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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The BBC is on Murdoch's side by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger says that while the dangers of Rupert Murdoch's dominance are understood, the role played by the respectable media, such as the New York Times and the BBC, notably in the promotion of colonial wars, is at least as important.

Britain is said to be approaching its Berlusconi Moment. That is to say, if Rupert Murdoch wins control of Sky he will command half the television and newspaper market and threaten what is known as public service broadcasting. Although the alarm is ringing, it is unlikely that any government will stop him while his court is packed with politicians of all parties.

The problem with this and other Murdoch scares is that, while one cannot doubt their gravity, they deflect from an unrecognised and more insidious threat to honest information. For all his power, Murdoch’s media is not respectable. Take the current colonial wars. In the United States, Murdoch’s Fox Television is almost cartoon-like in its warmongering. It is the august, tombstone New York Times, “the greatest newspaper in the world”, and others such as the once-celebrated Washington Post, that have given respectability to the lies and moral contortions of the “war on terror”, now recat as “perpetual war”.

In Britain, the liberal Observer performed this task in making respectable Tony Blair’s deceptions on Iraq. More importantly, so did the BBC, whose reputation is its power. In spite of one maverick reporter’s attempt to expose the so-called dodgy dossier, the BBC took Blair’s sophistry and lies on Iraq at face value.

This was made clear in studies by Cardiff University and the German-based Media Tenor. The BBC’s coverage, said the Cardiff study, was overwhelmingly “sympathetic to the government’s case”. According to Media Tenor, a mere two per cent of BBC news in the build-up to the invasion permitted anti-war voices to be heard. Compared with the main American networks, only CBS was more pro-war.

So when the BBC director-general Mark Thompson used the recent Edinburgh Television Festival to attack Murdoch, his hypocrisy was like a presence. Thompson is the embodiment of a taxpayer-funded managerial elite, for whom political reaction have long replaced public service. He has even laid into his own corporation, Murdoch-style, as “massively left-wing”. He was referring to the era of his 1960s predecessor Hugh Greene, who allowed artistic and journalistic freedom to flower at the BBC. Thompson is the opposite of Greene; and his aspersion on the past is in keeping with the BBC’s modern corporate role, reflected in the rewards demanded by those at the top. Thompson was paid £834,000 last year out of public funds and his 50 senior executives earn more than the prime minister, along with enriched journalists like Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce.

Murdoch and the BBC share this corporatism. Blair, for example, was their quintessential politician. Prior to his election in 1997, Blair and his wife were flown first-class by Murdoch to Hayman Island in Australia where he stood at the Newscorp lectern and, in effect, pledged an obedient Labour administration. His coded message on media cross-ownership and de-regulation was that a way would be found for Murdoch to achieve the supremacy that now beckons.

Blair was embraced by the new BBC corporate class, which regards itself as meretorious and non-ideological: the natural leaders in a managerial Britain in which class is unspoken. Few did more to enunciate Blair’s “vision” than Andrew Marr, then a leading newspaper journalist and today the BBC’s ubiquitous voice of middle-class Britain. Just as Murdoch’s Sun declared in 1995 it shared the rising Blair’s “high moral values” so Marr, writing the Observer in 1999, lauded the new prime minister’s “substantial moral courage” and the “clear distinction in his mind between prudently protecting his power base and rashly using his power for high moral purpose”. What impressed Marr was Blair’s “utter lack of cynicism” along with his bombing of Yugoslavia which would “save lives”.

By March 2003, Marr was the BBC’s political editor. Standing in Downing Street on the night of the “shock and awe” assault on Iraq, he rejoiced at the vindication of Blair who, he said, had promised “to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right” and as a result “tonight he stands as a larger man”. In fact, the criminal conquest of Iraq smashed a society, killing up to a million people, driving four million from their homes, contaminating cities like Fallujah with cancer-causing poisons and leaving a majority of young children malnourished in a country once described by Unicef as a “model”.

So it was entirely appropriate that Blair, in hawking his self-serving book, should select Marr for his “exclusive TV interview” on the BBC. The headline across the Observer’s review of the interview read, “Look who’s having the last laugh.” Beneath this was a picture of a beaming Blair sharing a laugh with Marr.

The interview produced not a single challenge that stopped Blair in his precocious, mendacious tracks. He was allowed to say that “absolutely clearly and unequivocally, the reason for toppling [Saddam Hussein] was his breach of resolutions over WMD, right?” No, wrong. A wealth of evidence, not least the infamous Downing Street Memo, makes clear that Blair secretly colluded with George W Bush to attack Iraq. This was not mentioned. At no point did Marr say to him, “You failed to persuade the UN Security Council to go along with the invasion. You and Bush went alone. Most of the world was outraged. Weren’t you aware that you were about to commit a monumental war crime?”

Instead, Blair used the convivial encounter to deceive, yet again, even to promote an attack on Iran, an outrage. Murdoch’s Fox would have differed in style only. The British public deserves better.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

C'mon, time to rebrand your life! by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger continues his examination of the effect of 'extreme corporatism' - money - on sport. He contrasts the last of the great sporting stars who were not celebrities in the modern sense with the enrichment of Rupert Murdoch and the corruption of sports like cricket.

The year before England won the 1966 World Cup, I interviewed its captain, Bobby Moore. Having not long arrived from the antipodes, where “soccer” was a minority sport beloved by Italians and Croats, I did not have a clue about the game. Nevertheless I had been assigned to write a “human interest” piece on the West Ham star by the same convivial assistant editor who had hired me believing I could play cricket, because I was Australian, and so assist the Daily Mirror team in its grudge match against the Express. I could swim and row and had done time in a rugby scrum, but cricket, no. (He forgave me).

I met Bobby Moore outside West Ham tube station, and we walked round the corner to a greasy spoon that was filled with Woodbine fug. People beamed and shook his hand, reinforcing my impression of a gracious, modest man. Here was a star in every sense – talent, looks, fame – and yet he seemed genuinely surprised by the fuss. In the queue for tea and coffee he patiently engaged an elderly fan who was hard of hearing. When I unwisely feigned knowledge of the game, he let me down gently. As we parted, he said, “Look, this is a bit embarrassing, but I’ve got this agent and he’s asked me to ask for 50 quid for the interview.” I said I would pass it on to my editor; I don’t know if he was paid, and I doubt if he cared.

I remembered Bobby Moore when I read about another sporting star, Lleyton Hewitt, the Australian tennis seed and famous air-puncher. For all his classy, often tireless play, Hewitt’s behaviour on court has always been difficult to watch, because he gives the impression only he matters. His aggressive “C’mon!” and fist pumping are his trademark, literally. He is not merely a tennis player; he is Brand Hewitt, which is owned by Lleyton Hewitt Marketing Pty Ltd which owns the rights to two “C’mon” logos.

Lleyton Hewitt Marketing, or LHM, recently suffered a defeat against a sports fan in Australia, Josh Shiels, who since 2004 has used “Come-on” to promote his struggling sportswear business. In a statement, LHM says that it has no problem with other parties owning trademarks incorporating “C’mon” and “Come on”; however, having been “threatened” by Shiels and asked to “surrender” its own trademarks, it requested that the Trade Marks Office cancel one registered to Shiels on the basis that he failed to use it.

At an intellectual property hearing in Canberra, Shiels said that his wife and daughters had designed the logo and his business had sold “about 10 shirts”. He pointed out that “come-on” had been a popular catch cry in Australia since world series cricket began in the 1970s; there was even a song. The hearing officer decided that, however meagre Shiels’s business, he had the right to make use of the words. Shiels is left fearing he will face a re-match.

The stark contrast between Bobby Moore and Brand Hewitt is telling because it represents what has been lost and is a reminder of the ubiquitous nature of extreme corporatism. It seems that no idea, no event, no talent, no personality, no resource of nature has value unless it is owned and branded. When the public water supply of Bolivia’s second city, Cochabamba, was sold off to a foreign consortium, rainwater was included. The clouds became the property of multinationals – until the people fought back, and won.

The pursuit of profit in sport seems unrelenting. Having said goodbye to foreign sports writers and their platitudinous eulogies for the “rainbow nation”, the South African treasury reckons it put $5 billion into the World Cup while corporate sponsors took home more than $4 billion in tax-free profits. All those corporate parties, free tickets, kickbacks and other “gifts” merely indulged a post-apartheid elite which presides over the most inequitable society on earth. Since 2008, during the feverish building of stadiums, several of them unnecessary, more than a million people lost their jobs. In the wake of the World Cup, 1.3 million public sector workers have struck for a living wage. The South African police now have paramilitary powers comparable with the apartheid era. A new Protection of Information Bill before parliament will conceal the corruption of the ruling African National Congress “wabenzi” (identifiable by their large silver Mercedes). “If journalists have to be fired [or go to prison], because they don’t contribute to the South Africa we want,” said the ANC spokesman, “let it be.”

In India, a similar re-branding is under way for next month’s Commonwealth Games. In the country that has most of the world’s malnourished children, the capital Delhi has been re-branded a “world class city” at a cost of $2.5 billion. A school for 180 slum children has been bulldozed so that a vast estate of luxury apartments can be built for visiting athletes. “They told us we were a security threat so we had to go,” said the headteacher. “All my children were crying.” It is one of many demolitions; over 100,000 families have been evicted to make way for “security zones” around the Games and facilities that will mostly benefit India’s small but powerful managerial and technocratic class who, besotted with all things corporate, prefer not to be reminded that 77 per cent of their compatriots are dirt poor.

Corporate sport has enriched Rupert Murdoch, corrupted cricket and much of football, subverted numerous other play and appropriated the Olympics and similar spectacles. Its language is that of business schools, PR companies, consultancies and banks. Its “philosophy” is that everything is for sale and monopoly rules. Just wear the logo, pump your fist and bellow, “C’mon!”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Selling Off Af-Pak by Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

A few days ago, the West’s favorite Pakistani journalist, Ahmed Rashid, wrote a ‘guest column’ on the BBC website in which he suggested that the Afghan governance model be transferred to Pakistan:

 “Pakistan's Reconstruction Trust Fund could be run by a board that included the World Bank, other international lending agencies and independent and prominent Pakistani economists and social welfare figures with no ties to the government“Pakistanis would still take all the major decisions, but those who did so would not be the cronies of the president, the PM or the opposition leaders.Pakistan's finance bureaucracy and army would have seats at the table, but certainly no veto powers over how the money is spent. “Their job would be impartial implementation of recovery overseen by the Trust Fund. Such a fund would not just monitor the cash, but help the government put together a non-political, neutral reconstruction effort. It would also help plan long-term economic reforms….”

The notion that that the World Bank, IMF and friends are ‘non-political’ and ‘neutral’ is risible and not worth wasting time on, especially given that their supervision of Afghanistan’s largest bank (largely owned and controlled by the Karzai family and just as corrupt as Zardari and his cronies) doesn’t seem to have been all that effective since it collapsed just as the BBC website published the path-breaking text.

Of course it is undeniable that the inner decay and disintegration of Pakistan, about which I have been writing for so many years, proceeds apace. A profound disillusionment accompanied by nihilism had already set in some decades ago, when, in one of his poems, Faiz Ahmed Faiz referred to the fatherland as ‘a forest of dead leaves’, ‘a congregation of pain.’ It’s got worse since then.

As if the Af-Pak war (supported by Rashid and company) isn’t bad enough. The backlash it has created in the shape of armed religious extremists bombing targets in every major Pakistani city is out of control. Or to put it another way, if the Pakistani state with its half-a-million strong army, its countless networks of military and police intelligence operatives embedded in every corner and institution of the country, is incapable of penetrating and isolating the groups carrying out the bombings then the end is truly nigh.

Or could it be that the intelligence services that have been infiltrated from within and without. Otherwise how to explain the timing of some of the attacks targeting internal enemies or foreign intelligence agents and soldiers would be a total mystery. Take this from a few years ago: US and NATO intelligence guys and gals decided to meet for an informal lunch at a fancy Islamabad restaurant. The location and guest list is secret, known only to themselves and their trusted security guys within Pakistani intelligence. A well-placed bomb disrupts the lunch leaving bodies in its wake.  And this definitely wasn’t Wikileaks.

Political corruption has wrecked the country on other levels with widespread anger against the politicians and despair at the inability of anyone to do anything. The alienation from politics runs deep and the average citizen regards politicians in power as a filthy business and tries to retreat into private life. The active citizen, for the moment at least, is a disappearing breed, despite the courage of a tiny minority of activists and journalists who refuse to give up.

The country stumbles from one disaster to another and with the gulf between the super-rich whose wedding feasts are flown in from Dubai and who have built schools, universities and hospitals for themselves and ordinary middle-class families who cannot afford or access these facilities looking desperately for ways to migrate elsewhere, no longer easy because of the heightened security since 9/11. And this is only 20 percent of the population. 

The talk-show presenters who speak of a cleansing revolution can never make one and those below, whose sufferings become visible only when disaster strikes, are so demoralized and fearful and concentrating on feeding their children and themselves that meaningful political action is far removed from their thoughts at the moment.  The religious extremists, mercifully, remain unpopular. Their development model is hardly a secret in the region.

Ahmed Rashid wants to hand the country over to the United States and institutions under its control. Surely this is a bit mean spirited to the other world powers. Given the dodgy state of the US economy he would be better advised to expand the list. Perhaps four global multinationals (based in the United States, Germany, China and Russia) could set up a consortium (AFPAKCO) and start bidding for failing states, starting with Pakistan.  

What Blackwater, its subsidiaries and rivals are doing for the US and British armies, could be replicated in civil society by big banks, oil giants and the nuclear industry. They could take over and run a few countries and if they messed up the World Bank and IMF could bail them out.  The elites, many of their number already on the payroll, would happily sell out completely. And if the consortium were broad-based enough then the Pakistan Army would willingly police the new structure in return for a larger monthly check than it receives currently from CENTCOM.

Where once the East India Company took over an entire subcontinent, all that is needed now is for the AFPAKCO consortium to buy a Northern sliver. This time economic self-interest might dictate educating the population, making sure the work force was reasonably fed (genetically modified foods would come in handy on this front) and kept relatively healthy.  

Of course the media, so wild these days and out of control, would have to be restrained and tuned to the needs of AFPAKCO. Here the BBC, CNN and Fox could just take-over and Rashid would be a good person to appoint as the first Director-General of the consolidated PTV.  Whether a few porn channels should be allowed for recreational purposes is a tactical question, though on this front many of the politicians currently wasting their time could provide useful advice and service.

In 25 years time, let us be pessimistic, a huge anti-AFPAKCO uprising might erupt and bring about real change and independence on a very different basis and under a new leadership untainted by blood ties, corruption or collaboration. Now that would be a new start.

Tariq Ali’s latest book “The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad’ is published by Verso this month

Sunday, September 12, 2010

If That 'Mosque' ISN'T Built, This Is No Longer America by Michael Moore

I am opposed to the building of the "mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero.
I want it built on Ground Zero. 

Why? Because I believe in an America that protects those who are the victims of hate and prejudice. I believe in an America that says you have the right to worship whatever God you have, wherever you want to worship. And I believe in an America that says to the world that we are a loving and generous people and if a bunch of murderers steal your religion from you and use it as their excuse to kill 3,000 souls, then I want to help you get your religion back. And I want to put it at the spot where it was stolen from you.

There's been so much that's been said about this manufactured controversy, I really don't want to waste any time on this day of remembrance talking about it. But I hate bigotry and I hate liars, and so in case you missed any of the truth that's been lost in this, let me point out a few facts:
1. I love the Burlington Coat Factory. I've gotten some great winter coats there at a very reasonable price. Muslims have been holding their daily prayers there since 2009. No one ever complained about that. This is not going to be a "mosque," it's going to be a community center. It will have the same prayer room in it that's already there. But to even have to assure people that "it's not going to be mosque" is so offensive, I now wish they would just build a 111-story mosque there. That would be better than the lame and disgusting way the developer has left Ground Zero an empty hole until recently. The remains of over 1,100 people still haven't been found. That site is a sacred graveyard, and to be building another monument to commerce on it is a sacrilege. Why wasn't the entire site turned into a memorial peace park? People died there, and many of their remains are still strewn about, all these years later.

2. Guess who has helped the Muslims organize their plans for this community center? The JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER of Manhattan! Their rabbi has been advising them since the beginning. It's been a picture-perfect example of the kind of world we all want to live in. Peter Stuyvessant, New York's "founder," tried to expel the first Jews who arrived in Manhattan. Then the Dutch said, no, that's a bit much. So then Stuyvessant said ok, you can stay, but you cannot build a synagogue anywhere in Manhattan. Do your stupid Friday night thing at home. The first Jewish temple was not allowed to be built until 1730. Then there was a revolution, and the founding fathers said this country has to be secular -- no religious nuts or state religions. George Washington (inaugurated around the corner from Ground Zero) wanted to make a statement about this his very first year in office, and wrote this to American Jews:
"The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy -- a policy worthy of imitation. ...
"It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens ...
"May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants -- while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."
3. The Imam in charge of this project is the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. Read about his past here.

4. Around five dozen Muslims died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Hundreds of members of their families still grieve and suffer. The 19 killers did not care what religion anyone belonged to when they took those lives.

5. I've never read a sadder headline in the New York Times than the one on the front page this past Monday: "American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?" That should make all of us so ashamed that even a single one of our fellow citizens should ever have to worry about if they "belong" here.

6. There is a McDonald's two blocks from Ground Zero. Trust me, McDonald's has killed far more people than the terrorists.

7. During an economic depression or a time of war, fascists are extremely skilled at whipping up fear and hate and getting the working class to blame "the other" for their troubles. Lincoln's enemies told poor Southern whites that he was "a Catholic." FDR's opponents said he was Jewish and called him "Jewsevelt." One in five Americans now believe Obama is a Muslim and 41% of Republicans don't believe he was born here.

8. Blaming a whole group for the actions of just one of that group is anti-American. Timothy McVeigh was Catholic. Should Oklahoma City prohibit the building of a Catholic Church near the site of the former federal building that McVeigh blew up?

9. Let's face it, all religions have their whackos. Catholics have O'Reilly, Gingrich, Hannity and Clarence Thomas (in fact all five conservatives who dominate the Supreme Court are Catholic). Protestants have Pat Robertson and too many to list here. The Mormons have Glenn Beck. Jews have Crazy Eddie. But we don't judge whole religions on just the actions of their whackos. Unless they're Methodists.

10. If I should ever, God forbid, perish in a terrorist incident, and you or some nutty group uses my death as your justification to attack or discriminate against anyone in my name, I will come back and haunt you worse than Linda Blair marrying Freddy Krueger and moving into your bedroom to spawn Chucky. John Lennon was right when he asked us to imagine a world with "nothing to kill or die for and no religion, too." I heard Deepak Chopra this week say that "God gave humans the truth, and the devil came and he said, 'Let's give it a name and call it religion.' " But John Adams said it best when he wrote a sort of letter to the future (which he called "Posterity"): "Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it." I'm guessing ol' John Adams is up there repenting nonstop right now.
Friends, we all have a responsibility NOW to make sure that Muslim community center gets built. Once again, 70% of the country (the same number that initially supported the Iraq War) is on the wrong side and want the "mosque" moved. Enormous pressure has been put on the Imam to stop his project. We have to turn this thing around. Are we going to let the bullies and thugs win another one? Aren't you fed up by now? When would be a good time to take our country back from the haters?

I say right now. Let's each of us make a statement by donating to the building of this community center! It's a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization and you can donate a dollar or ten dollars (or more) right now through a secure pay pal account by clicking here. I will personally match the first $10,000 raised (forward your PayPal receipt to If each one of you reading this blog/email donated just a couple of dollars, that would give the center over $6 million, more than what Donald Trump has offered to buy the Imam out. C'mon everyone, let's pitch in and help those who are being debased for simply wanting to do something good. We could all make a huge statement of love on this solemn day.
I lost a co-worker on 9/11. I write this today in his memory.

"The man who speaks of the enemy / Is the enemy himself."
-- Bertolt Brecht

Minority ALP government presents opening By Paul Benedek

The Socialist Alliance national council meeting on September 5, involving 72 members from around the country, grappled with the new and intriguing political situation opened up by the August 21 federal election result.

At the time, it was unknown who would form a minority government.
But it was already clear that the result presented a challenge and opportunity for the progressive social movements to mobilise to demand a just, equitable and sustainable response to the big problems facing society.

There was a surge of protests before the elections around refugee rights, equal marriage rights and against the NT intervention. Now we need those same movements to exert even stronger pressure on the minority Labor government — particularly on the two issues where the policies of the ALP (and the Liberal-National Coalition) go totally against majority opinion.

We should say to the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Respect the majority — withdraw the troops from Afghanistan and recognise equal marriage rights for all. If Gillard disputes the majority position on these issues, we challenge her to take these questions to a referendum — along with a proposal to entrench real Indigenous rights in the constitution.

The two-party system suffered a knock in the election, with neither major party gaining a clear mandate. While the result indicated some polarisation, and a larger-than-normal informal vote and abstention, the fact that neither of the major parties obtained a mandate in the face of their race to the right was a positive outcome.

The corporate ruling class expressed concerns that the result made it harder for it to continue with its neoliberal “reforms”. This confirms that the powers-that-be don't care very much whether it’s Tweedledum or Tweedledee that governs, as long as the party has a stable majority and can continue to force through their anti-worker, anti-ecological agenda.

The biggest swing to any party was to the Greens — on a platform that was consistently to the left of the major parties. The ongoing capitalist economic crisis, and the two parties’ failure to take real action on climate change, has opened up political space for the left and progressive movements.

The Greens result, a 50% increase on its previous federal vote, and the biggest third party vote since World War II, showed support for the rights of refugees and workers, and opposition to the war in Afghanistan and to discrimination against non-heterosexual couples.

The Socialist Alliance national council agreed that it needed to engage with this large minority opinion — more than 1.5 million people that voted left of Labor. Many of the people who voted Green would also agree with much of Socialist Alliance's positions, and could be convinced that to win real and lasting change we not only have to change the politicians, but also change the system.

Socialist Alliance national council agreed it needed to work with the Greens in as many campaigns as possible and continue the principled policy of preferencing from the most progressive candidates to the least.
Socialist Alliance will continue to work with the Greens in union and social movement campaigns, but we also need to be confident in putting forward our socialist message.

While the Green vote rose, so did the socialist vote (from its much more modest base). The Socialist Alliance vote in the House of Representatives improved in eight out of the 12 seats in which it ran. In the Senate, the vote rose in every state where it ran and, at last count, was 32,070 first preference votes.

But more importantly, Socialist Alliance joined many new members, built campaigns and sparked branches into activity.

In light of this the Socialist Alliance national council recommended that its branches in Victoria and NSW start organising now for strong campaigns in the upcoming state elections.

[Paul Benedek, is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive. A more detailed election analysis can be read here at .]

Robert Fisk: Nine years, two wars, hundreds of thousands dead – and nothing learnt

  Robert Fisk
 Did 9/11 make us all mad? Our memorial to the innocents who died nine years ago has been a holocaust of fire and blood . . .

Did 9/11 make us all go mad? How fitting, in a weird, crazed way, that the apotheosis of that firestorm nine years ago should turn out to be a crackpot preacher threatening another firestorm with a Nazi-style book burning of the Koran. Or a would-be mosque two blocks from "ground zero" – as if 9/11 was an onslaught on Jesus-worshipping Christians, rather than on the atheist West. 

But why should we be surprised? Just look at all the other crackpots spawned in the aftermath of those international crimes against humanity: the half-crazed Ahmadinejad, the smarmy post-nuclear Gaddafi, Blair with his crazed right eye and George W Bush with his black prisons and torture and lunatic "war on terror". And that wretched man who lived – or lives still – in an Afghan cave and the hundreds of al-Qa'idas whom he created, and the one-eyed mullah – not to mention all the lunatic cops and intelligence agencies and CIA thugs who failed us all – utterly – on 9/11 because they were too idle or too stupid to identify 19 men who were going to attack the United States. And remember one thing: even if the Rev Terry Jones sticks with his decision to back down, another of our cranks will be ready to take his place.

Indeed, on this grim ninth anniversary – and heaven spare us next year from the 10th – 9/11 appears to have produced not peace or justice or democracy or human rights, but monsters. They have prowled Iraq – both the Western and the local variety – and slaughtered 100,000 souls, or 500,000, or a million; and who cares? They have killed tens of thousands in Afghanistan; and who cares? And as the sickness has spread across the Middle East and then the globe, they – the air force pilots and the insurgents, the Marines and the suicide bombers, the al-Qa'idas of the Maghreb and of the Khalij and of the Caliphate of Iraq and the special forces and the close air support boys and the throat-cutters – have torn the heads off women and children and the old and the sick and the young and healthy, from the Indus to the Mediterranean, from Bali to the London Tube; quite a memorial to the 2,966 innocents who were killed nine years ago. All in their name, it seems, has been our holocaust of fire and blood, enshrined now in the crazed pastor of Gainesville.
This is the loss, of course. But who's made the profit? Well, the arms dealers, naturally, and Boeing and Lockheed Martin and all the missile lads and the drone manufacturers and F-16 spare parts outfits and the ruthless mercenaries who stalk the Muslim lands on our behalf now that we have created 100,000 more enemies for each of the 19 murderers of 9/11. Torturers have had a good time, honing their sadism in America's black prisons – it was appropriate that the US torture centre in Poland should be revealed on this ninth anniversary – as have the men (and women, I fear) who perfect the shackles and water-drowning techniques with which we now fight our wars. And – let us not forget – every religious raver in the world, be they of the Bin Laden variety, the bearded groupies in the Taliban, the suicide executioners, the hook-in the arm preachers, or our very own pastor of Gainesville.

And God? Where does he fit in? An archive of quotations suggests that just about every monster created in or after 9/11 is a follower of this quixotic redeemer. Bin Laden prays to God – "to turn America into a shadow of itself", as he told me in 1997 – and Bush prayed to God and Blair prayed – and prays – to God, and all the Muslim killers and an awful lot of Western soldiers and Dr (honorary) Pastor Terry Jones and his 30 (or it may be 50, since all statistics are hard to come by in the "war on terror") pray to God. And poor old God, of course, has had to listen to these prayers as he always sits through them during our mad wars. Recall the words attributed to him by a poet of another generation: "God this, God that, and God the other thing. 'Good God,' said God, 'I've got my work cut out'." And that was just the First World War...

Just five years ago – on the fourth anniversary of the twin towers/Pentagon/Pennsylvania attacks – a schoolgirl asked me at a lecture in a Belfast church whether the Middle East would benefit from more religion. No – less religion! – I howled back. God is good for contemplation, not for war. But – and here we are driven on to the reefs and hidden rocks which our leaders wish us to ignore, forget and cast aside – this whole bloody mess involves the Middle East; it is about a Muslim people who have kept their faith while those Westerners who dominate them – militarily, economically, culturally, socially – have lost theirs. How can this be, Muslims ask? Indeed, it is a superb irony that the Rev Jones is a believer while the rest of us – by and large – are not. Hence our books and our documentaries never refer to Muslims vs Christians, but Muslims versus "The West".

And of course, the one taboo subject of which we must not speak – Israel's relationship with America, and America's unconditional support for Israel's theft of land from Muslim Arabs – also lies at the heart of this terrible crisis in our lives. In yesterday's edition of The Independent, there was a photograph of Afghan demonstrators chanting "death to America". But in the background, these same demonstrators were carrying a black banner with a message in Dari written upon it in white paint. What it actually said was: "The bloodsucking Zionist government regime and the Western leaders who are indifferent [to suffering] and have no conscience are again celebrating the new year by spilling the red blood of the Palestinians."

The message is as extreme as it is vicious – but it proves, yet again, that the war in which we are engaged is also about Israel and "Palestine". We may prefer to ignore this in "the West" – where Muslims supposedly "hate us for what we are" or "hate our democracy" (see: Bush, Blair and a host of other mendacious politicians) – but this great conflict lies at the heart of the "war on terror". That is why the equally vicious Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the atrocities of 9/11 by claiming that the event would be good for Israel. Israel would now be able to claim that it, too, was fighting the "war on terror", that Arafat – this was the now-comatose Ariel Sharon's claim – is "our Bin Laden". And thus Israelis had the gall to claim that Sderot, under its cascade of tin-pot missiles from Hamas, was "our ground zero".

It was not. Israel's battle with the Palestinians is a ghastly caricature of our "war on terror", in which we are supposed to support the last colonial project on earth – and accept its thousands of victims – because the twin towers and the Pentagon and United Flight 93 were attacked by 19 Arab murderers nine years ago. There is a supreme irony in the fact that one direct result of 9/11 has been the stream of Western policemen and spooks who have travelled to Israel to improve their "anti-terrorist expertise" with the help of Israeli officers who may – according to the United Nations – be war criminals. It was no surprise to find that the heroes who gunned down poor old Jean Charles de Menezes on the London Tube in 2005 had been receiving "anti-terrorist" advice from the Israelis.

And yes, I know the arguments. We cannot compare the actions of evil terrorists with the courage of our young men and women, defending our lives – and sacrificing theirs – on the front lines of the 'war on terror". There can be no "equivalence". "They" kill innocents because "they" are evil. "We" kill innocents by mistake. But we know we are going to kill innocents – we willingly accept that we are going to kill innocents, that our actions are going to create mass graves of families, of the poor and the weak and the dispossessed.

This is why we created the obscene definition of "collateral damage". For if "collateral" means that these victims are innocent, then "collateral" also means that we are innocent of killing them. It was not our wish to kill them – even if we knew it was inevitable that we would. "Collateral" is our exoneration. This one word is the difference between "them" and "us", between our God-given right to kill and Bin Laden's God-given right to murder. The victims, hidden away as "collateral" corpses, don't count any more because they were slaughtered by us. Maybe it wasn't so painful. Maybe death by drone is a more gentle departure from this earth, evisceration by an AGM-114C Boeing-Lockheed air-to-ground missile less painful, than death by shards from a roadside bomb or a cruel suicider with an explosive belt.

That's why we know how many died on 9/11 – 2,966, although the figure may be higher – and why we don't "do body counts" on those whom we kill. Because they – "our" victims – must have no identities, no innocence, no personality, no cause or belief or feelings; and because we have killed far, far more human beings than Bin Laden and the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.

Anniversaries are newspaper and television events. And they can have an eerie habit of coalescing together to create an unhappy memorial framework. Thus do we commemorate the Battle of Britain – a chivalric episode in our history – and the Blitz, a progenitor of mass murder, to be sure, but a symbol of innocent courage – as we remember the start of a war that has torn our morality apart, turned our politicians into war criminals, our soldiers into killers and our ruthless enemies into heroes of the anti-Western cause. And while on this gloomy anniversary the Rev Jones wanted to burn a book called the Koran, Tony Blair tried to sell a book called A Journey. Jones said the Koran was "evil"; Britons have asked whether the Blair book should be classified as "crime". Certainly, 9/11 has moved into fantasy when the Rev Jones can command the attention of the Obamas and the Clintons and the Holy Father and the even more Holy United Nations. Whom the gods would destroy...

11 Sep 2001
The World Trade Centre and the Pentagon are hit by aeroplanes hijacked by al-Qa’ida terrorists. George Bush says that America will stand with “all those who want peace and security in the world”.

7 Oct 2001
The US and Britain launch air strikes against Afghanistan.

13 Nov 2001
The Northern Alliance liberates Kabul from the rule of the Taliban.

11 Jan 2002
The first prisoners arrive at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

9 Jan 2003
Top UN weapons inspector Hans Blix tells reporters that “we have now been in [Iraq] for some two months and? we haven't found any smoking guns”.

15 Feb 2003
Protests are held across the world against impending war in Iraq.

20 Mar 2003
US-led coalition launches invasion of Iraq.

9 Oct 2003
Toppling of statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad is taken as symbol of coalition triumph.

11 Mar 2004
A series of bombs explode within minutes of each other on four commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding a further 1,841.

29 Apr 2004
Photographs emerge showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib, inflaming anti-US feeling.

2 Oct 2004
Video footage appears of British hostage Kenneth Bigley being beheaded by Iraqi militants.

2 Nov 2004
Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh is murdered after making a film about violence against women in Islamic societies.

7 Jul 2005
Four suicide bombers kill 52 passengers and injure almost 800 others in a series of attacks on London’s transport network.

30 Sep 2005
A series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohamed are published in a Danish newspaper. The pictures are reprinted elsewhere amid widespread outrage and violent protests in the Muslim world.

30 Dec 2006
Saddam Hussein is hanged in northern Baghdad for crimes against humanity.

21 Sep 2009
A leaked report by Gen Stanley McChrystal, commander of US forces, suggests that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan could be lost within a year unless there are significant increases in troops.

29 Nov 2009
A ban on building minarets is voted in by the Swiss public, reflecting a hostile attitude to the country’s rising Muslim minority.

21 Jan 2010
43 per cent of Americans say they feel some negative prejudice towards Muslims, according to a poll by Gallup.

1 Sep 2010
At the end of a month in which 295 civilians were killed by violence, Barack Obama declares that the US combat mission in Iraq is at an end. 

Published in The Independent 11-9-2010 

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Wilkie: ‘I’ll take every opportunity to speak against the war’

Andrew Wilkie, 2004. Photo by Rob Kennedy. Independent Andrew Wilkie won the Tasmanian seat of Denison at the recent federal elections. Previously, the seat had been held by Duncan Kerr for 23 years and was considered a safe Labor seat.

Wilkie came to prominence in 2003 when he resigned from his job at the Office of National Assessments in public protest against the former Liberal/National Coalition government's decision to invade Iraq. The invasion was based on the claim Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a claim that later proved to be false.

Wilkie ran as a federal candidate for the Greens in 2004 and 2007, but left the party in 2008 and ran as an independent candidate in the Tasmanian state elections in March 2010.

He has agreed to support the formation of a Labor minority government by not blocking supply or supporting frivolous no-confidence motions. He is not required to support Labor's policies, but instead plans to make a decision on every piece of legislation based on its merits.

He spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Melanie Barnes.

It’s an interesting election result. With a minority Labor government do you see an opportunity to bring about significant changes?

Absolutely. There will be a number of changes. The independents have already negotiated significant changes; we’ve achieved some parliamentary reform, about the length of question time as so on.

Everything has to come through parliament on its merits, based on what’s in the pubic interest, and blocked if necessary. The people who want to maintain our two-party strangle hold, our critics who say nothing will happen — I think the reality is quite the opposite.

There may or not be more policy that comes through parliament, but what does come through will be better policy.

I’ve been criticised about my decision to support the Labor government, and I wanted to remain independent. I and the other independents never thought we would be in a position like this, with a hung parliament; we assumed that a majority government would be elected.

So we were put in a position of having to support one party or another; if we didn’t then the choice would have been made for us. So I thought it better to be proactive.

Do you agree that the House of Representatives would be more representative if it was proportionally elected? For example, the Greens would have 17 seats under that system. Would you argue for such a reform?

I haven’t really thought about it. The situation in the Tasmanian state parliament, the proportional way the lower house is elected, is unique and works well. Every lower house electorate has five members, whereas [every electorate in] the rest of Australia only has one.

The outcome of the federal election has raised issues like: what does it mean if a party gets more votes? What should it mean if a party gets more seats? I would like to see a discussion around this.

In general, I do favour proportional representation, but I think it’s very unlikely we’ll get change anytime soon. There are good models, like in New Zealand where they have single-member electorates and proportional representatives in the same house.

There are interesting hybrid versions out there. I’m not agitating those changes to the House of Reps just yet.

You’ve spoken out against the Australian military intervention in Afghanistan. Do you think Australian troops should leave as soon as possible?

I feel strongly that we should get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. Now the government says the same thing, so what does “as soon as possible” mean?

In my mind, it’s a matter of months. As an ex-military person I know you can’t just suddenly say “get out today”; it takes months to get out. But that’s quite at odds with what the government and opposition say is possible.

On one hand, we’re there to create the conditions for peace to take hold. On the other hand, the presence of Australian troops is one of the main sources of problems. You can’t win, but if we stay it would be a disaster and if we go it will be a disaster.

I do think that Afghanistan needs to be allowed to find its natural political level, otherwise peace won’t take hold.

The biggest cause of the violence at the moment is the presence of the foreign troops. And by far the largest number of fighters there are nationalists, fighting for their village or their province or their country. And that’s what tends to be lost in this discussion.

I stressed during the election, and I’ll keep saying it, the biggest lie is that we’re there to fight terrorists, and if we don’t fight them there we’ll be fighting them here. That is absolute nonsense. Long ago, the terrorist threat morphed into a global threat, not dependent on any one country.

Sure, Afghanistan was a haven for terrorists in at some point in the past, but it is not now. There is no evidence that it will become the global centre for terrorism.

That’s not to say it won’t be an awful situation if the troops leave, but that’s the process that country will have to go through to find its natural political level. And the people who are responsible are the people who created this situation.

I got myself into trouble with the readers of Green Left Weekly years ago when I supported the initial invasion of Afghanistan. That view was based on knowledge I had, which I don’t think is well understood, that back then Al Qaeda actually was a very large political and military movement in Afghanistan and actually had a standing army with battalions of troops.

It was one of the main backers of the Taliban, and I don’t dispute the essence of the 9/11 story, so hence I supported that military action.

But my support ended almost immediately after that because they had a narrow window of opportunity in 2002 to settle things down. There was an unprecedented window of opportunity in 2002 when there was relative calm across the country, there was a sense of optimism about a new future, there was an interest in a central government, but the US and its allies abandoned Afghanistan in order to get ready for Iraq, and that created the security vacuum that is still being back filled with all the problems we’re now dealing with.

So my support ended after a few months, and since then I have been passionately anti- what has happened there.

The Greens have negotiated with Labor to hold a parliamentary debate on the issue. What’s your view on that?

That’s something I’ll pursue in the lower house. There needs to be a proper parliamentary debate about this. Those in the parliament who want us to stay there indefinitely — and that is their policy, they want us to stay there as long as the US wants us to stay there, that’s the extent of our Afghan policy, it’s that crude and simplistic and ineffective — I think the people who advocate that view need to defend it, or pull the troops out.

There was a large anti-war movement at the start of the war, and there still is a majority of people who want the troops to be pulled out. Do you see yourself as being a voice for the anti-war movement in parliament?

Yes. I will take every opportunity to speak against the war and the need to get the troops out as soon as possible. And I think I bring an interesting dimension to this, because the Greens — for all the good they do on this issue, there are a lot of people who have an instinctive response to the Greens and what they argue for. Whereas I bring a similar view, but I’m a more credible critic, having been in the army for 20 years. So I reckon I can bring a lot of value to this debate.

During the election campaign you campaigned for the rights of asylum seekers, to end offshore processing and to implement a more humanitarian approach towards refugees. What are the chances of shifting Australia’s policy on this?

I think any legislative change on this will struggle to get through parliament. Any legislative change in the lower house, I’ll vote against it, Adam Bandt will vote against it. I don’t know about the other independents. They may well vote against it.

What are the chances of ending offshore processing?

The whole point about offshore processing — the whole reason Liberal and Labor implemented it — was to deny these people [refugees] access to Australia’s legal system. It is a ruthless policy in that regard. They’re saying the legal rights that we deserve are not what they deserve.

It says a lot about our view of them as human beings, that they’re a lower class to the rest of us. Get rid of offshore processing, overturn the excision of the islands, don’t pretend they’re not part of Australia, and don’t introduce temporary protection visas.

Any change that needs to go through the parliament will have trouble now — unless the Coalition votes with Labor, which could happen. But so long as the Coalition opposes for opposition sake, it won’t get through the lower house.

You campaigned for action on climate change. What kind of action will you be pushing for?

At the end of the day, there has to be a price on carbon, so much revolves around that, and this carbon price may or may not be part of an emissions trading scheme. Until we have a price on carbon, we won’t see fundamental change.

Until polluters have to pay to pollute — until there’s a price signal in the marketplace — we won’t see much change. Other things are just around the margins.

What about renewable energy?

Yes, and taking advantage of Australia’s natural advantages, and our financial and intellectual advantages. If we had a government years ago that showed leadership on this, Australia now could be a global leader.

Australia could be to renewable energy what Saudi Arabia is to oil. We have enormous strengths, we’ve got natural resources and the wealth to develop them. I think it’s a missed opportunity to take a global leadership role, which isn’t just about money, it’s also about helping developing countries implement this technology too. Rich countries who can afford it should do it.

Do you think government should take responsibility for public investment in renewable energy?

Yes, without a doubt. Leaving it to the marketplace means half these things won’t happen — that’s why they’re going offshore. Australia can easily afford public funding for renewables.

One of the faults in the approach of [Labor Prime Minister Julia] Gillard is when she says we have to wait and build a consensus; well there are some things that are just so big and so important that the government has to take a leadership role.

The Greens have negotiated for a referendum on recognising Aboriginal rights in the constitution to be held within the next three years. Do you agree with this?

That’s also one of the points in my agreement with Gillard. It gives a weight to [Aboriginal people’s] history and existence now; their history and culture should be recognised.

It all depends on what goes into it; it’s easy for prime ministers to agree to these things but the devil is in the detail. What exactly will it mean? In absence of a bill of rights, it needs to be written in such a way that gives recognition to their heritage and their future.

What’s your opinion on the NT intervention?

I’ve got an inherent concern about it. I have been quite critical of it. I’m in no way critical of finding ways to help our Indigenous communities, but I have an inherent concern about this legislation. I opposed it at the time [it was introduced] and I think it should be overturned.

During the election campaign, you also spoke out strongly in favour of same-sex marriage rights. Do you think there will be a chance to get this through parliament?

I wrote a letter to both leaders two weeks ago, which was misrepresented in the media as a “wish list”. It wasn’t, it was my list of priorities. And one of them was a conscience vote on same-sex marriage.

I will look for every opportunity to make this happen. We don’t want to rush it through and not have it reflect the majority public opinion for it. We want it done properly, and not have it knocked back. I’ve no doubt there is overwhelming public support for it.

From Green Left Weekly  issue 851 Thursday, September 9, 2010

Friday, September 03, 2010

Interview with Greens MP elect Adam Bandt:'I'll give a voice to the movements'

Adam Bandt 
Adam Bandt, the MP elect for the seat of Melbourne (long considered a “safe Labor seat”), and the Greens' first House of Representatives member to be elected in a general election has been very busy since August 21. He says he left the triumphant Greens' election night party at 11pm thinking that he would have to do some media the next day so should get a good night's sleep. He woke up the next morning and after a couple of hours having coffee and reading the paper, the situation sunk in. “And that was the last two hours I've had to myself since”, he told Green Left in a wide-ranging interview conducted on September 2.

After days of negotiations following the August 21 federal election which left neither of the traditional parties of government with the majority of seats in Parliament to form government, the Greens and the Australian Labor Party announced an agreement on September 1. In return for placing a number of items (including a referendum on including Indigenous rights in the constitution, a full parliamentary debate on Australia's military intervention in Afghanistan, re-opeing the climate change response, expansion of public cover for dental care and electoral and parliamentary procedure reform) on the agenda of a possible ALP minority government, the Greens agreed to support Labor budgetary supply bills and to "oppose any motion of no confidence in the Government from other parties or MPs".

Since then, progressive independent MP elect Andrew Wilkie, who won the seat of Denison in Tasmania, has made a similar commitment to support an ALP minority government. Wilkie spurning a $1 billion dollar sweetener (in the form of extra funding for a public hospital in his electorate) from the Liberal-National Coalition.

The ALP now needs to win the support of at least two of the remaining three independent MPs in order to have the numbers to form government.

Below is the full transcript of the interview with Bandt conducted by Jody Betzien for Green Left. An edited down version will appear in the next print version of Green Left Weekly.
* * *
In the Seat of Melbourne your primary vote soared to 36% and on two-party preferred terms you defeated the ALP candidate Cath Bowtell by 10%. This large votes goes well beyond the traditional Green vote, what do you think is the significance of this rise in the Green vote in Melbourne and nationally?

We made a decision to run a campaign based on some positive values and plans. Compassion, sustainability and equality were the three key principles of our campaign. We called for urgent action on climate change. We called for compassionate treatment of asylum seekers and for an end to mandatory detention. And we called for full equality for same-sex couples.

We set out a positive plan for getting Melbourne running on renewal energy within a decade, redirecting federal money away from roads to public transport. I think that in an overwhelmingly negative election campaign, putting forward a positive vision for how things could be better, was well received.

One of the things that we did differently to last time is that we made conscious efforts to get our message to the people on low incomes who live in the electorate particularly in public housing. This is one of the electorates with the highest concentration of public housing tenants in the country.

We took a very strong stance against Labor's income management proposals, against their plans to toughen welfare rules, and in favour of ideas like making dental care part of Medicare and increasing Newstart [unemployment benefit] payments.

I think those things in combination with a strong grassroots campaign are the reasons for our vote.
A strong contribution to your campaign came from unionists who were angry with Labor's industrial relations policies, especially the plans to maintain the anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) under another name. How do you see as your role as an MP in this campaign?

I've had a long involvement with this issue. I have represented construction workers before the Royal Commission into the building industry and I have defended many individual unionists and unions against charges brought by the ABCC. And the Greens have had a strong position in favour of the repeal of the ABCC act.

We are now in a position to bring bills before Parliament to abolish the ABCC.

Based on our agreement with the Labor Party, if a Gillard government is elected, we will have the ability to introduce our legislation to Parliament and have it debated and voted on. That is a significant opportunity to ensure that we end up with one set of industrial laws for all workers in Australia, without certain sections being picked off and treated specially.

With a few notable exceptions, the ACTU and affiliated unions backed Cath Bowtell in the Seat of Melbourne, including enlisting staff to ring up members and donating large amounts of money. What is your message to unionists post-election and your victory?

I'm very grateful that a number of unions were able to objectively assess the Greens industrial relations policies and to realise that we had policies that would better protect people's rights at work than under those of the Labor party.

A few unions did tell their members that our policies were the best policies. I am deeply appreciative of the unions which did that.

Other unions supported the Labor candidate, and that is their right. It was disappointing that the peak bodies chose to intervene on the side of Labor when the Greens had the more progressive industrial relations policies. This was disappointing as many unions had expressed the view that peak bodies shouldn't take sides in this contest. But they did and showed themselves to be more willing to support the ALP than a party that had better industrial relations policies.

Some people contacted me to say that they had resigned from their union as a result of their union's funds and ACTU funds being used to run a campaign against a candidate who had a progressive and principled stance on industrial relations.

You would not have won the seat if the Liberals hadn't given preferences to you before the Labor party. After your victory, a number of business groups and right-wing commentators like Gerard Henderson have called on the Liberal party to stop this practice. How will you counter that possibility in the next elections, including the state election?

In this election one in nine people across the country voted for the Greens and if we had a fair system of proportional representation in the House of Representatives we would have 17 seats rather than the one that we've got.

In the system that we've got, the people who voted for the Liberals tended to put us second last and Labor last. Those people's votes were important in the final result.

It wouldn't surprise me if more conservative employer groups do begin to conduct that sort of campaign. And the fact that conservative employer groups are saying that the Labor party should be preferenced over the Greens shows how far the Labor party has drifted to the right.

How do we deal with it? I think my job is now to increase my vote and to ultimately move to a situation where we can win seats like Melbourne because the majority of the people vote for us.

I also had a large number of people come up to me in the final stage of the campaign saying that they were small “l”liberals who were disappointed with the stances that the Liberal party had taken in particular the increasing role that conservative views in organised religion was playing in politics. They felt that the Liberal party no longer represented small “l” liberal values and they were moving to us for the reason that the Liberal party was becoming more conservative as well.

Electoral reform has been placed on the agenda in the agreement with the ALP but the need for proportional representation in House of Representatives elections, which you mentioned earlier, was not mentioned in the agreement. Was it raised during the negotiations with the ALP and will the Greens raise it as part of your electoral reform agenda?

I think proportional representation is important and a fair way of reflecting the will of the people in Parliament and what we've seen very clearly in this election – and it is an increasing trend worldwide – is that people want new new voices that aren't represented by the two major parties.

Of course there are people in Parliament who don't want proportional representation, including the major parties and others, so we have got our work cut out for us to persuade the Australian people that we need a system of proportional representation. It is something that we do want and it is something we have raised in previous parliaments and we will continue to raise.

Obviously the agreement that was reached with the Labor party focused on those areas where we were approaching common ground. For instance, we have got the beginnings of some real movement on climate change, we have the beginnings of agreement on an expansion of the dental care system, and the construction of high-speed rail on the East Coast.

What this agreement isn't is a coalition or an alliance. We have maintained our separate party platforms and this is something we will continue to pursue in Parliament and outside.

One area where we differ from the ALP and we haven't reached agreement on is the issue of proportional representation and there are many others same-sex marriage, asylum seekers, forests, and many other things that we will continue to push in Parliament.

The Greens-ALP agreement promises to introduce a referendum on including Indigenous rights into the constitution. Are you looking at just symbolic recognition or to entrench some real rights for Indigenous people in the constitution? And will Indigenous communities have a say in developing such a constitutional proposal?

I would hope so. It is now an open question as to what kind of recognition it would be, what form it would take and who will draft it. I would really hope that we end up with something substantive out of it. What we have sought to do is open up a front of discussion in the public sphere about the proper way to recognise Indigenous people in constitution. The Greens are very clear that our preference is to see a treaty and to have Aboriginal sovereignty recognised and to push for self-determination. It will only work if it is a recognition that comes from the bottom up and not from the top down.

In the process that will now unfold, should Julia Gillard form government, there will be opportunity for that discussion to be had and that it doesn't go the way of the republic debate.

A parliamentary debate on the Australian military intervention in Afghanistan is another part of the agreement. What positions will the Greens enter this debate with?

We have always opposed the war on Afghanistan. We have been the only party in Parliament to do so. We've said from the beginning that this was the wrong approach, that there wasn't a justification for doing it, and that, at a minimum, there should have been a parliamentary debate, which we believe should take place before any troop commitment is made.

During the course of the full parliamentary debate we will make our position very clear: that this is a war that Australia should not have been involved in and that it is time now for an exit strategy.

There is a big disparity between the views of most MP s and that of the Australian public, with 61% according to a recent Essential Poll wanting Australian troops to be withdrawn. Given the position of both major parties a parliamentary debate is going to be a bit stacked against majority public opinion. Do you see the Greens being able to assist the anti-war movement to mobilise pressure on parliament to come into line with the majority desire for withdrawal of the troops?

On issues like the war in Afghanistan as well as recognition of same-sex marriage there is a significant disjuncture between public opinion and the positions of the major parties. Because the two major parties are in agreement about issues like these there hasn't been the space for debate on them and the disparity has not been brought into the open.

One of the things that we place a priority on is giving a voice to social movements and to that undercurrent of progressive public opinion that is not being represented. The one thing that should come out of a full public debate is precisely how far away the major parties are increasingly from what people are thinking.

Under the agreement the ALP leadership also agreed to re-open the response to the climate change crisis. The Greens have called for placing a price on carbon to implement some form of market solution to climate change. The last plan of that type that the ALP came up with, the so-called Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), gave massive subsidies to the big polluters, and according to some analysts would not even have delivered the modest greenhouse emission reduction targets set by the Labor government. How will the Greens' market solution to climate change differ?

There were a number of reasons why we opposed the CPRS. They included those you just mentioned. Under the CPRS Australia's domestic emissions wouldn't start to fall until 2035 plus it took billions of dollars in compensation away from households to give to the big polluters. It would have set Australia on a path of rising emissions and money going into the pockets of large corporations which would have sent them offshore without any reduction of our emissions.

What the new climate committee [to be established under the Greens-ALP agreement] will do is go back to the drawing board and acknowledge that there needs to be a price tag on pollution. There are a number of ways this could be done, ranging from a straight carbon tax to a fully-fledged emissions trading scheme. The principle we will be advancing is that the big polluters should pay the costs of addressing climate change and it shouldn't come from ordinary people and consumers. There are various ways to address this problem and this is one of the things the committee will have to look at. Some are more market-based solutions and others are based more on the taxation system.

We'll now have the opportunity not to play politics with climate change, as was done under the Rudd government, when CPRS was used to try and wedge the Coalition while they refused to negotiate with the Greens over climate change. And it all ended up with what Professor Ross Garnaut described as the worst example of public policy making he had ever seen.

We now have the opportunity to get around the table people who agree that polluters should pay for their pollution and work out a system that is going to stick.

If there is an ALP minority government supported by the Greens, will the Greens commit to assessing and voting on all bills (with the exception of supply bills) on their merits as Wilkie has expressly indicated he will? Will any future agreements made with the ALP be made public immediately, as was done with your recent agreement?

The only guarantees we have made to the ALP in this agreement are to support supply and to assist the government if ant motions of no-confidence are moved and that's it. We will maintain our independent legislative platform comprising the policies we took to the election. There remain many areas where we will disagree with Labor and the other major parties such as treatment of asylum seekers, same-sex marriage, forests and a number of other areas that are not reflected in the agreement precisely because we have different positions to Labor on them.

I will be judging pieces of legislation on two things: one is our party platform and the other is the interests of the people I represent.

What flow on effect to you expect from the federal election outcome to the upcoming Victorian (November 2010) and NSW (March 2011) state elections? There have been concerns in the left and labour movements about suggestions that the Greens may entertain supporting or even contemplate entering coalition state governments with the Liberal-National Party Coalition. What do you say in response to these concerns?

The state elections will be treated as a “clean slate”. There are different issues at play in the state and federal elections.

The Greens are an independent political party. We are not a faction of the Labor party and the Labor party cannot presume that no matter how far they lurch to the right they can always rely on our support.
Having said that I would invite people to look at our record and how we have operated in recent times in balance of power situations. In Tasmania we have Labor and Greens working together in a coalition government with Green ministers and in the ACT we have Greens supporting a minority Labor government.

Flying the Flag, Faking the News by John Pilger

Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, is said to have invented modern propaganda. During the First World War, he was one of a group of influential liberals who mounted a secret government campaign to persuade reluctant Americans to send an army to the bloodbath in Europe. In his book Propaganda, published in 1928, Bernays wrote that the "intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society", and that the manipulators "constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country". Instead of propaganda, he coined the euphemism "public relations".

The American tobacco industry hired Bernays to convince women that they should smoke in public. By associating smoking with women's liberation, he made cigarettes "torches of freedom". In 1954, he conjured a communist menace in Guatemala as an excuse for overthrowing the democratically elected government, whose social reforms were threatening the United Fruit Company's monopoly of the banana trade. He called it a "liberation".

Bernays was no rabid right-winger. He was an elitist liberal who believed that "engineering public consent" was for the greater good. This could be achieved by the creation of "false realities" which then became "news events". Here are examples of how it is done these days.

False reality The last US combat troops have left Iraq "as promised, on schedule", according to President Barack Obama. The TV news has been filled with cinematic images of the "last US soldiers", silhouetted against the dawn light, crossing the border into Kuwait.

Fact They have not left. At least 50,000 troops will continue to operate from 94 bases. American air assaults are unchanged, as are special forces' assassinations. The number of "military contractors" is 100,000 and rising. Most Iraqi oil is now under direct foreign control.

False reality BBC presenters have described the departing US troops as a "sort of victorious army" that has achieved "a remarkable change in [Iraq's] fortunes". Their commander, General David Petraeus, is a "celebrity", "charming", "savvy" and "remarkable".

Fact There is no victory of any sort. There is a catastrophic disaster, and attempts to present it as otherwise are a model of Bernays's campaign to "rebrand" the slaughter of the First World War as "necessary" and "noble". In 1980, Ronald Reagan, running for president, rebranded the invasion of Vietnam, in which up to three million people died, as a "noble cause", a theme taken up enthusiastically by Hollywood. Today's Iraq war movies have a similar purging theme: the invader as both idealist and victim.

False reality It is not known how many Iraqis have died. They are "countless", or maybe "in the tens of thousands".

Fact As a direct consequence of the Anglo-American-led invasion, a million Iraqis have died. This figure, from Opinion Research Business, follows peer-reviewed research by Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, whose methods were secretly affirmed as "best practice" and "robust" by the Blair government's chief scientific adviser. This is rarely reported or presented to "charming" American generals. Neither is the dispossession of four million Iraqis, the malnourishment of most Iraqi children, the epidemic of mental illness, or the poisoning of the environment.

False reality The British economy has a deficit of billions which must be reduced with cuts in public services and regressive taxation, in a spirit of "we're all in this together".

Fact We are not in this together. What is remarkable about this PR triumph is that only 18 months ago, the diametric opposite filled TV screens and front pages. Then, in a state of shock, truth became unavoidable, if briefly. The Wall Street and City of London trough was on full view for the first time, along with the venality of once-celebrated snouts. Billions in public money went to inept and crooked organisations known as banks, which were spared debt liability by their Labour government sponsors.

Within a year, record profits and personal bonuses were posted and the "black hole" was no longer the responsibility of the banks, whose debt is to be paid by those not in any way responsible: the public. The received media wisdom of this "necessity" is now a chorus, from the BBC to the Sun. A masterstroke, Bernays would surely say.

False reality Ed Miliband offers a "genuine alternative" as leader of the Labour Party.

Fact Miliband, like his brother and almost all those standing for the Labour leadership, is immersed in the effluent of New Labour. As a New Labour MP and minister, he did not refuse to serve under Blair or to speak out against Labour's persistent warmongering. He now calls the invasion of Iraq a "profound mistake". Calling it a mistake insults the memory and the dead. It was a crime, of which the evidence is voluminous. He has nothing new to say about the other colonial wars, none of them mistakes. Neither has he demanded basic social justice - that those who caused the recession clear up the mess and that Britain's fabulously rich corporate minority be taxed seriously, starting with Rupert Murdoch.

The good news is that false realities often fail when the public trusts its own critical intelligence. Two classified documents recently released by WikiLeaks express the CIA's concern that the populations of European countries, which oppose their governments' war policies, are not succumbing to the usual propaganda spun through the media.

For the rulers of the world, this is a conundrum, because their unaccountable power rests on the false reality that no popular resistance works. And it does.
John Pilger was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been a war correspondent, film-maker and playwright. Based in London, he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism's highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his work in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

They all sell out in the end by Mark Steel

Now there must be loads of people who wish they'd be accused of making mistakes on purpose to satisfy a betting scam. Gordon Brown would love it if he could claim he wasn't really bafflingly useless, he'd thrown the election on the instructions of a crook with a drawer full of fifties. And the England football team would be delighted to reveal that of course they could have beaten Algeria if they'd tried, but you could get 50-1 against a draw in which England were shite beyond the power of rational thought so they couldn't resist.

But even so everyone in charge of cricket seems to be shocked at claims of Pakistani fiddling, in which the honour of the game was allegedly sacrificed for vulgar cash. The English Cricket Board must be especially horrified, because when Allen Stanford, on trial for fraud involving $8bn, offered several million if they took part in his Stanford tournament, they waited an honourable three seconds before replying "Ooooooh, yes, please, ooooh, of course, Mr Stanford, we'll change the rules if you like and play with a beach ball or play naked or allow a fielder to prod the batsman with a cactus anything you like, oooh, you're so rich would you like to grope the players' wives? We could have words with Mrs Flintoff. Oooh, so much money."

So their complaint about the Pakistanis must be "damned fools to bowl deliberate no-balls for £10,000. They should have held out for fifty". The current chairman of the England Cricket Board is Giles Clarke, who became a millionaire through investment banking, so you can imagine he must be appalled at how anyone could ignore the long term social implications of their actions and only consider short-term selfish gain.

Because cricket is about fair play and not trying to obsessively enrich yourself, which is why another recent chairman was Lord MacLaurin, former CEO of Tesco. Presumably they said: "This chap looks ideally suited as he's got an average of 14. That's nothing to do with his batting, it's his average place on the Sunday Times Rich List." If Richard Branson fancied it, he could probably wangle a place as England's wicketkeeper.

To be fair, this attitude isn't confined to England. The president of the International Cricket Council is Sharad Pawar, the richest politician in India, who's warned the Pakistanis should drop the suspected cheats because "if you have tainted players taking part it might lead to people not watching the matches and that has a knock-on effect for sponsors and marketers". And it is horrifying that players care more about money than the beauty of the game, with no thought for how hard that makes it to attract young impressionable fans such as npower.

The cricket authorities' current mania for 20- overs cricket is similarly driven by short-term gain, and it seems they'd promote whichever form of the game the sponsors and marketers demanded.

Next year they'll take advice from World Wrestling and players will all have characters, like "Wild Boy Pietersen" who bats on a horse, or "Secret Swanny Spinner" who wears a mask as he's bowling and sometimes the opposing captain tries to rip it off. Then the whole thing can be fixed as commentators yell: "Oh my goodness, the twelfth man's brought the drinks out but he's got an axe and he's swinging it at the batsman, who's complaining he can't see the axe because of bad light and now the third umpire's driving onto the pitch in a tank, have you ever seen anything like this, Sir Ian?"

The decision to sell the TV rights to Sky was based on short-term profit, although it removed the game from anyone who doesn't pay for Sky Sports. If the Playboy Channel offered a couple of million more, the English Cricket Board would take it, and the opening bowlers for the Ashes would be Candy, 25, and Ginger, 19, who'd promote the matches by sitting on the pitch giggling: "We can swing it both ways in the right conditions."

The philosophy that controls world cricket is the one that controls the world; to make as much profit as quickly as possible and never mind about what happens later. Perhaps the accused thought they were only following the rules of the game.

First published in The Independent on 1st September 2010