Monthly Archive for March, 2011

the further shrinkage of anti imperialist purists

Both of the authors below opposed the US led war in Iraq. Both of them support imperialist intervention in Libya.

An Open Letter to the Left on Libya by Juan Cole

The United Nations Security Council authorization for UN member states to intervene to forestall this massacre thus pitched the question. If the Left opposed intervention, it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people. Qaddafi would have reestablished himself, with the liberation movement squashed like a bug and the country put back under secret police rule. The implications of a resurgent, angry and wounded Mad Dog, his coffers filled with oil billions, for the democracy movements on either side of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, could well have been pernicious.

Libya: a legitimate and necessary debate from an anti-imperialist perspective by Gilbert Achcar

The left should certainly not proclaim such absolute “principles” as “We are against Western powers’ military intervention whatever the circumstances.” This is not a political position, but a religious taboo.

Many of the comments to these articles express dismay at Cole and Achcar for questioning the one true way of anti imperialist consistency. We are witnessing a repeat of the process whereby anti-imperialist purists condemn and cast out those who refuse to remain true believers. See this supportive comment on the Juan Cole thread:

AMEN, JUAN! AMEN! Thank you so much for this. I’ve been an active demonstrator and vocal, obnoxiously-sanctimonious railer against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with railing against Obama’s weak health-care “reform,” his subservience to Wall St., his perpetuation and expansion of W.’s oppressive national security state and military budget… I’ve made lots of “comrades” in that time, and I’m split from nearly all of them in supporting this intervention in Libya …

UN adopts “the freedom agenda”!

The UN Security Council has voted for military intervention to facilitate regime change in Libya!

When Bush was president this was illegal

UN Resolution 1973 which authorizes “all necessary measures” to protect the Libyan people from being crushed by Gaddafi’s army is an historic event. It’s been put in terms of a humanitarian intervention aimed at preventing atrocities against civilians (which it is, on one level), but in reality it goes far further than that. It’s actually a resolution aimed at ensuring the success of the democratic revolution in Libya.

No way is it just a No Fly Zone, already the new COW has begun destroying Gaddafi’s military infrastructure, and the resolution has clearly been worded to allow attacks on ground troops, if required. And although it rules out occupation, it doesn’t specifically rule out on-the-ground operations.

About time!!

As I write this I’m listening to interviews with Egyptians who are at this very moment casting their votes in a referendum on constitutional reform. The euphoria is palpable. Democratic revolution really is sweeping the Middle East . The tyrants and autocrats of the region are all under threat now.

With the passing of UN resolution 1970, suddenly “regime change” is ok , is becoming legitimate. So far in all the interviews I’ve heard, the question “Is this really about regime change”? has been dodged. Instead the talk is all about Gaddafi “killing his own people” and the need to stop this. But it’s pretty easy to join the dots.

And it was France which spearheaded the push in the UN. What a change from 2003!

Alain Juppe’s speech prior to the resolution talked of “a wave of great revolutions that would change the course of history” .

But it was under the dreaded Bush regime that the “democracy agenda” was actually launched.

Continue reading ‘UN adopts “the freedom agenda”!’

UN Declares War on Gaddafi

The UN Security Council has approved a “no fly zone” over Libya and more importantly authorizing “all necessary measure” (ie. direct attacks against Gaddafi’s forces) to protect civilians, by a vote of 10 in favour with 5 abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation). The resolution excludes “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”

NB. This morning France stated that the resolution did not rule out an invasion by foreign troops. An invasion is not the same as an occupation. (20/3/2011 10:57 pm clarification by BK: This was heard on the radio in the early hours but I have been unable to confirm it through googling. It is true however that the resolution does allow for attacks on Gaddafi’s ground troops and that operations by foot soldiers are also not specifically ruled out)

The UN delegates referred repeatedly to the Arab League’s call for a no fly zone.

Speaking before the vote, Alain Juppe, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, said the world was experiencing “a wave of great revolutions that would change the course of history”, as people throughout North Africa and the Middle East were calling for “a breath of fresh air”, for freedom of expression and democracy.  Such calls for democratic transition had echoed thro­ugh Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.  Everyone had witnessed the events with great hope and he believed “this new Arab springtime is good news for all”.  The changes required the international community not to “give lessons”, but to help the people of those countries build a new future.


Libya is a largely urban country with 85% of pe­ople living in its two large and about twenty smaller cities and towns. The democratic rebels have control of the eastern towns and the second largest city Benghazi as well as substantially unarmed but very widespread support in the west. They currently have, compared to the undemocratic Gaddafi forces, a reasonably small, badly organized and poorly trained army with virtually no ‘airforce’ and only tiny naval forces that exist under the protection of western navies.

Without foreign intervention Gaddafi can’t be dealt with in anything like a timely manner. He would win in the short term. His army will however be routed once his air power, tanks and armoured vehicles are denied to him.

Gaddafi has already lost Libya. He can only hold Tripoli and the highway east only so far (he can’t for example ever again send his forces to the Egyptian border) and he can not hold that territory that he does indefinitely. Eventually, he won’t be able to hold the outlying eastern end and a more or less rapid withdrawal west will unfold. Everyone interested in this would already have read up on the WW2 forward and backward fighting. Gaddafi understands this perfectly well.

Continue reading ‘UN Declares War on Gaddafi’

the future of nuclear

The deterioration of the situation at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant adds to the enormous problems already facing the Japanese people in the aftermath of a massive disaster in winter. This article attempts to assess the future of nuclear in the light of recent developments in Japan.

Japan is a modern economy in an earthquake zone, part of the ring of fire. In many ways their disaster preparations are admirable (Let’s keep the Japanese earthquake in perspective). So, of course they are relatively far better off than was Haiti.

Nevertheless, they were not as well prepared as they could have been. Ishibashi Katsuhiko was a member of the expert panel that developed new seismic design guidelines, but resigned in August 2006 because his warnings were ignored. (Why Worry? Japan’s Nuclear Plants at Grave Risk From Quake Damage)

Barry Brook has run an informative series of articles at his pro-nuclear site Brave New Climate assessing the situation. Initially he predicted that there was “no credible risk of a serious accident” but has now admitted that he was wrong:

In sum, this accident is now significantly more severe than Three Mile Island in 1979. It resulted from a unique combination of failures to plant systems caused by the tsunami, and the broad destruction of infrastructure for water and electricity supply which would normally be reestablished within a day or two following a reactor accident
Fukushima Nuclear Accident – 17 March update

The older nuclear reactors have not displayed disaster proof safety capabilities. Extending the lifetimes of existing plants is not the way to go. In response to the Japanese experience, Germany has shut down seven of the country’s seventeen nuclear power plants for an indefinite period, the seven plants built before 1980. (Nuclear Moratorium in Germany Could Cause Spike in CO2 Emissions)

Pro nuclear advocates (including myself) have previously argued that regulatory costs are artificially high. This may still be true in some respects but there is no getting around the fact that these costs will now increase.

Nuclear is already more expensive than coal and will remain so in the absence of new technological innovation.

Fear of nuclear was already a big factor in selling it politically. Although much of the media coverage has been over hyped and not well informed technically there is no doubt that public opinion against nuclear will increase given the real failure of nuclear safety in Japan.

Nuclear will not go away, however. We need more energy. Global warming is real. Renewables can’t do the job. in the wake of the Japanese disaster, India and China have already announced their intention to proceed with nuclear. (Nuclear Power in not going away). An Editorial in The Guardian (Nuclear power: After the flood) argued for the need to build new, safer nuclear plants, and not extend the life of old plants.

The solution:
The best solution is a massive increase in R&D funding into alternative energy sources to fossil fuels, including nuclear, with a view to reducing their cost to the equivalent or less than coal.

decarbonisation of the economy

Some reasons for supporting an acceleration of the already established decarbonisation of the economy are that:

  • anthropogenic global warming is real, although we are not particularly clear about the urgency of the issue
  • the oceans absorb vast amounts of CO2 and a particular reason for concern is the biogeochemical effects of this

The environmental issues are real but subsidiary to the need for economic development, particularly in the developing world but also in the developed world.

Politically, the correct position is:

  1. full steam ahead with economic development which means more coal use now because coal is the cheapest energy producing fuel
  2. full steam ahead with R&D, with the goal of decarbonisation of the energy economy, ie. finding a cheap alternative to coal

John McCarthy has said that “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense”. I think he meant science and maths as well as arithmetic.

In this article I present the Kaya identity which provides us with the basic maths required to understand carbon emissions.
Continue reading ‘decarbonisation of the economy’

the missing piece of the climate change puzzle

There are three pieces to the climate change puzzle and so far the mainstream political parties have only grasped two of them. The three pieces are based on misconceptions that many people hold about acting on the issue. These misconceptions are outlined in Chapter 2 of Roger Pielke jr’s book, The Climate Fix:

1) We lack political will
2) We must trade off the economy for the environment
3) We have all the technology we need

Pielke’s book argues at length that each of these assumptions is false. I won’t attempt to duplicate that here but rather illustrate the argument through the stance of the Labour / Green alliance and The Coalition in Australia.

Gillard has announced her intention to tax carbon. This is based on her correct belief that the people want some action on climate change. Given public opinion on this issue her political estimate is that it is more dangerous to do nothing than to do something.

Abbott has announced his opposition to a carbon tax and that, if elected, he will rescind any carbon tax introduced by Labour. This is based on his correct belief that the people will not tolerate any serious infringement of living costs based on a carbon tax. He knows that people will not accept a trade off of the economy for the environment.

Continue reading ‘the missing piece of the climate change puzzle’

remaking the environmental movement

The Long Death of Environmentalism

There are good environmentalists and bad environmentalists. Or, it is more accurate to say that more often than not there are good and bad ideas about environmental questions that exist within the same person. In this article I depict this complex reality in simple terms: good Green and bad Green.

The Green Party has a leader, Bob Brown, who makes things up (that the Queensland floods were the direct responsibility of the coal industry), promotes policies that are incompatible with immediate low cost economic growth (coal is bad) as well as longer term economic growth (nuclear is bad too).

Bob Brown represents the dying Greens, the bad Greens. Sooner or later his ideas will be replaced by good Green ideas. My estimate is that the bad Green ideas have peaked and are now in decline.

Let it be said that concern for the environment is a good thing. The environmental movement has alerted us to the real dangers of anthropogenic global warming, real threats to endangered species, etc. These issues are not the most important issues in the world but they are significant. There is a real need for some sort of environmental political movement.

The bad Green movement may appear to have real strength in Australia, with the Gillard minority government (enmeshed in an alliance with The Green Party) recently announcing her carbon tax plan. Or, as she prefers, her carbon price plan. The appearance of strength is illusory. The politics of The Greens has peaked and Gillard’s embrace of a carbon tax will quite likely contribute to her demise at the next election, whenever that is held.

Internationally, the bad Green movement is on the retreat.

Continue reading ‘remaking the environmental movement’

This website kills fascists!

Right-wing conservative columnist, Andrew Bolt, has perplexed some of his followers by putting on his site a youtube clip of Woody Guthrie singing “This Land is your Land”. Another right-wing site, Just Grounds Community , has commented on those conservatives who do not have the knowledge of history or the “empathy” to understand why and how Guthrie supported socialism and sympathized with communism during the 1930s. I’m not precisely sure where JGC is coming from but they certainly make sense in their understanding that Woody Guthrie would not have been impressed with the pseudo-left of today – “the two bit hustlers… the present day chancers and fuzzy thinkers who would claim his endorsement”.

I sometimes wonder how many people identify with the right – the libertarian right in particular – because what passes for ‘the left’ is so appallingly unworthy of support.

Continue reading ‘This website kills fascists!’

Dictatorship on the way to becoming illegal

Today’s New York Times’ article: Libyan Rebels Said to Debate Seeking UN Airstrikes has this issue lurking in the background.

It seems to me that ever so slowly we’re on the way to a world in which outright, naked tyranny is unnaceptable. There’s a clear parallel here with the stages in the long struggle to outlaw chattel slavery.

Continue reading ‘Dictatorship on the way to becoming illegal’

Aboriginal Communities and the One Laptop Per Child deployment

Rawa Community School, WA, 7 Apr 2009

One Laptop Per Child Australia has done a good job of deploying laptops to roughly 400,000 children in remote aboriginal communities:

View One Laptop Per Child Australia in a larger map

Ear-marked or has expressed interest for deployment
Scheduled for deployment
Partial deployment
Full deployment – one laptop per child

This is best viewed at Google Maps but even in this version if you click on map icons you can obtain more detail of the deployments.