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Friday, May 30, 2008

From Kennedy to Obama: Liberalism's last fling by John Pilger

Writing in the New Statesman, John Pilger refers back to his travels with Robert Kennedy to describe the false hopes offered by those, like Barack Obama, who exploit the appeal of liberalism then present a very different reality.

In this season of 1968 nostalgia, one anniversary illuminates today. It is the rise and fall of Robert Kennedy, who would have been elected president of the United States had he not been assassinated in June 1968. Having travelled with Kennedy up to the moment of his shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on 5 June,

I heard The Speech many times. He would “return government to the people” and bestow “dignity and justice” on the oppressed. “As Bernard Shaw once said,” he would say, “‘Most men look at things as they are and wonder why. I dream of things that never were and ask: Why not?’” That was the signal to run back to the bus. It was fun until a hail of bullets passed over our shoulders.

Kennedy’s campaign is a model for Barack Obama. Like Obama, he was a senator with no achievements to his name. Like Obama, he raised the expectations of young people and minorities. Like Obama, he promised to end an unpopular war, not because he opposed the war’s conquest of other people’s land and resources, but because it was “unwinnable”.

Should Obama beat John McCain to the White House in November, it will be liberalism’s last fling. In the United States and Britain, liberalism as a war-making, divisive ideology is once again being used to destroy liberalism as a reality. A great many people understand this, as the hatred of Blair and new Labour attest, but many are disoriented and eager for “leadership” and basic social democracy. In the US, where unrelenting propaganda about American democratic uniqueness disguises a corporate system based on extremes of wealth and privilege, liberalism as expressed through the Democratic Party has played a crucial, compliant role.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy sought to rescue the party and his own ambitions from the threat of real change that came from an alliance of the civil rights campaign and the anti-war movement then commanding the streets of the main cities, and which Martin Luther King had drawn together until he was assassinated in April that year. Kennedy had supported the war in Vietnam and continued to support it in private, but this was skilfully suppressed as he competed against the maverick Eugene McCarthy, whose surprise win in the New Hampshire primary on an anti-war ticket had forced President Lyndon Johnson to abandon the idea of another term.
Using the memory of his martyred brother, Kennedy assiduously exploited the electoral power of delusion among people hungry for politics that represented them, not the rich.

“These people love you,” I said to him as we left Calexico, California, where the immigrant population lived in abject poverty and people came like a great wave and swept him out of his car, his hands fastened to their lips.

“Yes, yes, sure they love me,” he replied. “I love them!” I asked him how exactly he would lift them out of poverty: just what was his political philosophy?“Philosophy? Well, it’s based on a faith in this country and I believe that many Americans have lost this faith and I want to give it back to them, because we are the last and the best hope of the world, as Thomas Jefferson said.”“That’s what you say in your speech. Surely the question is: How?”“How?... by charting a new direction for America.

”The vacuities are familiar. Obama is his echo. Like Kennedy, Obama may well “chart a new direction for America” in specious, media-honed language, but in reality he will secure, like every president, the best damned democracy money can buy.

As their contest for the White House draws closer, watch how, regardless of the inevitable personal smears, Obama and McCain draw nearer to each other. They already concur on America’s divine right to control all before it. “We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good,” said Obama. “We must lead by building a 21st-century military... to advance the security of all people [emphasis added].”

McCain agrees. Obama says in pursuing “terrorists” he would attack Pakistan. McCain wouldn’t quarrel. Both candidates have paid ritual obeisance to the regime in Tel Aviv, unquestioning support for which defines all presidential ambition. In opposing a UN Security Council resolution implying criticism of Israel’s starvation of the people of Gaza, Obama was ahead of both McCain and Hillary Clinton. In January, pressured by the Israel lobby, he massaged a statement that “nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people” to now read: “Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognise Israel [emphasis added].” Such is his concern for the victims of the longest, illegal military occupation of modern times. Like all the candidates, Obama has furthered Israeli/Bush fictions about Iran, whose regime, he says absurdly, “is a threat to all of us”.On the war in Iraq, Obama the dove and McCain the hawk are almost united. McCain now says he wants US troops to leave in five years (instead of “100 years”, his earlier option). Obama has now “reserved the right” to change his pledge to get troops out next year. “I will listen to our commanders on the ground,” he now says, echoing Bush. His adviser on Iraq, Colin Kahl, says the US should maintain up to 80,000 troops in Iraq until 2010. Like McCain, Obama has voted repeatedly in the Senate to support Bush’s demands for funding of the occupation of Iraq; and he has called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. His senior advisers embrace McCain’s proposal for an aggressive “league of democracies”, led by the United States, to circumvent the United Nations. Like McCain, he would extend the crippling embargo on Cuba.

Amusingly, both have denounced their “preachers” for speaking out. Whereas McCain’s man of God praised Hitler, in the fashion of lunatic white holy-rollers, Obama’s man, Jeremiah Wright, spoke an embarrassing truth. He said that the attacks of 11 September 2001 had taken place as a consequence of the violence of US power across the world. The media demanded that Obama disown Wright and swear an oath of loyalty to the Bush lie that “terrorists attacked America because they hate our freedoms”. So he did. The conflict in the Middle East, said Obama, was rooted not “primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel”, but in “the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam”. Journalists applauded. Islamophobia is a liberal speciality.The American media love both Obama and McCain. Reminiscent of mating calls by Guardian writers to Blair more than a decade ago, Jann Wenner, founder of the liberal Rolling Stone, wrote: “There is a sense of dignity, even majesty, about him, and underneath that ease lies a resolute discipline... Like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama challenges America to rise up, to do what so many of us long to do: to summon ‘the better angels of our nature’.” At the liberal New Republic, Charles Lane confessed: “I know it shouldn’t be happening, but it is. I’m falling for John McCain.” His colleague Michael Lewis had gone further. His feelings for McCain, he wrote, were like “the war that must occur inside a 14-year-old boy who discovers he is more sexually attracted to boys than to girls”.

The objects of these uncontrollable passions are as one in their support for America’s true deity, its corporate oligarchs. Despite claiming that his campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, Obama is backed by the biggest Wall Street firms: Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers, J P Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, as well as the huge hedge fund Citadel Investment Group. “Seven of the Obama campaign’s top 14 donors,” wrote the investigator Pam Martens, “consisted of officers and employees of the same Wall Street firms charged time and again with looting the public and newly implicated in originating and/or bundling fraudulently made mortgages.” A report by United for a Fair Economy, a non-profit group, estimates the total loss to poor Americans of colour who took out sub-prime loans as being between $164bn and $213bn: the greatest loss of wealth ever recorded for people of colour in the United States. “Washington lobbyists haven’t funded my campaign,” said Obama in January, “they won’t run my White House and they will not drown out the voices of working Americans when I am president.” According to files held by the Centre for Responsive Politics, the top five contributors to the Obama campaign are registered corporate lobbyists.What is Obama’s attraction to big business? Precisely the same as Robert Kennedy’s. By offering a “new”, young and apparently progressive face of the Democratic Party – with the bonus of being a member of the black elite – he can blunt and divert real opposition. That was Colin Powell’s role as Bush’s secretary of state. An Obama victory will bring intense pressure on the US anti-war and social justice movements to accept a Democratic administration for all its faults. If that happens, domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent.America’s war on Iran has already begun. In December, Bush secretly authorised support for two guerrilla armies inside Iran, one of which, the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, is described by the state department as terrorist. The US is also engaged in attacks or subversion against Somalia, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bolivia and Venezuela. A new military command, Africom, is being set up to fight proxy wars for control of Africa’s oil and other riches. With US missiles soon to be stationed provocatively on Russia’s borders, the Cold War is back. None of these piracies and dangers has raised a whisper in the presidential campaign, not least from its great liberal hope.

Moreover, none of the candidates represents so-called mainstream America. In poll after poll, voters make clear that they want the normal decencies of jobs, proper housing and health care. They want their troops out of Iraq and the Israelis to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbours. This is a remarkable testimony, given the daily brainwashing of ordinary Americans in almost everything they watch and read.

On this side of the Atlantic, a deeply cynical electorate watches British liberalism’s equivalent last fling. Most of the “philosophy” of new Labour was borrowed wholesale from the US. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were interchangeable. Both were hostile to traditionalists in their parties who might question the corporate-speak of their class-based economic policies and their relish for colonial conquests. Now the British find themselves spectators to the rise of new Tory, distinguishable from Blair’s new Labour only in the personality of its leader, a former corporate public relations man who presents himself as Tonier than thou. We all deserve better.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Critical days for campaign against power sell-off by Dick Nichols

With his May 15 announcement that legislation to enable electricity privatisation will be introduced into the June session of parliament, NSW Premier Morris Iemma started the countdown to the most decisive days of the struggle to date.

Iemma lit the fuse after it became clear that two Labor Members of the Legislative Council, Linda Voltz and Ian West, would support a motion from Greens MLC John Kaye requiring the privatisation to be debated and voted on by parliament (and not implemented by regulation).

Iemma’s decision also came as former Liberal opposition leader Peter Debnam, a long-term opponent of power privatisation, resigned from the shadow cabinet after the Liberals finally came off the fence in support of the sell-off. Debnam said: “I disagreed with our decision and believe we should have taken a stand against privatisation in favour of renewables. I believe … the decision was a cave-in to the government.”

The NSW Nationals are also unhappy about the sell-off. Former cabinet minister and Upper Hunter member George Souros, has said he will vote against the sell-off, while Nationals leader Andrew Stoner said on May 9 that “Morris Iemma let the cat out of the bag when he confirmed he has not even considered the impact of his power privatisation on country and coastal communities”.

As Green Left Weekly goes to press it seems that the Nationals will vote against the legislation. With tension rising in his own party despite an unsuccessful parliamentary caucus vote to bind Labor’s parliamentarians to the 702-107 May 3 ALP state conference vote against the sell-off, Iemma’s position has been crumbling. He therefore had little choice but to bring on the fatal battle before it weakened further.

As a result the “joint campaign committee” — that was set up by the ALP conference to investigate a possible compromise solution to the conflict between the government and the ALP machine and Unions NSW — was told that the sell-off was going ahead regardless. Moreover, in contradiction with his claim that the sell-off was not privatisation but long-term leasing of energy generation, Iemma’s Electricity Industry Restructuring Bill leaves open the possibility of a complete sell-off by way of a sharemarket float.

Getting the numbers To shore up the premier’s position factional headkickers Eddie Obeid and treasurer Michael Costa have been unleashed against wavering Labor MPs. According to one: “I have never seen pressure put on people like this, and I’ve been here 20 years.” According to commentator Alex Mitchell on “The two [upper house] Shooters Party MPs are suddenly flavour of the month with the Premier’s Department and they have been invited to submit a shopping list of their wishes.

The Rev Fred Nile, of the Christian Democrats, who is already a regular closet supporter of the government, will be returning from South Korea to back the government’s sell-off legislation.” From the side of Unions NSW and the electricity industry unions, the main effort is now being devoted to mobilising counter-pressure on the wavering Labor MPs.

The Stop the Sell-Off website is to be rejigged to allow mass emailing of MPs; electricity call centre workers will be asked to tell people ringing in to lobby their MP; lobbying instructions are being sent out via Your Rights at Work and People Power groups and new rounds of leafleting, letters to local papers and requests for meetings with MPs have also been launched. On the industrial side a “no disconnections” policy is being prepared as a way of attacking the government without putting consumers offside.

Within the ALP, local branches are pushing to bring forward preselections of local members. The other point of pressure is the ALP Administrative Committee. While the committee has already sent a letter to MPs reminding them of their duty to abide by the conference decision, it is not yet clear how committed the committee is to actually confronting the government. Certainly, it is clear from Iemma’s decision to play hardball that he calculates the committee simply hasn’t the heart to provoke a crisis of government.

Sensing this weakness, a number of MPs who attended the May 21 Sydney People Power committee meeting, urged those present to spread their lobbying effort beyond MPs to Administrative Committee members. Along with this spasm of lobbying the idea of a mass protest against Iemma’s bill on the day that it is presented to parliament (in the first week of June) has been shelved.

The proposal for a state-wide day of protest against the Iemma government, which was adopted by a May 15 meeting of power industry delegates, has not been discarded by unions with representation in the power industry, but its final shape is still to be decided. Instead, June 3 will be the date of a Parramatta public meeting against the sell-off. Plan B? Whether the massive effort of lobbying now set in motion by the Stop the Sell-Off campaign will be enough to win (despite 85% public opposition) is not at all clear.

For one, it assumes that the Liberal opposition will vote against the Iemma legislation on the grounds that the sell-off won’t be conducted under the surveillance of the NSW Auditor-General. However, such a decision by the Liberals is not at all certain. If it looks as if enough Labor MPs (another eight according to the “numbers men”) decide to oppose Iemma, the pressure from corporate NSW on the Liberals to support any form of sell-off will be massive.

A final vote in favour, with pro-Iemma Labor and Liberals outpolling anti-sell-off ALPers, Nationals and Greens can’t be excluded. In this scenario preparing the mobilisation of anti-sell-off sentiment to back up necessary industrial action by power industry workers becomes critical. The workers themselves understand this. The Delta Central Coast Combined Delegates resolution to the May 15 power delegates meeting in Sydney (a motion which was combined with a Unions NSW motion to form a common final public position) requested “that Unions NSW and associated unions escalate and take all possible actions in our campaign to stop privatisation, including placing charges on the premier and treasurer and if required strategic industrial action”.

Winning any struggle, especially one where the stakes are as high as in the struggle against the sell-off of NSW electricity, requires planning for the worst case scenario — in the present fight a victory for Iemma’s tactics of bullying, bribing and buying MPs while staring down the ALP Administrative Committee. The union movement in NSW needs to develop its Plan B to this scenario as rapidly as possible.

[Dick Nichols is the National Coordinator of the Socialist Alliance.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #752 28 May

Sunday, May 25, 2008

This Government Has Been the Most Rightwing Since the Second World War by George Monbiot

The prospect of a Tory in No 10 does worry me — but no more so than another term for this cabinet of war criminals

You can hear the wringing of hands and tearing of cloth all the way down Farringdon Road. Dismayed by the local election results, convinced that Labour will be crushed in Thursday’s byelection, afraid that this will presage disaster in the next general election, my fellow columnists are predicting the end of the civilised world. But I can’t understand why we should care.

Yes, I worry about what the Tories might do if they get in. I also worry about what Labour might do if it wins another term. Why should anyone on the left seek the re-election of the most rightwing government Britain has had since the second world war?

New Labour’s apologists keep reminding us of the redistributive policies it has introduced: Sure Start children’s centres, reductions in child poverty, raising the school leaving age, the national minimum wage, flexible hours for parents and carers, better conditions for part-time workers, the decent homes programme, free museums, more foreign aid. All these are real achievements and deserve to be celebrated. But the catalogue of failures, backsliding and outright destruction is much longer and more consequential.

One fact alone should disqualify this government from office: we have a cabinet of war criminals. The Nuremberg tribunal characterised a war of aggression as “the supreme international crime”. It is not just that Britain’s Labour government launched and sustained an unprovoked war, it also sabotaged all means of achieving a peaceful resolution. In April 2002 it helped the Bush administration to sack José Bustani, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, in order to prevent him settling the dispute over Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. In two separate offers before the invasion, Saddam Hussein agreed to meet the terms the US and Britain were demanding. But they slapped him down and concealed his offers from their electorates. (All references are on my website.)

Cluster bombs can be legally used because the British government helped to block an international ban in 2006: it is still holding out against an outright ban at the current talks in Dublin. The government has undermined another international peace agreement — the nuclear non-proliferation treaty — by deciding to renew the Trident missile programme. It was the first administration to announce a policy of pre-emptive nuclear attack: even the great nuclear enthusiast Harold Macmillan never went this far. In 2007 the defence secretary, without parliamentary debate, revealed that the US would be allowed to use the listening station at Menwith Hill for its missile defence system.

Labour appears to be prepared to meet any demand the Bush administration makes, however outrageous. In 2003 the government signed a one-sided extradition treaty, permitting the US to extract our citizens without producing prima facie evidence of an offence. In the same year the defence secretary announced that he would restructure the British armed forces to make them “inter-operable” with those of the United States, ensuring for the first time in British history that they became functionally subordinate to those of another sovereign power.

Labour’s foreign policy is as unethical as Margaret Thatcher’s. It provides military aid to the government of Colombia, whose troops are involved in a campaign of terror against the civilian population. It granted an open licence for weapons exports to the government of Uzbekistan, and sacked the British ambassador when he tried to draw attention to the regime’s human rights abuses. It has collaborated with the US programme of extra-judicial kidnapping and imprisonment, left our citizens to languish in Guantánamo Bay, and made use of Pakistani torture chambers in seeking to extract testimony from British suspects. Until 2005 it tied its foreign aid programme to the privatisation of public utilities in some of the world’s poorest countries. Last year it held out against reform of the International Monetary Fund’s unfair allocation of votes.

The proportion of the British population in prison has risen by a fifth since the Tories left office. Today Britain locks up 151 out of every 100,000 people. The Chinese judiciary, by contrast, which is notorious for its willingness to bang up anyone and everyone, jails 119 people per 100,000; Burma imprisons 120; Saudi Arabia 132. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, passed in 2005, contains clauses that permit the police to ban any demonstration, however peaceful. It is one of a long series of bills the Labour government has passed that restrict the right to protest.

The citizen has been re-regulated; business has been deregulated. Last year deaths caused by serious injuries at work rose by 11%: a predictable result of the sacking of 1,000 staff at the Health & Safety Executive and a 24% reduction in workplace inspections. In 2006 the government instructed the Serious Fraud Office to drop its corruption case against the arms manufacturer BAE Systems. It has obstructed efforts by other states to investigate the company.

Labour has shifted taxation from the rich to the poor, cutting corporation tax from 33% to 28% and capital gains tax from 40% to 18%, and introducing a new entrepreneurs’ relief scheme, taxing the first million of capital gains at just 10%. It tried to raise the income tax paid by the poorest earners from 10% to 20%. Labour has lifted the inheritance tax threshold from £300,000 to £700,000, and maintained the cap on the highest rates of council tax. While vigorously prosecuting benefits cheats, it has allowed tax avoidance, mostly by the very rich, to reach an estimated £41bn. Inequality today is slightly worse than it was when Labour took power in 1997 (the Gini coefficient which measures it has risen from 0.33 to 0.35).

Both as chancellor and prime minister, Gordon Brown has forced the private finance initiative into almost all public services. His privatisation schemes have crept into places where the Conservative government never dared to tread. Labour has waged war against our planning system and overseen a disastrous decline in social housing: under Thatcher an average of 46,600 social homes were built every year; under Tony Blair the average was 17,300. Labour is closing post offices, small schools and GPs’ surgeries, while overseeing a doubling of airport capacity and the construction of 4,000km of trunk roads. These developments ensure that even the modest targets in the climate change bill are likely to be missed. Carbon dioxide pollution fell faster under the Conservatives than under Labour.

Above all, the Labour government has destroyed hope. It has put into practice Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no alternative” to a market fundamentalism that subordinates human welfare to the demands of business. Labour has created a political monoculture that kills voters’ enthusiasm, and has delayed electoral reforms that would have given smaller parties an opportunity to be heard. All we are left with is fear: the fear that this awful government might be replaced by something slightly worse. Fear has destroyed the Labour party, but people keep supporting it in trepidation of letting the other side win.

Save this government? I would sooner give money to the Malarial Mosquito Conservation Project. Of all the causes leftist thinkers might support, New Labour must be the least deserving.

Published on Tuesday, May 20, 2008 by The Guardian/UK

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Teachers reject Iemma's user-pays education push by Noreen Navin, Sydney

Public school teachers committed to keeping a state-wide centralised model of staffing that guarantees teachers’ transfer rights and delivers equity for students and school communities voted on April 8 for a 24-hour strike on May 22.

More than 300 councillors at the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) Central Council meeting on May 10 endorsed the rally and strike action that had been determined by some 20,200 teachers across NSW in early April. That stopwork discussed the campaign for a new public school staffing agreement, about which the NSW Iemma government refuses to negotiate.

Gary Zadkovich, NSWTF senior vice president, described the NSW government’s belligerent attitude like this: “The Department of Education and Training is adopting a grossly irresponsible approach on staffing policy. This was reinforced at Federation’s conference for principals last term when Education Minister John Della Bosca answered questions on the likely impact of the imposed changes. Mr Della Bosca said that schools would just have to ‘suck it and see’. No wonder principals in the audience gasped.”

Figures from the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) indicate that, due to teacher retirements, an average of 3200 new permanent positions will need to be filled over the next five years. This increase from an average of 2700 permanent positions indicates the need for a negotiated, revamped staffing agreement. The current Permanent Employee Program (PEP), which provides permanent jobs to temporary or casual teachers, could be used as a model for coping with such an increase in the number of positions.

Any new staffing agreement should allow for a greater mix of appointments, particularly new graduates, without jeopardising teachers’ transfer rights or school needs. However, the NSWTF’s proposal to increase the number of PEP appointees was rejected by the education department. This demonstrates that the DET is not interested in refashioning the staffing model, nor in allowing principles more flexibility to determine the needs of their schools.

Instead, the department is driving the push to get principals to take over the responsibility for staffing. DET now says it will only agree to a five-year industrial agreement on condition that its changes to staffing procedures are included. Taken to its logical conclusion, the government’s push will mean that budgeting will increasingly be the responsibility of individual schools, and principals will be forced to set teachers’ wages and conditions through employment contracts.

According to Maree O’Halloran, president of the NSWTF, the government’s so-called “modest” changes will be to: “phase out teacher transfers in practice; offload the government’s responsibility for finding teachers onto schools; lead to large class sizes or unqualified teachers in some schools because they find it harder to attract and retain teachers; and establish the pre-conditions for the full deregulation agenda as in Victoria”.

Devolving school management to principals will jeopardise the development of curriculum for students in regional, remote and otherwise disadvantaged schools which find it difficult to attract and retain teachers. Teachers in rural areas, such as Moruya High School, continue to take industrial action against the government’s refusal to negotiate.

As the NSWTF south-east organiser Kyiah Angel said, “Teachers know that the changes, in effect from this term, will have a negative impact on some schools’ ability to attract and retain quality teachers. They will also have a negative impact on schools that are in favourable areas like Moruya, as principals’ workloads in these schools will increase dramatically, interfering with their capacity to effectively manage their schools.”

The teachers’ campaign of industrial action, lobbying and organising has convinced some MPs to support the federation. Facing pressure from its rural constituents, even the National Party has opposed the NSW government’s staffing changes. Teachers have had no choice but to escalate their campaign. In fact, while welcoming the action this week, many teachers are frustrated at the lack of industrial action until now.

As teachers from the Lakemba public school told the Sky Channel meeting at the Canterbury Leagues Club on April 8, the NSWTF could have been stronger from the beginning given the seriousness of the attack on teachers' rights. They said a 48-hour strike should have been waged in the first term of 2008.

By maintaining the transfer system of staffing public schools, we are rejecting the notion that chronically under-funded schools must compete against each other for the so-called “best teachers” or the “right teachers for the school”. The neo-liberal “user pays” concept of education and the idea that public schools must compete in an “education marketplace” must be rejected.

The underlying issue here, of course, is the inequitable education funding from federal and state governments that prioritises the private sector by allocating obscene amounts of public funds to private schools. We do need a sustained industrial campaign to defeat the government’s disastrous staffing changes. But to succeed, it must be supported by teachers, parents and students as well as all supporters of public education. The rally on May 22 starts at 11am at Farrer Place in central Sydney.

For rural and regional protest events visit .

[Noreen Navin is a state councillor of the NSW Teachers Federation and vice president of Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association. She is also a member of the Socialist Alliance.]

Togs's Quotes for the Week 24-5-08

Many will call me an adventurer - and that I am, only one of a different sort: one of those who risks his skin to prove his platitudes.
Che Guevara 1928-1967

We started of in chains, we do our best when we are not pushed, we pay back a good turn, say no to authority and upstarts, we’re casual, we like makeshift things, were ingenious practical, self reliant, good in emergencies, think we are as good as ayone else in the world and sympathise with the underdog.
The Glass Canoe 1971, David Ireland, Australian Writer 1927- Three times Miles Franklin winner.

The truly powerful feed ideology to the masses like fast food while they dine on the most rarified delicacy of all: impunity.
Naomi Klein 1970- Canadian journalist, author and activist.

The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don't understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it.
Bertolt Brecht 1898-1956, German playwright, founder of the Berliner Ensemble Company.

It is unlikely that British and American troops fighting in Iraq are aware that their governments supported Saddam Hussein both politically and financially through his worst excesses.
Arundhati Roy 1961- , Indian writer and Booker prize winner.

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.
George Orwell, 1903-1950

The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on.
Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 1923-1999

Classic nineteenth century European imperialists believed they were literally on a mission. I don't believe that the imperialists these days have that same sense of public service. They are simply pirates.
John Pilger 1939- Australian journalist and filmaker.

I think the importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual who may have achieved whatever but to be a part of an ongoing historical movement.
Angela Davis 1944- is a US socialist organiser and academic.

Quotes compiled by John/Togs Tognolini each week check out Togs's Place.Com

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Regime-Quakes in Burma and China by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

When news arrived of the catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan, my mind turned to Zheng Sun Man, an up-and-coming security executive I met on a recent trip to China. Zheng heads Aebell Electrical Technology, a Guangzhou-based company that makes surveillance cameras and public address systems and sells them to the government.

Zheng, a 28-year-old MBA with a text-messaging addiction, was determined to persuade me that his cameras and speakers are not being used against pro-democracy activists or factory organizers. They are for managing natural disasters, Zheng explained, pointing to the freak snowstorms before Lunar New Year. During the crisis, the government “was able to use the feed from the railway cameras to communicate how to deal with the situation and organize an evacuation. We saw how the central government can command from the north emergencies in the south.”

Of course, surveillance cameras have other uses too — like helping to make “Most Wanted” posters of Tibetan activists. But Zheng did have a point: nothing terrifies a repressive regime quite like a natural disaster. Authoritarian states rule by fear and by projecting an aura of total control. When they suddenly seem short-staffed, absent or disorganized, their subjects can become dangerously emboldened. It’s something to keep in mind as two of the most repressive regimes on the planet — China and Burma — struggle to respond to devastating disasters: the Sichuan earthquake and Cyclone Nargis. In both cases, the disasters have exposed grave political weaknesses within the regimes — and both crises have the potential to ignite levels of public rage that would be difficult to control.

When China is busily building itself up, residents tend to stay quiet about what they all know: developers regularly flout safety codes, while local officials are bribed not to notice. But when China comes tumbling down — including at least eight schools — the truth has a way of escaping. “Look at all the buildings around. They were the same height, but why did the school fall down?” demanded a distraught relative in Juyuan. A mother in Dujiangyan told the Guardian, “Chinese officials are too corrupt and bad…. They have money for prostitutes and second wives but they don’t have money for our children.”

That the Olympic stadiums were built to withstand powerful quakes is suddenly of little comfort. When I was in China, it was hard to find anyone willing to criticize the Olympic spending spree. Now posts on mainstream web portals are calling the torch relay “wasteful” and its continuation in the midst of so much suffering “inhuman.”

None of this compares with the rage boiling over in Burma, where cyclone survivors have badly beaten at least one local official, furious at his failure to distribute aid. There have been dozens of reports of the Burmese junta taking credit for supplies sent by foreign countries. It turns out that they have been taking more than credit — in some cases they have been taking the aid. According to a report in Asia Times, the regime has been hijacking food shipments and distributing them among its 400,000 soldiers. The reason speaks to the threat the disaster poses to the very existence of the regime. The generals, it seems, are “haunted by an almost pathological fear of a split inside their own ranks…if soldiers are not given priority in aid distribution and are unable to feed themselves, the possibility of mutiny rises.” Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, confirms that before the cyclone, the military was already coping with a wave of desertions.

This relatively small-scale theft of food is fortifying the junta for its much larger heist — the one taking place via the constitutional referendum the generals have insisted on holding, come hell and high water. Enticed by high commodity prices, Burma’s generals have been gorging off the country’s natural abundance, stripping it of gems, timber, rice and oil. As profitable as this arrangement is, junta leader Gen. Than Shwe knows he cannot resist the calls for democracy indefinitely.

Taking a page out of the playbook of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the generals have drafted a Constitution that allows for elections but guarantees that no future government will ever have the power to prosecute them for their crimes or take back their ill-gotten wealth. As Farmaner puts it, after elections the junta leaders “are going to be wearing suits instead of boots.” The cyclone, meanwhile, has presented them with one last, vast business opportunity: by blocking aid from reaching the highly fertile Irrawaddy delta, hundreds of thousands of mostly ethnic Karen rice farmers are being sentenced to death. According to Farmaner, “that land can be handed over to the generals’ business cronies” (shades of the beachfront land grabs in Sri Lanka and Thailand after the Asian tsunami). This isn’t incompetence, or even madness. It’s laissez-faire ethnic cleansing.

If the Burmese junta avoids mutiny and achieves these goals, it will be thanks largely to China, which has vigorously blocked all attempts at the United Nations for humanitarian intervention in Burma. Inside China, where the central government is going to great lengths to show itself as compassionate, news of this complicity could prove explosive. Will China’s citizens receive this news? They just might. Beijing has, up to now, displayed an awesome determination to censor and monitor all forms of communication. But in the wake of the quake, the notorious “Great Firewall” censoring the Internet is failing badly. Blogs are going wild, and even state reporters are insisting on reporting the news.

This may be the greatest threat that natural disasters pose to repressive regimes. For China’s rulers, nothing has been more crucial to maintaining power than the ability to control what people see and hear. If they lose that, neither surveillance cameras nor loudspeakers will be able to help them.

Published on Friday, May 16, 2008 by The Nation

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002).

Togs's Quotes of the Week, May 17 08

The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.
- Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.

The working class has nothing to lose but their chains. They have the world to win. Workers of the world, unite!
-Karl Marx

Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with.
-Rachel Corrie

When Bush says democracy, I often wonder what he's referring to.
-Angela Davis

I've learned in my years as a journalist that when a politician says 'That's ridiculous' you're probably on the right track.
-Amy Goodman

Those looking for ideology in the White House should consider this: For the men who rule our world, rules are for other people.
-Naomi Klein

The first schools of journalism were set up, and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around the professional journalist. The right to freedom of expression was associated with the new media and with the great corporations, and the whole thing was, as Robert McChesney put it so well, “entirely bogus”. -John Pilger

1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them. -Kurt Vonnegut US novelist (1922 -2007)

Do you think that the people of South Africa, or anywhere on the continent of Africa, or India, or Pakistan are longing to be kicked around all over again? -Arundhati Roy

Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war - for killing people. We received ours for entertaining other people. I'd say we deserve ours more.
-Joseph Heller, US Author of Catch 22

Ah, bless you, Sister, may all your sons be bishops.
-Brendan Behan

His last words to a nun in a Roman Catholic hospital. Togs

Monday, May 12, 2008

An Essay by Tom Englehardt: 12 Reasons to Get Out of Iraq Written by Tom Engelhardt

Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been unraveling? And here's the curious thing: Despite a lack of decent information and analysis on crucial aspects of the Iraqi catastrophe, despite the way much of the Iraq story fell off newspaper front pages and out of the TV news in the last year, despite so many reports on the "success" of the President's surge strategy, Americans sense this perfectly well. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56% of Americans "say the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further casualties" and this has, as the Post notes, been a majority position since January 2007, the month that the surge was first announced. Imagine what might happen if the American public knew more about the actual state of affairs in Iraq -- and of thinking in Washington. So, here, in an attempt to unravel the situation in ever-unraveling Iraq are twelve answers to questions which should be asked far more often in this country:

1. Yes, the war has morphed into the U.S. military's worst Iraq nightmare: Few now remember, but before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, top administration and Pentagon officials had a single overriding nightmare -- not chemical, but urban, warfare. Saddam Hussein, they feared, would lure American forces into "Fortress Baghdad," as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled it. There, they would find themselves fighting block by block, especially in the warren of streets that make up the Iraqi capital's poorest districts. When American forces actually entered Baghdad in early April 2003, however, even Saddam's vaunted Republican Guard units had put away their weapons and gone home. It took five years but, as of now, American troops are indeed fighting in the warren of streets in Sadr City, the Shiite slum of two and a half million in eastern Baghdad largely controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military, in fact, recently experienced its worst week of 2008 in terms of casualties, mainly in and around Baghdad. So, mission accomplished -- the worst fear of 2003 has now been realized.

2. No, there was never an exit strategy from Iraq because the Bush administration never intended to leave -- and still doesn't: Critics of the war have regularly gone after the Bush administration for its lack of planning, including its lack of an "exit strategy." In this, they miss the point. The Bush administration arrived in Iraq with four mega-bases on the drawing boards. These were meant to undergird a future American garrisoning of that country and were to house at least 30,000 American troops, as well as U.S. air power, for the indefinite future. The term used for such places wasn't "permanent base," but the more charming and euphemistic "enduring camp." (In fact, as we learned recently, the Bush administration refuses to define any American base on foreign soil anywhere on the planet, including ones in Japan for over 60 years, as permanent.) Those four monster bases in Iraq (and many others) were soon being built at the cost of multibillions and are, even today, being significantly upgraded. In October 2007, for instance, National Public Radio's defense correspondent Guy Raz visited Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, which houses about 40,000 American troops, contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees, and described it as "one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades." These mega-bases, like "Camp Cupcake" (al-Asad Air Base), nicknamed for its amenities, are small town-sized with massive facilities, including PXs, fast-food outlets, and the latest in communications. They have largely been ignored by the American media and so have played no part in the debate about Iraq in this country, but they are the most striking on-the-ground evidence of the plans of an administration that simply never expected to leave. To this day, despite the endless talk about drawdowns and withdrawals, that hasn't changed. In fact, the latest news about secret negotiations for a future Status of Forces Agreement on the American presence in that country indicates that U.S. officials are calling for "an open-ended military presence" and "no limits on numbers of U.S. forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term U.S. security agreements with other countries."

3. Yes, the United States is still occupying Iraq (just not particularly effectively): In June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), then ruling the country, officially turned over "sovereignty" to an Iraqi government largely housed in the American-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad and the occupation officially ended. However, the day before the head of the CPA, L. Paul Bremer III, slipped out of the country without fanfare, he signed, among other degrees, Order 17, which became (and, remarkably enough, remains) the law of the land. It is still a document worth reading as it essentially granted to all occupying forces and allied private companies what, in the era of colonialism, used to be called "extraterritoriality" -- the freedom not to be in any way subject to Iraqi law or jurisdiction, ever. And so the occupation ended without ever actually ending. With 160,000 troops still in Iraq, not to speak of an unknown number of hired guns and private security contractors, the U.S. continues to occupy the country, whatever the legalities might be (including a UN mandate and the claim that we are part of a "coalition"). The only catch is this: As of now, the U.S. is simply the most technologically sophisticated and potentially destructive of Iraq's proliferating militias -- and outside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, it is capable of controlling only the ground that its troops actually occupy at any moment.

4. Yes, the war was about oil: Oil was hardly mentioned in the mainstream media or by the administration before the invasion was launched. The President, when he spoke of Iraq's vast petroleum reserves at all, piously referred to them as the sacred "patrimony of the people of Iraq." But an administration of former energy execs -- with a National Security Advisor who once sat on the board of Chevron and had a double-hulled oil tanker, the Condoleezza Rice, named after her (until she took office), and a Vice President who was especially aware of the globe's potentially limited energy supplies -- certainly had oil reserves and energy flows on the brain. They knew, in Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's apt phrase, that Iraq was afloat on "a sea of oil" and that it sat strategically in the midst of the oil heartlands of the planet. It wasn't a mistake that, in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney's semi-secret Energy Task Force set itself the "task" of opening up the energy sectors of various Middle Eastern countries to "foreign investment"; or that it scrutinized "a detailed map of Iraq's oil fields, together with the (non-American) oil companies scheduled to develop them"; or that, according to the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, the National Security Council directed its staff "to cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the 'melding' of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: 'the review of operational policies towards rogue states,' such as Iraq, and 'actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields'"; or that the only American troops ordered to guard buildings in Iraq, after Baghdad fell, were sent to the Oil Ministry (and the Interior Ministry, which housed Saddam Hussein's dreaded secret police); or that the first "reconstruction" contract was issued to Cheney's former firm, Halliburton, for "emergency repairs" to those patrimonial oil fields. Once in charge in Baghdad, as sociologist Michael Schwartz has made clear, the administration immediately began guiding recalcitrant Iraqis toward denationalizing and opening up their oil industry, as well as bringing in the big boys. Though rampant insecurity has kept the Western oil giants on the sidelines, the American-shaped "Iraqi" oil law quickly became a "benchmark" of "progress" in Washington and remains a constant source of prodding and advice from American officials in Baghdad. Former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan put the oil matter simply and straightforwardly in his memoir in 2007: "I am saddened," he wrote, "that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." In other words, in a variation on the old Bill Clinton campaign mantra: It's the oil, stupid. Greenspan was, unsurprisingly, roundly assaulted for the obvious naiveté of his statement, from which, when it proved inconvenient, he quickly retreated. But if this administration hadn't had oil on the brain in 2002-2003, given the importance of Iraq's reserves, Congress should have impeached the President and Vice President for that.

5. No, our new embassy in Baghdad is not an "embassy": When, for more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, you construct a complex -- regularly described as "Vatican-sized" -- of at least 20 "blast-resistant" buildings on 104 acres of prime Baghdadi real estate, with "fortified working space" and a staff of at least 1,000 (plus several thousand guards, cooks, and general factotums), when you deeply embunker it, equip it with its own electricity and water systems, its own anti-missile defense system, its own PX, and its own indoor and outdoor basketball courts, volleyball court, and indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, among other things, you haven't built an "embassy" at all. What you've constructed in the heart of the heart of another country is more than a citadel, even if it falls short of a city-state. It is, at a minimum, a monument to Bush administration dreams of domination in Iraq and in what its adherents once liked to call "the Greater Middle East." Just about ready to open, after the normal construction mishaps in Iraq, it will constitute the living definition of diplomatic overkill. It will, according to a Senate estimate, now cost Americans $1.2 billion a year just to be "represented" in Iraq. The "embassy" is, in fact, the largest headquarters on the planet for the running of an occupation. Functionally, it is also another well-fortified enduring camp with the amenities of home. Tell that to the Shiite militiamen now mortaring the Green Zone as if it were… enemy-occupied territory.

6. No, the Iraqi government is not a government: The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has next to no presence in Iraq beyond the Green Zone; it delivers next to no services; it has next to no ability to spend its own oil money, reconstruct the country, or do much of anything else, and it most certainly does not hold a monopoly on the instruments of violence. It has no control over the provinces of northern Iraq which operate as a near-independent Kurdish state. Non-Kurdish Iraqi troops are not even allowed on its territory. Maliki's government cannot control the largely Sunni provinces of the country, where its officials are regularly termed "the Iranians" (a reference to the heavily Shiite government's closeness to neighboring Iran) and are considered the equivalent of representatives of a foreign occupying power; and it does not control the Shiite south, where power is fragmented among the militias of ISCI (the Badr Organization), Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and the armed adherents of the Fadila Party, a Sadrist offshoot, among others. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has been derisively nicknamed "the mayor of Kabul" for his government's lack of control over much territory outside the national capital. It would be a step forward for Maliki if he were nicknamed "the mayor of Baghdad." Right now, his troops, heavily backed by American forces, are fighting for some modest control over Shiite cities (or parts of cities) from Basra to Baghdad.

7. No, the surge is not over: Two weeks ago, amid much hoopla, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spent two days before Congress discussing the President's surge strategy in Iraq and whether it has been a "success." But that surge -- the ground one in which an extra 30,000-plus American troops were siphoned into Baghdad and, to a lesser extent, adjoining provinces -- was by then already so over. In fact, all but about 10,000 of those troops will be home by the end of July, not because the President has had any urge for a drawdown, but, as Fred Kaplan of Slate wrote recently, "because of simple math. The five extra combat brigades, which were deployed to Iraq with the surge, each have 15-month tours of duty; the 15 months will be up in July… and the U.S. Army and Marines have no combat brigades ready to replace them." On the other hand, in all those days of yak, neither the general with so much more "martial bling" on his chest than any victorious World War II commander, nor the white-haired ambassador uttered a word about the surge that is ongoing -- the air surge that began in mid-2007 and has yet to end. Explain it as you will, but, with rare exceptions, American reporters in Iraq generally don't look up or more of them would have noticed that the extra air units surged into that country and the region in the last year are now being brought to bear over Iraq's cities. Today, as fighting goes on in Sadr City, American helicopters and Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones reportedly circle overhead almost constantly and air strikes of various kinds on city neighborhoods are on the rise. Yet the air surge in Iraq remains unacknowledged here and so is not a subject for discussion, debate, or consideration when it comes to our future in Iraq.

8. No, the Iraqi army will never "stand up": It can't. It's not a national army. It's not that Iraqis can't fight -- or fight bravely. Ask the Sunni insurgents. Ask the Mahdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr. It's not that Iraqis are incapable of functioning in a national army. In the bitter Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, Iraqi Shiite as well as Sunni conscripts, led by a largely Sunni officer corps, fought Iranian troops fiercely in battle after pitched battle. But from Fallujah in 2004 to today, Iraqi army (and police) units, wheeled into battle (often at the behest of the Americans), have regularly broken and run, or abandoned their posts, or gone over to the other side, or, at the very least, fought poorly. In the recent offensive launched by the Maliki government in Basra, military and police units up against a single resistant militia, the Mahdi Army, deserted in sizeable numbers, while other units, when not backed by the Americans, gave poor showings. At least 1,300 troops and police (including 37 senior police officers) were recently "fired" by Maliki for dereliction of duty, while two top commanders were removed as well. Though American training began in 2004 and, by 2005, the President was regularly talking about us "standing down" as soon as the Iraqi Army "stood up," as Charles Hanley of the Associated Press points out, "Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed to always slip further into the future." He adds, "In the latest shift, the Pentagon's new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when local units will take over security responsibility for Iraq. Last year's reports had forecast a transition in 2008." According to Hanley, the chief American trainer of Iraqi forces, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, now estimates that the military will not be able to guard the country's borders effectively until 2018. No wonder. The "Iraqi military" is not in any real sense a national military at all. Its troops generally lack heavy weaponry, and it has neither a real air force nor a real navy. Its command structures are integrated into the command structure of the U.S. military, while the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy are the real Iraqi air force and navy. It is reliant on the U.S. military for much of its logistics and resupply, even after an investment of $22 billion by the American taxpayer. It represents a non-government, is riddled with recruits from Shiite militias (especially the Badr brigades), and is riven about who its enemy is (or enemies are) and why. It cannot be a "national" army because it has, in essence, nothing to stand up for. You can count on one thing, as long as we are "training" and "advising" the Iraqi military, however many years down the line, you will read comments like this one from an American platoon sergeant, after an Iraqi front-line unit abandoned its positions in the ongoing battle for control of parts of Sadr City: "It bugs the hell out of me. We don't see any progress being made at all. We hear these guys in firefights. We know if we are not up there helping these guys out we are making very little progress."

9. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and fragmentation: The U.S. invasion and the Bush administration's initial occupation policies decisively smashed Iraq's fragile "national" sense of self. Since then, the Bush administration, a motor for chaos and fragmentation, has destroyed the national (if dictatorial) government, allowed the capital and much of the country (as well as its true patrimony of ancient historical objects and sites) to be looted, disbanded the Iraqi military, and deconstructed the national economy. Ever since, whatever the administration rhetoric, the U.S. has only presided over the further fragmentation of the country. Its military, in fact, employs a specific policy of urban fragmentation in which it regularly builds enormous concrete walls around neighborhoods, supposedly for "security" and "reconstruction," that actually cut them off from their social and economic surroundings. And, of course, Iraq has in these years been fragmented in other staggering ways with an estimated four-plus million Iraqis driven into exile abroad or turned into internal refugees. According to Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times, there are now at least 28 different militias in the country. The longer the U.S. remains even somewhat in control, the greater the possibility of further fragmentation. Initially, the fragmentation was sectarian -- into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia regions, but each of those regions has its own potentially hostile parts and so its points of future conflict and further fragmentation. If the U.S. military spent the early years of its occupation fighting a Sunni insurgency in the name of a largely Shiite (and Kurdish) government, it is now fighting a Shiite militia, while paying and arming former Sunni insurgents, relabeled "Sons of Iraq." Iran is also clearly sending arms into a country that is, in any case, awash in weaponry. Without a real national government, Iraq has descended into a welter of militia-controlled neighborhoods, city states, and provincial or regional semi-governments. Despite all the talk of American-supported "reconciliation," Juan Cole described the present situation well at his Informed Comment blog: "Maybe the US in Iraq is not the little boy with his finger in the dike. Maybe we are workers with jackhammers instructed to make the hole in the dike much more huge."

10. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and civil war: As with fragmentation, the U.S. military's presence has, in fact, been a motor for civil war in that country. The invasion and subsequent chaos, as well as punitive acts against the Sunni minority, allowed Sunni extremists, some of whom took the name "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia," to establish themselves as a force in the country for the first time. Later, U.S. military operations in both Sunni and Shiite areas regularly repressed local militias -- almost the only forces capable of bringing some semblance of security to urban neighborhoods -- opening the way for the most extreme members of the other community (Sunni suicide or car bombers and Shiite death squads) to attack. It's worth remembering that it was in the surge months of 2007, when all those extra American troops hit Baghdad neighborhoods, that many of the city's mixed or Sunni neighborhoods were most definitively "cleansed" by death squads, producing a 75-80% Shiite capital. Iraq is now embroiled in what Juan Cole has termed "three civil wars," two of which (in the south and the north) are largely beyond the reach of limited American ground forces and all of which could become far worse. The still low-level struggle between Kurds and Arabs (with the Turks hovering nearby) for the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the north may be the true explosion point to come. The U.S. military sits precariously atop this mess, at best putting off to the future aspects of the present civil-war landscape, but more likely intensifying it.

11. No, al-Qaeda will not control Iraq if we leave (and neither will Iran): The latest figures tell the story. Of 658 suicide bombings globally in 2007 (more than double those of any year in the last quarter century), 542, according to the Washington Post's Robin Wright, took place in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly Iraq. In other words, the American occupation of that land has been a motor for acts of terrorism (as occupations will be). There was no al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia before the invasion and Iraq was no Afghanistan. The occupation under whatever name will continue to create "terrorists," no matter how many times the administration claims that "al-Qaeda" is on the run. With the departure of U.S. troops, it's clear that homegrown Sunni extremists (and the small number of foreign jihadis who work with them), already a minority of a minority, will more than meet their match in facing the Sunni mainstream. The Sunni Awakening Movement came into existence, in part, to deal with such self-destructive extremism (and its fantasies of a Taliban-style society) before the Americans even noticed that it was happening. When the Americans leave, "al-Qaeda" (and whatever other groups the Bush administration subsumes under that catch-all title) will undoubtedly lose much of their raison d'être or simply be crushed. As for Iran, the moment the Bush administration finally agreed to a popular democratic vote in occupied Iraq, it ensured one thing -- that the Shiite majority would take control, which in practice meant religio-political parties that, throughout the Saddam Hussein years, had generally been close to, or in exile in, Iran. Everything the Bush administration has done since has only ensured the growth of Iranian influence among Shiite groups. This is surely meant by the Iranians as, in part, a threat/trump card, should the Bush administration launch an attack on that country. After all, crucial U.S. resupply lines from Kuwait run through areas near Iran and would assumedly be relatively easy to disrupt. Without the U.S. military in Iraq, there can be no question that the Iranians would have real influence over the Shiite (and probably Kurdish) parts of the country. But that influence would have its distinct limits. If Iran overplayed its hand even in a rump Shiite Iraq, it would soon enough find itself facing some version of the situation that now confronts the Americans. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote in the Nation recently, "[D]espite Iran's enormous influence in Iraq, most Iraqis -- even most Iraqi Shiites -- are not pro-Iran. On the contrary, underneath the ruling alliance in Baghdad, there is a fierce undercurrent of Arab nationalism in Iraq that opposes both the U.S. occupation and Iran's support for religious parties in Iraq." The al-Qaedan and Iranian "threats" are, at one and the same time, bogeymen used by the Bush administration to scare Americans who might favor withdrawal and, paradoxically, realities that a continued military presence only encourages.

12. Yes, some Americans were right about Iraq from the beginning (and not the pundits either): One of the strangest aspects of the recent fifth anniversary (as of every other anniversary) of the invasion of Iraq was the newspaper print space reserved for those Bush administration officials and other war supporters who were dead wrong in 2002-2003 on an endless host of Iraq-related topics. Many of them were given ample opportunity to offer their views on past failures, the "success" of the surge, future withdrawals or drawdowns, and the responsibilities of a future U.S. president in Iraq. Noticeably missing were representatives of the group of Americans who happened to have been right from the get-go. In our country, of course, it often doesn't pay to be right. (It's seen as a sign of weakness or plain dumb luck.) I'm speaking, in this case, of the millions of people who poured into the streets to demonstrate against the coming invasion with an efflorescence of placards that said things too simpleminded (as endless pundits assured American news readers at the time) to take seriously -- like "No Blood for Oil," "Don't Trade Lives for Oil," or ""How did USA's oil get under Iraq's sand?" At the time, it seemed clear to most reporters, commentators, and op-ed writers that these sign-carriers represented a crew of well-meaning know-nothings and the fact that their collective fears proved all too prescient still can't save them from that conclusion. So, in their very rightness, they were largely forgotten. Now, as has been true for some time, a majority of Americans, another obvious bunch of know-nothings, are deluded enough to favor bringing all U.S. troops out of Iraq at a reasonable pace and relatively soon. (More than 60% of them also believe "that the conflict is not integral to the success of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.") If, on the other hand, a poll were taken of pundits and the inside-the-Beltway intelligentsia (not to speak of the officials of the Bush administration), the number of them who would want a total withdrawal from Iraq (or even see that as a reasonable goal) would undoubtedly descend near the vanishing point. When it comes to American imperial interests, most of them know better, just as so many of them did before the war began. Even advisors to candidates who theoretically want out of Iraq are hinting that a full-scale withdrawal is hardly the proper way to go. So let me ask you a question (and you answer it): Given all of the above, given the record thus far, who is likely to be right? Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has been updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq., April 20, 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Togs's Quotes For The Week 11 May 08

If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.

Che Guevara 1928-1967

Democracy is not for people who just want to be left alone, so long as they do what there told and don’t answer back. The key people in the democratic process are the critics, dissenters, reformers. If their sealed off from the political process, the system grows tired and sick, and turns into something else.

The Glass Canoe 1971
David Ireland,
Australian Writer 1927- Three times Miles Franklin winner

What is the crime of robbing a bank compared with the crime of founding one.

Bertolt Brecht 1898-1956, German playwright, founder of the Berliner Ensemble Company.

Empire is on the move, and democracy is its sly new war cry. Democracy, home delivered to your doorstep by daisy cutters. Death is a small price to pay for the privilege of sampling this new product: Instant-mix imperial democracy, bring to boil, add oil, then bomb.

Arundhati Roy 1961- , Indian writer and Booker prize winner.

Political language ….is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant 1903-1950

Once we [The Poles] had socialism without social justice, now we have capitalism without capital.

Jan Petrzak, Sayings of the Week, 15 April 1990.

He disapproved of Adolf Hitler, who had done such a great job of combating un-American activities in Germany.

Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 1923-1999

Official truths are often powerful illusions.

John Pilger 1939-

I don't know about you but I enjoy the way our tax money is being spent to arrest, indict, convict, imprison, parole, and re-imprison these people (marijuana smokers). I'd just piss away on beer any way.

Lenny Bruce 1925-66.

Run for office? No. I've slept with too many women, I've done too many drugs, and I've been to too many parties.

George Clooney 1961-

The crimes of the U.S. throughout the world have been systematic, constant, clinical, remorseless, and fully documented but nobody talks about them.

Harold Pinter 1930- , 2005 Nobel Lecture

I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.

Brendan Behan 1923-66

I have made more friends for American culture than the State Department. Certainly I have made fewer enemies, but that isn't very difficult.

Arthur Miller 1915-2005

The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they've been in.

Dennis Potter 1935-1994

When Dennis Potter was dying from cancer, he named his tumor Rupert Murdoch.

John/Togs Tognolini

Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?

Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007

The US War on Journalists by Amy Goodman

A sketch of Guantanamo Bayby released Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj.

Sami al-Haj is a free man today, after having been imprisoned by the U.S. military for more than six years. His crime: journalism.

Targeting journalists, the Bush administration has engaged in direct assault, intimidation, imprisonment and information blackouts to limit the ability of journalists to do their jobs. The principal target these past seven years has been Al-Jazeera, the Arabic television network based in Doha, Qatar.

In November 2001, despite the fact that Al-Jazeera had given the U.S. military the coordinates of its office in Kabul, U.S. warplanes bombed Al-Jazeera’s bureau there, destroying it. An Al-Jazeera reporter covering the George Bush-Vladimir Putin summit in Crawford, Texas, in the same month was detained by the FBI because his credit card was “linked to Afghanistan.”

In spring 2003, the U.S. dropped four bombs on the Sheraton hotel in Basra, Iraq, where Al-Jazeera correspondents-the only journalists reporting from that city-were the lone guests. Another Al-Jazeera staffer showed his ID to a U.S. Marine at a Baghdad checkpoint, only to have his car fired upon by the Marines. He was unhurt. That can’t be said for Tareq Ayyoub, an Al-Jazeera correspondent who was on the roof of the network’s bureau in Baghdad on April 8, 2003, when a U.S. warplane strafed it. He was killed. His widow, Dima Tahboub, told me: “Hate breeds hate. The United States said they were doing this to rout out terrorism. Who is engaged in terrorism now?”

Then there is the story of Sami al-Haj. A cameraman for Al-Jazeera, he was reporting on the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. On Dec. 15, 2001, while in a Pakistani town near the Afghanistan border, Haj was arrested, then imprisoned in Afghanistan. Six months later, shackled and gagged, he was flown to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Haj was held there for close to six years, repeatedly interrogated and never charged with any crime, never tried in a court. He engaged in a hunger strike for more than a year, but was force-fed by his jailers with a feeding tube sent into his stomach through his nose. Haj was abruptly released this week. The U.S. government announced that he was being transferred to the custody of Sudan, his home nation, but the government of Sudan took no action against him. He was rushed to an emergency room, and soon was seen on his old network, Al-Jazeera:

“I’m very happy to be in Sudan, but I’m very sad because of the situation of our brothers who remain in Guantanamo. Conditions in Guantanamo are very, very bad, and they get worse by the day. Our human condition, our human dignity was violated, and the American administration went beyond all human values, all moral values, all religious values. In Guantanamo, you have animals that are called iguanas, rats that are treated with more humanity. But we have people from more than 50 countries that are completely deprived of all rights and privileges, and they will not give them the rights that they give to animals.”

He described the desecration of the Quran as part of the effort to break him: “They hold the Quran in contempt, destroyed it several times and put their dirty feet on it. They also sat on the Quran while trying to get us angry. They repeatedly committed violations against our dignity and our sexual organs.” At least one official in the Defense Department has denied the charges.
Asim al-Haj, Sami’s brother, told me in an interview last January about the 130 interrogations: “During these times, the interrogations were all about Al-Jazeera and alleged relations between Al-Jazeera and al-Qaida. They tried to induce him to spy on his colleagues at Al-Jazeera.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists have been held for extended periods by the U.S. military and then released without charge. Just weeks ago in Iraq, the U.S. military released Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein after holding him without charge for two years. The military had once accused Hussein of being a “terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP.”

The committee reports that 127 journalists and an additional 50 media workers have been killed in Iraq since 2003, well more than twice the number killed in World War II. We need to remind the Bush administration: Don’t shoot the messenger.

Published on Thursday, May 8, 2008 by

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations in North America. Her third book, “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” was published in April.

Destroying The Best In Britian by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes how the New Labour government is destroying one of the the venerable features of "communal decency" in Britain - the local post office.

Economies need to be made, though not in the pursuit of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.When I first came to live in Britain, much of ordinary life was premised on a sense of community. It was mostly undeclared; occasionally, it would become vivid, even heroic. Watching Durham miners, defeated but unbowed by hunger and debt, march back to the pit in 1985, led by their women, was a glimpse of Britain at its best. In spite of Thatcher and Blair, that communal decency survives, though you may have to look for it. A good place to look is a local post office.

Local post offices, from the Highlands to the Pennines to the inner cities, are where precious parcels begin their epic journey to the other side of the world, and pensions, income support, child benefit and Incapacity Benefit are drawn, and Freedom Passes are issued, along with Lottery tickets and Mars Bars. I often walk down to my local post office just to browse, watching the kindness that Shailesh and Smita Patel hand out to the elderly, the awkward, the inarticulate, the harried. If an elderly person has failed to turn up on pension day, he or she will get a visit from Smita, with groceries. Smita has been doing this for most of 20 years.

Their post office, in Abbeville Road, Clapham, is one of 169 London branches due to close in May. That is a fifth of all post offices in the capital. Some 2,500 post offices are expected to be shut in Britain by the end of 2009. This includes rural and remote areas, where the post office is quite literally the heart of a community. The Patels in Abbeville Road have had just six weeks to mount a campaign. They have collected 4,500 signatures and packed a local church hall. My neighbours have little doubt about what will happen to "Abbeville Village" if the post office's shutters come down.

A proposed betting shop is Lambeth Council's idea of community - or yet another estate agent.The whole wilful destruction is a new Labour classic and shows why, in a nutshell, even the ever faithful have turned on them. Having already closed 6,000 post offices since it came to power in 1997, more than any other government, it issues press releases saying it wants to "help the Post Office modernise, restore profitability... invest in new products and look at innovative ways to deliver services". We know what this means.

It was left to a member of the Scottish Parliament, Fergus Ewing, to say it: "Senior management are preparing the ground for a huge sell-off of the postal service."Note the way they are doing it. For each branch marked for closure, the six-week "consultation process" is so "shrouded in secrecy", says Peter Luff, chairman of the Commons business, enterprise and regulatory reform committee, "that by the time it gets to a public consultation stage, the decision on a Post Office branch is a fait accompli".

When Royal Mail managers faced a public meeting off Abbeville Road, they got their facts wrong about the services provided by the local branch, and they seemed to have no idea of its cost base. Neither could they explain why the alternatives were post offices themselves marked for closure. Their chief executive, Adam Crozier, is the man responsible for cancelling the second mail delivery and introducing inept "flexible" work practices that have demoralised what was once the most loyal workforce in the country. For this, he saw his pay package rise by 26 per cent to £1.25m last year. That is £1,000 for every hour and 27 minutes he is seated at his desk.
The "S-word" is subsidy. While new Labour is happy to subsidise Crozier's fortune, a failed bank, colonial bloodbaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and a culpably useless Trident nuclear weapon system costing up to £20bn, it refuses to subsidise a true public service that costs, in relative terms, peanuts.

On 19 March, just 20 Labour MPs voted against the government on a motion calling for a delay in closure of post offices. My local, Labour MP, Keith Hill, made a speech in which he called Abbeville Road post office a "lifeline of human contact". He also called it "one of that 30 per cent minority of profit-making, commercially viable post offices", which he compared favourably with those post offices providing only a public service. He was not against closing branches, he said, but it "makes no sense" if they made a profit.

Charles Darwin would have understood the logic.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Let the people decide, let Unions NSW prepare industrial action, Stop the sell-off of NSW electricity! by Dick Nichols

“If Morris Iemma is so confident that electricity privatisation represents the best interests of the people of New South Wales, let him put it to a referendum”, Dick Nichols, National Coordinator of the Socialist Alliance said today.

Nichols was commenting on the New South Wales premier’s decision to ignore the 702-107 vote by the weekend ALP state conference against his government’s planned sell-off of electricity.

“Iemma and his backers like Paul Keating claim that the ALP conference was unrepresentative, because it was dominated by trade unionists (‘lemmings’ according to the former prime minister). So let’s have a public debate and decision on the pros and cons of his sell-off plan”, Nichols said.

The Alliance spokesperson said he was completely confident that such a debate would see a NSW-wide repeat of the ALP conference result.

“What Iemma and treasurer Michael Costa have to grasp is that people are not ignorant sheep who have to have the benefits of electricity privatisation explained to them by all-wise politicos ancient and modern in words of one syllable.

“The ALP conference debate showed that the delegates, both from the unions and the party branches, actually understood the arguments for electricity privatisation.

“But they knew enough to see right through the Costa-Iemma line that ‘you can have public spending on electricity generation or on public services but you can’t have both’. Even union delegations pledged to support Iemma (and personally lined up for him by Keating) deserted the premier after the debate.”

Nichols added that the decision of premier’s office to publish full-page advertisements in support of the sell-off in today’s Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald showed the government’s growing desperation, and the need for the union movement to organise industrial action and ongoing protest against it.

He concluded: “Unions NSW must commit to organise total union resistance to the sell-off, starting with an industrial campaign of complete non-cooperation with government privatisation plans.

“The whole union movement has to be organised to take whatever action is necessary to win.”

Keating's Past is Not NSW Labor's Future by Peter Botsman

Pryor's view of Keating as ALP Prime Minister back in 1994.

It’s been 12 years now since Paul Keating lost office. He returns to public life from time to time when he can’t help himself. But lately Keating has become just another politician who not only lives in the past but wants to turn the future into some version of his own heroic past battles. His recent vilification of Paddy Mc Guinness after his death was pathetic.

Today’s Op Ed on the hopeless Costa and Iemma is just as bad. Keating blames Bernie Riordan, John Robertson and the officers of the NSW Labor Party for the fact that Iemma and Costa could not win a simple argument with the rank and file of the party. That is not only the most pathetic joke I have heard in a long time, it makes a mockery of what really happened at conference on the weekend.

Not only did Iemma and Costa lose, they lost as close to unanimously as could ever be at a State Labor conference. It seems Keating, Iemma, Costa, Carr and Unsworth want to return to the past when majorities did not matter and you bludgeoned your way through the factions to get your way. The difference is this time if the old hacks get their way – it will be the end of the NSW Labor Party.

Parliamentarians won’t need a party they will just consult with their big end of town mates and make decisions based on their narrow, self oriented, view of the world. No doubt this cosy little group will be the major consultative group. This was not just a union vote. It was a vote in which unions were a minority of the vote against privatisation of the NSW electricity industry. The 702 delegates who voted against Iemma and Costa were left, centre and right. They were rank and file members elected from their State Electoral Councils and branches. They were as close as you could get in this forum to the make up of the people of the State of NSW. Ignoring this vote, goes beyond the privatisation issue, it trashes the idea of a democratic party and sets an ominous precedent for the future.

Despite the fact that Michael Costa was sent in to stir up the conference for the media, the untelevised debates were as good as I have ever seen at a Labor conference.

The debate on the floor of the conference was decisively won by the anti-privatisation group. They addressed in detail all of the arguments that Paul Keating raises in the SMH raised today. This was not the usual NSW Labor debate. Copies of the Unsworth Inquiry was circulated to all members on behalf of the government. Many used the opportunity to wade through it. In the past, if you dared to not follow the official Sussex St line then you were berated mercilessly on the floor. Keating learned all his formidable parliamentary venom from berating people on the floor of the Labor conference.

This time the tables were reversed. Those who usually gain the protection of the right wing Sussex St machine actually had to make a case. They failed miserably. Only John Della Bosca and John Watkins managed to cut through and make some decent arguments about the merits of the sell off. Bernie Riordan who Keating lambasts today gave a speech that was crisp and to the point. He demolished any argument that was made by the pro-privatisers. In doing so, he simply used sound logical argument.

His main points were:

NSW Electricity generation is a profitable monopoly business that returns a dividend to government each year. Now is not the time to sell the asset because it would probably not even get $10 billion let alone the $15 billion government first touted as its sale price.

Managing the transition of coal based power generation to carbon neutral power generation should rightly be a major job of government that would be aided by retaining power generation in public hands.

Not selling avoids the inequities that have arisen in every area of privatisation over the past three decades.
It is the height of hypocrisy for Keating to use his track record as President of the Labor Party to have a go at Riordan as Labor President.

It was Riordan who time after time implored the delegates to respect each contribution.
One can hardly imagine Keating in this role? It was Riordan who gave Kevin Rudd one of the best introductions that a Prime Minister has had to NSW Labor Conference. It all could have gone horribly wrong without Riordan's speech. It was Riordan who looked like a statesman, not a buffoon like Costa, or a man out of his depth like Iemma.

So Keating get your facts straight; it would be nice to see you some time at conference, maybe you can’t spare the time from listening to Mahler to actually mingle with the rank and file.

Keating says the National Electricity Market now means there is no reason to hold the monopoly NSW generators in public ownership. Who says?

The fact is that National Electricity Market gives public generators greater flexibility and capacity to on-sell. It also means that the people of NSW have a greater level of protection from pricing and predatory behaviour than the people of any other State.

It means that the people of NSW avoid the chaotic entry of private owners and managers and enjoy the benefits of national competition. Keating says that there is now competition in pricing through the National Market. This is no reason to sell off power generators.
Electricity generation simply becomes a better statutory corporation operating in public ownership but with the disciplines of the market to keep it efficient. NSW get the benefits of both worlds.

Keating says that power generators are industrial archaeology so they should be offloaded as if government’s sole prerogative was to dump losses. But he says hold on to the unprofitable poles and wires which do not make any money? Privatise the profits, socialise the losses! The super funds will build the power generation of the future says PJK. But where have the revolutionary projects been undertaken by even the union based Industry funds.

We've all been waiting for them? But the fact is that the trustees of even union funds are petrified to do anything outside markets dictates for fear of breaking their fiduciary duties to contributors. There is no way they will invest in risky new generators with unproven technology. So who cares about how the transition to a more greenhouse efficient energy production is managed?

This is not a job for government says Keating. We’ll leave it to the super funds and the market place. You’ve got to be kidding. It’s about time governments took on leadership on the big issues and stopped running governments as if they were just an accounting entity.

The clinch argument Keating wants to make is that if Carr had sold the electricity industry in 1997 the public was worth $35 billion. What a joke? I remember that debate very well. I was in the middle of it.

Those figures were constantly in debate particularly since when Kennet sold the Victorian industry he got such a profit than the first movers went broke in a very short amount of time creating chaos in Victorian power generation. The argument that Michael Egan and Bob Carr made was that the power industry was a basket case and would not return any dividends and needed to be sold because the government was going to have to go into debt to retain them. Last year the electricity generators returned $1.2 billion to the State budget in taxes and dividends. Since 1997 many billions have been earned. So deduct $10 billion from the $20 billion Keating reckons the government has lost because it should have sold in 1997 and then deduct another $10 billion as the normal wear and tear on an aging asset.

The government has lost nothing, and a counter argument can be made that it has been profitable to retain the assets given all of the dividends, taxes and external benefits that have been enjoyed by retaining them in public ownership. The truth is Paul Keating wants to go back to the party that he, Graham Richardson and Barry Unsworth shaped in the 1970s.

Now not even the party officers want to go back to that dark period. What a joke for Keating to hold himself up as a model of rectitude as party President. Loyalty for Keating meant stifle any free debate, obtain outcomes for the dominant group, dance over and ignore ordinary rank and file members views and ideas and make a laser-like run for any power. Keating was like a whippet at any party position that might gain him power and woe to any poor soul who got between him and his prize.

The reason why the Labor Party now has such a small membership is because Keating and his co-horts from the NSW Labor Right created a party that was for one small factional group. Whatever may happen now, Luke Foley and Karl Bitar are a breath of fresh air. Their task it to build a broader church and to create Labor officials, ministers and parliamentarians who have merit and are not just mates. The task is to build a party that is about the betterment of mankind not just the betterment of the big end of town.
So move over Keating. And Keating, so far as political competitiveness is concerned: The most competitive NSW government would not include Iemma or Costa in its ranks. Like the 85 per cent vote at conference, 85 per cent of the State do not want privatisation. Iemma won the last election facing the worst Opposition leader in living memory. Costa has made an utter fool of himself.

Now it is Iemma who has the lowest rating of a Premier in living memory and Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell is the front runner. John Della Bosca as Premier and John Watkins as Treasurer would be the strongest team against O’Farrell.

Lets hope that the gutless parliamentary representatives who have decided to defy Labor's membership and organisation, will see sense over the next week or so and ignore the mutterings of Labor has beens.