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Monday, October 27, 2008

What union response to job losses? By Tim Gooden

Tim Gooden

The global financial crisis isn’t just clipping the wings of grossly overpaid bank executives and speculators in shonky “financial instruments”. It’s going to hit ordinary working people hard.

Even if the trillions being injected into the bloodstream of the world financial system manage to restore its heartbeat, growth rates will fall and unemployment will rise. A whole generation of workers, who since 1991 have only known economic growth, will find out what it means to lose a job and not find another.

Areas where unemployment rates are higher than the national average will be worse hit. And it won’t be just blue collar workers in traditional manufacturing, like the several hundreds at Ford Geelong. Victoria University in Melbourne’s West recently announced the biggest job cuts in Australian university history: 250 staff (19% of teaching and general staff).

You can tell how serious the threat is by the speed with which the government dropped its May budget fight-inflation-first line and decided to inject $10.4 billion into economy via one-off payments to pensioners and parents.

But how much we will spend and save out of the pre-Christmas handout is just a guess by Treasury: what if most people use their payments to reduce debt instead of blowing them in Harvey Norman and Bunnings?

Then the economy will continue its nosedive into recession as consumption stagnates. What if — as seems probable — the capitalists become pessimistic and reduce their investments? Recession will come faster and be deeper.

The stakes for our living standards are so serious that the unions simply can’t afford to entrust everything to the Labor government and twiddle their thumbs on the sidelines, hoping that things don’t turn out as badly as everyone fears.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and treasurer Wayne Swan show no signs of wanting to tackle those responsible for the mess: the corporate (especially financial) elite. Rudd has unveiled a line of rhetoric against “extreme capitalism” and “excessive executive compensation”, but where is Labor’s action?

After just a couple of grumbles from senior bankers about Rudd’s idea of linking senior finance sector salaries to the security level of their financial institutions, the PM backed off. This was after the Reserve Bank had already sent billions the way of the financial institutions and the government accepted the banks keeping 20% of the last interest rate cut.

Some of Rudd’s emergency package is just plain counterproductive. Home buyers get a doubling or tripling of their grant, but building companies will no doubt use the extra rebate to temporarily keep up house prices that are already seriously inflated. The International Monetary Fund warned this year that Australia’s house prices are overvalued by at least 25%.
University of Western Sydney associate professor of economics and finance, Steve Keen, says Labor’s move will suck new home buyers into borrowing $70,000 more than their homes will soon be worth!

So what should the union movement be fighting for? A serious union policy against the crisis has four key points:

1. Give pensioners and the unemployed a living wage now, at the very least 35% of average weekly earnings. That’s the only way to ensure a sustained boost to consumption.

2. Speed up public spending on sorely needed infrastructure, particularly that which underpins the transition to environmental sustainability. Invest the Infrastructure Australia and Future Fund money, and the federal budget surplus, in rail, renewable energy, and decent public housing, health and education;

3. Nationalise the banks and run them in the community interest, beginning with the re-nationalisation of the Commonwealth Bank. This might seem an “extreme” policy to some, but let’s remember that the US and UK governments have already conducted crisis nationalisations and that the ALP has supported this policy in the past.

4. Really tear up Work Choices and all other anti-union laws. The coming recession will drive employers to sack workers and try to cut wages and conditions.

Under the present industrial regime the union movement is fighting with one-and-a-half arms tied behind its back. If working people and their communities — the vast majority of the Australian population — are to defeat the dragon of recession, they will need their unions to be as strong and as organised as possible.

Tim Gooden is the secretary of the Geelong and Region Trades and Labour Council.

Under cover of racist myth, a new land grab in Australia by John Pilger


In a report for the Guardian, John Pilger describes the deception behind the pretext for a "national emergency" declared by the Australian government in Aboriginal areas.

A political cry of "save the children" can also mean the profits of uranium and toxic waste.With its banks secured in the warmth of the southern spring, Australia is not news. It ought to be. An epic scandal of racism, injustice and brutality is being covered up in the manner of apartheid South Africa. Many Australians conspire in this silence, wishing never to reflect upon the truth about their society’s untermenschen, the Aboriginal people.

The facts are not in dispute. Thousands of black Australians never reach the age of 40. An entirely preventable disease, trachoma, blinds black children as epidemics of rheumatic fever ravage their communities. Suicide among the despairing young is common. No other developed country has such a record. A pervasive white myth, that Aborigines leach off the state, serves to conceal the disgrace that money the federal government says it spends on indigenous affairs actually goes towards opposing native land rights. In 2006, some A$3billion was underspent “or the result of creative accounting,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Like the children of apartheid, the Aboriginal children of Thamarrurr in the Northern Territory receive less than half the educational resources allotted to white children.

In 2005, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described the racism of the Australian state, AGAIN a distinction afforded no other developed country. This was during the decade-long rule of the conservative coalition of John Howard, whose coterie of white supremacist academics and journalists assaulted the truth of recorded genocide in Australia, especially the horrific separations of Aboriginal children from their families. They deployed arguments not dissimilar to those used by David Irving to promote Holocaust denial.

Smear by media as a precursor to the latest round of repression is long familiar to black Australians. In 2006, the flagship current affairs programme of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Lateline, broadcast lurid allegations of “sex slavery” among the Mutitjulu people in the Northern Territory. The programme’s source, described as an “anonymous youth worker”, was later exposed as a federal government official whose “evidence” was discredited by the Northern Territory Chief Minister and the police. The ABC has never retracted its allegations, claiming it has been “exonerated by an internal enquiry”. Shortly before last year’s election, Howard declared a “national emergency” and sent the army to the Northern Territory to “protect the children” who, said his minister for indigenous affairs, were being abused in “unthinkable numbers”.

Last February, with much sentimental fanfare, the new Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology to the first Australians. Australia was said to be finally coming to terms with its rapacious past, and present. Was it? “The Rudd government,” noted a Sydney Morning Herald editorial, “has moved quickly to clear away this piece of political wreckage in a way that responds to some of its own supporters’ emotional needs, yet it changes nothing. It is a shrewd manoeuvre.”

In May, barely reported, government statistics revealed that of the 7433 Aboriginal children examined by doctors as part of the “national emergency”, 39 had been referred to the authorities for suspected abuse. Of those, a maximum of just four possible cases of abuse were identified. Such were the “unthinkable numbers”. They were little different from those of child abuse in white Australia. What was different was that no soldiers invaded the beachside suburbs, no white parents were swept aside, no white welfare was “quarantined”. Marion Scrymgour, an Aboriginal minister in the Northern Territory government, said, “To see decent, caring [Aboriginal] fathers, uncles, brothers and grandfathers, who are undoubtedly innocent of the horrific charges being bandied about, reduced to helplessness and tears, speaks to me of widespread social damage."What the doctors found they already knew – children at risk from a spectrum of extreme poverty and the denial of resources in one of the world’s richest countries.

Having let a few crumbs fall, Kevin Rudd has picked up where Howard left off. His indigenous affairs minister, Jenny Mackie, threatens to withdraw government support from remote communities that are “economically unviable”. The Northern Territory is the only region where Aborigines have comprehensive land rights, granted almost by accident 30 years ago. Here lies some of the world’s biggest deposits of uranium. Canberra wants to mine it and sell it.

Foreign governments, especially the US, want the Northern Territory as a toxic dump. The railway from Adelaide to Darwin, which runs adjacent to Olympic Dam, the world’s largest uranium mine, was built with the help of Kellog, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the American giant Halliburton, the alma mater of Dick Cheney, Howard’s “mate”. “The land grab of Aboriginal tribal land has nothing to do with child sexual abuse,” says the Australian scientist Helen Caldicott, “but all to do with open slather uranium mining and converting the Northern Territory to a global nuclear dump.”What is unique about Australia is not its sun-baked, derivative society, clinging to the sea, but its first people, the oldest on earth, whose skill and courage in surviving invasion, of which the current onslaught is merely the latest, deserves humanity’s support.

John Bellamy Foster: `Capitalism has reached its limits'


Postscript to "The Financialization of Capital and the Crisis"
By John Bellamy Foster


October 26, 2008 -- Six months ago the United States was already deep in a financial crisis -- the roots of which were explained in `The Financialization of Capital and the Crisis' (Monthly Review, April 2008). Yet, the conditions now are several orders of magnitude worse and are affecting the entire world.

We are clearly in the midst of one of the great crises in the history of capitalism. More than a mere financial panic, what is taking place is a major devaluation of capital of still undetermined dimensions. Marx explained that capital was invariably over-extended in a boom and that in the crisis that followed a part of that capital was devalued, enabling the rest to return to profitability and to the process of accumulation and expansion.

However, we are now to some extent in uncharted territory: a phase of monopoly-finance capital that is in many ways unprecedented. Even at the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Keynes explained that after a crisis modern capitalism might return to profitability without a return to full employment, full utilisation of existing capacity and strong growth. Our experience of the last half-century has shown that capitalism at its core was able to avoid stagnation only by vast military expenditures and, when that proved insufficient, by an enormous inflation of asset values and speculation, i.e. "financialisation". This growth multiplied by the boom psychology on the way up (the "wealth effect") turned out to also have a contracting multiplier effect on the way down. These factors help to explain why the economic crisis in the real economy is so severe at present, and why there is no chance of an immediate restarting of the growth process.

Many people first woke up to the seriousness of the crisis only on September 18, 2008, when US Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson told Congress that the US financial sector was within days of a complete meltdown and that a US$700 billion bailout for the banks was urgently needed. Since then (and indeed even before) vast amounts of government dollars have been poured into the financial structure (all told the financial exposure of the U.S. government alone in the entire crisis has exceeded $5 trillion at this writing), including direct injection of capital into major banks and partial nationalisations.1 Yet, still there is little sign of the crisis abating. Insolvency is spreading through the economy from consumers to banks, to non-financial firms, back to consumers, in a vicious cycle. The fact that the economy in recent decades was being lifted mainly by financialisation makes the problem all that much more severe.

The entire world economy is now affected. Already one economy in the European sphere itself -- Iceland -- has experienced a meltdown, requiring rescue from outside, and some have called Iceland the "canary in the coalmine." Over this last neoliberal epoch, the United States and its European allies have forced upon the entire globe a model of the free flow of capital across borders. The result today is the free flow of catastrophe. Only by the imposition, first, of capital controls and the establishment, second, of non-market based "South-South" cooperation can "emerging" economies avoid becoming the worse victims of the crash.

In these dire economic circumstances we should of course be careful not to fall into an exaggerated frame of mind. It is important to remember that a breakdown of capitalism as a whole will not occur by mere economics alone. Given time to work things out on its own terms the system will no doubt recover -- though a full recovery could be many years away, if possible at all.

The real historical issue before us is to what extent the world's population is willing to wait for this crisis to be resolved on capitalist terms, so that the whole irrational process of exploitation and boom and bust can gain steam again -- or whether they shall decide to insert themselves into the process to say `Enough!'. It is this political insertion from below that the powers that be most fear. From their Olympian position at the top of the system they know perhaps better than anyone else that the conditions exist for the possible renewal of socialism on a global scale.


Capitalism has reached its limits as a progressive force and its famous "creative destruction" has turned into a destructive creativity in which both the world's people and the planet are now in jeopardy. Indeed, for the world's population and the earth taken a whole there is today no real alternative -- to socialism.


1 "Government's Leap into Banking Has Its Perils," New York Times, October 18, 2008.
[John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review. This postscript was written for the Portuguese translation of "The Financialization of Capital and the Crisis" that will appear in Revista Outubro, Brazil. It first appeared at MRzine and has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission.]

The diplomacy of lying by John Pilger


In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the truth and lies of great power as practised by British "diplomacy'', and the prospects for peace and order following the US presidential election on November 4.In 1992, Mark Higson, the Foreign Office official responsible for Iraq, appeared before the Scott inquiry into the scandal of arms sold illegally to Saddam Hussein. He described a “culture of lying” at the heart of British foreign policymaking. I asked him how frequently ministers and officials lied to parliament.

“It’s systemic,” he said. “The draft letters I wrote for various ministers were saying that nothing had changed, the embargo on the sale of arms to Iraq was the same.”

“Was that true?” I asked.“No, it wasn’t true.”“And your superiors knew it wasn’t true?”

“Yes.”

“So how much truth did the public get?”

“The public got as much truth as we could squeeze out, given that we told downright lies.

”From British involvement with the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, to the supply of warplanes to the Indonesian dictator Suharto, knowing he was bombing civilians in East Timor, to the denial of vaccines and other humanitarian aid to the children of Iraq, my experience with the Foreign Office is that Higson was right and remains right.

As I write this, the dispossessed people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean await the decision of the Law Lords, hoping for a repetition of four previous judgments that their brutal expulsion to make way for a US military base was “outrageous”, “illegal” and “repugnant”. That they must endure yet another appeal is thanks to the Foreign Office – whose legal adviser in 1968, one Anthony Ivall Aust (pronounced “oarst” and since knighted), wrote a secret document headed “Maintaining the fiction”. This advised the then Labour government to “argue” the “fiction” that the Chagossians were “only a floating population”. Today, the depopulated main island, Diego Garcia, over which the Union Jack flies, serves the “war on terror” as an American interrogation and torture centre.

When you bear this in mind, the US presidential race becomes surreal. The beatification of President Barack Obama is already under way; for it is he who “challenges America to rise up [and] summon ‘the better angels of our nature’”, says Rolling Stone magazine, reminiscent of the mating calls of Guardian writers to the “mystical” Blair. As ever, the Orwell Inversion Test is necessary. Obama claims that his vast campaign wealth comes from small individual donors, yet he has also received funds from some of the most notorious looters on Wall Street. Moreover, the “dove” and “candidate of change” has voted repeatedly to fund George W Bush’s rapacious wars, and now demands more war in Afghanistan while he threatens to bomb Pakistan.

Dismissing the popular democracies in Latin America as a “vacuum” to be filled by the United States, he has endorsed Colombia’s “right to strike terrorists who seek safe havens across its borders”. Translated, this means the “right” of the criminal regime in that country to invade its neighbours, notably uppity Venezuela, on Washington’s behalf. The British human rights group Justice for Colombia has just published a study concerning Anglo-American backing for the Colombian regime of Álvaro Uribe, which is responsible for more than 90 per cent of all cases of torture. The principal torturers, the “security forces”, are trained by the Americans and the British. The Foreign Office replies that it is “improving the human rights record of the military and combating drug trafficking”. The study finds not a shred of evidence to support this.

Colombian officers with barbaric records, such as those implicated in the murder of a trade union leader, are welcomed to Britain for “seminars”.

As in many parts of the world, the British role is that of subcontractor to Washington. The bloody “Plan Colombia” was the design of Bill Clinton, the last Democratic president and inspiration for Blair’s and Brown’s new Labour. Clinton’s administration was at least as violent as Bush’s – see Unicef’s report that 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result of the Anglo-American blockade in the 1990s.

The lesson learned is that no presidential candidate, least of all a Democrat awash with money from America’s “banksters”, as Franklin Roosevelt called them, can or will challenge a militarised system that controls and rewards him. Obama’s job is to present a benign, even progressive face that will revive America’s democratic pretensions, internationally and domestically, while ensuring nothing of substance changes.Among ordinary Americans desperate for a secure life, his skin colour may help him regain this unjustified “trust”, even though it is of a similar hue to that of Colin Powell, who lied to the United Nations for Bush and now endorses Obama. As for the rest of us, is it not time we opened our eyes and exercised our right not to be lied to, yet again?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wealth's Apostles By VIJAY PRASHAD

Chinese factory managers have cut their orders for raw materials. The Baltic Exchange Dry index has plummeted. Currencies climb up and down, but the stock exchange indices look like the altimeter of an aircraft in freefall. Stock markets across the planet look to the Central Banks of Euro-Land and the U. S. for some guidance, and then shy away, taking cover under the flimsy shields of their own governments. The Sovereign Funds of the Gulf States prefer to park their substantial petro-dollars into their own infant stock exchanges, since they have already burned their fingers in New York and London.

Part I: Wealth’s Apostles.Petrified by the imminent collapse of the entire financial architecture, the Finance Ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) countries hastened to Washington for an emergency meeting, summoned to their Rome, to find a quick solution. The smiles that littered the faces of the ministers in their February meeting in Osaka were absent. Instead, they reverted to type. America’s Henry Paulson had a pinched nose in the official photograph, as he frowned toward the camera as it to say, get this over with, and get me out of here. Two of the men in the room had been bred in the left, only to have walked right-ward: Britain’s Alistair Darling, once a 4th Internationalist and now another Scotsman for Brown, walked around with the typical smug look of New Labour, while Italy’s Giulio Tremonti, once of the Italian Socialist Party and then of Berlusconi’s disreputable Forza Italia, walked around at a forward angle, as if to display his eagerness to please with his body’s slant. Tremonti, at least is an intellectual, one who has perversely adopted some of the anti-globalization rhetoric to smash the remnants of Italy’s social wage. France’s Christine LeGarde trained as a labor lawyer, but gave little of herself to the working-class. A twenty-year career in the Chicago law firm of Baker & McKenzie trained her well for her job in the Sarkozy cabinet, pushing an agenda to make the French worker “work harder.” But she is the opposite of Tremonti, having said early into her term that like her boss, she believes that the French think too much and don’t do enough. No intellectualism or big ideas from her desk. But at least she could say as much. The Japanese Finance Minister, Soichi Nakagawa, has a thing for the bottle, and it might be expected that the tension sent him in search of the nearest bar. This is the cast of characters that wants to determine the destiny of our times.

Germany’s Peer Steinbruck looked ill. A long-time SPD man, now in charge of his country’s checkbook in this grand alliance of hard right and right, Steinbruck came to Washington having made the strongest statement on the crisis. “The world will never be as it was before the crisis. The United States will lose its superpower status in the world financial system.” The system would, he argued, “become more multi-polar.” These are fierce words, and it is doubtful that Steinbruck earned any smiles from Paulson or his team. World Bank president Robert Zoellick, the stooge of James Baker who took an active role in stealing the 2000 election for Bush, was seen in his company. Zoellick’s smile is like a cattle-prod, a warning to get in line. Any other dissent could not be brooked. IMF Chief, the Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn said of the crisis that it is “the result of regulatory failure to guard against excessive risk-taking in the financial system, especially in the U. S.” (September 22). A few days after the October meeting, Strauss-Kahn faced charges that he had, what the Japanese call, a “lower half problem.” The IMF began investigations into an affair Strauss-Kahn had with a senior official of the IMF’s Africa division, Piroska Nagy. The dirty tricks squad released its file on him.

Paulson’s defiant laissez-faire was broken down by events, by his commitments to his Wall Street brethren, and by pressure from the few elements of social democracy that linger in the hearts of Euro-Land. The October 10 statement from the Finance Ministers and their Central Bankers laid out a five point plan, three of which, at least, pointed directly toward the partial nationalization of the banks, otherwise anathema to Paulson. “Take decisive action and use all available tools,” said the statement, “to support systematically important financial institutions and prevent their failure.” To “unfreeze credit and money markets” and to ensure that banks can raise capital “to re-establish confidence,” it was imperative that the government’s take a stake in the banks themselves. This was the mantra from the Europeans and the Japanese, and it had to be heeded by the floundering U. S. Working Group on Financial Markets (this was the push that moved Paulson and others into the Cash Room at the U. S. Treasury on October 14 to announce that the government would take an equity stake in the banks).

From Euro-Land came another suggestion, that the powers convene a New Bretton Woods. A spat broke out between Paris and London, as Sarkozy and Brown debated who had first called for such a conference. At the UN General Assembly in late September, Sarkozy called on the states to “rebuild together a regulated capitalism in which whole swathes of financial activity won’t be left to the sole judgment of market dealers. Let’s rebuild a capitalism in which banks do their job, and the job of the banks is to finance economic development, it isn’t speculation….Let’s build a capitalism in which the credit agencies are controlled and penalized when necessary…

There is so much opacity today, we find it difficult even to understand what is happening.”

Trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, Sarkozy took refuge in the comfort of civilizations: he called this the end of the “Anglo-Saxon era,” and with a whiff of condescension opened the door toward the Gallic era.The lugubrious Gordon Brown could have joined in with this civilizational-racial angle, claiming his Celtic heritage against the Germanic Anglo-Saxons. But instead, he made the call for a “New Bretton Woods” a pissing contest, raising it as if a new idea at an October meeting of European leaders in Brussels. But really the call is an old one. Familiar as well to Giulio Tremonti who made the proposal in early March on Rai Due, saying globalization was invented “by a group of madmen, of mad illuminati,” people who “invented techno-finance, sold mortgages, packaged them and sold them around. Now all this has failed. Globalization has failed.”

Instead, he proposed “we are thinking about an agreement among large nations, like the one in Bretton Woods: a new Bretton Woods.” Even Tremonti is not the first to say so. France’s ATTAC did so, and so have the bulk of the states of the United Nations since the debt crisis punished Mexico in 1982. But till now, no-one took them seriously.

Part II: The Lion’s Den.Bretton Woods is the name of a small town in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. As you drive along Route 302 from Vermont, you pass by the road that can take you to Franconia, where Robert Frost wrote some of his best verse (“Stopping by the Woods,” but also the 1916, “The Line Gang,” with the unforgettable “With a laugh, an oath of towns that set the wild at naught, they bring the telephone and telegraph”). You brush by Bethlehem, where the pollen count is so low that people used to come here to shelter before antihistamines. And then, before you can breathe, you enter the area of the mountains, the Crawford Notch region that brings you within sight of Mt. Washington. Little wonder then that in the early 1900s, the railways ran a service that linked the barons of New York, Boston and Philadelphia to their own private Switzerland. Joseph Stickney wanted to build a major hotel on an immense plain between Crawford Notch and Twin Mountain. To design the hotel, he hired Charles Alling Gifford, already a pioneer of the “millionaires’ cottages” on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Gifford designed well for the landscape, and a series of “busy Italians” built the Mount Washington Hotel, a “mountain colossus” (Among the Clouds, August 13, 1901).

Grandness embossed the hotel. One guidebook from the time gushed, “There is an indoor scene comparable in brilliancy with a reception to the diplomatic corps at the White House or a levee at the Court of St. James”FDR’s set knew the hotel well. They learnt to Golf there, and enjoyed the fresh air when they got away from their busy pursuits of money and intrigue. When FDR wanted to convene a conference to take charge of the reconstruction of international finance after World War II, he decided to hold it at this hotel. Since 1936, the Mount Washington found it hard to make a profit, having lost custom to the turmoil of war (during the Depression it did fine). An influx of government money allowed it to refurbish itself. The hotel had been segregated (but for the musicians, such as “a colored orchestra with banjos, taps and drums” to play the Danse de la Forêt in 1916). It would now have to welcome delegates from China, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, the Philippines and elsewhere. The wait staff didn’t care. Later, one elevator operator told a reporter from the Littleton Courier, “The delegates wouldn’t tip. The most liberal elevator passenger was a Chinaman.” The Americans and the Europeans were the most parsimonious.

Lord Keynes held forth (his wife, the prima donna ballerina Lydia Lopolava was the rage at Bretton Woods). He had not wanted to invite the rest of the world, as it were. They, he wrote acidly, “clearly have nothing to contribute and will merely encumber the ground.” If they were allowed, the Bretton Woods conference would be “the most monstrous monkey-house assembled for years.” There was only one woman at the table, Mabel Newcomer (a Vassar Professor of Economics). The delegates from the darker nations could not help set the agenda, for the few that came where were there at the sufferance of their colonial masters (such as the Indians and the Filipinos) , while the free people (such as some Latin Americans and the Chinese) were shown the door when the real deliberations began. The Chinese delegate, to be fair, was Dr. H. H. Kung, a descendant of Confucius and husband of Ailing (“Pleasant”) Soong (whose sisters had married Dr. Sun Yat Sen and Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek). The richest man in China at that time, Kung didn’t seem to do much to pave the way for the reconstruction of a devastated Chinese mainland.

The delegates from afar had to be there in the Gold Room to put their impressions on the final communiqué. No surprise then that the two major institutions that came out of Bretton Woods, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), had to be run by an European or an American respectively. No-one else would have a turn. Keynes’ disdain for those not like himself was shared by others, and it was this that moved them to disenfranchise the world from the governance of the IMF and the WB (the main votes on their Boards of Executive Directors are held by the U. S. and Europe). The silence of the colonized and semi-colonized meant that the new monetary policies favored those who had already seized the world’s wealth, and the trade policies that followed set inequality in stone. Chastened by the economic warfare of the 1920s and 1930s that not only brought on the hostilities of World War II, but also contributed to the prolongation of the Depression, the major powers now created a currency regime that would be less volatile. The WB was created to help manage the reconstruction of war ravaged Europe (not Asia, nor Africa, both also burnt to the crisp by European ambitions). The IMF emerged as an institution to tide over countries that had a balance of payments or short-term liquidity problem. There is no mandate to poverty reduction or to the elimination of the vast global inequalities that marked the end of the colonial era. The IMF and the WB were institutions for the maintenance of colonial domination by other means.

For that reason, the countries that had been shut out of the creation of the IMF-WB built their own project and their own institutions. The main organization was the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, created in 1961 by the bulk of the UN nations, newly freed from colonial dominion of one kind or another (these are countries that wedded themselves to the Third World project, as I outline in The Darker Nations). In the 1980s, the IMF and the WB began to use the debt crisis as leverage to transform the politics and economics of the poorer world. Structural adjustment policies weakened whatever mild gains had been made over the course of the past fifty years. The lack of effective democracy in the IMF-WB and their promiscuous relationship with Europe’s capitals and with Washington, DC, allowed them to skew their policies against the needs of those who make what is so acquisitively enjoyed by those in power.

When Tremonti says that he is thinking of an agreement “among large nations” I’m sure he doesn’t mean “large” in terms of demography. Otherwise China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan would join the United States in setting up the new rules (Tremonti’s Italy only has .9% of the world’s population, while China and India house over 36% of the world’s population). Gordon Brown’s opinion piece in the Washington Post, “Out of the Ashes” (October 17) is populated with the royal “We.” “We must deal with more than the symptoms of the current crisis,” he writes, and then hastens to add, “European leaders came together to propose the guiding principles that we believe should underpin this new Bretton Woods.” The ideas are fairly straightforward, including transparency, sound banking, responsibility, integrity, and global governance. But these could mean anything: responsibility of whom, and toward whom? The same with integrity. There is similar hoopla about global this and global that (“the global problems we face require global solutions”) except the only ones who seem to count in the drafting of the project are the Europeans and the U. S. (with Japan). No-one proposes to call a genuine world-wide conference, to revive the project of the UNCTAD, to ask Beijing and New Delhi, N’Djamena and Quito. Brown quotes Dean Acheson who said of Bretton Woods that he was “present at the creation.” India and China might have been there, but they were absent: their input was minimal, and it remains marginal.

If Brown asked those involved in the Bolivarian experiment, he’d get a set of concrete proposals that would be just the tonic needed for a tired planet: their principles, derived from the Third World project, would call for capital controls over hot money, firm obligations for foreign direct investment to remain for the long-term, better ability for states and regions to protect the value of their currency, construction of trade policies consonant with the needs of the population and not the imperatives of transnational corporations, and finally the revival of the United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations (which led a much abused life from 1973 to 1993). These and more would be the kind of proposals that would come from the South. But Brown’s ear is turned toward Paulson, and he can’t hear what Chavez is saying.While in the White Mountains last week I casually asked someone if he knew anything about the Abenaki Indians. He didn’t. Nor are their any signs to indicate that they were ever alive. Except a ski resort named for them. The Abenaki were exterminated by the plague of 1616-1618, then the slow, painful encroachment of the Massachusetts settlers up the Merrimack River (including a series of wars that devastated the Abenaki and other peoples: King Philip’s War, 1675-78, Lovewell’s War, 1723-25 and the French and Indian War, 1754-63, during which Major Robert Rogers conducted his bloody raid of the village of St. Francis), and by finally by the long cultural war that fully cleansed the landscape of them. Bretton Woods was built on the homeland of the Abenaki, taken by the colonialists for its resources (the trees became raw material for the ships) and for the land.

It is fitting then that Bretton Woods, built on colonial amnesia, is the name of a conference that the G7 wants to revive, once more forgetting the silenced billions.By all means a conference, but not one that shuts out the many. Chavez gets this. After meeting Sarkozy in Paris in late September, Chavez told the press that such a meeting must “not be confined to the Group of Eight.” He’s having a good laugh. Reflecting on the equity stake in the banks, Chavez said, “Comrade Bush is to the left of me now.”
from CounterPunch 21 October 08

Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Director of International Studies at Trinity College, Hartford, CT His new book is The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, New York: The New Press, 2007. He can be reached at: vijay.prashad@trincoll.edu

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A qoute from John Steinbeck for Times Like These

" I remember ’29 very well. We had it made (I didn’t but most people did). I remember the drugged and happy faces of people who built paper fortunes in stocks they couldn’t possibly have paid for. ‘I made ten grand in ten minutes today. Let’s see – that’s eighty thousand for the week.’In our little town bank presidents and track workers rushed to pay phones to call brokers. Everyone was a broker, more or less.At lunch hour, store clerk and stenographers munched sandwiches while they watched the stock boards and calculated their pyramiding fortunes.

Their eyes had the look you see around the roulette table.I saw it sharply because I was on the outside, writing books no one would buy. I didn’t even have the margin to start my fortune. I saw the wild spending, the champagne and caviar through windows, smelled the heady perfumes on fur-draped ladies when they came warm and shining out of the theatres. “Then the bottom dropped out, and I could see that clearly too because I hadbeen practicing for the Depression for a long time. I wasn’t involved with loss.I remember how the Big Boys, the men in the know, were interviewed and re-interviewed.
Some of them brought space to reassure the crumbling millionaires: ‘It’s just a natural setback’; ‘Don’t be afraid – buy – keep buying’.Meanwhile the Big Boys sold and the market fell on its face.Then came panic, and panic changed to dull shock. When the market fell, the factories, mines, and steelworks closed and then no one could buy anything, not even food. People walked about as if they had been slugged . .Then people remembered their little bank balances, the only certainties in a treacherous world.

They rushed to draw the money out. There were fights and riots and lines of policemen. Some banks failed; rumors began to fly. Then frightened and angry people stormed the banks until the doors clanged shut.
John Steinbeck

A Primer of the ‘30s
I took this from Dave Riley's LeftClick

Don't pay for a failed system by Tony Iltis

“Meltdown” is a word that one hears a lot on the news these days.

Despite the US$700 billion government bailout of banks in the US, similar (albeit smaller) bailouts in Europe, and various forms of state intervention in the finance industry on both sides of the Atlantic, sharemarkets worldwide are in free fall. Comparisons with the Great Depression of the 1930s are common. Homelessness and unemployment are rising and are set to increase dramatically. Meanwhile, more quietly but even more relentlessly, another meltdown is occurring: that of the polar icecaps.

According to the Western world’s establishment politicians and corporate media, the way to avert catastrophic climate change lies in setting up elaborate emissions trading schemes and carbon markets: that is, relying on precisely the mechanisms that have created the economic meltdown! Superficially, the crisis has created a dramatic reversal in the orthodoxy of Western economic policy. After decades of preaching the virtues of deregulation of financial markets, privatisation of public assets and the superiority of the “hidden hand of the market” over government involvement in the economy, Western governments are now spending gargantuan amounts of public money intervening in the economy.

Following the US government’s nationalisation of the mortgage institutions Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and insurance giant AIG, and its unpopular $700 billion bailout of the banks, British PM Gordon Brown announced a £50 billion (US$89 billion) bailout for British banks, including partial nationalisations, with a further £450 billion being earmarked should the banks need more. Likewise in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and Luxembourg, massive state interventions and partial nationalisations are on the agenda. In Iceland, where a globally oriented finance industry dwarfs domestic economic activity, the three largest banks have been taken over by a government desperately trying to stop the country becoming bankrupt.

Iceland’s stock exchange has closed. There has also been mutual recrimination between the governments of Iceland and Britain. The British government has condemned Iceland for not guaranteeing the deposits of British individuals and institutions in Iceland’s banks, including about £2 billion from British local councils. Iceland, for its part, has charged that the British seizure of Icelandic bank assets (using anti-terrorism laws!) has contributed to the crisis. Iceland is currently negotiating a 4 billion euro bailout from Russia.

‘Hidden hand’ still reigns However, the failure of this expensive government intervention to halt the global collapse of sharemarkets — and remove the spectre of a massive downturn in production, fuelling unemployment and poverty — reflects that the old orthodoxy has not, in fact, been overturned. The thrust of the “emergency” economic interventions has been to pump money into the finance industry in the hope that this will encourage the banks to restart the flow of credit to productive industry. The “hidden hand of the market” still reigns.

At the heart of the crisis is speculation on debt. With US wages remaining static since 1973, while the cost of living has risen considerably, consumer spending (and therefore corporate profits) have been maintained by a credit-fuelled economy. Furthermore, deregulated financial markets created a huge industry based on repackaging and reselling debts, creating incomprehensible investment options (“collateralised debt obligations”, “credit default swaps”). In the US these “products” grew to a value of US$64 trillion — five times the annual output of the US economy.

There are nationalisations and there are nationalisations. Under the various bailouts, the assets that governments are taking over are the so-called “toxic assets” — precisely those ecomomic “products” that have proved to be worthless. A more rational response would be to simply put the banks under state ownership. For their former owners, who have made countless billions, compensation should not even be considered — criminal charges would be more appropriate. What $700 billion could achieve It is worth considering what the $700 billion spent on bailing out the US banks could have been spent on.

Less than $200 billion would end poverty in the US. The widespread hostility of the US working class to the bailout reflects that while money can be found to protect billionaires’ profits from “toxic assets”, no assistance has been forthcoming for those who’ve lost their homes through “toxic” variable interest rate mortgages. Earlier this year, US President George Bush vetoed legislation to give medical coverage to 9 million poor children in the US, on the grounds that such expenditure, less than $6 billion, was “useless”! Seven hundred billion dollars is twice the combined debt of the world’s poorest 49 countries. Underpinning world poverty is the fact for every dollar spent on Western aid to the Third World, $25 are paid back as debt servicing. Currently, global inequality condemns 11 million children to death each year due to lack of healthcare, sanitation, food and water. Ten billion dollars — a 70th of the bailout — would be sufficient to save these lives.

Six billion dollars would provide basic education for the whole world, while $9 billion would provide water and sanitation, $12 billion reproductive health for all women and $13 billion adequate nutrition and healthcare. Along with increasing inequality within nations, the doctrine of neoliberalism (reliance the “hidden hand of the market”) has more than doubled the wealth gap between rich and poor countries.

Much trumpeted debt relief and aid programs (such as the “Millenium Development Goals”) make any assistance dependent on poor countries following International Monetary Fund (IMF) diktats to privatise and deregulate their economies for the benefit of Western corporations. Privatising and commodifying basic services such as water and sanitation, and the removal of food and fuel subsidies, literally means misery and death for millions. The IMF’s offer of similar “assistance” to Western countries in response to the current financial crisis should be treated with trepidation by workers and poor people in these countries. War spending While the $700 billion bailout dwarfs Western social expenditure and international development aid, it is itself dwarfed by spending on the military.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US has spent $3 trillion on the war alone. The $1.339 trillion annual global military expenditure is, as much as the bailouts, assistance to the corporate elite. Not only do corporations make direct profits through the arms trade, and increasingly privatised military infrastructure, military force ensures Western corporations’ access to the world’s resources and the labour of its people. With excuses for the Iraq war (weapons of mass destruction and involvement in the 9/11 attacks) long discredited, it is difficult to disguise that the real reason for the invasion was to corner the fossil fuel market.

The centrality of fossil fuels to the Western-imposed global economic system raises the question of the other meltdown: global warming. Both crises have the same source: the profit-driven capitalist economy. Even when the economy was apparently booming, it was incongruous that finding solutions to the climate crisis was tasked to economists, such as Sir Nicholas Stern in Britain and Professor Ross Garnaut in Australia. It should now be considered insane for the market to solve the problem of climate change when it has proved spectacularly incapable of solving the problems of the market!

It is necessary to redefine what is meant by “the economy”. Mainstream economists have claimed that speculators trading incomprehensible financial products based on debt are creating wealth. The financial meltdown has proved these claims fraudulent. Wealth is actually created by people working to make goods and services. The corporate rulers of the world take this wealth rather than create it. With a large increase in unemployment looming due to the financial collapse it is worth remembering that the solutions needed to avert catastrophic climate change are labour intensive: for example, wholesale conversion of entire economies to renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and public transport instead of private car-based transport.

More than 150 years ago Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, explaining that the working class, as the creators of wealth, could, if they took control of society, create a world without poverty, inequality or oppression, said, “We have a world to win”. Today it could be added that we also have world to lose.
From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #770 15 October 2008.

The race to rescue the bankers by Mark Steel

Mark Steel



The next move, presumably, will be to nationalise the country’s gambling debts.

To revive confidence among blokes in betting offices, the government will hand over £300 billion to cover the money they’ve lost. Then a leading gambler will be quoted as saying: “This package goes some way towards restoring calm. The last week has been horrendous. One of my friends lost a ton on an 8-to-1 shot he’d been assured was a banker by a minicab driver.” Another method might be to let the world’s share-dealers go bankrupt, and see if we manage to carry on without them. One advantage of this strategy would be the entertainment of seeing them fight the job losses. City traders would carry placards saying, “Stop the axe on Goldman Sachs!”

Support groups would be set up that could hold collections in which people would be asked to donate riverside apartments to a fighting fund, as some of the bankers were undergoing such hardship they hadn’t bought one for over three months. But organisers of the fighting fund would have to be careful to keep some donations back until handed out as the Christmas bonus. They’d certainly deserve our backing, as you get an idea of the nature of share traders from the Daily Telegraph, which told us that after the initial rejection of the US recovery plan by Congress, “there was disbelief among U.S. traders who accused politicians of putting their own interests ahead of the American people”.

You see? Even in this crisis, all they’re thinking about is the US people. They’ve never wanted the burden of accepting unimaginable salaries for buying and selling the same stuff, but they’ve soldiered on out of love for the US people. Well, it’s time they understood there’s such a thing as being too selfless, and took a moment to consider themselves for once.

Their complaint was the failure to approve a US$700 billion bailout of failing finances, but it’s even worse than they fear. Because according to one commentator, one reason why politicians rejected the deal was that “they were receiving letters from the public running at 40-to-1 disapproving it”. So it’s not just politicians, but the US people who are against the US people.

Some of them, for example, might consider that $130 billion to provide a national health plan for all US citizens for two years would be a better use of funds. Those poor traders must hold their heads in their hands and sigh: “It’s just ‘me me me’ with some people, isn’t it?” So maybe there’s another solution. It seems that world governments will do anything at all, no matter how desperate, to revive “confidence” in the markets, as these markets, which are run by the dealers, control the economy.

This means the dealers are far more powerful than governments. In which case, in the interests of democracy, instead of wasting time electing governments, why don’t we elect the dealers? They could make speeches such as: “Let me assure the British people that, if elected, less of the wealth created by hard-working families will be taken by the state, and far more will stay where it belongs, with me.”

And: “I apologise to my constituents for the embarrassing revelation that I’ve not been seen in an exclusive lap-dancing club for over a week.” And one day, we’ll all look back and wonder why we’d never thought of it before. [Mark Steel is a comedian and socialist activist. Originally published in the October 6 British Independent.]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #770 15 October 2008.

The Global Crash By FIDEL CASTRO

Following an initiative from Sarkozy, President of France, on Sunday October 12th, the countries of the Euro zone agreed on an anti-crisis scheme.

On Monday 13th, an announcement is made that the European countries will inject multimillion amounts of money in the financial market to prevent a collapse. The stocks have risen after the amazing news.

Based on the abovementioned agreement, Germany had committed 480 billion Euros to the bailout operation; France, 360 billion; Holland, 200 billion; Austria and Spain, 100 billion each, and so on until with Great Britain's contribution they reached the figure of 1.7 trillion Euros. On that day -since the exchange rate between currencies constantly varies- that figure equalled 2.2 trillion US dollars, which added to the 700 billion dollars allocated by the United States.

The shares of the major corporations, which were not bankrupt, witnessed a steep climbing of their value. This was far from compensating the losses sustained in the nine tragic days but it will give bankers and politicians from the capitalist developed world some breathing space.
In the evening of that same day, during a banquet in his honour offered at the White House, Prime Minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi makes a speech paying homage to Bush: "We have confidence in the President who had the courage to do what he considered fair, what he had to do for himself, for his people and for the world."

He really went too far!

Also on the 13th, United States citizen Paul Krugman was presented with the 2008 Nobel Prize of Economics. He is certainly an advocate of the capitalist system but he is at the same time very critical of President Bush.

On the 14th, El Pais runs an article under the heading Gordon has done it right with some ideas that deserve to be literally reproduced:

"It's only natural that to face the need for financial capital the State provides the financial institutions with more capital in exchange for part of their properties.

"This kind of temporary and partial nationalization was also the solution privately favoured by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

"On announcing his financial assistance scheme of 500 billion Euros, Henry Paulson, US Treasure Secretary, was rejecting this obvious solution arguing that 'this is what you do in case of bankruptcy'.

"The British government has gone straight to the source of the problem and acted with incredible speed to solve it.

"After supposedly wasting several precious weeks, Paulson has also backpedaled. Now, he intends to buy bank shares instead of toxic mortgage assets.
"As I have said, we still don't know if these measures will work. That clear vision had to come from London and not from Washington.
"It's difficult to avoid feeling that Paulson's initial response was distorted by ideology. Remember that he is working for a government whose philosophy can be summed up in this phrase: 'what's private is good, what's public is bad.'
"In the executive all the expert professionals have been removed from office. Perhaps, there is no one in the Treasure now with the necessary history and stature to say to Paulson that what he was doing made no sense.
"Fortunately for the world economies what Gordon Brown and his ministers are doing do make sense. Perhaps, they have showed us the way out of this crisis."
As the 2008 Nobel Prize winner for Economics has confessed, he is not even sure himself that these measures will work.
This is really amazing.
On Tuesday 14th, the shares in the Stock Exchange lost a few points. The smiles were more stereotyped.
The European capitalist countries, saturated of productive capacity and commodities, are desperately in need of markets to avoid blue-collar and services workers lay-offs, to prevent savers from loosing their money and peasants from going broke. They are in no position to impose conditions and solutions to the rest of the world. That much has been proclaimed by important leaders from emerging countries and from those that being poor and economically plundered are the victims of unequal exchange.
On Wednesday 15th, the value of the shares in the Stock Market fell again with a loud crash. Later that night McCain and Obama passionately argued
In the great US democracy, half of those eligible to vote are not registered, and half of those who are registered do not vote. Thus, the rulers are elected by only 25% of the electorate. Many of those who would perhaps like to vote for the African American candidate cannot do it.
According to the polls, that candidate has an overwhelming majority. However, no one dares say what might be the outcome.
The great economic crisis affecting the American society makes of November 4 a day of paramount interest to the world public opinion.
In terms of elections, only one thing is certain: in the next British elections Gordon Brown will not be elected Primer Minister.

from CounterPunch

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Racism, Obama and the Fall of the American Economy, The Law of the Jungle By FIDEL CASTRO

Trade, within a society and between countries, is the exchange of goods and services produced by human beings. The owners of the means of production appropriate the profits. As a class, they are the leaders of the capitalist state and they boast of fostering development and social wellbeing through market. This they worship as an infallible God.

In every country there is competition between the strongest and the weakest; the ones with more physical energy and better fed, those who learned how to read and write, who attended school and have more experience accumulated; the ones with more extensive social relations and more resources, and those within society who fail to have these advantages.

Now, as far as the countries is concerned, there are differences between those with a better climate and more arable land, more water and more natural resources in the area where they are located, when there are no more territories to conquer; the ones mastering technology, having greater development and handling unlimited media resources and those who, on the contrary, do not enjoy any of these prerogatives. These are the sometimes enormous differences between the rich and the poor nations.
It´s the law of the jungle.
There are no differences between ethnic groups, however, when it comes to the mental faculties of the human being. This has been thoroughly proven by science. The present society is not the natural way in which human life evolved, but rather a creation of the mentally developed man without which his life would be inconceivable. Therefore, what is at stake is whether the human being will be able to survive the privilege of having a creative mind.
The developed capitalist system, epitomized by the country with a privileged nature where the European white man brought his ideas, dreams and ambitions, is today in a crisis. But, it is not the usual crisis happening once in a number of years; not even the traumatic crisis of the 1930s but the worst of all crises since the world started to pursue this growth and development model.
The current crisis of the developed capitalist system is taking place when the empire is about to change leadership in the elections to be held in twenty-five days; it was all that was left to see.
The candidate of the two main parties that will say the last word in these elections are trying to persuade the bewildered voters --many of whom have never cared to cast a vote- that as candidates to the presidency they can secure the wellbeing and consumerism of what they describe as a people of middle class only, even though they are not planning to introduce any real changes to what they consider the most perfect economic system the world has ever known. The same world that, in their respective minds, is less important than the happiness of over three hundred million people who account for less than five percent of the world population. The fate of the remaining ninety-five percent of human beings, peace and war, the fit or unfit-for-breathing air, will highly depend on the decisions of the administrative leader of the empire, whether or not that constitutional position has any power at a time of nuclear weapons and space shields moved by computers in circumstances where every second counts and when ethical principles keep loosing their value. Still, the more or less nefarious role of the President of that country cannot be overlooked.
Racism is deeply-rooted in the United States where the mind of millions of people can hardly reconcile with the notion that a black man, with his wife and children could live in the White House, which is precisely called White.
It´s a miracle that the Democratic candidate has not met the same destiny as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others who only a few decades ago dreamed of justice and equality. He is in the habit of looking at his adversary with serenity and of smiling at the dialectic predicament of an opponent gazing into space.
The Republican candidate, on the other hand, who likes to enhance his reputation as a belligerent man, was one of the worst students in his class at West Point. He has confessed that he did not know any Mathematics; it can thus be assumed that he knew less of the complicated economic science.
The truth is his adversary surpasses him in cleverness and composure.
Something McCain has aplenty is age, and his health condition is not safe.
I am bringing up these data to indicate that eventually -if anything went wrong with the candidate´s health, in case he is elected- the lady of the riffle, the inexperienced former governor of Alaska could become President of the United States. It can be noticed that she does not know a thing.
Meditating on the current US public debt -$10,266 trillions- that President Bush is laying on the shoulders of the new generations in that country, I took to calculating how long it would take a man to count the debt that he has doubled in eight years.

A man working eight hours a day, without missing a second, and counting one hundred one-dollar bills per minute, during 300 days in the year, would need 710 billion years to count that amount of money.

I could not find a more graphic way to describe the volume of money that is practically mentioned every day now.

In order to avoid a general state of panic, the US administration has declared that it will secure deposits that do not exceed 250 thousand dollars. It will be managing banks and such funds as Lenin would never have thought of counting with an abacus.

We might be wondering about the contribution of Bush´s administration to Socialism. But, let´s not entertain any illusions. Once the banking operations go back to normal, the imperialists will return the banks to the private business as some other countries in this hemisphere have already done. The peoples always foot the bill.

Capitalism tends to reproduce itself under any social system because it is based on selfishness and on man´s instincts.

The only choice left to human society is to overcome this contradiction; otherwise it would not be able to survive.
At this time, the ocean of money being poured into the world finances by the central banks of the developed capitalist countries is dealing a hard blow to the Stock Exchanges of the countries which resort to these institutions in an effort to beat their economic underdevelopment. Cuba has no Stock Exchange. We shall certainly find more rational and more socialist ways of financing our development.

The current crisis and the brutal measures of the US administration to save itself will bring more inflation, more devaluation of the national currencies, more painful losses in the markets, lower prices for basic export commodities and more unequal exchange. But, they will also bring to the peoples a better understanding of the truth, a greater conscience, more rebelliousness and more revolutions.

We shall see how the crisis develops and what happens in the United States in twenty-five days.

October 13, 2008, CounterPunch

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Designed to help who, Mr Rudd? by Peter Boyle

"This strategy is designed to help pensioners, carers and families,and first home buyers." - Kevin Rudd in his address to the nation earlier this evening, announcing the $10.4 billion "economic security strategy" in response to the global financial crisis. Transcript: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24496809-5013871,00.html

Well that's total bullshit, Prime Minister. It's design to help the capitalist system recover from "worst financial crisis in our lifetime", as you described it.Pensioners get a one-off Xmas bonus which the government and the caposhope will be spent in the shopping malls straight away - so call thatwhat it is - a policy designed to help the retail giants.Pensioners DON'T get the increase to a living wage they need and deserve.

The unemployed MISS OUT - never mind their ranks are going to swellbefore Xmas. Many big companies are already putting their lay offplans in place.First home buyers get a doubling of their rebate - but again let's call thatwhat it is: a policy designed to help the building bosses!And remember the billions Rudd has already sent the way of the banksand financial institutions via soft loans and the nudge-nudgewink-wink deal so that the banks got to keep 20% of the last RBAinterest cut.

If Rudd is Santa Claus, all the pressies are really for the corporate rich.The Rudd Labor government should:

* cut the bullshit and stop bailing out the capitalist system.

* nationalise the banks (for a start) and run them in the communityinterest.

* give pensioners and the unemployed a living wage now.

* put the entire surplus (and borrow at least the equivalent) andinvest immediately in renewable energy conversion, public transport,public health, public education and public housing.

'Collateral Damage' or Targeted Killing, the Effect Is Much the Same by Robert Fisk

All kinds of horrors flop on to my Beirut doormat. There's The Independent's mobile phone bill, a slew of blood-soaked local Lebanese newspapers - "Saleh Aridi's blood consolidates [Druze] reconciliation", was among the goriest of the past few days - and then there are files from the dark memory lane through which all Middle East history has to pass. The repulsive Baath party archives of Saddam Hussein are the latest to find a place on my coffee table, all marked "Secret", unpublished - though they formed the basis for the old man's trial and for his depraved hanging by the Iraqi government more than two years ago.

I reprint them now without excuse, for they have a bitter taste in the "new" Iraq and in the "new" Afghanistan about which we still fantasise as we send more Nato troops into Asia's greatest military graveyard. The documentary evidence of Saddam's brutal inquiry into the killings at the Shia Muslim village of Dujail in 1982 provides frightening, fearful testament to the earnestness and cruelty of totalitarianism, the original files of Saddam's mukhabarat security services in their hunt for the men who tried to assassinate the Iraqi dictator more than a quarter of a century ago.

Saddam was then the all-powerful leader of a nation at war with Iran - an eight-year conflict that would cost the lives of more than a million Muslims on both sides - and whose most ruthless enemies were members of the Iranian-supported Al-Dawa Party (including a certain Nouri al-Maliki). Saddam's closest allies at this time were the Gulf oil sheikhdoms - and the United States, which was sending military supplies, chemical precursors and satellite reconnaissance photographs to Baghdad to assist Saddam in his war against Iran, a nation he had invaded two years earlier.

On his passage through Dujail, Saddam's heavily armed convoy was attacked by 10 villagers armed with Kalashnikov rifles. All were killed at the time or hunted down and murdered later. In their subsequent investigations, however, the mukhabarat - in this case operating under the ominous title of the "Regime Crimes Liaison office" - were able to use the system of tribe and sub-tribe in Dujail to tease out the names of everyone associated with the attackers. The patriarchal lineage - wherein all males carry their father's, grandfather's, and great-grandfather's names, sometimes back eight generations - enabled the secret police to trace the male line of entire families and thus to liquidate them all.

Their womenfolk were tortured, many of them raped. The men were butchered. One grandfather lost all his sons and grandsons. His "treacherous" family line came to an end. The ruthlessness of Saddam's "Crimes Liaison Office" comes across in their surviving reports. "Subject/Information ReportWe were assigned by the party to submit the names of the opposing and malig-nant members of the treacherous Al-Dawa Party ... A comrade's greeting. Dun Shakir to the Comrade Member of the State Command. Subject/Security report: Through the fact that the criminals from Al-Dawa Party have attacked our Great Commander the Secretariat of the State, the Striving Comrade Saddam Hussein, we raise the names of the hostile families that are against the party and revolution, knowing that we already raised several reports and surveys on these criminals whose names are below.

"And there follows a sheaf of files listing the accused families and their menfolk. Of the Al-Tayyar sub-tribe of the Abu Haideri tribe of Dujail, for example, there is a great grandfather called Abdullah with three children - Asad, Mohammed and Suheil - who themselves have nine children - Sabri, Ali, Nayif, Jasim, Hassan, Qadir, Kabsun, Yasin and Hani. Saddam's secret police fell upon their sons: Ammar, Abdel Salam, Qasim, Sahib, Sa'ad, another Qasim (son of Qadir), Hashim, Ali, a second Ali (son of Yassin) and Thamir.

All of the latter were executed on Saddam's orders. So was another of Jasim's other sons - Nabil - and four more of Hassan's sons - Hussein (who was indeed involved in the assassination attempt on Saddam) and Fatih and Salim and Mohammed and Mahmoud. Five more of their first cousins - Ahmed, Abdullah, Mohammed, Mahmoud and Abbas - were also done to death.

Thus only one male issue of great-grandfather Abdullah's entire family escaped Saddam's execution squads. But these were just the male children of one family. Saddam's murderers were after many more. The investigators at Saddam's trial noticed one telling trait among his secret police officers. If they were reporting an execution, they would scribble their signature. If they were sending intelligence information, they would sign their names in full. After the fall of Saddam, of course, it was not difficult to match up the full names with the scribbled signatures.

But now I ask a question. When US troops massacre Iraqi civilians in Haditha because their buddy has been murdered, what is the difference between their revenge and that of Saddam?

When a Taliban attack on Nato forces in Afghanistan provokes a US air strike on a village and leaves women and children torn to pieces in the ruins - this now seems the inevitable result - what is the difference between those innocent deaths and the destruction of the families of Abdullah's grandchildren in Dujail?
Yes, I know that Saddam's thugs selected the relatives of his enemies and we merely kill anyone in the area of our enemies. And yes, I grant you the outcome is not the same. The Iraqi dictator was hanged in Baghdad in 2006, cursed by his hooded Shia "Al-Dawa" executioners as he stood on the scaffold. For us, there will be no hangings.

Published on Saturday, October 11, 2008 by the Independent/UK

The people's sporting star who had 'the grace' by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger celebrates the life of Sep Prosser, one of Australia's great swimmers and swimming coaches, whose celebrity was based on an ingredient now missing from so much sport: grace.

The great American athlete John Carlos once described “those people of grace who raise sport to something more than a game”. Carlos and Tommie Smith had stood with their black-gloved fists held high on the winners’ podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, damning racism and poverty. They were men of grace. Sep was very different, but he had the grace.

Sep Prosser died the other day. He was 88, but I imagine him only as a dashing figure. Tall and languid, with a laconic half-smile like Errol Flynn’s, he would appear on Bondi Beach dressed in fashionable white bathing trunks and navigator sunglasses and surrounded by bikini-clad beauties, one of whom (usually Lexie) would apply his favourite coconut oil. And when the moment was right, he would dive from the perilous bogie hole into the fist of a wave as it raced towards the cliffs, then crest it before it struck the rocks. An accredited legend of North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club, he was one of the greatest surf swimmers and swimming coaches Australia has produced.

As someone wrote, he was “Don Bradman’s equivalent in the water”.I knew about Sep from a very early age because we had both attended Wellington Street School. He and other Bondi lifesavers had taken part in a courageous mass rescue of a kind that happened when the first non-swimming immigrants arrived in Australia and embraced the surf and its dangers. My headmaster had pinned up newspaper pictures in which Sep wore his signature shades. He looked good.

To appreciate Sep, you need to glimpse Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. Apart from enclaves of old money, Sydney was a poor city and Bondi, where I grew up, had faithful copies of the back-to-back houses of northern England which ensured that the diamond light of the great south land seldom intruded. In the long, hot, humid summers men wore serge suits, and an evangelical primness was upheld. But the beach was different. An English visitor, one Egbert T Russell, noted in 1910 that “one of the strangest features of Sydney surf bathing to the stranger is the casualness of the sexes on the beaches. They are partially naked, but not so unashamed as to notice the fact.” Swimming up and down the green pyramids of the South Pacific, eyes half closed from the salt spray, was the greatest fun of all.

On Saturday mornings, Sep would sit on his coach’s throne on whitewashed rocks overlooking Bondi’s ocean baths. His female entourage would strap kerosene cans to the backs of the youngest kids – water wings had yet to be invented – and put the rest of us into flippers. Sep was the first to do this. He later said that the great American coach Bob Kiphuth, who reputedly could not swim a stroke, had told him his secret: “Ninety per cent personality and 10 per cent ability.”

What I remember was patience and kindness, the antithesis of the brutality that was to consume so much of sport in the years ahead. In 1952, Sep was appointed an Olympic coach and in the same year he married Lexie, who was famous for wearing one of the first ultra-brief bikinis, which she made herself out of towelling. She was also brave, diving with Sep off the bogie hole. Four years later, at the Melbourne Olympics, Australian swimmers won eight gold medals. You could spot the freestyle that Sep taught or inspired. When the elbow lifted, the fingers skimmed over the surface of the water. The result was shoulder power rather than arm movement. “Get that right and you’ll swim like a dolphin,” he said to me. The day I got it right, I managed a second to Murray Rose, who would go on to become an Olympian. We were 11 years old at the time, and Murray finished almost a pool length ahead, but it gave me a story for life.
Thereafter I graduated to any pool I could find all over the world.

My Michelin-starred best pool on earth, as regular readers will know, is the North Sydney wonder pool, which lies spectacularly beneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge across from the other-worldly Opera House. Built in the 1930s and adorned with art-deco dolphins and frogs, it is known as the wonder pool because no fewer than 86 world records have been broken there, itself a world record. Once, a sculler and a swimmer raced over its 50 metres and the swimmer won. Those who knew about swimming cleaned out the bookies.

Speaking of bookies, Sep was also celebrated as an illegal SP bookie. SP meant starting price and in horse-race-crazed Australia, the pre-Tote bookie was as important as your mother. He received supplicants with bad watches and silver cufflinks, he knew secrets and he even paid out. I suspect my father dealt with Sep on urgent non-swimming matters during the racing season. They both drank at Billy the Pig’s and might have stepped out of Damon Runyon – my dad in his snap brim hat, Sep with his shades and dolls. I would say they both had the grace.

9 Oct 2008

Socialist Alliance: Nationalise the banks!


The economic meltdown on Wall Street and its massive repercussions worldwide won’t be going away in a hurry according to Dave Riley, Socialist Alliance National Executive member.“This isn’t just a symptom of too much greed or careless lending practices—nor will any amount of improvising prevent a severe world economic crisis developing. It’s too late for that.

“In the midst of a massive financial crisis it is not enough—as the Rudd government has attempted to do—to try to prop up the financial system,” Riley said.“While millions of people rely on banking system to provide an essential service, the purpose of the existence of the bank is to make profits. The logical response to that is to remove profit making from the equation by nationalising the banking industry and merging all of the banks into one single publicly controlled bank with a charter to provide essential banking services to the entire community.”
Dave Riley said that first step should be the re-nationalisation of the Commonwealth Bank.“Why shore up the banks with the possibility of a massive bail out bill—funded at taxpayer expense—when something might be done for the greater population?” he asked.

“Why is it that the wealth of this country is never shared but the national debt is?”Mr Riley said that it was time for the capitalist system to take care of itself while governments devoted public resources to the people.

“Any money lent to the banks or other financial institutions should be drawn from the record profits of the corporations and the obscene salaries of their CEOs and boards. If massive amounts of our money are going to be invested in the banks then we should have a say on where that money goes. We, rather than the finance industry, should decide what debts get called in.”

Riley added: “Most of all we have to slash interest rates and tie that initiative to a massive program of public home building, investment in public transport infrastructure and other measures to kickstart an environmentally and economically sustainable economy.”

According to Riley the root cause of this crisis is that “trading in money for profit has largely displaced real production”. “Like a house of cards, the money men are dragging the whole edifice down on all of us as the world nose dives into economic chaos, which may even be on par with the Great Depression.”Riley said that no one will be immune.

“For years workers’ real wages have been constrained as the profit share has leaped”, he said.

“Instead of receiving pay rises, we have to make up the shortfall by paying interest on money we are forced to borrow to survive!”

“We are facing what may turn out to be the worse crisis in the history of post-war capitalism and the first priority has be to protect the millions of Australians who are likely to be its victims.”

The Socialist Alliance spokesperson said that the corporate high flyers with their free market doctrines had had their “day in the sun”. “Look where it has got us!”, he exclaimed. “It’s time for a new economic direction away from a fixation with the mentality of the stock exchange, and towards a new political direction not governed by the bottom line of the big corporations, financial and non-financial.”

Dave Riley will be facilitating a discussion on the Financial Crisis from a socialist perspective, The Financial Crash: A System in Chaos, on Wednesday October 15th from 6.30pm at the Brisbane Activist Centre, 74b Wickham St (Cnr Warren St), The Valley. Contact: Dave Riley 07 3333 1805 Paul Benedek 0410 629 088Email queensland@socialist-alliance.org

People before profits, planet before profitshttp://www.socialist-alliance.org/

Monday, October 06, 2008

Wall Street crisis: Poor to bail out the rich again by Peter Boyle


“Rich people got it good in this country”, said African-American comedian Wanda Sykes on the September 24 Tonight Show with Jay Leno. “We refuse to let them not be rich. Think about it. Broke people are about to bailout rich people. This is what is going on.”

“And they want no oversight. US$700 billion and no oversight! No oversight? Why should we? I want receipts dammit! What do you mean no oversight? Because, oh, you’re so good with the other money? “This is the biggest piece of garbage ever. You know what? It’s welfare for the rich ... “It’s going to cost every taxpayer US$7000. You got the guy there busting his gut working two jobs and barely making US$12,000 a year, and he’s got to cough up something so some Wall Street guy can keep his swimming pool. Man, that’s garbage!”

‘Historic swindle’ Sykes pre-empted US President George W. Bush’s television address to the nation later that night where he demanded that Congress pass the US$700 billion bailout or else face “a long and painful recession”. Bush summonsed presidential contenders Barack Obama and John McCain to attend an emergency briefing in the White House. The pressure is on Congress to endorse the bailout, but the politicians report a groundswell of opposition from their constituents to this remedy. And no wonder. A million people in the US have lost their homes over the last two years and real wages have fallen while corporate profits have soared. According to the July 23 Wall Street Journal, the richest 1% of the US population received their highest share of the nation’s income in at least two decades while their average tax rate fell to the lowest level in 18 years or more.

As progressive US writer Rick Wolf explained in the September 23 MR-zine: “Real wages stopped rising in the US in the 1970s, yet the American psyche and self-image, subject to relentless advertising, was committed to rising consumption. To enable that, workers with flat wages had to borrow to afford rising consumption. “For the last 30 years loans replaced wages, but rising consumer debt introduces new risks and dangers. If, simultaneously, politicians use state borrowing to avoid taxing the rich while providing vast corporate subsidies and waging endless wars, the debt problems mushroom. Aggressive, deregulated financial companies grabbed the resulting ‘market opportunity’ by devising ever more complex, hidden, and dangerously risky ways to profit hugely from the social debt bubble.

“A sub-prime economy produced sub-prime wages, sub-prime borrowers, sub-prime lenders, and sub-prime government regulations ...” From the point of view of the great majority, a corporate elite that has ruthlessly enriched itself at the expense of working people, now, having tripped itself up through an orgy of speculation in deregulated financial markets, comes begging for a US$700 billion bailout. Actually, it’s more than twice that. In the last year, Wall Street has already received some US$900 billion worth of bailouts. So what we are looking at is more than US$1.5 billion of corporate bailouts. Who is to say it will stop there? Conservative estimates of the amount of bad debt still in the US financial system are US$1-2 trillion. But it could be more.

No one knows and the banks aren’t opening their books so the public can find out. The Bush administration’s bailout proposal is basically that the public keep buying bad debt off these banks at inflated prices, and demand little in return. William Greider, in the September 19 Nation, said: “If Wall Street gets away with this, it will represent an historic swindle of the American public - all sugar for the villains, lasting pain and damage for the victims”.

Shackled to the US economy If the US public feels blackmailed and swindled, they are not alone. Walden Bello, writing “The View from Asia” from Manila in the September 24 Nation, noted growing trepidation in the Third World where the current Wall Street crisis looks like “a replay, though on a much larger scale, of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which brought down the red-hot ‘tiger economies’ of the East”.

“The shocking absence of Wall Street regulation brings back awful memories of the elimination of capital controls by East Asian governments, which were under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury Department. That move triggered a tsunami of speculative capital onto Asian markets that sharply receded after sky-high land and stock prices came tumbling down. “Treasury Secretary Paulson’s proposed massive bailout of Wall Street’s tarnished titans reminds people here of the billions the IMF hustled up after ’97 in the name of assisting them - money that was used instead to rescue foreign investors.” Bello added: “Trillions of dollars of Asian public and private money are invested in US firms and property, with the five biggest Asian holders accounting for over half of all foreign investment in US government debt instruments.

Funds from Asia have become a key prop of US government spending and the middle-class consumption that have become the driver of the American economy. With so much of Asia’s wealth relying on the stability of the US economy, there is not likely to be any precipitate move to abandon Wall Street securities and US Treasury bills ... “There is, moreover, resignation throughout Asia about the inevitability of a deep US recession and its likely massive impact on the East: the United States is China’s top export destination, while China imports raw materials and intermediate goods from Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia to shape into the products it sends to the United States. “Despite some talk a few months ago about the possibility that the economic fate of Asia could be ‘decoupled’ from that of the United States, most observers now see these economies as members of a chain gang shackled to one another, at least in the short and medium term.”

How the billions could be spent The hundreds of billions being wasted on this string of corporate bailouts already overtakes the, at least, US$750 billion the US has spent on the ongoing wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his September 24 address to the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, Cuba’s vice-president, Jose Ramon Machado, spelled out an alternative use for such large amounts of money. “While a trillion of dollars is spent on weapons in the world, more than 850 million human beings are starving; 1.1 billion people don’t have access to drinking water, 2.6 billion lack sewage services and more than 800 million are illiterate. “More than 640 million children lack adequate housing, 115 million do not attend primary school and 10 million die before the age of five, in most cases as the result of diseases that can be cured.” Machado added: “The formula is not difficult, nor does it require great sacrifices. All we need is the necessary political will, less egotism and the objective understanding that if we do not act today, the consequences could be apocalyptic and would affect the rich and poor alike.

“For this reason, Cuba once again calls on the governments of the developed countries, on behalf of the Movement of Non-Aligned countries, to honour their commitments and, in particular, Cuba urges them to:

“•Put an end to the wars of occupation and to the plunder of the resources of the Third World countries and to free up at least a part of their millions in military spending to direct those resources towards international assistance for the benefit of sustainable development.

“•Cancel the foreign debt of developing countries since it has been already paid more than once, and with this, additional resources would be released that could be channeled to economic development and social programs.

“•Honour the commitment of directing at least 0.7% of the Gross Domestic Product for Official Development Assistance, unconditionally, so that the South countries would be able to use those resources for their national priorities and promote access of poor countries to substantial sums of fresh financing.

“•Direct one-fourth of the money that is squandered each year on commercial advertising to food production; this would free up almost 250 billion additional dollars to fight hunger and malnutrition.

“•Direct the money being used for the North’s agricultural subsidies to agricultural development in the South. By doing this, our countries would have about a billion dollars per day available to invest in food production.

“•Comply with the Kyoto Protocol commitments and set commitments to reduce emissions more generously starting in 2012, without wanting to increase restrictions for countries that, even today, maintain per capita emission levels that are much lower than those of the North countries.

“•Promote the access of the Third World to technologies and support the training of their human resources. Today, in contrast, qualified personnel from the South are subjected to unfair competition and incentives presented by discriminatory and selective migratory policies applied by the United States and Europe.

“•And, something that is today more urgent than ever, the establishment of a democratic and equitable international order, and a fair and transparent trading system where all states will participate, in sovereignty, in the decisions that affect them.”
From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #769 1 October 2008.