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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dahr Jamail: "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq

Dahr Jamail

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As the UN calls for a vigorous investigation into a U.S. air raid that killed at least 15 women and children in Iraq, we speak to Dahr Jamail about his new book, the 2004 attack on Fallujah, the U.S. use of white phosphorous weapons, the role of Iran in Iraq and more. [includes rush transcript]

The United Nations is calling for a "vigorous" investigation into a deadly US air raid north of Baghdad on Thursday that killed at least fifteen women and children. The call comes as the first pictures have emerged in the aftermath of the attack which took place north of Baghdad.
The US military has expressed regret over the loss of civilian life but said they sent in helicopters after ground troops came under fire from insurgents. Iraqi villagers say some of the victims were shot dead. Pictures captured at the scene of the attack show bullet holes that appear to be from a ground assault.

The US has admitted six women and nine children were killed, along with nineteen insurgents. But local villagers say they have buried twenty-four people and that several others were detained by US forces.

Dahr Jamail, Independent journalist who reported has extensively from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. He was unembedded in Iraq and witnessed the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. He is the author of "Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq."

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution. Donate - $25, $50, $100, more...

AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations is calling for a vigorous investigation into a deadly US air raid north of Baghdad on Thursday. It killed at least fifteen women and children. The call comes as the first pictures have emerged in the aftermath of the attack, which took place north of Baghdad.

The US military has expressed regret over the loss of civilian life but said they sent in helicopters after ground troops came under fire from insurgents. Iraqi villagers say some of the victims were shot dead. Pictures captured at the scene of the attack show bullet holes that appear to be from a ground assault.

The US has admitted six women and nine children were killed, along with nineteen insurgents. But local villagers say they have buried twenty-four people and that several others were detained by US forces. This is how Iraqi witnesses describe the scene.

IRAQI WITNESS: [translated] This is their food, their cups. These are women's clothes. Have a look at these women's clothes. They killed members of a family inside a house. They shot the children dead here. They shot women dead here. This is the blood from the women who were killed.

There were thirty-two. We have buried twenty-four, and I have no information about the other nine who are in US custody. We do not know anything about them. This is a catastrophe. A US general has inspected the area, and he said they are sorry, and he cried after seeing the beheaded children.

IRAQI WITNESS: The Americans said that they are sorry, you Muslims. They are sorry for killing the families. They said that they are sorry. Is this democracy?

AMY GOODMAN: Iraqis responding to the attack last Thursday by the US military in a village north of Baghdad.

Dahr Jamail is an independent unembedded journalist who has been reporting from the Middle East for over four years. He spent months reporting unembedded from Iraq and is out with a book on his experiences. It’s called Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Dahr Jamail joins us from our firehouse studio today. Welcome to Democracy Now!, and congratulations on the publication of your book, Dahr.

DAHR JAMAIL: Thanks very much, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: As you watch and listen to these witnesses talking, your thoughts?
DAHR JAMAIL: It brought back memories of countless days I spent similar to that, interviewing people under those similar circumstances, people completely outraged at the massive loss of civilian life, usually women, children, elderly people bombed in their homes. It reminded me of when I went into Fallujah after the April 2004 siege and interviewing people whose homes had been completely flattened by bombs, many of their family members still trapped under the rubble. It reminded me of similar interviews I had done in places around Baghdad, where attacks and home raids had occurred, where this is just standard operating procedure for the US military, whether we're talking about home raids or massive aerial assaults or massive military operations, that the leading -- that the highest number of civilian casualties, of course, continues to be generated by the US military in Iraq, particularly using air power, as that situation just showed us very clearly, where, as usual, it’s the civilians paying the highest price.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's talk about Fallujah in April of 2004, a key turning point in the US occupation and war in Iraq. But before we go to Fallujah, describe how you ended up in Iraq.
DAHR JAMAIL: I was living in Alaska when the selling of the war commenced during the fall of 2002. And I remember clearly Andrew Card, for example, White House Chief of Staff, talking about, well, we don’t launch a new product until the fall. And I was outraged in hearing this, the discussion of launching a war being used in the same sentence as a PR campaign. And I was completely outraged. And I, like -- I think millions of other Americans were also.
AMY GOODMAN: You were living in Alaska?

DAHR JAMAIL: I was living in Alaska at that time. I was spending my summers working as a guide and a rescue ranger up on Mount McKinley. And -- but I was really watching the media closely. I had read enough to know that there were no weapons of mass destruction, of course no links to 9/11, and to see right through the lies being used to justify the war.

And then, when the war actually broke out and the coverage of that, really more like watching a video game, if you watched the corporate media with the high-tech weaponry being sold on the TVs, etc., and the coverage into the occupation, and I hit a point where I saw, of course, dissent in the country being swept aside, written off as a focus group, according to Mr. Bush, and I hit a point where I decided that it was time to take a risk and go do what I could to try to report on what was actually happening, because I felt that the mainstream media coverage of it was nothing more than -- they were doing nothing more than acting as a parrot for the Bush administration. And I figured the best thing I could do as a US citizen would be to go in and try to counter what they were doing by showing the real situation on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting; if you look at what the corporate media did around the war, the whole trumpeting of the allegation of weapons of mass destruction, they might say a person like you, who didn’t have journalistic training going into Iraq, well, if you had gotten it very wrong, repeated allegations over and over again of something that wasn’t true, that’s why you need training in journalism. But it actually was the other way. Here you were, coming from Alaska, just an informed citizen concerned about what the country was doing, and it was they, with all of their training and experience in the networks or in the major newspapers, who got is so wrong. How, when you got to Iraq, did you deal with the other journalists who were there?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, that’s an important point that you make, Amy, because the fact that I didn’t go to journalism school and hadn’t worked professionally as a journalist before, I think, worked to my advantage. And colleagues of mine, like Christian Parenti and Jeremy Scahill, have said the same thing. They said, “You're doing the job the right way because you didn’t go to journalism school and because you're not reporting for CNN, that you're basically just going out and interviewing people and telling the truth.” And that’s really all there is to it; it’s not rocket science. There is no need for this type of formal training. It’s go out, learn the basic skills, and then tell the truth and tell what you see. And that’s the magic formula of what I did.
And if a guy like me, a mountain guide from Alaska, can get a laptop and a small digital camera and go to Iraq and start reporting on what’s happening and do things like break stories about home raids and torture and white phosphorus being used in Fallujah, then why can’t the corporate media, with their millions and millions of dollars and all the advanced high-tech equipment available to them, why can’t they do it? And that’s the unanswered question.

AMY GOODMAN: So, describe just the nuts and bolts of the trip. You just got your computer and camera and got on a plane. And where did you go?

DAHR JAMAIL: I -- through contacts I had met online through a couple of different independent media listservs, I found someone in Baghdad and basically followed their instructions on going to Amman, Jordan, which hotel to stay at, how and where to hire a car to go into Iraq from there, and then some contacts in Baghdad, once I got in. And once I started going, it was rather serendipitous, because along the way I kept meeting the right people at the right times, running into filmmaker James Longley in Amman, and he helped me find my first interpreter, and then getting into Baghdad and meeting people along the way and starting to work with them. And so, once I got in there and started working --

AMY GOODMAN: And that was when?

DAHR JAMAIL: That was in November 2003. And I stayed nine weeks that first trip. And once I got in there and started working and went out and started interviewing Iraqis and meeting people, it was clear to them that I was there to report what they were going to say and then actually report it.

AMY GOODMAN: And who were you reporting for?

DAHR JAMAIL: At the time, I started out only sending out emails to people back home. I had no -- I didn’t even know what blogging was. I didn’t have a website or anything like that. I had about 130 people, mostly back in Alaska, that were curious to see what I was seeing. And so, each day I would go home to my hotel and write up what I saw and send it back to these folks. And then a couple of weeks into it, I met someone who suggested I write for a website, electroniciraq.net, which I started doing. And then, from there, I started getting picked up by BBC and a website out of Syracuse called “The New Standard.” And it became clear, oh, I could actually start working as a journalist and then come back here for another trip.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, describe Fallujah, how you ended up actually going into Fallujah unembedded in April of 2004.

DAHR JAMAIL: I was en route back to Iraq for my second trip, when March 31, 2004, the killing of the four Blackwater USA mercenaries in Fallujah occurred. And so, I knew going in that it would be quite an intense trip to begin with. And I went into Baghdad, and the day I went in, on April 4th, was the day that Fallujah was sealed, and I went in on a bus carrying humanitarian supplies into the city.

AMY GOODMAN: This was right after the four Blackwater operatives were killed in Fallujah.

DAHR JAMAIL: Right. That occurred on March 31st, and I went into the city on April 9th, and I went in with some other colleagues. And we chose that day because, according to the US military and the corporate media, it was a ceasefire. And so, we knew it would be dangerous, but we figured, well, if it’s a ceasefire, at least our odds will be a little bit better. And we went in, and it was anything but a ceasefire. There were F-16s dropping bombs in the city. There were helicopters strafing. We could hear sporadic fighting all over the place. And we got into the city and took our supplies to a small makeshift clinic in the middle of the city.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, your supplies?

DAHR JAMAIL: It was -- we were on a bus that was set up by an NGO in Baghdad that was carrying in like blankets and rubber gloves and gauze to one of the hospitals inside Fallujah. And they were going -- it was a bus, because they were going to try to bring out as many wounded as they could. And so, we basically hitched a ride on that bus, and that’s what granted us safe entry into the city.

And at that clinic, when I was there, it was one of the most atrocious things I’ve ever seen in my life. There was, one after another, women, children, elderly being brought into the clinic, all of them from different parts of the city, coming in at different times, all of them telling the same story, that they were being shot by American snipers. And I watched that all through the day and through the night. The doctors were reporting the use of cluster bombs. And this was going on during the quote/unquote "ceasefire." And that was just one day in that siege, where over 700 civilians died in April, and that set the stage for the November siege.

AMY GOODMAN: The US military was denying that civilians were dying?

DAHR JAMAIL: They did during the first siege, and then the second siege, which occurred in November 2004, where approximately 70% of the city was completely destroyed, according to an Iraqi NGO in the city, 5,000 civilians died. The US military claimed 1,200 people were killed in Fallujah, and all of them were militants. So, such is their denial and such was the reports from the corporate media.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, three years after you reported the illegal use of white phosphorus in Fallujah, the US government and the New York Times continued to deny its use. I want to play a clip of our interview with you on November 29, 2004, shortly after that second US military attack on Fallujah that year.

DAHR JAMAIL: I have interviewed many refugees over the last week coming out of Fallujah at different times from different locations within the city. The consistent stories that I've been getting have been refugees describing phosphorus weapons, horribly burned bodies, fires that burn on people when they touch these weapons, and they're unable to extinguish the fires, even after dumping large amounts of water on the people. Many people are reporting cluster bombs, as well. And these are coming from different camps that I’ve been to, different people who have emerged from Fallujah, anywhere from one week ago up to on through towards near the very beginning of the siege.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dahr Jamail in November of 2004. Explain further what you learned then and what the official US government and press line was at the time.

DAHR JAMAIL: As I said, at that time there were -- I was interviewing refugees and doctors coming out of Fallujah, since I was unable to enter the city during that siege. And so many different people coming out at different times from different parts of the city were telling the same story, that these incendiary weapons were being used. And I reported that to you, and there were a couple of other Arab media outlets that touched on it -- I believe Al Jazeera reported it -- but basically no one else in the United States reported it. And then, it wasn't until a year later when the RAI TV, the Italian television, documentary was aired that brought up the subject again that basically the debate was reopened. And then I wrote a story for the Independent that was a series of several that they wrote that essentially forced the Pentagon to admit that they used incendiary weapons, white phosphorus, inside Fallujah. And then, of course, none of the mainstream newspapers here ever reported the story outside of a few editorials.

AMY GOODMAN: What was it like being inside Fallujah, seeing the US military from an unembedded point of view? And how did US soldiers deal with you, an American citizen?

DAHR JAMAIL: Well, inside Fallujah, I didn't run into any US soldiers. It was just far too dangerous to get anywhere near the front lines. But outside of Fallujah, whenever I would run through checkpoints and run into American soldiers, mostly they were just relieved to see me and happy to have someone around that spoke English. They didn’t know who I was. I was just any other American reporter to them. They were relieved, because they didn't have to worry about me attacking them or anything like this, because the reality on the ground in Iraq today is that anyone anytime could be a militant, someone launching an attack against American soldiers.

And this is why the situation has degraded into, as the psychologist Robert Jay Lifton describes, an atrocity-generating situation, where when you take young soldiers and put them in a no-win situation, such as Iraq, similar to as Vietnam was, and don't have any end in sight for when they're going to leave and get to stay home, then they become desperate, and they're afraid, and they’re going to start shooting anything that moves. And that is exactly the situation in Iraq today. And if we look at even just the first six months of this year alone, there has been more airpower used by the US military than any other six-month period in the occupation. And so, we have a dramatically escalating incidence of civilian casualties. And I think this horrible trend is only going to continue as the occupation grinds on.

AMY GOODMAN: The US increasing bombing.

DAHR JAMAIL: Right, because it’s indicative of the fact that they’ve lost just about total control of the situation on the ground. I mean, I don't even know if we should call it the Green Zone anymore, because it’s mortared almost every single day. My last trip in there, over a ninety-day period, I think there were maybe three days that it wasn't mortared. And it’s called the Green Zone because it’s theoretically a totally secure area. And the reality is that it’s not. So -- and the rest of Iraq, therefore, by default, is known as the Red Zone, and the reality is that the US military is being attacked thousands of times every single month. They're not letting up. The situation, over time -- the one constant thread we can point to is that it will continue to get worse over time, not better.

And then, back home, of course, we have a Congress and a Senate that keeps passing whatever funding the administration asks for, sometimes even more than they ask for, and then so-called Democratic candidates that won't even have it on the table for a complete withdrawal until at least 2013. So, so much for total withdrawal, so much for compensation being paid to Iraqis, so much for taking care of the soldiers and supporting the troops.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Dahr Jamail, independent reporter, was in Iraq for many months, as well as Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, and has just written a book about his experiences, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Dahr Jamail, independent journalist, his book just published today, Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq.
Dahr, you continue to write about the situation in Iraq and most recently wrote for Foreign Policy in Focus about the issue of Iran and this drumbeat for war with Iran. Can you talk about Iran's role in Iraq and the justification that the Bush administration is now using, going from saying they were developing weapons of mass destruction to Iranian soldiers are in Iraq?

DAHR JAMAIL: I think it’s important to start any discussion on this topic with the fundamental hypocrisy of the US thinking that they’re in any way positioned to claim, well, Iran is meddling in Iraq and Iran is causing problems in Iraq. The US has 169,000 soldiers in Iraq today, more than at any time so far in the occupation. There's even greater-than-that number of private contractors, security contractors and their support workers, inside of Iraq. So, that, coupled with the fact that if we're talking about weapons of mass destruction, the United States has over 10,000 nuclear weapons. The United States has chemical weapons, biological weapons. I mean, this country has the largest military arsenal on the planet, and we're talking about Iran maybe trying to get nuclear power, not even one nuclear-weapon.

So all of these allegations are essentially baseless, particularly if we talk about, well, there’s -- Iran is sending troops into Iraq or Iran is training people and sending them into Iraq. Well, that might be happening in Iran, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support that the Iranian government has anything to do with that. The borders have remained almost wide open since the beginning of the occupation, and that is clearly the responsibility of the US military, because as an occupying power, their primary responsibility is security of the civilians inside of Iraq, and that would, of course, entail securing the borders, which they absolutely have not done. As far back as my first trip to Iraq in November ’03, I went across the border from Jordan into Iraq -- not one single US soldier. Same thing when I came out, same thing when I went back in my second trip. And that trend has continued today.

So if the US is going to make these allegations, well, first of all, they need some evidence. And the second thing is, they're not being creative when they're looking at selling a war to the American people, or let alone to the world, against Iran. It’s almost a repeat, an exact repeat, of the same PR strategy that they used to sell the invasion of Iraq: well, there’s weapons of mass destruction, etc., etc., except now there's a little bit of a slant, where if a US soldier stubs his toe in Iraq, well, it’s Iran’s fault. And that’s clearly the trend that they’re taking now.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the LA Times piece looking at who are the foreign fighters in Iraq, and, in fact, there are far more Saudi fighters in Iraq than Iranian?

DAHR JAMAIL: That’s correct. And I mention that in the piece that I did for Foreign Policy in Focus, because I tied it in with the fact that not long ago, as we recall, there was a $60 billion arms deal for the Middle East. Of course, Israel got $30 billion for their quote/unquote "strategic advantage" to be maintained, but Saudi Arabia received $20 billion. And talking about hypocrisy, that’s on top of the fact that, according to that LA Times piece, that half of the foreign fighters being held in US detention facilities were actually Saudi Arabian. There were no Iranians. They were over -- at least half of them Saudi Arabian.

And what has the Bush administration done to stem that? Instead of -- I mean, if we can just imagine, instead of having this bellicose rhetoric towards Iran, what if that had been aimed at Saudi Arabia? Shouldn't it be aimed at Saudi Arabia? Well, of course not, because the Bush administration is in bed with the leadership of Saudi Arabia. So what we have happening is militants coming in from Saudi Arabia attacking US troops, and, of course, a blind eye is being turned towards that.

AMY GOODMAN: You traveled extensively through the Middle East and also talked to Iraqi refugees displaced within Iraq. Talk about the refugee crisis today.

DAHR JAMAIL: The refugee crisis is staggering. We’re looking at, today, one out of five Iraqis is now a refugee either inside of Iraq or outside of Iraq. I was in Syria a few months back, and I talked to Sybella Wilkes, the UNHCR regional spokesperson there, and she said at that time that there was probably over 1.5 million Iraqis in Syria alone, that she admitted that UNHCR couldn’t even -- they didn’t even have enough manpower to have people on the borders tabulating how many people were coming out. But before the recent visa restrictions were added, we were looking at 50,000 people a month coming in from Iraq into Syria. So we're looking at least 1.5 million in Syria alone, probably another million in of Jordan. And then, inside of Iraq, we’re looking at well over two million people that are internally displaced within their own country. And now they’re in a position where most of them are completely unable even to leave the country. That, on top of the fact that we have a minimum of 655,000 Iraqis that have been killed so far during the occupation, according to the most recent Lancet report, so we're looking at -- we’re getting at well over one-third of the entire population of the country is either dead or a refugee.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, today on Democracy Now! we reported on the Iraqi journalist, a writer for the Washington Post, who was shot dead in Baghdad on Sunday. He was thirty-two years old. His name was Salih Saif Aldin, worked for the paper since 2004. Iraqi police officers say they believe Saif Aldin was killed by members of the Sunni tribal group the Awakening Council, which is aligned with the US military. Your response when you hear about journalists? Of course, now it is largely Arab journalists, media workers, who are dying in Iraq, over 118 by the estimates of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

DAHR JAMAIL: Right. And I think that number is far too low. If we look at, for example, the figure from the Brussels Tribunal group, which actually has a complete list of dates, names, and what occurred at the time of death, the total is actually closer to 300, if not a bit over that now. And the reality is that any reporter going out on the streets and going to the frontlines and reporting what’s actually happening is in very, very grave danger. And this has been the trend from the very beginning of the invasion itself, with the US starting by bombing Al Jazeera, both in Baghdad and shelling the reporters at the Sheraton Hotel down in Basra. I mean, this trend -- that’s how it started off. That was the message sent to anyone not toeing the Bush administration line, that if you're going to be reporting something we don’t want you to be reporting, then we’re not going to basically do anything to secure your safety.

And that trend has continued to a point where more journalists have been killed in Iraq than any other modern conflict. And it’s the Iraqi journalists now specifically that are really the only ones able to go out and about without being embedded with the US military or militia. They literally are taking their lives in their hands to get the information out. They are the front lines now of the journalism in Iraq. And we're all reliant on them for this information. And this was -- the incident you just spoke of is just another case in point that underscores how dangerous it truly is.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, to young people today weighing what to do with their lives, would you recommend doing what you did, a citizen journalist just reading about what is happening and then deciding you wanted to find out with your own eyes and ears, your own experience, what was happening in Iraq?

DAHR JAMAIL: I would not hesitate to recommend that. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest that they go racing into Iraq, as I did, at this stage of the game. But pick a topic that people are -- that you’re passionate about, that you want to know more about, that you think is important for people to get that information, and go get involved. The time for an active, vibrant, independent media today, it’s more important that we support that and get involved in it today more than ever before.

AMY GOODMAN: Dahr Jamail, thanks so much for joining us. Congratulations on your book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Today begins his thirty-five-city tour. You can go to Dahr’s website at beyondthegreenzone.org to find out where Dahr will be.
from Democracy Now

Bush's Cuba Detour By TARIQ ALI

Bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, obsessed with Iran's rise as a regional power (a direct result of the wars in the aforementioned countries) the State Department has woken up to the fact that South America is in turmoil. Their last major intervention in the region was a crude attempt to topple the democratically elected government in Venezuela. This was in 2002, a year before the adventure in Iraq. Since then a wave of Bolivarian unity has swept the continent, successful in Bolivia and Ecuador, creating ripples in Peru and Paraguay and, above all, breaking the long isolation of Cuba. It is this that is causing the panic in Miami.

This tiny island that has defied imperial intervention, bullying and blockade for almost half-a-century remains an imperial obsession. Washington has been waiting for Fidel to die so that they could try and bribe senior military and police officials (and no doubt some well-chosen party apparatchiks) to defect. Bush's speech of 24 October is a sign of panic. They were so convinced that mega-bucks would do the trick that they had not done too much in recent years.
But yesterday we are told, without any sense of irony, that Raul Castro is unacceptable because he is Fidel's brother. This is not the transition that Washington had in mind. It's a bit rich coming from W, given his own family connections, not to mention the fact that if Mrs Clinton is nominated and wins, two families will have been in power for over two decades. And dynastic politics is now so deep-grained in official culture that it is being happily mimicked in tiny circles (the editorial chair of the neo-con mag Commentary has been smoothly handed over from father to son Podhoretz).

What has worried the Bush brothers and their clientele in Florida is the fact that Raul Castro has inaugurated a debate on the island encouraging an open debate on its future. This is not popular with apparatchiks, but is undoubtedly having an impact.

State censorship is not only deeply unpopular but has crippled creative thought on the island. The new opening has brought all the old contradictions to the fore. Cuban film-makers are publicly challenging the bureaucrats. Pavel Giroud, a well-known director explains how the censorship works:

"Censorship works here just like it does everywhere, except that because it's Cuba, it's closely scrutinized. It isn't a national monopoly. Every television network and publication in the world has its guidelines for broadcasting or editing, and whatever does not fit the requirements gets left out. HBO in the States refused to broadcast Oliver Stone's documentary about Fidel Castro, because it didn't take the focus that the network wanted. So they insisted on another interview with Fidel. In other words, what Stone wanted to say about his interviewee didn't matter -- what mattered was what the network wanted to show.

Personally, I prefer that a work of mine not be broadcast, rather than be told to change my shots or remove footage. Nor am I interested in hearing their explanations. The mere fact of being silenced is so serious that the reason why pales in comparison, because it will never be a good enough reason for the person who is silenced ... Banality and lack of creativity are favored everywhere. Turn on any music video channel in the world, and you'll see that for every artistically worthwhile video, you have to put up with several others. the same buttocks writhing around the machista reggaeton star, the same seductive gestures by the "in" singers, the same slow-moving shots of love scenes at sunset, the same sheen on the biceps, the same sensual moves, the same phony little smiles. I think we in Cuba are definitely not the principal producers of these.

"The same happens in politics -- there is opportunism on both sides, by the makers and by the broadcasters. The broadcasters know that a video full of praise for the system won't make any trouble for them, and the creators know perfectly well that they will get on television much faster if they write a song, produce a video or film, or paint a picture in praise of a political figure"

That the Cuban system needs to be reformed is widely accepted in the country. I have been told often that the decision 'forced on us by the embargo' to follow the old Soviet model was 'not beneficial.' The choice now is Washington or Caracas. And while a tiny layer of the Cuban elite will be tempted by the dollars, most Cubans would prefer a different model. They will not wish to see an end to their health and education systems, but they do want more economic and political diversity, even though the model of the Big Neighbour under whose shadow they live does not exactly offer that choice.
from CounterPunch

Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. He can be reached at: tariq.ali3@btinternet.com

The hypocrites who say they back democracy in Burma by John Pilger

Aung San Suu Kyi

Addressing a London meeting, 'Freedom Writ Large', organised by PEN and the Writers Network of Burma, John Pilger pays tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi and the writers of Burma, 'the bravest of the brave', and describes the hypocrisy of Western leaders who claim to back their struggle for freedom.

The news is no more from Burma. The young monks are quiet in their cells, or they are dead. But words have escaped: the defiant, beautiful poetry of Aung Than and Zeya Aung; and we know of the unbroken will of the journalist U Win Tin, who makes ink out of brick powder on the walls of his prison cell and writes with a pen made from a bamboo mat – at the age of 77.

These are the bravest of the brave. What honour they bring to humanity with their struggle; and what shame they bring to those whose hypocrisy and silence helps to feed the monster that rules Burma. When I began to write this, I had planned to quote a moving passage from my last interview with Aung San Suu Kyi, but I decided not to - because of something Suu Kyi said to me when I last spoke to her. “Be careful of media fashion,” she said. “The media like this sentimental version of life that reduces everything down to personality. Too often this can be a distraction.”

I thought about that, and how typically self effacing it was, and how right she was. For the greatest distraction is the hypocrisy of those political figures in the democratic West, who claim to support the Burmese liberation struggle. Laura Bush and Condaleeza Rice come to mind. “The United States,” said Rice, “is determined to keep an international focus on the travesty that is taking place in Burma.” What she is less keen to keep a focus on is that the huge American company, Chevron, on whose board of directors she sat, is part of a consortium with the junta and the French company, Total, that operates in Burma’s offshore oil fields.

The gas from these fields is exported through a pipeline that was built with forced labour and whose construction involved Halliburton, of which Vice President Cheney was Chief Executive. For many years, the Foreign Office in London promoted business as usual in Burma. When I interviewed Suu Kyi a decade ago I read her a Foreign Office press release that said, “Through commercial contacts with democratic nations such as Britain, the Burmese people will gain experience of democratic principles.” She smiled sardonically and said, “Not a bit of it.” In Britain, the official public relations line has changed; Burma is a favourite New Labour's "cause";

Gordon Brown has written a chapter in a book about his admiration of Suu Kyi. How well his platitudes reflect on his counterfeit liberalism. When the last month’s uprising broke out in Rangoon, he referred to the sanctity of the “universal principles of human rights”. This week he wrote a letter to PEN about Burma's writers; it waffles about prisoners of conscience and is a distraction: indeed part of his current, grand theme of distraction about "returning liberty" when of course none will be returned without a fight.

Hands can be wrung; letters to PEN can be spun; nothing can be done. As for Burma, the essence of Britain's compliance and collusion has not changed. British tour firms – like Orient Express and Asean Explorer – are able to make a handsome profit on the suffering of the Burmese people. Aquatic – a sort of mini Halliburton – has its snout in the same trough, together with all those companies that make a nice earner from Burmese teak. When did Brown or Blair ever use their close connections with business – their platforms at the CBI and in the City London, among the bankers of Brussels - to name and shame those British companies that make money on the back of the Burmese people?

When did a British prime minister call for the European Union to plug the loopholes of arms supply to Burma, stopping, for example, the Italians from supplying military equipment? The reason ought to be obvious. The British government is itself one of the world’s leading arms suppliers, especially to regimes at war with their neighbours, democracies or dictatorships, who cares? Next week, the dictator of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, whose tyranny gorges itself on British arms, will receive a state visit. Last night, (On October 25) the Brown government approved Washington's latest fabricated prelude to a criminal attack on Iran - as if the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan were not enough for the "liberal" lionhearts in Downing Street and Whitehall.

And when did a British prime minister call on its ally and client, Israel, to end its long and sinister relationship with the Burmese junta. Or does Israel’s immunity and impunity also cover its supply of weapons technology to Burma and its reported training of the junta’s most feared internal security thugs? Of course, that is not unusual. The Australian government – so vocal lately in its condemnation of the junta – has not stopped the Australian Federal Police from training Burma’s internal security forces in at the Australian-funded Centre for Law Enforcement Co-operation in Indonesia.

Those who care for freedom in Burma and Iraq and Iran and Saudi Arabia and beyond must not be distracted by the posturing and weasel pronouncements of our leaders, who themselves should be called to account as accomplices. We owe nothing less to Aung San Suu Kyi, to Burma’s writers and to all the bravest of the brave.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

History - not so 'safe' for those who live it. A Review of Les Carlyon's Gallipoli and The Western Front by John Tognolini

The soldiers in this picture are top row; Sergeant Norton Niblet Mentioned in Dispatches, Wounded in Action three times, Lance Sergeant Stephen Tognolini Military Medal and Bar, Wounded in Action twice, Lance Sergeant Victor Edwards Military Medal and Bar,

Middle row; Sergeant J.S. Sheringham Wounded in Action, Company Sergeant Major George Hunt, Distinguished Conduct Medal, Wounded in Action twice, Killed in Action July 4 1918, Company Sergeant Major William Trevascus Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, Mentioned in Dispatches, Wounded in Action and Boer War Veteran,

Bottom row; Lance Corporal J.H. Cotterell Military Medal, Died of Wounds September 18 1918, and Lance Corporal J.J. Craigie Military Medal

Gallipoli Les Carlyon Macmillan, 2002 600 pages, $35 (pb) The Great War Les Carlyon Macmillan, 2006 880 pages, $55(hb)

Les Carlyon’s books The Great War and Gallipoli are “safe history”. They don’t delve deep enough into class and power of a society at war. Moreover, Carlyon doesn’t even look at race properly. He touches on one German ANZAC in The Great War but Aboriginal ANZACs don’t even get a mention in either of these major works. Carlyon’s books fall into the tragic adventure scenario.

If you’re looking for a book that can concisely tell the tragedy and slaughter of World War I, well you have some of that from Carlyon’s description of the battles that Australians endured in the bloody years of 1916-18 on the Western Front. Unfortunately, you also get a pack of pathetic justifications supporting Australia’s involvement in the war.

Ludicrously, Carlyon also makes a big thing about PM John Howard’s father and grandfather serving on the Western Front. One of the results of Howard’s militarisation of history is that the stories of ordinary soldiers and people on the home front are swept to the side. They become smothered by this “safe history”.

In The Great War, Carlyon becomes an apologist for the infamous British mass butcher General Douglas Haig. It’s Haig who said of his former allies in 1919, “The French! They’re the fellows we shall be fighting next.”

Even Charles Bean, the official Australian historian of World War I said of Haig, the commanding general at the infamous battle of Passchendaele, “A general who wears down 180,000 of the enemy by expending 400,000 men … has something to answer for.”

As a socialist and Marxist I tend to be on my own, with my research into Australia’s military history. The more I’ve delved into it and studied its blood-spattered carnage in detail, the more I feel convinced of the need of socialism as an alternative political system to the one that produced the horrors of World War I and II and imperialist adventures such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

As for World War I, what was it for working people but a bloody slaughter that would later produce another world war, one more slaughterhouse of a global conflict on an even bigger scale than the first one? World War I was driven by imperialist rivalry. Germany wanted a colonial empire, just like the British and French.

It is apt to say that it was one of those wars, like so many others, where a bayonet was a weapon that had a worker on both ends of it. If that was the case for workers, what was it for an Indigenous Australian such as George Hunt? He had no rights at all as an Aborigine. Officially he didn’t even exist in Australian society.

When my uncle Stephen returned from the war to his job on the Melbourne waterfront as a wharfie, he found his union outlawed, his wages cut in half and a non-union workforce doing his work. During World War II the Italian origins of our family name would lead to him suffering racist abuse, despite his own military service, his brothers’ service — Andrew, (both Stephen and Andrew served at Gallipoli as well as France and Belgium) and Jack who was killed in action at Villers Bretonneux, France, and having his two younger brothers, Bill and Vic (my father) over in the army in the battles of Greece and Crete against the Nazis.

I often wonder what went through my Uncle Stephen’s and Andrew’s minds when Billy Hughes, Australian Prime Minister from 1915-23, said “Are we to be subservient to the dago … We believe in the White Australia Policy and a British White Australia Policy at that.”

Carlyon’s books have achieved significant sales, but holes can be poked into the cracks of his imperial parchments. You won’t find in Carlyon’s books any mention of Australians (along with New Zealand, English and Scottish soldiers) being a part of the mass mutiny of 20,000 soldiers at the British army base at Etaples in 1917, nor Australians shooting British military police and training instructors (who came from the British prison system and were widely hated as sadistic, front line/trench dodgers). The English war poet Wilfred Owen called Etaples “the bull ring”. Nor that many of those mutineers were killed at Passchendaele. That wouldn’t be “safe history” would it?

From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #728 24 October 2007.

Mother Teresa, John Paul II, and the Fast-Track Saints by Michael Parenti

Michael Parenti

During his 26-year papacy, John Paul II elevated 483 individuals to sainthood, more saints than all previous popes combined, it is reported. One personage he beatified but did not live long enough to canonize was Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun of Albanian origin who had been wined and dined by the world’s rich and famous while hailed as a champion of the poor. The darling of the corporate media and western officialdom, and an object of celebrity adoration, Teresa was for many years the most revered woman on earth, showered with kudos and awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her “humanitarian work” and “spiritual inspiration.”
What usually went unreported were the vast sums she received from wealthy contributors, including a million dollars from convicted savings & loan swindler Charles Keating, on whose behalf she sent a personal plea for clemency to the presiding judge. She was asked by the prosecutor in that case to return Keating’s gift because it was money he had stolen. She never did. She also accepted substantial sums given by the brutal Duvalier dictatorship that regularly stole from the Haitian public treasury.

Mother Teresa’s “hospitals” for the indigent in India and elsewhere turned out to be hardly more than human warehouses in which seriously ill persons lay on mats, sometimes fifty to sixty in a room without benefit of adequate medical attention. Their ailments usually went undiagnosed. The food was nutritionally lacking and sanitary conditions were deplorable. There were few medical personnel on the premises, mostly untrained nuns and brothers.
When tending to her own ailments, however, Teresa checked into some of the costliest hospitals and recovery care units in the world for state-of-the-art treatment.

Teresa journeyed the globe to wage campaigns against divorce, abortion, and birth control. At her Nobel award ceremony, she announced that “the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.” And she once suggested that AIDS might be a just retribution for improper sexual conduct.
Teresa emitted a continual flow of promotional misinformation about herself. She claimed that her mission in Calcutta fed over a thousand people daily. On other occasions she jumped the number to 4000, 7000, and 9000. Actually her soup kitchens fed not more than 150 people (six days a week), and this included her retinue of nuns, novices, and brothers. She claimed that her school in the Calcutta slum contained five thousand children when it actually enrolled less than one hundred.

Teresa claimed to have 102 family assistance centers in Calcutta, but longtime Calcutta resident, Aroup Chatterjee, who did an extensive on-the-scene investigation of her mission, could not find a single such center.

As one of her devotees explained, “Mother Teresa is among those who least worry about statistics. She has repeatedly expressed that what matters is not how much work is accomplished but how much love is put into the work.” Was Teresa really unconcerned about statistics? Quite the contrary, her numerical inaccuracies went consistently and self-servingly in only one direction, greatly exaggerating her accomplishments.

Over the many years that her mission was in Calcutta, there were about a dozen floods and numerous cholera epidemics in or near the city, with thousands perishing. Various relief agencies responded to each disaster, but Teresa and her crew were nowhere in sight, except briefly on one occasion.

When someone asked Teresa how people without money or power can make the world a better place, she replied, “They should smile more,” a response that charmed some listeners. During a press conference in Washington DC, when asked “Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?” she said “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.”
But she herself lived lavishly well, enjoying luxurious accommodations in her travels abroad. It seems to have gone unnoticed that as a world celebrity she spent most of her time away from Calcutta, with protracted stays at opulent residences in Europe and the United States, jetting from Rome to London to New York in private planes.

Mother Teresa is a paramount example of the kind of acceptably conservative icon propagated by an elite-dominated culture, a “saint” who uttered not a critical word against social injustice, and maintained cozy relations with the rich, corrupt, and powerful.

She claimed to be above politics when in fact she was pronouncedly hostile toward any kind of progressive reform. Teresa was a friend of Ronald Reagan, and a close friend of rightwing British media tycoon Malcolm Muggerridge. She was an admiring guest of the Haitian dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier, and had the support and admiration of a number of Central and South American dictators.

Teresa was Pope John Paul II’s kind of saint. After her death in 1997, he waved the five-year waiting period usually observed before beginning the beatification process that leads to sainthood. In 2003, in record time Mother Teresa was beatified, the final step before canonization.

But in 2007 her canonization confronted a bump in the road, it having been disclosed that along with her various other contradictions Teresa was not a citadel of spiritual joy and unswerving faith. Her diaries, investigated by Catholic authorities in Calcutta, revealed that she had been racked with doubts: “I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God and that he does not really exist.” People think “my faith, my hope and my love are overflowing and that my intimacy with God and union with his will fill my heart. If only they knew,” she wrote, “Heaven means nothing.”

Through many tormented sleepless nights she shed thoughts like this: “I am told God loves me-and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” Il Messeggero, Rome’s popular daily newspaper, commented: “The real Mother Teresa was one who for one year had visions and who for the next 50 had doubts—up until her death.”
Another example of fast-track sainthood, pushed by Pope John Paul II, occurred in 1992 when he swiftly beatified the reactionary Msgr. José María Escrivá de Balaguer, supporter of fascist regimes in Spain and elsewhere, and founder of Opus Dei, a powerful secretive ultra-conservative movement “feared by many as a sinister sect within the Catholic Church.” Escrivá’s beatification came only seventeen years after his death, a record run until Mother Teresa came along.

In accordance with his own political agenda, John Paul used a church institution, sainthood, to bestow special sanctity upon ultra-conservatives such as Escrivá and Teresa—and implicitly on all that they represented. Another of the ultra-conservatives whom John Paul made into a saint, bizarrely enough, was the last of the Hapsburg rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Emperor Karl, who reigned during World War I.

John Paul also beatified Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, the leading Croatian cleric who welcomed the Nazi and fascist Ustashi takeover of Croatia during World War II. Stepinac sat in the Ustashi parliament, appeared at numerous public events with top ranking Nazis and Ustashi, and openly supported the Croatian fascist regime.

In John Paul’s celestial pantheon, reactionaries had a better chance at canonization than reformers. Consider his treatment of Archbishop Oscar Romero who spoke against the injustices and oppressions suffered by the impoverished populace of El Salvador and for this was assassinated by a right-wing death squad. John Paul never denounced the killing or its perpetrators, calling it only “tragic.” In fact, just weeks before Romero was murdered, high-ranking officials of the Arena party, the legal arm of the death squads, sent a well-received delegation to the Vatican to complain of Romero’s public statements on behalf of the poor.
Romero was thought by many poor Salvadorans to be something of a saint, but John Paul attempted to ban any discussion of his beatification for fifty years. Popular pressure from El Salvador caused the Vatican to cut the delay to twenty-five years. In either case, Romero was consigned to the slow track.

John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI, waved the five-year waiting period in order to put John Paul II himself instantly on a super-fast track to canonization, running neck and neck with Teresa. As of 2005 there already were reports of possible miracles attributed to the recently departed Polish pontiff.

One such account was offered by Cardinal Francesco Marchisano. When lunching with John Paul, the cardinal indicated that because of an ailment he could not use his voice. The pope “caressed my throat, like a brother, like the father that he was. After that I did seven months of therapy, and I was able to speak again.” Marchisano thinks that the pontiff might have had a hand in his cure: “It could be,” he said. Un miracolo! Viva il papa!

Published on Monday, October 22, 2007 by CommonDreams.org

Michael Parenti’s recent publications include: Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (City Lights, 2007); Democracy for the Few, 8th ed. (Wadsworth, 2007); The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories, 2006). For further information visit his website: http://www.michaelparenti.org/.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Massacre Foretold by Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

The massacre in Karachi had been widely predicted. Benazir Bhutto herself has stated that she was aware of the dangers. The government pleaded with her to delay her return. Jihadi leaders, angered by her slavish support of US foreign policy, had publicly threatened to kill her. She survived but a few hundred people have been killed without reason. Her husband, who decided not to accompany her, has accused Pakistani intelligence of complicity in the attacks. Benazir Bhutto herself has preferred to attack the followers of a dead military dictator.

Once it had become obvious that something was being planned, she would have been better advised to make a quiet return, but she insisted on a show of strength. The planning had been going on for over a month. The 130,000 people who were brought to welcome her in trucks and buses from allover the province(how many of them were paid is still not clear). In addition there were 20,000 police and paramilitary personnel for her protection. All to no avail. It ended in a bloodbath, remind us once again of the volatile nature of politics in Pakistan.

More trouble lies ahead. Benazir may be the preferred politician of Washington and the EU, but the Supreme Court is considering five separate petitions to reject the Ordnance that pardons corrupt politicians. Were the court to accept these petitions, Ms Bhutto would have to serve time in prison. This would not displease the government. They would pretend to bow before the dictates of justice.

The tragedy of Pakistan is that the People’s Party of Bhutto and its rivals offer no real alternatives to the policies currently being pursued. The State Department notion of Bhutto perched on Musharraf’s shoulder parrotting pro-Washington homilies was always ridiculous. Now there are doubts as to whether she will even reach the General’s shoulder.

Published on Sunday, October 21, 2007 by CounterPunch

Tariq Ali’s new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. He can be reached at: tariq.ali3@btinternet.com

Landmark IR court hearing to begin by Emma Clancy, Perth

A landmark Federal Court hearing for 96 Western Australian construction workers that begins on October 24 is the most dramatic demonstration yet of the impact of the Howard government’s draconian IR laws.

The case will mark the first time that a group of workers who took “unlawful” industrial action — striking for the reinstatement of their elected health and safety union officer in February 2006 — are being individually prosecuted by the government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Charges were initially brought against 107 workers, but earlier this month, following negotiations with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the ABCC dropped charges against 11 workers who were not involved in the strike, and downgraded charges against a further four workers.

Full charges are proceeding against 92 workers, who face fines of up to $22,000 each for allegedly contravening the government’s 2005 Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act, which places harsh restrictions on the rights of the industry’s unions and workers to organise. The workers were employed by Leighton-Kumagai on the city tunnel section of the Perth-Mandurah rail line. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) issued an order in December 2005 instructing the CFMEU and all the workers employed on the rail project “to not take industrial action”. Eighty-two of the charged workers also face further fines of up to $6600 each for breaching this order.

The majority of charges brought by the ABCC since its establishment in October 2005 have been against unions and union officials over alleged breaches of the 1996 Workplace Relations Act and the Building and Construction Industry Act. In the face of lingering militancy in the CFMEU, the Howard government is attempting to use the ABCC to tie the union up in constant court cases and bankrupt it through large fines for technical breaches of the law.

Some of the cases before the courts include union officials who have been sued for entering work sites, unions that have been sued for “coercing” employers to enter into certified agreements, and unions and officials being sued for “making false and misleading statements about a person’s obligation to join a union”. The CFMEU and five workers who were employed at a John Holland mine site in NSW are being prosecuted for allegedly taking industrial action in 2005 after the company failed to act when the workers complained about maggots in their food. The AIRC found that this was not a health and safety issue.

A small number of building companies have also been charged by the ABCC. After a death of a worker in the construction industry, employees at Maxim Electrical Services in Victoria went on strike in 2003. Maxim has been charged by the ABCC and penalised by the courts for paying strike pay. While the vast majority of the ABCC’s charges are against the CFMEU, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Workers Union and the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union are also facing charges from the ABCC. In preparing its cases for prosecution, the ABCC operates in complete secrecy.

When brought for interrogation by the ABCC, a worker is allowed to have legal representation, but neither the worker nor their lawyer can speak to anyone else about the process. If they do, they face imprisonment. Workers brought in for interrogation by the ABCC face six months’ in jail if they do not give answers while attending or “provide the required information or documents” demanded by the ABCC.

The Howard government is funding the ABCC to the tune of $32 million a year. It was established as a recommendation of the 2001-03 Cole royal commission into alleged corruption in the building industry. While the commission found 392 cases of “unlawful” conduct committed by the construction unions, the overwhelming majority of these were for things like holding unauthorised stop-work meetings, seeking strike pay and trying to ensure all workers on site are union members, and in WA, for union officials insisting on their right to enter building sites despite WA legislation banning the right of entry.

The Cole commission and the subsequent Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005 that established the ABCC are the culmination of a decades-long drive by successive governments against the militant tendency in the construction unions — a tendency that has survived despite the Hawke Labor government’s deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation in 1986.

In the years leading up to the establishment of the Cole commission, the CFMEU had been engaged in a number of progressive struggles, including providing crucial support for the Maritime Union of Australia in the 1998 waterfront dispute, supporting East Timor’s fight for independence and engaging in pattern bargaining to win a 36-hour work week. In WA, the Howard government’s relentless campaign against the CFMEU has been backed 100% by the state’s only daily newspaper, the West Australian.

A week barely passes in which the paper does not editorialise against the union and its WA leaders, Kevin Reynolds and Joe McDonald. The March 9, 2006, West Australian editorialised: “How much longer does this thuggish organisation think it can get away with defying the law and holding taxpayers to ransom with its outrageous actions on the Perth to Mandurah rail project? It is time for the State Government to explore every avenue to get the CFMEU deregistered. “The time has come to take a baseball bat to the union and its strike-happy members and find out how many actually want to work and are prepared to do so under an Australian Workplace Agreement.” The paper’s “Inside Cover” segment set a new standard in investigative journalism when on June 15 this year it asked, “Could Joe McDonald be wearing braces made by sweatshop workers who toil away in the so-called furnace factories of China in their desperate bid to earn just a few dollars a day?”

The paper’s anti-CFMEU campaign has now switched into election mode, with McDonald’s ongoing membership of the Labor Party being a lead news item these days. Recent West Australian headlines have included, “Rudd must expel WA union heavies: builders”; “Rudd must dump WA union heavies: Hockey”; and “Builder warns of union payback if Labor wins”. The future of the ABCC was in doubt when the ALP national conference earlier this year voted unanimously to disband the body if Labor won this year’s federal election.

But federal ALP leader Kevin Rudd and shadow workplace relations minister Julia Gillard have since caved in to the campaign run by the Coalition government and the building companies claiming that housing costs will rise if the ABCC is disbanded Union members have pointed out that the CFMEU covers construction of commercial buildings, and has nothing to do with the housing industry. Under the ABCC, what has risen has been the rate of workplace deaths and injuries in the building industry. Despite this, the ALP leadership has committed a Labor government to retain the ABCC, with its powers intact, until 2010, and to then transfer its functions and powers to a specialist division within Labor’s Fair Work Australia IR agency.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #728 24 October 2007.

Build the vote for Socialist Alliance! by Dick Nichols

As the 2007 federal election gets underway, an odd trend is showing up in the opinion polls. After eleven-and-a-half years of Coalition government and an ALP “opposition” that stood “shoulder to shoulder” with it in so many of its crimes, the combined vote for the two “parties of government” is back up to 90% (48% for Labor and 42% for the Coalition according to the Nielsen poll released on October 19).

This is despite the fact that surveys have consistently shown that a majority or large minority are against Australia’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favour of serious action on climate change, against federal anti-terrorism legislation, for a decent treatment of refugees, and want Work Choices abolished, not slightly diluted. Millions of Australians continue to support policies that both major parties oppose. In the past this has been reflected in up to 20% electoral support for alternative political forces.

In this election, it’s reflected in the ACTU call for a Senate vote for parties that actually stand for the abolition of the hated anti-worker law. What’s going on? There’s no doubt that fear and hatred of Work Choices underpins the rise in Labor’s primary vote. It’s why Howard dropped the hated brand name and was forced to set up a bureaucratic “fairness test” that is now even irritating the employers. If Howard had continued with “Work Choices” and with his original hatchet minister for industrial relations, Kevin Andrews, the election would already have been well and truly lost.

But don’t people know that the ALP’s industrial relations policy preserves most of Work Choices? How many times does Labor IR spokesperson Julia Gillard have to say that this or that strike — the latest by Victoria’s nurses — would be illegal under Labor’s IR law before the penny drops? In fact, many workers do already know this — especially electrical and construction workers who have seen Rudd and Gillard savage their leaders. However, the broad majority of working people are still being influenced by the false and bamboozling messages of mainstream political “debate”. With Rudd saying he will introduce “fairness and balance” into industrial law at the same time as the Coalition bellows about trade union domination of the ALP front bench, it’s not surprising that hundreds of thousands of workers who voted Liberal last election are again looking to Labor to protect their rights at work.

Can the apparent narrowing of the vote to the left of Labor be reversed? It’s very important that it is. The aggression of Victoria’s John Brumby Labor government towards the nurses is a forewarning of what industrial life under a Rudd government will be like if Labor gets a massive direct mandate on November 24. By contrast, the greater the support for the Socialist Alliance and the Greens, the more cautious an incoming Rudd government would have to be about enforcing its anti-union approach. Socialist Alliance members and supporters should regard the latest polls as a call to arms for the next five weeks of the election campaign. We have an important job to explain to as many people as possible that Labor will not defend or restore our rights at work and that a vote for parties really committed to tearing up Work Choices would be an important step forward (and that, under preferential voting, this can go with putting Labor before the Coalition).

The bigger the left vote, the stronger the morale of the movement to defend our rights at work. While many union officials (especially those who have won their ALP preselection!) would see a Rudd victory on November 24 as “mission accomplished” for the Your Rights at Work Campaign, in reality it will only be a change of battleground. The movement will still face the need to re-win critical rights, among them the right to strike, the right of entry into work sites for union organisers and the right to industry-wide agreements that ensure workers in small and weaker work sites gain as much as everyone else.

A Rudd win on November 24 won’t deliver any of that. But a Rudd win accompanied by a big increase in the Socialist Alliance and Green vote will put us in better shape to go on the offensive for our rights at work once the hated Howard government is history. [Dick Nichols is the national co-ordinator of the Socialist Alliance.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #728 24 October 2007.

Conference builds left alliances and international solidarity by Lisa Macdonald, Melbourne

More than 400 people participated in around 65 workshops and 10 plenary sessions to discuss a myriad of national and international campaigns against imperialism and neoliberalism at the Latin America and Asia Pacific International Solidarity Forum held at Victorian Trades Hall and the RMIT on October 11-14. The participants included 33 activists and leaders from people’s movements and political parties in 20 countries, the most diverse left gathering hosted in Australia for years.

Presentations by panels of international guest speakers in the plenary sessions, in particular those on “War and neoliberalism” and “Workers’ struggle, global fight”, exposed the strikingly common consequences of imperialism and neoliberalism for the mass of ordinary people around the world. Whether factory workers in South Korea, rural workers in Colombia or indigenous people in Chile, the increasing exploitation, impoverishment and repression that accompany neoliberal globalisation are shared. Privatisation, deteriorating health and education services, environmental destruction and the removal of basic democratic rights in the name of “fighting terrorism” were themes common to all the presentations. A stronger theme in all the discussions, however, was the rising popular resistance to repression and injustice.

The plenary panels on “Rebellion and liberation in Latin America”, “Indigenous struggles and resistance” and “Movements of resistance in the Asia Pacific” provided numerous detailed examples of how the rulers’ escalating assault on the living conditions of the majority of people is generating campaigns and struggles on many fronts. The presentations by the impressive range of activists from the Asia-Pacific provided many insights into new campaigns and movements that are on the rise in this region in response to the declining legitimacy of neoliberal governments. Presentations on the Pakistani lawyers’ militant protests against the military dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf, the formation of new, united left organisations such as Papernas in Indonesia and Laban ng Masa in the Philippines, and the development of cross-national workers’ rights campaigns in Asia, all underlined the increasing vulnerability of the neoliberal status quo in our region.

The role of Australian imperialism was the focus of a major session in which speakers from Papua New Guinea and East Timor demanded their peoples’ right to own and manage all of their countries’ abundant natural resources, and called for the control or expulsion of Australian mining corporations. In Latin America, resistance to the brutalities of capitalism has developed into open rebellion across the continent, dealing some severe blows to US imperialism. Speakers from Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela contributed to a discussion that wove throughout the conference about the huge impact of the Venezuelan revolution on Latin American and world politics, and how the Venezuelan idea of “socialism of the 21st Century” has given new hope and energy to other struggles for liberation.

The announcement by Venezuelan Charge d’Affairs Nelson Davila that President Hugo Chavez is planning to visit Australia in 2008 drew loud applause. While many of the presentations and discussions at the conference focused on the immediate issues confronting the majority of people living under capitalist rule, a sizeable chunk of the program was devoted to addressing experiences of constructing alternatives to neoliberalism and capitalism, especially in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Vietnam.

A range of quite different strategies for creating societies based on equality and justice were presented, generating interesting discussions and debates about the nature of participatory democracy and “popular power”, many of these taking place in the dozen or so workshops that examined different aspects of the Venezuelan revolution. Jody Betzien, one of the conference organisers for the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network, explained to Green Left Weekly: “When the Democratic Socialist Perspective [DSP] first approached the AVSN late last year about combining its planned 2007 Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference with AVSN’s annual Latin America solidarity conference, it was clear that bringing together Latin American, Asia-Pacific, Australian and other activists to discuss and learn from each other and, crucially, extend practical solidarity to each other, was one way we could support and extend the Venezuelan revolution’s profound internationalism.

“The Venezuelan revolution is unquestionably at the centre of world politics today. It has shifted the power balance between the haves and the have-nots much more in favour of the oppressed. This conference has affirmed and practically strengthened what the Venezuelans are showing in practice: that international solidarity of the oppressed is the indispensable weapon in all of our struggles for liberation from capitalism.” Another feature of the conference was the strong labour movement stream, which included a plenary panel on workers’ rights addressed by labour movement activists from six countries, workshops on topics ranging from “Unions and the environment” to “Stop the race to the bottom”, and a two-day labour movement exposure tour on October 9-10 in which union activists attending the conference from overseas visited a variety of workplaces in Melbourne and regional Victoria and met with some Australian trade unions.

Manrico Moro from Australia Asia Worker Links told GLW: “This year, the international solidarity forum replaced the AAWL Open Day conference. The labour movement tour to Morwell and Melbourne was great, and the meetings with ACTU [the Australian Council of Trade Unions], VTHC [Victorian Trades Hall Council], and a number of unions and union councils were important. “AAWL workshops at the forum … developed some new proposals concerning a global minimum wage campaign, and for global campaigns for occupational health and safety and full residence and organising rights for migrant workers. Our international guests and AAWL were pleased with the results of the conference.”

Reflecting the diverse participation and discussions at the forum, the final session of the conference passed resolutions in support of migrant workers’ rights; condemning the Howard government’s invasion of Aboriginal lands in the Northern Territory; for the closure of all immigration detention centres and full rights for refugees; in solidarity with the Basque people who are currently suffering escalated repression by the Spanish state; and in support of Burma’s democracy movement.

Resolutions arising from workshops addressed issues including freedom for the Cuba Five and lifting the blockade against Cuba; the need for international coordination to ensure that the “Troops out!” rallies next March — the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq — are as large as possible; mass mobilisations around demands to halt global warming on World Environment Day next year; and opposition to the Colombian government’s brutal repression (visit http://www.solidarityforum2007.org/ for more).

The conference undoubtedly achieved its main aim of facilitating the sharing of ideas and experiences between Latin American, Asia-Pacific and Australian social movements, political organisations and activists in order to strengthen international networks, campaign coordination and solidarity. Jorge Jorquera, one of the conference organisers from the Bolivarian Circle (now the Centre for Latin America Solidarity and Studies — CLASS), told GLW: “The forum proved a great framework for new and renewed collaborations.

It was not only an opportunity to discuss and learn from the experiences of others, but also to establish more links and work together on new projects. “As a result of the forum, CLASS is now working with others on a new journal aimed at bringing to our Asia-Pacific region some of the theoretical debate and revival of theory now taking place in Latin American movements and left organisations. We are also working with other comrades on a new internet radio project, radiovenceremos.org. In addition, our projects and links with Colombia and Venezuela have been strengthened.”

The organising of the conference was in itself an important contribution to strengthening united left activity in Australia, being jointly organised by the DSP/Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conferences (APISC), the AVSN, AAWL, CLASS, the Latin American Solidarity Network and Unity for Peace. More than 20 other Latin American solidarity groups, left parties, community media, and environmental and other social movement organisations sponsored the conference.

The conference was also strongly supported by the trade union movement, including participation and assistance from the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union; the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union; the Australian Services Union (services division); the Australian Workers Union; the Communication, Electrical and Plumbing Union (plumbers and telecommunications divisions); the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (construction and mining divisions); the Electrical Trades Union; the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance; the Maritime Union of Australia (Victoria and WA branches, and national); the Rail Tram and Bus Union; the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union; and the United Firefighters Union; as well as the ACTU; Geelong and Gippsland trades and labour councils; and the VTHC’s occupational health and safety unit and Trades Hall Literary Institute. [Lisa Macdonald was one of the conference organisers, representing the DSP/APISC.]

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #728 24 October 2007.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Outsourcing Government by by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

‘We didn’t want to get stuck with a lemon.” That’s what Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said to a House committee last month. He was referring to the “virtual fence” planned for the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada. If the entire project goes as badly as the 28-mile prototype, it could turn out to be one of the most expensive lemons in history, projected to cost $8 billion by 2011.

Boeing, the company that landed the contract — the largest ever awarded by the Department of Homeland Security — announced this week that it will finally test the fence after months of delay due to computer problems. Heavy rains have confused its remote-controlled cameras and radar, and the sensors can’t tell the difference between moving people, grazing cows or rustling bushes.

But this debacle points to more than faulty technology. It exposes the faulty logic of the Bush administration’s vision of a hollowed-out government run everywhere possible by private contractors.

According to this radical vision, contractors treat the state as an ATM, withdrawing massive contracts to perform core functions like securing borders and interrogating prisoners, and making deposits in the form of campaign contributions. As President Bush’s former budget director, Mitch Daniels, put it: “The general idea — that the business of government is not to provide services but to make sure that they are provided — seems self-evident to me.”
The flip side of the Daniels directive is that the public sector is rapidly losing the ability to fulfill its most basic responsibilities — and nowhere more so than in the Department of Homeland Security, which, as a Bush creation, has followed the ATM model since its inception.

For instance, when the controversial border project was launched, the department admitted that it had no idea how to secure the borders and, furthermore, didn’t think it was its job to figure it out. Homeland Security’s deputy secretary told a group of contractors that “this is an unusual invitation. … We’re asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business.”
Private companies would not only perform the work, they would identify what work needed to be done, write their own work orders, implement them and oversee them. All the department had to do was sign the checks.

And as one former top Homeland Security official put it: “If it doesn’t come from industry, we are not going to be able to get it.”

Put simply, if any given job can’t be outsourced, it can’t be done.

This philosophy, so central to the Bush years, explains statistics like this one: In 2003, the U.S. government handed out 3,512 contracts to companies to perform domestic security functions, from bomb detection to data mining. In the 22-month period ending in August 2006, the Homeland Security Department had issued more than 115,000 security-related contracts.
If government is now an ATM, perhaps the war on terror is best understood not as a war but as a sprawling new economy, one based on continued disaster and instability. In this economy, the Bush team doesn’t run the venture exactly; rather, it plays the role of deep-pocketed venture capitalist, always on the lookout for new security start-ups (overwhelmingly headed by former employees of the Pentagon and Homeland Security). Roger Novak, whose firm invests in homeland security companies, explains it like this: “Every fund is seeing how big the [government] trough is and asking, how do I get a piece of that action?”

The Boeing border contract is just one piece of that action. Another, of course, is the security contractor boom in Iraq, currently starring Blackwater USA.

Last month, when the Iraqi government accused Blackwater guards of massacring civilians in Baghdad, it became clear that the U.S. Embassy had no intention of severing ties with Blackwater because it could not function without it.

Perhaps that’s why that same bureau rushed to respond to the Iraqi government’s allegations in the September shooting with a “spot report” of its own: that Blackwater guards had come under attack and had responded accordingly. Days later, it emerged that an embassy contractor wrote the report — a contractor who worked for Blackwater. The administration then sent in the FBI to investigate the shootings. Yet it quickly emerged that the FBI investigators could well be guarded by Blackwater. The FBI announced that other arrangements would be made — but this was an exception.

And remember Hurricane Katrina, when contractors — including Blackwater — descended on New Orleans? FEMA was already so hollowed-out by then that it had to hire a contractor to help manage all the contractors. And with all the controversies, the Army recently decided it needed to update its manual for dealing with contractors — giving the job of drafting the new policy to one of its major contractors.

It still looks like a government — with impressive buildings, presidential news briefings, policy battles. But pull back the curtain and there is nobody home.

The Blackwater scandal could have provided an opportunity to question the wisdom of turning state security into a for-profit activity — but not in today’s Washington. Instead, rather than replacing its cowboy contractors with troops, the State Department says it will put video cameras on the vehicles they guard.

Video surveillance is one of the most lucrative sectors of the war-on-terror economy. This could even turn out to be great news for the top executives at Blackwater, who have launched a new private intelligence company billed as a “one-stop service able to meet all the intelligence, operational and security needs.” If the past is any indication, there is no reason why the men from Blackwater cannot be contracted to spy on Blackwater. Indeed, it would be the perfect expression of the hollow state that Bush built.

Published on Saturday, October 20, 2007 by the Los Angeles Times

Naomi Klein is the author of many books, including her most recent, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which will be published in September.Visit Naomi’s website at nologo.org.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Why they're afraid of Michael Moore by John Pilger

Michael Moore

17 Oct 2007 marks the European release of Michael Moore's latest film, Sicko, with an examination of why the documentary film-maker exerts such influence, with fans and enemies alike. "In societies ruled by an invisible government of media," he writes, "no one has broken through like Moore, who breaks every rule by reporting from the ground up, instead of from the top down."

In Sicko, Michael Moore�s new film, a young Ronald Reagan is shown appealing to working-class Americans to reject �socialised medicine� as commie subversion. In the 1940s and 1950s, Reagan was employed by the American Medical Association and big business as the amiable mouthpiece of a neo-fascism bent on persuading ordinary Americans that their true interests, such as universal health care, were �anti-American�.

Watching this, I found myself recalling the effusive farewells to Reagan when he died three years ago. �Many people believe,� said Gavin Esler on the BBC�s Newsnight, �that he restored faith in American military action [and] was loved even by his political opponents.� In the Daily Mail, Esler wrote that Reagan �embodied the best of the American spirit � the optimistic belief that problems can be solved, that tomorrow will be better than today, and that our children will be wealthier and happier than we are�.

Such drivel about a man who, as president, was responsible for the 1980s bloodbath in central America, and the rise of the very terrorism that produced al-Qaeda, became the received spin. Reagan�s walk-on part in Sicko is a rare glimpse of the truth of his betrayal of the blue-collar nation he claimed to represent. The treacheries of another president, Richard Nixon, and a would-be president, Hillary Clinton, are similarly exposed by Moore.
Just when there seemed little else to say about the great Watergate crook, Moore extracts from the 1971 White House tapes a conversation between Nixon and John Erlichman, his aide who ended up in prison. A wealthy Republican Party backer, Edgar Kaiser, head of one of America�s biggest health insurance companies, is at the White House with a plan for �a national health-care industry�. Erlichman pitches it to Nixon, who is bored until the word �profit� is mentioned.

�All the incentives,� says Erlichman, �run the right way: the less [medical] care they give them, the more money they make.� To which Nixon replies without hesitation: �Fine!� The next cut shows the president announcing to the nation a task force that will deliver a system of �the finest health care�. In truth, it is one of the worst and most corrupt in the world, as Sicko shows, denying common humanity to some 50 million Americans and, for many of them, the right to life.

The most haunting sequence is captured by a security camera in a Los Angeles street. A woman, still in her hospital gown, staggers through the traffic, where she has been dumped by the company (the one founded by Nixon�s backer) that runs the hospital to which she was admitted. She is ill and terrified and has no health insurance. She still wears her admission bracelet, though the name of the hospital has been thoughtfully erased.

Later on, we meet that glamorous liberal couple, Bill and Hillary Clinton. It is 1993 and the new president is announcing the appointment of the first lady as the one who will fulfil his promise to give America a universal health-care. And here is �charming and witty� Hillary herself, as a senator calls her, pitching her �vision� to Congress. Moore�s portrayal of the loquacious, flirting, sinister Hillary is reminiscent of Tim Robbins�s superb political satire Bob Roberts. You know her cynicism is already in her throat. �Hillary,� says Moore in voice-over, �was rewarded for her silence [in 2007] as the second-largest recipient in the Senate of health-care industry contributions�.

Moore has said that Harvey Weinstein, whose company produced Sicko and who is a friend of the Clintons, wanted this cut, but he refused. The assault on the Democratic Party candidate likely to be the next president is a departure for Moore, who, in his personal campaign against George Bush in 2004, endorsed General Wesley Clark, the bomber of Serbia, for president and defended Bill Clinton himself, claiming that �no one ever died from a blow job�. (Maybe not, but half a million Iraqi infants died from Clinton�s medieval siege of their country, along with thousands of Haitians, Serbians, Sudanese and other victims of his unsung invasions.)

With this new independence apparent, Moore�s deftness and dark humour in Sicko, which is a brilliant work of journalism and satire and film-making, explains � perhaps even better than the films that made his name, Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 � his popularity and influence and enemies. Sicko is so good that you forgive its flaws, notably Moore�s romanticising of Britain�s National Health Service, ignoring a two-tier system that neglects the elderly and the mentally ill.

The film opens with a wry carpenter describing how he had to make a choice after two fingers were shorn off by an electric saw. The choice was $60,000 to restore a forefinger or $12,000 to restore a middle finger. He could not afford both, and had no insurance. �Being a hopeless romantic,� says Moore, �he chose the ring finger� on which he wore his wedding ring. Moore�s wit leads us to scenes that are searing, yet unsentimental, such as the eloquent anger of a woman whose small daughter was denied hospital care and died of a seizure. Within days of Sicko opening in the United States, more than 25,000 people overwhelmed Moore�s website with similar stories.

The California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organising Committee despatched volunteers to go on the road with the film. �From my sense,� says Jan Rodolfo, an oncology nurse, �it demonstrates the potential for a true national movement because it�s obviously inspiring so many people in so many places.�

Moore�s �threat� is his unerring view from the ground. He abrogates the contempt in which elite America and the media hold ordinary people. This is a taboo subject among many journalists, especially those claiming to have risen to the nirvana of �impartiality� and others who profess to teach journalism. If Moore simply presented victims in the time-honoured, ambulance-chasing way, leaving the audience tearful but paralysed, he would have few enemies. He would not be looked down upon as a polemicist and self-promoter and all the other pejorative tags that await those who step beyond the invisible boundaries in societies where wealth is said to equal freedom. The few who dig deep into the nature of a liberal ideology that regards itself as superior, yet is responsible for crimes epic in proportion and generally unrecognised, risk being eased out of the �mainstream�, especially if they are young � a process that a former editor once described to me as �a sort of gentle defenestration�.

None has broken through like Moore, and his detractors are perverse to say he is not a �professional journalist� when the role of the professional journalist is so often that of zealously, if surreptitiously, serving the status quo. Without the loyalty of these professionals on the New York Times and other august (mostly liberal) media institutions �of record�, the criminal invasion of Iraq might not have happened and a million people would be alive today. Deployed in Hollywood�s sanctum � the cinema � Moore�s Fahrenheit 9/11 shone a light in their eyes, reached into the memory hole, and told the truth. That is why audiences all over the world stood and cheered.

What struck me when I first saw Roger and Me, Moore�s first major film, was that you were invited to like ordinary Americans for their struggle and resilience and politics that reached beyond the din and fakery of the American democracy industry. Moreover, it is clear they �get it� about him: that despite being rich and famous he is, at heart, one of them. A foreigner doing something similar risks being attacked as �anti-American�, a term Moore often uses as irony in order to demonstrate its dishonesty. At a stroke, he sees off the kind of guff exemplified by a recent BBC Radio 4 series that presented humanity as pro- or anti-American while the reporter oozed about America, �the city on the hill�.

Just as tendentious is a documentary called Manufacturing Dissent, which appears to have been timed to discredit, if not Sicko, then Moore himself. Made by the Canadians Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine, it says more about liberals who love to face both ways and the whiny jealousies aroused by tall poppies. Melnyk tells us ad nauseam how much she admires Moore�s films and politics and is inspired by him, then proceeds to attempt character assassination with a blunderbuss of assertions and hearsay about his �methods�, along with personal abuse, such as that of the critic who objected to Moore�s �waddle� and someone else who said he reckoned Moore actually hated America � was anti-American, no less!

Melnyk pursues Moore to ask him why, in his own pursuit of an interview with Roger Smith of General Motors, he failed to mention that he had already spoken to him. Moore has said he interviewed Smith long before he began filming. When she twice intercepts Moore on tour, she is rightly embarrassed by his gracious response. If there is a renaissance of documentaries, it is not served by films such as this.

This is not to suggest Moore should not be pursued and challenged about whether or not he �cuts corners�, just as the work of the revered father of British documentary, John Grierson, has been re-examined and questioned. But feckless parody is not the way. Turning the camera around, as Moore has done, and revealing great power�s �invisible government� of manipulation and often subtle propaganda is certainly one way. In doing so, the documentary-maker breaches a silence and complicity described by G�nter Grass in his confessional autobiography, Peeling the Onion, as maintained by those �feigning their own ignorance and vouching for another�s... divert[ing] attention from something intended to be forgotten, something that nevertheless refuses to go away�.

For me, an earlier Michael Moore was that other great �anti-American� whistleblower, Tom Paine, who incurred the wrath of corrupt power when he warned that if the majority of the people were being denied �the ideas of truth�, it was time to storm what he called the �Bastille of words� and we call �the media�. That time is overdue.