Monday, 27 August 2012

Refugee hunger strike embarrass Australia

As of Saturday more than 60 'boat people' refugees have gone on hunger strike in Australia in response to the possibility of their being transferred to a detention centre on the Pacific island state of Nauru. The striking group includes unaccompanied children and there are reports of similar protests in in Darwin.

Refugee activists in Sydney have been told by inmates of the Christmas Island detention centre that a group of refugees were picked up by the Australian Navy on the 16th of August and have been held on the Australian territory of Christmas Island. In the last week the refugees were informed that they would be transferred to Nauru where the status would be determined by Australian immigration officials. It is the threat of being transferred out of Australian territory to a detention centre that has been linked with allegations of ill treatment of inmates that has provoked the refugee protest.

There is a perception in Australia that there has been a large increase recently in the numbers of refugees arriving from Asia by boat. The numbers vary greatly over the last few years. However the number up until July of this year would suggest that 2012 will see an unusually high number of 'boat people' attempting to get to Australia.

This has led to demands from opposition leader Tony Abbot for drastic actions to be taken. Julia Gillard's Labour Government have bowed to the pressure from the right and set about reviving the 'Pacific solution' of the John Howard administration.

The 'Pacific Solution' dates back to the early 2000s and saw refugees being detained off shore in the Pacific island micro state of Nauru while their applications for refugee status were processed by the Australian immigration authorities. It was implemented by the Government of John Howard just as worldwide refugee numbers began to decline, having peaked in 2001.

The policy of offshore detention was criticised as breaching Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees. There was also concern about the effect it would have on relations between Australia and Nauru with some comparing it to neocolonialism. As the Australian's tried to pass the refugee issue onto to other countries created diplomatic tensions with Norway and New Zealand.

The refugees objected to the uncertainty that their detention left them with, some of whom spent up to five years on the islands and reports of many inmates suffering from mental illnesses as a result of their detention.

In 2007 the newly elected Labour Government fulfilled its campaign pledge to close down the offshore detention centre and transferred the remaining inmates to Australia. During the course the policy almost two thirds of the inmates were granted refugee status in Australia with the remainder being granted refugee status in other countries.

Earlier this month the Gillard Government announced plans to restart the 'Pacific solution' which has led to the outbreak of hunger strikes amongst inmates of detention centre in Christmas Island and Darwin.

Whilst there has been an increase in 'boat people' this year the numbers are miniscule in comparison to immigrants who have over stayed their visas. These immigrants are usually from the first world and do not generate the political hysteria that the refugees do. The Australian Government has pandered to the right wing and imposed a cruel and unusual ordeal on people who have already endured horrific experiences just to get to safety.

The 'Pacific solution' has proven itself in its past implementation to be a facile and superficial attempt to deal with a relatively small number of refugees attempting to enter Australia. This policy was a failure for the Government of John Howard and it is difficult to see how it will succeed this time.

The best hope of saving Australia from another attempt at a failed policy lies with children and men in Christmas Island and Darwin willing to starve themselves until the Government in Canberra relents and decide to do the right thing.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Nationalism is the great hope for progressive politics

As Scotland prepares for an independence referendum, the Flemish nationalists are the biggest party on the Belgian parliament and Catalan independence being in the ascendancy n opinion polls. Recent events have put a 'Europe of the regions' back on the political agenda. Those who believe in progressive politics can also take heart in the success of the nationalists in Quebec.

Spain faces into one of its gravest economic crises ever and this has led to clashes between the regional Governments and Madrid. This looks like encouraging already growing demands for greater autonomy for Catalonia in particular. This is reflected in recent polling which show a majority in favor of independence.

It is interesting that nationalists throughout Europe, with the exception of Flemish nationalists, have embraced progressive politics. This has led to tendency to be more outward looking then the narrow introverted thinking for large state centralists.  As a result of this nationalists take great inspiration from each others struggles and triumphs. The Welsh referendum result of 2011, the SNP landslide of the same year, the growing momentum behind Catalan  independence and the Basque peace process all point to a rising tide for nationalist progressive politics.

It also looks likely that the Parti Quebecois will win the Quebec general election in September. But what is really interesting is the attempts being made by new nationalist party L'option nationale and its attempts to bring non French speakers around to the idea of Quebec sovereignty.

This is a high point for progressive civic nationalism. There has never before been such a convergence of opportunity for people who want to see a more democratic politics in Europe and Quebec.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team

Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team

This is the story of how one of the most popular teams in the NBA was stolen from its own fans. A magnificent achievement, the film was made by Seattle Supersonics fans to document the devastating effect rapacious capitalism has on modern sports.

Cowards flinch and traitors sneer

On the 30th of June as the harried workers of the public sector prepared to step into the breach, they could at least know that they had the support of a dedicated movement steeped in a glorius history of struggle and solidarity. Naturally the Labour party played no role in this, the strikers were not burdened with the support of 'Red Ed' Miliband.

The Labour party has demonstrated that it is only interested in power for the sake of power. They will always subordinate any socialist or progressive principles to the pursuit of their own privilege. This has inevitably lead to a craven attitude to the right wing press.

At the time of Miliband's election the Murdoch press took to calling Ed Miliband 'Red Ed' an easy and lazy moniker for those tory boys, that brought them back to the glory days of the union smashing eighties. However Red Ed showed his true colours when he condemned the strikers. This was not out of any genuine conviction or ideological purpose. Miliband has been an irrelevance  in the debate about the current economic policy.. His opposition appears to come from the conventional wisdom that UK general elections cannot be won without the support of 'middle England'. Conventional wisdom just also dictates that middle England is right wing,anti-union and gets all of its information from the Tory press. This has been in vogue since the 1992 election and The Sun's infamous headline 'It's The Sun wot won it'. So now that Ed appears to have miraculously grown a backbone in the last 24 hours can we expect Labour to start standing up for labour? On  the basis of past events its not likely.

On the Labour party website there is no declaration of principles, aims or achievements. This will likely have something to do with the fact that there have not been any. Labour party history is one of successive betrayal of the labour movement. Since the general strike in 1926 through the miners strike of 1984 up to the current upheaval the Labour party has practiced one principle, take trade union money, betray trade union members.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Kanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance

During the months of July and August 1989  Canada faced one of the most serious crises in its relationship with its own native peoples. In the town of Oka, Quebec the local mayor had set about a land grab of unincorporated land that had traditionally belonged to members of the local Mohawk nation. This land grab was so that a local private members golf course could be expanded. In response the Mohawks blockaded a road in Oka and were soon encircled by law enforcement agencies and the army. In a struggle that was to turn violent many of the racial fault lines in Canada were exposed. In a searing endictment of the government and Quebec society, filmmaker Alanis Obomswain records the struggle at Oka.

Gombeen: pejorative Hiberno-English term for a shady "wheeler-dealer"

As Ireland endures the gravest economic crisis since the foundation of the state it is becoming clear that the political and 'entreprenurial' elite of that country have learnt absolutely nothing from their self inflicted crisis.

The beginnings of the crisis can be fond in a massively over inflated property bubbled that bankrupted the Irish banking system. This bubble was cynically encouraged by the Government of the day led by the venal Bertie Ahern. In response to this the Government gave a bank guarantee on the backs of the Irish people, so in order to save the bankrupt banks they bankrupted the country.

Now as the Irish state sets about demolishing the so called 'ghost estate' built during the hysteria of the property bubble, An Bord Pleanala has given planning permission for the biggest gambling complex in Europe to be built in the middle of rural North Tipperary. This has happened despite heritage body An Taisce describing the development as 

"ill-conceived and warrants comprehensive refusal" 

An Bord Pleanala justified their decision by saying

 “All the best enterprises, tourist and employment generating schemes are speculative in nature. In a time where the economic outlook is bleak it is considered that the planning system should encourage and endeavour to facilitate all forms of development which are shown to have positive social-economic impacts” 
It is difficult to see what positive social impacts are provided by gambling. 

The complex will consist of a five hundred bed hotel, horse racing track, dog racing track, golf course, life size replica of The White House, heliport and a casino. This venue will be built on the outskirts of a village with a population of five hundred and fifty. The development will undoubtedly alter the nature of locality irrevocably but in these desperate economic times there appears to be little local opposition. What is even more disturbing than the potential impact of the development is the nature of the people backing it.

The whole project is the brainchild of former police man Richard Quirke who runs a prominent gaming arcade on Dublins O'Connell street, this arcade is notorious for having slot machines which are legally prohibited in Dublin. The Irish Times gave this vivid description of a visit there,

“Boys in school uniform played poker, women with babies in buggies operated two slot machines simultaneously, and a group of Asian men huddled over roulette tables. Everyone was intensely focused and silent”

The other prominent backer is Tipperary politician Michael Lowry, Mr Lowry is a former cabinet member who had to resign his position as a result of a corruption scandal and has since found to be a tax dodger.

It is clear that this whole development is out of proportion to the area, of dubious moral benefit and is backed by people who are not of the highest caliber. But for the Irish political elite these virtues are to be admired and encouraged. Its seems that the only lesson that has been learnt form one disaster is to aim higher for the next one.

Economic Salvation, Only a cut away

One and a half years into the most devastating recession since the 1930s the British elected a government bent on a radical right wing agenda to slash expenditure. This is an agenda that runs counter to  the basics of Keynesian economics and raises the question of how the economy will be provided with a stimulus. 

At the beginning of the month the IMF sent a five person mission to sit in judgement over the British Government's approach to economic salvation. In a 30 minute briefing to the press the mission gave its seal of approval to the radical measures that have been introduced to purge the British economy of the sin of deficit. 

The Government has forged ahead with its post Keynesian programme of severe public spending cuts. This approach has not been copied by any of the other large economies so the blessing of the IMF was one that was very welcome. The British government presented this as vindication for their policy of cutting expenditure and was warmly praised by the majority of the British press. One could be forgiven for believing that George Osborne was creating an economic miracle, and in so doing destroying the fundamental tenets of Keynesian economics.

However there has been plenty of adverse foreign press comment on the British approach. There is a great deal of concern that the cuts are economically counter intuitive. The question that is repeatedly raised is one of how growth can be encouraged whilst so drastically cutting government expenditure. The New York Times even qouting one researcher in a brokerage firm as saying; 

"Mathematically, I just do not see where growth is going to come from,”

This devastating critique is echoed in numerous publications across the globe.

In The New Yorker magazine former BBC economic commentator John Cassidy flayed Osborne's approach in an article entitled 'U.K. economy returns to 1930s; IMF applauds' 

Cassidy points out that the public spending cuts have throttled any economic recovery 
"In the four months from October to January, the U.K.’s G.D.P. actually fell. Since then, it has edged up slightly. According to a new report from the non-partisan National Institute for Economic Research, in London, in the three months to May the economy expanded, but by just 0.4 per cent—a miserly rate of growth."
He goes onto to say;

"The N.I.E.S.R. is not expecting output to pass its previous peak until 2013 at the earliest, and even this may well prove optimistic. The independent Office of Budget Responsibility, which the government set up last year to stop the Treasury from cooking the books, is forecasting growth of 1.7 per cent this year and 2.5 per cent in 2012. These figures might sound pretty modest, but with the government busy retrenching and consumers still digging themselves out of debt, they hinge on an upturn in exports and business investment that seems unlikely to materialize. Realistically, G.D.P. growth of one per cent this year and two per cent next year seems about the best that can be hoped for, and, absent a policy change, an even worse outcome can’t be ruled out."

The French equivalent of The Financial Times, Les Echos commented:
"Ce débat existait déjà il ya un an, pendant la campagne électorale, mais il se ravive alors que George Osborne, le chancelier de l'Echiquier, applique sans trembler son plan drastique de baisse des dépenses. « Il n'y a pas d'alternative », disait jadis Margaret Thatcher. « Il n'y a pas de plan B », martèle Osborne en réponse à 52 économistes pour qui le Royaume-Uni risque la rechute."

Despite the chorus of approval from the British press it is obvious that serious questions remain about government economic policy. British society urgently needs a serious debate what exactly will provide the stimulus that the economy so badly needs.