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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Labor: Abolish all of Work Choices—now! Socialist Alliance

The ALP won the November 24 federal election because of the Your Rights at Work campaign against the Howard government’s hated Work Choices law.
But, while pledging to “tear-up” Work Choices, Labor’s actual proposals fall well
short of this promise.

Labor must fulfill its commitment to working people by abolishing all aspects of Work
Choices, and doing it now! Kevin Rudd and workplace relations minister Julia Gillard owe a big debt to the hundreds of thousands of working people who took to the streets over several years in opposition to Work Choices.

The time has come to repay that debt. What Labor’s ‘transitional legislation’ says On February 13, Julia Gillard introduced Labor’s first industrial relations bill: it was promoted as beginning the job of “dismantling” Work Choices. The Workplace
Relations Amendment Bill will stop bosses from making new Australian Workplace
Agreements (individual contracts), but falls well short of abolishing Work Choices.

The bill will stop bosses signing up workers to AWAs—but only from the date it is passed. Thousands of workers have already been put on AWAs since Labor’s election win.

Labor must backdate the abolition of AWAs –it has the power and the message would be clear to the bosses.Back date the abolition of AWAs to the date of the ALP’s election victory—November 24, 2007.

Labor’s IR legislation will replace AWAs with a new “transitional” AWA clone, the Interim Transitional Employment Agreement (ITEA) available to all bosses who have just one worker already on an AWA. It also doesn’t give individual workers the right to opt out of an existing AWA to take up an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) or the award.

Abolish all AWAs – no ITEAs! Allow workers to opt out of an AWA and move onto a union
negotiated agreement or the award.

Abolish all of Work Choices

The Rudd government is planning to leave the rest of Work Choices in place until it introduces its “new” IR system in 2010. This means two more years of these rotten laws! And Labor is certainly not planning to restore all rights lost under 11 years of Coalition rule, which began with the 1996 Workplace Relations Act.

Unfair dismissals stay: Rudd is not considering restoring access to unfair dismissal provisions for workers in smaller workplaces (with less than 100 employees) until 2010. And even then, Labor will not restore the pre-Work Choices system—but will introduce a “new” system, which will emphasise “conciliation” (with the bosses) and make compensation harder to win.

Workers’ right to organise crippled: The Ruddgovernment will also keep many of the
restrictions on unions’ activities introduced by Work Choices. Gillard is on record as saying that protests, like the magnificent Your Rights at Work demonstrations
would be illegal under a Labor government, while strikes would only be legal during the bargaining period for a new contract!

No award stripping: Labor has introduced a series of 10 minimum standards of employment. These minimum standards provide a very flimsy “safety net”. In the interests of greater “flexibility” and “productivity”, it is also mandating the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) to begin “award simplification”. That means stripping awards and forcing workers who want to keep basic conditions, to negotiate with bosses at an enterprise level to do so.

How to really tear up Work Choices

To “tear-up” Work Choices, Labor must:

1. Defend workers’ right to organise
Abolish the concept of “prohibited content” from EBAs. Unions must have the freedom to include any and all content in an EBA.

Abolish all restrictions on unions negotiating industry-wide (pattern) bargains.

Wages and conditions that can be won by strong workplaces must be
passed on to all.

Abolish the restrictions on union officials’ right of entry to workplaces.

Abolish the requirement for a secret ballot before strike action.

Abolish fines for workers and unions engaged in “unprotected” industrial action.

Defend the right to strike!

Abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission—no secret police in
the building industry.

2. Reinstate strong awards for all workers

Awards must include the protection of all penalty rates, loading rates and allowances, full wage indexation and protection of shift arrangements and

3. Prohibit state governments using Work Choices against public-sector workers

In November 2007 the Victorian Brumby Labor government used Work Choices laws to dock the pay of the state’s nurses, showing that Labor governments are
willing to use draconian laws against workers. It also intervened to try to force the nurses to stop their industrial action, even though it was “protected”.

No ministerial interference in industrial action and no use of Work Choices by Labor

Working people need a political alternative to Labor Working people in their millions marched, campaigned and, finally, voted for an end to Work Choices. Yet all
the newly elected Labor government seems willing to do is to tinker around the edges. Labor’s promised “new” system is no better than Work Choices “lite”

Working people need our own party, a party not funded and beholden to the big end of town, a party committed to guaranteeing workers’ rights. Socialist Alliance is committed to building such a party.

We have already made a start. If you agree with the need to abolish all of Work
Choices and to make the workplace fair for working people, you should join us.

Authorised by: Dick Nichols, 23 Abercrombie Street, Chippendale NSW 2008. Printed by: Socialist Alliance National, 23 Abercrombie Street NSW 2008

Rudd Supports Power Privatisation by John Tognolini

I'm not surprised by prime minister Kevin Rudd's support for the NSW government's plan to lease out power stations and sell all but the poles and wires assets of the state's power utilities worth $15 billion. "Premier Iemma has my complete support," he told journalists in Canberra.

Kevin Rudd did not say one word about privatisation of public assets in last November's federal election, nor did Morris Iemma in last March's state election.

Starting with Margaret Thatcher in the UK, we've seen over two decades of privatisation of basic services like energy, water and transport: the jury is now in. For the user, it means higher prices and less reliability, for the worker, less job security, for the environment, greater danger of pollution, but for the corporations, very, very fat and publicly guaranteed profits.

For us in the Blue Mountains how long would it take to get the power back on after storms with fewer workers and how much money would we pay?

Also as the Total Environment Centre and Nature Conservation Council have pointed out, public ownership of power is essential for developing renewable energy to challenge Climate Change. And Rudd was elected largely on workers' rights and Climate Change.

I've challenged state member Phil Koperberg and local ALP councilors to stand-by-side with the local community and publicly oppose their party leaders' sell off plans. After Rudd's support for privatisation I challenge federal member Bob Debus to do the same.

John Tognolini
Socialist Alliance candidate for Ward One Blue Mountains City Council

published in Blue Mountains Gazette 27-2-08

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Exxon Mobil has broken the record for the biggest profit in US corporate history for 3 years in a row (2005, 2006, and 2007). In fact, as far back as May of 2003, after the invasion of Iraq forced gasoline prices sky high, Exxon broke the record for the biggest quarterly profit ever made by a US corporation.

Exxon Mobil’s annual revenue surpasses the gross domestic product of all but the 25 wealthiest nations.

Exxon Mobil is the world’s largest privately owned oil company.

Before Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, when a popular government was elected, Venezuelan oil was sold to the highest bidder, with benefits from oil production mainly going to foreign companies and a few wealthy Venezuelan business leaders. Despite its huge corporate wealth, Exxon and other oil companies paid Venezuela royalties amounting to a just 1 percent of the value of extracted oil.

Since the Bolivarian Revolution, the Venezuelan government has decided that the people should share in the benefits of oil development. Oil profits have helped fund many new social programs, such as food subsides for 40 percent of the people; an educational system that provides services to almost half the population; and a health care system that is reaching millions of poor people. In fact, since 2002, the poverty rate has fallen from 54 percent to 38 percent. With health care and food subsidies taken into account, the rate is well below 30 percent.

Venezuela now consults indigenous and rural communities affected by new oil development and it requires steps be taken to repair environmental damage resulting from oil exploration—something Big Oil never did. Minimizing environmental damage and including affected communities in development decisions are two more reasons Venezuela insists Big Oil honor its oil sovereignty.


Exxon Mobil is insisting that the Venezuelan government adhere to old agreements from past governments that ignored citizen needs in favor of Big Oil companies. Now that the people of Venezuela are demanding their fair share, Exxon Mobil is saying, “No—we want it all!”

Venezuela adopted a new Hydrocarbons Law in 2001, ratifying Venezuela’s sovereignty over its natural resources. In July of 2007, the Venezuelan government invited companies operating in the Orinoco Oil Belt to negotiate a smooth turnover of majority control to PDVSA. Chevron, BP, Total, ENI, Sinopec, and Statoil all cooperated with the handover, while Conoco Phillips and Exxon Mobil refused. Existing contracts provided for Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips to take the matter to international arbitration. While Conoco Phillips continues to participate in that process, Exxon Mobil has decided to pursue coercive and aggressive court actions, freezing PDVSA’s assets.

Whether in Venezuela, Iraq, or elsewhere, Exxon Mobil doesn’t want people’s needs or national sovereignty to get in the way of profits. For example, the US government is urging passage of an Iraqi Oil Law that would turn over 66 to 75 percent control of Iraqi oil fields to Exxon Mobil and the other biggest oil companies. Recent polls show that two thirds of all Iraqis oppose the oil law. In this regard, US government and Exxon policies are the same toward both countries--take what you can and don’t let anyone or anything—not even democracy—stand in the way!


The people of Venezuela and Iraq both want to have the ultimate say about oil development in their nations. The Bush Administration’s and the US government answer to Iraq have been to choose war and occupation over justice and the popular will. Their answer to Venezuela has been to try to isolate the country internationally, to illegally fund electoral campaigns there, and to fund coup attempts, like the failed coup against the Venezuelan government in April, 2002.

Exxon Mobil CEO, Rex Tillerson was a major donor to the Bush-Cheney campaigns and to candidates that support administration policies toward both Iraq and Venezuela.

By maneuvering to freeze PDVSA’s assets, Exxon Mobil is effectively joining in US government efforts to once more try and destabilize Venezuela’s elected government.


“Never again will they rob us—the Exxon Mobil bandits. They are imperial, American bandits, white-collared thieves. They turn governments corrupt, they oust governments. They supported the invasion of Iraq.”

For more information: Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network
Read/download this useful information sheet.

Power to the People! Keep energy public! by Dick Nichols

The fight to keep New South Wales electricity in public hands can and must be won. If NSW Premier Morris Iemma and treasurer Michael Costa get away with their plan to sell off the state’s electricity generation capacity and its retail arms, working people and the community will get a dearer, less reliable service and the chances of the state moving to a sustainable energy policy will be reduced to zero.

Polls show up to 86% of NSW residents oppose the sell-off. If public opinion truly determined what governments do, electricity privatisation would never have reappeared on the NSW political agenda. But privatisation is there because corporate NSW and its political mates, state and federal, want it.

A huge battle is underway. The movement opposed to the sell-off would be making a big mistake if it underestimated the strength and determination of the pro-privatisation forces.

Business and political heavyweights, Liberal and Labor, have rushed to support their new champion, Costa. The NSW Business Chamber set the tone on February 8, when its CEO Kevin MacDonald declared: “The treasurer is doing the right thing for NSW — and business is backing Michael Costa 100% … If this issue is defeated because of trade union opposition — it will be game, set and match for business confidence in this government … If privatisation is abandoned, the question will correctly be asked, ‘Who is running NSW — the trade unions or the democratically elected government?’”

Costa has won bipartisan support from past heroes of privatisation like former premiers Jeff Kennett, Bob Carr, Nick Greiner and Steve Bracks. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, federal treasurer Wayne Swan and federal energy and resources minister Martin Ferguson have also weighed in behind Costa.

But in this pro-privatisation chorus one voice is strangely silent — the NSW Liberal and National opposition. In the past, Coalition leader Barry O’Farrell has expressed support for the privatisation of the state’s electricity retail arms, but he is mute as a church mouse in today’s war of words.

The parliamentary opposition is on a hiding to nothing. If O’Farrell supports Iemma and Costa — as NSW business is strongly urging him to — he will be seen as a bit-part actor on Costa’s stage, whichever side wins the fight. If he opposes the privatisation, the opposition will lose credibility with business for its political expediency but without any opponents of privatisation believing that the Coalition has really changed its spots.

O’Farrell’s silence is the direct result of the growing movement against the sell-off. A strong expression was a February 16 meeting of rank-and-file ALP members in Sydney’s Trades Hall auditorium, which adopted two resolutions. One opposed the sell-off in any form and the second called on “our ALP parliamentary representatives to stand up and be counted in Caucus, State Conference and other party forums against the privatisation of electricity”.

The meeting heard from a range of speakers, including Mark Byrne (Public Interest Advocacy centre), Bob Walker (accounting professor at Sydney University and former adviser to the Carr government), Doug Cameron (senator-elect and former national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union) and union leaders Bernie O’Riordan (Electrical Trades Union), Steve Turner (assistant secretary, Public Service Association) and Joan Dawson (assistant secretary, Newcastle Trades and Labour Council).

Walker flayed “Costanomics” as a “form of voodoo”, remarking that “doctors bury their mistakes and treasurers sell theirs”; O’Riordan pointed to the tariff increases in the recently privatised Queensland electricity industry; Turner explained that only in Queensland had private owners invested in increasing 24-hour-a-day (“base load”) generating capacity; and Dawson detailed the ALP rank-and-file revolt in the Hunter Valley.

Cameron described Costa as “trying to sell the family silver through Cash Converters”, according to an Ozleft.wordpress.com report.

In Wollongong on February 19 a 100-strong meeting heard speakers that included South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris, Greens MLC John Kaye and United Services Union Integral Energy delegate Mick Nemowski. In all three talks there was great stress on job losses and the impact on communities centred around power stations.

The five South Coast MLAs (all Labor), who had been invited to the meeting, gave their apologies — to hearty booing from the audience. Rorris and Kaye both emphasised that dealing with the environmental crisis required public ownership of power. The meeting resolved to mobilise the Illawarra community for the February 26 Sydney rally against electricity privatisation and to set up a Power to the People campaign group, following the example of the Hunter Valley, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains.

The movement against the privatisation of NSW electricity is broad and growing, bringing together rank-and-file ALPers, Greens, the Socialist Alliance and other socialists, church and community leaders and many “ordinary” people.

They are all outraged that an asset that forms such an important part of the state’s infrastructure is to be handed over to the profit motive, without even the pretence of consulting public opinion.

The February 26 protest outside NSW parliament house will be the next step in building the movement, but it must be followed up by grassroots organising across the state, in unions and community organisations. Any industrial action by power industry unions must receive full support.

In that way the movement can make power privatisation (and, as a by-product, Michael Costa) history.

[Dick Nichols is the national coordinator of the Socialist Alliance ().]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #741 27 February 2008.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Election Madness by Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

There’s a man in Florida who has been writing to me for years (ten pages, handwritten) though I’ve never met him. He tells me the kinds of jobs he has held-security guard, repairman, etc. He has worked all kinds of shifts, night and day, to barely keep his family going. His letters to me have always been angry, railing against our capitalist system for its failure to assure “life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness” for working people.

Just today, a letter came. To my relief it was not handwritten because he is now using e-mail: “Well, I’m writing to you today because there is a wretched situation in this country that I cannot abide and must say something about. I am so enraged about this mortgage crisis. That the majority of Americans must live their lives in perpetual debt, and so many are sinking beneath the load, has me so steamed. Damn, that makes me so mad, I can’t tell you. . . . I did a security guard job today that involved watching over a house that had been foreclosed on and was up for auction. They held an open house, and I was there to watch over the place during this event. There were three of the guards doing the same thing in three other homes in this same community. I was sitting there during the quiet moments and wondering about who those people were who had been evicted and where they were now.”

On the same day I received this letter, there was a front-page story in the Boston Globe, with the headline “Thousands in Mass. Foreclosed on in ‘07.”

The subhead was “7,563 homes were seized, nearly 3 times the ‘06 rate.”

A few nights before, CBS television reported that 750,000 people with disabilities have been waiting for years for their Social Security benefits because the system is underfunded and there are not enough personnel to handle all the requests, even desperate ones.

Stories like these may be reported in the media, but they are gone in a flash. What’s not gone, what occupies the press day after day, impossible to ignore, is the election frenzy.

This seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. It is a multiple choice test so narrow, so specious, that no self-respecting teacher would give it to students.

And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. We are all vulnerable.

Is it possible to get together with friends these days and avoid the subject of the Presidential elections?

The very people who should know better, having criticized the hold of the media on the national mind, find themselves transfixed by the press, glued to the television set, as the candidates preen and smile and bring forth a shower of clichés with a solemnity appropriate for epic poetry.

Even in the so-called left periodicals, we must admit there is an exorbitant amount of attention given to minutely examining the major candidates. An occasional bone is thrown to the minor candidates, though everyone knows our marvelous democratic political system won’t allow them in.

No, I’m not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death.

I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes-the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.

But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.

Let’s remember that even when there is a “better” candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.

The unprecedented policies of the New Deal-Social Security, unemployment insurance, job creation, minimum wage, subsidized housing-were not simply the result of FDR’s progressivism. The Roosevelt Administration, coming into office, faced a nation in turmoil. The last year of the Hoover Administration had experienced the rebellion of the Bonus Army-thousands of veterans of the First World War descending on Washington to demand help from Congress as their families were going hungry. There were disturbances of the unemployed in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, New York, Seattle.

In 1934, early in the Roosevelt Presidency, strikes broke out all over the country, including a general strike in Minneapolis, a general strike in San Francisco, hundreds of thousands on strike in the textile mills of the South. Unemployed councils formed all over the country. Desperate people were taking action on their own, defying the police to put back the furniture of evicted tenants, and creating self-help organizations with hundreds of thousands of members.

Without a national crisis-economic destitution and rebellion-it is not likely the Roosevelt Administration would have instituted the bold reforms that it did.

Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. The two leading Presidential candidates have made it clear that if elected, they will not bring an immediate end to the Iraq War, or institute a system of free health care for all.

They offer no radical change from the status quo.

They do not propose what the present desperation of people cries out for: a government guarantee of jobs to everyone who needs one, a minimum income for every household, housing relief to everyone who faces eviction or foreclosure.

They do not suggest the deep cuts in the military budget or the radical changes in the tax system that would free billions, even trillions, for social programs to transform the way we live.

None of this should surprise us. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties. We should not expect that a victory at the ballot box in November will even begin to budge the nation from its twin fundamental illnesses: capitalist greed and militarism.

So we need to free ourselves from the election madness engulfing the entire society, including the left.

Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct action against the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For instance, the mortgage foreclosures that are driving millions from their homes-they should remind us of a similar situation after the Revolutionary War, when small farmers, many of them war veterans (like so many of our homeless today), could not afford to pay their taxes and were threatened with the loss of the land, their homes. They gathered by the thousands around courthouses and refused to allow the auctions to take place.

The evictions today of people who cannot pay their rents should remind us of what people did in the Thirties when they organized and put the belongings of the evicted families back in their apartments, in defiance of the authorities.

Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war.
Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.

Howard Zinn is the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” “Voices of a People’s History” (with Anthony Arnove), and most recently, “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.”

Published on Sunday, February 24, 2008 by The Progressive
from http://www.commondreams.org/

Naomi Kiline's Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

I thought Stu Harrison’s review of Naomi Kline’s new book, The Shock Doctrine, The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #739 13 February 2008. was great, but I think it was far too brief for such a major work and I disagree with him when he wrote, “A must for all economics students and those that are yet to grasp the devastating nature of capitalism.”

Kline’s Shock Doctrine illustrates to me what Karl Marx said — that the highest form of economics is politics. Kline has written an enormous political work that is a must for any socialist, unionist, environmentalist, human rights activist, solidarity activist, and anyone who gives a thought about any concept of justice and humanity’s survival on this planet.

It is in the league of other major political works such as John Pilger’s New Rulers of The World and A Secret Country, Noam Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions and Hegemony or Survival: America’s quest for global dominance and Tariq Ali’s Clash of Fundamentalisms, Bush in Babylon and Pirates of the Caribbean — Axis of Hope.

Kline spent three years researching and writing this book and has 400 footnotes to back up everything she writes, exposing the ruthless and inhumane nature of Milton Friedman’s Chicago school of economic policies that is the ruthless capitalist mantra of privatise, deregulate, cut government services and destroy unions.

I would also encourage people to go on the Facebook group, Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein — ready to discuss it, where I’ve posted Harrison’s review and http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine. I look forward to seeing the film Shock Doctrine, by Alfonso Cuaron and Naomi Klein, directed by Jonas Cuaron.

John Tognolini Katoomba, NSW

Sunday, February 24, 2008

East Timor: More Australian troops sent after shootout Tony Iltis

East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta was rushed to Darwin to undergo emergency surgery after being shot three times in a February 11 attack on his residence by armed rebels. The apparent leader of the assailants, Major Alfredo Reinado, was killed in the incident.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who escaped without injury when his car was riddled with bullets in a simultaneous attack, declared a state of emergency in response. Australian PM Kevin Rudd, responding to a call from Gusmao, increased the strength of the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) that has occupied East Timor since 2006, dispatching an additional 270 soldiers and federal police and sending the HMAS Perth to Timorese waters.

This brings the number of Australian military and paramilitary in East Timor to over 1100. Speaking on ABC radio on February 15, Rudd would not rule out sending more troops. Gusmao described the attacks as a coup attempt, a claim echoed by most of the media coverage. However other theories, such as a bungled kidnapping, have also been advanced.

ABC Radio Australia reported on February 14 that at Reinado’s supporters were claiming that he had not tried to kill Ramos Horta, but had been set up. However, Reinado’s own statements, particularly in 2 DVDs he released, suggested he nurtured a strong sense of having been betrayed by Gusmao and Ramos Horta, and revenge would seem the most likely explanation for the attempted assassinations.

If this is the case, the shootings can be understood as blowback from the murky conspiracies that surrounded the overthrow of former Fretilin PM Mari Alkatiri in 2006. Australia welcomed this overthrow, wishing to see a government more amenable to Australian corporate control of East Timor’s maritime hydrocarbon resources. Reinado, an officer in the military police, was trained at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

In May 2006 he led a mutiny of about 600 soldiers and police who claimed that they were being discriminated against by the Alkatiri government. This led to fighting between different factions within the security forces and between rival street gangs. Gusmao, who was then president, called for Australian military support to restore stability — a call subsequently supported by other government figures including Alkatiri. However, the arrival of the ISF failed to stop arson attacks from increasing, eventually leaving over 150,000 people homeless, many of whom are still living as “internally displaced persons” in camps.

The violence cost an estimated 37 lives. While the majority of victims of the violence were Fretilin supporters, Gusmao and Ramos Horta, who was then foreign minister, expressed sympathy for the “petitioners”, as Reinado’s mutineers became known, and put the blame for the violence on Alkatiri, whose resignation they called for. Australian government leaders, including then-PM John Howard, joined the call for Alkatiri’s resignation after the screening of a documentary on the ABC’s Four Corners in July 2006 that accused Alkatiri of establishing a death squad to assassinate his opponents, including Reinado.

Alkatiri resigned, but was later exonerated of the allegations by a UN enquiry. He was replaced as Prime Minister by Ramos Horta. In May 2007, Ramos Horta won presidential elections. In parliamentary elections in July, while Fretilin won the largest number of seats of any party, they failed to get an overall majority and Gusmao became Prime Minister of a coalition of non-Fretilin parties. In both polls, Fretilin complained of hostile interference by Australian ISF troops.

By the time of the presidential elections, Reinado and the “petitioners” were waging a low-level guerilla struggle in the mountains of Same district. It was at this point that the first of his DVDs started circulating, in which he claimed that Ramos Horta and Gusmao had promised him high office in a post-Alkatiri government. Following a May 4 clash with the Australian SAS, which left 5 “petitioners” dead, Ramos Horta called for an end to military operations against Reinado. The Australian forces meticulously observed this right up until the shooting of Ramos Horta.

A week before the assasination attempts an Australian patrol had stumbled across Reinado, but backed away after the latter’s troops fired warning shots. In reality, Reinado’s chance at a cabinet position was probably lost when he was arrested by Portuguese police on charges of murder on July 27, 2006. While the Portuguese police are under UN command, the legal status of the ISF is dubious, with it not being under a UN mandate or having its status regulated by any act of the Timorese parliament.

Father Frank Brennan, former director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in East Timor, wrote in the December 12 Eureka Street: “There is a growing perception among local critics of the Timor government that the Australian troops are the personal troops of the President, given their presence without full constitutional mandate and their ready response to Horta’s arbitrary command, which showed little respect for the traditional separation of powers between the Executive and the judiciary.”

It was Australian ISF troops who were “guarding” Reinado and his supporters when they walked out of jail a month after their arrest, and took to the hills with weapons. Nonetheless, it was not politically expedient to allow a rebel charged with murder by the UN a position in the government. While Gusmao and Ramos Horta attempted to placate Reinado by allowing him to remain free, it is possible they underestimated his bitterness at being denied what he alleges he was promised.

In his second DVD, which began circulating about a month before the fatal shootout, Reinado directly implicated Gusmao in the 2006 mutiny, stating: “He (Gusmao) calls us bad people, but it was he who created us … He is the author of the petition. He was behind all of this. Now as a Prime Minister, he has changed his tune and is washing his hands. He has turned against us, those who were ordered and created by him.

It was with his support that the petition emerged in the first place … I give my testimony as a witness, that Xanana is the main author of this crisis; he cannot lie or deny this.” While the DVD circulated widely in East Timor, it was banned from the government television station TVTL. It was barely reported in the Australian or international media. For whatever reason, it appears that Reinado decided to seek his revenge in a more direct manner, costing him his life.

Increasing Australia’s military presence cannot increase stability in East Timor. Rather than a force for stability, the ISF has been a participant in fomenting violence and instability. The partisan and unaccountable nature of the ISF has made it a tool for political leverage. While in opposition, Rudd had argued that Australian forces in East Timor should be under UN command. Unfortunately, his decision to boost the unaccountable ISF suggests he intends to continue the previous government’s policy.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #740 20 February 2008.

Why Cuba Will Never Go Back, Watching the US Presidential Campaign from Havana By FIDEL CASTRO

That Tuesday there was no fresh international news. The modest message I wrote to the Cuban people on Monday, February 18, was widely and easily disseminated. As from 11 o'clock in the morning I started to receive concrete news. The previous night I had slept like never before. I had a clear conscience and I had promised myself a vacation. The days of tension, awaiting the proximity of February 24, had left me exhausted.

Today I will not say a single word about persons very dear to me in Cuba and in the world who in many different ways expressed their emotions. I also received a great number of opinions collected in the streets through reliable methods, which almost without exception and in a very spontaneous way conveyed the deepest feelings of solidarity. Someday I shall discuss that issue.
Right now I am focusing on the adversary. I enjoyed watching the embarrassment of every United States presidential candidate. One by one they all felt compelled to exact urgent demands from Cuba to avoid the risk of losing a single vote. Anyone could have thought that I was a Pulitzer Prize winner interviewing them on very sensitive political and even personal issues for the CNN from Las Vegas, a place where the logics of the games of chance prevails, and that should be humbly visited by anyone running for President.

Fifty years of blockade seemed too little to the favorites. Change! Change! Change! They all cried in unison.

I agree. Change! But, inside the United States. Cuba changed long ago and will now follow a dialectical path.

We will never go back to the past! Cries our people.

Annexation! Annexation! Annexation! Responds the adversary. That is what it really means when it speaks about change.

José Martí, unveiling the secret of his silent struggle, denounced the voracious and expansionistic empire that his brilliant intelligence had discovered and described more than one century after the enactment of the revolutionary Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies.

The end of a historical period is not the same as the beginning of the end of an unsustainable system.

All of a sudden, the weakened European powers, allied to that system, are exacting the same demands. In their opinion, the time has come to dance to the music of democracy and freedom, which since the times of Torquemada, they never really knew.

The colonization and neo-colonization of entire continents, from which they get energy, raw materials, and cheap labor, are a moral discredit to them.

An illustrious Spanish personality, once an impeccable socialist and minister of Culture, who for some time now and even today has been advocating for the war and the use of weapons, is the synthesis of sheer nonsense. Kosovo and its unilateral declaration of independence are now hunting them as an impertinent nightmare.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, men of flesh and blood wearing the United States and NATO uniforms continue to die. The memories of the USSR, which disintegrated in part because of the interventionist adventure in Afghanistan, are chasing the Europeans like a shadow.

Bush senior endorses McCain as his candidate, while Bush junior declares in some country of Africa -where man originated yesterday and which is a martyr continent today- where no one knows what he was doing, that my message was the beginning of the road towards freedom in Cuba, that is to say, the annexation decreed by his government in a huge and thick text.
The day before, TV networks from all over the world showed a group of state-of-the-art bombers performing spectacular maneuvers, giving full guarantees that any bombs could be launched, that the aircraft that carried them will not be detected by radars, and that this will not be considered a war crime.

A protest raised by some important countries had to do with the imperial idea of testing a new weapon under the pretext of avoiding the possible fall on the territory of a foreign country of a spy satellite, one of the many artifacts that the United States has put into the planet orbit for military purposes.

I had thought not to write a reflection at least in 10 days, but I had no right to remain silent for so long. We need to open ideological fire against them.

I wrote this on Tuesday at 3:35 pm. Yesterday, I reviewed it and I will deliver it today, Thursday, in the afternoon. I have begged that my reflections be published on the second page or any other of our newspapers, never on the front page, and that brief summaries of them should be published in other media in case they are long.

I am now fully devoted to the effort of casting my full-slate vote in support of the Presidency of the National Assembly and the new State Council, as well as on the right way to do it.
I thank all readers for having waited so patiently.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Venezuela: Socialists discuss struggle for revolutionary party by Federico Fuentes, Caracas

Since January 12, more than 1600 delegates to the founding congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — along with thousands of local socialist battalions (branches — have been discussing the new party’s program, principles and statutes, and in large part the future of the Bolivarian revolution.

The PSUV was initiated by President Hugo Chavez following his reelection in December 2006 in order to unite the many groups and individuals who back the revolution. Chavez spoke of the need to unite militants from the grassroots in a democratic mass party in order to overcome the problems of opportunism and bureaucracy that have developed within the revolution, hindering its advance.

Since January 12, more than 1600 delegates to the founding congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) — along with thousands of local socialist battalions (branches — have been discussing the new party’s program, principles and statutes, and in large part the future of the Bolivarian revolution.

The PSUV was initiated by President Hugo Chavez following his reelection in December 2006 in order to unite the many groups and individuals who back the revolution. Chavez spoke of the need to unite militants from the grassroots in a democratic mass party in order to overcome the problems of opportunism and bureaucracy that have developed within the revolution, hindering its advance.

Federico Fuentes, a member of the Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau, has interviewed a number of elected spokespeople from local battalions and delegates to the congress. Many have come from previously existing revolutionary parties and have now thrown their weight behind constructing the PSUV, forming left currents to wage a struggle against more right-wing forces seeking to transform the new party into an instrument of bureaucratic and opportunist sectors.

One such current is the Assembly of Socialists (AS), which brought together more than 20 revolutionary organisations in November 2006 as a step towards a united party. AS became a current inside the PSUV after Chavez announced its formation. Another current is Socialist Wave, formed by activists from a Trotskyist background previously involved in the Party of Revolution and Socialism, which had a strong base in the National Workers Union (UNT). Below are some extracts from interviews with a range of these activists. The full interviews will soon be available on the site of e-journal Links, http://links.org.au/
@question = What is the importance of this founding congress of the PSUV for the future of the revolution?
Ana Elisa Osorio, battalion spokesperson, AS — The revolution needs a party, a united party, a party that brings together revolutionaries, that outlines the principles of the Bolivarian revolution and marks out a program towards socialism … towards a confrontation, an offensive against imperialism … a party that can convert itself into a dynamic axis of ideological debate and formation.
Gabriel Gil, president of CatiaTV, AS — The importance of the founding congress has to do with the fact that we are going to have a democratic party, which has already declared itself socialist. Its importance lies in the fact that it unifies not only a great part of the left parties that previously existed, but has also incorporated many individuals actively into the ranks of the party, in a situation where a strong anti-party culture existed.
This culture exists around the world, and in Venezuela was very strong. But now the idea that you need a political party that can truly lead and organise the revolutionary process is being revived.
Sergio Sanchez, alternative congress delegate, AS — This is the founding congress of a mass party, which is very important. I think that Chavez has taught those of us on the left a lesson: the left has always had the policy of a “cadre party” — we here in the Assembly of Socialists think it is a trap.
It is not a choice between a cadre party or a mass party, rather it should be a party of millions of cadre — the people make the revolution and we need people to be involved politically in revolutionary activity.
Gonzalo Gomez, congress delegate, Socialist Wave — The congress is a step forward in structuring a political force closely tied to this revolutionary process — renovating it, allowing the coming together of the different tendencies, currents and forces within the revolutionary process. To have this united framework is a grand conquest.
@question = But can the PSUV be a useful vehicle given the number of problems we have heard about?

Gil — There are many opportunist and right-wing tendencies that will continue to try to control the party. I think one of the things we have to do is organise ourselves to prevent the party from being kidnapped and ensure it remains a democratic party.
Generally, the democratic structures and debate have been maintained. Our proposal is to defend and deepen the structures for debate and participation. I think that the people are participating [in the PSUV] and we have to be present, working with them.

Gomez — There is a process that has opened up valuable democratic space, although with methodological vices, problems and dangers. But there is a discussion among the grassroots.
The fact that we are discussing the principles, program and statutes of the party — that we can put forward positions about the way in which we should elect our leadership and select candidates for elections — is very important.

Osorio — I view it with a lot of expectations, with hope. That’s not to say that I agree with everything that is occurring, but I think that the party will be cleansed through the course of the ideological debate and it will be strengthened — above all by strengthening a current within the PSUV that is truly socialist.
We believe that we have to be inside the party. We need to continue working towards the unity of the left, but [also realise] the party we have is an expression of the reality of the Venezuelan people — it is an expression of the Venezuelan reality.

Sanchez — In the battalion in the barrio where I live, I remember in the first meetings people would come to blows over silly things — that someone looked at them in a funny way, that she did such and such. The level of experience of political organisation is very, very low.
Creating a party culture will take some years. Any sector of the left that thinks the socialist revolution is around the corner is mistaken, because the people still lack a lot of experience in political organising.
@question = What do you think will be the key debate at the congress?

Gil — The fundamental point is the program, more so even than internal elections because one of the things we need is a collective leadership, and to accomplish this it is fundamental that we have [a good] program. It is not about having 13 learned people sitting next to Chavez, not knowing what they think. We need to have everyone, including the 2 million [PSUV] militants, together with Chavez, united behind a single program discussing the way forward. Those who veer away from the program will be seen as being outside the party line, and outside the party.
Of course there is also the issue of the organisational structures — that it remain democratic, and the people that who are elected to leadership bodies be those who are the most in tune with that program.

Sanchez — I have been receiving reports from the congress and they were saying that “Hell, the Marxist-Leninist sector in the PSUV have expressed themselves with a lot of force!” It is in a disorganised manner but this sector has control of the discourse at the congress, and the right is disorganised and don’t know what to.

The problem is that the [left] is disorganised [as well]. The left hasn’t made any written proposals. For instance, the left hasn’t evaluated the statutes. So because they don’t have a proposal, everything is left a bit in the air.
For me, the issue is not whether the ideas of the left prevail at this congress, but if we have the capacity of controlling the organisational aspects. This can occur only if the left converts itself into a current.
Gomez — One of the fundamental points put forward, but not taken up in a fully satisfactory way but in a partial manner, is the methodology of the congress. The directives for the congress come from [the support commission, and before that the technical commission, appointed by Chavez]. But it turns out that the PSUV has been adopting structures such as battalions, circumscriptions, with spokespeople, delegates, etc.
This commission, which is not made up of delegates, should have been transferring control over the congress — and the process of construction of the party — to the body of delegates, without this implying the marginalisation of the members of these commissions.
What is occurring is that we have been discussing some documents, in a rushed manner, that have not been discussed in the grassroots [as is supposed to occur]. It is not clear what mechanisms will be used to give them a final form, so that they the final documents truly emerge from the discussions in the grassroots and not from these types of commissions.
@question = What is the weight of the left within the PSUV?

Gomez — There is a very important layer of delegates strongly tied to the social and popular movements, in tune with the grassroots. It is a critical sector, a sector that appears to be very firm in confronting corruption and bureaucratism.

This sector proposes that PSUV commissions be formed to revise the situation among high-level state functionaries, governors, mayors etc, in order to ensure that no one who has been corrupt or is implicated in violations of human rights be allowed in its ranks.

Carlos Luis Rivero, battalion spokesperson, AS — There are a number of sectors inside the PSUV that are fighting for more profound changes and for the PSUV to be the expression of vast sectors of the people and not the expression of the cliques that have formed within the Venezuelan process.

There is a debate and that is positive. In this debate I think the correlation of forces is on the side of those fighting to deepen the revolutionary process. However, these positions could be defeated rapidly because of the lack of organisation. But all this is part of the debate, and part of the weakness of the actual process.

We cannot simply decree our strength and decree the organisation of the people. We are trying to take steps forward, and the AS is an effort in that direction in the PSUV.
From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #740 20 February 2008.

Apology is a start — now for justice! The thoughts of Five Indigenous activists in the Socialist Alliance

Five Indigenous activists in the Socialist Alliance share their responses to the Australian parliament’s apology to the Stolen Generations on February 13. All five attended the protest against the racist intervention into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, held on the eve of the apology.

Lara Pullin, ACT
“The intervention has to go. Sorry means nothing without an end to the NT intervention. “Other governments around the world are using the Australian intervention as a model of how to attack their Indigenous people.

“People are not going to accept just “sorry”. They want a sorry that means something, a sorry that includes the “c” word that nobody seems to be able to get out, a sorry that does not divide people. We are not going to be divided like that.”

Natasha Moore, Perth

“I think it is a start. By apologisng [Kevin Rudd] is acknowledging and recognising the Indigenous people as the first people on this land.

I think it will be part of a healing process so other Australians and Aboriginal people can come together and form alliances and partnerships on issues facing communities in the various cities around Australia.

“I think it is just a stepping stone to getting more Indigenous issues addressed.

“For the Stolen Generations, I feel for them. It has been a long time coming and governments have not acknowledged them as being stolen from their families and placed in institutions or foster homes. For them it is very important for those words to be said by our government, but I also think it is only the start of a much bigger process that needs to happen.”

Sam Watson, Brisbane

“We are sending a pretty clear message to Mr Rudd and his government: Don’t say sorry, say sovereignty. “He can say sorry tomorrow, and certainly there will be a huge number of senior people and elders in the chamber to receive his apology, but people will also have to note that inside this parliament of Australia there is not one single Aboriginal person. In the House or the Senate. So, again Aboriginal people are hostage to a political system in which we have no control and in which we have no real representation or capacity to influence or exert any pressure.”

Lindi Dietzel, Geelong

“I hope it is not hollow and I hope that it gives an answer for a lot of people who have a lot of grief. It is a great place to start but let’s see. We’ll watch this place.” Jakalene X-treme, Sydney “It is long overdue, it needs to be done. One of the main things I am concerned with is that they get compensated even though nothing is going to take away the trauma or pain what they’ve gone through.”

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #740 20 February 2008.

Catching the last tram home by John Pilger

A tram at Bondi Beach in the 1960s.

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger catches a ghostly tram to returns to where he grew up in Australia, the scene of his first encounter with the brutal, though enjoyable world of newspapers.

Perhaps journalism, for me, began on a Bondi tram on a Saturday. This was the day Bondi’s adult males would vanish. They would put on narrow-brimmed panama hats and head for the races at Randwick or The Hill at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Australia's finest. Or they would go direct to long-tiled pubs called the Royal and Tea Gardens and Billy the Pigs, and to the Returned Services League clubs where the “Last Post” was played every sunset, straight after the chook raffle. It was a joyful exodus. I would watch as the men packed the toastrack trams that had running boards and swung perilously at speed and had run over two of my dogs. My ambition was to work the trams.

It was not that I was unhappy delivering newspapers piled in a fruit box that ran on ball bearings, hauling it along streets of liver-bricked flats that stank of the daily cabbage quota. The trick was bowling a rolled-up Australian Women’s Weekly, a formidable missile, so that it missed the milk cans, some with lace doilies, and the dog shit. It was hard. No one applauded and a lot complained. But on the trams it was different; this was the glamour job held by newspaper-boys who were not boys. They wore big old sandshoes and had roll-your-owns permanently stuck to nicotine-stained lips; and they leapt on the running boards between Waverley cricket oval and Nick the fruitologist’s, and when the tram was belting along they leapt off it like skydivers. They never hesitated and they had style. On Saturdays, when they sold the morning editions of the evening papers, the Sydney Sun and Mirror, they yelled out, “Hereyar, Sunormirror, all the starters and riders and somethingtasiton.”

I walked along the Bondi tram route the other day. The trams are long gone, but not their phantoms. I started down at the beach, where I had begun to find my freedom climbing pyramids of green rolling waves, or on lascivious business thereabouts. In tight-lipped times, beaches provided our hedonistic alter egos. In Sydney, their uniqueness is that they are not resorts and are all public spaces, unlike in California and Europe. Beyond today’s bathers, untanned and often fat, there is a glimpse of the down-at-heel city that Sydney was: the same peeling paint and worried eyes of refugees, squinting through lace curtains in semis where no one seems to turn on the light.

I found a stretch of the tramline and stared at it as you do at an archaeological dig. I lost it in the climb up to Denham Street and the Royal, where the trams had disgorged drinkers for the Six O’Clock Swill (the pubs closed at six). As a newspaper-boy, I was allowed into pubs. My mother, being a woman, was barred, apart from the ladies-only room in the back. On Saturdays, my father would bring her out a shandy or, if they had things to discuss, a DA (dinner ale).

“Hereyar, Sunormirror,” I would yell, “all the starters and riders or somethingtasiton.” And when I came home that Saturday, with my clothes torn and knees bleeding, I had to finesse my story, knowing that falling off a tram flat on my face, with my Suns and Mirrors blowing away in a southerly, was worth it. As the tram driver checked my limbs, a woman came out of the Manhattan Flats with a cup of tea and said that I was lucky to be alive. “You’re Elsie’s son, aren’t you?” she said. Then I thought I was dead.

The other day, at the same Manhattan Flats, their grime timeless, I knew I was near to home. Past where the art-deco picture house used to be, there was Moore Street. It was silent now, a former trench of domestic warfare, with bodies and bottles thudding against thin walls, and opaque-eyed men back from the war against the Japanese, their ribcages protruding, and sorrowful women in aprons. The dazzling green of the South Pacific was unchanged, though no longer framed between smoking chimneys and sturdy dunnies.

I stood outside the tiny, dark house in Moore Street where I grew up. The corrugated-iron roof had gone, otherwise little had changed; even the old wooden box containing the gas meter, where I liked to sit waiting for people to come home, was there. I stared at it, and at the same window frames, and the same peeling window ledges, and at the front door; and I failed to find the courage to knock on it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The American Empire:Pax Americana or Pox Americana?by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W.McChesney

On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered a commencement address at American University in Washington, D.C., in which he declared that the peace that the United States sought was “not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” His remarks were a response to criticisms of the United States advanced in a recently published Soviet text on military strategy. Kennedy dismissed the charge that “American imperialist circles” were “preparing to unleash different kinds of wars” including “preventative war.”

The Soviet text, he pointed out, had stated, “The political aims of American imperialists were and still are to enslave economically and politically the European and other capitalist countries and, after the latter are transformed into obedient tools, to unify them in various military-political blocs and groups directed against the socialist countries. The main aim of all this is to achieve world domination.” In Kennedy’s words, these were “wholly baseless and incredible claims,” the work of Marxist “propagandists.” “The United States, as the world knows, will never start a war.”*

Despite such high level denials, the notion of a “Pax Americana” enforced by American arms was to become the preferred designation for those attempting to justify what was portrayed as a benevolent American Empire. Thus, in his widely read book, Pax Americana, first published in 1967 during the Vietnam War, Ronald Steel wrote of “the benevolent imperialism of Pax Americana” characterized by “empire-building for noble ends rather than for such base motives as profit and influence.” A chapter of Steel’s book on foreign aid as an “element of imperialism” was entitled “The White Man’s Burden,” hearkening back to Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated poem calling on the United States to exercise an imperialist role in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War of 1898.* Such explicit imperial views, largely suppressed in the United States after the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, have now resurfaced in a post–Cold War world marked by U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and by a permanent U.S.-led “War on Terrorism.” Once again we hear establishment calls for the “defense of Pax Americana” and even renewals of the old cry to take up “the White Man’s burden.”

Kennedy had depicted the global military expansion of the United States as an attempt to contain Communism. Today the Cold War is over. The Soviet Union is no more. Yet at the beginning of the 21st century the United States is viewed more than ever by the world population as an imperialist power, enforcing its will unilaterally by force of arms. Since the fall of the Soviet Union we have seen the largest military interventions by the United States in Europe since the Second World War. The U.S. war machine has waged full-scale conventional wars in the Middle East. The United States now has military bases in locales such as Central Asia that were previously beyond the reach of the American Empire. In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Washington made it clear that it was conducting a preventive war in light of the potential threat represented by weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States. The fact that there was no evidence of the existence of such weapons prior to the war did not seem to matter because a declaration by the administration that such weapons existed was deemed sufficient. Nor did it seem to matter after the war that no such weapons were found since once the invasion had taken place the new reality on the ground in Iraq dictated all. In this way imperialism provided its own justification.

Rather than breaking with earlier U.S. history these most recent military actions represent the continuation and acceleration of an old pattern—going back at least to the second half of the 1940s. Major U.S. interventions, both overt and covert, include: China (1945), Greece (1947–49), Korea (1950–53), Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Indochina (1954–73), Lebanon (1958), the Congo (1960–64), Cuba (1961), Indonesia (1965), the Dominican Republic (1965–66), Chile (1973), Angola (1976–92), Lebanon (1982–84), Grenada (1983–84), Afghanistan (1979–1989), El Salvador (1981–92), Nicaragua (1981–90), Panama (1989–90), Iraq (1991), Somalia (1992–94), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001–present), and Iraq (2003–present). The enormous scale of U.S. military engagement is evident in the fact that its military bases gird the globe. Chalmers Johnson has written in his Sorrows of Empire, “As distinct from other peoples on this earth, most Americans do not recognize—or do not choose to recognize—that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, they are often ignorant of the fact that their government garrisons the globe. They do not realize that a vast network of American military bases on every continent but Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire.”*

The primary goals of U.S. imperialism have always been to open up investment opportunities to U.S. corporations and to allow such corporations to gain preferential access to crucial natural resources. Inasmuch as such expansion promotes U.S. hegemony it tends to increase the international competitiveness of U.S. firms and the profits they enjoy. At the same time U.S. imperialism promotes the interests of the other core states and of capitalism as a whole insofar as these are in accord with U.S. requirements. Such goals, however, frequently put the United States in conflict with other imperial states since an empire by definition is a sphere of exploitation in which a single imperial power plays the dominant role. Moreover, the logic of empire militates against all attempts to change the status quo in the periphery of the system—if not in the center as well.

For these reasons militarism and imperialism are inseparable for U.S. capitalism, as they are for capitalism as a whole. Although spending almost as much on the military as all other states combined, the United States finds itself constantly in need of more armaments, more new weapons systems, and more soldiers. As it relies increasingly on the military to maintain, and where necessary restore, its economic and political hegemony on a global scale the problem of imperial overstretch becomes chronic and insurmountable.

By the end of the Vietnam War the mask had been torn off the American Empire. In 1970 Steel issued a revised edition of Pax Americana with a new final chapter entitled “No More Vietnams?” The main thrust of this new chapter, written in a period marked by the looming U.S. defeat in Vietnam, was entirely opposed to the chapters that preceded it. “After Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, and the Greek junta,” Steel wrote, “it is not so easy for an American President to speak with a straight face of the nation’s foreign policy being based on the ‘liberation of man’ or the ‘survival of liberty.’”* Pax Americana was revealed as imperialism pure and simple.

Nonetheless, the American Imperium did not fade away with this loss of “face.” The momentum behind such imperialism remained. Washington held on to its empire awaiting new opportunities for expansion. The empire struck back in the late 1970s and ’80s under Carter and Reagan. The rapid decline and fall of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s opened up the way to a full-scale U.S. military intervention in the Middle East for the first time, with the onset of the 1991 Gulf War between the United States and Iraq. No longer simply intervening against revolutionary movements, the United States, now the sole superpower, gave notice to the world that a substantial departure from the global status quo in any direction would be met with overwhelming force. Noting this, Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy wrote in a July-August 1991 article entitled “Pox Americana”:

The United States, it seems, has locked itself into a course with the gravest implications for the whole world. Change is the only certain law of the universe. It cannot be stopped. If societies are prevented from trying to solve their problems in their own ways, they will certainly not solve them in ways dictated by others. And if they cannot move forward, they will inevitably move backward. This is what is happening in a large part of the world today, and the United States, the most powerful nation with unlimited means of coercion at its disposal, seems to be telling the others that this is a fate that must be accepted on pain of violent destruction.*

With the rising death toll of both Iraqis and U.S. soldiers during still another war and occupation, with the atrocities and torture inflicted by the United States in Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere leading to protests across the globe, with the barbarism of the U.S. intervention in Iraq in all of its aspects increasingly evident, it is more difficult than ever to maintain the illusion of the “benevolent imperialism of Pax Americana.” The American Empire has truly become a Pox Americana in the eyes of the world, and exposure of its inner workings has become an urgent necessity. If the United States seems bent, as Magdoff and Sweezy suggested more than a decade ago, on playing “Samson in the temple of humanity” at least now there is a growing world awareness of that fact. The immediate task is to deepen this critical understanding in ways that will help equip humanity for the major anti-imperialist struggles that lie ahead.

Of related interest: Pox Americana: Exposing the American Empireedited by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney


* John F. Kennedy, “Commencement Address at American University,” June 10, 1963 http://www.jfklibrary.org/j06163.htm; V. D. Sokolovskii, Soviet Military Strategy (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963), 149; originally published in the Soviet Union in 1962 under the title Military Strategy. In his speech Kennedy substituted ellipses in the main part of the quotation offered here. Here we quote from the same passage, replacing the ellipses with the actual text.

* Ronald Steel, Pax Americana (New York: Viking Press, 1967), 16–17, 268, 336.

* Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic (New York: Henry Holt, 2003), 1.

* Ronald Steel, Pax Americana (New York: Viking Press, 1970), 334.

* Harry Magdoff and Paul M. Sweezy, “Pox Americana,” Monthly Review, 43: 3 (July–August 1991), 1–13.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Electricity privatisation - the theory and the reality by Dick Nichols

The basic argument in favour of the privatisation of electricity generation and distribution is simple — public ownership allows too much bargaining power to electricity workers and their unions (which they will always use to defend “inefficient practices” and “overstaffing”); it also fosters over-investment in generation capacity by engineers concerned to guarantee service reliability (“gold-plating”).

This combination of recalcitrant employees and over-zealous engineers and managers guarantees that, for any level of electricity technology, public ownership will supposedly be less efficient than private ownership. What’s more, the only grounds accepted by mainstream economists for public ownership — that electricity generation and distribution form a “natural monopoly” — no longer holds. Competitive markets can and have been created in both the generation and retail side of the industry, making possible privatisation without the danger of private monopoly replacing public monopoly.

In Australia, the creation of the National Electricity Market in 1998 is held up as marking the introduction of a competitive model. While not requiring privatisation of public electricity authorities to function, the existence of the NEM has bolstered the position of the supporters of electricity privatisation — how can aging public electricity generation infrastructure compete on this “playing field”? Combine privatisation and competition and, the theory says, prices will fall, service reliability will be improved and governments will be able to use the income from privatisation on education, health and public transport and/or paying off public debt.

The income lost to the public purse once privatisation takes place will be more than offset by the lower interest payments on public debt. Such are the basic arguments being pushed to support the privatisation of the NSW electricity industry. In the words of NSW Labor treasurer Michael Costa, writing in the January 3 Sydney Morning Herald: “Increasing private investment in the electricity sector is the best way to protect the jobs of existing employees and create new jobs as expansion and investment take place, while enabling the government to get on with its core service delivery priorities.”

How well does this argument stand up after over two decades of electricity privatisation overseas and in other Australian states? A good place to start is the 1997 World Bank research note The Restructuring and Privatisation of the UK Electricity Supply — Was it Worth It? Its authors, David Newbery and Michael Pollitt, summarised the winners and losers from 1990 to 1995. What happened? Privatisation helped accelerate job loss, but the gains in industry productivity that resulted didn’t lead to lower prices. Instead, the shareholders (banks, pension funds, etc) made a fortune as share prices rose by as much as 300% and the government picked up a bit in increased company tax receipts. “Power purchasers”, they observed, “seem to be paying higher prices than they would have under continued public ownership.”

Prices and reliability Between 1989-91, domestic electricity tariffs in Britain rose 28% (4% above the inflation rate), despite a 27% fall in coal prices to the electricity companies. If that had been translated directly into consumer prices, they too would have fallen by 8%. The British experience is not unique. In the corporatised New Zealand industry the wholesale price of electricity declined 17% in real terms between 1987 and 1997, but the retail price increased by 20%. In South Australia, between 1994 and 2002, residential tariffs increased by 40%, with the state’s regulator claiming that 20% of the total tariff was due to privatisation.

The gap between SA and NSW rates has increased from 10% pre-privatisation to 30% today, even as real average electricity tariffs in Australia have declined slightly over the past 15 years. Today in NSW about 70% of electricity customers are on contracts regulated by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. In an implicit admission that privatisation will mean higher tariffs (and in order to boost the value of the privatisable assets) IPART is increasing tariffs by 4-5% a year. What’s more, IPART is setting average price hikes for the retailers, who will be free to spread the increases however they see fit. IPART admits that this could “result in above-average price increases for some customers, particularly those on low incomes or who are low consumers of electricity and therefore less ’attractive’ to competitors”. At the same time, price increases have gone along with decreased supply reliability — the predictable result of job-shedding.

This has not just resulted in some spectacular system collapses (for example, the week-long blackout of Auckland in February 1998) but also to a rise in short-term blackouts. In Victoria, the frequency of blackouts increased by 32% in the four years after privatisation in 1995. The 1997 World Bank research note showed a net gain for British government income from electricity privatisation for 1990-95.

But what happens if we take a longer period? University of South Australia economics Professor Richard Blandy, reported in the February 4, 2002 Australian that, “Revenues earned by the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA) for the South Australian government before it was privatised would match, if not exceed, the interest on South Australian debt retired as a result of ETSA’s sale. Hence, South Australians now face historically high electricity prices compared with the rest of Australia for no net benefit to the state government finances.”

Australian National University economist John Quiggin not only maintains that privatisation in Victoria resulted in no net gain for the Victorian government, he reported in the December 28 Australian Financial Review that he has calculated that “the rejection of [electricity] privatisation in 1997 saved the NSW public between $5 and $10 billion”. A theory in tatters So why hasn’t privatisation reality confirmed privatisation theory? There are four basic reasons.

Firstly, private capital has to earn a higher rate of return than public investment. Private investors are not interested in electricity generation for the sake of it, but only if it offers a sufficiently high rate of profit, which is determined by other potential investments.

According to privatisation consultant KPMG, the rate of return on publicly owned electricity generation capacity is 7.1% in Queensland and 10.6% in NSW, while corporate investors would´t touch electricity generation until the rate was 15%. Thus, any government that wants to privatise its electricity industry has to allow tariffs to rise until the return on private investment is acceptable to potential buyers.

Otherwise it won’t sell, or will have to be sold cheap. Secondly, private debt is more costly than public debt. Dr Sharon Beder, an associate professor in science and technology studies at Wollongong University, comments on the Victorian experience in her June 2007 submission on behalf of Unions NSW to the state government’s public inquiry into NSW electricity supply: “Most of the economies that could be achieved by slashing the work force had occurred prior to privatisation. Robert R. Booth [in his book Warring Tribes: The Story of Power Development in Australia] estimates that the cost savings from this could have led to price reductions of 30% and still serviced the previous $9.5 billion government debt [the pretext for Victorian electricity privatisation —DN], but because of the need to service the $23 billion spent by private companies buying the industry, there was pressure to increase prices rather than decrease them.” Thirdly, a purely competitive electricity market is simply not possible.

The theory that electricity generation and distribution could be made competitive runs directly against the reality that companies that achieve the greatest economies of scale and degree of “vertical integration” of generation and retailing prevail in the war for market share and profits. This is already clear in the Australian private electricity industry. Not only are producers like AGL on the look out for retailers with whom to integrate, they are also pressing to merge with other big producers (like Origin Energy). If unhindered, this process will lead to an electricity industry with a few “gentailers”, dominated by the big three producers — AGL, Origin and TRU — and thus a greater degree of market concentration than in the “bad old days” of public electricity companies! Fourthly, the short-run gain to state budgets eventually runs out.

If a state enterprise is paying a dividend and this is sold off, this annual dividend (around $1 billion in the case of NSW public electricity assets) is lost forever. Sooner or later, the cumulative value of this loss will exceed the immediate gain from the sell-off of public assets.

Thus the fairy tales of privatisation theory actually leads to the reality of consolidation of private monopoly based on the vandalisation of public assets, loss of jobs and increased cost to the consumer. These are very powerful reasons to reject the NSW government’s electricity privatisation proposal outright. [Dick Nichols is the national coordinator of the Socialist Alliance.]
From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #740 20 February 2008.

Venezuela resists ExxonMobil’s blackmail by Kiraz Janicke, Caracas

“This is pure judicial terrorism”, Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters in Caracas on February 8, in response to court injunctions obtained by US-based ExxonMobil Corp. — the world’s largest oil corporation — in January.

The injunctions froze more than US$12 billion worth of assets of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA in Britain, the Netherlands and the Dutch Antilles. ExxonMobil, parent company in Australia to Esso and Mobil, has also frozen $300 million of PDVSA funds held in a US bank account. “If they think that with this they will get us to backtrack on our nationalisation policies, well, gentleman from ExxonMobil, you are dead wrong again”, Ramirez declared.

As part of a drive to recover full sovereignty over its natural resources, the Venezuelan government of socialist President Hugo Chavez nationalised ExxonMobil’s 41.7% stake in the Cerro Negro project in the Orinoco oil belt in May last year with an offer for compensation. Other major oil companies including US-based Chevron Corp., France’s Total, Britain’s BP PLC, and Norway’s Statoil negotiated deals with Venezuela to remain on as minority partners in the Orinoco oil belt projects following the May 2007 nationalisations.

As well as ExxonMobil, US-based company ConocoPhilips also rejected the nationalisations, but has said it is seeking an “amicable resolution” with Venezuela. ExxonMobil, however, rejected an initial compensation offer from Venezuela and has demanded arbitration. Although the oil giant has not specified how much it wants in compensation, it said its investment in the project was valued at $750 million at the time the assets were taken over. The injunctions were solicited by ExxonMobil in anticipation of an arbitration ruling by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes over a compensation claim.

The court cases are ongoing, and the next hearing in London is scheduled for February 22. The Venezuelan parliament has passed a motion declaring the injunctions illegitimate, claiming it violates Venezuelan sovereignty using the argument that only Venezuelan courts should decide on issues relating to Venezuelan resources. Ramirez accused the US company of using the legal case to destabilise Venezuela, by creating panic over its finances.

The country’s dollar-denominated bonds have experienced their sharpest drop in six months because of fears the government could face a protracted legal battle. PDVSA is a crucial source of funds for the Venezuelan government’s social programs that provide free education and health care to the poor. In 2006, the company spent $13.3 billion on such programs, up from $6.9 billion in 2005. Ramirez said Venezuela was “being attacked by a transnational corporation”, and insisted that Venezuela would not back down from its policy of full oil sovereignty. He declared that “we are going to beat them in this battle”. During his weekly television show, Alo Presidente, on February 11, Chavez argued that ExxonMobil’s actions were part of a US government-backed “economic war” against Venezuela. “They will never rob us again, those bandits of ExxonMobil”, Chavez said.

He described the corporation as “imperialist bandits, white collar criminals, corrupters of governments, over-throwers of governments, who supported the invasion and bombing of Iraq and continue supporting the genocide in Iraq”. Chavez threatened that unless the injunctions were dropped, Venezuela would cease selling oil to the US. Venezuela accounts for 12% of US crude oil supplies, according to US energy department figures from November. Chavez said: “If the economic war continues against Venezuela, the price of oil will reach $200 [per barrel]. Venezuela will take up the economic war and more than one country is inclined to join us.” Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega offered his support to Venezuela, claiming the moves were “a clear imperialist offensive against Venezuela”, and that Venezuela “can count on the unconditional solidarity and approval of the Nicaraguan people”.

On February 12, PDVSA issued a statement explaining that it was freezing all its business dealings with ExxonMobil in retaliation against the injunctions. The previous day, PDVSA instructed its traders to deposit oil receipts with the UBS bank in Switzerland in a move to protect its assets. The actions by ExxonMobil have been roundly rejected by the vast majority of Venezuelans, who rightly see this as an attack on their national sovereignty and right to control their own resources. Protests have been occurring all around the country, including by the oil workers at the nationalised Cerro Negro plant (now renamed Petromonagas).

On February 14, thousands of Venezuelans turned out in the rain at PDVSA headquarters in Caracas to reject Exxon’s imperialist aggression. Many people spoke of the need to mobilise against US aggression, to deepen the struggle for socialism, and to defend the democratically-elected Chavez government. Further demonstrations outside the US embassy have been called, and there are plans for massive mobilisations across Venezuela. Journalist Mari Pili Hernandez, who spoke at the February 14 demonstration, said the most significant thing was that for the first time in ExxonMobil’s history — since its origins as Rockerfeller-owned Standard Oil in the 19th Century — an entire country has stood up to the corporate giant.

There is a real sense of national pride in this defiance. There has also been a sense of anger among poorer sectors towards the reaction of the pro-capitalist opposition — based on the elite that governed Venezuela before Chavez came to power — who have largely sided with ExxonMobil in the dispute. The US-funded opposition have gloated over the freezing of PDVSA’s assets and blamed the government for its nationalisation policies — once again exposing them as lackeys of US imperialism, as well as revealing their hostility to policies that benefit the majority of Venezuelans. Luis Carvajal, a union leader at the Cerro Nero/Petromonagas plant said: “This transnational has exploited our wealth, our workers and violated our rights — all the workers in the Orinoco oil belt support the nationalisation.”

[Kiraz Janicke is a member of the Green Left Weekly Caracas bureau. This article is largely compiled from articles originally posted on Venezuelanalysis.com. The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network has produced an online sign-on statement in solidarity with Venezuela against ExxonMobil’s attacks, which calls for ExxonMobil to withdraw its legal actions.

The AVSN is also seeking to initiate an international day of protest against ExxonMobil and in defence of Venezuelan sovereignty for February 29. To sign the statement, and for details of protest actions, visit http://www.venezuelasolidarity.org/?q=node/2397.]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #740 20 February 2008.

Musharraf’s Playbook is the Same as the Bush Administration’s by Naomi Wolf and Shahid Buttar

This post was informed by Shahid’s participation in a National Lawyer’s Guild-led delegation to Pakistan last December. The delegation, which consisted of four lawyers and four law students from around the U.S., visited several areas across Pakistan in early January and interviewed over 50 engaged participants in Pakistani government and civil society throughout the country, including jurists, elected officials, lawyers, journalists, civil servants, political party representatives, candidates for public office, international diplomats, students and activists.

The delegation’s preliminary report, “Defending Democracy: U.S. Foreign Policy and Pakistan’s Struggle for Democracy,” is posted here. Most of the Bush/Musharraf parallels in this post were drawn by Shahid; I (Naomi) have contributed some additional thoughts about the situation in the U.S. and Bush’s negative influence on the world.

As we know well in this country, elections are a time for reflection. They are a time to consider who we are as a nation and what we want to become. Sometimes it is appropriate to stop and think about how lucky we are to have the freedom to make these kinds of choices. We should also think about the fact that there is no guarantee these freedoms will remain forever.

Take Pakistan, for example. Having endured a U.S.-backed military coup, martial law, and the assassination of their most visible opposition leader, Pakistanis will head to the polls on Monday to select members of their National Assembly in elections already plagued by widespread allegations of illegitimacy. Observers across the political spectrum have noted persisting restrictions on the press, politicized election administration at both the local and federal level, and the conspicuous lack of an independent judiciary to resolve electoral disputes.

Sadly, the United States is doing very little to help the situation in Pakistan and may well be making it worse. The Bush administration has consistently pressed for these elections to proceed despite security concerns and various allegations of unfairness. Not surprisingly, from an administration installed by a controversial Supreme Court ruling, its view appears to be that elections confer legitimacy on whichever regime emerges victorious, regardless of complaints about how the votes were tallied.

Even worse, these electoral similarities are only the tip of an iceberg reflecting deep connections between the agenda of the Bush administration and the Musharraf regime. While criticism has abounded of Musharraf’s various abuses of the rule of law, observers have generally overlooked the means Musharraf has taken to squelch dissent of his administration, and how they resemble some of the tactics Americans have seen domestically. As one prominent anchor of a major Pakistani television news program suggested when discussing the threats to democracy in his country, “Musharraf’s playbook is the same as the Bush administration’s.”

This is especially disturbing to me, as I have written recently about how the Bush administration seems to be following the playbook of twentieth century leaders, such as Stalin and Mussolini, who shut down democracies in their own countries. It is painful to think that the Bush administration is filling a similar role, making the United States of America an example for would-be tyrants.

At a broad level, both Bush and Musharraf have consistently magnified real threats to security in their public communications in order to promote fear and intimidate political opponents. In America, fear of another catastrophic attack in the wake of 9/11 was used to justify the round-ups of material witnesses, domestic spying and the PATRIOT Act. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the threat of armed fundamentalists was cited as the reason to sack the Supreme Court and restrict the press.

In carrying out this governance by fear, both administrations have claimed that domestic checks on their agendas have given comfort to the enemy, effectively (if not literally) saying that “You’re either with us, or against us.” Nor have these accusations been confined to civil society.
Musharraf has framed Pakistan’s former Supreme Court — which he sacked with U.S. support in November for the second time last year — as having interfered in his counter-terrorism efforts. Similarly, in addition to accusing opponents of the War in Iraq of undermining “our troops,” officials in the Bush administration have derogated other branches of the federal government in order to aggrandize the executive branch.

For instance, the White House has refused to provide Congress with documents necessary to understand the legal basis of the administration’s torture policy, and when faced by challenges brought by detainees, sought to evade the jurisdiction of appellate courts such as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, from which a prominent conservative judge resigned in alleged protest.

The detainee cases are especially poignant. Both Musharraf and Bush have assaulted civil liberties, arguing against habeas corpus rights for detainees and resisting judicial efforts to ensure impartial trials. Student activists from Balochistan were imprisoned and even “disappeared” by Pakistani agents, while hundreds of detainees were imprisoned without trials for years at Guantanamo Bay.

Recently, the Bush administration announced that six of these detainees would be tried in military court for their alleged involvement in 9/11, despite the fact that much of the evidence to be used against them was obtained as the result of torture and abuse.

While Musharraf’s attack on judicial independence took the form of sacking the Supreme Court, removing the majority of its justices and jailing several of them, Bush has also compromised judicial independence, though in a more subtle fashion. When vacancies emerged on the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush nominated a pair of Justices whose principal qualification was prior service in the Reagan-era Department of Justice, where they championed aggressive theories aggrandizing executive power.

Chief Justice Roberts even violated ethical rules by interviewing with the White House for his Supreme Court appointment at the same as he sat in judgment on White House detainee policy in the Hamdan case, in which he cast a deciding vote for the administration — before the Supreme Court later reversed the decision.

Both Bush and Musharraf have largely ignored the real security threats they use to promote fear. Bush started a war in Afghanistan only to then grow distracted by an Iraq conflict whose only relation to terrorism was to encourage more of it. Musharraf has ignored his regime’s ongoing support for militants despite the threat they pose to his own government, instead spending U.S. money on high-tech force structure (such as F-16s) for a hypothetical war with India.

Both presidents practice belligerence in their foreign policy decisions. Musharraf launched a war in the Himalayas before seizing power in 1999, for which he derived massive public support. The invasion of Iraq was similarly used by the Bush administration to rally support behind its other agendas.

And, perhaps most significantly, both Presidents have taken strong measures to intimidate the press. Musharraf removed entire channels from the air, while banning certain personalities from appearing and censoring what little content remained. Those journalists who challenge the media blackout — at least in Urdu-language outlets most watched by Pakistanis — are subject to intimidation and personal threats. In the U.S., journalists who have exposed state secrets (such as the domestic spying program revealed by The New York Times) have been threatened with prosecution.

President Bush once promised that his administration would spread freedom around the world. Instead, he is apparently teaching other world leaders how to promote fear and diminish freedoms in order to assume and maintain power. He has nothing to share, but fear itself.
Shahid Buttar is a civil rights lawyer, hip-hop MC, grassroots community organizer, and independent journalist. His commentary has appeared in various print and broadcast outlets, including The Washington Post; The New York Times; Bloomberg; Hannity & Colmes on FOX News; The Laura Flanders Show on Air America; TomPaine.com; Alternet; Common Dreams; and Democracy Now! on NPR, which named one of his public addresses among “The Best of 2004.”

Naomi Wolf is the author of The New York Times bestseller “The End of America” (Chelsea Green) and is the co-founder of the American Freedom Campaign.

Published on Saturday, February 16, 2008 by Huffington Post