Friday, June 26, 2009

The Greatest Entertainer Of His Age

Michael Jackson may have spent his last years mutating into an ever more freakish version of himself, eventually becoming a prize exhibit in the celebrity zoo, but under the outlandish surface was a singer who had come by his fame not via mere eccentricity or a stroke of luck, but through a genuinely remarkable talent that deserved to conquer the world.

For all his tragic flaws as a human being, Jackson could legitimately be seen as the greatest entertainer of his generation, the natural successor to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Soul music was the idiom from which he emerged, and disco was the vehicle that powered his solo career, but he was more than that suggests. The slender young man in spats who danced to the whip-smart rhythms of Billie Jean and Beat It, and crooned tear-stained ballads such as She's Out Of My Life, seemed to span the modern equivalents of many timeless idioms, from vaudeville to torch songs.

First and last, however, he was a great singer. When the Jackson 5 burst on to the music scene at the beginning of the 1970s, Jackson was barely out of short trousers and his singing on I Want You Back, ABC and The Love You Save, their first hits, was that of a hyperactive juvenile lead. Listening to I'll Be There, a quiet ballad that gave them their fourth hit, however, it was possible to detect the signs of something extraordinary.

His careful phrasing, and in particular his terminal vibrato, showed a maturity extraordinary for a boy barely into his teenage years by which time Jackson demonstrated every ounce of the gifts and the potential that would make him, by the end of the decade, the biggest attraction in the world of showbusiness, the star of stage shows of previously unimaginable lavishness.

And that was the world in which he clearly situated himself. He loved the world of glitter and divas, of Judy Garland and Diana Ross. He was the pop star of the era of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, or ET and Star Wars, futuristic in style yet terminally sentimental in content.

See Michael Jackson's Greatest Clips

For all the superficial allure of that world, however, underneath he was a musician of great creativity and acute instincts. His singing on such albums as Off the Wall and Thriller, some of the 20th century's biggest selling and best loved records, comprised a textbook of vocal technique and character, from the breathy and fragile to the driving and committed.

Jackson's high voice linked him to the great tradition of falsetto singing which came out of gospel music and led to such immediate predecessors as Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield. But Jackson went beyond idiom, leaving the emotional immediacy of soul music far behind as, in collaboration with the great arranger and producer Quincy Jones, he created a music beyond restrictions of generation and ethnicity.

Those who felt that his music was weakened as a result, becoming the deracinated product of a man interested in securing an international audience while erasing first the primary signs, and eventually all traces, of his own ethnicity, found themselves very much in the minority.

The day after that Talk of the Town gig in the early 1970s, the Jackson 5 were made available for interviews in a London hotel. The older brothers - Jermaine, Marlon and the rest - were keen to do the public relations thing, as they had been taught.

Michael, however, sat by himself with a pencil and a puzzle book. When he was approached, he lifted his face and confronted his questioner with a pair of huge brown eyes that gave nothing away. Already, he was in his own world.

Richard Williams/Guardian

Are Indians Racist?

Racist attacks on Indians in Australia continue. The press continues to raise a hue and cry. And Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been forced to denounce the attacks to safeguard the interests of the education sector that is Australia's second biggest export revenue earner after iron ore.

But now questions are being asked here if we Indians are racist as well. Speaking at a seminar in Singapore on June 25, Mizoram chief minister Pu Lalthanhawla startled delegates to conference on water by claiming he too was a victim of racism – in India!

“In India, people ask me if I am an Indian. When I go south, people ask me such questions. They ask me if I am from Nepal or elsewhere. They forget that the northeast is part of India. I have told many that see, I am an Indian like you. I am a victim of racism,” he said. Indians consist of three races - “Dravidians, Aryans and we in the northeast,” Lalthanhawla said, airing his angst.

Lalthanhawla has certainly touched a raw nerve. How good are we in treating our fellow citizens? In a recent article, an assistant professor at AIIMS Dr Shah Alam Khan wondered whether Indians practice equality at all.

He points out we take the wrong sides in our strife against dalits. Protests against the killing of harijans in Haryana and UP in the recent past don't go beyond a few gratuitous editorials. The Khairlanji massacre is only an “dalit atrocity”.

Indeed, very few upper caste Indian are willing to eat on the same table with an “untouchable”. (Working in AIIMS - the epicentre of the anti-reservation protests and where SC/ST students are forced to stay in separate wings and are discriminated against by the upper caste faculty members who fail them regularly – Shah Alam should know.)

In fact, inequalities are a common or rather a daily occurrence in our country. Abhorrence of people of different faith, low caste and different races is incredible and phenomenal and we even believe and differentiate on the basis of colour.

On the other hand, “fair and lovely” brides are much sought after in a land which was once dominated by the Dravidians, the real inhabitants of India whose DNA can be traced to black Africa.

Shah Alam laments we live through these atrocities as if they are a natural consequence of race and creed. “Unfortunately, our belief in inequalities of caste, creed and religion are so strong that we refuse to raise questions and protest. It is an abject submission to the power of inequality which is rampant in India.”

Contradictions in the Indian society are not new. We preach morality but rank highest amongst the most corrupt nations of the world. We preach Gandhism but stage pogroms to annihilate ethnic minorities (that too in the land of Gandhi!). We claim we have never attacked another country, but we were busy attacking our own churches, our own dalits, our own adivasis, our own peasants, our own men, women and children in the name of caste, religion and race.

These are very important questions. Maybe once things cool down in Australia, we can get down to providing answers to ourselves.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Another US-Orchestrated ‘Colour Revolution’

By Paul Craig Roberts

(If you think my Iran election posts are a left-wing rant, read this piece. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honour by French President Francois Mitterrand.)

A number of commentators have expressed their idealistic belief in the purity of Mousavi, Montazeri, and the westernised youth of Tehran. The CIA destabilization plan, announced two years ago (see below) has somehow not contaminated unfolding events.

The claim is made that Ahmadinejad stole the election, because the outcome was declared too soon after the polls closed for all the votes to have been counted. However, Mousavi declared his victory several hours before the polls closed.

This is classic CIA destabilization designed to discredit a contrary outcome. It forces an early declaration of the vote. The longer the time interval between the pre-emptive declaration of victory and the announcement of the vote tally, the longer Mousavi has to create the impression that the authorities are using the time to fix the vote. It is amazing that people don’t see through this trick.

As for the grand ayatollah Montazeri’s charge that the election was stolen, he was the initial choice to succeed Khomeini, but lost out to the current Supreme Leader. He sees in the protests an opportunity to settle the score with Khamenei.

Montazeri has the incentive to challenge the election whether or not he is being manipulated by the CIA, which has a successful history of manipulating disgruntled politicians.

There is a power struggle among the ayatollahs. Many are aligned against Ahmadinejad because he accuses them of corruption, thus playing to the Iranian countryside where Iranians believe the ayatollahs' lifestyles indicate an excess of power and money.

In my opinion, Ahmadinejad's attack on the ayatollahs is opportunistic. However, it does make it odd for his American detractors to say he is a conservative reactionary lined up with the ayatollahs.

Commentators are “explaining” the Iran elections based on their own illusions, delusions, emotions, and vested interests. Whether or not the poll results predicting Ahmadinejad's win are sound, there is, so far, no evidence beyond surmise that the election was stolen. However, there are credible reports that the CIA has been working for two years to destabilize the Iranian government.

On May 23, 2007, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito reported on ABC News: “The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell ABC News.”

On May 27, 2007, the London Telegraph independently reported: “Mr. Bush has signed an official document endorsing CIA plans for a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilize, and eventually topple, the theocratic rule of the mullahs.”

A few days previously, the Telegraph reported on May 16, 2007, that Bush administration neocon warmonger John Bolton told the Telegraph that a US military attack on Iran would “be a ‘last option’ after economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution had failed.”

On June 29, 2008, Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker: “Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to $400 million, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.”

The protests in Tehran no doubt have many sincere participants. The protests also have the hallmarks of the CIA orchestrated protests in Georgia and Ukraine.

It requires total blindness not to see this.

Daniel McAdams has made some telling points. For example, neo-conservative Kenneth Timmerman wrote the day before the election that “there’s talk of a ‘green revolution’ in Tehran.”

How would Timmerman know that unless it was an orchestrated plan? Why would there be a ‘green revolution’ prepared prior to the vote, especially if Mousavi and his supporters were as confident of victory as they claim? This looks like definite evidence that the US is involved in the election protests.

Timmerman goes on to write that “the National Endowment for Democracy has spent millions of dollars promoting ‘colour’ revolutions . . . Some of that money appears to have made it into the hands of pro-Mousavi groups, who have ties to non-governmental organizations outside Iran that the National Endowment for Democracy funds.”

Timmerman’s own neocon Foundation for Democracy is “a private, non-profit organization established in 1995 with grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), to promote democracy and internationally-recognized standards of human rights in Iran.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

The End Of Objective Journalism: The Iran Election And The Corporate Media

In my last post I had pointed out how the Western corporate media has abandoned any pretence of journalistic objectivity in its coverage of the Iran presidential election. And as the days pass and more protest marches are reported from Tehran, we can see how major news outlets have stooped to brazen propaganda aimed at discrediting the election result.

It is not uncommon for election results to end in charges of fraud by the losing party that trigger mass demonstrations and even armed clashes. Just last April, elections in Moldova ended in violent protests, with the losing party claiming fraud and the winning one saying it was the victim of an attempted coup.

In November of last year in Nicaragua, nationwide local elections in which the opposition claimed irregularities led to confrontations involving thousands of people armed with bats, rocks, machetes and guns.

Last July, charges of election fraud led to mass rioting in the capital of Mongolia. There is no record of the corporate media becoming particularly exercised about any of these events.

But the corporate media uses a different yardstick while reporting Iran. Relying mainly on 'tweets' from 'citizen journalists' who are partisan at best, leading newspapers and channels – many of who do not even have a reporter on the scene - have not even bothered to report, much less analyse, the vote totals, which are readily available by both city and province and refute the claims made that the ballots were rigged to give Ahmadinejad a 60 per cent margin across the board.

Besides, they have simply ignored commentary from prominent analysts of the region who have suggested that the claims of a rigged election are not supported by the evidence. Mind you, these are men whose motto is “USA First” and they would willingly give an arm and leg to see the Ayatollahs out.

These men include chief military strategy and Middle East analyst for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Anthony Cordesman, former chief Iran analyst on George W Bush’s National Security Council Hillary Mann Leverett, the and her husband Flynt Leverett, a long time CIA analyst and National Security Council (NSC) staffer, who together wrote a column entitled 'Ahmadinejad won. Get over it', and George Friedman, the head of the Stratfor private intelligence service.

All of them said Ahmadinejad retained substantial popular support in Iran, particularly among the rural poor and more oppressed social layers, and warned against 'Iran experts' who based their analyses on wishful thinking and contact with a more affluent, English-speaking minority in Iran.

Of course, the US has intense interests in Iran, with the country fighting wars on its eastern and western borders. There is, moreover, the long history of hostility between the two countries, stemming from Washington’s previous domination of Iran and its oil wealth through its dictatorial client regime under the Shah, and the revolution that brought that regime to an end.

But given these interests and this history, conscientious coverage of Iranian politics calls for not only objectivity, but also sensitivity to Washington’s intervention in Iran’s affairs and attempts to influence its politics.

The coverage, however, exhibits no such objectivity whatsoever. Instead, it typifies a presentation of Ahmadinejad's victory over Mousavi as a “fraud” without providing a scintilla of proof to back it up. Instead, the corporate media is uncritically repeating the insistence of the Mousavi camp that it is so.

It is sought to be portrayed that Mousavi won, in some cases, by a 2-1 margin precisely in the areas - the wealthier suburbs of Tehran, Shiraz and elsewhere - that are now the centre of the election protests.

Indeed, the New York Times has actually demanded a new election, portraying Iran's Guardian Council’s call for recounting ballots a “cynical gesture.” The newspaper is not interested in correcting vote fraud, but rather in bringing pressure to bear within the Iranian state to effect a political coup.

In this context it is particularly instructive to remember the corporate media's attitude toward the disputed 2006 presidential election in Mexico, when the conservative candidate Felipe Calderon - with just 36 per cent of the vote and amid substantiated charges of gross electoral fraud - claimed victory over his left-nationalist opponent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

There was no call for a new election then, and the corporate media was largely indifferent to the evidence that the election had been rigged. While the massive crowds that took to the streets of Mexico City were comparable to those seen in Tehran, there was only disdain for the protesters.

On July 7, just five days after the contested vote totals were announced, the New York Times haughtily editorialised: “Mr Lopez Obrador has occasionally furthered his political career by inviting supporters to take to the streets... but he should resist inciting mass protests, which would harm Mexico’s stability and add to his image as a less-than-committed democrat.”

In Mexico, the victim of vote fraud was told to stand down in the interests of “stability,” while mass protests by his supporters were portrayed as a threat to democracy - the exact inverse of the newspaper’s approach to the Iranian events.

Why the difference? In Mexico, the candidate favoured by Washington won, and in Iran, the White House seeks not stability, but destabilisation.

And therein lies a tale.

(Based on a WSWS report by BV Auken)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lies, Fantasy And Twitter In Iran Elections

By Roger Alexander

Twittering "truth” out of Tehran these days has become an industry in own right. Amazingly, by basing its stories and analysis on 140-character "tweets" emanating from Iran, virtually the entire Western media is unanimous that the Iranian presidential election last week was “stolen” by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with the blessings of the “clerical regime.” It is claimed that the fraud was committed to keep out of office the “moderate, secular, and pro-US” former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.

The coverage by the Western corporate media typifies a presentation of Ahmadinejad's victory over Mousavi, that abandons any pretence of journalistic objectivity. It is sheer propaganda aimed at discrediting the election result.

A typical example: The Christian Science Monitor quoted Farideh Farhi, an 'expert' of Iranian elections at the University of Hawaii, saying, “I am convinced they just pulled it out of their hats.” Indeed, it is easy to be “convinced” when you're half way across the world on the beautiful Waikiki Beach.

I hold no brief for Ahmadinejad. But the manner in which the Western corporate media continues to demonise a sovereign nation and its president borders on the obscene. And they are steadfast in their belief that they, and not the people of Iran, are the agents of social change in that country.

The Western media has conveniently forgotten that Ahmadinejad has strong support among urban workers and the rural poor—the vast majority of the population. That Ahmadinejad (who was previously mayor of Tehran and commands a substantial base among the urban poor and in the rural areas) has retained this constituency is a fact grudgingly acknowledged by various Western commentators.

Besides, it is not mentioned that Mousavi campaigned as no less an ardent defender of Islamic clerical rule than Ahmadinejad. On domestic policy, he vaguely called for more openness, while opposing Ahmadinejad’s “populist” subsidies to the urban poor and the peasantry.

The media has also not sought to explain why the mass of the Iranian people should be expected to support an advocate of the same free market policies that have produced a social disaster throughout the world.

Still, directly reflecting the outlook of the Obama administration, the corporate media promoted the candidacy of Mousavi and depicted a rising tide of “popular support” that was certain to either sweep the “reformer” into office or obtain a close enough result to force a run-off contest with Ahmadinejad.

In their function as conduits for the state and US imperialist policy, the corporate media is seeking to promote the notion that a victory for Mousavi would have represented a “triumph of democracy” and opened up a new chapter in US-Iranian relations. The only possible explanation for Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory, they immediately concluded, was “fraud”. But is there a fraud involved?

There is no reason for anyone to believe Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said yesterday (June 19) that the election was fair. So the next best thing is to look at the analysis undertaken by independent American scholars and reported in the media.

Writing in the online journal Slate, University of Wisconsin mathematician Jordan Ellenberg applied some statistical analysis to what critics identified very early as a suspicious consistency in Ahmadinejad's results.

Hours after polls closed on June 12, the blog Tehran Bureau pointed out that in the six waves of tallied votes, Ahmadinejad's total ranged from 62 to 70 per cent. Ellenberg wrote that consistency might look odd to American voters “who may be more used to seeing wide swings in the vote totals” because “our fine-grained media start reporting results when just a few per cent of the votes are in.”

But he found nothing statistically inexplicable about the results. The batches of the votes were sufficiently large, he said, that they naturally absorbed the extremes of popularity that one would expect in a diverse electorate and delivered averages that were more or less uniform but not identically so. “The official numbers may or may not be authentic,” he wrote, “but they're messy enough to be true,” Ellenberg concluded.

Indeed, opinion polls done before the election indicated that Ahmadinejad - as unpopular as he is said to have become for his handling of the economy - would nevertheless win by more than a 2-1 ratio - the same margin (63:34) as the final result.

An opinion poll sponsored by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund conducted on May 11 and 20 across Iran by 'Terror Free Tomorrow: The Centre for Public Opinion' and the New America Foundation, showed Ahmadinejad with 34 per cent of the vote and Mousavi with 14 per cent. While releasing the results, the TFT's press statement said, “About seven in ten Iranians think the elections will be free and fair, while only one in ten thinks they will not be free and fair.”

The Western corporate media is shouting from the rooftops that a “fraud on a massive scale” was committed, citing the “head-scratching” results in Mousavi's home province of East Azerbaijan where Ahmadinejad took 57 per cent of the vote, an astonishing improvement over his 2005 total of 10 per cent.

But the TFT pre-election opinion poll reported: “Inside Iran, considerable attention has been given to Mr Mousavi's Azeri background, emphasizing the appeal his Azeri identity may have for Azeri voters. (However), the results of our survey indicate that only 16 per cent of Azeri Iranians indicate they will vote for Mr Mousavi. By contrast, 31 per cent of the Azeris claim they will vote for Mr Ahmadinejad.” In other words, Ahmadinejad was 2-1 ahead even before actual votes were cast.

True to form, the Western corporate media is plumbing new depths reporting Iran. Earlier it was Iran's “nuclear ambitions,” now it is all about “eye-witness accounts” of sham elections, the takeover of party offices, a massacre on a university campus, an imminent coup d'etat, the possible overthrow of the whole 30-year-old Islamic Republic, and the isolation of an entire country as its communications are systematically shut down. Lies are being palmed off as gospel.

Secret memos and “smoking gun” documents are playing their role in fuelling outrage. Before the election, Newsweek quoted “secret Iranian government polls” that showed Mousavi would win 16-18 million votes and the incumbent a third of that.

After the results were out, a widely circulated letter, “written by the minister of the interior to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei”, sought to prove the results were fixed at Khamenei's orders. The letter also provides “real” vote totals that more or less tally with the secret polls Newsweek reported - 19 million for Mousavi and just under 6 million for Ahmadinejad.

But the (London) Independent's Robert Fisk, one of the few Western journalists reporting from Tehran, wondered aloud whether the letter was a fake. “However incredible Mr Ahmadinejad's 63 per cent of the vote may have been, could he really - as a man who has immense support among the poor of Iran - have picked up only 5½ million votes?”

Fisk is not an admirer of either Ahmadinejad or the theocratic regime in Iran. But he is an objective, old-school journalist and has wonderful stories to tell from the past week. “A day earlier, an Iranian woman muttered to me in an office lift (in Tehran) that the first fatality of the street violence was a young student. Was she sure, I asked? Yes, she said. I have seen the photograph of his body. It is terrible. I never saw her again. Nor the photograph. Nor had anyone seen the body. It was a fantasy.

“Earnest reporters check this out – in fact, I have been spending at least a third of my working days in Tehran this past week not reporting what might prove to be true but disproving what is clearly untrue.”

Here’s another beauty: “We had the famous instruction to journalists in Tehran from the Ministry of Islamic Guidance that they could no longer report opposition street demonstrations. I heard nothing of this. Indeed, the first clue came when I refused to be interviewed by CNN (because their coverage of the Middle East is so biased) and the woman calling me asked: Why? Are you worried about your safety? Fisk continued to spend 12 hours a day on the streets. I discovered there was a ban only when I read about it in The Independent. Maybe the Guidance lads and lassies couldn’t get through on my mobile. But then, who had cut the phone lines?”

Fantasy and reality make uneasy bedfellows, but once they are combined and spread with high-speed inaccuracy around the world, they make politically titillating headlines, as Fisk discovered to his dismay.

“Take the call I had five hours before the early-hour phone call, from a radio station in California. Could I describe the street fighting I was witnessing at that moment? Now, it happened that I was standing on the roof of the al-Jazeera office in north Tehran, (the most affluent section of the city) speaking in a late-night live interview with the Qatar television station. I could indeed describe the scene to California. What I could see were teenagers on motorcycles, whooping with delight as they set light to the contents of a litter bin on the corner of the highway.

“Two policemen ran up to them with night-sticks and they raced away on their bikes with shouts of derision. Then the Tehran fire brigade turned up to put out – as one of the firemen later told me with infinite exhaustion – their 79th litter-bin fire of the night. I knew how he felt.

“A report that Basiji militia had taken over one of Mir-Hossein Mousavi's main election campaign office was a classic. Yes, there were uniformed men in the building – belonging to Mousavi's own hired security company.

“Now for the very latest on the fantasy circuit. The cruel 'Iranian' cops aren't Iranian at all. They are members of Lebanon's Hizbollah militia. I've had this one from two reporters, three phone callers (one from Lebanon) and a British politician. I've tried to talk to the cops. They cannot understand Arabic. They don't even look like Arabs, let alone Lebanese.

“The reality is that many of these street thugs have been brought in from Baluch areas and Zobal province, close to the Afghan border. Even more are Iranian Azeris (from Mousavi's home province). Their accents sound as strange to Tehranis as would a Belfast accent to a Cornishman hearing it for the first time.”

Fisk concludes, “I am reminded of Eisenhower's comment to Foster Dulles when he sent him to London to close down Anthony Eden's crazed war in Suez. The secretary of state's job, Eisenhower instructed Dulles, was to say 'Whoah, boy!' Good advice for those who believe in the Twitterers.”

Roger And Out

Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran's Poor Reject Neo-Liberal Mousavi

For anyone with a serious knowledge of Iranian society and politics, the decisive victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential could not have come as a surprise. Widely promoted in the international press as riding a wave of popular opposition, former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi received just 34 per cent against 63 per cent for Ahmadinejad.

It's a kind of result we're familiar with here in India: Lok Sabha 2004, UP Assembly 2007, Tamil Nadu LS poll 2009, Andhra LS LS & Assembly 2009... the list is long and no one's complaining. Many a time the eventual victor has been underreported. The same thing seems to have happened in Iran.

Even Western newspapers that denounced the election have admitted that the incumbent had strong support among urban workers and the rural poor—the vast majority of the population. Ahmadinejad has retained this constituency, despite the repressive and corrupt character of the regime, because of the absence of a socialist alternative.

Disappointed supporters, mostly young people, took to the streets, burning vehicles, torching shop fronts and clashing with riot police to vent their anger over the result. But US and Western media have generally inflated the extent of the protests and the police crackdown.

In an on-the-spot report, BBC's John Simpson breathlessly speculated on whether he was witnessing the beginning of a revolution against the regime—from a crowd that he estimated at 3,000. The Los Angeles Times reported that “huge swathes of the capital erupted in fiery riots” but went on to describe clashes involving “hundreds” of demonstrators.

On what mass base could Mousavi depend for a successful bid to unseat Ahmadinejad? His actual electoral base did not extend beyond better-off-sections of the urban middle class, university students and businessmen.

And as the candidate of the Iranian liberal establishment, he campaigned as no less an ardent defender of Islamist clerical rule than Ahmadinejad. On domestic policy, he vaguely called for more openness, while opposing Ahmadinejad’s “populist” subsidies to the urban poor and the peasantry.

The media has not sought to explain why the mass of the Iranian people should be expected to support an advocate of the same free market policies that have produced a social disaster throughout the world.

Mousavi’s most prominent backer, moreover, was Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a leading figure in the state apparatus and one of the country’s wealthiest men. Rafsanjani, notorious for his corruption, is despised by Iranian workers and the poor.

The outcome is not the “surprise” and “shock” presented in the international media. All of the candidates—the conservatives Ahmadinejad and Mohsen Rezai, and the reformers Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi—were vetted by the unelected Guardian Council and are part of the political establishment.

In the final weeks, the campaign was highly polarised around Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, who represent different factions of the ruling elite. As a result, the very low votes for two other candidates - Rezai and Karroubi - are hardly surprising.

Mousavi speaks for sections of the regime who are seeking to ease tensions with the US as a means of ending international sanctions and opening up the deteriorating Iranian economy to foreign capital. For all the fanfare of its highly-orchestrated “colour revolution”—in this case, green—Mousavi’s campaign was directed at a relatively narrow social base—the urban middle classes, particularly students and youth.

Moreover, his criticisms of Ahmadinejad’s populist policies—particularly in rural areas—would only have alienated broad layers of the working class and rural poor, who, while discontented over rising unemployment and soaring inflation, would hardly welcome the tougher austerity measures advocated by the “reformers”.

Those suspicions would have been reinforced by the support for Mousavi from two former presidents—Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Ahmadinejad won an upset victory the 2005 presidential elections by capitalising on the widespread anger among working people over the impact of Khatami’s free market agenda from 1997 and 2005.

He soundly defeated Rafsanjani in the second round in 2005 by promising to put the country’s oil revenues on people’s tables and inveighing against corruption. Rafsanjani, one of the country’s wealthiest men, is widely regarded as a crooked politician.

In the course of this campaign, Ahmadinejad again seized on Rafsanjani’s alleged corruption to posture as a defender of the poor against the wealthy, corrupt elite and to deflect attention from his own economic record.

While boosting Mousavi’s campaign, various Western commentators acknowledged that Ahmadinejad, who was previously mayor of Tehran, had a substantial base among the urban poor and in the rural areas.

A class divide was evident in the reaction in the capital to the election outcome. Young protesters took to the streets in the more affluent northern and north-eastern suburbs. But as the New York Times noted, “the working-class areas of southern Tehran where Mr Ahmadinejad is popular were largely quiet, despite rumours of wild victory celebrations.”

The reaction suggests that significant sections of working people, in rural and urban areas, voted for Ahmadinejad. Their distrust will only have been confirmed by the barely concealed class contempt of Mousavi and his backers for the “ignorance” and “backwardness” of Ahmadinejad’s poorer supporters.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Class Issues At Root Of Racism In Australia

Successive Australian state and federal governments are directly responsible for the attacks on international students studying in that country


Protests by Indian students in Australia over the past 12 days have brought to light an ugly under-current of violent and racist attacks that have produced outrage and deep concern among many ordinary people in both India and Australia.

Once again the suppressed tensions produced by social inequality and decades of free market policies have erupted in a malignant and reactionary form with “foreigners”—this time Indian students—subjected to racist abuse and violence.

The attacks have escalated in the past several weeks. In Sydney, an apartment was firebombed, cars have been set alight and in Melbourne, amid racial taunts, another youth was brutally stabbed with a screwdriver.

On May 31, Indian students responded with a 4,000-strong demonstration through the streets of Melbourne’s central business district, demanding action by police and by federal and state governments to protect their safety.

The Labour government’s initial response was one of damage-control. On June 1, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered assurances that “the more than 90,000 Indian students in Australia are welcome guests in our country”.

The only thing “welcome” is the billions of dollars in fees paid by Indian students annually, part of the $15 billion dollars wrung from international students each year that the Rudd government fears losing.

In reality, it is successive state and federal governments—both Labour and Liberal—that are, along with police, directly responsible for the attacks on international students studying in Australia.

According to Federation of Indian Students of Australia (FISA) spokesman Gautam Gupta, bashings and other crimes against Indian students have grown steadily over the past two years, yet complaints lodged to police have been systematically ignored, with students themselves blamed for being “soft targets”.

While police have allowed muggings and bashings to proceed with impunity, this month’s student protests have received no such leniency. Police repression has been immediate, with the mobilisation of riot police, dogs and mounted police.

After students and local residents assembled at railway stations in Melbourne last week, providing safe escort to young Indians arriving home by train, they were set upon by police. Such is the face of state “protection”.

It is noteworthy that Local Area Command Superintendent Robert Redfern, who led this week’s police operations in Harris Park, was also LAC chief in Cronulla during the notorious race riots that occurred there in December 2005.

Under Redfern’s command, police were held back while racist and alcohol-fuelled crowds brutalised West Asian youth. When the latter retaliated over ensuing days, police repression was swift. The state government passed draconian police powers through parliament and the media vilified “Lebanese gangs” for allegedly threatening “public order and safety”.

Calls have been made by demonstrators for greater police protection, but students must be warned: as in Cronulla, these demands are being seized on to justify further ruthless “law and order” policies, aimed against the entire working class.

The allies of the students are not the police and the state, but the students around the country and the world, and the international working class.

“Australia” declared Rudd on June 1, just hours after police violently assaulted Indian demonstrators in Melbourne’s central business district, “is a country of great diversity, harmony and tolerance”. On the contrary, like every other capitalist country, it is riven by enormous—and growing—class divisions.

In the suburbs surrounding Harris Park in western Sydney, and in the western suburbs of Melbourne, including St Albans, where bashings and racial victimisation are on the increase, social tensions are at breaking point, produced by more than three decades of economic restructuring.

Industries, banks and offices that once employed tens of thousands of workers, were closed down during the 1980s and 1990s, condemning entire families to a life of unemployment and poverty from which they have never recovered.

Now, in the face of the worst global depression since the 1930s, unemployment is again rising, with predictions it will hit one million by next year. Over the past 12 months the number of 15-19-year-olds without work has leapt from 10 to 18 percent nationally, with youth joblessness in some areas nudging 40 percent.

The Rudd government, like the Howard government before it, has responded to the deepening social crisis with the stock standard methods of Australian capitalism, seeking to shift public anger and resentment into the reactionary channels of national and race politics.

Over the past 10 years, immigrants, asylum seekers, “boat people”, Muslims and “Lebanese gangs” have all become scapegoats for the failure of the profit system to provide adequate livelihoods and services to millions of ordinary people.

This week, as protests by Indian students continued, Rudd declared on Melbourne radio: “In the last decade, I was advised we had, I think, up to 20 Australians who had either been murdered or had various forms of assault committed against them. That is not the result of Australians being targeted in India, that’s just a fact of violence in cities around the world.”

Rudd and the entire political establishment seek to prevent any serious probing of why the attacks are occurring. That high levels of youth unemployment and poverty have fuelled racial tensions in Australia’s major cities is not an inevitable “fact” of life.

These conditions are a product of the free market policies administered by successive capitalist governments—both Labour and Liberal—and the absence of a politically unified movement of the working class to combat them, offering a progressive, socialist alternative. It is this that has left many young people prey to the reactionary diversions of race and nationality.

In opposition to attempts by Rudd, the police and capitalist media to divide Australian, Indian and West Asian youth along racial, national and ethnic lines, with the real danger that tit-for-tat retaliatory attacks may escalate, the most advanced layers of students and working class youth must turn precisely to the development of such an internationalist and socialist movement in the working class.

Laura Tiernan/WSWS

Friday, June 12, 2009

EU Voters Turn Back On Social Democracy

When millions of workers turn their back on social democracy in the middle of an economic crisis, it shows one thing: they no longer expect any solution to their problems from these parties


The most notable result of the European elections held last weekend is the dramatic decline of social democracy. On average across Europe, social democratic parties received only 22 per cent of the vote, six per cent less than in the previous European election in 2004. With a turnout of just 43 per cent, this means that less than one in ten of the electorate voted for these parties.

Average European figures distort the real extent of the decline. In the major industrial countries of Western Europe, where social democratic parties have led governments for decades or functioned as the main opposition party, their losses were huge—irrespective of whether the parties are currently in government or opposition.

In Great Britain, where the Labour Party has been in power for the past twelve years, Labour’s support plummeted to a record low of 16 per cent—lower than the vote received by the extreme right-wing UK Independence Party.

In Spain, the ruling Socialist Party lost five percentage points and trailed the right-wing Peoples Party.

In Germany, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which has been in government for eleven years, recorded an historic low of 21 per cent.

In Portugal, support for the ruling Socialist Party fell from 45 to 27 per cent.

In France, where the Socialist Party has been in opposition for the past seven years, the party received just 17 per cent—a decline of 12 percentage points compared to five years ago.

In Italy, support for the Democratic Party, which is a successor organisation to the Italian Communist Party and other “left” parties, plunged from 31 per cent to 26 per cent.

In Denmark, the opposition Social Democrats lost 12 percentage points and finished with a total of 21 per cent.

The vote for the Dutch Labour Party was halved to 12 per cent, and in Austria it sank from 33 per cent to 24 per cent.

This decline is all the more remarkable when one bears in mind that the election took place in the midst of the most severe world economic crisis since the 1930s. Although unemployment is rising rapidly and the living conditions of broad layers of the population have worsened considerably, voters are deserting the social democrats in droves.

The cause for this shift is to be found in the politics and character of the social democratic parties, which have for many years functioned like any other bourgeois party. In the past two decades, they have used their influence, in close alliance with the trade unions, to carry out the sort of social attacks that had provoked massive resistance when attempted by conservative governments.

In Britain, the Labour Party led by Tony Blair adopted the program of the Conservative Party’s “iron lady,” Margaret Thatcher, while the German SPD led by Gerhard Schröder passed the anti-welfare Hartz laws and carried out more attacks on social rights than all previous conservative governments put together.

The 'Financial Times' in an editorial on June 9 pointed to the seeming anomaly of massive electoral losses for parties historically associated with socialism under conditions of growing popular disillusionment with capitalism. It correctly notes that, in fact, there are no serious differences in economic and social policy between the social democratic and conservative parties.

The newspaper wrote: “At a time when ‘the end of capitalism’ is raised as a serious prospect, the parties whose historical mission was to replace capitalism with socialism offer no governing philosophy. Their anti-crisis policies are barely distinguishable from those of their rivals.”

When millions of workers turn their back on social democracy in the middle of an economic crisis, it shows one thing: they no longer expect any solution to their problems from these parties.

The election result also expressed a broad rejection of the European parliament. The job of the parliament is to provide a pseudo-democratic cover for the institutions of the European Union and the army of 40,000 well-paid bureaucrats in Brussels who, in turn, serve at the beck and call of a comparable army of business lobbyists.

Vast numbers of voters, especially from the working class, refrained from casting ballots. The biggest party in the election was the party of non-voters. At 43 per cent, voter participation was 2.5 percentage points lower than the previous record low turnout, in 2004. In Holland, Great Britain and most Eastern European countries, turnout was less than 40 per cent.

The resulting political vacuum was exploited by conservative and right-wing parties. This has led many commentators to speak of a “turn to the right” in Europe. Such a conclusion is unwarranted and superficial. Right-wing parties were able to exploit the collapse in support for social democracy and the low turnout. In most cases, however, they failed to increase their vote and in some cases saw their support decline significantly.

Even extreme right, xenophobic parties that gained significantly—such as Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland (17 per cent), the UK Independence Party (17 per cent), and the British National Party (6 per cent)—have, based on the low voter turnout of 35 per cent in the two countries, less support than their results suggest.

What is evident in the European election is a sharp social polarisation. Until now, the ruling classes have been able to rely on the social democratic parties and the trade unions to suppress social struggles. The decline of these organisations means that future class confrontations will take a more open and explosive form.

Peter Schwarz

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Murky Truth Behind Mumbai Varsity's Ad Hoc BMM Programme

By Roger Alexander

Since my last article on the so-called job-oriented courses being offered by most Mumbai colleges, more skeletons are stumbling out the Mumbai University's cupboard, exposing a scam of monumental proportions. At the heart of the scam are the lives and future of young students and their gullible parents.

A devastating report report in the Times of India today (June 11) reveals that undergraduate colleges in Mumbai have yet to receive a copy of the new syllabus for the Bachelor of Mass Media (BMM) course despite the fact that classes for the third year have already begun and admissions to the first year are under way!

Can you believe it – a course that cost upwards of Rs 70,000 (you got that right) does not have a syllabus! And this is just the beginning. Mumbai colleges offering this course do not have full-time faculty either. And yet it being packaged and sold as a passport to material success. And starry-eyed students hoping to make it big in the media are being led like lambs to slaughter.

This self-financing course (meaning the government does not pay faculty salaries or for infrastructure) is a goose that lays golden eggs. And many liberal arts colleges have jumped on the moolah-making bandwagon to make a quick buck in the name of providing job-oriented courses. There is also a 'degree' in Bachelor of Business Management (BBM) on offer, but more on that some other time.

So how do the colleges make money out of a course like BMM? The first step, of course, is to obtain Mumbai University's permission to start the programme which already has the UGC's sanction. If it's an 'established' college, the procedure is perfunctory, to say the least.

The next step is to hire 'faculty'. These are not academics paid UGC grades (upwards of Rs 30,000 per month plus benefits) but 'visiting faculty' who are hired on an hourly basis, normally @ Rs 500 per hour/lecture. Most of these lecturers, who may otherwise be qualified in their respective fields, are normally retired teachers or out-of-work journalists and do not figure on the muster as full-time employees.

In fact, many of them move from college to college for lectures during the course of the week. And on landing better jobs they leave mid-term, leaving students high and dry till some other visiting faculty is roped in to keep the course going.

The pathetic state of the self-financing courses is evident from the saga of the making of the BMM syllabus of Mumbai University. According to the TOI report, a meeting of the ad-hoc Board of Studies for the BMM course decided on January 15 to translate the entire course into Marathi so that students would have the option of pursuing the course in either English or Marathi. So far so good. However, it was later came to light that the University had arbitrarily injected an entire component of Marathi and Hindi translation into the syllabus!

Translation? This is a specialised field requiring expertise in two languages. And here you are with the University decreeing students - who can't put two sentences in English together to save their lives - to master a second and even a third language.

The report quotes Nandini Sardesai, retired head of the sociology department at St Xavier's College and now a BMM visiting faculty (sic), pointing out that while the new ad hoc committee for BMM – it replaced the previous ad hoc body - was set up on April 1 and the syllabus changes were presented at the University's Academic Council meeting on April 21. “How did they draft the syllabus in 20 days,” she is reported to have asked.

A memorandum from BMM course-coordinators (a euphemism for someone in charge of hiring visiting faculty) protesting the changes to Mumbai University chancellor SC Jamir states, “The course in Effective Communication in English has become trilingual and expects Class XII proficiency in all three languages. All HSC students will be disadvantaged under the three language formula, as also students who have done CBSE and ICSE.”

(I think the protest was lodged because colleges will have to hire more visiting faculty for the new module, meaning a drain on the revenues unless students are forced to shell more by way of fees.)

However, Pro-Vice Chancellor AD Sawant insists that it is the University's vision (ha!) that all BMM students be able to translate from English to Hindi and Marathi. “This is very important for a journalist. It is also important in the advertising field,”' he opined loftily. (Sawant is a bureaucrat who was a director in the state government's department of education till he was promoted.)

As per the new syllabus, students are not expected to study these texts. “Faculty shall brief the students on the ideas, writing methodology and achievements of these writers in not more than 1,500-2,000 words.”

Just think of it. A student aspiring to be a Marathi journalist now has to master English to pass the course after having studied translation in not more than 2000 words! I've worked for newspapers and magazines for more than two decades and no employer, including TOI, requires its journalists to know a second language, let alone a third one, as a pre-requisite for employment.

With ad hoc committees designing ad hoc course taught by ad hoc teachers in an ad hoc manner in 2000 words or less, Mumbai University wants to produce ad hoc graduates who will take up responsible positions in newspapers and magazines, TV, ad agencies et al.

No wonder the media is in a pathetic state.

Roger And Out

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Education & Students: Commodity & Consumers

By Roger Alexander

The admission season has started with a bang, literally. Stories of colleges demanding capitation fees up to Rs 2 crore, principals auctioning 'management seats', college clerks demanding bribes, and the UGC granting 'deemed university' status without adequate audit are dominating the front pages of newspapers as the admission season opens.

Education is now a purchasable commodity!

Thanks to the blinkered vision of middle class parents, education is no longer a learning process. Instead, it is now all about “job-oriented” courses. A B.A,, B,Sc, or B,Com degree is “useless” as it does not “equip” youngsters for the “needs of industry”. (Check out the 'Education Supplements' in leading newspapers, magazines and TV shows.)

As a result, while mainstream education has become passé, courses like BMM, BMS, Catering and Hospitality, Computer Training and even Air Hostess training have parents queuing up to pay lakhs to teaching shops affiliated to unknown 'foreign universities' for a seat. Is this what education all about?

If 'counsellors' at many of today's so-called institutions of higher learning are asked what they can expect, students are offered a straightforward answer: “a better job, higher salary, more marketable skills, and more impressive credentials.”

In the new scenario, even the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education Commission (AICTE) say that recognising the desperate need of most college students to land jobs, courses should be utilitarian, vocational, and narrow.

But in the quest to churn out 'graduates' suited for 'industrial needs', the present system is not preparing them for life, challenging them to think beyond the confines of their often parochial and provincial upbringings. (One reason why the Raj Thackerays can sell the 'Marathi Manoos' spiel so easily.)

But what is forgotten is the fact that if you view education in purely instrumental terms as a way to a higher-paying job - if it's merely a mechanism for mass customisation within a marketplace of ephemeral consumer goods - you effectively give a free pass to the prevailing machinery of power and those who run it. The status quo remains unchallenged and unquestioned!

Today's college students are being indoctrinated in the idea that they need to earn “degrees that work”. They're being taught to measure their self-worth by the salary they'll earn after college. They're being urged to be lifelong learners, not because learning is transformative or even enjoyable, but because to “keep current” is to “stay competitive in the global marketplace.” Of course, there's no guarantee that keeping current won't get you a pink slip as so many 'techies' are learning to their dismay.

Indeed, these so-called techies are programmed to believe that technical skills are the key to success as well as life itself, and those who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide are doomed to lives of misery.

Parents and students are recruited or retained with authoritative-looking data: job placement rates, average starting salaries of graduates, and even alumni satisfaction rates through glossy ads and government pronouncements. They are led to believe that these courses are a panacea to solve the problem of unemployment.

The new courses, therefore, are smart courses, not smart teachers interacting with curious students. Canned lessons are offered with PowerPoint efficiency, and students are programmed to respond robotically to “questions” posed to what are supposed to be inquisitive minds. Now it all about “credits, projects and presentations”. Check out the syllabi of the new-age institutions and you'll know what I mean.

Now that this mindset is official policy, the old-fashioned idea that education is about moulding character, forming a moral and ethical identity, or even becoming a more self-aware person has been flushed down the toilet.

After all, how can you quantify such elusive traits as assessable goals, or showcase such non-measurements in the glossy marketing brochures, glowing press releases, and gushing TV ads that compete to entice prospective students and their anxiety-ridden parents to hand over ever larger sums of money to ensure a lucrative future?

As long as we continue to treat students as customers and education as a commodity, our hopes for truly substantive changes in our country's direction are likely to be dashed. As long as education is driven by industry imperatives and the tyranny of the practical, our students will fail to acknowledge that the goal of education is to know yourself - and so your own limits and those of your country as well.

To know how to get by or get ahead is one thing, but to know yourself is to struggle to recognise your own limitations as well as illusions. Indeed, education should help us to see ourselves and our world in fresh, even disturbing, ways.

As parents we must know that if we want a better future for our children and grandchildren, we must resist accepting the world as it's being packaged and sold to us by those who lead us to believe that education is nothing but a potential passport to material success.

Roger And Out

Monday, June 8, 2009

Keep It Up, Sharad Yadav

A dear friend of mine has sent an open letter to NDA Convenor and JD(U) president Sharad Yadav after he proclaimed he would drink poison - a la Socrates - if the Women's Reservation Bill is passed. Tell me what you think.


Respected Sharad Ji

Namaskar

I read with great interest your statement, as reported in the print media, on your likely future course of action in case the parliament was to go ahead with reserving 33% seats for women in the legislature.One has been following your arguments against this proposed legislation over the past decade and more and has come to develop grudging admiration for your stand.

I have the same admiration for people who believe that the world is flat, that the movement of Saturn determines our destiny, that the place of women is inside the kitchen, that the Chaturvarnashram is natural division of labour, that man is superior to woman, that if you do not speak Hindi and don't believe in the Hindu way of life, whatever that be, you cannot be an Indian etc etc.

I respect their and your right to say and believe in things that no one else believes in. We live in a democracy and democracy demands that every individual be given the space to express her/his opinion no matter how outlandish, antediluvian and anti democratic they might be.

I have grown up admiring people who have sacrificed their lives for their believes. I agreed with some of them and my admiration for them has only grown over the years. There were others who lay down their lives for the sake of principals that not too many cared about, their sacrifices inspired none and yet this did not discourage these brave souls from tilting at windmills.

I dare say that your "principled position" moves me not and yet, being a democrat, I will defend, till my last breath, your right to express your opinion and even to consume hemlock to underline your commitment to your cause. I will, to my last breath, (I have said it once and I say it again) defend your right to swim against the current, because as a democrat I am duty bound to defend your right to differ.


In order to strike a blow for democracy and for the individual's right to disagree with everyone, (even when everyone else might be right and the dissenting individual might be totally wrong, his democratic right to be wrong cannot be taken from him) I extend you my best wishes in your crusade.

In the days when we were a colony, there were any number of people who were unable to participate actively in the struggle for freedom and yet it were these who provided shelter to freedom fighters, provided them safe houses, fed them clothed them and kept them in hiding for weeks and months. Sharad Ji treat me as one of those nameless millions and I would gladly look for a place where you could stay safely. A place where the long arm of the law will not be able to reach you.

Sharad Ji i am a well wisher and wish to inform you that you need a place like this and you need it urgently. Committing suicide, (in the eyes of the law that is what you are proposing to do) as you well know, is a crime in this country and your public declaration of consuming poison, might well be construed as a declaration of criminal intent. From your sojourns in Indian prisons during the dark days of the emergency, you will know that policeman do not understand the subtle differences between the intent to conduct a criminal offence and the actual act and that is why I say that you will need a secure place to fulfil your pledge.

Drop me a line and I will take care of the rest. The bill I believe is going to be passed very soon and there isn't too much time left.

Martyrdom, even if in your own short-sighted vision, awaits you on the other side of the bottle of poison.

Come on !

Come on !!

Come on !!!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ambani Land Grab Ploy Fails

By Roger Alexander

The Supreme Court's refusal on June 5 to extend the deadline for land acquisition for Mukesh Ambani's MahaMumbai Special Economic Zone (SEZ) has come not a day too soon. It unambiguously provides major relief to thousands of farmers in Maharashtra's Raigad district who stand to lose their farms to land sharks disguised as a corporate entity.

The bench said it was not inclined to interfere with the Bombay High Court order, which had refused to stay the land acquisition process initiated by the Maharashtra government in June 2005 for the SEZ.

As per the law, the requisite land had to be acquired within two years of the notification. But the Raigad district administration and Reliance have failed to acquire the land despite two extensions to the deadline.

The latest deadline expires on Monday, June 8. After that date if the Ambani group still wants to go ahead, the land acquisition process will have to start all over again. However, it is being speculated that the promoters along with the State Government may work out a strategy to retrieve the situation.

The Mumbai SEZ, which envisages an investment of Rs 40,000 crores, is slated to come up in a 10,000 hectares area in Raigad. The project, which has already been given two extensions, was given clearance in 2005. It was in this context that the company wanted to speed up the acquisition procedure so that it would not lapse.

However, it has not got relief either from the High Court or the apex court.

The Maharashtra government had conducted public referendum on the project in September 2008. In the referendum conducted in 22 villages nearly 24,000 farmers took part and 91 per cent voted against the SEZ.

Why are the farmers protesting, ask supporters of SEZs, especially since they are being offered “hefty compensation.” Besides, SEZs will create spaces with good infrastructure and simplified procedures that will assist industrialization, they argue.

What is not said is that owning a SEZ means tax breaks, highly subsidized land and little or no compulsory worker protection. Proponents argue that these concessions are essential to attract investment, in a world of increasingly mobile capital but the farmers know better - once they give up their land, they will lose their livelihood.

That's why farmers of 22 villages of Raigad district opposed the land acquisition process in a referendum initiated by the state government last year. Though the government did not act, the farmers sent a clear message – they defeated sitting Congress MP and Cabinet minister AR Antulay and handed a victory Shiv Sena's Anand Gite. The Shiv Sena had spearheaded a protest against the Ambani SEZ last year.

It is well known that as it is the land acquisition law and process is extremely unjust (ask the farmers displaced by the Narmada project). But at least there is a need to prove the existence of a strong public interest. In the case of the SEZs, the rules have been dispensed with.

The Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 (Act No. 28 of 2005, dated June 23, 2005), is, in its own words, “an Act to provide for the establishment, development and management of the Special Economic Zones for the promotion of exports and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” Indeed, the SEZ Act is nothing but a legislation for legal plunder.

In addition to the massive fiscal concessions, there is plenty of room for huge profits to be made from real estate deals within these gated and walled enclaves of privileges where the elite can lead Western life-style without even a shadow of the poverty and squalor of other parts of the country.

And the land acquisition means everyone - not just those with property titles – will be affected, especially tenants and agricultural labourers, who do not have to be compensated.
Besides, exemptions, direct or indirect, from various protective laws (for example, laws to protect environment and labour) mean that the industrial units here will be able to function in a very arbitrary way, unencumbered by responsibilities normally expected from them.

This means that even farmers who agree to sell their land have no protection of labour laws applicable in the country if they find employment in the SEZ. Ambani will also have privileged reach to farmers outside the SEZ areas, so one can expect faster spread of “modern” agriculture (read Reliance Fresh).

The worst feature, however, is the huge revenue losses - 100 per cent exemption from income tax on profits for the first five years and 50 per cent for the next five years. Even land developers get tax breaks!

Indeed, according to a government press release, the SEZ is a specifically delineated duty free enclave and shall be deemed to be foreign territory for the purpose of trade operations, duties and tariffs. To give up such huge resources is a major crime, given the needs of Indian society and the utter lack of social provision.

With state Assembly elections due in a few months, it is unlikely that the Maharashtra government will come to Ambani's rescue. The experience of West Bengal where even die-hard supporters of the Left Front voted against it over the question of land acquisition is fresh in every politician's memory.

Roger And Out

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Friday, June 5, 2009

The Grim Picture Of Obama's Middle East

By Noam Chomsky

A CNN headline, reporting Obama's plans for his June 4 Cairo address, reads 'Obama looks to reach the soul of the Muslim world.' Perhaps that captures his intent, but more significant is the content hidden in the rhetorical stance, or more accurately, omitted.

Keeping just to Israel-Palestine -- there was nothing substantive about anything else -- Obama called on Arabs and Israelis not to 'point fingers' at each other or to 'see this conflict only from one side or the other.'

There is, however, a third side, that of the United States, which has played a decisive role in sustaining the current conflict. Obama gave no indication that its role should change or even be considered.

Those familiar with the history will rationally conclude, then, that Obama will continue in the path of unilateral US rejectionism.

Obama once again praised the Arab Peace Initiative, saying only that Arabs should see it as 'an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities.' How should the Obama administration see it?

Obama and his advisers are surely aware that the Initiative reiterates the long-standing international consensus calling for a two-state settlement on the international (pre-June '67) border, perhaps with 'minor and mutual modifications,' to borrow US government usage before it departed sharply from world opinion in the 1970s, vetoing a Security Council resolution backed by the Arab 'confrontation states' (Egypt, Iran, Syria), and tacitly by the PLO, with the same essential content as the Arab Peace Initiative except that the latter goes beyond by calling on Arab states to normalize relations with Israel in the context of this political settlement.

Obama has called on the Arab states to proceed with normalization, studiously ignoring, however, the crucial political settlement that is its precondition. The Initiative cannot be a 'beginning' if the US continues to refuse to accept its core principles, even to acknowledge them.

In the background is the Obama administration's goal, enunciated most clearly by Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to forge an alliance of Israel and the 'moderate' Arab states against Iran. The term 'moderate' has nothing to do with the character of the state, but rather signals its willingness to conform to US demands.

What is Israel to do in return for Arab steps to normalize relations? The strongest position so far enunciated by the Obama administration is that Israel should conform to Phase I of the 2003 Road Map, which states: 'Israel freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).' All sides claim to accept the Road Map, overlooking the fact that Israel instantly added 14 reservations that render it inoperable.

Overlooked in the debate over settlements is that even if Israel were to accept Phase I of the Road Map, that would leave in place the entire settlement project that has already been developed, with decisive US support, to ensure that Israel will take over the valuable land within the illegal 'separation wall' (including the primary water supplies of the region) as well as the Jordan Valley, thus imprisoning what is left, which is being broken up into cantons by settlement/infrastructure salients extending far to the East.

Unmentioned as well is that Israel is taking over Greater Jerusalem, the site of its major current development programs, displacing many Arabs, so that what remains to Palestinians will be separated from the center of their cultural, economic, and sociopolitical life.

Also unmentioned is that all of this is in violation of international law, as conceded by the government of Israel after the 1967 conquest, and reaffirmed by Security Council resolutions and the International Court of Justice. Also unmentioned are Israel's successful operations since 1991 to separate the West Bank from Gaza, since turned into a prison where survival is barely possible, further undermining the hopes for a viable Palestinian state.

It is worth remembering that there has been one break in US-Israeli rejectionism. President Clinton recognized that the terms he had offered at the failed 2000 Camp David meetings were not acceptable to any Palestinians, and in December, proposed his 'parameters,' vague but more forthcoming.

He then announced that both sides had accepted the parameters, though both had reservations. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt to iron out the differences, and made considerable progress.

A full resolution could have been reached in a few more days, they announced in their final joint press conference.

But Israel called off the negotiations prematurely, and they have not been formally resumed. The single exception indicates that if an American president is willing to tolerate a meaningful diplomatic settlement, it can very likely be reached.

It is also worth remembering that the Bush I administration went a bit beyond words in objecting to illegal Israeli settlement projects, namely, by withholding US economic support for them.

In contrast, Obama administration officials stated that such measures are 'not under discussion' and that any pressures on Israel to conform to the Road Map will be 'largely symbolic,' so the New York Times reported (Helene Cooper, June 1).

There is more to say, but it does not relieve the grim picture that Obama has been painting, with a few extra touches in his widely-heralded address to the Muslim World in Cairo on June 4.




,

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Attacks On Students Reveal Deeper Malaise

The recent assaults on Indian students are an expression of the deepening social crisis in Australia

Indian students have long complained of police not taking their complaints of racist attacks seriously. Reports have emerged of officers refusing to formally lodge reports of criminal incidents; one student was told to simply move to another suburb to avoid further trouble.

Surprisingly, a few days ago deputy police commissioner Kieran Walshe’s absurdly claimed that there was no evidence that recent assaults and robberies were racially motivated.

In reality, the political establishment has nothing but contempt for the well-being of ordinary students, whether they are from India, Australia, or anywhere else. The attacks have been going on for months, with nothing of substance being done or said until now.

The real concern is to ensure that the highly lucrative flow of education tuition payments into the country continues. International students are ruthlessly exploited, having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees while being denied basic rights afforded to Australian students, such as concession fares on public transport.

Education is now worth more than $12 billion annually and ranks as Australia’s third largest export, ahead of tourism and just behind coal and iron ore. Nearly 100,000 Indian youth are studying in Australia, second in number only to those from China.

That's why Trade Minister Simon Crean has held discussions with his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma admitting his fear that recent violence threatened to undermine Australia’s education sector. “It’s not just the quality of the product, it’s the safe environment in which we bring people,” he declared.

Reactionary forces in Australia are exploiting the attacks on Indian students to advance their own agenda. Victorian Liberal leader Ted Baillieu has launched a “law and order” campaign, demanding that the government bolster police numbers and enhance their powers.

Such measures, which the state Labour government of Premier John Brumby will likely implement, will not resolve the situation confronting Indian students and will only result in even worse police harassment and violence against working class youth.

Indian students are left vulnerable because of their precarious situation. Many are unable to live anywhere near their university, due to low incomes and high inner-city accommodation costs, and are forced to travel from the more affordable outer suburbs.

To support themselves, students are typically compelled to combine full time study with long hours of paid employment as convenience store workers, taxi drivers, and other low-paid shift work. This often involves taking public transport late at night.

Most of the perpetrators of the violence against the students are reportedly young people from Melbourne’s working class western suburbs. Many parts of this region have been devastated over the last two decades by mass job losses due to manufacturing plant closures. Tens of thousands of secure and full time jobs have gone, along with apprenticeships, replaced with little more than a few dwindling opportunities for young people in low paid and typically casual sectors such as retail.

Deindustrialisation and permanently high unemployment has inevitably been accompanied by a slew of social problems, including alcohol and drug abuse. Many of those who have recently targeted Indian students were reportedly drug users looking to fund their addiction.

Intersecting with all this is a toxic political atmosphere in which the major parties have all promoted various forms of national chauvinism, invariably involving an undercurrent of White Australia racism. The Rudd Labour government, for example, has recently slashed the immigration intake in response to the economic crisis, thereby implying that lost jobs in Australia are the fault of too many “foreigners”.

At the same time, both politicians and the media have embarked on a new scare campaign over “illegal” refugees. It is no surprise, moreover, that international students have been targeted given that they have long been the victims of systematic and institutionalised discrimination in the tertiary education system. Moves are already underfoot to pre-empt any discussion of these issues.

In the final analysis the attacks on Indian students reveal the tense and violent state of social relations in contemporary capitalist Australia.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The GM Bankruptcy

The bankruptcy of General Motors is an historic event. The collapse of the 101-year-old Detroit automaker is the largest industrial failure and third largest bankruptcy in US history.

The action will have a devastating effect on GM’s 230,000 global employees and the millions more who will be hit by plant shut-downs, the closing of more than 1,000 dealerships and the wave of failures of auto suppliers that is expected to follow.

GM, which has already announced plans to cut 47,000 jobs worldwide, including 23,000 of its remaining 62,000 hourly employees in the US, is expected to announce plans to close between 12 and 20 more plants.

The rise of the automaker in the first half of the 20th century paralleled the ascent of American capitalism and the global predominance of US industry. And the bankruptcy of what was long the iconic symbol of the power of American industry signifies the failure of not only one company, but of American capitalism as a whole.

It is a milestone in the decline in the global position of US capitalism and the crisis of world capitalism. It poses in the starkest form the need for the working class to advance a socialist alternative to the profit system.

With its massive size, innovative management methods and global reach, GM defined the modern American corporation. With 850,000 hourly and salaried employees, including half a million in the US, GM was the largest private employer in the world, second only to the state-owned industries of the former Soviet Union.

In the decade following World War II, Detroit’s Big Three automakers—GM, Ford and Chrysler—were making four out of five of the world’s cars, with GM producing half of them. In 1955, the largest foreign competitor, Volkswagen, was only slightly bigger than GM's own German subsidiary, Opel, and Toyota was producing only 23,000 cars in Japan, compared to 4 million manufactured by GM in the US.

Over the last three decades, a sea change has taken place. In the late 1970s, faced with growing competition from abroad, a falling rate of profit in basic industry and the militant resistance of workers determined to defend the gains won in past struggles, the American ruling elite embarked on a deliberate policy of deindustrialisation.

Sections of industry deemed insufficiently profitable were starved of investment and then shut down in order to free up capital for increasingly parasitical forms of financial speculation.

This coincided with a corporate-government offensive against the working class, involving union-busting, strikebreaking, labour frame-ups and the use of plant closures and lay-offs to undermine the militancy of the working class and impose cuts in wages and benefits. This offensive was carried out under Democratic as well as Republican administrations.

The government-dictated bankruptcy of GM marks a new stage in the ruling class offensive against the working class. After this next round of restructuring, GM expects to have only 38,000 hourly workers and a maximum of 34 factories left in the United States, compared with 395,000 hourly workers in more than 150 plants at its peak employment in 1979.

The billions in wage and benefit concessions extorted from workers since the early 1980s were used, not to invest in the company’s long-term viability, but to finance stock buybacks and other measures to boost “shareholder value,” i.e., to enrich Wall Street investors and GM executives.

After decades of declining market share and some $90 billion in losses since 2005, the final nail in the coffin was the financial crash of 2008 and drying up of credit, which have led to a collapse of car sales in the US and internationally and what many analysts expect will be a wave of bankruptcies and mergers that will leave no more than five or six global auto companies left standing.

A “New GM”—largely owned by the government—will be shrunk to a fraction of its current size and freed from any obligation to pay decent wages, pensions or retiree health benefits. Once ample profits can be guaranteed, the government will sell the company back to private investors at a bargain price.

The New York Times website reported Sunday night that administration officials briefed reporters and stressed that the government, which will own 60 per cent of GM stock, intends to leave management of the company in private hands.

While handing out trillions in public assets to Wall Street, the Democratic administration has demanded that auto workers accept the destruction of all of the gains won in the course of decades of bitter struggle.

The wage and benefit concessions imposed on auto workers—with the direct complicity of the United Auto Workers—will freeze wages, eliminate cost-of-living increases, substantially reduce break time and holidays and strip retirees of medical benefits, including dental and optical care.

The companies will expand the use of low-paid entry level and temporary workers and workers will be stripped of the right to strike or even to vote on the terms of the next labour agreement until 2015.

The UAW, which will be handed 17.5 per cent share of the “New GM,” will be retained as a labour police force to suppress any resistance to poverty wages and brutal exploitation. With billions in shares and a seat on the corporate board of directors, the UAW apparatus will have a direct financial stake in collaborating with the Obama administration in the further slashing of labour costs.
Jerry White/WSWS

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