Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cometh another Superman....

Yesterday, a group of us watched Waiting for Superman, a film about the Charter school movement in the US. The Charter school movement is one of the vehicles through which “social venture capitalists “(billionaires like the Waltons, the Broads, and Bill Gates) invest in, and shape to suit their own purposes, public education. Australia does not have a history of private philanthropy comparable to that of the US, but like every American plague, it is about to be visited upon us big time.

Below is an article by right-wing economics commentator Robert Gottliebsen, published online today. (The additional gratuitous and insulting comments are mine.) The current newsletter of his organisation, SVA, provides a link to the recruitment page of Teach for Australia. The Chief Executive of SVA, Michael Traill, was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2010. He established SVA after 15 years as a co-founder and Executive Director of Macquarie Bank's venture capital arm, Macquarie Direct Investment. In that capacity he “helped rescue more than 550 childcare centres from the ABC Learning collapse”, earning him the title of “Childcare ‘saviour’” from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Duncan Peppercorn is an executive director of SVA.

Enough. Read on….

Duncan Peppercorn – an agent for change Robert Gottliebsen Published 3:21 PM, 29 Mar 2011 Last update 10:02 AM, 30 Mar 2011

Applying the management techniques embraced in management consultancy firms, like Bain and Company and McKinsey’s, to the non-profit sector creates a very different outcome to that produced by your traditional social worker. (Now there’s a nice opening stereotype - we all know what “traditional social workers” are like!)

Duncan Peppercorn left the high corporate life for the non-profit sector (Yeah? Sounds like a good guy), with the financial backing of the Macquarie Group Foundation and a series of wealthy philanthropists (Uh oh….) . The organisation he leads, Social Ventures Australia (SVA), helps and advises groups working in education and employment for the disadvantaged. (Double uh oh!)

With the eye of a trained management consultant (Wow! That good huh? Circling like an eagle over us rabbits down below…), Peppercorn points out that the problems in education and in employment for those suffering from disadvantage are concentrated in a series of postcodes, usually on the outskirts of major capital cities (Yes, the man’s a genius! No-one else could have worked that out!!!). He is careful not to actually mention specific suburbs (Far out, all that genius and professional integrity too!), but indicates that if you are addressing the problem, your focus can be narrowed to particular areas (Did a light globe turn on above your head too?) .

And when it comes to education, is the answer huge investments in facilities? (One, two, three…all together now: “No-o-o-!!!”) They may help, (But we know they don’t - that’s why we put in the word “may”) but the only answer that works is the quality of teachers, he says (Lo and behold! Here cometh a man with the wisdom of Solomon) – that’s what makes the difference (We interrupt the sledging to make a serious comment. The research so often quoted by Julia Dullard and others in support of this contention is that of NZ Professor John Hattie. His research conclusion is that “the single greatest in-school influence on student engagement and influence” is the quality of the teacher What neo-liberals and education deformers don’t point out is his important caveat that there may be more important out-of-school influences that he chose not to look at in his study: in his own words, his book isn't about "what cannot be influenced in schools - thus critical discussions about class, poverty, resources in families, health in families, and nutrition are not included - this is NOT because they are unimportant, indeed they may be more important than many of the issues discussed in this book. It is just that I have not included these topics in my orbit” [see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/maori/news/article.cfm?c_id=252&objectid=10582708 accessed 3 June 2010]). So, if you want to help the disadvantaged, the first step is to recruit and train quality teachers (Because, of course, those idiots now teaching them are no good – worse even than those bloody social workers we dismissed earlier).

A second step is to find a way to avoid the poverty trap (Fantastic! At last we’re going to address the real issue in poor educational outcomes namely, the relatively high percentage of Australian children living in poverty), whereby working makes no sense because the reduction in social services benefits offsets the wage income (Oh bugger! This isn’t about education at all. It’s saying that heaps of working Australians prefer bludging off the dole to working. Hell, we’ll either have to raise minimum wages or lower the dole. Hmmm, I can see where this is going…).

One day politicians will wake up to that (Yep, let’s get ‘em to force people into shitty jobs on crap wages by quarantining their dole….OK, so we’re doing that to our indigenous brothers and sisters in the Territory and we plan to do it elsewhere, but what’s wrong with simply slashing the dole and starving them into wage slavery?) but it’s not easy to change because there is an army of people who want the existing system to stay as it is (That’s right, all them teachers and social workers) .

The third step is to find a way to encourage large corporations to employ disadvantaged people to help them avoid the poverty trap (How? Funny, but we seem to have run out of ideas right about here!) .

In his interview, Dr Peppercorn sets out what needs to be done with the precision of a management consultant (Oh spare me, the “precision of a management consultant???”). But he is also, in there, working to achieve change (Wow, a knight in shining armour. But change for whom? Change by whom?) in selected areas. It will be no easy task; and small steps are usually better than trying to change the world with a grand design (Don’t let “them” cotton on to what you’re up to. Stealth and caution, stealth and caution) .

Australia has enormous numbers caught in the poverty trap, and so, it is one of the most important management tasks in the nation (Hang on, it was management tasks that put most of them in that poverty trap!) . And it has a human dimension that those who work for management consultants often miss out on (Now ain’t that the feckin’ truth!) .

Monday, March 21, 2011

Imperialists Out to Destroy Libyan Independence

The US, British and French “coalition” attack on Libya occurs behind the fig-leaf of concern for the safety of citizens of the country.

Meanwhile protesters in Yemen and Bahrain continue to be killed by US puppet regimes backed, in the case of Bahrain, by soldiers sent in from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

The hypocrisy is staggering.

Libya’s Gaddafi came to power in 1969 when he and his supporters overthrew the pro-US regime of King Idris. Oil and other major industries were nationalised and the giant US Wheelus Air Base forced to close.

Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist credentials were established and he began supporting various national liberation struggles around the globe.

However, his Green (Islamic) Revolution did nothing to empower the strongest component of the anti-imperialist forces in his country - the workers. Reactionary political measures were taken to impose restrictions on their independent activity and to ensure that the colour of the revolution remained green (Islamist) and not red (socialist).

Not being a Marxist, Gaddafi began to embrace terrorism as a weapon against imperialism, failing to understand that terrorism is essentially counter-productive and damaging to the causes with which it is linked.

He may or may not have authorised the nightclub bombing in Germany, for example; what it provided was an excuse for the Reagan regime to invade Libyan airspace in 1986 and savagely bomb a number of Libyan cities, causing huge loss of civilian life. Indeed Gaddafi’s own compound was bombed and his daughter killed.

Condemned as a terrorist and a rogue by the imperialists, Gaddafi was forced to re-evaluate his position after the demise of the social-imperialist Soviet superpower, China’s growing accommodation to the needs of imperialism, and the subsequent change in the international balance of power.

From the late 90’s on, Gaddafi began capitulating to imperialist pressure. He scrapped his nuclear weapons program and destroyed stocks of weapons and in return, in 2003 his country was removed from the US’s list of “terrorist states”.

Multinational corporations were given access to the Libyan economy in a wave of neo-liberal “reforms” demanded by the World Bank and the IMF. The living standards of the Libyan people, once the highest in Northern Africa, began to plummet so that at the same time as he was beginning to bask in international approval he also had to confront growing internal dissatisfaction.

When that dissatisfaction boiled over into protests followed by civil war in the wake of the great Tunisian and Egyptian people’s struggles, the imperialists seized the opportunity to complete the undermining of Libyan independence and clamoured for a “regime change”.

Vision of Libyan jets striking rebel strongholds in the east of the country created a favourable public opinion environment for intervention by the imperialists.

Learning from the mistakes surrounding their unilateral aggression against Iraq, the US imperialists adopted a relatively low profile, leaving the front running to the British and French with the support of a shaky Arab League. A motion was rushed through the United Nations Security Council on Thursday March 17 authorising the imposition of a “no-fly zone” on Libya. Brazil, Russia, India, China and Germany abstained, while the Organisation of African Unity condemned the move.

Gaddafi declared his compliance with the resolution with an announcement of a ceasefire but no time was provided by the imperialists to let this take effect.

Nor was a “no-fly zone” simply a matter of patrolling the skies over Libya to ensure that Gaddafi’s jets remained on the ground.

Despite a Pentagon spokesperson’s assurance that a “no-fly zone” had been successfully imposed, the US and British imperialists launched 112 Raytheon Corporation Cruise Missile attacks from naval vessels on 20 different Libyan sites on Saturday March 19.

Included in those sites was Gaddafi’s compound – a “symbolic” gesture according to some in the capitalist press, and no doubt intended to remind Gaddafi of his daughter’s death in 1986 and therefore of his own personal vulnerability.

Not to be outdone, the British and the French sent warplanes to attack convoys of Gaddafi forces. This has been one of the more successful of the imperialists’ actions as there have been no reports of tanks and troop carrying vehicles taking to the skies since the attack.

It would be too cynical to suggest that each new act of aggression by imperialism provides opportunities to test the latest weaponry in real life…or death….situations.

But Boeing will be pleased that its EA-18G Growler, is providing electronic warfare support to the “Coalition’s” attacks on Libya. This is the first combat mission for the Growler which not only went after Libya’s surface-to-air missiles, but also helped the aggressors conduct air strikes on loyalist ground forces going after rebel strongholds.

US B-2 Stealth bombers haven't seen a lot of action since the days of "Shock and Awe" over Iraq. But with the mission to destroy Libyan radar and missile sites -- and airfields, and command posts -- in full effect, the B-2 is back in effect. The one pictured at the top of this blog, returning from a bombing run, flew all the way from Missouri's Whiteman Air Force Base.

British Typhoon fighter jets are being used in their first-ever combat missions and nations like Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands are seeing how their warplanes perform in real….well, whatever, conditions.

In May 2009, Raytheon Missile Systems proposed an upgrade to the Tomahawk Block IV land-attack cruise missile that would allow it to kill or disable large, hardened warships at 900 nautical miles (1,700 km) range, just to give you some idea of its destructive capacity. Although guided by GPS systems and able to be re-targeted in mid-air, it is apparently incapable of turning around and going back home if citizens get in its path. It’s great for Raytheon that the new Block IVs are getting a work-out.

In time it will be revealed that the imperialists never really intended to simply impose the conditions for a “fair” fight between Gaddafi and his opponents, that the “no-fly zone” had more to its agenda than just providing a level playing field between the Government and the rebels. After all, where does that argument begin and end? X has aerial superiority and we support Y, so we’ll impose a “no-fly zone”. But X also has more tanks than Y, so we’ll Tomahawk his excess tanks. But he’s also got more troops, so how about we knock a few tens of thousands of them out as well. And if he’s got more popular support, well, we’ll just have to slaughter his civilians so as to protect those supporting Y.

By coincidence, on Monday March 21 the German magazine Der Spiegel released photos of a smiling US “kill team” posing with the bodies of tortured and killed Afghan civilians from whose bodies gruesome “trophies” had been cut. (See http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/21/us-army-kill-team-afghanistan-posed-pictures-murdered-civilians ).

Although its early days yet in the imperialists’ war of aggression against Libya, these are the observations that can be made now:

1. Imperialism is by its very nature opposed to the interests of humanity. It cannot and will not provide “humanitarian assistance”.
2. It is the inalienable right of the Libyan people to rebel against reactionary authority, whether that takes the persona of Gaddafi and his regime, or is constituted by the aggressive coalition of the imperialists.
3. Freedom and independence can neither be imported nor exported; rather, it can only be won by each people conducting its own difficult and protracted struggle.
4. That does not mean leaving a people to its own fate. The basis of assistance to those carrying out a just struggle is proletarian internationalism. Only the people can provide assistance to each other without interfering, bullying, subverting and seeking to control – all of which characterise imperialist intervention.
5. The key to the resolution of contradictions in Libya is the emergence of the working class in an organsied, conscious role as leaders of the fight to defend the independence of their nation and the liberation of their people.