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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Green jobs not dirty energy! Socialist Alliance


The following Socialist Alliance statement was distributed at the “Switch off Hazelwood” power station protest in Victoria on September 12 and 13.

The transition from a fossil fuel dependent society to renewable energy is perhaps the most urgent question facing humanity. The public debate about climate change has shifted from a discussion about the reality of global warming to how to transition to renewable energy.

In large part the debate has focused on using a price signal to shift private investment from carbon-intensive industries to renewables. A variety of schemes are being argued about, but the logic is the same — by making carbon-intensive economic activity more expensive private investment would shift into the green economy. “Green jobs”, it is argued, would be a product of this new investment and would replace jobs lost in industries like coal-fired power.

Green economy

The logic behind these arguments makes a number of flimsy assumptions about the way capitalism works and how private capital makes decisions about investment. First, increased costs do not necessarily mean investment will flow out of carbon-intensive industries. The first response will be to push these costs onto consumers, such as increased energy bills.

Second, the oil and coal industries, and their powerful corporations, have made mega-profits for more than a hundred years. Investment in these industries is unlikely to shift without a massive reduction in profit levels.

The current carbon trading and tax schemes do not even come close to achieving this result.

Assuming that the profitability of carbon-intensive industries is significantly impacted via schemes like carbon trading, there is no guarantee that this investment would flow to into renewable energy production and other sustainable industries. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that these new industries would spring up in the communities affected by the closure of carbon-intensive industries.

Private capital always seeks the highest return, which may not be in renewable energy and is unlikely to be in the Latrobe Valley or Hunter Valley.

Green jobs

Parts of the Australian trade union movement have come behind big corporations that seek to protect dirty industries. They claim that these industries should be shielded in order to protect the jobs of their members and maintain communities.

These views reflect the legitimate concerns many working people employed in carbon-intensive industries have raised about employment security. The promise of a “green job” provided at some point in the future by “green private investment” understandably does not inspire great confidence.

In communities already devastated by unemployment the concern is even greater.

A real `just transition'

The Socialist Alliance believes that all people active in the union and environmental movements need to urgently pursue a serious discussion about how to move to renewable industries, and maintain well-paid jobs in local communities. We need to turn the phrase “just transition” into a practical discussion — not just a motherhood statement tacked on the end of our leaflets.

We believe it is possible to rapidly make a transition to renewables without causing large-scale unemployment in communities like the Latrobe Valley. This means not relying on the vagaries of “the market” to spontaneously replace lost jobs.

Governments must develop a comprehensive plan to create industries in communities that will be most impacted by the closure of fossil fuel intensive industries. Part of this plan must include a skill audit to assess what training is needed to move workers from carbon-intensive industries into alternative employment.

The fact is that a government with the political will has the capacity to set up wind turbine, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic factories and run them in the interests of the community. This work could begin within months not years.

Public ownership is essential

Public ownership of new green industries would enable governments to ensure that jobs are created where people live. With a government commitment to public ownership, communities reliant on coal mining and coal-fired power could be sure “green jobs” are going to be there for the long haul, not just for a few years.

The perils of relying on private business to provide green jobs was demonstrated by the recent decision of the Danish wind turbine company Vestas to close down its British operations and move to the United States.

Vestas, the world’s largest wind turbine company, had three factories in Britain producing different parts of wind turbines; these were the only wind turbine factories in Britain and were running at a profit.

Vestas as a whole has been growing rapidly over the last few years and recorded an after-tax profit of 56 million euros in the first quarter of 2009 alone. The company from the outset was hostile to trade unions and tried to screen unionists from getting jobs at the British plants.

This year, Vestas announced that due to insufficient government support it was going to close its Britain plants and move offshore. Workers at the Isle of Wight blade factory heroically staged a factory occupation demanding the factory be nationalised and kept operating. Their campaign enjoyed the support of unionists and climate activists across Britain and around the world.

Rudd ain’t gonna do it

The federal Labor Party government has failed to take any decisive action to tackle climate change. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) is living proof of that. It has avoided even the most minor of confrontations with the coal corporations.
Labor doesn’t want to set up an industry that makes profitable coalmines and power stations redundant.

History has saddled ordinary working people with the responsibility to force governments to challenge powerful vested interests and to take action to cut carbon emissions. It’s no good telling our grandchildren that because we weren’t game to take on the corporations their planet is a permanent disaster zone.

We want to be able to tell our grandchildren the story of how we took on those companies and won, and built the new sustainable infrastructure necessary for our survival. We can do it.


From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #812 30 September 2009.

Europeans Don't Follow Their Leader, The Afghan Folly By TARIQ ALI

Tariq Ali

Italian, British and German soldiers are being returned from Afghanistan to their countries in coffins. Why? Through no fault of their own but because politicians of centre-right/centre-left despatched them to fight an imperial war on behalf of Washington. In Italy, to its eternal shame, Rifondazione voted to continue the Italian presence in the Hindu Kush. Die Linke in Germany was far more principled, in a country where 80 percent are not in favor, albeit ignored by mainstream politicians. In Britain and Italy, too, there are large sections of the population opposed to the war. Their voices remain unheard in the corridors of power: Brown and Berlusconi have become blood-brothers.

When European politicians justify the slaughter of Afghans and the death of their own soldiers by mouthing mantras to the effect that this is necessary to safeguard Italian/German/British citizens, they speak falsely and the lies are deliberate for they have no other answer. Nor has Washington. At a time when US and European intelligence agencies continue to repeat that al-Qaida is no longer a threat, but terrorism remains a problem they never explain in public that the longer the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan continue, the more young people will be attracted to terrorist-type solutions.

Obama’s decision to expand the war by sending more troops to Afghanistan and treating Islamabad as if it were Baghdad is an extremely serious error.
Disaster stares him in the face and no amount of rhetoric, sweet-talk, PR initiatives will solve the problem. Washington needs an exit strategy from that country but the longer it delays the greater the chance that no serious exit strategy will work and that one day, finally, US troops will have to be withdrawn Saigon-style leaving behind them a country in ruins.

The Afghan ‘Taliban’ is now an umbrella underneath which Pashtuns of various political hues have assembled to resist and drive out the invader. Obviously this means that Washington is constantly trying to negotiate with and split the Taliban as they did the resistance in Iraq, but here they have met with total failure. The Pashtun nationalists are difficult to defeat via religion since the overwhelming bulk of them are Sunni. They are difficult to defeat ideologically since they believe their cause is just and the absolute failure to rebuild and re-equip the country has meant that more and more people agree with them, not that social reforms necessarily work as the Russians discovered to their enormous cost in the 1980s.

The EU is a gutless and useless entity on the political level. It cannot speak with one voice, but its citizens must learn not to emulate their weak and pathetic politicians but demand with increasing vigor a withdrawal of all European troops from Afghanistan.

published in CounterPunch 20-9-09

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

America's Teacher, Naomi Klein interviews Michael Moore

Michael Moore

On September 17, in the midst of the publicity blitz for his cinematic takedown of the capitalist order, Moore talked with Nation columnist Naomi Klein by phone about the film, the roots of our economic crisis and the promise and peril of the present political moment. To listen to a podcast of the full conversation, click here. Following is an edited transcript of their conversation.- -The Nation Editors

Naomi Klein: So, the film is wonderful. Congratulations. It is, as many people have already heard, an unapologetic call for a revolt against capitalist madness. But the week it premiered, a very different kind of revolt was in the news: the so-called tea parties, seemingly a passionate defense of capitalism and against social programs.

Meanwhile, we are not seeing too many signs of the hordes storming Wall Street. Personally, I'm hoping that your film is going to be the wake-up call and the catalyst for all of that changing. But I'm just wondering how you're coping with this odd turn of events, these revolts for capitalism led by Glenn Beck.

Michael Moore: I don't know if they're so much revolts in favor of capitalism as they are being fueled by a couple of different agendas, one being the fact that a number of Americans still haven't come to grips with the fact that there's an African-American who is their leader. And I don't think they like that.

NK: Do you see that as the main driving force for the tea parties?

MM: I think it's one of the forces--but I think there's a number of agendas at work here. The other agenda is the corporate agenda. The healthcare companies and other corporate concerns are helping to pull together what seems like a spontaneous outpouring of citizen anger.

But the third part of this is--and this is what I really have always admired about the right wing: they are organized, they are dedicated, they are up at the crack of dawn fighting their fight. And on our side, I don't really see that kind of commitment.

When they were showing up at the town-hall meetings in August--those meetings are open to everyone. So where are the people from our side? And then I thought, Wow, it's August. You ever try to organize anything on the left in August?

NK: Wasn't part of it also, though, that the left, or progressives, or whatever you want to call them, have been in something of a state of disarray with regard to the Obama administration--that most people favor universal healthcare, but they couldn't rally behind it because it wasn't on the table?

MM: Yes. And that's why Obama keeps turning around and looking for the millions behind him, supporting him, and there's nobody even standing there, because he chose to take a half measure instead of the full measure that needed to happen. Had he taken the full measure--true single-payer, universal healthcare--I think he'd have millions out there backing him up.

NK: Now that the Baucus plan is going down in flames, do you think there's another window to put universal healthcare on the table?

MM: Yes. And we need people to articulate the message and get out in front of this and lead it. You know, there's close to a hundred Democrats in Congress who had already signed on as co-signers to John Conyers's bill.

Obama, I think, realizes now that whatever he thought he was trying to do with bipartisanship or holding up the olive branch, that the other side has no interest in anything other than the total destruction of anything he has stood for or was going to try and do. So if [New York Congressman Anthony] Weiner or any of the other members of Congress want to step forward, now would be the time. And I certainly would be out there. I am out there. I mean, I would use this time right now to really rally people, because I think the majority of the country wants this.

NK: Coming back to Wall Street, I want to talk a little bit more about this strange moment that we're in, where the rage that was directed at Wall Street, what was being directed at AIG executives when people were showing up in their driveways--I don't know what happened to that.

My fear was always that this huge anger that you show in the film, the kind of uprising in the face of the bailout, which forced Congress to vote against it that first time, that if that anger wasn't continuously directed at the most powerful people in society, at the elites, at the people who had created the disaster, and channeled into a real project for changing the system, then it could easily be redirected at the most vulnerable people in society; I mean immigrants, or channeled into racist rage.

And what I'm trying to sort out now is, Is it the same rage or do you think these are totally different streams of American culture--have the people who were angry at AIG turned their rage on Obama and on the idea of health reform?

MM: I don't think that is what has happened. I'm not so sure they're the same people.

In fact, I can tell you from my travels across the country while making the film and even in the last few weeks, there is something else that's simmering beneath the surface. You can't avoid the anger boiling over at some point when you have one in eight mortgages in delinquency or foreclosure, where there's a foreclosure filing once every 7.5 seconds and the unemployment rate keeps growing. That will have its own tipping point.

And the scary thing about that is that historically, at times when that has happened, the right has been able to successfully manipulate those who have been beaten down and use their rage to support what they used to call fascism.

Where has it gone since the crash? It's a year later. I think that people felt like they got it out of their system when they voted for Obama six weeks later and that he was going to ride into town and do the right thing. And he's kind of sauntered into town promising to do the right thing but not accomplishing a whole heck of a lot.

Now, that's not to say that I'm not really happy with a number of things I've seen him do.

To hear a president of the United States admit that we overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran, that's one of the things on my list I thought I'd never hear in my lifetime. So there have been those moments.

And maybe I'm just a bit too optimistic here, but he was raised by a single mother and grandparents and he did not grow up with money. And when he was fortunate enough to be able to go to Harvard and graduate from there, he didn't then go and do something where he could become rich; he decides to go work in the inner city of Chicago.

Oh, and he decides to change his name back to what it was on the birth certificate--Barack. Not exactly the move of somebody who's trying to become a politician. So he's shown us, I think, in his lifetime many things about where his heart is, and he slipped up during the campaign and told Joe the Plumber that he believed in spreading the wealth.

And I think that those things that he believes in are still there. Now, it's kind of up to him. If he's going to listen to the Rubins and the Geithners and the Summerses, you and I lose. And a lot of people who have gotten involved, many of them for the first time, won't get involved again. He will have done more to destroy what needs to happen in this country in terms of people participating in their democracy. So I hope he understands the burden that he's carrying and does the right thing.

NK: Well, I want to push you a little bit on this, because I understand what you're saying about the way he's lived his life and certainly the character he appears to have. But he is the person who appointed Summers and Geithner, who you're very appropriately hard on in the film.

And one year later, he hasn't reined in Wall Street. He reappointed Bernanke. He's not just appointed Summers but has given him an unprecedented degree of power for a mere economic adviser.

MM: And meets with him every morning.

NK: Exactly. So what I worry about is this idea that we're always psychoanalyzing Obama, and the feeling I often hear from people is that he's being duped by these guys. But these are his choices, and so why not judge him on his actions and really say, "This is on him, not on them"?

MM: I agree. I don't think he is being duped by them; I think he's smarter than all of them.

When he first appointed them I had just finished interviewing a bank robber who didn't make it into the film, but he is a bank robber who is hired by the big banks to advise them on how to avoid bank robberies.

So in order to not sink into a deep, dark pit of despair, I said to myself that night, That's what Obama's doing. Who better to fix the mess than the people who created it? He's bringing them in to clean up their own mess. Yeah, yeah. That's it. That's it. Just keep repeating it: "There's no place like home, there's no place like home..."

NK: And now it turns out they were just being brought in to keep stealing.

MM: Right. So now it's on him.

NK: All right. Let's talk about the film some more. I saw you on Leno, and I was struck that one of his first questions to you was this objection--that it's greed that's evil, not capitalism. And this is something that I hear a lot--this idea that greed or corruption is somehow an aberration from the logic of capitalism rather than the engine and the centerpiece of capitalism. And I think that that's probably something you're already hearing about the terrific sequence in the film about those corrupt Pennsylvania judges who were sending kids to private prison and getting kickbacks. I think people would say, That's not capitalism, that's corruption.

Why is it so hard to see the connection, and how are you responding to this?

MM: Well, people want to believe that it's not the economic system that's at the core of all this. You know, it's just a few bad eggs. But the fact of the matter is that, as I said to Jay [Leno], capitalism is the legalization of this greed.

Greed has been with human beings forever. We have a number of things in our species that you would call the dark side, and greed is one of them. If you don't put certain structures in place or restrictions on those parts of our being that come from that dark place, then it gets out of control. Capitalism does the opposite of that. It not only doesn't really put any structure or restriction on it. It encourages it, it rewards it.

I'm asked this question every day, because people are pretty stunned at the end of the movie to hear me say that it should just be eliminated altogether. And they're like, "Well, what's wrong with making money? Why can't I open a shoe store?"

And I realized that [because] we no longer teach economics in high school, they don't really understand what any of it means.

The point is that when you have capitalism, capitalism encourages you to think of ways to make money or to make more money. And the judges never could have gotten the kickbacks had the county not privatized the juvenile hall. But because there's been this big push in the past twenty or thirty years to privatize government services, take it out of our hands, put it in the hands of people whose only concern is their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders or to their own pockets, it has messed everything up.

NK: The thing that I found most exciting in the film is that you make a very convincing pitch for democratically run workplaces as the alternative to this kind of loot-and-leave capitalism.

So I'm just wondering, as you're traveling around, are you seeing any momentum out there for this idea?

MM: People love this part of the film. I've been kind of surprised because I thought people aren't maybe going to understand this or it seems too hippie-dippy--but it really has resonated in the audiences that I've seen it with.

But, of course, I've pitched it as a patriotic thing to do. So if you believe in democracy, democracy can't be being able to vote every two or four years. It has to be every part of every day of your life.

We've changed relationships and institutions around quite considerably because we've decided democracy is a better way to do it. Two hundred years ago you had to ask a woman's father for permission to marry her, and then once the marriage happened, the man was calling all the shots. And legally, women couldn't own property and things like that.

Thanks to the women's movement of the '60s and '70s, this idea was introduced to that relationship--that both people are equal and both people should have a say. And I think we're better off as a result of introducing democracy into an institution like marriage.

But we spend eight to ten to twelve hours of our daily lives at work, where we have no say. I think when anthropologists dig us up 400 years from now--if we make it that far--they're going to say, "Look at these people back then. They thought they were free. They called themselves a democracy, but they spent ten hours of every day in a totalitarian situation and they allowed the richest 1 percent to have more financial wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined."

Truly they're going to laugh at us the way we laugh at people 150 years ago who put leeches on people's bodies to cure them.

NK: It is one of those ideas that keeps coming up. At various points in history it's been an enormously popular idea. It is actually what people wanted in the former Soviet Union instead of the Wild West sort of mafia capitalism that they ended up with. And what people wanted in Poland in 1989 when they voted for Solidarity was for their state-owned companies to be turned into democratically run workplaces, not to be privatized and looted.

But one of the biggest barriers I've found in my research around worker cooperatives is not just government and companies being resistant to it but actually unions as well. Obviously there are exceptions, like the union in your film, United Electrical Workers, which was really open to the idea of the Republic Windows & Doors factory being turned into a cooperative, if that's what the workers wanted. But in most cases, particularly with larger unions, they have their script, and when a factory is being closed down their job is to get a big payout--as big a payout as they can, as big a severance package as they can for the workers. And they have a dynamic that is in place, which is that the powerful ones, the decision-makers, are the owners.

You had your US premiere at the AFL-CIO convention. How are you finding labor leadership in relation to this idea? Are they open to it, or are you hearing, "Well, this isn't really workable"? Because I know you've also written about the idea that some of the auto plant factories or auto parts factories that are being closed down could be turned into factories producing subway cars, for instance. The unions would need to champion that idea for it to work.

MM: I sat there in the theater the other night with about 1,500 delegates of the AFL-CIO convention, and I was a little nervous as we got near that part of the film, and I was worried that it was going to get a little quiet in there.

Just the opposite. They cheered it. A couple people shouted out, "Right on!" "Absolutely!" I think that unions at this point have been so beaten down, they're open to some new thinking and some new ideas. And I was very encouraged to see that.

The next day at the convention the AFL-CIO passed a resolution supporting single-payer healthcare. I thought, Wow, you know? Things are changing.

NK: Coming back to what we were talking about a little earlier, about people's inability to understand basic economic theory: in your film you have this great scene where you can't get anybody, no matter how educated they are, to explain what a derivative is.

So it isn't just about basic education. It's that complexity is being used as a weapon against democratic control over the economy. This was Greenspan's argument--that derivatives were so complicated that lawmakers couldn't regulate them.

It's almost as if there needs to be a movement toward simplicity in economics or in financial affairs, which is something that Elizabeth Warren, the chief bailout watchdog for Congress, has been talking about in terms of the need to simplify people's relationships with lenders.

So I'm wondering what you think about that. Also, this isn't really much of a question, but isn't Elizabeth Warren sort of incredible? She's kind of like the anti-Summers. It's enough to give you hope, that she exists.

MM: Absolutely. And can I suggest a presidential ticket for 2016 or 2012 if Obama fails us? [Ohio Congresswoman] Marcy Kaptur and Elizabeth Warren.

NK: I love it. They really are the heroes of your film. I would vote for that.

I was thinking about what to call this piece, and what I'm going to suggest to my editor is "America's Teacher," because the film is this incredible piece of old-style popular education. One of the things that my colleague at The Nation Bill Greider talks about is that we don't do this kind of popular education anymore, that unions used to have budgets to do this kind of thing for their members, to just unpack economic theory and what's going on in the world and make it accessible. I know you see yourself as an entertainer, but I'm wondering, do you also see yourself as a teacher?

MM: I'm honored that you would use such a term. I like teachers.

Published on Friday, September 25, 2009 by The Nation

Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit www.naomiklein.org


Michael Moore is an activist, author, and filmmaker. See more of his work at his website MichaelMoore.com

Who is really protecting power industry jobs? by Ben Courtice



Tony Maher, national president of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, says "green jobs" is a "dopey term". Quoted in the September 14 Australian, he said: "By mid-century we'll be using twice as much coal and a lot more steel and plastic and concrete that aren't the flavour of the month with environmentalists and green groups."

He said: "A coalminer or a power station worker isn't going to leave their job on $120,000-plus with well-regulated shift arrangements and decent conditions to install low-wattage light bulbs or insulation."

Has Maher heard of climate change? With the latest dire forecasts that global temperatures could rise by up to 5° Celsius this century if CO2 emissions continue unchecked, we have no choice but to head for zero emissions as fast as possible. Meanwhile, "clean coal" is yet to power a single light globe anywhere.

But Maher is not just out of touch on the climate science. Assuming he is not just acting as a swindler for the coal companies, he seems to completely misunderstand renewable energy. He also seems out of touch with the membership of his own union.

On September 9, I chaired a meeting in the Latrobe Valley town of Morwell, just next to Hazelwood power station. The meeting was called by the group organising the "Switch off Hazelwood" protest. It was called "Clean energy or coal? What future for Latrobe jobs?"

The 20 or so workers from Hazelwood who showed up never questioned two basic points: if they could get good jobs in the renewable energy industry they would be happy to take them, and that “clean coal” would not come online in time to save their jobs — most predictions give it 20 years to come into fruition, if it works at all.

They also knew they would need new jobs before too long. Victoria’s power industry privatisation in the 1990s destroyed not just thousands of jobs but also plans to upgrade the state's power generators. The plans for a new coal power station at Driffield to replace Hazelwood were abandoned.

A new, more efficient replacement may have provided some security for Latrobe jobs, albeit still burning coal. Now, Hazelwood management is making offers to the government to close the plant under the emissions trading scheme. Where does that leave the workers?

Since the Latrobe Valley is unsuited for wind or solar energy harvesting, the best prospects for green jobs are in manufacturing components for wind and solar plants, and related infrastructure like rail transport.

It is important to note that government assistance, including investment and perhaps ownership, is likely to be needed to get this manufacturing industry running. Like most hi-tech industries, renewables are highly concentrated in ownership and manufacturing tends to be done on a large scale. A genuine push from government to convert the grid to renewables is needed, regardless of whether the manufacturing and generation facilities are owned publicly, privately or co-operatively.

Public ownership is essential in at least one part of the transition: a fair outcome for coal and power workers. New industries set up under the ownership or regulation of a state power company could re-train and re-deploy the workers without changing their pay rates, years of service or entitlements.

According to Greenpeace’s August 2009 report Working for the climate, the renewables are Germany’s second-largest industry, second only to automotive. It also notes that "for the first time in 2008 both the United States and the European Union added more capacity from renewable energy than from conventional sources". And it points out that ongoing maintenance jobs in wind are four times as many as in coal power.

There is plenty of scope for this industry to grow in Australia, and climate change means it has to. This is an opportunity for unions to act to create new jobs and save the livelihoods of workers in precarious situations such as at Hazelwood. It could also provide a job-rich transition for the whole coal industry.

The Socialist Alliance hopes that unions will take this challenge head-on: the future of our planet and the future of many both depend on it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Cut this nonsense about whose cuts are most 'savage', Suddenly, no party thinks it can be serious unless it pledges to cut by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

How have we got to a point where all the major parties try to win votes by boasting who's going to take most things away? Nick Clegg brags that the Liberals' cuts will be "savage", as if he's taken lessons from Ray Winstone on coming over hard, and his conference speech went: "Now watch my boat race and listen. If I see anyfing that can be cut – I'm 'aving it. Know what this is? It's a dialysis machine. I've gone down the hospice, seen this ol' geyser, bop bop bop bop, done 'im, out with the ol' plug and wallop. Now it's out the national debt, 'cos I'm Savage Clegg."

After that Labour will announce that the blind should fund their care by making their guide dogs fight each other to the death so a far-East betting company can post the contests on the internet.

Then Cameron will reply: "I am prepared, if elected Prime Minister, to go up to someone suffering from Alzheimer's and personally charge them for their care, and then go back the next day and charge them again, knowing they'll have forgotten they've already paid. THAT is the type of measure required to fill the gaping hole in Britain's finances."

Gordon Brown will tell us that the real reason for the barring and vetting scheme is that anyone who fails the check will be invited to bid for running after-schools clubs, providing much-needed private revenue for public services. The army will be told they'll no longer be provided with armoured vehicles in Afghanistan, but this won't curtail the movement of troops as they will be entitled to a free Oyster card covering zones 1 to 4 of Helmand Province.

All of a sudden, no party thinks it can be taken seriously unless it pledges these cuts. Tomorrow, there'll probably be an announcement from al-Qa'ida: "We can reveal that our updated spending plans will save £18bn to the prison service, by creating a series of centralised stoning centres for maximum efficiency. In addition, the long-term unemployed will be required to find work or explode, and in place of the current benefits will receive a Paradise Seeker's Allowance."

The cost of a midwife could be passed to the baby in the form of a long-term loan, inhalers could carry adverts, nothing, they all say, can be "ring-fenced".

Now the Liberals have joined in with this, presumably their party political broadcast will go: "We're sick and tired of this country being run by two squabbling parties that are basically exactly the same. What Britain needs is THREE squabbling parties that are basically exactly the same."

Some Liberals, to be fair, seem slightly uneasy with this new message. So Menzies Campbell said that while they would no longer propose to abolish tuition fees, the main thing is they still ASPIRED to promise to abolish them. It must be marvellous to live in that world. You could support Hamilton Academical and celebrate all night, telling people: "I never believed it would actually happen, but today we aspired to beat Barcelona."

And their health spokesman sheepishly offered to find the proposed cuts in the health service by "eliminating waste". But they all say this, as if there's a "waste" department in the health service, where the manager will proudly explain: "This is Jimmy, his job is to spend all day buying rowing machines and onion-chopping devices from infomercials, then put them in the lift without ever getting them out of the box. Amanda here spends hours down the arcades putting the budget in the machine with a claw that can't possibly pick up the teddy. Phil here replies excitedly to random emails from Nigeria, we're getting through ten million a day."

But they are all afraid to make the obvious point, that in the period in which this vast debt was created, while some layers of society got a bit worse off and some got a bit better off, it was the richest one per cent whose wealth grew to an unprecedentedly colossal scale. But, somehow, the rest of us will have to pay for that.

These politicians would make the worst detectives in the world. They could see film of a bank robbery, with the robbers announcing on television: "We did it, because we're bloody well entitled to it," and they'd yell: "I know who did this crime – firefighters. Let's get down there and nab them for it."

Or maybe Ed Balls assumes that it was people working in the public sector who caused the problems. Perhaps he heard of schools in which the kids would be told: "Er, hello, I'm Mister Armthorpe, your supply teacher. Your normal teacher Miss Williams can't be here today as she's had to nip to the city to lend 300 million quid to an insecure Kuwaiti investor so I'll be taking you instead. Now, have we got as far as Anne of Cleves?"

First published in The Independent on 24th September 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Noam Chomsky: The push to militarise Latin America

Noam Chomsky

The United States was founded as an “infant empire”, in the words of George Washington. From the earliest days, control over the hemisphere was a critical goal.


Latin America has retained its primacy in US global planning. If the US cannot control Latin America, it cannot expect “to achieve a successful order elsewhere in the world”, observed then-president Richard Nixon's National Security Council in 1971, when Washington was considering the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s elected left-wing government in Chile.

Recently the hemisphere problem has intensified. South America has moved toward integration, a prerequisite for independence; has broadened international ties; and has addressed internal disorders — foremost, the traditional rule of a rich Europeanised minority over a sea of misery and suffering.

The problem came to a head a year ago in Bolivia, South America’s poorest country. In 2005, the indigenous majority elected a president from its own ranks, Evo Morales.

In August 2008, after Morales’ victory in a recall referendum, the opposition of US-backed elites turned violent. This led to the massacre of as many as 30 government supporters.

In response, the newly-formed Union of South American Republics (Unasur), involving all South American countries, called a summit meeting. Participants declared “their full and firm support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a big majority”.

Morales said: “For the first time in South America’s history, the countries of our region are deciding how to resolve our problems, without the presence of the United States.”

Another example: Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has vowed to end Washington’s use of the Manta military base, the last such base open to the US in South America.

In July, the US and Colombia concluded a secret deal to permit the US to use seven military bases in Colombia.

The official purpose is to counter narcotics trafficking and terrorism, “but senior Colombian military and civilian officials familiar with negotiations” told the Associated Press on July 15 “that the idea is to make Colombia a regional hub for Pentagon operations”.

The agreement provides Colombia with privileged access to US military supplies. Colombia had already become the leading recipient of US military aid (apart from Israel-Egypt, a separate category).

Colombia has had by far the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. The correlation between US aid and human rights violations has long been noted.

AP cited an April document of the US Air Mobility Command, which proposed that the Palanquero base in Colombia could become a “cooperative security location”.

From Palanquero, “nearly half the continent can be covered by a C-17 (military transport) without refueling”, the document said.

This could form part of “a global en route strategy”, which “helps achieve the regional engagement strategy and assists with the mobility routing to Africa”.

On August 28, Unasur met in Bariloche, Argentina, to consider the US military bases in Colombia.

After intense debate, the final declaration stressed that South America must be kept as “a land of peace”, and that foreign military forces must not threaten the sovereignty or integrity of any nation of the region. And it instructed the South American Defense Council to investigate the Air Mobility Command document.

The bases’ official purpose did not escape criticism.

Morales said he saw US soldiers accompanying Bolivian troops who fired at members of his coca growers union. “So now we’re narco-terrorists”, he said.

“When they couldn’t call us communists anymore, they called us subversives, and then traffickers, and since the September 11 attacks, terrorists.”

The ultimate responsibility for Latin America’s violence lay with US consumers of illegal drugs, Morales said. “If Unasur sent troops to the United States to control consumption, would they accept it? Impossible.”

That the US justification for its drug programs abroad is even regarded as worthy of discussion is yet another illustration of the depth of the imperial mentality.

Last February, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy issued its analysis of the US “war on drugs”.
The commission, led by former Latin American presidents Fernando Cardoso (Brazil), Ernesto Zedillo (Mexico), and Cesar Gaviria (Colombia), concluded that the drug war had been a complete failure. It urged a drastic change of policy, away from forceful measures at home and abroad, and toward much less costly and more effective measures — prevention and treatment.

The commission report, like earlier studies and the historical record, had no detectable impact. The non-response reinforces the natural conclusion that the “drug war” — like the “war on crime” and “the war on terror” — is pursued for reasons other than the announced goals, which are revealed by the consequences.

During the past decade, the US has increased military aid and training of Latin American officers in light infantry tactics to combat “radical populism” — a concept that, in the Latin American context, sends shivers up the spine.

Military training is being shifted from the State Department to the Pentagon, eliminating human rights and democracy provisions formerly under congressional supervision — always weak but at least a deterrent to some of the worst abuses.

The US Fourth Fleet, disbanded in 1950, was reactivated in 2008, shortly after Colombia’s invasion of Ecuador. It has responsibility for the Caribbean, Central and South America, and surrounding waters.

Militarisation of South America aligns with much broader designs.

In Iraq, information is virtually nil about the fate of the huge US military bases there, so they presumably remain for force projection. The cost of the immense city-with-in-a-city embassy in Baghdad is set to rise to US$1.8 billion a year.

The Obama administration is also building mega-embassies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The US and Britain are demanding that the US military base in Diego Garcia be exempted from the planned African nuclear-weapons-free-zone. US bases are off-limits in similar zoning efforts in the Pacific.

In short, moves toward “a world of peace” do not fall within the “change you can believe in”, to borrow US President Barack Obama’s campaign slogan.

[Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on US foreign policy. This article is reprinted from In These Times.]


From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #811 23 September 2009.

Everyone Seems to Be Agreeing with Bin Laden These Days, Only Obama, it seems, fails to get the message that we’re losing Afghanistan by Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk

Obama and Osama are at last participating in the same narrative. For the US president's critics - indeed, for many critics of the West's military occupation of Afghanistan - are beginning to speak in the same language as Obama's (and their) greatest enemy.

There is a growing suspicion in America that Obama has been socked into the heart of the Afghan darkness by ex-Bushie Robert Gates - once more the Secretary of Defense - and by journalist-adored General David Petraeus whose military "surges" appear to be as successful as the Battle of the Bulge in stemming the insurgent tide in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq.

No wonder Osama bin Laden decided to address "the American people" this week. "You are waging a hopeless and losing war," he said in his 9/11 eighth anniversary audiotape. "The time has come to liberate yourselves from fear and the ideological terrorism of neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby." There was no more talk of Obama as a "house Negro" although it was his "weakness", bin Laden contended, that prevented him from closing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In any event, Muslim fighters would wear down the US-led coalition in Afghanistan "like we exhausted the Soviet Union for 10 years until it collapsed". Funny, that. It's exactly what bin Laden told me personally in Afghanistan - four years before 9/11 and the start of America's 2001 adventure south of the Amu Darya river.

Almost on cue this week came those in North America who agree with Osama - albeit they would never associate themselves with the Evil One, let alone dare question Israel's cheerleading for the Iraqi war. "I do not believe we can build a democratic state in Afghanistan," announces Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the senate intelligence committee. "I believe it will remain a tribal entity." And Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, does not believe "there is a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan".

Colin Kenny, chair of Canada's senate committee on national security and defense, said this week that "what we hoped to accomplish in Afghanistan has proved to be impossible. We are hurtling towards a Vietnam ending".

Close your eyes and pretend those last words came from the al-Qa'ida cave. Not difficult to believe, is it? Only Obama, it seems, fails to get the message. Afghanistan remains for him the "war of necessity". Send yet more troops, his generals plead. And we are supposed to follow the logic of this nonsense. The Taliban lost in 2001. Then they started winning again. Then we had to preserve Afghan democracy. Then our soldiers had to protect - and die - for a second round of democratic elections. Then they protected - and died - for fraudulent elections. Afghanistan is not Vietnam, Obama assures us. And then the good old German army calls up an air strike - and zaps yet more Afghan civilians.

It is instructive to turn at this moment to the Canadian army, which has in Afghanistan fewer troops than the Brits but who have suffered just as ferociously; their 130th soldier was killed near Kandahar this week. Every three months, the Canadian authorities publish a scorecard on their military "progress" in Afghanistan - a document that is infinitely more honest and detailed than anything put out by the Pentagon or the Ministry of Defense - which proves beyond peradventure (as Enoch Powell would have said) that this is Mission Impossible or, as Toronto's National Post put it in an admirable headline three days' ago, "Operation Sleepwalk". The latest report, revealed this week, proves that Kandahar province is becoming more violent, less stable and less secure - and attacks across the country more frequent - than at any time since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. There was an "exceptionally high" frequency of attacks this spring compared with 2008.

There was a 108 per cent increase in roadside bombs. Afghans are reporting that they are less satisfied with education and employment levels, primarily because of poor or non-existent security. Canada is now concentrating only on the security of Kandahar city, abandoning any real attempt to control the province.

Canada's army will be leaving Afghanistan in 2011, but so far only five of the 50 schools in its school-building project have been completed. Just 28 more are "under construction". But of Kandahar province's existing 364 schools, 180 have been forced to close. Of progress in "democratic governance" in Kandahar, the Canadian report states that the capacity of the Afghan government is "chronically weak and undermined by widespread corruption". Of "reconciliation" - whatever that means these days - "the onset of the summer fighting season and the concentration of politicians and activists for the August elections discouraged expectations of noteworthy initiatives...".

Even the primary aim of polio eradication - Ottawa's most favored civilian project in Afghanistan - has defeated the Canadian International Development Agency, although this admission is cloaked in truly Blair-like (or Brown-like) mendacity. As the Toronto Star revealed in a serious bit of investigative journalism this week, the aim to "eradicate" polio with the help of UN and World Health Organization money has been quietly changed to the "prevention of transmission" of polio. Instead of measuring the number of children "immunized" against polio, the target was altered to refer only to the number of children "vaccinated". But of course, children have to be vaccinated several times before they are actually immune.

And what do America's Republican hawks - the subject of bin Laden's latest sermon - now say about the Afghan catastrophe? "More troops will not guarantee success in Afghanistan," failed Republican contender and ex-Vietnam vet John McCain told us this week. "But a failure to send them will be a guarantee of failure." How Osama must have chuckled as this preposterous announcement echoed around al-Qa'ida's dark cave.

2009 Independent News and Media.
Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

So has anyone really been 'Islamified' against their will? The most effective opposition comes when people refuse to be intimidated by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

There's something touchingly innocent about the argument put forward by many people that the BNP should be allowed space in the mainstream media as this will "expose their ignorant ideas". Because history doesn't necessarily prove this to be the case. I don't suppose that, in 1941, many people thought: "You see, this is all working to plan. Now he's invaded Russia everyone will see just what an idiot this Hitler really is."

The arguments of the far-right groups are already obviously ridiculous. The latest slogan they march under is "Stop the Islamification of England". But how many people have had their lives Islamified against their will? Is there a single tea shop owner in Dorset who has to tell her customers: "Sorry dear, we're not allowed to serve a scone until after dark as it's Ramadan." Do radio stations have to start the day: "Allaaaaah – ah-aaaah allaaaaaah. Good morning, this is BBC Radio Sussex calling you to prayer."

The most important government policy in recent years was probably the decision to go to war in Iraq, a move vehemently opposed by almost every Muslim in the country. But the BNP would presumably say: "That proves it – they deliberately ignored the Muslims when they SHOULD be ignoring the BRITISH people."

The trouble is, the BNP don't aim to attract support by winning debates, they want to spread fear and then pose as the respectable antidote. The other trouble is they do this because, in my view, they're fascists, with some of their leadership having a record of supporting Hitler. Leading member Richard Edmonds published "Holocaust News", which claimed the Holocaust was an "evil hoax". The publicity manager Mark Collett fudged the Hitler issue when he said: "Hitler will live forever." Co-founder of the party, the late John Tyndall, managed to surpass that with "Mein Kampf is my Bible". So the party that appoints itself as the barrier to Britain being taken over by a foreign religion was set up by someone who thought the Bible should be German.

And Nick Griffin wrote a pamphlet in 1997 called "The Mind-Benders", in which he said of the Holocaust: "The 'extermination' tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda and witch-hysteria."

Griffin usually dismisses these examples by putting them down to excitable youth. Because we've all got embarrassing snippets from our teenage days, so it hardly matters which of us wore crazy kipper ties and which wrote pamphlets denying the Holocaust, and the fact that Griffin wrote that when he was 38 only shows how young and full of life he is.

But around 10 years ago the BNP hit a snag, realising that their approach was holding them back. Maybe they had a focus group, with someone reporting that, "OK, if I can share my feedback, some of the policies, such as distrust of Europe, supporting British farmers, I'm hearing lots of positive energy. But, and don't take this the wrong way, the praising Hitler angle is proving mostly negative, I'm afraid."

So Griffin set about making them appear respectable. They would deny they were fascist, and claim to be an upstanding legitimate party. This creates another problem with them in the media, as their leaders are determined to conceal what I believe is their real mission, which isn't just to campaign in elections but to build a force of street-fighters. After a BNP member was elected in 1993 Griffin said: "The electors of Millwall did not back a post-modernist Rightist party, but what they perceived to be a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan 'Defend Rights for Whites', with well directed boots and fists."

At which point if you thought: "Aha, the trick now is to interview him and expose how he's misunderstood post-modernism. Then the electors of Millwall will see how ridiculous he is," you were probably missing the point.

So the most effective opposition comes when communities refuse to be intimidated. Last Friday, when the English Defence League announced a protest against "Islamification" outside a mosque in Harrow, around 2,000 people stood in their way. The "protest" vanished, and the local population has apparently tingled with excitement ever since. As was the case in the 1930s and 1970s, events such as this are the most practical barriers against the far right.

The idea of inviting them into the mainstream in order to expose them is well-meaning, but I doubt whether Griffin thinks: "We can cope with united communities opposing us – but the perfect cutting remark on Newsnight and we're stuffed."

First published in The Independent on 16th September 2009

For many Britons, the party game is over by John Pilger


In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger analyses the impact of 'Blair's wars' on the Labour Party and its historic convergence with the Tories into a single ideology state.

On the day Gordon Brown made his “major policy speech” on Afghanistan, repeating his surreal claim that if the British army did not fight Pashtun tribesmen over there, they would be over here, the stench of burnt flesh hung over the banks of the Kunduz River. Nato fighter planes had blown the poorest of the poor to bits. They were Afghan villagers who had rushed to siphon off fuel from two stalled tankers. Many were children with water buckets and cooking pots. “At least” 90 were killed, although Nato prefers not to count its civilian enemy. “It was a scene from hell,” said Mohammed Daud, a witness. “Hands, legs and body parts were scattered everywhere.” No parade for them along a Wiltshire high street.

I saw something similar in south-east Asia. An incendiary bomb had razed most of a thatched village, and bits of charred people were hanging on upended fishing nets. Those intact lay splayed and black, like large spiders. I have never believed you need witness such a hell to comprehend the crime. A standard-issue conscience is enough for all but the morally corrupt and powerful.

Fresh from another dysfunctional photo opportunity with troops in Afghanistan – a contrivance far from the impoverished suffering of that country – Brown “authorised” the Rambo-style rescue of Stephen Farrell, a journalist of British and Irish nationality, at the site of the Nato attack. It was a stunt that went wrong. A British soldier was killed and Farrell’s guide, Sultan Munadi, an Afghan journalist, was abandoned and killed. Munadi’s family now fully appreciates the different worth of British and Afghan lives.

During the 1914-18 slaughter, Prime Minister Lloyd George confided: “If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know and can’t know.” Have we not yet advanced over a century’s corpses to a point where the likes of Brown are denied their mendacious subterfuge? The Afghan war is a fraud. It began as an American vendetta for domestic consumption in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, in which not a single Afghan was involved. The Taliban, who are Afghans, had no quarrel with the United States and were dealing secretly with the Clinton administration over a strategic pipeline. They offered to apprehend Osama Bin Laden and hand him over to a clerical court, but this was rejected.

The establishment of a permanent US/Nato presence in a resource-rich, strategic region is the principal reason for the war. The British are there because that is what Washington wants. Preventing the Taliban from storming our streets is reminiscent of President Lyndon B Johnson’s plaint: “We have to stop the communists over there [Vietnam] or we’ll soon be fighting them in California.”

There is one difference. By refusing to bring the troops home, Brown is likely to provoke an atrocity by young British Muslims who view the war as a western crusade; the recent Old Bailey trail made that clear. He has been told as much by British intelligence and security services. Brown’s own security adviser has said as much publicly. As with Tony Blair and the bombs of 7 July 2005, he will bear ultimate responsibility for bringing violence and grief to his own people.

More than MPs’ fake expenses, it is this corrupting and trivialising of life and death that mark a fitting end to the “modernised” Labour Party, the party of criminal war. Do the delegates preparing for the party’s annual rituals in Brighton comprehend this? It says enough that most Labour MPs never demanded a vote on Blair’s bloodshed in Iraq and gave him a standing ovation when he departed. One timid motion proposed by the “grass roots” at Brighton might be allowed. This concludes that “a majority of the public believe that the war [in Afghanistan] is unwinnable”. There is no suggestion that it is wrong, immoral and based on lies similar to those that led to the extinction of a million Iraqis, “an episode more deadly than the Rwandan genocide”, according to one scholarly estimate.

This is largely why the game of parliamentary politics is over for so many Britons, especially the young. In 2005, a bent system allowed Blair to win with fewer popular votes than the Tories in their electoral catastrophe of 1997. New Labour’s greatest achievement is the lowest turnouts since universal voting began. Today, voters watch Brown give billions of public money to casino banks while demanding nothing in return, having once hailed their practices as an inspiration “for the whole economy”. At the recent meeting of G20 leaders in London, Brown distinguished himself by opposing, and killing, a modest Franco-German proposal for a limit on bonuses and penalties for companies that broke it. The gap between rich and poor in Britain is now the widest since 1968.

New Labour’s causes and effect extend from the one in five young people denied employment, education and hope to the £12m that Blair coins in a year, “advising” the rich and lecturing to them at £157,000 a time.For the more extreme among Blair's and Brown's mentors and courtiers, such as the twice disgraced Peter Mandelson, this represents the most sought after achievement of all: the positioning of Labour to the right of the Tories, though it is probably correct to say the two main parties have converged, now competing feverishly with each other to threaten cuts in public services in order to pay for the bailing out of the banks and for the druglords of Kabul. There is no mention of cutting the billions to be spent on replacing Trident nuclear submarines designed for the defunct cold war.

The game is over. Corporatism and a reinvigorated militarism have finally appropriated parliamentary democracy, a historic shift. For those Afghan villagers blown to pieces in our name, one craven motion at Labour’s conference is too late. At the very least, the party’s “grass roots” might ask themselves why.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The human cost of concrete and steel by John Tognolini





Framework of Flesh: Builders' Labourers battle for health & Safety by Humphrey McQueen, Ginninderra Press, 2009, 337 pages, $30 (pb) Available from www.resistancebooks.com

REVIEW

Humphrey McQueen's Framework of Flesh takes up a 1920s challenge from a militant builders labourer, Charlie Sullivan:
“Few ever think of the great and humble army whose sweat and blood are mingled in the concrete and bricks as surely as if the walls were built over a framework of human flesh." Sullivan's epic quote is the book's historical focus question.

McQueen's story of builders laborers' battles, centres around a range of safety issues including the licensing of scaffolders, the collapse of concrete pours with the tragic and too often preventable loss of building workers' lives, the safe removal of asbestos and the struggle for workers compensation, including a decent burial.

It's quite an epic yarn that McQueen has put together.

The stories start in convict times and continue to the present day building industry in all six Australian states and the ACT. The labourers' struggle for health and safety is explained, as is the creation of the federal government's industrial Gestapo, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

The concluding chapter, “Killing no murder”, as McQueen says, “dethrones the majesty of bourgeois justice by detailing why there can never be 'one law for all' in a class system.” It reflects McQueen's unashamed Marxism with his “Red Arm Band” view of history, as explained in the book's introduction.

McQueen patiently explains the on-the-job experiences of demolishers, scaffolders, dog-men, riggers, brickies' labourers and building site labourers. He validates the view of an early BLF official, Ben Mulvogue:
“A union constitutes a school for the working class, wherein they learn self-reliance, learn their rights, privileges, opportunities, as well as their possibilities. Every new demand for better physical protection of the workers ensures a great ideal development for a future generation.”

The rich education of struggle gathered by builders' labourers, which has been a result of the confrontation between big capital and workers in the building industry, especially over safety, has been documented in detail by McQueen.

As has the builders labourers' support for socialism. McQueen gives due respect to this hope for a just world in Framework of Flesh. It's an important contribution to the Builders Labourers Federation's (BLF) struggle and the working class history of Australia.

Framework of Flesh takes Howard's, and now Rudd and Gillard's, ABCC to task for not prosecuting construction bosses for endangering, and at times taking, building workers' lives. The ABCC feels free to persecute construction unionists such as Adelaide rigger Ark Tribe whose only “crime” was standing up for workplace safety and campaigning for a safe building site to work on.

McQueen also explains the importance of the right of entry for union officials to building sites and documents how unionists have won safety conditions in an industry that has marked all too often by occupational fatalities.

However, it has to be said that Framework of Flesh is a difficult book to read. Regrettably McQueen has written it in a very academic style. In some sections McQueen has made the story of builders' labourers and the life and death struggle of job safety, equal to turning a ride on a roller coaster into a boring non-event.

Also McQueen has a habit of presenting disjointed arguments.
McQueen does present the names of unionists over the past hundred years, whose names we should know, and the brave stands many of them made. He also details numerous building industry disasters.

One thing I find that goes against my grain, however, is his treatment of the 1970 Collapse of the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne that killed 35 construction workers and one engineer, who was made out to be the scapegoat for the 2000 tonnes of bridge section collapsing. Two paragraphs on this horrific event: and he wrote pages about building site toilets.

When I did my documentary on scaffolders and riggers for ABC Radio
National in 1998, the late John Cummins who was the BLF shop steward on the Westgate introduced me to Westgate survivor Paddy Hanopy, who said, “As you drive across you think about it. You think about your mates… Well the night before there was about ten, fourteen of us having a drink and playing pool and the next day it collapsed. Most of them lads got killed. It could have been about ten, fourteen people out of that I think there was only three of us left… It was six of us in the lift. As we got in the lift and as soon we got to the ground, the bridge followed us down.”

According to the survivors there was a big buckle at the top and bolts were snapping like machine gun fire.

Pat Preston, another survivor and at the time I interviewed him, a safety organiser for the Victorian construction division of Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said, “One person landed almost in front of me. Another young guy, a young apprentice carpenter landed to the left of me in the swamp… Many friends on that particular day had to go through the experience of viewing their friends' bodies as they lay trapped and crumbled.”

Sadly, with Framework of Flesh, McQueen draws a lot of his sources from written archives. He hasn't tapped into the rich oral record that exists from Victorian BLF and construction division of the CFMEU's long association with Melbourne's 3CR radio station.

McQueen is now in the process of writing a five volume history on BLF. It is my hope that this work will build on the strengths of Framework of Flesh, while being written more accessibly, so that the important story that it tells is read by those who most need to understand its meaning - working people.

Framework of Flesh is well worth a read, although it may be a challenge.

[John Tognolini was a BLF organiser in Sydney during the deregistration struggle in the late 1980s and made the 1993 film The Deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation, about the Victorian BLF branch. He is a member of Socialist Alliance]

From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #810 16 September 2009

Chomsky praises Venezuela’s revolution by James Suggett

Noam Chomsky

US author, dissident intellectual, and Professor of Linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Noam Chomsky met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the first time on August 31. Together they analysed hemispheric politics during a nationally televised forum.


Chomsky is well known in Venezuela for his critiques of US imperialism and support for the progressive political changes under way in Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

Chavez regularly references Chomsky in speeches and has made widely publicised recommendations of Chomsky's 2003 book Hegemony or Survival.

“Hegemony or survival; we opt for survival”, said Chavez in a press conference to welcome Chomsky. He compared Chomsky's thesis to that of German socialist Rosa Luxemburg in the early 1900s — “Socialism or Barbarism” — and referred to Chomsky as “one of the greatest defenders of peace, one of the greatest pioneers of a better world”.

Through an interpreter, Chomsky responded: “I write about peace and criticise the barriers to peace; that's easy. What's harder is to create a better world <193> and what's so exciting about at last visiting Venezuela is that I can see how a better world is being created.”

Chomsky pointed out that the June 28 military coup in Honduras was the third coup the US had supported in Latin America this century, after the coups against Chavez in 2002 and Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

"The transformations that Venezuela is making toward the creation of another socio-economic model could have a global impact if these projects are successfully carried out”, he said.

Chomsky also addressed the media and freedom of expression in the US.
“In the United States the socio-economic system is designed so that the control over the media is in the hands of a minority who own large corporations <193> and the result is that the financial interests of those groups are always behind the so-called freedom of expression.”
[Abridged from venezuelanalysis.com.]


From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #809 9 September 2009.

Can we survive the ‘recovery’? by Graham Matthews



Business economists and their paid media scribblers are frantically keen to announce the end of the financial crisis. Their aim is to return confidence in the market and to encourage working people to take on more debt.

The message is clear. If you’re still in trouble — unable to find work or get enough hours — it’s your problem. It’s not the market’s fault — because that’s in “recovery”.

However, the economy, particularly the world economy, is not always so simple to tame. Certain economic indicators (for Australia) are pointing to a slow renewal of growth, but this doesn’t mean that the economic crisis — in Australia or elsewhere — is over.

National accounts figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on September 2, showed that the Australian economy grew by 0.6% in the three months ending in June.

The biggest contributors to this growth were spending on new business machinery and equipment, and household consumption, which together made up 1% of national growth.

Neither factor should be seen as heralding a renewal of sustainable growth in the economy. Both are largely due to the federal government’s stimulus spending.

In December, the federal government introduced the “business tax break”, which means businesses “can claim an additional tax deduction when they buy certain assets, and when they spend money to improve existing assets, for a limited time”, said the Australian Taxation Office website.

For small businesses (with a turnover of less than $2 million a year) this means a tax-dodge of 50% for that new company car, forklift or backhoe.

It’s hardly a wonder that, as the end of the financial year approached, these businesses boosted their spending on such things.

As for the household consumption figures, this also can be explained by the government’s $900 tax-free handout in April and May.

The ABS said retail turnover increased by $160 million in the June quarter on the back of this handout.

Another group of businesses to do well out of the federal government’s response to the international financial meltdown is Australia’s big four banks.

The September 2 Sydney Morning Herald reported that, using the government’s loan guarantee (which allows the banks to use the government’s AAA credit rating when accessing overseas loans), the banks have forced smaller lenders out of the domestic home loans market.

The big four stand to make $15 billion profit this year.

Some sections of business are prospering on the back of the Rudd government’s stimulus payments, but for working people the story is less rosy.

The ANZ job ads series, which measures changes in the number of jobs advertised in newspapers and on the internet every month, has reported declining job advertisements throughout the year.

Its data for July, released on August 3, showed that there were 51.9% fewer jobs advertised than a year before.

ANZ argues that the pace of the decline in advertised jobs may be slowing, but it says: “The data provides further evidence that demand for labour in the Australian economy is still wallowing at recessionary levels.”

More than 45 million fewer hours were worked in Australia between July 2008 and July 2009, the ABS said. This is a decrease of 2.9%, meaning lost wages for thousands of workers.

In a statement explaining the Reserve Bank of Australia’s decision to leave its official interest rate unchanged at 3% on September 1, the bank’s governor, Glen Stevens, was upbeat.

“With considerable economic policy stimulus in train around the world, the global economy is resuming growth”, he said. “Growth in China has been very strong, which is having a significant impact on other economies in the region and on commodity markets. The major economies appear to be approaching a turning point”, he said.

Stevens’ confidence in strong and renewed growth seems bold. In the US, where dodgy mortgage practices sparked the global financial crisis in 2007, the number of banks threatened with failure is growing.

“Eighty-four banks have failed already this year and today’s Wall Street Journal reported the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which guarantees deposits, has 416 banks on its problem list — an increase of 109 troubled banks from three months earlier”, ABC radio’s AM reporter John Shovelan said on September 2.

Only US$1.5 trillion of the US$4 trillion estimated in “toxic assets” created by the sub-prime crisis had been accounted for in the world’s bank balance sheets, the August 31 7.30 Report said. A further $2.5 trillion remains unaccounted for.

Bank shares fell heavily in the US and Australia on September 1 and 2 as speculators digested the new threat to the shaky finance industry, failing to heed the hype about recovery.

Talk of a “recovery” for working people who are being asked to pay for the crisis with fewer hours and smaller wage rises, is simply a smokescreen. For the big end of town, however, the party has already begun — but it may not last.


From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #809 9 September 2009.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Tel Aviv Party Party Stops Here by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein

When I heard the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was holding a celebratory "spotlight" on Tel Aviv, I felt ashamed of Toronto, the city where I live. I thought immediately of Mona Al Shawa, a Palestinian women's rights activist I met on a recent trip to Gaza. "We had more hope during the attacks," she told me. "At least then we believed things would change."

Al Shawa explained that while Israeli bombs rained down last December and January, Gazans were glued to their TVs. What they saw, in addition to the carnage, was a world rising up in outrage: global protests, as many as 100,000 on the streets of London, a group of Jewish women in Toronto occupying the Israeli Consulate. "People called it war crimes," Al Shawa recalled. "We felt we were not alone in the world." If Gazans could just survive, it seemed that their suffering could be the catalyst for change.

But today, Al Shawa said, that hope is a bitter memory. The international outrage has evaporated. Gaza has vanished from the news. And it seems that all those deaths-as many as 1,400-were not enough to bring justice. Indeed, Israel is refusing to cooperate even with a UN fact-finding mission headed by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone.

Last spring, while Goldstone's mission was in Gaza gathering devastating testimony, the Toronto International Film Festival was making the final selections for its Tel Aviv spotlight, timed for the Israeli city's hundredth birthday. There are many who would have us believe that there is no connection between Israel's desire to avoid scrutiny for its actions in the occupied territories and the glittering Toronto premieres. I am sure that Cameron Bailey, TIFF's co-director, believes that himself. He is wrong.

For more than a year, Israeli diplomats have been talking openly about their new strategy to counter growing global anger at Israel's defiance of international law. It's no longer enough, they argue, just to invoke Sderot every time someone raises Gaza. The task is also to change the subject to more pleasant topics: film, arts, gay rights-things that underline commonalities between Israel and places like Paris, New York and Toronto. After the Gaza attack, as the protests rose, this strategy went into high gear. "We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits," Arye Mekel, deputy director-general for cultural affairs for Israel's Foreign Ministry, told the New York Times. "This way, you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war." And hip, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, which has been celebrating its centennial with Israeli-sponsored "beach parties" in New York, Vienna and Copenhagen all summer long, is the best ambassador of all.

Toronto got an early taste of this new cultural mission. A year ago, Amir Gissin, Israeli consul-general in Toronto, explained that the "Brand Israel" campaign would include, according to a report in the Canadian Jewish News, "a major Israeli presence at next year's Toronto International Film Festival, with numerous Israeli, Hollywood and Canadian entertainment luminaries on hand." Gissin pledged, "I'm confident everything we plan to do will happen." Indeed it has.

Let's be clear: no one is claiming the Israeli government is secretly running TIFF's Tel Aviv spotlight, whispering in Bailey's ear about which films to program. The point is that the festival's decision to give Israel pride of place, holding up Tel Aviv as a "young, dynamic city that, like Toronto, celebrates its diversity," matches Israel's stated propaganda goals to a T. Gal Uchovsky, one of the directors in the spotlight, is quoted in the festival catalog saying that Tel Aviv is "a haven [Israelis] can run away to when they want to forget about wars and the burdens of daily life."

Partly in response, Udi Aloni, the wonderful Israeli filmmaker whose film Local Angel premiered at TIFF, sent a video message to the festival, challenging its programmers to resist political escapism and instead "go to the places where it's hard to go." It's ironic that TIFF's Tel Aviv programming is being called a spotlight, because celebrating that city in isolation - without looking at Gaza, without looking at what is on the other side of the towering concrete walls, barbed wire and checkpoints - actually obscures far more than it illuminates. There are some wonderful Israeli films included in the program. They deserve to be shown as a regular part of the festival, liberated from this highly politicized frame.

It was in this context that a small group of filmmakers, writers and activists, of which I was a part, drafted The Toronto Declaration: No Celebration Under Occupation. It has been signed by the likes of Danny Glover, Viggo Mortensen, Howard Zinn, Alice Walker, Jane Fonda, Eve Ensler, Ken Loach and more than a thousand others. Among them is revered Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, as well as many Israeli filmmakers.

The counterattacks-spearheaded by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the extremist Jewish Defense League - have been at once predictable and inventive. The most frequently repeated claim is that the letter's signatories are censors, calling for a boycott of the festival. In fact, many of the signatories have much-anticipated films at this year's festival, and we are not boycotting it: we are objecting to the Tel Aviv spotlight portion of it. More inventive has been the assertion that by declining to celebrate Tel Aviv as just another cool metropolis, we are questioning the city's "right to exist." (The Republican actor Jon Voight even accused Jane Fonda of "aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel.") The letter does no such thing. It is, instead, a simple message of solidarity, one that says: We don't feel like partying with Israel this year. It is also a small way of saying to Mona Al Shawa and millions of other Palestinians living under occupation and siege that we have not forgotten them.

Published on Friday, September 11, 2009 by The Nation


Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and syndicated columnist and the author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. Her earlier books include the international best-seller, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies; and the collection Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (2002). To read all her latest writing visit www.naomiklein.org

The Poles might be leaving but the prejudice remains by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

There is an almost artistic level of irrationality about immigration panics.

Over the last few years it's become one of our quaint English traditions that on any day following the announcement of immigration figures, certain newspapers display headlines such as "TEN MILLION OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT POLES TO SWARM INTO BRITAIN LIKE PLUMBING LOCUSTS!!! And they plan to BUGGER OUR KITTENS!!!"

These newspapers would compete with each other until they seemed to insist the number of Poles coming was more than the number of Poles in the world, but even then they'd have replied, "Yes – well that's because they're planning to bring ten million of their dead, to make use of our soft-touch spirit welfare scheme."

But the latest figures, released yesterday, have spoilt this game because it turns out half the Poles who came here have gone back to Poland. Presumably these newspapers will get round that by screaming "Poland on brink of disaster as it's invaded by millions of Poles!!!"

"Our hospitals simply can't cope with the numbers coming in," said an un-named doctor. "I'm not racist but we're already full up."

Like all panics about immigration, the anti-Polish version has created an almost artistic level of irrationality. A landlord of a pub in Lincolnshire who seemed otherwise charming and eloquent told me, "The trouble with Poles is they walk in groups of four on the pavement, so you fall in the road trying to get round them." I said, "I'm sure just as many English people walk in groups of four on the pavement." He said, "Yes, but at least they do it in a language I can understand." Which at least is an original way to be annoyed, to snarl: "I don't mind falling in a puddle, as long as it's with the right mix of vowels and consonants, but when it's with three or even FOUR Zs it's time we took a stand."

Now that more are leaving than coming, the anti-immigration newspapers have to revert to more traditional complaints. For example, one paper told us that, "One immigrant is arrested every four minutes." But they must have been short of space, because they left out how the average for the whole population is one arrest every THREE minutes. Now they'll print a story that: "Immigrants are refusing to adapt to our way of life by only being arrested once every four minutes. If they don't want to follow our customs they should go back to where they came from."

Even then it turned out these figures were taken disproportionately from London, where the immigrant population is higher than across Britain, and anyone arrested for murder who didn't fill in the box marked "nationality" was assumed to be an immigrant. Because say what you like about a British murderer, at least they have the manners to complete a form in full afterwards.

But the most peculiar side of the obsession with foreigners coming over here disturbing our population figures is they have little to say about the British citizens living in other countries, the number of which has now passed five million. And yet they often have features about finding the perfect retirement home abroad: "Judith and Roger eventually settled on their delightful rustic cottage in the heart of the Loire, complete with two acres of arable pastures and a goat, from where they could suck dry the overstretched resources of the long-suffering local council. 'I'm a stranger in my own bleeding village', said one fed-up neighbour."

There are 760,000 of us living in Spain, one-twelfth of the population of Cyprus is now British, five per cent of New Zealand and so on. And we can hardly claim that on our travels we "adopt the customs of the local community", unless the travel companies claim: "Our popular party game of seeing who's first to drink a bottle of absinthe and puke in an egg cup topless is not only lots of fun, but also a tribute to an ancient fertility ritual here in Crete, and as such enhances the tourists' understanding of regional history and culture."

Most of the apocalyptic warnings of Eastern European takeover could be traced back to the organisation MigrationWatch, quoted uniformly by the most hysterical anti-immigration papers. But now the Poles are going the other way, instead of issuing a statement reading, "Whoops, sorry," they've declared the UK population is still destined to rise to an unsustainable 80 million in the next 40 years, because millions are coming here from Africa. That's it – Africa, BILLIONS of them, and they're bringing Mount Kilimanjaro because of our soft-touch summit payments, and all their giraffes and the Sahara desert...

First published in The Independent on 9th September 2009

East Timor 10 years on — still waiting for justice by Vannessa Hearman

Vannessa Hearman

I was angry that Timorese president and peace laureate Jose Ramos Horta used the 10-year anniversary of the United Nations-supervised ballot in East Timor on August 30 to declare: “There will be no international tribunal.”


On this same day in 1999, the people of East Timor voted for independence from Indonesia — their brutal occupier for 24 years.

The Timorese Truth, Reception and Reconciliation Commission estimated that about 1500 people were killed by the Indonesian military and its militias in the period leading up to and immediately after the September 4 announcement of the ballot's results in 1999. The vote revealed that 78.5% wanted independence.

But as Indonesia protested that the ballot had been rigged, its military and their militia friends damaged and destroyed 70% of public buildings, houses and infrastructure.

After a global outcry, including mass protests by Australians, the Australian led-Interfet forces entered Dili on September 20. Many Timorese were forcibly deported on trucks and ships to West Timor. Some Timorese hid in the mountains and countryside, as well as in UN offices, to avoid being relocated.

Back then, a UN investigation team recommended an international tribunal to deal with the crimes against humanity committed in 1999.

Because the scars of this collective trauma remain, on top of the long occupation, supported by governments including Australia, it is hard to understand Horta’s stand.

It is even harder to understand in the context of the various exemptions being made by the Timorese government.

For instance, even as Horta delivered his speech, Martenus Bere, an Indonesian man held in Becora Prison in connection with the Suai Church massacre in 1999, was released — reportedly at East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s request.

Victor Sambuaga, an Indonesian embassy official in Dili, said Jakarta had lobbied for Bere’s release.

Marie Okabe, spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Commissioner of Human Rights, condemned the release and rejected the Timorese government’s amnesties.

In another exemption Johny Marques, the leader of militia group Tim Alfa, who was serving a 33-year jail sentence for killing nine clergymen and nuns in Los Palos in 1999, was released in January.

Horta and Gusmao have consistently rejected a tribunal, citing such reasons as “getting on” with the future and building a good relationship with Indonesia. Former PM Mari Alkatiri, from Fretilin, issued a brief call for an international tribunal before also retracting his statement.

The small size of the Timorese elite means there are strong family ties between political and business leaders. They say talking about justice is bad for business with Indonesia.

Trade with Indonesia is booming, but as cheap Indonesian imports flood the market Timorese small business traders have their backs to the wall.

Indonesian soldiers and military officers have never been extradited to East Timor to answer warrants issued by the UN Serious Crimes Unit. Instead, to appease critics, they came before the 2002 Indonesian Ad Hoc Tribunal on East Timor in Jakarta. All were acquitted.

In his August 30 speech, Horta called on the United Nations to disband its Serious Crimes Unit in East Timor, which has so far completed investigations into only 86 of 396 cases.

Horta’s stand certainly helps some, including the disgraced former general Wiranto. In 1999, Wiranto was the Indonesian armed forces chief. Prabowo Subianto was the Army Strategic Reserve Commander.

Both ran as vice-presidential candidates in Indonesian’s July presidential elections and they now lead two parliamentary parties — underscoring the ongoing influence of the military in Indonesian politics.

A September 2 Jakarta Post editorial praised Horta’s “statesmanship” and argued, unconvincingly, that it was now up to Indonesia to prosecute human rights abuses.

Indonesian human rights activists continue to push for justice for those abused by the Indonesian military and the Suharto dictatorship from 1965 until 1998, but they lack the necessary political support.

The abuse cases include killings in Aceh, West Papua, Lampung, the massacre of half a million leftists in 1965-66, the disappearance of 12 activists in 1998, and the crimes in East Timor.

Each Thursday afternoon, protesters with black umbrellas, marked with the names of places and incidents, stand silently outside the Presidential Palace in Jakarta demanding justice.

The 2004 murder of human rights campaigner Munir, who was poisoned, with the involvement of the intelligence agencies, aboard a Garuda flight to Amsterdam, is also a focus of the Black Thursday protests.

Horta’s stand against an international crimes tribunal sanctions impunity for gross violations of human rights in the clearest terms. Both the Indonesian and Timorese people have a stake in the prosecution of the Indonesian military for past human rights abuses.

[Vannessa Hearman worked in East Timor from 2000 to 2002 as an aid worker and United Nations interpreter. She is now writing her doctoral thesis about the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-66 and the question of accountability for human rights abuses.]


From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #809 9 September 2009.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Global warming and bushfires: what to expect by Shaun McDonald



In the last week of winter, something strange happened: bushfires raged across New South Wales, with major fires in the Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla in the south of the state.


The week before, the north-east of NSW and southern Queensland — even parts of southern Sydney — had total fire bans declared.

In many areas of NSW, fire season started a month earlier than the usual October 1. As authorities predict extreme weather conditions for the coming season, images of the devastating bushfires in Victoria earlier this year spring to mind.

Why do we see such weather conditions arriving so early, and why are they becoming so extreme?

The simple answer is that the climate is changing. The last two years have seen records tumbling for the hottest days and the length of heatwaves, particularly in the southern states. The hottest 14 years on record have occurred in the last 20 years.

Victoria’s February bushfire disaster was more than just a freak occurrence. Hotter conditions and extreme bushfire weather are the result of a change in the climate due to human factors.

The reason is the strengthening and extension of the southern subtropical ridge, an atmospheric phenomenon caused by warm air from the equator sinking towards the ground around 30° south of the equator. This creates a band of warm, dry high pressure cells and keeps low pressure cells and storm fronts below this latitude and maintains westerly trade winds.

A recent study by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO showed the subtropical ridge over Australia has indeed strengthened over the last 13 years, expanding southwards and pushing storm cells towards a more southerly latitude, away from the continent.

Scientists used sophisticated computer modelling to show the effects of normal climatic variations and found that the subtropical ridge did not change significantly. When human influences such as ozone depletion and greenhouse gas emissions were factored in, the modelling showed a dramatic strengthening of the ridge, which mimicked observations by meteorologists.

The result is the current drought, which began in 1996, bringing a drastic reduction of rainfall over southern Australia. Melbourne’s dams are now getting about one third less water than they did before 1996, the Age said on August 30.

The ridge of high pressure cells has also led to more hot, dry air in the southern states. This air moves ahead of eastward-bound storm fronts, creating hot, dry winds. As more warm air rises from the equator, particularly during the dry summer months, the winds caused by the high pressure cells strengthen.

This tendency will get worse as the surface of the Earth heats up due to global warming.
It was hot, dry conditions coupled with strong winds that led to the fatal bushfires in February.

It’s not just a small increase in average temperatures that will dictate how severe a bushfire season will be. That small increase will lead to a greater increase in both intensity and frequency of extreme weather conditions. As these phenomena tend to strengthen together, it brings about a significantly larger increase in the bushfire threat.

This is not new information. Following the January 1994 bushfires in NSW, Green Left Weekly reported: “These high temperatures also occur in a wider context that is ominous … 1993 was the sixth hottest year on record. The seven hottest years on record have all occurred since 1980 … [T]he increasing frequency of extreme climatic events is consistent with global warming.”

When fire authorities talk about bushfire behaviour, they relate it to the Fire Danger Index (FDI). This index was worked out by CSIRO scientists and relates to fire behaviour according to temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and long- and short-term drought effects.

The FDI scale is not linear — more logarithmic or exponential — and the equation to work out the FDI is very complicated, involving various matrices. It is usually done in the field with a sliding meter.

However, fire behaviour is linear in relation to the FDI: the rate of spread and flame height double as the FDI doubles and the spotting distance (the distance embers can be carried by wind to start another fire ahead of the front) increase at a significantly greater rate.

The FDI gives the totality of the weather conditions for the fire. The quantity of available fuel also has a dramatic effect on fire behaviour, but it is not part of the FDI calculations. As weather conditions worsen (prolonged drought, rising temperature etc.), the FDI can rise dramatically.

A small increase in any of these conditions can mean a larger increase in the FDI and thus fire behaviour.

The FDI benchmark of a maximum of 100 was set following the Victorian Black Friday bushfires in 1939, which killed 71 people. This was considered the worst that conditions could possibly get.

The Canberra fires of 2003 were a wake-up call to fire authorities: the FDI was above 100 — it was closer to 140!

This year, on February 7 and 8, when fires ripped through Victoria, the FDI recorded in many centres was 300 or higher.

In light of this data, it’s easy to understand why those bushfires were so devastating. That is, unless you are the Victorian government.

When the state Labor government established the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, its terms of reference didn’t include anything on the weather or climatic conditions that led to the fires being so devastating. Climate change was not to be investigated as being a potential factor in the events that led to 173 people being killed.

In August, the commission released 51 interim recommendations, some of which have already been implemented by the Victorian government. But there were many factors involved in the conditions that generated the super intensity of the fires, and the response to the fires, that were not dealt with. Some of these may yet come out in the final report.

Ignoring climate change as a factor in increased temperatures and extreme weather events is a recipe for increasingly destructive bushfires. Such folly bodes badly for the future as we face greater catastrophes. Firefighters on the front line will increasingly be trying to defend communities against conditions they are ill-equipped to face.

As the planet heats up, even if only by fractions of a degree in average temperatures, we will see more frequent extreme weather events of increasing intensity and we will see more and more destructive bushfires.

How we react to prevent such extreme weather events from worsening and how we set ourselves up for the battles ahead will determine how many people we will be able to save from disaster the next time.

[Shaun McDonald is a volunteer firefighter in NSW and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]


From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #809 9 September 2009.