"TROOPS IN the Philippines have rescued a kidnapped Italian priest who had been held on the southern island of Mindanao for six months. He was kidnapped in October by a gang of bandits called the Pentagon Gang. The military says the group is mainly made up of former members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Philippine President Arroyo said Father Pierantoni's rescue was a big step towards achieving peace in the troubled southern Philippines. " 'Give them no quarter. Annihilate these criminal gangs. I appeal to the people, to our Muslim brothers, to help us end this scourge of kidnapping,' she said."
"THERE IS every reason to think we are about to enter the most dramatic year in the story of New Labour." "At home and abroad in the year ahead the prime minister and New Labour will be tested as never before." These predictions (from key articles in the Financial Times and the Observer) are spot on.
TWO IMPORTANT social forums took place at the end of last month. Activists met at the Palestine Social Forum in Ramallah, which is under Israeli occupation. It called for support for the international day of action against the war on Iraq on 15 February.
ACTIVISTS FROM the anti-war and "anti-globalisation" movement joined forces with delegates from across the Arab world at a remarkable conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in late December. The Egyptian government tried to ban it. Then it was forced to allow it to go ahead. The 1,000-strong demonstration that followed the conference was surrounded by riot police and armoured cars.
"YES, BUT what do you think it achieves?" If you took part in the marches and demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, this was a question that you would be asked over and over again. It didn't come from people in favour of the US bombing peasant farmers but from people who were, let's say, uneasy.
GEORGE BUSH and Tony Blair may preach hollow words of peace and goodwill this Christmas and New Year. But their policies have ensured millions of people around the world live with hunger and fear.
THAT SMALL portion of the media not obsessed with Cherie Blair has been rhubarbing about how "historic" last weekend's European Union (EU) summit in Copenhagen was. It was in a way, but not primarily because the EU has finally decided to expand to incorporate ten new member states, mainly relatively poor countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
WHAT PLANET are Tony Blair and New Labour on? One thing's for sure - it's not the one the rest of us inhabit. There are top-up flats for their kids and top-up fees for ours. As the Cheriegate furore grew this week, Blair again lashed out at public services and the workers who keep them going.
THE UPPER classes of Venezuela, in South America, last week launched another desperate attempt to overthrow the government of president Hugo Chavez. Their last attempt to do so, in April, ousted him from office for only three days before hundreds of thousands of poor people poured into the centre of the capital, Caracas, and forced the army to reinstate him.
RIGHT NOW in the US it seems impossible to escape the war on terrorism. Bush and his clones in the White House are using every trick to whip up a patriotic fever. Serious news programmes run terrifying reports of so called terrorist plans to kill every US citizen. Countless shops display posters declaring their allegiance to the war against terrorism.
THE firefighters' dispute has highlighted the depth of opposition to New Labour among ordinary people. But it has also shown that opposition needs to be much more sharply focused and organised.
THE MEDIA have made much of Gordon Brown's admission in last week's pre-budget report that he had got his sums wrong. Most notably the government is going to have to borrow £20 billion this year and £24 billion next year - nearly twice the amounts Brown forecast only seven months ago.
YEARS AGO there was a cartoon that did the rounds. It showed a galley ship, with hundreds of galley slaves rowing away like crazy. Standing over them was an overseer with a whip in his hand urging on the slaves with, "We're all in the same boat." What a perfect picture of how politicians talk about society. Yes, we all live in the same country, in the same world, we are all born and we all die. But the vital thing is that in the time between birth and death we find that the way we live is structured.
"THIS IS a strike you can't win." That was Tony Blair's message to the firefighters this week. And the Sun pushed the same argument. No one should fall for this bluster. Blair may want to present a tough image. But in reality his government is totally split over the firefighters.
ONE PERSON you won't see running into burning buildings to rescue people is Jean-Pierre Garnier. He's the boss of the British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline who has achieved notoriety by announcing that he can't survive on his £7 million annual salary. It's not enough, he says, to "keep him motivated". He wants more to continue running the company from his penthouse in Philadelphia. That's global capitalism for you - a British drugs firm run by a French man from the US.
"SCARGILLITE" is how Tony Blair attacks the firefighters' union. But it is not Scargillism that is threatening our livelihoods and public services - it is Thatcherism, the doctrine of Blair's New Labour government. On every front those at the core of this government are pushing right wing policies animated by the spirit of the former Tory leader. Education secretary Charles Clarke and his sidekick Margaret Hodge are two of New Labour's "ultras". They are determined to force students to pay "top-up" fees of up to £10,000 to go to some colleges. Clarke also wants to force every student to pay fees, regardless of their or their parents' income.
IN THE aftermath of the United Nations Security Council resolution authorising the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq, many people have deluded themselves that this makes war less likely. Even Richard Perle, the ultra right wing adviser to the Pentagon, argued on BBC News 24 last Sunday that the aim of Bush's administration was no longer "regime change" in Iraq but the removal of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. This apparent shift in US objectives may only be a figleaf covering the administration's real intentions.
THE PETER and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg was once a prison but is now a museum. You can wander round its cells and see grainy photographs of its former occupants, political prisoners under the old Russian Tsars 100 years ago. A large number are women-revolutionaries usually from middle class backgrounds who braved torture and exile for their cause.
THE WORLD is much closer to a terrifying war after the United Nations Security Council vote last week. "Senior British and US officials say that both George Bush and Tony Blair privately regard war against Saddam as inevitable," reported the Observer on Sunday.
<blockquote>"I'm just an American boy, raised on MTV and I've seen all those kids in the soda pop ads but none of them look like me so I started lookin' around for a light out of the dim and the first thing I heard that made sense was the word of Mohammed, peace be upon him." </blockquote>