Weekly News Review Archive

23rd November, 2001



EU “serves interests of big tobacco”

With the approach of negotiations for the world's first public health treaty, the European Union position on key issues in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has been roundly criticised by NGOs and activists around the world. While a few European countries, most notably Sweden, have taken a leadership role in tobacco control, the European Union has adopted positions disturbingly sympathetic to transnational tobacco corporations. Corporate accountability and environmental organisations including Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Sweden, Critical Shareholders Association, Infact (US), and members of the Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, are demanding that the EU take a stronger stance on the FCTC. The treaty could set global standards on issues such as advertising and promotion, political influence, and the liability of tobacco corporations.

"While other countries and regions are advocating that the FCTC explicitly prioritize public health over trade and protect public policy from interference by tobacco transnationals, the EU is still catering to these corporations, which are labouring intensely to undermine the treaty," according to Adam Ma'anit of Corporate Europe Observatory. Since the last round of treaty talks in April, major transnational tobacco corporations Philip Morris, B.A.T, Japan Tobacco, and Reemstma have tried feverishly to derail progress.

In Germany, the impact of tobacco industry influence is clear. Tobacco corporations, like Reemstma, have sponsored media parties attended by prominent politicians, including Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Tobacco industry influence has also permeated the highest levels of the EU. Recently, Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, attended a media party in Germany sponsored by a tobacco corporation. Germany has continued challenging EU directives on tobacco advertising and now the EU has taken a united position against an advertising ban in the FCTC negotiations.

"Tobacco transnationals are fighting for their continued ability to hook kids around the world with advertising and promotional schemes, and the EU is backing the industry in its resolve. In order to be effective, the treaty must address the root causes of tobacco addiction by eliminating images such as Philip Morris's Marlboro Man," said Suren Moodliar of Infact.

The strongest position on the FCTC has come from developing countries where the burden of the tobacco epidemic will hit hardest. Last month at a regional WHO meeting, African countries articulated a tough stance on the treaty's central issues in the "Algiers Declaration." In a bold challenge to tobacco transnationals, the African region denounced a recent tobacco industry proposal for self-regulation as an attempt to derail the FCTC. According to Moodliar, "In Algiers, leaders of African nations stood up to Big Tobacco in an effort to protect Africa from the kind of tobacco epidemic that has already hit other areas of the world."

Henry Matthews of Critical Shareholders Association of Germany added, "As home to B.A.T and Reemstma, the EU has a responsibility to support the African position and adopt a negotiating position that bans tobacco advertising and promotion; protects public health policy from interference by the tobacco transnationals; prioritises public health over trade and investment; and includes strong monitoring and enforcement provisions." The next round of negotiations on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control take place this week in Geneva. "If the EU continues to please tobacco interests in the treaty process, countries should take bold steps to distance themselves from this position, in the interest of public health," states Emil Schön of Friends of the Earth Sweden.  Go to this website or this for more

Spain balks at pace of EU enlargement

Spain and other poorer EU member states are threatening to halt the mad dash to an ever greater union. Spain, sharing less well-off countries’ concerns over the effects on their own access to EU regional and cohesion funds of the admission of large numbers of countries poorer than themselves, is also concerned by the simple matter of workload.  The Spanish government calculates it will have to chair talks on a total of 150 “chapters” – the 31 thematic areas into which the negotiations for each of 12 recognised applicant countries is divided. This is three times as many as predicted, and represents an intolerable workload for Spain’s politicians, diplomats and civil servants.  The breakneck speed with which the EU wants to swallow its eastern neighbours is designed to minimise any democratic input. Commissioner Gunter Verheugen, in charge of enlargement negotiations, wants to see ten new members states admitted before 2004.

Leader of United Left Runs for EP Presidency

Francis Wurtz, who chairs the 43-member strong United Left Group (GUE-NGL) in the European Parliament, has thrown his hat into the ring for the post of President of the assembly. Wurtz, elected as a member of the French Communist Party,  does not expect to win, saying that instead he hoped “to show support for a Europe which is not identified with the ‘big market’”.  A spokesperson for the group added that the election of the Parliament's President "offers an opportunity for the progressive movement, which transcends the confines of the GUE-NGL group alone and is in favour of a complete rethink of EU policy, so as to break with the dominant neo-Liberal approach, to express this political determination clearly during the first round of voting."  The system by which the election of the president is conducted makes it possible for small groups of left and right to run a candidate in the first round before switching support to the main candidate of centre-left or centre-right in the final round.


See you soon, Pund? Au revoir, Franc? Hasta la vista, Peseta? Tot ziens, Gulden?

Dr Aleaxander Schulenburg of Kent in England wrote to the Financial Times last week to point out that one of their hacks, Peter Norman, was showing a distressing and possibly market-destabilising lack of confidence in the euro.  Norman had written that “Germans are braced to say auf Wierdesehen to the D-Mark”. As the good doctor asked, “Since ‘auf Wiedersehen’  literally translates as ‘until we see each other again’, does Mr Norman know something about the D-Mark that the rest of us don’t?”

Anti-war Protest - 100,000 March in London against War in Afghanistan

Some 100,000 anti-war protesters marched in London today, doubling last  month's turn-out of 50,000, and reflecting the full breadth, depth and diversity of anti-war feeling in Britain. Trade unionists, Muslim organisations, community groups, anti-racists, human rights activists,   anti- globalisation activists, students and MPs heard a wide range of  speakers condemn the US-led military action in Afghanistan.

After a week in which sections of the media indulged in misplaced  triumphalism in relation to the war in Afghanistan and subjected anti-war dissenters to misrepresentation and calumny, the huge numbers were  particularly significant.

After the large demonstration in London on 13 October, the Guardian  reported that government ministers were surprised and concerned. Tonight, they will be even more concerned. Some 100,000 people, undoubtedly representing the views of millions, have  seen through the hypocrisy and the double-standards, and reject the war being waged in their name. Despite all the government's advantages in the propaganda war, more and more people are asking hard questions about this military action – and they  are increasingly unsatisfied with the spin-doctors' answers.

Among the marchers were a wide range of people from trades unions, Muslim organisations, community and anti-racist groups, colleges, schools and universities, human rights, peace and anti-globalisation organisations, and political parties.

Protesters came by the coach-load from across the country, including Newcastle, Manchester, Plymouth, across Scotland & Wales, and the Foreign Secretary's own constituency of Blackburn. Forty coaches came from Birmingham. As the head of the march reached Trafalgar Square, the tail was still leaving Hyde Park.

"After today's demonstration, no-one can doubt both the scale and the diversity of anti-war feeling in this country," said Suresh Grover of the National Civil Rights Movement and the Stop the War Coalition steering committee. "This is a ground-breaking event, a massive display of opposition to the military action.

"This protest is also against the attack on human rights in Britain. The government is slipping in the suspension of habeas corpus and the introduction of internment and detention without trial. We are also seeing a proliferation of racist assaults.

"This huge turn-out represents the tip of the iceberg of disquiet running through British society. Despite the media attacks, we've doubled our numbers in a month. The message of the demonstration is that we are not going away. This movement will only get bigger."

Among the speakers were John Pilger, Bianca Jagger, Tony Benn, Caroline Lucas MEP (Green Party), Tariq Ali, New York City trade unionist Michael Letwin, MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Paul Marsden, Alan Simpson, George Galloway, and Adam Price, Germaine Greer, George Monbiot, Morning Star editor John Haylett,  Socialist Alliance chair Dave Nellist, human rights lawyers Louise Christian and Mike Mansfield, NATFHE general secretary Paul Mackney, NUT Executive member Bernard Regan and people from Palestine, Kurdistan and Afghanistan itself.

The march was organised by the Stop the War Coalition and was supported by a wide range of peace and political organisations, community groups, trades unions and individuals (including CND, Labour MPs, rail unions RMT and ASLEF, the Muslim Parliament, the National Civil Rights Movement, the London Council of Mosques, Labour Against the War, Media Workers Against the War, Lawyers Against the War, and Artists Against the War).

At sunset, demonstrators - Muslim and non-Muslim - joined in iftar, the evening fast-breaking ritual of the month of Ramadan. The crowd revelled in its own diversity, and in the unity that so many found in calling for peace and justice - for Afghanistan, and people everywhere.

This report was kindly provided by the Stop the War Coalition and Media Workers Against the War. It has been very slightly edited, purely for the benefit of readers outside the UK who may not have recognised all the references.

Overwhelming vote in British Parliament masks unease

British MPs this week voted overwhelmingly, with only five dissenters, in favour of sweeping new “anti-terrorism” laws, including the power to imprison suspects without trial. The bill is, however, expected to face strong criticism when it goes into committee stage later this week and must be voted again after this before becoming law. Despite the overwhelming vote, Home Secretary David Blunkett came under fire from all sides in the Commons over the bill's proposals, with members accusing the government of using terrorism as an excuse to bring in powerful new restrictions on civil liberties. MPs are angry at the lack of time they have been given to scrutinise a bill which even supporters admit has serious implications for civil liberties. In total, the Commons has been given just three days to look at the legislation, a process that would normally take several weeks. Detailed critiques of the bill have been produced by the Immigration Law Practitioners Association and Human Rights Watch. See this website and this for these.

The full text of the bill is available here  A list of and commentary on repressive laws and measures taken in the EU and US since September 11 can be found here

“Labour” government makes own supporters poorer

The UK Competitiveness Index, issued this week, reveals a huge increase in regional disparities of wealth and income since the Blairite government was first elected. The gap between the poorest areas – Yorkshire, the North-east of England, and Wales, and the richest – London and its surroundings – has grown 30% since 1997. Yorkshire, the North-east of England, and Wales are of course precisely the areas where the normal electoral result in most constituencies, even in a bad year, is a Labour landslide.  Falling support at the last general election, poor local results and embarrassingly low turn-outs suggest, however, that an increasing number of turkeys are beginning to work out that there’s more to Christmas than meets the eye.

Public Services Defence Updated

Public Services and the Private Sector, originally published in June in response to Blairite plans for further privatisation, has been updated and is now available here The pamphlet, written by Allyson Pollock, Jean Shaoul, David Rowland and Stewart Player looks at and dismantles the arguments for an increased role for the private sector in the provision of essential services.  It includes an examination of the way in which the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which is basically an expensive book-keeping exercise to enable the UK to come within the financial guidelines laid down by the European Central Bank, is undermining universal provision. The study is published by Catalyst, a centre-left think-tank which, in its own words, promotes “practical policies for the redistribution of wealth, power and opportunity.”  In a separate study, US progressive pressure group Public Citizen, which has links to Green Presidential candidate Ralph Nader, has shown that privatisation leads to higher costs, inadequate maintenance and a loss of accountability, as well as reducing economic growth. Read more  here

Carlyle Group

If you saw our recently published article by Alfred Mendes on the Carlyle Group, you may want to read a new collection of reports blowing the gaff on this secretive $12 billion private equity firm based in Washington, DC. According to the collection’s publishers, the Carlyle Group “has parlayed a roster of former top-level government officials, largely from the Bush and Reagan administrations, into a moneymaking machine.” As Mendes also pointed out, membership includes or has included Daddy Bush, former CIA head and father of the notorious coup leader currently illegally occupying the White House, and relatives of the other well-known terrorist Osama bin Laden. "It should be a deep cause for concern that a closely held company like Carlyle can simultaneously have directors and advisers that are doing business and making money

and also advising the president of the United States," says Peter Eisner, managing director of the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit-making Washington think-tank. "The problem comes when private business and public policy blend together. What hat is former president Bush wearing when he tells Crown Prince Abdullah not to worry about US policy in the Middle East?"  Go to this website to read more.

10,000-strong demo demands closure of terror school

Last Sunday military police arrested over 100 people participating in a non-violent protest at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. They had taken part in what has become an annual ritual, a funeral procession for all of the many victims of graduates of the US school for training terrorists, the School of the Americas, recently renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Fifty had attempted to enter the base in a symbolic act of civil disobedience, whilst later a further thirty, who were sitting in a circle in front of the main entrance to the base, were also arrested.

Since its foundation in 1946, SOA/WHISC has trained tens of thousands of Latin American soldiers in counter-insurgency tactics, which, human rights groups have shown, include  civilian-targeted torture, disappearance and killing.  SOA-trained soldiers have targeted non-combatants in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America.

Protests went on throughout the day and continued into the night, as people from throughout the United States chanted, sang and drummed, calling for the closure of the SOA. 

The following day 29 of the arrested activists were arraigned before a court and imprisoned to await trial. Whilst behind bars they fasted in a continuation of their protest, but when after two days they were again brought before the court, the judge dropped charges of unlawful assembly in favour of two minor misdemeanours, obstructing a police officer and obstruction of a public road, which the protestors accepted.  No fines were imposed, but the nineteen women and twelve men were required to give their names and addresses, which they had previously withheld, and fingerprints.


For more, and updates, go to the School of the Americas Watch site here

Afghan Workers’ Solidarity Campaign launched

The Labour Party Pakistan (LPP), in close association with the Afghan Labour Revolutionary Organisation (ALRO) this week took the initiative in launching the Afghan Workers’ Solidarity Campaign (AWSC). The idea to start this campaign was discussed during the recent visit to Pakistan of Alan McCombes of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

The LPP and ALRO are appealing to all the international left organisations and trade union movements to support the campaign, whose main aim is to help the Afghan workers in their struggle to survive.

Explaining the initiative, Shoaib Bhatti of the LPP, who has been appointed the Campaign’s organiser, said, “It will bring material help for the Afghan workers which will be distributed inside Afghanistan and also in refugee camps in Pakistan. It will help to strengthen the progressive organisations of the Afghan workers. It will collect and bring the necessities of everyday life to the Afghan workers on an emergency basis.

“The suppression by the religious fundamentalists of all democratic and human rights in Afghanistan over the years has left the organisation of the left forces in an absolutely weak position. Many workers have lost their lives for the cause of socialism in Afghanistan, or are spending their lives underground even in exile. Their families have been tortured and sentenced to death by the religious fundamentalists. But the so-called victory of the imperialist forces leaves no better situation for the Afghan left forces. They still have to make a very difficult life to spread the ideas of socialism.

“To help the Afghan left forces in their struggle to survive and promote their organisations needs active international support. The LPP has been active in promoting the Afghan left for some years. It now has a plan to produce a monthly paper in the Pushtu language to help the Afghan left in the promotion of their ideas and strategy.

“The LPP has already started collecting clothes, medicine, blankets, shoes and other everyday food items to be distributed among Afghan refugees in the camps through the ALRO and other Afghan left groups.”

The LPP plans to send its first truckload of these items on 24th of November.

Individuals and organisations can sponsor the AWSC formally by paying the initial amount of US$300 (for organisations) and $100 (for individuals.)  Or you can send goods, though some of the most useful, such as clothes and blankets, are available cheaply in Pakistan – so contact the organisers at the Education Foundation 40 Abbot Road, Lahore, Pakistan before sending any shipment.  Or contact the Campaign through the following coordinates: labourparty@gmx.net, Website here , Tel: ++ 92 42 6315162, 6301685 Fax: ++92 42 6303808The Campaign is also looking for volunteers from abroad. If you have time and money to travel, please come to Pakistan to help build this campaign. We need volunteers from abroad to help this campaign. Please contact us immediately for this. Donations should be sent in US dollars to the following bank account: Education Foundation Donation, Account number 01 7967128, Standard Charted Grindlays Bank, Gulberg Branch, Main Boulevard, Gulberg Lahore Pakistan

Sponsors so far include the Scottish Socialist Party, Women Workers Help Line Lahore Pakistan’

All Pakistan Para Medical Staff Federation, Pakistan Printing and Graphic Workers Union

All Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Federation, Pakistan Railway Workers Union (democratic group)

Itehad Workers Union Carpet Industries Pakistan, and the Democratic Socialist Party (Australia)

Terrorists

Immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11 there was some excited discussion in the mainstream media, especially in the United States, of the need to investigate stock market activities in the days running up to the tragedy. Now it’s disappeared, despite strong suspicions aroused by major purchases and sales involving stocks which either rocketed or plummeted in the aftermath.  According to a BBC report, available here, the Bush junta forced the FBI to play down the Bin Laden investigation months before September 11. The CIA station chief in Dubai allegedly held a meeting with Bin Laden seven weeks before September 11, and at a time when Bin Laden was supposedly on the CIA “wanted” list. See this website

After the insider dealing story disappeared from the US mainstream media, a radical left website, Global Research, did some more worrying at it. See this websitel

The story was then picked up by the mainstream British newspaper, The Independent, which revealed that a paper chase through the dealings and wheelings leads to leads to a firm chaired by the CIA’s number three, and that $2.5 million which could have been taken in profits remains unclaimed.  See this website

You could, if you were that way out,put all of this information together with a story carried by major media corporation ABC’s ABC News.com website that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff have in the past devised a plan – which we’re sure was just some sort of training exercise - to commit domestic terror on American citizens in order to whip them into a war hysteria, so that they would support war efforts by their government. See this website The National Security Archive actually has a PDF version of the so-called Operation Northwoods plan at this website

Finally, Bush announces the sealing of certain records from his father’s administration and that of Ronald Reagan, just as it is becoming incontrovertible that the two groups of terrorists – the Reagan/Bush Gang and Bin Laden’s network – have cosy links going back years. Go to this website for more.

Bio-terrorism

Anti-agricultural bio-warfare and bio-terrorism differ significantly from the same activities directed against humans; for instance, there exists a variety of possibilities for economic gain for  perpetrators, and the list of possible perpetrators includes corporations, which may have state-of-the-art technical expertise. Furthermore, attacks are substantially easier to do: the agents aren't

necessarily hazardous to humans; delivery systems are readily available and unsophisticated; maximum effect may only require a few cases; delivery from outside the target country is possible; and an effective attack can be constructed to appear natural. This constellation of characteristics makes biological attack on the agricultural sector of at least some countries a very real threat, perhaps more so than attack on the civilian population.  Go to this website to read more on what can be done about this threat, and how the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which for 26 years, the has prohibited the development, production, stockpiling, and acquisition of all biological weapons can be made effective.

Fraud

“The war against terrorism is a fraud. After 3 weeks' bombing, not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has been caught or killed in Afghanistan. Instead, one of the poorest, most stricken nations has been terrorised by the most powerful to the point where American pilots have run out of dubious "military" targets and are now destroying mud houses, a hospital, Red Cross warehouses, lorries carrying refugees. Unlike the relentless pictures from New York, we are seeing almost nothing of this. Tony Blair has yet to tell us what the violent death of children, 7 in one family, has to do with Osama bin Laden.” More at: this website