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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mark Steel: Iraq was such a laugh, let's do it to Iran

 Why can't our leaders think up new stories to justify a military attack? 

Governments and commentators keen on promoting a war against Iran should be stridently opposed, not so much because of the threat to world peace, but because their reasons display a shocking lack of imagination. The most common one is that Iran has "Weapons of Mass Destruction". How pathetic to pick the same excuse twice in a row. They should make it more interesting, by revealing evidence that Ahmadinejad has built a Terminator, or plans to fill the Strait of Hormuz with a giant Alka-Seltzer so the Persian Gulf fizzes over Kuwait.

What's become of Western leaders, that they can't think up new stories to justify a military attack? Are they going to re-use all the old ones, so if this doesn't work William Hague will say "Iran is threatening the sovereignty of Prussia".

That would be more persuasive than the US government's effort, reported in the Wall Street Journal as "US officials say they believe Iran recently gave freedom to five top al-Qa'ida operatives". It's as if the last outing was such a laugh, they want to do everything exactly the same. The British are probably already on the lookout for a weapons expert with suicidal tendencies.

One part they've copied accurately from the last war is the practice of interpreting every report as proof of the existence of these weapons. For example, the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded: "There is certainly no indication that Iran has nuclear weapons capacity or could have it soon." So The New York Times reported this as "a recent assessment by the IAEA confirms Iran's nuclear program has a military objective".

A local book club could produce minutes of a meeting that said "Everyone enjoyed discussing Great Expectations, then retired to the Royal Oak for much deserved refreshments!" And next day half the cabinet would be on the radio saying: "This book club report confirms the Iranian navy is plotting to explode Jerusalem."

One trick they use is to insist that, even if Iran isn't building nuclear weapons, it's a threat anyway because it "aspires" to have them. But if we went to war with everyone who aspired to have deadly weapons, most teenage boys would have to be invaded, David Haye and Dereck Chisora would be overthrown and replaced by the UN, and the whole world would be on fire.

At least Hillary Clinton offered a variation, tell ing us "Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship". The only slight flaw in her argument was she said this in Qatar, so she was lucky her hosts didn't add, "Yes, what's taking them so long? Instead of fussing about moving towards one, why don't they just become one like us? Sorry, Hillary, carry on."

So, to cut out these embarrassments, they might be better off invading Saudi Arabia. Instead of the rigmarole of trying to prove a dictator has Weapons of Mass Destruction, they can say: "We know they've got 84 warplanes worth $30bn, because we sold the things to them six weeks ago."

Noam Chomsky: The Decline of American Empire (Part 2)

The principles of imperial domination have undergone little change, but the capacity to implement them has markedly declined.

In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, “losses” continued to mount elsewhere.  In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery.  They have also rid themselves of all U.S. military bases and of IMF controls.  A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the U.S. and Canada.  If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as “the backyard.”

Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries -- Middle East/North Africa -- which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” Control of MENA energy reserves would yield “substantial control of the world,” in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor A.A. Berle.

To be sure, if the projections of a century of U.S. energy independence based on North American energy resources turn out to be realistic, the significance of controlling MENA would decline somewhat, though probably not by much: the main concern has always been control more than access.  However, the likely consequences to the planet’s equilibrium are so ominous that discussion may be largely an academic exercise.

The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial “loss” of MENA.  The US and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome -- so far, with considerable success.  Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to U.S. influence and control.

Favored dictators are supported as long as they can maintain control (as in the major oil states).  When that is no longer possible, then discard them and try to restore the old regime as fully as possible (as in Tunisia and Egypt).  The general pattern is familiar: Somoza, Marcos, Duvalier, Mobutu, Suharto, and many others.  In one case, Libya, the three traditional imperial powers intervened by force to participate in a rebellion to overthrow a mercurial and unreliable dictator, opening the way, it is expected, to more efficient control over Libya’s rich resources (oil primarily, but also water, of particular interest to French corporations), to a possible base for the U.S. Africa Command (so far restricted to Germany), and to the reversal of growing Chinese penetration.  As far as policy goes, there have been few surprises.

Crucially, it is important to reduce the threat of functioning democracy, in which popular opinion will significantly influence policy.  That again is routine, and quite understandable.  A look at the studies of public opinion undertaken by U.S. polling agencies in the MENA countries easily explains the western fear of authentic democracy, in which public opinion will significantly influence policy.

Israel and the Republican Party

Similar considerations carry over directly to the second major concern addressed in the issue of Foreign Affairs cited in part one of this piece: the Israel-Palestine conflict.   Fear of democracy could hardly be more clearly exhibited than in this case.  In January 2006, an election took place in Palestine, pronounced free and fair by international monitors.  The instant reaction of the U.S. (and of course Israel), with Europe following along politely, was to impose harsh penalties on Palestinians for voting the wrong way.
That is no innovation.  It is quite in accord with the general and unsurprising principle recognized by mainstream scholarship: the U.S. supports democracy if, and only if, the outcomes accord with its strategic and economic objectives, the rueful conclusion of neo-Reaganite Thomas Carothers, the most careful and respected scholarly analyst of “democracy promotion” initiatives.

More broadly, for 35 years the U.S. has led the rejectionist camp on Israel-Palestine, blocking an international consensus calling for a political settlement in terms too well known to require repetition.  The western mantra is that Israel seeks negotiations without preconditions, while the Palestinians refuse.  The opposite is more accurate.  The U.S. and Israel demand strict preconditions, which are, furthermore, designed to ensure that negotiations will lead either to Palestinian capitulation on crucial issues, or nowhere.

The first precondition is that the negotiations must be supervised by Washington, which makes about as much sense as demanding that Iran supervise the negotiation of Sunni-Shia conflicts in Iraq.  Serious negotiations would have to be under the auspices of some neutral party, preferably one that commands some international respect, perhaps Brazil.  The negotiations would seek to resolve the conflicts between the two antagonists: the U.S.-Israel on one side, most of the world on the other.

The second precondition is that Israel must be free to expand its illegal settlements in the West Bank.  Theoretically, the U.S. opposes these actions, but with a very light tap on the wrist, while continuing to provide economic, diplomatic, and military support.  When the U.S. does have some limited objections, it very easily bars the actions, as in the case of the E-1 project linking Greater Jerusalem to the town of Ma’aleh Adumim, virtually bisecting the West Bank, a very high priority for Israeli planners (across the spectrum), but raising some objections in Washington, so that Israel has had to resort to devious measures to chip away at the project.

The pretense of opposition reached the level of farce last February when Obama vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for implementation of official U.S. policy (also adding the uncontroversial observation that the settlements themselves are illegal, quite apart from expansion).  Since that time there has been little talk about ending settlement expansion, which continues, with studied provocation.

Thus, as Israeli and Palestinian representatives prepared to meet in Jordan in January 2011, Israel announced new construction in Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa, West Bank areas that it has declared to be within the greatly expanded area of Jerusalem, annexed, settled, and constructed as Israel’s capital, all in violation of direct Security Council orders.  Other moves carry forward the grander design of separating whatever West Bank enclaves will be left to Palestinian administration from the cultural, commercial, political center of Palestinian life in the former Jerusalem.

It is understandable that Palestinian rights should be marginalized in U.S. policy and discourse.  Palestinians have no wealth or power.  They offer virtually nothing to U.S. policy concerns; in fact, they have negative value, as a nuisance that stirs up “the Arab street.”

Israel, in contrast, is a valuable ally.  It is a rich society with a sophisticated, largely militarized high-tech industry.  For decades, it has been a highly valued military and strategic ally, particularly since 1967, when it performed a great service to the U.S. and its Saudi ally by destroying the Nasserite “virus,” establishing the “special relationship” with Washington in the form that has persisted since.  It is also a growing center for U.S. high-tech investment.  In fact, high tech and particularly military industries in the two countries are closely linked.
Apart from such elementary considerations of great power politics as these, there are cultural factors that should not be ignored.  Christian Zionism in Britain and the U.S. long preceded Jewish Zionism, and has been a significant elite phenomenon with clear policy implications (including the Balfour Declaration, which drew from it).  When General Allenby conquered Jerusalem during World War I, he was hailed in the American press as Richard the Lion-Hearted, who had at last won the Crusades and driven the pagans out of the Holy Land.

The next step was for the Chosen People to return to the land promised to them by the Lord.  Articulating a common elite view, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes described Jewish colonization of Palestine as an achievement “without comparison in the history of the human race.” Such attitudes find their place easily within the Providentialist doctrines that have been a strong element in popular and elite culture since the country’s origins: the belief that God has a plan for the world and the U.S. is carrying it forward under divine guidance, as articulated by a long list of leading figures.

Moreover, evangelical Christianity is a major popular force in the U.S.  Further toward the extremes, End Times evangelical Christianity also has enormous popular outreach, invigorated by the establishment of Israel in 1948, revitalized even more by the conquest of the rest of Palestine in 1967 -- all signs that End Times and the Second Coming are approaching.

These forces have become particularly significant since the Reagan years, as the Republicans have abandoned the pretense of being a political party in the traditional sense, while devoting themselves in virtual lockstep uniformity to servicing a tiny percentage of the super-rich and the corporate sector.  However, the small constituency that is primarily served by the reconstructed party cannot provide votes, so they have to turn elsewhere.

The only choice is to mobilize tendencies that have always been present, though rarely as an organized political force: primarily nativists trembling in fear and hatred, and religious elements that are extremists by international standards but not in the U.S.  One outcome is reverence for alleged Biblical prophecies, hence not only support for Israel and its conquests and expansion, but passionate love for Israel, another core part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates -- with Democrats, again, not too far behind.

These factors aside, it should not be forgotten that the “Anglosphere” -- Britain and its offshoots -- consists of settler-colonial societies, which rose on the ashes of indigenous populations, suppressed or virtually exterminated.  Past practices must have been basically correct, in the U.S. case even ordained by Divine Providence.  Accordingly there is often an intuitive sympathy for the children of Israel when they follow a similar course.  But primarily, geostrategic and economic interests prevail, and policy is not graven in stone.

The Iranian “Threat” and the Nuclear Issue

Let us turn finally to the third of the leading issues addressed in the establishment journals cited earlier, the “threat of Iran.” Among elites and the political class this is generally taken to be the primary threat to world order -- though not among populations.  In Europe, polls show that Israel is regarded as the leading threat to peace.  In the MENA countries, that status is shared with the U.S., to the extent that in Egypt, on the eve of the Tahrir Square uprising, 80% felt that the region would be more secure if Iran had nuclear weapons.  The same polls found that only 10% regard Iran as a threat -- unlike the ruling dictators, who have their own concerns.
In the United States, before the massive propaganda campaigns of the past few years, a majority of the population agreed with most of the world that, as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to carry out uranium enrichment.  And even today, a large majority favors peaceful means for dealing with Iran.  There is even strong opposition to military engagement if Iran and Israel are at war.  Only a quarter regard Iran as an important concern for the U.S. altogether.  But it is not unusual for there to be a gap, often a chasm, dividing public opinion and policy.

Why exactly is Iran regarded as such a colossal threat? The question is rarely discussed, but it is not hard to find a serious answer -- though not, as usual, in the fevered pronouncements.  The most authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and the intelligence services in their regular reports to Congress on global security.  They report that Iran does not pose a military threat.  Its military spending is very low even by the standards of the region, minuscule of course in comparison with the U.S.

Iran has little capacity to deploy force.  Its strategic doctrines are defensive, designed to deter invasion long enough for diplomacy to set it.  If Iran is developing nuclear weapons capability, they report, that would be part of its deterrence strategy.  No serious analyst believes that the ruling clerics are eager to see their country and possessions vaporized, the immediate consequence of their coming even close to initiating a nuclear war.  And it is hardly necessary to spell out the reasons why any Iranian leadership would be concerned with deterrence, under existing circumstances.

The regime is doubtless a serious threat to much of its own population -- and regrettably, is hardly unique on that score.  But the primary threat to the U.S. and Israel is that Iran might deter their free exercise of violence.  A further threat is that the Iranians clearly seek to extend their influence to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond as well.  Those “illegitimate” acts are called “destabilizing” (or worse).  In contrast, forceful imposition of U.S. influence halfway around the world contributes to “stability” and order, in accord with traditional doctrine about who owns the world.

It makes very good sense to try to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear weapons states, including the three that have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- Israel, India, and Pakistan, all of which have been assisted in developing nuclear weapons by the U.S., and are still being assisted by them.  It is not impossible to approach that goal by peaceful diplomatic means.  One approach, which enjoys overwhelming international support, is to undertake meaningful steps towards establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, including Iran and Israel (and applying as well to U.S. forces deployed there), better still extending to South Asia.

Support for such efforts is so strong that the Obama administration has been compelled to formally agree, but with reservations: crucially, that Israel’s nuclear program must not be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Association, and that no state (meaning the U.S.) should be required to release information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.” Obama also accepts Israel’s position that any such proposal must be conditional on a comprehensive peace settlement, which the U.S. and Israel can continue to delay indefinitely.
This survey comes nowhere near being exhaustive, needless to say. Among major topics not addressed is the shift of U.S. military policy towards the Asia-Pacific region, with new additions to the huge military base system underway right now, in Jeju Island off South Korea and Northwest Australia, all elements of the policy of “containment of China.” Closely related is the issue of U.S. bases in Okinawa, bitterly opposed by the population for many years, and a continual crisis in U.S.-Tokyo-Okinawa relations.

Revealing how little fundamental assumptions have changed, U.S. strategic analysts describe the result of China’s military programs as a “classic 'security dilemma,' whereby military programs and national strategies deemed defensive by their planners are viewed as threatening by the other side,” writes Paul Godwin of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.  The security dilemma arises over control of the seas off China’s coasts.  The U.S. regards its policies of controlling these waters as “defensive,” while China regards them as threatening; correspondingly, China regards its actions in nearby areas as “defensive” while the U.S. regards them as threatening.   No such debate is even imaginable concerning U.S. coastal waters.  This “classic security dilemma” makes sense, again, on the assumption that the U.S. has a right to control most of the world, and that U.S. security requires something approaching absolute global control.

While the principles of imperial domination have undergone little change, the capacity to implement them has markedly declined as power has become more broadly distributed in a diversifying world.  Consequences are many.  It is, however, very important to bear in mind that -- unfortunately -- none lifts the two dark clouds that hover over all consideration of global order: nuclear war and environmental catastrophe, both literally threatening the decent survival of the species.

Quite the contrary. Both threats are ominous, and increasing.

Naomi Wolf:From Rocky Flats to Fukushima: This Nuclear Folly


There's no such thing as safe and accidents are always covered up. So why let Obama build a whole new generation of reactors?

In March 2011, novelist Kristen Iversen's memoir, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, was waiting sedately among piles of other manuscripts at various publishing houses. Then, Japan was hit by a tsunami, and the cooling systems of the Fukushima nuclear reactor were overwhelmed, giving the world apocalyptic images of toxic floods and floating cars, of whole provinces made uninhabitable.Rocky Flats nuclear facility workers in a plutonium storage area, 1988. 

Immediately, Iversen's book was auctioned, and the timing of its publication, in June, could not be better – since, incredibly, in the shadow of the Fukushima disaster, and even as Japan and other nations see movements against the use of nuclear power ever again – President Obama is planning more investment in nuclear energy. The US is soon to start construction on several new reactors for the first time in three decades.

Iversen, a softspoken woman with a laid-back western vibe, wearing jeans and lavender scarf, seems an unlikely prophet of nuclear catastrophe. But her message is searing. She grew up in a small town near Rocky Flats, Colorado, where a secret nuclear weapons plant built over 70,000 plutonium "triggers" for nuclear bombs.

Iversen spoke with me this week about her research in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where we were at a writer's conference. She explained that "triggers" was a euphemism: the plant, which, throughout her childhood, was so secret that her mother believed they made cleaning supplies, was actually producing plutonium "buttons". In other words, these were the nuclear bombs themselves; they needed only a casing of explosives to be activated.

"They made Nagasaki bombs in my backyard," she explains.

Unknown to the families living in the shadow of the classified facility, deadly plutonium particles were seeded among the stunning beauty of the mountain landscape. As Iversen grew up, she became aware of the growing incidence of bizarre cancers being diagnosed in local children. Iversen's reporting, extensive interviews, and review of FBI and EPA documents, shows how classifying a toxic nuclear site led to the ruin of hundreds of lives – and continues to pose ever-escalating threats as the legacy of what we know about such nuclear contamination is being swept under the rug by developers, energy lobbyists and government agencies colluding with them, at the risk of exposing more of us, more severely.

The nature of the cover-up is incredible: in 1989, the FBI joined forces with the EPA to raid on the plant. The plant, in turn, was owned by the Department of Energy.

"It's the only time in the history of our country that, to my knowledge, two government agencies have raided another," notes Iversen. A grand jury investigation followed the raid, and jurors called for indictments against Rockwell, the manufacturer, and Department of Energy officials. In spite of this, not one indictment was ever issued. The jurors, furious, actually wrote their own report on the contamination and the suppression of the facts – which, astoundingly, still remains under seal.

But cancer rates are telling the tale: they remain elevated in neighborhoods around Rocky Flats 30 years on (plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years). Recent tests confirm earlier findings: there is still contamination in the soil.

Although there is a scientific consensus that no exposure is safe, no matter how brief, Iversen reports:
"There's a big push in Denver right now to build a highway, the Jefferson Parkway, on the contaminated area. This is all prime real estate and many developers and city politicians are pushing to develop the area and pretend that Rocky Flats never existed."
So, profit motives are driving the push to develop lands that, according to scientists, can never be inhabited safely again. And profit motives are driving an even more demented plan on a state-by-state level, astoundingly, to ship American schoolchildren into these no-go areas.

Clean-up of nuclear contamination is expensive, and laws allow an area to remain as is, with high levels of contaminants in the soil, so long as they are designated "wildlife refuges". To save money and effort, the US government, as well as individual state governments around the country, are now pushing to turn former nuclear weapons sites around the nation into wildlife refuges, which schoolchildren would be taken to visit on class trips.

Nuclear scientists Iversen interviewed are horrified by these plans, arguing that these areas should be permanently closed off to the public and declared "National Sacrifice Zones". And as if enough damage had not been done, a new nuclear pit production facility is planned for Los Alamos, Texas, with the capability of producing up to 450 plutonium triggers per year.

Although the accident at Fukushima raised global awareness about the lasting, overwhelming dangers to human beings of radioactive contamination, the money that the energy lobby sees in building more nuclear facilities is just too good to rein in, catastrophe or no catastrophe. US energy policy, driven by industry lobbyists, remains committed to developing nuclear power, even as nations around the world are canceling their own nuclear plans: last month alone, Germany spent $2.15tn to abandon nuclear power, a decision taken after witnessing Japan's 2011 nuclear disaster.

"At a time when the world is supposed to be decreasing the nuclear arsenal, our government is talking about producing nuclear triggers again. We need to pay attention," warns Iversen.

While the rest of the world, especially countries whose legislatures are less dominated by special interests, do the sane thing regarding nuclear power and the threat of catastrophe, the US scampers merrily in the direction of madness. President Obama recently announced – as if this were a good thing – that the Department of Energy has given the green light to an $8bn loan guarantee program to build two, brand new nuclear power plants in Georgia. This, in spite of scientific warnings about dangers posed by those plants' risk to local residents by nuclear waste disposal issues.

There have been numerous nuclear disasters or near-disasters, besides Fukushima, in recent decades: they include the Mayak facility in Russia, as well as spills and contamination at other former nuclear weapons sites around the United States such as Hanford and Fernald.

Iversen, who has family members who've experienced tumors and other cancer scares, worries about her own health. For her, the time to sound the alarm about America's plans for a new generation of nuclear facilities is now.
"One fact is for sure: there is no safe level of exposure to plutonium. One millionth of a gram, particularly if it is inhaled into the lungs, can cause cancer.
"Rocky Flats happened in my backyard. [This will be] happening in everyone's backyard."
Naomi Wolf
Author, social critic, and political activist Naomi Wolf is the author of The New York Times bestseller "The End of America" (Chelsea Green) and, more recently, Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. Wolf’s landmark international bestseller, The Beauty Myth, challenged the cosmetics industry and the marketing of unrealistic standards of beauty, launching a new wave of feminism in the early 1990s.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Greens: new politics or deputy administrators? By Tim Anderson

It might be tempting to simply defend The Greens from recent attacks by the Murdoch Media, one of the most ferocious, neo-fascist propaganda machines in the world today. Yet the Murdoch gang has drawn attention to a real split within the Green on some matters of substance and approach.

I suggest it is a better time for those of us sympathetic to The Greens to examine some of the dangers in their own internal trajectory. I say this because I believe (1) left debates should not be determined by the corporate media (who, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out the 1960s, have less power in telling us what to think than in what to think about), and (2) that the party has seen a major and mostly unremarked change in recent years.

The division within The Greens, it seems to me, has a lot to do with whether the party is about trying to create some ‘new politics’, to use their parliamentary positions to introduce new ideas, or whether it will be content to function as ‘deputy administrators’ of the existing system, reforming and amending law and policy.

The latter approach, led by Bob Brown, seems to assume that greater acceptance by the big powers (the corporate media, the major parties, investor groups) will enable them to consolidate their electoral position and create a vehicle to ‘moderately’ influence various aspects of policy and practice. We could call this a sort of ‘centre-left realism’.

This is similar to the approach that the Australian Democrats used, from the centre-right; but remember what happened to them? At the peak of their 'success' in amending major policies (such as on workplace relations and the consumption tax) they were seen as a type of deputy to the party from which they had split (the Liberals).

What new and distinct political ideas did the Democrats present in their final years? They certainly didn’t capture a disillusioned electorate’s imagination. The Democrats rapidly disappeared almost completely from the electoral scene, after 25 years as the third force in Australian politics.

A similar problem lies in the ‘deputy administrator’ approach, seen most obviously in Green support for Labor’s ‘carbon tax’ proposal. There are three problems here: first the substance of this proposal is deeply flawed; second, it represents a strategic surrender of initiative by The Greens on what should be a leading green issue; and third, backing this ‘carbon package’ represents a major departure from ecological principle.

Let me explain these points.

The traditional Labor-Liberal fight over the ‘carbon tax’ has probably confused things. Behind and dominating both major parties is a small, powerful group of investors which has a very clear strategy. Their approach does not have to do with ‘beliefs’ on climate change. The coal companies, to take the obvious example, probably have far better information on human-made climate change than the average person.

However, just as the tobacco companies were the first to get on top of the dangers of smoking, the coal companies (and others) know about the problem but are determined not to pay for any change in policy. They will resist as long as they can and then they will eventually back some sort of ‘market mechanism’ (as Al Gore, the pseudo-hero of the climate change story, had planned for them at Kyoto). The Liberal Party, if and when it is in government, will also back some sort of trading system, in due course.

Labor’s ‘carbon tax package’, contrary to Liberal Party hype, is not really about tax. That is just a preliminary step. According to PM Gillard’s statement, the carbon tax ‘will be replaced by an emissions trading scheme from July 1, 2015 … Price ceiling and floor to apply when trading starts.’

The package is aimed at creating yet another neoliberal scheme which will allow companies to milk yet another fictitious bubble economy. And The Greens have joined in.

Why are they doing this? Somewhere in the middle of The Greens’ otherwise quite reasonable policies on climate change (which include public investment in renewables, removing subsidies for coal companies, new standards and regulation in favour of sustainable industries) there was indeed reference to ‘market based’ mechanisms. But joining in the Labor package meant that the initial tax and the future trading system took centre stage. The Greens allowed their ‘tail’ to wag their ‘dog’, on this matter.

How have they explained this decision, to subordinate good policies to a neoliberal scam? Bob Brown has already complained that the initial tax was ‘too low’ to fund items on his wish list. The bulk of the ‘carbon tax’ money seems to have been snaffled up in corporate compensation – well surprise, surprise.

We have seen this all before, many times. Costs get passed to consumers, large corporations get most of the public subsidies and the possibility of ‘price signals’ influencing the investment decisions of these companies is minimised. Very little, if any, technological change.

Senator Christine Milne tried to mention the other measures, but by reference to the central ‘market’ logic:
- ‘once a carbon price is in the market’ investors will understand the need for wider change
- ‘Starting with a rising fixed price gives us the chance to get Australia moving, sending a signal to the market, while keeping the flexibility to lift our ambition significantly as soon as we can get political agreement…’
- limits of international trading were needed ‘once the carbon price was set by the market’

So her idea seems to be that once they have ‘sent some signals to the market’, The Greens will seek to regulate and harmonise this ‘market’ with their other policies. But ‘markets’ (i.e. large financial companies) do not like such backtracking.

Of course this trading system will lead to ‘offsets’ and international scams; who doubts it? They are already out there. Deforestation and oil palm monocultures are already attracting carbon credits in Indonesia; fictitious forests are being financed. Just do a Google search on REDD scams.

One serious consequence of this will be that, when the ‘carbon trading’ system is exposed as a corrupt and ludicrous ‘solution’ to climate change, The Greens will have to wear their share of the blame.

What is worse, while those scams were being created, the whole issue was not being addressed with new and distinct ideas. The neoliberals were given centre stage. This draws attention to the second problem set up by the ‘deputy administrator’ strategy. Despite the record numbers of Greens parliamentarians, there is a loss of voice. They have hitched their wagon to Labor, and it will take time to un-hitch.

John Kaye has boldly defended Labor’s ‘carbon tax-trading’ package as ‘a prelude to real action’; but ‘first steps’ down the wrong track should not be looked at so kindly.

If this scheme takes several years to unravel, they will be several years in which The Greens have not presented new and bold ideas, nor denounced the fraudulent ‘market mechanism’.

There is also a philosophical flaw in the ‘deputy administrator’ approach, a departure from ecological principle. Focusing ecological concerns around the price of some new, invented ‘commodity’ is the sort of reductionist and economistic nonsense that ‘small-g’ greens would have ridiculed not too long ago.

Rachel Carson, the great North American biologist, pointed out in the late 1950s the hollowness of attempts to solve social problems (e.g. crop disease, agricultural productivity) through single issue, quick fix solutions. Her book ‘The Silent Spring’ was a foundation stone of the new ecological science, warning of the need to consider the human and natural environment in its totality.

Now we are told that a commercial price on notional ‘carbon’ will help fix one of the most profound of our ecological crises. Yet, even if a carbon price could help scale down the high carbon-emitting industries, and scale it down in a timely way, a series of problems remain.

First, carbon emissions are not everything to do with global warming and climate change. There are other greenhouse gases. Second, climate change is not the only ecological problem. The exhaustion of fossil fuels is a related but distinct problem, which has its own demands. The problems of deforestation, desertification and water contamination similarly cannot be reduced to the simple functions of a ‘counter global warming’ agenda.

The Greens have undermined their high moral ground, and their independent position, by subjecting many of their important ecological policies to (let us say, kindly) the ‘uncertain future’ of a carbon tax. They have seriously undermined their platform to retain an independent voice and spruik new ideas which, to my mind, is the main point of any minor left party being in parliament.

What are the alternatives to this sort of ‘deputy administrator-ship’? Stay outside ‘constructive engagement’ with Labor (or any other administrator; the reader should know by now why I do not say ‘those in power’), and be called spoilers, or rat bags? Well yes, of course, that is the price of creating some new politics. Bob Brown knew it once, when he was being arrested in defence of Tasmania’s rivers and forests.

Imagine if The Greens had rejected the carbon tax and any sort of trading system, stood against the major parties and for their other decent policies: public investment in renewables, removing subsidies for coal companies, new standards and regulation in favour of sustainable industries. They would cop abuse for a few years but would get credit for changing the debate and ‘sticking to their guns’.

There may be a heavy price to pay for backing a major loser, giving up a distinct strategic voice and abandoning ecological principles. Surely this ‘deputy administrator’ approach deserves reconsideration?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mark Steel: Still relaxed about the filthy rich?

 I'm not sure I've read it right, but is the Labour Party AGAINST bankers getting million-pound bonuses now? Maybe we all misunderstood their policy for 15 years. When Peter Mandelson said he was "intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich", he didn't mean it was all right for bankers like Stephen Hester to be offered a bonus of £963,000. He must have drawn the line at £962,000. That would be filthy rich, which is fine and relaxing, but £963,000 is taking the piss.

And when he spent weekends on the yacht of multi-billionaire Oleg Deripaska, he can't have had any idea Oleg was an obscenely wealthy businessman, and must have assumed he'd won the yacht as the star prize on Family Fortunes.

All those years when Labour leaders addressed banquets in the City with speeches that went "O beloved investment bankers, permit us to lay down meekly before your immeasurable wisdom and beg for a glimpse of the mighty hedge funds you so ably manipulate. Only those who swipe gargantuan bonuses for no discernible reason are truly men in the eyes of GOD. To suggest even for a second you should be regulated would be criminal, nay evil, a folly that would bring the apocalypse itself upon us, and we would deserve every locust that devoured us alive, for the bigger your bonus the more divine you are", that did not in any way imply that Labour was in favour of bankers earning a bonus of more than three or four pounds.

Throughout the years of Labour government, boardroom pay rose by 5,000 per cent, which was in line with the New Labour pledge to take every company director out of poverty by the year 2008. But now their pay is going up even more and that's unnecessary, so Ed Miliband has decided it's gone too far.

To see how the Labour Party despises people making themselves ridiculously rich at the expense of everyone else, you only have to look at Tony Blair's modest lifestyle, in which he's never used his status to make money for himself. Instead, he chugs along with seven houses and 45 million quid like a Franciscan bloody monk.

Luckily for the Labour Party, its sudden conversion to being appalled at banker bonuses appears to have happened the same week that the whole country announces its disgust, which I'm sure is just a coincidence and Labour is genuinely shocked and dismayed on principle.

Because how could the party have known bankers would interpret New Labour's calls to enrich themselves in a deregulated frenzy by enriching themselves in a deregulated frenzy? And how could New Labour know bankers were taking billions out of the economy every year? They didn't have time to read the papers, they were running the country.

But the Labour Party is getting there bit by bit. It's discovered Murdoch's no good, worked out bankers' bonuses aren't fair, next week it'll say, "Good Lord, have you seen what happened? Some idiot invaded Iraq."

from The Independent 4-2-12

Mark Steel: If religion is 'marginal', I'm the Pope

Baroness Warsi is clearly committed to making religion look ridiculous

If you're going to complain that religion is becoming "marginal", as Baroness Warsi did yesterday, it's genius to do it when you're a member of the Cabinet on a visit to the Pope. Maybe Warsi said to him, "For example, your Holiness, look how these days you're tucked away in a backstreet in Rome which hardly even shows up on the A to Z."

It was the same when the Pope came here, where religion is now so marginal he had to slip in and out with barely a mention. His publicity team must have despaired, unable to get him any exposure at all, not even in Dictionary Corner on Countdown or as the answer to "Which one is the real Pope?" in a line-up on Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

Luckily, there was a brief period of two days when the centres of Birmingham and London were entirely shut so that the Popemobile could poodle through the streets, and it was shown on every single TV channel all day long. But after that, the Pope wasn't even shortlisted for Sports Personality of the Year, he received not one award at the Brits, and nor was he granted a 20-minute trolley dash round Debenhams. That can only be as a result of lobbying from atheist bullies. As if to confirm this, Baroness Warsi was only allowed to take three other members of the Government on her official trip to the Pope, whereas every day dozens of Cabinet members travel the world for diplomatic trips to the world's atheists.

Only a few dozen bishops are allowed to sit in the House of Lords, even though they're clearly qualified to make our laws on account of the fact they believe in God, whereas any old humanist is welcome to wander into parliament and make up any law they fancy whenever they please.

Songs of Praise is only on once a week, while every day there's a programme in which people sing agnostic hymns, such as "The Lord is my shepherd, or he's not, There isn't a way we can tell. I'm hedging my bets, say it might all be rot, But if not I won't burn in hell".

And the head of state, the Queen, may be head of the Church of England, but she spends far more time in her constitutional role as secretary of the Richard Dawkins Fan Club, dissecting fossils for further proof of evolution.

Dawkins himself was on the Today programme yesterday, publicising a survey that, he says, proves that most people who say they're Christians aren't Christians because they couldn't answer questions about The Bible. He then collapsed into a magnificent tangle when he couldn't remember the full title of Darwin's book on natural selection.

So there's only one conclusion a rational person can reach. Baroness Warsi is clearly a militant atheist, committed to making religion look as ridiculous as possible until even Cliff Richard abandons it. And Richard Dawkins is a born-again evangelical Christian who's determined to be so condescendingly dreadful that even atheists start kneeling in prayer and talking in tongues

from Britain's The Independent 16-2-12 

John Piljer:It's time we recognised the Blair government's criminality

In the kabuki theatre of British parliamentary politics, great crimes do not happen and criminals go free. It is theatre after all; the pirouettes matter, not actions taken at remove in distance and culture from their consequences. It is a secure arrangement guarded by cast and critics alike. The farewell speech of one of the most artful, Tony Blair, had "a sense of moral conviction running through it", effused the television presenter Jon Snow, as if Blair's appeal to Kabuki devotees was mystical. That he was a war criminal was irrelevant.

The suppression of Blair's criminality and that of his administrations is described in Gareth Peirce's Dispatches from the Dark Side: on torture and the death of justice, published in paperback this month by Verso. Peirce is Britain's most distinguished human rights lawyer; her pursuit of infamous miscarriages of justice and justice for the victims of state crimes, such as torture and rendition, is unsurpassed. What is unusual about this accounting of what she calls the "moral and legal pandemonium" in the wake of 9/11 is that, in drawing on the memoirs of Blair and Alistair Campbell, Cabinet minutes and MI6 files, she applies the rule of law to them.

Advocates such as Peirce, Phil Shiner and Clive Stafford-Smith have ensured the indictment of dominant powers is no longer a taboo. Israel, America's hitman, is now widely recognised as the world's most lawless state.  The likes of Donald Rumsfeld now avoid countries where the law reaches beyond borders, as does George W. Bush and Blair.

Deploying sinecures of "peace-making" and "development" that allow him to replenish the fortune accumulated since leaving Downing Street, Blair's jackdaw travels are concentrated on the Gulf sheikhdoms, the US, Israel and safe havens like the small African nation of Rwanda.  Since 2007, Blair has made seven visits to Rwanda, where he has access to a private jet supplied by President Paul Kagame. Kagame's regime, whose opponents have been silenced brutally on trumped-up charges, is "innovative" and a "leader" in Africa, says Blair.

Peirce's book achieves the impossible on Blair: it shocks. In tracing the "unjustifiable theses, unrestrained belligerence, falsification and wilful illegality" that led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, she identifies Blair's assault on Muslims as both criminal and racist. "Human beings presumed to hold [Islamist] views were to be disabled by any means possible, and permanently... in Blair's language a 'virus' to be 'eliminated' and requiring 'a myriad of interventions [sic] deep into the affairs of other nations'."  Whole societies were reduced to "splashes of colour" on a canvas upon which Labour's Napoleon would "re-order the world".

The very concept of war was wrenched from its dictionary meaning and became "our values versus theirs". The actual perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, mostly Saudis trained to fly in America, were all but forgotten. Instead, the "splashes of colour" were made blood-red - first in Afghanistan, land of the poorest of the poor. No Afghans were members of al-Qaeda; on the contrary, there was mutual resentment. No matter. Once the bombing began on 7 October 2001, tens of thousands of Afghans were punished with starvation as the World Food Programme withdrew aid on the cusp of winter. In one stricken village, Bibi Mahru, I witnessed the aftermath of a single Mk82 "precision" bomb's obliteration of two families, including eight children.  "TB," wrote Alistair Campbell, "said they had to know that we would hurt them if they don't yield up OBL."

The cartoon figure of Campbell was already at work on concocting another threat in Iraq. This "yielded up", according to the MIT Centre for International Studies, between 800,000 and 1.3 million deaths: figures that exceed the Fordham University estimate of deaths in the genocide in Rwanda.

And yet, wrote Peirce, "the threads of emails, internal government communiques reveal no dissent." Interrogation that included torture was on "the express instructions... of government ministers". On 10 January 2002, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw emailed his colleagues that sending British citizens to Guantanamo Bay was "the best way to meet our counter terrorism objective". He rejected "the only alternative of repatriation to the United Kingdom". (Later appointed "justice secretary", Straw suppressed incriminating Cabinet minutes in defiance of the Information Commissioner). On 6 February 2002, Home Secretary David Blunkett noted that he was in "no hurry to see any individuals returned to the UK [from Guantanamo]".  Three days later, Foreign Office minister Ben Bradshaw wrote, "We need to all that we can to avoid the detainees being repatriated to the UK." Not one of the people they refer had been charged with anything; most had been sold as bounties to the Americans by Afghan warlords. Peirce describes how Foreign Office officials, prior to an inspection of Guantanamo Bay, "verified" that British prisoners were being "treated humanely" when the opposite was true.

Immersed in its misadventure and lies, listening only to their leader's crooned "sincerity", the Labour government consulted no one who spoke the truth. Peirce cites one of the most reliable sources, Conflicts Forum, run by the former British intelligence officer Alastair Crooke, who argued that to "isolate and demonise [Islamic] groups that have support on the ground, the perception is reinforced that the west only understands the language of military strength". In wilfully denying this truth, Blair, Campbell and their echoes planted the roots of the 7/7 attacks in London.

Today, another Afghanistan and Iraq beckons in Syria and Iran, perhaps even a world war.  Once again, voices such as Crooke's attempt to explain to a media salivating for "intervention" in Syria that the civil war in that country requires skilled, patient negotiation, not the provocations of the British SAS and the familiar, bought-and-paid-for exiles who ride in Anglo-America's Trojan Horse.

16 February 2012

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Socialist Alliance:NSW electoral funding reforms favour the wealthy 1%

The NSW Socialist Alliance condemns the latest state electoral funding reform bill as a direct attack on democratic rights and collective organising in this state. In what is already an inherently undemocratic electoral system, the Liberal party bill (which passed through NSW parliament with the support of the Greens on February 16) does nothing to 'level the playing field’ but instead serves to further tips the scales in favour of the wealthy 1%.

Under the new funding laws, organisations such as community groups and trade unions are banned from donating to political parties, while severe and anti-democratic restrictions are imposed on their right to run political campaigns.
Corporations however, will remain free to spend over $1 million on campaigning for the parties of their choice. The new laws limit the right to make political donations to individuals, further ensuring that the corporate rich (who already control the economy and media) will have an even greater influence on the outcome of elections to political office in NSW.

The ability of ordinary working people to pursue our political objectives - whether at election times or on the streets - is dependent on our right to organise collectively. By placing harsh restrictions on political campaigning and donations by trade unions and community groups, the bill only serves to silence the 99%.

For this reason, the NSW Socialist Alliance calls for the immediate repeal of the electoral funding reform bill. In its place, we propose real measures that can begin to challenge the corporate elite's influence over the political process.

These include:

• Abolition of restrictive and onerous electoral laws, including party registration and the nomination deposit for both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. Even the relatively low nomination deposit of $250 for the LA excludes a great many people;
• Abolition of the current funding model (defined in s.55 of the Election Funding and Disclosures Act 1981). Currently, candidates are only eligible for public funding if they are elected or receive at least 4% of first preference votes. This model entrenches the status quo, and benefits the major parties in particular;

• Introduction of publicly funded election campaigns for all candidates, to move away from the current system based on commercial advertising. All candidates would be ensured an equal amount of publicly funded authorised information on TV and radio, in letterboxes and newspapers etc;
• Displaying of all candidates’ ‘how to vote’ instructions with equal prominence at all polling stations to remove the need for the wasteful distribution of HTV cards on polling day. 
Such electoral funding reforms should also be accompanied with a more deep-ranging restructuring of the overall electoral system, currently stacked in favour of the two traditional, pro-corporate parties. This restructure would require steps such as a the introduction of genuinely proportional representation for elections to public office, the ability of voters to recall representatives, and placing politicians on an average workers’ wage.

NSW Socialist Alliance statement, February 18