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small minds for a backward social system – time to think BIG!

Australians face a federal election in which the consensus among, and bi-partisan approach of, the principal parties is to aim to be small. We’re being told that inadequate infrastructure and public transport, along with a ‘water shortage’ (in the south east of our continent) and crowded shopping centres, are the product of too many people. As our population growth is predominantly fuelled by immigration, this means ‘too many immigrants’. It’s a familiar cry, usually originating on the overt far Right but for the past couple of decades reinforced by a pseudo-left concern about the carrying capacity of Australia.

It doesn’t seem to dawn on the opponents of immigration and population growth that trains might be over-crowded because there aren’t enough trains or that infrastructure is under pressure because governments are too incompetent and lacking vision to provide them. As for water, our north is drenching and a body of water the size of western Europe is gradually making its way south. In Victoria, the Mitchell River floods every seven years or so, causing millions of dollars in damage to towns and crops, yet it must not be dammed under any conditions. It is in a national park, after all. Who cares that such a dam would greatly alleviate Melbourne’s water crisis.

Not surprisingly, the State and Federal government leaders prefer to blame ‘too many people’ rather than themselves.

Of course, they are not racist. ALL immigrants are too blame.

The Greens are usually referred to in the mainstream media as a left-wing party that is more compassionate. Yet they too argue for less immigration and, in case readers are not aware, they support the deportation of all asylum seekers who are found not to be genuine refugees, just like the two principal parties.

(I have been wrong on this in the past, arguing for mandatory detention. In reassessing my position, largely through people at this site, I realize now that if you don’t think outside the box, you’re likely to be imprisoned within it). (An original quote by me – not bad, eh?)

The glorious objective to which Australians are meant to unite behind and aspire to is….. be small. Yep. Small. A vast continent, with vast natural resources, a mere 22 million people. Think small. Be small. The idea of 38 million by 2050 has scared the bejeezus out of the reactionaries.

What this confirms to me is that capitalism, for all the talk about its affirmation of free enterprise and its supposed commitment to development and material progress, is one social system that has way outlived any usefulness.

In a nation with vast resources, we still have homelessness and poverty, including Indigenous people who in remote areas live in appalling conditions. We have pensioners who die in summer from heat exhaustion and in winter from the cold. (I’m all for the Australian Medical Association which, to the horror of the Nature Worshippers, proposed that governments subsidize air-conditioners for pensioners during the summer months).

We brag of one of the highest rates of home ownership in the world, yet one third of the ‘home owners’ virtually work for the banks to pay off unfair mortages and interest rates – 90,000 are under threat of losing their homes – while another third simply can’t even put a depopsit on a house.

Oh for a left-wing party, or candidate, to point out that this only makes sense under capitalism, that the vast natural resources of this continent can feed and clothe many more people than a meagre 38 million. Let’s aim for a BIG Australia, one that sees itself firmly as part of inter-connected humanity, building bridges rather than closing borders. Stimulus package anyone? How about a bridge from Indonesia to Australia – a good way to defeat the evil people smugglers. How about some government investment at Broome and then let the people’s creativity loose. This just won’t happen under capitalism any time soon.

A left-wing party/candidate would at least raise the perspective that says the problem is that private ownership of means of production, and the ways in which production is organised under that system, is the main obstacle to thinking bigger than we ever have before.

You want free enterprise? Support social ownership of social wealth and support the reorganisation of production along democratic lines so that alienation is reduced.

The culture of a society reflects its social system in general terms. Recognition of this fact is an important step toward changing things. It takes conscious effort to see it, and to work at an alternative. Leftists generally are not submersed into the dominant outlook and that is why, for one thing, they are optimistic as individuals. This strikes those who are unable to think outside the box, to escape the weight of the reactionary hegemony, as weird.

Time to think BIG. To move beyond pre-History. To reach for those stars.

We really ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Miners Slam Abbott Dole Ban Plan, While Unions Boast They Know What Bosses Want

A mining industry body today said Tony Abbott’s plan to cut under-30s off the dole to help the mining industry find skilled workers was “misguided”. The comment, by Queensland Resources Council director Michael Roche was reported by the ABC.

The ABC report missed the main story, running with a headline reporting a union leader saying that this was Abbott’s “Sarah Palin” moment. It’s barely news that a top unionist would criticise the Liberal leader, and the Sarah Palin comparison is nothing more than using her name as a swear-word. There’s nothing in common between Palin, a formerly obscure chancer who seized her opportunity to become a national right-wing figure in the USA, and Tony Abbott, who was already the leader of Australia’s conservative Establishment party, and who had everything to lose.

The story that a mining industry group thought Mr Abbott’s policy is a bad idea is clearly far more significant – if a Liberal leader can’t get the miners behind him, he’s in big trouble.

Meanwhile, Australia’s tame-cat union movement reminded people which side they’re on.  Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Jeff Lawrence said Mr Abbott’s proposal was unlikely to make any difference to the labour market in the resources sector. Mr Lawrence said there were challenges for Australia in training new and existing workers, but these challenges required effective industry-driven responses, not simplistic fixes.

So what the ACTU said is that it knows better than the Liberals what the bosses want and need. Probably true, but rather revealing. The statement released by the ACTU had a few token references to support for low-paid workers, but the only formal campaign mentioned had nothing to do with agitation to increase wages, but was the National Resources Sector Employment Taskforce, which is suposed to develop solutions to skills shortages. The words “strike” and “industrial action” were not mentioned in the statement.

So there we have it. A nutjob Liberal leader who is no doubt just going to worry his party more and more, and a union movement which sees itself as a consultative member of the capitalist class.

Fukuyama treading carefully

An article that’s worth discussing is Fukuyama’s  What Became of the Freedom Agenda?.  It’s based on a United States Institute of Peace working paper which was released on January 21.

Fukuyama withdrew his support for the war in Iraq as soon as things became difficult,  yet at the same time he continues to  acknowledge  the reality that the  US can’t afford to keep cozying up to the autocratic regimes   in the Middle East.

He manages to quote Bush (2003) with approval:

“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom . . . did nothing to make us safe. . . . As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.”

But he continues to oppose what he calls ” return(ing) to the loud trumpeting of promises for support of regional democracy that we cannot keep” and    ignores the fact that in Iraq, the US has kept exactly that promise. Instead  he tries to argue that the overhrow of Baathism in Iraq can only be seen as a setback for “democracy promotion”  because it “undercut (the) credibility” of that policy, and in his view increased Arab hostility toward America.

He rightly points to the way in which the autocrats of the region continue to get away with justifying the repression of opposition groups by saying that this is necessary to keep militant Islamists out of power and then goes on to call on Obama to “recommit the United States to peaceful democratic change”

What he wants the US to do now is to follow a policy of  “working quietly behind the scenes to push friendly authoritarians towards a genuine broadening of political space in their countries through the repeal of countless exceptional laws, defamation codes, party registration statutes and the like that hinder the emergence of real democratic contestation.”

The article is quite extraordinary in the way it makes no attempt to analyse the impact of the changes in Iraq, apart from maintaining that it damaged US credibility in the region.  I don’t know how anyone can purport to be writing a serious article about the prospects for democratic change in the Middle East, without writing in some detail about the one country in which democratic change has actually happened!  The thing which will do most to force (not gently “push”) the autocrats of the region out of power, is the move from fascism to democracy in Iraq. Fukuyama may disagree with that, but he doesn’t even address the issue.

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Who owns music? The ‘Men at Work’ case

The Australian Federal Court ruling in favour of Larrikin Records has raised again the issue of ‘Intellectual Property Rights’. For overseas readers, the case concerns the borrowing or adaptation (or ‘sampling’ to use a hip-hop term) of an old riff, written in 1930, from a song about a kookaburra, adapted by the Australian band, Men at Work, in their international hit, ‘Down Under’. The author of the kookaburra song died in 1988 and the song was purchased by Larrikin Records after her death. Men at Work had a hit with ‘Down Under’ in 1981/82.

There’s a lot of discussion happening about this ruling, and public opinion is generally favourable to Men at Work and against the Court ruling.

People understand that music – and culture in general – does not develop in isolation. As Helen Razer put it in today’s (February 6th) ‘Age’ newspaper: “The history and the advancement of all artistic endeavour rests on borrowing; on using and changing leitmotifs”. I’d add that there’s more to it than that (for example, there are the revolutionary leaps, the breaking of the rules of musicality and rejection of tradition as found in Thelonious Monk’s dissonant harmonies), but it’s a valid observation in terms of the Court ruling.

The point that none of the commentators has made, as far as I’m aware, is the question of a social system based on private property. The singular focus is on how to improve the law, make it more in keeping with the times (when new technologies have made ‘sampling’ commonplace).

The law should certainly be reformed – but what does this case say about private ownership of culture, of music, and what does it suggest about the alternative, social ownership as the basis for production?

A common argument for capitalist property relations is that they favour individual creativity, that culture is experimental and flourishes under them. Yet how true is this when a riff, in music, can be owned privately (by a company – one, incidentally, that had its origins in the ‘left’ nationalist folk scene)?

Where music has developed, progressed, under capitalism it has tended to be in spite of the system of private ownership. The development of rock music, and all the 1960s pop rock bands (for example), owes more to the fact that the shuffle of Bo Diddley and the riffs of Chuck Berry were never patented. Had they been, the countless great bands, including the Beatles and Rolling Stones, would have been up on ‘theft’ and crushed from the get-go.

Despite capitalism, ‘everyone’ owned Bo Diddley’s shuffle, as surely as everyone owned the basic twelve-bar-three-chord blues progression that emerged from the mists of time. (Okay, I’m being melodramatic about the mists of time – it’s just that I love that old blues stuff).

Eric Burdon once remarked of Jimi Hendrix that “He took blues music from the Mississippi Delta way up to the planet Venus”. This could only happen because the structure and style of Mississippi Delta blues was not owned, patented, by some big capitalist outfit.

The proof that social ownership is more conducive to creativty and musical development and innovation is thus found within capitalism itself; in its antithesis, which exists within it, waiting to break free. And to go places way beyond Venus.

New Blog @savotes2010 to defy South Australian laws banning anonymous political speech at election time

A new blog, SA Votes 2010 Uncensored, will defy new South Australian laws banning anonymous political speech at election time. The blog will mainly post links to stories about the SA election but will allow anonymous comments on the election, without forcing commenters to publish real names or postcodes, and without forcing commenters to provide their address to the blog publisher.

The new law means that anyone commenting on a “journal”, including journals published on the Internet, must leave their real name and postcode, and the journal must collect and hold for six months their name and address. This law is so easily defied that it can easily be made unworkable, which is the point of the new blog.

Does being anti-whaling mean you’re an imperialist?

Australian Trotskiyist blogger John Passant thinks so. In an article published today on his blog, “Should the left oppose whaling?“, he argues “There is nothing about whales that means humanity shouldn’t eat them.”

Passant argues that the actions of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are elitist reformism:

There is one truth and that is that killing even one whale is evil and the Sea Shepherd will do anything to prevent that.

Well not quite anything. Their activity does not extend to agitating among Japanese or Australian workers as workers, in particular those in the ports and on the boats. They have contempt for workers.

Their approach involves substituting themselves for the mass of people.  This is reformism on a grand scale. Leave it to us; we know better than you; we’ll solve the situation by harassing, attacking and even sinking boats.

Passant also argues that the Australian Government’s opposition to whaling appears to be linked to Australia’s imperialist claims over the Australian Antarctic Territory and its adjacent sea waters. I’m not so sure about that (although the imperialism seems clear). It seems to me that the Government’s anti-whaling stand is more opportunistic pandering to majority opinion than it is a scheme to reinforce its Antarctic claims.

Revolution – Nina Simone (1969)

Remember the Beatles’ reactionary song, ‘Revolution’? I liked them as a group, and still do, but, gee, it was disappointing to be a young revolutionist in the 1960s and  hear them come out with lyrics against revolutionary change. Of course, the Beatles’ song was written from the perspective of the Establishment – lyrics about “minds that hate” and against “Chairman Mao” would not have made much sense to people who were struggling for survival and freedom in the Third World, not to mention in the ghettoes of the US.

Someone who, at that time, stood with the oppressed people was the great African American piano player, composer and singer, Nina Simone.

Poor Nina, she was not consistent later in life and her decline and end was a very sad one indeed. Her version of the Beatles’ song subverts it into an actual revolutionary song.

I’m sure she was addressing the Beatles with the lyrics:

“Some folks are gonna get the notion
I know they’ll say im preachin hate
But if i have to swim the ocean
Well i would just to communicate
Its not as simple as talkin jive
The daily struggle just to stay alive”.


And, hey, greenies, “It’s more than just air pollution”.

She recorded the song in 1969: “We’re in the middle of a revolution, coz I see the face of things to come”.

Enjoy! (And swim that ocean!)

Class War Isn’t Just Sneering at the Rich – Jason Walsh in @goforthmag

Jason Walsh has an article in forth magazine about “the phoney reconstruction of class politics” in the UK.

The article comments on UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s attacks on the privileged backgrounds of Conservative Party figures, which have been mislabelled “class war” in the UK media.

Walsh says:

The Daily Mail reported last week that the British Labour party leader Gordon Brown plans on besting the Conservatives by launching a “class war”. The Mail’s faux middle-class outrage aside, this is a rather strange development. Why, now, would Labour decide to indulge in a spate of political cross-dressing? Also, how on earth can a party that has been in government for twelve years cast itself in the role of radical opposition?

Of course it transpires that, rather than encouraging the self-organisation of workers, the fat controller’s idea of class war is not much more than pointing out that prominent Tories tend to be the privately educated scions of the wealthy. Who knew?

Photos from Same Sex Marriage rally, Melbourne, Sat Nov 28

Same Sex Marriage Rally, State Library of Victoria, Swanston and La Trobe Sts, Melbourne City, Victoria, Australia 091128-23

Same Sex Marriage Rally, State Library of Victoria, Swanston and La Trobe Sts, Melbourne City, Victoria, Australia 091128-184

Same Sex Marriage Rally, State Library of Victoria, Swanston and La Trobe Sts, Melbourne City, Victoria, Australia 091128-136

These pictures are from yesterday’s Equal Love rally in support of same-sex marriage in Melbourne. You can also see a set of 100 photos from the rally here.

just too bizarre….

Please explain….. I just do not understand why a large section of the ruling class is so actively into the promotion of green hysteria.  One could almost begin to suspect some sort of weird science fiction scenario involving alien mind-control, or something….

Just have a look at this ad. produced for children by the British government (at a cost of $10.7 million dollars!)

Note:  I got the video from You Tube, where the person who  posted it has added a plug throughout for the film “Not Evil, Just Wrong” …… this may make you heave a sigh of relief, and think it’s a spoof … but it’s not.

Brendan O’Neil has an article about it in today’s Australian, by the way:  Panic Little Ones,  it’s the Carbon Monster.

Anti-Censorship attack takes down Australian Government websites

A Denial of Service attack appeared to take down Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s website and other official sites,  for a few minutes tonight at around 7.20PM AEST.

The attack was announced on the website http://www.09-09-2009.org using the name of Anonymous, the loose disorganisation of Internet users which has previously acted against the Church of Scientology.

There has been some criticism of this tactic, notably by Michael Meloni at the “Somebody Think of the Children” website. Stephen Conroy, the Minister with the political job of selling the censorship plan, has used his favourite lie – that the censorship will only affect things that are already illegal, and Meloni takes this down very well.

Meloni’s argument against the illegal attacks is that they “will do nothing to help the fight against net censorship” and that “…such methods and demands suggest little understanding of how political policy is changed in Australia. Acts like this have the potential to unravel the hard work already done by many to try and end this policy”.

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Dancing at the station …

I think everyone will enjoy this (especially Arthur!!)

It’s  200 dancers  taking commuters by surprise at the Central Station of Antwerp with a performance of  “Do Re Mi”.  (Apparently they had only rehearsed together twice!)


Bright Future, Hard Road… a poem

Here’s a poem called ‘The future is bright… the road is hard’. I’ve performed it at a ‘poetry slam’ but, no, I won’t be giving up my day job!

#nocleanfeed: Rally against Internet Censorship in Australia, Saturday December 13th 2008

On December 13th 2008, there will be rallies in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth to protest against the Government’s plans to censor the Internet in Australia. This video has all the details and also some advice about what to say when you’re talking to people who are worried about what kids might see online. Please spread this video and news about the rally far and wide.

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