Thursday, June 30, 2011

Libyan Rebels Are NATO Patsies For A New Great Game In Africa

Today: UK PM Cameron with Mustafa Abdul Jalil,
head of rebel TNC & former Gaddafi Justice Minister
In the first days following the pro-democracy demonstrations and then uprising in Libya, it would have taken a hard heart indeed to not support the revolt. While Muammar Gaddafi might once, in distant memory, have been able to claim some sort of fidelity to anti-imperialism and to the social development of Libya, those days were long gone. His regime was now taking money from Europe to act as its southern gendarme against illegal African immigration to Europe and was an enthusiastic partner in the War on Terror. It's no accident that arch-war monger, former British PM Tony Blair, was announced by Gaddafi's son to be a $1 million+ per year consultant to the regime. The domestic economic policies of the regime were increasingly neo-liberal and his son - and likely heir to the leadership of Libya - Saif al-Islam was the Libyan version of Gamal Mubarak - a designer suit wearing playboy and enthusiastic privatizer. The Libya regime was now just one more western supported petro-dictatorship in the Arab world.

What's more, that revolt was obviously part of the wave of revolts sweeping the Arab world and that had already toppled Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt. In Bahrain it looked like the pro-democracy movement was on the verge of victory. In Yemen it was well on its way. There were even stirrings in Syria and large protests in Iraq.

But things have changed a lot in the last four months.

The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia continue to deepen, with strike waves and the explosive growth of independent unions in Egypt. In Syria, the revolt against Assad continues unabated and, impossibly, grows even in the face of terrible repression. In Yemen, President Salah clings to power - though for what reason is unclear since all but his family have abandoned him - driving the country to the brink of civil war. In Bahrain, with US blessing, the Saudi military helped to crush the pro-democracy movement in a wave of repression and purges that continues.

And in Libya we've passed the 100 day mark since NATO started it's "humanitarian bombing" mission to "protect civilians." What has become clear is that while the revolt was rooted in the real and legitimate discontent of the Libyan people, that movement was quickly corralled and contained by forces with another agenda. Opportunists from the Libyan regime, senior figures who had happily gone along with the torture and repression of dissidents, suddenly "joined" the movement, forming the Transitional National Council. The popular elements, including the local committees that sprang up in the heat of the revolt were pushed aside. The struggle against the Gaddafi regime was transformed from a social struggle against a repressive neo-liberal dictatorship, to a military struggle between two factions of the regime.

Yesterday: Former UK PM Tony Blair with Gaddafi
No longer was it about an uprising and about winning rank and file soldiers to support the revolt and break with Gaddafi - a pattern that marked the early stages of the revolt. It now became about defeating Gaddafi-controlled troops in a military contest in order to elevate the former regime figures to the leadership - with policies that differed little from Saif the "reformer". But Gaddafi and his allies still controlled two-thirds of the country geographically, a significant amount of popular support and two-thirds of the state infrastructure, meaning that the former regime figures were outgunned and outmanned. With no apparent political strategy to deepen the revolt, they ended up in the arms of NATO, begging for the alliance's military support.

But the support of NATO, Europe and the USA comes at a heavy price. That price is clear - the first thing that was demanded of the TNC was that they agree to respect the oil contracts signed by the Gaddafi regime, including its terms. It is also likely that it will mean accepting a US base on Libyan soil - the US African Command (Africom) has been refused by every African country and so is stationed in Germany. This is a strategically important beach-head for the Americans, who feel increasingly squeezed by the Chinese, who are making substantial inroads into Africa - ironically, by spending money on infrastructure that was accumulated by selling Chinese goods to America and Europe (paid for with debt that is held by the Chinese). Prior to the revolt against Gaddafi, there were more than 30,000 Chinese workers and specialists in Libya attached to the sizeable Chinese oil investments. An article in The Globe & Mail last November gives a flavour of China's push into Africa:
On Monday, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping finished a two-day visit to Botswana in which he signed financing deals worth millions in infrastructure and energy development. Two days earlier, he’d made major deals in oil-rich Angola. On Wednesday in Ethiopia, Chinese private and state investors opened a $27-million leather-goods factory that will employ 500 Ethiopians; the same investment fund is also building cement plants and an airport hotel nearby. On Thursday, Sudan, which imports 80 per cent of its food, announced plans to quintuple its current wheat cultivation with backing from Chinese and Persian Gulf investors, increasing its acres under cultivation by 25 per cent a year for a decade.

And this is not an atypical week. The Chinese claim to have more than $1.5-billion invested in Africa now, up from $210-million; they employ at least 300,000 Africans in their own countries (and, increasingly, import African workers to the cities of the Pearl River Delta) and have built 60,000 kilometres of roads and 3.5 million kilowatts worth of power stations there – far more than any other country. Last year, China replaced the United States as the largest trading partner of South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy, and annual China-Africa trade topped $100-billion for the first time this year.
Russian interests are also under threat in the region as the US, UK and the EU jockey to make the maximum gains from the upheaval of the Arab Spring. It's no surprise that Russia has opposed intervention, not from any principled anti-imperialism - as the Chechnyans and Georgians could attest - but rather out of the fear of losing their toehold in the region, mediated through America's enemies (i.e. those countries whose policies aren't subordinate to America's interests) like Syria and Iran.

What is going on in Libya now must be seen in this light - as a hijacked revolution that now plays its part in a new Great Game between imperial powers jockeying for position in Africa and the Middle East, primarily China and Russia vs NATO & the USA. Not only is this game a dangerous one that could exacerbate tensions between the imperial powers, none of whom is likely to look kindly on the loss of infrastructure and capital investments, strategic relationships, etc. It is also a threat to the whole process of democratic revolution throughout the Arab world.

On the other hand, if NATO loses in Libya, it will be a massive blow to the ability of the alliance to project power beyond Europe's borders. The recent criticisms by outgoing US Defence Chief Gates makes clear that there are already tensions and frustrations within the alliance as a result of the unwinnable NATO war in Afghanistan. Defeat in Libya will be another nail in the coffin of one of the pre-eminent tools of the United States to spread its empire, alongside its junior European partner. It will also be a defeat for the Gulf Cooperation Council, led by the repressive Saudi regime, who have thrown in their lot with the emerging project to use the upheaval to reconfigure relations in the region - defeating thorns in the side like Syria's Assad (who is a Shi'ite and who supports Hezbollah, a Shi'ite movement) and the bombastic Gaddafi, who has offended the Gulf emirs more than once with his anti-colonial rhetoric.

Chances are there will be no "good" solution forthcoming in the short-term. Probably NATO will attempt to save face by declaring a limited victory via establishing the partition of Libya between Cyrenaica in the east and Tripolitania in the west. Cyrenaica will, of course, be a NATO client regime "protected" by the permanent presence of NATO/US troops and military forces. A victory by Gaddafi is also unlikely to bring democracy to the Libyan people. The real hope lies with the further deepening of the Tunisian revolution on Libya's western border and the Egyptian revolution on the eastern border.

In the meantime, the best bad outcome is for a defeat for NATO, which is a much bigger threat to world peace and democracy than Gaddafi has ever been. NATO is waging war in Afghanistan, to guarantee a strategic advantage against China on its western border and to encircle Iran to the west of Afghanistan. NATO countries led the war against Iraq - predominantly the US and UK, of course. The UK was the first country to rush into the Middle East after the Egyptian revolution to hawk more weapons to frightened dictatorships. The US, of course, is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world. The Libyans, at present, are not deployed anywhere outside of Libya and under Gaddafi were involved in or initiated three wars since 1977 - two of those were ostensibly anti-colonial: against a French neo-colonial regime in Chad and the other a protest against the Egyptian dictatorship's peace treaty with Israel. This is not at all to justify Libyan military interventions - let alone its corrupt and oppressive social and economic policies - but to make clear that Gaddafi's regime are not even in the same league as the US/NATO and, with a population of 6 million, can't even be described as a regional imperialist country.

France confirms arming Libyan rebels - Africa - Al Jazeera English

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Greek Austerity Vote Is Just The Beginning

There was a certain amount of hand-wringing by the business press and politicians internationally that the PASOK government of Greece might not be able to pass the second austerity package in a year. However, it seemed unlikely that more than a handful would revolt against the party when it came down to it. The party that once resisted the Greek military junta had already sold their souls to austerity and neo-liberalism some time ago. As it turned out, just one PASOK MP voted against his party and, in reward, was immediately expelled.

Government agreement to drive down living standards and sell the store for a pack of magic beans - and magic beans would be more effective at reviving the Greek economy than growth destroying austerity and privatizations - is barely the beginning. With around 80 percent of the Greek population opposed to the second austerity package and there having been a year of significant mobilizations, strikes, general strikes and riots, the working class is more radicalized and angry than ever. Indeed, as the votes took place inside the austere parliament, outside tens of thousands of people were battling with cops who attacked them indiscriminately. This is what it looks like to save Europe - tear gas, burning vehicles and hand-to-hand (or baton-to-stave) combat.

Greece is now divided into two clearly defined camps: the minority who favour and want to impose austerity - and who thus represent only the wealthiest Greeks, the banks, the international lending agencies, speculators, corporations, etc. And the people. It is the people vs the machine. The battle would be a quick and decisive one based upon democratic choice or sheer numbers, except that the Greek parliament is not in the service of democracy. And now that the facade of democracy has been lifted, the real source of legitimacy for the Greek state - and by extension the European Union - is made clear - it is armed bodies of men with their sticks and guns and tear gas and shields.

That lesson will not have been missed by the Greek people. The only thing in question is whether there is sufficient confidence and organization to move beyond the symbolic actions of 24 and 48-hour general strikes to action that is powerful enough to counter the threats of international capital and the ratings agencies. The rulers of Greece and Europe must be made afraid - afraid that if they try to impose austerity on Greeks their reward will be the same that Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia received: revolution. Things are moving fast in Greece and, in the coming days, the balance of forces in this battle will become clearer. An interview earlier this week with a Greek socialist gives a flavour of where the struggle may go.

Panos [Garganas] said, “There is now a movement in the unions to extend the strikes beyond Wednesday.
“The power workers are determined to continue until the government backs down. That message is spreading.
“Hellenic post bank workers, who face privatisation, are set to hold a general assembly on Thursday to prolong the strike, as do water workers in Salonica, Greece’s second city."
The irony is that PASOK has more power to negotiate terms than it seems to realize. The global banking sector is on the edge of their seats that a Greek default will lead to a "Lehman moment" - a knock-on effect that will tear through first the European banking system and then world credit markets like a tsunami. When push came to shove, neither the IMF nor the European Central Bank was likely to permit such a massive potential meltdown. Even the Greek Tories, New Democracy, seemed to realize this and have called for a re-negotiation of the terms of this tranche of aid. Why PASOK has completely rolled over and thus likely ensured their defeat for a generation, while creating a dangerous level of social conflict, is unclear. What is clear is that, to paraphrase Orwell, the future lies with the proles.

Greece passes key austerity plan - The Globe and Mail

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty Is An Asshole

Hey, sometimes you want to be all intellectual and stuff; analyze underlying trend and put it in its proper context to provoke scholarly debate. But some shit just deserves to be called by its regular name.
This guy was all for spending $1 billion on a security boondoggle for the G20. He supports the billions spent in Afghanistan to kill people and prop up warlords and drug traffickers. He is happy to provide subsidies to the oil sands - perhaps the most environmentally destructive petro project on the planet. And, he and his Tory government get boners at the thought of blowing $30 billion for a fighter jet that doesn't even work. But provide stable funding to a proven theatre festival that draws crowds of thousands every year and contributes to the cultural landscape of Toronto? "Don't count on it."
Where I come from, that makes him an asshole and, just in case they haven't, someone needs to tell him that.

Flaherty to cultural institutions: Annual funding? Don’t count on it - The Globe and Mail

Live Stream: 48-Hour Greek General Strike Against Austerity

The fight is on. Greek workers are under a massive assault as international bankers, speculators, governments and capitalists try to force a brutal austerity package down their throats. Last year's austerity has already doubled the unemployment rate to 16% and led to a collapse of government revenues as incomes decline and the economy collapses - leading to more debt, more austerity, etc. ad infinitum. The next two days is key as the government votes on the next round of austerity and the fire sale of Greece's publicly owned assets. And the outcome is anything but assured with numbers of the governing PASOK's MPs threatening to vote against the package.
If the Greek government, backed by international pressure from global capital, can defeat the most militant working class in Europe, it will make it that much easier to impose austerity across Europe and North America. Conversely, if the Greeks can soundly defeat their government's austerity plans, it will give confidence to workers in other countries who are facing their own assault on living standards and the welfare state. I'd hazard to say that it would give confidence to workers in Canada who face the Tory axe. Let's hope that the Greeks win big.
Meantime, you can watch the live stream of the 48 hour general strike below.

Greece begins 48-hour general strike | World news |

The Tories Sneaky Social Engineering

I often thought that the right wing canard directed against the left that we were interested in "social engineering" was one of the more banal and pathetic insults that they tossed around. It presumed a "natural" state of human nature, any deviation from which would be detrimental to progress. Of course, human nature is conveniently defined in terms that suit the right and usually owe more than a little to Hobbesian notions of humans as inherently competitive, greedy, and so forth.

Really, of course, they were always just talking about themselves in two senses. The rich, who are the source of right wing ideology and the ones who actually benefit from it, do relish greed - though evidence from history suggests that to satisfy their greed, the rich do everything possible to eliminate any existing or potential competition, either by destroying or buying rivals or conspiring with them to jig markets to their benefit.

And in actual fact it is always the right who try to regulate human behaviour and human thought to exclude anything that challenges their domination or their ideas of what constitutes human nature. It is the right who try to suppress alternative forms of love and family - they oppose gay marriage. They constantly seek to undermine trade union rights - when trade unions were the spontaneous (more or less) act of working people to defend their standard of living. The right opposes abortion. The right inevitably supports overthrowing government that don't do what we like. The right supports the cops.

So, it should be no surprise that Stephen Harper's Tories should follow this pathetically predictable path of suppressing free thinking. And it is no secret that Harper and his ilk want to transform liberal-minded Canada into a bastion of social and economic conservatism. The trouble is, the population are not as right wing as Stephen Harper and his ilk. What's more, since they are subject to some form of democratic accountability, Harper has been forced to downplay the public discussion of their real agenda, to deny it even, so that people don't get spooked by their agenda of making us all into right wing drones. But, behind the scenes, the Tories use the many levers, particularly financial ones, to penalize and crush anyone who challenges their agenda.

There is something to be said for the Globe headline that calls a play about one person's real relationship with a man who was convicted as part of the Toronto 18 "terrorist" conspiracy a "terrorist play". That's one of those set-up labels that is designed to illicit a bias response, like "accused wife abuser" or "Jamaican immigrant". Nonetheless, the story is interesting because it fits with a pattern of social engineering through stealth - like with the Tories' elimination of funding for KAIROS (a religious charity) because of their support for the Palestinians. Then there were the attempted changes to tax laws that would deny tax credits to film productions whose content it deemed offensive. In this instance, Heritage Canada has slashed almost $50K from Summerworks, a popular theatre festival in Toronto. Everybody knows that the reason they did it is because of the play about the Toronto 18 - or rather the failure of that play to portray the issues in the form of a good vs evil comic book. But the Tories simply lie and - like with KAIROS - state that the decision is merely an administrative one about funding.

What is clear is that the Tories can't bear the thought of a free-thinking population or of culture that fails to pass their parochial standards of morality and decency. That they have to be sneaky about it is heartening in one sense because it demonstrates that they are out of sync with the majority of Canadians. Hopefully their lies and subterfuge will catch up with them and they will, like Mulroney, be punished by Canadian workers - both at the ballot box and in the streets. Meanwhile, let there be no doubt - the Tories want to control what you think. They just don't have the guts to say it to your face.

Ottawa cancels funding for Toronto theatre festival that presented terrorist play - The Globe and Mail

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why Rob Ford Won't Be At Pride: Because He's A Bigot

Bourgeois politeness, and perhaps fear of lawsuits, prevent the mainstream media from calling right wing politicians by their proper names. I'm less concerned given my "circulation" and lack of advertisers to please. So, I'm happy to answer the question that the Toronto Star helpfully posed in today's paper - Why won’t Rob Ford go to gay events? -

Ford has demonstrated over the years that he's not only willfully ignorant about the issues faced by gays and lesbians, he is downright hostile. There's the fact that he endorsed a virulently homophobic candidate and Regent Park pastor during the last municipal election going so far as to endorse Pastor Brereton's views on marriage.

Then there was the quote in 2006 that demonstrated a pretty profound ignorance about AIDS: "“If you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS, probably.”

And then there's his campaign, along with councillor Mammoliti, to deny funding to the Pride parade because (under community pressure) the Pride committee allowed Queers Against Israeli Apartheid to march last year. Mammoliti is a long time opponent of gay rights and it's clear that they were using the stick of phoney anti-semitism to attack gays and lesbians.

And, finally, Ford knows that his support in the gay community is just barely above nil so he has nothing to lose by snubbing them. Let's hope it blows up in his face.

G20 Inquiry: T.O. Cops Plead Stupidity, Incompetence

Tell me this, if your boss gave you the power to use any resources at the disposal of the company to organize an event, along with the help of half of the entire workforce - plus hundreds more people from other workplaces - and six months to plan for the event - if you screwed it up so bad that you were the laughing stock of the entire planet and the subject of three inquiries, do you think that you'd not only still have a job but that you'd get a raise?

Fat. Fucking. Chance.

Unless you're the cops. Then you can have the power of de facto martial law, along with vast quantities of weapons, bolstered numbers, detention centres and support from the pro-cop media and the lap dogs on Toronto City Council - including the so-called left. You can still fuck it up, break into the homes of families while they're sleeping, tear off the artificial leg of a protestor (seriously) as he cries out in pain, make the biggest mass arrests in national history - almost all released without charges - and claim afterwards "gee, we just didn't know what we were doing."

Seriously. It has to be a joke somebody is playing on us. Did an internal police inquiry really just shrug and say "hey, we were confused and didn't have any good planning." And we're supposed to swallow that even with $1 billion (!?) and six months that they couldn't figure out how to deal with a few dozen anarchists who wanted to go and throw themselves at a fence and break a couple of shop windows? I mean, half the planet has seen the video of the police marching away from about a dozen Black Bloc morons kicking in the window at a Second Cup at Yonge & College. And an equal number (yes, that means the entire planet) have seen the video of the police hanging out around the corner - doing nothing - while the "abandoned" police car is set alight by another half dozen morons less than 200 metres away. Frankly, I'd prefer to think that the police are so diabolical that they allowed property damage to happen in order to justify the security budget. The other possibility is too pathetic to contemplate. Do we need to include a line item in the police budget to remind them to breathe?

There is also this sweet little tidbit:

"The report also discusses organizational problems at the temporary detention centre, which may explain why prisoners were deprived of food and water and not released quickly enough."

"Duh, we didn't know how to turn on a tap and fill some buckets with water." They had a billion dollars and they couldn't buy a half dozen freaking pizzas to feed the people that they KNEW they'd be arresting (otherwise why did they have a temporary detention centre set up with cages) and that they therefore knew they would have a legal obligation to provide with the necessities of life? Is this seriously any kind of an excuse? Could anybody claim this level of incompetence and not be immediately shit-canned? Here in Toronto the police can - and they can expect to see their budget increased year after year. They already comprise the single biggest line item in the Toronto budget, soaking up a quarter of all our tax money.

Here's a thought, let's spend our money on swimming pools, youth centres, after school programs, social programs, literacy programs, employment programs, childcare. If we spread the money around to lots of different services not only will they fight crime more effectively (nothing like jobs and good services to bring down crime rates), but by also diversifying the management structures it will make it less likely that so much money will be controlled by gleeful, self-confessed morons.

Toronto Police say they lacked effective tactics to deal with G20 - The Globe and Mail

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Freedom For Palestine: Music Video

Any song that's pro-Palestinian and makes Glen Beck cry on TV is right on with me. At a time when Toronto city council is debating whether or not it's discrimination - against Jews!? - to say that Israel's practice of isolating, segregating and repressing the Palestinian population makes it an apartheid regime, this is welcome indeed. Fuck you, Rob Ford and Georgio Mamomliti. As an added bonus, it's even a good song. I've included an interview with the artist behind the project and an accompanying article from Socialist Worker UK below the youtube video. Enjoy it, pass it on - make Glen Beck cry more!

“Freedom for Palestine” is a new song by Dave Randall, best known for playing guitar with Faithless. He spoke to Siân Ruddick about the politics behind the music

Freedom for Palestine is performed by a specially assembled group, One World. It features Maxi Jazz from Faithless, Jamie Cato, FSK and the Durban Gospel Choir from South Africa.

The single will be officially released on 3 July, but it is already upsetting the right. Bigoted Fox News commentator Glenn Beck actually wept as he told viewers the song is “propaganda” that dares to accuse Israel of “occupying” the West Bank.

He went on to bemoan the fact that more than 5,000 people had already “liked” the song on a Facebook page.


Dave told Socialist Worker, “That’s the best bit of advertising we’ve had! Before, I’d only heard his name when Lupe Fiasco rapped, ‘Glenn Beck is a racist’. So a huge thanks to Beck—he’s done us a favour getting the song out there.

“I became interested in the issue of Palestine about ten years ago. Faithless were in Israel. Before our gig in Tel Aviv we had a day off so I visited Gaza.

“I also saw how the occupation of the West Bank impacts on people’s lives.

“I wanted to do whatever I could in solidarity with the Palestinians.”

Last year’s Faithless tour was again scheduled to visit Israel.

Dave said, “We had discussions inside the band and decided to join the cultural boycott. We not only refused to play but determined to use music to build solidarity.”

Dave got the idea for the single after meeting Jerry Dammers, who wrote the Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela”.

That song became the anthem of Britain’s movement to end the racist South African apartheid regime in the 1980s.

“I thought we should do something similar for Palestine,” Dave explained. “It has been a year in the making, but the timing is rather fortunate. Last month the radio station BBC1 Xtra radio censored the words ‘Free Palestine’ in a track by Mic Righteous.”

In the context of the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, Israel’s position is being called more into question.

Dave went on, “The most important single factor for the liberation of Palestine is the revolutionary process in Egypt.

“Even president Barack Obama has had to pay lip service to the demand for Israel to return to 1967 borders.

“He recognises that right now the people are the real power brokers in the region.”


There is a long and proud history of radical music contributing to campaigns for justice and articulating the anger of ordinary people.

The group Faithless itself recorded the anti-war song “Mass Destruction” during the huge movement against the Iraq war.

It pointed out the hypocrisy of Western intervention: “Whether Halliburton or Enron or anyone/Greed is a weapon of mass destruction”.

Dave said, “That song was made because the movement was so strong. But it’s easy for big business to co-opt music, even that with a radical message.

“If you want to make political music you have to be aware of the ability of the system to sell everything back to us for profit.”

The mainstream media and Western governments distort the occupation of Palestine. Dave thinks that the first step to winning the argument about the cultural boycott is telling the truth about the situation.

“You have to start with the politics,” he said. “There is an idea that it is a battle with two equals at loggerheads. Many people don’t know about the theft of Palestinian land, the illegal settlements, the persecution and repression of Palestinians or the prison that Gaza has become.

“Israel is a heavily armed, Western-backed state. That’s the starting point.

“There are lots of things that people can do to support Palestine. Downloading the song is just one of them. If it gets into the charts there is more chance of it being played on the radio, challenging the censorship of pro-Palestine music.

“We want to encourage people to explore the issues for themselves and hearing the song can be part of that.

“And it is the hardest punch you can land for Palestine for 79p!”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is It The End Of NATO?

I suggested the other day that NATO was basically a zombie and that they had already lost - at least in terms of intended political consequences - the war in Libya. It hadn't occurred to me that within a few days there would be infighting, including between core European members of the alliance. Yet that's exactly what we're seeing. Amr Moussa, former head of the Arab League and a big proponent of the original operation is quoted in today's Guardian newspaper as calling for an immediate ceasefire. Moussa is angling for a kick at the Egyptian presidency this year or next and the optics just don't look very good of European fighter jets dropping bombs on an Arab country.

More seriously, Italy is now calling for an immediate ceasefire, while France is calling for an intensification. Italy - along with Germany - has the biggest European economic presence inside Libya. With it looking very unlikely that NATO will be able to oust Gaddafi, those two countries stand the most to lose if Libya retaliates by seizing the property of companies from belligerent countries. Italy has major oil investments in Libya.

If Italy's call for a ceasefire is picked up again by Germany, this could easily create an unstoppable momentum towards a solution that leaves the country looking exactly like it did before NATO came in and blew the hell out of the place - except that Gaddafi's hand has likely been strengthened by his ability to pose as an anti-imperialist. And if NATO leaves Libya with its tail between its legs, this will be the second in a row failure on the battlefield, after Afghanistan. The latter war is looking increasingly like it is starting to wind-down and that a settlement of some sort will be reached with the Taliban, allowing them into government or giving them control of part of the south of the country (according to commentary on Asia Times Online, this was the American proposal, which the Taliban rejected).

NATO has no pretensions of being like the UN, some kind of world parliament (where the big powers get a veto). It is solely a military alliance. But if the military alliance couldn't whup the widely despised dictator of a developing country with a population of six million; and if it can't subdue a ragtag insurgency led by a poorly armed and mostly illiterate guerilla army - then what the hell kind of military alliance is it? Not one that is of any use to America, I'm guessing. Already, departing Defence Secretary Gates has questioned the value of NATO. Look for some tedious soul-searching in the coming months. With the likely default in Greece - potentially a fatal blow to the euro - the discrediting of another venerable European institution is the last thing the ruling classes of Europe need.

Libya deaths trigger rift over NATO campaign - Africa - Al Jazeera English

Afghanistan: USA Runs For The Door

Of course the military would stay forever, or until victory with honour as they used to say, whichever comes first. But with a presidential election next year and Afghanistan no more under control than ten years ago when the USA & friends invaded, Obama doesn't want that particular stone around his neck. So, against the protests of the Pentagon, Obama is pulling out 30,000 troops by next year. But that will just increase the pressure to remove more troops and embolden the insurgency.

Let's face it, America is dead broke and the ratings agencies have been making noises of concern about their debt situation. And not only them, the American population, the Republicans, Democrats, everybody. The Republicans and Democrats want to make working class Americans pay for the debt with austerity. But a solid majority of Americans in a recent poll are of the opinion that America's foreign wars - and not social programs - are a significant contributor to the deficit in the US. When military spending takes up more than half of the US budget, is it any surprise? What's more, support for the war - recently at a "high" in the polls - is barely scraping 40 percent.

With the Taliban unbowed and staging hundreds of attacks already this year, including a spectacular break-out. With other countries, including Canada, heading for the exits in the face of an unbeatable insurgency. And with the widespread reports that Americans are negotiating directly with the Taliban for an end to the conflict - which will have to include the Taliban in any future government - it's hard not to think that the Afghanistan adventure is slouching towards defeat.

It's true that Obama can point to killing Osama bin Laden but that's cold comfort when the knock on effect of that raid is to push Pakistan deeper into crisis and force the humiliated military and government to play hardball with US supply lines and support, including Pakistani bases now barred for drone raids. The irony is that, if anything, the raid that killed bin Laden, probably weakened the US war effort in Afghanistan by alienating a key ally.

The tragedy is, of course, not that America - and NATO - is heading towards a likely defeat but that by the time it's over, it will have taken more than a decade, tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives to return to the situation as it was before they arrived: poverty, brutality, devastated infrastructure, and a Taliban government.

Barack Obama and Pentagon split on Afghanistan pullout | World news | The Guardian

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A View From The Volcano: Report From Greece

This is a fascinating interview from the British Socialist Worker Newspaper on what's going on in Greece. All we're really getting is the maneuverings and panic of the politicians and the bankers. This interview with a socialist gives a flavour of what's happening on the ground and in the movements.

Panos Garganas of the Greek Socialist Workers Party told Patrick Ward how resistance to austerity became a rebellion

Almost all of Greece’s public sector workforce took part in an enormous general strike which rocked the country’s government last Wednesday.

A huge number of private sector workers joined them.

The strikes happened as the government tried to force yet more austerity measures through parliament. Tens of thousands of protesters filled Athens’ central Syntagma Square and fought the police in an attempt to reach the parliament building.

The strike was accompanied by a wave of occupations.

The protests have plunged the Labour-style Pasok government further into crisis.

It’s not clear if the government will be able to pass its cuts, worth £25 billion, or even manage to hold together.

Panos explained the scale of the resistance, the fragility of the government—and where the struggle should go next.

How was this strike different to the previous general strikes?

Two things stand out. The first is the sense of political crisis. This general strike coincided with the most crucial stage of negotiations between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU)—and between the government and the opposition.

They were negotiating over how to reinforce the Greek government in terms of standing up to demonstrators and dealing with creditors.

The general strike intervened to show that resistance is not going away.

The second most important thing was the size of it.

People have gone through so much in the past 20 months that they are getting more and more angry. That’s why so many people came out and the strike was so solid.

Syntagma Square has been occupied for three weeks. Police tried to disperse the occupiers on the strike day, but they failed because there was even more determination to keep it going.

What kind of forces are involved in the struggle?

The occupation of the square didn’t start with the unions. It was much more spontaneous—largely organised by bloggers. At first the left wasn’t sure how to respond.

The media portrayed the occupiers as apolitical and opposed to traditional forms of organisation.

They presented the occupiers as hostile to the left. Some were, but they weren’t dominant.

The most important people in the occupation have taken part in many strikes and occupations over the past 20 months.

The occupation of the square is important because it has united strikers and demonstrators.

Sections of the left, including the Socialist Workers Party and the Anti-Capitalist Left, played an important role in arguing for this.

We should not let the media play one section of the movement off against another.

Who defended the square against the police? Were most people involved in “rioting”?

The occupation was peaceful. The occupiers were very clear that they didn’t want to provoke the police and allow them to attack.

On Wednesday, lots of people in the square denounced provocations. Police tried to set up an incident to create an excuse for them to attack.

Groups of anarchists were involved in fighting with the police, but the bulk of the demonstrators were not involved in rioting. The priority was to hold the square.

How does the government plan to get its austerity measures through parliament? Will the cabinet reshuffle make a difference?

There is a desperate attempt going on to keep the government alive.

Last Wednesday, prime minister George Papandreou offered to resign if the New Democracy opposition—similar to Britain’s Tory Party—agreed to join a coalition.

It was a clear indication of how far the government has failed economically and politically. It faces such strong opposition that it cannot form government on its own.

But then Germany and France told the Greek government that it couldn’t afford a political crisis and must press ahead.

So Papandreou did a U-turn, saying he’d reshuffle and press on.

It’s hard to tell how far the government will survive. Its majority is getting smaller and smaller.

There’s a vote of confidence on Tuesday night, and the following week Papandreou will try to pass the cuts. These are two crucial votes. They will take place with the government surrounded by demonstrations—and the demonstrations will be stronger.

The unions have called a 48‑hour general strike for when they try and pass the cuts.

Papandreou may twist MPs’ arms and win the vote. But implementing the cuts won’t happen.

I think the government will collapse—if not from votes, then from strikes. When the press and government say that resistance is futile, it is not true.

Power workers are on all-out strike from Monday. This can make the situation impossible for the government.

You don’t want the austerity measures passed. But wouldn’t it be worse for ordinary people if Greece defaults on its debt?

The first thing to say is that all the measures that are supposed to save working people from default aren’t working. So we are closer to default every day.

The cuts aren’t stopping the crisis and more cuts won’t either. Workers are suffering with no end in sight.

It’s important to ask how a default would come about. If it happens on the terms of the creditors, people will suffer.

But if the movement says we refuse to pay the debt, that’s very different.

Last year the Greek government paid 51 billion euros servicing the debt—that’s one billion euros every week.

If we stopped paying that billion a week, we wouldn’t need cuts in pensions, wages or services.

The wages bill for public sector is 16 billion euros.

A default organised by our side would lead to improvements for the working class in Greece.

Does Pasok’s relationship with the unions affect the resistance?

Traditionally, Pasok controls the main body of the Greek TUC. Pasok has held a majority in it for 30 years.

Every TUC leader has been a member of Pasok for 30 years.

Pasok doesn’t have a long history, unlike Labour in Britain. It has only existed since 1974.

But every Pasok government has been able to compromise with the unions to push through what capitalism needed.

This is changing.

A local government union has resigned from Pasok. It was against the agreement with the EU and IMF.

This is happening elsewhere too. And if this is happening at leadership level, imagine how it is among the rank and file!

Thousands are showing their opposition to Pasok.

It started in May last year—people booed the TUC leader at strike rally organised by the TUC.

For the first time the left is electing people in the unions. In smaller unions the Anti-Capitalist Left is getting people elected to steering committees and other leading trade union bodies.

Where can the movement go from here?

We want two things. First, we want rank and file control of the strikes. The strength of the mood now means we can get general assemblies in workplaces, with elected committees, for people to decide how to handle the strikes.

This has already happened in some strikes in the past 20 months.

The mood is now so strong that we should generalise this sort of thing. It strengthens the movement.

There is an alternative to austerity. We should push for nationalisation of the banks, cancellation of the debt and workers’ control of the banking system.

These demands are becoming more and more popular. Workers committees in strikes should adopt these demands. That’s the way forward.

We can stop this crisis on workers’ terms.

Monday, June 20, 2011

China or Greece: Which Is The Next Lehman Brothers?

Back in 2007, when the US Fed let the 100-year old Lehman Brothers investment bank go belly up, it was like a blasting cap that blew apart the global economy. While there was some recover last year and early into 2011, the global economy - and the economies of the developed world in particular - haven't made it back to pre-2008 levels. What's more, that recovery has receded in the second quarter of 2011 as the effects of big stimulus packages has ended and debt-straddled governments hit the panic button and turn to austerity to please international investors, speculators and ratings agencies.

That self-inflicted decline - like the self-inflicted greed bubble of 2008 - is on the precipice of leading to a much bigger economic explosion than the Lehman Brothers debacle. The two key sources of danger right now are Greece and China. Greece has been in the news in a big way lately because the riders of the banking apocalypse - the European Central Bank, the IMF and private banks and investors - are demanding a new round of austerity. Not surprisingly, the Greek population have had it with austerity and are set to explode, with Egypt-like sit-ins taking place in Greek town squares and union strikes and protests rolling through the country. The Greek PM had to, effectively, dissolve his cabinet and return to parliament for a vote of confidence tomorrow before moving forward with the next round.

With an unstable Greek government facing mass opposition in the streets and a divided parliament, and with the European Union unable to agree on a plan to bail out the country, there is a very real chance that Greece will default on its debt. A default on Greek debt will have a much more massive impact on the global economy than the Lehman Brothers collapse. And it will spread quickly to deeply indebted Italy and Belgium and beyond. Greedy bankers, gotten fat off cheap money and deregulated markets, which led to the present crisis in the first place, will howl at the thought that they have to pay for the bonuses and bad decisions of the past decade. They will use their control of money to wreak destruction to the global economy as they did in 2008 when they took their money and went home, leaving the economy to starve from a lack of credit.

In China, the world is discovering that the monolithic Chinese state and ruling class aren't so monolithic after all. While the supreme leadership under the premiership of Wen Jiabao have been trying to steer the Chinese economy away from dependence upon infrastructure investment, as well as to cool the overheated property market, an article in today's New York Times suggests that, if anything, things have been moving in the opposite direction. The Chinese economy has diversified and local and regional political leaders have their own independent power bases that can resist diktats and priorities from the centre. Those regional forces also have other levers so that when the state withdrew from lending, non-banking lenders stepped in. The result is that there could be as much as half a trillion dollars in non-performing loans. Many of those loans are in the infrastructure investments that have kept Chinese growth motoring along even as the market for Chinese exports, still a big portion of the country's GDP, has receded. Jiabao and other Chinese leaders are faced with a wave of crippling defaults or the possibility of a big collapse in demand if they try to rein in out of control credit growth and infrastructure investment.

Most commentators are focused on Greece, whose collapse seems most imminent but China's dangers are being covered up by past enthusiasm for the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of ten percent annual growth rates. And a bursting bubble in China will be orders of magnitude bigger than a Greek default. Don't forget that America is mortgaged to the hilt, with rating agencies starting to get nervous about government debt levels. And most of the foreign-owned US debt is in Chinese vaults. If the world's second biggest economy needs to liquidate assets quick to cover big losses, what do you think that they'll be selling? If the value of US debt collapses and, thus, the cost of borrowing rises, things could get ugly.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the people who run the global economy - and have done so through the use of speculation for the past three decades - have painted the economy into a corner. They're the problem and they have no solution. The Greek working class are the only voices of sanity we're hearing and their answer is clear: let the bankers pay. It is a condemnation of a system driven by greed and chaos. It's time for democratic planning based upon human need.

China Boom Beginning to Show Cracks, Analysts Say -

Friday, June 17, 2011

NATO Has Already Lost In Libya

I'm certainly not one to believe that imperialist agendas, hideous in life, won't rise zombie-like from the grave. The present air war by NATO to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is proof enough of that. The failure of NATO in Afghanistan, after ten years, to defeat the ragtag guerilla forces of the Taliban was surely more than enough proof that the cold war alliance was both American sock-puppet and a paper tiger. Heck, even the outgoing US Defence Secretary thinks so, saying that NATO has a "dim, if not dismal" future in his final policy speech.

And, yet, NATO managed to rouse its sickly self to attack Libya. First of all, if anyone has any illusions that NATO has any interest in Arab democracy, I would point to the fact that the west has supported every dictator in the region, no matter how brutal. They continue to support the Saudi monarchy that is so repressive it can't even bring itself to let women drive cars. The US gave Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak close to $3 billion every single year - not for economic aid or food or to help build schools - but directly to the security apparatus that beat and tortured any democratic movements that dared to show their face in public.

No, the only reason that NATO is in Libya is the attempt to get ahead of the wave of revolutions, the redirect and control them with an eye to turning to the advantage of the US and its allies. They saw the upheavals in unreliable allies like Libya and ostensible enemies like Syria as an opportunity to replace those regimes with ones that would be more pliant to western wishes and corporate control - as well as to opening space for Israel, widely despised as a colonial usurper, oppressor and racist state. Meantime, they have bent their efforts to sparing as much of the dictatorships that are America's consistent allies, like Bahrain and, up to the last minute, Yemen.

Libya's embattled uprising seemed a perfect opportunity, with memories of the demonization of Gaddafi still strong in the western mind from the 80s and early 90s. And the uprising's "official" organs very quickly came to be dominated by regime defectors who, only the day before, were happily repressing the Libya people as part of the Gaddafi regime. This domination was ensured with air support from the west and money from the Gulf dictatorships, including the enlightened despotism in Qatar.

And yet, this attempt to subvert the revolutions through military intervention is already a dismal failure. Even if, some months from now, Gaddafi is defeated and the Transitional National Council takes power with NATO and the Gulf Cooperation Council's blessing, what movement in the middle east is going to want the kind of "help" that has been visited upon Libya. It will take years of rebuilding to repair the infrastructure destroyed by NATO bombs. And people will look to Tunisia and Egypt and see revolutions that proceeded without having to disintegrate into civil war. Even in Yemen, where Saleh has held on most tenaciously, the destruction and death has been at a much more modest level than in Libya.

The proof of this wariness is clear from Syria where the opposition movement has been clear that it has no interest in NATO "help" in overthrowing Assad. In fact, while Assad is no less entrenched than Gaddafi and civil society no less truncated by the dictatorship, the tenacity and bravery of the movement is clearly eroding the regime and its military apparatus bit by bit. And the movement isn't under the control of opportunist former regime figures but, rather, local coordinating committees that have real popular support and participation.

It's likely true, as commentators like Pepe Escobar have argued, that the Saudi regime is funnelling money to friendly Sunni groups in Syria to strengthen the hand of sectarian opposition to the Allawite (Shia) Assad's control of Syria. But this is not the driving nor dominant force in the Syrian movement that is marked by slogans calling for inter-faith, regional and ethnic solidarity.

The result is that NATO faces a lose-lose situation in Libya. The possibility of appearing as an attractive alternative for the restive populations of North Africa and the Middle East has been dissipated by the failure to win a clear and quick victory in Libya. NATO's political credibility has also been undermined by the murderous and repressive actions of Israel against the Palestinian Arab population over which it rules with carte blanche by the Americans. And, yet, if NATO pulls out of Libya it will face an even bigger defeat than the one ever looming in Afghanistan: Libya is closer to Italy than Toronto is to Buffalo, New York. If NATO can't win a war in its own backyard what good is it? This will be compounded if the Syrians overthrow their regime without "help" from NATO.

With the Egyptian revolt spreading to Greece and Spain, it's quite possible that the debacle in Libya will turn what western leaders thought was an opportunity into further crisis. And that is good news for the Arab people of the Middle East and the cause of democracy.

Defiant Gaddafi vows to defeat NATO - Africa - Al Jazeera English

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Abolish The Senate

It's pretty entertaining to watch Harper have to wrestle with the unelected Senators whom he appointed over the years. It's pretty straightforward, these guys like the fat salaries and perk package that senators get for doing sweet f**k all - except standing as a visible expression of the aristocratic and undemocratic origins of our parliamentary system.

This also raises the question of whether the Senate should be reformed at all or just abolished as most premiers feel - and over which Quebec is threatening to take the federal government to court. It can all seem a little obscure, this Senate debate, but really what this is all about is providing a bulwark against legislation that challenges the established order of things. The august body has been called a forum for "sober second thought" for a reason. But democracy is democracy - why do we need another body of overpaid politicians to decide again on something that was already decided? What's more, the basis upon which they will be elected will be less democratic, providing equal numbers of Senators from each of the provinces, regardless of population.

Our parliamentary, first past the post, democratic system is already wanky enough. We don't need another layer of over-priced wankery. Take the money and invest it in something useful, like retirement homes or daycare programs.

As an aside, I can't understand why the NDP - the Official Opposition - isn't quoted in this regard. They officially are for abolishing the Senate. Instead we get Bob Rae, leader of the rump Liberals as the only opposition politician quoted. I've noticed, similarly, that there is no voice from the NDP with regards to the present strikes by Canada Post or Air Canada - at least not in the Globe & Mail. What's up with that?

Friendly fire erupts as Tory senators balk at Harper’s term-limit plan - The Globe and Mail

Greek Meltdown: People vs Banks

Forget the riots in Vancouver by angry hockey fans, things are really on the boil in Greece. After a year of austerity measures that have all but killed the economy and which have driven down living standards substantially, the government is coming back for more. Not surprisingly, people are pissed. And when Greek workers get pissed, they have a way of letting you know.

Yesterday there was a 24-hour general strike against the new round of austerity measures. Those measures will certainly pay down some of the debt - or, rather, transfer it to the working class - but at the price of so damaging the economy that it is likely tax revenues will fall in the medium term, making further debt repayment difficult. Greek workers know this and so tens of thousands of them descended upon the Greek Parliament to vent their anger and frustration, calling politicians "traitors", "thieves", and "liars" and making the obvious point (obvious to everyone but the media) that it wasn't workers who caused the debt, so why should they pay for it?

I suspect that the European ruling classes fully understand the limitations of the austerity measures they are proposing but see no other way out. They will know that opening a full frontal assault on the most militant working class in Europe risks destabilizing the EU more generally, as resentment seethes against the various forms of austerity being wheeled out from Spain to the UK. Following on from the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt - and similar movements in other countries just across the Mediterranean Sea - youth and workers in Spain have occupied central squares that are shaking up politics in their country. In Greece, protestors are reported to be setting up tents in squares there as well. In the UK there is a planned strike by half a million public sector workers against attacks on pensions on June 30.

If the Greek working class can bring down the increasingly shaky Greek government in protest against austerity, that could have a serious, European-wide knock-on effect. For a moment yesterday, it looked like the government might collapse, as the Prime Minister offered to resign in order to form a cross-party government of national unity with the Greek Tories - New Democracy. New Democracy refused for opportunistic reasons and PM Papandreou was, instead, forced to turn back to his own restive Socialist Party. He will now hold a confidence vote in his leadership in order to whip them into line for the next round of slash and burn. It is, nonetheless, a sign of weakness on the part of the government, which is why markets slid around the world overnight.

But even if the government can defeat the working class in Greece, there is still the problem that austerity is unlikely to work in the short term. Russia is still recovering from the austerity of the early 90s, and has only done so because of vast natural resources and an authoritarian government that clamped down on the oligarchs who were stripping down the economy and socking away their cash in foreign banks. The Russian government also clamped down on civil rights and restored something like called Stalinism lite, killing independent journalists, crushing movements for autonomy and independence in former Soviet republics and preventing the emergence of any real political or economic opposition. In other words (limited) economic recovery through dictatorship. Hardly an attractive model to most Europeans, used to several decades (at least) of political democracy and civil freedoms.

The only thing that can save the European economy, and the living standards of the vast majority of the population, is for the Greek working class to soundly defeat the austerity package with such militancy that it puts the fear of good into the broader European ruling classes. That will open the possibility of a different response to the crisis for millions who are told there is no alternative. And the ruling classes will be forced to take on the real bandits and scroungers - the parasitic bankers, investors, currency traders, and speculators, not to mention the under-taxed and over subsidized private corporations - in order to avoid a worse fate at the hands of their own restive populations. Don't think that's possible? Neither did Mubarak and Ben Ali. As Karl Marx once wrote: "all that is solid, melts into air..."

Global markets shaken by Greek debt crisis - Europe - Al Jazeera English

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Support The Strikes To Defend Pensions

Usually even the mention of Margaret Wente's name can ruin my day but her article in today's Globe & Mail is actually not too bad in terms of laying out the terms of the strike and lock-out at Canada Post and Air Canada respectively. Of course, in the interests of "balance" she reaches the basic conclusion that while pensions were great while they lasted, they're unsustainable. My guess is that she won't be giving up her pension in order to save the Globe & Mail's bottom line but that's another story.

What is most important here is that corporate Canada and the government are opening up a new austerity front that is about reducing our living standards - both in the present and in the future - as a means to restore the economy to profitability. In the public sector the Tories intend to slash spending and reduce payrolls both through layoffs and attrition over the coming months, beginning with the soon-to-be-released budget. In the private sector, pensions are the big target.

Make no doubt about it, pensions are a component of wages, just like healthcare benefits. When Canada Post and Air Canada attack the pension plans of their employees, they are demanding wage reductions. But workers have the right to ask a number of questions when they're told to take the knife. The most obvious one that is printed in big letters on the picket signs of Air Canada employees is why should only CEOs get pensions and not workers? This must seem doubly infuriating to Air Canada employees who took it on the chin a few years back to "save Air Canada", agreeing concessions in a big way. Now, Air Canada is profitable again - and is coming back for more.

But there is a deeper question that has to do with the whole way the economy runs. Workers didn't cause the economic crisis of 2008 - the Great Recession. That was sparked by greedy and corrupt banks with their exotic and incomprehensible debt packaging schemes that came unraveled - and in the US housing market shows no signs of stopping the decline. Nor are workers responsible for the long term decline in western economies that have come more and more to rely upon "financialization" - that is, to have greater weight placed upon the casino of speculative investment - while China has become the world's manufacturer. These imbalances and contradictions are directly the result of the policies of neo-liberal government - from the Harper Tories to the Chretien Liberals and, beyond our borders, to every party across the spectrum from Labour to Republican and Democrat. They are also the result of decisions in innumerable boardrooms where investors, bankers and manufacturers have shifted resources and capital around the world in order to maximize profits.

The result of all this jerry-rigged global profit-taking has been that workers didn't benefit particularly during the boom times - with debt levels rising even in the peak periods of growth in the past three decades - while the global economy has become more dangerously unbalanced. Now, with it likely that the imbalance will lead to years of stagnation, workers are again expected to pay, this time with their future as well as their present wages.

And it's not just in Canada that this battle is taking place. Attacks on pensions are a central feature of the struggles and strike waves in Greece. There is also a massive public sector strike set to take place in the UK on June 30 that will involve teachers, civil servants, and more. This struggle is about whether we will continue to live in a world where the rich get richer in good times and bad and the working class gets driven ever downward towards immiseration.

That's also why what is needed is a united fight, not just piecemeal isolated actions. The Tories will legislate the Air Canada workers back to work by early next week - effectively eliminating the right to strike for a small group of non-essential workers (they're customer service agents and call centre staff, for God's sake!). This will be followed by similar legislation against postal workers in the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. There are two other unions at Air Canada, as well as the Pilots Association. They all oppose Air Canada's pension plans. They should all be out together - if the customer service agents are defeated, they almost certainly will have lost as well. In fact, union leaderships must see the writing on the wall as far as pensions go. The entire working class will either be picked off one by one, sector by sector, or they will come together in a joint campaign, which will probably need to include industrial action, to win. It's all of our future's that's at stake.

The unions at Canada Post and Air Canada are fighting a rearguard action - The Globe and Mail

Monday, June 13, 2011

Roubini Reads Redbedhead For Economic Advice

What do you think: is Dr. Doom, the soothsaying economist, famous for predicting the banking sector meltdown back in 2006 - two years before it happened - taking a peek at my prognostications for the economy? Hmmm...perhaps he's just reading the same stats as me, which only goes to show you that you don't need an MBA to read the writing on the capitalist wall: there's a perfect storm coming of growth-choking debt levels, over-priced commodities, a hard landing on the horizon in China and anemic growth in Japan. Unfortunately, if he were really reading my brilliant economic analyses, he would know full well that "de-leveraging" the economy - i.e. paying off debt - will not solve the problem.

Debt is a symptom of a system that is clogged with capital and suffering chronically low profit rates as a result. In the past the problem of "too much capital" has been solved with wars and/or depressions, which do a good job of destroying large quantities of capital and devaluing what's left, restoring higher levels of return on investment. But with economies now dominated by transnational corporations in manufacturing, resource extraction, retail and services, this mechanism becomes more complicated - the collapse of massive corporations takes down smaller businesses or even departments and subsidiaries that are themselves profitable. The cure threatens to kill the patient. So, while paying off debt can provide some measure of a controlled destruction of capital, it is not an efficient or particularly effective way to achieve the depth of destruction necessary. What generally ends up happening is akin to simply shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic - public sector debt is shifted to the private sector, primarily workers, who then have their ability to consume reduced, causing an increased crisis in the area of overproduction. Or private debt is shifted onto the public balance sheet, leading to crises of solvency and, ultimately, higher taxes and reduced services as government attempts to clean up their books, thus shifting corporate and banking debt back onto workers, thus reinforcing the same cycle.

None of this is to suggest economic collapse. There's lots of institutions and governmental and regulatory mechanisms to prevent an all-out collapse a la the 1930s. But it does suggest that we're in for a protracted period of slow growth with a sustained attack on living standards as the "go to" strategy by the ruling class to solve the economic crisis. In China, where pressures have been building for some time, there is the potential for a more acute form of crisis as bank loans to fund uncompetitive and surplus investment in infrastructure and manufacturing, etc could hit a wall. When that will happen is anybody's guess and is something that often explodes as a result of accidental factors - like the decision by the US government to let Lehmann Brothers go to the wall in 2007, sparking the financial meltdown. And the Chinese ruling class is pretty far-sighted and united (though there are divisions as I've discussed previously between the Deng Xiaoping "enrich yourself" model and the attempt to shift the economy towards higher levels of internal consumption and lower savings). They might just finesse a way out of the contradictions they face.

In any case, there's a growing number of downside risks, as they call them, that is increasing the odds that 2012-2013 could get ugly. How do I know? Because I read Roubini.

Roubini Says a ‘Perfect Storm’ May Converge on the Global Economy in 2013 - Bloomberg

Elevated U.S. unemployment, a surge in oil and food prices, rising interest rates in Asia and trade disruption from Japan’s record earthquake threaten to sap the world economy. Stocks worldwide have lost more than $3.3 trillion since the beginning of May, and Roubini said financial markets by the middle of next year could start worrying about a convergence of risks in 2013.

The MSCI AC World Index has tumbled 4.9 percent this month on concern recent data, including an increase in the U.S. unemployment rate to 9.1 percent in May, signal the global economy is losing steam. U.S. Treasuries rose last week, pushing two-year note yields down for a ninth week in the longest stretch of decreases since February 2008, on bets the Federal Reserve will maintain monetary stimulus.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Yemen: America Never Misses A Chance To Do Their Worst

Well, it's not exactly a new thing in American history. They did use the collapse of the Spanish empire at the beginning of the 20th century to invade the Philippines and Cuba and subvert their liberation struggles to America's imperialist ends. A little closer to the present, the American led disaster in Somalia was really the end game of a Yemen-esque revolt against the American client regime of Siad Barre that the dictator did everything in his power to turn into a civil war. Of course, the American attempt to use the power vacuum to reassert their hegemony turned out rather badly (Blackhawk Down, anyone?). But these guys just keep coming back to ensure the presence of evil in the world. You have to admire their commitment, if not their motives, methods or results.
No doubt America is happy to have Yemen's American backed dictator, Saleh, hang on to power as long as possible in order to give the US a free hand to do their worst and kill as many "enemies" as possible. And they wonder why no one likes them...

U.S. Is Intensifying a Secret Campaign of Yemen Airstrikes -

Monday, June 6, 2011

Israel Is No Different Than Syria

Israel likes to tout itself as the "plucky little democracy" in the Middle East, and as an island of European-style democracy besieged by a sea of dictatorships and dark, Arabic hordes. Besides the (fading) appeal to the oppressions Jews suffered in Europe, particular the horrors of the Holocaust, it is this "light of nations" image - and the racist stereotypes of the Arab societies and peoples - that has been a key component of its PR in the west. For the political elites, of course, it is more real politick than that - Israel is their watchdog to keep the unruly Arabs who happen by unlucky accident to control the lion's share of the world's oil supply. These tropes have served Israel well since its founding in 1948.

However, you have to wonder how long this image can stick when it is so at variance with the reality of Israel's actual record. This weekend's murder of unarmed protesters by Israeli soldiers in the illegally occupied Golan Heights region of Syria reminds us once again that Israel, in fact, behaves no differently than the dictatorships that surround it - or used to before Egyptians did theirs in. The usual answer given to such accusations is that Israel only deals harshly with its enemies but practices an open form of democracy and vibrant civil debate amongst its multi-cultural citizenry. Well, this is as true of Israel as it was of the early United States of America - i.e. not at all. Because it disappears the many millions of people who are denied civil rights and who faced armed, murderous repression by the Israeli state, which exercises control over the most fundamental aspects of their lives - from control of tax revenues to control of ground water, airspace and international borders.

We shouldn't forget that it was less than two years ago that Israel - without provocation and having broken the terms of a peace treaty with Hamas several times - invaded Gaza and murdered over 1,000 civilians, including hundreds of children. Since then, another 200 Palestinians have been killed with dozens killed in the last month during the demonstrations to mark the Nakba ("catastrophe") and Naksa ("setback") that marked the founding of the state of Israel from the Palestinian point of view. In other words, Israel has killed as many protesters as the Syria security forces. Just because Israel goes one step further than the Syrian dictatorship and refuses to recognize the civil rights of a majority of the human beings over whom it rules - and kills - hardly makes Israel a better regime. Nor is the fact that Israel prevents the majority of the indigenous population from returning to their homeland as a way to avoid the overwhelming demographic challenge of denying democratic rights not only to a small majority - as is the case now - but to a massive an insurmountable one.

And the fact that Israel has such a large body of domestic support amongst the Jewish population for its actions provides no more of an exoneration than the denial of citizenship rights to the Palestinians makes its actions democratic. The reality is that Israel only exists because of the largesse of American dollars - to the tune of $3 million per day - and American high tech weapons. And just as in the Arab dictatorships where the regimes provide privileges to a section of the population, usually from the ruler's tribe, region or religious minority, in order to create a loyal base in the population, Israel does the same with the local Jewish population - it just so happens that American government money allows the base to be larger than in the relatively poorer Arab countries. The weight of history also brings support to the regime - in Egypt, the regime maintained for a long time the patina of support that carried over from the immense popularity of Gamal Nasser, the anti-imperialist and populist president until his death in 1970. With Israel the historic weight of the Holocaust and the previous oppression of the Jews in Europe provides a further base of support to the actions of the Israeli state.

These elements all combine to provide a cover to some of the most brutal crimes against democracy and human rights in the world today - all with the enthusiastic support of the Canadian government. And they make it clear that the struggle against this oppression of a multi-pronged one. The revolutions in the Arab world - and hopefully Assad will be the next dictator to fall - are a key element in undermining Israel legitimacy and support base. Along with those mighty events is the continued resistance of the Palestinians themselves both within the region and internationally along with their allies to expose Israel as an apartheid type state. And, lastly, to destroy western state and corporate support for Israel, which provides the domestic foundation for Israel's colonialist and *theocratic policies at home.

Israel fires on 'Naksa' protesters - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

*I deliberately use "theocratic" and not "ethnocratic" for a number of reasons. First, Jewishness or Judaism is both a religion and a set of cultural practices/shared history but this doesn't coincide with an ethnicity in the same way as, say, Han Chinese does (and this is still problematic), nor is it, like say, American or Canadian, the denotion of a civil conception of citizenship. And, as the original "liberatory" claims of Zionism dissipate, the state is more and more reliant upon religious justifications to support its claims over the land and the people.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why the U.S. housing market will keep falling - The Globe and Mail

Brilliant economists agree with me, we're screwed:

The Man Who Called the Last Two Bubbles doesn’t blur his opinions. He believes the United States is stuck in a period of plodding growth that will end only with either a massive stimulus program or a 20-per-cent to 30-per-cent decline in the value of the greenback.

“I don’t see either happening in the short term,” says Dean Baker, a member of that rare breed – the one-handed economist. As co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, he has spent years delivering fearless pronouncements on where the economy is headed next.

Why the U.S. housing market will keep falling - The Globe and Mail

I should note that I find it personally painful to be a prophet, particularly as nobody pays me for my brilliant prognostications and deep analyses of the profound and hidden patterns of our culture. Nonetheless, I will continue to sound the tocsin at least until the next version of Xbox 360 is released. After that, I make no promises.

Friday, June 3, 2011

When The Ex-Mossad Chief Thinks You're Crazy...

This article in the New York Times is interesting. The recently retired head of the Israeli Mossad (i.e. CIA) is using his newfound civilian freedoms to run around and say that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak are, basically, f***ing nuts. Now, anyone with access to information more substantive than FOX News has probably known or suspected for some time that the Israeli leadership are apartheid-organizing, ethnocratic, colonialist scum - but that some of the people in the top tiers of the Israeli leadership think Bibi and Ehud are bonkers it tells you something. Just to put it in perspective, the ex-Mossad chief is hardly a bleeding heart liberal or lover of freedom. As the Times notes:

While in office, Mr. Dagan served three prime ministers, was reappointed twice and oversaw a number of reported operations that Israelis consider great successes — forcing delays in Iran’s nuclear program through sabotaging its computers and assassinating scientists; setting the groundwork for an attack on a nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007; and assassinating Imad Mughniyeh, a top Lebanese Hezbollah operative, in 2008 .

When Ariel Sharon, the prime minister in 2002, appointed Mr. Dagan, he was reported to have told him he wanted “a Mossad with a knife between its teeth.” Mr. Dagan is widely thought to have complied and is not seen as a soft-hearted liberal.
What this schism reflects is the pressure coming to bear on sections of the Israeli ruling class as a result of the Arab revolutions, which are causing the region to shift wildly under their feet, and the growing sense that Israel is a pariah state utterly uninterested in peace or justice. The only thing that really allows the Israelis to continue with their policies is American support - political, financial and military. Israel wouldn't last a day without America. But there is a weariness within a section of the American elite for the rabid nature of the Israeli leadership. It's still a minority strand, to be certain, but it is an expression of the fact that some doubt how useful is a despised Jewish Sparta, surrounded by a sea of resentful Arabs ruled by increasingly unpopular and unstable dictatorships (also sponsored by the USA).

Well, the more splits the merrier, as far as I'm concerned. Splits make it more difficult for the Israelis to attack Iran - as Dagan suggests the leadership around Netanyahu wants to do - and can create an opening for the Palestinians to drive a wedge, particularly if there are more successful revolutions in the Arab world and the revolution in Egypt deepens. For one thing, Israel is at risk of losing a key ideological prop: it's claim to be the only democracy in the middle east. That looks laughable as 80 million Egyptians build a vibrant democratic society next door and, meanwhile, the majority of the population under the effective control of the Israeli government (i.e. the Palestinians inside Israel and in the Israeli colonized and controlled Territories) have no civil or democratic rights over that government.

Today's U.S. Economic News: This Parrot Is Dead

The jobs report is out and like all of the other economic indicators, it shows that the US economy is going nowhere fast. The whole of this year has been about watching the optimism that started the year turn sour bit by bit as the remaining effects from the stimulus spending have evaporated. The reality is, the Anglo-American model of market driven growth, deregulation and the repression of trade unions, has not done what it claimed - create a virtuous cycle of endless growth that superceded the stagnation in productivity and innovation that supposedly plagues economies that have greater state intervention.

The present "soft patch" - known in the jargon of regular folks as a recession - is one more stake through the heart of the neo-liberal consensus that has haunted us since the end of the 1970s. It's worth noting that this has never been about state vs market capitalism. Every capitalist state uses elements of both. Every American boom has, particularly since the 1980s, been about increasing the levels of debt in the economy as a means to reinflate it in the face of weak growth. This is, in economic effects absolutely not a whit different than Greek (or any other) state debt - as I've discussed elsewhere. In terms of an economy having room to maneuver - through state or corporate or consumer or combined purchasing - the level of total debt is the key number. Attacking state spending is just the latest way of attacking working class living standards, full stop. Now, I'm no fan of the capitalist state but to think that it was more rational to simply print money and drop interests to the floor so that uncontrolled investment and speculation could ensue - rather than focusing investment on things that the national economy needs - was always absolutely barmy.

American political and economic leaders (and Canadians and Brits) have been strutting around since the "Japanese model" went bust about 15 years ago, bragging about how effectively their model was generating wealth. In fact a significant portion of the "new" wealth was made up of phoney speculative wealth, exotic debt instruments, sub-prime mortgages and the like - the Chinese and others were directing investment into needed infrastructure. For example, China now has 13,000 km of high speed rail - more than the rest of the world combined - which will climb to 25,000 km by 2015. The USA (and Canada) have 0 km of high speed rail. Shall I repeat that: there are zero kilometres of high speed rail in North America. And when Obama suggested a role for the US state in spurring investment in high speed rail, the mouth-breathers in the Republican party and Fox News went apoplectic. The only welfare program they support is $1 trillion for the military, tax cuts for the rich and bailouts for the banks. Meanwhile, America has also fallen behind in renewable energy technology in relation to Asia in general and China in particular. Seven of the world's 10 largest solar manufacturers are Asian, with the number two company being China's Suntech Power. And China invests four times the amount in clean technology as the USA.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all suggesting that China is a utopian model - neither in terms of long term economic stability, nor in terms of basic freedoms - but if a crash comes in China, at least they can ride the trains. In the US all they'll have is guns and empty, foreclosed houses. Though, come to think of it, having the former could solve the problem of the latter. Who's going to evict a heavily armed squatters' movement?

U.S. jobs growth brakes sharply in May - The Globe and Mail

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cold Fusion Zombie Returns From The Grave Eats Fossil Fuel Capitalists' Brains Then Solves World Energy Problems

I've been following this story in the geek-singularity press for a little while about the development of a new form of cold fusion out of Italy that is, apparently, on the verge of commercialization. Cold fusion, you may remember, had a brief and humiliating burst into the news back in the 90s before the experiment by Fleischmann and Pons turned out to be un-reproducible. Cold fusion was then reduced to the status of perpetual motion machine - i.e. a laughing stock that was barred in all its forms from applying for a U.S. patent. And that, it seemed, was that.

But some people didn't give up - including NASA, the U.S. Navy and two scientists from Bologna, Italy named Rossi and Focardi. The basic idea - from my utterly ignorant standpoint - is that these guys put in some nickel powder, a secret catalyst, and then hydrogen. They heat it up a bit and it causes what's termed a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction - cold fusion - that generates excess and a waste product of copper (copper is a heavier metal than nickel - in other words the reaction is causing the hydrogen nucleus of one proton and one neutron to fuse with the nickel nucleus creating a new element, and isotope of copper).

I am suspicious of all claims that sound like magic, including yogic flying, warp drives and out of body experiences. However, this is interesting in a number of ways - first that it is apparently winning the support of some scientists, including the Chief Scientist at NASA. Secondly, that they are intending on launching a 1 megawatt system to power a Defkalion Green Technology factory in Greece this October and have a contract to scale up production of more units with an investor in the USA.

As I say, I'm suspicious and lack the science to say it makes sense or not but it appeals to the geek in me. Nor do I have any political conclusion to draw from any of this at this point - though I do like the fact that the Greek scientist says that the Energy Catalyzer, or E-cat, technology isn't meant for capitalists but rather for the human race. For that alone - and the (extremely unlikely) possibility that these guys have found a technology that will cause the fossil fuel industry to collapse in short order - I'm rooting for it to turn out to be more than just a tin hat brigade fantasy.

Any thoughts?

Rossi Provides More Answers about the Energy Catalyzer and Nasa's Dennis Bushnell lists it as the number one energy solution

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Tories' Bankrupt Brains

"I see, said the blind man to the deaf dog, who wasn't listening anyway" is a phrase that comes to mind reading reports of federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's press conference on the economy. Generally speaking we expect governments to do more to solve looming crises than beg somebody else to do it for them. It is a sign of just how ideologically blinded are the Tories that they will ride the HMS Neo-Liberal to the bottom of the economic ocean before they will take any initiative to plug a leak using the instruments of state.

Capacity Utilization
Flaherty's response to flagging consumer demand has absolutely no hope of staving off a looming second dip in the as-yet-unfinished recession of 2008. The decline in consumer spending as we regular folk are saddled with historically high debt - there was a brief dip in debt as a percentage of income before returning to a generally upward trend toward 150% - means that 60% of what normally makes up economic expansion has been taken offline.

And while industrial investment and new machinery is up - in part because the rise in the Canadian dollar has made imported capital goods cheaper - has a number of inbuilt limits in terms of saving the economy. The first is the dead consumer demand to purchase goods of any new production capacity. The second is the fact that capacity utilization - the measure of how much new machinery is being used; is it running flat out or sitting idle part of the time? - is still at the lowest levels in a decade, sitting at 76% and levelling off.

And while manufacturing saw growth in 2010, it is still 15% below where it was at its peak in 2006. And even corporate debt levels, which declined during the recession, only declined by about 4% in relation to income from their peak and are rising once again. With the slowdown in the US and a slowdown looming in China, plus the disaster in Japan, along with inflation of raw materials running at a whopping 22%, this is hardly the moment when corporations are likely to find the dosh to ratchet up capital purchases to anywhere near what is necessary. In fact, when Flaherty says that the corporate sector is "relatively flush" with cash, they could easily reply that, in fact, total corporate debt to equity ratios - at 166% - is considerably higher than total government debt (i.e. federal, provincial, municipal, etc) to GDP, which is running at just over 107%. In other words an economic bailout from the fragmented corporate sector, each trying to gain competitive advantage over the other, just isn't in the cards.

And, as I discussed in my previous post, there is every chance that, in addition to weak economic figures, the government could face pressure to raise interests rates to deal with inflation, originating with the high cost of raw materials. And nothing kills an anemic recovery more effectively than high interest rates. The net result could easily be that the Stephen Harper's hope and dream of forming a majority government may come back to bite him in the ass. They don't have the Liberals to kick around anymore as a hindrance to doing what needs to be done. They will get all the blame if things start to really go south. Unfortunately, for the rest of us, we don't risk unpopularity - it's our livelihoods and ability to pay the bills that are at risk.

Time for business to take the lead: Flaherty - The Globe and Mail
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