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Saturday, May 30, 2009

BOOK LAUNCH - Marx and Hayek by Eric Aarons




6 for 6:30pm  Thursday  June 4, 2009

 New International Bookshop, Underground, Trades Hall

 

Professor John King to launch  Hayek versus Marx and Today's Challenges by Eric Aarons

A Book for our Times  

 In Hayek versus Marx and Today’s Challenges (Routledge’s new series: Frontiers of Political Economy), Eric Aarons says  that that the global economic crisis is demolishing faith in the self-regulating free market of the Right, while also revealing the absence of ideas on the Left. 

 

In this context, Aarons explores the ideas of two towering figures of the Right and Left who have shaped the modern world – Friedrich Hayek and Karl Marx. They developed elaborate systems of ideas on history and economy, ethics and values, human reason and emotion. Aarons examines their strengths and weaknesses, finding common assumptions as well as fundamental differences.

 

He concludes that meeting our new challenges will require a profound rethinking which draws on the

insights of both Hayek and Marx, while rejecting their extremes. He argues for a radically new ‘mix’ of free and planned markets, of spontaneity and reason, competition and cooperation, self-interest and altruism, individualism and collectivity, citizen and government activity, all needed to overcome the global financial crisis, combat global warming and ensure planetary sustainability.

Eric Aarons writes from a perspective based on a deep knowledge of the work of Hayek and Marx and his own engagement with politics, science and art.  Now 90, he was a national secretary of the Communist

Party of Australia from 1976 to 1982. He is a sculptor in stone, wood and other materials and lives in a bush setting at Minto on the outskirts of Sydney. His previous books include Market Versus  Nature: The Social  Philosophy of Friedrich Hayek (2008) What's Right? (2003) and a book of memoirs, What's Left? (1993).

 

 John King  is Professor, Economics and Finance, La Trobe University

 

6 for 6:30pm  Thursday  June 4, 2009

 New International Bookshop, Underground, Trades Hall, cnr Victoria & Lygon Sts,. Carlton

Grog at bar prices. More info: (ph) 9662 3744


 

New contribution by Left Focus reader, Adam Ford

]



Dear readers;  

The following is a message by Adam Ford: a regular reader of 'Left Focus'.  Adam has written a sometimes-humorous, sometimes-serious piece on the culture of the Left.  There are elements of his entry I disagree with. While I think that we need to go beyond impenetrable jargon to get new people into progressive politics, I don't think there's anything wrong with building a 'movement'.  (you'll see the point of this when you read Adam's blog)   Take the example of 'Get Up!' - and it's potential to mobilise for change.   If I'm misinterpreting, Adam - you're welcome to correct me.  :-)    Other aspects of Adam's entry I agree with.  For instance I feel too often on the Left participants are pressured to accept one doctrine or another - in entirety and without exception - or risk exclusion.    To conclude, though - it's a good read...  Readers are welcome to follow the link to Adam's blog - and to comment there.  Commentary is welcome here also.

sincerely,

Tristan


Hi left focus folks.

Just letting you know I have my own blog. And I've got some hopefully feather-ruffling stuff up there now entitled "I heart Andrew Bolt - or, what's wrong with the Left - part one". Come have a look, and I'd be interested in constructive feedback.

http://bloodonthewombat.blogspot.com/


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Conservative opportunism and Labor timidity in the face of economic meltdown





Recent polls suggest an increase of support for the conservatives in Australia under Malcolm Turbull.  In particular, the conservative parties have been putting on the ‘hard sell’:  that Labor is an irresponsible economic manager, and that deficits and debt finance are unsustainable. 

Yet despite this, the conservatives have made little point of differentiation between themselves and Rudd Labor’s 2009-2010 Federal Budget.  Instead, there is an opportunist war of perception - playing upon ingrained prejudices. Turnbull has decided to oppose progressive changes to the Private Health Insurance rebate which would see benefits cut for higher income earners – with some of this redirected towards needy pensioners.

 

In place of these progressive reforms. Turnbull has instead suggested a 12.5% increase in tobacco taxation: enough to cover the $1.9 billion lost as a consequence of blocking Private Health Insurance Rebate reform. 

http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,25484966-5001021,00.html

 

Importantly: we are not talking about a substantial difference in policy here.  Remember: the economy is now annually valued at over $AUS 1 trillion.


In some senses Turbull’s stance is weak: in other ways it is a clever piece of political footwork.  By focusing on a relatively minor difference in policy, Turnbull makes it difficult for Rudd to justify a double dissolution.  Without such a ‘trigger’ there is a danger that Labor may go to the next Federal election with the economy still struggling with recession.  Further: ‘by getting his way’ Turnbull appears to have had a victory: providing the appearance of credibility he craves.

 

Of course, in reality the only alternative currently to running a deficit is to submit to a ‘downward deflationary spiral’ of falling tax receipts, economic recession, and unemployment.  Here, Turnbull’s ‘playing upon’ popular prejudices and fears is grossly irresponsible.

 

Furthermore – Turnbull’s condemnation of Rudd’s earlier stimulus package (comprised of cash handouts) neglects the fact the infrastructure investment will take some time from their announcement – until the benefits flow through the economy in the form of employment.  The so-called “cash splash” in-fact supported the economy – specifically retail – during the interim.   

 

The strategy, therefore, makes sense.  In fact - there are some who suppose Labor’s stimulus does not – in fact – go far enough.   As noted elsewhere in this blog:

 

Ken Davidson has argued that “the expenditure is not sufficient to hold unemployment at 6% or lower.”  http://business.theage.com.au/business/spending-tap-is-turned-too-low-20090512-b21v.html   

 

To put the deficit in perspective: as Paul Kelly has noted: the 2009 budget deficit is


“caused two-thirds by the revenue collapse (totalling $200 billion over four years) and one-third by the stimulus package.”   http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25449742-28737,00.html


Furthermore, the figure of
 $22 billion (on ‘nation-building’ projects) does not refer only to new spending,  There is the $4.7 billion already set aside for the National Broadband Network, and also “projects from the last budget”. http://www.smartcompany.com.au/construction-and-engineering/22-billion-for-infrastructure-in-budget.html

 

Labor’s rhetoric of stimulus is spot on.  By investing in infrastructure now, we support jobs through the course of the recession.  Meanwhile, this provides the foundations for future prosperity and growth.  Any debt incurred can be serviced later – especially so assuming investment now adds to productivity, capacity and growth in the future.

 

Returning again to Ken Davidson’s projections:  assuming “ a deficit of $54 billion in 2009-10 and $188 billion in 2012” – “interest on the debt will be only 0.6 per cent of GDP.”  http://business.theage.com.au/business/spending-tap-is-turned-too-low-20090512-b21v.html

 

That’s less than $6 billion/year in the context of an economy valued at over $AUS 1 trillion.    The amount is significant: but well within our means.  And when considered alongside the toll that would otherwise be taken by unemployment – to tax receipts and broader economic activity – the effective cost is lower still.


Again: it raises the question of why Labor is not providing bolder and more assertive leadership.

 

Labor’s budget does at least not fall into the austerity trap: by which disinvestment in infrastructure and public goods and services feeds a recessionary spiral. 

 

While most of the investment mooted in the budget it not new – at least Labor opts for a deficit – to cushion the economy, and support tens of thousands of jobs. 

 

Labor could go further – and should go further – but there is a clear distinction now between Rudd Labor and the conservatives. 

 

The real losers in Labor’s 2009 Federal budget are the unemployed: who languish behind other pension groups.  They are deemed ‘unworthy’ in the eyes of reactionary pundits of ‘popular opinion’.  Here Labor’s timidity in the face of injustice is cause for despair and anger from those who have hoped for a social justice agenda from the government.

 

Single Aged and Disability pensions are now “pegged to CPI with  a new pensioner cost of living index or 27.7 per cent of male average weekly earnings”  (MATWE),  “whichever is the highest.” http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,25470871-662,00.html


These reforms – while a genuine improvement - do not meet the minimum demanded by pension lobby groups: or the even more modest benchmark of 30% MATWE proposed by the author.   Certainly, it is not sufficient to eliminate – or even meaningfully mitigate - poverty amongst some of the most vulnerable Australians. 

 

Even assuming an activity test, the unemployed are expected to make do on $454/fortnight.  http://www.acoss.org.au/News.aspx?displayID=99&articleID=5893

The full Single Aged Pension, in contrast, will rise to $673.36 per fortnight: a gap of well over $100/fortnight between this and ‘Newstart.’  (the unemployment pension) http://www.superguide.com.au/2009/05/32-per-week-increase-in-single-age-pension/

 

The onus is now upon the Greens and independent Senators to apply pressure to Labor:  pressure for a bolder expansionary deficit – directed towards sustaining employment, and future productivity and capacity for our economy.   And further, we need for those Senators to apply pressure to Labor now - for Newstart to be raised to a the point of parity with other full single pensions.  

 

Finally, we need a movement WITHIN Labor  - and throughout Australian civil society - towards these and other essential demands of social justice: an expanded welfare state; a broad and inclusive social wage; and a democratic mixed economy. 

Together, Australians can emerge victorious in the struggle for justice – during hard time, and always.

 

Tristan Ewins, May 23rd 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pandora’s Box: Separation of Church & State in the US



by Wes Bishop

            Early in his administration, former President George W. Bush created a special office known as the Office of Faith Based Initiatives. Unable to get backing in Congress for the creation of this new office former President Bush relied solely on an executive order to keep the office in existence. Bush drew criticism from many Democrats and moderate Republicans for this act. Some cited the violation of separation of church and state, while others claimed that it was wrong for the President to bypass Congress to create a new executive department, when he knew the legislative branch did not support it. Fair criticisms, yet for all who were conscious during the past eight years it comes as no surprise that the conservative President Bush interpreted the Constitution liberally.

            In a recent move, newly elected President Obama has decided to keep the Office of Faith Based Initiatives. Just as Bush created the office through executive order, so too is President Obama keeping the department, again leaving Congress bypassed. This act has drawn criticism for President Obama, with skeptics pointing to the violation of separation of church and state, and the excluding of the legislative branch in decisions of government.

            President Obama attempted to answer these concerns in a speech this February 5. “The goal of this office will not be to favor one religious group over another or even religious groups over secular groups,” Obama stated before a gathered group. “It will simply be to work on behalf of those organizations that want to work on behalf of our communities, and to do so without blurring the line that our founders wisely drew between church and state.”

            According to this line of reasoning President Obama is claiming that the best way to keep religion and government separate is to have a government office ran by a religious leader that allocates money to various religious groups to do a job for the government. In short, the government is working with a religious organization, and therefore they are no longer separate.

            However, there is the claim that President Obama will not permit these organizations that receive money to discriminate hiring practices based on religion or sexual orientation. Yet this claim fails to acknowledge the fact that President Obama will not always be the current President. Already social conservatives are learning this lesson, by supporting and allowing President Bush to create this office they are now forced to see their tax dollars going to religious and secular organizations they do not support. Social conservatives failed to realize the power they gave Bush is the power Obama inherits. Sadly, supporters of Obama’s decision are making the same mistake. As of now the office will not be used to discriminate against gays or limit a woman’s choice in pregnancy, but when Obama is out of office what will occur? Obama, no doubt will walk the ambiguous line he has drawn in regards to separation of Church and State, but the next President may not be so cautious.

            In Greek mythology, there exist the story of Pandora and her lethal box. According to the myth Pandora was commanded not to open a box she was entrusted to keep closed. Ignoring her instructions, she opened the box and from it, evil spirits were released upon the human race. No matter how much she wanted to Pandora was unable to take back what she had done.

             Much like Pandora, Obama and social liberals will someday be faced with the same problem. This is shown in history, in 1995 former President Bill Clinton signed a presidential directive allowing the practice of extraordinary rendition, a practice that legally allowed the U.S. to hand over suspects to another country. At the time there was little concern, as many defenders pointed out Clinton would not abuse the power. However, during President Bush’s administration the practice was used to deny legal rights and engage in torturing suspects.

            Mythology, just like history, seems destined to repeat itself, especially when politicians and the citizenry fail to learn both.

Wes Bishop is a senior at Ohio University. 

He can be reached at bishop930@yahoo.com



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

‘Mixed Bag’ Budget – but still better than Conservative hypocrisy and myopia





The Swan Budget of 2009 is a mixed bag: including some welcome measures: and some certainly unwelcome.  Now is the right time to look at the Budget more closely – and your comments at ‘Left Focus’ are also welcome.

 

To begin with, Treasury estimates the Federal Budget will remain in deficit until 2016.    Furthermore, the 2009 Federal Budget deficit has come in at $56.7 billion.   http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,25470703-643,00.html

Swan, however, has been eager to place these figures in the context of a global recession of proportions unseen since the Great Depression over 75 years ago. 

The government has rightly argued that a strategy of austerity would simply feed into a vicious recessionary spiral. 

 

That being the case, the short term stimulatory measures – cash payments from late 2008 to early 2009  – provided relative economic buoyancy while infrastructure measures were being 'brought into reality’. 

According to the 2009 Budget statement, the government is now poised to invest $22 billion in infrastructure projects – including ports, roads and rail. http://www.smartcompany.com.au/construction-and-engineering/20090512-22-billion-for-infrastructure-in-budget.html

Further investment is to include $5.3  billion for Tertiary research and innovation.    http://news.theage.com.au/breaking-news-national/universities-thrilled-with-budget-boost-20090512-b1rs.html

Meanwhile, rollout of ‘Fibre-to-the-Home’ broadband is set to gather pace this year.   If anything, the schedule could be more ambitious.

Now is certainly the time to take action.  Some of these initiatives will benefit the nation for decades to come.


But there are those who argue Labor’s stimulatory measures do not go far enough. 

 

Ken Davidson, writing for ‘The Age’, argues that this is a “deflationary Budget”.  

While Swan’s rhetoric in support of stimulus ‘makes the grade’, and there is genuine stimulus, the predicted 8.5% unemployment rate is still unacceptable – especially while the unemployed suffer austerity.  

Davidson predicts that,

“The economy needs to grow by 3 to 3.5 per cent a year in order to stabilise unemployment at the present level of just over 6 per cent.”

http://business.theage.com.au/business/spending-tap-is-turned-too-low-20090512-b21v.html

Drawing on the budget papers, the veteran economic commentator further estimates that:

“ net debt will move…to a deficit of $54 billion in 2009-10 and $188 billion in 2012” – but under such circumstances “interest on the debt will be only 0.6 per cent of GDP.”  http://business.theage.com.au/business/spending-tap-is-turned-too-low-20090512-b21v.html

Under such circumstances – and with hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake - there is definitely room for further measures.  Such stimulus ought involve extra strategic expenditure on infrastructure - as part of a plan for future prosperity.  The key is to pick projects of real and lasting economic and social value.

Bob Brown, speaking on behalf of the Australian Greens, condemned Labor policy, arguing that: “ A single coal project in the Hunter Valley will receive almost the same amount of money as the entire $1.5 billion Solar Flagship program over the next six years." http://bob-brown.greensmps.org.au/content/media-release/green-opportunity-missed-budget-2009

Certainly here would be a good place to start in ramping out research, development and construction of renewable energy projects.  Such initiatives could include more ambitious targets for micro-renewable energy.  

Further - The National Broadband Network could be prioritised as a fully-public project: fast-tracking construction, and avoiding the long-term pitfalls of private monopoly, inaccessibility for the disadvantaged, and profit-gouging.

And Karen Churchill – commenting at the Crikey! website - argued that public housing projects could be taken much further.   According to Churchill, “low income people have to wait up to six years for public housing and two or three for “crisis” housing.”   http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/05/13/eva-cox-2009-budget-is-oversold-and-unfair/   

Strong investment in public housing, here, could also produce a long-term correction to Costello’s disastrous ‘housing bubble’ – which placed home ownership and even rental affordability - out of the reach of so many Australians.


Pension reform – for the most vulenrable 

On the ‘pensions front’ there is relatively good news for some.

For Disability, Carers and Aged Pensions, payments will be

“pegged to CPI with  a new pensioner cost of living index or 27.7 per cent of male average weekly earnings”  (MATWE),  “whichever is the highest.”  http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,25470871-662,00.html


Peremenant Carers will also receive “an [additional]...supplement of $600 a year”  with “an extra $600 a year for carer allowance recipients for each person in their care.”   http://business.smh.com.au/business/federal-budget/budget-winners-and-losers-20090512-b1ql.html

These figures mark a genuine improvement – comprising a lift in the formula for determining pensions.  Previously, for instance, the Single Aged Pension was locked in at 25% of MATWE.

The increase of $10.14 a week for Aged Pension couples, however, was probably at least $5/week too little, given the combined cost of living for these people.

Also on the bad side: there are many groups who have had their needs ignored for the sake of ‘meeting the budget bottom line’. 

Sating the prejudices of some of the more cynical layers of the community might also be a factor in this equation.

To be specific, the Budget provided nothing for sole parents and the unemployed. 

Eva Cox has condemned this move to exclude “less marketable” groups, and to forego more muscular measures aimed to redistribute wealth between the genuinely privileged, and those struggling on lower incomes.

http://www.crikey.com.au/2009/05/13/eva-cox-2009-budget-is-oversold-and-unfair/

The ever-multiplying ranks of jobseekers, here, are expected to survive on $454/fortnight: with a “a $147 per week gap between the these and the top income support payments.”       http://www.acoss.org.au/News.aspx?displayID=99&articleID=5893

To compare: the full Single Aged Pension, in contrast, will rise to $673.36 per fortnight. http://www.superguide.com.au/2009/05/32-per-week-increase-in-single-age-pension/

And while the $32.50/week is a welcome improvement, Charmaine Crowe - the Policy-Coordinator of the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) - has suggested that the most vulnerable “will be under-whelmed.” 

 

She argues that:

 

 “The 1.5 million pensioners on the maximum rate of the pension are, and always have been, the group desperate for a boost.” http://www.cpsa.org.au/MAIN/srelease.php?id=114


In summary, the Budget fell short of this writer’s aim of a formula of 30% Male Average Total Weekly Earnings (MATWE) base rate for all pensions – including ‘Newstart’ (ie: unemployment) benefits. 

This could provide a realistic goal around which interested groups could mobilise for the future – although even 30% MATWE is itself a compromise.  (the Council on the Ageing had previously argued for a rate of 35% MATWE.)

Further, the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association’s plea for a supplement of $80/week deserves greater attention.  This would now need to be adjusted to comprise a supplement of an additional $45/week for the most vulnerable: those subsisting on full pensions without other supplementary income, 

These figures will need to be adjusted as lobby groups begin to reorganise and reorient towards the Budget for 2010. 


This writer, however, is hoping that there may be some ‘last minute’ surprises.  

 

While unlikely, it is not beyond the possible that the Greens and independent Senators may ‘do a deal’ which could see parity in base pension rates: bringing Newstart in line with other pensions.  

While the Parenting Payment for sole parents could be reformed so as to be paid until the youngest child reaches the age of 16; so too could there be an additional ‘stimulatory’ supplement for the most vulnerable – as suggested by Charmaine Crowe.

The question, here, is just what kind of ‘deal’ the Greens and independent Senators could do to secure such reform, and ensure Labor’s support.  Certainly, Labor could do with a ‘smooth path’ for its legislation for the remainder of its first term.    

Yes - Labor should have provided for the most vulnerable without it coming to a 'last minute deal' - but for the unemployed especially - their needs are desperate.   Those with leverage need do whatever they can...

 

For the vulnerable – and the forgotten – let us hope the ‘last word’ has not been heard on the issue of pension justice.

 by Tristan Ewins - May 2009

Friday, May 8, 2009

One last plea for justice and compassion



As the 2009 Federal Budget approaches, the fate of millions of pensioners hangs in the balance. The plight of aged pensioners in particular has captured the attention of the nation’s media. But in fact there is a broader crisis also affecting the disabled, carers, students, sole parents and the unemployed.

This paper is one last call to the Federal Government to enact comprehensive reform in the provision of pensions.

With only a few days to go, however, the findings of the government’s Pension Review have not even been made public. Indeed, upon calling the relevant help line, I was informed that the release of the Reviews report would only be released “at the Minister’s discretion” and indeed that it may not be released at all.

Meanwhile the circumstances I considered a few months ago in the Left Focus blog are still pressing and urgent.

The ranks of the unemployed are set to swell. The ABC has reported that the unemployment rate could rise to more than 1 million, or 8.5 per cent, in 2010. If the plight of aged pensioners is already an urgent matter of public interest, so too are the straits of the unemployed.

Nevertheless, while the Newstart payment for unemployed singles is $453.30 a fortnight, the single aged pension is $569.80. That’s a difference of more than $100 per fortnight. The National Welfare Rights Network has projected that a $30 increase to the Newstart and Youth Allowances would cost $800 million.

Assuming that these payments were brought “in line” with other pensions, after these had been raised by $30 a week, the cost would be in the vicinity of $3.2 billion.

This sounds daunting - but again - such figures must be taken in the context of an economy of over $1 trillion.

Wayne Swan is avoiding being “pinned down” emphasising the need for “responsible” financial management. There have been rumours suggesting that there will be a “scaled back” payment of an additional $20 a week for aged pensioners to pay for an increase to Newstart.

The Greens, in particular, have been concerned that pensioners of all types should not be divided against each other. Regarding aged pensioners and the unemployed, Bob Brown has suggested that it is a false dichotomy that we must choose “one or the other”.

In the context of a rising cost of living, though, there is a strong case for a significant increase in the base rate for aged pensioners, disability pensioners, carers, sole parents and also the unemployed.

Students, meanwhile, should also receive additional support so they are financially able to devote their full attention to study.

The argument for an increase in the base rate of all pensions: and an easing of means tests for those on meagre incomes is strong. Critically here there also needs to be additional assistance for the most vulnerable of all.

The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) has argued for a tightly focused assistance package for the 1.5 million pensioners surviving on full rate pensions. The CPSA’s proposal covers aged, disability and carers' pensioners. Such a measure, according to CPSA, would cost about $3.2 billion: minimal in the “big picture” of the Federal Budget.

The CPSA has also suggested the needs of sole parents be seen to - and has criticised the absence of their needs from the Pension Review.

Prime Minsiter Kevin Rudd, however, is proving to have insufficient flexibility in the face of the financial crisis. Still he is insisting that taxes remain steady - not increasing as a proportion of GDP. Furthermore his suggestion that $2 billion for aged pension reform is “a truckload of money” is deceptive when that amount is considered in the context of an economy in excess of $1 trillion.

When the Greens suggested a $30 a week increase to pensions my immediate reaction was that surely such reform is insufficient to lift vulnerable Australians out of poverty, and keep pace with a cost-of-living “spiraling out of control”.

This remains the case - even if the Greens have taken a less equivocal position than Labor.

It is most important that we have formulae for calculating all pensions, which automatically adjust according to the cost-of-living; and which lift all Australians out of poverty.

The current formula for aged, disability and carers' pensions is 25 per cent of Male Average Total Weekly Earnings (MATWE). Given cost-of-living pressures, it is reasonable to suppose that this ought to be lifted to at least 30 per cent of MATWE.

It is critical that such adjustment includes the unemployed - who cannot be blamed for the world recession, and the resulting fall in employment levels.

This would lift such pensions (at the full single rate) to about $17,537 a year: a significant improvement - but still short of the CPSA’s figure of $19,399 (which they calculate as being “low income”).

The Rudd Labor Government’s pension reform agenda must begin by addressing the needs of the most vulnerable: those struggling on the full pension rate with no other source of income.

The CPSA’s proposal for an $80 a week supplement for these people should be implemented by the Rudd Labor Government if it is serious about fairness. Thereafter, the government needs to provide a fair means-testing formula that provides enough for all pensioners - that they are raised out of poverty.

To lift most pensioners out of poverty, the full single rate of $19,399 is desirable - but a formula of 30 per cent MATWE, with an immediate figure of about$17,537 would still be a significant and welcome improvement. Less than this simply does not do enough to address the cost-of-living pressures Australian pensioners face.

And as Charmaine Crowe of the CPSA has argued, further reform in other areas is also needed (for instance: abolition of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment).

Pension reform has real consequences for the quality of life of millions of Australians.

Among other factors it determines whether or not these people can afford proper nutrition; enjoy heating and air-conditioning; have adequate shelter and access to water and energy; and also have access to information and communications technology others take for granted. It also influences access to transport and opportunities for social connectedness: as well as ability to deal with unexpected contingencies (for example, a broken-down car, fridge or TV).

Importantly, the formula for sole parents needs to be adjusted to accommodate the additional costs associated with raising a family.

It says something about the kind of society we live in that Bob Hawke’s statement in 1987 that “no child live in poverty” is looked upon as ludicrous.

It is within our means now, though, that the PPS (“Parenting Payment Single”) be raised according to a “basket of goods” necessary for sole parents and their children. It is within our means to provide for vulnerable sole parent families: the sole parent pension should be provided until the youngest child reaches the age of 16 not the threshold of 8-years-old introduced by the Howard government.

The domestic labour of sole parents in raising young families is just as important as labour market participation.

According to a May 2009 ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Services) factsheet, “there are about 360,000 sole parent families with around 600,000 children between them on this payment”.

The Federal Labor Government ignores this demographic at their own peril.

As the Federal Budget approaches, we cannot allow different pensioner groups to be divided against each other. With organisation and solidarity we can achieve change. Those concerned need to hold Rudd Labor accountable.

And the Opposition needs to be exposed for its hypocrisy in favouring the aged pension ahead of other pensions - for purposes of political opportunism.

The rights of the vulnerable and disadvantage must be prioritised. This includes the unemployed, the disabled, sole parents, the aged, carers, and students.

As I have written elsewhere: in a fair society “none ought to be left behind”.

Tristan Ewins, May 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Change comes to the Americas


Change comes to the Americas


A tidal wave of change is spreading over Central and South America.  

Once there was the time such a process could not be imaginable without violent resistance by the United States: to radical change in its own ‘back yard’. 

One source refers to a “repressive process [under Ronald Reagan] “that killed more than 300,000” people.   http://www.terrorfileonline.org/en/index.php/Ronald_Reagan

Robert Parry elaborates on this appalling toll:” an estimated 70,000 or more political killings in El Salvador”, “possibly 20,000 slain from the Contra war in Nicaragua”, about 200 political "disappearances"  and “some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala.”   http://www.converge.org.nz/lac/articles/news990610b.htm

Some estimates paint an even more grisly picture: but it is suffice to say geo-politics and ‘Realpolitik’ during the Cold War comprised nothing short of an atrocity. 

Now, though, the Cold War is over.  While tension remains between Russia and the United States, no longer is there a tense nuclear stand-off: the world upon the precipice of nuclear catastrophe.

Randy Shaw – a journalist based in San Francisco – suggests a sea change in US demeanour to radical regimes in the Americas.

Here, Shaw mentions to “Cuba, and much of South America”;  “Bolivian President Morales”, and “Nicaragua’s Ortega,” and “other progressive leaders treated hostilely by [George] Bush. (Junior)”  

http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Predictions_for_2009_America_s_Road_to_Change_6453.html

 

Well may we also add Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as a key part of this equation.

 

Cuba and Venezuela are the anchors for this process of change in the Americas.

We will consider both.

 

Cuba

The Cuban revolution, in particular, has been feared by many in the United States as a ‘bad example’ for decades.   The revolution of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara began in the 1950s.  After initial failure,  Castro’s second expeditionary force waged a revolutionary war which saw his movement seize power.

The causes of the revolution were manifold. – but poverty and deprivation were at dire levels.

According to one source: there was “an average annual income per person of $91.25.”  Only “11% of Cuba drank milk, 4% ate meat, 2-3% had running water, and 9.1% had electricity. 36% had intestinal parasites, 14% had tuberculosis, and 43% were illiterate.”  http://www.rcgfrfi.easynet.co.uk/ratb/cuba/cuba_rev.htm 

Despite invasion attempts, and sweeping economic blockade by the United States, and several attempts on Fidel Castro’s life, the revolution’s achievements were many.

Life expectancy has risen from  58.8 years to over 77 years old, and there is comprehensive, free and high quality education and health care. http://www.workers.org/2009/world/cuban_revolution_0115/

And now Fidel Castro has ceased his position as head of state.  

In the wake of these developments,  Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro, is making cautious gestures of reconciliation to the ‘old enemy’.  (ie: the US)  

According to Raul Castro, new US President Obama is "an honest man," and  "a sincere man,"    http://obamacuba.blogspot.com/2009/01/transcript-of-raul-castro-on-us.html

And furthermore, the U.S. Senate recently “passed a bill that will ease restrictions against travel and medicine on Cuba.”  http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-03/14/content_11008983.htm

Raul Castro maintains: “we will not talk with the stick and the carrot”  http://obamacuba.blogspot.com/2009/01/transcript-of-raul-castro-on-us.html

But regardless – the Obama presidency does bring with it the hope of a new ‘understanding’ and dialogue in the Americas.

Venezuela

Hugo Chavez was elected President of Venezuela in 1999 - after a period of instability brought on by grinding poverty and lethal repression.  http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2009/01/venezuela-socialism-democracy-and-the-re-election-of-president-chavez/

Since then, Chavez has survived an attempted coup in 2002 – backed by the United States.  Support amongst the populace – and from within the army – saw the coup attempt end in failure.  http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2009/01/venezuela-socialism-democracy-and-the-re-election-of-president-chavez/

Since 1999, Chavez has nationalised his country’s petroleum industry – a crucial move in the redistribution of wealth and the defeat of poverty.  

Oil revenue was used to further  “citizen educational programs” and “[enhance] democracy.”   Public-financed television stations were handed over to popular control.  And new ‘popular forums’ were created – providing a voice for the poor; and trade unions grew in strength and prominence.  http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2009/01/venezuela-socialism-democracy-and-the-re-election-of-president-chavez/

Chavez’s revolution has seen “price controls on around 400 basic foods”, and also nationalisation of  “telephone, electric, and cement industries”.   Furthermore, Chavez has seen  encouragement of co-operatives.”   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Ch%C3%A1vez

Importantly, Chavez claims inspiration from Jesus.  Despite his avowed socialism, his creed is not that of religious repression some associate with Communism.   He heralds a ‘Bolivarian revolution’: drawing inspiration from the South American revolutionary leader, ‘Simon Bolivar’.  Ultimately, Chavez envisages a socialist ‘Bolivarian revolution’ – sweeping through the Americas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Ch%C3%A1vez

Cuba and Venezuela: a special relationship

A strong relationship has emerged between Venezuela and Cuba: both of which seek the spread of socialism throughout the Americas.  An important aspect of this relationship has been trade in goods and services.  Critical for both countries has been the trade of Venezuelan oil for the services of Cuban doctors.

And furthermore, Cuba has sent between 30,000 and 50,000 “technical personnel” “including physicians, sport coaches, teachers, and arts instructors who offer social services.”   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuba-Venezuela_relations

Crucially, Venezuela and Cuba are co-operating in laying  an underwater fibre-optic cable between the two countries – to provide ‘cutting edge’ internet access.  Such co-operation holds the promise of improve the quality of life of both countries’ peoples. http://www.caribbeannetnews.com/article.php?news_id=12915

Conclusion

The process through which Leftist governments have been elected in South America is reaching ‘critical mass’. 

 

As Anastasia Moloney argues: countries electing such governments since the year 2000 include: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador.  According to Moloney, this has left “roughly 75 per cent of South America's 382 million inhabitants living under a leftist government.”   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/01/14-9

 

While some of these governments are in the ‘mainstream’ of social democracy (eg: Brazil) , governments in Venezeuala and Bolivia are more radical in their socialism and ‘populist nationalism’.  


Venezuela is perhaps in the most strategically important position: able to fianace progressive redistribution of wealth through oil profits. 

 

While Venezuelan oil money is finite, though, there are nevertheless opportunities for a  progressive alliance fighting poverty and exploitation  throughout the Americas. 

 

Supposing the decades-old US economic embargo is lifted, Cuban doctors, teachers and other specialists could provide education, skilled labour and care throughout the region. 

 

With concerted effort, there are opportunities throughout the region to develop manufacturing, information and service industries: including social and co-operativist enterprise.   


The hope is that Central and South Amercia will develop and diversify in their own right – and no longer simply form the ‘Periphery’ of the United States economy.


Tristan Ewins

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