Saturday 31 January 2009

Lessons for NZ left in UK wildcat strike wave

Workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR) in Britain
take strike action to protect their jobs.
by Grant Morgan RAM chair 31 January 2009 Below is a link to a Guardian story about the fast-moving wildcat illegal strike wave among many thousands of construction workers on different sites across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are taking independent action to protect jobs in an industry where the unemployment rate is already high and climbing fast as the Combo Crisis buffets the British economy.
See recent Guardian articles:

British left debates whether wildcat strikes are "racist"

The left in Britain has been debating whether the wildcat strike action by construction workers in Britain (see Lessons for NZ left in UK wildcat strike wave) is "racist". The crux of the debate is the attitude that left organisations shoud take to the struggle of these workers, particularly as it's workers' own self activity (not union officials or anyone else) that's driving the strikes. Compare the articles posted on Socialist Unity blog, British socialist Jerry Hicks on refinery disputes and George Galloway backs wildcat strikes, with the statement issued by the British Socialist Workers Party British SWP statement: Why British jobs for British workers is not the solution to the crisis. See also What’s really behind the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike, a statement by a socialist elected onto a strike committee.

Friday 30 January 2009

France: General strike hits

by Stuart Munckton from Green Left Weekly 30 January 2009 “Huge crowds have taken to the streets in France to protest over the handling of the economic crisis, causing disruption to rail and air services”, according to a January 29 BBC News report. Unions estimated that 2.5 million workers had taken to the streets as part of a one-day general strike to demand action on unemployment, wages and the rising cost of living. Unions had organised more than 200 separate demonstrations across the country. President Nicolas Sarkozy was forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of the concerns of the protests and that his government was compelled to “listen and act”, according to BBC News. The strike involved transport, education and other services and was organised by France’s eight biggest unions. According to a January 29 Bloomberg business news report, France’s rail network, airports and public schools were disrupted. According to BBC News, “banks, hospitals, post offices and courts were also hit”. Bloosmberg reported: “Unions representing doctors, nurses, Bank of France employees, television and radio stations and other civil servants asked for ‘urgent measures for employment and wages’ and a further boost to the economy. “Employees of companies including Electricite de France SA, France Telecom SA and French units of International Business Machines Corp. and Hewlett- Packard Co. are among those participating in the strike.” Public support for the strike was running at 69%, according to a January 25 poll by CSA-Opinion. It’s the first time in Sarkozy’s presidency that a “social movement” has had such public approval, stated Stephane Rozes, head of CSA-Opinion according to Bloomberg. “Many people are furious that Mr Sarkozy said there was no money left to raise wages and consumer spending power, but nonetheless managed to find billions of euros to bail out floundering French banks”, according to BBC News. “Mr Sarkozy cannot ignore this demonstration of anger.” Unemployment is heading towards 10%, and Sarkozy’s plan for cost cutting is creating a feeling that people are paying for a crisis they didn’t cause, a union leader commented to BBC News.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Aussie Socialists Adopt 10 Point Action Plan to Stop Climate Change

Our Common Cause: Climate Change − the Danger is Now from Green Left Weekly 24 January 2009 The fate of advanced human civilisation − and perhaps of our species itself − hangs in the balance. Fuelled by human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, global warming is advancing at a pace inconceivable to scientists just a few years ago. The complete melting in late summers of Arctic sea ice − something that scientists used to predict for the final decades of this century − is now widely expected by 2013-15. As the highly reflective ice is replaced by dark water, much more of the sun’s heat is captured. Mean Arctic temperatures in recent years have been as much as 3°C above their long-term averages.

Monday 26 January 2009

Week of Mass Strikes Set to Paralyze France in Protest Against Sarkozy's Reforms

by Angelique Chrisafis from The Guardian UK 27 January 2009 Nicolas Sarkozy this week faces the first mass-protests over his handling of the financial crisis as unions prepare to paralyse France in a general strike uniting train-drivers, air traffic controllers, journalists, bank staff and even ski-lift operators. "Black Thursday" is the first general strike since the French president's election in 2007. All the leading unions have joined forces to protest that the government's stimulus plans should focus less on companies and more on workers' job-protection and purchasing power. The protests reflect a mood of social unrest that has been building for months. Unemployment had dropped in the first half of last year but it is now spiralling, particularly among the young, and is forecast to reach 10% in 2010. The recession is predicted to be worse than thought while flagging exports and consumer sales have hammered the manufacturing sector. The strike will unite private and public sector workers from schools, hospitals national TV and radio to postal services, bank clerks and supermarket employees. Even helicopter pilots and staff from the company that operates the French stock exchange are taking part. High school pupils, university lecturers, lawyers and magistrates will also protest a raft of Sarkozy's reforms and planned job cuts. Despite the predicted chaos, one poll found that 70% of French people either support or sympathise with the strikes. "It's very rare for our bank workers to join in this kind of strike action," said Lionel Manchin, of the SNIACAM independent union at the bank Credit Agricole. "This is about protecting jobs and protecting our purchasing power. The bosses have been well protected with their salaries, it's now time to protect the workers." The strikes follow months of tension after high school students delayed an education reform with sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations. Earlier this month a radical union led a strike that shut down Paris's second biggest railway station, leaving hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded. In the past two weeks, Sarkozy has criss-crossed the country giving more than 17 new year speeches, but protesters have been kept in check by riot police. Describing the general mood of discontent, the MP Philippe Cochet, from Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, told Le Monde, "I feel a violence being born. In schools, for example, there's a very strong mobilisation." Bernard Thibault, leader of the powerful, communist-leaning CGT union, said the protests could be bigger than those of 2006 which saw 3 million take to the streets against a new youth employment contract, the CPE. Sarkozy will today make a speech on measures for the unemployed in an attempt to defuse tension. At the weekend, a coalition of psychiatrists, health workers, judges, teachers and researchers will meet to discuss their joint appeal in protest at a range of the president's reforms. Oliver Besancenot, leader of the Communist Revolutionary League, is then hoping to benefit from the mood by launching his anti-capitalist party. The strike action kicked off yesterday with stoppages by university lecturers and researchers over higher education reform. High school pupils also hope Thursday's strike will boost their demonstrations against school reform. Zaki Marouane, 19, secretary general of the Lycee pupils' union, FIDL, said: "We're taking to the streets again and our banners will read: "We refuse to be the children of the financial crisis!"

Sunday 25 January 2009

Ferment in Nepal: A dynamic vortex of revolutionary change

by Bill Templer
from LINKS – International Journal of Socialist Renewal 3 January 2009 One remarkable laboratory that discussion in much of the world’s progressive press tends to neglect is the dynamic vortex of revolutionary change in Nepal. Since spring, Nepal has something that may be making genuine history: a Maoist people’s movement, that, led by the CPN (Maoist), and the struggle of the People's Liberation Army over a decade, has come to state power through the ballot box. As Tufts University historian Gary Leupp wrote last April: “It ought to be the ballot heard 'round the world. It ought to be front page news. This moment may in the not distant future be seen as another 1917, another 1949.”

Six million signatures for constitutional reform

by Federico Fuentes 17 January 2009 from Green Left Weekly Around 6 million signatures, in support of a referendum to amend Venezuela’s constitution and allow all elected public officials to stand for re-election after two terms, were handed over to the National Assembly on January 16. Such an amendment would allow current president, Hugo Chavez, to stand for re-election in 2012. Under the constitution adopted in 1999, officials may only be re-elected once — as Chavez was in 2006.

Monday 19 January 2009

Production-Side Environmentalism: Can we produce less and consume more?

by Don Fitz from Climate and Capitalism 12 January 2009 Corporate “environmentalism” is consumer-side environmentalism. “Make your dollars work for the Earth.” “Buy green!” “Purchase this green gewgaw instead of that ungreen gadget.” “Feel guilty about driving your car.” Consumer-side environmentalism is loath to discuss production. Consumer-side environmentalism does not challenge the manufacture of cars. Rather, it assumes that producing more and more cars is a sacred right never to be questioned.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Ending the siege, freeing Palestine, BDS (Boycott/Divest/Sanctions)

Message from a Canadian activist from Global Peace & Justice Auckland newsletter People and groups wanting to stand in solidarity with Palestine during the current crisis should be careful not to simply fall into the trap of only reacting to the latest crisis. We need to work instead toward building a movement that can effectively challenge Israeli apartheid over the long-term. Part of this strategy is lifting the siege on Gaza, another part is imposing BDS on Israel until it recognizes fundamental Palestinian human rights.

Monday 12 January 2009

The Tangata Whenua of Palestine deserve our support

by Auckland union activist

In the 12th Century BC desert tribes invaded the Palestinian region. The Canaanites, Gibeonites and Philistines who occupied the area already were never completely subdued by the invading Hebrew tribes and maintained control of the coastal plains alongside the Mediterranean (encompassing the area of modern Gaza).

The ancient Kingdom of Israel that was founded by these desert people lasted about two centuries, until it split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. These later fell to the invading Assyrians and Babylonians. Throughout this period, and all subsequent invasions, right up to the 20th century, the Palestinians maintained continuous residence in Palestine.

Thursday 8 January 2009

RAM: "Stop the killing in Gaza!"

Below is the text of a RAM leaflet ( produced for a Wellington protest on 6 January against Israel's attacks on Gaza: STOP THE KILLING IN GAZA! “It’s horrible, but what can we do about it?” That’s the reaction of people everywhere to the pictures of dead Palestinian children and the pleas of the doctors in Gaza. Israel’s military might can seem unstoppable. But the ongoing attacks are only possible because of the diplomatic, financial and military support they receive from the US state, its allies and friends. Around the world, people are taking action to end their government’s acceptance of the Israel attacks. We can: Protest Protests have the power to keep the plight of innocent victims in the public eye. They can help people at home, feeling sickened by the TV news, to feel they aren’t alone. It’s hard for a lone individual not to shrug their shoulders and look the other way. It’s natural for people to come together at times like these to say they want it to stop. Protests can keep hope alive. Tell our government to take a stand National’s foreign minister, Murray McCully, has said almost nothing about the biggest international crisis of the day. He did declare that the NZ government “won’t take sides”. This is a continuation of what Labour called its “even handed approach”. But if a boy poked out his tongue at another in the school playground, and the second clubbed him back with a baseball bat, is it good enough to “not take sides”? British prime minister Gordon Brown has called for an immediate ceasefire. Venezuela’s campaigning president, Hugo Chavez, condemned the Israeli attacks as “criminal” and called for a “massive campaign of repudiation”. Our government should do similar. Boycott Israel In the 1980s, Black South Africans asked the world to impose an academic, sporting, political and economic boycott of their country. This added to the pressure which eventually ended South Africa’s racist apartheid system. Today, Palestinians are calling for a boycott of Israel. We can support it by refusing to buy Israeli products and by writing to the shops that sell them. Food brands include Beigel Beigel and Silan (sold by Pak’N’Save). Children’s toys (including Happy House) are sold by Bunnings Warehouse and Edukids. DIY hardware includes Chromagen hot water systems and Keter plastics (manufacturer of some Black & Decker toolboxes, sawhorses etc, stocked by Placemakers and Mitre10). And we must put pressure on the NZ company Rakon, which supplies components for Israeli guided bombs, to stop. Find out more With our news media full of official statements and interviews with the powerful, relying on mainly US and British reports for overseas news, the whole story is rarely told. Find out more about what’s going on and what’s behind the headlines: Global Peace & Justice Auckland Palestine Human Rights Campaign Boycott Israeli Goods Wellington Palestine Group Auckland University Students for Justice in Palestine

Wednesday 7 January 2009

New climate change group: 350 New Zealand

Last year high profile climate change scientist and activist James Hansen was involved in establishing an international climate change network called 350. See On 6 December in Wellington 350 was launched in New Zealand. 5000 people attended the 350 Climate Action Festival in Waitangi Park. A 350 NZ website has been set up: A statement on the website explains what 350 is all about: 350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm), we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth. The current global concentration of carbon dioxide is 387ppm and rising at about 2ppm each year. Who is 350 Aotearoa, NZ? We are a group of young people from secondary school age and upwards from around the country who are concerned about the effects of climate change on our future and that of the planet. Our philosophy is to work with people to create urgent and effective action so that we can start putting NZ and the planet on the track to 350ppm. It is the challenge of our times, one that we as young people cannot ignore. To turn it around requires us to rethink the very way that we live. How are we prepared to live on this planet? What would it take for us to be remembered not for what we took, but what we gave back? 350 asks exactly that of us - to start giving back to the planet, so that our children and our children’s children can live on this planet and be proud for our human presence. 350 - the global movement Solutions exist. All around the world, a movement is building to take on the climate crisis, to get humanity out of the danger zone and below 350. This movement is massive, it is diverse, and it is visionary. Al Gore recently called on our elected leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland to establish 350 as our global target. Join the movement here in Aotearoa, NZ and you will be joining the movement of millions around the world. See also 350 - new international initiative calls for global action to stop climate change

Challenge the system

by Auckland union activist 7 January 2009 During a recession, what are the priorities in a class divided society? Is it meeting human needs and dealing with the worsening of world poverty and hunger? Or is it refilling the coffers of bankrupt millionaires? Are the brutal effects of capitalism apparent only in a recession, or were they always there? Latest figures show that governments around the world have collectively spent around $13.39 trillion of their people's taxes to bail out wealthy stockbrokers and bankers (a figure which is expected to be increase). UN statistics reveal that the cost of ending world hunger completely (as well as the many diseases caused by poverty) is $329 billion a year, only a fraction of the tax money given to the worlds wealthy to bail out their biggest failed profiteers. $13.39 trillion would, according to the UN figures, completely pay for eliminating poverty and hunger for 40 years! These are indisputably the bald figures of a class divided world. If poverty can be so easily relieved by just diverting our taxes to it, then redirecting the massive private surpluses of capitalist production to meet social needs, instead of the profits of the rich, could totally eliminate poverty altogether. The inequalities, exploitation and crisis that afflict capitalism is an inescapable product of the market system itself. Logically we should go further than just relieving poverty. To be rid of poverty and economic crisis we need to be striving to build a broad movement of people that aims to achieve structural change. We simply have to challenge the whole system and its destructive logic.

Saturday 3 January 2009

The Real Goal Of The Slaughter In Gaza

by Jonathan Cook from 2 January 2009 Ever since Hamas triumphed in the Palestinian elections nearly three years ago, the story in Israel has been that a full-scale ground invasion of the Gaza Strip was imminent. But even when public pressure mounted for a decisive blow against Hamas, the government backed off from a frontal assault.

The rebirth of Keynesianism?

The Coming Capitalist Consensus by Walden Bello from Foreign Policy in Focus 28 December 2008 Not surprisingly, the swift unraveling of the global economy combined with the ascent to the U.S. presidency of an African-American liberal has left millions anticipating that the world is on the threshold of a new era. Some of President-elect Barack Obama’s new appointees – in particular ex-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to lead the National Economic Council, New York Federal Reserve Board chief Tim Geithner to head Treasury, and former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk to serve as trade representative – have certainly elicited some skepticism. But the sense that the old neoliberal formulas are thoroughly discredited have convinced many that the new Democratic leadership in the world’s biggest economy will break with the market fundamentalist policies that have reigned since the early 1980s.

Thursday 1 January 2009

Towards the integration of the Dollar and the Euro?

by Michel Chossudovsky from Global Research 20 July 2009 With a view to restoring financial stability, World leaders have called upon the Group of 20 countries (G-20) to instigate a new global currency based on the IMF's Special Drawing Rights (SDRs). The media has presented the global currency initiative as a consensus building process, in which BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) would participate in the revamping of the international monetary system. Russia and China have put forth "proposals" which have been highlighted as possible alternatives to the dollar. China has proposed the formation of a new global currency based on a reform of SDR system: "It is a feasible plan to reform the present SDR and make it into a real settlement currency, a universally accepted 'currency basket' that would replace the dollar at the heart of the monetary system," (Li Ruogu, chairman of the Export-Import Bank of China, Reuters, 6 July 2009) China's proposal does not imply a major shift in global banking arrangements, nor does it open up a window of debate regarding monetary reform. On the other hand, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has explicitly questioned the composition of the SDR basket and has called upon the IMF "to expand the currency basket of SDRs to include the Chinese yuan, commodity currencies and gold in order that it matures into a reserve currency." Geopolitics Global Geopolitics bears a relationship to the international monetary system. Control over money creation is an instrument of economic conquest. The invasion and occupation of Iraq was to exclude rival Russian and Chinese interests from the Middle-East and Central Asian oil fields. The reform of the international monetary system is a project of the dominant financial elites, which is discussed behind closed doors. It is unlikely that Russia and China, which in large part remain subordinate to Western banking interests, will perform a significant role in central banking functions at a global level. Moreover, this initiative occurs at a time of East West confrontation, amidst veiled US-NATO threats directed against Russia as well China. The establishment of a new global currency and central banking system is an instrument of global economic domination which is intimately related to the broader US-NATO military agenda. While the SDR basket composition could be modified or revised, it is unlikely that the Yuan and the Ruble would be allowed to perform a role as major reserve currencies. What is more likely to occur is the formation of a global proxy currency predicated largely on the Euro and the US dollar. In response to the Dollar-Euro hegemony, Russia, China and the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may decide to develop bilateral trading arrangements in Rubles or Yuan (renminbi). Special Drawing Rights SDRs are a composite accounting unit used by the IMF and the World Bank in loan agreements with member countries. The SDR is a basket of essentially four major currencies: the US dollar, the Euro, the British pound and the Japanese Yen. The IMF has recently presented a plan for issuing debt denominated in SDRs rather than US dollars. The media has heralded this decision as a major innovation, when in fact the Bretton Woods institutions have, for many years, been issuing debt denominated in SDRs. "Today, the SDR has only limited use as a reserve asset, and its main function is to serve as the unit of account of the IMF and some other international organizations. The SDR is neither a currency, nor a claim on the IMF. Rather, it is a potential claim on the freely usable currencies of IMF members." (IMF Fact Sheet on SDRs) What would happen if a new global currency were to be devised using the existing SDR framework? SDRs would no longer be an accounting unit but a unit of currency in a basket. Actual central banking functions, however, would not necessarily be transferred to the IMF, they would remain in the hands of four constituent central banks: The US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank based in Frankfurt, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan. I The IMF is a bureaucracy which serves the interests of major private financial institutions. While the IMF would formally be responsible for overseeing a global currency, the IMF would not actually be responsible for monetary policy. Under the existing SDR composition, the central banking functions would be divided between four central banks. These central banks are in turn controlled by a handful of private banking interests. A global currency based on the existing SDR arrangement would not fundamentally change the global monetary order. The SDR would be a proxy currency. Under the present composition of the SDR, what we would be dealing with is an alliance between US, British, European and Japanese banking institutions, ultimately with the US dollar and the Euro predominating. Euro-Dollar Rivalry From the outset in 1999, there has been a clash between the Euro and the dollar. In Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Balkans extending into Central Asia, the dollar and the Euro are competing with one another. Ultimately, control over national currency systems is the basis upon which countries are colonized. While the U.S. dollar prevails throughout the Western Hemisphere, the Euro and the U.S. dollar are clashing in the former Soviet Union, Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, there was a political confrontation between the Franco-German alliance and the dominant Anglo-American military axis. With the election of pro-US governments in both France and Germany, a political consensus seems to have emerged with regard to the Middle East war. In turn, this consensus regarding the US-NATO military agenda favors greater cooperation and integration between the US and the EU in global financial and monetary affairs. Would this potential "alliance" between powerful overlapping American, British, European and Japanese banking interests lead to the integration of the Euro and the dollar into a single global currency? This integration would lead to reinforcing the hegemonic control of a small number of global banking and financial institutions over the process of money creation. This, in turn, would overshadow the functions of national central banks, encroach on the sovereignty of the Nation State and eventually lead to a new phase of the global debt crisis.

Honduras: Obama's Achilles Heel or Wounded Knee?

by Julie Webb-Pullman from 22 July 2009 President Obama has come under considerable criticism for his administration’s equivocal response to the Honduras coup, leading many to question not only the role of the United States in the entire affair, but also Obama’s authority. His defenders cite in his favour his abandonment of the ‘cowboy diplomacy’ of previous administrations, by leaving it to other actors, such as the Organisation of American States (OAS) and Costa Rican President Arias, to sort out the mess. But is this more indicative of a purported new direction in U.S. foreign policy, or of his administration’s capture by the right and his own increasing powerlessness? The schism between Barack Obama and powerful players in his own administration, most clearly demonstrated by the contradictions between Obama’s statements and those of Hilary Clinton of the State Department, taken with the actions (or lack thereof) of the Southern Command, strongly suggest Honduras may not be the only scene of battle. This schism is most obvious in Obama’s description of Honduras events as a coup and his support for President Zelaya’s return, while Hilary and her State Department, even yesterday, were still declining to describe them as such and have yet to call for the reinstatement of the legitimate president. Scarier still, Hilary’s advisers include John Negroponte, notable for representing George W Bush at the U.N. and in Iraq, but most famous for his role as Ambassador to Honduras under the Reagan administration, and his participation in the eventually-disgraced provision of arms and funds to the Contras.[i] The schism becomes a chasm when the Southern Command is considered. The United States has a very fine airstrip at the Soto Cano/Palmerola Air Base, with plenty of room to land the private jet President Zelaya returned in on 5th July. When the Honduran military blocked the landing in Tegucigalpa of the plane carrying the man Obama has described as “the legitimate President of Honduras” why didn’t Obama make Palmerola available to him? Obama also claims to have suspended military aid to Honduras, yet the National Catholic Reporter tells us that not only do Honduran soldiers continue to trained at Fort Bennington (ex-School of the Americas, or SOA), but also that activities at the Soto Cano/Palmerola Air Base where the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Task Force-Bravo is stationed, haven’t paused for a minute. SOA Watch founder, Father Roy Bourgeois, in Honduras on a fact-finding mission, reported that "Helicopters were flying all around, and we spoke with the U.S. official on duty, a Sgt. Reyes about the US.-Honduran relationship. We asked him if anything had changed since the coup and he said no, nothing." [ii] The relationship between the Southern Command, the SOA, and many of the Honduran coup leaders has been noted by several commentators. Linda Cooper and James Hodge reported that between 2001 and 2008 the SOA trained 431 Honduran officers. The general who overthrew Zelaya, Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez, is a two-time graduate of SOA, and not the only SOA graduate linked to the current coup or employed by the de facto government.[iii] Since 2005 the Department of Defense has barred the release of the names of SOA trainees after it was revealed that the school had enrolled well-known human rights abusers. Obama may prefer, as Jerry Meldon suggests, “ never look backwards even when the history involves serious crimes”, but the Honduran people “...haven’t forgotten that during the Reagan era, the CIA and Argentine dirty warriors ran roughshod over their country. They also know that [de facto president] Roberto Micheletti’s [de facto] security adviser, Billy Joya, was a member of one of those Reagan-era death squads.” [iv] Popular resistance in Honduras is strengthening by the day, and the people are demanding not only the return of their legitimate President, Manuel Zelaya, but also their right to participate meaningfully in the political life of their country by developing a constitution that enables them to do so. Echoing Obama on the campaign trail, Teresa Reyes, Garifuna leader from Triunfo de la Cruz and current president of the Patronato told independent media on Monday, “Honduras has to create a change. We can't live a full life just favouring one political class in the country. There also has to be a change for those who have been dispossessed for centuries, for years, those who have been historically vulnerable and marginalized, that's what the constitutional assembly is about. We believe it is an opportunity for us that we have to take advantage of because it is giving us an opening to participate, because we have never had the opportunity to participate in decision-making in the country.”[v] Obama’s position on Honduras is increasingly under attack, both from outside and within his own administration. Now more than ever he would clearly benefit from a backward glance. When President Carter came into power, he sacked and retired some of the far right military commanders, and embargoed arms sales. The coup in Honduras has given President Obama all the reasons he needs to clear the next generation of them out of the Southern Command and the Pentagon. Clinton, and the worms with so much wiggle-room in her ear, should be next in line. Obama and Zelaya have more in common than perhaps he would like to admit. Both are facing revolts/insubordination from within the oligarchy and military, despite enjoying popular support. In the words of the popular Latin American chant, “The people, united, will never be defeated,” and Hondurans are flocking to support the National Front Against the Coup. Their victory might be quicker with a principled president, rather than a eunuch, in their back yard. Zelaya is exercising his legitimate power - it's time Obama started exercising his. Notes [i] http://www.independent.couk/news/world/americas/democracy-hangs-by-a-thread-in-honduras-1752315.html [ii] [iii] Others are: Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, head of the Honduran air force, who arranged to have Zelaya flown into exile; Gen. Nelson Willy Mejia Mejia, the newly appointed Director of Immigration, who a year after being awarded the U.S. Meritorious Service Medal, faced charges in connection with the infamous death squad, Battalion 3-16, for which he was an intelligence officer; Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza Membreño, the Honduran army's top lawyer; Lt. Col. Ramiro Archaga Paz,the army's Director of Public Relations; Col. Jorge Rodas Gamero, a two-time SOA graduate, and Minister of Security. [iv] [v]


29 July 2009 Questionnaire for petitioner 1. What remedy are you seeking? "Remove GST tax from all our food" 2. Advise if you have approached the relevant Minister or Prime Minister (where the petition results from Government or departmental practices). What was the outcome of such an approach? The petition was presented to Parliament on October 3, 2008. The then Prime Minister, Helen Clark, had earlier responded through the media stating that removing GST from food would be "too complicated". The Finance Minister, Michael Cullen, declared via the NZ Herald that, "the Government will not change the GST system". And Revenue Minister Peter Dunne likewise opposed calls to scrap the tax on food and defended the "universal application" of the current GST system in the media. Peter Dunne, of course, remains Revenue Minister in the new government. He has publicly reiterated his opposition to removing GST from food several times this year. The current Finance Minister, Bill English, has also ruled out removing GST from food through the media, as has Prime Minister John Key. The only party represented in the current Parliament to support this remedy has been the Maori Party. Given the public consensus among the "relevant ministers", what would be gained by private approaches to them? Among the tens of thousands of grassroots people spoken to by petition collectors, there was understandably a strong sense that "we don't count", "we are invisible" to the "corporate politicians". Better to have a discussion of the petition in a public forum, such as this select committee, where an independent-minded MP might reach their own conclusions. 3. Outline why you are petitioning Parliament. Identify any relevant responsible statutory bodies that may have been approached in relation to your petition. Include results and/or any reviews supplied by these bodies. "Rising food prices" were headline news in early 2008. It was a global phenomenon. Dozens of countries saw food riots, price controls on food or both. Here in New Zealand, "food basket to the world", the phenomenon was experienced as increased hardship and worsening public health for grassroots New Zealanders. These are the reasons why, in February 2008, RAM – Residents Action Movement decided to initiate the petition to remove GST tax from all our food. This remedy is a simple step that the government could take quickly to give relief to struggling families. For the year to December 2007, Statistics NZ reported that food prices rose by 5.4 percent – well ahead of inflation. The strain on household budgets was reflected in the media. The number of references to "food prices" in New Zealand based on-line news sources catalogued by Google, for instance, rose steadily over the 12 months from February 2007 to reach a level ten times higher by February 2008. In the 2008 calendar year, food prices rose even faster – 9.1 percent, according to Statistics NZ. These official figures for overall food prices, however, under-estimate the impact on the grocery bill for grassroots people. The NZ Herald surveys the cost of a trolley of basic supermarket foods. In April 2008, it found the price was 25 percent higher than a year earlier. Some staples like butter, cheese and some varieties of bread had more than doubled in price. These facts were behind the news headlines about "pain at the checkout". And they are one reason why we are petitioning Parliament. The other reason is the impact on public health. Changes in the health of a population – like climate change – are gradual. In the short term, they can be hard to detect. But like climate change, once under way they are hard to reverse and potentially catastrophic. Early signs of changing dietary patterns and nutritional status of the New Zealand public were reported by researchers at Otago and Massey Universities in August last year. John Birkbeck, Professor of Human Nutrition at Massey University, said the increasing costs were forcing people to choice between good food and other basics such as fuel and rent. Professor Jim Mann of Otago University said the rising food prices show it is time the Government looked seriously at removing the GST on food to make healthy choices more affordable. The Public Health Association and the National Heart Foundation both called for GST to be removed from the nutritious basics of the New Zealand diet – fruit, vegetables, milk. More than a year after the petition launch, its relevance is greater than ever. Earlier this month, the University of Otago Nutrition Department published its annual survey on the cost of a weekly grocery shop in the five main cities. "This year the survey found the rise was at least double that of other years", reported the Sunday Star Times. Associate Professor Winsome Parnell "said the high price of food, coupled with the recession, could have long-term impacts on public health". The bodies we chose to approach in relation to this petition are those most closely involved with the well-being of grassroots people. The result was active support from a wide range of organisations, from the Maori Party to Grey Power Associations, local body politicians to Salvation Army churches and Christian social service organisations, trade unions to residents coalitions. Views expressed by these bodies are too numerous to include in this questionnaire. A number of bodies and public figures, however, have spoken out against the petition. Among these opponents, a handful of common objections have been raised. Some of these will no doubt be discussed by the select committee. 1. Removing GST from food would be "too complicated". This objection was answered in a press release by Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia on 29 April 2008: “The Maori Party has welcomed the call for a wider debate about removing GST on food, sparked off by the latest grim report from the Child Poverty Action Group, 'Left Behind'. "Desperate times call for bold responses – and that is what the public is wanting – not policy cowardice" said Mrs Turia. "We need to be looking at the big picture – about how we can improve the health and well-being of our most vulnerable citizens, now". "And yet what we get from Labour and National is that they have ruled out even talking about dropping GST from food with the excuse that it may be too 'complex' or 'difficult to implement'". "What utter rubbish" said Mrs Turia. "Since when have good ideas been squashed because they may involve a bit of tricky policy thinking?". 

 "Being administratively challenging is not a good enough excuse to avoid being socially responsible" said Mrs Turia. "If there is a will, there is a way". 

 "National and Labour need to stop thinking up reasons why not and get to grips with the urgent crisis facing this nation – how the social and income inequalities are damaging our children". 

 "We are not interested in playing a game of political point-scoring, heaping blame on the policy failings of the 80s and 90s – our focus is about investing in the future of this nation" said Mrs Turia. "If we are serious about eliminating poverty, and caring for the well-being of our children, we must listen to the good ideas of the people and be prepared to do something about it". 

 "If it is so difficult, perhaps officials could talk to their counterparts in Australia or Britain to see how they have been able to achieve the goal of removing GST from food" ended Mrs Turia. 2. Sellers wouldn't pass on GST cuts as lower food prices if the tax was removed. While sellers have a degree of flexibility in regard to managing their profit margins, they are not a law unto themselves. Customers ultimately dictate the course of a business, and New Zealand has a very competitive retail environment. If GST-off-food became a reality, Kiwis would not tolerate retailers or their suppliers not removing the 12.5% tax on their food items. There would be a mass exodus to sellers who didn't hike their prices, forcing the others to retreat. 3. Removing GST from food would deliver a one-off benefit which would be quickly eaten up by rising prices. Removing GST from food provides a permanent benefit. Prices will always be cheaper by the amount of the GST than it would otherwise be if this 12.5 percent tax remained. In fact, as food prices rose over time in line with general inflationary trends, the amount of the benefit of removing GST would grow in value. 4. There are other options the government should consider to deal with rising food prices, like raising wages, benefits and pensions so people have more in their pocket. Why is this a reason not to remove GST from food? For those who support these options (including RAM), wouldn't it be better to have GST off food as well? 5. Lost GST revenue would impact on the government's ability to fund public services and welfare payments, and/or credit-worthiness during the current economic crisis. The cost of removing GST from food was estimated at "around $2 billion" by respected NZ Herald political correspondent John Armstrong. This is substantially less than the $3.3 billion in personal tax cuts (which benefit the wealthy more than the rest) made by Labour and National in October 2008 and April 2009. Although the Budget deferred tax cuts scheduled for 2010 and 2011, the Finance Minister has since said there could be room for further tax cuts in the medium term. But rather than further reducing the top tax rate, New Zealand should move away from the GST flat tax, since it is so unfair to low-to-modest income Kiwis. The poorest person in the land pays exactly the same amount of GST on a litre of milk as the richest person. GST is the product of Rogernomics and the whole Business Roundtable agenda. We need to return to progressive tax systems where the rich pay a fairer share. RAM, as the initiators of the petition, simultaneously promoted to petition signers the idea of a Financial Transactions Tax to make up lost revenue and capture greedy speculators in the tax net which they now escape under GST. Given the role of speculation in the financial sector in destabilising the economy and creating the current crisis, this idea has even more merit today. I look forward to hearing the results of your deliberations. Grant Brookes Chair, RAM – Residents Action Movement

The Oil Intensity of Food

by Lester Brown from Grist 25 June 2009 Although attention commonly focuses on energy use on the farm, agriculture accounts for only one fifth of the energy used in the U.S. food system, The modern food system that evolved when oil was cheap will not survive as it is now structured. Today we are an oil-based civilization, one that is totally dependent on a resource whose production will soon be falling. Since 1981, the quantity of oil extracted has exceeded new discoveries by an ever-widening margin. In 2008, the world pumped 31 billion barrels of oil but discovered fewer than 9 billion barrels of new oil. World reserves of conventional oil are in a free fall, dropping every year. As I note in my latest book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, discoveries of conventional oil total roughly 2 trillion barrels, of which 1 trillion have been extracted so far, with another trillion barrels to go. By themselves, however, these numbers miss a central point. As security analyst Michael Klare notes, the first trillion barrels was easy oil, “oil that’s found on shore or near to shore; oil close to the surface and concentrated in large reservoirs; oil produced in friendly, safe, and welcoming places.” The other half, Klare notes, is tough oil, “oil that’s buried far offshore or deep underground; oil scattered in small, hard-to-find reservoirs; oil that must be obtained from unfriendly, politically dangerous, or hazardous places.” This prospect of peaking oil production has direct consequences for world food security, as modern agriculture depends heavily on the use of fossil fuels. Most tractors use gasoline or diesel fuel. Irrigation pumps use diesel fuel, natural gas, or coal-fired electricity. Fertilizer production is also energy-intensive. Natural gas is used to synthesize the basic ammonia building block in nitrogen fertilizers. The mining, manufacture, and international transport of phosphates and potash all depend on oil. Efficiency gains can help reduce agriculture’s dependence on oil. In the United States, the combined direct use of gasoline and diesel fuel in farming fell from its historical high of 7.7 billion gallons (29.1 billion liters) in 1973 to 4.2 billion in 2005—a decline of 45 percent. Broadly calculated, the gallons of fuel used per ton of grain produced dropped from 33 in 1973 to 12 in 2005, an impressive decrease of 64 percent. One reason for this achievement was a shift to minimum- and no-till cultural practices on roughly two fifths of U.S. cropland. But while U.S. agricultural fuel use has been declining, in many developing countries it is rising as the shift from draft animals to tractors continues. A generation ago, for example, cropland in China was tilled largely by draft animals. Today much of the plowing is done with tractors. Fertilizer accounts for 20 percent of U.S. farm energy use. Worldwide, the figure may be slightly higher. As the world urbanizes, the demand for fertilizer climbs. As people migrate from rural areas to cities, it becomes more difficult to recycle the nutrients in human waste back into the soil, requiring the use of more fertilizer. Beyond this, the growing international food trade can separate producer and consumer by thousands of miles, further disrupting the nutrient cycle. The United States, for example, exports some 80 million tons of grain per year—grain that contains large quantities of basic plant nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The ongoing export of these nutrients would slowly drain the inherent fertility from U.S. cropland if the nutrients were not replaced. Irrigation, another major energy claimant, is requiring more energy worldwide as water tables fall. In the United States, close to 19 percent of farm energy use is for pumping water. And in some states in India where water tables are falling, over half of all electricity is used to pump water from wells. Some trends, such as the shift to no-tillage, are making agriculture less oil-intensive, but rising fertilizer use, the spread of farm mechanization, and falling water tables are having the opposite effect. Although attention commonly focuses on energy use on the farm, agriculture accounts for only one fifth of the energy used in the U.S. food system. Transport, processing, packaging, marketing, and kitchen preparation of food are responsible for the rest. The U.S. food economy uses as much energy as the entire economy of the United Kingdom. The 14 percent of energy used in the food system to move goods from farmer to consumer is equal to two thirds of the energy used to produce the food. And an estimated 16 percent of food system energy use is devoted to canning, freezing, and drying food—everything from frozen orange juice concentrate to canned peas. Food staples such as wheat have traditionally moved over long distances by ship, traveling from the United States to Europe, for example. What is new is the shipment of fresh fruits and vegetables over vast distances by air. Few economic activities are more energy-intensive. Food miles—the distance that food travels from producer to consumer—have risen with cheap oil. At my local supermarket in downtown Washington, D.C., the fresh grapes in winter typically come by plane from Chile, traveling almost 5,000 miles. One of the most routine long-distance movements of fresh produce is from California to the heavily populated U.S. East Coast. Most of this produce moves by refrigerated trucks. In assessing the future of long-distance produce transport, one writer observed that the days of the 3,000-mile Caesar salad may be numbered. Packaging is also surprisingly energy-intensive, accounting for 7 percent of food system energy use. It is not uncommon for the energy invested in packaging to exceed that in the food it contains. Packaging and marketing also can account for much of the cost of processed foods. The U.S. farmer gets about 20 percent of the consumer food dollar, and for some products, the figure is much lower. As one analyst has observed, “An empty cereal box delivered to the grocery store would cost about the same as a full one.” The most energy-intensive segment of the food chain is the kitchen. Much more energy is used to refrigerate and prepare food in the home than is used to produce it in the first place. The big energy user in the food system is the kitchen refrigerator, not the farm tractor. While oil dominates the production end of the food system, electricity dominates the consumption end. In short, with higher energy prices and a limited supply of fossil fuels, the modern food system that evolved when oil was cheap will not survive as it is now structured.

Failure to save East Europe will lead to worldwide meltdown

by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from The Telegraph (UK) 15 February 2009 If mishandled by the world policy establishment, this debacle is big enough to shatter the fragile banking systems of Western Europe and set off round two of our financial Götterdämmerung. Austria's finance minister Josef Pröll made frantic efforts last week to put together a €150bn rescue for the ex-Soviet bloc. Well he might. His banks have lent €230bn to the region, equal to 70pc of Austria's GDP. "A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector," reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says bad debts will top 10pc and may reach 20pc. The Vienna press said Bank Austria and its Italian owner Unicredit face a "monetary Stalingrad" in the East. Mr Pröll tried to drum up support for his rescue package from EU finance ministers in Brussels last week. The idea was scotched by Germany's Peer Steinbrück. Not our problem, he said. We'll see about that. Stephen Jen, currency chief at Morgan Stanley, said Eastern Europe has borrowed $1.7 trillion abroad, much on short-term maturities. It must repay - or roll over - $400bn this year, equal to a third of the region's GDP. Good luck. The credit window has slammed shut. Not even Russia can easily cover the $500bn dollar debts of its oligarchs while oil remains near $33 a barrel. The budget is based on Urals crude at $95. Russia has bled 36pc of its foreign reserves since August defending the rouble. "This is the largest run on a currency in history," said Mr Jen. In Poland, 60pc of mortgages are in Swiss francs. The zloty has just halved against the franc. Hungary, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Ukraine are all suffering variants of this story. As an act of collective folly - by lenders and borrowers - it matches America's sub-prime debacle. There is a crucial difference, however. European banks are on the hook for both. US banks are not. Almost all East bloc debts are owed to West Europe, especially Austrian, Swedish, Greek, Italian, and Belgian banks. En plus, Europeans account for an astonishing 74pc of the entire $4.9 trillion portfolio of loans to emerging markets. They are five times more exposed to this latest bust than American or Japanese banks, and they are 50pc more leveraged (IMF data). Spain is up to its neck in Latin America, which has belatedly joined the slump (Mexico's car output fell 51pc in January, and Brazil lost 650,000 jobs in one month). Britain and Switzerland are up to their necks in Asia. Whether it takes months, or just weeks, the world is going to discover that Europe's financial system is sunk, and that there is no EU Federal Reserve yet ready to act as a lender of last resort or to flood the markets with emergency stimulus. Under a "Taylor Rule" analysis, the European Central Bank already needs to cut rates to zero and then purchase bonds and Pfandbriefe on a huge scale. It is constrained by geopolitics - a German-Dutch veto - and the Maastricht Treaty. But I digress. It is East Europe that is blowing up right now. Erik Berglof, EBRD's chief economist, told me the region may need €400bn in help to cover loans and prop up the credit system. Europe's governments are making matters worse. Some are pressuring their banks to pull back, undercutting subsidiaries in East Europe. Athens has ordered Greek banks to pull out of the Balkans. The sums needed are beyond the limits of the IMF, which has already bailed out Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Iceland, and Pakistan - and Turkey next - and is fast exhausting its own $200bn (€155bn) reserve. We are nearing the point where the IMF may have to print money for the world, using arcane powers to issue Special Drawing Rights. Its $16bn rescue of Ukraine has unravelled. The country - facing a 12pc contraction in GDP after the collapse of steel prices - is hurtling towards default, leaving Unicredit, Raffeisen and ING in the lurch. Pakistan wants another $7.6bn. Latvia's central bank governor has declared his economy "clinically dead" after it shrank 10.5pc in the fourth quarter. Protesters have smashed the treasury and stormed parliament. "This is much worse than the East Asia crisis in the 1990s," said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank. "There are accidents waiting to happen across the region, but the EU institutions don't have any framework for dealing with this. The day they decide not to save one of these countries will be the trigger for a massive crisis with contagion spreading into the EU." Europe is already in deeper trouble than the ECB or EU leaders ever expected. Germany contracted at an annual rate of 8.4pc in the fourth quarter. If Deutsche Bank is correct, the economy will have shrunk by nearly 9pc before the end of this year. This is the sort of level that stokes popular revolt. The implications are obvious. Berlin is not going to rescue Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal as the collapse of their credit bubbles leads to rising defaults, or rescue Italy by accepting plans for EU "union bonds" should the debt markets take fright at the rocketing trajectory of Italy's public debt (hitting 112pc of GDP next year, just revised up from 101pc - big change), or rescue Austria from its Habsburg adventurism. So we watch and wait as the lethal brush fires move closer. If one spark jumps across the eurozone line, we will have global systemic crisis within days. Are the firemen ready?

Nepal: The people resist elite coup

by Stuart Munckton 10 May 2009 from Green Left Weekly “This is not just a Maoist movement”, said Green Left Weekly’s correspondent in Kathmandu, Ben Peterson. “This is threatening to become a new people’s movement, like the one that swept away the monarchy.” Peterson was commenting on the large number of daily demonstrations across the country to demand respect for the people’s will. They have come in the aftermath of the May 3 resignation of Prime Minister Prachanda and other members of the government belonging to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M). Peterson described the events as a “soft coup”. The resignations were forced by the insubordination by the military high command, backed by the president and sections the coalition government. The UCPN (M), which had led the coalition government until its members walked out on May 3, had tried to use constitutional means to sack the chief of the army, General Kul Bahadur Katwal. The army high command had refused to obey instructions from the elected civilian government. The high command refused to implement key parts of the peace accords that, in 2006, ended the armed conflict with the UCPN (M)-led People’s Liberation Army. Sections of the high command in the Nepalese Army, infamous for its human rights abuses during the armed conflict, even spoke openly to the Times of India on April 24 about an aborted plot for a military coup against the elected government. It is difficult to imagine a more blatant threat to democracy. If the military is not subordinated to an elected civilian government, but is allowed to defy it openly on central issues, then there is no democracy — merely military rule with a civilian government as window-dressing. However, Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav from the conservative Nepalese Congress party (NC), issued a decree countering the UCPN-M decision to remove Katwal from his post. This is despite the fact that under the interim constitution, the power of the president is largely ceremonial. The result was the creation of two military heads: the Maoist-appointed head and Katwal, who, backed by the president, refused to recognise his sacking. Coalition partners, such as the social-democratic Communist Party of Nepal (United-Marxist-Leninist), despite internal divisions, failed to support the UCPN (M) decision. With little choice, the Maoists called a press conference announcing they were withdrawing from the government. The Maoists called for street protests to defend democracy. Just over a year since the historic declaration of a republic, which brought people out into the streets in celebration, Nepal has been thrown into a fresh political crisis. The monarchy was overthrown through a combination of the decade-long Maoist-led “people’s war” and the 2006 mass democratic uprising. A central demand of the Maoists was for elections to a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution to create a “New Nepal”. The central role of the UCPN (M) in the democracy movement, and the degree to which the poor identify with it, resulted in the Maoists winning over 1 million votes more than their nearest competitor. Seeking the widest-possible consensus, the UCPN (M) established a broad coalition government. However, the UCPN (M)’s proposals for a peaceful and democratic pro-poor transformation of Nepal that were endorsed at the ballot box have been frustrated by opposition within the parliament, the state and even the coalition government. The cause of the crisis is the moves of the elite, based in the political and military establishment, that seek to frustrate the popular mandate for a New Nepal based on equality and social justice. Class conflict The Nepalese elite are backed by the government of neighbouring India and the United States — both of whom fear the example of radical, pro-poor change in the region. India, in particular, played a big role in bringing the Maoist-led government down. The former king and leaders of NC and the CPN (UML) all visited India under various pretexts in the weeks before the anti-Maoist coup. For the poor majority, the program the UCPN (M) seeks to implement includes an increase in workers’ rights, land reform for the peasants, equal rights in a federal structure for ethnic and national minorities, access to education and health care, and a plan for extensive pro-people economic development. In the lead-up to the crisis, while the bureaucrats and opportunist politicians were moving to stab the UCPN (M) and its poor supporters in the back, the Maoist deputies were out in the countryside talking to the poor to gather proposals for the new constitution. For all concerned, the stakes are high. The elite, and their foreign backers, are terrified of the consequences of implementing the 2006 peace accords. These require the integration of PLA fighters into the existing army to create a new, democratic armed forces. This could mean the military would no longer be a weapon in the hands of the elite to violently repress the struggles of the poor. The poor, however, have every reason to fear the continuation of the unreformed old army, which committed great crimes against the people. The situation remains uncertain. The UCPN (M) is refusing to take part in any government and are boycotting parliament until their demand for the sacking of Katwal is met. It is likely to prove difficult for the opponents of the UCPN (M) to form a coalition government to replace the one that has now collapsed. The UCPN (M) alone controls 40% of the seats in the assembly. Also, the main point of unity among the other parties is opposition to the Maoists. All this makes it difficult for a government to be formed without them. However, the situation is not simply determined by parliamentary numbers. Rather, the greatest difficulty facing the elite is the genuinely popular support the Maoists enjoy. Peterson explained that recent events have only increased support for the Maoists. He said ordinary people he had spoken to everywhere, regardless of party affiliation, are furious at the actions of the president and the opportunist behaviour of parties like the CPN (UML). He said the overwhelming majority of Nepalese people believed the undemocratic actions that had occurred had been organised by foreign forces like the US and India. There is incredible anger at those political parties that have allowed themselves to be used by foreign powers. 'The mood is angry' The UCPN (M) has called for protests in the streets until its demands have been met. "The protests have been many and all over the place”, Peterson said. “They are organised by a whole range of different groups. Every different group has its own protest. The mood is angry.” The protests ranged from involving hundreds, to tens of thousands, he said. However, he emphasised that these protests occurred simultaneously — there could be dozens of protests in Kathmandu at any one time. “Many of the people I have spoken to at the protests were not Maoists”, Peterson said. As example of the mood, he explained: “The other night I was at the bus park, and about 20 people just waiting around for a bus spontaneously started chanting against the president.” The foreign media have attempted to play up protests by right-wing NC supporters. The Sydney Morning Herald even featured a photo of an NC supporters protest with the caption “People’s Power”. Peterson said that before the UCPN (M) left government, there were some tiny protests involving a few hundred people at most. Since then, no such protests had occurred. In some cases the police have attacked protesters, including tear gassing a demonstration by the pro-UCPN (M) Young Communist League. Police repeatedly attack attempts by protesters, mostly Maoist women, to demonstrate in front of the president’s offices. Protests in that are have been banned, resulting in regular clashes. However, the state has held off from trying full-scale repression. So far, the UCPN (M) has also held back from full-scale mobilisations. It has yet to organise a centralised, all-out demonstration that calls the greatest numbers onto the streets together. However, as the likely futile negotiations by the anti-Maoist parties drags on, that could be about to change. Read Ben Peterson's blog at

Background On Nepal's Revolution

by Walter Smolarek 12 May 2009 from Fiery speeches about revolution and socialism ring across factories, fields, and the slums. A new, radically left-wing government takes power and attempts to fundamentally change the country. Opposing them in this nation of thirty million are the landowners and capitalists, while imperial powers play a hand in a secessionist movement. This isn't Venezuela; in fact it's thousands of miles from Latin America. A revolution has rocked the former Hindu kingdom of Nepal, and it now faces one of its greatest challenges as the army blatantly disregards the constitution and massive demonstrations are held daily. While the situation in Nepal may have just now caught the attention of the wider progressive community, it's important to go back and understand the roots of the movement against both autocracy and capitalism, twin agents of exploitation. History The revolutionary process can be traced back to 1990. It was then that the first People's Movement, commonly referred to in Nepali as the Jana Andolan, was launched. The movement was led by both the Nepali Congress (an organization that will be dealt with further on) and the United Left Front (which was in many ways a precursor to the Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist, another group that will be analyzed later). Thanks to massive popular mobilizations, it partially succeeded by bringing about the creation of a constitutional monarchy as opposed to the previous absolutist system. However, this type of government proved to be a disappointment, and parliamentarianism, as it always has done, marginalized the demands of the people. The anti-feudal elites stopped fighting after the enactment of the new constitution, but the poor majority, living in one of the most impoverished nations in the world, did not. In 1992, there was a wave of strikes and protests led by a coalition of communist parties that was brutally repressed. This made it clear to some that the social relations that persisted in Nepal could only be changed by force of arms. In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), led by the charismatic Chairman Prachanda, launched what became known to their supporters as the People's War. Rallying the peasantry around their revolutionary message, the war intensified at the turn of the century, and the United States began giving military aid to the repressive government. It was under these conditions that the Royal Massacre of 2001 (in which the ruling King Birendra was killed by his son) took place, which led to the ascension of Gyanendra to the thrown. To repress the Maoists, he took full control of the state and reestablished the absolutism that prevailed before the 1990 People's Movement. This move alienated the Nepalese bourgeoisie, who found themselves no longer allied with, but in opposition to the ruling feudal class. As the CPN (M)'s People's Liberation Army captured more and more of the countryside, the revolutionary movement climaxed in 2006 with the Peoples Movement II, which definitively overthrew the monarchy. A provisional government took its place, led by the Seven Party Alliance, which consisted of various social democratic and reform-communist parties. The Seven Party Alliance was allied with the Maoists, who suspended the People's War and prepared to contest the election for the Constituent Assembly, a body that would be charged with drafting the nation's constitution. Postponed twice, the election was finally held on April 10th, 2008. Recognized as free and fair by international observes like the Carter Center (1), the results revealed an overwhelming leftist victory (2). Combined, the various communist parties won a little less than 60% of the vote, with the CPN (Maoist) itself winning 38% of the seats, becoming, by far, the most popular political force in the nation. It soon assembled a government along with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MJF), with Prachanda as the Prime Minister. The Political Forces Overall, the political landscape is firmly orientated to the left, but in many cases only rhetorically. There are three significant parties/ movements that can hinder or further the creation of a New Nepal. With tremendous support from the impoverished peasantry, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which added "Unified" to its name after its merger with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre-Masal), is in (not unchallenged) command of the revolution. They have won the support of such a significant portion of the population due to their ability to take real steps towards radical, systemic change in Nepalese society. They advocate the redistribution of land, equal rights for women, a decent minimum wage, and a myriad of other pro-people stances. They have the courage to uphold these positions because, although they aren't flawless, the Maoists are loyal to the working people of Nepal, in whom they seek to vest supreme political power. In constant opposition to fundamental change, the Nepali Congress is, in word, a social democratic party affiliated with the "Socialist" International. In deed, however, the party is situated to the right and strongly supportive of capitalism. Sometimes in alliance and other times in antagonism with the monarchy, the NC has tried to advance Nepal to bourgeois democracy, and no further. In lukewarm support of the UCPN (M) until very recently, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) is, despite its revolutionary-sounding name, a largely Eurocommunist outfit. They had supported the revolutionary government but dragged their feet when it came to transferring political and economic power to the people. Finally, a complex situation is found in the Terai region of Nepal, home to the Madhesi ethnic group (although several other ethnicities reside there). The two major political parties representing the Madhesi people are the Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) and the MJF. The TMLP opposes the Maoists, but the MJF, led by former Maoist Upendra Yadav, seems to have a progressive outlook. The demands of the Madhesi people for sovereignty (to one degree or another) have a good deal of merit, but only after the capitalists, who divide-and-rule the people, are marginalized can the question of nationalities be adequately addressed and a just solution materialize. Solidarity Forever As the people of Nepal continue to fight against oppression and for democracy and socialism, it is absolutely essential that we reciprocate with solidarity. Their revolution is one of the least known despite being one of the most harrowing and inspiring. It is essential that all people who believe that more just and democratic world is possible educate and inform their friends and comrades of the struggle for New Nepal and participate in solidarity demonstrations so that the rebellious masses of this Himalayan nation can go forward knowing that they have the support of progressive people the world over. Notes (1) (2) Walter Smolarek is a student from Pennsylvania that supports the movement for Socialism in the 21st Century. He encourages you to send him your comments and questions at

Venezuela: Mass organisation, unity increases as revolution deepens

by Federico Fuentes from Green Left Weekly 21 March 2009 “This government is here to protect the people, not the bourgeoisie or the rich”, proclaimed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on February 28, as he ordered soldiers to take over two rice-processing plants owned by Venezuelan food and drink giant Empresas Polar. The move was made in order to ensure that the company was producing products subjected to the government-imposed price controls that aim to protect the poor from the affects of global price rises and inflation. Under Venezuelan law, companies that can produce basic goods regulated by price controls must guarantee that 70-95% of their products are of the regulated type. “They’ve refused 100 times to process the typical rice that Venezuelans eat”, said Chavez. “If they don’t take me seriously, I’ll expropriate the plants and turn them into social property.” Four days later, Chavez announced the expropriation of a rice-processing plant owned by US food giant Cargill after it was revealed the company was attempting to subvert the price controls. Moving against capital In the following period, “Venezuela’s National Institute of Lands (INTI) [took] public ownership of more than 5000 hectares of land claimed by wealthy families and multi-national corporations and is reviewing tens of thousands more hectares across the nation”, reported on March 11. This includes the March 5 expropriation of 1500 hectares of a tree farm owned by Ireland’s Smurfit Kappa. The government has pledged to move away from eucalyptus trees, which were drying up the land, and turn the land over to cooperatives for sustainable agriculture. On March 14, Chavez decreed a new fishing law, banning industrial trawl-fishing within Venezuela’s territorial waters. “Trawling fishing destroys the sea, destroys marine species and benefits a minority. This is destructive capitalism”, explained Chavez on his weekly TV show, Alo Presidente the following day. reported on March 17 that the government will invest US$32 million to convert or decommission trawling boats, as well as to development fish-processing plants. “Thirty trawling ships will be expropriated, Chavez said, due to the refusal of their owners to cooperate with the plans to adapt the boats to uses compliant with the new fishing regulations.” Small-scale fisherpeople will have access to the converted boats. Anti-crisis measures This latest wave of radical measures by the Chavez government should be seen in the context of the ongoing process of nationalisations since early 2006, the onset of the global economic and food crises and the February 15 referendum victory. The government has re-nationalised privatised industries such as electricity, telecommunications and steel. Cement companies, milk producing factories and one of Venezuela’s major banks have either been, ore are in negotiations to be, nationalised. Unlike the state interventions currently being undertaken in the imperialist centres, the aim of these moves is not to bail out bankrupt capitalists, but to help shift production towards meeting people’s needs — in service provisions (phone lines, electricity, banking) and production of essential goods (concrete, steel for housing and factories, and food). Last July, the government made strong signals that its next targets would be two strategic sectors previously barely touched — food and finance. The day after announcing the planned government buyout of Banco de Venezuela (which, once completed, will give the government control over close to 20% of the banking sector), Chavez issued 26 decrees, a number of which increase government and community control over food storage and distribution — and allow the state to jail company owners for hoarding. Moves aimed at increasing government control over food production come amid soaring world food prices and 30% inflation within Venezuela — which is still dependent on imports for 70% of its food supply. The government also faces an ongoing campaign of food speculation and hoarding carried out by the capitalist food producers and distributors in order to destabilise the anti-capitalist government. With oil prices plummeting by almost $100 per barrel from a high of more than US$140 last year, the government is tightening the screws. Oil accounts for 93% of the government’s export revenue and around half of its national budget. The government has already announced the restructuring of its ministries, merging a number of them in order to cut down on bureaucracy. The Chavez government is making it very clear that it will be the capitalists, not the people, who will pay for the mess that the capitalist system has created. “I have entrusted myself with putting the foot down on the accelerator of the revolution, of the social and economic transformation of Venezuela”, Chavez explained on March 8. Mandate for socialism These latest moves follow the government’s victory in the February 15 referendum. Officially, the referendum concerned whether to amend the constitution and remove limits on the number of times elected officials could stand for re-election. At stake was the possibility of Chavez standing for re-election in 2012. In the context of the intense class struggle, it became a referendum on the socialist project pushed by Chavez. Addressing tens of thousands of supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace after the victory, Chavez noted that those that had voted “yes” had “voted for socialism, voted for the revolution”. The referendum was proposed by Chavez as a “counter-offensive” against the opposition following the November 23 regional elections. Candidates from Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won the overwhelming majority of governorships and mayoralties. However, opposition victories in key states on the Colombian border (where there is growing right-wing paramilitary activity) and the Greater Caracas mayoralty were viewed as important gains for the counter-revolution. Opposition governors and mayors began to use their new positions to attack community organisations and the pro-poor social missions. The rapid mobilisation to defeat these attacks by the poor and working people was converted into the formation of 100,000 “Yes committees” to campaign in the referendum, in poor communities, workplaces and universities across the country. These committees were the backbone of the successful referendum campaign. Organising for revolution The latest measures will undoubtedly intensify the class conflict in Venezuela. An example of this conflict has resulted from the government’s program of land reform, aimed at ending the domination over agriculture by a small minority of large landowners. Previous attempts by the government to redistribute land have resulted in a violent counter-offensive by large landowners that has resulted in the murder of more than 200 peasants since the land reform law of 2001. On March 9, land reform activist Mauricio Sanchez was murdered in Zulia, two weeks after campesino activist Nelson Lopez was shot dead in Yaracuy. Increasingly, trade unionists have also been the target of violent repression when struggling for their rights. On January 29, two workers at Mitsubishi plant were killed by police during an industrial dispute — sparking protests and the arrest of a number of police. Several peasant organisations are seeking to unite their forces in support of government measures and against repression. The PSUV leadership has also called for a restructuring of the party to better organise the masses for the coming battles. Launched after Chavez’s 2006 re-election to help accelerate the revolutionary process, the PSUV brought together a range of revolutionary forces as well as opportunist and corrupt layers. On March 6, the national leadership of the PSUV made public a series of decisions aimed at deepening participation and democracy in the party. This includes a recruitment drive to sign up new militants, a clean out of the current membership lists, the reactivation of the grassroots socialist battalions and the organisation of an extraordinary congress for August to deepen discussion over the party’s program and principles. Building on the success of the “yes” campaign, the PSUV will move to consolidate national mass fronts of workers, peasants, women and students — along with converting the “yes committees” into ongoing “socialist committees”.

A shift of position

by Liam MacUaid 8 April 2009 It’s not often that a leading figure on the far left sets out to “express my disagreements in some humility” and admits to having “shifted my own position”. Alex Callinicos may be starting a welcome fashion in the current issue of International Socialism. As part of an ongoing discussion with Panos Garganas and François Sabado about the connection between broad parties and revolutionaries he says that the evolution of the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France altered some of his views. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope that this rethink eventually leads him to appreciate the difference between the united front and the wholly owned party subsidiary (Unite against Fascism, Globalise Resistance…). The near universal malady of the Anglophone left. In a certain sense the details of the discussion are not as important as the fact that it is happening. All the formations which have emerged to the left of Social Democracy in recent years have been very distinct and comparing one with another can be as productive as comparing apples with shoes. The LCR has been able to launch the NPA on the crest of a wave of struggles with an explicitly anti-capitalist programme. On the other hand Die Linke has a large group of members from the PDS tradition who are likely to be less receptive to a message of not sharing power with Social Democracy. One of the things that gives this debate in Britain a real urgency is the response of the unions to the loss of 4500 jobs at the Royal Bank of Scotland. It’s “truly devastating” was how they summed it up. There is no hint that they can do anything about it, no suggestion of the workers taking charge of the bank. The absence of an authoritative combative political leadership is taking a heavy toll on the British working class and while it is right that much of the left is building solidarity with struggles such as the one at Visteon that is insufficient. A political response which transcends selling a couple of papers and maybe recruiting a striker for three months is what is required. Some faltering steps are being taken. The No 2 EU campaign has its deficits. Wilfully excluding the SWP because of the Lindsey dispute; a tenuous commitment to internal democracy and some infelicitous phrasing in its propaganda among them. Nonetheless a major union with a record of fighting is contesting an election in opposition to Labour. That’s a big positive and maybe it will be a catalyst for a realignment after the elections. Add to this the fact that Respect still has an electoral base in some parts of the country and the Socialist Party have a habit of getting people elected and the outlines of a new formation appear. That is the significance of Alex Callinicos’ article. It reminds us that the discussion may have been muted recently but that it is still necessary. Under much more favourable circumstances a new party is emerging in France but it has been demonstrated that it is possible to launch a modestly successful project in Britain too. If one were to take a single aspect of the NPA that can be transplanted across the Channel it is its inflexible approach to internal democracy born from an understanding of the necessity of meaningful political pluralism. That is the one thing that is absolutely universally transferable.

It’s Time for a New Monetary System

Press Release: Global Research 25 March 2009 The Obama administration is spending hundreds of billions of dollars trying to persuade the banking system to restart lending. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke plans to create hundreds of billions more of new bank reserves by purchasing mortgage-related debt. With Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner working together, “the initiative will seek to entice private investors, including big hedge funds, to participate by offering billions of dollars in low-interest loans to finance the purchases. The government will share the risks if the assets fall further in price.” (Martin Crutsinger, AP) Finally, President Obama is taking over the distinction of being the biggest Keynesian in history with a fiscal year 2009 deficit of $1.75 trillion. The cancer of debt grows by the day. According to Michael Hodges’ famed “Grandfather Economic Report”: “America has become more a debt ‘junkie’ than ever before, 
with total debt of $57 trillion, and the highest debt ratio in history. That's $186, 717 per man, woman and child.” With the federal bailouts of the financial system and the recession, the debt load has increased by $4 trillion in the last six months. What are we going to do with even more debt coming? The growth in debt will be impossible for households to deal with when more then half a million jobs are still being lost per month. Impossible too for U.S. businesses when the drop-off of consumer spending reflects not only job loss but also a new propensity to actually save a portion of our earnings after the mortgage-based spending spree of the last decade. The debt will be more possible to bear perhaps for the Treasury Department, which has benefited from investors searching for a safe haven so still being willing to buy Treasury bonds. This includes Treasury’s biggest current customer, the Bank of China. Yet what does it say when the government can open its doors in the morning only if the Chinese give us permission? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Beijing in February to be sure they still looked on us with favor and returned home to assure the president they did. But is this any way to run a country? Why can't the most productive nation on earth afford to pay for its own government? The Obama economic program, which so-called progressives call “revolutionary,” will take us further away from, not closer to, real solutions. The massive new debt it creates can only be enforced by the courts, the police, and ultimately military power. Within the U.S., the authorities are preparing for civil unrest. Overseas, "dollar hegemony," the system by which nations like China continue to enable our massive debt, is increasingly unstable as the world bails on the dollar as its reserve currency. When is anyone in authority going to utter the unutterable, which is that our financial collapse ultimately goes back to the fact that every dollar in circulation derives from a loan made by a bank to a producer, consumer, or the government, and that all these loans have attached to them a rental charge known as interest which is paid to the bankers’ monopoly? When will someone admit that the government’s economic recovery plan is a welfare program for Wall Street billionaires? We live and work under a debt-based monetary system that has been in force since Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. It’s how the system works. The government goes into debt, and the banking system then uses it as a reserve base for lending to the public. It wasn’t always this way. In the 19th century, until the Civil War, the government lived within its means. President Thomas Jefferson balanced the federal budget for eight consecutive years, and President Andrew Jackson paid off the national debt. Back then the government issued currency based on gold and silver, and the U.S. mint stamped precious metals into coinage for anyone who brought it through the door. Local commerce was fueled by a system of state and local banks operating on the “real bills” doctrine. Inflation was virtually unknown, and unpaid debt led swiftly to bankruptcy and a sheriff’s sale. When the Civil War began, President Lincoln needed money fast. The New York bankers offered outrageous terms: interest at 24-34 percent. So Lincoln was authorized by Congress to print and spend Greenback money directly into circulation. Contrary to later propaganda, the Greenbacks were not inflationary. They were upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional and remained in circulation until the early 20th century. They even spawned the Greenback Party that elected members of Congress and ran candidates for president. But the bankers, by now centered on Wall Street, gained a foothold with the National Banking Acts of 1863 and 1864, where the banks were allowed to purchase Treasury bonds as a lending reserve. Currency issued by the state and local banks with their hard money reserves were taxed out of existence. In 1913 the bankers’ trap snapped shut when the Federal Reserve System came into existence. After World War I, the currency inflated so much that the value of both the Greenbacks and coinage were destroyed. A monetary system based on bank lending means constant cycles of inflation and deflation. The banks create these financial bubbles then destroy them, always to their profit. In the 19th century, the deflations were called “panics.” The Great Depression was a bank-created panic on an unprecedented scale. The collapse of 2008-2009 is the panic we’re in now, but with plenty of assets on the market at fire-sale prices for those rich enough to cash in. For instance, there was a lot of hand-wringing when Citigroup’s stock dropped to $1 a share. But those who could still buy-in saw their holdings triple in value when the stock rose to $3 a share a few days later. The solution is not to restart huge amounts of bank lending in order to create new bubbles. Unfortunately, the Obama budget is an attempt to create such a bubble based on Treasury securities. But this bubble too will likely collapse, because there is no economic engine on the horizon strong enough to pay the debt that will be used to inflate it. The next collapse could even lead to a world war if China and other creditor nations, possibly including those of Europe, decide to enforce their claims against us. But economists, politicians, and others who say there is no immediate solution lie. They just don’t want to tell us what the solution is. It’s to get rid of the debt-based monetary system altogether and return to one controlled by our representative government where a substantial amount of money is spent directly without borrowing or taxation. A Greenback system for the 21st Century is contained in the draft American Monetary Act developed by the American Monetary Institute and briefed to a number of members of Congress and congressional staffers. A Greenback-type currency would be regulated to support the needs of the real producing economy, not bank speculation, and could be used to pay off the national debt, supplement taxes to pay federal expenses, capitalize a new federal infrastructure bank, or fund alternative energy R&D. A currency based on real U.S. money would replace debt-derived Federal Reserve Notes. It doesn't matter whether that currency is paper, gold, or electronic entries. What is important is that it exists in the right amount to conduct the business of the nation, is non-counterfeitable, is not misused for speculation, and does not have debt or interest attached to it. The Federal Reserve would remain as a processor and clearinghouse, but not a bank of issue. Greenbacks could also be used for a basic income guarantee for citizens that would restart the economy at the grassroots level much more effectively than government top-down job creation based on more Treasury deficits. The need for consumers to borrow from banks or use credit cards even for necessities like groceries and health care would sharply decrease. I have proposed such a program through the Cook Plan that would provide citizens with a dividend in the form of vouchers in the amount of $1,000 a month. The vouchers could be used to capitalize a new network of community savings banks that would lend at the local level. There is a good chance that the American Monetary Act will be introduced during the current session of Congress. It should be supported by anyone who cares about the future of our nation more than bankers’ profits. Richard C. Cook is a former U.S Treasury analyst who also worked in the Carter White House and for NASA and writes on public policy issues. His new book is We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform (Tendril Press 2009). His website is He is a member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network and has been an adviser to Congressman Dennis Kucinich and the American Monetary Institute