Friday, May 30, 2008
In this season of 1968 nostalgia, one anniversary illuminates today. It is the rise and fall of Robert Kennedy, who would have been elected president of the United States had he not been assassinated in June 1968. Having travelled with Kennedy up to the moment of his shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on 5 June,
I heard The Speech many times. He would “return government to the people” and bestow “dignity and justice” on the oppressed. “As Bernard Shaw once said,” he would say, “‘Most men look at things as they are and wonder why. I dream of things that never were and ask: Why not?’” That was the signal to run back to the bus. It was fun until a hail of bullets passed over our shoulders.
Kennedy’s campaign is a model for Barack Obama. Like Obama, he was a senator with no achievements to his name. Like Obama, he raised the expectations of young people and minorities. Like Obama, he promised to end an unpopular war, not because he opposed the war’s conquest of other people’s land and resources, but because it was “unwinnable”.
Should Obama beat John McCain to the White House in November, it will be liberalism’s last fling. In the United States and Britain, liberalism as a war-making, divisive ideology is once again being used to destroy liberalism as a reality. A great many people understand this, as the hatred of Blair and new Labour attest, but many are disoriented and eager for “leadership” and basic social democracy. In the US, where unrelenting propaganda about American democratic uniqueness disguises a corporate system based on extremes of wealth and privilege, liberalism as expressed through the Democratic Party has played a crucial, compliant role.
In 1968, Robert Kennedy sought to rescue the party and his own ambitions from the threat of real change that came from an alliance of the civil rights campaign and the anti-war movement then commanding the streets of the main cities, and which Martin Luther King had drawn together until he was assassinated in April that year. Kennedy had supported the war in Vietnam and continued to support it in private, but this was skilfully suppressed as he competed against the maverick Eugene McCarthy, whose surprise win in the New Hampshire primary on an anti-war ticket had forced President Lyndon Johnson to abandon the idea of another term.
Using the memory of his martyred brother, Kennedy assiduously exploited the electoral power of delusion among people hungry for politics that represented them, not the rich.
“These people love you,” I said to him as we left Calexico, California, where the immigrant population lived in abject poverty and people came like a great wave and swept him out of his car, his hands fastened to their lips.
“Yes, yes, sure they love me,” he replied. “I love them!” I asked him how exactly he would lift them out of poverty: just what was his political philosophy?“Philosophy? Well, it’s based on a faith in this country and I believe that many Americans have lost this faith and I want to give it back to them, because we are the last and the best hope of the world, as Thomas Jefferson said.”“That’s what you say in your speech. Surely the question is: How?”“How?... by charting a new direction for America.
”The vacuities are familiar. Obama is his echo. Like Kennedy, Obama may well “chart a new direction for America” in specious, media-honed language, but in reality he will secure, like every president, the best damned democracy money can buy.
As their contest for the White House draws closer, watch how, regardless of the inevitable personal smears, Obama and McCain draw nearer to each other. They already concur on America’s divine right to control all before it. “We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good,” said Obama. “We must lead by building a 21st-century military... to advance the security of all people [emphasis added].”
McCain agrees. Obama says in pursuing “terrorists” he would attack Pakistan. McCain wouldn’t quarrel. Both candidates have paid ritual obeisance to the regime in Tel Aviv, unquestioning support for which defines all presidential ambition. In opposing a UN Security Council resolution implying criticism of Israel’s starvation of the people of Gaza, Obama was ahead of both McCain and Hillary Clinton. In January, pressured by the Israel lobby, he massaged a statement that “nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people” to now read: “Nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognise Israel [emphasis added].” Such is his concern for the victims of the longest, illegal military occupation of modern times. Like all the candidates, Obama has furthered Israeli/Bush fictions about Iran, whose regime, he says absurdly, “is a threat to all of us”.On the war in Iraq, Obama the dove and McCain the hawk are almost united. McCain now says he wants US troops to leave in five years (instead of “100 years”, his earlier option). Obama has now “reserved the right” to change his pledge to get troops out next year. “I will listen to our commanders on the ground,” he now says, echoing Bush. His adviser on Iraq, Colin Kahl, says the US should maintain up to 80,000 troops in Iraq until 2010. Like McCain, Obama has voted repeatedly in the Senate to support Bush’s demands for funding of the occupation of Iraq; and he has called for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan. His senior advisers embrace McCain’s proposal for an aggressive “league of democracies”, led by the United States, to circumvent the United Nations. Like McCain, he would extend the crippling embargo on Cuba.
Amusingly, both have denounced their “preachers” for speaking out. Whereas McCain’s man of God praised Hitler, in the fashion of lunatic white holy-rollers, Obama’s man, Jeremiah Wright, spoke an embarrassing truth. He said that the attacks of 11 September 2001 had taken place as a consequence of the violence of US power across the world. The media demanded that Obama disown Wright and swear an oath of loyalty to the Bush lie that “terrorists attacked America because they hate our freedoms”. So he did. The conflict in the Middle East, said Obama, was rooted not “primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel”, but in “the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam”. Journalists applauded. Islamophobia is a liberal speciality.The American media love both Obama and McCain. Reminiscent of mating calls by Guardian writers to Blair more than a decade ago, Jann Wenner, founder of the liberal Rolling Stone, wrote: “There is a sense of dignity, even majesty, about him, and underneath that ease lies a resolute discipline... Like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama challenges America to rise up, to do what so many of us long to do: to summon ‘the better angels of our nature’.” At the liberal New Republic, Charles Lane confessed: “I know it shouldn’t be happening, but it is. I’m falling for John McCain.” His colleague Michael Lewis had gone further. His feelings for McCain, he wrote, were like “the war that must occur inside a 14-year-old boy who discovers he is more sexually attracted to boys than to girls”.
The objects of these uncontrollable passions are as one in their support for America’s true deity, its corporate oligarchs. Despite claiming that his campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, Obama is backed by the biggest Wall Street firms: Goldman Sachs, UBS AG, Lehman Brothers, J P Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse, as well as the huge hedge fund Citadel Investment Group. “Seven of the Obama campaign’s top 14 donors,” wrote the investigator Pam Martens, “consisted of officers and employees of the same Wall Street firms charged time and again with looting the public and newly implicated in originating and/or bundling fraudulently made mortgages.” A report by United for a Fair Economy, a non-profit group, estimates the total loss to poor Americans of colour who took out sub-prime loans as being between $164bn and $213bn: the greatest loss of wealth ever recorded for people of colour in the United States. “Washington lobbyists haven’t funded my campaign,” said Obama in January, “they won’t run my White House and they will not drown out the voices of working Americans when I am president.” According to files held by the Centre for Responsive Politics, the top five contributors to the Obama campaign are registered corporate lobbyists.What is Obama’s attraction to big business? Precisely the same as Robert Kennedy’s. By offering a “new”, young and apparently progressive face of the Democratic Party – with the bonus of being a member of the black elite – he can blunt and divert real opposition. That was Colin Powell’s role as Bush’s secretary of state. An Obama victory will bring intense pressure on the US anti-war and social justice movements to accept a Democratic administration for all its faults. If that happens, domestic resistance to rapacious America will fall silent.America’s war on Iran has already begun. In December, Bush secretly authorised support for two guerrilla armies inside Iran, one of which, the military arm of Mujahedin-e Khalq, is described by the state department as terrorist. The US is also engaged in attacks or subversion against Somalia, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bolivia and Venezuela. A new military command, Africom, is being set up to fight proxy wars for control of Africa’s oil and other riches. With US missiles soon to be stationed provocatively on Russia’s borders, the Cold War is back. None of these piracies and dangers has raised a whisper in the presidential campaign, not least from its great liberal hope.
Moreover, none of the candidates represents so-called mainstream America. In poll after poll, voters make clear that they want the normal decencies of jobs, proper housing and health care. They want their troops out of Iraq and the Israelis to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbours. This is a remarkable testimony, given the daily brainwashing of ordinary Americans in almost everything they watch and read.
On this side of the Atlantic, a deeply cynical electorate watches British liberalism’s equivalent last fling. Most of the “philosophy” of new Labour was borrowed wholesale from the US. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were interchangeable. Both were hostile to traditionalists in their parties who might question the corporate-speak of their class-based economic policies and their relish for colonial conquests. Now the British find themselves spectators to the rise of new Tory, distinguishable from Blair’s new Labour only in the personality of its leader, a former corporate public relations man who presents himself as Tonier than thou. We all deserve better.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Iemma lit the fuse after it became clear that two Labor Members of the Legislative Council, Linda Voltz and Ian West, would support a motion from Greens MLC John Kaye requiring the privatisation to be debated and voted on by parliament (and not implemented by regulation).
From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #752 28 May
Sunday, May 25, 2008
You can hear the wringing of hands and tearing of cloth all the way down Farringdon Road. Dismayed by the local election results, convinced that Labour will be crushed in Thursday’s byelection, afraid that this will presage disaster in the next general election, my fellow columnists are predicting the end of the civilised world. But I can’t understand why we should care.
Yes, I worry about what the Tories might do if they get in. I also worry about what Labour might do if it wins another term. Why should anyone on the left seek the re-election of the most rightwing government Britain has had since the second world war?
New Labour’s apologists keep reminding us of the redistributive policies it has introduced: Sure Start children’s centres, reductions in child poverty, raising the school leaving age, the national minimum wage, flexible hours for parents and carers, better conditions for part-time workers, the decent homes programme, free museums, more foreign aid. All these are real achievements and deserve to be celebrated. But the catalogue of failures, backsliding and outright destruction is much longer and more consequential.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
More than 300 councillors at the NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) Central Council meeting on May 10 endorsed the rally and strike action that had been determined by some 20,200 teachers across NSW in early April. That stopwork discussed the campaign for a new public school staffing agreement, about which the NSW Iemma government refuses to negotiate.
Gary Zadkovich, NSWTF senior vice president, described the NSW government’s belligerent attitude like this: “The Department of Education and Training is adopting a grossly irresponsible approach on staffing policy. This was reinforced at Federation’s conference for principals last term when Education Minister John Della Bosca answered questions on the likely impact of the imposed changes. Mr Della Bosca said that schools would just have to ‘suck it and see’. No wonder principals in the audience gasped.”
Figures from the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) indicate that, due to teacher retirements, an average of 3200 new permanent positions will need to be filled over the next five years. This increase from an average of 2700 permanent positions indicates the need for a negotiated, revamped staffing agreement. The current Permanent Employee Program (PEP), which provides permanent jobs to temporary or casual teachers, could be used as a model for coping with such an increase in the number of positions.
Any new staffing agreement should allow for a greater mix of appointments, particularly new graduates, without jeopardising teachers’ transfer rights or school needs. However, the NSWTF’s proposal to increase the number of PEP appointees was rejected by the education department. This demonstrates that the DET is not interested in refashioning the staffing model, nor in allowing principles more flexibility to determine the needs of their schools.
Instead, the department is driving the push to get principals to take over the responsibility for staffing. DET now says it will only agree to a five-year industrial agreement on condition that its changes to staffing procedures are included. Taken to its logical conclusion, the government’s push will mean that budgeting will increasingly be the responsibility of individual schools, and principals will be forced to set teachers’ wages and conditions through employment contracts.
According to Maree O’Halloran, president of the NSWTF, the government’s so-called “modest” changes will be to: “phase out teacher transfers in practice; offload the government’s responsibility for finding teachers onto schools; lead to large class sizes or unqualified teachers in some schools because they find it harder to attract and retain teachers; and establish the pre-conditions for the full deregulation agenda as in Victoria”.
Devolving school management to principals will jeopardise the development of curriculum for students in regional, remote and otherwise disadvantaged schools which find it difficult to attract and retain teachers. Teachers in rural areas, such as Moruya High School, continue to take industrial action against the government’s refusal to negotiate.
As the NSWTF south-east organiser Kyiah Angel said, “Teachers know that the changes, in effect from this term, will have a negative impact on some schools’ ability to attract and retain quality teachers. They will also have a negative impact on schools that are in favourable areas like Moruya, as principals’ workloads in these schools will increase dramatically, interfering with their capacity to effectively manage their schools.”
The teachers’ campaign of industrial action, lobbying and organising has convinced some MPs to support the federation. Facing pressure from its rural constituents, even the National Party has opposed the NSW government’s staffing changes. Teachers have had no choice but to escalate their campaign. In fact, while welcoming the action this week, many teachers are frustrated at the lack of industrial action until now.
As teachers from the Lakemba public school told the Sky Channel meeting at the Canterbury Leagues Club on April 8, the NSWTF could have been stronger from the beginning given the seriousness of the attack on teachers' rights. They said a 48-hour strike should have been waged in the first term of 2008.
By maintaining the transfer system of staffing public schools, we are rejecting the notion that chronically under-funded schools must compete against each other for the so-called “best teachers” or the “right teachers for the school”. The neo-liberal “user pays” concept of education and the idea that public schools must compete in an “education marketplace” must be rejected.
The underlying issue here, of course, is the inequitable education funding from federal and state governments that prioritises the private sector by allocating obscene amounts of public funds to private schools. We do need a sustained industrial campaign to defeat the government’s disastrous staffing changes. But to succeed, it must be supported by teachers, parents and students as well as all supporters of public education. The rally on May 22 starts at 11am at Farrer Place in central Sydney.
For rural and regional protest events visit .
[Noreen Navin is a state councillor of the NSW Teachers Federation and vice president of Canterbury-Bankstown Teachers Association. She is also a member of the Socialist Alliance.]
Che Guevara 1928-1967
The truly powerful feed ideology to the masses like fast food while they dine on the most rarified delicacy of all: impunity.
George Orwell, 1903-1950
Saturday, May 17, 2008
When news arrived of the catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan, my mind turned to Zheng Sun Man, an up-and-coming security executive I met on a recent trip to China. Zheng heads Aebell Electrical Technology, a Guangzhou-based company that makes surveillance cameras and public address systems and sells them to the government.
Zheng, a 28-year-old MBA with a text-messaging addiction, was determined to persuade me that his cameras and speakers are not being used against pro-democracy activists or factory organizers. They are for managing natural disasters, Zheng explained, pointing to the freak snowstorms before Lunar New Year. During the crisis, the government “was able to use the feed from the railway cameras to communicate how to deal with the situation and organize an evacuation. We saw how the central government can command from the north emergencies in the south.”
Of course, surveillance cameras have other uses too — like helping to make “Most Wanted” posters of Tibetan activists. But Zheng did have a point: nothing terrifies a repressive regime quite like a natural disaster. Authoritarian states rule by fear and by projecting an aura of total control. When they suddenly seem short-staffed, absent or disorganized, their subjects can become dangerously emboldened. It’s something to keep in mind as two of the most repressive regimes on the planet — China and Burma — struggle to respond to devastating disasters: the Sichuan earthquake and Cyclone Nargis. In both cases, the disasters have exposed grave political weaknesses within the regimes — and both crises have the potential to ignite levels of public rage that would be difficult to control.
When China is busily building itself up, residents tend to stay quiet about what they all know: developers regularly flout safety codes, while local officials are bribed not to notice. But when China comes tumbling down — including at least eight schools — the truth has a way of escaping. “Look at all the buildings around. They were the same height, but why did the school fall down?” demanded a distraught relative in Juyuan. A mother in Dujiangyan told the Guardian, “Chinese officials are too corrupt and bad…. They have money for prostitutes and second wives but they don’t have money for our children.”
That the Olympic stadiums were built to withstand powerful quakes is suddenly of little comfort. When I was in China, it was hard to find anyone willing to criticize the Olympic spending spree. Now posts on mainstream web portals are calling the torch relay “wasteful” and its continuation in the midst of so much suffering “inhuman.”
None of this compares with the rage boiling over in Burma, where cyclone survivors have badly beaten at least one local official, furious at his failure to distribute aid. There have been dozens of reports of the Burmese junta taking credit for supplies sent by foreign countries. It turns out that they have been taking more than credit — in some cases they have been taking the aid. According to a report in Asia Times, the regime has been hijacking food shipments and distributing them among its 400,000 soldiers. The reason speaks to the threat the disaster poses to the very existence of the regime. The generals, it seems, are “haunted by an almost pathological fear of a split inside their own ranks…if soldiers are not given priority in aid distribution and are unable to feed themselves, the possibility of mutiny rises.” Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, confirms that before the cyclone, the military was already coping with a wave of desertions.
This relatively small-scale theft of food is fortifying the junta for its much larger heist — the one taking place via the constitutional referendum the generals have insisted on holding, come hell and high water. Enticed by high commodity prices, Burma’s generals have been gorging off the country’s natural abundance, stripping it of gems, timber, rice and oil. As profitable as this arrangement is, junta leader Gen. Than Shwe knows he cannot resist the calls for democracy indefinitely.
Taking a page out of the playbook of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the generals have drafted a Constitution that allows for elections but guarantees that no future government will ever have the power to prosecute them for their crimes or take back their ill-gotten wealth. As Farmaner puts it, after elections the junta leaders “are going to be wearing suits instead of boots.” The cyclone, meanwhile, has presented them with one last, vast business opportunity: by blocking aid from reaching the highly fertile Irrawaddy delta, hundreds of thousands of mostly ethnic Karen rice farmers are being sentenced to death. According to Farmaner, “that land can be handed over to the generals’ business cronies” (shades of the beachfront land grabs in Sri Lanka and Thailand after the Asian tsunami). This isn’t incompetence, or even madness. It’s laissez-faire ethnic cleansing.
If the Burmese junta avoids mutiny and achieves these goals, it will be thanks largely to China, which has vigorously blocked all attempts at the United Nations for humanitarian intervention in Burma. Inside China, where the central government is going to great lengths to show itself as compassionate, news of this complicity could prove explosive. Will China’s citizens receive this news? They just might. Beijing has, up to now, displayed an awesome determination to censor and monitor all forms of communication. But in the wake of the quake, the notorious “Great Firewall” censoring the Internet is failing badly. Blogs are going wild, and even state reporters are insisting on reporting the news.
This may be the greatest threat that natural disasters pose to repressive regimes. For China’s rulers, nothing has been more crucial to maintaining power than the ability to control what people see and hear. If they lose that, neither surveillance cameras nor loudspeakers will be able to help them.
Published on Friday, May 16, 2008 by The Nation
Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (September 2007); an earlier international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002).
- Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.
The working class has nothing to lose but their chains. They have the world to win. Workers of the world, unite!
Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with.
When Bush says democracy, I often wonder what he's referring to.
I've learned in my years as a journalist that when a politician says 'That's ridiculous' you're probably on the right track.
Those looking for ideology in the White House should consider this: For the men who rule our world, rules are for other people.
The first schools of journalism were set up, and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around the professional journalist. The right to freedom of expression was associated with the new media and with the great corporations, and the whole thing was, as Robert McChesney put it so well, “entirely bogus”. -John Pilger
1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them. -Kurt Vonnegut US novelist (1922 -2007)
Do you think that the people of South Africa, or anywhere on the continent of Africa, or India, or Pakistan are longing to be kicked around all over again? -Arundhati Roy
Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war - for killing people. We received ours for entertaining other people. I'd say we deserve ours more.
-Joseph Heller, US Author of Catch 22
Ah, bless you, Sister, may all your sons be bishops.
His last words to a nun in a Roman Catholic hospital. Togs
Monday, May 12, 2008
Sunday, May 11, 2008
If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.
Che Guevara 1928-1967
Sami al-Haj is a free man today, after having been imprisoned by the U.S. military for more than six years. His crime: journalism.
Targeting journalists, the Bush administration has engaged in direct assault, intimidation, imprisonment and information blackouts to limit the ability of journalists to do their jobs. The principal target these past seven years has been Al-Jazeera, the Arabic television network based in Doha, Qatar.
In November 2001, despite the fact that Al-Jazeera had given the U.S. military the coordinates of its office in Kabul, U.S. warplanes bombed Al-Jazeera’s bureau there, destroying it. An Al-Jazeera reporter covering the George Bush-Vladimir Putin summit in Crawford, Texas, in the same month was detained by the FBI because his credit card was “linked to Afghanistan.”
In spring 2003, the U.S. dropped four bombs on the Sheraton hotel in Basra, Iraq, where Al-Jazeera correspondents-the only journalists reporting from that city-were the lone guests. Another Al-Jazeera staffer showed his ID to a U.S. Marine at a Baghdad checkpoint, only to have his car fired upon by the Marines. He was unhurt. That can’t be said for Tareq Ayyoub, an Al-Jazeera correspondent who was on the roof of the network’s bureau in Baghdad on April 8, 2003, when a U.S. warplane strafed it. He was killed. His widow, Dima Tahboub, told me: “Hate breeds hate. The United States said they were doing this to rout out terrorism. Who is engaged in terrorism now?”
Then there is the story of Sami al-Haj. A cameraman for Al-Jazeera, he was reporting on the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. On Dec. 15, 2001, while in a Pakistani town near the Afghanistan border, Haj was arrested, then imprisoned in Afghanistan. Six months later, shackled and gagged, he was flown to the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Haj was held there for close to six years, repeatedly interrogated and never charged with any crime, never tried in a court. He engaged in a hunger strike for more than a year, but was force-fed by his jailers with a feeding tube sent into his stomach through his nose. Haj was abruptly released this week. The U.S. government announced that he was being transferred to the custody of Sudan, his home nation, but the government of Sudan took no action against him. He was rushed to an emergency room, and soon was seen on his old network, Al-Jazeera:
“I’m very happy to be in Sudan, but I’m very sad because of the situation of our brothers who remain in Guantanamo. Conditions in Guantanamo are very, very bad, and they get worse by the day. Our human condition, our human dignity was violated, and the American administration went beyond all human values, all moral values, all religious values. In Guantanamo, you have animals that are called iguanas, rats that are treated with more humanity. But we have people from more than 50 countries that are completely deprived of all rights and privileges, and they will not give them the rights that they give to animals.”
He described the desecration of the Quran as part of the effort to break him: “They hold the Quran in contempt, destroyed it several times and put their dirty feet on it. They also sat on the Quran while trying to get us angry. They repeatedly committed violations against our dignity and our sexual organs.” At least one official in the Defense Department has denied the charges.
Asim al-Haj, Sami’s brother, told me in an interview last January about the 130 interrogations: “During these times, the interrogations were all about Al-Jazeera and alleged relations between Al-Jazeera and al-Qaida. They tried to induce him to spy on his colleagues at Al-Jazeera.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists have been held for extended periods by the U.S. military and then released without charge. Just weeks ago in Iraq, the U.S. military released Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein after holding him without charge for two years. The military had once accused Hussein of being a “terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP.”
The committee reports that 127 journalists and an additional 50 media workers have been killed in Iraq since 2003, well more than twice the number killed in World War II. We need to remind the Bush administration: Don’t shoot the messenger.
Published on Thursday, May 8, 2008 by TruthDig.com
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations in North America. Her third book, “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” was published in April.
The "S-word" is subsidy. While new Labour is happy to subsidise Crozier's fortune, a failed bank, colonial bloodbaths in Iraq and Afghanistan and a culpably useless Trident nuclear weapon system costing up to £20bn, it refuses to subsidise a true public service that costs, in relative terms, peanuts.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Let the people decide, let Unions NSW prepare industrial action, Stop the sell-off of NSW electricity! by Dick Nichols
“If Morris Iemma is so confident that electricity privatisation represents the best interests of the people of New South Wales, let him put it to a referendum”, Dick Nichols, National Coordinator of the Socialist Alliance said today.
Nichols was commenting on the New South Wales premier’s decision to ignore the 702-107 vote by the weekend ALP state conference against his government’s planned sell-off of electricity.
“Iemma and his backers like Paul Keating claim that the ALP conference was unrepresentative, because it was dominated by trade unionists (‘lemmings’ according to the former prime minister). So let’s have a public debate and decision on the pros and cons of his sell-off plan”, Nichols said.
The Alliance spokesperson said he was completely confident that such a debate would see a NSW-wide repeat of the ALP conference result.
“What Iemma and treasurer Michael Costa have to grasp is that people are not ignorant sheep who have to have the benefits of electricity privatisation explained to them by all-wise politicos ancient and modern in words of one syllable.
“The ALP conference debate showed that the delegates, both from the unions and the party branches, actually understood the arguments for electricity privatisation.
“But they knew enough to see right through the Costa-Iemma line that ‘you can have public spending on electricity generation or on public services but you can’t have both’. Even union delegations pledged to support Iemma (and personally lined up for him by Keating) deserted the premier after the debate.”
Nichols added that the decision of premier’s office to publish full-page advertisements in support of the sell-off in today’s Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald showed the government’s growing desperation, and the need for the union movement to organise industrial action and ongoing protest against it.
He concluded: “Unions NSW must commit to organise total union resistance to the sell-off, starting with an industrial campaign of complete non-cooperation with government privatisation plans.
“The whole union movement has to be organised to take whatever action is necessary to win.”
Today’s Op Ed on the hopeless Costa and Iemma is just as bad. Keating blames Bernie Riordan, John Robertson and the officers of the NSW Labor Party for the fact that Iemma and Costa could not win a simple argument with the rank and file of the party. That is not only the most pathetic joke I have heard in a long time, it makes a mockery of what really happened at conference on the weekend.
Not only did Iemma and Costa lose, they lost as close to unanimously as could ever be at a State Labor conference. It seems Keating, Iemma, Costa, Carr and Unsworth want to return to the past when majorities did not matter and you bludgeoned your way through the factions to get your way. The difference is this time if the old hacks get their way – it will be the end of the NSW Labor Party.
Parliamentarians won’t need a party they will just consult with their big end of town mates and make decisions based on their narrow, self oriented, view of the world. No doubt this cosy little group will be the major consultative group. This was not just a union vote. It was a vote in which unions were a minority of the vote against privatisation of the NSW electricity industry. The 702 delegates who voted against Iemma and Costa were left, centre and right. They were rank and file members elected from their State Electoral Councils and branches. They were as close as you could get in this forum to the make up of the people of the State of NSW. Ignoring this vote, goes beyond the privatisation issue, it trashes the idea of a democratic party and sets an ominous precedent for the future.
Despite the fact that Michael Costa was sent in to stir up the conference for the media, the untelevised debates were as good as I have ever seen at a Labor conference.
The debate on the floor of the conference was decisively won by the anti-privatisation group. They addressed in detail all of the arguments that Paul Keating raises in the SMH raised today. This was not the usual NSW Labor debate. Copies of the Unsworth Inquiry was circulated to all members on behalf of the government. Many used the opportunity to wade through it. In the past, if you dared to not follow the official Sussex St line then you were berated mercilessly on the floor. Keating learned all his formidable parliamentary venom from berating people on the floor of the Labor conference.
This time the tables were reversed. Those who usually gain the protection of the right wing Sussex St machine actually had to make a case. They failed miserably. Only John Della Bosca and John Watkins managed to cut through and make some decent arguments about the merits of the sell off. Bernie Riordan who Keating lambasts today gave a speech that was crisp and to the point. He demolished any argument that was made by the pro-privatisers. In doing so, he simply used sound logical argument.
His main points were:
NSW Electricity generation is a profitable monopoly business that returns a dividend to government each year. Now is not the time to sell the asset because it would probably not even get $10 billion let alone the $15 billion government first touted as its sale price.
Managing the transition of coal based power generation to carbon neutral power generation should rightly be a major job of government that would be aided by retaining power generation in public hands.
Not selling avoids the inequities that have arisen in every area of privatisation over the past three decades.
It is the height of hypocrisy for Keating to use his track record as President of the Labor Party to have a go at Riordan as Labor President.
It was Riordan who time after time implored the delegates to respect each contribution.
One can hardly imagine Keating in this role? It was Riordan who gave Kevin Rudd one of the best introductions that a Prime Minister has had to NSW Labor Conference. It all could have gone horribly wrong without Riordan's speech. It was Riordan who looked like a statesman, not a buffoon like Costa, or a man out of his depth like Iemma.
So Keating get your facts straight; it would be nice to see you some time at conference, maybe you can’t spare the time from listening to Mahler to actually mingle with the rank and file.
Keating says the National Electricity Market now means there is no reason to hold the monopoly NSW generators in public ownership. Who says?
The fact is that National Electricity Market gives public generators greater flexibility and capacity to on-sell. It also means that the people of NSW have a greater level of protection from pricing and predatory behaviour than the people of any other State.
It means that the people of NSW avoid the chaotic entry of private owners and managers and enjoy the benefits of national competition. Keating says that there is now competition in pricing through the National Market. This is no reason to sell off power generators.
Electricity generation simply becomes a better statutory corporation operating in public ownership but with the disciplines of the market to keep it efficient. NSW get the benefits of both worlds.
Keating says that power generators are industrial archaeology so they should be offloaded as if government’s sole prerogative was to dump losses. But he says hold on to the unprofitable poles and wires which do not make any money? Privatise the profits, socialise the losses! The super funds will build the power generation of the future says PJK. But where have the revolutionary projects been undertaken by even the union based Industry funds.
We've all been waiting for them? But the fact is that the trustees of even union funds are petrified to do anything outside markets dictates for fear of breaking their fiduciary duties to contributors. There is no way they will invest in risky new generators with unproven technology. So who cares about how the transition to a more greenhouse efficient energy production is managed?
This is not a job for government says Keating. We’ll leave it to the super funds and the market place. You’ve got to be kidding. It’s about time governments took on leadership on the big issues and stopped running governments as if they were just an accounting entity.
The clinch argument Keating wants to make is that if Carr had sold the electricity industry in 1997 the public was worth $35 billion. What a joke? I remember that debate very well. I was in the middle of it.
Those figures were constantly in debate particularly since when Kennet sold the Victorian industry he got such a profit than the first movers went broke in a very short amount of time creating chaos in Victorian power generation. The argument that Michael Egan and Bob Carr made was that the power industry was a basket case and would not return any dividends and needed to be sold because the government was going to have to go into debt to retain them. Last year the electricity generators returned $1.2 billion to the State budget in taxes and dividends. Since 1997 many billions have been earned. So deduct $10 billion from the $20 billion Keating reckons the government has lost because it should have sold in 1997 and then deduct another $10 billion as the normal wear and tear on an aging asset.
The government has lost nothing, and a counter argument can be made that it has been profitable to retain the assets given all of the dividends, taxes and external benefits that have been enjoyed by retaining them in public ownership. The truth is Paul Keating wants to go back to the party that he, Graham Richardson and Barry Unsworth shaped in the 1970s.
Now not even the party officers want to go back to that dark period. What a joke for Keating to hold himself up as a model of rectitude as party President. Loyalty for Keating meant stifle any free debate, obtain outcomes for the dominant group, dance over and ignore ordinary rank and file members views and ideas and make a laser-like run for any power. Keating was like a whippet at any party position that might gain him power and woe to any poor soul who got between him and his prize.
The reason why the Labor Party now has such a small membership is because Keating and his co-horts from the NSW Labor Right created a party that was for one small factional group. Whatever may happen now, Luke Foley and Karl Bitar are a breath of fresh air. Their task it to build a broader church and to create Labor officials, ministers and parliamentarians who have merit and are not just mates. The task is to build a party that is about the betterment of mankind not just the betterment of the big end of town.
So move over Keating. And Keating, so far as political competitiveness is concerned: The most competitive NSW government would not include Iemma or Costa in its ranks. Like the 85 per cent vote at conference, 85 per cent of the State do not want privatisation. Iemma won the last election facing the worst Opposition leader in living memory. Costa has made an utter fool of himself.
Now it is Iemma who has the lowest rating of a Premier in living memory and Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell is the front runner. John Della Bosca as Premier and John Watkins as Treasurer would be the strongest team against O’Farrell.
Lets hope that the gutless parliamentary representatives who have decided to defy Labor's membership and organisation, will see sense over the next week or so and ignore the mutterings of Labor has beens.