The European Commission, which presides over EU external trade policy, has dropped plans to demand at the coming round of trade

9th November, 2001



Europlods on the way: EU plans riot cop force

Prompted by German Interior Minister Otto Schilly’s view that urgent action needs to be taken to combat “travelling offenders committing violent acts”, the European Union is considering plans to establish its very own riot unit. Under plans discussed by Schilly and his counterparts in other member states, each EU country would set up special units which would then cooperate to respond to events such as the Genoa summit last July.  Tony Bunyan of Statewatch, a London-based group which monitors activities prejudicial to civil liberties, commenting on the plan, said that “we believe it is part of a strategy to treat protestors as the same kind of ‘threat’ as terrorists. This can only lead to a curtailment of free movement and the democratic right to demonstrate.”  Go to the Statewatch site for more on this and other threats to what’s left of democracy.

Greens and “Socialists” force EU Commission to drop cheap medicines plan 

Milk bill reaches 20 billion Euros

European Union consumers are now footing the bill for the storage of a lake of surplus milk worth 20 billion Euros a year, according to the EU’s own financial watchdog, the European Court of Auditors.  Quotas on surplus production were introduced some time ago, and are supposed to be met by individual producers, but the Court has discovered that the levies are simply not being collected. Instead, costs are being passed on to the consumer. In response, the European Commission has reduced agricultural subsidies to the offending member states, but the effects of this, the auditors warn, are comparable to a national subsidy, giving an unfair advantage to farmers in the culprit countries, the worst of which are Spain and Italy.

The Court of Auditors is a long-suffering institution whose instructions on cutting costs are routinely ignored, so it is not the Court’s fault if its criticisms miss the point, as the real problem lies outside its competence. Whilst big agricorporations gain most from agricultural subsidies, not chasing up small Mediterranean dairy farmers is simply a backdoor way for the authorities in Spain and Italy to respond to growing rural poverty. What is needed is the complete reform (so complete it would amount to an abolition) of the Common Agricultural Policy so that it does not encourage the overproduction of milk, grain and other foodstuffs, and an examination of and real policy response to rural poverty. Fat chance.

European Commission fails to practice what it preaches

The European Ombudsman, who investigates abuses of rights by the EU’s own institutions, is scrutinising the hiring practices of the Court of Justice, Court of Auditors and Economic and Social Committee after each admitted to discrimination on the basis of age. Neither the European Parliament nor the EU Commission has replied to Ombudsman Jacob Söderman’s request for information, but anyone who reads the right papers can see that the Commission continues to state age limits when advertising jobs.  Senior personnel are on record as stating their belief that older workers are less productive and adaptable and have more time off sick, despite the fact that none of these things is true.  The Commission’s “old folks moving into the neighbourhood would bring down the value of all our property” views would be bad enough, but the fact that the institution was the prime mover behind the so-called EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which  came into “force” in July, makes it all the more laughable, though not very funny. Clearly the Charter is a formidable document.

Ombudsman Söderman, who has earned the respect even of EU-critical and Left Members of the European Parliament, also launched an investigation into what he called the "unacceptable" lack of parental leave given to the EU's own employees. Söderman is demanding that the Commission and other institutions give workers the same paternity leave rights enjoyed by fathers in most member states. Currently, new Eurodads are allowed only two days off following their partners' giving birth. Again, the Charter of Fundamental Rights says one thing while the EU does another, though the two days' leave does accord with the strict letter of the declaration, which makes no reference to the length of time to which employees should be entitled.

We’d noticed that, actually…

“There is no green foreign policy. There is only a German foreign policy.” -          Joschka Fischer

New report: tax on currency trading “practical and possible”

A small, simple tax on the global currency market could eliminate the worst of global poverty says a new report, The Robin Hood Tax, released this week by anti-poverty NGO War on Want and the New Economics Foundation, a progressive think-tank based in the UK..

The report argues that a currency transaction tax, or Tobin tax, could help solve two of the world’s greatest problems: the instability in the global economy and the yawning gap between rich and poor countries. Even set at a fraction of one per cent, the revenue from the tax could raise over $300 billion - more than enough to cover the amount needed to meet the United Nations development targets set for 2015 - as well as helping to stabilise global capital flows.

"The money raised from this tax could put flesh on the bare bones of endless promises to tackle global poverty. It's about time that global redistribution and was placed on the menu of world leaders", said Steve Tibbett, Senior Campaigner for War on Want.

"Rather than ending poverty, aid and trade have caused many social and environmental problems. We need to find new, more reliable solutions" argued Andrew Simms, head of the global economy programme at the New Economics Foundation.

As reported in Spectre, however, earlier in the year the European Commission admitted in response to a question from Swedish Left Euro-MP Jonas Sjöstedt, that under existing Treaty rules any attempt to introduce a Tobin-style tax within the European Union, whether at member state or EU level, would be illegal.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from this website

Italy cooked books to join euro

Manipulating all those noughts is certainly annoying. So much so that, faced with the prospect of having to carry on using the poor old lira while the rest of Europe (or much of it) gets a brand new shiny currency, Italy’s authorities lied through their teeth to get into the zone. Apparently, the Italians deliberately manipulated data during the three years or so before the qualifying countries were named. The false data involved a 1995 bond issue on which a  1997 currency swap was then based. No action is expected in response to the revelations. Read the report here for details of the scam.

Anti-War MP wins prestigious award

British Labour MP George Galloway, a staunch campaigner against sanctions on Iraq as well as the serial military adventures of his government, has been named 'Debater of the Year' by a political magazine.



The award was conferred on Thursday by a distinguished panel of judges, in a an annual awards scheme organised by The Spectator, a long-established and generally right-leaning political and literary weekly


Mr Galloway said that he was convinced that it was his powerful parliamentary denunciations of the war on the Afghan people which had clinched his title. "I see it as a complete vindication of my stance which has been to point out that this is an immoral war which not only cannot be won but which will only give rise to a further generation of Bin Ladens." He added that he was dedicating the award to the Afghan people "who don't have a

voice of their own".



The Member of Parliament for Glasgow Kelvin has made a series of keynote speeches in recent parliamentary debates, speaking eloquently and powerfully without notes.  The award's winner is chosen by a panel representing a range of mainstream newspapers and broadcast media.





Trade liberalisation makes kids sick

Trade liberalisation is undermining health services and damaging the health of children and other vulnerable groups, according to a report published this week by UK NGO Save the Children.  Increased trade in health services is undermining publicly-owned or state subsidised health services ability to cross-subsidise from better off groups to poorer sections of the population, while the World Trade Organisation’s trade-related intellectual property rights agreement (TRIPS) is blocking access to vital medicines for those on low incomes. Ironically, one of the few developing countries which has gained from trade liberalisation is Cuba, whose socialist system enables it to offer high quality health care to both its own people and to foreigners, who are able to buy services at far below the cost charged by private sector providers. Cuba’s health care system, however, suffers from a shortage of medicines and equipment brought about by the United States 40-year blockade.

Cuba, however, and India, are exceptions to the rule. For most developing countries the arrival of US and EU-based private providers means better health care for a rich elite, whilst undermining the quality of what’s on offer to the mass of the population.

Commenting on the findings, John Hilary, Save the Children’s adviser on trade issues, said, “Our research shows that liberalisation of trade in health services is the wrong model to follow if countries wish to develop strong public health systems for all their people."

Go to this website for more.

Greens and “Socialists” force EU Commission to drop cheap medicines plan 

Action Group looks at the hidden agenda of the new genomics

The new 20 page ETC Communiqué (September/October, 2001 #72), entitled The New Genomics Agenda - A Political Epilogue to the Book of Life: Update on Pharmaceutical

Multinationals and the Human Genome can be found, in full, on the ETC group website

Victory for Charleston 5

Back in May we reported that five US dock workers were facing jail on the basis of a typically trumped up piece of class justice. At a picket of a ship being unloaded by scabs at the Charleston, South Carolina,  docks in January 2000, 130 protesting longshoremen were met by 600 police in riot gear. The police had armoured cars, armoured horses, dogs, helicopters, concussion grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets to break the picket line. The workers had the only things we ever had: courage, determination and the simple need to carry on eating and feeding their families. The state's policy was simply to keep the port open at all cost.



After Charleston police arranged to drop minor charges against protestors in return for community service, the State Attorney General stepped in and indicted five longshoremen on felony riot charges. Running for governor,  Attorney General Charlie Condon called for "jail, jail and more jail" for the union protestors.

Well, for once this familiar species did not get its way.  Yesterday, November 8, attorneys for the Charleston 5 had agreed that the 5 would plead no contest to a minor misdemeanour, walking away from their long ordeal with $100 fines. Ever since South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon bowed out of the case a few weeks ago, hopes had been high that a negotiated settlement could be reached.

"Its a tremendous victory, considering what we were stacked up against", said a spokesperson for the 5. "Condon had called for 'jail, jail and more jail'. He even said he wanted these guys to be placed under the jail.  From that day to this there's been an all-out campaign to counter that type of aggression. We owe the victory to the unrelenting pressure of the movement...."

Spectre sends its congratulations to the workers and their families, friends and comrades. We also thank Labor Notes,  a monthly newsletter for activists in the US labour movement, for this information. Labor Notes' excellent website

US Interior Secretary ‘misled’ Congress

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Alaska Wilderness League, Friends of the Earth, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club has called for Senate hearings on Interior Secretary Gale Norton's apparent attempt to mislead Congress by altering Fish and Wildlife Service data regarding the effects of oil drilling on caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. According to the coalition,  Secretary Norton substantially altered biological findings from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) concerning effects of oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) before she transmitted them to Congress.

Norton’s book cooking is part of a sustained attempt to open up North America’s last great wilderness to profit-hungry oil corporations. The assault on Alaska stepped up a gear following the Big Oil-funded coup which brought Bush’s junta to power. Read more about her activities at this website

Iranian and Turkish state terrorism produce deafening silence from west

Nothing exposes the breathtaking hypocrisy of the “war against terrorism”, more than the fact that, provided it does not oppose the US-British bombing of the world’s poorest country, any government can commit whatever act of terror it pleases. At a time when foreign ministers of European states queue up to visit Iran, for example,  and enlist its support for the 'war against terrorism', the Iranian state is busy arresting anyone who can expose it own 'state terrorism'. On Saturday 3 November Nasser Zarafshan, a lawyer representing the families of two victims of serial political murders, appeared at a  court in Tehran. According to Mr Zarafshan's lawyer, Mohamad Foroughi  Jedarehii, one of the prosecution 'witnesses' was a security officer who had previously searched Mr Zarafshan's house and office. When Zarafshan questioned this witness's claims of finding incriminating evidence, the witness threatened Zarafshan and told him: "we will throw you out of this window if you don't accept our evidence!" Zarafshan was imprisoned by the court at the end of the trial.  Evidence of the guilt of the most senior members of the Iranian government in the murder of Mr Zaragshan’s client’s family members is conclusive. For more information, go to this website

Another state terrorist, Turkey’s prime minister Bulent Ecevit, has threatened to annex the illegally occupied northern part of Cyprus if the island is admitted to the EU before the dispute over the enclave is resolved. Ecevit, whose country’s armed forces have been conducting their own terror campaign in Kurdistan for many decades, speaks in the comfort of impunity. Turkey’s NATO membership and vital strategic status mean that the country can do just about anything it pleases.

Higher purpose

“After all, there is a higher purpose behind all of those products and services we make and sell. One with loftiness and an ability to inspire. One that Americans know very well – even turn to in times of trouble, hardship and war. Witness the advertising messages that are being created and are now running using the flag to elevate their own brand’s identity.”  And  we thought it was just a cheap, cynical way of trying to cash in on other people’s grief.  This quote is from a letter to the Financial Times from one Abe Novick, a Baltimore businessman.  We could, we swear, not make this stuff up.

Another good one in the FT, which we missed when it appeared “some time in September” but which has been brought to our attention by a reader, lamented the fact that “the most powerful intelligence services of the world failed to prevent the atrocious attacks in the US”. The writer, one Jonathan B. Simon, suggested that “the US, all European and friendly state governments” immediately establish “televised, radio and web-based” systems enabling citizens to rat on your neighbours, or rather “so that members of the public all over the world, who ultimately may live near or work next to potential terrorists, can input vital public intelligence to support the new initiatives”.  Nothing remarkable about any of this: obviously S11 is being used to weaken, undermine or remove civil liberties everywhere and the naive, the not-very-bright, the far right ideologues and the corporate interests which are behind the “war on terrorism” will support this. We don’t know into which of these categories Simon falls, but whilst, to paraphrase Mark Twain, we hesitate to speak ill of any man, we suspect him of being a Blairite. Why? Not just because he uses "input" as a verb, though this is also a sur sign. A characteristic of this new breed of corporate political servant is the extraordinary language it goes in for – we can only call it Fluffy Orwellianism. Absolutely everything Blairites do is nice, even bombing Afghan villages is somehow presented as compassionate.  So what are we going to call this new system to make it easier for spooks to harass the opposition? Why, it’s a Help Line!  You get them for customer complaints, for computer problems, for kids who need to talk – so why shouldn’t spooks have one?

“Hello? That the Help Line? We know who supplied bin Laden and the Taliban with arms, who set up bin Laden’s network, who financed decades of terrorism in Central America. Names and addresses supplied on request.”

80,000 Israelis Rally for Peace

80,000 Israelis rallied in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv last weekend to demand an end to the aggressive, expansionist policies of their government. Peace movement Gush Shalom distributed thousands of leaflets which called for a radical response to the Sharon government’s terrorist policies: "The blood cries out from the earth - and we are silent. Every day ‘liquidations’ are carried out - and we get used to it. War crimes are perpetrated in our name - and we accept it. Rabin's Dream is being murdered in front of our eyes - and we keep silent. Enough of silence! Let us cry out: down with Sharon's government of blood - get out of the bloody swamp of the territories!"  Read the rest of Gush Shalom’s account at this website

A load of…


A German truck driver was held for ten hours last Sunday at the border between Italy and Switzerland because a sharp-eyed but linguistically-challenged border guard spotted the word “laden” in the hapless man’s papers. The Italian guards, who claim to have received a tip-off that a large quantity of explosives was due to be smuggled over the border, searched the truck.  All they found was wine, an unlikely cargo for Islamic fundamentalist terrorists but one which could, of course, simply have shown how cunning these chaps can be.  Laden, by the way, means “load”.  Anxious refuse collectors must be pleased that the term “bin men” is no longer in official use.


IPPN

Ted Glick of the US Independent Progressive Political Network writes to say that IPPN has just under a quarter of the excellent fall issue of Independent Politics News 6000 print run still available. “If you would like to order a bundle to distribute to people you come in contact with, please let us know how many you could use,” writes Glick. “Or if you haven't seen the issue at all, send us your regular mailing address.” Ted’s message is mainly aimed at his fellow Americans, but curious foreigners are also welcome. Remember, though, that wherever your based, “IPPN very much needs money, so we hope that you can send along a donation to help cover our costs.” If you want multiple copies for distribution, however, “don't let the money issue stop you from ordering copies if you know you can get them around to people who'd be interested.”  If you want to order copies phone Ted Glick on (01) 973-338-5398 or go to this website

Other voices




Finally, if you want to get some idea of how the war is seen in the middle east, check these websites of English-language newspapers and agencies in the region, from a list helpfully compiled by a reader:




BAHRAIN, Gulf Daily News ; EGYPT, Al-Ahram Weekly ; Egyptian Gazette ; IRAQ Iraqi News Agency ; IRAN Iran Daily ; ISRAEL Jerusalem Times ; Jerusalem Post ; Ha'aretz Daily ; JORDAN The Star ; Jordan Times ; LEBANON The Daily Star   ; OMAN The Times of Oman ; PALESTINE Palestine Times Monthly ; SAUDI ARABIA Arab News ; UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Gulf News ; Khaleej Times ; YEMEN Yemen Times