Monday, March 31, 2008

Cinematic Misrepresentation: Kundun

(This review was written shortly after the film Kundun appeared in 1997. I have used parts of it for my earlier post on the Origins of Tibetan Separatism. However, because of the continuing unrest over the issue of Tibet, and the misplaced belief in the absence of violence in Tibetan traditional culture, I have decided to post it here.)

Kundun (1997) begins with a very selective reading of history, and gets little better as the film unfolds.

“The Tibetans have practised non-violence for a thousand years”, we are assured in an introductory note. What? No private armies employed by serf-owners to maintain their ruling position over the serfs? No punishments such as the gouging out of eyes, cutting out of tongues, amputations of limbs? No legions of armed monks engaging in periodic battles between monasteries over control of land and interpretations of scripture? No standing armies to carry out incursions into neighbouring territory or to guard against encroachment by neighbours and, later (1904 in particular) by Britain?

The philosophy of non-violence may be a central tenet of Tibetan Buddhism, but violence has indeed been practised there in the course of the last thousand years. Monks will not kill an animal for meat but they will eat the meat of an animal killed by the outcast butchers whose violence against the animals makes the meat available for consumption.

Kundun opens with the search for the soul boy or reincarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama (left) who had died in 1933. In 1934, the Kashag, Tibet’s local authority, sent search parties to Qinghai, Xikang and southern Tibet. Three such children were initially identified, but the Regent, Radreng, who was opposed to British interference in Tibet’s affairs, based his selection partly on the fact of the soul boy’s family having lived in close proximity to Han Chinese territory, and reported to the Guomindang (KMT) Government of Chiang Kai-shek on all stages of the soul boy’s formal preparation for confirmation as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. From the point of view of film as a visual medium, one can perhaps understand why slow pans of Moroccan hills are preferable to going into detail of intrigues within the Kashag but this can not be excused when omissions of detail create false interpretations of history.

Radreng is shown embroiled in a minor controversy over whether or not he should receive extra rewards for having discovered the soul boy. This follows the gratuitous insertion of a scene showing him inhaling snuff, a detail unlikely to ender him to audiences. We then see him arrested and jailed. A little later he is reported as having “died” in custody.

The omissions here are enormous. Radreng was probably no angel: in 1934 he had confiscated the property and gouged the eyes out of Lungshar, the pro-British Kashag Defence Secretary. He had dismissed from office others he had considered pro-British and prevented the British from opening schools in Tibet. A clique, backed by Britain, thus formed against him. Radreng, even after his arrest in 1947, remained in favour of close ties with China. He told his captors: “Religiously and geographically, China and Tibet are inseparable.” His arrest prompted much fighting between armed monks from monasteries loyal to Radreng, and the Kashag troops in Lhasa. Many lives were lost and the situation was turning critical. Fearing the consequences of Radreng being set free by insurgents, the pro-British element murdered radreng on May 7, 1947. This incident allowed the separatist elements within the Kashag to hold power and to be in a position to wean the young Dalai away from Radreng’s influence.
The Radreng Incident was a crucial turning point in the orientation of the local Tibetan authority, the Kashag. It now began to pursue a separatist position with the encouragement of the British in India, and of US agents like Lowell Thomas who lived for a while in Lhasa as a representative for CBS. The makers of Kundun deliberately refrain from drawing out the significance of the Radreng Incident because they do not want to show Tibet as ever having accepted or preferred its status as a local authority under the jurisdiction of the central government of China. Nor do they want to openly admit to the methods used to impose a change of direction. They were, after all, hardly “non-violent”!

Another startling omission is any reference to the Banqen Erdeni (or Panchen Lama). The Dalai Lama is not the sole religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Historically, there have been two Supreme Living Buddhas in Tibet, the Dalai being one, and the Banqen the other. In their various reincarnations they have sometimes been in conflict; for the most part their cooperation has had the effect of a balancing act and has prevented the creation of vacuums during periods of succession following the death of either the one or the other.

The Tenth Banqen, until his death a few years ago, represented that trend within Tibetan Buddhism that preferred local autonomy within China to the separatism of an imperialist-backed, Western-dependent “independence”.

The makers of Kundun, having obscured the political significance of the Radreng Incident, obviously had no place for the added complication of a Supreme Living Buddha who espoused the unity of a China comprising Han, Tibetan, Mongolian, Manchu and Hui and Uighur (both Muslim) nationalities, among others of the more than 50 ethnic groups that constitute modern China. Far better for director Scorcese to create a “rapture in pictures” (Time) than to get bogged down in details that aren’t going to bother the average cinema-goer in the West, but which are central to an appreciation of the Tibetan issue.

Whilst ignoring historical detail likely to undermine the case for Tibetan separatism, Scorcese makes use of character dialogue to establish the “fact” of Chinese bastardry on a grand scale. They are accused of “trying to rewrite history”; a few minutes later, it’s “Your Holiness, the Chinese have invaded”.

Did the Chinese “invade” Tibet? In 1950, the Chinese PLA advanced into a largely Tibetan-populated area which Chiang Kai-shek, caught up in civil war, had been unable to control. This area, Chamdo, was not at that time a part of Tibet; at the end of the Qing Dynasty it had been incorporated into Sikang Province, which in turn would be incorporated by the new Communist Government into Sichuan Province.
One of the Kaloons, or senior officials of Tibet, the serf-owner Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, was dispatched at the head of the Tibetan army[1] to block the advance of the PLA. The Tibetan landowners’ response to the advancing revolutionary forces was no different to that of the warlords of large landowners anywhere else in China. Tibetan theocracy was a system of feudal privilege and it panicked at the advance of the revolutionary PLA. When the two armies confronted each other in Chamdo, the Tibetans were defeated.

Ngapoi was treated well by the PLA: this was quite consistent with their treatment of KMT generals who had been captured in battle or who had changed sides. It gave him the confidence to report in full to the Dalai Lama his observations of the behaviour of the PLA towards the Tibetans in Chamdo. The Dalai was at that time in Yadung, near the Indian border, and was being tempted with American and British arms and money to lead a fight against the “Reds”. With the PLA making no effort to push beyond Chamdo, and with Ngapoi’s first-hand accounts of their policies towards the ethnic minorities, the Dalai appointed Ngapoi to lead a delegation to Beijing to negotiate an Agreement with the new Chinese Government.

Kundun shows the Dalai’s shock at the news of the signing of the 17 Point Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet. He reels physically at the blow it delivers. Fact or fiction? Would he not have known what it meant to seek an agreement with Beijing when all Chinese Governments since the Yuan Dynasty had regarded Tibet as part of Chinese territory? Would he not have canvassed the options with the man he appointed as his personal representative? Why endorse the May 23, 1951 Agreement in his personal messages to Chairman Mao if it was so shocking and distasteful?

Unfortunately for Mr Scorcese and many of the Dalai’s supporters in the West, China did not “invade” Tibet in 1950. It advanced only to Chamdo in Sikang Province and then halted for eight months whilst an Agreement was negotiated with properly authorized Tibetan representatives. Subsequently endorsed by the Dalai Lama, the 17 Point Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was the basis on which China peacefully resumed sovereignty over Tibet. Tibet was guaranteed local autonomy as were other parts of China where non-Han minorities were dominant.

If the reference to “rewriting history” is not sufficient to revive Cold War anti-Red myopia, a further bit of not so subtle character dialogue is inserted. A naïve Dalai, still vacillating in his attitude towards the Chinese, remarks “We’ve managed the Chinese for many years”, only to be told “These are not the Chinese we have known – they’re Communists!” This avoids a double purpose: it reinforces anti-communism, but avoids alienating the Taiwan authorities who had feted by the Dalai’s elder brother as early as 1952 and in whom the Dalai sees an anti-Beijing political ally[1].

Even the Dalai’s brother is utilized for political point-scoring against the Chinese. He is the film’s vehicle for the Dalai’s own explanation of his co-operation with the Chinese in their resumption of sovereignty over Tibet. They were pretending to be nice at first, and the Dalai genuinely believed that he could work with them, but they soon “bullied people and burnt homes”. Other allegations, later in the film, are that the Chinese “forced children to kill their parents and forced nuns and monks to fornicate”[2].

Some of the characterizations of the Chinese make one want to cringe at their crudity. It is like the 1950’s revisited. I remember an early primary school library book which, alongside a photo of Mao, had a caption that read “In China everyone wears the same clothes, but Chairman Mao’s are made from better cloth”. The intention was to show the “hypocrisy” behind Communist professions of equality for all. Scorcese adopts the same crudities: General Tan, the senior PLA representative in Lhasa, is embarrassed by references to his gold watch that have been heard in popular street songs. Mao’s black patent leather shoes shine in close-up. It is childish film-making, blatantly intended to manipulate the desired response from the audience. Mao is condescending and doesn’t listen, and so it goes on.

In accordance with its guarantees on local autonomy for Tibet, the central government refused to interfere with the social system there until the incitement of a rebellion in 1959 by the upper strata of Tibetan society. These people, serf-owners and the heads of some of the monasteries, had frustrated every effort at gradual reform initiated by the Tibetans themselves, and feared the growing popularity of measures adopted in areas outside of Tibet: land reform, public education, health services and restrictions on the recruitment of young children into religious orders.

With the suppression of their rebellion came the collapse of the local Government in Tibet and the abandonment of Tibet by the Dalai Lama. A Preparatory Committee for the Establishment of the Tibetan Autonomous Region had been formed in 1956 under the chairmanship of the Dalai Lama. The Banqen Lama now became the “Acting Chairman of the Preparatory Committee pending the Dalai Lama’s return”, and he, together with Ngapoi and other progressive Tibetans, began the introduction of long overdue reforms which had been continually blocked by the Kashag.
The old society of Tibet, left in place by the central government until the collapse of the Kashag, was so indefensible, so cruel and so backward that Scorcese has the departing Dalai Lama bemoaning that “The saddest thing is we were about to change”.

The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful scriptwriter for works of fiction.

(Secret Tibet, a 1943 Nazi film depicting the work in Tibet of three Nazi scientists, including Dr Bruno Berger, mentioned in Note 1 below. Hitler believed that the remoteness and inaccessibility of Tibet had protected the "racial purity" of the Tibetan people, and wanted to use the "scientific" studies of Berger and others to prove his theories on race. The Nazi swastika is a religious symbol of Buddhism and is found at Buddhist sites throughout India and China, including Tibet.)

[1] The Dalai went on his first ever visit to Taiwan in 1997, hoping to win Taiwan “independence” activists to the cause of Tibetan “independence”. The central government has therefore insisted that the Dalai must acknowledge Taiwan as a aprt of China before any talks with him begin. Asiaweek reported (Sept. 11, 1988) that this “certainly seems to have put the Dalai Lama in a tight spot.”

[2] Incitement to violence by Tibetan separatists is not a topic dealt with by Kundun. The CIA for many years after the Dalai left Tibet, trained Tibetans in exile as saboteurs and murderers, and parachuted them into Tibet. Tseten Norbu, President of the Tibetan Youth Council, said in a recent interview that “Within our policy guidelines we can choose both violent and non-violent programs.” Jamyang Norbu, one of the Tibetan terrorists trained by the CIA tells overseas audiences that “not all Tibetans are the Dalai Lama and that I’ve met lamas who tell their followers that killing one Chinese is the karmic equivalent of building a thousand stupas”. (Quotes from “Fires of Frustration”, Asiaweek, Sept. 11, 1988.)

[1] There had always been an armed presence in Tibet, often based around the more powerful monasteries, to protect their interests in local wars and to maintain the cruel serf-owning system of Tibetan theocracy. In the anti-British war of 1904, the Tibetan forces fought with distinction. Feted by the Nazis in the lead-up to WW2, the Tibetan ruling class further strengthened the local army. Nazi officer Dr Bruno Berger, then in the Tibetan town of Shigatse, observed with approval the developments taking place. “For a better protection of the country and to maintain their sovereignty, the Government set up a modern army of 10,000 men, whose training could be admired even by us in Shigatse. Everything was obviously done with diplomatic skill to preserve their independence. Even our having been invited was probably due to the Tibetan’s aim to establish a firm contact with the rising ‘German Reich’, which might contribute to the support of their status of independence.” (From Berger’s “Memoirs” on the Dalai Lama’s official website: .) The Nazi Berger’s references to “autonomy” and “independence” should be treated with caution: his memoirs were written after US imperialism had identified Tibetan “independence” as a means of destabilising New China; the terms did not exist in the Tibetan lexicon or were poorly defined at the best at the time Berger was there, according to George Patterson, a translator for the Americans in their dealings with the Dalai clique in the fifties and sixties.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Living on the margin...or, what's happening to the rich people today?

Volatility in Australia’s financial markets continues with the collapse of stock-broking firm Opes Prime. This comes two months after margin lender Tricom Equities ran into trouble and got the big ticking off from its bankers.

These companies represent the parasitic face of finance capitalism. They participate in the division of the surplus value (profit) that is created by the labour power of the working class, but add nothing of value to the process of production themselves.

Their goal is capital accumulation for its own sake and their method of pursuing capital accumulation is margin lending.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission defines margin lending as the borrowing of money to invest in financial products such as shares, fixed interest securities and units in managed funds with interest paid on the loan. It points out that while borrowing to invest can result in higher returns, it can also magnify the losses.

Both the lender and the borrower are linked through vulnerabilities that arise from the parasitic nature of capital accumulation and distribution this far removed from the process of the production of surplus value.

Borrowers can be caught out if the share market falls, thus eroding the value of their investments. Let’s say that a parasite, P, has $100,000 appropriated from the workers whose labour power has created it, and wants to borrow another $100,000 in a margin loan. So he/she now has $200,000 to invest. In other words, our parasite can get twice the return on investments made by the purchase of shares etc by doing nothing other than signing on the dotted line. And you don’t get blistered hands from writing your own name.

In a margin loan, the borrower must maintain the value of financial products purchased by the loan at a minimum ratio to the value of the loan as set by the creditor. This largely reflects the creditor’s view of the risk attached to the purchased financial product. So-called “blue chip” stock carries little risk, has a higher loan-to- valuation (LVR) and enables a borrower to access more loan money.

Let’s say our investor, P, has a medium ranged 50 per cent LVR. And let’s say the interest rate is 10%. The lending institution will commonly allow a 5-10% buffer on the LVR. We’ll set it at 5 per cent.

As soon as the loan is signed, P is up for $10,000 in interest payments per annum. If the investments (of the combined $200,000) return him/her 10% per annum (ie $20,000) then he is $10,000 ahead (less any transaction fees). If P had only invested his/her original amount, he would still be where he is now, $10,000 up. So to do any better than P would have been without the loan, the market must provide returns greater than 10 per cent.

Over the last decade, P and all the other parasites have been relatively secure in this form of borrowing. The stock market has been bullish and the value of shares and other financial products has generally been on the rise. According to the Weekend Financial Review March 29-30, 2008), “appetite for margin loans escalated from $5.2 billion in September 1999 to $35.9 billion by September 2007 – almost a 600 per cent increase”.

However, the advent of the US sub-prime crisis has caused a massive turnaround in the value of shares in Australia and world-wide. The global over-production of what one writer has called “computer-screen money” (parasitic finance capital) has led to a 25% decline in the value of Australian shares since last November.

Not only has there been what stock market apologists like to call “natural corrections”, but the sharks of the finance pool – international hedge funds – are credited with spreading destructive rumours that trigger panic selling of a company’s stock so that the hedge fund can profit from short selling (selling when the price is high and buying back again when the price is low).

Between the corrections and the corrupt (short-selling) falls the shadow of margin lending.

For whatever reasons the value of P’s investments fall, they cannot fall below the 5 per cent buffer he is allowed on the LVR or he will get the dreaded “margin call”.

In other words, the bank or broker that advanced the margin loan will say “time’s up” and demand within 24 or 48 hours extra cash or shares to back the value of the loan. And that's on top of the interest on the original value of the loan, which still has to be paid.

In other words, a downturn in the price of shares can result in the financial rug being pulled out from under P's feet.

Big time. Just ask Eddie Groves!

ABC Learning is a classic case of a margin call. But ABC Learning was just one company. In the cases of Tricom and Opes Prime, the lenders themselves have gone down the gurgler because the margin calls that they triggered on borrowers who couldn’t pay back the value of their loans has left these companies at the mercy of the banks that loaned them the money to advance as margin loans.

The two banks that have gambled on returns from capital loaned to stock brokers who then made margin loans to investors are the Australian and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) and Merril Lynch. Opes Prime owes the ANZ $650 million and Merril Lynch $350 million. They can probably get their money back by selling off the shares held by Opes Prime as collateral against the margin loans it issued, but those who took out the loans will end up being unsecured creditors in an insolvent company. They will take the brunt of the losses. (The ANZ has a sanitized version of margin loans directed at “mum and dad” investors (right) here: . This is how they try and suck people in: “Borrowing to invest with a margin loan can be a simple, tax-effective way to build wealth no matter what your stage of life. It can significantly enhance your ability to create wealth through greater participation in the share market.”)

Whilst the current crisis will probably not cause capitalism to collapse any more than the recent crises of 1987 and 1989-91, it is indicative of the instability of international imperialism and the so-called free market of globalised capitalism.

The surplus value created by the labour power of workers engaged in socialized (interlocking, interdependent) production, appropriated by the few (the owners of the means of production), distributed as profit, rent, interest among the different sections of the capitalist class, and finally speculated on through its purchase and sale as a commodity designed to recreate its own value many times over, leading to its own overproduction and a consequent redefinition through crisis of the value of credit –such is the wasteful, destructive and parasitic cycle of imperialist finance capital.

Our task as the industrial working class and as agricultural and service industry working people is to shake ourselves free in the breeze of revolt, to discard the parasites of capitalism, and to use a state apparatus under our control and direction to deploy surplus value in socially useful purposes, in government endeavours that return commodities and services to those whose labour power has made their purchase possible.

We call that socialism.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Arkaroola: It can be done; it was done.

In August 2000 a Liberal government, not known for its conservation ethic, banned magnesite mining in the Gammon Ranges National Park, which abuts the southern end of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. There's a lesson to be learned from its history.

Weetootla Gorge (above) has long been known to hold economic mineral deposits. Gold, copper, and magnesite have all been mined at some stage or other. It's been the site of a gold rush, and of terrible despoliation. Blast scars, drill holes and mullock heaps mar the landscape even today. Despite this, the area retains much of its original charm, and all of its important Aboriginal heritage. It is home to the rare purple spotted gudgeon, a fish that somehow survived eons of climate change, only to be threatened with extinction by mining. Its survival was not secured by accident.

(Rockpools like this one in Weetootla Creek are key to the survival of the rare purple spotted gudgeon.)

BHP held and exercised an exploration lease over the area until the 80's. It knew all too well what was in the area and wisely walked away in favour of more accessible deposits in less sensitive areas. It's not often we see big companies do this, but it has been done, more than once. A small group mining interest, Manna Hill took to the area, attempting to talk up mining.

(Magnesite deposits in the Weetootla Creekbed.)
Conservation groups lobbied actively and protested visibly. An unaligned activist tipped off local member, Liberal Party (and later Independent) Dr Bob Such, who not only visited the area but came back with the words, “There's no way they'll ever mine that.”

And he was right. Not long afterwards Liberal Iain Evans, probably with a little urging from Dr Such and others, visited the place himself and left a record of his visit in the log book maintained in Grindell's Hut. It's still there.

By August 2000 he had taken action to block the mining proposal, and that action was upheld under challenge in a court of law.

There are many parallels between Weetootla and Mt Gee. Both are in the middle of recognised wildlife sanctuaries. Both are home to rare and threatened species. Both have long been known for their mineralogy. It's not new, it's not some recent discovery. Both have important Aboriginal histories. Mt Gee was supposed to have the added protection of being listed on the National Heritage to protect its rare outcrops.

Like Weetootla, large mining interests, including Exoil, explored the area and walked away in favour of more accessible high grade deposits in less vulnerable and sensitive locations.

Like Weetootla, Mt Gee attracted interest from a small scale opportunist to talk up mining in the area.

Unlike Weetootla, Mt Gee hasn't been visited by the Environment Minister, nor has it been afforded that Minister's protection. Silence. Mark Parnell (Greens MP) tried to provide it with some protection, but that too failed because politicians from both major parties rejected it.

Now, Iain Evans, this time working from Opposition benches, is about to have another try. Let's hope he is successful. But it would be good wouldn't it, if we saw some of the spine that Labor was thought to have for protecting the environment.

Instead it's gone to water. Marathon hasn't even been fined, let alone banned, for destroying rare fluorite crystals, turning Mount Gee into SA's largest illegal uranium dump. It is time this government, and that Minister, took action.

The Dalai Lama and Tibetan-Chinese History

China is a vast multinational country with more than 50 recognised nationalities including the Han (comprising more than 90% of the population), Tibetans, Zhuang, Mongols, Manchu, Uighurs, Khazaks, Hui and Dai. Some were followers of the sanjiao or “three schools” of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism; others were Muslim; at various stages there were small numbers of Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians.

A political entity exercising authority over the Tibetan region had come into existence by the early 7th century AD. This was based on the economic and political convergence of interest between Tibet’s landowning nobility and the senior lamas of the great monasteries of Lama Buddhism which had violently supplanted the indigenous animism of the practitioners of Bon.
The emerging organs of authority in Tibet appeared at the time when the Tang Dynasty ruled the vast central plains of China. Relations between the Tibetan and Han regimes waxed and waned. Armed Tibetan incursions occurred at various points along the Silk Road causing Han Chinese to attempt to pacify and neutralise the Tibetans. An alliance of sorts was put in place during this era following the marriage of the Tibetan leader Songstan Gambo and Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty.

Over the next four centuries this rather tenuous alliance between the ruling houses of the two regions slowly strengthened through political, economic, cultural and religious exchanges, laying the foundation for unification under the Mongol regime of Genghis Khan. This unification was based in part on the Mongolian’s adherence to Lama Buddhism. The Mongol regime became formalised as the Chinese Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368).

The Mongols negotiated an agreement with members of the Sakya Sect in Tibet requiring them to give allegiance to the Mongols. The terms of allegiance were agreed in 1247. Following Kublai Khan’s accession to the throne in 1260, Tibet became one of the administrative regions under the direct jurisdiction of the Yuan Dynasty Central Government. Under both the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties the central government’s sovereignty over Tibet was further strengthened. A Resident Commissioner’s Office was set up there by the Qing Dynasty, whilst the Yonghe Palace in Beijing was rebuilt as a lamasery in 1744 and given over to the Bainqen and Dalai Lamas and other high Tibetan figures for their use on visits to the capital.

Tibet has been an administrative region of China since the Yuan Dynasty. The question of Tibetan “independence” or of Tibet and China as separate countries, did not arise until after China’s defeat in the British Opium War. Once the reality of Qing Dynasty weakness had been revealed, various empires began to attempt to carve China up into spheres of influence and to annex unto themselves the territory of China. Czarist Russia was active in various areas including, for a while, Tibet; the Germans, and later the Japanese, were active in Shandong province; the Treaty Ports and extraterritorial rights for foreigners became notorious (eg the “No dogs or Chinese” sign on the Bund park in Shanghai).

In this context, manoeuvres by the British to extend their control of the Indian sub-continent by politics and war at the expense of China should not be interpreted as having laid the basis for the existence of an “independent Tibet”. Armed attacks by the British on Tibet took place in 1888 and 1904. Later, taking advantage of the disintegration of political authority in China after the 1911 Revolution, the British tried by various diplomatic and political means to separate Tibet from the Central Government and bring it within Britain’s sphere of influence. Although sections of the Tibetan theocracy vacillated at this time there was no organised indigenous movement for the independence of Tibet, and the so-called issue of “independence” was really one of separation from, and dismemberment of, China for the sake of a foreign colonial power. (See my earlier post on the origins of Tibetan separatism here.)

The 1911 Revolutionled by Dr Sun Yatsen brought to an end the exclusive control of China by one of its major nationalities, the Manchus (ruling as the Qing Dynasty). Dr Sun was no narrow Han chauvinist, and stressed the multinational nature of the new Republic in this declaration of January 1912:

The foundation of the state lies in the people’s power to incorporate the areas inhabited by the Hans, Manchus, Mongolians, Huis and Tibetans into one country and to unite the Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Hui and Tibetan nationalities into one nation. That is called national unification.
The flag of the new Republic was initially a five-coloured flag, symbolising the unity of the five major ethnic groups of the Chinese nation.

The Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek likewise upheld the historical relationship between the central government and Tibet. On June 1, 1931 the Nationalist Government issued the provisional Constitution which stipulated that “The territory of the Republic of China covers the various provinces, Mongolia and Tibet”, and “The local systems of Mongolia and Tibet shall be enacted separately in legal forms according to the local conditions.”

During this period, the Tibetan local authorities attended a series of meetings convened by the Nationalist Government and conducted condolence-offering for the thirteenth Dalai Lama, and the reincarnation and enthronement of the present fourteenth Dalai Lama under the supervision of, and with the approval of, the central government.

After World War 2, the United States took over Britain’s role as leader of the Western pack and embarked on an anti-Communist crusade. They campaigned vigorously against the 17-Point Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet signed in 1951 by the local Tibetan authorities and the Central Peoples’ Government. The Dalai Lama actually acknowledges in his book, Freedom in Exile, the involvement of the US Central Intelligence Agency in training anti-communist Tibetans for separatist guerrilla activity and in parachuting trained insurgents into Chinese territory. This culminated in an armed rebellion by the upper classes of Tibet in March 1959, the suppression of which was accompanied by the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile.
Tibet is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. It is time for the “yellow peril”-like Cold War myth that the “Chinese Communists invaded the neighbouring country of Tibet” to be laid to rest.

For his part, the Dalai Lama has successfully cultivated an image of gentleness, peace and simplicity which ahs an undeniable appeal to Westerners sickened by their own countries’ involvement in or support for exploitative and oppressive relations with the Third World, or alienated by the dehumanising nature of technological change and the general rat race of urban living. The Dalai is a “living Buddha” who has won acclaim, including a Nobel Peace Prize, for his rejection of violence.

The Dalai is also a clever and sophisticated politician, a wily manipulator of media opportunity and celebrity support.

However, he is not so clever that he cannot conceal his splittist intentions as regards China, nor his sham “patriotism” and “independence”.

These sound like harsh words, but they can be substantiated through the Dalai’s own materials.

In his autobiography Freedom in Exile the Dalai produces several maps, the first of which purports to be “Tibet and her Neighbours”. In this map (see below), the People’s Republic of China is shown to be about one quarter of its present and actual size. Tibet as an “independent country” is shown occupying an area two to three times the size of the present Tibetan Autonomous Region, whilst such new “countries” as “East Turkestan”, “Inner Mongolia” and “Manchuria” are declared to have an actual existence. (The Japanese militarists were universally condemned by the democracies when they created a puppet “independent Manchuguo” in the late 1930’s under the last Emperor of China, the Manchu Puyi.)

The Dalai, who is presented by the Western media as an idealist in the mould of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr, is shown by this map to be very much a man of worldly concerns, and not one above inciting nationalist hatreds and the violence that would inevitably be required to give life to the various “neighbours of Tibet” which he has unilaterally carved out of Chinese territory.

That such a fragmentation of the territory of the People’s Republic of China also accords with the world outlook of certain sections of the international business community who are increasingly threatened by the growing prosperity and prestige of China, is not entirely coincidental. The Dalai has his own agenda, to be sure, but in order to implement it he must travel the world stage seeking recognition and financial support.

Enjoying the benefits of our Australian multicultural society, and appalled by the ethnic cleansing and cultural intolerance of the Balkans, we should take more of an interest in the Chinese model of autonomous regions and counties for its major religious and ethnic groups and ask ourselves what is really served by separatist elements rejecting such a model. Certainly the Dalai’s map is an incitement to monoculturalism with its attendant hatreds and violence.

The second map, simply titled “Tibet” purports to show in greater detail the boundaries of an “independent Tibet”. As previously mentioned, it seizes from China an area significantly bigger than the present Tibet Autonomous Region. This is done by incorporating those parts of other Chinese provinces into which Tibetans, peacefully or otherwise, migrated from the Tang era onwards. Incidentally, this explains the fabulous figures produced every now and then by the Dalai’s propaganda machine to convince the world that the Han Chinese are “swamping” the Tibetans and hence practicing cultural genocide: the Dalai’s “Tibet” incorporates many majority Han areas and dishonestly represents these population statistics as applying to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Furthermore, when the Dalai Lama dishonestly claims that he no longer seeks “independence” for Tibet, but rather “autonomy” within the People’s Republic, it is autonomy of this greatly enlarged “Tibet” that he makes a precondition for his talks with Beijing.

What is of equal significance on this map, however, is the surrender to India in the south of the entire area below the so-called “McMahon Line”. This “line” was the product of a long period of British aggression against China on several fronts, including the area of China’s Tibet.
In 1888 the British mounted an invasion of Tibet which was resisted by Tibetan patriots at Lengtu and other places. Further aggression took place in 1903 and 1904 with heavy fighting occurring at various sites inside Tibet.

As the victors in this conflict, the British moved immediately to formalise their seizure of parts of Tibet’s territory, using the threat of increased indemnities against Tibet for every day of the local authorities’ delay in signing an unequal treaty, and the generally submissive and appeasement-like attitude of the Qing court, as a means of pressuring the Tibetans.

Not content with this, the British plotted to completely sever Tibet from China so as to turn it into a dependency of the British Empire. These efforts culminated in the Simla Conference of 1913-14 when a group of pro-British Tibetans were invited by the British to participate in a discussion over the future of Tibet. It was a very one-sided affair, with the British demanding acceptance of a south-eastern boundary deep within Tibet’s territory which they dubbed the McMahon Line.

Naturally, the Central Chinese Government, a representative of which had attended the Conference, refused to ratify the so-called Simla Convention.

The Dali’s claim for there having been a brief period of Tibetan “independence” at this time rests upon an acceptance of the propriety of the local Tibetan authorities of 1914 entering into an unequal treaty with an imperial power, a treaty which no Chinese government has ever recognised.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama told an Indian audience: “If you deny sovereign status to Tibet, you deny the validity of the Simla Convention and therefore deny the validity of the McMahon Line” (The Times, 8/9/59). The converse is also true: in order to maintain the fiction of Tibetan “independence” the Dalai must trade off Tibetan territory in the form of the whole area south of the McMahon Line. One might ask how the Dalai can claim to champion Tibetan “independence” and at the same time engage in such a shameful surrender of sovereignty over a piece of Tibetan territory.

In 1962, the Chinese Central People’s Government was forced to despatch troops of the People’s Liberation Army to defend the area of Tibet south of the McMahon Line from encroachment by India. The Australian journalist Neville Maxwell gave the world a convincing account of Indian responsibility for the conflict, and of China’s having acted in defence of its own territory in his book India’s China War (Penguin Books 1972). I have included a third map, taken from his book, the shaded area of which shows the territory of Tibet defended by the Chinese Government and surrendered by the Dalai.

The Dalai has switched his tactics since originally taking up the old British, and more recent US, agenda for the dismemberment of China. But we need to remember that his talk of “autonomy” is premised on a major expansion of what he deems to be “Greater Tibet”, and that within his clique this is clearly seen as part of a strategy for the eventual separation of this huge area, encompassing other Chinese provinces, from China.

During an interview by French reporter Pierre-Antoine Donnet, Tendzin Choegyal, the Dalai Lama's younger brother, said: "We will first seek autonomy, and then run the Chinese out! Just like Marcos was run out of the Philippines, and the British were run out of India! We are thinking of the world, of coming generations. Autonomy, or self-rule is the start."

The Dalai Lama's elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, who served as a link to the CIA in 1952 when it was initiating the arming of Tibetam reactionaries (see my post The Birth of Tibetan Separatism here), explained greater autonomy like this: "Twenty years after greater autonomy, a referendum is to be held in the 'Greater Tibet' region to push Tibet from 'semi-independence' to independence."

This is why the Chinese reject the Dalai Lama's so-called "Middle Way" of seeking talks on "autonomy under Chinese rule". They know what is his real agenda.

We also need to keep in mind that behind his words of “non-violence” are a growing number of violent reactionary groups with direct ties to US neo-conservative foundations and politicians. These groups, mentioned in my previous post on the origins of Tibetan separatism, are now funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy, which in turn is a front for the CIA. (For a report on NED's involvement in financing these groups, see here:,22884,23423457-5006550,00.html)

These groups are like a shark, hiding below the surface and waving the “drowning hand” of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Certain people in the West, many of them well-intentioned and otherwise progressive persons, may want to jump in and help “His Holiness”, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, but they would do well to look below the surface before they do.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Birth of Tibetan Separatism

The Tibetan separatist movement is a creation of US imperialism. It is not a product of an “independent” Tibet having been overrun by “occupying” Chinese. It is a product of US imperialism refusing to accept the reality of the People’s Republic of China and instead creating, through its interference in China’s internal affairs, an “issue” that would assist in the destabilization and overthrow of the “Chi Com regime”. Aiding US imperialism is an emigre community that could not reconcile itself to social changes that swept Tibet, and which saw in US imperialist plans for Tibetan “independence” a political cause to advance their socially regressive agenda.

This interpretation is fully consistent with the testimony of John Kenneth Knaus[1], a CIA operations officer who worked from 1958 to 1965 to create an “independence” issue for Tibet out of the fallout from the incipient moves towards democratic change demanded by Tibetan serfs under the protection of the Chinese government. China had said that it would let Tibet change at its own pace, but it could not prevent resistance to change from the feudal theocracy made up of a landowning nobility and the senior lamas of the great landowning monasteries. It was these latter classes that instigated an armed rebellion against the People’s Republic of China in 1959 and it was them and their supporters that the CIA subsequently shaped into an “independence” movement under the Dalai Lama.

As Knaus notes, prior to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the US had taken virtually no interest in Tibet. “By March 10, 1959,” said Knaus in reference to the day on which the feudal theocrats began their rebellion, “the US Government had been involved in the affairs of Tibet for almost a decade.”

US meddling began in June 1950, two weeks before the outbreak of the Korean War. The US State Department initiated talks with the British around a proposal to “encourage and support Tibetan resistance to Communist control.” This was not a proposal relating to demands for Tibetan “independence” - that was to come later – but for the creation of an anti-Communist guerilla force to be secretly armed by the Indians. “The US was ready to assist in the procurement and financing of such military assistance,” said Knaus.

However, contradictions between US and British imperialisms resulted in nothing coming of the US proposal for interference in China’s internal affairs. So, according to Knaus, “Washington had decided by January 1951 that it was time to take more active measures concerning Tibet, unilaterally if necessary…” Thus, the US informed Britain that it was considering “recognition of Tibet as an independent state”.

Note that this new development, the spectre of an “independent Tibet”, originated in the US State Department. It did not originate with Tibetans, although some recalcitrants would later be found to lend this US progeny their support in return for financial assistance and the promise of a restoration of their class privileges under US imperialist protection.

This was the time when the new Chinese Government was securing its hold over parts of China that were still held by remnant forces of the defeated Guomindang (KMT) or which had suffered ruptures in their relations with the Guomindang Government during the three decades of civil war and the War to Resist Japan.

Early in 1950, the Chinese PLA advanced into a largely Tibetan-populated area which Chiang Kai-shek had been unable to control. This area, Chamdo, was not at that time a part of Tibet; at the end of the Qing Dynasty it had been incorporated into Sikang Province, which in turn would be incorporated by the new Communist Government into Sichuan Province.

One of the Kaloons, or senior officials of Tibet, the serf-owner Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, was dispatched at the head of the Tibetan army to block the advance of the PLA. The Tibetan landowners’ response to the advancing revolutionary forces was no different to that of the warlords or large landowners anywhere else in China. Tibetan theocracy was a system of feudal privilege and it panicked at the advance of the revolutionary PLA. When the two armies confronted each other in Chamdo, the Tibetans were defeated.

Ngapoi was treated well by the PLA: this was quite consistent with their treatment of KMT generals who had been captured in battle or who had changed sides. It gave him the confidence to report in full to the Dalai Lama his observations of the behaviour of the PLA towards the Tibetans in Chamdo.

With the PLA making no effort to push beyond Chamdo, and with Ngapoi’s first-hand accounts of their policies towards the ethnic minorities, the Dalai appointed Ngapoi to lead a delegation to Beijing to negotiate an Agreement with the new Chinese Government. Chinese troops did enter Tibet, but eight months later, following the signing of the May 23, 1951 17-Point Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet between the Chinese and Tibetan negotiators. Subsequently endorsed by the Dalai Lama, the Agreement was the basis on which China peacefully resumed sovereignty over Tibet. Tibet was guaranteed local autonomy as were other parts of China where non-Han minorities were dominant.

As soon as the terms of the 17-Point Agreement became known, “the US embassy in India, fully backed by Washington, undertook a campaign to persuade the Dalai Lama to renounce the agreement and seek asylum abroad” (Knaus). Part of the problem for the team of US interpreters, led by George Patterson, was that “the Tibetan language at that time made no distinction between the concepts of autonomy, self-determination and independence and terms like suzerainty and sovereignty were not in the Tibetan lexicon” (Knaus).

Loy Henderson, the US Ambassador in India, captured some of the confusion surrounding the US presentation of its requirements to the Dalai Lama when he told officials of the Dalai that while the US government recognized Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, the Dalai Lama would be received in the United States as a “great religious leader and as leader of an autonomous state.” According to Knaus, US support was “contingent upon the Dalai Lama leaving Tibet, disavowing the agreement his negotiators had been coerced (sic) into signing, and continuing his opposition to Communist aggression (sic). Implicit in the understanding was US support for his return to Tibet ‘at the earliest practical moment as head of an autonomous non-Communist country’.”

Despite these overtures, the Dalai Lama, who had been for some time at Yadung near the Indian border, returned to Lhasa. In 1954, he went to Beijing where he was received by Mao Zedong who assured him that the peaceful liberation of Tibet “would be implemented at a pace acceptable to the Tibetans” (Knaus). However, Tibetan communities in Sichuan, Gansu and other Chinese provinces would be subject to the social and economic changes being implemented in the wake of the Chinese people’s revolution and some of these policies, such as the confiscation of weapons and of land belonging to the nobles and the monasteries were already in evidence by 1954. The national minorities policies of the new Government respected cultural and religious practices but assisted the serfs to emerge from the cruelty and poverty of feudalism, and that was at the expense of the nobility and the senior lamas.

In this situation, the Dalai Lama had a clear choice: to use his authority as the Dalai Lama to support the transition from feudalism and help in the emancipation of the serfs, or to prevent the break-up of the feudal estates and lands of the monasteries and keep the serfs under the control of the nobility.

In 1956, the Dalai Lama visited India to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of Buddha, but he then returned to Lhasa, despite the urgings of his two brothers who were working with the US imperialists. One of the brothers, Gyalo Thondup, who had left Tibet in 1952, was approached the same year by Guomindang officials offering arms for an anti-Communist guerilla army. He decided instead to accept US imperialist support for the same purpose. The CIA eventually undertook the military training of a nucleus of reactionary Tibetans who were parachuted into Tibet in 1957. One group met up with Gompo Tashi, who Knaus describes as “a wealthy trader from the Kham area”, who was active in the area between Lhasa and the Indian border. In 1958 and 1959 the CIA dropped rifles, hand grenades, machine guns and 26,000 rounds of ammunition to Gompo Tashi’s “army”.

The Dalai Lama made the fateful decision to desert the Tibetan people and throw in his lot with the US imperialists and the Tibetan reactionaries during an uprising by the social elite in Lhasa in March 1959. Although the PLA quickly put down this uprising of the nobles, it took no action to prevent the Dalai Lama from leaving Lhasa and heading to India.

With the Dalai Lama in its pocket, the CIA stepped up its support for violent counter-revolutionaries amongst the Tibetan émigré community, training them at Camp Hale, Colorado and in Nepal. More reactionary armed groups and huge quantities of weapons were dropped by the CIA into Tibet between 1959 and 1961, but, as Knaus acknowledges, “the guerillas were unable to establish bases inside Tibet.” The CIA financed the Tibetan émigrés to the tune of $US1.7 million a year for operations against China, and put the Dalai Lama on a $180,000 annual retainer. This support for violent émigré actions against China continued until the early 1970s, and ended in this form with Nixon’s visit to China in 1974.

Meanwhile, other developments were occurring in the Tibetan émigré community in India. As spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama could not advocate violent counter-revolution for the restoration of feudalism in Tibet. Such advocacy, despite his record of cooperation with the CIA, would have quickly eroded his credibility as a religious leader with the masses of Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet.

Having followed their spiritual leader into exile, however, there were some in the émigré communities that grew impatient with the Dalai. They supported his separatist agenda, but were for the violent methods espoused by the US imperialists. Such persons tended to gravitate around the Tibetan Youth Council, which was established by critics of the Dalai Lama in 1970. Relations between this group and the Dalai’s faction were exacerbated after 1988 when the Dalai dropped his 29-year long demand for full Tibetan independence, and put forward instead the tactic of “autonomy”.

The Tibetan Youth Council has taken over the role of “organizing military training for young exiles in jungles surrounding Tibetan settlements in India”[2]. One of its leaders, Jamyung Norbu, came to India as a child and joined the CIA-trained Chushi Gangdruk guerilla force that operated in Tibet from bases in Nepal. Jamyung says straightforwardly that “not all Tibetans are the Dalai Lama…I’ve met lamas who tell their followers that killing one Chinese is the karmic equivalent of building a thousand stupas”[3].

The current (2008) President of the Tibetan Youth Council is Tsewang Rigzin (centre, at right). He was elected in December 2007. In January 2008, the TYC and several other hard-line groups set up the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement (TPUM). The TPUM has called for precisely the sort of violence that occurred in Tibet and elsewhere this March. However, its leaders have tried to conceal its role so as to make the killings and the burning and looting carried out by separatists in Lhasa, Sichuan and Gansu appear to be “spontaneous” reactions to Chinese “brutality”[4].

It is the activities of the TYC and the TPUM that prompted the Dalai Lama to threaten to resign – not as Dalai Lama, for that is a birthright through reincarnation – but as head of the so-called Tibetan Government-in-Exile. The Dalai was quite specific in linking his threat to violence committed by Tibetan separatists who were rejecting his leadership of their movement.

It may turn out to be one of history’s ironies that the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan separatism, is consigned to the dustbin of history, not by the People’s Republic of China, but by violent factions among his own émigré community.

The separatist agenda, created by US imperialism to destabilize what was then the newly born People’s Republic of China, will then enter a new phase, and so will relations between China and the US imperialists.

[1] See John Kenneth Knaus’ Statement at the House International Relations Hearing on Tibet, March 11, 1999 at

[2] Ajay Singh, Fires of Frustration, Asiaweek September 11, 1998.
[3] ibid
[4] See “Black Days for the Dalai Lama” at

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rally to ban mining in Arkaroola

A small group of a dozen people managed to attend a hastily called rally last Monday, supporting a call to ban uranium mining in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

The rally was held outside Adelaide's Hilton Hotel where the PayDirt Annual Uranium Conference was being held.

To coincide with the opening of the Play Dirty conference, it was decided to rally between 8-8.30 am on a weekday, knowing that numbers would be small, but wanting to "welcome" conference guests as they arrived.

Marathon Resources, which holds an exploration licence for Arkaroola, was a conference sponsor, but unlike last year, when the uranium miner's chiefs had addressed conferees, their names were not on this year's list of speakers.

You can read their whole sorry saga by hitting the Arkaroola link at the right, or take an even shorter cut, and read the text of a leaflet (below), 150 copies of which were handed out to early morning commuters and office workers.

So, what’s a no-brainium?

Wrecking Arkaroola for uranium!

Arkaroola is a privately-owned Wilderness Sanctuary in the northern Flinders Ranges and one of the icons of tourism in this State.

It has a fragile eco-system and has been central to the successful program for saving the yellow-footed rock wallaby from extinction.

It is part of the traditional lands of the Adnyamathana people.

It is situated in the vicinity of the Paralana Fault Line and is subject to regular seismic activity.

Local company Marathon Resources is the latest holder of an exploration licence to drill in the Sanctuary. Marathon has violated the terms of the license at three sites, Mt Gee, Mt Gee West and Hodgkinsons, and they are held responsible by PIRSA for damaging a unique fluorite occurrence at Mt Gee which they had been told to avoid in their drilling.

Early reports of up to one hundred bags of waste dumped at Mt Gee revealed a staggering 22,800 plastic and calico bags in two shallow 30-metre long pits.

Yet all that has happened is that at the end of their drilling program, when they were already decommissioning rigs at Mt Gee, the Premier called them “cowboys” and suspended their drilling operations!

They are proceeding, ironically, with an Environmental Impact Statement and are intending to apply for a licence to mine at Arkaroola.

They have not been punished at all.

The smell of corruption hangs over this operation.

Former State ALP President and Federal Minister, Chris Schacht has held shares in the company for several years. He helped overturn the SA ALP’s “no new mines” uranium policy. After the “dumping” scandal, he was given a Board position so that his contacts could be used to the company’s advantage.

One of two major shareholders is Ken Talbot of Queensland’s Macarthur Coal. He is before the courts in Queensland charged with corruptly making payments of $300,000 to a Labor Minister who subsequently voted for a project that benefited Macarthur Coal’s Coppabella Mine Project. Two of his employees, both involved with the Coppabella project, sit on Marathon’s board.

Marathon has also had to answer several “please explain” letters from the Australian Stock Exchange which have hinted at insider trading and other market irregularities.

Although Marathon badges itself as a locally-owned company, its other major shareholder is the China International Trade and Investment Corporation (CITIC). The Chinese paid a heavy price for their own liberation from imperialism and should not now start playing the part of a superpower that rides roughshod over the feelings of the Australian people.

Let there be no mistake - the Australian people do not want Arkaroola wrecked in the pursuit of private profit by uranium mining, whether that be as an above-ground operation, or via a tunnel (of from anywhere between 2 and 20 km in length).

Arkaroola must be completely remediated at Marathon’s expense, and the entire Wilderness Sanctuary closed to any further exploration or mining.

Bills to ban mining at Arkaroola will be introduced to State Parliament.

The Labor Party, which proudly boasts that it is “pro-business, pro-growth and pro-mining” cannot be relied upon to support a ban.

We must keep the pressure on Rann, Foley, Holloway and co. to ensure Arkaroola’s protection.

Support the call to ban mining at Arkaroola!

Marathon must get out and stay out!

You can help by writing to the Premier, Mike Rann, in support of these demands, and by checking the following websites for information and updates: (hit the Arkaroola link on the right hand side)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tibetan issue must be dealt with correctly

In recent days, the world has seen an uspurge of activity by forces loyal to the Dalai Lama, and to some of the extremist elements in the Tibetan emigre community.

The attempt is being made to embarrass China in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics.

As an aside, the imperialists hope to use the disturbances created around the issue of Tibet to embarrass the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which is set to contest, and probably to win, the April 10 elections in neighbouring Nepal. Some of the more violent agitations by emigre Tibetans have occurred in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.

The relations between Han and Tibetan Chinese reflect a set of social contradictions that require mutual respect and understanding if they are to be resolved peacefully.

In his day, Mao made it clear that the unity of the Chinese nation required the Han majority to renounce chauvinism and to practice equality among all the nationalities of the People’s Republic.

China is a lop-sided multicultural phenomenon with 95% Han, and some 50 or so other national minorities making up the rest. In a comparison with Australia, it could be said that some of these minorities live in vast, remote (from urban centres) territories. The difference is that we are an island continent, whilst some of the major ethnic regions of China are shared through common borders with China's neighbours.

We use the word "Chinese" when we commonly mean "Han". For the Chinese, the equivalent term to "Chinese" simply means "person of the Middle Kingdom" and could equally apply to a Bai, Mongol, Naxi or Tibetan minority inhabitant of China, as well as to the Han.

It follows from this that if the argument based on the existence of a separate culture and language that is used by Westerners to advance claims for Tibetan separatism held true, then it should equally apply to Bai, Naxi, Uighurs and so on, and then we may as well give up any hope of growing into social maturity through multiculturalism and revert to the primitive purity of total ethnic separation.

In the past couple of decades, the ideological clarity and authority of the Party has been weakened. Deng’s “It is glorious to get rich” may have unleashed the most energetic market economy the world has seen, but he needed to add “…in line with the ethics of a socialist society.” In the absence of such a caution, get-rich-quick merchants have done untold harm generally, and in Tibet, have treated the Tibetans with the assumed superiority that many non-indigenous Australians display towards Aboriginal Australians.

Having said that, old Tibet was not the paradise of peace that it is claimed to be by supporters of the Dalai Lama. One on-line commentator, for example, has said: “Buddhism is not a religion with a heirarchical structure; rather it is a way of life, an attitude to one's existence. There is no "ruling" group, unlike many of the religions with dogma and a graded seniority structure.”

There was certainly a rigid seniority within the ranks of the Tibetan monks, just as there was an armed group of monk “police” (armed with poles and knives) who imposed discipline on the monasteries. From time to time various sects even had their own “armies” and there are recorded battles between the monasteries to defend or extend control of land and “taxes” as well as to impose scriptural interpretations and orthodoxies. (Frederick Spencer Chapman's 1936 photo of Tibetan soldiers in Lhasa, left.)

There was also a secular (not the best word, but can’t think of an appropriate alternative) nobility, a ruling class of great landowners, whose powers complemented those of the senior monks, and who could and did buy, sell and otherwise trade the serfs who tilled their lands. Punishments for serfs were arbitrary and horrific: tongues cut out, ears removed, limbs amputated (see right), and death. A small clique of officials managed the affairs of the nobility and the senior monks.

(Wooden leg shackles used on slaves and serfs in old Tibet, left)

I am truly sad to see conflict instigated in Tibet by followers of the Dalai Lama. Tibetan culture is one of the treasurers of the world, as is Han culture. Both have their positive and negative aspects, but both share the inevitable human curiosity about our conditions of existence, the meanings we can give to it, and the purposes or use to which we can put it.

In supporting the peaceful resolution of contradictions among the people, we can not turn a blind eye to the actions of those who instigate violence, burning and looting in order to restore the privileges of the past.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Workers Compo Cuts: Serial Killers

Noted progressive historian and academic, Humphrey McQueen, has written on the Rann Government's proposed cuts to injured workers' entitlements. His contribution follows:

South Australia is the latest Australian Labor Party administration to cut compensation payments.

An Adelaide academic advised the Rann regime that reducing benefits was the only way to save the State’s WorkCover from bankruptcy.

What’s wrong with eliminating the injuries on which compensation is paid? That alternative is obvious to anyone concerned with the health of workers rather than with protecting profits. The untried method for achieving that end is to prosecute all employers whose workers suffer injuries for which they are compensated. Gillard can retain the Australian Building and Construction Commission as the industrial Stasi but turn its police-state powers against the bosses for their culture of crime.

Too little has changed since the 1820s when the British government rejected criminalising workplace deaths because such a provision “would create a serious objection to the investment of capital,” as the attorney-general put it.

Since the 1980s, OHS Acts have required employers to provide safe workplaces, but only “as far as practicable”. The Victorian Act defined “practicable” as having regard to matters such as the severity of the hazard or risk, the state of knowledge available at the time, the methods available of reducing the hazard and the cost of doing so.

In practice, “practicable” subordinates health and safety to the bringing of projects in on time and within budget. “Practicable” spells “still profitable”.

Today, far fewer than one percent of compensated injuries lead to prosecutions, let alone convictions. In 2007, NSW WorkCover announced that its 200 prosecutions a year out of the 150,000 compensated injuries were too many. Even where a worker has been killed and the boss pleads guilty, a conviction is not always recorded.

The death in October 2000 of a Leightons’ worker led to fines of $325,000. Executives were offered rehabilitation to become good corporate citizens. Leightons was not excluded from government contracts, which was the fate of any firm prepared to deal with the BLF after its de-recognition in 1986. Leightons did have to pay $90,000 to the children of the dead worker. That sum was one four-hundreth (0.25%) of the $36m. package taken home by the corporation’s CEO, Wal King. In an era when executives vote each other performance bonuses, they can afford to pay penalties as crippling as the harms that profit-taking inflicts on workers. What might be the deterrent effect of seven years hard labour on a few CEOs?

Bourgeois law treats OHS violations as “not really crimes”. A real crime requires evil intent. Bosses testify that they did not employ workers to injury them. No, the intent is to profit from their labour power.

In practice, workers deal with regiments of employers who intentionally break several laws. OHS negligence is bound up with financial misdeeds. The business “plan” will combine theft with speed-ups and skimping. However, when a worker is injured on-site, the legal status of that harm is not affected by these other offences.

The class bias of bourgeois jurisprudence is confirmed by its failure to treat OHS offences in the same way as felonies or misdemeanours for which the prosecution is relieved of the need to establish evil intent. For instance, if snatching a hand-bag results in breaking the victim’s arm, the law looks upon that injury as if it had resulted from a deliberate assault. The evil mind essential to establish criminality carries over from the intended theft to its consequence as bodily harm. The behaviour of Messrs Construction Capital provides prosecutors with all the evidence they need to link OHS offences to “real crimes”.

In the building game, an employer who is not a real criminal is hard to find. Thieving from workers happens on the hour. In the 1880s, Master Builders pocketed the penny a day that labourers paid for insurance. In 2007, the actor in a Government TV commercial for WorkChoices had run a painting business where he ripped off his teenage brush-hands.
The non-payment of Superannuation contributions by employers was so rampant in 2007 that the Australian Tax Office (ATO) operated a task force to track down thieving bosses. After the ATO retrieved $93m from 234 offenders, the Deputy-Commissioner confessed that those cases were “only a small part” of the defaulters.

The charge sheet against employers does not stop at underpaying their workers or avoiding tax. Messrs Construction Capital prosper on collusive tendering and price-fixing. They also gain from their despoliation of the natural, built and cultivated environments.

The il-logic of the expansion of capital compels even the kindest employer to impel workers take risks. Once capitalists allow conscience to be their guide more than their PR releases, they risk being driven out of business. Even conglomerates do not operate in circumstances chosen by their ethics consultant.

In 2003, Royal Comissioner Cole acknowledged “the effect that the fiercely competitive nature of the industry” had in undermining health and safety. From his discussions with industry participants, he knew that employers operate on very small profit margins. This originates at the top level, where head contractors tender on the basis of small profit margins or, often, at cost … As a result, for a head contractor to ensure profit at the end of a project, considerable pressure is often applied by the head contractor with the aim of reducing the costing provided by tendering sub-contractors. The same process is then replicated down the chain of sub-sub-contractors.
Cole saw that cutting back on health and safety was a way for employers to squeeze in under the tender price. His response was to criminalise union activists against OHS violations.

The provision of safe and healthy workplaces is the kind of improvement favoured by reformers. Yet, wads of legislation over 200 years have not stopped harms to building workers from staying at more than twice the level for the whole labour force.. The failure to make construction sites safe shows how much more than workplace practices will have to be overturned. Qualitative advances will be possible only by interfering with the rights of capital to expand.

Worker control over safety is the proven path to ensuring that fewer labourers are put at risk for the sake of profit. From the 1960s, BLF militants tamed the concrete jungle by insisting on “no helmet, no start” and effective precautions for removing asbestos.

Although the rate of harm remains high after 200 years of battling for health and safety, how much more deadly would Mesrs Construction Capital have been if left to their own devices?

Hope resides in recognising how many injuries have been prevented by the willingness of workers to break the laws against their organisng their self-defence as defiance of a legal system where assault is not a crime when done for profit.

Humphrey McQueen has written A framework of flesh, builders’ labourers battle for health and safety.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crisis? You can bank on that!

My first job on leaving school was with the Commonwealth Bank as a trainee teller.

I’d gone out and bought my first bag-of-fruit, which sat uneasily on my skinny frame, and had my collar length Year 12 hair removed in a traditional short-back’n’sides.

My first job was going to get my hair cut for the second time in two days.

Who feels
The growing of the hair
And fears not the barber?

At least I got a haiku out of it.

The Bank was not for me. I quit six weeks later and headed back to school for another crack at Year 12.

That was a time when banks were bastions of conservatism.

They were conservative in their values and conservative in their use of our money.

At most they speculated on the likelihood of being able to foreclose on a mortgaged farm or motor vehicle (as we called cars then).

Bank funds and industrial profits attracted each other and had created finance capital, and finance capitalists, back in the mid-1800s. Marx had commented on this and on the emergence of joint stock companies as vehicles for stock market speculation in Capital.

By the early 1900s, Lenin had defined the merger of bank capital and industrial capital as one of the features of imperialism, a system of the continuing redivision of the world by great monopolies and the states behind them, into spheres of influence in which sources of raw materials and cheap labour were secured, and to which massive amounts of surplus capital, requiring deployment, were exported.

Lenin revealed how, in the separation of surplus capital and the finance capitalist from the process of production, a class essentially parasitic in nature had evolved such that the old industrial process of Money being exchanged for a Commodity which was exchanged for More Money became the new financial game of Money (pur)chasing Money (stocks, shares, bonds) for More Money.

The bubble of finance capital began to emerge like a skin sore on the broad back of industrial and bank capital. But unlike its progenitors, finance capital can reproduce its own value over and again at a much faster rate than capital invested in industrial production or agriculture, not having the requirement that such a large portion be tied up in fixed capital (plant, equipment, the built environs of large factories etc).

So the bubble kept growing, requiring a periodic pricking whenever its fantastic (as in “fantasy”) and speculative value got too far ahead of the real value of goods and commodities in circulation.

When US imperialism emerged relatively unscathed from the war against fascism and for the defence of the Soviet Union, it took over from British imperialism as the site of the largest concentrations of imperialist finance capital.

The growth of the parasite class continued with fresh vigour and with the support and the protection of the CIA and US imperialist military force.

By the early 1970s, the rate of accumulation of surplus capital from productive investment was in no position to match that coming from speculative and parasitic investment.

These days, the bubble is the body, and productive investment the little pricked pimple on its broad backside. For every dollar invested in productive activity, some 30 dollars now circulates in a mad frenzy as finance chases and chews on its own tail.

In addition to the periodic crises of the overproduction of goods, we now have periodic crises of the overproduction of finance capital, leading, as the cartoon (right) indicates, to a regular wiping out of credit.

Inventive new forms of parasitism have emerged in the last quarter of a century, requiring a language that did not exist 30 years ago. Naked shorting, leveraged buyouts, hedge funds, CDOs, private equities and so on.

And the banks, those bastions of conservatism of yesteryear, are having to fight for their very survival on a Gen Y battlefield.
As the very intelligent Adele Ferguson noted in the Weekend Australian (March 8-9, 2008): “Now banks make their money from taking risk and the more risk they take, the more money they make.”

Banks are even creating their own private equity investment arms to compete with the huge amounts of privately held capital that are circling the financial world like hungry sharks. Gotta be in it to win it!

This is not the place to explore every modern manifestation of finance parasitism, but one mentioned by Ferguson in her fine piece on the crisis facing Australian banks may serve to illustrate the nature of contemporary non-productive speculation. This is the collateralized debt obligation, or CDO.

Ferguson notes that “As a result of myriad synthetic debt transactions (known as collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps), many hundreds of billions of dollars may change hands on the default of a relatively small number of companies.”

Let’s say a bank has a whole bunch of house mortgages, from which it can derive a long term cash flow, but it requires a more immediate cash injection so that it can invest in a project that offers a higher rate of return. It can actually sell those mortgages to another institution or maybe even a private investment fund, which then takes over the income stream generated by the mortgages. The bank sacrifices a slow but steady income stream for possibly a smaller amount of capital which is, however, immediately available to make money elsewhere.

However, the credit rating of the mortgages may not be all that high. Maybe they were based on loans made to people who were only working part-time, or casual, which means that they are not a good credit risk. So the bank might tie up these low-grade loans with some of better quality, or varying grades of better credit rating. And this parcel of debt might be structured in such a way that the whole of the value that it represents gets visited upon the poorest performing loans so that if there is a call on credit or a massive drop in share market values, such that 20% gets wiped off the value of the bottom layer of loans, and 10% of the middle layer, and 5% off the top layer, then effectively the combined loss of 35% is taken out of the value of the bottom layer, and the better security loans are left untouched. The only problem is that this collapse, if it spreads beyond the bottom layer, is then magnified many times faster at the upper levels.

In this graph from a Reserve bank paper entitled “Recent Developments in Collateralised Debt Obligations in Australia” (November 2007) we can see how a loss of 5% on the value of a single investment asset (bond) represents a 5% loss of its capital value (thin line at the bottom a 5 on the horizontal axis is also at 5 on the vertical axis. This is compared with a two-tier CDO with a layer of BBB-rated assets backed by a layer of underlying poorer performing assets. It is structured so that the first 5% of defaults are absorbed by the bottom layer, probably unrated; however the price of doing this is that a further 5% loss wipes out the entire BBB-rated layer. Given the structure of this CDO, as represented on the graph, a 5% loss of the value of this debt package has been absorbed by the lowest levels of debts (the sub-prime mortgages, for example) and the higher-rated investments (or debt purchases) denominated as BBB-rated have been left intact. They are still showing 0% losses on the vertical axis. They’ve been protected by the wiping out of our more numerous sub-primes or their equally shonky equivalents.

From the graph above, we can also see that once a collapse in debt values reaches into the BBB-rated tranche, or layer, then the speed of the wipeout is much greater than at the bond level. At the position of a 10% loss, the conventional investment suffers a loss of ten percent of value, but with its underlying portfolio gone, the middle value debts of the CDO collapse rapidly. If the losses on this portfolio were to rise from 5% to 7.5%, then the investor loses 50% of his/her/its investment. At the 10% point of loss (horizontal line) the BBB-rated debts are wiped out. That’s the end of any income from them, baby!

And that’s why the whole credit system is so shaky at the moment. Although the CDO market, as noted by the RBA, is relatively small at the moment, it is only one form of house-of-cards style parasitism which is sustaining the lifestyles of the super rich. And the roll-on effect is enormous. We are seeing the housing mortgage crisis spilling over to commercial real estate, and there is evidence that a collapse of consumer credit is on its way.

And get ready for a massive increase of local government rates. For, according to the RBA, “A large share of local governments have invested in CDOs, with data suggesting that recently, just over a third of NSW local governments had an investment in CDOs”.

But wait, there’s more!

In their blindness to the possible consequences of their own greed, the social parasites who add nothing to the productive life of society, having chased their own tail and started chewing on it, keep getting hungrier the more they chew, creating a black hole of collateralised debt obligation known as a CDO of CDOs, or a CDO squared. This time it is a three-layer structure of debt, with the BBB-rated tranche still protected by the underlying poor performers, but itself protecting debts with the highest possible AAA-rating. The maths of this is explained in the appendix to the RBA paper quoted above, available on the RBA website.

In brief, this is what happens, and it is shown in the accompanying graph. At 5% of losses, the conventional investor loses 5%. Neither the BBB-rated debts nor the higher value AAA-rated debts are touched. In the two-layer CDO, the rate of loss on the BBB-rated debts rises very quickly, as previously explained, and they are wiped out entirely at the stage of 10% of loss. The conventional investor loses 10% of investments. However, in the three-layer CDO (a CDO built on a CDO), losses greater than 5.65% wipe out all of the value vested in the poor performing and BBB-rated layers, and between 5.65% and 5.95%, the CDO investor loses all his/her/its investment.

As the RBA concludes: “In contrast, the investor who purchases the BBB tranche of the CDO issue has lost almost a fifth of his investment, while the investor in the untranched portfolio incurs losses of 5.95 per cent. Once they start to bear losses, losses for the CDO-squared investor occur at a faster pace than for the CDO investor who, in turn, experiences losses at a faster pace than the investor in the untranched portfolio of bonds.”

And meanwhile, you and I, the mugs who go to work and comprise the productive majority of the population, go about our lives blissfully unaware that such intensely parasitical pursuit of greed is consuming all the surplus value we create, and that the inventiveness of these parasites, over the last three decades, for all its cleverness, is simply hastening the day of the system’s inevitable collapse.
You can bank on it!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bipartisan vote for wilderness destruction

The South Australian Rann Labor Government and the Liberal Party Opposition have voted together to reject a Greens bid to stop mining in the state's sanctuaries.

Greens MP Mark Parnell says he will reintroduce the bill in another form, to stop mining specifically in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary in the northern Flinders Ranges.

This is the area in which Marathon Resources, over a two-year period, has systematically vandalised the sanctuary following exploratory drilling at Mt Gee, Mt Gee West and Hodgkinsons. Ore sample which should have been returned to drill holes, cardboard boxes, food wrappers and PVC pipes were among the items buried in plastic and calico bags (22.800 of them at Mt Gee) and in plastic and steel drums.

It is no surprise that the two major parliamentary parties of capitalism have joined forces to block the Greens' Bill.

Parnell has vowed to make one further attempt to get the Government to comply with the wishes of the people.

"I'll come back with a specific bill just to prevent mining in Arkaroola," he said.

"It's the biggest sanctuary in SA, it's the most important and that's what we need to protect.

"Sanctuaries comprise only one tenth of one per cent of our state and if those areas aren't too precious to mine then where is?"

U.S. Military Forces in the Philippines: Negotiated Subservience by an Illegitimate Government

Published on Bulatlat (

Big-time corruption by the Mafioso in Malacañang in a series of unexplained negotiated contracts with foreign powers have squandered the people's money, and as a consequence, little is left for basic social services for our far-flung communities. It is ironic that, especially in the island of Mindanao, U.S. Special Operations Forces with a sinister agenda, have been invited by the illegal regime to do active "humanitarian work" in the form of medical, dental and other social services, including infrastructure projects in many remote communities, services which should be the function of a government, even if it is just a de facto one.

BY ROLAND G. SIMBULAN*Senior Fellow, Center for People's Empowerment in GovernancePosted by Bulatlat Vol. VIII, No. 5, March 2-8, 2008

The nation in seething in volcanic outrage at the revelations of the whistleblower Mr. Rodolfo Lozada who has shaken the nation and once again exposed the illegitimate occupier in Malacañang as an "evil" Mafioso. This Mafioso is responsible for more than 800 extrajudicial killings and disappearances since 2001. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's de facto government has not only negotiated loan contracts with foreign vested interests which have squandered our people's taxes to big-time corruption. It has also negotiated subservience to U.S. military forces which are now seen moving around in practically any part of the country, to engage in counterinsurgency and other unspecified "activities" especially in the second largest island, Mindanao.

Big-time corruption by the Mafioso in Malacañang in a series of unexplained negotiated contracts with foreign powers have squandered the people's money, and as a consequence, little is left for basic social services for our far-flung communities. It is ironic that, especially in the island of Mindanao, U.S. Special Operations Forces with a sinister agenda, have been invited by the illegal regime to do active "humanitarian work" in the form of medical, dental and other social services, including infrastructure projects in many remote communities, services which should be the function of a government, even if it is just a de facto one.

The outrage over the negotiated sell-out and subservience to foreign military forces has widened and deepened among various sectors in Mindanao, raising the awareness even of local officials. This comes as a Philippine Army unit operating in Sulu which was advised and accompanied by several U.S. Special Operations Forces, massacred eight Moro civilians (men, women, and children ) in what the armed forces described as "collateral damage" in an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf. It also comes at a time when another 14-year-old schoolgirl was raped by a U.S. Marine in the island of Okinawa where 75 percent of U.S. military forces in Japan are deployed. Many of the U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa are the ones who participate regularly in the year-round joint Balikatan exercises in the Philippines. In fact, the U.S. Marines charged and later convicted for the rape of "Nicole" at Subic in 2005 where one was convicted by the Makati Regional Trial Court, were based in Okinawa, Japan.

The resumption of the large-scale Balikatan exercises comes after they were suspended during the past two years because of the Subic rape case, where a U.S. Marine was convicted of rape. However, the suspension of the Balikatan exercise was lifted, when Malacañang officials, with the connivance of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) sprang the convicted U.S. soldier from the Philippine judicial system's custody and handed him over to the U.S. Embassy. The brazenness of this abduction by the Mafioso in Malacañang may appear all too familiar from the way whistleblower Mr. Rodolfo Lozada was abducted from the Manila International Airport by a group of government operatives to prevent him from testifying from the Senate hearings. The resumption of the large-scale Balikatan in 2008 is supposed to be the reward given to us by the U.S. government for the Mafioso's surrender of our custody and sovereignty of the convicted U.S. Marine rapist to them. Six thousand U.S. troops are expected to participate in this year's Balikatan exercises, with the Balance Piston 08 affecting many parts of Luzon, and in Mindanao the areas included for penetration by U.S. troops through "humanitarian work" are municipalities in Cagayan de Oro City, Bukidnon and Lanao provinces. Meanwhile, all year round, a detachment of what a high-ranking Pentagon official described as U.S. Special Operations Forces "a little less than 1,000" have set up and constructed military facilities in Zamboanga City, Basilan and Sulu.
All over the island of Mindanao in the past two weeks, posters (U.S. TROOPS OUT NOW!, JUNK THE VISITING FORCES AGREEMENT) have appeared in major cities, towns and highways demanding the removal of U.S. military forces which have been invited by the illegal Arroyo regime to engage in counterinsurgency/counter-terrorist operations through surveillance and spying , joint operations training, support and advice, other forms of "activities" which are unspecified under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The VFA in fact, does not only allow uniformed U.S. military personnel, but also " civilian personnel who are employed by the U.S. armed forces or who are accompanying the U.S. armed forces..." (Art I. Sec. 2, VFA Definitions)

No less than the Regional Legislative Assembly, the highest policy-making body of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has issued Resolution No. 353 adopted on Feb. 5, 2008 "Expressing the objection of the Regional Assembly to the Holding of Balikatan Whether Military, Medical or Civilian Exercises in the Province of Lanao del Sur and the Islamic City of Marawi." Earlier, the governor of the province of Lanao del Sur expressed opposition to the planned Balikatan exercises.

The City Council (Sangguniang Panlungsod) of the Islamic City of Marawi in Lanao del Sur in Resolution No. 112, Series of 2008 dated Jan. 28, 2008, "Resolution Urging Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines, to Refrain the Balikatan Exercise in the Islamic City of Marawi." The Marawi City Council Resolution stated that, "Whereas, pre-empting of effect of the U.S. Military Exercises in the territory of the Muslims will ignite their feelings, as well as the non-Muslims for the enhancement of gambling, entail of prostitutions, alcoholism which are totally prohibited in the entire province of Lanao del Sur and the Islamic City of Marawi." It said that the "peaceloving people of the Islamic City of Marawi as well as the Province of Lanao del Sur absolutely oppose/object to the Balikatan Exercises of the U.S. Military Forces...." Several Municipal Councils in Lanao del Sur such as the Municipality of Ditsa-an Ramain have likewise passed official resolutions (dated Jan. 30, 2008) prohibiting Balikatan exercises and U.S. military forces from their territories. Many local officials, uztadzs and prominent personalities among the Moro people have led protest rallies against the intrusion of U.S. military forces into their communities.

Davao City since 2003 has officially declared itself as free from U.S. Special Operations Forces and Balikatan exercises. No less than Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte has banned U.S. military personnel and Balikatan exercises from the city.
The Sisters' Association of Mindanao (SAMIN) and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Philippine Province, have issued statements against Balikatan exercises in Mindanao, where 25 military exercises have been launched since 2002. In their statement dated Feb.14 2008, SAMIN asked, "Will U.S. troops participate in actual military operations against our people as they did in other places? Will there be another Nicole, and will our women and children again be made 'objects' for the U.S. soldiers' rest and recreation?"
In the Lanao provinces, the broad multi-sectoral Ranao Crescent Against Balikatan Exercises (RACABE) has been formed and has spearheaded protest actions against the intrusions by U.S. personnel into their community. In their statement, RACABE emphasized that "the presence of U.S. troops in Lanao will be a serious threat to the ongoing peace process in Mindanao since the U.S. troops organize counterinsurgency groups.... On the one hand, it will awaken painful memories of the past American invasions of the Ranao areas such as the massacres in Padang Karbala of Bayang, Lanao del Sur (during the first decade of the 20th century) that almost wiped out all the able bodied men in the said municipality except for seven who were either minors or infirm, in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur and Pantar, Lanao del Norte that may trigger violent retaliatory actions against U.S. troops."

U.S. troops are back, we are told, "to train, to assist and to advise Philippine counterparts in anti-terror operations" and, "to increase their interoperability, that is, working together with their Philippine counterparts." The VFA Commission and Fil-Am officers in the U.S. Army who have been assigned to be their spokespersons, tell us that U.S. soldiers are here "not to fight, but to train, to conduct humanitarian missions." But since 2002, the Mafioso in Malacañang has practically invited the U.S. military forces to intervene through unspecified "activities" in Batanes, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Aurora, Pampanga, Zambales, Cebu, Palanan, Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Basilan, Sulu, Cavite, Albay, and Camarines Sur.

AFP Acting like Security Guards to U.S. Forces and Facilities
Weeks ago, there was an interesting news item about the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police doing the work of security guards to certain mining companies in Zambales. But since 2001, the AFP has been acting like security guards to the visiting U.S. forces in the Philippines, including the Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines (JSOTF-P) that is now based in Camp Navarro at the Southern Command Headquarters. Other U.S. Special Forces facilities are now positioned inside Philippine army camps in Camp Malagutay, Zamboanga; in Basilan, Sulu, General Santos City and in Cotabato, among many locations. The repositioning of small U.S. military facilities inside a host country's army or military camps is a novel idea to hide these facilities from public view and to make it appear that there are no "U.S. operating bases" in the country. Herbert Docena, in two recent excellent studies titled, UNCONVENTIONAL WARFARE, and AT THE DOOR OF THE EAST (The Philippines in U.S. Military Strategy) states that U.S.government documents now describe these "U.S. operating bases" here as "Cooperative Security Locations (CLS)" which are described as military installations which have already been established in the Philippines. The U.S. Overseas Basing Commission, an official U.S. government agency that reviews U.S. overseas military infrastructure in fact considers these installations as "U.S. forward operating bases."
Spying and "Activities" by U.S. Military & Civilian personnel
U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOFs) in uniform and in civilian clothes have also been seen in actual war zones in Mindanao and other parts of the country. P-3C Orion surveillance planes have been sited in many parts of ARMM and in certain Mindanao provinces, as well as the use of the RQ-1 Predator, the unmanned spyplanes. On Oct. 3, 2005, workers of Puregold Duty Free Shop at Clark found a crashed unmanned spy plane on their roof. The unmanned spy plane had a sticker marked, "104 Pointer Spy Plane" and was equipped with camera, recording devices and other sophisticated equipment.
U.S. SOFs who are trained for low-intensity warfare operations, are involved in what is referred to as 'asymmetrical warfare' in our communities they are trying to infiltrate. They combine public relations, intelligence gathering, civic action, road/infrastructure projects, psychological operations and counter-insurgency to destroy the people's movements at the grassroots which is struggling for land, ancestral domain and social justice. These "activities" are under the guise of being part of the "war on terror".
Why then, are U. S. Military Forces in Mindanao?

1. First, they are here to engage in covert combat operations, in addition to the mission of "training, assisting, advising and supporting Philippine counterinsurgency operations." Their direct involvement is through covert or clandestine operations. It is an indirect involvement, because U.S. officials are worried that if they directly engage in counterguerrilla operations, they could suffer many casualties and this could have serious political repercussions both here and in the United States. They know that it also fuels Philippine nationalism against foreign forces directly involved in local combat operations. In the March 1, 2003 issue of the Los Angeles Times, an unnamed high ranking Philippine military official in Mindanao, when asked about the political repercussions should U.S. military forces suffer casualties in the course of combat missions in Philippine war zones, said, "We could always cover it up." Furthermore, the Philippine Constitution bans foreign troops to be involved in local combat operations and the Philippine Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that U.S. troops are not allowed to engage in actual combat, but may only be allowed here for training activities under the VFA. Again, it is noteworthy to note though that the VFA itself only vaguely, allows U.S. visiting forces to engage in unspecified "activities" and the word training is not even mentioned.
2. Specifically, they are here to engage in high tech and on-the-ground surveillance and spying operations. This was why, in a Washington Post interview three years ago, former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Francis Ricciardone admitted that "a strategic support branch of U.S. intelligence had been formed in the Philippines with 70 U.S. spies working with the Philippine Southern Command to bring intelligence for the AFP and law-enforcement disposal as part of our ongoing cooperation against terrorism." This is what they call " OPS-INTEL Fusion," where technical surveillance operators link up rural areas with computers, linking up data from the U.S. from outside to profile their target groups, landscape, identities, fingerprints, photos as part of technical intelligence. The surveys profiled in these technical operations are often operated by either technical staff of Special Operations Forces or civilian personnel of the U.S. National Security Agency, Department of Defense or even FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). Of course, there is also human intelligence developed on the ground through MEDCAPS or Medical Civic Action Program, medical-dental missions, and other so-called humanitarian missions conducted by U.S. Special Operations Forces who are specialists in counterinsurgency and low intensity conflict warfare. Through these seemingly "humanitarian activities" where government does not render any basic services due to corruption, while being able to penetrate remote communities, and develop their intelligence assets. These activities by these U.S. military and civilian operatives also serve not only as a camouflage for covert and clandestine operations, but also as a public relations program crudely disguised as "Project Bayanihan."

3. Selling U.S. military hardware with Balikatan exercises as show-windows
During joint military exercises, U.S. forces are able to display their latest firepower to their Philippine counterparts which they later offer for sale. This is why a close U.S. ally, Australia, was also prodded to forge a similar Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines (modeled after the US-RP VFA) so it could engage in regular joint military exercises and to accelerate the sale of its combat patrol boats which are suited for riverine and coastal warfare and operations.
4. Mindanao as laboratory for many COIN operations

Mindanao has been used as a laboratory for past counter-insurgency (COIN) campaigns by the AFP and their U.S. military advisers, such as those for vigilante groups in the 1980s and lately Oplan Bantay Laya I which was first tested in ARMM and then later expanded to cover the entire country as a nationwide operational plan.
5. Using infrastructure projects in the Philippines for U.S. military force projection and intervention
On the other hand, the engineering and construction projects, airfields and wharfs (daungan) structurally designed and with specifications for large vessels being poured by the USAID's (U.S. Agency for International Development) Mindanao Assistance Program and GEM (Growth with Equity in Mindanao) program such as the ones in Saranggani Bay, are meant to provide support for and accommodate the large U.S. naval vessels and combat aircraft for operations here and abroad. The communities are "softened" with GEM projects of USAID to be penetrated for the access of U.S. troops. The Philippines is once again a springboard for intervention by U.S. military forces especially the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Forces based in Okinawa, Japan. The Marine Expeditionary Forces are the mainstay of U.S. interventionary forces and they are now also regularly trained here during the so-called Balikatan exercises. And of course under the VFA and MLSA, the Philippines has been made once again into a communications, surveillance, training and most important, logistical supply base for U.S. interventionary forces against our neighbors.
We have experienced the impact of U.S. military presence and bases before – the loss of self-determination, human rights and sovereignty, as well as the degradation of culture, values, health and environmental destruction as a host nation. Our women and children will surely be sacrificed for the "rest and recreational" needs of foreign soldiers wanting to boost their morale. And only a few domestic elites who are subcontracted by the U.S. military actually benefit from the much vaunted economic benefits, for they are the ones owning if not controlling the base-related businesses. For the U.S., their military presence here allows them to wage illegal wars and military interventions (locally and against other nations) to advance their corporate and strategic interests especially in Mindanao.
The Challenges and What is to be Done?

In the face of the rabid attempts by the Mafioso in Malacañang to restore a permanent foreign military presence, let us therefore prepare for the following challenges:
1. Monitor closely U.S. troop movements, activities and covert/secret operations , and expose public violations of the VFA and Philippine laws.
2. Forge and strengthen our solidarity with the American people who oppose war and intervention overseas.
3. Make it intolerable/unbearable for U.S. military forces and their civilian spies to stay any longer in Mindanao and the rest of the country.
4. Work for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement , the Mutual Logistics and Support Agreement, and the Mutual Defense Treaty and all other official and secret onerous agreements that mock and compromise the dignity of our country as a sovereign nation.

But it must not just be the illegal foreign military forces that must be removed. We must come to the realization that the incorrigible Mafioso that invited these illegal foreign military forces in the first place to roam around our country to trample on the dignity of our women, people and nation, is occupying Malacañang illegally and must ultimately be removed. This is the only way we can restore our national dignity and true sovereignty.

*The author was recently the guest speaker of the launching of the 'U.S. Troops OUT NOW! Coalition in Mindanao' held in Valencia, Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and Cotabato City this February 2008.