Will the buses be fare under Boris?

Not content with having a private equity pirate as his deputy…

Mayor to end Venezuelan oil deal

Boris Johnson will not renew an oil deal with Venezuela which provides cheap fuel for London’s buses once the agreement ends later this year.

The mayor of London said half-price bus and tram fares for 250,000 Londoners on income support, which were also funded by the deal, would still be honoured.

Mr Johnson said he thought many Londoners were uncomfortable with how the scheme was funded.

Former mayor Ken Livingstone signed the deal at City Hall in February.

In return, a team of officials from the Greater London Authority agreed to work in Venezuela advising on recycling, waste management, traffic and on reducing carbon emissions.

‘Extreme poverty’

Mr Johnson said: “I think many Londoners felt uncomfortable about the bus operation of one of the world’s financial powerhouses being funded by the people of a country where many people live in extreme poverty.

“I simply think there are better ways of benefiting Londoners and better ways of benefiting Venezuelans.”

He added: “We will continue to offer the half-priced travel concession to Londoners on income support for the duration for which the deal was originally planned, and will continue to improve the capital’s transport system and ensure that it is accessible and able to meet the needs of all those who rely on it.”

The current deal is due to conclude on 20 August.

Mr Johnson also said the office set up in Caracas to oversee the deal would be closed, saving an estimated £67,000 per year in running and staff costs.

Mr Livingstone attacked the decision not to renew the deal and close the Venezuelan office.

Oil reserves

He said: “It shows that he is more interested in pursuing his right-wing ideological agenda than improving the living standards of the most deprived people in the capital.

“The fact that the first significant action by Johnson’s Tory regime is against the poorest people in the capital is highly significant as is the cowardly way he has made the announcement on bank holiday Sunday without any consultation with the organisations representing the thousands of carers, single parents and others affected.”

Mr Livingstone added: “The suggestion that Johnson is motivated by any concern about the people of Venezuela is just a lie shown by the fact that he is withdrawing all technical support and advice provided by London under this agreement.”

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the Americas and its socialist president is the Bush administration’s fiercest critic in Latin America.

But in November 2005, it signed a deal with the US state of Massachusetts to provide cheap heating oil to poor households. Similar deals were also signed in Boston and New York.

Give the banks the Chavez Choice!

The Morning Star’s editorial on this, the day after the bailout of the banking sector:

Give them the Chavez choice
(Monday 21 April 2008)

SOMEWHERE in the depths of the City, lurking behind closed doors, a coven of high-ranking bankers must be pouring out the champagne and celebrating raucously at the tops of their well-bred voices.

And they certainly have something to celebrate.

Following on from years of furious-paced gambling, during which they raked in the profits from speculating on mortgage debt, which they themselves had encouraged eagerly with ill-advised lending, their bonanza came to a sticky end recently with the US sub-prime mortgage crisis.

They lost, they say, billions of pounds. Their little flutters left their banks not only carrying huge losses, but suspicious of each other and unwilling even to carry out their normal business of lending money to their colleagues, fearing that their mates in the other banks were concealing a level of losses that made them a bad risk.

So much, you might say, for solidarity between partners in crime. There’s not much honour among thieves and they deserve what they got.

But the bankers are celebrating. And they are celebrating with good cause because, unlike the normal punter who puts a few quid on the 3.45 at Newmarket, they lost their bets but they aren’t going to have to cough up the readies to the bookie.

That nice Alistair Darling is going to make sure that they don’t, by throwing £50 billion in the pot that they can borrrow to cover their losses, using as security – Yes, you’ve guessed it – precisely those dodgy chunks of mortgage debt that they don’t trust themselves.

Now that’s a pretty good deal by anyone’s standards, especially since the good old Chancellor and the Bank of England have already coughed up a cool £50 billion to cover the Northern Rock crisis.

But are they satisfied? Not a bit of it. In fact, one banker, who rejoices in the job title of “head of spread betting at GFT Global Markets,” said: “The market reaction, at least in the short term, may well be one of disappointment that further funds have not been earmarked as part of a more long-term plan.”

There’s no pleasing some folk, is there?

And, considering that the banks have already refused in large numbers to pass on interest rate cuts to their customers, is it at all likely that this latest largesse will turn them into public benefactors with generosity oozing from every pore?

Mr Darling didn’t seem to think that he could raise considerably less cash to help out the poor victims of Labour’s cock-up over the 10p tax rate, so one would think that the latest little miracle of finding £50 billion to help the rich would leave the bankers reeling with stunned gratitude. It hasn’t.

But has Mr Darling any choice in the matter? He clearly doesn’t think so. With the importance of the banking and finance sector, he is worried that this bank-induced crisis could cause a catastrophic slump and damage the economy of the country.

But there are other choices. Choices that could be made in a democracy, if the word democracy has any meaning at all.

If it is the government that runs the economy – as the politicians insist every election – and not the bankers, then direct control of the speculators is a choice that could and should be made if they can’t control themselves.

It might be described as the Chavez choice, which the Venezuelan leader gave to big oil.

Work for the country and not for your private interest, or we will take the choices out of your hands.

A victory for Venezuela, via the English legal system

Good news from Hands Off Venezuela! on events in the bourgeois courts:

A London High Court judge on Tuesday suspended a court order which froze 12 billion dollars (7.6 billion euros) of assets owned by Venezuela state oil firm PDVSA in a dispute with US energy giant ExxonMobil.

“The judge hasn’t allowed his court or his country to be an instrument” of Exxon, Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s ambassador to the U.K., said in an interview. “This decision should have an effect on any reasonable court in the world.”

Addressing a group of solidarity activists gathered to hear the ruling, Moncada added: “Over 2 weeks it has been argued, and an English judge has decided not to support the Exxon case, but to support the Venezuelan case. Your slogan, Hands off Venezuela, is more relevant than ever, today.”

Hands Off Venezuela has mobilised , together with other solidarity activists, outside the High Court in London and outside the ExxonMobil offices to protest against this move to freeze PDVSA assets.

ExxonMobil started a number of judicial cases against PDVSA, after the Venezuelan government decided, in March 2007, to nationalise the massive oil reserves of the Orinoco Belt, in which the US multinational was operation as part of a “strategic association” with PDVSA.

The overwhelming majority of the companies operating in that field accepted the new proposed agreements, in which the Venezuelan PDVSA has a majority stake with a minimum of 60% of the shares, but US based ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, refused and went to international arbitration.

At the beginning of February, ExxonMobil obtained cautionary rulings from courts in the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and the Dutch Antilles to freeze 12 billion dollars of PDVSA’s global assets.

The London High Court judge, Paul Walker, will issue a detailed explanation of his ruling on Thursday.

Exxon was ordered to make an interim payment of 380,000 pounds to cover legal costs within 21 days, although the final bill is expected to be much higher.

PDVSA lawyer George Pollock said damages the state oil company could claim included increases in the cost of corporate borrowing for its projects.

Exxonmobil’s lawyer, Catharine Otton-Goulder, said she had no comments to make.

Hands Off Venezuela activists present in London expressed their joy at the ruling. “This was part of a campaign of intimidation and threats by imperialism against the Venezuelan revolution”.

D’ye ken Martin Bright?

From the Morning Star, a review of a television programme:

Bright’s fright night
(Tuesday 22 January 2008)
ANDREW MURRAY
Martin Bright’s feeble TV hatchet job on London Mayor Ken Livingstone may have missed its target, but it speaks volumes for the pro-war ‘left,’ writes ANDREW MURRAY.

THE most remarkable moment in this week’s partisan hatchet job on London Mayor Ken Livingstone on Channel 4 was not in fact about the mayor at all.

It was the moment when reporter Martin Bright, in the course of a segment about Venezuela, dismissed the Chavez regime in terms straight from the Bush State Department handbook – allied to Iran, associated with cocaine-smuggling guerillas and accused of human rights abuses.

With that passing phrase, Bright managed to align himself with the global neocon agenda on the Middle East and Latin America as well as the matter ostensibly in hand.

For make no mistake, the travesty of journalism that was the Dispatches programme reveals two things above all. First, getting Livingstone out of office is now priority number one for the warmongering, Muslim-bashing neocon “left.” Second, they are now prepared to openly embrace even the reactionary Toryism of Boris Johnson in order to further this end.

One of only two people can be elected mayor this year – Livingstone or Johnson. And Bright, seconded by his soulmate Nick Cohen in The Observer, has effectively come out for a Johnson victory, so great is his venom against anything even approximating to an authentic socialist left.

That was made abundantly clear in the Evening Standard, in which Bright hyperventilated on his personal mission to see the mayor driven out of office.

“I feel it is my duty,” he intoned with a pomposity worthy of a higher office than political reporter on a small-circulation weekly, “to warn the London electorate that a vote for Livingstone is a vote for a bully and a coward who is not worthy to lead this great city of ours.”

Bright himself has form working to the agenda of the global right. He teamed up with the Policy Exchange, which is run by charter neocon and former Daily Telegraph chief leader-writer Dean Godson, to produce a pamphlet telling Britain’s Muslims how they should behave.

This venture earned him a public commendation from Richard Perle, the leading imperial strategist for the Reagan and Bush administrations and one of the chief boosters of the Iraq war in Washington. The Policy Exchange has since been accused of fraudulent research in a subsequent Muslim-baiting television programme.

Research was not an issue for “BoJo” Bright. When the shadow secretary of state for business and enterprise Alan Duncan popped up in the programme in the guise of a “former oil trader” to bear expert witness on Venezuela, we knew that we were not really in the realm of Woodward and Bernstein but in the party political broadcast zone.

A similar incidence of “research-light” was the risible interview with Marc Wadsworth, a former anti-racist activist who sensationally announced that some of Livingstone’s advisers were affiliated to the “Communist Fourth International based in Moscow.” Did no-one bother poor “Bright” with the news that the Communist International and the Fourth International were two entirely different and bitterly opposed bodies and that the latter has never ever been based in Moscow, a famously inhospitable location for Trotskyists?

As for the attack on “Socialist Action,” surely John Ross, Redmond O’Neill and the rest can, after eight years, be judged on their contribution to the running of London rather than their membership of any particular political group. This is simply McCarthyism at a puerile Daily Express level, an attempt to scare the Tories of Orpington and High Barnet into getting to the polls in May before the Soviet comes to town.

There was Peter Tatchell passing through as a “former informal adviser” to the mayor, which does not sound very much like being on the inside track but did give him the opportunity to reprise his riff about the left having let him down by hanging out with dodgy Muslims once more.

And then came star exhibit Atma Singh, who I recall from years back as an amiable bloke but a couple of contradictions short of the full dialectic as a Marxist, who revealed a plot hatched by the Livingstoneites in 2000 to not only “make London economically powerful” but to do so in the interests of a “bourgeois democratic revolution,” which all sounds harmless enough. Bright didn’t ask Singh why he stuck around City Hall on a salary for a further five years advancing such devilish work.

Singh’s turn was accompanied by an unsourced allegation of a quote by Ross urging the workers to kill the capitalists, but this is presumably some sort of a misunderstanding, since that is not how “bourgeois democratic revolutions” carry on. Nor does it correspond to the actual conduct of economic life in contemporary London where, sad to say, oligarchs pass to and fro unscathed.

“BoJo” Bright’s own tuppence-worth was to slag the mayor off for endeavouring to “impose a personal agenda on the city.” Hello? That’s what politicians get elected to do – when they win, they’re allowed to. But then Bright also felt that “undermining the opposition” was somehow beyond the democratic pale, which suggests that his grasp on the conduct of democratic political life is unsteady.

It took the programme a full 50 minutes to get to any issue of relevance in the forthcoming mayoral election and when that issue did arrive – the congestion charge – it became completely unclear what point Bright was trying to make, although it seemed to turn on the notion that having fewer cars going through central London did not reduce congestion. Whatever.

Now, if all this had either been billed as a piece of Tory Party propaganda or had been balanced with other points of view, one could have merely enjoyed the parade of the embittered and the never-weres waffling on about Trotskyism, how they never got to meet O’Neill and the mayor wasn’t taking them seriously.

The bemused bloke from Stoke Newington who said that he hadn’t seen anything or anyone next door for three years or maybe longer – the man could be a Dispatches reporter soon – was a personal favourite, run a close second by the Liberal lady who claimed that a glass of wine before a meeting was fine, but a glass of whisky during it probably wasn’t.

But, as an investigation of the problems of governing London, it was a travesty of journalism and a prostitution of Channel 4 to a hard-right, neocon agenda.

The giveaway, apart from Bright’s little anti-Chavez rant, was the ringing endorsement that the programme received from Nick Cohen in The Observer last weekend. He picked up on some of Bright’s allegations at the weekend and threw in the corpse of the long-dead Gerry Healey, with which he seems to have developed a mildish fixation, for good measure.

Cohen, remember, is the dining companion of Iraq war mastermind and disgraced World Bank boss Paul Wolfowitz – see, this stuffed-by-association stuff is pretty damn easy – and the man who sold us the Iraq war on the grounds that CIA chancer and bank fraudster Ahmed Chalabi was Iraq’s answer to Nelson Mandela.

Chalabi won no seats at all in the Iraqi elections, even with The Observer’s backing. So, Cohen’s decision to call for a vote for Boris “piccaninnies” Johnson in preference to Livingstone, thus presumably completing his journey across the political spectrum – although there is still room for further movement if he really is indifferent to racism – is by no means bad news for the mayor.

At any event, the best efforts of the Perle-Wolfowitz “left” to smear Livingstone will have the sure and certain effect of consolidating anti-war, trade union and generally decent London opinion behind him.

And everyone should now firmly and finally grasp this about Bright, Cohen and the rest of the pro-war, anti-Muslim Western supremacist “left” – they are not left at all. When the chips are down, they back a Tory rather than a left-wing victory.

Red Christmas

“Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation, of the kind of misery and inequality that destroys social values. If you really look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ — who I think was the first socialist — only socialism can really create a genuine society.”

Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, 2006

Bolivarian buses

[Tuesday]

If you saw John Pilger’s excellent documentary, The War On Democracy, on ITV the other night, this story might be of interest:

Venezuela, London agreement to benefit citizens on the lowest incomes
ABN 21/08/2007
Caracas, Distrito Capital

London, Aug 21st (ABN).- The energy cooperation agreement, signed by the City Hall of London and the government of Venezuela, aimed at favoring the poor citizens of the English capital city, will benefit at least 1 million people, AFP news agency informed.

The agreement, signed last February 20th by the Major of London, Ken Livingstone, and the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister, Nicolás Maduro, established that the Venezuelan state oil Company (Pdvsa) will provide a 20% reduction in the price of combustible for London’s bus network.

The London City Hall’s website http://www.london.gov.uk underlined Livingstone’ statements announcing that the Londoners: single mothers and fathers, handicapped people and those people on the lowest incomes, will benefit for half price travel on London buses thanks to the bilateral agreement signed with Venezuela.

«The agreement will make easier the lives of thousands of poor Londoners,» Livinsgtone declared on Monday during the launching of the transport subsidy program.

In return, Venezuela will free receive by London expertise in public transport, urban planning, tourism and environment protection.

I like that London is described as the capital of England. Was this chance or do comrades at the Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias keep abreast of political developments in Scotland and Wales?

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