| Britain’s poorest summonsed to court to pay council tax arrears!

Britain’s poorest summonsed to court to pay council tax arrears ~ Allison Smith, World Socialist Web Site.

As a result of the Conservative/Liberal government’s elimination of the Council Tax Benefit scheme in April of this year, thousands of British citizens are being summonsed to court for failure to pay council tax bills they cannot afford.

In London’s Labour Party-controlled Southwark borough alone, more than 5,000 residents were summonsed to court in October and forced to pay past due council tax plus court fees. In the Labour-controlled borough of Brent, 3,500 summonses were issued to the poorest residents. This is being repeated across the country. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Hull reported that up to last August it alone dealt with 3,000 cases, compared to 1,000 the previous year.

A lone queue formed outside Camberwell magistrates court, Southwark, in a kind of conveyer belt summary justice meted out to the poor, reminiscent of scenes from Charles Dickens’s novels. For the overwhelming majority of these residents, the council tax bill is plunging them further into poverty.

The council tax benefit cuts are part of the government’s Welfare Reform Act 2012, which is being promoted as a way to create a culture of work, rather than a “culture of welfare”. The act transfers the responsibility for social welfare onto local councils by eliminating the council tax benefit and replacing it with a grant to local councils that covers only 90 percent of welfare beneficiaries’ monthly council tax bills. Local councils are seeking to bridge the 10 percent gap by deducting the amount directly from their monthly benefit payments.

It is estimated that more than 19,000 of Southwark’s most impoverished residents are expected to start paying at least £12 per month. Southwark Council leaders say they are being forced to collect council tax from all residents, regardless of their financial circumstance, because the borough is facing serious budget shortfalls. This is a complete lie. Since the 2008 economic crash, British politicians across the political spectrum began implementing draconian austerity measures to transfer the burden of paying for the City’s stock market gambling losses onto the working class. Rather than opposing central government cuts, local councils are simply cutting other services and benefits in their respective parishes and towns.

The benefits cuts and council tax hikes are plunging thousands of citizens into extreme levels of poverty. Single parents, working part-time and receiving the national minimum wage (NMW) with children in child care, are being asked to pay council tax bills ranging from £96 to £577 annually, depending on the level of the local schemes being introduced.

A couple with children, where one partner is in full-time work on the NMW, are seeing their council tax bill increase between £96 and £446, again depending on the local schemes being introduced. At the same time they are being asked to pay council tax for the first time or contribute more toward their council tax, the costs of transportation, food and gasoline are skyrocketing. This means that these families will have virtually nothing left over at the end of every month and are living hand to mouth.

In an October 23 Daily Mirror article, Alex Brew, a charity worker, said that she already goes without TV, Internet, a landline and sometimes heating. “I can’t possibly find £12 a month,” she said. She is £106.32 in arrears and also has to pay £65 in court costs.

This March, Chris Goulden, head of poverty at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, told the BBC that council tax increases mean that “some of the country’s poorest families must find £140 extra from their strained household budgets to pay council tax for the first time. Making up the shortfall will be beyond most, with working hours under pressure and benefits falling behind inflation. This tax hike will push people into poverty or cause more hardship for already very poor households, taking money from families who had little to start with.”

The Foundation cited a research study projecting that 150,000 families will pay an average of £300 more a year. One million will pay less than £100, and 1.9 million claimants who currently do not pay any council tax will have to start paying an average £140 per year.

The Labour Party and its affiliated unions, including the largest trade union, Unite, are “protesting” the council tax benefit cuts by advocating that councils find creative ways to meet their budget by cutting other services. Unite points to the example of Merton Borough’s Labour-led administration that cut its budget by more than £26 million this year.

Pilgrim Tucker, a Unite union coordinator, said, “We know councils face difficult decisions, but we are calling on Southwark council to make a stand and not punish residents who simply do not have the money available to pay these bills. Many of these families face an impossible choice this winter, between paying their bills and feeding their families. Merton, a fellow south London council, has found a way of absorbing the cuts, so we are calling on Southwark to try and do the same.”

Merton’s way of “absorbing the cuts” has resulted in the loss of 222 borough jobs, the closing down of children’s centres, elimination of garden waste collections, removal of the Merton Music Foundation grant, reduced library hours, and the deferral of critical road maintenance across the borough. Next year, it is expected that the borough will restructure park staffing and reduce services for all but the most severely mentally ill residents.

Labour-controlled authorities are the most determined exponents of this brutal class policy. Labour has gathered statistics that show, in the first six months since these measures were enforced across England, potentially up to 500,000 people could have been issued summonses.

With these measures, the UK government in alliance with local council administrations, whatever their political coloration, are forcing the poorest into utter destitution. In sharp contrast, the UK’s 1,000 wealthiest residents, the majority based in London, only a stone’s throw away from the desperate scenes outside Camberwell magistrates, have received a 5 percent tax cut from 50 percent to 45 percent. This measure will further enlarge their combined wealth, which already stands at £450 billion.


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| Mission Creep: As opposition to war mounts, Pentagon plans massive attack on Syria!

As opposition to war mounts, Pentagon plans massive attack on Syria ~ Bill Van AukenWorld Socialist Web Site.

Facing overwhelming opposition to its war plans among the American people, the prospect of losing a vote in Congress on a resolution authorizing military force, and unprecedented isolation on the world stage, the Obama administration has reportedly ordered the Pentagon to plan a far wider attack on Syria than had originally been indicated.

Obama is “now determined to put more emphasis on the ‘degrade’ part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria—to ‘deter and degrade’ Mr. Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons,” the New York Times reported Friday, citing unnamed Pentagon officials.

According to the Times, as well as similar reports by the Wall Street Journal and CNN, the Syria war plan is evolving to include not just a salvo of cruise missiles from a US naval flotilla deployed in the eastern Mediterranean, but a sustained bombing campaign involving US warplanes flying from bases in the region as well from the US itself.

The Journal reported that the use of Air Force bombers, which are capable of delivering a greater payload than the ship-borne missiles, is being considered for strikes on “hardened targets” and “follow-on strikes if the first wave doesn’t destroy the targets.”

“Among options available are B-52 bombers, which can carry cruise missiles; low-flying B1s that are based in Qatar and carry long-range, air-to-surface missiles; and B-2 stealth bombers, which are based in Missouri and carry heavy guided bombs,” according to the Journal .

In the face of such preparations, only the willfully ignorant can still believe that the attack being prepared against Syria has anything to do with upholding “international norms” and punishing the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons.

The Obama administration has yet to present a shred of verifiable evidence to substantiate its claim that the Assad regime was responsible for the alleged August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus.

The American president suffered an unmitigated fiasco at the G20 summit in Russia, where he was unable to convince a single government to support US military action. If evidence of such an attack could be shared anywhere, it would presumably be with the heads of state gathered in St. Petersburg. But Obama has no such proof, and every government in the world knows it.

The August 21 event was a provocation staged by Washington and its proxies, the armed Islamist militias led by Al Qaeda, to provide the justification for not only an attack on Syria, but a far wider war.

In the first instance, what is being prepared is a full-scale assault on the Syrian government and its military. Among the objectives will be the assassination of Assad and the wiping out of much of the Syrian army. In the process, thousands of Syrian civilians—men, women and children—will be killed as well.

These aims are being spelled out clearly within the US ruling establishment. A report published September 5 by Anthony Cordesman, a leading analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and former Pentagon intelligence official, is entitled “Shaping a Meaningful Outcome to US Strikes and Intervention in the Syrian Civil War.”

“If the US is to accomplish any lasting strategic result, it must carry out a truly major cruise missile strike and focus on changing the outcome of the Syrian civil war, rather than focus on Syria’s chemical weapons,” Cordesman writes. “In the short term, this means a focus on high value military targets that will have an impact on the civil war rather than a focus on chemical weapons.”

He continues by insisting that “making a limited, short-term tilt in the balance will not be enough.” The US attack, he argues, must be accompanied by a major escalation of the arming of the so-called “rebels,” the fascistic Islamist gunmen carrying out a sectarian civil war on Washington’s behalf.

This is already taking place. The Times of London reported Friday, “The CIA is supervising fresh weapons consignments from Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to Syria’s rebels to help them to capitalise on a US bombing offensive that could start next week.”

The massive new infusion of weaponry includes antitank weapons and surface-to-air missiles as well as other arms. It likely also involves chemical weapons from the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud, to be used should another provocation be required.

These weapons will go to Al Qaeda-led militias, with which the US government is now working in the closest operational unity, to carry out sectarian massacres across the country and in Damascus itself.

The aim of this campaign is not limited to Syria, but is directed at preparing a wider regional war, targeting Iran, with the aim of removing all impediments to US imperialist hegemony over the oil-rich and strategically vital regions of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Obama is pursuing the same predatory aims that lay behind the wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan over the entire past decade.

The US Senate convened briefly Friday to allow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to formally introduce the Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The full Senate returns from its recess on Monday and is expected to vote on the measure backing war on Syria as soon as next Wednesday.

The resolution provides for up to 60 days of air strikes on the already devastated Middle Eastern nation, with another 30-day extension should the Obama administration determine that more attacks are required.

Whatever the text of the legislation, and whether or not it is passed by both houses of Congress, which appears increasingly doubtful, the administration has already made clear the far-reaching scope of its military aims with the draft it first submitted. This resolution allowed it to use virtually unlimited military force “in connection with” Syrian chemical weapons and the proliferation “within, to or from Syria,” of such weapons or any components or materials associated with them. Such language would allow attacks on Iran or Russia or virtually any other country that the US determined was “connected” with Syria or providing it with aid.

That this remains the aim of the US intervention was indicated by last week’s presence in Washington of a large delegation of top Israeli military and intelligence officials and the steady drumbeat of propaganda to the effect that the Syrian intervention is necessary to deter Iran from securing a nuclear weapon.

As the New York Times noted Friday, the Obama administration is counting heavily on Zionist lobbying organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to pressure members of Congress to back the authorization of military force.

Whatever the results of the congressional deliberations, this will be the last time any legislative debate is carried out in the US over the impending war. Such is the depth of the crisis of US capitalism, it is driven to a war of aggression, regardless the attitude of the American people, as a means of offsetting its economic decline and intense internal contradictions.

This is a government of conspiracy, dominated by its vast military and intelligence apparatus and totally subservient to the interests of the corporations, the banks and the super-rich. It is dragging the American people into war on the basis of wholesale lying and under conditions where the overwhelming majority of the population opposes military action—something Obama and his supporters acknowledge. Ultimately, this can be carried out only by means of massive repression.

The only thing that can stop the coming war is the mobilization of mass popular opposition. This requires the independent action of working people, students and youth in opposition to the Obama administration, the Congress and both big-business political parties. The struggle against war must be joined with the fight to defend living standards and basic democratic rights, which are under relentless assault by the same capitalist system and ruling financial oligarchy that are the source of militarism and imperialist aggression.

The Socialist Equality Party is fighting to organize this opposition, holding meetings and calling demonstrations across the US and internationally. We call upon all of our readers and supporters to join this fight today.



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| Syrian opposition fighters arrested with chemical weapons!

Syrian opposition fighters arrested with chemical weapons ~ Bill Van Auken, World Socialist Web Site.

In a series of raids in the capital of Istanbul and in the southern provinces of Mersin, Adana and Hatay near the Syrian border, Turkish police rounded up 12 members of Syria’s Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front along with chemical weapons materials.

The Turkish media initially reported that police recovered four and a half pounds of sarin, the deadly nerve gas which had earlier been linked to chemical weapons attacks inside Syria.

While widely reported in the Turkish press, the arrests Wednesday have been virtually blacked out by the corporate media in the US. Newspapers like theNew York Times, which have openly promoted a US intervention in Syria, citing alleged chemical weapons use by the regime of Bashar al-Assad as a pretext, have posted not a word about the raids in Turkey.

The daily newspaper Zaman reported that “the al-Nusra members had been planning a bomb attack for Thursday in [the Turkish city of] Adana but that the attack was averted when the police caught the suspects. Along with the sarin gas, the police seized a number of handguns, grenades, bullets and documents during their search.”

The city of Adana, approximately 60 miles from the Syrian border, has a sizable Alawite Arab population that is sympathetic to the Syrian government and hostile to the Sunni Islamist forces that have waged the US-backed war for regime change on the ground in Syria.

The Al Nusra Front, which has formally declared its allegiance to Al Qaeda, was declared a foreign terrorist organization by the US State Department last December. The United Nations Security Council added the group to the body’s Al Qaeda sanctions blacklist Friday.

The Syrian government had requested that the group be subjected to sanctions as a terrorist organization last month, but the action was initially blocked by Britain and France. Finally, an agreement was reached to declare Al Nusra an alias for Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The Al Nusra Front has been universally acknowledged as the most effective fighting force of the so-called rebels seeking the Assad government’s overthrow. Both Britain and France recently succeeded in overturning a European Union ban on arms exports to Syria, clearing the way for them to ship weapons to the “rebels.”

None of the arrested suspects have been identified. Turkish media reported that five of them were released late Thursday, and seven are still being held for questioning. The government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has provided extensive material support for the Syrian opposition, has given no public explanation of the police actions.

Adana provincial governor Huseyin Avni Cos denied on Thursday that sarin had been recovered in the raids but did allow that unknown chemicals had been found and were being analyzed.

The arrests come little more than two weeks after twin terrorist car bombings claimed the lives of 52 people in the Turkish city of Reyhanli in southern Hatay province near the border with Syria. The Erdogan government seized upon the incident to blame the Syrian government and call for international intervention to topple Assad. It simultaneously imposed an unprecedented gag order on the Turkish press to prevent reporting on the extensive evidence that the attacks were the work of Syrian opposition groups, which use Reyhanli as a supply base and who have free movement across the Turkish-Syrian border.

Subsequently, authorities arrested an army private on charges of “crimes against the state” for allegedly leaking top secret cables that indicated the government’s prior knowledge that the bombings were being planned by the Al Qaeda-linked forces in Syria. RedHack, the Turkish hacker group which made the cables public last week, denied that it had any contact with the arrested private, who was identified as Utku Kali.

The Adana daily Taraf reported Thursday that police are mounting road blocks and conducting searches in the area for a vehicle loaded with explosives that is believed to have been sent to the area by the US-backed anti-Assad forces.

The discovery of sarin or some other lethal chemical weapons materials in the hands of Al Nusra Front operatives in Turkey prompted calls by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for an immediate investigation. He condemned the continuing failure to send a United Nations inspection team to Syria to investigate a chemical weapons incident last March outside of the city of Aleppo.

“We are highly disappointed that because of the political games, the UN Secretariat failed to respond to that request swiftly,” Lavrov told reporters.

These “political games” refer to demands by Washington and its allies that any UN team be given carte blanche to inspect any and all Syrian facilities and interrogate anyone it chooses, along the lines of the inspection regime created in Iraq in the run-up to the US invasion of 2003.

The Assad government has charged that the March attack, which killed 26 people, 16 of them government soldiers, was carried out by the Western-backed forces.

The Obama administration has repeatedly declared the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government to be a “red line” or “game changer” that would trigger unspecified US intervention. At the same time, Washington and its European NATO allies have turned a blind eye to evidence of chemical weapons use by the Islamist militias.

There have been repeated claims by the Syrian opposition groups, as well as by the British and French governments, of chemical weapons use by the regime. Last month, however, Carla del Ponte, a leading member of the UN commission of inquiry on Syria, stated that the bulk of the evidence indicated chemical weapons use by the rebels.

The latest development in Turkey suggests that the Western-backed Islamist militias were preparing to launch another chemical weapons attack, apparently against a Turkish civilian population, with the aim of producing mass casualties that would be blamed on the Syrian regime and create the conditions for a US-led intervention.

The silence of the US media on the incident only demonstrates that it is prepared to play the same role that it did in Iraq, working to sell a war based upon lies to the American public. The experience of the past decade of unending war, however, has made this task more difficult.

A Gallup poll released on Friday found that more than two out of three Americans (68 percent) oppose any US military intervention in Syria if “diplomatic efforts fail to end the civil war in Syria.”



| US under spotlight over emerging evidence of Libya attack disrupting major CIA operation!

Attack in Libya disrupted major CIA operation ~ Bill Van Auken,  World Socialist Web Site.

The September 11 attack that claimed the life of the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans disrupted a major CIA operation in the North African country.

According to the New York Times, at least half of the nearly two dozen US personnel evacuated from the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi following the fatal attack on the US consulate and a secret “annex” were “CIA operatives and contractors.”

“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” a US official who had been stationed in Libya told the Times. “We got our eyes poked out.”

The Times report describes the mission of the CIA station in Benghazi as one of “conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city,” including Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist militia that has been linked by some to the September 11 attack, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.

It further states that the CIA “began building a meaningful but covert presence in Benghazi” within months of the February 2011 revolt in Benghazi that seized the city from forces loyal to the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Stevens himself was sent into the city in April of that year as the American envoy to the so-called “rebels” organized in the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council (NTC).

What the Times omits from its account of CIA activities in Benghazi, however, is that the agency was not merely conducting covert surveillance on the Islamists based in eastern Libya, but providing them with direct aid and coordinating their operations with those of the NATO air war launched to bring down the Gaddafi regime. In this sense, the September 11 attack that killed Stevens and the three other Americans was very much a case of the chickens coming home to roost.

There is every reason to believe that the robust CIA presence in Benghazi after Gaddafi’s fall also involved more than just surveillance. Libyan Islamists make up the largest single component of the “foreign fighters” who are playing an ever more dominant role in the US-backed sectarian civil war being waged in Syria with the aim of toppling the government of President Bashar al-Assad. According to some estimates, they comprise anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 of approximately 3,500 fighters who have been infiltrated into Syria from as far away as Chechnya and Pakistan.

The CIA has also set up a center on the border between Turkey and Syria to oversee the funneling of arms, materiel, money and fighters into the Syrian civil war. Given the relationship established between the US agency and the Libyan Islamist militias during the US-NATO war to topple Gaddafi, it seems highly probable that the departure of such elements from eastern Libya and their infiltration into Syria would be coordinated by CIA personnel on both ends.

The government installed by the US-NATO war in the Libyan capital of Tripoli was apparently unaware of the size of the CIA presence in Benghazi, though the agency was supposedly cooperating with Libyan intelligence officials in monitoring the activities of the Islamists.

According to a report published September 21 in the Wall Street Journal, the attempt by Libyan government forces to coordinate a response to the militia assault on the US consulate and the “annex” used by the CIA was hindered by the refusal of American officials to provide the Libyans with GPS coordinates for the “annex,” which came under sustained assault and where two security contractors, former Navy Seals, were killed.

When the US and Libyan rescuers managed to evacuate some 30 Americans from the “annex” and bring them to the Benghazi airport, Libyan officials were stunned by the number of US personnel there and had to bring in a second plane to fly them all out.

“We were surprised by the numbers of Americans who were at the airport,” Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Abushagour told the Journal. “We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key,” he added.

In the aftermath of the attack in Benghazi, the question of security at US facilities has become a politically contested issue, with Republicans charging that the Obama administration had behaved irresponsibly in not having US military personnel protect Stevens and other personnel. They have also accused the administration of misleading the public by describing the assault on the two buildings as an outgrowth of a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Islamic film that has triggered protests throughout the Muslim world, rather than a terrorist attack.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon, a California Republican, last week declared the lack of military guards in Benghazi as “inconceivable” given an earlier attack on the Benghazi compound and other incidents of armed violence in the city.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to the criticism by insisting that local security forces and a private security company that deployed Libyan guards had provided security “of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world.”

By late last week, administration officials had begun referring to the assault as a “terrorist attack.” With the US having deployed warships, drones and a 50-member US Marine rapid reaction force to Libya, this may be preparation for military retaliation.

In Libya itself, thousands of people marched in Benghazi on Friday against the militias. Crowds laid siege to the headquarters of Ansar al-Sharia and another Islamist militia, the Rafallah Sahati brigade, leading to at least four deaths.

The demonstrations clearly expressed public anger over the sway of the Islamists over Benghazi, with participants talking of the need for “a new revolution.”

Late on Saturday, the authorities in Tripoli responded to the popular frustration. The Libyan army chief, Yusseff Mangoush, and national assembly leader Mohamed Magrief announced that “illegitimate” militias would have 48 hours to disarm and disband, or the army would use force.

What this meant was far from clear, however, as Libyan President Mohamed el-Megaref called upon Libyan protesters to leave the “legitimate” militias alone. The president demanded that the demonstrators stop attacks on militias that are “under state legitimacy, and go home.”

The spokesman for the national assembly went further. According to the Wall Street Journal, the spokesman, Omar Humidan, declared that while the militias “have wrong practices… serve their own agenda and have their own ideology… striking these militias and demanding they disband immediately will have grave consequences.”

He continued: “These are the ones that preserve security. The state has a weak army and no way it can fill any vacuum resulting in eviction of these militias… The street is upset because of the militias and their infighting. We are worried of the fallout in the absence of those militias. The state must be given time.”

The militias in Benghazi are almost all offshoots of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a jihadist group that had ties to Al Qaeda and whose leaders were abducted and tortured by the CIA as part of Washington’s “global war on terror.” This is the case with Ansar al-Sharia, which is responsible for providing security at the Al Jala hospital in Benghazi, as well as the Rafallah Sahati brigade, which has also been deployed as a security force in the city, including during the national elections.

In the aftermath of last Friday’s demonstrations, the militias struck back, claiming that the popular repudiation of their policies had been stirred up by supporters of the former Gaddafi regime.

The Rafallah al-Sahati militia announced Monday that it had rounded up 113 people for alleged involvement in the protests. A leader of the group claimed that most of those detained were former members of the Gaddafi-era military or supporters of the deposed president.

Libyan state television reported Monday that on the outskirts of Benghazi the bodies of six Libyan soldiers were found shot, execution style, with their hands cuffed behind them. It was also reported that an army colonel had disappeared and was believed to have been kidnapped.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “Some media reports accused militiamen of taking revenge on Gaddafi-era veterans in the military; in contrast, a military spokesman, Ali al-Shakhli, blamed Gaddafi loyalists, saying they were trying to stir up trouble between the public and the militias.”