30 Jul. 2006

'PM's car pelted, mobbed by angry anti-war protesters', The Sun-Herald, Sydney

Ha ha! It's a good job none of them had screwdrivers (at least that we know of – no doubt ASIO and Channel 7 have people working through the night analysing footage, looking for the telltale flash of yellow plastic in a protestor's hand). Still, scant explanation in the article of quite why Lebanese-flag-waving citizenry might engage in the most concerted physical attack on the PM since the 2004 incicent in which he was hexed by an Aboriginal woman, apparently to no avail (yet). The article does point out that Howard had said he 'understood' why Israel is scourging Lebanon. Well, I understand too – they state of Israel is psychopathic. So too, indeed, is Australia. The article fails to mention the very real support given by the Australian state to the Israeli state, or the very real network of paranoia and imperialism in which Australia supports Israel. I obviously don't expect them to say that, but they might have dug up something to say about Howard's support for Zionism rather than paraphrase some apparently ambiguous recent statement.

28 Jul. 2006

Israel and Australian heritage

The first thing I thought when I heard about the Australian-Israeli man killed in his capacity as an Israeli soldier by Hizb'allah in Lebanon was that John Howard must have smiled when he heard the news that the guy had been an Australian. Maybe I'm being unfair to Howard, and he really does believe in the cause so much that the soldier's death will have caused him to shed a tear. Still, this incidental fact, that an Australian has apparently been killed by Hizbollah, does much to remove the, admittedly very modest, media pressure on the Australia state as an arch-supporter of Zionism's unfettered right to impose itself on the Levant.

While the metrics taken on human terms are 42–510 Israeli–Lebanese (although you can bet that the Lebanese, with their infrastructure disabled, are way behind in their body count), in Australian terms, the numbers are now 1–0. Of course, some of those Lebanese dead, known or unknown, might be Australian too. We'll see how much fanfare and interviews with their school chums the SMH treats us to when and if they are identified.

Non-Lebanese Australian solidarity with Israel is, of course, natural. The SMH has an article, 'Serving here is part of our Australian heritage', in which Sydney emigrĂ© Guy Spigelman, an IDF Captain, is quoted as saying just that, "Australians have a long history of serving in Israel, all the way back … to the Second World War. Serving here in Israel is part of our Australian heritage." One shouldn't of course neglect Australia's glorious ANZAC heritage either. To go to the Middle East and kill some dirty Mohammedans is what historically defined Australia as a nation, as we continually told, although not in those terms, of course. Yes, Australian soldiers in those days were on the side of the Arabs against the Turks, but what came of that was the lasting encroachment of Western imperialism on the region. That's not to say that ANZACs were evil. Far from it. They were all the things which are said of the diggers. They showed great solidarity for one another. They were the salt of the earth. One might be able to say the same things about IDF soldiers to some extent. But that does not mean, in either case, that they are not utterly racist. Again, their racism is not indicative of a lack of moral fibre—it's because they come from racist societies. The facts are simple: ANZAC or IDF, these are racist-imperialist formations in the Middle East. We should not be proud of being a racist-imperialist country. This is not our nature, but rather a cause to which the Australian character has been co-opted.

26 Jul. 2006

Happy Birthday, Our Dear Leader

It's difficult to know what to make of this story from the AAP.

Several young women patted Mr Howard on the back, while he was hugged by an exuberant young man amid cries of "Good on you, Johnny" and "Keep up the good work".
It's got a touch of Pyongyang about it, although in Australia at least this kind of thing is reserved for the dear leader's birthday, and then tucked away at the back of the paper.

Can it be true that the people of Melbourne love Howard? The Labor Party also wish him a happy birthday, but this is transparently part of a culture of mutual respect between the alternating parties of government which is insurance for both of them against the day when they swap places.

Some of the Melburnians' comments are somewhat ribald, as indeed are Labour's, but of course this is the way an Australian shows their deepest affection for someone. To treat a leader as a mate is the highest compliment. Of course, some mates are more equal than others.

The question I would really like an answer to is whether it's that people don't know, or whether it's that they don't care, that this man is a racist war criminal. Perhaps they love him because of these aspects. This guy wildly exceeded Howard on both measures, and the adoring crowds were commensurately larger:

From Andrew Montin, check out this example of the kind of respectful criticism that Howard is treated to from allegedly-Marxist news organisations. Howard's complicity in the slaughter in Lebanon, and even the slaughter itself are well-hidden. But that's only a veneer for the sake of (mass-)deniability really, not a thoroughgoing subterfuge. Johnny's trick has always been to allow people to be as racist as they like, while also fervently denying that racism is racist. I gigantic, poker-faced confidence trick. That's why they love him. He has the confidence for all of us, smiles while the bombs drop and assures us all that it's OK, that it's OK to be privileged and racist and complacent and weak and exploited, in short to be whatever we are.

Update: I got home tonight to television news spinning the news quite a different way. Turns out the guy who hugged the PM was holding a screwdriver! He could, it's true, have had a go at killing Howard with that. Apparently, this is a security issue. Apparently, our dear leader should stay out of the limelight.

The whole thing is ridiculous. Everyone in Sydney who cares to knows that the PM walks in by the harbour every morning in such a way that anyone who wants to assassinate him easily could. No one wants to assassinate him. There's really no point, unless you're one of those who wants to succeed him, i.e. Beazley or Costello. No one wants to kill Howard and this of course is the narcissistic wound for the Australian media: if a guy with a screwdriver tried to cuddle President Bush, he'd have has brains shot our of his ear, whereas Howard is like a teddy bear for every retard in the country. Rather, we should hide him away from the public, thus creating the illusion that he, and by extension we, matter.

23 Jul. 2006

Ken Buckley, 1922-2006

Ken Buckley died last Sunday. I never knew him personally but ever since I arrived in Australia his name kept coming up for one reason or another. He was a writer, a teacher and a doer of the Sydney left, present at the creation of a number of its institutions. Most famously, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, which was established after police raided a Kings Cross party he was at in 1963. He was its first secretary, and later president of the national body.

He was also a major player in the establishment of Political Economy at Sydney University, as a supporter and as a member of the committee of inquiry that turned the tide against its enemies in Economics. He had moved to Australia from his native Britain to take up a lectureship in Economic History in 1953 – opposed by ASIO, as he later found out, because of his active role in the Communist Party. (In fact, he was a member of the Marxist Historians Group along with Eric Hobsbawm, E. P. Thompson, Christopher Hill and Maurice Dobb.) He became a gadfly at the university, setting up the union which became the National Tertiary Education Union, along with Ted Wheelwright.

But I first came across Buckley’s name in Sydney’s second-hand bookshops. Looking to get up to speed with Australian political and economic history, I came across the series he edited with Wheelwright in the 1970s and 80s, Essays in the Political Economy of Australian Capitalism. It’s a fantastic set of books collecting about fifty articles on Australian history and contemporary political economy from various Marxist perspectives. The pair used the material they collected to write their own economic history, published as No Paradise for Workers (covering 1788-1914) and False Paradise (1915-1955). Unfortunately the planned third volume won’t be written.

The whole lot are well worth reading. Unfortunately, they’re all out of print. As it happens, plans are already afoot to digitise the essay collection. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, they are worth hunting down second-hand. Gould’s in Sydney has remainders of the Paradise books.

The Sydney Morning Herald has a good obituary, and his own autobiographical reflections are here.

22 Jul. 2006

Protest reports

The coverage of today's protests against the Israeli depradations of Lebanon and Gaza has been deeply problematic.

On the one hand, we should be thankful that no one is trying to make capital out of (or perhaps they simply didn't notice) a couple of disgracefully anti-semitic signs at the Sydney rally. Certainly, no attention should be paid to a couple of isolated signs like that in a crowd which police recognise was over 10,000 strong.

However, there nevertheless seems to be real dissimulation about the content of the protests and their meaning. The protests are being reported as protests against the violence in Lebanon, as if they were non-partisan peace vigils. In reality these were protests very pointedly against the US and Israel. The chants and signs were predominantly against Israel and Bush. While I saw absolutely no overt support for Hizbollah, no one was protesting against Hizbollah, and rightly so, because the issue is not Hizbollah but Israel's wanton and murderously indiscriminate aggression against the people of Lebanon.

The AAP article at smh.com.au fails to mention Israel or America. It mentions that we marched to Martin Place but fails to mention that we did this only to protest outside the US consulate, since we correctly recognise the US as the real source of the bloodbath in the Middle East. The ABC are saying almost nothing. News.com.au is much the same as Fairfax, except that on their frontpage they make the absolutely misleading claim "Protestors march for ceasefire".

This is all of a piece with the contrived neutrality of the Western media, to say that there is a war going on in which both sides are to blame, rather than accurately reporting Israeli aggression. This protest is being reported as if it were an outpouring of emotion about some natural disaster, not a political, anti-imperilaist manifestation. If they were to tell their readers that there are 20,000 people in Sydney marching to stop US-Israeli Zionist aggression, they would have to explain why we thought there was such aggression, since they have been telling their readership otherwise. Of course, they could say we are crazy anti-Semitic fascists, and maybe they will do that yet, but it's a lot easier to pretend everyone in Australia is saddened and baffled by these 'senseless' events in Overseas.

Sunday: all mention of the protest(s) seems to be gone from the news websites. I woke up this morning cheered to hear ABC radio reporting protests as anti-Israeli, but these were the overseas protests, mainly London's '7,000' (see lenin), with no mention of Sydney own, ostensibly larger, protest.

21 Jul. 2006

Australia's migration regime: enforcing slavery

If you introduce harsh penalties for people found to be illegally in Australia, this makes it less desirable to be illegally in Australia.

Short of attaching tracking devices to all new arrivals, or the total collapse of the Australia economy (and I think it's perfectly possible that one or other of these things will eventuate within the decade), however, the existence of illegal migrants in the form of visa overstayers is inevitable, since there are so many other places which are worse to be in.

For those who are illegally in Australia, a harsh migration regime means that anyone who knows you are here illegally has significant power over you. One call to the "Dob-In Line and you're off to Villawood. This then gives those in possession of such information, such as your employer, who would in fact quite likely know damn well that you're not allowed to work here, an enormous amount of power over you. For example the power to make you work 7 days a week. Indeed to keep you in virtual slavery (whether or not this has happened in this case, it most certainly does happen, for example in the sex industry).

This goes not only for the approximately 50,000 visa overstayers in Australia, who, if they are still alive are likely in a position where they must work to survive, but also to the much larger number of people, such as those on student visas, who are living in Australia on visas which restrict their rights to work to the point where they cannot support themselves other than by working illegally, hence at risk of 'dob-in', hence at risk of blackmail.

This pool of labour is in fact very important to Australia's economy. All Western countries make use of a cheap pool of illegal labour. This is the form it takes in Australia: visa overstayers and international students. Effectively, the Australian migration regime forms a synergy with unscrupulous employers for the massive exploitation of an illegal workforce.

The third term in this system, along with the threat of the concentration camps run by DIMIA, is the horrendous conditions obtaining in so many countries that serve to make deportation so undesirable an option. This third term is imperialism, which is made possible by the militaries and the boundaries to the movement of peoples which tie them to a territory and allow for the concentrated exploitation of populations.

18 Jul. 2006

Australian–Lebanese Friendship, 2006

I feel that I ought to issue some kind of statement here on the Israeli aggression against Lebanon.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports over 200 Lebanese dead. Of these, perhaps 2% are Hizbollah fighters, the stated targets of the attacks.

Australia is unsurprisingly unmoved. The Australian media reports the mass killings by the Israeli 'Defence' Force on a par with the comparatively few Israelis killed in Hizbollah's retaliatory attacks, following the grotesque li(n)e that this is a 'war', that Israel's wholesale investment of an entire country is somehow equivalent to some guerillas taking pot-shots at them from said country, or as not-quite-war, but an event with no identifiable logic, "an upsurge of violence in the Middle East".

This situation is complicated however by the fact that Australia has a significant Lebanese minority, that Israel's utter callousness about Arab life involves a certain callousness about technically-Australian life. Australia doesn't care about Arabs either, but is in a difficult position. Consequently, it must try to evacuate its citizens from Lebanon. This is not just for their safety, but also so that Israel does not kill any 'Australians'. Israel can kill as many Arabs it likes and maintain Australian friendship, so long as those Arabs are not Australians. Of course, even if Israel does kill large numbers of Arab-Australians, the friendship with Israel will continue – it's more a matter of it producing public relations problems for the Australian government, particularly with its already-dissatisfied Arab citizens. So Australia must get its citizens out of the firing line, but without in any way disrupting Israel's depradations against Lebanon, its massacring of non-Australian Lebanese. For shame.

12 Jul. 2006

The E-3 visa sham

moved up to front with updated info

In the 'free trade' agreement Australia made with America in 2004, there was a much-trumpeted provision to allegedly make it easier for Australians to go to America to work. A unique class, the E-3 visa, just for Aussies – what a rare privilege!, we were told.

In the SMH's fatuous MyCareer supplement last week, this puff piece about E-3 appeared. "For most of us, working in the United States has been the stuff of fantasy. Not any more." it thundered. Given that this visa scheme's been in place for over 18 months now, there isn't much cause for excitement. Particularly as the article actually reveals that no-one is really using it. The scheme allocates 10,500 places for Aussies annually, but it seems about 20% max of that is being taken up. What gives?

Well, for one thing the visa criteria are very restrictive. Only highly-qualified people are eligible for it, and even then, it seems to be discretionary, not based solely on objective criteria, whether one ultimately qualifies. What this means, it seems to me, is that this visa is designed to allow people who will obviously be able to land good jobs in the US the right to go there. But these people don't need a visa class, because if you can land a good job, you can do just that and get sponsorship in most cases. My suspicion, though I can't prove it, is that the couple of thousand people who are using the new visa are people who could have got work permits by existing means but find this new visa to be easier to get or to have less stringent conditions.

Either way, on the best case scenario, it's an elite visa, which is not about freedom of movement for Australian labour, but rather a selectively-permeable membrane allowing skill-drain to the US, with nothing passing in the opposite direction. Like everything else about the FTA, America gets the right to take what it wants from Australia and give nothing back in return. The Australian government does not represent Australian workers in its dealings with the US government. It represents US-owned corporate interests.

A week after the original post (5th July), and MyCareer is at it again. Puffing the E-3. OK, this time, they do have an apparently bona fide E-3 recipient! Well, no, her partner is one. But she feels that that entitles her to be utterly dismissive of the unhip fucks who can't go and work in NYC, like her. Although she hasn't got a job yet.

How did her partner get in?

He was headhunted by his employer, the Japanese bank Nomura Securities, on the recommendation of an Australian friend who has worked there for four years. Peter is a software developer specialising in financial markets with more than 20 years' experience in Sydney and London. He met the requirements for the E-3, but it was still an arduous process, with a lengthy round of telephone interviews with his future employers in Manhattan, reams of detailed paperwork for the immigration lawyers and a professional assessment by an academic working in the field.

Well, what's stopping you, Australia? See you for NYE in Times Square?

A Labored connection

After my post on the housing bust a few weeks back, someone forwarded me a link to The New City. It claims to be a “web journal of urban and political affairs”, but is fairly obviously linked to the right wing of New South Wales Labor. The mission statement says it aims to focus on “the future of the Australian labour movement and the disproportionate exercise of political, economic and cultural power by inner-city interests on urban planning and national, state and local politics.”

Much of the content involves smearing critics of the Sydney property development – construction – real estate complex as lunatic greenies and latte-drinking, terrace-house-dwelling, affluent aesthetes. The current editorial tells a story of Sydney’s development over the last few decades with enough fortuitous coincidences and happy endings for a soap opera: Rising inner city land values pushed light industry out west… just in time to provide local jobs for the masses whose desire for detached houses and outdoor lifestyles (rather than rising inner city land values) had drawn them into the suburbs. “Market-oriented reform” and “globalisation” simultaneously powered both dynamic small business and large scale big business campuses into the suburbs.

The hero of the piece: “responsive rather than prescriptive planning”, which is made flesh in “the best elements of the NSW government’s City of Cities plan”. The villains: environmentalists, do-good urban planners, and “progressive academics and commentators”. There is a token swipe at dastardly property developers who have a vested interest in “artificially inflated land values” from land-use controls – as a pretext for arguing that those controls should be lifted. The whole thing is a manifesto for Sydney’s mammoth real estate machine, a defence of the state government and an immunisation of NSW Labor against those fashionable anti-development ideas seeping in through the milquetoasts on the party’s left.

Rarely is a Sydney Morning Herald printed without suggestions of Labor’s ties to property development and its associated machinery. Why? One obvious answer is that the party is financially reliant on developers. The Herald reported last year that donations from property developers had become increasingly important for political parties, and NSW Labor “remained the donation kings of Australian politics”. In the lead-up to the last state elections, developers made up a quarter of the $6.05 million in donations received by the party, beaten only just by pubs. Five of the top ten donators were developers. The latest available figures (for the 2004/05 financial year) show that things look much the same as next year’s election approaches.

But beyond that, NSW Labor is so dependent simply because it’s the party in government, and any government of New South Wales is going to be a supplicant to real estate, developers and construction. State government revenue is highly susceptible to property market swings. A fifth of state tax comes from transfer duties, paid when properties are bought. Land tax, based on property values, makes up another tenth of state taxes. In the aftermath of the property downturn, in 2004/05, revenue from purchaser duty fell by a quarter, chopping a billion dollars out of the budget. Since total budgeted revenue is around $40 billion – with tax making up less than half – that might not sound like much, but it makes for wild swings at the margin. In this year’s Budget we saw the result: a $696 million deficit and attacks from all quarters. Luckily for the government another kind of capital gain came to the rescue somewhat – a rising sharemarket.

This creates a dilemma: the government is tempted to cut property-related taxes in the hopes of bringing real estate back to life, thus sacrificing more of that revenue. It’s more than dubious that vendor taxes were responsible for the slowdown, but one of the first things Iemma did as Premier was to cave in to the lobby and chop them, for an estimated cost of $382 million this year. Then at the start of this year, the land tax-free threshold was raised, with the Budget bragging about 12,000 investors released from its burden and a cost of $53 million this year. But so far it seems about as effective as a rain dance, if getting real estate moving again really was the aim.

Finally, the property cycle makes a massive difference to the Sydney economy as a whole. Besides cutting further into state government revenues, it’s deeply embarrassing since governments are widely seen as responsible for general economic conditions, and since the top priority of a capitalist government is to keep capitalism humming along. Last month the Bureau of Statistics reported that the New South Wales economy, as measured by final demand, didn’t grow at all in the first quarter of this year, despite the mining-based boom elsewhere. As Treasury Secretary Ken Henry said in a speech in May – noted with chagrin in that New City editorial – “I don’t think everybody in this room should be moving to Perth. But let me make this prediction: some of you will.”

Iraqi sovereignty update

moved up to front with updated info

Apropos of the Australian occupation forces, Iraqis, even those associated with the Australian-recognised and supposedly-sovereign government, have the right to die, the enquiry into the events of the week before last has found.

Note that there was no investigation by the Iraqi authorities; clearly, Australians in Iraq are not subject to Iraqi law. (It's worth noting that the handful of American murderers whose crimes have been brought to light are similarly not being charged under the jurisdiction in which the crimes were committed). Rather, the only rules that Australian troops are subject to are their own 'rules of engagement', formulated by their own masters. Apparently, if they post signs on their vehicles asserting their right to kill, then they have that right.

Particularly gruesome is the fact that their right kill people who drive in a suspect manner near them, includes a right to inflict collateral damage, i.e. to shoot bystanders not even complicit in the original shonky driving.

Update updates:

It now (Wednesday 12 July) turns out that the ADF enquiry did not interview any Iraqis (their testimony is presumably unreliable on racial grounds), nor even attempt to find out how many Iraqis were killed in the incident, though they now intend, after having exonerated their troops, and under pressure from the Iraqi 'government', to rectify this.

3 Jul. 2006

The Big Brother controversy

or 'Let's get sexual abuse off TV and back into the kitchen'

The entire affair is appalling from start to finish, from the act, to the cover-up, to the backlash. Two guys inflict an intentionally degrading 'joke' on a woman in the Big Brother household. There is no reaction to speak of for a while, but eventually the bosses decide to take action and remove the perpetrators. And that's it. They don't release any details of what happened and they send Gretel Killeen out as usual with a brief spiel, wishing the boys the best and going on with business as usual. Back in the house, Big Brother encourages the housemates to blame the victim to ensure that she stays on message and doesn't kick up a fuss.

On the outside, outrage. Bipartisan, populist outrage. Howard calls upon the network to police themselves and remove the program. Beazley takes approximately the same line. Not censorship, just censure for now. There's no talk yet of there being a problem that the police cannot or will not take action on the basis of the recordings of the incident.

The problem is not the incident, of course. It's that it was on TV. This was so mild compared to so many experiences of women in Australia, the country with the highest incidence of rape in the industrialised world (of course, one must always be cautious about crime statistics, but other statistics indicate Australians report crimes at the same rates as like societies). The pollies aren't up in arms about Australian society.* Australian society is A.O.K., as long as that's what the voters want to think; you get more votes with candy than with social critique. Indeed, Big Brother is ruining the game. It's true that they've kept the wogs off it to the extent that that's not alarming anyone, but bringing up confronting issues like the fact that young Australian males view women as objects for their use to the extent that they'll smack their tackle in an unwilling woman's face while being filmed and potentially viewed by millions of their compatriots.

Yes, Big Brother takes some very young people of average intelligence, plies with them with drink and puts them in some nasty situations for our delectation. It's exploitative, but that's simply the logic of capitalism at work (something else they don't want us thinking about): dangle some money in front of them and throw your workers' interests out of the window on the basis that this is in fact to the benefit of everyone involved and society at large. In the process, the still somewhat-novel form of reality television is revealing new things, and changing society in that process. Now, we don't want impressionable young Aussies getting the impression that it's OK to turkey-slap your gal-pals. But since they're getting these impressions anyway without seeing it on TV, it doesn't seem that this is the likely effect of taking BB off the air.

Australia: where prostitution is legal, to keep it behind closed
doors, and where pornography is banned, for the same purpose.

Update: Video; in a way it seems more innocuous in context; on the other hand, she explicitly asks that they not turkey slap her before putting herself in a position where they might be able to; you don't get much more non-consensual than that: