negotiated and the previous 6-month ceasefire between Hamas and Israel expired last week. The previous ceasefire was negotiated on the basis that Israel would open the crossings into Gaza, allowing desperately- needed food, medicine, and other humanitarian needs in. Israel never kept up their end of the agreement, keeping the crossings closed except for a few, token openings letting in less than 25% of the needed supplies.
There are also national protests organised by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Return Centre, British Muslim Initiative, Friends of Al Aqsa, Muslim Association of Britain, Respect and the Islamic Human Rights Commission.These are taking place opposite the Israeli Embassy, Kensington High Street (nearest tube is High Street Kensington) as follows:Sunday 28 December 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm and Monday 29 December 4.00pm - 6.00pm.
Saturday, 13 December 2008
Stop the jobs massacre- why no bail out for workers?
With £13 billion handed out in London city bonuses in 2008 alone it is an outrage that thousands of people are being left to face redundancy and repossession without more government support.
Support for Woolworths Staff
Left Alternative supporters have been petitioning inside Cowley centre Woolworth's at the tills in the last few days. Activists Ian and Julie report…
“We made a brief announcement and then 6 of us petitioned the queues across the store. We said that the Local Labour MP and the government should be doing more about the collapse of Woolies and potentially the loss of 30,000 jobs. EVERYBODY AGREED. We talked about the need for a generalised fight back over jobs, pointing out if the government can bail out the bankers they can keep people in work. 200 people signed the petition during our visits on Friday and Saturday, pretty much everybody we asked in the time we spent in the store. Staff took leaflets to hand out to their workmates. People were not only sympathetic about the Woolworth workers but also want action on growing unemployment, with one person already having lost their printing job and home as a result of the crisis. Others faced fights to get benefits for disabled children and worried about their jobs. Our first signer was the wife of ex-post worker who took the opportunity to add to our announcement the fact the Oxford post workers are also fighting for their jobs.”
To support the petition e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, 12 December 2008
Information below from CABIRC...
In May 2008, the UK government announced plans to increase immigration detention
capacity in the UK. An 800-place centre is to be built across the road from Bullingdon
The ‘Accommodation Centre’ all over again?
You may recall Home Office efforts to build an Accommodation Centre in 2002.
Planning permission was unanimously refused by Cherwell District Council, whose
decision was upheld at public inquiry. The application went to judicial review, and,
finally, to the Court of Appeal. Work began on the site in 2005. But objections to the
planning proposals continued. In June 2005, government plans were abandoned. An
estimated £29.1 million of public money was wasted on this aborted project.
Local popular opposition was the key to this success. It is the
key to challenging the new detention centre.
Coalition against Bullingdon Immigration Removal Centre
A local campaign group, known as ‘CABIRC’, has been established to oppose the new
centre on grounds that:
• indefinite detention is inhumane and an abuse of human rights
• expansion of detention is unnecessary given the falling number of asylum
• the centre would be an enormous and ill-affordable public expense, costing
an annual estimated £32 million to run
• there are planning and environmental objections to the proposal, as there
were to the Accommodation Centre.
What can you do?
The planning application was received by Cherwell District Council on 8 December. A
decision is likely to be recommended at the meeting of the South Area Planning
Committee on either 19 February or 12 March 2009.
Residents are encouraged to:
• study the planning application (ref. no. 08/02511/F), available online via the
planning portal, http://cherweb.cherwell-
• write to oppose it, to your district councillors, and to Cherwell District Council
(Planning), Bodicote House, White Post Road, Bodicote, Banbury OX15 4AA
• write to Tony Baldry MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA
• write a letter to the local press: email@example.com;
• join CABIRC to campaign against the centre, or make a donation.
Reasons to oppose the application
• unnecessary: there are already two designated prisons for foreign national
prisoners; and the number of asylum seekers is a quarter of the number in 2000
• a rural location, not identified as a site for employment growth – development
here undermines local planning policy
• a large unsustainable site, with poor public transport: unacceptable increases in
traffic congestion; a danger to pedestrians
• a brightly-lit and noisy site causing light and noise pollution in a rural area
• environmental impact: including harm to the countryside, wildlife habitats, water
supply and disposal in an area with existing water problems
• human rights and safety considerations: the history of nearby Campsfield IRC
shows that protests by detainees, fires and escapes are to be expected.
For further information, please see www.cabirc.org.uk, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, 7 December 2008
BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7768867.stm
The CaCC urgently needs funds to build on the work it has done, please visit: http://www.campaigncc.org/ for more info
Over 2,600 people, nearly all of them asylum seekers, are locked up indetention camps and prisons in Britain, without trial and without timelimit and with no automatic right to bail. The government is building newdetention centres with a target capacity of 4000. The asylum seekingprocess is arbitrary and punishes innocent refugees not for anything theyhave done, but in the hope of deterring others from exercising their rightunder the Geneva Convention to claim asylum in Britain
For more information सी:
- Campaign to Close Campsfield - http://www.closecampsfield.org.uk/- Barbed Wire Britain - http://www.barbedwirebritain.org.uk/
Sunday, 30 November 2008
London protest December 6th 2008
Oxford coach tickets £7 and £10 from Inner Bookshop, Magdalen Street and Quaker Meeting House, St Giles. Coach leaves 10am from St Giles.
Part of a Global Day of Action - see www.globalclimatecampaign.org
- last year 70+ countries were involved !
The march this year goes to Parliament Square to demand that the government act now on climate. The march will now start at Grosvenor Square (5 mins from Speakers Corner, Hyde Park - Bond Street or Marble Arch tube.Apologies for any confusion over starting point see more here) - assemble 12 noon. Full schedule here
Speakers will include Nick Clegg (leader Liberal Democrat Party), Caroline Lucas (leader, Green party), Michael Meacher (ex-Environment Minister) andGeorge Monbiot (Honorary President, Campaign against Climate Change).
The march will be preceeded by a climate protest bike ride starting from Lincoln's Inn Fields at 10.30 am: see more here.
There will be a Climate Change Service at Hinde Street church at 11.30 am - worshippers will join the march afterwards. See more here.
There will be an After-Party in the Synergy Centre from 5.00 pm till late.
To download leaflet for the National March click here
The March on Parliament has four main themes -
1) NO to a 3rd runway at Heathrow and the runaway expansion in aviation expansion.
2) NO new coal - no new coal-fired power stations as planned at eg Kingsnorth in Kent
3) NO to the expansion of agrofuels - with negative impacts on forests, the climate and world food supply.
4) YES to a renewable energy revolution and green jobs - a "Green new Deal"
Come with your own banners, costumes etc on one of these themes (if you fancy !) and join up with others pushing that theme......
The March on Parliament for the Climate marks the Saturday midway through the UN Climate Talks in Poznan, Poland and we make our demands on the UK government in solidarity with the world's poorest and most vulnerable communities that will suffer worst and most immediately from climate change caused overwhelmingly by the rich long-industrialised countries.
We need the government to act now on climate, to stop building coal-fired power stations and new runways - and to begin the renewable energy revolution. We need a tidal wave of people outside parliament to make them act to stop climate catastrophe now ! Be part of that tidal wave, be there ! Next year may be too late.
Why so critical now ? See here.
Friday, 14 November 2008
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Why Obama Won
So he did it! At 11 pm Eastern Standard Time, Barrack Obama was confirmed as the first African-American to be elected president of the United States. The sheer historic nature of this achievement, less than fifty years after the Civil Rights movement was struggling to end segregation and Jim Crow, makes it hard just yet to put it in perspective, and what follows is my own attempt to draw some instant conclusions. Reactions to Obama’s win range from a belief among his supporters that anything is possible, to the warning of TV pundits that he has to ‘govern from the centre’, and that we must downplay our expectations. There will be plenty of time in the future to consider if, when, how, and why Obama will let down those high hopes, but right now the dominant mood is one of celebration at the end of 8 years of neoconservative rule. 160,000 people gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park to hear Obama’s victory speech, and there are reports of spontaneous celebrations in the streets up and down the country. Obama may not be a radical (despite what McCain says), but this certainly doesn’t feel like any old election.
The feeling of history being made is not just down to Obama being African-American, there is also a real feeling of change in the air. Young people came out to vote in unprecedented numbers, and the votes of first-time electors went about 2-1 in favour of Obama. But Obama won across the board, increasing the Democratic vote among all sectors, including white workers, who are so often written off as ignorant conservative rednecks. McCain’s patronizing attempts to laud ‘Joe the Plumber’ (a reactionary tax-dodging petty-bourgeois wannabee who had 5 minutes of fame interrogating Obama on his tax plans) as a working class hero spectacularly failed in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Joe’s native Ohio. The reason?
Or, as Bill Clinton used to say, ‘the economy, stupid’. 63% of voters said the economy was their main concern, and the Wall Street crash of 2 months ago really sealed McCain and the Republicans’ fate, as working people rightly blamed years of free market policies and corporate deregulation for their plight. But even before that moment, home repossessions and rising unemployment meant that the economy was already the leading issue among voters.
But the move toward Obama is more than simply a case of booting out an unpopular government when times are bad. It represents a move to the left, despite the best efforts of the Democratic Party hierarchy to be ‘moderate’. In a mild, filtered, and very American way, Obama was forced to talk about class. Whereas before he had stressed his plans to cut tax for the bottom 95%, in a speech that I heard on TV on Monday he was talking up the same policy as an INCREASE in taxes on the rich, and attacking the record profits of the oil companies. Whether he does it is another matter, but the fact that he was saying it was significant of a political shift. So too is the constant stress on the ‘middle class’ in the speeches of Obama and Biden. The concept of the middle class in the US is rather different from in Europe, as Americans like to deny that this country has a working class. In the sense that Obama used it, referring to the people who are losing their jobs and homes, it meant the working class.
Further proof that Obama’s win symbolizes a shift to the left is the question of Iraq. On the face of it, this was not the big issue that it might have been. Only 10% of voters said it was their main concern. However, with the economy dominating the election campaign, that still left the war as the second biggest issue among voters. It’s true that Obama hardly emphasized his anti-war credentials in the debates, as he stressed his support for escalation in Afghanistan, and seemed unable to challenge McCain’s claim that ‘the surge is working’ in Iraq. Nevertheless, Obama is the first person ever to win a U.S. presidential election while opposing a war that’s still in progress.
Finally, Obama’s win was sealed on the ground by an amazing volunteer army of enthusiastic, and usually young, supporters. To take an example close to home (literally) my teenage step-daughter and a group of her friends, all of them too young to vote, formed a pro-Obama group at high school, and have been out at least twice every week for the last two months knocking on doors, making phone calls, and putting together campaign materials. I cannot think of any like this happening in my memory around electoral politics, only in mass movements such as Stop the War and the Anti-Nazi League.
That’s why the election of Obama feels different from Blair’s election in 1997. Yes, there was a similar sense of euphoria and history around Blair. Yes, Obama is also a centrist like Blair, and even now there is speculation about which former Republicans will be asked to join his cabinet. But there is the making of a mass movement behind Obama, and it’s to that movement, rather than to Obama himself, that we must look for real ‘change you can believe in.’
Civil Servants to strike over pay- Press Release
PCS (Public and Commercial Services Union) members are set to stage a Civil Service wide strike on the 10th November over the Government's 2% public sector pay cap.
The union has urged the government to come to the negotiating table to avoid the action and review it's pay cap, which is resulting in pay cuts and pay freezes for some of the lowest paid in the public sector. If there is no movement from the government then industrial action will begin with a one day UK wide strike on 10th November, hitting passports, Jobcentresm, Tax Credits, immigration and customs, as well as driving licenses, coastguards, driving tests and museums.
The one day strike will be followed by an overtime ban and further targeted industrial action that would stretch into the new year in the different sectors of the civil service.
With one in five in the civil service earning less than £15,000 abd thousands earning just above the minimum wage, the government's policy of capping public sector pay has hit some of the lowest paid in the public sector the hardest.
Commenting, Mark serwotka, PCS general secretary, said "The everyday things we take for granted from passports and getting back into work, through to tax credits, coastguards and securing our borders are delivered by hardworking civil and public servants. Giving these people pay rises that take their wages to just 13 or 25 pence above the national minimum wage is unsustainable when you face double digit rises in food, fuel and housing costs."
Kate Douglas, joint branch secretary of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Department of Work and Pensions, said "The government wants us to think there is no money for our pay, but billions can be found to bail out the bankers; pay in the private sector is increasing at 1% higher than the public sector and the most senior civil servants can get as much as £40,000 in bonuses. We are told by the government to tighten our belts when we have nothing left to tighten."
Tina Watts, who works in Oxford Jobcentre, said "The government claims that low paid public sector workers cause inflation. However, no serious economist has suggested that giving us fair wage rises would cause inflation. With food and energy costs rising, far from being the cause of inflation, we are the victims."
Lorna Merry, HMRC Branch Secretary, said 'The pay cap hits civil servants harder than other public sector workers as we're limited to the same % increase but it has to fund pay progression as well as general increases. 2008 rises for workers in the two largest departments show just how unfairly this works in practice. The DWP is using it's remit to fund progression awards this year, so the 40% paid the rate for the job get nothing this year. HMRC have scrapped progression this year to fund an across the board rise for all staff that's half of the rate of inflation, leaving newer recruits stranded on pay that's hundreds of pounds less than longer serving colleagues doing the same job. A key part of our campaign is to seperate pay progression from pay rises so that future pay offers don't result in this sort of unfairness in future.'
There will be picket lines outside most civil service offices, including the jobcentre in Oxford.
Monday, 27 October 2008
Friday, 17 October 2008
Republicans: racist, crazy, and losing
Amid the wreckage of the U.S. economy, John McCain’s election hopes also seem to be collapsing into rubble. It seems hard now to believe that, just over a month ago, McCain was ahead in the polls, boosted by the selection of a dynamic younger running-mate in Sarah Palin (not that it’s hard to be younger or more dynamic than John McCain). Now, it’s true that McCain was barely ahead, and that the ‘Palin bounce’ soon disappeared when people realized she was ultra-conservative and crazy as hell. But what has really done for McCain and the Republicans is the economy’s latest lurch into the abyss. Try as they might to spread the blame (e.g., by accusing the Democrats of making it too easy for poor people and minorities to get mortgages) the Republicans cannot avoid the fact that it was their policies of deregulating the banking system, rewarding Wall Street, and pushing wages down so low that working people had to go into debt to survive, that got us into this mess. What was once a razor’s-edge contest now looks like a potential landslide, with Obama’s poll lead into double digits. Of course, the Republicans will try to steal the election by forcing African Americans off the electoral register, but they will be hard pressed to overturn a deficit of up to 14%. Worse news yet for the Republicans is that Obama leads not only in crucial swing states, but also in states such as Virginia which the Democrats have not won in over 40 years.
In this situation, the McCain camp are desperately trying to distract voters from the economy by resorting to personal smears against Obama, often voiced by Palin, who plays the role of attack-dog while leaving McCain to appear decent and reasonable. So Palin unearthed an old non-story about Obama’s supposed ‘terrorist’ links to an aging 60s radical in Chicago. Bill Ayers, a former member of the ‘Weather Underground’, was involved in bombing the Pentagon in 1972, in protest against the Vietnam War. His two-pound bomb killed nobody, while millions were killed in the war which Ayers opposed. Decades later, having renounced armed actions, he became a well-respected campaigner for school reform, and briefly sat on the same education committee as Obama. Palin defines this as Obama ‘palling around with terrorists.’ But of course, such nuances are not the point – the point is to get the words ‘Obama’ and ‘terrorist’ into the same sentence, preferably including Obama’s middle name Hussein, add the comment that ‘he’s not one of us’, and let the audience take away the message ‘Obama = Muslim = terrorist = Black.’ The real danger of this kind of rhetoric is shown by the kinds of comments shouted by McCain-Palin supporters at rallies when Obama’s name is mentioned: ‘terrorist’, ‘treason’ and even ‘kill him.’ At one of McCain’s cozy ‘town hall meetings’, the Republican candidate was embarrassed when a woman questioner said she didn’t trust Obama because ‘he’s an Arab.’
None of these tactics are working, however, as the economy dominates every political discussion. Ironically, Obama is benefiting from a real sense of class anger that the Democrats have done nothing to encourage. In fact, Obama and the Democratic leadership (along with McCain and the Republican leaders) in Congress supported the highly unpopular ‘bail-out’ plan, which the public rightly viewed as rewarding Wall Street’s irresponsible behaviour by giving the bankers hundreds of billions of dollars of tax-payers’ money. When the initial version of the bail-out was defeated in Congress, the opposition was written off by political pundits as an extremist alliance of right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats, bolstered by the ignorant public’s failure to see just what a good thing the bail-out package really was. In fact, both sides of the house were reacting to public pressure, as millions of voters bombarded their congressmen with angry phone calls and emails. There were also small but highly significant demonstrations by unions, in Washington, in New York (where trade unionists marched down Wall Street) and in towns across the country. The victory was temporary, as Congress passed a revamped version of the bill the following week, but it shows what can be achieved. As for Wall Street, it celebrated its salvation by suffering record losses.
There are tough times ahead, as the credit crisis turns into a global crisis of capital. Obama’s support for the bail-out is a warning that the Democrats still broadly accept the priorities of the free market. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that nobody believes the free market works anymore, but neither major party will come out and say it. There is a consensus among the leaders of both parties that the best way to get out of the crisis is to hand over billions to those who got us into it. If Obama wins we should (if I may paraphrase Churchill on a socialist blog!) ‘allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing’, but then go down to our local union or community organization and knuckle down to the hard work of resisting those who want to make us pay for their crisis.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Global Climate March 08 Saturday December 6th
(The Saturday midway through the UNFCCC Climate Talks (COP 14/MOP 4), in Poznan, Poland)
London Protest 1pm. Coach leaves St Giles (siding between Ashmolean and Quaker Centre) at 9.30am, returns from London at 4pm.
Tickets £10 and £6 (concessions) from Dave 07985056089 or from November onwards at Uhuru Foods (Cowley Road), Inner Bookshop (Maudlin Street) or The Quaker Shop (St Giles
Co-ordinated demonstrations are planned around the world on Saturday December 6th 2008 to coincide with the United Nations Climate Talks(COP13/MOP3) in Poznan, Poland, December 1st to 12th 2008. - to call on world leaders to take urgent action on climate change. The 'Call to Action' for these demonstrations is as follows :
“We demand that world leaders take the urgent and resolute action that is needed to prevent the catastrophic destabilisation of global climate, so that the entire world can move as rapidly as possible to a stronger emissions reductions treaty which is both equitable and effective in minimising dangerous climate change. We demand that the long-industrialised countries that have emitted most greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere take responsibility for climate change mitigation by immediately reducing their own emissions as well as investing in a clean energy revolution in the developing world. Developed countries must take their fair share of the responsibility to pay for the adaptive measures that have to be taken, especially by low-emitting countries with limited economic resources. Climate change will hit the poorest first and hardest. All who have the economic means to act, must therefore urgently and decisively do so.
We belive that there is an overwhelming need to create a groundswell of global opinion to push for the urgent and radical action on climate change, without which we risk a global catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Please join us. For more information visit: www.campaigncc.org
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Got the T-Shirt?
Sometimes Wikipedia gets it right. A few weeks ago the much-maligned on-line encyclopedia described Sarah Palin as the Republican nominee for vice-president, several hours before the official announcement was made. Ironically at the same time I was telling my students about the dangers of trusting Wikipedia as a reliable source. As I drove home from class, BBC World Service on my car radio was announcing that, indeed the governor of Alaska was to be John McCain’s running-mate.
Needless to say, there is nothing good about Palin’s nomination, despite her being only the second woman to run for the vice-presidency on a major-party ticket, and despite some of her critics comparing her to Hugo Chavez! (http://www.adn.com/front/story/442702.html) Palin ticks most of the Christian-conservative boxes: anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-environment, pro-war, pro-creationism. She is on record as saying that the Iraq War was ‘God’s task’ for Americans. It goes without saying that, as a Republican from oil-rich Alaska, she is in favor in drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and doesn’t believe that climate change is human-made. An opponent of abortion (even in cases of rape), she also advocates ‘abstinence only’ sex-education in schools. Soon after her candidacy was announced, it was revealed that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter was pregnant, suggesting that abstinence hadn’t been entirely successful in the case of her own family. As mayor of the small town of Wasilla, Alaska, she insisted on rape victims paying $1200 for the cost of the ‘rape kit’ used by the police to obtain forensic evidence. As governor, she attempted to fire her sister’s ex-husband from his job as a state policeman, and then sacked the state official who refused to go along with it. Just for good measure, she is now refusing to cooperate with the official investigation into the affair.
Palin is a curious choice given the Republicans’ criticism of Obama as too inexperienced, as before she became governor less than two years ago her highest political office was mayor of a city with fewer than 9000 inhabitants. But of course, this isn’t about Palin’s abilities (or lack of them), it’s a cynical ploy by the Republicans to embarrass the Democrats in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s narrow failure to win the presidential nomination, and to win over women voters. This always seemed unlikely, given Palin’s views on rape and abortion, and the latest polls show a 21% swing to the Democrats among women voters.
Palin’s reputation (such as it is) rests on the bogus claim that she is an outspoken anti-establishment figure – much like McCain, but even more conservative. At the Republican convention she claimed, to loud cheers, to have stopped the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’. This was a notorious example of what are euphemistically known as ‘earmarks’ (and less politely, as ‘pork’); spending measures added to bills in Congress by representatives keen to see federal money spent on their home states. What she failed to mention was that she initially campaigned for the bridge, and (unless it’s been removed by now) Wikipedia shows a picture of her wearing a T-shirt supporting the project. It’s true that, as governor, she cancelled the bridge - but she still kept the money. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravina_Island_Bridge
All of this confirms what we already know – that the Republican right are a bunch of bigoted right-wing Christian fruit loops in hock to Big Oil. But what’s happening in the Democratic camp? As I reported last time, Obama is moving to the right to court ‘mainstream’ America, but that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm his supporters feel. Right now, my 14-year-old step-daughter has just returned from an Obama rally (“it was AWESOME”) which gives you some indication of Obama’s appeal to idealistic young people.
The gulf between the suspicions that we on the left may have of Obama, and the excitement felt about his candidacy among many Americans, was brought home to me when I attended the Detroit Jazz Festival during the Labor Day weekend, just after the Democratic convention where Obama officially accepted his party’s nomination. Detroit is one of the Blackest cities in the northern states, and arguably one of the most working-class. At its height, the now-devastated automobile industry of ‘Motor City’ attracted hundreds of thousands of African-American workers to Michigan, escaping poverty and segregation in the South. I was struck by how many people – and, in particular, how many African-American people – were wearing Obama T-shirts. And they weren’t official T-shirts from the Obama campaign, but an exuberant array of different (no doubt unofficial) designs, including a particularly fetching image of Obama’s face picked out in sequins. But perhaps the most revealing shirt (politically revealing, that is) showed a picture of Obama’s face morphed with that of Martin Luther King, above the words ‘I was there when history was made’ along with the date and the name of a local cinema. The shirt was, of course, worn by an African-American man. In other words, Obama’s acceptance speech was not only viewed by millions of people on their TVs at home – it was an event that working-class Black people went out to bars, theatres, and cinemas to watch together, so that they could share a moment of history.
There lies the contradiction of Obama – a very mainstream candidate in terms of his policies, he has nonetheless become for millions an inspiration and a symbol of hope. Given the choice between ‘Obama the movement’ (to use Michael Moore’s phrase) and a Republican ticket that has just unambiguously identified itself with the most reactionary and loopy elements of the Christian right, it’s increasingly difficult for socialists to argue the ‘they’re as bad each other’ line. Somehow, the left in the U.S.A. has to find a way of identifying with ‘Obama the movement’ while arguing the case for an anti-capitalist third party.
Saturday, 20 September 2008
Friday, 8 August 2008
Saturday, 2 August 2008
Obama Turns Right
Sorry to go on about Barack Obama again, but he is still the biggest story in U.S. politics, and his recent European tour means that you on the other side of the pond have just had your share of Obamania. I’ve written before that it is hard to entirely dislike someone who Fox News accuses of being a being a secret Muslim terrorist communist. His ability to mobilize the people who are traditionally disengaged from mainstream politics is exciting and significant. Yet as the presidential campaign begins to swing into action, Obama is sounding increasingly like the timid, conservative, party-machine candidates who turned those people off the Democrats in the first place.
It’s true that Obama was never that left-wing in the first place; he is worryingly close to Wall Street, and supports the war in Afghanistan. But in the last few weeks, he has swung further to the right. Take his heavily-reported speech in Berlin: as one of the commentators on the news channel MSNBC put it, “John McCain could have given that speech”. It was full of nostalgic references to the Cold War and appeals to Europe to help get the U.S. out of the hole it has dug for itself in Afghanistan. No doubt Fox News will take Obama’s admission that the USA isn't perfect as a sign of his treasonous Islamo-Bolshevik tendencies. Otherwise, however, the speech was a hawkish appeal for a transatlantic alliance in the ‘War on Terror’.
The Berlin speech was only the latest in a series of right-wing moves by Obama. In 1968, when French student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit was accused of being ‘A German Jew who thinks he’s Karl Marx’, the students responded with the slogan ‘we are ALL German Jews’. When ‘accused’ of being a Muslim, Obama’s response was not to say ‘supposing I am Muslim, what of it? In America we enjoy freedom of religion’. Instead, he strenuously denied that he was a Muslim and went to great lengths to stress his Christianity.
This could be written off as an unfortunate but necessary move to reassure an Islamophobic American electorate. (If so, it isn’t working, as the conservative media still pepper their comments with references to ‘Barack HUSSEIN Obama’, and ‘Barack Osama’). Sadly, it wasn’t an isolated incident. In the last few weeks, Obama has supported extending the death penalty to crimes other than murder; called for the extension of George Bush’s farming out of public services to ‘faith-based’ groups; offered unconditional support for Israel, and – in defiance of international law and the UN – supported the continued occupation of Palestinian East Jerusalem; and taken on a team of pro-corporate economic advisers.
Obama’s apologists argue that this is the inevitable logic of electoral politics – a candidate has to appeal to the centre ground to get elected, so must drop the more ‘extreme’ policies that appeal to the party base. This of course was the argument used to defend Blair in 1997 – and we all know the result of that. But it simply isn’t true that candidates have to move to the centre. The Republican John McCain certainly hasn’t – in fact, since clinching the nomination he has moved to the right, ditching his reputation as a centrist to embrace the failed politics of George W. Bush. None of this makes sense in terms of electoral arithmetic – Bush’s policies are hugely unpopular, and the polls show that the vast majority of Americans want withdrawal from Iraq, and blame the Republicans for the disastrous state of the economy, all of which would play into the hands of Obama if he were to stick to the simple message of attacking the Iraq War and the free-market economy.
So why do both candidates embrace unpopular policies? As Obama’s courting of Wall Street suggests, it’s because real power rests not with the voters, but with corporate America. The Republicans are clear what base they represent; they are the party of big business, and reliably pursue pro-business policies. If in doubt, they swing to the right, even if it doesn’t make sense in electoral terms. The Democrats, however, do not have a similarly strong base among the poor or the working class, as they too are a pro-business party. As American socialist Mike Davis wrote at the time of Kerry’s defeat in 2004, “the great achievement of the Clinton era was to realign the Democrats as the party of the 'new economy', of the bicoastal knowledge industries and high-tech exporters. Instead of an economic rescue package for the heartland as demanded by the industrial unions, Clinton rammed through the job-exporting North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).” http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=9148
So the Dems cannot easily counter the Republicans with a strong anti-corporate message. Now, I’m not suggesting that, in the unlikely event that they reinvented themselves as a socialist party, the Democrats would sweep to victory. However, it’s not so hard in the present climate to at least imagine them routing the Republicans on a populist platform of opposition to the war and to corporate greed. But they won’t, for fear of alienating their rich backers. So by conceding the ground on arguments of social class and economics, they allow the Republicans to make inroads into the white working-class vote by appealing to fear of foreigners, gays, and the ‘liberal elite’.
The need for a third party based on anti-corporate politics is as clear as ever. This election is not the ideal time for such a challenge, as the desire to end 8 years of Republican rule, added to Obama’s bogus-radical credentials, looks set to turn the strong mood for change into a vote for the Democrats. On top of this, the progressive vote will be split between Ralph Nader (running as an independent) and the Green candidate Cynthia McKinney, an African-American ex-Democratic congresswoman with a proud anti-war record. But a left alternative is necessary, and if activists can tap into the idealism of Obama’s supporters, the growing trade unions in the ‘new economy’, and the mass movements against the war and in support of immigrants, building such an alternative might not be a pipe-dream.
Saturday, 19 July 2008
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Sunday, 22 June 2008
What ‘liberal media?’
Those of you nursing bruises from last Sunday’s demonstration against Bush’s visit to the UK will be surprised to hear that it never happened. I know this thanks to National Public Radio’s ‘White House Correspondent’ Don Gonyieh, who assured us that there was ‘not a single protestor’ on the streets of London. The fact that (a) this was not true and (b) that if had been, it was only because the march had been banned, seemed to have been totally lost on Gonyieh. Clicking on the BBC website left me little the wiser (no change there). Eventually, thanks to the English-language news on Germany’s Deutsche Welle TV (which we get thanks to basic cable) I was finally able to see footage of non-existent policemen whacking non-existent demonstrators with non-existent truncheons.
The U.S. media is notorious for its insularity – the first time I visited America, I watched CNN’s ‘World News Hour’ in the hope of finding out what was going on outside the 50 states. It turned out that the main item of ‘world’ news was American troops being sent off to some foreign country (I think it was Bosnia that week). But you would expect better of National Public Radio (NPR). This is, roughly speaking, the equivalent of BBC Radio 4, but with a far smaller budget. NPR and its TV equivalent PBS are publicly funded through a mixture tax dollars from Congress, and listener or viewer fund-raising drives. This gives it an editorial independence lacking in the corporate networks, and most of the time, NPR is excellent in a ‘BBC circa 1950’ sort of way. It has more overseas correspondents than any other network; it has in-depth news coverage that goes beyond sound-bites; it caters for those Americans who do not think music starts and ends with soft-rock; it hosts quirky shows which would never see the light of day on bottom-line-driven networks.
All of this means that NPR and PBS are targets for inevitable accusations of liberalism and elitism from the Right, and clearly public broadcasting should be defended unconditionally from those who would like to cut off its (pitifully small) funding. However, its supposed liberalism is debatable. When I first came to the US, my initial reaction was ‘thank God, something intelligent on the radio’. However, over the weeks I began to notice how, like the BBC back home, NPR’s ‘balanced’ news reflects the orthodoxies of US politics. So coverage of Venezuela always focus on Chavez’s ‘grandiose’ gestures, not on the substance of the country’s politics, while coverage of Iraq too often sounds like warmed over Pentagon press releases. I’ve no desire to defend Vladimir Putin, but why was his last speech as president described as ‘typically bombastic’, when NPR would never dream of calling one of Bush’s speeches ‘typically rambling and incoherent’?
Of course, NPR is way ahead of Rupert Murdoch’s cretinous Fox News, which quite unashamedly peddles conservative propaganda under the laughable banner ‘Fair and Balanced’. I occasionally turn on Fox News just to see how long I can stand it before switching to another channel; (record so far – about 15 seconds). It would take hundreds of blog entries to catalogue all the shocking, offensive, or just plain daft examples of Fox’s pushing the Republican agenda – check out the film documentary Outfoxed http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0418038/ or all Al Franken’s book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them http://www.bookmarks.uk.com/cgi/store/bookmark.cgi. To take just the most recent example, one Fox news anchor claimed that a fist-punch gesture made by Barrack Obama and his wife was a ‘terrorist fist jab.’ Fox News is an extreme example, but networks such as CNN paved the way for it by focusing on style above substance, trivia before real news. Readers who are my age will probably remember CNN’s reporters at the start of the 1991 Gulf War crowing that Baghdad was ‘lit up like a Christmas tree’ by allied bombing. It is one of the ironies of the modern media that we have 24-hour news networks, but less real news reporting.
Despite all this, the right constantly cry ‘liberal bias’ against the media – a rather ridiculous accusation in the circumstances. The writer Eric Alterman rightly chose the title What Liberal Media? for his book on right-wing bias in the news. For that matter the ‘liberals’ in the media aren’t even particularly left-wing – for example, Al Franken’s book is a great read, as he rips into the lies of right-wing commentators while also being funny, but at times it reads like a hymn of praise for the Bill Clinton administration, including its armed interventions in Haiti and the Balkans.
So are there any rays of hope? As in the UK, there are plenty of left-wing periodicals, blogs, and indymedia sites, but in the mainstream media, the popularity (especially among younger people) of satirical shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report shows that there is a big audience for political programming that lays into Bush and his cronies. Both shows use humour to make serious points about politics and the media, and it’s significant that a poll showed that viewers of the Daily Show (which bills itself as ‘fake news’) were better informed about the news than those who watch the ‘real’ news on Fox.
I’m not sure whether that is encouraging or depressing…
Monday, 19 May 2008
Letter from America #6 – Obama the Marxist?
They think it’s all over ... possibly… Last week’s Indiana and North Carolina primaries saw Barack Obama finally begin to emerge as the likely Democratic presidential nominee. Hillary Clinton has vowed to fight on, but her ‘victory’ speech in Indianapolis last week was full of conciliatory comments about the need to unite against the Republicans, suggesting she’s a candidate who knows her days are numbered.
Why has it taken so long to reach this point? In part, it’s down to the closeness of the race – most campaigns for the presidential nomination are over by now, with one candidate emerging as front runner, while those trailing drop out, nursing their wounds and their bank balances. But the arcane nature of the Democrats’ system for choosing a presidential candidate is the main reason that the issue is still undecided, and could remain so until the convention in August. The primaries and caucuses that have been contested so bitterly over the last four months elect only about 80% of the delegates to the party convention. The remaining 20% are so-called ‘super-delegates’, party officials or professional politicians who do not need to go through the tiresome business of being elected. To put it in the language of the British Labour Party – these are the block votes that protect the party leadership from too much internal democracy. As neither candidate can realistically gain a majority of elected delegates, this month’s primaries are as much about impressing the super-delegates as they are about winning votes. By winning big in North Carolina, and losing by only the narrowest of margins in Indiana, Obama sent a message to the party hierarchy that he is able to beat John McCain in November.
It is hard not to warm to Barack Obama, as he has been subjected to a witch-hunt in the media, which, disgracefully, Clinton was happy to pander to. Obama was slammed for old comments made by his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who was filmed giving a sermon attacking the USA’s record of oppressing African Americans, ending with a cry of ‘God Bless America? No, God Damn America!’ Then Obama was taped making comments at a private meeting in which he described small-town working-class Americans as ‘bitter’, who ‘cling to their guns and religion’.
Hillary Clinton leapt on these comments, and tried to turn herself into the champion of poor white America. Obama’s comments on ‘bitter’ blue-collar workers were, when read in context, quite perceptive – he was actually sympathizing with white working-class people, and urging liberals not to write them off, but to understand why they turn to ‘guns and religion’ in reaction to an economic system that sees them as dispensable. Clinton, however, attacked him as an ‘elitist’, leading to the nauseating spectacle of the Ivy-League-educated millionaire wife of a former president presenting herself as a woman of the people.
Does this mean the left should support Obama? Compared to Clinton, who recently threatened to ‘obliterate’ Iran if it attacked Israel, or to McCain, who would like to stay in Iraq for 100 years if necessary, the junior senator for Illinois certainly seems preferable. After all, anybody whom Fox News dubs a ‘Marxist’ can’t be all bad. Obama not only opposed the Iraq War, but spoke at a public rally against it in 2003, when Clinton and most of the Democrats in Congress were voting to authorize it. However, the Iraq War aside, there is very little that separates Obama and Clinton. Obama is less gung-ho on the ‘War on Terror’, but still supports it in principle – one of his criticisms of the Iraq War is that it distracts from the war in Afghanistan, which he supports. He is also in favour of keeping US bases in Iraq after ‘withdrawal’, and of using the US military there to fight ‘Al-Qaida’ – which makes for an odd kind of withdrawal. His economic and social policies are little different from Clinton’s. Obama talks a good game on the looming recession, but has said nothing to suggest he will seek a solution from outside the current free-market orthodoxies.
The film-maker Michael Moore put forward one of the more sophisticated arguments for why the left should back Obama. His argument is to vote not for Obama the man, but for ‘Obama the movement’. Yes, Moore argues, Obama is another mainstream politician, but he has enthused and energized hundreds of thousands of young people and first-time voters, and has succeeded in mobilizing the anti-war vote. Therefore there will be a movement in place to hold Obama to account if he is elected president. http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/message/index.php?id=225
There’s nothing wrong with Moore’s logic, but I think he comes to the wrong conclusion. He is spot-on when he argues that the left should approach electoral politics in terms of how it connects to the wider movement. That is why Respect was launched in the UK – not because we believe we will win a majority in parliament any time soon, but because the party can articulate the voice of the anti-war movement. That, too, is why much of the US left supported the Green Party’s Ralph Nader in 2000 – not because he could win, but because his campaign was linked to the emerging anti-capitalist movement. But Moore’s error is in seeing Obama as part of such a movement; Yes, Obama deserves credit for opposing the Iraq War when it was unpopular to do so, but his speech at that rally in Chicago in 2003 was the last time (to my knowledge) that he spoke at any public event of the anti-war movement. In fact, enrolling the anti-war movement into campaigning for Obama (or for the Democrats in general) would only weaken it. The tail-ending of the pro-war Democrats has been the biggest weakness the US anti-war movement. According to the US Green Party, many anti-war organizations have even decided to scale back their campaigns in the run-up to the elections, for fear of embarrassing the Democratic Party. http://www.gp.org/press/pr-national.php?ID=18 In these circumstances, the last thing the movement needs is closer links to a Democratic politician.
Yet, despite all I’ve written, I would argue against taking an ultra-left or sectarian attitude to Obama’s supporters. The fact that somebody who vocally and publicly opposed the invasion of Iraq looks set to beat a member of the Democratic establishment who wants to nuke Iran is significant of a change of mood among the American people. So is the fact that, for the first time, an African-American has a real chance of being elected president. After all, the older black voters who supported Obama in North Carolina will remember a time when it was impossible for an African-American to even vote in the South. We should not have any illusions in Obama as an agent of change, but should welcome the changes that make his election possible.