• "The pagent is vast, and I clutch at tiny details, indequate" Dorothea Lange

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Foggy Dew and the 1916 Irish Easter Uprising

In 1919, Canon Charles O'Neill wrote the Foggy Dew, one of the great Irish ballads, in response to the execution of the Irish leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising by the British Government and military authorities. 

The rebel song,  The Foggy Dew was O'Neill's response to the ferocity and savagery of the British response to the Easter Uprising.

In chronicling the Easter Rising of 1916, O'Neill encouraged Irishmen to fight for Ireland and not for Britain in WW1. Hence, the immortal line:
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Sulva or Sud El Bar.
The Foggy Few has been recorded by many iconic Irish musicians including the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Sinead O'Connor and The Chieftans, The Dubliners, Wolf Tones and Shane McGowan. (3 versions are below).

On Easter Monday 1916, in Dublin, 1500 armed Irish revolutionaries seized a number of strategic buildings and locations across the city, including the Court House and the iconic Dublin Post Office, with the goal of immobilizing the British forces in Dublin and inspiring a revolutionary uprising throughout Ireland.

The uprising was  mounted by Irish Republicans at the height of WW1 with the aim of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing an Irish rebellion.  All this occured at the time that the British empire was engaged in the slaughter on the Western Front across France and Belgium.

The British response to the Easter uprisings was unsurprisingly savage and ferocious. They shelled and attacked the insurgents with artillery and massive firepower. In their book titled The Easter Uprising, Foy and Barton write:

The fighting in Dublin at Easter 1916 was multifaceted, ranging from rifle fire into and out of houses and large buildings, to ambushes and pitched battles. Grenades and bombs were thrown from roofs while snipers operated from windows, barricades, church spires and clock towers and were, in turn, hunted down by individual enemy marksmen or units. Sometimes combat was at close quarters, almost hand to hand.
The Post Office siege was perhaps the most iconic. The insurgents held out against British artillery and direct fire for days.

The rebellion was suppressed within a week and its leaders were arrested and deported to Britain where they were either executed or imprisoned. Many of those involved became leaders in the ongoing struggle against British rule that eventually lead to Irish independence, including legendary figures in Irish history such as Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, James Connolly (executed) and Roger Casement (executed). 

Despite its apparent failure at the time the Easter uprising was a definitive event that largely united the counties of Southern Ireland against their British masters and ultimately forced the British  to the bargaining table. In particular, the savagery of the British was a critical factor in turning many Irish people to the Republican cause.

This live version of the Foggy Dew is by the Clancy Bros and Tommy Makem, and includes evocative poetry read by Liam Clancy and documentary photos.

This version is by the Spanish group Banshee

This is Sinead O'Connor and the Chieftan's version of the Foggy Dew.

The Foggy Dew  
As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No fife did hum nor battle drum did sound it's dread tatoo
But the Angelus bell o'er the Liffey swell rang out through the foggy dew

Right proudly high over Dublin Town they hung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Sulva or Sud El Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia's Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew

'Twas Britannia bade our Wild Geese go that small nations might be free
But their lonely graves are by Sulva's waves or the shore of the Great North Sea
Oh, had they died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha
Their names we will keep where the fenians sleep 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew

But the bravest fell, and the requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the springing of the year
And the world did gaze, in deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few
Who bore the fight that freedom's light might shine through the foggy dew

Ah, back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I'd kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, When you fell in the fog

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Monty Python: The 4 Yorkshiremen sketch

Last night my brother and I described this sketch to his children and their partners. 

It is a wonderful parody of the tendency of the rich and the powerful to wallow in nostalgia about the circumstances of their upbringing.

Monty Python Four Yorkshire Men Sketch

Four well-dressed men sitting together at a vacation resort.

Michael Palin: Ahh.. Very passable, this, very passable.

Graham Chapman: Nothing like a good glass of Chateau de Chassilier wine, ay Gessiah?

Terry Gilliam: You're right there Obediah.

Eric Idle: Who'd a thought thirty years ago we'd all be sittin' here drinking Chateau de Chassilier wine?

MP: Aye. In them days, we'd a' been glad to have the price of a cup o' tea.

GC: A cup ' COLD tea.

EI: Without milk or sugar.

TG: OR tea!

MP: In a filthy, cracked cup.

EI: We never used to have a cup. We used to have to drink out of a rolled up newspaper.

GC: The best WE could manage was to suck on a piece of damp cloth.

TG: But you know, we were happy in those days, though we were poor.

MP: Aye. BECAUSE we were poor. My old Dad used to say to me, "Money doesn't buy you happiness."

EI: 'E was right. I was happier then and I had NOTHIN'. We used to live in this tiiiny old house, with greaaaaat big holes in the roof.

GC: House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!

TG: You were lucky to have a ROOM! *We* used to have to live in a corridor!

MP: Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin' in a corridor! Woulda' been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us! House!? Hmph.

EI: Well when I say "house" it was only a hole in the ground covered by a piece of tarpolin, but it was a house to US.

GC: We were evicted from *our* hole in the ground; we had to go and live in a lake!

TG: You were lucky to have a LAKE! There were a hundred and sixty of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.

MP: Cardboard box?

TG: Aye.

MP: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o'clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, out Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!

GC: Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o'clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!

TG: Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoebox at twelve o'clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife.

EI: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, (pause for laughter), eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing "Hallelujah."

MP: But you try and tell the young people today that... and they won't believe ya'.

ALL: Nope, nope..

The American tradition of home grown 'white' right-wing terrorists

'The fact of the matter is that more people have been killed domestically by radical right extremists than Islamic extremists since 9/11'
Heidi Beirich
Southern Poverty Law Centre

Frazier Glenn Miller (Cross) is a former Klu-Klux Klan leader accused of killing three people outside Jewish community centres in Kansas City in the US.  

Cross is a Vietnam War veteran and notorious white supremacist, with a long history in the movement, including founding the Carolina Knights of the KKK.  He ran for the U.S. House in 2006 and the U.S. Senate in 2010, each time espousing a white-power platform, with a campaign steeped in race hate and anti-Antisemitism. Miller has also been an FBI informant.

This segment from Democracy Now provides further information on Miller and the shootings.

As Amy Goodman notes,  murderous rampages by right-wingers like Miller are dismissed as 'lone wolf' attacks by deranged and damaged individuals, rather than as organised terrorist attacks. 

In recent years, there has been a pattern of similar terrorist attacks, including murders and bombings by far right white supremacist groups. One example was the murder of seven people by a white supremacist at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin in 2012. Many mass shootings in the US have been perpetrated by people with extreme right-wing sensibilities and attitudes.

There is also the epidemic of violence directed at reproductive health and abortion clinics by religious fundamentalist and right-wing groups, which has included killings, shootings, bomb-blasts, arson attacks, acid attacks and violence.

In this segment Rachel Maddow documents the long and growing threat presented by right- wing terrorist groups in the USA and explores the ways that threat is being ignored.

Miller is another example of the terrorist threat that is largely ignored by US authorities- the terrorist threat from right-wing hate groups and white supremacist groups

The FBI claims that eco-terrorists are the number one domestic terror threat to the USA. The US Department of Homeland Security gutted the unit that was supposed to investigate home grown non-Islamic terrorists after pressure from the right-wing over a leaked report that highlighted the risk of former US servicemen joining right-wing hate groups and white supremacist groups

Efforts by civil society groups and human rights organisations to expose such home grown right-wing and white supremacist terrorist groups are ignored, or actively undermined by US law enforcement and security agencies, who remain focused on Muslim groups, environmental activists and animal rights activists all of whom are labeled as terrorists. 

A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre found that the murders of almost 100 people can be linked to a single far-right website.

Amy Goodman writes
While law-abiding Muslims are forced to hide in their homes, and animal-rights activists are labeled as terrorists for undercover filming of abusive treatment at factory farms, right-wing hate groups are free to organize, parade, arm themselves to the hilt and murder with chilling regularity. It’s time for our society to confront this very real threat.
And here is Juan Cole on US attitudes to 'white terrorism' and the main differences between white terrorists and others
"1. White terrorists are called “gunmen.” What does that even mean? A person with a gun? Wouldn’t that be, like, everyone in the US? Other terrorists are called, like, “terrorists.” 
2. White terrorists are “troubled loners.” Other terrorists are always suspected of being part of a global plot, even when they are obviously troubled loners. 
3. Doing a study on the danger of white terrorists at the Department of Homeland Security will get you sidelined by angry white Congressmen. Doing studies on other kinds of terrorists is a guaranteed promotion. 
4. The family of a white terrorist is interviewed, weeping as they wonder where he went wrong. The families of other terrorists are almost never interviewed. 
5. White terrorists are part of a “fringe.” Other terrorists are apparently mainstream. 
6. White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies. 
7. White terrorists are never called “white.” But other terrorists are given ethnic affiliations. 
8. Nobody thinks white terrorists are typical of white people. But other terrorists are considered paragons of their societies.9. White terrorists are alcoholics, addicts or mentally ill. Other terrorists are apparently clean-living and perfectly sane. 
10. There is nothing you can do about white terrorists. Gun control won’t stop them. No policy you could make, no government program, could possibly have an impact on them. But hundreds of billions of dollars must be spent on police and on the Department of Defense, and on TSA, which must virtually strip search 60 million people a year, to deal with other terrorists."

Friday, April 18, 2014

When defending the environment against capitalism gets you killed

Members of the Peasant Unified Movement of Honduras, carry mock coffins bearing pictures of people killed in land conflict clashes. There were 109 activist deaths between 2002-13 in Honduras, making it the world's second deadliest country for communities defending natural resources. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images from the Guardian

Chilling stories on Democracy Now and The Guardian about a report by the group Global Witness which identifies a global surge in the number of environmental activists murdered whilst protecting their land and the environment. Brazil is the world's deadliest country for environmental activists with 448 deaths between 2002 and 2013. 

Activists in Latin America and Asia Pacific are most at risk. 

The report Deadly Environment:The Dramatic Rise in Killings of Environmental and Land Defenders found that the murder of environmental and land rights activists worldwide has tripled over the past decade. The report found that 147 activists were killed in 2012, compared to 51 in 2002. The death rate is now an average of two per week.

Almost none of the killers have faced charges.

The report argues these killings are just the tip of the iceberg and the actual numbers being killed are far greater. Under-reporting and difficulties verifying killings in isolated areas are a significant problem. Reports from many countries- a number of African countries, Zimbabwe and Myanmar- where civil society groups are weak and the regimes are authoritarian, are not included in the count.

The environmental activists are being targeted for killing in a struggle between those trying to protect and conserve the natural environment and the buying power of money. The report points to competition over land and natural resources resulting from industrial logging, mining and land rights as the trigger for the murders.

The vast majority of activists killed are resisting the operations of global corporations, including logging companies, agribusiness corporations and mining and resource corporations.

The Democracy Now story includes an interview with José da Silva, a Brazilian conservationist and environmentalist who campaigned against logging and clearcutting of trees in the Amazon rainforest. In 2011, José and his wife Maria were murdered by masked gunmen. José’s ear was ripped out as proof of execution.

Here is Global Witness campaigner Oliver Courteney
They’re often ordinary people who are resisting these operations. As I’ve said, it’s very difficult often to pinpoint the exact perpetrator. There’s a very startling low number of convictions. But what we have seen is that they are resisting operations to these companies. And we do feel like it’s down to the companies to make sure that they’re not being associated with this kind of violence, and also that governments need to monitor this problem much more clearly and much more actively and protect those citizens who are facing these threats, ensure that any perpetrators are brought to justice.............................................
Mr. Penetra was one of the most striking cases in our report, because we published our first round of research into this issue shortly before the Rio summit, and we tried to issue a wake-up call to the international community to say that we felt that this problem was increasing and that the threat to environmental activists was increasing, just before the—before delegates gathered to discuss better ways to protect the climate and the environment. Now, Mr. Penetra was an advocate for fishermen’s rights who had been fighting for the rights of local fishermen against the—against the advance of oil operations in the area. And now, the day after the summit ended in Rio, Mr. Penetra was abducted, and he was found executed with another campaigner just a few days later. We really think that sends out a symbol about how much needs to be done. He was one of 18 activists who were murdered in the month after Rio, which shows how far we have to go and how much work needs to be done by governments and the international community to make sure that these people who are laying their lives on the line to protect the environment are getting the protection they deserve. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday's poem: Ali Alizadeh

The Suspect
Ali Alizadeh

Over there, in the Other land, I was
gharb-zadeh, Farsi to the effect of west-

smitten. Over here, in 'Our' land, I am
Muslim immigrant, nomenclature with grave

 allusions: unemployment, anger, and
unpredictable police attention. Over there

I was an 'apostate', principal's term for
the boy who failed Koran Studies and wrote 

 an essay on Leonardo da Vinci. Over here
dainty high school girl rejected this thick

 -accented adolescent for being too hairy
and a 'Muslim rapist'. Over there, utterly guilty

of doodling Zorro; hence flogged by the irate
principal. Over here shackled to a passport

etched with 'born in Tehran'. 
There I was suspected of perfidy to the Faith, an Infidel

- wannabe. Over here I am suspected 
of terror, 'Our' values' covert enemy. My likes

 don't belong to tribes, nations, et al; but 
welcome at the cells of the Islamic Republic's
Evin Prison, pliers pinching their finger
- nails; or sleep-deprived and hooded indefinitely

 in the dark solitaries of Guantánamo Bay.

(from Ashes in the Air 2011)

Ali Alizadeh was born in Tehran, Iran in 1976 and came to Australia in 1991 as a teenager. 

Alizadeh is  a lecturer in creative writing at Monash University and writes poetry, fiction, drama, novels, biography and translates Persian poetry. He has taught at universities in Australia, China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, and has worked as a street performer, hair-wrapper and delivery driver.

The poem The Suspect is from Ashes in the Air is his third book of poetry. An interview with Alizadeh is here.

His website is here.

More detail on all his books can be found here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the historical significance of April 14th

Today- April 14th 2014- is an important day in the fight against fascism. But one that won't be widely publicized in the mainstream corporate press anywhere, perhaps with the exception of Spain.

On April 14th 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed, after the Spanish people voted overwhelmingly for a leftist Government, only the second time in their history that the Spanish people had been able to vote for their Government. 

(the photo shows crowds in Madrid on the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931)

The Second Spanish Republic, only the second ever elected Government of Spain (a Republican-Socialist Government), lasted until its dissolution in 1939, when the forces of the fascist right, led by General Franco won victory in the Spanish Civil War

The Second Republic came about after parties of the left won the 1931 election on the basis of a reform agenda, which included the establishment of a Republic and proposals for serious economic and political reform, including dismantling the structures of privilege in Spanish society, implementing a new Constitution, land reforms, anti-militarist policies, the vote for women, separation of Church and State and removal of the power of the Monarchy.

The Government of the Second Republic faced serious internal economic and political instability, particularly from the right, including the Church, parts of the military and wealthy Spaniards who supported the monarchy and the Spanish nobility, but also from sections of the left who believed the reforms did not go far enough.

As a result of the internal political tensions and the economic fallout from the Great Depression, Spain experienced a series of profound political upheavals, economic crises and intense instability which resulted in strikes, uprisings, armed insurrections, increasing violence and political killings, as groups fragmented on both right and left.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began after a group of Spanish military officers led by General  Francisco Franco, and with the support of right wing, conservative and fascist groups, attempted a military coup against a reformist Government, that was met with armed resistance. The Spanish Civil War war lasted until 1939 when Republican forces finally surrendered to Franco's forces.

General Franco and his forces were backed politically, militarily and economically by Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy, whose intervention was critical in determining the final outcome of the war. The Spanish Civil War provided Nazi Germany with the opportunity to develop and test their military power and military strategies in preparation for the larger European conflict that erupted in 1939. Republican forces received some support from the Soviet Union and particularly from volunteers fighting in the International Brigades.

In her book The War and its Shadow: Spain's Civil War in Europe's Long Twentieth Century, Helen Graham notes that Franco's forces:
... authorized and presided over an extermination of those sectors associated with Republican change – especially those who symbolized cultural change and thus posed a threat to old ways of being and thinking: progressive teachers, self-educated workers, ‘new’ women. In the Republican zone, resistance to the coup also led to the murder of civilians. This extrajudicial and communal killing in both zones would fundamentally make new political and cultural meanings that changed Spain’s political landscape forever.
At the completion of the war in 1939, Franco established an autocratic dictatorship with himself as head of State and Government. He defined Spain as a totalitarian state with one legal political party, a merger of the monarchist and fascist parties that had supported him during the war.

Although hostilities ended in early 1939, Franco continued to wage war against the defeated Republicans, who he labeled as "red" and the "enemy within"(despite their social, political and religious diversity).

But why did the election of the Second Republic and the Spanish Civil War unleash such horrific bloodletting and terrible atrocities during and after the war?

In his book The Spanish Holocaust Inquest and Extermination in Twentieth Century Spain, Paul Preston documents the prejudice that led Spain's reactionary right into their bloodletting.  Preston argues that among Franco's forces and the reactionary and fascist right there was absolute, and often paranoid, conviction that the Republican enemy was evil. 

In his review of Preston's book Giles Tremlett writes:
Democrats, reds, Jews, freemasons, Marxists, Muslims, "free" women, trade unionists, socialists, socially concerned priests and social liberals were, simply because of their beliefs, considered to be guilty of crimes against the fatherland, God and the natural social order.
In his harrowing book Paul Preston uses the word holocaust to describe what took place in Spain during and after the Spanish Civil War, comparing it with the mass killings that occurred in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

Preston exposes the murders and cruelty of both sides. He argues that under Franco's command, murder and terror were official policy, whereas in Republican areas, with some glaring exceptions, it was more often the result of chaos, fear, ignorant hatred, criminal thuggery and anarchy. 

After the war, there were harsh reprisals by the Franco Government against anyone suspected of sympathy with and involvement in the Second Republic and Republican forces. Estimates are that Franco Government was responsible for between 50,000 and 2000,00 deaths including 30,000 executed. Thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and put into forced labour camps and forced into prison type work such as building railways, drying out swamps and digging canals.

Hundreds of thousands of Republicans fled abroad, with some 500,000 fleeing to France

The Government in exile of the second Republic survived as an embassy in Mexico till 1976. General Franco ruled Spain until his death in 1975.  

The events of 1931 and the war of 1936-1939 continue to have profound contemporary resonance in Spain. 

Recent protests in Spain against the social and economic dislocation and devastation resulting from neoliberal and market fundamentalist polices and imposed austerity regimes, evoke the spirit of the Second Republic. 

And families and communities are reclaiming the remains and the memories of family members, loved ones and others who died during and after the Spanish Civil War, as evidenced in events like this one, where family members of Republican political prisoners who died in prisons and labour camps are gathering their relatives' remains to give them a proper burial.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The power of the corporate (private) prison industry and why Australia has the highest proportion of private prisons in the world

"Research to date on private prisons has found that they perform no better than publicly operated facilities, are not guaranteed to reduce correctional costs, and provide an incentive for increasing correctional and detention populations. Despite these repeated failings, many countries, including those facing serious problems in the quality and capabilities of their correctional systems, have followed the United States in adopting a flawed and shortsighted scheme." 
from International Growth Trends in Prison Privatization.
A Report by the Sentencing Project titled International Growth Trends in Prison Privatization shows that Australia has the highest proportion of prisoners in private (corporate) run prisons in the world. 

The table shows that the percentage of prisoners held in private prisons in Australia is 19%, compared to 17% in Scotland, 14% in England and Wales and 11% in New Zealand. (Given that the data used in the report is from 2011 it is highly likely that the proportion of prisoners in private prisons in Australia would be higher now in 2014)

Some Australian states, like Victoria, have a higher proportion of prisoners in private prisons. In Victoria nearly one third of prisoners are held in private prisons, giving it the highest level of prison privatization of any jurisdiction in the world.

The US has the highest number of prisoners held in private/corporate run prisons, but the percentage of prisoners in private prisons is 8%.

The population of people held in private prisons in Australia has increased 95% in the past 15 years. In that same period, the number of prisoners in state-run jails grew by 50 per cent and the total prison population increased by 57 per cent.

 The rapid and consistent increase in the number of prisoners over the last two decades, coupled with a 106% prison occupancy rate, creates an opportunity for private prison corporations to thrive.

Another reason for the growth in the numbers of detainees in corporate run prisons in Australia has been the enormous growth in the number of asylum seekers detained in immigration detention prisons run by Serco (on shore and Christmas Island) and Transfield (Naura and Manus Island).

What is happening in Australia is consistent with international trends. The report International Growth Trends in Prison Privatization by the Sentencing Project found that:
  • At least 11 countries, spread across North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand are engaged in some level of prison privatization.
  • The private prison market outside the US is dominated by 3 corporations- Serco, G4S and Geo Group.
  • Immigration detention has become a rapid growth market for the private prison corporations.
  • The profit motive of private prison corporations often leads to inadequate services and unsafe conditions.
The private run prisons  are immensely powerful and profitable, with the corporations involved in running private prisons making increased profits across all jurisdictions in which they operate.
"The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.”
Even a pro-prison privatization advocate, such as Professor Richard Harding notes that the prison corporations such as GEO and Serco are more powerful than the governments they deal with. 

Private prison corporations have a vested interest in mass incarceration and policies that result in more people being imprisoned. As Paul Allizi writes:
The larger the prison population, the longer the sentences, the larger the payout under government contracts. The more prisoners, the more prisons, the more growth. Cheaper facilities and fewer services mean more profit. These inescapable relationships are the source of the potential conflicts of interest. The incentives of private prison companies can easily become opposed to the aims of the humane containment and rehabilitation of prisoners- the very purpose of corrective services".
In Australia three private corporations- Serco, G4S and Geo Group- run private prisons in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. These three corporations are global giants, in a powerful billion dollar industry, and they also run prisons in the US, UK, Europe, Israel and South Africa.

Corporate run prisons in Australia are:
  • Immigration Detention Centres, onshore and offshore (Serco and Transfield)
  • Acacia Prison Western Australia (Serco)
  • Wandoo Young Adult Facility, Western Australia (Serco)
  • Junee Correctional Centre, NSW (Geo Group)
  • Parklea Correctional Centre, NSW (Geo Group)
  • Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre, Queensland (Geo Group)
  • Borallan Correctional Centre, Queensland (Serco)
  • Southern Queensland Correctional Centre (Serco)
  • Mt Gambier Prison, South Australia (G4S)
  • Fulham Correctional Centre, Victoria (Geo Group)
  • Port Phillip Prison, Victoria (G4S).
G4S and Serco also run prisoner transport services, including prisoner transport services in Victoria (G4S) and Western Australian prisoner transport and court security services in WA (Serco).

Even though Australia has the highest proportion of prisoners in private (corporate) run prisons in the world, State Governments plan to radically expand the number of private prisons, despite serious questions about the evidence upon which prison privatization is based. (see the paper Private Prisons in Australia: Our 20 year Trial in the online journal Right Now: Human Rights in Australia and the recent report The Cost of Private Prisons by the US based group In the Public Interest).

The report The Cost of Private Prisons concludes:
"The private prison industry claims that governments can save money by privatizing prisons, but what does the evidence actually indicate? To maximize returns for their investors, for-profit prison companies have perverse incentives to cut costs in vital areas such as security personnel, medical care, and programming, threatening the health and safety of prisoners and staff. Yet research and the recent experiences of states show that the promised cost savings often fail to materialize for government agencies that contract with for-profit prison companies. Furthermore, proponents of prison privatization may employ questionable methodology when calculating costs of private facilities. This includes finding ways to hide the costs of private prisons, ensuring that increased costs are not apparent until after the initial contract is signed, and using inflated public prison costs during comparisons.
In Australia, prison privatization has become a powerful ideological tool, used by State Governments to promote and advance their particular policy agendas. Prison privatization is also a controversial policy agenda, with the result that Governments impose it secretly, without serious public discussion and debate.

In Queensland, the Newman Government has established a secret Task Force to develop a plan to hand over all Queensland's prisons to the corporate sector. This would make Queensland the only jurisdiction in the world where all prisons are run by private corporations.

In NSW, the O'Farrell Government commissioned a secret report by the pro- privatization consulting form KPMG which recommended that 11 NSW prisons should be privatized.

In Western Australia, the Barnett Government and Joe Francis, the Minister responsible for Prisons have used  the privatization of more prisons, including juvenile prisons  in Western Australia  as a threat to impose their prison and corrective services reform agenda. 

Denise Levertov and the political power of contemplation and action

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountains
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day, to reconfirm
that witnessing prescence.
Denise Levertov

In her poem About Political Action in which each Individual Acts from the Heart, Denise Levertov speaks to the power of contemplation and action and how we can bring together our private concerns with larger social and political concerns. 

The poem also reminds us of the importance of celebrating occasional victories, no matter how small.

About Political Action in which each Individual Acts from the Heart 
by Denise Levertov

When solitaries draw close, releasing
each solitude into its blossoming, 

when we give to each other the roses
of our communion— 

a culture of gardens, horticulture not agribusiness, 
arbors among the lettuce, small terrains— 

when we taste in small victories sometimes
the small, ephemeral yet joyful
harvest of our striving, 

great power flows from us,
luminous, a promise. Yes! ... Then
great energy flows from solitude,
and great power from communion. 

Denise Levertov (1923-1997) was a British born American poet whose poetry always moves with ease between private experience and larger political events.

As a poet and citizen Levertov was mobilised by the political events of the 60's and 70's , particularly the Vietnam War, which figures prominently in her poetry, most notably her 1967 collection Sorrow Dance, which is full of poems of outrage against the Vietnam War.

Levertov composed poems about contemporary political events, such as the Vietnam War, the peace movement, Cold War politics, war and violence and US financed wars in Central America in the 1980's and the Gulf War of 1991. Until her death in 1997, Levertov maintained an active commitment to justice and peace organizations, supporting them with benefit readings.

Levertov was well aware of the dangers and limits of "political poetry" which can become overly didactic and polemical. Her work demonstrates that an engaged political poem can disturb us, while more contemplative poems can also serve political ends by pointing us towards a vision for living that leads towards compassion, peace and justice and ultimately to meaningful social change.

 Michael True writes, that in her poetry (and her life), Levertov:  
"refused to surrender to that dissociation of sensibility that separates the individual person from the common life of all. 
More poems by Denise Levertov are here.

Earlier blog pieces on Denise Levertov are here and here

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Abbott Government, social policy and the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism

Treasurer Joe Hockey's announcement that the Abbott Government plans to increase the pension age (from 67 to 70), impose more welfare means testing and introduce co-payments for medical services comes as no surprise, but provides more evidence of the continuing assault on public spending for the less well off, the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

The Abbott Government has already imposed severe spending cuts across many portfolios and shown its intention to cut back public expenditure for the less well off by fundamentally transforming income support in areas such as the Disability Support pension (DSP), family and welfare payments and welfare support for the long term unemployed.

In addition, there is the expectation that both the report into the Welfare System (the McClure Review) and the report of the National Commission of Audit (the Business Council of Australia report), both due to be released soon, will recommend serious austerity policies and market driven social policies.

The Abbott Government's market fundamentalist policies and its austerity agenda are intended to dismantle public spending for the less well off and the vulnerable, and fundamentally transform public spending and public assets to make them suitable to deliver profit to the business and corporate sector and largess to the already well off.

What is also worth noting is that this fundamental transformation of social policy and welfare support is being undertaken without any real consultation with the social policy and welfare sector, and continues to be driven by advice from, and the agendas of influential pro- business and corporate lobby groups, such as the Business Council of Australia.

Moreover, the Abbott  Government has consistently concealed its real social policy intentions and denied it was planning to impose these policies. None of the policies were made public prior to the last election and back in November 2013 Treasurer Joe Hockey lied when he said that the Government had no plans to increase the pension age.

While it dismantles social policies that support the less well off and the vulnerable, the Abbott Government leaves untouched and expands profligate policies for the corporate and business sector and the rich and already well off, such as superannuation tax concessions, various housing-related tax benefits, paid parental leave, asset tests and corporate tax benefits, to name but a few.

On his blog En Passant former Tax Office economist, blogger, activist and academic John Passant alerts us to the hypocrisy and deceit of Treasurer Joe Hockey's proposals on the age pension:

Let me get this right. The revenue forgone on tax concessions for superannuation at $45 bn will soon be more than the cost of the pension (over $40 bn). Of that $45 bn in tax concessions $10 to $15 bn will go to the top 10% of income earners. Yet Australia’s greatest Treasurer, Joe Hockey, wants to rein in expenditure on the pension by for example extending the access age to 70 (after Labor increased it to 67 over time by 2023) and tightening up the asset test to perhaps include the family home. Priorities. 
According to the OECD Australia has one of the lowest relative pensions of any member countries (Turkey and Mexico are lower) and 35% of Australian pensioners live in poverty. Priorities.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Paul Robeson and the crimes of the US Government against African Americans

"As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen, I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this."  Paul Robeson (1898 –  1976) 

Paul Robeson is one of my heroes.  And I find this photo of the great man profoundly moving.

This photo was taken in 1951, around the time Robeson was blacklisted by the US Government, who had taken away his passport and issued stop notices at all ports to prevent him leaving the US. 

The US Government was outraged by his political advocacy for civil rights for African Americans and his frequent advocacy for the independence of colonial peoples around the globe.

The US Government believed that by isolating him inside US borders they could limit his freedom of expression and his political campaigning. Robeson was told by the US State Department that he was denied a passport because  "his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States should not be aired in foreign countries".

This photo of Robeson was taken when he presented a petition titled “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People” to a UN official.

The document was written by William Patterson, an African American lawyer and Communist, who was Secretary of the Civil Rights Congress. 

The document charged the U.S. with genocide against Black Americans and cited evidence of genocide by the US Government (defined as acts committed with "intent to destroy" a group, "in whole or in part"). The document argued that the US Government is complicit with and responsible for creating genocidal situations, including instances of lynching, legal discrimination, and systematic inequalities in health and quality of life. It argued that the US government is both complicit with and responsible for genocidal situations.

The document included hundreds of cases of lynching, which showed a clear pattern of government inaction or actual complicity. It charged that in the 85 years since the end of slavery more than 10,000 Blacks are known to have been lynched (an average of more than 100 per year), and that the full number can never be known because the murders are often unreported.

The American government and white press accused Robeson and Patterson and the Civil Rights Congress  of advancing the cause of Communism by exaggerating racial conflict and inequality. The US State Department forced Patterson to surrender his passport after presenting the petition to a UN meeting in Paris.

More detail about the document We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People” and Robeson's involvement in its development is here.