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Friday, March 28, 2008

A tribute to Philip Jones Griffiths, who understood war & peace, & people by John Pilger

Philip Jones Griffith

In his column for the New Statesman, John Pilger pays tribute to his friend, the great photo-journalist Philip Jones Griffith, who has died. "No photographer," he writes, "produced such finely subversive work, knowing that truth in war is always subversive.

"I would stroll past the Hotel Royale in Saigon and look up at the corner balcony on the first floor and see him there, camera resting on his arm. A greeting in Welsh might drift down. Or his take-off of an insane American colonel we both knew. What was he doing? Best to be patient; but this had gone on for days.

It was 1970 and we were on our first assignment together and at once became friends, talking about the war as surreal, and mostly about the people, whom he loved. He introduced me to “Kim Van Kieu”, a deeply touching poem about struggle and sacrifice, with which the Vietnamese as a nation identify:

It matters little if a flower fallsif a tree can keep its leaves green...

I never met a foreigner who cared as wisely for the Vietnamese, or about ordinary people everywhere under the heel of great power, as Philip Jones Griffiths. He was the greatest photographer and one of the finest journalists of my lifetime, and a humanitarian to match. He died on 19 March.

At the end of that first assignment, he handed me a crumpled brown envelope containing just six photographs. I was aghast – where was the bundle of rolls of film, where were the copious sheets of contact prints over which my picture editor in London would pore? I was puzzled that he had seemed to take so few pictures, though his war-weary Leica seldom left his hand. He watched, puckish, eyes twinkling, as I opened the envelope, then enjoyed my reaction as I examined the contents. Each print was exquisite in the power of its symbolism and true to everything we had seen and talked about, especially the destructive relationship between the Vietnamese and the Americans, the invaded and the invaders.

My favourite was of a large GI in a crowd of busy, opaque Vietnamese faces including a young woman photographed in the act of picking his pocket artfully, elegantly, little finger extended. This was the picture for which he had waited days on the balcony at the Royale. Another was Catch-22 in a single frame – spruce US officers peering at IBM computer printouts which “proved” they were winning the war they were demonstrably losing. It might have been Iraq.

No photographer produced such finely subversive work, knowing that truth in war is always subversive. Also in my brown envelope was the Goya-like picture of a captured NLF (Vietcong) soldier, prostrate, wounded and surrounded in the darkness, yet undefeated in his humanity in a manner his captors did not understand. Philip did.

In 2001, I curated an exhibition at the Barbican of pictures by great photographers I had worked with. Philip’s six from the brown envelope occupied one wall and on their own made sense of the longest war of the 20th century. He could write as finely. The pared, darkly ironic captions in his classic work Vietnam Inc include this one, beneath those officers rejoicing in their air-conditioned printouts: “This is the computer that proves the war is being won. Data collected for the Hamlet Evaluation System is analysed to see who loves us. Results on the my-wife-is-not-trying-to-poison-me-therefore-she-loves-me pattern are reliably produced, each and every month.

”He liked the soldiers whose photographs he took under fire, in the mud, believing they, too, were victims. “My objective,” he said, “was not to allow my positive feelings toward them as individuals to cloud the fact that they were prosecuting a genocidal war.” Iraq, he said recently, “is only different because every soldier seems to have a digital camera”.

He was the antithesis of the anti-journalist who pretends to be objective while ensuring his or her words remain within the undeclared limits set by authority, whose flattery is reciprocated. He believed that no human loss from war or poverty was accidental and that behind each were “those murky forces”, as Brecht puts it, of responsible power. His remarkable book on Agent Orange, the chemical that still murders and maims Vietnamese children, shamed those who rarely if ever mention this enduring weapon of mass destruction. His photographs of ordinary people, from his beloved Wales to Vietnam and the shadows of Cambodia, make you realise who the true heroes are. He was one of them.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Terrible Reality of Iraq, A War of Lies By PATRICK COCKBURN Baghdad.

It has been a war of lies from the start. All governments lie in wartime but American and British propaganda in Iraq over the past five years has been more untruthful than in any conflict since the First World War.

The outcome has been an official picture of Iraq akin to fantasy and an inability to learn from mistakes because of a refusal to admit that any occurred. Yet the war began with just such a mistake. Five years ago, on the evening of 19 March 2003, President George Bush appeared on American television to say that military action had started against Iraq.

This was a veiled reference to an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein by dropping four 2,000lb bombs and firing 40 cruise missiles at a place called al-Dura farm in south Baghdad, where the Iraqi leader was supposedly hiding in a bunker. There was no bunker. The only casualties were one civilian killed and 14 wounded, including nine women and a child.

On 7 April, the US Ai r Force dropped four more massive bombs on a house where Saddam was said to have been sighted in Baghdad. "I think we did get Saddam Hussein," said the US Vice President, Dick Cheney. "He was seen being dug out of the rubble and wasn't able to breathe."
Saddam was unharmed, probably because he had never been there, but 18 Iraqi civilians were dead. One US military leader defended the attacks, claiming they showed "US resolve and capabilities".

Mr Cheney was back in Baghdad this week, five years later almost to the day, to announce that there has been "phenomenal" improvements in Iraqi security. Within hours, a woman suicide bomber blew herself up in the Shia holy city of Kerbala, killing at least 40 and wounding 50 people. Often it is difficult to know where the self-deception ends and the deliberate mendacity begins.

The most notorious lie of all was that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But critics of the war may have focused too much on WMD and not enough on later distortions.

The event which has done most to shape the present Iraqi political landscape was the savage civil war between Sunni and Shia in Baghdad and central Iraq in 2006-07 when 3,000 civilians a month were being butchered and which was won by the Shia.

The White House and Downing Street blithely denied a civil war was happening ñ and forced Iraq politicians who said so to recant ñ to pretend the crisis was less serious than it was.

More often, the lies have been small, designed to make a propaganda point for a day even if they are exposed as untrue a few weeks later. One example of this to shows in detail how propaganda distorts day-to-day reporting in Iraq, but, if the propagandist knows his job, is very difficult to disprove.

On 1 February this year, two suicide bombers, said to be female, blew themselves up in two pet markets in predominantly Shia areas of Baghdad, al Ghazil and al-Jadida, and killed 99 people. Iraqi government officials immediately said the bombers had the chromosonal disorder Down's syndrome, which they could tell this from looking at the severed heads of the bombers. Sadly, horrific bombings in Iraq are so common that they no longer generate much media interest abroad. It was the Down's syndrome angle which made the story front-page news. It showed al-Qa'ida in Iraq was even more inhumanly evil than one had supposed (if that were possible) and it meant, so Iraqi officials said, that al-Qa'ida was running out of volunteers.

The Times splashed on it under the headline, "Down's syndrome bombers kill 91". The story stated firmly that "explosives strapped to two women with Down's syndrome were detonated by remote control in crowded pet markets". Other papers, including The Independent, felt the story had a highly suspicious smell to it. How much could really be told about the mental condition of a woman from a human head shattered by a powerful bomb? Reliable eyewitnesses in suicide bombings are difficult to find because anybody standing close to the bomber is likely to be dead or in hospital.

The US military later supported the Iraqi claim that the bombers had Down's syndrome. On 10 February, they arrested Dr Sahi Aboub, the acting director of the al Rashad mental hospital in east Baghdad, alleging that he had provided mental patients for use by al-Qa'ida. The Iraqi Interior Ministry started rounding up beggars and mentally disturbed people on the grounds that they might be potential bombers.

But on 21 February, an American military spokes-man said there was no evidence the bombers had Down's. Adel Mohsin, a senior official at the Health Ministry in Baghdad, poured scorn on the idea that Dr Aboub could have done business with the Sunni fanatics of al-Qa'ida because he was a Shia and had only been in the job a few weeks.

A second doctor, who did not want to give his name, pointed out that al Rashad hospital is run by the fundamentalist Shia Mehdi Army and asked: "How would it be possible for al-Qa'ida to get in there?"

Few people in Baghdad now care about the exact circumstances of the bird market bombings apart from Dr Aboub, who is still in jail, and the mentally disturbed beggars who were incarcerated. Unfortunately, it is all too clear that al-Qa'ida is not running out of suicide bombers. But it is pieces of propaganda such as this small example, often swallowed whole by the media and a thousand times repeated, which cumulatively mask the terrible reality of Iraq.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006. His new book 'Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq' is published by Scribner.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Penn’s War: Media Lap Dogs Backed Iraq MessActor Narrates a New Documentary That Indicts U.S. Involvement in Iraq by Susan Donaldson James

Sean Penn
Sean Penn, the actor-director-turned-political-activist, narrates a new anti-war documentary that alleges U.S. presidents since Kennedy have manipulated the public to wage wars.
The searing documentary coincides with the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and asserts that the mainstream media have been cheerleaders for a war that has cost the nation — according to Department of Defense figures this week — 3,980 lives.

The star, who won for best actor in the 2003 film “Mystic River,” has been an outspoken critic of the war, often calling it “Dante’s Inferno.”

This week, “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” has been released for home entertainment to distributors like Amazon and Best Buy and on Netflix. The film premiered in New York City, Saturday.

Penn, 47, has toured Iraq twice — once just before the Bush administration stepped up drumbeats for the war in December 2002, and also as a correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Written and directed by Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp, the film weaves archival footage from World War II to the Iraq War. It is based on the book by the same name, written in 2005 by Norman Solomon, founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

‘No One Else Has the Guts to Go’

“I invited Sean Penn out of the blue, when no one else had the guts to go,” Solomon told ABCNEWS.com. “When I worked on the film, I contacted him and he didn’t hesitate at all. He donated his time, his work and his reputation.”

Penn was unavailable for comment because he is in production on a film about the life of Harvey Milk, his publicist Rachel Karten of I/D Public Relations told ABCNEWS.com. The actor is set to play the gay politician of San Francisco’s 1970s in a biopic directed by Gus Van Sant.
Penn has been a growing political force in Hollywood. That is no surprise, considering Penn’s roots: His father, actor and director Leo Penn, was blacklisted in the 1950s for his support of Joseph Stalin.

From his early days portraying an airhead in 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Penn has played more highly charged roles like a death row inmate in “Dead Man Walking” (1995) and Sgt. Eddie Walsh in the anti-war film “The Thin Red Line” (1998).

Penn answered a call to help in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, literally pulling people out of the water. A year ago, Penn led a town meeting in California that was critical of President Bush and his handling of the war, drawing both public praise and scorn.

Penn once paid $56,000 for an ad in The Washington Post criticizing the war, according to a report in USA Today. He also baited Bush for his handling of Katrina and his “inflammatory rhetoric” toward Iran.

“You and your smarmy pundits — and the smarmy pundits you have in your pocket — can take your war and shove it,” Penn told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. “Let’s unite not only in stopping this war, but in holding this administration accountable.”

Reaction to “War Made Easy” has been favorable, according to Adi Bemak, gift director of the Media Education Foundation, which produced the film and is distributing it worldwide.
The project also received support from actor Matt Damon, who was listed in the film’s credits as a “friend” of the foundation.

“We thank all the friends who have supported our work, and that really means in all kinds of ways — networking, hosting events, hosting staff, making donations,” Bemak said.
Toll or Deaths, Injuries

Five years after the American “shock and awe” campaign to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein, 159,000 troops still remain in Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. In addition to military deaths, an estimated 29,275 have been wounded. But the largest toll has been on Iraqi civilians, with 81,964 to 89,448 dead, according to the Brookings Institute.

One of the highest prices of the war has been the public loss of faith in the ability of its government to tell the truth and in a docile press corps, according to the film.

Solomon’s meticulous research and rarely seen archival news footage from World War II through the Vietnam War, Panama, Grenada, Bosnia and two Gulf wars analyzes the way in which the media regurgitated the politicians’ justification for war.

Every president since John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — all except Jimmy Carter — came under fire for their war rhetoric. But Solomon is even harsher on the news media that trumpeted the government’s war cry.
Even Walter Cronkite, whom Solomon calls “the patron saint of journalism,” did not escape attack, as CBS footage chronicled the newsman’s participation in an aerial mission in Vietnam. Cronkite marvels at the weaponry and U.S. military superiority.

Analyzing the press coverage of the Iraq War, Solomon points to the masterful use of public relations by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when he called on 500 journalists to “embed” themselves with the troops. In doing so, the press showed only the perspective of the “attackers” and not the victims.

Solomon contends he is no pacifist: “If war is justified, the government doesn’t have to lie about it.”

“The public supported World War II even though it went on for so long, because the public never felt it was based on lies,” according to Solomon, who, in the film, reminds the audience of the now-debunked Bush mantra that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

In one of the most compelling scenes of the film, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., speaks out against impending war in Afghanistan in never-seen footage three days after 9/11. She cast the lone vote in Congress against authorizing force in the emotional aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
Journalists as Stenographers

“War Made Easy” is being distributed to schools around the country in the hope that Americans can learn “media literacy” and be more critical consumers of the news, looking to more than mainstream sources, the film’s distributors contend.

Solomon also urges the media to get back to solid investigative reporting that challenges the reins of power. Today, he said, they are only “stenographers of the war makers in Washington.”
“Journalists want to be ahead of the curve, but not out on a limb and they don’t want to take professional risks,” Solomon said. “There are great reporters through all the eras, but they are islands of good journalism swamped by oceans of received wisdom.”

“It’s an appeal to democracy that can create genuine alternatives to war,” he said. “Journalists need to fight back and the public needs to challenge itself.”

However, Rich Noyes, director of research at the Media Research Center, sees the press coverage leading up to the war in Iraq differently. He has just released a five-year study of the three major television networks.

“The left has claimed that the media didn’t do enough to stop the war in its tracks,” he told ABCNEWS.com. “But if you go back to the questions asked and the articles that were written and the news that aired, there were great skeptics, adversarial coverage and even hostile news coverage.”

The most aggressive, Noyes said, was Peter Jennings of ABC News. “We have pages and pages of quotes.”

Despite the media’s attacks, Noyes said the media historically has had a “liberal tilt.”
Since the onset of the war, the media have been even more anti-government, according to Noyes.

By 2004, with coverage of scandals like Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, the negative stories “more than outstripped the coverage of Medals of Honor winners and Silver Stars,” he said.

“The vast array of coverage showed soldiers as anonymous or victims of policy perpetrators or misdeeds,” said Noyes. “This sort of bad news hurt the morale of the country.”
Alan Schroeder, associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, told ABCNEWS.com that investigative journalism is not alive and well today. He worries that corporate forces have taken their toll on an independent media.

“Investigative journalism takes a lot of time and you don’t produce daily stories and it requires a financial investment,” he said. “Journalism is a business and subject to all the pressures of the marketplace.”

Published on Thursday, March 20, 2008 by ABC News

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Venezuela: ExxonMobil’s attack defeated in London court, oil giant forced to pay legal fees by James Suggett

Indonesian protest against ExxonMobil's theft of Venezuelan assetts


British Judge Paul Walker declared in a London courtroom today that the freezing of US$12 billion in assets of the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA shall be revoked.

The decision is a major defeat for the world’s largest oil company, ExxonMobil, which had won the temporary asset freeze on February 7th in a dispute with PDVSA over the nationalisation of Exxon’s stake in a Venezuelan Orinoco River Belt project, known as Cerro Negro.


“We can say that we have won another battle, another victory for our people, for our government, and the most important is that it is another victory for our country”, declared Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez regarding the decision. The Venezuelan ambassador in London, Samuel Moncada, called the decision “the beginning of the end of ExxonMobil’s harassment of Venezuela”.


Moncada also said his country is “pleased” that the British court “refused to be utilised as an instrument of Exxon to impose itself in the international scene against Venezuela”. “The important thing for our country is that the campaign, the assault of lies and chaos [with which] they tried to install anxiety in our country and they tried to say that our national industry was broken, this was all discounted, because it was all a lie … it was part of, once again, this manipulation that they have forged against our people”, Ramirez said in an interview with the Venezuelan government television station VTV.


ExxonMobil’s lawyer Catherine Otton-Goulder, declined to comment on the decision. Judge Walker, who postponed the decision twice since the week-long case began February 28, will give a full explanation of his decision in coming days. PDVSA had argued that the London court does not have legal jurisdiction over the assets of a nationally owned foreign company that does not operate in Britain.


ExxonMobil argued the contrary, and had already won a court order in New York freezing $315 million in PDVSA assets in February. As a result of the case, Exxon is required to pay for PDVSA’s legal fees, which it says amounted to about $766,000. Also, PDVSA will pursue compensation for other damages, such as the devaluation of its bonds, increases in borrowing costs, and its inability to invest in refineries during the freeze, according to PDVSA lawyer George Pollack.


Meanwhile, PDVSA will regain full control over its assets in Britain, but the asset freezes ExxonMobil obtained in the Dutch Antilles, Holland, and New York will remain for now. “I think all Venezuelans can feel proud”, proclaimed Ramirez, vowing that the government will continue defending the “principles and sovereignty” of the nation against foreign aggression. He also assured that PDVSA would do all it can to clean up the image of Venezuela in the wake of Exxon’s actions. Ramírez had called Exxon’s efforts “judicial terrorism” in February because they went outside of the arbitration underway in the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and sought to damage PDVSA’s reputation and credibility even though Exxon was offered indemnity.


“We have defeated ExxonMobil”, Ramirez elatedly announced, adding that “the decision is 100% in favor of Venezuela, the allegations of Exxon were discounted”, but said he would wait until the judge fully explains his decision before making any further comments, according to ABN news reports. Now, ExxonMobil and PDVSA will return to the process of ICSID arbitration where they had left off, Ramirez explained. Following the nationalisation of the Orinoco River Belt oil reserves in May 2007, the Venezuelan government required that the state hold at least a 60% stake in oil projects. It nationalised the stakes of several companies, including the Italian ENI, with which it reached an agreement for $700 million in compensation last month. Exxon, however, rejected Venezuela’s compensation offer of $750 million for a 41.6% stake in the “Cerro Negro” project.


The offer was based on the value of ExxonMobil’s stake according to PDVSA records at the time of nationalisation, PDVSA claimed, but ExxonMobil sought projected profits from the project and demanded arbitration. The maximum indemnity Exxon had attempted to negotiate was $5 billion before pursuing the $12 billion asset freeze, according to an announcement by Ramirez to the Venezuelan National Assembly in February.


The disparity in compensation claims prompted accusations that ExxonMobil’s efforts were part of an “economic war” against Venezuela. Since the nationalisations, state participation in the Orinoco River Belt has increased from 39% to 78%, and Venezuela remains Latin America’s largest producer of crude, with nearly half of its oil exported to the United States.


There is no sign that Venezuela’s termination of its business relationship with ExxonMobil on February 12 will be reversed, although PDVSA will honour its contract with the Chalmette refinery it co-owns with ExxonMobil. PDVSA and Mobil became business partners in 1997, before Mobil was acquired by Exxon. During this time period of the 1990s, known as the “Petroleum Opening” era, the 1976 nationalisation of Venezuelan oil was gradually weakened and PDVSA was granted autonomy, converting the company into what Ramirez called a “Trojan Horse” for international capital.


In contrast, the administration of President Hugo Chavez has promoted what it calls “petroleum sovereignty”. In addition to nationalising foreign controlled oil production projects, this policy has included channeling over $30 billion of PDVSA’s oil profits into Venezuela’s National Development Fund (FONDEN) between 2004 and 2007. The funds were invested in infrastructure projects, expansion of the Barrio Adentro health care system, environmental cleanup, and education, among other programs.


[Reprinted from http://venezuelanalysis.com/.]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #744 19 March 2008.

The Only Lesson We Ever Learn Is That We Never Learn by Robert Fisk

Five years on, and still we have not learnt. With each anniversary, the steps crumble beneath our feet, the stones ever more cracked, the sand ever finer. Five years of catastrophe in Iraq and I think of Churchill, who in the end called Palestine a “hell-disaster”.

But we have used these parallels before and they have drifted away in the Tigris breeze. Iraq is swamped in blood. Yet what is the state of our remorse? Why, we will have a public inquiry - but not yet! If only inadequacy was our only sin.

Today, we are engaged in a fruitless debate. What went wrong? How did the people - the senatus populusque Romanus of our modern world - not rise up in rebellion when told the lies about weapons of mass destruction, about Saddam’s links with Osama bin Laden and 11 September? How did we let it happen? And how come we didn’t plan for the aftermath of war?
Oh, the British tried to get the Americans to listen, Downing Street now tells us. We really, honestly did try, before we absolutely and completely knew it was right to embark on this illegal war. There is now a vast literature on the Iraq debacle and there are precedents for post-war planning - of which more later - but this is not the point. Our predicament in Iraq is on an infinitely more terrible scale.

As the Americans came storming up Iraq in 2003, their cruise missiles hissing through the sandstorm towards a hundred Iraqi towns and cities, I would sit in my filthy room in the Baghdad Palestine Hotel, unable to sleep for the thunder of explosions, and root through the books I’d brought to fill the dark, dangerous hours. Tolstoy’s War and Peace reminded me how conflict can be described with sensitivity and grace and horror - I recommend the Battle of Borodino - along with a file of newspaper clippings. In this little folder, there was a long rant by Pat Buchanan, written five months earlier; and still, today I feel its power and its prescience and its absolute historical honesty: “With our MacArthur Regency in Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach apogee. But then the tide recedes, for the one endeavour at which Islamic people excel is expelling imperial powers by terror or guerrilla war.

“They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. We have started up the road to empire and over the next hill we will meet those who went before. The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.”

How easily the little men took us into the inferno, with no knowledge or, at least, interest in history. None of them read of the 1920 Iraqi insurgency against British occupation, nor of Churchill’s brusque and brutal settlement of Iraq the following year.

On our historical radars, not even Crassus appeared, the wealthiest Roman general of all, who demanded an emperorship after conquering Macedonia - “Mission Accomplished” - and vengefully set forth to destroy Mesopotamia. At a spot in the desert near the Euphrates river, the Parthians - ancestors of present day Iraqi insurgents - annihilated the legions, chopped off Crassus’s head and sent it back to Rome filled with gold. Today, they would have videotaped his beheading.

To their monumental hubris, these little men who took us to war five years ago now prove that they have learnt nothing. Anthony Blair - as we should always have called this small town lawyer - should be facing trial for his mendacity. Instead, he now presumes to bring peace to an Arab-Israeli conflict which he has done so much to exacerbate. And now we have the man who changed his mind on the legality of war - and did so on a single sheet of A4 paper - daring to suggest that we should test immigrants for British citizenship. Question 1, I contend, should be: Which blood-soaked British attorney general helped to send 176 British soldiers to their deaths for a lie? Question 2: How did he get away with it?

But in a sense, the facile, dumbo nature of Lord Goldsmith’s proposal is a clue to the whole transitory, cardboard structure of our decision-making. The great issues that face us - be they Iraq or Afghanistan, the US economy or global warming, planned invasions or “terrorism” - are discussed not according to serious political timetables but around television schedules and press conferences.

Will the first air raids on Iraq hit prime-time television in the States? Mercifully, yes. Will the first US troops in Baghdad appear on the breakfast shows? Of course. Will Saddam’s capture be announced by Bush and Blair simultaneously?.

But this is all part of the problem. True, Churchill and Roosevelt argued about the timing of the announcement that war in Europe had ended. And it was the Russians who pipped them to the post. But we told the truth. When the British were retreating to Dunkirk, Churchill announced that the Germans had “penetrated deeply and spread alarm and confusion in their tracks”.
Why didn’t Bush or Blair tell us this when the Iraqi insurgents began to assault the Western occupation forces? Well, they were too busy telling us that things were getting better, that the rebels were mere “dead-enders”.

On 17 June 1940, Churchill told the people of Britain: “The news from France is very bad and I grieve for the gallant French people who have fallen into this terrible misfortune.” Why didn’t Blair or Bush tell us that the news from Iraq was very bad and that they grieved - even just a few tears for a minute or so - for the Iraqis?

For these were the men who had the temerity, the sheer, unadulterated gall, to dress themselves up as Churchill, heroes who would stage a rerun of the Second World War, the BBC dutifully calling the invaders “the Allies” - they did, by the way - and painting Saddam’s regime as the Third Reich.

Of course, when I was at school, our leaders - Attlee, Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, or Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy in the United States - had real experience of real war. Not a single Western leader today has any first-hand experience of conflict. When the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq began, the most prominent European opponent of the war was Jacques Chirac, who fought in the Algerian conflict. But he has now gone. So has Colin Powell, a Vietnam veteran but himself duped by Rumsfeld and the CIA.

Yet one of the terrible ironies of our times is that the most bloodthirsty of American statesmen - Bush and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfovitz - have either never heard a shot fired in anger or have ensured they did not have to fight for their country when they had the chance to do so. No wonder Hollywood titles like “Shock and Awe” appeal to the White House. Movies are their only experience of human conflict; the same goes for Blair and Brown.

Churchill had to account for the loss of Singapore before a packed House. Brown won’t even account for Iraq until the war is over.

It is a grotesque truism that today - after all the posturing of our political midgets five years ago - we might at last be permitted a valid seance with the ghosts of the Second World War. Statistics are the medium, and the room would have to be dark. But it is a fact that the total of US dead in Iraq (3,978) is well over the number of American casualties suffered in the initial D-Day landings at Normandy (3,384 killed and missing) on 6 June, 1944, or more than three times the total British casualties at Arnhem the same year (1,200).

They count for just over a third of the total fatalities (11,014) of the entire British Expeditionary Force from the German invasion of Belgium to the final evacuation at Dunkirk in June 1940. The number of British dead in Iraq - 176 - is almost equal to the total of UK forces lost at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-45 (just over 200). The number of US wounded in Iraq - 29,395 - is more than nine times the number of Americans injured on 6 June (3,184) and more than a quarter of the tally for US wounded in the entire 1950-53 Korean war (103,284).
Iraqi casualties allow an even closer comparison to the Second World War. Even if we accept the lowest of fatality statistics for civilian dead - they range from 350,000 up to a million - these long ago dwarfed the number of British civilian dead in the flying-bomb blitz on London in 1944-45 (6,000) and now far outnumber the total figure for civilians killed in bombing raids across the United Kingdom - 60,595 dead, 86,182 seriously wounded - from 1940 to 1945.

Indeed, the Iraqi civilian death toll since our invasion is now greater than the total number of British military fatalities in the Second World War, which came to an astounding 265,000 dead (some histories give this figure as 300,000) and 277,000 wounded. Minimum estimates for Iraqi dead mean that the civilians of Mesopotamia have suffered six or seven Dresdens or - more terrible still - two Hiroshimas.

Yet in a sense, all this is a distraction from the awful truth in Buchanan’s warning. We have dispatched our armies into the land of Islam. We have done so with the sole encouragement of Israel, whose own false intelligence over Iraq has been discreetly forgotten by our masters, while weeping crocodile tears for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have died.

America’s massive military prestige has been irreparably diminished. And if there are, as I now calculate, 22 times as many Western troops in the Muslim world as there were at the time of the 11th and 12th century Crusades, we must ask what we are doing. Are we there for oil? For democracy? For Israel? For fear of weapons of mass destruction? Or for fear of Islam?

We blithely connect Afghanistan to Iraq. If only Washington had not become distracted by Iraq, so the narrative now goes, the Taliban could not have re-established themselves. But al-Qa’ida and the nebulous Osama bin Laden were not distracted. Which is why they expanded their operations into Iraq and then used this experience to assault the West in Afghanistan with the hitherto - in Afghanistan - unheard of suicide bomber.

And I will hazard a terrible guess: that we have lost Afghanistan as surely as we have lost Iraq and as surely as we are going to “lose” Pakistan. It is our presence, our power, our arrogance, our refusal to learn from history and our terror - yes, our terror - of Islam that is leading us into the abyss. And until we learn to leave these Muslim peoples alone, our catastrophe in the Middle East will only become graver. There is no connection between Islam and “terror”. But there is a connection between our occupation of Muslim lands and “terror”. It’s not too complicated an equation. And we don’t need a public inquiry to get it right.

Published on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 by The Independent/UK

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Race, class and ‘choice’ in schools by Graham Matthews

On March 10 and 11, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an expose of “white flight” from public schools across NSW. Using a previously confidential survey of 163 high school principals in NSW, it described the phenomenon where increasing numbers of white-European parents were removing their children from disadvantaged public schools in regional and remote areas and areas in Sydney’s south-west and placing them in private schools or in selective state schools in more distant suburbs.

The racial issue underpinning “white flight” intersects strongly with class. The end result is the creation of a segregated education system, with wealthier (predominantly white) parents removing their children from the general public school system and moving them to private schools or to selective state schools. The result is that the general state school system is left with children from socially disadvantaged and non-English speaking backgrounds.

“From about the late ’80s and certainly the early ’90s there was a retreat from multiculturalism”, Dr Carol Reid from the University of Western Sydney’s School of Education told Green Left Weekly. “In that time, we’ve developed policies of school choice and those two things sitting together I believe have created a situation whereby we’re finding a patchwork of areas where there’s segregation developing.”

The racist dimension of “white flight” in Sydney’s suburbs has deepened since the 2005 Cronulla riot. The March 10 SMH quoted one principal from the report as saying: “The Asian students are scared off by Lebanese enrolment at our school following the Cronulla riots — we had 18 no-shows on day one in Year 11, mostly Asian.”

On March 11, the sentiments of at least one comment sent to the SMH website evoked the racist view: “If you are prepared to sacrifice your own children for social cohesion, bus them out to Auburn, Bankstown or Granville and do your bit for the public system.” Reid told GLW that she also knew of instances where parents consciously chose to send their children to more culturally diverse schools, however. The government policy of giving parents their “choice” of schools is creating an entrenched two-tier education system, where the standard of education is increasingly based on ability to pay.

“All western liberal democracies are experiencing increased segregation because of the fact that they’ve all turned education into a market place”, Reid said. “It’s part of the impact of neoliberalism across the Western world … This is going to have long-term consequences if we don’t respond soon.” At the heart of the creation of a two-tier system is the issue of education funding. Federal funding of private education began in the 1950s, with the Liberal Menzies government seeking to woo Catholic Labor voters.

In 1973, the Whitlam Labor government massively increased federal education funding — including to private schools. In the 2007 federal budget, funding to private schools was set to increase by 29% to $7 billion, while funding to public schools increased only 9.6% to $3.4 billion, according to the NSW Teachers Federation.

The Rudd Labor government has agreed to maintain federal funding for private schools, to guarantee parents “choice”, meaning that private schools (that currently educate only a third of students nationally) will continue to receive almost two-thirds of federal education funding. The Socio-Economic Status (SES) funding model, developed by the Coalition but adopted by Labor, further exacerbates the problem.

This rewards private schools with extra funding for each student they recruit from disadvantaged areas (as measured by average income per postcode area). “The so-called Socio-Economic Status model assumes that all families in a neighbourhood have the same income, but they don’t”, NSW Greens parliamentarian John Kaye noted on March 10. “The system encourages private schools to cherry pick the better-off families in poor neighbourhoods.”.

State-based policies also have an impact on the creation of an inequitable education system. In 1988, the Greiner Coalition government in NSW partially dezoned all state schools, allowing parents to “choose” to send their children to a state school out of their area as long as vacancies existed. At the same time, the decision was taken to establish new selective schools, increasing their number from 11 in 1988 to 28 in 2002.

NSW Labor, which has been in government since 1995, has added to the social divide by providing a public subsidy for bus, rail or ferry travel for students to attend school only as long as the school attended is more than two kilometres away from home. The subsidy adds to the problem of “white flight”, by encouraging parents to “choose” the school (public or private) at which their child is educated, often leaving local schools behind. The federal government also offers a tax rebate to parents who use private transport to convey children to distant schools, further encouraging “choice”.

“If you add [dezoning, federal funding of private education and tax rebates] and you throw into that a retreat from multiculturalism in terms of any programmatic support, in this context that’s been marked by global terror and the fear-mongering of our previous PM, you’ve got a whole range of explanations for the moving of parents”, Reid explained. “The policies of school choice set up a problem for parents. I think that parents are really set up in a bind here.” Kaye was particularly critical of the role of state government policy.

“The Iemma government could invest in reducing class sizes and employing more specialist teachers in public schools with significant behaviour and learning issues”, he said. “Instead their $443 million School Students Transport Scheme encourages travel past local public schools to private schools in other suburbs.” The increased privatisation of education is the context for state governments’ attacks on public school teachers’ wages and conditions. Teachers in Victoria, NSW and Western Australia are all fighting state Labor governments to achieve pay rises and decent working conditions.

The March 10 Sydney Morning Herald quoted NSW director-general of education Michael Coutts-Trotter, who inferred that the solution to “white flight” from public schools was to be found in freeing-up the teacher-appointment system, to allow more motivated teachers to travel to more challenging schools. However, according to the NSWTF, the abolition of the incentive transfer system will only make the situation worse.

“I find it surprising and shocking that [Coutts-Trotter] would choose the opportunity created by the Sydney Morning Herald article to advocate for deregulated staffing”, NSWTF president Maree O’Halloran said in a March 11 open letter.

“The schools most affected by class and race segregation are those that will certainly be the hardest to staff in a deregulated environment.” Reid agreed with O’Halloran’s assessment. “We already have a situation in south-west Sydney and some large regional towns, where it’s almost impossible to get staff and that’s on the basis of appointing people”, she told GLW. “If you combine a residualised school, with immigrant teachers, with teachers who are very young and inexperienced … it’s very unfair for the teachers in those class rooms.”

“Dropping the centralised staffing system is going to benefit particular cohorts of teachers and schools and not others”, Reid continued. “It’s clearly not going to benefit south-west Sydney and certainly not rural areas. Someone has already come out and said that a whole lot of teachers are already trying to get out of the north west [of NSW] before they lose all their transfer points.”

At its 2007 state conference, the NSWTF adopted policy insisting that “all levels of government must take responsibility for providing proper investment in public education. This includes an increased, targeted investment in sustainable equity programs in school communities that experience entrenched, intersecting disadvantage.”

The union’s call has gone largely unheeded by state and federal Labor governments. On February 11, Angelo Gavrielatos, the Australian Education Union’s president, called on the Rudd government to increase federal funding to public schools by $2.9 billion a year.

“They must also act quickly to address areas of specific need with targeted funding”, he said. The AEU’s demand will only go part of the way to solving the crisis, however. With the public school system facing such a massive funding crisis, which has precipitated the “white flight” to private schools, the time has come to end the ideologically motivated policy of “choice” which underpins public funding of private schools. Public funds should be directed exclusively to the public school system. While not interfering with private school’s right to exist, there is no justification for public money being spent to subsidise student drift from the public sector.

Instead, all students must be guaranteed a place in a well-resourced public school. The $7 billion of federal funding spent on private schools should be redirected to public schools. It’s the only “choice” that would guarantee a decent education for all students.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #744 19 March 2008.

How to Destroy a Country in Five Years, Iraq's Blood-Sodden Anniversaries By PATRICK COCKBURN, Baghdad


"It reminds me of Iraq under Saddam," said a militant opponent of Saddam Hussein angrily to me last week as he watched red-capped Iraqi soldiers close down part of central Baghdad so the convoy of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki might briefly venture into the city.

Five rears after the invasion of Iraq the US and the Iraqi government both claim that Iraq is becoming a less dangerous place, but the measures taken to protect Mr Maliki told a different story. Gun-waving soldiers first cleared all traffic from the streets. Then four black armored cars, each with three machine gunners on the roof, raced out of a heavily fortified exit from the Green Zone, followed by sand-coloured American Humvees and more armoured cars. Finally, in the middle of the speeding convoy, we saw six identical bullet proof vehicles with black windows, one of which must have carried Mr Maliki.

The precautions were not excessive since Baghdad remains the most dangerous city in the world. The Iraqi prime minister was only going to the headquarters of the Dawa party to which he belongs and which are only half a mile from the Green Zone but his hundreds of security guards acted as if they were entering enemy territory.

Five years of occupation have destroyed Iraq as a country. Baghdad is today a collection of hostile Sunni and Shia ghettoes divided by high concrete walls. Different districts even have different national flags. Sunni areas use the old Iraqi flag with the three stars of the Baath party and the Shia wave a newer version, adopted by the Shia-Kurdish government. The Kurds have their own flag.

The Iraqi government tries to give the impression that normality is returning. Iraqi journalists are told not to mention the continuing violence. When a bomb exploded in Karada district near my hotel killing 70 people the police beat and drove away television cameraman trying to take pictures of the devastation.

Civilian casualties have fallen from 65 Iraqis killed daily from November 2006 to August 2007 to 26 daily in February. But the fall in the death rate is partly because ethnic cleansing has already done its grim work and in much of Baghdad there are no mixed areas left. More than most wars the war in Iraq remains little understood outside the country. Iraqis themselves often do not understand it because they have an intimate knowledge of their own community, be it Shia, Sunni or Kurdish, but little of other Iraqi communities. It should have been evident from the moment President George W Bush decided to overthrow Saddam Hussein that it was going to be a very different war from the one fought by his father 1991. That had been a conservative war waged to restore the status quo ante in Kuwait.

The war of 2003 was bound to have very radical consequences. If Saddam Hussein was overthrown and elections held then the domination of the 20 per cent Sunni minority would be replaced by the rule of the majority Shia community allied to the Kurds. In an election Shia religious parties linked to Iran would win, as indeed they did in two elections in 2005. Many of America's troubles in Iraq have stemmed from Washington's attempt to stop Iran and anti-American Shia leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr filling the power vacuum left by the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The US and its allies never really understood the war they won which started on March 19, 2003. Their armies had an easy passage to Baghdad because the Iraqi army did not fight. Even the so-called elite Special Republican Guard units, well paid, well equipped and tribally linked to Saddam, went home. Television coverage and much of the newspaper coverage of the war was highly deceptive because it gave the impression of widespread fighting when there was none. I entered Mosul and Kirkuk, two northern cities, on the day they were captured with hardly a shot fired. Burned out Iraqi tanks littered the roads around Baghdad, giving the impression of heavy fighting, but almost all had been abandoned by their crews before they were hit.

The war was too easy. Consciously or subconsciously Americans came to believe it did not matter what Iraqis said or did. They were expected to behave like Germans or Japanese in 1945, though most of Iraqis did not think of themselves as having been defeated. There was later to be much bitter dispute about who was responsible for the critical error of dissolving the Iraqi army. But at the time the Americans were in a mood of exaggerated imperial arrogance and did not care what Iraqis, in the army or out of it, were doing. "They simply thought we were wogs," says Ahmad Chalabi, the opposition leader, brutally. "We didn't matter."

In those first months after the fall of Baghdad it was extraordinary, and at times amusing, to watch the American victors behave exactly like the British at the height of their power in nineteenth century India. The ways of the Raj were reborn. A friend who had a brokerage in the Baghdad stock market, told me how a 24 year old American whose family was a donor to the Republican Party had been put in charge of the market and had lectured the highly-irritated brokers, most of whom spoke several languages and had PhDs, about the virtues of democracy.
There was a further misconception that grew up at this time. Most Iraqis were glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein. He had been a cruel and catastrophically incompetent leader who ruined his country. All Kurds and most Shia wanted him gone. But it did not follow that Iraqis of any description wanted to be occupied by a foreign power. Later President Bush and Tony Blair gave the impression that overthrowing the Baathist regime necessarily implied occupation, but it did not.

"If we leave, there will be anarchy," friends in the occupation authority used to tell me in justification for the occupation. They stayed, but anarchy came anyway. In that first year of the occupation it was easy to tell which way the wind was blowing. Whenever there was an American soldier was killed or wounded in Baghdad I would drive there immediately. Always there were cheering crowds standing by the smoking remains of a Humvee or a dark blood stain on the road. After one shooting of a soldier a man told me: "I am a poor man but my family is going to celebrate what happened by cooking chicken."

Yet this was the moment when President Bush and his Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld were saying that the insurgents were 'remnants of the old regime' and 'dead enders'. There was also misconception among Iraqis about the depth of the divisions within their own society. Sunni would accuse me of exaggerating their differences with the Shia but when I mentioned prominent Shia leaders they would wave a hand dismissively and say: "But they are all Iranians or paid by the Iranians." Al Qa'ida in Iraq regarded the Shia as heretics as worthy of death as the Americans. Enormous suicide bombs exploded in Shia market places and religious processions slaughtering hundreds, and the Shia began to hit back with tit-for-tat killing of Sunni by Shia death militia death squads or the police.
After the Sunni guerrillas blew up the Shia shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006 sectarian fighting turned into a full blown civil war. Mr Bush and Mr Blair strenuously denied that this was so, but by any standard it was a civil war of extraordinary viciousness. Torture with electric drills and acid became the norm. The Shia Mehdi Army militia took over much of Baghdad and controlled three quarters of it. Some 2.2 million people fled to Jordan and Syria, a high proportion of them Sunni.

The Sunni defeat in the battle for Baghdad in 2006 and early 2007 was the motive for many guerrillas, previously anti-American, suddenly allying themselves with American forces. They concluded they could not fight the US, al Qa'ida, the Iraqi army and police and the Mehdi Army at the same time. There is now an 80,000 strong Sunni militia paid for and allied to the US but hostile to the Iraqi government. Five years after the American and British armies crossed into Iraq the country has become a geographical expression.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006. His new book 'Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq' is published by Scribner.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The quiet rendition of Moudud Ahmed by John Pilger


In an article for the Guardian, John Pilger describes the extraordinary life of Moudud Ahmed, who in 1971 led him into liberated East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. Now a political prisoner of the military dictatorship in Dhaka, Moudud Ahmed is seriously ill in a country which, says his wife Hasna, "is itself a prison".

There is a decent, brave man sitting in a dungeon in a country where the British Empire began, a country of poets, singers, artists, free thinkers and petty tyrants. I have known him since a moonless night in 1971 when he led me clandestinely into what was then East Pakistan and is now Bangladesh, past villages the Pakistani army had raped and razed. His name is Moudud Ahmed and he was then a young lawyer who had defended the Bengali independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. “Why have you come when even crows are afraid to fly over our house,” said Begum Mujib, the sheikh’s wife. This was typical of Moudud, whose tumultuous life carries more than a hint of Tom Paine.

As a schoolboy, Moudud wet his shirt with the blood of a young man killed demonstrating against the imposition of “Urdu and only Urdu” as the official language of Bangla-speaking East Pakistan. When the British attacked Egypt in 1956, he tried to haul down the Union Jack at the British consulate in Dhaka, and was bayoneted by police: a wound he still suffers. When Bangladesh – free Bengal -- was declared in 1971, Moudud brought a rally to its feet when he held up the front page of the Daily Mirror, which carried my report beneath the headline, BIRTH OF A NATION. “We are alive, but we are not yet free,” he said, prophetically. Once in power, Sheikh Mujib turned on his own democrats and held show trials at which Moudud was their indefatigable defender until he himself was arrested. Assassination, coup and counter coup eventually led to a parliamentary period led by Ziaur Rhaman, a liberation general with whom Moudud agreed to serve as deputy prime minister on condition Zia resigned from the army. Together, they formed a grassroots party, but when Moudud insisted that it must be democratic, he was sacked.

Whenever he came to London, he would phone those of us who had reported the liberation of Bangladesh and we would meet for a curry. His pinstriped suit and Inns-of-Court manner belied his own enduring struggle and that of his homeland: recurring floods and the conflict between feudalists and democrats and later, fundamentalists. “I am the prime minister now,” he once said, as if we had not heard. Outspoken about his people’s “right to social and economic justice”, especially women, he was duly arrested again, then won his parliamentary seat from prison.

On April 12 last year, late at night, 25 soldiers smashed into Moudud’s house in Dhaka. They had no warrant. They stripped his home and “rendered” him, blind-folded, to a place known only as “the black hole”. There, he was interrogated and tortured and forced to sign a confession. He was finally charged with the possession of alcohol – a few bottles of wine and cans of beer had been found. The Supreme Court declared his prosecution and detention illegal. This was ignored by the government, which calls itself a “caretaker” administration, but is a front for a military dictatorship.

Moudud is suffering from a pituitary tumour and has been denied medication for six months. He is terribly ill, says his wife, the poet Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud. “Thousands of people have been detained for being activists, or just supporters,” she said. “The country is a prison, and the world must know.”

There are striking similarities between Moudud’s case and that of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who this week all but overturned the old, autocratic regime. Both were framed in order to silence them. The difference is that Anwar Ibrahim’s case became an international cause celebre, whereas there is only silence for Moudud Ahmed, locked in his cell, ill, without charge or trial. In the next few days, Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the “Chief Advisor” to the caretaker government – in effect, the head of Bangladesh’s government - will visit London. He is said to have a meeting arranged at 10 Downing Street. I and others have written to Dr. Fakhruddin, asking him to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling and to release Moudud. He has not replied. If Gordon Brown’s recent pronouncements on liberty have a shred of meaning, it is the question he must ask.

US plans to divide Latin America frustrated by Federico Fuentes, Caracas

Reeling from the blow that it received in the aftermath of the Colombian military’s illegal incursion on March 1 into Ecuador — which resulted in the brutal massacre of a number of civilians and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including its chief negotiator Raul Reyes — US imperialism has once again raised the ante in its struggle to undermine the growing process of Latin American integration.

Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, led by President Hugo Chavez whose government is spearheading the push to unite Latin American nations to counter US domination, is being specifically targeted. “The region is facing an increasingly stark choice: to quietly accept the vision of the terrorists and the demagogues, or to actively support democratic leaders”, US President George Bush stated on March 12.

Bush said his government was studying whether or not Venezuela should be added to its list of countries that “sponsor terrorism”. In Washington’s Orwellian world view — where war is peace and elected leaders are dictators — his comments were aimed at Venezuela’s democratically-elected government that is offering its services to assist with a negotiated peaceful solution to Colombia’s more than four decade-long civil war. Venezuela’s representative in the Organization of American States (OAS), Jorge Valero, hit back that same day, calling the US government “the terrorist government par excellence”.

Valero argued it was “an absolutely stupid thing to say from the government of Mr Bush … that practices state terrorism, that has invaded Iraq and Afghanistan without respect for international law, that commits genocidal practices in various parts of the world, that has invaded Latin American and Caribbean countries …”

Having viewed Latin America as its own backyard for decades, Washington is becoming increasingly concerned about developments south of its border. Its biggest headache is Venezuela, whose government has been making important headway in bring together governments of Latin America, as well as undermining capitalism inside Venezuela.

Washington has waged a constant public campaign (similar to its campaign against Iraq before the invasion) attempting to link Venezuela with narcotrafficking, terrorism, promoting an arms race, money laundering and threats to regional security. US-Venezuelan lawyer Eva Golinger argued on the Venezuelan TV show La Hojilla that this campaign is aimed at containing Chavez’s influence and undermining Latin American integration — a process aided by the election of a number of governments that, to varying degrees, have proven willing to exercise independence from Washington and pursue closer regional collaboration.

For Dario Azzellini, author of several books about US military intervention into the region, Colombia’s illegal cross-border attack (publicly supported by the US government, which funds and arms the Colombian military) was the first step in carrying out more serious military infractions across its border in order to provoke a response from Venezuela and lay the blame for the subsequent conflict at their feet.

“Their aim is to create massive destabilisation in a region where Colombia would play a similar role to that of Israel in the Middle East”, Azzellini told Green Left Weekly. “The Colombian government said that they had the coordinates of Reyes whereabouts for month, during which we can suppose that he moved between Colombian, Venezuelan and Ecuadorian territory as part of the current negotiations by the FARC in releasing prisoners.

So the question is why did they choose to carry it out in Ecuador? “It was a test, they wanted to do it in Ecuadorian territory and not in Venezuela to see what the international reaction would be.” Luis Bilbao, director of Latin American magazine America XXI, told GLW US imperialism had two aims in mind with Colombia’s attack (which was clearly coordinated with the US) — put a halt to the hopes for humanitarian accord with the FARC, who only days before had released four prisoners unilaterally, and sabotage the growing South American convergence.

Finding a political solution to Colombia’s current conflict is a danger to Washington, which has used it as justification to build up their military presence in Colombia. This is why the issue of peace in Colombia is so closely intertwined with the process of Latin American integration. Colombia's attack came just days before global protests in favour of a peaceful solution to Colombia's civil war and against state and paramilitary violence, which targets political activists, with more trade unionists killed in Colombia every year than any other country.

On March 6, hundreds of thousands marched across Colombia, defying threats of reprisals from paramilitaries. Associated Press reported on March 14 that six organisers of the march had been murdered, and two dozen more received death threats from the Black Eagles death squad. Moreover, Bilbao pointed out that in the immediate aftermath of this event, it seemed unthinkable that the meeting of the South American Community of Nations (Unasur, formed in April 2002 with the aim of creating a European Union-style body across South America) that had been scheduled to take place in Colombia at the end of the month could have gone ahead.

Such a turn of events would suit Washington, as the development of Unasur threatens the ability of the US to exert its control over the region on behalf of US corporate interests. Bilbao argued that the action was nonetheless a big mistake on the part of Colombia. Bilbao argued that “they didn’t attack Venezuela”, as Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro had stated Venezuela expected, “because of the firm stance that Venezuela has taken and instead attacked Ecuador expecting a timid response … setting a precedent for further repeat actions in Ecuador and to extend this to Venezuela”.
However the firm stance by both Ecuador and Venezuela — both of whose governments broke diplomatic ties and moved troops to their Colombian borders — put Colombia on the back foot. In fact, rather than reverse the trend towards integration, the response to Colombia’s attack could mark an important regional realignment — assisting the process of regional integration. The most significant event was the summit of the Group of Rio held on March 6 and 7.
Televised live across the whole continent, representatives of all Latin American governments debated the issue without the presence of the US government. After a fiery debate, the meeting came to a unanimous decision to reject the actions of the Colombian government and any further violation of the sovereignty of another country. Crucially, the vote was a rejection of the doctrine of “preventive war” that the US has pushed since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Ecuador and Colombia are pushing for the March 17 meeting of the OAS (of which the US is a member) to ratify the Group of Rio’s motion. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has stated bluntly that if the OAS meeting did not condemn the aggression, that it should be thrown “in the dustbin of history”. Arguing that it would be “difficult for the US government to oppose such a resolution”, Valero asserted that “I don’t believe the United States has sufficient strength to crush the will of the Rio Group countries”.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #744 19 March 2008.

Will Australia remain silent while Gaza dies? by Enas Sammak

The following speech was delivered by Enas Sammak to a March 12 Melbourne protest in solidarity with Palestine, held to coincide with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s motion in parliament that celebrated the 60th anniversary of Israel’s establishment.

We are gathered here today, able to exercise our freedom and rights, to protest for those whose freedom and rights have been infringed, whose voices are either muted or ignored. I am a daughter of Gaza, a daughter of Palestine, a daughter of a displaced man, a man who is still awaiting the day he returns … he has taken Australia as his homeland, a country where our voices can make a change, where our opinions can influence policy, where we have the ability to represent those who lack the power to do it for themselves.

We complain about Work Choices, yet thousands of them have no work; we complain about electricity bills, yet they have no electricity; we complain about the price of oil, yet they have no oil; we talk about water saving, yet they have no clean water to drink; we complain about interest rates; while their houses are being demolished. So where do we stand? When their children are dying, when their women are widowed, and their men tortured, where does Australia stand?

When they have sanctions imposed because they exercised their democratic rights, because they believed in universal suffrage, where does our government stand? There is one thing that when I see pictures of on TV, it fills my heart with agony and my eyes with tears. It is the sight of mothers and fathers … carrying the bodies of their dead children wrapped in a green cloth.

Their innocent faces and tiny bodies stained with their own blood. Their bodies are skinny as food was scarce during their very short stay in life. My tears run until there are no more tears to shed. Innocent civilians are being killed every day, but Israel claims that they’re accidents, that it is targeting armed militants. For how much longer are we going to believe this?

Where is the United Nations Security Council? Where is the International Court of Justice? Where are the world leaders? Why is the international community silent? When I was seven years old, I went out to protest in the heart of Auckland in New Zealand. I protested against the murder an innocent child, Muhammad Aldurra. He was killed while he was in the arms of his father. His death was witnessed live on TV by hundreds of thousands around the world.

I protested against the Israeli attacks hoping that something would happen, that action would be taken, and that my protest would make a difference. I didn’t know why Muhammad was killed. “What has he done?”, I asked my father. Now, nine years later, I stand before you, once again protesting against the killings of innocents in Gaza, hoping that action will be taken.

Today I still cannot understand why they are being killed. At least 18 Palestinians, including five boys under the age of 16 and a six-month-old baby, were killed in the Gaza Strip on February 28. Why? Another 12-year-old boy died of wounds sustained in a Gaza raid a day earlier, and a shepherd was killed in northern Gaza. Why? On March 1, an Israeli military plane dropped three bombs on the house of Abd al Rahman Atallah, a 62-year-old man.

The aerial bombardment completely destroyed his house; four of the injured were children, one of them a two-day-old infant. Why? Why is it so hard for the United Nations Security Council to condemn the actions of Israel? Why? The fathers and mothers cry and scream to the world — “please help us, please save us … Please protect us …” But the world is silent, the world is deaf. The world has decided that it is acceptable for Palestinian children to die.

The world has decided that my brothers and sisters in Gaza are fair game for the wrath of one of the most powerful and most evil military machines on earth. The world has stood together to starve the children of Gaza and ensure the siege is watertight. Therefore, I stand here today and plead with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to intervene to protect the children of Gaza, for Rudd to take a courageous stand, a stand for justice, like when he said sorry to the Stolen Generations.

Mr Rudd, please, do not celebrate the day of declaration of the Israeli state, a state that has not only caused stolen generations, but also displaced, murdered generations.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #744 19 March 2008.

Ripping up Work Choices or tearing at the edges? by Margarita Windisch


Labor’s new Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008, tabled in federal parliament on February 13, will most likely come in to effect early April. The bill is the first in a raft of legislation to be introduced to parliament and is promoted by the federal government as the first step in the dismantling of Work Choices.

However, the new bill will not reverse many of the unfair laws introduced as part of Work Choices. In a February 13 speech to parliament, Julia Gillard, Labor’s workplace relations minister, emphasised that the bill will abolish all Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) and “rid Australia of all statutory individual agreements”. However, this is only half of the story.
Andrew Stewart, law professor at Adelaide University, confirmed that AWA’s can continue indefinitely under this new legislation. He told Green Left Weekly that under the transitional bill, employers cannot offer or enter into new AWAs from the date the new legislation comes into effect. However, any existing AWAs could still run their course. “Even though they [AWAs] have to have an end date, it is a nominal end date only. In practical terms this means that once an agreement reaches the expiry date it keeps going, it just becomes easier to terminate. AWAs can be unilaterally terminated, but some older AWAs that are still in existence can only be terminated by the Industrial Relations Commission”.
Stewart added that many people on AWAs are not union members and are unaware of their rights, including their ability to terminate the contract and enter into a collective agreement. Many employers have used statutory individual contracts (such as AWAs) to restrict unions from entering workplaces and reduce union influence. In a submission to the Senate inquiry on the transitional bill, mining giant Rio Tinto welcomed the legislation on the basis that it will not fundamentally alter the status quo and would allow contracts to continue well beyond 2013.
Only 8% of Rio Tinto’s work force is on union agreements — 22% are on AWAs and 55% are on common law contracts. According to Stewart, AWAs can override collective agreements in the new legislation. “If a collective agreement is voted up at a workplace, employees who are still covered by an AWA, even if it’s expired, cannot be bound by that collective agreement”, he said.
The new bill will also make it possible to offer wage raises via common law agreements in order to leave expired AWAs in place for years. Stewart told GLW that the federal government’s new IR policy was essentially built on a series of compromises that the ALP decided to make in the lead-up to the election. “Labor was aware of the community backlash [as a result of] Work Choices but was concerned not to look anti-business, so they essentially committed to these transitional arrangements in order to placate major business groups — especially the mining industry.”
Common law agreements will play an increasingly important role. Common law individual contracts have been used by some epmployers to lure workers out of unions by initially offering higher wages for signing individual contracts, which were generally accompanied by trade-offs in conditions. Common law agreements can be made in writing or verbally.
“There will be a greater capacity to enter into common law agreements that vary the operation of award provisions when the new award system takes effect in 2010 in ways that are not possible now”, Stewart told GLW. “Labor is saying to business — we will abolish statuary individual agreements after 2010, but on the other hand we will give you greater flexibility in terms of what you can do with common law contracts.”
Labor’s plans for award “modernisation” are to take effect by 2010. While some minimum standards will exist, there will be ample space for individual agreements through the introduction of “flexibility” clauses into awards. Stewart explained, “There is no doubt that there is a significant qualification to the abolition of AWAs [through flexibility clauses].
Labor is going to give business the capacity to do through common law agreements what they could previously only do through AWAs. Past experience tells us that if those flexibility provisions are included they will be used predominately by employers for the benefit of their business. But there will also be benefits for some workers such as flexible work hours arrangements that suit their particular needs.”
The Australian Industry Group, representing 10,000 employers, has given Labor’s bill the thumbs up. A February 13 AAP reported quoted the Ai Group’s Heather Ridout as commenting that although bosses “would have preferred to keep AWAs as an employment option”, the new bill’s “Award Modernisation Request” to the Industrial Relations Commission “clarifies that the award modernisation process is not to be used by unions to increase the scope of awards or achieve general improvements in minimum standards … we are pleased that industry’s concerns have been addressed.” “An enormous number of people in the labour movement are not happy about this, even some people in government are not happy about it and would like to take a different view on transitional arrangements. Even the chair of the Senate committee, Senator Gavin Marshall, has been quoted as wondering if the transitional period is too long”, Steward commented.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #744 19 March 2008.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Afghanistan: US spy chief admits war going badly by Doug Lorimer

Afghan President Hamid Karzai A.K.A. the mayor of Kabul and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

While the Western corporate media was swooning over the tour of army duty in war-torn Afghanistan by Prince Harry, the third in line to the British crown, scant coverage was given to US national intelligence director Vice-Admiral Mike McConnell’s admission that the situation facing the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan is “deteriorating”, despite a doubling of their occupation forces since 2004.

There are currently 28,000 US troops in Afghanistan, with another 3200 due to arrive later this month. More than half of the US troops in Afghanistan — 15,000 — operate under the command of the US-led NATO military alliance. There are also 28,000 non-US troops operating as part of the 43,000 NATO commanded International Security Assistance Force. The largest non-US ISAF contingent — 7700 troops — is from Britain, while 970 Australian troops constitute the largest non-NATO contingent.

‘Classic insurgency’ Testifying before the US Senate armed services committee on February 27, Connell said that after six years of US and allied military support and billions of dollars in foreign aid, the US-installed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai — derided by critics as being little more than “the mayor of Kabul” — controls only 30% of the country.

McConnell said 60% of the country was controlled by local warlords, while the Taliban anti-occupation guerrilla fighters controlled 10-11%, mainly in the south. “Taliban forces have expanded their operations into previously peaceful areas of the west and around Kabul”, he added.

McConnell’s assessment directly contradicted congressional testimony given by US war secretary Robert Gates on February 6 in which he stated: “The Taliban no longer occupy any territory in Afghanistan.” It also contradicts US President George Bush’s February 8 claim that the Taliban “are on the run”.

However, McConnell’s assessment was consistent with remarks made by Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the armed service committee on February 1 and repeated in a written statement on February 6, in which he declared that the US and its allies faced a “classic growing insurgency” in Afghanistan.

McConnell’s assessment also echoed those made in recent studies by private think tanks, including one headed by retired US Marine Corps General James Jones, the top NATO commander until mid-2006, which bluntly stated that “NATO is not winning in Afghanistan”. The Taliban, an Afghan Islamist movement originally set up by the Pakistani military in 1994-95 with Washington’s blessing, took control of most of Afghanistan in 1996.

The Taliban was driven from power, and from most of the country, in late 2001 when — as the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward detailed in his 2002 book Bush at War — the CIA and US Special Forces distributed US$70 million in bribes to buy the support of local warlords who had previously backed the Taliban regime. Based on interviews with senior US officials, Woodward reported that at a meeting of the White House National Secretary Council the day after al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then-war secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney pushed for an invasion of Iraq as the principal target of their long-planned “war on terrorism”.

However, then-secretary of state Colin Powell and the top military officers convinced President George Bush that the first target had to be Afghanistan, rather than Iraq, because “the American people were focused on al Qaeda” and that “it would be far easier initially to rally the world behind the specific target of al Qaeda”. In Bush at War, Woodward quoted Bush as saying: “I believe Iraq was involved [in 9/11], but I’m not going to strike now. I don’t have the evidence at this point.” For the Bush administration, the invasion of Afghanistan was little more than a propaganda entre to the “main game” — the conquest of oil-rich Iraq.

Between 2002 and 2004, the annual death toll resulting from attacks by small numbers of Afghan guerrilla fighters linked to the Taliban was around 50 US soldiers and less than 10 other allied occupation troops. But in 2006, the number and scale of guerrilla attacks sharply escalated, resulting in a doubling of US and allied forces’ casualties. Last year was the deadliest yet for the occupation forces, with 117 US and 115 allied foreign troops being killed.

The number of Afghans killed in war-related violence since the US-led occupation began is unknown, as neither the occupation forces nor the puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai’s government have compiled records. Taliban resurgence The key to the Taliban’s growing success, according to McConnell, “is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan”, which since 1999 has been ruled by a US-allied military regime headed by General Pervez Musharraf. While this is certainly a factor, it ignores growing support by Afghan peasants for the Taliban fighters. The US military’s own Stars & Stripes newspaper reported on October 3 that it had been told by US Army Colonel Jonathan Ives, commander of Task Force Cincinnatus, which is responsible for US operations in northeast Afghanistan, that the Taliban had a “strong recruiting base”.

Ives added: “The Taliban at this time has an established rapport with the community and sometimes they are seen as being the right answer, or a secure answer, over the unrest that may exist between the criminal elements and/or the power struggles that exist” between local warlords.

A study issued in March 2007 by the Brussels-based Senlis Council international policy think tank reported that an opinion survey it had conducted had found support for the Taliban had skyrocketed in the rural areas of southern Afghanistan over the previous 18 months. Of the 17,000 Afghan villagers surveyed, 27% openly declared support for the Taliban, up from 2% in a similar poll taken in December 2005. Fifty-two per cent of those surveyed said that the foreign troops should leave the country. In a report issued last November, the Senlis Council attributed the resurgence in support for the Taliban to the widespread perception that the Karzai government “is a puppet regime with foreign countries in control of all Afghan ministries and decision-making”.

The report also argued that the “pursuit of ill-advised counter-narcotics policies by the international community has also severely undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan government. In the absence of immediate alternative livelihoods and access to resources necessary to phase out illegal poppy cultivation, forceful poppy crop eradication has fuelled widespread public frustration towards the Afghan government and international forces. “Crucially, the unsystematic and often corrupt manner in which forced eradication is implemented has fuelled support for the Taliban as the latter offers swift protection to farming communities.”

Associated Press reported on February 14, 2001, that UN drug control officers had found that the Taliban regime had nearly wiped out opium production in Afghanistan. “We are not just guessing. We have seen the proof in the fields”, Bernard Frahi, regional director for the UN program in Afghanistan and Pakistan, told AP. Since the US-instigated overthrow of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan — one of poorest countries in the world — has re-emerged as the world’s main producer of opium, the key ingredient in heroin.

The UN estimates that Afghanistan now accounts for 93% of the global market in illegal opiates. The total area used for illicit opium cultivation increased by 59% in 2006 and by a further 17% last year, according to a UN report released on March 5. Corruption The November 24 London Times reported that, “Governmental corruption in Afghanistan has become endemic and bribes to secure police and administrative positions along provincial drug routes is an established procedure … “The international community has played its own part in contributing to the crisis.

One analyst in Kabul said: ’It’s not Afghan culture. It’s a culture of impunity. We created it. We came in in 2001 with cases of cash and made certain people untouchables.’ “The dozens of drug-funded villas — ’narcotechture’ in expat parlance — that have sprung up around foreign embassies in Kabul’s Sherpur district are a testament to the untouchable status of former warlords … “Corruption among police and local authorities is worst in southern Afghanistan, where drug profits are highest. Despite his repeated public denials, President Karzai’s half-brother Wali, head of Kandahar’s provincial council, continues to be accused by senior government sources, as well as foreign analysts and officials, as having a key role in orchestrating the movement of heroin from Kandahar eastward through Helmand [province] and out across the Iranian border.”

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #743 12 March 2008

How Israeli Troops Invade Homes in Gaza, Brutalize, Smash and Steal By ED O'LOUGHLIN, Gaza

Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff

SAFA ABU SEIF, 12, was fatally wounded as she stood in an upstairs room of her home in the Gaza City district of Jabaliya 10 days ago.

She was one of 27 children identified by United Nations staff among the 107 Palestinians who were killed in five days last week. Another 25 dead, including five women, were identified as unarmed non-combatants. The status of 13 more dead victims could not be determined. At least three of the children were reportedly shot in their homes by Israeli small arms or sniper fire.
A Palestinian gunman killed eight Israeli students on Thursday before he was killed himself. An Israeli soldier was also killed that day. Two Israeli soldiers died in action in the early stages of a three-day incursion into Jabaliya, and an Israeli civilian was killed by Palestinian rocket fire on the first day of the surge in violence.

Asked by the Herald to comment on allegations that its troops had killed children in the area, the Israeli Defence Force blamed the violence on terrorist groups who exploited Palestinian civilians as human shields while firing rockets intended to harm Israeli civilians.
"IDF operations in the Gaza Strip are aimed solely at the Hamas terror infrastructure, armed terrorists and rocket launchers," its statement said.
A security source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Civil Administration - Israel's military government for the occupied territories - had received no complaints about shootings of civilians, and no investigation was underway.
Yet the family of the Palestinian television journalist Mahmoud Al Adjrami said that when Safa was struck Israeli troops were occupying their house, 90 metres across a stretch of open space from the window she was struck through.
They say the invading soldiers smashed up their tile floor to get sand to fill sand-bags for firing positions in first-floor windows facing the Abu Seif house. The discarded sand, together with the smashed door and tiles, spent bullet cases and heaps of Israeli ration boxes and discarded snack wrappers, were still in the house a day after the troops withdrew.
It is standard Israeli military procedure during tank raids to take over civilian homes as snipers' nests and hideouts, holding the occupants at gunpoint. According to the testimonies of victims and from Israeli soldiers themselves, this process can frequently involve theft, vandalism and violence against unarmed civilians.
The 15 women and children of the extended al Adjrami family were herded together into a single room for 19 hours, while the two adult men had their wrists tightly bound with plastic cable ties. Mahmoud's sister Naima, 33, said the soldiers gave them water but no food.
According to Mahmoud's brother, Mamdoeh, the soldiers ransacked the wardrobes and cupboards, stealing two gold bracelets, four mobile phones and the equivalent of $8600.
Next door Jabr Zidane, 52, a taxi driver, said troops had taken over his house for 24 hours, looting jewellery and four mobile phones. He shows visitors the remains of a smashed television and stereo, a broken floor, discarded sand and Hebrew-labelled army rations.
In another home soldiers allegedly stole two large gold bracelets and $500 from Jumaa Abed Rabbo, 40, and his wife and eight children.
"I was sitting with my hands tied with plastic ties for 24 hours. I asked if my family could use the kitchen to get water and food. They refused and so we didn't eat for 24 hours," Abed Rabbo said.
The professed purpose of last weekend's raid into Gaza was to kill or capture Palestinian terrorists involved in firing rockets into Israel, to capture or destroy equipment and to gather intelligence.
Yet all four of the families mentioned in this article are linked to Fatah, the Palestinian faction favoured by Israel and the United States over Hamas.
Abed Rabbo and al Adjrami are members of the Presidential Guard of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas - the key weapon in what the US magazine Vanity Fair said last week was a failed attempt by the Bush Administration last year to overthrow the Palestinian Authority's elected Hamas government.
According to documents and testimony unearthed by the magazine, the administration coerced Mr Abbas into reneging on a power sharing agreement that paved the way for possible Hamas-backed peace talks with Israel.
Instead, new Presidential Guard factions trained by US soldiers were to be used to mount a coup against Hamas in Gaza with US-sponsored weapons shipped through Israel and Egypt.
Israel's foot soldiers seem to be unaware of this relationship.
"They were punching me, saying, 'You are a member of Hamas. You are a member of Fatah. Where do you work?"' Mamdoeh al Adjrami said. "I said, 'I work in the Presidential Guard' … They kept hitting me whenever they liked."
Jabr Zidane's son Mohammed, 21, was hardly able to speak on Monday, drugged with painkillers to ease the pain from beatings and from shoulders, elbows and hands swollen from more than a day in tight plastic restraints.
He said he was beaten, questioned, used as a human shield by Israeli troops, taken to Israeli territory, and released on the border.

Mr Zidane said he did not know why Mohammed, an unemployed stonemason, was singled out for interrogation and abduction.

"It makes no sense to us. Maybe it's because he's the only one with a beard."

Sydney Morning Herald. 10-3-08

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Carbon cuts: why rich countries must lead the way by Renfrey Clarke


Last May, the ALP announced a target for greenhouse gas emission reductions that, if observed generally across the world’s major emitting countries, would give humanity virtually no chance of avoiding climate catastrophe.

Not surprisingly, Labor’s position — of calling for a 60% cut in emissions by 2050 compared with 2000 levels — has met with sharp criticism from informed commentators. But this condemnation drew little publicity until February 21, when professor Ross Garnaut, charged by Labor with preparing recommendations for interim targets, issued a preliminary report calling for the 2050 target to be made much more stringent. Warning that “global economic growth, the energy intensity of growth, and the carbon intensity of energy in the early 21st Century have all been exceeding expectations”, Garnaut’s report observes that “Australia would need to go considerably further in reduction of emissions as part of an effective global agreement”.

Labor has been sprung, its wretched stance on global warming decisively exposed. Government leaders, especially climate change minister Penny Wong, have been acutely embarrassed. A safe bet? The ALP’s May 2007 policy statement, entitled Labor’s Greenhouse Reduction Target — 60% by 2050 Backed by the Science, was cobbled together largely from out-of-date sources. Its target corresponds to an eventual level of atmospheric greenhouse gases of about 550 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e). This concentration, scientists believe, would propel average global temperatures to around 3̊C above pre-industrial levels — high into the danger zone where further, “non-linear”, warming mechanisms could be expected to kick in. Runaway global warming would then be a near-certainty.

For the ALP, the main purpose of issuing the policy statement was evidently to reassure Australian corporate chiefs, in the months before the federal election, that they could live with the climate change policies of a Labor government. As well as a long-term reductions target, interim targets were obviously required. Dealing with actions needed in the near and medium term, these goals were especially critical if big business was to be kept happy with Labor. In April last year, then-opposition leader Kevin Rudd joined with Labor state premiers in commissioning Garnaut to set these objectives. Rudd clearly considered Garnaut a safe bet, unlikely to present findings that would draw hostility from business circles.

An academic economist, mining company director and former ambassador to China, Garnaut was a Canberra insider with a reputation for generally conservative views. At the time of his appointment, it seems, he had no special familiarity with climate issues. Garnaut’s rejection of Labor’s “60 by 2050” position thus came as a shock to many. Garnaut and his researchers, the report makes clear, have not limited themselves to the semi-official (and now distinctly dated) climate science of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, based on research before mid-2005, provided the main scientific input to the Bali climate conference last December. I

nstead, Garnaut has also taken account of more recent findings that stress the dangers of non-linear climate processes. At least one of these processes, witnessed in the dramatically increased melting of Arctic sea ice last year, appears already to be under way. Garnaut’s interim report left Wong to grimly defend Labor’s May 2007 position. “The government’s commitment”, she told reporters on February 21, “is the one we made prior to the election and that we took to the Australian people, which is a reduction of 60 per cent by 2050.

That is the approach the government will take.” Rather than break an election promise, Wong seemed to intimate, Labor would watch society unravel beneath the blows of heat, drought and collapsing food production. The ALP, of course, is not so politically scrupulous, having regularly broken promises to voters in the past. But its “60 by 2050” pledge was an election promise of an especially hallowed kind. It was not so much a pledge to voters in general, as to the corporate rich. Foot-dragging It might be tempting to view Garnaut as an environmental hero, blowing the whistle on compromising politicians. Certainly, his report is strong on environmentalist rhetoric.

But a close look at the text shows that while Garnaut is a better political tactician than the people in the federal cabinet, he is not, ultimately, more committed to the environmental cause. What Garnaut has done in his report is to provide Australia’s power elites with a tightly reasoned lesson in how they can drag their feet on climate change, and at least for a time, get away with it. Garnaut’s call for stricter limits on emissions is not in the first instance meant to be pursued, just offered in international negotiations.

Australia, Garnaut states, “should formulate a position on the contribution that it would be prepared to make to an effective global agreement, and offer to implement that stronger position if an appropriately structured international agreement were reached”. Until such an agreement transpires, the “60 by 2050” target is clearly to remain. Less environmentally conscious countries are to be converted, it would appear, by force of bad example.

Also highly significant in Garnaut’s report is his insistence that any global agreement should include developing nations. Implicitly, this is directed at China and India. China is now vying with the US for the dubious title of the world’s worst greenhouse polluter in absolute terms. Among climate backsliders, the argument is a familiar one: for developed countries to curb emissions is futile so long as Chinese and Indian emissions continue rising rapidly, so strong action should wait until China and India are locked into reductions treaties.

One wonders why Garnaut does not instead put the heat on the US. After all, per-capita emissions in the US are around four times those in China. Moreover, and as Garnaut acknowledges, the Chinese leadership has shown a willingness to address the need for emissions controls. Specifically, it has embraced the testing goal of cutting the energy intensity of economic activity to 20% below 2005 levels by 2010. In the US, the Bush administration has refused to set any emissions reduction target whatsoever. Not feasible?

Garnaut’s perceptions of what is possible, like those of Rudd, are restricted to what he believes corporate interests are likely to tolerate. This is shown by the specifics of his “stronger position” bargaining chip. Australia, Garnaut indicates, should offer to cut its emissions to 90% below 2000 levels by 2050. This is in line with a target for atmospheric CO2-e of 450 ppm. At one point, the report acknowledges that the Australian Conservation Foundation has called for action to stabilise concentrations at 400 ppm, describing the risks of 450 ppm as “unacceptable”. Targets below 450 ppm, however, are rejected by Garnaut as “clearly not feasible, given long lead times and lifetimes of energy sector investments”.

If fossil-fuel power stations cannot be shut down until after the owners have recouped their investments and made a profit, we are supposed to accept, the Earth must take its chances of roasting by the end of the century. It is not only Garnaut’s targets and general methodological approach that climate activists are entitled to object to. While making ritual noises about “corrective measures against market failures and weaknesses”, the report opts squarely for market mechanisms, national and global, as the crucial tool to cut emissions.

On the national scale, and under tight policing, the sale and purchase of emission rights may have a role to play in helping small and medium businesses meet greenhouse abatement requirements. The Earth’s climate problems, however, are not the work of little companies, but of large corporations. Given half a chance, these corporations will rig markets and profiteer from the regulatory chaos that often results. In urging reliance on markets, Garnaut sends the fight against global warming off on a completely wrong heading. Only tough state regulation, backed by popular scrutiny and critical media organs, can stop big business despoiling the environment. Negative emissions When senior public figures urge policies that offer an odds-on chance of a climate holocaust, the rest of us have a problem, one that is not just environmental but also political.

A public campaign needs to be mounted to reject the emissions targets both of Labor and Garnaut. The only valid emissions targets are those able to guarantee that global warming, already on track to have painful consequences, will not have catastrophic ones. Here, the recent science shows increasingly that developed countries must not be allowed any net carbon emissions. Indeed, they must pursue negative emissions, finding ways to remove large amounts of carbon already in the atmosphere. This will not be achieved without wrenching adjustments in the way we live and in the institutions of our society. But the alternative is simply unthinkable. Garnaut’s game of cat-and-mouse with developing countries must be rejected. Australia must set out to achieve negative emissions — and fast — whatever steps are taken elsewhere, and whatever treaties might be signed.

Only if rich countries are seen to be paying a heavy price will poor countries agree to a lesser one. No-one can say whether this strategy will work, but it is the only choice we have. The best reason for optimism is that people in India and China are citizens of the same planet as the rest of us — and that they too have hopes for their grandchildren.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #743 12 March 2008.