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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Balibo: exposing the cover-up Review by Vannessa Hearman

Balibo By Jill Jolliffe Scribe Publications, 2009 416 pages, $29.95 (pb)

“In one fell swoop, I have lost my past, present and future and nobody really has put out a hand of compassion”, wrote Shonny Dryden, mother of slain Australian journalist Greg Shackleton to Australian foreign minister Andrew Peacock in 1976.

Dryden recounted in the same letter the close relationship she had with her son, who she had brought up almost single-handedly. She later committed suicide in 1982 at Bendigo Hospital in loneliness and despair that nothing was done about the deaths of the five journalists in Balibo.

Jill Jolliffe’s book Balibo was first published in 2000 by Scribe as Cover Up: The Inside Story of the Balibo Five. It documents what happened to the five journalists.

Jolliffe was one of a handful of journalists who, after the outbreak of civil war between the Timorese national liberation front Fretilin and the UDT (Timorese Democratic Union) in August 1975, based themselves in Portuguese Timor to cover political developments there.

From October 1975, the Indonesian military, together with Timorese non-Fretilin supporters, swept eastwards towards the capital, Dili. Before the landing of Indonesian paratroopers in Dili on December 7, 1975, the Indonesian military was already taking over towns in the western region.

Fretilin resisted but they were outnumbered and outgunned.

Jolliffe was evacuated just prior to the invasion, but had known the five men and Roger East, another Australian journalist, slain by Indonesian forces during the invasion.

The revised version of Jolliffe’s book contains new sections on Roger East and the 2007 NSW coronial inquiry into the death of Brian Peters, a Channel Nine journalist and one of the Balibo Five.

The five Balibo men were all in their 20s, while East was 52 years old when he went to East Timor, enticed by the story of the five missing newsmen. East had an interesting life. His father was a Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) supporter.

Contrary to Wobblies principle, Roger East joined the military and was stationed in Singapore during WWII, just before the fall of Singapore to the Japanese.

He was discharged from the military and travelled throughout the world, working as a freelance reporter and running a newspaper in Franco’s Spain.

There is some evidence that Australian intelligence agencies kept a file on him for his leftist sympathies and had movements monitored. He had been placed on a passport alert list by Australian authorities.

Balibo is a valuable political history of East Timor. Reading this book, one begins to understand the political differences among the Timorese in 1975.

Civil war broke out between Fretilin and UDT in 1975, but Timorese political leaders downplayed these differences in the latter course of the independence struggle in the name of national unity.

The two largest factions were pro-independence Fretilin and the UDT. The other major political forces were the pro-Indonesia Apodeti and the monarchist KOTA.

The recent film Balibo, which relied on aspects of Jolliffe’s book, opted for a simpler portrayal between bad Indonesians (admittedly in the form of the invading force mainly) and the good Timorese. It would have been far too complex to portray the various political factions in the film.

After the invasion, Jolliffe painstakingly collected material and interviews with eyewitnesses, among them Timorese refugees living in Portugal and Australia.

She examines how the issue lay dormant in the public eye until the advent of the Sherman inquiry in 1996 called by then Labor foreign minister Gareth Evans but which proved to be toothless.

Indonesian and Australian authorities maintained that the men were killed in “the heat of battle” either between Timorese warring factions, or between UDT forces that Indonesia was assisting, and Fretilin.

Jolliffe disproves these assertions in the book through testimonies of Timorese present in Balibo and who had worked alongside the Indonesian soldiers at that time.

An end to Indonesian rule in East Timor in 1999 opened up possibilities to find new witnesses in East Timor and renewed media interest on the issue.

Similarly, the 2007 NSW coronial inquiry into the death of Brian Peters, led by NSW Deputy Coroner Dorrelle Pinch at the request of Peters’ sister Maureen Tolfree, provided a new impetus to reinvestigate the deaths.

You can only thoroughly understand how the Balibo Five fitted into Timorese (and Indonesian) political history, and the stinking manoeuvres by successive Australian governments to hide the truth about Balibo, through a close reading of this book.

Balibo is a cracker of an investigative report, with the witnesses and those accused of being guilty jostle for space in this book. Patience is required to deal with the volume of material in the 34 years that have lapsed in this case. The anniversary of the Balibo deaths was on October 16.

From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #815 28 October 2009.

Climate change: nuclear no answer-Green Left Weekly EDITORIAL

The big nuclear push is on. The nuclear industry is trying to re-brand yellowcake as “green”.

Most people see global warming as the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. But nuclear industry executives see a business opportunity to arrest their declining fortunes.
Supporters of a radioactive response to climate change tend to run two false arguments at the same time.

First, they say a new generation of nuclear reactors is clean, safe and climate friendly. Second, they say renewable energy can’t do the job.

Doubters are cast as technophobes and luddites. Nuclear power is the new “ecological” response we can’t put off any longer because our planet depends on it — or so we’re told.

Mainstream coverage of the controversy does not place enough attention on the businesses that stand to benefit the most. Some of the giant corporations with the biggest ties to the climate-destroying coal industry — such as BHP Billiton — also have big stakes in uranium.

But the arguments for nuclear energy don’t stack up for a safe climate future.
Nuclear energy is far from being an emissions-free technology. Except for the power generation itself, every stage in the nuclear-power cycle — uranium mining, ore processing, refining, transport, construction and maintenance — is highly emission-intensive.

That aside, nuclear energy still produces three times more carbon pollution than wind power.

Supporters tend to exaggerate the potential emissions cuts that nuclear could deliver. A 2006 government-commissioned report by Ziggy Switkowski admitted that were Australia to build six nuclear reactors, it would cut emissions by only 4% (if it replaced coal-fired power) or just 2% (if it replaced gas).

Uranium is not renewable. Reserves are finite. Friends of the Earth Australia has estimated that, to cut global emissions by 20%, the number of nuclear power stations would need to be increased tenfold. But this would exhaust all known uranium reserves within decades.
The industry claims the devastating Chernobyl accident in 1986 could never happen again. But whatever safeguards are in place, unforeseen accidents can still happen.

If wind, wave or solar power technology malfunctions, it simply needs to be repaired. But if something serious goes wrong with a nuclear reactor, the dangers are horrific.
There is no safe way to mine uranium and no safe way to deal with radioactive mine tailings.

Uranium mining and nuclear power plants are also very water-intensive. Expansion of nuclear power would divert ever-scarcer water resources from other uses.

Nor is there any safe way to deal with the highly radioactive waste produced by nuclear power stations. No one has devised a way to store waste that will remain a danger for thousands of years.

The waste also remains a serious nuclear weapons proliferation threat. Existing nuclear power plants have produced enough plutonium to make about 160,000 nuclear weapons. Expanding nuclear power would dramatically increase the proliferation risk.
The threat to life on the planet posed by climate change is matched only by the threat of nuclear holocaust.

This week, Green Left Weekly hosts a debate between Dr Jim Green and Dr Barry Brook on the potential for a new kind of nuclear technology, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR), to be a safe, clean alternative to fossil fuels.

Backers of IFR promise it could provide big amounts of clean power, using only existing stockpiles of nuclear waste, instead of newly-mined uranium.
The catch: IFR is unproven and untested. Also, it still produces waste that can be used in nuclear weapons.

Research into IFR would take resources away from the most important task — the rapid rollout of proven renewable energy technology. The nearness of climate tipping points means we can’t afford any delay.

Beyond Zero Emissions is producing a comprehensive plan to fully power Australia on renewable energy within a decade. The plan is based on tested and commercially available technologies, an energy efficiency drive and a big shift to public transport.

A big part of its plan is to harness the energy of a vast “fusion reactor”, the sun, which is conveniently located at a safe distance (150 million kilometres) from the Earth.
The total energy from the sun that hits the Earth is about 5900 times the energy humanity now uses — the challenge is to harness it.

Solar, wind and other renewable power sources are the real solutions we need. The task of the climate action movement is to force governments to make the switch to renewables as fast as possible. Nuclear power remains no solution to climate change.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #815 28 October 2009.

Just when you thought it was safe to come out again,This is what Blair does: he wrecks a place, then gets the job of uniting it by Mark Steel

Blair can't really become President of Europe, can he? There must be millions of us who've been slowly managing to forget about him for the last two years, recovering as he fades into the past, the way torture victims rebuild their lives day by day, and now this dreadful figure we thought had gone forever might be back ruling us again. It's like finding out your new boss is the PE teacher who used to thrash you with his belt when you were in the shower, or your local councillor is Hughie Greene, or having Black Lace move in next door and sing Agadoo every night.

This is someone who made himself one of the most despised people in Europe, so loathed that Britain came bottom of the Eurovision Song Contest because of an orchestrated protest. So that's the ideal President of a continent, the person who had even the judges in a music contest saying "Hello – Lithuania here, ooh what a splendid night and hard to choose between so many dreadful tunes, the only easy part is giving nought to the warmongering running dogs of poodle-boy Blair's blood-soaked United Kingdom."

Anyway, isn't he supposed to be Middle-East peace envoy? Surely he won't want to give that up just while he's achieving such staggering success in that post. But this appears to be what happens to him; he wrecks a place, then gets the job of uniting it. Even Bin Laden didn't have the cheek to say "Aha, there's a vacancy for President of the New York Tall Buildings Appreciation Society. I think I'll put in for that."

In support of Blair, David Miliband said the post should go to someone who's a "well-known international leader", and who is "not a shrinking violet". And it's true, Blair fits into both those categories – as does Robert Mugabe. Or maybe this explains why Karadzic didn't turn up for his trial – he's busy planning his campaign, in which his slogan will be "I'm no shrinking violet", at which point Austria will put forward Josef Fritzl as a compromise candidate.

Blair's supporters also say the new President has to be someone who "stops the traffic" when he arrives abroad. So the whole campaign revolves around his celebrity status. And in a way he is a political version of Paris Hilton, desperate for whatever role will keep up his global profile. If he gets the job he'll probably arrange for the meetings to be covered by the paparazzi, so the reports will begin "Tony Blair, 53, seen falling out of Beijing's exclusive 'Long March' nightclub, glared at photographers when they suggested he'd been involved in a flare-up with Colonel Gadaffi over a bottle of tequila spilt on the Libyan leader's strapless snakeskin top at last night's climate change summit after-party."

Because fame is his only selling point, unless the argument for electing Blair will be that, faced with today's global challenges, Europe needs a strong voice that can speak up loudly in favour of doing whatever America tells it to.

That may be why his only definite ally so far is Berlusconi. Which means if Miliband was honest he'd say "Tony's the ideal candidate to unite Europe and America – in one continent he's known as the most strident supporter of the most unpopular President ever, and in the other he's endorsed by a man who at 70 can still surround himself with prostitutes. Top that." In any case, many countries could be bankrupted after he's flown in to stop the traffic, when they receive Cherie's demand for an appearance fee.

Typically, it's claimed Blair hasn't officially put himself forward yet, and the story has been derided as "only speculation", even though he's been lobbying for months. As ever, you almost wish they'd make more effort with the lying. But there's marvellous potential here, since his main rival is the current Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, who said, "If called upon I would have no reason to refuse".

So can you imagine the feverish dealing and smearing Blair's team will be organising against Luxembourg, with rumours being spread that they're building missiles that could reach the edge of Luxembourg, and issuing hypnotic stamps.

But it means this could end gloriously, if only whoever the people are who decide these things have it in them – to make Tony Blair, in his quest for the job he wants so so much, lose to the Prime Minister of bloody Luxembourg. Is there any way we can influence this? There must be bribes that can be made, like they do with the Olympics. Someone must come up with a plan – it'll be the cathartic boost the country and the world so desperately needs.

The Independent 27-10-09

Monday, October 26, 2009

Geelong Trades Hall: ‘Howes right on refugees’ by Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary Tim Gooden

Tim Gooden

Geelong Trades Hall Council (GTHC) backs Australian Workers Union (AWU) national secretary Paul Howes 100% in his call for Australia to roll out the red carpet for refugees.
It's a relief that a union movement figure of Howes' importance stands up and rejects the miserable competition between the Rudd government and the Coalition on who can be “toughest” on “people smugglers”. Howes is completely right when he says that the issue “brings out the worst in our politicians”.

How ironic that the Rudd government's refusal to let a few boatfuls of people fleeing death and persecution in Sri Lanka enter Australia coincides with the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Snowy River Scheme. The Chifley Labor government helped build this country by welcoming people fleeing war and persecution, but Rudd Labor increasingly resembles the previous Coalition government of John Howard, one of the most racist in Australian history.

The government is even sending furnished shipping containers from the Baxter detention centre — suspected of dangerously high formaldehyde content — to Christmas Island to house asylum seekers there.

GTHC calls on the entire trade union movement to follow the lead given by the AWU national secretary, and for it to mobilise public opinion against Canberra's bipartisan bullies of refugees.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions must stand up against the inhumanity of the politicians. GTHC will be doing all it can to make that happen.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #815 28 October 2009.

The 'collapse' of global capitalism by GRANT MORGAN

Grant Morgan

Something molecular is changing in the DNA of capitalism. Look at these three recent quotes:

"The future will be a total disaster, with a collapse of our capitalistic system as we know it today."

"Capitalism is near the tipping point, unprepared for a catastrophe, set up for collapse and rapid decline."

"There is a high probability of a crisis and collapse by 2012. The 'Great Depression 2' is dead ahead. Unfortunately, there's absolutely nothing you can do to hide from this unfolding reality or prevent the rush of the historical imperative."

What's particularly important about these quotes is who made them. Not socialists. No, they were made by ardent, intelligent and reputable defenders of capitalism. For more information, read the MarketWatch essay "20 reasons America has lost its soul and collapse is inevitable" at

(reprinted below).

Each of the three quotes includes the word "collapse" in the sense of a collapse of global capitalism, rather than merely a crisis in a particular part of the world system (such as cracks in the financial architecture or deflations of housing and share bubbles).

What we are starting to see is collapsing confidence among the defenders of capitalism. While far from universal, it is becoming a common phenomenon among the more insightful ideologues of the global marketplace.

History is crystal clear on this point: a crisis of confidence among the ruling elites of any social system is both a symptom and a catalyst of impending social disintegration (and, after a turbulent interregnum, the rise of another type of social system).

Increasingly common talk among our "betters" about the possibility or probability of capitalist collapse is tightly intertwined with the crisis of legitimacy, one of the quartet of contradictions which are besieging late capitalism. The other three contradictions are the profitability crisis, the resource crisis and the ecological crisis.

Corporate profitability is in overall longterm decline despite late capitalism's frantic efforts to compensate via the ultimately self-destructive mechanism of financialisation. The system is reaching peak oil, peak water and peak farmland as the scramble for dwindling resources sparks new imperial wars. Capitalism's predatory exploitation of the environment has unleashed the revenge of nature, facing humanity with the catastrophic dangers of climate warming.

The mounting fury of this quartet of contradictions points towards only one possible outcome: the collapse of capitalism on a global scale within a historically short time span.

When a country's rulers become so isolated that they block even the "normal" evolution of capitalism, such as in Russia (1917), Spain (1935), Cuba (1959), Czechoslovakia (1968), Nicaragua (1979), Venezuela (1999) and Nepal (2007), they can be ousted by a grassroots revolt without fatal consequences to the system as a whole. And so often the world system has rolled back the people's gains as isolation gutted the revolution.

The structures of a social order spanning the entire planet will be weakened to the point of collapse only by an elemental conjunction and intensification of worldwide contradictions.

The quartet of contradictions eating away at global capitalism's profit rates, natural resources, ecological stability and popular legitimacy may be slowed by intelligent policy options, but they cannot be halted. Indeed, they are more likely to be hastened by stupid policy options driven by the dynamics of competitive profiteering.

That brings us full circle to the despair expressed at the outset of this story by defenders of capitalism. They feel that the financial institutions which increasingly drive not only investment strategies but also government policy have "lost all sense of fiduciary duty, ethical responsibility and public obligation", to quote the words of US financial guru Paul Farrell. Their short-run thinking, he says, will inevitably generate "bigger, more frequent bubble/bust cycles" and the "rapid decline" of global capitalism.

Self-doubt and cynicism have now taken such a hold of capitalism's intellectuals that it is becoming commonplace for them to parody the stupidity and greed of big banks.

The website of the Financial Times, that once-magestic propagandist of the corporate marketplace, hosts a side-splitting video send-up of banking practices, political economy and how everything yet nothing has changed in the last year. It features a bumptious banker saying, "Show me a stupid risk, and we'll take it", because governments will always shovel more money into his bank vaults. This must-watch spoof can be seen at

(also below).

While tapping into a deep vein of public disquiet, the criticisms of bankers made by capitalism's intellectuals seldom offer real alternatives because of the mental chains and social bonds constraining the critics.

Socialists need to tap into the same vein, but with different objectives. That's why Socialist Worker recently initiated a Bad Banks campaign in New Zealand. By joining the dots between big banks, which most people love to hate, and the entire workings of a world system sliding into existential crisis, the campaign aims to prepare people for life after capitalism.

Different campaigns on different issues in different countries are organising resistance to global capitalism's mistreatment of people and nature. All these campaigns are necessary, and all deserve support. Since the Bad Banks campaign in New Zealand is just one campaign among many, it does not claim any special status.

And yet, in one way, this campaign is special. It targets a key driver of early social collapse: the grotesque financialisation of global capitalism. We must be prepared for that early collapse, and we must prepare others. We must propose socialist alternatives now so that we prepare the ground for the green shoots of popular recovery.

If you want to be part of the Bad Banks campaign in New Zealand, or spread it to other countries, email campaign manager Vaughan Gunson at

If you liked this story, forward it to your friends. It all helps to spread the word and make the links. And reply with your feedback to the author at

from Socialist Worker-New Zealand
22 October 2009

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All the Populism Money Can Buy By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Alexander Cockburn

Across the country, last weekend there were anti-war demonstrations, modest in turnout, but hopefully a warning to Obama that war without end or reason in Afghanistan, plus 40,000 more troops to Kabul, is not why people voted for him.

I spoke at our own little rally in my local town of Eureka, California. My neighbor Ellen Taylor decided to spice up the proceedings by having a guillotine on the platform, right beside the Eureka Courthouse steps. It’s in the genes. Her father was Telford Taylor, chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg.

When she told me about the plan for the guillotine, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. But Ellen said she wanted to reach out to new constituencies beyond the committed left, and what better siren call than the swoosh of the Avenging Blade? A hundred years ago, people liked to stress the similarities of the American and French revolutions. Mark Twain composed the most passionate defense of the Terror ever written in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court . But then, after 1917, the French Revolution was seen as the harbinger of Bolshevik excess and it grew less popular.

Up on the platform, I took the guillotine issue head on. In the Terror, only 666 aristocrats had been topped in Paris in what is now the Place de la Concorde; 1,543 throughout France. The reward: a decisive smack on the snout of the land-holding aristocracy; durable popular power for peasants, workers and the petit bourgeois: M. le patron and M. le proprietaire stepped into history.

Here, in America, the corporate class is now entirely out of control, lawless and beyond the sanction of prosecutor, juror or ballot box. If corporate lawbreakers felt that somewhere along the line the retribution of the guillotine might await them, it would concentrate their minds marvelously, and cow them into lawfulness.

I got some cheers, and a charming young hippy, Brooklyn, mother of three, told me she wanted to move to France forthwith. Ellen asked the executioner, Michael Evenson, to put the contraption through its paces. She invited the crowd to call out designated victims – CEOs of the major banks, billionaires of note. Michael hitched the blade up six feet, and down it came with quite a satisfactory thwock.

Three days earlier, Goldman Sachs announced $3.1 billion in third-quarter profits, and set aside $5.3 billion for bonuses. Since G-Sachs is only still in business because of public bailout money, the bonus payments really make people mad. On the whole, Americans aren’t keen on axe blades, preferring the lynch mob’s rope, but if the target had been the board members of Goldman Sachs, I’m sure they’d make a generous exception, particularly after Lord Griffith’s remarks were widely quoted on this side of the Atlantic. Griffiths, vice chairman of Sachs International, told an audience at St. Paul's Cathedral last Tuesday that the public should "tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity for all. I believe that we should be thinking about the medium-term common good, not the short-term common good ...”

Left and liberal commentators have talked yearningly about a new populist fever raging in the American body politic, prompted by the spectacle of bailouts for bankers but foreclosures and the dole for everyone else. I can’t say there’s much sign of populism in any energetic form. Look at movies from the Thirties, like Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and there’s a real edge to the anger of that time Capra felt it artistically important to convey. These days, the anger is formulaic. Over the weekend, the liberal opinion makers at the New York Times – Bob Herbert and Frank Rich – chewed out Goldman Sachs. Growled Herbert:

“Even as tens of millions of working Americans are struggling to hang onto their jobs and keep a roof over their families’ heads, the wise guys on Wall Street are licking their fat-cat chops over yet another round of obscene multibillion-dollar bonuses – this time thanks to the bailout billions that were sent their way by Uncle Sam, with very little in the way of strings attached.”

The Obama administration promptly rushed to cover its left flank by announcing it’s planning to impose cuts in executive pay at seven companies with substantial bailout funds. The U.S. senate’s parlor populist, Bernie Sanders, dutifully proclaimed that the Obama administration deserve praise for “taking an important step forward in trying to control the obscene compensation packages of the top executives on Wall Street.”

Note the meek qualifier, “trying.” The truth of the matter is that the Obama team has managed the tricky shot of giving more bailout money to the banks than the cumulative dispensations of all previous U.S. governments, while at the same time NOT giving any significant debt relief to ruined homeowners, a huge slice of whom is poor, black and Hispanic. Obama is not seeking to reform the financial system, and it would be beyond miraculous if he did, since the contrivers of the present mess – Lawrence Summers, et al – were given a welcoming clap on the back by the new president, as he stepped into the White House and told them to get on with the job. This amazing bailout for the existing corrupt system – as if Lenin had used the October revolution to restore the Romanovs – has been engineered without significant opposition from organized labor or the left-ßliberal end of Obama’s own party.

Of course, people curse the bankers and their political flunkeys as they watch their 10Ks atomize, their homes go, and their jobs disappear to China. They smolder as they watch the parade of Murdoch’s demagogues on Fox, flirting and toying with the theme of Obama’s assassination. The Obama administration dares to go to war with Glen Beck, apparently the only enemy it feels capable of confronting, at least at the time of writing. The gossip site Gawker calls on its readers to turn in all discreditable information about Goldman Sachs executives. The liberal talk host Olberman calls on his audience to rat out Beck. Neither invitation has thus far yielded any significant harvest.

Alas, American populism needs the octane of cash. During the Clinton scandal, Hustler supremo Larry Flynt wanted his audience to rat out high-ranking Republican sinners. He offered $100,000 cash rewards, and the dirt rolled in. Populism has to be cash-based these days. Maybe that was Ralph Nader’s point. His first work of fiction, 700 pages long, is titled Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us.

Kevin Gray, Mark Rudd, Bruce Franklin…The Gang’s All Here!

Ten months into Obama-time, the plight of black Americans is terrible. Yet overwhelmingly they rally behind the president. In a powerful report from South Carolina Kevin Alexander Gray asks the question: what should the black political agenda be?

New to CounterPunch, Mark Rudd contributes an important piece on movement-building – task number one for the left today. He counterposes “organizing” with “activism” and describes what it will take to build a movement. H. Bruce Franklin gives a chronology of the march into Afghanistan.

CounterPunch Diary
Weekend Edition
October 23-25, 2009

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at

Friday, October 23, 2009

A postal strike in Britain is the war at home by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger argues that the strike by British postal workers for the right to work with dignity, consultation and security has wider significance for all touched by the political regression that imposes high rates of poverty and gross wealth for an opulent minorty represented by "rescued banks" now celebrating record bonuses.

The postal workers’ struggle is as vital for democracy as any national event in recent years. The campaign against them is part of a historic shift from the last vestiges of political democracy in Britain to a corporate world of insecurity and war. If the privateers running the Post Office are allowed to win, the regression that now touches all lives bar the wealthy will quicken its pace. A third of British children now live in low-income or impoverished families. One in five young people is denied hope of a decent job or education.

And now the Brown government is to mount a “fire sale” of public assets and services worth £16bn. Unmatched since Margaret That­cher’s transfer of public wealth to a new gross elite, the sale, or theft, will include the Channel Tunnel rail link, bridges, the student loan bank, school playing fields, libraries and public housing estates. The plunder of the National Health Service and public education is already under way.

The common thread is adherence to the demands of an opulent, sub-criminal minority exposed by the 2008 collapse of Wall Street and of the City of London, now rescued with hundreds of billions in public money and still unregulated with a single stringent condition imposed by the government. Goldman Sachs, which enjoys a personal connection with the Prime Minister, is to give employees record average individual pay and bonus packages of £500,000. The Financial Times now offers a service called How to Spend It.

None of this is accountable to the public, whose view was expressed at the last election in 2005: New Labour won with the support of barely a fifth of the British adult population. For every five people who voted Labour, eight did not vote at all. This was not apathy, as the media pretend, but a strike by the public – like the postal workers are today on strike. The issues are broadly the same: the bullying and hypocrisy of contagious, undemocratic power.

Since coming to office, New Labour has done its best to destroy the Post Office as a highly productive public institution valued with affection by the British people. Not long ago, you posted a letter anywhere in the country and it reached its destination the following morning. There were two deliveries a day, and collections on Sundays. The best of Britain, which is ordinary life premised on a sense of community, could be found at a local post office, from the Highlands to the Pennines to the inner cities, where pensions, income support, child benefit and incapacity benefit were drawn, and the elderly, the awkward, the inarticulate and the harried were treated humanely.

At my local post office in south London, if an elderly person failed to turn up on pension day, he or she would get a visit from the postmistress, Smita Patel, often with groceries. She did this for almost 20 years until the government closed down this “lifeline of human contact”, as the local Labour MP called it, along with more than 150 other local London branches. The Post Office executives who faced the anger of our community at a local church – unknown to us, the decision had already been taken – were not even aware that the Patels made a profit. What mattered was ideology; the branch had to go. Mention of public service brought puzzlement to their faces.

The postal workers, having this year doubled annual profits to £321m, have had to listen to specious lectures from Peter Mandelson, a twice-disgraced figure risen from the murk of New Labour, about “urgent modernisation”. The truth is, the Royal Mail offers a quality service at half the price of its privatised rivals Deutsche Post and TNT. In dealing with new technology, postal workers have sought only consultation about their working lives and the right not to be abused – like the postal worker who was spat upon by her manager, then sacked while he was promoted; and the postman with 17 years’ service and not a single complaint to his name who was sacked on the spot for failing to wear his cycle helmet. Watch the near frenzy with which your postie now delivers. A middle-aged man has to run much of his route in order to keep to a preordained and unrealistic time. If he fails, he is disciplined and kept in his place by the fear that thousands of jobs are at the whim of managers.

Communication Workers Union negotiators describe intransigent executives with a hidden agenda – just as the National Coal Board masked Thatcher’s strictly political goal of destroying the miners’ union. The collaborative journalists’ role is unchanged, too. Mark Lawson, who pontificates about middlebrow cultural matters for the BBC and the Guardian and receives many times the remuneration of a postal worker, dispensed a Sun-style diatribe on 10 October. Waffling about the triumph of email and how the postal service was a “bystander” to the internet when, in fact, it has proven itself a commercial beneficiary, Lawson wrote: “The outcome [of the strike] will decide whether Billy Hayes of the CWU will, like [Arthur] Scargill, be remembered as someone who presided over the destruction of the industry he was meant to represent.”

The record is clear that Scargill and the miners were fighting against the wholesale destruction of an industry that was long planned for ideological reasons. The miners’ enemies included the most subversive, brutal and sinister forces of the British state, aided by journalists – as Lawson’s Guardian colleague Seumas Milne documents in his landmark work, The Enemy Within. Postal workers deserve the support of all honest, decent people, who are reminded that they may be next on the list if they remain silent.

"Michael Moore's Action Plan: 15 Things Every American Can Do Right Now" You've Seen the Movie -- Now It's Time to ACT! by Michael Moore


It's the #1 question I'm constantly asked after people see my movie: "OK -- so NOW what can I DO?!"

You want something to do? Well, you've come to the right place! 'Cause I got 15 things you and I can do right now to fight back and try to fix this very broken system.

Here they are:


1. Declare a moratorium on all home evictions. Not one more family should be thrown out of their home. The banks must adjust their monthly mortgage payments to be in line with what people's homes are now truly worth -- and what they can afford. Also, it must be stated by law: If you lose your job, you cannot be tossed out of your home.

2. Congress must join the civilized world and expand Medicare For All Americans. A single, nonprofit source must run a universal health care system that covers everyone. Medical bills are now the #1 cause of bankruptcies and evictions in this country. Medicare For All will end this misery. The bill to make this happen is called H.R. 3200. You must call AND write your members of Congress and demand its passage, no compromises allowed.

3. Demand publicly-funded elections and a prohibition on elected officials leaving office and becoming lobbyists. Yes, those very members of Congress who solicit and receive millions of dollars from wealthy interests must vote to remove ALL money from our electoral and legislative process. Tell your members of Congress they must support campaign finance bill H.R.1826.

4. Each of the 50 states must create a state-owned public bank like they have in North Dakota. Then congress MUST reinstate all the strict pre-Reagan regulations on all commercial banks, investment firms, insurance companies -- and all the other industries that have been savaged by deregulation: Airlines, the food industry, pharmaceutical companies -- you name it. If a company's primary motive to exist is to make a profit, then it needs a set of stringent rules to live by -- and the first rule is "Do no harm." The second rule: The question must always be asked -- "Is this for the common good?" (Click here for some info about the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.)

5. Save this fragile planet and declare that all the energy resources above and beneath the ground are owned collectively by all of us. Just like they do it in Sarah Palin's socialist Alaska. We only have a few decades of oil left. The public must be the owners and landlords of the natural resources and energy that exists within our borders or we will descend further into corporate anarchy. And when it comes to burning fossil fuels to transport ourselves, we must cease using the internal combustion engine and instruct our auto/transportation companies to rehire our skilled workforce and build mass transit (clean buses, light rail, subways, bullet trains, etc.) and new cars that don't contribute to climate change. (For more on this, here's a proposal I wrote in December.) Demand that General Motors' de facto chairman, Barack Obama, issue a JFK man-on-the-moon-style challenge to turn our country into a nation of trains and buses and subways. For Pete's sake, people, we were the ones who invented (or perfected) these damn things in the first place!!


1. Each of us must get into the daily habit of taking 5 minutes to make four brief calls: One to the President (202-456-1414), one to your Congressperson (202-224-3121) and one to each of your two Senators (202-224-3121). To find out who represents you, click here. Take just one minute on each of these calls to let them know how you expect them to vote on a particular issue. Let them know you will have no hesitation voting for a primary opponent -- or even a candidate from another party -- if they don't do our bidding. Trust me, they will listen. If you have another five minutes, click here to send them each an email. And if you really want to drop an anvil on them, send them a snail mail letter!

2. Take over your local Democratic Party. Remember how much fun you had with all those friends and neighbors working together to get Barack Obama elected? YOU DID THE IMPOSSIBLE. It's time to re-up! Get everyone back together and go to the monthly meeting of your town or county Democratic Party -- and become the majority that runs it! There will not be many in attendance and they will either be happy or in shock that you and the Obama Revolution have entered the room looking like you mean business. President Obama's agenda will never happen without mass grass roots action -- and he won't feel encouraged to do the right thing if no one has his back, whether it's to stand with him, or push him in the right direction. When you all become the local Democratic Party, send me a photo of the group and I'll post it on my website.

3. Recruit someone to run for office who can win in your local elections next year -- or, better yet, consider running for office yourself! You don't have to settle for the incumbent who always expects to win. You can be our next representative! Don't believe it can happen? Check out these examples of regular citizens who got elected: State Senator Deb Simpson, California State Assemblyman Isadore Hall, Tempe, Arizona City Councilman Corey Woods, Wisconsin State Assemblyman Chris Danou, and Washington State Representative Larry Seaquist. The list goes on and on -- and you should be on it!

4. Show up. Picket the local branch of a big bank that took the bailout money. Hold vigils and marches. Consider civil disobedience. Those town hall meetings are open to you, too (and there's more of us than there are of them!). Make some noise, have some fun, get on the local news. Place "Capitalism Did This" signs on empty foreclosed homes, closed down businesses, crumbling schools and infrastructure. (You can download them from my website.)

5. Start your own media. You. Just you (or you and a couple friends). The mainstream media is owned by corporate America and, with few exceptions, it will never tell the whole truth -- so you have to do it! Start a blog! Start a website of real local news (here's an example: The Michigan Messenger). Tweet your friends and use Facebook to let them know what they need to do politically. The daily papers are dying. If you don't fill that void, who will?


1. Take your money out of your bank if it took bailout money and place it in a locally-owned bank or, preferably, a credit union.

2. Get rid of all your credit cards but one -- the kind where you have to pay up at the end of the month or you lose your card.

3. Do not invest in the stock market. If you have any extra cash, put it away in a savings account or, if you can, pay down on your mortgage so you can own your home as soon as possible. You can also buy very safe government savings bonds or T-bills. Or just buy your mother some flowers.

4. Unionize your workplace so that you and your coworkers have a say in how your business is run. Here's how to do it (more info here). Nothing is more American than democracy, and democracy shouldn't be checked at the door when you enter your workplace. Another way to Americanize your workplace is to turn your business into a worker-owned cooperative. You are not a wage slave. You are a free person, and you giving up eight hours of your life every day to someone else is to be properly compensated and respected.

5. Take care of yourself and your family. Sorry to go all Oprah on you, but she's right: Find a place of peace in your life and make the choice to be around people who are not full of negativity and cynicism. Look for those who nurture and love. Turn off the TV and the Blackberry and go for a 30-minute walk every day. Eat fruits and vegetables and cut down on anything that has sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white flour or too much sodium (salt) in it (and, as Michael Pollan says, "Eat (real) food, not too much, mostly plants"). Get seven hours of sleep each night and take the time to read a book a month. I know this sounds like I've turned into your grandma, but, dammit, take a good hard look at Granny -- she's fit, she's rested and she knows the names of both of her U.S. Senators without having to Google them. We might do well to listen to her. If we don't put our own "oxygen mask" on first (as they say on the airplane), we will be of no use to the rest of the nation in enacting any of this action plan!

I'm sure there are many other ideas you can come up with on how we can build this movement. Get creative. Think outside the politics-as-usual box. BE SUBVERSIVE! Think of that local action no one else has tried. Behave as if your life depended on it. Be bold! Try doing something with reckless abandon. It may just liberate you and your community and your nation.

And when you act, send me your stories, your photos and your video -- and be sure to post your ideas in the comments beneath this letter on my site so they can be shared with millions.

C'mon people -- we can do this! I expect nothing less of all of you, my true and trusted fellow travelers!

Michael Moore

Published on Thursday, October 22, 2009 by

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Royal Mail is to blame for our broken society (obviously),We can already see the 'modernisation' the Government wants from posties by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

"The Post office unions can't obstruct modernisation," insists Peter Mandelson. That must be why Mandelson has the thoroughly modern job title of Lord, because he's not afraid to modernise. And no one could accuse his place of work, the House of Lords, of resisting modernisation. Every member of staff is at the cutting edge of new technology, making use of the very latest developments in ermine gowns, and overmanning is unheard of as every single Lord is essential and oozes infectious youthful hereditary energy for the benefit of Britain.

If only the Post Office unions would agree to being that modern, then their sacks would be carried by equerries, and attendance would be around 5 per cent of the workforce, who would take it in turns to stand up with a parcel, shake it for a couple of minutes, then say "Am I delivering this or receiving it, I don't recall?" and sit down again.

Presumably, what is meant by "modernise" is privatised. Then, as they're delivering your mail postmen can say "Would you like a pastry with your bills this morning? No? In that case are you aware I could also supply you with gas?" And each postman could get sponsorship, and cycle along whistling 'You can't get quicker than a Kwik Fit fitter'. Eventually they'll be properly modern, like the water companies who were fined £12m for providing a dreadful service and lying to cover it up, or the hugely popular gas companies.

We can already see the types of modernisation the Government would like to apply. For example they got rid of that antiquated system in rural areas where the elderly would queue in a ramshackle old Post Office for their pension, by shutting the things down. And in a marvellous example of joined-up government, soon the elderly won't be any worse off because their pensions will be scrapped anyway, saving them a walk, and encouraging them to modernise because it's no good wandering about being 82 in a modern environment.

So the management at Royal Mail, and the Government, want to cut jobs, freeze pay and change the working conditions for the staff, which has led to the current strikes. And that means certain papers are already exploding with stories that start "Britain's 103-year-olds are to be targeted by callous striking union members. 'Christmas cards are all I have to live for', said Ethel Dibbet from her nursing home, 'But this year I suppose I'll have to go without, what with them blooming selfish postmen with their unrealistic demands and obstinate Luddite refusal to ruddy well modernise'."

The Times had a headline telling us the strike would "Lose £100m in revenues" for the Government, which seems a lot until they explain this is because they'll have to waive the £100 fine for late tax returns, that could have been imposed on a million people. But surely The Times, and David Cameron, should be delighted about this, praising the union for helping to stamp out the red tape that holds back business.

You can see why there's such enthusiasm for taking on the post unions, because these are the people whose excess has got us into such a financial mess. Ask anyone "Whose greed caused the economic crash"? and they'll say "Investment postmen, they're the bastards." And we've all heard tales of them gloating down the sorting office, about how they'd just finished Gresham Street when they heard about the run on the futures market in Hong Kong, nipped down the stock market on their bicycle, did three dings on their bell to signal "sell" to the traders, picked up £10m and nipped back just in time to finish Parsley Avenue.

There is one other possibility, which is the Royal Mail management and the Government are trying to break the union altogether, which would explain why they've drawn up plans to impose the changes without the union's agreement, leaving the management free to impose whatever sackings or pay cuts they fancied at any time. And to be fair, you can see why the head of Royal Mail, Adam Crozier, might consider a union unnecessary, as he managed to get himself a deal worth £9m over six years without one.

It might also explain their aggressive stance, which has gone as far as cancelling their annual anti-bullying week, although one-third of staff say they've witnessed bullying managers. Or maybe Mandelson has insisted the management modernises bullying, so instead of calling staff in to be told they're slow and useless, they'll now be told they're fat ugly pigs on Twitter.

And if Royal Mail get their way, we could find the local sorting office turned into modern themed apartments, and we'll have to collect all of our parcels from a centralised modern digital automated package centre in a retail park in Bangalore.

First published in The Independent on 21st October 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Obama is Only Making It Worse, Farce in Kabul, Tragedy in Pakistan By TARIQ ALI

Tariq Ali

A few weeks ago the UN headman in Kabul, a woodenheaded Norwegian, decided that the recent Presidential elections were fine and Karzai was a legitimate ruler. His deputy, Peter Galbraith, the unofficial representative of the State Department, was enraged (since the US are unhappy with Karzai who is their own creature) and went public. He was fired.

But stories involving US reps and the UN never end like this. Yesterday the UN-supported electoral watchdog ruled that the elections had been fraudulent and ordered a new round. The Hindu Kush mountains must have resounded to the sound of Pashtun laughter.

Nobody in Afghanistan takes elections too seriously and especially not when the country is occupied by the US and its NATO acolytes. In the old days Karzai would have been got rid of like South Vietnamese dictators who made too big a mess.

Karzai has been a total disaster but so has the occupation that implanted him in Kabul. Now with a war going badly wrong and the insurgents controlling large swathes of territory, Karzai is being scape-goated for sins for which he is not exclusively responsible.

One solution being considered is the appointment of a US/UN-appointed Chief Executive Officer and here Peter Galbraith would be the obvious choice. This would be far more straightforward and the CEO could appoint a cabinet in which every rogue could share the spoils of the opium trade and a cut in the money being expended in the country, thus breaking the financial monopoly of the Karzai family.

The only reason for the public humiliation of a loyal puppet is his refusal to share power and money with other collaborators. If he is allowed to stay in power, I predict that he will be a more willing sharer. Not that this will solve any problems in the absence of a NATO exit strategy from the region.

While the farce plays out in Kabul, in neighbouring Pakistan the situation has become more deadly. The Zardari government (effectively run by the US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson) has ordered the Pakistan Army to wipe out the Taliban in South Waziristan near the Afghan border.

This, too, will fail. More innocents will die, more refugees will be created adding to the two million ‘internally displaced persons’ already living in camps. The result will be a bitter legacy, fuelling hatred and revenge attacks in the region and, ominously, creating further tensions inside the Pakistan Army.

Incapable of understanding that it is the Afghan war’s spill-over into Pakistan that has exacerbated the crisis in Pakistan, the Obama administration’s directives can only make it worse.

Tariq Ali's latest book, The Protocols of the Elders of Sodom and other Essays, has just been published by Verso.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What, Exactly, is Being Fought in Afghanistan? Fighting the Taliban By M. REZA PIRBHAI

With US and NATO commanders on the battlefield of Afghanistan calling for more troops, how best to defeat the Taliban is being hotly debated by Washington’s policy-makers and their media pundits. Yet, nowhere are the types of questions posed by Arundhati Roy (the acclaimed Indian novelist and social activist) on a recent visit to Pakistan to be heard in the mainstream US discourse. Clarifying the purpose of her trip during an address at the Karachi Press Club, she stated, “I’m here to understand what you mean when you say Taliban…Do you mean a militant? Do you mean an ideology? Exactly what is it that is being fought?”

The reason that such questions are not frequently addressed in the US mainstream seems patently clear. The answers require one to move beyond the atrocities of ‘9/11’ and such pat ideas as the ‘threat’ posed the ‘civilized world’ by the Taliban/al-Qaida ‘militant’ and their ‘ideology,’ as well as the ‘human rights’ and ‘anti-woman’ abuses they perpetrate in their ‘Muslim’ homelands. In fact, Roy’s questions require the respondent to first and foremost recall that precursors to the Taliban - groups and leaders with similar ideologies and methods, including Usama bin Laden – were wholehearted supported by the US, with Saudi Arabian and Pakistani assistance, during the 1980’s, when fighting the USSR and its Afghani ally, the Najibullah regime. Of course, acknowledging that the Taliban-style ‘militant’ was an ally and his ‘ideology’ was considered an asset, not to be fought but nurtured and supported, is no great revelation. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged exactly this in an appearance before the House Appropriations Committee in late April, 2009. She stated:

“Let’s remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union. They invaded Afghanistan… and we did not want to see them control Central Asia and we went to work… and it was President Reagan in partnership with Congress led by Democrats who said you know what it sounds like a pretty good idea… let’s deal with the ISI and the Pakistan military and let’s go recruit these mujahideen. And great, let them come from Saudi Arabia and other countries, importing their Wahhabi brand of Islam so that we can go beat the Soviet Union. And guess what … they (Soviets) retreated … they lost billions of dollars and it led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. So there is a very strong argument which is… it wasn’t a bad investment in terms of Soviet Union but let’s be careful with what we sow… because we will harvest.”

What Clinton neglected to mention, however, and Congress avoided asking, is the full extent and duration of that support, as well as the actual date and circumstances under which the ally was reassessed as an enemy, leaving the impression that the US withdrew after the USSR was defeated in 1989, only to return after the atrocious ‘harvest’ of ‘9/11.’

Regarding the extent of support, Washington insiders do not mention that the Taliban’s “harsh form of oppression on women and others,” which everyone from Madeleine Albright to Hillary Clinton have argued provides cause for war, is not a concern when relations with ‘Wahhabi’ Saudi Arabia are pursued, and was not a concern when the US’ closest ally in the region, President (General) Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, promulgated a version of ‘Islamic Law’ whose intellectual roots were identical to those of Saudi Arabia and the Taliban, as evinced by such ‘anti-woman’ legislation as the removal of all images of women from public spaces (including TV), and such ‘human rights’ violations as public flogging. Zia ul-Haq’s regime entirely changed the complexion of Pakistani society, bringing the religio-political parties that would later instruct the Taliban on ‘Islam’ – that is, the Jama’at-i Ulama-i Islam - firmly into the political arena and leading to an entire generation raised under the impression that at least the social aspects of Taliban-style ‘ideology’ represents the ‘true’ face of ‘Islamic Law,’ whether they stand for or against it.

As for the duration of US support for the ‘militant’ and his ‘ideology,’ not even the USSR’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 stemmed activity. In fact, just as the USSR’s withdrawal did not mean an end to its support for the ‘communist’ regime it had left behind, the US found reason to continue supporting the Taliban-style forces arrayed against the Najibullah regime. This was accomplished by continuing to work through Pakistan with Saudi Arabian aid in the support of a coalition of seven Taliban-style outfits, known as the ‘Afghan Interim Government.’ This proxy war did not end until 1992, after the US and the USSR concluded a deal to stop providing military and financial aid to the Afghan Interim Government and the Najibullah regime, respectively. The collapse of the USSR itself only sealed the deal and, consequently, the fate of Najibullah regime; the latter fell by early 1992 and the Afghan Interim Government, held together by the common enemy of Najibullah, soon followed.

The fall of Najibullah, however, did not end US entanglement with the Taliban-style ‘militant’ and his ‘ideology’ in Afghanistan, despite Hillary Clinton’s so often repeated claims. Rather, the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1992, signalled an emphasis on ties with the ‘Northern Alliance’ – itself a band of Taliban-style groups, sprinkled with regional ‘warlords,’ known for their drug running and human rights abuses. This relationship was actually initiated by Clinton’s predecessor, George Bush (Sr.), in 1989, with the appointment of a US charge d’affair for the Northern Alliance, at the very moment that the charge d’affair for Afghanistan as a whole was withdrawn and the US embassy in Kabul closed. In other words, the US now joined Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran and Saudi Arabia in backing one of the other of the Taliban-style militants and warlords vying for control of Afghanistan, the result of which was the destruction of major cities like Kabul and most of the country’s infrastructure, as well as the continued killing, rape and torture of thousands more civilians. Meanwhile, the official attitude of the US and its NATO allies, who today wage war in the name of ‘human rights’ and ‘women’s emancipation,’ was aptly captured in the following line from a London Times article published in the moment: “The world has no business in that country’s tribal disputes and blood feuds.”

As the carnage continued in Afghanistan, across the border in Pakistan, General Zia ul-Haq, the US’ prime conduit for the aid and training provided all the Taliban-style militants during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, had been killed in a mysterious plane crash in 1988, clearing the way for the ‘democratic’ administrations of Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto (1988-90) and Nawaz Sharif (1990-93). Even while continuing to funnel funds and aid to Afghani militants from 1989-1992, these administrations were left to deal with the fallout of the last decade’s hottest front in the Cold War on their own. This not only included the ‘militant’ and his ‘ideology’ bequeathed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Zia ul-Haq, but extended to millions of Afghani refugees, the proliferation of weaponry outside of state control and the infusion of a drug culture driven by the Afghani combatants’ and their backers’ preferred method of funding their exploits. Further hampering the ability of these ‘democratic’ administrations to function, beginning as early as 1990, the Bush (Sr.) administration imposed economic and military sanctions on Pakistan under the Pressler Amendment - a country-specific law that singles out Pakistan on the nuclear issue - a consequence of which was the withholding of Pakistan military equipment contracted and paid for prior to 1990, worth about $1.2 billion, as well as the suspension of military officer training in the US. This was followed in 1992/93, under the Clinton administration, with threats to declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism and, in the summer of 1993, the imposition of additional sanctions under the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime).

Continuous meddling in Afghanistan, despite the USSR’s withdrawal, coupled with the shift in attitude toward Pakistan, should make it apparent that the ‘New World Order’ sought by Bush (Sr.) played an important part in directing the Clinton administration’s policies as well. In particular, the changing relationship between the US and India envisioned in the ‘New World Order,’ is pivotal to understanding the sides taken in Afghanistan and the hostility toward Pakistan described above. During the Cold War, India had leaned toward the USSR, as evinced by military, economic and cultural pacts, despite professions of ‘non-alignment.’ In fact, until the fall of the Afghani Najibullah regime in 1992, India had been one of its major supporters - Najibullah’s family, for example, finding refuge nowhere but in New Delhi. Even before the end of the Cold War, however, the Indian body-politic had begun swinging rightward, thus making room for a new strategic and economic partnership between it and the US; a reflection of which is India’s support, alongside the US, for the Northern Alliance in the Afghani civil war. As this new US-India relationship unfolded, however, Pakistan’s backing of alternative Afghani militants, support for Kashmiri separatists in conflict with India, as well as its nuclear program and array of conventional weaponry (either acquired under US watch or directly procured from the US and other NATO members) stood in the way. A significant ‘down-grade’ in US-Pakistan relations, therefore, was obviously perceived to be required if an ‘up-grade’ in US-India relations was to follow. Thus, as Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, the longest serving Pakistani Ambassador to the US (1994-97; 1999-2002), has written:

“The irony about U.S. non-proliferation policy in South Asia was that while the impetus for proliferation at every step came from India, it was Pakistan, and not India, that was subjected to penalties, embargoes and sanctions. Perversely, Pakistan became the victim of penalties for what India had done in 1974 with its explosion of a nuclear device. US non-proliferation laws such as the 1976 Symington Amendment which was later modified by the 1977 Glenn Amendment, called for halting economic or military assistance to any country which delivered or acquired after 1976 nuclear enrichment materials or technology, unless it accepted full-scope safeguards. This meant that India which had already acquired a reprocessing capability was excluded from the ambit of American non-proliferation laws. The Pressler Amendment enacted in 1985, specifically prohibited U.S. assistance or military sales to Pakistan unless annual Presidential certification was issued that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear explosive device. This certification was denied in October 1990, triggering wide-ranging sanctions against Pakistan.”

All that needs to be added to Lodhi’s assessment to complete the picture is the fact that the growing depiction of Pakistan as a ‘state sponsor of terror’ was not merely a consequence of Pakistani policy in Afghanistan (discussed below), but also support for militants of a similar bent in Indian-administered Kashmir. Meanwhile, the ‘state terror’ unleashed in Indian-administered Kashmir, like India’s nuclear weapons capabilities and its support for the Northern Alliance ‘militant’ and ‘ideology’ in Afghanistan, did not lead to vociferous protestations from the US, let alone modifications in US policy toward India.

While the US played ball with the Northern Alliance, sanctioned Pakistan and fostered bonds with India by turning a blind eye to its nuclear program and activities in Kashmir or Afghanistan, the Taliban movement had begun to coalesce in the refugee camps of Pakistan –their stated goal to rid Afghanistan of its criminal rulers and enforce their own version of ‘Islamic Law.’ Whether or not the Pakistani military establishment had a hand in creating the Taliban may be debated, but it is quite certain that the former played an important part in promoting the latter as part of their own policy of ‘strategic depth’ in the perennial conflict with India. As previously stated, the Taliban’s scriptural training was provided by the very religio-political party that recruited and indoctrinated many of the militants who fought against the USSR in Afghanistan, had begun fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir by 1990, and had benefitted most in Pakistan’s body politic from Zia ul-Haq’s ‘Islamization’ policy; that is, the Jama’at-i Ulama-i Islam. At any rate, by 1994, the Taliban had taken Kandahar, and was pushing north to Kabul to unseat the Northern Alliance President Burhanuddin Rabbani (himself head of the ‘Jama’at-i Islam,’ a political, though not necessarily an ideological, rival of Jama’at-i Ulama-i Islam, both movements being rooted in the Indian ‘Deobandi’ school of Sunni thought). The irony of the entire scenario, however, was that the horse backed in Afghanistan and the censure of Pakistan by the US, soon proved to have been premature given one of the central concerns of the ‘New World Order’ under construction.

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 had ushered the independence of the oil-rich Central Asian republics to the north of Afghanistan. The ‘Center for Research on Globalization’ – a Montreal-based, independent organization of scholars, journalists, writers and activists concerned with globalization – is one among many groups to have published extensively on the scramble to harness Central Asian oil reserves. In sum, authors affiliated with such groups reveal that one of the first companies to gain access to the oil fields of Turkmenistan, was the Argentine corporation, Bridas. Soon after, Bridas proposed a pipeline through neighbouring Afghanistan, for which it also negotiated a 30-year agreement with Kabul’s Rabbani regime to build and operate a pipeline, to which was added an accord with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan (then in her second stint in office) by 1995. Bridas, however, was not the only oil company to be operating in the region. By 1992, Unocal, Amoco, Atlantic Richfield, Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Pennzoil, Texaco, Enron, Phillips and British Petroleum represented 50% of all investments in the region. Although Bridas offered to negotiate a consortium with some of the latter, the offer was spurned to go directly to regional players with their own plan of action.

As one ‘Center for Research on Globalization’ article explains, drawing a great deal from the renowned journalist Rashid Ahmad’s research:

“Much to Bridas’ dismay, Unocal went directly to regional leaders with its own proposal. Unocal formed its own competing US-led, Washington-sponsored consortium [CentGas] that included Saudi Arabia’s Delta Oil, aligned with Saudi Prince Abdullah and King Fahd. Other partners included Russia’s Gazprom and Turkmenistan’s state-owned Turkmenrozgas... John Imle, president of Unocal (and member of the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce with Armitage, Cheney, Brzezinski and other ubiquitous figures), lobbied Turkmenistan's President Niyazov and Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan, offering a Unocal pipeline following the same route as Bridas... Dazzled by the prospect of an alliance with the US, Niyazov asked Bridas to renegotiate its past contract and blocked Bridas’ exports from... [certain oil fields in Turkmenistan]....”

Similarly, Unocal’s consortium, CentGas, was able to win over the Pakistani government with a contract to end its pipeline on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast.

The mention of Richard Armitage (a Pentagon official under Ronald Reagan and the Bush (Jr.) administration’s Deputy Secretary of State, also associated with Unocal and ConocoPhillips), Dick Cheney (most recently Vice President in the Bush (Jr.) administration, also associated with Halliburton), and Zbigniew Brzezinski (National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, member of various committees under Reagan, co-chairman of the National Security Advisory Taskforce under Bush (Sr.), and also a consultant for Amoco), only refers to those members of the US government (Democrat and Republican) who have had affiliations with oil companies and the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce. If the criterion were expanded to US government officials with ties to oil companies active in Central Asia more generally, the list would be too long to reproduce in this context. Thus, it should come as no surprise that once CentGas secured rights to both ends of the proposed pipeline, ‘friendship’ with Pakistan was immediately added to the Clinton administration’s agenda. The first and foremost difficulty for the Clinton administration and Centgas was the fact that Bridas still had the contract with Rabbani’s regime in Afghanistan. The problem would be addressed through the Pakistani-backed Taliban.

1995 was the year in which the Taliban began to be courted by Unocal-led CentGas and Bridas, while the US Congress and Clinton administration softened their stance toward Pakistan in return for promoting the Taliban’s advance in Afghanistan and sidestepping its deal with Bridas. Concerning the latter action, by January 1995, Defence Secretary William Perry had visited Pakistan to mend relations by reviving the ‘Pakistan-US Defence Consultative Group,’ which had not met since 1990. Upon his return to Washington, Perry also declared that the Pressler Amendment was not achieving its objectives, and the Clinton administration followed up the gesture with an April meeting between Clinton and Bhutto. This led Clinton, with bipartisan support from Congress, to promise to revisit the Pressler Amendment, particularly with regard to military sanctions, arguing that a broad, regional approach to nuclear non-proliferation was required. In Lodhi’s words, then serving as the Pakistani Ambassador in Washington:

“In May 1995, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adopted by a near unanimous, bipartisan vote, an amendment moved by Republican Senator Hank Brown to ease Pressler sanctions. This sought to remove from the purview of Pressler all non-military assistance. In the House of Representatives, a similar effort was spearheaded by the newly elected Republican Chairman of the House International Relations Sub-Committee on South Asia, Doug Bereuter, who proposed an amendment to remove Pressler restrictions on all forms of non-military assistance…These actions proved to be vital building blocks in the laborious process of American law making leading to the adoption, later in the year, of the Brown Amendment. The amendment, sponsored by a Republican Senator and promoted by a Democratic Administration, reflected a bipartisan consensus in Washington to repair the bilateral relationship by taking the first significant step towards ending the iniquitous treatment meted out to Pakistan under the discriminatory Pressler Amendment…This modification of the Pressler law removed from its ambit all non-military assistance, as well as provision of IMET (International Military Education Training), while providing, in a one-time waiver of the Pressler Amendment, the release of embargoed military equipment worth about $368 million. Not released under this law were the 28 F-16s for which President Clinton made a good-faith pledge to reimburse Pakistan the money it had paid for the fighter aircraft [during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit in 1998].”

Across the border in Afghanistan, following US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphael’s visit to Kandahar in autumn 1996, the Taliban received a green light to enter Kabul, displacing the Rabbani government and depriving Bridas of its local partner in the oil pipeline it had proposed. Unocal went on to offer ‘humanitarian aid’ to Afghan power-brokers, should they agree to form a council to supervise the pipeline project. A new mobile phone network between Kabul and Kandahar was funded, and promises to help rebuild Kandahar were proffered. As well, the US State Department authorized USAID to provide significant funds for education in Taliban territory. All these efforts culminated in two trips to Dallas and Washington by Taliban officials in 1997. The softening of the Clinton administration’s stance, however, had the unforeseen effect of prompting other US oil companies to challenge Unocal. The same year that Unocal and government officials were wining and dining Taliban representatives in the US, Bridas found a partner in Amoco, with the help of such mainstays of US finance as Chase Manhattan, Morgan Stanley and Arthur Andersen, as well as such towering figures of US policy-making as Zbigniew Brzezinski (a consultant for Amoco). Furthermore, when Amoco merged with British Petroleum a year later, the deal was facilitated by the law firm of Baker & Botts, whose principal attorney is James Baker – the Bush (Sr.) administration’s Secretary of State, and a member of the Carlyle Group.

The Taliban regime was clearly unsure which of its suitors to wed. The main stumbling block for Unocal was that its pipeline was closed to Afghanistan (meant for export only), while that proposed by Bridas would also service the local market. Furthermore, tensions between the US and Russia led Gazprom to withdraw from the Unocal-led consortium, CentGas. Thus, as it became clearer that Taliban policy-makers were beginning to lean toward Bridas by late 1997, the Clinton administration responded by suddenly paying heed to human rights/women’s groups who had been protesting Taliban conduct for the past two years. In November 1997, after years of relative quiet, Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publically condemned the Taliban’s treatment of women during a visit to an Afghani refugee camp in Pakistan. She also made it plain that the US government was ‘opposed’ to the Taliban regime, stating: “It’s very clear why we’re opposed to Taliban. We’re opposed to their approach to human rights, to their despicable treatment of women and children and their lack of respect for human dignity…” By January 1998, the Taliban regime had responded by signing an agreement with Unocal to begin raising funds for a pipeline, but made no commitment to actually engage Unocal in its construction. Thus, Unocal’s Vice President of International Relations appeared before the US Congress in February 1998, basically calling for the removal of the Taliban regime. By March that year, Unocal formally announced that it was delaying the project.

While anti-Taliban statements from the Clinton administration grew more frequent in the coming months, matters were not brought to a head until August 1998, when the US embassy bombings in East Africa (attributed to Usama bin Laden) prompted Clinton to launch a barrage of cruise missiles on Afghanistan and Sudan, and call for the Taliban to expel Bin Laden. Interestingly, the latter’s presence in Afghanistan since 1996 had not stalled the courtship of the previous years, despite being implicated in earlier acts of ‘terror’ for which the Sudanese government hounded him out of their country to avoid sanctions. The day after the missile strikes, Unocal announced that it was halting its pipeline project. By December 1998, a formal withdrawal from the project was issued. The Clinton administration then issued an executive order seizing all US-held Taliban assets and prohibiting trade, effectively breaking off diplomatic contacts in the process. Soon after that the UN Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions and calling for the Taliban regime to “turn over the terrorist Usama bin Laden.” The Taliban regime offered negotiations on Bin Laden’s handover, particularly with regard to whose custody exactly the ‘terrorist’ would be released, but these overtures were ignored in favour of another UN resolution and further sanctions on the heels of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 (also attributed to Usama bin Laden). As for US-Pakistan relations, cordiality prevailed, as already suggested by Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit in 1998, but chilled considerably, particularly after the 1999 Kargil Conflict with India in Kashmir, and General Musharraf’s subsequent military coup.

Returning to the ultimate question of ‘Exactly what is…being fought,’ the above history confirms that just as in the Cold War period (1979-89) and the era of proxy war (1989-92), so too in the early phase of the Taliban era (1992-1998), neither the ‘militant’ nor his ‘ideology’ was being fought. Rather, he was courted and his ideology utilized for US strategic and economic interests, particularly as both converged in a slick of oil by 1995. Furthermore, considering that it was only when absolute control of that oil was challenged that the Taliban regime was openly discredited, it must be said that although this ‘militant’ and his ‘ideology’ were publically ‘being fought’ from 1998 to 2001, other ‘militants’ with similar ‘ideologies’ continued to find support, and even that could have been dropped in favour of the Taliban at any point if it had compromised on the issue of oil. Confirmation of this hypothesis, in fact, comes with the inauguration of President Bush (Jr.), one of whose first acts in January and February, 2001, was to open negotiations between the US and the Taliban regime, conducted in Washington, Berlin and Islamabad, in which Laila Helms (niece of former CIA Director Richard Helms) was hired by the Taliban to act as go-between; negotiations that ended around May, 2001, according to various sources including a former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan, with the ultimatum that the Unocal pipeline would go ahead or bombs would rain on Afghanistan. From 1998 to 2001, therefore, the Taliban ‘militant’ was fought in the name of his ‘ideology,’ but in the interests of oil.

But, what of planes becoming bombs over New York and Washington on September 11, 2001? Did that not change everything? According to Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy – a study of the convergence between US Evangelical Christian ‘extremism,’ US geo-political policy and global oil interests – one thing did change. Although the Taliban continued to offer negotiations on the handover of Usama bin Laden, the atrocities of 9/11 “gave Washington [oil] policies a convenient new all-inclusive justification: fighting terror was about everything, and everything was about fighting terror. Oil motivations, rarely a popular or easy foreign-policy justification, could now be submerged within a primal response to a deep-seated national combination of fear, loathing and outrage. Petroleum strategy could now become only a minor facet of an antiterrorist mobilization.” Furthermore, as Bruce Lincoln – professor of religion at the University of Chicago – adds, taking into account Bush’s ‘religious’ affiliations, the pursuit of strategic interests could even transcend the previous rhetoric of ‘human’ and ‘women’s rights,’ to be framed as an eternal, uncompromising struggle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’; a form of rhetoric ironically akin to that of Usama bin Laden himself. And finally, as David Domke – associate professor of communication at the University of Washington – asserts with a chorus of other scholars, in the double-speak of the Bush administration, what this was meant to imply is that by fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida, “the US government…[was] doing God’s work.”

That interests on the more worldly ground of US oil strategy lay behind this ratcheting of rhetoric under the Bush (Jr.) administration, is confirmed by a number of other factors, including bipartisan support for the invasion of Iraq on the unfounded accusation of links to 9/11, not to mention ‘WMDs.’ Furthermore, consider the major players post-9/11. Apart from Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage and other prominent Republicans’ affiliated with oil companies active in Central Asia, it can be added that Condolezza Rice (Bush’s National Security Advisor [2000-04] and Secretary of State [2004-09]) had served on the board of Chevron before entering government. As well, Zalmay Khalilzad (appointed US Special Envoy to Afghanistan [2001-03], Ambassador to Afghanistan [2003-05], Ambassador to Iraq [2005-07] and Ambassador to the UN [2007-09]) was a former consultant for Unocal and part of the Unocal team that courted the Taliban in the US. At the time, he wrote, “We [the US government] should ... be willing to offer recognition and humanitarian assistance and to promote international economic reconstruction.” Furthermore, Hamid Karzai, whose rise to power was in no small measure facilitated by US aid through the offices of Khalilzad, was also a Unocal consultant who had participated in Unocal’s courtship of the Taliban in the US. One of Karzai’s first acts as President of Afghanistan, in fact, was the signing of a new agreement with Turkmenistan and Pakistan on the building of a pipeline in 2002. The greatest problem in going ahead with pipeline plans during the tenure of the Bush (Jr.) administration, however, was a collective failure in defeating the Taliban to bring about the stability necessary to get down to work in Afghanistan. In fact, the failure was so complete that the Taliban also sprouted a Pakistani chapter that began to threaten the ability of all involved to even consider the Pakistani portion of a pipeline safe for investment in the immediate future.

And, what of the election of President Obama and his administration’s ‘new’ plan for the region; has that not changed everything? To be sure, the Obama administration’s abandonment of Bush’s ‘religious’ rhetoric has to some extent succeeded in redressing the impression created by Bush among ordinary Muslims that his was a ‘war against Islam.’ Obama’s rhetorical lumping of Pakistan together with Afghanistan as part of the ‘Af-Pak’ problem is novel, too, but ultimately reflects no more than a response to the failure of the Bush administration to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, leading to the destabilization of nuclear-armed Pakistan. The warfront is now bigger and all that the ‘Af-Pak’ strategy reconfirms is that an important element of the ‘New World Order’ now cannot go forward unless the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban is defeated or co-opted. That only his ‘militancy,’ rather than his ‘ideology,’ is at stake, however, continues to be confirmed by various maneuvers. The US-backed Karzai regime in Afghanistan, now as before, accommodates the Taliban-type ‘militant’ and ‘ideology’ within the Afghani body-politic. In fact, Hillary Clinton has even publically endorsed President Karzai’s attempts to open talks with “moderate” members of the Afghani Taliban. The only definition of the “moderate” she provided was those “willing to abandon violence, break with al Qaeda and support the constitution.” As well, the US-backed Zardari regime in Pakistan, now as before, accommodates the Taliban-type ‘militant’ and ‘ideology,’ and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke met with the leader of Jama’at-i Ulama-i Islam as recently as October, 2009. Most telling, however, is the recent promulgation of the Kerry-Lugar Aid Bill, which includes specific conditions concerning Pakistani support for ‘militants’ in neighbouring countries, but makes no real mention of ‘ideology’ abroad or at home. From 2001 to the present, therefore, just as in the period from 1998-2001, the Taliban ‘militant’ has been fought in the name of his ‘ideology,’ though the failures of Bush (Jr,) have added such immediate concerns as military defeat in Afghanistan and the stabilization of Pakistan to the long-term interests of oil.

‘Exactly what…is being fought’ today, Roy astutely asks. The short answer is that today, as has been the case since 1979, neither a specific ‘militant’ nor ‘ideology’ is ‘being fought.’ Rather, the target of operations, for which more troops are now being sought, is anyone who challenges the interests of an oil-drenched ‘New World Order.’

M. Reza Pirbhai is an Assistant Professor of South Asian History at
Louisiana State University. He can be reached at:

October 14, 2009 CounterPuncj

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Socialist wins Freo council seat by Alex Bainbridge, Perth

Socialist Alliance WA co-convenor Sam Wainwright was elected from the Hilton Ward to the Fremantle Council in the October 17 poll.

Wainwright polled over 33% (438 out of 1310 valid votes). His nearest competitor, an ALP member, polled 337 votes (25.7%). Under the new, undemocratic first-past-the-post local government electoral laws in WA, Wainwright was elected as the candidate with the most votes.

In the mayoral poll of six candidates, Greens member Brad Pettit triumphed with over 45% of the vote, well in front of two fellow Greens Michael Martin and Jon Strachan. Both Pettit and Strachan were endorsed by the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce.

Of the six new councillors elected there is one ALP member, two Greens, two independents and one Socialist Alliance. However under WA electoral law local government candidates can not formally run for political parties and Wainwright was the only candidate to declare his political affiliations in his campaign material.

Issues Wainwright campaigned on included: making Fremantle a “fight climate change” council; better public transport, including linking Fremantle to Beaconsfield, Hilton and Samson with CAT buses; for council and community workers’ rights; maintaining the areas beaches, parks and green spaces for everyone; for rates based on ability to pay, not just house value; and council democracy.

For more details of Wainwright’s campaign, visit

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #814 21 October 2009.

NT walk-off: Indigenous community defies racist intervention by Peter Robson & Emma Murphy

In early October, Green Left Weekly visited the Alyawarr people’s walk-off camp, three hours north-east of Alice Springs.

A statement from the protest camp reads: “On July 14 we, Elders from the Ampilatwatja Aboriginal community, three hours north-east of Alice Springs, walked out of our houses and set up camp in the bush.

“We are fed up with the federal government's Northern Territory intervention, controls and measures, visions and goals forced onto us from outside. We felt [like] we were outcast and isolated from all decision-making — there has been no meaningful consultation.

“We therefore have no intention of going back there. We intend to stay here until our demands are met."

The NT intervention was launched in June 2007 by the then-federal Coalition government. Its policies, which continue today under Labor, were supposedly designed to mitigate instances of child abuse and neglect in remote NT communities.

In fact, the laws making up the intervention were so racially discriminatory they required exemption from the Racial Discrimination Act to be passed. They included the takeover of Aboriginal land under compulsory five-year leases, widespread pornography and alcohol bans, increased police powers and the implementation of "welfare quarantining".

Community-based elected councils were dismissed in favour of broader shires, administered by non-Aboriginal people in regional centres.

"Welfare quarantining" transferred half of all payments made to Aboriginal welfare recipients into a "Basics" card, which could only be used in certain stores, and only on food, clothing and medical supplies.

Ampilatwatja, part of around 300 square kilometres handed back to the Alyawarra people in 1976, is one of the communities compulsorily acquired under the intervention.

Elders at the walk-off camp told GLW they felt shame and anger at the discriminatory measures of the intervention. The previously community-run housing, now the responsibility of Territory Housing, had fallen into such disrepair since it was taken over, that sewage from burst pipes ran in the streets.

They decided to leave, and set up camp on an area of their homeland not covered by the government-imposed five-year lease. For the last three months, they have maintained a 30 to 40-person strong presence in the protest camp, despite high temperatures, scarce water and fierce dust storms.

Donald Thompson, an elder at the camp, told GLW: “We won't go back. The government can take [Ampilatwatja] and we'll keep this one.” He lifted a handful of the red dust of the camp and let it run through his fingers.

The elders of Ampilatwatja are not strangers to this sort of protest. Thompson and his colleague, Banjo Morton, said they where involved in strikes, sit-downs and walk-offs from as early as World War II.

Morton and Thompson worked as drovers and station hands since they were teenagers, part of the vast and largely unpaid Aboriginal workforce that cleared much of central Australia for white settlements and cattle stations.

The Alyawarr people were driven from their traditional lands in 1910. The men were employed as drovers and station hands, working for rations and sent to whatever cattle station required the cheap labour. Women and children lived on the outskirts of the large stations, working as domestic help — again in exchange for rations.

For many of the old people, the intervention’s Basics card is a direct reminder of the ration days.

"Just like that welfare card, they're making us go backward, back to the welfare days”, Morton said. "We're staying here til everything comes good, might be good news from government, something like that … There's no work for my mob. Things were working good before the shire [and the five-year lease] came in there."

The Basics card is particularly galling for the two men who had spent their entire working lives opening up the country, paving the way for the incredibly lucrative pastoral industry.

They told GLW that around the time of WWII they were involved in a sit-down strike for £2 a week on top of the rations they received. A sympathetic police officer agreed to drive the workers back to their traditional lands. Scared to lose his captive workers, the station-owner gave in and paid them.

The Lake Nash walk-off was among the first of many such struggles waged by Aboriginal workers in the NT.

Thompson was working in Tennant Creek at the time of the historic 1966 Gurintji walk-off, which started as a struggle for wages but went on to become a campaign for the Gurintji people’s right to live on their traditional lands.

By the time Ampilatwatja and surrounding country was handed back to the Alyawarra people by the Whitlam government, work on cattle stations had dried up, as station owners sacked Aboriginal people rather than pay them the new wages they were entitled to under the equal wages decision of 1968.

“[Pastoralists] are rich now, nothing for Aboriginal people”, said Thompson. "We got a new government and they just follow John Howard's laws."

The people of Ampilatwatja hope their action will inspire other communities affected by the intervention to follow suit. They are planning a meeting of different language groups to discuss the potential for other communities to walk off.

Meanwhile, the Alyawarr elders have no intention of going back. No government representatives have met them on their own terms. Aboriginal affairs minister Jenny Macklin has confirmed that Ampilatwatja will not receive any new housing.

They plan to establish a more permanent base than the basic, un-irrigated bush camp in which they now live. They hope to build a new community based entirely on donations from supporters, free from government help.

To build support across the country, especially among unions, they have sent their spokesperson, Richard Downs, to eastern states, to profile their struggle in the cities. Downs’ packed schedule includes meeting unions and community groups and speaking at public meetings.

Downs was particularly happy with the response from unions so far. After a meeting with the Maritime Union of Australia in Sydney, he told GLW: “They go way back with our mob. Back to the Lake Nash walk-off, Gurintji. They said they’d stand alongside us in this campaign, and tell all their members about it.”

In Sydney on October 7, he addressed a packed lecture theatre at the University of Technology Sydney, along with Harry Nelson from Yuendumu and National Indigenous Times editor Chris Graham.

Downs spoke of the importance of building support for his people: their struggle wasn’t against white Australia, but the government. He also spoke of an issue affecting us all: climate change. He said in establishing the new camp, his people planned to use renewable technology and permaculture, and become an example of a sustainable community.

Reflecting on the fact that, three months after walking out, the protest camp continues, Graham said: “The government might just have underestimated their resilience. This could be the start of something big.”

[For details of Downs’ tour, to make donations or for more information, visit]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #813 14 October 2009.