In part this barrage of news about the "race for the White House" is poured over us in order to demonstrate the supposed virtues of American "democracy" and to hold it up as a model system of government. It is also done to leave no one in any doubt that the US is the most powerful imperialist country in the world and that all its doings must therefore be of interest to everyone in every corner of the planet.
In reality the world sees that the Presidential race is effectively between two wealthy men, both trying desperately to conceal their woeful lack of personality and both heading multi-million dollar campaigns to sell themselves to the public. It is said the overall spending on this election has run into billions of dollars.
Clearly any candidate who cannot put their hands on millions of dollars is an automatic outsider in the race -- working class America never ends up being represented by a working class American.
Despite the billion dollar bash, the endless TV ads and razz-matazz rallies the turnout in US elections is usually very low -- millions of Americans simply don't or can't register to vote and many registered voters remain uninspired by the candidates, the parties and the policies.
Essentially the Republican and Democrat parties represent different strands within the American ruling class and different big business interests. It goes without saying that they are both wholehearted backers of US capital and the capitalist system.
For the American public the differences are largely concerned with matters of taxation and social spending -- not that either party believes in high taxation or high social spending. The Democrats, who rely upon the votes of working class mericans, put forward some forms of social safety net for the poor and for health care.
But as was seen under Clinton, these programmes can easily be blown off course by right wing pressure or by down turns in the economy. Unlike the British Labour Party, the US Democrats have no historic and organisational links to the trade unions.
The Republicans -- the more conservative party -- want the lowest possible taxes and the lowest possible social spending. Their electioneering is also given financial support by reactionary groups such as anti-abortion campaigns and the gun lobby.
Foreign affairs are sometimes different because of the different business interests being put to the fore. For instance the oil industry sometimes has different concerns to those of domestic manufacturers and so on.
But the election will certainly not change the world. Both parties
are hostile to socialism, both are committed to Nato and the other US-inspired
organisations. Both will continue to move the goalposts against the developing
world by dominating the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary
Fund and the World Bank. Both will strive to advance US interests at the
expense of the world's
Whoever goes through the White House doors it is certain that millions of American citizens along with most of the peoples of the world, will have to continue the struggle for peace, a decent standard of living, education, healthcare and justice.
The leaders of the United States may brag about the wonders of US democracy but there is nothing wonderful about it -- it is still the dictatorship of the rich and it will be the rich who will reap the wonders.
The struggle for real change -- for a socialist future will continue in the US and in every corner of the world !
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CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown last Wednesday boxed very clever with his pre-budget speech -- indicating what next April's budget will contain -- and left the fuel protest lobby busy with their calculators trying to work out exactly what he had given them.
But the pensioners knew straight away that despite some generous handouts he still had not restored the link between the basic state pension rate and average male earnings -- leaving the long-term future of the state pension still in jeopardy.
Mr Brown conceded no immediate fuel tax cuts but promised that from next April it will be frozen. If world tax prices remain high this freeze will be extended another year.
But there will be a two pence a litre excise duty cut on ultra-low sulphur petrol next April in addition to a penny cut from October this year and a three pence cut in ultra-low sulphur diesel from next April.
This ultra-low sulphur fuel will, he claims, become available throughout the country within the next year.
He says it is more environmentally friendly. Environmentalists says it will do nothing to ease global wanning and climate change but is likely to improve air quality for those with breathing problems and reduce acid rain.
The rate of excise duty on red diesel, for farm vehicles is to be frozen permanently and vehicle duty for such vehicles abolished.
There will be a lower rate of vehicle tax for lorries -- the 100 different existing rates being replaced by just seven. The average trucker will save £715 a year and Mr Brown said this is equivalent to three pence off the price of a litre of diesel.
Mr Brown claimed these fuel tax cuts will costs the Treasury £l billion.
There will be a Brit tax disc meaning that foreign owned lorries can be charged at a higher rate for using British roads. This is likely to be challenged in the courts as discriminatory under the recent Human Rights Act.
The overall changes will mean a cut in motoring costs equivalent to four pence a litre and eight pence a litre for haulage firms.
This is a step in the right direction but does not go nearly as far as the fuel protest lobby would have liked.
It means the Treasury is still relying on indirect taxes which are paid by rich and poor alike regardless of their means and which therefore disproportionately punish the poor.
He is right to cut the costs of haulage because these costs are passed on the prices of all commodities, including food, clothing and so on that are transported on our roads. These prices again are paid by rich and poor alike.
But he does not go far enough in this direction. And if he is serious about discouraging excessive use of the internal combustion engine both by individuals and haulage companies, much more must be invested in public transport to make it pleasant and reliable and to restore the freight rail network which could remove so many heavy lorrios from our roads.
The current situation on the railways is a sick joke that will not pass until they are brought back into public ownership.
Fuel tax protests
But Mr Brown's concessions have predictably been divisive and confusing, leaving the fuel tax protesters uncertain how to proceed.
The hauliers and farmers have had some sops to take the heat out of their campaign. Many farmers are now pre-occupied with flooding.
Public support for the protests on the level of last September is also waning under a change of policy in the media and again problems with flooding which could only be made worse by a petrol shortage.
The leaders of the hauliers' campaign are insisting that Brown has done nothing to meet their demands and a proposed protest slow drive by a convoy of heavy lorries from Jarrow to London is to go ahead.
Pensioners still fighting
The pensioners have welcomed the rise -- leaked in advance -- of £5 a week on the basic state pension with £8 for couples to make up for the 75 pence insult awarded last year.
And the winter fuel allowance has again been raised -- from £150 last year to £200 this year.
But much is still means tested. There is to be a new tax credit for pensioners whose income is under £130 a week.
The minimum income guarantee is to be linked to earnings, bringing the minimum rate (basic pension plus income support top-up) to £92.15 for a single pensioner rising to £100 a week from 2003 and £154 a week for couples.
But pensioners are not fooled. They know the winter fuel allowance, generous though it is, can be raised or lowered any year according to the Chancellor's current whim.
The minimum income guarantee only helps the very poorest pensioners and is not paid automatically. It is means tested and pensioners have to claim it, filling in complex forms and proving they really are poor.
It also leaves a lot of pensioners just over the threshold of entitlement still very poor and with virtually no help. Qualifying for income support is a gateway to other benefits which are denied those who get just a little bit more from their occupational pensions.
The Government's refusal to restore the link with average earnings -- which possibly would not have cost so much as the current package -- indicates that their long-term objective remains the same.
That is to allow the value of the basic state pension to fade so they we are all to be dependent on private and occupational pensions. The value of these -- linked as they are to the stock market -- are always a gamble.
And they exclude those who cannot have a consistent employment record -- full-time mothers and carers, the disabled, those in casual employment and suchlike. The weak stakeholder pensions offered to people in this position are next to useless in providing security and dignity in old age.
But Gordon Brown knows, from the size and anger of the pensioners' movement, that his long-term aims will have to be postponed a little until a less canny and more compliant generation of pensioners is around.
Last Tuesday Westminster overflowed with angry pensioners who had gathered for a mass rally and to lobby their MPs. They have been piling on this pressure for a number of years now and Mr Brown has, as a result, been under a lot of pressure from Labour MPs.
His biggest mistake was last year's 75 pence insult which galvanised a lot of pensioners who would not otherwise have protested.
Now the movement will not be stopped until it does get the link
restored. Even then there is still a lot of campaigning to be done to restore
the value of the basic pension to that of 1979 in relation to
Their rally in Central Hall, Westminster was addressed by Dame Barbara Castle who told the pensioners: "Let's have a bit of fighting policy shall we? We are not going to whinge anymore. We are going to demand and we are going to fight for it."
The pensioners responded with a standing ovation and later by going from the hall to the House of Commons and blocking the traffic on the way -- holding the road outside Parliament at a standstill for over an hour.
Another speaker at the rally was Tony Booth, former actor and the Prime Minister's father-in-law. He said he was ashamed of the Labour government's record on pensions.
He said: "I am ashamed to say this campaign is necessary. I am ashamed that we are being forced to fight for our rights, to fight for our dignity, because there is no dignity in poverty, Gordon Brown."
Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of the public sector union Unison told the rally: "We have a very simple message for the Chancellor. Pensioners deserve a decent basic state pension. A £5 increase may offer a short-term boost but unless a regular uprating such as the link with earnings is restored, the basic state pension will continue to wither on the vine."
Other measures announced in the budget speech include proposals to simplify value added tax for small businesses.
New research and development tax credits are aimed to help manufacturing industry.
There will be an extension of the 10 pence rate on capital gains tax which will help capitalists.
Mr Brown also indicated new measures to help the disabled and their carers.
And he promised families the lowest direct tax burden in 30 years -- implying that he will be getting more of his income from indirect tax burdens Like VAT. Once again the rich are laughing while the poor will end up paying more.
Many of the measures in the budget are based on the assumption that current benefit savings from the reduction in numbers who are claiming unemployment benefit will continue.
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by Caroline Colebrook
A CORONER last week dedared he was "horrified and astounded" to learn that a midwife was working a 16-hour shift when she assisted at the birth of a baby who died after 35 minutes.
Baby Thomas Harris died at Birmingham Heartlands hospital in August 1998 from lack of oxygen. Coroner Dr Richard Whittington recorded death by natural causes aggravated by neglect.
The midwife who delivered him had already worked 11 hours and went on to complete a 16 hour shift.
Dr Whittington said: "The extraordinarily long hours being worked by midwives at any one time causes me considerable concern.
"Isn't it true that every midwife has two lives to concern her -- the baby and the mother? Should we be submitted to the care of people that are shattered after a 16-hour shift? Is this right?
"if you were on an aircraft, would you want the pilot of your plane to have been working for 12 hours or more non-stop?" He called for a review of procedures and was backed by the Royal College of Midwives. The college said its 38,000 members were often required to work double shifts because of staff shortages. This leads to exhaustion and demoralisation.
The RCM director of employment relations, Jon Skews, said the service in England needs at least 5,000 more midwives.
He warned that the staff shortages are affecting NHS trusts' ability to provide one-to-one care for women in labour. This increases the need for caesarean section deliveries and other medical interventions.
The proportion of births that are by caesarean has increased sharply in recent years.
An RCM spokesperson said: "Midwives throughout the country work under extreme pressures. They work long shifts followed by night shifts for very little money.
"If you want to bring back the staff who have left the service because they are fed up with the NHS then better working conditions are a must."
The RCM claims that around 10,000 qualified midwives who have left the service could be attracted back with better pay, proper on-call allowance, flexible shift patterns, a better career structure and continuing professional development.
* Mothers in South Wales are organising to defend the general practitioner specialist service at the Brecon Community Service Hospital because its closure will deprive them of their right to choose where their babies are born and leaves them with a 21 mile journey to the nearest maternity unit.
One young mother of two, who is expecting another soon, said: "The unit offered an excellent holistic service and we want to see it reinstated.
"The reason I feel so strongly is that my first experience of childbirth was quite horrific, then my second child was born at Brecon and the service was second to none."
The Government last week signed a deal to recruit up to 5,000 nurses from Spain to meet the shortage crisis in hospitals in Britain this coming winter.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced that the first 75 nurses are due to arrive in January to take up two-year contacts with NHS trusts in the north-west of England.
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by Our Middle East correspondent
ISRAELI troops and armed gangs of Zionist settler fanatics are rampaging through the occupied territories in a desperate attempt to curb the Palestinian uprising now in its sixth week.
This Wednesday six more Palestinian Arabs were killed -- gunned down by Israeli soldiers and one Israeli woman customs officer was shot dead and another wounded when Palestinian guerrillas attacked their post near the Egypt-Gaza check-point.
The death-toll since the fighting began now stands at 197 - 166 Palestinians under occupation, 13 Israeli Arabs (Palestinians who are theoretically full Israeli citizens) and 18 Israelis.
But against all odds the Palestinians are fighting back. Last week a car bomb rocked occupied Jerusalem killing two Israelis and wounding many more. One of those killed was the daughter of Yitzhak Levy, the leader of National Religious Party which represents the Arab hating Zionist settlers.
On Sunday some senior Israeli officers, including the Chief of the General Staff Shaul Mofaz, were attacked by Palestinian guerrillas while inspecting a Zionist settlement near Tulkarm, 60 km north-east of Jerusalem. None of the Israelis were wounded in the attack.
Armed Zionist settler gangs acting with the approval of the Israeli army have been spreading their own brand of terror. At least ten Palestinian farmers have been lynched or murdered in cold blood by these thugs, who are now using taped Arab distress calls to try and lure Palestinians to their deaths.
One typical trick has been to use the voice of an Arab girl crying for help -- a tactic first used during the anti-Arab pogroms in 1948 when the Zionist entity was first set up. Voice of Palestine radio warns "Those murderers and cut-throats are luring you to death... so be careful".
Other settlers have fled to safety in Israel proper though the overall settlement programme is continuing despite Tel Aviv's claims that it wants a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.
The Israeli Peace Now movement has pointed out that 300 million dollars has been budgeted for Zionist settlements in occupied Palestine for 2001.
Peace Now leader Galia Golan warned "It is becoming increasing clear that regarding the settlements, the present government is continuing the priorities of the previous Netanyahu government".
Galia said that Israeli premier Ehud Barak had failed to carry out "the basic steps essential for an agreement with the Palestinians" and added "... there is no question that the expansion of settlement activity was one of the central elements in Israel's failure to create a minimum credibility in the eyes of the Palestinians, and, as such, a central reason for the grass-roots frustration with the peace process that is fuelling the current conflagration".
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is calling for the despatch of UN troops to end the fighting in occupied Palestine -- a view bitterly opposed by Tel Aviv and Washington. But Barak's left-wing allies in the Meretz Party have come out in favour of an international peace-keeping force, providing it did not apply to occupied Jerusalem.
US diplomatic efforts are once again focusing on trying to get Arafat and Barak together for talks in America to once again try and brow-beat the Palestinian leader into accepting surrender terms. And as a sop to the mounting anger which is spreading across the Arab world the United States has agreed to set up an international commission of inquiry into the violence headed by former US senator and northern Ireland mediator, George Mitchell.
This was a demand made by the Palestinians from the very beginning. Whether it will be enough to end the violence now after nearly two hundred Arab deaths and thousands more wounded remains to be seen.
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THE PEOPLE of the London Borough of Hackney last Monday gathered in a mass rally outside the town hall to protest against cuts to services and jobs in the wake of the borough's financial crisis.
Public sector trade unions joined together to fight the £20 million proposed cuts which are presented by the local authority as the only solution to its bankruptcv.
The cuts are supported by Labour and Tory councillors but riot police had to be called out to protect them as they made their way into the town hall on Monday to vote on the measures. Currently the borough is in a state of anarchy and unable to pay its workers and with a £40 million deficit. Already some areas of the borough have gone without rubbish collection for two weeks.
Liberal Democrat councillor Mark Williams described the measures as a "slash and burn" approach. "We are turning on our workforce," he said, "the very people we rely on."
The cuts could put 5400 out of their jobs, including social services staff, rubbish collectors and nursery teachers.
Green Party councillor Chit Chong said: "Hackney is undergoing open heart surgery. The blood is pumping out but there's no connection to the blood bank. We need money and the only place is the Government."
A joint committee of trade unions, in a press conference, warned that mass industrial action would be inevitable if the cuts went ahead.
The unions involved include public sector union Unsion, the Transport and General Workers' Union, constructionunion Ucatt, general union MSF, the National Union of Teachers and engineering union AEEU.
Local NUT branch secretary Mark Lushington said: "It stretches credulity to believe that the councillors who got us into this mess are the ones who can get us out of it.
"They are merely the latest in a long line of incompetent, bickering councillors."
The borough has had a long history of bad administration under different party domination.
But the root cause of the problem is decades of serious Government underfunding to one of the most deprived areas in Europe where problems have multiplied because of lack of cash to resolve them at an early stage.
Local people have already discovered that changing the political colour of the council does not solve the deep problems caused by long-term neglect. The Government must step in and give financial help to prevent further disaster and chaos.
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