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Friday, November 30, 2007

Klein: In War on Terror, Are You Next? by Shaunna Murphy


You shouldn’t be sure you’ll never end up in a damp, tiny cell in Guantanamo Bay, said best-selling author Naomi Klein to the NYU students and faculty gathered last night in Hemmerdinger Hall.

“We think we don’t fit the profile,” she said. “If we feel safe, we are banking on the racism of our government.”

Klein, author of current New York Times bestseller “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” visited the Silver Center last night to participate in the panel “Torture and Democracy,” along with Lisa Hajjar, chair of the law and society program at the University of California at Santa Barbara and author of “Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank and Gaza.”

“We’re here to talk about the relationship between torture and democracy,” Klein said. “The thesis of the book is that the central claim of our time that the free market and democracy go hand in hand is a fairy tale.”

Klein made it clear that her definition of democracy is not a country that holds elections, but a nation that values human rights and civil liberties that are being stripped away by the use of torture as a “crude tool of coercion.” She finds that shock coupled with torture is being used to scare both individuals, largely in Guantanamo, and mass publics into submission.

“Torture is always public,” she said. “In order for you to be scared, you have to know it’s going on.”

Hajjar spoke of the relationship between torture and law, and agreed with Klein that the government’s acceptance of torture can break down entire nations.

“Torture produces false information, breaks a society and leads to mass imprisonment,” she said. “You torture people, they confess and you can say you caught a terrorist. Torture doesn’t produce truth; the ticking time bomb notion is ridiculous - ‘24′ notwithstanding.”

Though the common consensus across the panel was that the current situation in the United States is bleak, Klein offered some positive advice for improvement.

“Just like torture sends individuals into shock, events like Sept. 11 send whole societies into shock,” she said. “They lose their narrative. We need to start telling stories of why terror is happening.”

Shaunna Murphy is features editor. E-mail her at smurphy@nyunews.com.

Published on Thursday, November 29, 2007 by Washington Square News (New York)

Exposing the guardians of power by John Pilger


In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger pays tribute to the influence of an extraordinary British website Medialens.org whose creators David Edwards and David Cromwell have challenged the declared objectivity and other myths of the liberal media. On 2 December, they will receive the Gandhi International Peace Prize.

What has changed in the way we see the world? For as long as I can remember, the relationship of journalists with power has been hidden behind a bogus objectivity and notions of an "apathetic public" that justify a mantra of "giving the public what they want". What has changed is the public's perception and knowledge. No longer trusting what they read and see and hear, people in western democracies are questioning as never before, particularly via the internet. Why, they ask, is the great majority of news sourced to authority and its vested interests? Why are many journalists the agents of power, not people?

Much of this bracing new thinking can be traced to a remarkable UK website, www.medialens.org. The creators of Media Lens, David Edwards and David Cromwell, assisted by their webmaster, Olly Maw, have had such an extraordinary influence since they set up the site in 2001 that, without their meticulous and humane analysis, the full gravity of the debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan might have been consigned to bad journalism's first draft of bad history. Peter Wilby put it well in his review of Guardians of Power: the Myth of the Liberal Media, a drawing-together of Media Lens essays published by Pluto Press, which he described as "mercifully free of academic or political jargon and awesomely well researched. All journalists should read it, because the Davids make a case that demands to be answered."

That appeared in the New Statesman. Not a single major newspaper reviewed the most important book about journalism I can remember. Take the latest Media Lens essay, "Invasion - a Comparison of Soviet and Western Media Performance". Written with Nikolai Lanine, who served in the Soviet army during its 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan, it draws on Soviet-era newspaper archives, comparing the propaganda of that time with current western media performance. They are revealed as almost identical.

Like the reported "success" of the US "surge" in Iraq, the Soviet equivalent allowed "poor peasants [to work] the land peacefully". Like the Americans and British in Iraq and Afghanistan, Soviet troops were liberators who became peacekeepers and always acted in "self-defence". The BBC's Mark Urban's revelation of the "first real evidence that President Bush's grand design of toppling a dictator and forcing a democracy into the heart of the Middle East could work" (Newsnight, 12 April 2005) is almost word for word that of Soviet commentators claiming benign and noble intent behind Moscow's actions in Afghanistan. The BBC's Paul Wood, in thrall to the 101st Airborne, reported that the Americans "must win here if they are to leave Iraq . . . There is much still to do." That precisely was the Soviet line.

The tone of Media Lens's questions to journalists is so respectful that personal honesty is never questioned. Perhaps that explains a reaction that can be both outraged and comic. The BBC presenter Gavin Esler, champion of Princess Diana and Ronald Reagan, ranted at Media Lens emailers as "fascistic" and "beyond redemption". Roger Alton, editor of the London Observer and champion of the invasion of Iraq, replied to one ultra-polite member of the public: "Have you been told to write in by those cunts at Media Lens?" When questioned about her environmental reporting, Fiona Harvey, of the Financial Times, replied: "You're pathetic . . . Who are you?"

The message is: how dare you challenge us in such a way that might expose us? How dare you do the job of true journalism and keep the record straight? Peter Barron, the editor of the BBC's Newsnight, took a different approach. "I rather like them. David Edwards and David Cromwell are unfailingly polite, their points are well argued and sometimes they're plain right."

David Edwards believes that "reason and honesty are enhanced by compassion and compromised by greed and hatred. A journalist who is sincerely motivated by concern for the suffering of others is more likely to report honestly . . ." Some might call this an exotic view. I don't. Neither does the Gandhi Foundation, which on 2 December will present Media Lens with the prestigious Gandhi International Peace Award. I salute them.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Drugs, sport, hypocrisy and media hysteria by Stuart Munckton


This year there has been a series of drug-related scandals in Australia’s two major football codes, the Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL). The scandals have nothing to do with “performance enhancing” drug, or even anything to do with the game of football at all. These scandals have been beaten up by a media circus, which has itself fed a frenzy of moral hypocrisy, led by the (now-former) federal Coalition government, with the “me-too” Labor Party chiming in.

The two biggest scandals have centred on West Coast Eagles superstar Ben Cousins in the AFL, and Newcastle Knights superstar Andrew Johns in the NRL. Johns — who retired earlier this year — publicly “confessed” to being a regular user of drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine (although rarely during footy season). Cousins missed most of the AFL season after he sought rehabilitation for addiction to methamphetamine and/or cocaine, according to media reports.

The highpoint of the media-fuelled scandals came on November 19 when the AFL dragged Cousins — who had been sacked by the Eagles after a wrongful arrest for possessing Valium (a legal drug) after the football season had finished — before a kangaroo court, charged with “bringing the game into disrepute”. He was found guilty and banned from the game for one year, after which the AFL will reconsider whether to let him back into the competition or not.

In order to avoid being banned for life, Cousins was forced to publicly “confess” to his drug problem and apologise. He obliged, offering one small defiance, a comment that “Contrary to media reports, I am a lot further down the track in my rehabilitation than has been reported” — a reference to the ceaseless stream of lurid media stories about alleged ongoing drug use.

Cousins has never tested positive to drugs. He has never been found guilty of a crime in a court of law, nor has he violated any specific AFL rule — hence the vagueness of the charge against him and the fact the evidence considered by the AFL has not been revealed. In effect, he has been found guilty of generating negative headlines and sacrificed to the political demands of right-wing politicians beating the “tough on drugs” drum. In a November 24 Melbourne Age comment piece, Tim Lane highlighted the ridiculous nature of the penalty, pointing out that not only has it been levied for “behaviour that has nothing to do with sporting conduct”, but that this is the biggest penalty penalty for any offence in more than 75 years of the competition.

The Howard government used the occasion of Cousins’ wrongful arrest to repeat its push for the AFL to toughen its policy on illicit drug use. “Anyone who thinks that the AFL is doing enough in relation to drugs in their sport — in view of the events that have just happened — is kidding themselves”, then-federal sports minister George Brandis said, according to an 18 October article in the Age. Then-PM John Howard was quoted urging the courts to be “as tough as possible” on illicit drug use.

Predictably, ALP leader Kevin Rudd jumped on the bandwagon, calling for sports administrators to “get their act together”, and threatening that unless competitions got tougher, an ALP government might impose a harsher national policy on all sports.

The media has also been beating the “tough on drugs” drum. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph used Cousins’ arrest to call for a crackdown on illicit drugs, opining in an editorial that: “It is time we stopped lionising drug abusing sports ‘stars’ such as Ben Cousins and Andrew Johns.”

Meanwhile, Age sports commentator Greg Baum pontificated that Cousins had only himself to blame for his downfall adding: “It is hard to think that there has been a greater git in the history of Australian sport.” (Does Baum expect us to believe he has never heard of Shane Warne?) When Cousins first sought treatment for addiction, former player and coach Robert Walls went so far as to declare the Eagles “evil”.

The argument is circular. It is said Cousins’ career has been potentially “destroyed by drugs” and that this shows the inherent “evilness” of illicit drugs. What this ignores is that his career has only been halted, and potentially finished, by disciplinary measures because society currently prohibits certain drugs and the media and politicians whip up moral hysteria about them. This policy of selective prohibition is not even a century old and has been a universal failure, merely making those substances prohibited more dangerous and under the control of organised crime, and condemning those who develop addictions to having their problem treated as a legal, rather than a medical, issue.

Cousins clearly has a serious illness. However, if his addiction was to alcohol, he would not be subjected to the same punishment or media pillorying, and the only barrier to his participation in the competition would be sufficient health. Indeed, he may even be hailed a hero in a culture that “lionises” alcohol abuse. If only Cousins and Johns were renowned for downing 50-plus cans of beer on a flight between Australia and England, as certain famous cricketers are (or, like one former Australian PM, held the world record for downing a yard glass of beer).

The issue is about more than the drug habits of a couple of highly paid sportspeople. It is part of a deeply reactionary agenda that seeks to extend the control of the state over people’s personal lives, and further erode the rights of working people. There is a drive by employers in a range of industries to win the right to carry out drug and alcohol tests on their workers. Public hysteria over footballers putting the same poisons into their body as a fair chunk of the population do, makes this drive easier. Evidence came on November 18 when the Howard government threatened to quarantine welfare payments of those found guilty of possessing illicit drugs.

Beyond the manufactured glamour associated with being successful at booting an oval-shaped ball around a field, football players remain workers. They are paid to do a job for their employer — the club they play for, which in turn is represented by the employers’ association (which is what the AFL and NRL amount to). This is why the players organise into their own trade unions — players’ associations.

While the most successful footballers are well paid, many do it tough. It may sound great to be paid to kick a footy around, but, in this age of highly professionalised sports, players are essentially the property of their club, with extreme demands placed on their bodies and increasingly draconian restrictions on their personal lives. Players are expected to turn themselves into finely-tuned machines, but their careers can be ended suddenly through injury.

Once they are no longer useful to the club — through age, injury, or poor performance — they are cast adrift. As the drive for profit grows, clubs attempt to squeeze the greatest amount possible out of the bodies they have purchased, heightening the risk of injury and shortening the average career length, as exhausted bodies give in more quickly.

The government is pushing to intensify the drug testing regime on sports players. In the AFL, this would mean undermining a player’s privacy by removing the “three strikes” rule that means a player’s name is withheld from the press the first two times they test positive to a banned substance. Players currently have a six-week period at the end of the season when they are free from drug testing, but the government wants the AFL to subject players to year-round tests. While the AFL players’ association has resisted this push, another code, Rugby Union, has announced it is likely to move to year-round tests on players in the competition — an outrageous attack on players’ rights that is not in any way related to the game of rugby.

One argument raised to justify making an issue of whether or not professional sport players uses prohibited drugs is that they are role models. This argument is hypocritical to its core. If the media is so concerned about the effect on young people of reports that their sporting heroes take illicit drugs, then it should refrain from reporting it — something that should be done regardless on the grounds of respect for a player’s privacy.

The media and politicians know full well that sportspeople are not a different species. Drug use is widespread in our society, although it is mostly alcohol and tobacco. Both football codes have long been associated with an unhealthy culture of alcohol abuse (indeed Johns appears to have abused alcohol more than illicit drugs). AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou told the Australian on 31 July: “Alcohol abuse is a far bigger problem in football than the issue of illicit drugs. We have no doubt about that.”

But a cynical game is being played where getting caught using the wrong sort of drug is the cue for a round of public pillorying and voyeuristic gossip that increases profits for media corporations and gives politicians an excuse for chest-beating.

It is this cynical game that has led to Cousins, who has won just about every award it is possible for an AFL player to win at the age of 29, being sacked by his club and punished by the AFL. The Cousins’ scandal has damaged the AFL “brand”, making Cousins more a liability than an asset for the profit-driven business the AFL is running. This is a key factor in the decision of the Eagles to sack a player the club president referred to as the club’s “greatest”.

But the Eagles had little choice as corporate sponsors were threatening to pull out. The mighty dollar is worth more than Cousins’ right to play at the top level and for fans to enjoy his performances. Most likely, it is only because of Cousins’ immense talent there is a chance the AFL will agree to let him play again in 2009, providing that it is confident he won’t provoke another barrage of bad publicity that will damage the league’s ability to attract corporate sponsors.

Meanwhile, a serious approach to tackling issues related to abuse of drugs, legal or illegal (and the latter would require combining the ending of prohibition of personal drug use and funding for the resources required to treat addiction as a medical issue) remains unmentioned in the avalanche of articles.

[Based on an article originally published at http://newmatilda.com.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #733 28 November 2007.

Counterattack as Fateful Referendum Looms, CIA Venezuela Destabilization Memo Surfaces By JAMES PETRAS


On November 26, 2007 the Venezuelan government broadcast and circulated a confidential memo from the US embassy to the CIA which is devastatingly revealing of US clandestine operations and which will influence the referendum this Sunday, December 2, 2007.

The memo sent by an embassy official, Michael Middleton Steere, was addressed to the Director of Central Intelligence, Michael Hayden. The memo was entitled 'Advancing to the Last Phase of Operation Pincer' and updates the activity by a CIA unit with the acronym 'HUMINT' (Human Intelligence) which is engaged in clandestine action to destabilize the forth-coming referendum and coordinate the civil military overthrow of the elected Chavez government. The Embassy-CIA's polls concede that 57 per cent of the voters approved of the constitutional amendments proposed by Chavez but also predicted a 60 per cent abstention.

The US operatives emphasized their capacity to recruit former Chavez supporters among the social democrats (PODEMOS) and the former Minister of Defense Baduel, claiming to have reduced the 'yes' vote by 6 per cent from its original margin. Nevertheless the Embassy operatives concede that they have reached their ceiling, recognizing they cannot defeat the amendments via the electoral route.

The memo then recommends that Operation Pincer (OP) [Operación Tenaza] be operationalized. OP involves a two-pronged strategy of impeding the referendum, rejecting the outcome at the same time as calling for a 'no' vote. The run up to the referendum includes running phony polls, attacking electoral officials and running propaganda through the private media accusing the government of fraud and calling for a 'no' vote. Contradictions, the report emphasizes, are of no matter.

The CIA-Embassy reports internal division and recriminations among the opponents of the amendments including several defections from their 'umbrella group'. The key and most dangerous threats to democracy raised by the Embassy memo point to their success in mobilizing the private university students (backed by top administrators) to attack key government buildings including the Presidential Palace, Supreme Court and the National Electoral Council. The Embassy is especially full of praise for the ex-Maoist 'Red Flag' group for its violent street fighting activity. Ironically, small Trotskyist sects and their trade unionists join the ex-Maoists in opposing the constitutional amendments. The Embassy, while discarding their 'Marxist rhetoric', perceives their opposition as fitting in with their overall strategy.

The ultimate objective of 'Operation Pincer' is to seize a territorial or institutional base with the 'massive support' of the defeated electoral minority within three or four days (presumably after the elections though this is not clear. JP) backed by an uprising by oppositionist military officers principally in the National Guard. The Embassy operative concede that the military plotters have run into serous problems as key intelligence operatives were detected, stores of arms were decommissioned and several plotters are under tight surveillance.

Apart from the deep involvement of the US, the primary organization of the Venezuelan business elite (FEDECAMARAS), as well as all the major private television, radio and newspaper outlets have been engaged in a campaign of fear and intimidation campaign. Food producers, wholesale and retail distributors have created artificial shortages of basic food items and have provoked large scale capital flight to sow chaos in the hopes of reaping a 'no' vote.

President Chavez Counter-Attacks

In a speech to pro-Chavez, pro-amendment nationalist business-people (Entrepreneurs for Venezuela ­ EMPREVEN) Chavez warned the President of FEDECAMARAS that if he continues to threaten the government with a coup, he would nationalize all their business affiliates. With the exception of the Trotskyists and other sects, the vast majority of organized workers, peasants, small farmers, poor neighborhood councils, informal self-employed and public school students have mobilized and demonstrated in favor of the constitutional amendments.

The reason for the popular majority is found in a few of the key amendments: One article expedites land expropriation facilitating re-distribution to the landless and small producers. Chavez has already settled over 150,000 landless workers on 2 million acres of land. Another amendment provides universal social security coverage for the entire informal sector (street sellers, domestic workers, self-employed) amounting to 40 per cent of the labor force. Organized and unorganized workers' workweek will be reduced from 40 to 36 hours a week (Monday to Friday noon) with no reduction in pay. Open admission and universal free higher education will open greater educational opportunities for lower class students. Amendments will allow the government to by-pass current bureaucratic blockage of the socialization of strategic industries, thus creating greater employment and lower utility costs. Most important, an amendment will increase the power and budget of neighborhood councils to legislate and invest in their communities.

The electorate supporting the constitutional amendments is voting in favor of their socio-economic and class interests; the issue of extended re-election of the President is not high on their priorities: And that is the issue that the Right has focused on in calling Chavez a 'dictator' and the referendum a 'coup'.

The Opposition

With strong financial backing from the US Embassy ($8 million dollars in propaganda alone according to the Embassy memo) and the business elite and 'free time' by the right-wing media, the Right has organized a majority of the upper middle class students from the private universities, backed by the Catholic Church hierarchy, large swaths of the affluent middle class neighborhoods, entire sectors of the commercial, real estate and financial middle classes and apparently sectors of the military, especially officials in the National Guard. While the Right has control over the major private media, public television and radio back the constitutional reforms. While the Right has its followers among some generals and the National Guard, Chavez has the backing of the paratroops and legions of middle-rank officers and most other generals.

The outcome of the Referendum of December 2 is a major historical event first and foremost for Venezuela but also for the rest of the Americas. A positive vote (Vota 'Sí') will provide the legal framework for the democratization of the political system, the socialization of strategic economic sectors, empower the poor and provide the basis for a self-managed factory system. A negative vote (or a successful US-backed civil-military uprising) would reverse the most promising living experience of popular self-rule, of advanced social welfare and democratically based socialism. A reversal, especially a military dictated outcome, would lead to a blood bath, such as we have not seen since the days of the Indonesian Generals' Coup of 1966, which killed over a million workers and peasants or the Argentine Coup of 1976 in which over 30,000 Argentines were murdered by the US- backed Generals.

A decisive vote for 'Sí' will not end US military and political destabilization campaigns but it will certainly undermine and demoralize their collaborators. On December 2, 2007 the Venezuelans have a rendezvous with history.

James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at: jpetras@binghamton.edu

from COUNTERPUNCH

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Howard is Gone But What About His WorkChoices? by John/Togs Tognolini


Howard has plummeted into the rubbish bin of history, where he belongs. And of course, much of the reason for his political dive into the historical void was his WorkChoices. It was Howard and the Liberal/Nationals own born to rule conceit with WorkChoices that largely cost them the election, there were a few other major issues such as Climate Change but this was the main issue.

Howard and his ilk are out? That freight train that hit the Liberals/Nationals on 24/11 was the Your Rights At Work Campaigns across the country, and Rudd hitched a ride on it. People who turned out in their thousands for 06 & 05 Your Rights At Work rallies, and this years Victorian Trades Hall September 26 Victorian mobilisation of 30,000 workers against the IR legislation in Melbourne and the Rockin For Workers Rights Concert at Sydney’s SCG. And there was the 12,000 to 15,000 people at the 8/9 Stop Bush/Make Howard History demonstration during APEC in Sydney.

My mate Liam Mitchell and I were told at the massive Your Rights At Work/ALP election party (300 people where present, mostly unionists who had all been involved in YRAW and a few Greens) in the Katoomba Family Hotel,‘’That I don’t need to tell you guys that the real fight starts now.’’ In regard to WorkChoices and Rudd’s WorkChoices Lite, by a leading activist Phil Doyle in the Blue Mountains YRAW campaign. No one was talking like that about the ALP/ACTU Accord when Bob Hawke was elected in 1983. By the way this pub was decked out in heaps of YRAW corflukes and one corfluke each from the Greens, ALP and Socialist Alliance.

We are now at the start of our own Blair/Brown New Labour period, with Rudd taking up the prime ministership. But there is no where near the amount of illusions in Kevin Rudd in 07, as there was for Hawke in 1983, when Malcolm Fraser was defeated. One thing I noticed in the Family Hotel that night was how many people quickly turned their backs on Rudd during his victory speech, saying things like, ’’Needs another speech writer.’’ People see Rudd as a career politician; even the Liberals said he was a younger John Howard.

I have no doubt there will be ALP ‘’historians’’ writing bullshit about how great the Accord years were under Hawke and Paul Keating. How these years were a Golden Age for workers and the economy. For the writing and production of history is after all, another battleground of the class struggle. And on this I’ve come across a 20 minute film I made in 1992 called, Working Class Representation in the Aftermath of the ALP’s Outlawing of the BLF.

It’s a good, brief, historical doco featuring interviews with Dave Kerin and Dennis Evans and has footage of the Victorian police attacking the BLF picket line at 417 St Kilda Rd in 1991, where they targeted John Cummo/Cummins with a police horse and got Dennis Evans instead. It’s excellent for the political era that we are now entering. As well as explaining the class nature of the state and the political nature of the ALP.

I've started a new lable on Togs's Place.Com, Howard is Gone But What About His WorkChoices? It's time for the new ALP government to deliver or Rudd is going to become a new four letter word.

Rewriting History by Phil Doyle


"It's time for a new page to be written in our nation's history." Kevin Rudd, November 24, 2007.

In the lead up to the 2007 Federal Election tens of thousands of ordinary Australians mobilised into a concerted campaign to change a government. These people re-wrote Australian history.

Yet, as soon as that victory was achieved, their efforts were all but ignored by, not just vast swathes of the media, but also by the ultimate beneficiaries, the incoming government.

The strength of the Your Rights At Work campaign comes from its acknowledgement by the defeated Liberal Party - federal director, Brian Loughnane, told media on the Sunday after the election that Work Choices had cost the Coalition key support, a statement echoed by Liberal MP and campaign spokesman, Andrew Robb.


ALP campaign director Tim Gartrell described WorkChoices as “the most important issue of the campaign”.

“It would have been more difficult to win without it.”

I mean look at these young guys at the gate - you'd have been dragging them in here to vote last time,” said Graham Perrett, ALP Candidate for Moreton, while visiting a polling booth on election day. "This time they're here handing out cards on the rights at work issue.”

In the marginal seat of Eden-Monaro big swings were recorded in communities west of the great divide where WorkChoices was seen as a threat.

Polling done for the ACTU showed a 5.7% shift from Howard to Labor motivated by industrial relations as the key issue.

None of this would have happened without a concerted grass roots campaign - this was no astroturfing exercise - that saw the ACTU gather an email database of 180,000 addresses, from which a popular localised word of mouth campaign spread.

For over two years the Your Rights At Work campaign has been beavering away, under the radar, in 24 targeted coalition held seats.

Whether leafleting, letterboxing, doorknocking, forwarding emails, holding a street stall or collecting signatures, an army of campaigners braved everything from Darwin’s tropical storms to the snows of the Great Dividing Range to make sure that the impact of WorkChoices became issue number one across a vast swathe of middle Australians in marginal seats.

The Your Rights at Work bumper stickers, T-shirts and later house signs, became eponymous. These people were shifting voter sentiment where it mattered. Some media dismissed it as a cynical Trade Union scare campaign or stunt at best. The rest ignored it.

But the people involved in the campaign came from an extraordinary array of union and non-union backgrounds. There were the usual suspects, but there were more, many more, that became involved in a community campaign for the first time in their lives.

Many of these people took to it with a gusto lacking in the rank and file of both major parties. This is a newly politicised group of Australians, and they threw up some amazing champions.

One such example was Jo Jacobson, an articulate and savvy health worker who became the public face of the opposition to WorkChoices in the Penrith based seat of Lindsay long before the ALP had even settled on a candidate.

Many campaigners took to one-on-one conversations with their peers. In marginal Macquarie a ripped off hotel worker named Steve Eisenberger made a habit of wearing his Your Rights At Work T-shirt around his blue-collar mates - winning over a small coterie who had previously backed Howard over what are euphemistically referred to as ‘security’ issues.

There were thousands of Steve Eisenburgers operating across all sorts of groups - social, sporting, civic and cultural - to get the message out.

The word of mouth message cut through to an increasing number of Australians while Howard and Barbara Bennett remained as background white noise, drowned out by the wise words of their Your Rights At Work neighbour and their own experiences.

The community campaign was backed up by a shoestring (compared to the Federal Government’s) advertising campaign that re-enforced the word-of-mouth message.

Despite (or possibly because of) widespread support, many Your Rights At Work signs were stolen or defaced, as well as threats and acts of vandalism aimed at Your Rights At Work activists.

Still, the thousands of volunteers didn’t complain - instead they handed out their own How To Vote card on election day, separate from the major parties - in the rain, the sun, the heat, the wind. They made sure that WorkChoices was on the forefront of voter’s minds where it mattered.

Of the 24 targeted coalition held seats, the ALP won 20 and 3 are currently too close to call.

It’s an extraordinary achievement in anyone’s reckoning - so where is the acknowledgement to these Australians by either the media or the man holding the trophy, Kevin Rudd?

There was no direct mention of either WorkChoices or the Your Rights At Work campaign in the Hawker-Brittonesque pfaff that passed as Rudd’s acceptance speech.

Not much of a run in the media either. A bit of a go over at the SMAge, with Andrew West providing a bit of background in the SMH and a puff piece on the ACTU’s spin-doctors in the Age, while Mark Bahnisch and Wayne Errington in Crikey both nominated WorkChoices as a killer issue for the Coalition.

The last time a Prime Minister lost his seat - Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1929 - it was to the secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall in a foretaste of the Your Rights At Work Campaign.

One of the key issues in 1929 was Bruce’s dream of smashing the union movement and regulated working arrangements based on fairness.

Australia said no to individual contracts in droves, and there was a landslide win to Labor. The depression hit and two years later Scullin’s Labor Government dissolved into dissent, panic and scandal.

The Rudd Government will now be faced with a plethora of conflicting policy objectives - one of which will be to screw down the price of labour. We all know that this will be borne by those least able to afford a cut in their living standards.

As early as the Sunday morning after the election Australian Business Council head Greg Bailey dismissed “fears” the union movement may hold sway over a Rudd government.

“If you listened to Kevin Rudd last night that is not an impression you would have got,” Bailey told the ABC, while over at Forbes Magazine CommSec chief equities economist Craig James said the Australian business community had been prepared for a Labor victory.

“In terms of economic policy, nothing really changes too much,” said James, in an observation that would have been news last week.

Rudd was on the 7.30 report blaming the Liberals “from day one” for threatening to be obstructive over repealing WorkChoices. They’ve already set up the fall guy and an alibi - the Senate.

Labor is said to be keen to recall Parliament to introduce its legislation to change the Howard Government's Work Choices laws, but just how keen remains to be seen.

"I hate to say it, but Costello was right when he said the new government will start rewriting history," Unions NSW secretary John Robertson told the SMH on Monday. "It's already begun and Rudd and company are out there saying it was health or education or climate change. Sure, it was a bit of all those, but the biggest issue was Work Choices."

I got a nice email from Sharan Burrow and Jeff Lawrence at the ACTU for my support for the Your Rights At Work campaign.

”Well done,” they said. “You have helped make history.”

Just like those who took on Stanley Melbourne Bruce did nearly eighty years ago.

Yes, Kevin Rudd - and the media - appears to want to write a new page in Australia’s History - a page where it is as if the tens of thousands of ordinary hard working Australians, who banded together as the Your Rights At Work Campaign and changed a government, never existed.

But after the success of our campaign so far, we are highly unlikely to go away.

Phil Phuckin Doyle

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Howard loses the election! And His Own Seat by Dave Riley


Yep. It's over: the witch is dead.

The hopes of millions of Australian working people were realize last night when John Winston Howard's government lost electoral traction and floundered under the weight of its own political arrogance.

But to add more sweetness to the defeat -- this most tactical of maestros has lost his own seat of Bennelong to former ABC journalist Maxine McKew,. As well, the man who engineered the invasion of the Norther Territory and placed indigenous Australians there under marshal law, Mal Brough, has himself been thrown out of office. (We can perhaps also thank for that the many single Mums in his seat who sought to punish Mal's role in setting up the Welfare to Work scheme.)

It's happy faces all around.

What with all the inquests we'll be now treated to let's make one thing clear: Australian working people , galvanized around the Our Rights at Work campaign, bought down John Howard. The election was about class and about support for trade unionism. The tide changed with that just as the shift in the ALP's fortunes was a direct product of it.

Those mobilisations in the street were nothing to snort at. Although generating them was hard enough given the entrenched opposition in the official trade union movement at the ACTU level to any break out, imagine what could have transpired if the agenda had been upped and the ACTU had not rolled over so much for Ruddism?

Compared to March 1983 when Labor last won office, this places the trade union movement (now a very much weaker and undermined trade union movement in the 24 years since) in a stronger and more confident position to deal with Rudd's Work Choices Lite spin on industrial relations.Last time the Accord 'consensus' was the Labor government and through bullying and spin, the trade union tops regimented the working people hog tied into a Laborist 'fit'. This time it's different. This time there's protest.

And centre piece is the right to strike.

Back in 1983 and for the period of the ALP administration those who advocated a class struggle perspective were isolated vilified and, in some cases, criminalised. But not much was happening in that regard as all trade unions were bought into line.

Now, while there is no breakout or generalised fight back, there's an alternative perspective that has not existed for many a year. Thats' what the Socialist Allaince tries to relate to, and to some degree, serves as its political voice.

For me, though, McKew's drubbing of Howard was the highlight of last nights call. An extremely skilled television and radio journalist I found a lot more to celebrate in her sometimes rambling speech than when the swarmy Rudd took to the podium to claim a victory that was rightfully ours.

The alternative vote

This did indeed turn out to be a polarised election so the alt vote didn't rise much in the House of Reps seats. The Greens pulled in an 7.6% average and the Socialist Alliance will average somewhere under 1%. With all the jockeying and game play the Senate figures should be different. Even the ACTU did not call absolutely for a ALP vote -- opting instead for one against Work Choices -- and the Get Up phenomenon impacted on small "l" liberal Australia --although it won't save the Democrats from a likely annihilation.

Darkness Falls on the Middle East by Robert Fisk


So where do we go from here? I am talking into blackness because there is no electricity in Beirut. And everyone, of course, is frightened. A president was supposed to be elected today. He was not elected. The corniche outside my home is empty. No one wants to walk beside the sea.

When I went to get my usual breakfast cheese manouche there were no other guests in the café. We are all afraid. My driver, Abed, who has loyally travelled with me across all the war zones of Lebanon, is frightened to drive by night. I was supposed to go to Rome yesterday. I spared him the journey to the airport.

It's difficult to describe what it's like to be in a country that sits on plate glass. It is impossible to be certain if the glass will break. When a constitution breaks--as it is beginning to break in Lebanon--you never know when the glass will give way.

People are moving out of their homes, just as they have moved out of their homes in Baghdad. I may not be frightened, because I'm a foreigner. But the Lebanese are frightened. I was not in Lebanon in 1975 when the civil war began, but I was in Lebanon in 1976 when it was under way. I see many young Lebanese who want to invest their lives in this country, who are frightened, and they are right to frightened. What can we do?

Last week, I had lunch at Giovanni's, one of the best restaurants in Beirut, and took out as my companion Sherif Samaha, who is the owner of the Mayflower Hotel. Many of the guests I've had over the past 31 years I have sent to the Mayflower. But Sherif was worried because I suggested that his guests had included militia working for Saad Hariri, who is the son of the former prime minister, murdered--if you believe most Lebanese--by the Syrians on 14 February 2005.

Poor Sherif. He never had the militia men in his hotel. They were in a neighbouring building. But so Lebanese is Sherif that he even offered to pick me up in his car to have lunch. He is right to be worried.

A woman friend of mine, married to a doctor at the American University Hospital, called me two days before. "Robert, come and see the building they are making next to us," she said. And I took Abed and we went to see this awful building. It has almost no windows. All its installations are plumbing. It is virtually a militia prison. And I'm sure that's what it is meant to be. This evening I sit on my balcony, in a power cut, as I dictate this column. And there is no one in the street. Because they are all frightened.

So what can a Middle East correspondent write on a Saturday morning except that the world in the Middle East is growing darker and darker by the hour. Pakistan. Afghanistan. Iraq. "Palestine". Lebanon. From the borders of Hindu Kush to the Mediterranean, we--we Westerners that is--are creating (as I have said before) a hell disaster. Next week, we are supposed to believe in peace in Annapolis, between the colourless American apparatchik and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister who has no more interest in a Palestinian state than his predecessor Ariel Sharon.

And what hell disasters are we creating? Let me quote a letter from a reader in Bristol. She asks me to quote a professor at Baghdad University, a respected man in his community who tells a story of real hell; you should read it. Here are his own words:

"'A'adhamiya Knights' is a new force that has started its task with the Americans to lead them to al-Qa'ida and Tawheed and Jihad militants. This 300-fighter force started their raids very early at dawn wearing their black uniform and black masks to hide their faces. Their tours started three days ago, arresting about 150 citizens from A'adhamiya. The 'Knight' leads the Americans to a citizen who might be one of his colleagues who used to fight the Americans with him. These acts resulted in violent reactions of al-Qa'ida. Its militants and the militants of Tawheed and Jihad distributed banners on mosques' walls, especially on Imam Abu Hanifa mosque, threatening the Islamic Party, al-Ishreen revolution groups and Sunni endowment Diwan with death because these three groups took part in establishing 'A'adhamiya Knights'. Some crimes happened accordingly, targeting two from Sunni Diwan staff and one from the Islamic Party.

"Al-Qa'ida militants are distributed through the streets, stopping the people and asking about their IDs ... they carry lists of names. Anyone whose name is on these lists is kidnapped and taken to an unknown place. Eleven persons have been kidnapped up to now from Omar Bin Abdul Aziz Street."

The writer describes how her professor friend was kidnapped and taken to a prison. "They helped me sit on a chair (I was blindfolded) and someone came and held my hand saying, 'We are Muhajeen, we know you but we don't know where you are from.' They did not take my wallet nor did they search me. They only asked me if I have a gun. An hour or so later, one of them came and asked me to come with them. They drove me towards where my car was in the street and they said no more." So who are the A'adhamiya Knights? Who is paying them? What are we doing in the Middle East?

And how can we even conceive of a moral stand in the Middle East when we still we refuse to accept the fact--reiterated by Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, and all the details of US diplomats in the First World War--that the Armenian genocide occurred in 1915? Here is the official British government position on the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. "Officially, the Government acknowledges the strength of feeling [note, reader, the 'strength of feeling'] about what it describes as a terrible episode of history and recognises the massacres of 1915-16 as a tragedy. However, neither the current Government nor previous British governments have judged that the evidence is sufficiently unequivocal to be persuaded that these events should be categorised as genocide as it is defined by the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide." When we can't get the First World War right, how in God's name can we get World War III right?

Robert Fisk is a reporter for The Independent and author of Pity the Nation. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Fisk's new book is The Conquest of the Middle East.

From CounterPunch

Howard’s overboard - but keep the pressure on Rudd Labor By Peter Boyle


The Socialist Alliance "Howard Overboard" election night party in Green Left Weekly's offices in Sydney spontaneously spilled into the streets when John Howard conceded defeat. Jubilant activists celebrated with chants, whistles and pots and pans in a lap around the block which drew out people from their homes. A right-wing government that has plagued Australia since 1996 has been defeated and we have much to celebrate.

Most of all we have to celebrate the people's power that was mobilized to defeat the Howard government over the last three years.

There can be no doubt that it was the outrage at attacks on workers' rights and the resistance to "Work Choices" -- that crude euphemism that was the official name for the biggest attack on workplace rights won over a century of workers' struggle -- that helped finish off the Howard government.

The hundreds of thousands who took to the streets against Work Choices spoke for the majority of people. They were dismissed by Howard and they remembered his ruthless arrogance on election day. Many trade unionists spread out through the suburbs of the major cities to campaign against the Howard government during the election campaign in one of the biggest electoral campaign mobilisations organised by the trade union movement in many years, most building the vote for Kevin Rudd's Labor.

The tens of thousands who marched on in the Walk Against Warming demonstrations on and around November 11 also helped bury the Howard government. The great majority of Australians who want serious action to address global warming was another majority arrogantly dismissed.

The thousands who defied the police-state conditions to take to Sydney's streets when US President George Bush came to Sydney for the APEC summit in September also symbolised the majority who dissent over the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the associated war on civil liberties. This was another nail in Howard's coffin.

Such was the popular backlash that Howard looks set to lose even his own parliamentary seat in Bennelong to Labor's Maxine McKew, who won 45.9% of the first preferences counted on election night. The preferences from the Greens' 5.4% at should assure Howard is ousted from the seat. It would be the first time a sitting prime minister has lost his seat since 1929.

Mal Brough, Howard’s notorious minister for indigenous affairs who led the jackbooted military invasion of Northern Territory Indigenous communities (which shamefully was supported by Rudd Labor), also lost his seat, a popular rejection of the racist scapegoating of Aborigines and attack on land rights.

But our celebrations should not blind us to the fact that the trade unions and other progressive movements will have to continue mobilising to push the incoming Rudd Labor government to deliver on its promises to rip up Work Choices, bring the troops home from Iraq and take action on climate change.

Already there is a gap between the promises Rudd has made and the reasons why people voted for Labor. On Work Choices, the Rudd version of "ripping up" will leave in place many elements of the Howard government's attack on workers and their right to organise. Labor has no serious program to tackle climate change and implement the kind of "renewables revolution" that we need -- and Rudd's vision for sustainability includes a place for coal, one of the worst greenhouse-gas generating fuels. Rudd's policy is to maintain troops in the Middle East, withdrawing only combat troops from Iraq (and even
that will have to wait until mid-2008). Moreover the US-led war in Afghanistan continues to have the blessing of the Labor's leaders, despite most Australians wanting troops withdrawn.

Rudd has told us that he is an "economic conservative" and experience tells us that economic conservativism = social and environmental vandalism. That's a lesson we cannot ignore after three decades of bipartisan support for the corporate profits-first agenda, demonstrated in action by federal and state governments (all of which are conservative Labor governments).

On election night Rudd congratulated Howard for his "extensive contribution to public service in Australia" and declared it time to "put aside the old battles of the past" between business and unions, between "growth and environment", "public and private".

"I extend our greetings tonight to our great friend and ally the United States", Rudd said in his victory speech and right-wing US President George Bush reciprocated by issuing a statement overnight congratulating Rudd on his victory.

"The United States and Australia have long been strong partners and allies and the President looks forward to working with this
newgovernment to continue our historic relationship", the statement said.

Labor's 6.3% swing was a strong endorsement for change but voters attached a note indicating which way they want his government to move by delivering a strong vote to the Greens, the most progressive party currently represented in federal parliament. The Greens look set to win at least two extra Senate positions.

Socialist Alliance national coordinator Dick Nichols told Green Left Weekly that it was movement's against Howard's policies, in particular those against Work Choices and the pulp mill in Tasmania, that madesure the Howard government was smashed. "The Socialist Alliance played a big role in building these movements, and did well in those seats where that work was most visible", he said.

Nichols said there had been modest increases in the vote for alliance candidates in the Sydney seats of Grayndler, Parramatta and Blaxland, the Wollongong-based seat of Cunningham, and the western Melbourne seat of Gellibrand. This is a result of thealliance's role as a builder "on the ground" of the movements that helped defeat the hated Howard government.

The Socialist Alliance congratulated the Greens on their good result and pledged to continue to work as partners in building the progressive movements. Many progressive-minded people gave their first preference vote to the Greens because they see them as having the best chance to win parliamentary elections at this time, said Nichols, but a number have sought to triple the value of their vote by voting "1" Socialist Alliance and "2" Greens.

More detailed reports on how the Socialist Alliance candidates did in the elections will be published in the next issue of Green Left Weekly.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Archie Roach Has Returned by John/Togs Tognolini

Archie Roach

Review of Journey Album 2007 Liberation $30

"I thought writing the song Took The Children Away was in part, a way
of telling people that taking children from their families was not
necessarily the best or so-called solution concerning the child or
their family's well being. I was wrong. We thought the Bringing Them
Home report would see measures taken to ensure it should never happen
again. We were wrong. We thought the Deaths in Custody would prevent
such things happening. We were wrong. The songs of Journey are a
reaffirmation of identity, country, beliefs and spirit and how no one
has listened to our recommendations on stolen kids or people dying in
jails. So it continues, but we are still watching and definitely
taking note.''

Archie Roach 2007

A couple of years ago, I was reading the debate section of the BBC
History magazine and the topic was the return of Aboriginal remains
from Britain's universities and museums to Australia. I was sickened
by the obscene case being put forward to keep these Aboriginal
skeletons in the collections of the British and other European
universities and museums. When Archie Roach introduced his song Travellin'
Bones on this topic, at his recent performance in Katoomba's Triselies
nightclub, to a packed house of over 140 people. He told of the story
of the remains of a little girl who was bought back to Australia and
how she had a bullet hole in her skull from over a hundred years ago.

Many of the songs on Journey were inspired by a journey that Archie
took with English actor Peter Postlethwaite (In The Name of The
Father, Brassed Off, Baz Lurhman's Romeo & Juliet) and Indigenous
leader and Yawuru man, Patrick Dodson. Journey has been described as
an eternal moment of dreaming. Reflecting songs of pain, loss, racism,
redemption and hope. Archie described it as a marriage of Aboriginal
and Western philosophy from the heart and mind. He is an extraordinary
writer and singer. Journey is a companion piece to the recently
released Liyarn Ngarn DVD, a compelling tale of racism and a plea for
a new future in black/white relations in Australia.

Journey was produced by Shane Howard (of Goanna) and engineered and
co-produced by Nash Chambers, the new album Journey was a long time in
the creation and preparation and a short time in the recording.
Recorded live in Melbourne's Sing Sing studios after a journey that
took Archie from the spiritual Ngurrarra paintings, south of Fitzroy
Crossing, to the deaths in custody in the jails of Roebourne and
Fremantle. It continued through the desert country of Central
Australia and the inevitable connection back to Archie's home country
of the Gunditjmara/Kirrae Whurrong of South West Victoria.

I've only seen Archie play live once before at the Building Bridges
Concert at Bondi Pavilion nearly twenty years ago. I and other BLF
scaffolders volunteered our labour to put up the stage for this
concert, on the eve of the massive Aboriginal Anti-Bicentennial
Invasion Day Protest 26 January 1988. Archie performed Charcoal Lane
and I thought what a terrific voice and a moving song. Archie was
joined that afternoon by Paul Kelly who joins him again on the Journey
performing the song John Pat. John Pat was a young Aboriginal man who was
strangled to death in Roebourne jail in West Australia in 1987 and his
death along with many others led to the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Royal Commission. This song is from a poem by a West Australian
Aboriginal poet Jack Davis. Archie played it to him before he passed
away in Fremantle hospital.

Also on the album are Ruby Hunter, Bart Willoughby, Amy Saunders
(formerly of Tiddas), David Birdie, Mark Punch, Troy Cassar Daly, Ewen
Baker, Helen Mounfort, Jarad Hearman, Shane Howard, Dave Arden and
Amos Roach.

Archie Roach has seen a lot, some would say too much hurt, but still
these hallowed songs reach out to bridge the divide between black and
white and challenge Australia's culture of racism. Archie Roach turns
suffering into hope and art with his music. His unique voice is in the
league of Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker or George Jones. He is an elder
statesman of Aboriginal music, Archie takes us on a journey of epic
dimensions but the music and the message are absolutely clear and
uncomplicated.

I encourage you not just to buy his album but also to see him perform.
I helped organise his Katoomba performance where he was joined by
Shane Howard, Dave Arden and Amos Roach. For tour dates and venues
check out these links www.archieroach.com.au
www.myspace.com/archieroach

This article was first published in the New South Wales Teachers Federation journal, Education November 2007

Privatisation disaster looms in NSW by Peter Robson & Kamala Emanuel, Sydney

NSW Premier Morris Iemma


Although it was silent on the issue during the state elections, the NSW Labor government led by Premier Morris Iemma is canvassing plans to privatise large sections of state utilities including the rail network, the electricity grid and Sydney’s ferries. The privatisation scheme is necessary, according to the government, to raise funds in order to reduce the budget deficit and pay for improvements in NSW hospitals and schools, and upgrades to the Sydney highways, as well as produce greater efficiency in public transport.


Scepticism about the plans are warranted however, particularly in light of the disastrous semi-private infrastructure built through “public-private partnerships”, such as the cross-city tunnel and the Sydney airport rail link. These PPPs have resulted in massive amounts of public funds going to private developers and under-utilised (and expensive) public services.

Sydney’s rail network has been woefully underfunded. This was exposed in 2003, when a petrol price spike encouraged many people to abandon their cars and commute via rail. This led to a tripling of the average number of passengers. The rail system was unable to cope, resulting in overcrowded trains and delayed services. Most commuters returned to their now-more-expensive cars, but even so rail services remained inadequate.

In order to give the appearance of improving efficiency, the state government redefined “late” trains, reducing the regularity of train services at peak times to one only every 15 minutes. Worldwide train services average one every five minutes for major industrialised cities at peak times.

This didn’t fool many commuters, and the system is still perceived as inadequate. But the state government has ruled out putting more money into the infrastructure of the railways. “We really are at the upper limit of our expenditure capacity on infrastructure in NSW currently”, transport minister John Watkins told the Sydney Morning Herald on November 2. “To go any higher in our budget puts us in a difficult position with regard to our AAA credit rating and the long-term capacity of our budget.”

Insiders in the NSW rail system say that the employees of RailCorp are already being prepared for the move to a privatised system, with train drivers and maintenance crews getting more shifts on the same lines and the same services. The current proposal by the government is to break up the NSW rail network into different sections, such as a regional southern section covering Wollongong another for the central coast and northern NSW, and a Sydney city section. These would be sold separately to different companies that would, in theory compete against each other. There is also discussion of a separate, privately owned underground rail network in Sydney.

Workers, who have been prepared for the break-up by only getting shifts in areas where the new companies would be, could then be handed over to those new companies already trained. This would also dilute the power of the Rail, Bus and Tram Union (RBTU), which the Sydney Morning Herald described as a NSW Labor “cabinet desire”, by reducing the size of workplaces and members’ ability to act together in solidarity.

A similar proposal is being made for Sydney ferries. A PPP is planned for the system, with the government retaining only the right to set timetables but not ticketing or any other aspect of the ferry system.

The RBTU and Maritime Union of Australia are campaigning against these “part” privatisations of the rail and ferry networks, and the Australian Services Union is running an awareness campaign in regional NSW on the impact of privatisation on the regional lines.

Bizarrely, given the state government’s lack of serious funding, it is unions that have copped much of the blame for NSW’s public transport woes. Typical are comments by former transport minister Carl Scully quoted in the November 2 SMH. The paper reported: “He said he found the unions ‘very, very difficult’ to deal with.

“‘The management and culture approach of the unions is in a time warp … the only way to have a root and branch alteration is to set up the [separate] metro system’, Mr Scully said.”

Yet it’s not a union’s job to make up for the state government’s mismanagement and underfunding of NSW public transport. Unions are there to protect their members’ interests — their pay and work conditions. In doing so, unions help the rest of the community by preventing job cuts that would impact on services and safety. What the government really wants is fewer workers to work more for less pay — how this will improve public transport is never quite explained.

Because the state government is committed to not seriously investing in public infrastructure, business is supposed to ride in like a white knight and rescue both the government and the populace from their dilemma through PPPs. Business provides extra funding for the development of “public” services, in exchange for the right to make money off running them. But Business doesn’t just want the right to try and make money from public services, they want guarantees.

For both the cross-city tunnel project and the airport rail link, the state government was required to guarantee profits for the companies involved. In both cases the profits were less than expected. As a result, the state government was forced to pay damages to the aggrieved corporations. This hasn’t stopped business and government from presenting PPPs — which in the end amount to little more than corporate welfare — as a “silver bullet” for problems with public services.

The executive director of the NSW chamber of commerce, Patricia Forsyth, has made it clear how far business wants the government to go. On March 27, ABC Online reported that she was arguing for the NSW state government to sell off, or part-privatise some, if not all, of its “uncompetitive assets”. “Forests would be another area where there’s no justification to why you actually need a state forest. I think it’s time to have a look at the prison system. And I think it’s time to have another look at electricity generation.”

On September 11, Iemma said that the NSW government would consider “part privatisation” of the state’s electricity industry in order to fund a $7 billion upgrade to highways. Not only will this likely be a disaster for consumers when the corporate vultures flock in to do some price-gouging, but it is a potential eco-disaster — corporations are in it for the bucks, with the environment typically a distant priority (if at all).

In California, privatisation of the power industry led to increasing blackouts, brownouts and accelerating costs to consumers in 2003, as the power industry makes most of its money at times of peak demand or jumps in demand. This is because such jumps require the use of “peak” power sources that supplement the grid during times of high demand. Peak power stations are more expensive to run and allow power companies to charge thousands more per kilowatt hour. Therefore it is in the interest of private companies to artificially create such demand, either through powering-down baseload stations, or running the peak stations when it is unnecessary to do so. Notorious corporate criminal Enron made a great deal of its ill-gotten gains through such schemes.

Privatisation of the power industry will only deliver job cuts and insecurity for the workers in the industry, worse services for the community, and less ability for the government to address greenhouse gas pollution. The September 11 crash of the NSW carbon market shows the market can’t be trusted to deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions. Instead, the government must act now to directly fund an expansion of wind, solar and other renewables and phase-out reliance on coal.

Behind this government’s privatisation frenzy is adherence to neoliberalism — so-called “economic rationalism”. Instead of seeing the need to better fund public infrastructure, the government sees opportunities to throw capital a bone. There is a fundamental contradiction between the public services we need and corporations’ need to make a profit: The experience of the cross-city tunnel and the airport rail link show that privatisation doesn’t deliver for working people. The only ones that will be satisfied by this privatisation orgy will be big business.

[Kamala Emanuel is a Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance, and the alliance’s spokesperson on climate change. Peter Robson is a staff writer for Green Left Weekly.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #732 21 November 2007.

Bolivia—Coming to Terms with Diversity-interview with Bolivia's Vice President Álvaro García Linera by Laura Carlsen


Bolivia's Vice President Álvaro García Linera

Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP) americas.irc-online.org
(Abbreviated version available at http://americas.irc-online.org/am/4735.)

As head of Congress and the major political operator for President Evo Morales, Bolivia's Vice President Álvaro García Linera stands in the eye of a political hurricane. The changes proposed by the MAS government have unleashed protest from conservative sectors of society, leading to suspension of the Constituent Assembly called to revamp the nation's political institutions.

García Linera says the conflicts are to be expected, as Bolivian society takes on "the two conquests of equality"—political rights for indigenous peoples and economic equality through a redistribution of national wealth. He calls the Morales administration a "government of social movements" and describes the goals to build "institutions that allow us to recognize our pluralism" and "generate minimal levels of access to opportunities and resources."

LC: The government of Evo Morales came to power with the symbolic force of being the first indigenous president in the country, and has promised to address an historic backlog of demands for indigenous rights. But the government also faces the challenge of achieving some degree of unity to carry out deep transformations in society. In practice, how do you reconcile these two responsibilities?

AGL: The presence of the first indigenous president is without a doubt the most important symbolic break in the last centuries in Bolivia. Within our political culture, both indigenous and non-indigenous people had always had an image of indigenous people as second-class citizens, in a position of permanent subordination. President Morales in the presidency marks a radical transformation, politically speaking, in this country because it re-establishes a principle of equality that had been denied by colonial or neocolonial practices, and by the mentality and the customs of society.

Since Morales has been president, the range of options and opportunities open to members of society has been socialized, has evened up. If an indigenous person can be president, then why not diplomat, congressional representative, member of the constituent assembly, or minister or vice minister—all positions previously closed to the indigenous majority of the country.

But soon we saw that as political equality advanced, the challenge remained to expand this progress in political equality to other realms—notably, the economic realm in the form of a new redistribution of wealth. Not just because of the results of the elections, but because this was already on the agenda of grassroots mobilizations as a main demand coming from the most vulnerable sectors of Bolivian society.

So society was ready for, and needed, both these tasks to be taken on together: Political equality and recognition of equality for indigenous peoples, their culture, and their language; but also a redistribution of wealth to improve peoples' access to resources. And that's where the job of President Morales' government has gotten complicated.

LC: Why is that?

AGL: In other societies, political equality is not necessarily accompanied by an immediate effort to redistribute wealth. South Africa is a case in point: There was a huge battle for political equality and a slower process of redistribution, or economic equality. In the case of Bolivia, the two tasks had to be taken on simultaneously.

Modernity and the advance of the general process pushed the privileged sectors to accept political equality, but to accept redistribution of wealth is another matter. It generates more resistance from groups that are accustomed not only to holding positions of power but also to a form of allotment that earmarked public resources with their families' names on them.

This is the most difficult part of what we've taken on—the two conquests of equality. But the fact that there was already a democratic and redistributive agenda proposed by society since 2000 led to the need to assume both tasks simultaneously, with all the difficulties that you're seeing in these days and weeks—all predictable, of course.

LC: In this task where the government has to take measures that affect very powerful interests, how do you convince or obligate sectors with historic privileges to cede privileges in order to establish the new state and society?

AGL: Among the most privileged sectors, it requires—not "generosity," because in politics and economics that term doesn't exist—but a strategic viewpoint. This is not a movement that at any time seeks to annul privileges. This is a movement that seeks to generate minimal levels of access to opportunities and resources.

From a strategic point of view, the most privileged sectors would understand that the best way to preserve part of their privileges is to cede part of their privileges. But when they are not willing to cede a part of these privileges, what that does is generate a pressure that's more and more adverse to them, with the risk that it could affect all their privileges.

If you look at the program put forth by the poor in Bolivia, it doesn't propose socializing all wealth or property. What you find is the demand for opportunities, a demand to take part in the distribution of resources. I haven't seen anyone who's saying "We have to take all the land away from the hacendados (large landowners)." They say, "We want to have land too, we also have a right to have land." Same with natural resources, water, or oil. They're not saying "We want to expropriate oil and gas and kick all the foreign companies out" but rather, "We want to be included in the profits from these resources."

And in fact, the measures we've taken—such as the nationalization of hydrocarbons that didn't expropriate fixed assets but rather took back property and decision-making capacity over gas and petroleum—illustrate the strategy of society and the government. But there are privileged sectors that have a short-term perspective and resist this redistribution.

The key for privileged sectors resides in not looking to the future in one year, but in 10, 20, or 30, or 50 years. This strategic point of view is what could help this process of redistribution of wealth and lead to a coming together, but in a more balanced way and not with the scandalous distances in terms of property and money that we still see in Bolivia.

LC: Speaking of these sectors and their resistance, today with the problems facing the Constituent Assembly, there has been talk of a growing political and social polarization in the country.

Do you agree with this assessment of the present moment?

AGL: Ethnic, class, and regional differences in Bolivia are not recent; they didn't appear this year or even in the last five or 10 years. They cut across our entire history as a republic.

Don't forget that Bolivia emerges as a republic refusing to recognize the right of citizenship for the indigenous majority. And that refusal was only slightly modified just 50 years ago when indigenous persons were granted the right to vote.

Even then, what doesn't disappear are the privileges in terms of access to and control of the positions of political, economic, and cultural power that run the society. It's not the forms but rather the practices and habits of society that continue to impede indigenous people from reaching decision-making spheres, due to that kind of "glass ceiling" that feminists talk about.

The fact that today these issues are on the agenda of debate is nothing new. The novelty is that society for the first time is forced to look at itself in the mirror, and it has to see its limitations, its cracks, its weaknesses. Exclusion and confrontation have been recurrent themes throughout Bolivia's history—uprisings, massacres every 10, every 15 years. The idea is that what's been a fissure in society for over 190 years must finally be resolved now, based on a democratic pact of mutual recognition.

The same goes for regional divisions. Bolivia is born as a republic as the fruit of a very particular alliance of more than 100 mini-republics—regions with their own leaders, economies, symbols, and political practices, all very fragmented. The process of building national unity has been to this day a tortuous process, with many imbalances.

In fact, the governments of the 19 th century concentrated power, wealth, and privileges, where they established their control while leaving out the rest of the zones and regions.

It's no coincidence that by 1830 they were already talking about federalism. A hundred years ago there was a federalist proposal in the country that sought to redistribute political power among the regions. Again, it emerges as an historic fissure throughout the history of our republican life, and is never resolved. There was a federal civil war that ended up in the agreement to move the capital from Sucre to La Paz and after achieving that the next day they forgot about federalism. The regional elites of Santa Cruz have raised the flag of autonomy and decentralization since the 50s. When they came to power, they became centralists again, putting away their banners of autonomy and decentralization.

And now the issue comes up again—what we want is to have it resolved, not by pretending the problem had gone away like they did in the past, but to be resolved through an authentic territorial distribution of power, and not on a class basis.

Bolivia has been experiencing these ethnic, class, and regional tensions off and on throughout its history. The difference today is that in the past they were separated. An ethnic movement would arise and be "resolved" through massacres or bullets. Time would go by and the regional issue would come up and find some kind of half-way solution. A little while later, ethnic or class conflicts would emerge again.

Ethnic, cultural, and regional differences in our Bolivian society, today visible all at once, are not recent products. They are old wounds that have been present in our history and were never healed.

It's up to this generation—I'm not saying "this government," but this generation, this society—to resolve issues that couldn't be resolved in 182 years of political life as an independent republic. We have to resolve them, not by pretending the problem has gone away as leaders did in the past, but through an authentic territorial distribution of power, and not on a class basis. If we do, we will have resolved something that throughout our history couldn't be resolved by dictators or liberals or populists or caudillos.

At root, what you're seeing now is the real inner workings of society exposed. And you see the unhealed wounds, previously hidden behind bandages, and now we have to heal the three kinds of wounds at once.

There's no reason to become undone over these tensions because they're tensions that we've experienced before. Instead of worrying about these issues becoming visible, the concern would be if we did what past governments have done—just swept them under the rug.

Because this is the historic opportunity for society to finally come to terms with itself, to see a rebirth of our collective spirit based on who we really are—not the illusion of who we want to be, as the elites have always done before in this country.

Perhaps this is the big spiritual void that we Bolivians have had: that we never could be honest about who we are. We said we were a unified republic, when we weren't. We've wanted to be modern, but we're not. We've wanted to be homogenous, but we're not. What we are is diverse, with many local and regional identities, and we have to build an institutional structure for what Bolivia really is. And that is exactly what we want to do now.

LC: In the context of these divisions, do you still think it's feasible to agree on a new constitution with profound changes, or will it be necessary to accept minor reforms?

AGL: The Constituent Assembly is conceived of and was convoked to create an institutional order that corresponds to the reality of who we are. Up to now, each one of our 17 of 18 constitutions has just tried to copy the latest institutional fashion—French, U.S., European. And it was clear that it didn't fit us, because these institutions correspond to other societies. We are indigenous and non-indigenous, we are modern and traditional, we are liberal and communitarist, we are a profoundly diverse society regionally and a hybrid in terms of social classes. So we have to have institutions that allow us to recognize that pluralism.

This is the great challenge of the Constituent Assembly. And that's why we are confident, we are betting on its success, in spite of the difficulties, with this idea of expressing the real society and projecting that in institutional and normative terms for the coming decades.

LC: You have spoken of diversity not only in terms of the need to recognize it in a new form of institutionality but also as the guiding principle of a new social pact. Reading the newspapers these days, diversity would appear to be more a factor of division. How do you move toward this vision of strength through diversity?

AGL: We've always been divided. It's just that now we're seeing ourselves with all our divisions and tendencies. The illusion of a monolithic, cohesive unity has broken like a glass thrown to the ground. And it can never be put back together. We can't go back to living with illusions. The key for all the groups is to affirm their difference, but at the same time produce a will to unity—to an agreed-on unity, not an imposed unity, not an illusive or merely superficial unity.

Sure, at first it's scary as everyone begins to wake up to the fact that they are different from the other, and to assume that difference and not to hide it. That's the first step in building real unity.

The second step is, based on the affirmation of differences, to affirm what we have in common. Without a doubt, the indigenous and peasant movements that have led this process are the most lucid in taking these steps. To give you an example: it would be very easy for the indigenous and peasant movement to demand that each community, each culture, each nationality have the right to the control and ownership of natural resources. Even the United Nations declaration recognizes that right—to land, forests, gas, and oil.

But what you see is that, at the same time as they say "we are indigenous peoples, we are nationalities with our own culture," they are also objectively asserting unity when they say "we have to nationalize hydrocarbons"—in the sense of a collective "I" that is above the particular language, culture, or region. The proposal to nationalize gas and oil didn't come from intellectuals or from the middle classes. It came out of the social movements, mostly indigenous and peasant.

That's why you see the indigenous-peasant sector leading changes today. Not because it mobilizes more people, not because it stages the biggest, most militant demonstrations, but because it proposed with greatest clarity this idea of the collective "I."

It is in this dialectic—between the individual and the community, between the differences and the commonalities—where the country's future will be decided.

Not all sectors have this way of looking at things, especially the privileged sectors. Sometimes the press focuses the cameras on the differences. Then you see a country that appears to be on the verge of a breakdown because everybody wants to assert their own identities and differences at their moment. The sectors that demand difference as a historic right because they were never allowed the right to difference are simultaneously the ones that fight the hardest, the ones who have done the most, to build a real common "I." Not a fictitious one, not just symbols and rites, but in real actions: the constituent assembly, nationalization of hydrocarbons, redistribution of wealth.

LC: You mention the responsibility of social movements. Other progressive governments, brought to power by grassroots movements, have been criticized for subsequently demobilizing or sidelining those movements. How do you conceive the role of social movements in the Morales government?

AGL: We consider this to be a government of social movements. Even though that means there are tensions. Because government and state are by definition a process of centralization of decisions. And by definition a social movement is a process of socialization and collective diffusion of decision-making, of controls. What's interesting is to ride on that tension. That's the novelty of the process.

You'll ask: But do you back up this claim of being a government of social movements? How can this be demonstrated in objective, material, practical terms?

On four levels, from the most general to the most specific.

The most general: the program of changes and transformations in the government is, without a doubt, the program proposed by the social mobilizations over the last five, 10, 15 years. What the government of President Morales has done is simply to practically transcribe into decree or law what was collectively built up by society itself through social movements. Land, hydrocarbons, Constituent Assembly, the issue of autonomies, redistribution of wealth, process of industrialization, and so many things still pending—the big decisions of this government have been historically proposed over the past 10 years by the social movements.

The second level is that for the government's major decisions—all of them, without exception—we've consulted with the leadership of the different social movements. Not all the social movements, of course, but a good part of the most active social movements in the country. The issue of water, the law on agrarian reform with indigenous and peasant organizations, the issue of hydrocarbons with neighborhood assemblies in El Alto, mobilized workers, and so on. There isn't one important measure that isn't marked by a process of feedback and consultation with these sectors, because every one of these actions can only be sustained through mobilization of society, not through bureaucratic action.

Third, in the structure of the government, among its upper- and medium-level leaders you'll find the presence of a good part of the sectors' and movements' leadership. Whether as mayors, prefects (the provincial leadership), parliamentary representatives, constituent assemblypersons, ministers, there's a practical, physical presence of grassroots leadership in government.

To what degree they maintain their connection to their constituents is a different problem. To what degree they could become bureaucratized is definitely a risk. But if you watch the parliament on television or the assembly, you see an enormous presence of these sectors. This is something that was unthinkable five or 10 years ago, because these were positions reserved for certain families, for elites cultivated in foreign universities, with famous last names, and a tradition of being in politics.

In fourth place, because even if the social movement itself can't move into government administration, as a movement, the process of selection of government officials obligatorily passes not only through a criteria of merit but also through approval from social movements and organizations. Here it's equally valid to have a masters or doctorate from Harvard as to have links with the peasant federation. Yes, this can slow up certain areas of government efficiency but it's a sign of the times.

These are the four elements that show you a government of social movements. Does that mean that all social movements are in the government? No, there are other social movements that remain on the margins of government. But there's no doubt that the mobilizing nucleus of the last decades is what sustains this government.

LC: You and the president come from a background of participation in movements. What are the big surprises or unexpected challenges of coming to government?

AGL: There are so many.

There's clearly a leap between the logic of mobilization and protest, to the logic of administration. However, the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) as a coalition of social organizations has experienced a learning curve and transition from strictly making demands and being a union movement to increasingly becoming a revolutionary political entity. This started 10 years ago when the unions began to control local governments. The agrarian unions entered the mayorships and had to put to the test their demands with transparency. It's not a lot of time, many parties have to spend 30 years preparing for governing. In our case, there were 10 years of training—too fast.

But for better or worse, you have there a first period of gestation of political leaders who had to combine the discourse of mobilization with the ability to govern. These leaders that were trained since the 90s in local government, several of them are now in parliament or are even vice ministers. There has been a small training school, rapid, but training in this new logic.

It also has to do with the fact that this social movement matures very quickly since 2000, to go from confrontational strategies to proposing designs for the nation. It isn't usual, even in the history of Bolivia, to see this kind of political maturation. It means that increasingly in the process of mobilization and protest the issues that you enter into dialogue with the government on are no longer "how can I get something for my sector?" but "how can I change Bolivia?" The Constituent Assembly arose as a proposal since 2000-2001, recovery of control over of the hydrocarbon sector in 2003, a new law on land since 1999—there were already general guidelines developed for defining public goods.

When President Morales, colleagues, myself, arrive here we have to change part of the chip in our brains. What we decide to do is very clear: there are a lot of things we don't know and we have to learn, but there are a lot of things that we have to do. Because we came to act; we didn't come to administer government, we came to change it. So what do we decide? The first decision of President Morales was to leave the technical base of intermediate officials in all the ministries and institutions intact and just make changes on the level of ministers and vice ministers with political leaders.

Those were the months last year that we had problems—when public administration didn't work so well, there wasn't good implementation of the budget, there were contradictions between ministries. However, if we had tried to replace all the staff at once from the beginning and install pure political leaders, it would have been a catastrophe.

There have been difficulties that we've admitted publicly of course, but it still is remarkable what we've achieved with these decisions. Economic growth; modification of the economic structure of society; implementation, albeit gradual, of some things at the social level; and so many changes still pending.

For this reason, I believe it's a healthy process and full of vitality and has good possibilities of success.


Laura Carlsen (lcarlsen(a)ciponline.org) is director of the Americas Policy Program (www.americaspolicy.org) in Mexico City.

Friday, November 23, 2007

EIGHT REASONS TO VOTE SOCIALIST ALLIANCE


1. Tear up all of Work Choices

No to individual contracts
Yes to collective agreements in workplaces and across industries
The rights of casual and part time employees to be the same as for full-time workers
Defend the right to strike
For strong and democratic unions
Get rid of the Australian Building and Construction Commission

2. Stop the destruction of our planet

The Socialist Alliance supports 60% emissions reductions by 2020 and 90% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
Stop logging of old growth forest
Stop Gunns' pulp mill
No dredging of Port Phillip Bay
End the mining and processing of uranium and pull Australia out of the nuclear cycle
Implement an emergency program to phase out coal and rapidly make renewable energy the main source for the power grid
Bring all power industries under public ownership
Free and efficient public transport

3. Make poverty history, free health and education

Universal and free education and health systems
Medicare to cover optical and dental
More money for all levels of public education
No TAFE or university fees
A living wage for all carers, pensioners and unemployed

4. Fix the housing crisis

Stop the privatisation of public housing
Build new public housing to end the waiting list
Improve maintenance of public housing
End private rental profiteering
End repossession of homes due to increases in mortgage repayments

5. Bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan

Withdraw all foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Let the Iraqi and Afghan people determine their future
War spending to be redirected for social services and to assist poor countries
Free Palestine
No war on Iran
Self determination for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka
No to Australia's imperialist role in Asia and the Pacific


6. Defend Aboriginal rights

Solidarity with Indigenous peoples’ struggles
No government intervention in Aboriginal affairs (Northern Territory and elsewhere)
Land rights not land grabs
No more black deaths in custody
Justice for victims of police racism like Redfern’s T. J. Hickey and Palm Island’s Mulrunji

7. Scrap anti-terrorism laws

Stop attacks on Islamic and Middle Eastern communities
Restore civil liberties lost under anti-terrorism laws
Free all people presently held under ‘anti-terror’ laws, like David Hicks, the Goulburn 9 and the Barwon 13, and drop the charges against the 3 Tamil activists
Stop harassment of Mamdouh Habib, and provide compensation for his ordeal

8. End all discrimination

Equal pay for equal work irrespective of sex, age or race
Repeal all laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation
Support same-sex marriage and adoption rights
Expand maternity leave and legalise abortion
All refugees welcome to Australia and be given full citizenship rights
Close all dentention centres and build Refugee Help Centres for new arrivals

Authorised by Dick Nichols: 23 Abercrombie Street, Chippendale NSW 2008

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Media lies about Venezuela’s democratic revolution by Lauren Carroll Harris


The US-backed right-wing campaign to destabilise the democratic revolution in Venezuela, lead by socialist President Hugo Chavez, is escalating again. The upcoming December 2 referendum on proposed amendments to the constitution is prompting a new drive from US-backed capitalist elite to undermine the elected Chavez government. Crucially, the international corporate-owned media’s distortion of events is reaching new heights, with false allegations of government repression of opposition protesters a key component of the campaign to demonise Chavez and the process of change his government is leading.

Over the last two weeks, a former military and political ally of Chavez has defected to the opposition, student-led demonstrations against the constitutional reforms have turned into violent riots, and massive demonstrations, involving hundreds of thousands, have occurred in support of the proposed constitutional reforms.

A demonstration on November 4 in favour of the proposed constitutional changes attracted hundreds of thousands of people. Although peaceful and massive, it remained mostly ignored by the international media.

Three days later, a widely covered but relatively small student demonstration against the reforms ended in violence and gunfire. Over 120 pro-Chavez students and staff were trapped inside the social work building on the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), surrounded by a mob of oppositionists throwing rocks and tear gas grenades. Nine students were injured, one critically.

Confrontations between opposition students and police have continued since then, with a Reuters article that day reporting that opposition protesters opened fire on police, with four officers shot.

Chavez proposed the constitutional changes on August 15, arguing that the changes were necessary to bring about “21st Century socialism” and “to remove the old oligarchic, exploiter hegemony”. The changes have been widely debated in thousands of mass meetings across the country, with the outcome being an additional 36 proposed changes to the constitution — on top of Chavez’s initial 33 — being adopted by the National Assembly. The 69 proposed reforms, in different blocs, will be put to the referendum.

The current outbreak of conflict — driven by an elite terrified of losing more of its power and wealth through increasing moves towards socialism — is aimed at creating a false political crisis, and through this the conditions for counter-revolution.

Without a significant support base that can be mobilised after suffering a series of defeats, the opposition have failed to develop a comprehensive strategy to defeat the revolutionary movement led by Chavez — which has won 11 straight national electoral victories since 1998. The opposition has relied on a narrow layer of privileged students based on the old elite universities. (Under Chavez, free university education has been massively expanded to incorporate hundreds of thousands of the previously excluded poor, largely through the new Bolivarian University, with the government currently constructing 18 new universities.)

The traditional social base of the opposition in the middle class is being eroded not just by demoralisation caused by repeated defeats, but by economic changes that are benefiting that vast majority of Venezuelans, bolstering support for Chavez and undermining opposition.

According to a 2007 AC Nielson and Datos study on behalf of the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 97% of the population make up the three poorest (of six) income brackets, and all have experienced significant increases in income between 2004 and 2006 a result of pro-poor measures of the Chavez government. The poorest bracket makes up 58% of the population, and their income has increased 130% after being corrected for inflation. These gains don’t include the benefits associated with the Chavez government’s social missions, that have provided free health care, education, subsidised food, housing and other benefits.

Struggling for a way forward, opposition parties remain split over whether to vote “No” to the reforms, or to abstain from voting. Previous attempts at destabilisation have all failed — such as the April 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chavez but was defeated by a popular uprising.

An October 4 piece by opposition blogger Francisco Toro entitled “Who are we really?”, which was posted on Venezuelanalysis.com, revealed the dishonest methods used by the opposition have helped lead to repeated defeats. He reveals how the opposition use the private media, largely owned and controlled by anti-Chavez elites, as propaganda machines that provide distorted and selective information to present a false picture of the Venezuelan reality. The international media, taking its lead from Venezuela’s private media, repeat these distortions.

Toro points out the figures in the private media openly stated as far back as 2002 that they would abandon impartiality, which meant news would “no longer be judged by the normal standards of journalistic ethics. Questions of newsworthiness, impartiality, confirmability and public interest would be set aside” in favour of a new guide — will it assist in the goal of overthrowing Chavez? “Henceforth”, he wrote, “the media would serve as a trick mirror — reflecting only those parts of reality that it judged would further an ulterior end. That the image such a mirror produces is deeply distorted is tautological: in this context, the distortion is the point.”

“We were systematically deceived”, Toro said, arguing that all forces in the opposition, himself included, went along with this deception.

Toro argued this backfired on the opposition, because “all we did was fatally undermine our own ability to understand the society we live in”, leaving the opposition’s support base confused and demoralised by repeated defeats that could not be comprehended if you took pro-opposition media propaganda as good coin.

The coverage in the international media continues to follow this same pattern, with heavily distorted and outright false coverage of opposition student riots. The most dramatic was the November 7 UCV violence. According to eye-witnesses, the anti-government protesters were armed with tear gas and masked in balaclavas as they laid siege to the building containing trapped Chavistas. In response, officers from the Venezuelan Protection Unit entered the scene after one hour to release the hostages, with shots fired into the air by way of warning.

Yet, the Venezuelan and international corporate media reported that pro-Chavez supporters violently attacked their opponents, a lie repeated by US state department spokesperson Sean McCormack at a press conference on November 8. The Sydney Morning Herald, on November 9, ran the same picture that appeared in a number of international media outlets of an alleged Chavista pointing a gun at an alleged oppositionist — the identity of both having never been confirmed. The article reported that “opposition members have in the past accused pro-Chavez militants of being behind similar incidents”, something that Chavistas also claim about opposition supporters, although only the opposition claim was reported.

US-Venezuelan author Eva Golinger, author of The Chavez Code, which exposes the extent of US funding of the Venezuelan opposition, wrote on her blog () on November 7: “The Venezuelan government is doing everything in its power to allow [opposition] students to freely enjoy their rights to protest without permitting them to destabilise the country, create chaos, and place in danger the lives of citizens.” She points out that in the US, those responsible for similar acts of violence “would be jailed and subjected to severe repression. Venezuela, on the other hand, is overly permissive with these protests and despite the ample freedom enjoyed by all sectors in this country, the international media distorts the scenario and attempts to paint a portrayal of the Venezuelan government as repressive. Repressive is the US government, permissive is the Venezuelan.”

Many aspects of the proposed constitutional reform directly conflict with capitalist interests. Political power will be decentralised, with the institutions of popular, direct power, given formal recognition. Venezuela’s key natural resources will be protected against future privatisation. Venezuelans who work in the informal economy or are self-employed, most of whom currently have no benefits or guaranteed working conditions, will be ensured a pension, a retirement fund, holiday pay and maternity leave. Workers in the formal economy will have their working week reduced from 44 to 36 hours with the same pay. The impact is clear: the US-backed Venezuelan elites will lose power and wealth should the constitutional reforms be adopted.

The reforms are democratic and progressive in nature. For instance, the voting age will be lowered to 16 years, rights of gays and lesbians will be recognised (a first in South America) and the rights and culture of Afro-Venezuelans further protected.

Political participation of the people has been vital at every step of the reform process. The proposed reforms have been debated widely by the Venezuelan population — between August and October, over 9000 public meetings between National Assembly representatives and citizens were held to discuss the reforms. Workers’, women’s, students’ and other social groups were also consulted. Contrary to mainstream media representation, dissent to the reforms has not been repressed, rather, lively debate has been expressed in the media, in the National Assembly, the constituent assembly and in all aspects of society.

Even the aspects of the reform that the international media have misrepresented as an attack on democracy — for instance, the proposal to allow the reelection of a president for more than two terms (Australia, for its part, has unlimited prime ministerial terms) and the extension of terms from six to seven years — must be approved by the majority of Venezuelans at a referendum on December 2. Also in Venezuela any elected official, including the president, can be recalled before their term finishes if 20% of electors sign a petition calling for a new vote.

Venezuela is continuing along the course of profoundly democratic change it has been carrying out of the last few years, driven by and relying on the participation of the working people. It is becoming increasingly apparent that a major confrontation with powerful interests is inevitable, as the gains and intentions of the revolution and the interests of the US-backed capitalist class continue to clash. There is no possible convergence of democratic, rationally planned socialism, and the profits-first, neoliberal agenda of Venezuelan elite (to say nothing of significant US and European corporate interests in Venezuela).

“The people of Latin America have reached a level of maturity about the politics of the empire”, Venezuelanalysis.com quoted Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro as saying on November 9. “We have no doubt that, as the surveys show, a huge majority of Venezuelans will vote ‘yes’ on the reform.”


From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #732 21 November 2007.