Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

A “hooglie” Summer Solstice to all.

Armenian woman 106 with machinegun

Please note that the Ed. is laid up with a broken foot, and with only intermittent internet/computer connection.

The good news for the end of 2013, is that jailed Pussy Riot activists were released from Russian prisons, and 28 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons.

I noted that the ABC reporter of this news was standing in front of a portrait of Marwan Barghouti with the message FREE MARWAN BARGHOUTI as street wall art – I’m hoping that’s more than serendipity.

Also wishing that Strange Times readers, one and all, have a safe and productive 2014, and that the hearts and brains of “Israeli settlers’ ” grow a few sizes in the coming year.

Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks

Omidyar Ebay founder privatises secrets

http://bit.ly/17WKj1v

By Mark Ames
On November 27, 2013

Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Think about other famous leakers: Daniel Ellsberg neither monetized nor monopolized the Pentagon Papers. Instead, he leaked them to well over a dozen different newspapers and media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and to a handful of sitting senators — one of whom, Mike Gravel, read over 4,000 of the 7,000 pages into the Congressional record before collapsing from exhaustion. The Papers were published in book form by a small nonprofit run by the Unitarian Church, Beacon House Press.

Chelsea Manning, responsible for the largest mass leaks of government secrets ever, leaked everything to WikiLeaks, a nonprofit venture that has largely struggled to make ends meet in its seven years of existence. Julian Assange, for all of his flaws, cannot be accused of crudely enriching himself from his privileged access to Manning’s leaks; instead, he shared his entire trove with a number of established media outlets including the Guardian, New York Times, Le Monde and El Pais. Today, Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison, while the Private Manning Support Network constantly struggles to raise funds from donations; Assange has spent the last year and a half inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, also struggling to raise funds to run the WikiLeaks operation.

A similar story emerges in the biggest private sector analogy — the tobacco industry leaks by whistleblowers Merrell Williams and Jeffrey Wigand. After suffering lawsuits, harassment and attempts to destroy their livelihoods, both eventually won awards as part of the massive multibillion dollar settlements — but the millions of confidential tobacco documents now belong to the public, maintained by a nonprofit, the American Legacy Project, whose purpose is to help scholars and reporters and scientists fight tobacco propaganda and power. Every year, over 400,000 Americans die from tobacco-related illnesses.

The point is this: In the most successful whistleblower cases, the public has sided with the selfless whistleblower against the power- or profit-driven entity whose secrets were leaked. The Snowden case represents a new twist to the heroic whistleblower story arc: After successfully convincing a large part of the public and the American Establishment that Snowden’s leaks serve a higher public interest, Greenwald promptly sold those secrets to a billionaire.

He justified this purely on grounds of self-interest, calling Omidyar’s offer “a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity.” Speaking to the Washington Post, Greenwald used crude careerist terminology to justify his decision to privatize the Snowden secrets:

“It would be impossible for any journalist, let alone me, to decline this opportunity.”

News about Greenwald-Poitras’ decision to privatize the NSA cache came just days after the New York Times reported on Greenwald’s negotiations with major movie studios to sell a Snowden film. This past summer, Greenwald sold a book to Metropolitan Books for a reportedly hefty sum, promising that some of the most sensational revelations from Snowden’s leaks would be saved for the book.

Indeed what makes the NSA secrets so valuable to Greenwald and Poitras is that the two of them have exclusive access to the entire cache. Essentially they have a monopoly over secrets that belong to the public. For a time, it was assumed that Snowden had kept copies of the leaked documents, possibly on a number of laptops he was carting around the world. Greenwald and Poitras were simply conduits between Snowden’s cache and the public. In late August, Greenwald disclosed for the first time in a statement to BuzzFeed:

“Only Laura and I have access to the full set of documents which Snowden provided to journalists.”

Later, from his hideout in Russia, Snowden released a statement claiming he had left all the NSA files behind in Hong Kong for Greenwald and Poitras to take. A third Guardian journalist in Hong Kong at the time, Ewen MacAskill, confirmed to me on Twitter that only Greenwald and Poitras took with them the full cache. Even the Guardian was not allowed access to the motherlode.

Clearly, in a story as sensational and global and alluring as Snowden’s Secrets™, exclusive access equals value. And for the first time in whistleblower history, that value has been extracted in full through privatization.

It is one thing for Greenwald to maintain that exclusivity — or monopoly — while working with the Guardian, a nonprofit with institutional experience in investigative journalism. It is quite another for him to sell them to a guy with a history of putting profits before public interest. As Yasha Levine and I wrote at NSFWCORP, Omidyar invested in a third-world micro-loans company whose savage bullying of debtors resulted in mass suicides. Rather than acknowledge this tragedy, Omidyar Network simply deleted reference to the company from his website when the shit hit the fan.

This — this? — is the guy we’re supposed to trust with the as-yet unpublished NSA files? He’s the one we’re relying on to reveal any dark secrets about the tech industry’s collusion with the NSA? Let’s hope there’s nothing in there about eBay. Whoops! Deleted!

Since we first raised our concerns, Yasha and I have been swamped with responses from Greenwald’s followers. The weird thing is, not all of those responses have been negative: even Wikileaks — Wikileaks! — responded that, “We have not [fallen out with Greenwald] but @Pierre is seriously compromised by Paypal’s attacks on our organisation and supporters.”

Greenwald’s leftist and anarchist fans have always had an almost cult-like faith in his judgment, seeing him as little less than a digital-age Noam Chomsky. But now they’re reeling from cognitive dissonance, trying to understand why their hero would privatize the most important secrets of our generation to a billionaire free-marketeer like Omidyar, whose millions have, in some cases, brought market-based misery into some of the poorest and most desperate corners of the planet.

A Greenwald-Omidyar partnership is as hard to swallow as if Chomsky proudly announced a new major venture with Sheldon Adelson, on grounds that it’s a “once-in-a-career dream academic opportunity.”

WikiLeaks’ concern about Omidyar can be traced back to PayPal’s decision in December 2010 to blockade users from sending money to WikiLeaks. PayPal (founded by Pando investor, Peter Thiel — more on that below) is owned by eBay, where Omidyar has served as the chairman of the board since 2002. Before the blockade, PayPal was the principal medium for WikiLeaks donations, according to the Washington Post.

As the single investor, founder and CEO of “NewCo”, Omidyar’s self-professed helplessness at eBay doesn’t extend to his new journalistic venture.

More troubling for fans is that Greenwald has repeatedly provided cover for Omidyar, claiming that he “had nothing to do with [the blockade]” despite his board status. Whether or not eBay’s chairman really was ignorant of his company’s most controversial decision in years, there’s no denying that Omidyar is also eBay’s largest shareholder. At nearly 10%, his stake is worth billions and is more than twice as large as that of the next largest shareholder.

By Greenwald’s reasoning, even though Omidyar is the founder, largest shareholder, and chairman of the body responsible for eBay/PayPal management oversight, he had “nothing to do with” its policy towards Wikileaks. Zero. None. He was as helpless as you, me, Batkid, or Grumpy Cat.

Fortunately, as the single investor, founder and CEO of “NewCo”, Omidyar’s self-professed helplessness at eBay doesn’t extend to his new journalistic venture. With that level of autonomy, no one — not even Glenn Greenwald, who has admitted that Omidyar’s money is irresistibly persuasive — can tell him which secrets to publish on his new site, and which should remain hidden forever.

We can all rest easy in our beds, then, knowing that Omidyar is in charge of our secrets. Information of national importance, such as which major tech companies colluded with the US government to spy on private citizens, will be published at the discretion of the founder and largest shareholder of one of those companies.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul (and Mark). An important footnote about Peter Thiel and Pando, by Paul Carr

When NSFWCORP’s acquisition by Pando was announced, Greenwald raced to Twitter to accuse us of hypocrisy because Peter Thiel (another billionaire whose previous business dealings could fill a book, and who sold PayPal to eBay in the first place) once invested $200,000 in PandoDaily, through his Founders Fund.

That’s absolutely true. Founders Fund’s investment is disclosed here on Pando’s main about page, along with the names of the other investors who collectively invested the remaining $2.8m raised by Pando.

The difference between us selling our company to a media outlet that once received a minority investment from Founders Fund and Greenwald being personally hired by Omidyar should be obvious to anyone with a brain. But at the risk that category excludes Glenn’s most ardent supporters, we’re happy to spell out the difference (apart from the monetary difference of $249,800,000 between Thiel’s $200k and Omidyar’s $250 million, of course):

Peter Thiel has no involvement with the running of Pando. Zero. He doesn’t make hiring or firing or any other kind of decisions (nor do any other investors), Founders Fund isn’t Pando’s only (or even closest largest) investor and no one from Founders Fund has a board seat, voting rights or any other input in business or editorial policy. In other words, Thiel has less ability to dictate editorial policy here, in fact, than the guy who cleans the coffee cups (at least that guy has a key to the office).

Pierre Omidyar is personally hiring the journalists for his new project, starting with Greenwald himself. He is the venture’s sole backer. But, you know what? All of that would still be OK if Greenwald would make a simple, unequivocal, public pledge: to cover any bad behavior by Pierre Omidyar in the same way that he would cover someone who wasn’t backing him with millions of dollars.

Should be a simple thing to promise, right?

Here’s our absolute, unequivocal pledge: we will cover Peter Thiel and Pando’s other investors just as fiercely as we cover Pierre Omidyar or anyone else. In fact, it’s likely due to proximity that we will cover Pando’s investors even more fiercely. That’s how we always worked at NSFWCORP — and it’s how we’ll work here. Our past coverage of Thiel can be found all over the web, including here, here and even right here on Pando. Or see how we’ve covered NSFWCORP/Pando investors CrunchFund and Vegas Tech Fund.

When we asked Glenn to make that same pledge about his single investor, in light of our coverage of Omidyar, he responded simply: “I can’t speak for Omidyar Network,” adding he had “no idea” about Omidyar’s involvement in micro loans.

We contacted Omidyar Network for comment on this story but neither had responded at press time. We’ll update here if they do.

Illustration by Brad Jonas.

Free Pussy Riot protesters

Imprisoned Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova has reportedly disappeared following a transfer to a new prison facility 10 days ago. Tolokonnikova was moved from a Mordovia prison camp and since then, her family says, they have been unaware of her whereabouts.

“No one knows anything,” Tolokonnikova’s father Andrei told BuzzFeed. “There’s no proof she’s alive, we don’t know the state of her health. Is she sick? Has she been beaten?” On Friday, her father and husband said they last knew her precise whereabouts on 21st October.

The 23-year-old Tolokonnikova was then transferred out of her Mordovia prison colony without explanation from Russian officials. The Pussy Riot member had launched a hunger strike to protest horrific prison conditions and had written an open letter condemning the “slave-like” labor camp.

Tolokonnikova’s husband, Petya Verzilov, had been regularly protesting outside of the prison camp and prison hospital with a band of supporters, angering local officials. “We think they moved her to a big city to hide her,” Tolokonnikova’s father said. “It seems they got sick of these protests.”

“They want to cut her off from the outside world,” Verzilov told BuzzFeed, indicating that the transfer decision came from Moscow officials. “This is basically the only way they have to punish Nadya — ‘let’s cut her off from the outside world,’” he said.

Tolokonnikova was transferred by train from the Mordovia camp and spotted by a fellow passenger as the train pulled into Chelyabisnk, in the Ural mountains, on 24th October, said Verzilov. According to his sources, Tolokonnikova was kept there overnight, with nothing heard of her since.

Verzilov and Tolokonnikova’s father said prison authorities had promised to inform them of Tolokonnikova’s whereabouts 10 days after she was moved. Verzilov indicated that his wife could be anywhere, saying:

“When they moved [political prisoner Mikhail] Khodorkovsky, he was also kind of absent for two weeks. Nobody knew where he was, then he suddenly appeared in Chita,” 1,000 miles east of Moscow.”

Tolokonnikova and her Pussy Riot bandmate Maria Alyokhina are slated for release in March next year. The two were sentenced to a two-year prison term on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” following an anti-Putin protest in a Moscow church.

(Via BuzzFeed)

 

 

 

High turnout as Nepal voters defy bombing, threats

Prachanda

Prachanda

By Ammu Kannampilly (AFP) – 9 hours ago

Kathmandu — Millions of Nepalis defied low expectations and threats of violence to vote Tuesday in elections seen as crucial in stabilising the country and breaking its political deadlock seven years after a civil war ended.

A bombing in the capital Kathmandu early Tuesday injured three children, but the explosion and a campaign of intimidation by a hardline Maoist splinter group did not prevent a high turnout, according to election officials.

Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety told a press conference late Tuesday that preliminary figures showed a 70 percent turnout.

At this level it would be higher than the 63.29 percent turnout recorded during the country’s first post-war elections in 2008, when it voted for a constituent assembly tasked with writing a new constitution.

“Voters have given their decision and it clearly points towards a constitution. I hope this is the last election for a constituent assembly in Nepal,” Uprety said.

Since 2008, five prime ministers have served brief terms, the country had no leader for long periods, and the 601-member assembly collapsed in May 2012 after failing to complete the peace process.

“My vote is for the future of youngsters and the new generations,” 101-year-old voter Lal Bahadur Rai told AFP in a phone interview from a polling station in northeastern Sankhuwasabha district.

Many analysts had judged the national mood to be downbeat as threats of violence and intimidation added to years of political infighting and drift.

Hopes of political unity to complete the peace process were dashed when a 33-party alliance, led by the splinter Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), announced it would boycott polls and intimidate voters.

In recent days, protestors have torched vehicles and hurled explosives at traffic, leading to more than 360 arrests and one death.

In Kathmandu, a crude bomb explosion in a middle-class residential neighbourhood was the only major violent incident amid a security crackdown which saw 50,000 soldiers and 140,000 police deployed.

“I was passing by when I saw three children lying on the ground, crying for help,” 28-year-old eyewitness Saroj Maharjan told AFP at the scene.

“One of the children, whose face was covered in blood, fainted in my arms as I carried him to a nearby hospital,” he added.

Home ministry spokesman Shankar Koirala told reporters late Tuesday: “25 people were injured in election-related clashes across the country”.

The Maoist party, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known better by the nom-de-guerre Prachanda, swept the first constituent assembly polls in 2008, two years after signing a peace deal.

Prachanda, the former rebel leader whose lavish lifestyle has alienated many core supporters, voted in the southern district of Chitwan in the morning wearing a shirt and Western-style black suit.

Logistical headache

Organising the election has been a logistical headache in a country home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, requiring helicopters, horses and porters to deliver ballot boxes to remote areas.

“Some of the voters have trekked for five hours to reach here. They include elderly as well as young first-time voters,” Gitachari Acharya, an official at the nearest polling station to Mount Everest, told AFP.

Nepal’s political deadlock in the last five years has had a severe impact on the economy, with annual GDP growth tumbling from 6.1 percent in 2008 to 4.6 percent last year, World Bank figures show.

With 39 percent of the country aged between 16 and 40, according to government data, jobs are a major issue for young first-time voters like Urmila Maharjan.

The 22-year-old Kathmandu-based student told AFP she hoped “the new assembly will address issues like unemployment”.

Voters at one central Kathmandu polling station applauded and chanted “victory to Nepal” as election officials packed up ballot boxes.

More than 100 parties, including three major ones — the Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists — are fielding candidates for the constituent assembly, which will also serve as a parliament.

The anti-poll alliance had said the vote could not be held under the interim administration headed by the Supreme Court chief justice and wanted elections to be postponed until a cross-party government was put in place.

“Had the anti-poll groups organised peaceful protests, they could have questioned the legitimacy of the elections,” Akhilesh Upadhyay, editor in chief of The Kathmandu Post, told AFP.

“How can they gain political traction while even children have been brutally attacked?”

Election officials said the counting of votes would begin at midnight and preliminary results would emerge within three days.

Full results will be announced in about ten days, the chief election commissioner said.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gmK-hIOX7WM_cUZP_GQqpOIz6mvw?docId=b8f04837-7dbc-459a-a611-9bd0634d28cd

Why we should definitely Occupy Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and more – response to “Don’t Occupy Sydney”

I’ve been involved with the online organising for Occupy Brisbane. Yesterday I noticed a post on Tumblr getting some attention from people I knew, people who are definitely not rich.

This is my response:

The original post is in bold, my response is in plain text.

At the moment in the US there is a collection of affiliated protests, centred on New York city. As with all “grass roots” protest movements, some of the protesters are unemployed or students who enjoy shows of unity and demands for change as a recreational sport.

Really? How do you know this?

Some of them are people who have found themselves with a low quality of life for no other reason than they have declined to work to improve it. They see that other people have a high quality of life and are demanding the same.

Really? How do you know this?

These groups of people are the minority. The majority of protesters, and the theme of the protest, is the idea of a (figurative) 99% of America who may or may not be well educated, but work hard, and still have a quality of life that compares better to developing countries than the United States. Some are drowning in student debts that are all but impossible to service. Some have been through processes of being laid off or having pay reductions in corporate cost cutting exercises and earn only as much or in many cases significantly less than they did several years ago – while costs continue to inflate. Many or most have no access to healthcare were they to require it – not being able to afford access to the user-pays American system.

The 99% are real, and it’s frightening. Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy, professionals with undergraduate degrees in corporate roles who are choosing between making student loan payments and eating dinner. One to two generations of Americans who are fed up to hell with an economy that came about largely because of a finance industry which managed to somehow overthrow the rules of capitalism; an industry that instead of winning or losing based on market supply and demand, took home its profits, and managed to get its debts paid by taxpayers. The entirety of Wall St is like Nick Leeson, the derivatives trader who worked for Barings making a tonne of highly profitable transactional trades, all the while putting the debts from the disastrous failed trades into an “error account” (numbered 88888) until they totalled $1.4 billion and were discovered. Barings was sold to ING for £1.00

Australia is different. Australia is a country with universal subsidised healthcare, subsidised tertiary education with an efficient and fair loans scheme which is paid at an acceptable rate only out of the money you earn, near universal employment and an expansive welfare system that can sustain the unemployed for years if that’s what the situation requires (unlike the US’ time-limited unemployment benefits scheme).

This is true, in itself. But what about those “Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy”? You don’t think we have those in Australia? I’ve lived most of my life an illness away from homelessness. I’ve waited for over four hours to get treated in a hospital emergency room because local doctors don’t take on any more patients because that healthcare system isn’t subsidised enough. As for “near-universal employment”, there’s a trick the government do, which is to regard anyone working for even one hour a week as employed. The underemployment rate (measuring the number of people who want more hours but aren’t getting them) was around 7% last year in Australia. And what if the money you are earning is at a job that eats away at your self-respect and dignity every day you do it?

Those are just the sorts of things that have affected me personally, that I can talk about with experience. I wonder how many other people, even in a fairly well-off country like Australia, are feeling ground down by these sorts of problems – or other problems that I’m lucky enough to miss out on.

Our banks are strong and to a large extent highly ethical. The lack of speculative, nonsensical finance products bought and sold in Australia by our highly liquid and well regulated financial institutions, means our economy didn’t only not plunge into recession in the GFC, we largely didn’t even feel its effects beyond those from exposure to overseas markets. Our average wage is about 150% of the US’, our minimum wage is $15.51 to the $8.00 in Los Angeles. It’s not perfect but when an Australian retires, they will absolutely have some retirement benefits due to a pension system and the superannuation guarantee.

Australians NOW struggle if they have to rely on just the pension. I don’t see that situation easing up much in the next twenty years. And what happens to people who are due to retire on their superannuation just after a stock market crash? Their plans might have to be put on the shelf, and they might have to work a lot longer than they hoped. Those people are feeling the results of the recent financial crisis now. I wonder how they feel about the fairness of the retirement system.

We have our problems. We have people who are mentally ill who aren’t getting help.

I’ve been one of those people. Have you? If you have, then I say I have too and my opinion on the Occupy protests is just as valid as yours. And if you have not, it’s not your place to use an illness I’ve had to tell people they shouldn’t get involved with something I agree with.

We have indigenous communities that just aren’t thriving.We have a nation gripped with an absurd fascination with people who crawl onto our beaches having escaped whatever hasn’t been bombed into a vapour in their home country. We have a polarised national debate about the global environment and how to minimise our effect on it, and that debate is birthing a sociological crisis in the way groups of Australians interact with each other, their government, and the media.

A group of people coming together because they are angry with the way things is one of the best chances we’ve had in years to start talking about these problems, and many others. Telling people not to get involved in Occupy protests because of these problems is ridiculous. We need to work out how to unite many different areas where people are fighting for their rights – and if people at the Occupy protests are politically mature enough to, for instance, deal respectfully with Aboriginal people, we have the chances to form some new alliances.

I also think that most of the big problems of the world today are closely linked to the way our economy is set up. If we start digging closely into any issue, we come up against one similar problem each time – a government not prepared to raise the taxes needed. And that’s because governments have been answering to the 1% – and not even pretending to work for ordinary people – for the last three decades and more. The 1% don’t want more of “their” money going on taxes, so it doesn’t.

These problems don’t get fixed with the solutions the Americans are demanding. “Occupying” Sydney or Melbourne and demanding the “end of corporate greed” is putting a bandaid on your forehead to deal with a headache. With the lack of relevancy the “occupy” movement has in Australia, the only people left are the unhygienic, mouth breathing Socialist Alliance, Citizen’s Electoral Council and other limpet organisations that try to inseminate their agenda into any group of people larger than about twelve individuals. You want to occupy something in Australia?

Firstly, using the “those people I disagree with are dirty” argument is childish and hateful. Wrong ideas need to be defeated in debate, not called “dirty”.

Secondly – is this actual analysis? Or just name-calling using the names of two groups you vaguely know you dislike? Do you know for a fact that the Socialist Alliance and Citizens Electoral Council are the main groups dominating the Occupy Sydney protest? I saw that a Socialist Alternative (not Alliance) rep was scheduled to speak on Channel 7’s Sunrise on Monday morning. Do you know the difference between the two groups? If not, I won’t rely on your assessment of who is dominating Sydney’s protest.

Occupy your local member’s office and discuss how the mentally ill can get the help they need.

Occupy a soup kitchen and use your labour to give the homeless that we do have, a hot nutritious meal.

Occupy a dinner party and explain the scope and substance of our “refugee crisis” to your friends in clear, respectful language.

Occupy a talkback radio station for 5 minutes on the phone, and ask the shock jock why it’s a bad thing for the government to make polluting more expensive for companies.

The Occupations can and should discuss all these questions:

Why won’t the government spend enough money on mental health services? I know of one person at Occupy Sydney who is losing out big-time because of cuts to mental health services, and it’s a big motivation for him to get involved.

Why is housing so expensive that more and more people are homeless or very close to it? Why are meal centres mostly very horrible places to eat at? (I’ve had my share of meals in them)

Why is our society so inward-looking and fearful that a few thousand “illegal” boat-arrivals are seen as a major existential threat?

Will the carbon price/tax/whatever help to create a massive renewable energy industry in Australia? Or are there other ways to do it?

And one final question that’s worth thinking about:

We’ve suffered so many defeats at the hands of the 1% in the last few decades. When people start to come together because they want to see change, they are scoffed at by people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from successful Occupations. How on earth do we change that?

MORE FREE SPEECH, NOT LESS – THE RIGHT TO OFFEND OTHERS

Conservative columnist, Andrew Bolt, has been found guilty of causing offence to a ‘racial group’ under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. His crime was to question the basis on which some individuals claim to be Aboriginal.

His columns caused offence to nine plaintiffs and therefore he was found guilty of this crime. What is interesting to me is the reaction to the verdict.

Defence of freedom of speech is a traditional position of the left, internationally. Speech reflects thought and restrictions on speech are invariably restrictions on thought, an attempt to stop thoughts deemed bad from being expressed. On this occasion it was a judge’s ruling that the words caused offence that led to the guilty finding.

Those who argue that people should be free to offend others are accused of ‘free speech fundamentalism’. How strange to hear people who claim to be on the left more or less justifying the state’s intimidation of Bolt because they share the state’s displeasure with what he wrote. To avoid the question of free speech, they merely assert that that is not the issue. Everything from Bolt being a “dolt” through to ‘bad journalism’ are seen as the real issue.

The beauty of free speech is that it encourages debate and conflict of ideas. In other words, it is necessary to the goal of greater understanding. Along the way, it offends some. The best response to bad speech is more free speech.

Many argue that free speech is not absolute, yet when it comes to expression of opinions I think it must be absolute lest it be lost. I’m told that defamation laws are a legitimate limitation on free speech but, to me, these laws seem to exist to protect the rich and powerful from criticism. I’m also told that you can’t have a freedom to yell out “fire!” in a crowded theatre. It’s strange that this example is used, given that there is no law against it. Yes, free speech – and freedom in general – comes with risks and costs. But the alternatives come with greater risks and costs.

Those currently gloating about Bolt’s conviction may one day find themselves in front of a judge for expressing views that are offensive to others.

Where people stand on an issue as basic as this serves to further separate left-wing democrats from the pseudo-left. The latter sympathise with, if not support, all manner of social-fascist regimes, so it shouldn’t surprise that they only support free speech for ideas that are acceptable to them.

I think back to the great spirit of 1968 when slogans like “It is forbidden to forbid” inspired many young folk around the world to rebel. And now I look at all the people, including some who embraced such spirit back then, insisting that the only proper freedom is freedom based on responsibility, that it’s okay to deny freedom when it is being used irresponsibly. This begs the obvious question: who decides what is responsible? How bizzare to find people claiming to be left-wing and yet being perfectly happy with the state making the decision.

More free speech means more debate and greater capacity to expose bad ideas for what they are. Bourgeois judges are best kept out of this process.

It is right to rebel! Not: It is right to rebel (but only if not done in an offensive manner).

I’m sorry I have not linked to examples of the points of view I’ve paraphrased. I don’t have time, but I have fairly paraphrased them after following the comments sent in to various blogs, including ‘The Drum’ and ‘Eureka Street’. I don’t think I can be challenged on my portrayal of those positions.

On Line Opinion under attack

Graham Young the editor of On Line Opinion has just put up this piece: Wanted – new financial backers

Some people have organized a very effective advertising boycott because OLO published an article by religious conservative Bill Muellenberg  against gay marriage.  OLO is an important institution on the political landscape which publishes anyone regardless of where they are on the political spectrum

Read the article and do whatever you can to support them.

What can we do about Xmas?

Xmas reminds us of what life used to be like prior to the modern era. In the old days it was “Xmas” everyday in one way or another, when people’s lives were ruled by rituals and festivals, and our relatives had to be endured on a constant basis not just once a year. Social pressure was even greater then than now. There was no space for the individual. What you did and how you thought was totally prescribed.

By Xmas I mean the in-your-face stuff that fills the public space, physical and electronic. What Christians (or quasi Christians) do in the privacy of their own dining room or in church of course is their business. We will call that Christmas.

Oliver Cromwell and the Pilgrim Fathers banned Xmas. We can’t do that, but it would be helpful if some Christians were to denounce the whole thing as a pagan travesty, which it is, of course. George Washington had the right spirit when he crossed the Delaware River and launched a surprise attack on Hessian mercenaries while they were singing Stille Nacht (or doing something equally Xmasy) on December 25 1776.

An interesting way to spend Xmas. Washington crossing the Delaware

Continue reading ‘What can we do about Xmas?’

“Leave those kids alone” (or they’ll overthrow you sooner rather than later)

Ideas become a material force when taken up by masses of people. So, too, can music play a part in inspiring large numbers in the fight for democracy against tyranny. This is true everywhere, no exceptions. Including Iran.

The Pink Floyd classic, “Another brick in the wall” was first released in the UK in 1979, the same year as the Iranian Revolution. It became an anthem for those of us who don’t like constantly being told what to do by our supposed betters, be they teachers, politicians, priests, the ‘Moral Majority’, food fascists or Nature Worshippers.

Befitting a rebellious song, a version released in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle was quickly banned there. In 1990, the song was the leitmotif for the bringing down of the Berlin Wall.

And now, thanks to Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, a band called ‘Blurred Vision’, fronted by two Iranian brothers living in exile in Canada, have released a version of the song as part of Iran’s struggle for freedom. Waters gave them the rights to cover the song.

The title is the same except for the bit in parenthesis, which now says “Hey Ayatollah, leave those kids alone”! It’s on youtube and has proven very popular.

No doubt there will be those who see the song as a pernicious device in the Great Satan’s ‘plan to conquer Iran’. To those Iranians on the ground fighting repression, it will be encouraging and very uplifting, a source of hope. As it is for me, in solidarity with them.

Rock on!

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.

Continue reading ‘Fukuyama treading carefully’

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.