Monday, May 30, 2016

"When the final line unfolds it don't always rhyme": The eloquence of Guy Clark (1941-2016)

"Songs are like Japanese painting. Less is more. One brushstroke takes the place of many if you put it in the right place. I’m trying to get whoever is listening to think, ‘Oh, man, I was there. I did that. I know what that’s about.’ Too many details take away.Guy Clark

"You know life ain't easy it takes work/it takes healing cause you're gonna get hurt/You can lose your faith, you can lose your shirt, lose your way sometimes/Ah you never really have control, sometimes you just gotta let it go/When the final line unfolds, it don't always rhyme.Guy Clark, Homeless

Very sad to hear of the death of Texan singer songwriter Guy Clark who passed away in Nashville Tennessee on the morning of Tuesday May 17th. Clark, who battled cancer and health problems, was aged 74.

I have been a huge fan of his music for over 3 decades, since I first heard LA Freeway and Desperadoes Waiting for a Train, songs that appeared on Guy Clark's first album Old No. 1 and made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker.

Guy Clark wrote songs that were vignettes of daily life that he formed into four to five minute songs. Clark was a storyteller whose songs have the feel of poetry, short stories and in his ability to create visual images, cinema put to music. 
I’d play the “Red River Valley”
And he’d sit in the kitchen and cry
And run his fingers through 70 years of living
And wonder, Lord, has every well I drilled gone dry?
We was friends, me and this old man
Like desperadoes waiting for a train.


In his songs Clark had a way of seeing the world in the pretext of the simple things- what he refers to in one song as 'stuff that works'- 'the kind stuff you reach for when you fall'. Like homegrown tomatoes, cooking, a guitar, a photo, memories of places and people, an object, a cap, an old pair of boots, a knife.

In Randall Knife, one of his most loved songs, Clark writes about his father's death and the significance of a family heirloom passed from father to son.

Although Clark did not write strident political or 'message' songs as such, many of his songs are told from the vantage point of those who find themselves forced to the margins of society- the homeless, drifters, hitchhikers, hustlers, losers, loners, people living precarious lives and those struggling to make a decent living.

In Homeless Clark sings:
"Cardboard sign old and bent says 'friend for life 25 cents
When did this start making sense? Man it's really getting cold
Sometimes I forget things and I get confused
I could still be working, but they refuse
Now I'm living with the bums and the whores and the abused, man I hate getting old
Homeless, get away from here dont give them no money they'll just spend it
on beer
Homeless, will work for food, you'll do anything that you gotta do, when you're homeless.
Betty sings a song that no one hears, as the wind begins to freeze her tears
She says 'God it's been so many years', she's way past complainin
She sings a heartelt melody, one that begs for harmony
No it's not what she thought it would be, but hey it could be raining"


In Heroes he sings about suicide among US soldiers returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The song “Coyote” describes the toll taken by the scourge of human trafficking, using true events in which 18 immigrants trapped in a scorching trailer died at a Texas truck stop.

Clark's work is a reminder that creative expression almost always emerges from, and is intertwined with everyday lived experience. Clark has the ability to embed poignant stories, lessons and observations about the struggles, suffering and wonder of daily life into his songs. He does this with eloquence, pathos and humanity, but without sentimentality.

Guy Clark was 34 before he released his influential first album. Most of the songs on that album Old No 1 become staples in country and folk music. Two notable songs ”L.A. Freeway” and “Desperados Waiting for A Train,” were hit songs for Jerry Jeff Walker and have been recorded by many other singers. Guy Clark recorded 14 albums. His final album, My Favorite Picture of You, released in 2013 won a Grammy for best folk album.

Bob Dylan cited Guy Clark as one of his favorite songwriters. An article discussing Guy Clark's best songs is here.

Reflection and obituaries for Guy Clark are herehereherehere, here, herehere and here

A tribute CD This Ones for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark is a reminder of the powerful body of the work he produced over a 50 year career. On the CD you will find a stunning version by Patti Griffin of the Guy Clark's song The Cape:

The Cape
Guy Clark

Eight years old with a floursack cape
Tied all around his neck
He climbed up on the garage
Figurin' what the heck
He screwed his courage up so tight
The whole thing came unwound
He got a runnin' start and bless his heart
He headed for the ground

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

All grown up with a floursack cape
Tied around his dreams
He was full of spit and vinegar
He was bustin' at the seams
He licked his finger and he checked the wind
It was gonna be do or die
He wasn't scared of nothin' boys
And he was pretty sure he could fly

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

Old and grey with a floursack cape
Tied all around his head
He's still jumpin' off the garage
Will be till he's dead
All these years the people said
He's actin' like a kid
He did not know he could not fly
So he did

He's one of those who knows that life
Is just a leap of faith
Spread your arms and hold your breath
Always trust your cape

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Adrian C. Louis and the reservation of the mind


“I’m writing about my life. I guess deep down I sort of fancy myself as speaking for certain kinds of people who don’t have a choice—for the downtrodden.” 

"Faces skyward, we all seek
songs in the whirlwinds
that parch our slow lives."
Adrian C. Louis from Sun/Dance/Song

Sonny’s Purple Heart
By Adrian C. Louis


"But it’s too late to say you’re sorry." — The Zombies

I
Man, if you’re dead, why are you leading
me to drink after five sober years?
Sonny, can I get a witness?
I had a Snow White vision of the prodigal
son returning to America
that day of my final hangover.
I tried to clear the mixture
of cobwebs and shooting stars
from my brain with spit-warm
Budweiser, but the hair of the dog
just was not doing the trick.
I ended up pummeling myself
seven times that day and named each egg
white load for a Disney dwarf.
The first was Dopey.
The final was Sleepy, I think, or Droopy.


II

Last year you scrawled a letter to me
about your first and final visit
to the Vietnam Memorial and how your eyes
reflected off the shiny black stone
and shot back into your brain like guidons
unfurling the stench of cordite and the boy screams
of men whose souls evaporated
into morning mists over blue-green jungles.
You had to be there, you said.
That’s where you caught the cancer, you said.


III

Sonny. Tonight I had a dream of Mom’s death
twenty years too late and now my eyes
will not close like I imagine the lid
on her cheap casket did.
I was not there when she died.
Home on leave from Basic Training,
you stood in for me
because I was running scared
through the drugged-out alleys of America,
hiding from those Asian shadows
that would finally ace you and now, now
in the dark victory of your Agent Orange cancer,
it gives me not one ounce of ease
to say fuck Nixon and Kissinger,
fuck all the generals and all
the armies of God and fuck me,
twenty years
too late.


IV

History is history and thank God for that.
When we were wise-ass American boys
in our fifth grade geography class,
we tittered over the prurient-sounding
waves of Lake Titticaca … Titti … ca-ca
and we never even had the slightest
clue that Che was camping out
en las montañas de Bolivia …
We never knew American chemists would
kill you slicker than slant-eyed bullets.


V

Damn Sonny. Five sober years done squeaked
by like a silent fart and I’m on autopilot,
sitting in a bar hoisting suds with ghosts,
yours and my slowly evolving own.
When we were seventeen with fake I.D.’s,
we got into the Bucket of Blood
in Virginia City and slurped sloe gin fizzes
while the innocent jukebox blared
“She’s Not There” by the Zombies.
Later that drunken night you puked purple
splotches onto my new, white Levis
and a short, few years into your future
this lost nation would award
you two purple hearts,
one of which your mother pressed
into my hand that bright day
we filed you under
dry desert dirt.


(Adrian C. Louis, "Sonny’s Purple Heart" from Vortex of Indian Fevers. Copyright © 1995 by Adrian C. Louis)

The Sacred Circle
by Adrian C. Louis

Numanah, Grandfather, grant me the grace
of a new song far from this lament
of lame words and fossils of a losing game.
No more flat pebbles skimmed between the wetness
of tongue and thigh and eye again!
I never asked to be the son of a stained mattress
who contemplated venison stew and knew
the shame hidden in grease clouds stuck to the wall
behind the woodstove where Grandmother cooked.
I only wanted to run far, so far from Indian land.
And, God damn it, when I was old enough I did.
I loitered in some great halls of ivy
and allowed the inquisition of education:
electric cattle prods placed lovingly
to the lobes of my earth memories.
I carried the false spirit force of sadness
wrapped in a brown sack in the pocket
of a worn, tweed coat.
In junkie alleyways I whispered of forgotten arrows
in the narrow passages of my own discarded history.
Then, when I was old enough
I ran back to Indian land.
Now I’m thinking of running from here.
Pine Ridge, South Dakota
February 1988
(Adrian C. Louis, "The Sacred Circle" from Fire Water World. Copyright © 1989 by Adrian C. Louis.)

Adrian C. Louis is a member of the Lovelock Paiute tribe from Nevada who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He has written ten books of poetry, two novels and a book of short stories.His most recent book of poetry is Random Exorcisms.

He has been a journalist, editor of tribal newspapers and magazines and has taught at Lakota College and in the Minnesota public university system. He is editor for Lakota Times and Indian Country Today and co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association.

On his writing Adrian Louis said:
"Early on in my writing, I did a lot of speaking from behind masks. The older I got, the more honest and direct I became. I think that’s simply human nature. As we grow older, we learn that in the end, a lie will always return to bite you on the ass. But, I am no hero, no shaman/warrior. I am simply a common man. Even though I’ve gotten an education and have written books, I am still a person who grew up using an outhouse. I think people react strongly to my writings for varied reasons. Life can beat you down and I’ve survived my share of trauma, a lot of it self-inflicted. People can relate to that and to the fact that in a lot of my poems I don’t take any prisoners. I think many readers like to find a poem that in some way reflects their own complicated lives."

An online collection of poems is hereHis website is here & interviews are here and here.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ken Loach, the Palme D'Or award and a film on the horrors of neoliberal austerity


"The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism that have brought us to near catastrophe. It has led to billions of people in serious hardship and many millions struggling from Greece in the east to Spain in the west while this has brought a tiny few immense wealth..... When there is despair, the people from the far right take advantage. We must say that another world is possible and necessary.”
Ken Loach in his acceptance speech to the Cannes Film Festival


Great to hear that British left wing filmmaker Ken Loach has won his second Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his new film I Daniel Blake about the impact of Britain's barbaric welfare system.

In his acceptance speech Ken Loach slammed neoliberal austerity policies and welfare cuts across Europe and in Britain:

"There is a conscious cruelty in the way that we are organising our lives now, where the most vulnerable people are told that their poverty is their own fault... If you have no work it's your fault you haven't got a job"

I Daniel Blake shows what happens to people trapped in a punitive neoliberal welfare bureaucracy designed to give expression to the political rhetoric of 'lifters and leaners' in contemporary Britain.

The film documents the shame and horror of poverty and 'workfare' in UK and shows what happens when an older man living in Newcastle has a heart attack and can no longer work. He is declared fit for work, meaning his benefits are stopped, and he goes hungry.

A review of the film from the UK Independent is here:

Ken Loach’s latest feature (unveiled in competition in Cannes) is a story of an eminently decent man being ground down by an uncaring British welfare state. Scripted by Loach’s regular collaborator Paul Laverty, it is a melodramatic and sometimes very didactic film but also an intensely moving one.

This is the second time that Loach has won the Palme D'Or, the Cannes Festival's highest award. Loach won the award in 2006 for his film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about two brothers who join the IRA in the early 1920s. He is the ninth Director to win the award twice. 

Loach, who has directed 50 features for screen and TV, has been a left wing socialist activist and political campaigner for most of his career.

Lilly Brett and the contemporary resonance of the Holocaust


Leaving You
Lilly Brett


It has taken me
a long time to know
that it was your war
not mine

that I wasn’t
in Auschwitz
myself

that I have never seen
the Lodz Ghetto

or Stuthof
or a cattle wagon
or a selection queue
I thought
I knew
Nazis

I thought
I had lived
with fear

with
ration cards
with work permits

I thought I knew
what bodies gnawed by rats
looked like

and how
the mattresses
smelt

and what
it felt like
to fill your lungs

with
smoke
from flesh

to
live
with death

I have had
trouble
Mother
leaving you.
Lily Brett is an award-winning German- born, Australian novelist, essayist and poet who has lived in New York City since 1988. She began writing profiles of rock musicians in the 1960s for the Australian music magazine Go Set. Brett has published seven volumes of poetry, three collections of essays and six novels.

Brett is recognised as a distinguished Jewish poet of the Holocaust, along with poets like Paul Celan, Dan Pagis, Primo Levi, Hayim Gouri, and Jerzy Ficowski.

Brett was the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her parents survived six years in Polish ghettos before being transferred to Auschwitz concentration camp where they were separated. At the war's conclusion, they searched for six months to find each other. Brett's parents lost their whole family in the Holocaust-brothers, sisters, grandparents, uncles, aunts.

Lilly Brett was born in a displaced persons' camp in Germany in 1946 and emigrated to Melbourne in 1948, aged two.


Brett is currently in Australia to deliver the 2016 Yom Hashoah Communal Commemoration lecture for the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies to honour Holocaust survivors who migrated to Australia.

In a recent interview she expressed concern about the ways that contemporary politicians are exploiting the politics of hate and demonization for political gain, likening it to tactics used by the Nazis:

"...racism is dangerous. That bigotry is dangerous. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about Jews or anyone else, we cannot allow bigotry. And hatred of other people has become acceptable again. And it is becoming acceptable. Look at Donald Trump. The way he talks about Mexicans, and Muslims. His tactics are the same as any despot in history. It’s the politics of hate. That’s how people operated in the Nazi era, and when politicians do that it makes other people think it is acceptable.
“I have heard Australians — people I like enormously — talk about asylum-seekers in a way that makes me want to cry because we were refugees. And if you look at any community that has taken refugees in, they have enriched those communities."

A conversation between Richard Fidler and Lilly Brett on the ABC program Conversations with Richard Fidler is here.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brazilian people rise up against a neoliberal coup

Photo of members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brasilia protesting against the impeachment of Rousseff. Photo:Reuters

I wrote this blog piece earlier in the week about the neoliberal coup that removed the democratically elected President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff.

The coup was supported by the Brazilian corporate and business elite, and appears to have been supported by both the US government and US corporate interests and has installed Michel Temer (the right-wing vice president and U.S. informant) and members of the right wing neoliberal party that has lost every election since 2002.

The coup has led to a sharp outburst of resistance and protest by the Brazilian people. The new government threatened to criminalise and arrest protesters and demonstrators.

A selection of photos from the various protests is here.

Policemen ride their horses during a clash with demonstrators at a protest against the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, May 12, 2016. Photo:Reuters

There were protests at the Cannes Film Festival  where the cast and crew of the Brazilian film Aquarius staged an improvised protest on the red carpet to show support for President Dilma Rousseff, denouncing her suspension as a ‘coup d’état.’ 

The film's writer and Director Kleber Mendonca Filho and Sonia Braga the lead actress and other members of the cast and crew unveiled printed banners ahead of their film’s premiere.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Paul Celan: What is remembered and what is known

"Reality is not simply there; it must be searched for and won"
Paul Celan

"A poem can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the–not always hopeful–belief that, somewhere and sometime, it could wash up on land.”
Paul Celan


Paul Celan, 
A LEAF, treeless for Bertolt Brecht:
(trans by Michael Hamburger)

"What times are these
when a conversation
is almost a crime
because it includes
so much made explicit?'

To a Brother in Asia
Paul Celan

the self- transfigured
guns
travel skyward,

ten
bombers yawn, 

a rapid fire blossoms
just surely as peace,

a handful of rice
dies away as your friend.

Amanda Joy's generous gift of the book Romanian Poems by Paul Celan translated by Nina Cassian has sent me searching deeper into the life and work of Paul Celan.

Paul Celan (1920-1970) was a Romanian born German speaking poet and translator, considered one of the great German language poets, along with Rainer Marie Rilke

Born Paul Antschel- Paul Celan was the pseudonym he wrote under- he was born into a German speaking Jewish family in Czenowitz, Bukovina in Romania. He began writing poetry as  a teenager, when he was active in Jewish socialist organisations. In 1938, after finishing school he went to Paris to study medicine but because of Jewish quotas in Universities, he returned to Romania before the outbreak of war.

During WW2 he was forced into the Romanian ghetto where he translated Shakespeare and continued to write poetry. In 1942, the Nazis  rounded up ghetto inhabitants and sent them to concentration camps. His parents were deported to a concentration camp where his mother was shot and his father most likely died of typhus. Celan worked in a Nazi labor camp for 18 months before escaping when the Red Army advanced into Romania. An uncle died in Birkenau Concentration camp.

After the war he lived in Bucharest between 1945-47 and fled to Vienna after the Russian occupation of Romania and establishment of the Communist regime. His first collection of poetry was published in Vienna. He moved to Paris in 1948, where he lived until his death. He became a French citizen in 1955.

His poetry began to gain recognition after 1952. Celan's early pre-war poetry was lyrical and complex, however  he shifted dramatically in the post war years embracing more sober, factual and practical language.

Celan is best known for his post war poem Death Fugue, a poem set in a the death camp. 

Black milk of morning
we drink you at dusktime we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at night 
we drink and drink
we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie

 There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes who
writes
when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden
hair Margareta
he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start
flashing he whistles his
 dogs to draw near
whistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of
sand
he commands us to play for the dance
extract from Death Fugue by Paul Celan 
© 2005 by Paul Celan and Jerome Rothenberg

His poetry speaks of the tyranny and horror of the war and postwar years. While much of his poetry speaks profoundly of the Holocaust and the death of his parents and family members, Celan was not just a Holocaust poet.

Celan wrote poetry in German, registering in their own language the horror the Nazi's created. Of language after Auschwitz, Celan wrote:

"Only one thing remained readable close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could re-surface 'enriched' by it all."

Celan took his own life in April 1970 in the Seine River in Paris.

John McGregor who produced an ABC radio feature on Paul Celan wrote of  Paul Celan's poetry:

'But the surprise, the discovery, was reading the poetry of Paul Celan. It was a shattering experience, its impact upon me difficult to encompass in a bland sentence or two. Celan's vision is at once one of immense grief - the grief of exile, of bearing witness to the Holocaust, of facing history and personal loss in the one moment - and also a vision of what can only be called 'a terrible beauty'. Reading his work I found myself frequently breathless, at other times in tears, or astounded by the beauty he conveyed in startling images, suffused through with arcane and complex allusions."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The neoliberal coup in Brazil

The slow motion neoliberal coup in Brazil, which masquerades as impeachment of the President for corruption, took another turn this week with the ousting of President Dilma Roussef and her replacement by Vice-President Michel Temer and the right -wing Brazilian Democratic Movement Party or PMDB (in Brazil impeachment results in the appointment of a person from a different party to that of the elected President).

Roussef was dismissed over allegations of accounting manipulation that supposedly misrepresented the fiscal position of the government. The allegations will be heard by the Brazilian Senate, which itself is awash with corruption.

In reality, her dismissal was a right-wing neoliberal coup by a right-wing party and their powerful corporate and business backers to wrench the country from the hands of a moderate left government and condemn Brazil to a path of unrepentant neoliberalism. This, despite the same right wing party losing 4 elections in the last 14 years.

In 2002, Brazil threw off the shackles of a 22 year long military dictatorship supported by the UK and US Governments, by electing the left wing Workers Party led by Lula Da Silva. 'Lula' was President until 2012 when he had to stand down because Brazilian Presidents cannot be in power for more than 3 terms. His replacement was Dilma Roussef who lead the Workers Party to a fourth election victory in 2014.

While the Workers Party implemented many important reforms- the minimum wage was doubled and public and social services expanded, poverty was reduced by 55 percent, extreme poverty by 65 percent and inequality reduced significantly- Brazil remains one of the most unequal countries in the world.

Although Roussef's party was mired in corruption scandals, she was not accused of impropriety. The collapse in the oil price hit Brazil's economy hard and forced Roussef to make severe cuts which demoralised her supporters. As her popularity plummeted Brazil's right wing corporate and political elite saw the opportunity to strike.

Political corruption is endemic in Brazil
Brazilian politicians are notoriously corrupt. Nearly 3/5 of the Brazil's congress (318 members) is under investigation or face charges, including many who backed her impeachment. The Speaker of the House who led the impeachment process is accused of squirreling away $5 million in Swiss bank accounts.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, Temer is a deeply corrupt and unpopular politician stained by his own corruption scandals. He is accused of involvement in an illegal ethanol purchasing scheme and was found guilty of, and fined for election spending violations for which he faces a 8 year ban on running for office.

Many members of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party have been involved in the most serious corruption scandal in Brazil’s history. Known as Operation Car Wash, the scandal involves hundreds of millions of dollars of money laundering and bribery surrounding the state-run Petrobras oil company.

A key agenda for impeaching Rousseff was to stop investigations of corruption against Congress members and media executives.

A neoliberal coup
The real purpose behind the coup was on display within days when Temer appointed a government made up of white male members of the BMDP, even though  they had lost 4 elections since 2002, including an election 18 months ago.

Seven of the ministers he appointed are under investigation for their alleged role in the Petrobras corruption scandal.

Temer showed his intention to serve the interests of his corporate and business backers. Without a mandate, Temer immediately announced a suite of neoliberal austerity measures, including sweeping cuts to government spending, reversing constitutional commitments to education and health spending, slashing pensions, cutting thousands of public sector jobs, freezing the minimum wage, gutting labour laws and weakening workers rights and privatisation of infrastructure, institutions and services.

Temer also announced his intention to appoint Goldman Sachs and IMF officials to run the economy.

Temer's appointments include  an agriculture minister who is an agribusiness billionaire known as the “soy king”, who is said to have destroyed more rain forest than any living person. The Minister of Justice is an open advocate of police repression.  In his previous role as Secretary of Public Security in São Paulo, he ordered the military police to invade a high school that had been occupied by students protesting against theft of funds allocated for school lunches. The Finance Minister is a former CEO of Bank of Boston and an advocate of extreme neoliberal economic policies.


US involvement in the coup
Once again, as in many other recent coups in Latin America, the hands of the US Government and US corporate and business interests are all over the Brazil coup.

The US President and Secretary of State were silent on the coup.

Wikileaks has recently exposed Temer's connections to the US Government. Wikileaks has  released declassified material showing that Temer was an embassy informant for US intelligence and military, raising serious questions about US Government and corporate involvement in the coup.

The damning evidence was provided in a series of tweets by the WikiLeaks Twitter account that linked Temer to diplomatic cables highlighting the information he provided to the U.S. military and National Security Council.

The USA has long opposed Roussef's independent-mindedness and participation in the BRICS trade grouping seeing it as a threat to US influence in the region. Edward Snowden's revelation that the NSA had been tapping her phone, led Roussef to deliver a blistering speech at the United Nations accusing the US of violating international law and violating “the principles that must guide the relations among…friendly nations".

Leftist governments in Brazil and Venezuela have long been
targets of US destabilization efforts. Mark Weisbrot writes that the US has always supported coups against left wing governments in Latin America:

"...including — in just the 21st century — Paraguay in 2012, Haiti in 2011 and 2004, Honduras in 2009, and Venezuela in 2002. President Obama went to Argentina to lavish praise on the new right-wing, pro-U.S. government there, and the administration reversed its prior policy of blocking multilateral loans to Argentina. It could be a coincidence that the scandal at Petrobras followed a major NSA spying operation that targeted the company — or not. And within Brazil today, the opposition is dominated by politicians who favor Washington."

Democracy Now reported that in the lead up to the coup key Opposition leaders from the PMDP right wing party traveled to Washington to meet with and brief senior US officials.

There is also evidence that some of those involved in the coup have links to the US billionaires and influential political funders, the Koch Bros. The Free Brazil Movement, a far right group committed to neoliberal market solutions, is linked to groups financed by the Koch Bros.

Some groups actively involved in the coup also have direct links to corporations, big business and corporate elite in Brazil. The Chair of the group Students for Liberty has business interests connected to companies previous involved in the 1964 military coup and the organisation VemPra Rua (Come to the Streets) is funded by a foundation owned by Brazil's richest businessman.

As Glenn Greenwald writes, the Brazilian corporate media is a key player in what he calls a 'neoliberal coup', by drumming up and legitimizing corruption allegations and supporting impeachment, supposedly in the name of democracy and freedom and to protect against corruption. This is despite the new right-wing government being more corrupt that the one it replaced.

Reporters Without Borders wrote:

"In a barely veiled manner, the leading national media have urged the public to help bring down President Dilma Rousseff. The journalists working for these media groups are clearly subject to the influence of private and partisan interests, and these permanent conflicts of interests are clearly very detrimental to the quality of their reporting.”

Maria Luisa Mendonca, Director of Brazil Network for Social Justice and Human Rights noted the role of media outlets in calling for demonstrations against the Rousseff government and ignoring large demonstrations against the impeachment:

"A key player is Globo TV, which is known for supporting the military dictatorship that lasted more than 20 years in Brazil. Globo executives were recently mentioned in connection with the Panama Papers, and in the investigations against FIFA for illegal procedures in negotiating broadcast rights of soccer games. At the same time, large demonstrations against the impeachment and in defense of the democratic process that elected president Rousseff have been ignored by mainstream media."

Response to the coup
Street protests against the coup erupted across Brazil immediately and a group of over 800 international academics and intellectuals calling itself “Humanity Against the Coup in Brazil” released a statement  condemning the coup.

The new  government threatened  to criminalise and arrest protesters and demonstrators.
Leaders of other Latin America countries condemned the coup.

In this piece Lawrence Reichard writes on the response of some everyday Brazilians in the neighborhood where he lives in Rio.

Here in Australia there has been virtually no serious reporting of the Brazil, coup. The only reporting Australians get about Brazil focuses on Australia's preparation for the Rio Olympics.

In The Nation, Dave Zirin writes that the Brazil coup is yet another reason to protest the Rio Olympic Games. Zirin has written previously about the ways that the Brazilian corporate and political elite are exploiting the Rio Olympic Games for private economic gain and political power. Zirin has argued that the Rio Olympics cemented the coup.

There are growing calls for a boycott of the Rio Olympic Games in protest against the coup.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Corporate crime wave: Australia's epidemic of corporate criminality


“As crimes pile up they become invisible”
Bertolt Brecht

“Corporate crime poses a significant threat to the welfare of the community. Given the pervasive presence of corporations in a wide range of activities in our society, and the impact of their actions on a much wider group of people than are affected by individual action, the potential for both economic and physical harm caused by a corporation is great.”
Law Reform Commission of New South Wales

In two recent submissions, I argue that Australia is in the wake of a global and national epidemic of corporate and business malfeasance, lawlessness and criminality, and has become a haven for corporate and white collar crime.

Crimes committed by those at the top of the corporate (and political) hierarchy are routinely ignored or brushed under the carpet and Australia governments and the various regulatory authorities have failed to take action against increasingly egregious and escalating levels of unlawful and criminal conduct by corporations and business.

One submission was to an Australian Senate Inquiry into Penalties for White Collar Crime (which has since lapsed because of the government's dissolution of both houses.) My submission is available here as Submission No 18 under the banner of the Nemesis Project which I coordinate.

The second submission was to the Federal Attorney's General's public consultation on Deferred Prosecution Agreements for corporate and business crime (submission is not yet publicly available but will be here).

In the submission to the Senate Inquiry into Penalties for White Collar Crime, I argue that:
  • Over recent decades legal and regulatory systems have been dismantled or loosened to remove constraints against corporate and investor profit-making and profit-taking.
  • Corporate and white-collar crime is traceable to a gross failure of the law. Legal constraints have been cast aside or not applied to their fullest. Corporations and business groups have worked to limit the effectiveness of efforts to stamp out corporate crime. They make it more difficult to prosecute crimes.
  • Corporations and business have actively subverted the law, as well as government regulation and ethical standards, in order to maximize their profits and ensure that resources flow to them. There has been a pervasive legal and political failure to control unlawful conduct by corporations and business.
  • For decades, the regulatory authorities have failed to investigate and take action against corporate and white collar crimes.  Governments, corporate regulators and law enforcement authorities and politicians have been unwilling to take serious action against corporate criminals who knowingly swindle and harm ordinary Australians.
  • The dominant response to corporate and business offending has been regulation rooted in co-operation. These strategies work predominantly to the advantage of powerful corporate and business interests.
These views were supported by numerous other submissions to the Senate Inquiry, as well as a recent report by the Australia Institute.
A submission to the Senate Inquiry by the the Economic Consultancy LF Economics provides a damming indictment of corporate criminality and control fraud within the FIRE sector (finance, insurance and real estate).
They contend that systemic criminal activity exists in the FIRE sector, with the full knowledge of all the regulatory authorities and State and Federal governments, and  places consumers at grave risk of having their finances and livelihoods destroyed.
LF Economics calls for much greater enforcement and prosecution of corporate and financial criminality:
Australians have been betrayed by the regulatory agencies’ neglect and continual siding with lenders and corporate management, despite their full knowledge of the catastrophic pain endured by many who have lost their homes, assets and life savings. ….. A strict focus on rules, regulations, standards, codes and penalties will have a negligible effect on control frauds because these crimes are simply ignored in reality. Two decades of fruitless inquiries and tweaking of innumerable rules and regulations has merely contributed to the losses endured by typical ‘mum and dad’ investors, now into many tens (perhaps hundreds) of billions of dollars. The nation already has an abundance of appropriate laws and regulations to contain and dismantle these control frauds, yet regulators are averse to enforcement, rendering these powers null and void.
The Australia Institute report Corporate Malfeasance in Australia shows that corporate malfeasance is endemic and widespread in Australia. Its findings include:
  • Budget cuts enacted by the current government have compromised the ability to investigate corporate wrongdoing.
  • There are hundreds of cases against corporations and business being pursued by Australian regulators each year, however progress is seriously impaired by the lack of staffing and resources.
  •  There are fewer regulators ‘patrolling the corporate beat’ in Australia with government agencies responsible for monitoring corporate wrongdoing and malfeasance having their staffing cut between 14-16% since the 2013-14 Budget.
Despite this corporate crime wave, the Abbott/Turnbull Government is considering introducing a Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPA) Scheme to give corporations accused of wrongdoing and criminality the opportunity to defer prosecution in exchange for a monetary payment and compliance with a range of conditions. DPAs involve a shift from prosecution to compliance.

A DPA is a contractual agreement between government and a corporate entity that allows government to impose sanctions and set up and monitor institutional changes, in exchange for an agreement that government forego further investigation and corporate criminal indictment.

Governments and regulatory authorities (particularly in the USA and UK) have relied primarily on deferred prosecution agreements, however corporations and business continue to engage in unlawful and criminal conduct. Indeed, the criminality has intensified and become more brazen.

In the US, despite an epidemic of criminality, the authorities have been unwilling to charge and prosecute corporate criminals and one consequence of the adoption of DPA’s, is that Federal prosecutions of corporate and white collar crime is at a 20 year low.

In my submission, I argue that Deferred Prosecution Agreements are no solution to the epidemic of serious corporate malfeasance and criminality that has made Australia a haven for corporate crime.

There is no evidence that DPAs deter corporate and white collar crime and they may, in fact, encourage crime by reducing the threats of prosecution and incarceration. As the number of DPAs rise, the number of prosecutions decline.

My submission opposed the adoption of a DPA scheme in Australia.