The Saudi war on Yemen enters its third year

This month marks two full years since the start of the Saudi-led, US-supported war on Yemen. As this war completes two years, involving a blockade of Yemen and the consequent collapse of the nation’s economy, the prospect of famine is now appearing very real. The International Committee of the Red Cross, as reported by Al Jazeera, stated the Yemen is currently only a few months away from a famine. Food, medical supplies, electricity – the Yemeni population is facing critical shortages of basic necessities, and this situation threatens to lead to famine.

Earlier in March 2017, the United Nations warned that Yemen, along with Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya, and the Horn of Africa, face famine-conditions that affect the lives of 20 million people. Without a collective and coordinated effort, millions face the likelihood of starvation and malnutrition, with all the consequent humanitarian problems that those conditions produce. In Yemen today, millions are at risk of starvation, especially children, as shortages of basic necessities worsen as the Saudi-led war escalates.

Let us be clear: this tragic situation is the direct consequence of the Saudi offensive against the country of Yemen, and this military campaign is fully supported by the United States and Britain. In an article for Dissident Voice by Kathy Kelly, elaborating on the man-made famine in Yemen, Kelly writes that:

After years of U.S. support for dictator Ali Adullah Saleh, civil war has wracked Yemen since 2014. Its neighbor Saudi Arabia, itself among the region’s cruelest dictatorships and a staunch U.S. ally, became nervous in 2015 about the outcome and, with support from nine regional allies, began subjecting the country to a punishing barrage of airstrikes, and also imposed a blockade that ended the inflow of food and supplies to Yemen through a major port. This was accomplished with massive, ongoing weapons shipments from the U.S., which has also waged independent airstrikes that have killed dozens of civilians, including women and children.

Kelly writes that Unicef is estimating that 460 000 children face severe malnutrition in Yemen. Pregnant and lactating women, themselves bearing the consequences of malnutrition, cannot adequately provide the necessary nutrition for their children, thus increasing the likelihood of malnutrition-induced diseases and conditions in the succeeding generation. The devastating consequences of child malnutrition in Yemen was documented by Unicef here; food insecurity leaves life-long impacts on those affected.

It is interesting to note, in this context, that Yemen is actually a major destination of African refugees, and in particular Somalis. As we in Australia continue to respond with punitive measures to the relatively small number of refugees that arrive on our shores, Yemen took in 117 000 new refugees during 2016. As a contrasting example, Australia received 13 756 over the 2014-15 period. Australia is hardly facing a deluge of desperate refugees; it is the poorer countries that take the bulk of asylum seekers.

A militarised response to the refugee outflow is becoming a normalised reaction on the part of imperialist countries. Earlier in March 2017, a boatload of Somali refugees, fleeing from Yemen and going to the relative peace of the Sudan, was blasted to pieces by an Apache helicopter gunship. The boat of Somali refugees was 30 miles off the Yemeni coast; at least 42 people were killed and dozens wounded. No government or organisation has claimed responsibility for the attack.

It is relevant to remember that the Saudi offensive, which involves the heavy aerial bombardment of Yemen, has escalated in recent months. Saudi Arabia and the associated Gulf petro-monarchies, have been waging a military campaign in Yemen to support their preferred politician, Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition, supported with the full backing of Washington and London, have been carrying out this war to suppress the rebel Houthi movement, a militarised Shia politico-military force that has seized much of the country.

The United States has assisted this war, since former US President Barack Obama threw in his lot with the Saudi kingdom. The latter, one of the cruelest dictatorships in the world, has received a constant supply of weapons and munitions from the United States. In fact, Obama has the dubious distinction of actually increasing weapons sales to the monarchist dictatorship in Riyadh, thus ensuring that the Wahhabist kingdom could launch and continue its offensive in Yemen. The naval blockade of Yemen, enforced with the assistance of the US Navy, has contributed to bringing that nation to the brink of famine. The support for Saudi Arabia from the United States, in the form of logistics, intelligence-gathering, aerial refueling and military resupply, exposes the predatory aims and ambitions of American finance capital and undermines its claims to be a force for peace in the world.

The United States began its own war on Yemen back in 2009, when former US President Barack Obama authorised the use of aerial drone strikes in the country. This drone warfare was notionally launched to combat the presence of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); however, the main targets of this warfare have been Yemeni civilians. Obama escalated and perfected the tactic of drone strikes during his administration, and he allocated to himself the right to order the assassination of anyone he deemed to be a member of, or associated with, AQAP.

Back in 2011, Obama ordered the killing of American citizen and Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, on the basis of Awlaki’s alleged affiliation with Al Qaeda. The United States, when attacking targets in Yemen, routinely dismiss civilian casualties and victims of US drone attacks as ‘Al Qaeda militants’. This drone programme is now in the hands of current American President Donald Trump.

Patrick Cockburn, veteran foreign correspondent for The Independent, writes that President Trump has escalated America’s involvement in the Yemen war, carrying out multiple air strikes across that country over the last month. Increasing its military support for Saudi Arabia, the new US administration is continuing where Trump’s predecessor left off. While the United Nations has been warning that Yemen, along with countries in the Horn of Africa, constitute the gravest humanitarian crisis faced by the world since 1945, Trump has increased American support for the Saudi war. Cockburn writes that:

But at the very moment that the UN is warning about the calamity facing Yemen, the US State Department has given permission for a resumption of the supply of precision guided weapons to Saudi Arabia. These sales were suspended last October by President Obama after Saudi aircraft bombed a funeral in the capital Sana’a, killing more than 100 mourners. Ever since Saudi Arabia started its bombing campaign in March 2015, the US has been refuelling its aircraft and has advisors in the Saudi operational headquarters. For the weapons sales to go ahead all that is needed is White House permission.

This bombardment of Yemen is part of the as-yet undeclared American war on Yemen, in addition to the January 2017 Navy SEAL attack that killed the eight-year old daughter of the late Anwar al Awlaki. The January raid, ostensibly undertaken to attack an AQAP training camp, resulted in a fire fight, the deaths of at least 25 Yemeni civilians, the destruction of an American aircraft, and the death of a US Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer William ‘Ryan’ Owens. During his address to Congress, Trump cynically exploited the death of Owens, using the grief of Owen’s widow to drum up support for this illegal and criminal Yemen war. The cameras focused on Carryn Owens, and media commentators gushed with feigned sympathy for her grief. No mention was made of the tears of the Yemeni civilians, who have to endure this war in their daily lives. As Glenn Greenwald stated in his article for The Intercept;

This is standard fare in U.S. war propaganda: We fixate on the Americans killed, learning their names and life stories and the plight of their spouses and parents, but steadfastly ignore the innocent people the U.S. government kills, whose numbers are always far greater. There is thus a sprawling, moving monument in the center of Washington, D.C., commemorating the 58,000 U.S. soldiers who died in Vietnam, but not the (at least2 million Vietnamese civilians killed by that war.

Australia’s studious silence about the US-supported destruction of Yemen has to be broken – the Turnbull government, through the person of the Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop, has been a cheerleader for Saudi Arabia for far too long. The false equivalence of condemning both the Saudi regime and the Houthi rebel opponents must also be abandoned. The Shia Houthi movement – the Ansar Allah – have been dishonestly stigmatised as proxies of Iran. The Houthi rebels have received support from Tehran – but that support has been largely rhetorical. The culpability of Riyadh, Washington and London for bringing Yemen to the brink of famine cannot be disguised by allegations of Iranian perfidy.

The role of Australian mercenaries fighting in support of the Saudi military cannot be ignored. Sent by the United Arab Emirates to Yemen, Australian mercenaries – foreign fighters – have actively assisted the Saudi-American offensive. While the activities of Australians fighting in Syria in support of Jabhat Al-Nusra or ISIS have received extensive media scrutiny, the role of Australians in Yemen – foreign fighters – has barely been mentioned. Yes, Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS are terrorist groups. But that leaves us with the question – do not the military actions of the American-backed Saudi war on Yemen amount to an act of collective terrorism?

The D-Day commemoration is not a symbol of endless US militarism

Every year, on June 6, commemorative activities and memorials are held for the anniversary of the Normandy landings, popularised by the slogan D-Day. The commemorations are inevitably emotional and moving occasions, as the ever-diminishing number of D-Day veterans gather on Omaha beach to remember that fateful day, respect their fallen comrades and pledge to educate succeeding generations of their tremendous sacrifices. This invasion was no ‘Saving Private Ryan’; it was a terrible and horrifying experience, as the veterans themselves recall.

The 70th anniversary was back in June 2014; preparations are already underway for the upcoming 75th anniversary in 2019. The enormous sacrifices of the D-Day veterans should never ever be forgotten. It is instructive to examine the way that the 70th anniversary was celebrated – as a window into the political contours of our world, so many years after the end of World War Two.

Former US President Barack Obama gave a speech at Omaha beach in June 2014 – and this speech can only be described as an unadulterated paean to US militarism. A belligerent, bombastic speech, Obama hailed the United States military as ‘the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known’. Describing the Normandy landings as ‘democracy’s beach-head’, Obama not only completely ignored the decisive contribution of the Soviet Union to the defeat of Nazism and fascism, but also attempted to wrap current US wars overseas in the mantle of ‘D-Day patriotism’. By the time of the Normandy incursion, the Soviets had completed the bulk of the fighting against Nazi Germany, and had inflicted serious defeats on the Nazi war machine, from which the latter would never recover.

It is interesting to note, in this context, that Obama pointedly refused to join other world leaders during the May 2015 70th anniversary celebrations of Victory in Europe day in Moscow. As Ray McGovern stated in his article “Obama’s Petulant WWII Snub of Russia“; Obama’s temper tantrum only reflected on his own qualities as a leader:

But Obama, in his childish display of temper, will look rather small to those who know the history of the Allied victory in World War II. If it were not for the Red Army’s costly victories against the German invaders, particularly the tide-turning battle at Stalingrad in 1943-1944, the prospects for the later D-Day victory in Normandy in June 1944 and the subsequent defeat of Adolf Hitler would have been much more difficult if not impossible.

More than just a snub directed at Moscow, Obama’s speech willfully distorted the history of World War Two. Rather than acknowledging the struggles of the Soviets (and the Chinese in the Far East) to defeat Nazi imperialism, Obama turned the Normandy landings into a crusade for American-style ‘democracy’. Obama attempted to draw a parallel between the D-Day veterans who fought against fascism, and the post 9/11 generation and the American predatory wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One wonders what freedoms the Americans brought with them as they devastated Iraqi society, and have sunk into a quagmire in Afghanistan which shows no signs of abating. D-Day was undertaken to fight against the depredations of German imperialism. While the American soldiers who served and died gave their lives so that Nazi imperialism is defeated once and for all, let us not use D-Day as a cover to portray the eruption of American imperialism as a humanitarian or life-saving project. Imperial plunder and killing cannot be given a human face, or disguised as a humanitarian enterprise. The United States military-industrial complex carreis out invasions of other countries, not out of an D-Day ‘fighting the good fight’ reasons, but for reasons of economic and military advantage. Former President Obama escalated and perfected the technique of drone strikes around the world, taking aerial warfare into dimensions that the Nazi German leadership could only dream about.

Back in June 2014, French President Francois Hollande hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day. Hollande stated that while he has his differences with Moscow, he will never forget the tremendous sacrifices that Russia made to defeat Nazi Germany during the war. On D-Day, let us pay our respects to the veterans, but not forget the Great Patriotic War.

However, Obama’s purposeful distortion of historical realities was not the only outrage that he committed in his speech. The D-Day soldiers gave of their lives to defeat the fascistic parties and governments in Europe that had lead us into world-wide war. What we can witness now in Europe, is the rise to power of semi-fascistic and ultra-right wing parties – particularly in the Ukraine – that draw their political inspiration from fascist figures and politicians during the 1930s and 1940s.

In the run-up to the 2014 D-Day commemorations, Obama was touring in Europe to drum up support for the newly-installed ultra-rightist coup government in Kiev, the Ukraine. That regime, lead by neo-Nazi and fascistic parties, seeks to rehabilitate the reputations of those Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazi German forces in the Second World War. The members of the wartime Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a racist, anti-semitic group that carried out ethnic cleansing and pogroms during the war, are now regarded as heroic visionaries by the current US-installed Kiev rightist regime. Surely we are desecrating the memory of those who fought against fascism by quietly supporting and rehabilitating the ideological progeny of fascist parties today?

Let us face the reality that for the first time since the end of the war, an openly anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi party controls the levers of power in a European state, the Ukraine. That this government is reprehensible is clear enough; what is even more galling is that this regime has the political and ideological support of the United States. While the former Obama administration strenuously denied that neo-fascists serve in the Kiev government, the evidence undermines the US administration’s claims.

In 2016, thousands of activists from the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian Right gathered in Kiev to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the armed wing of the OUN. The insurgent army provided the bulk of the Ukrainian ethnic-cleansing shock troops during the war, fighting alongside the Germans as an auxiliary force. Let us not forget the genocidal legacy of the Ukrainian Insurgent army, as they left a blood-soaked trail of death and destruction in the areas of the Ukraine and Eastern Europe in which they fought. It is not just in the Ukraine that the rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators has proceeded apace.

The D-Day landings were a pivotal moment in the history of World War Two. The battles of the veterans must always be remembered as a unique, decisive contribution to the military defeat of fascism. It does a poor service to their memory to politically revive the doctrines that they gave their lives fighting against.

One Nation – the UKIP-ization of Australian politics

One Nation, the anti-immigrant ultra-right wing political party, has made a huge comeback into Australian politics in the wake of the July 2 2016 federal election. This requires a number of observations to explain its rise, the underlying factors for its reemergence into national prominence, and its impact on Australian political life. However, firstly, let us start with some definitions to set the parameters for this article, and subsequent discussion.

One Nation is the corresponding Australian analogue of the British far-right party, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The latter, having become widely known for its xenophobic and racist pronouncements during the Brexit campaign, shifted political debate in Britain sharply to the right. This is the same impact that One Nation has had, and is having, in Australia. The UKIP-ization of Australian political life refers to the growing trend in political debate of attacking immigration as a unique and insidious threat to the nation.

The term UKIP-ization is not originally mine, but was created by English sociologist and blogger Richard Seymour, whose writings are an incisive and perceptive commentary on the political situation in Britain. Seymour elaborated on the tendency by UKIP, and other similar ultra-right parties in Europe, to exploit anti-establishment discontent in the population, and to misdirect them into an anti-immigrant and pro-business electoral platform. It is no surprise that anti-immigrant politicking has found electoral expression in the right-wing forces coalescing around One Nation, because the established major parties have provided oxygen to toxic xenophobic sentiment for many decades. In an insightful article for New Matilda magazine, Michael Brull elaborates that without ideological and political support from major conservative political figures in Australia, such as former Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, the One Nation party would not have found a responsive electorate.

Brull contends that One Nation and its leader, Pauline Hanson, deserve derision and scorn for the absurd and hateful comments they make. However, their statements do not occur in a political vacuum:

Hanson presents a lowbrow version of concerns that have been legitimised for years by the Coalition and major media outlets. The biggest difference is that they do so in more sophisticated language, aimed at a wealthier constituency. When wealthy and well-connected people use high-brow language to express the same concerns, their friends and associates come out of the woodwork to assure the public that it’s not racist. As this elite racism trickles down, and is expressed in more direct language, the elite disingenuously disowns it. In some ways, this is similar to the original rise of Hanson, except that the primary target then wasn’t Muslims, but Asians.

Let us not forget that racism is not an exclusively working class manifestation; the financial and political elite, which often wraps itself in a cosmopolitan disguise, is the origin of Australian racism. As Brull explains it:

Hanson didn’t invent anti-Asian racism. It was a low-brow version of the anti-Asian position led by conservative luminaries Blainey and Howard for over a decade. Blainey had not himself said he was opposed to Asian immigration. Instead, he had ventriloquised supposed working-class angst. They were the ones whose anti-Asian racism we had to cater to and worry about. This position then slowly trickled down, and found its new political advocate in Hanson. She did not use his sophisticated framing, or highbrow language. She argued crudely that she didn’t want so many Asians in Australia.

Just Hanson’s ground was paved for her, so the Liberals went down the path she suggested. The other day, her Facebook page replied to a critic suggesting that One Nation would never be able to deliver on their policies. She retorted quite effectively: “I guess the idea of temporary protection visas, the abolishment of ATSIC, offshore detention processing centres, the deportation of foreign criminals, the reduction in immigration numbers sound ‘crazy’ to you? They were all policies of mine adopted by John Howard and the Liberals.”

The Australian capitalist social pyramid has been white at the top – but has allowed a few non-Anglo-origin faces into its ranks to maintain the illusion of racial harmony. At the bottom of the pyramid, it is definitely multi-ethnic and multi-coloured – with the first nations of Australia squashed beneath the base. Let us not ignore the well-educated and financially secure bigot; being part of the financial elite does not endow a person with non-racist sentiments. One Nation plays on this issue; posing as a champion of working people, it portrays the ‘Aussie worker’ as being the victim of an immigrant-friendly and economically powerful multicultural elite. Make no mistake – Australians of all backgrounds have seen a decline in their living standards, attacks on wages, the shifting of wealth from working people into the hands of the ruling class. The dislocation of the working class is very real, and people are looking for someone to blame.

In the case of UKIP, the European Union is the main target of their railing against alleged foreign influence – and they have conflated this imperialist institution with immigration and multicultural influences in Britain. In Australia, One Nation has made it a habit to mention immigration only in terms of ‘swamps’ – back in 1996, when Hanson made her first appearance in the federal parliament, her main concern was that Australia was being ‘swamped’ by Asians. In her most recent outburst, Muslims and Islam were the main targets of her worries about ‘swampyness’. These ravings could be summarily dismissed, were it not for two things. One, they were stated by elected politicians, and two – the mainstream Australian political establishment has gone to great lengths to embrace One Nation – politically and literally.

For all the talk about Australia being ‘swamped’ by Muslims, it does give us an opportunity to examine the census date about the percentage of Australians that profess the Islamic faith. Terms like ‘swamped’ are inflammatory, and do not serve any purpose except increase anxieties where none are warranted. What numbers exactly constitute ‘swamping?’ What percentage of the population would have to declare themselves practitioners of the Islamic religion in order to classify Australia as officially ‘swamped?’

If we examine the census data, there is no evidence that Australia is in any danger of being overwhelmed or ‘swamped’. While the religion of Christianity remains the most commonly reported religion, a growing number of Australians reported no religion. Of all the non-Christian religions, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, it was Hinduism that experienced the fastest growth. All the non-Christian religions reported an increase in adherents, and Islam is growing in tandem with other non-Christian religions. In other words, Islam is growing – at comparable rates to the growth of other non-Christian religions. If this is evidence of ‘creeping Islamisation’, the rate of ‘creeping’ is so slowly as to be barely noticeable as compared to other religions. Moral panic may provide Australians with an activity to keep them busy, but it is unhelpful and counterproductive in understanding the source of our economic and political problems. The veracity of the ‘threat’, or lack thereof is not an issue anymore – once the voting public buys the ostensible threat, social anxiety takes over.

The themes developed by One Nation are given prominent media coverage, and this helps to channel working class discontent into xenophobic and militarist directions. The ultra-right wing politicians such as One Nation, tap into legitimate social concerns, such as high unemployment, lack of social services, growing hospital queues, and cutbacks to education. However, they play a diversionary role, directing their fire at immigrants, single mothers, indigenous people, welfare recipients – minority and marginalised groups that have also suffered under the austerity drive by the ruling class. The problems of the capitalist system are not based in immigration or multiculturalism, or caused by excessive services to indigenous Australia, but by inequality. In an article for Green Left Weekly, Susan Price wrote that:

Even in Australia, the top 1% have more than 22% of the total Australian wealth and own more wealth than 70% of Australians combined.

The poorest 50% of Australians have only 6% of national wealth between them.

Australia’s “1%” includes the two richest billionaires, Gina Reinhart and Blair Parry-Okeden. Between them they have more than US$16 billion — which is more than the combined wealth of the poorest 20% of Australians.

Far from lifting people out of poverty, the policies imposed on poorer countries by the international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank have led to privatisation of public services and cuts to health, education and welfare, throwing millions into poverty and despair.

If there is a swamp threatening Australia, it is the tide of ignorance and bigotry that One Nation, and its associated political partners, make respectable. Under conditions of an ever-deepening capitalist economic crisis, let us make sure that the architects of the corporate oligarchic state do not misdirect the anger of the people towards the vulnerable and the marginalised. Do not confuse capitalist globalisation with internationalism; the drive for greater markets and corporate profits is a necessary component of the capitalist system. The axis of cooperation between Canberra, London and Washington has always been pivotal in maintaining the capitalist order. The main financial institutions of these three capitalist powers have always partnered up to super-exploit labour. Do not confuse the movement of capital between states and the movement of people; the economic priorities of the corporate states have always determined and controlled the movement of labour.

Sport and political issues have always mixed

In an article for The Conversation, Daryl Adair, a professor of Sport Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, makes a pertinent observation regarding the interaction between sport and politics:

It is sometimes said that sport ought to be separate from politics, or that politics should be removed from sport. These sentiments are well meaning – if idealistic.

In his article, called “Sit on hands or take a stand: why athletes have always been political players“, Adair makes the case that high-profile athletes and sportspeople cannot remain indifferent to the wider social and political issues in which the practice of sport occurs. Sport, being an activity that is simultaneously part of government policy, commercial money-making, health and fitness issues and leisure-time entertainment, has been regarded as largely insulated from the cultural, social and political issues in the wider society. Athletes such as the late Muhammad Ali, basically rewrote the rules surrounding the engagement of celebrity-sportspeople with the political issues that predominate during their lifetimes.

Ali not only proved himself to be the best in his chosen sport, but used his high-profile to raise awareness about the plight of the African American community, and express his views on the larger social and political issues of his time, such as America’s intervention in Vietnam. He was certainly attacked at the time for his views, and became a widely reviled figure in the 1960s and 70s. While Ali was subsequently admired for this stand against racism and war, his image has been largely hollowed out of its overtly political and social content. It may be true that Ali preached love for everyone, and hatred for no-one: but that is only a shallow understanding of the issues for which he stood, and the politically radicalised stand he adopted.

Sport has largely been seen as a ‘level-playing field’, an arena in which any person, regardless of their race, creed, ethnic background, gender or beliefs can succeed, depending solely on their talent and dedication to the sport of their choosing. Sport is such an integral part of the Australian psyche, and there are reams of commentary about the importance of sporting people in defining our national character – if we have any such character. Sporting professionals are described as ‘heroes’ and role models for our youth. They are strongly condemned for any indiscretions on or off the sporting field.

Sport is a crucial part of schooling, an activity that builds character and through which social connections are formed. In Sydney, the rugby league is the definitive football code – Melbourne had the Australian Rules Football. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, as the two codes expanded nationally, those lines have been blurred. However, make no mistake – the ‘footy’ faces strong competition from the cricket competition; the most successful Australian cricketers are national celebrities, and their words are heavily promoted in the corporate media. The soccer, once dismissed derisively by the Anglo-Saxon establishment as the ‘wog ball’, is now a national competition, and the Socceroos have an enthusiastic and growing fanbase.

However, when it comes to political issues, sportspeople are facing a contadiction. Their high-profile enables them to comment and contribute on a wide range of issues; but we object when they run counter to the prevailing sociopolitical consensus. As Professor Adair elaborated in his article earlier:

The off-field contributions of many athletes, such as by contributing to charities or virtuous social causes, are rarely the subject of media discussion. There is, nonetheless, much more public interest should an athlete present a dissenting perspective in respect of a sociopolitical issue via sport.

Negative refrains typically include: athletes should “stick to sport”; that they are “using sport” to advance a political agenda; and (like other celebrities) they are not credible advocates because they live in an elitist “bubble”.

Peter Norman – the white man in the Black Power photo

Peter Norman was the Australian sprinter and athlete who took the silver medal in the 200 metres race during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. However, he is best known for standing in solidarity with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the African American athletes who raised their fists in the black power salute while on the Olympic dais. The story of Smith and Carlos has been told repeatedly; Norman’s is less well known, even though he is in many ways an equal hero on that fateful day in 1968.

Norman was originally an Australian Rules Football fan, and that was his first passion. However, he was a talented sprinter, and qualified for the Australian team. In the 1960s, a group of American athletes formed an informal activist group called Olympic Project for Human Rights. They were concerned about the racism and violence directed against the African American community. These athletes, after prolonged debate, decided to participate in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. However, each athlete, was encouraged to follow their individual conscience to protest the appalling conditions afflicting their communities in their own way.

Smith and Carlos, members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, decided that first, they would accept their medals shoeless to indicate the poverty in which the majority of African Americans live. Second, they decided to raise their fists in the black power salute, knowing full well the heavy consequences should they do so. Both had expected to win gold and silver respectively; but roaring up out of the Antipodes, Peter Norman blitzed the field, and ran in second. Olympic observers were stunned – who is this mysterious speedster from Australia?

In the 1960s, Australia had in place a series of restrictive laws on the indigenous population, almost akin to apartheid South Africa. Former long-term prime minister of Australia, Robert Menzies, publicly defended apartheid South Africa, and stated those types of racially-restrictive laws were necessary for that country. Australia could hardly be described as a model of tolerance and diversity at the time. Norman, coming from a country that had similarly regressive laws curtailing the rights of the indigenous people, was an anti-racism advocate. However, no-one predicted the strong stand he would take in 1968.

Not only did Norman wear the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge while on the dais accepting his medal, he also asked Carlos and Smith for a pair of black gloves to wear. When told that their was only pair between them, Norman suggested that they should wear one each. They took his advice. Norman stood in solidarity with his fellow athletes. Carlos and Smith wore one black glove each.

For that stand, and for that act of solidarity, Norman would pay for the rest of his life. Norman, though qualifying numerous times for a spot on the Australian team for the 1972 Munich Olympics, was excluded. He retired from athletics soon after. He never ran competitively for Australia ever again. He died of natural causes, ostracised by the wider sporting community, in 2006.

As the writer Riccardo Gazzaniga wrote in an article in 2015 examining the life of Peter Norman:

Back in the change-resisting, whitewashed Australia he was treated like an outsider, his family outcast, and work impossible to find. For a time he worked as a gym teacher, continuing to struggle against inequalities as a trade unionist and occasionally working in a butcher shop. An injury caused Norman to contract gangrene which led to issues with depression and alcoholism.

As John Carlos said, “If we were getting beat up, Peter was facing an entire country and suffering alone.” For years Norman had only one chance to save himself: he was invited to condemn his co-athletes, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s gesture in exchange for a pardon from the system that ostracized him.

A pardon that would have allowed him to find a stable job through the Australian Olympic Committee and be part of the organization of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Norman never gave in and never condemned the choice of the two Americans.

Norman, who passed away in 2006, stayed true to his conscience, and always expressed his support for his friends and fellow athletes from the United States. When he died, it was Carlos and Smith who carried Norman’s coffin to its final resting place. Norman was issued a posthumous apology by the Australian Federal Parliament in 2012. The move to apologise to Norman was driven, not by the Australian Olympic Committee or any sporting body, but by a concerned MP. The fact that the apology was so late in coming, and not sponsored or promoted by any athletic organisation, must raise serious questions about the state of race relations in Australia today.

Athletes do not exist in a political and social vacuum

Let us end the fiction that sport and politics are mutually exclusive. When Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the American national anthem, he did so because he fully understands the problems of police violence and poverty that afflict the African American community. Kaepernick has faced a serious backlash against his actions, precisely because he deliberately stepped outside the bounds of what is considered acceptable political conduct by a prominent black American athlete. He is no Michael Jordan – the latter, a submissive superstar, a value-free brand salesperson.

Actually it is not correct to refer to Jordan as value-free, because he does stand for a certain set of ideals – those of the corporate sponsor. Jordan, the spokesperson for Nike, declined to take a stand on important social and political issues, because it would threaten shoe sales. Jordan declined to support a black Democrat candidate, on the basis that the Republicans are customers of Nike as well. I suppose being a shoe salesman was more important than tackling issues of racism.

Jordan, and O J Simpson, prior to his murderous rampage – are the archetypes of the non-political, bland corporatised athletes – with black faces. They are effective at selling their brand – clean-cut, articulate and suave, but also non-challenging to the racially stratified capitalist system. Yes, O J Simpson was the perfect superstar – a talented footballer, and smooth corporate frontman, and indifferent to the momentous economic and political challenges faced by African American communities.

When Peter Norman was asked, years later, about the stand he took with Carlos and Smith, he stated:

I couldn’t see why a black man couldn’t drink the same water from a water fountain, take the same bus or go to the same school as a white man.

There was a social injustice that I couldn’t do anything about from where I was, but I certainly hated it.

It has been said that sharing my silver medal with that incident on the victory dais detracted from my performance.

On the contrary.

I have to confess, I was rather proud to be part of it”.

Athletic and sporting achievements are definitely worthy of admiration and respect; taking a stand in solidarity with the oppressed is no less admirable and inspirational.

Trump’s demand to ban Muslim immigration was extreme, but not outside the mainstream

There are many analyses of the incoming Trump administration, examining the reasons for his electoral victory, the racism and Islamophobia that he deployed to win votes, his populist appeals to the American working class, the emboldened position of the alternative right, and the ultra-rightist nature of his incoming cabinet. It is no exaggeration to state, for instance, that his chief-of-staff, the man Trump turns to first for political advice, is an outright fascist.

It is not difficult to ascertain that the leading personnel of the Trump regime, composed of billionaires, ex-generals and ultra-rightist psychopaths, are going to make life harder for the American working class – and by that we mean people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. For instance, Trump has selected Jeff Sessions to be the new attorney general.

Who is Jeff Sessions? A lawyer with a lifelong background in opposing African American civil rights, a veteran career racist with deep sympathies for the Confederate South. It is interesting to note that Sessions opposed the removal of Confederate flags and symbols from government buildings, having been named after a Confederate slave-owning general who fought for the defence of segregation and slavery. It is difficult to ascertain how Sessions, on his way to becoming the top lawmaker in the land, will defend the civil rights of all Americans.

You may easily find the reams of commentary written about the Trump administration, and its political character. There is no question that Trump himself, America’s version of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, represents the nakedly aggressive, obnoxious character of American capitalist politics. Trump, a billionaire businessman with a history of bankruptcy and dubious business dealings, began as a ‘joke’ candidate, much like Berlusconi.

Similarly to the latter, Trump has provided a lightning rod for ultra-rightist, fascistic elements and white nationalists to aggregate, now going by the name of Alternative Right. In line with Berlusconi, Trump has proven himself to be a serial sex pest, boasting about his sexual conquests, advocating a puerile machismo that is symptomatic of his misogynistic view of the world.

There are many aspects of the Trump administration to analyse, however, let us focus on one – an issue that has widespread implications for the maintenance of democratic rights and civil liberties in the United States. Trump, back in December 2015 while on the campaign trail, made the announcement that his government would ban Muslim immigration on the grounds of protecting America’s national security.

His proposal, made in the heat of the electoral race, attracted widespread and heavy condemnation – and that was perfectly sound. His vulgar and semi-fascistic rhetoric exposed the iron fist beneath the velvet glove, and exposed the continuing rightward evolution of the American political system. Democratic and civil liberties are being undermined, and Trump’s proposal was further proof that American democracy is in serious decline.

Internment – as American as apple pie

The chorus of condemnation, issued by major political and media figures, largely followed the line that Trump’s policy proposal was ‘unAmerican’ and a direct violation of America’s democratic traditions. This line is actually quite fictitious – Trump’s position is extreme, but well within the mainstream of American political life, located in the discussions and philosophy of the American Republican party. Targeting ethnic and racial minorities for profiling, registering them, and interning them in detention centres is a practice that has a long tradition in American history. Let us listen to the words of Sarah Aziz, associate professor of law at Texas A&M University:

Trump’s desire to keep Muslims out of America goes back two centuries. The Naturalization Act of 1790 barred Muslims from citizenship because only white people were eligible. Muslims were viewed as either black slaves, who were not considered full persons, or Turks and Arabs who were deemed enemies of white Christianity – a hallmark of American citizenship.

Even after the end of slavery, Muslims continued to be excluded. Immigration laws in the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought to exclude Chinese, Japanese and other Asians. Whiteness was still the prerequisite for naturalized citizenship. Islam was associated with Asiatic cultures deemed antithetical to American values.

What makes the contemporary period different is the exclusive focus on Islam and Muslims as the primary threat to American life – as opposed to Muslims being caught up in anti-black or anti-Asian prejudice. Mirroring the historic racist rhetoric against the Chinese and Japanese, a critical mass of Americans view Muslims as disloyal, suspicious, dangerous and possessing a culture deemed irreconcilable with American norms.

Carl Higbie, a Trump advisor, made positive reference in an interview to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two, and spoke of it as a legitimate measure when faced with wartime conditions. He went on to suggest that today, in these times of Islamic-inspired aggression, a registry of Muslim Americans is needed to keep track of America’s enemies. Higbie’s comments correspond to Trump’s own statements about this issue in the past. His comments were strongly denounced by civil rights activists, Asian American groups, Islamic American organisations and various politicians. For instance:

Representative Mark Takano, a Japanese-American and Democrat from California whose parents and grandparents were imprisoned during World War II, said in a statement on Thursday that the comments reflected “an alarming resurgence of racism and xenophobia in our political discourse.” He called on Mr. Trump to denounce them.

It is interesting that the spectre of Japanese American internment has been raised at this time, considering that current Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, visited Pearl Harbour at the end of December 2016. While not apologising for the World War Two attack, Abe expressed his regrets for the deaths and trauma caused, and wished to mend fences with the United States. In the wake of that attack, the US government issued orders to incarcerate 120 000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps, rationalised by the fear that they may become a hostile presence, or aid the official enemy in some way. This mass incarceration was implemented by presidential executive order 9066.

Why is this important? We should remember that while today’s Republicans and conservative politicians are positively referencing the precedent of Japanese American internment, it was New Deal Democrats and liberals who devised and enacted these measures. Extreme, but not outside of the mainstream…….

In a moving and extensive account, Jessie Kindig, visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University, wrote how the origins of the view that Japanese Americans are a hostile and alien influence predated World War Two and Pearl Harbour:

As early as 1936, during the Japanese imperial expansion into the Pacific, President Franklin Roosevelt had written to the military’s Joint Board chief advocating the “obvious thought” of creating a “special list” of Japanese citizens and non-citizens in Hawaii so they might be “placed in a concentration camp in the event of trouble.” Roosevelt’s suggestion flew in the face of more than a decade of government surveillance that saw little possibility of Japanese-American communities allying with imperial Japan. Regardless, the president’s fears were “obvious” to him because of a much longer history of racial exclusion that had made Asian people seem foreign to the United States.

The idea that Japanese Americans were a conglomerated, suspicious element within the body politic thus had a long history before World War II.

George Takei, Japanese American actor, author and activist best known for his long-running role on the Star Trek series, wrote of his experiences being interned in a detention camp with his parents:

Stop and consider these words. The internment was a dark chapter of American history, in which 120,000 people, including me and my family, lost our homes, our livelihoods, and our freedoms because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Higbie speaks of the internment in the abstract, as a “precedent” or a policy, ignoring the true human tragedy that occurred.

I was just a child of 5 when we were forced at gunpoint from our home and sent first to live in a horse stable at a local race track, a family of five crammed into a single smelly stall. It was a devastating blow to my parents, who had worked so hard to buy a house and raise a family in Los Angeles. After several weeks, they sent us much farther away, 1,000 miles to the east by rail car, the blinds of our train cars pulled for our own protection, they said. We disembarked in the fetid swamps of Arkansas at the Rohwer Relocation Center. Really, it was a prison: Armed guards looked down upon us from sentry towers; their guns pointed inward at us; searchlights lit pathways at night. We understood. We were not to leave.

The writers at Liberation News published a thoughtful article, back in February 2016, about the internment of Japanese Americans. They wrote of the history of anti-Asian racism, and its parallels with the current upsurge of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. They wrote that:

In the late 19th century, U.S. Congress decided to discourage Japanese immigration, prohibit naturalization of Japanese immigrants and curtail land ownership by Japanese. By 1924, the U.S. government banned virtually all immigration from Japan. Several states including California banned marriages between white people and people of Asian descent, only permitting the latter to marry other people of color.

As World War Two proceeded, and Japan began to expand its military conquests in Asia, the Roosevelt administration compiled a Custodian Detention Index (CDI), which was a list of potential ‘enemy aliens’ – basically, Japanese Americans who were considered a security risk. While the State Department confirmed in 1941 that there was no “Japanese problem’, racial profiling and exclusionary measured directed against the Japanese American community continued.

While these issues are of historical value, they have direct relevance for today. Not too long ago, Retired US General Wesley Clark, putative candidate for the Democrat party in 2004, suggested establishing internment camps for ‘radicalised Americans’. How exactly that radicalisation is to be defined, and how the authorities go about identifying a ‘radicalised’ person as opposed to a ‘moderate’, Clark did not elaborate.

Clark, a high-profile supporter of former Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, reflects the thinking that is taking hold among official circles. While Trump was met with heavy condemnation when he suggested similar ideas, Clark’s comments were met with silence. Mass detention of political opponents has less to do with security, and more to do with tightening the grip of the US ruling class over the bulk of the population.

Former US Supreme Court Justice, the late Antonin Scalia, when discussing the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two, made the following comment:

“[Y]ou are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again.”

He was talking to students at the University of Hawaii in February 2014 with regards to the Korematsu decision. The US Supreme Court, in 1944, decided that the mass internment of Japanese Americans was constitutional on the grounds of ‘military urgency’. The name of the decision was taken from the two Japanese Americans who launched a legal challenge to the mass incarceration – Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi. Scalia stated that while the Korematsu decision was wrong, it was naive to think that mass detention could not happen again. While the American government did apologise for the Korematsu case in 1988, the toxic ideas that underpin it have resurfaced in a big way in the current political context of Islamophobia and the demonisation of the Islamic American community.

The response of the US ruling class to any modern-day challenges is to recycle the old, poisonous and discredited ideas from the darkest chapters of America’s history. Trumpism and its ideas are horrid, but they are not without precedent. Trumpism may be a monstrous formation, but it was incubated in the culture and practices of neoliberal capitalism. John Passant, former tax commissioner, lecturer and now PhD student, summed it up best when he described Trump’s victory as one of the morbid symptoms of neoliberalism. The doctrine of austerity and neoliberalism has not just given us morbid symptoms, but has successfully produced the monstrous toxic mix of Trumpism. Trump’s ideas may represent a break from the Obama-Clinton centrist project, but they are also a continuity of its most extreme permutation.

The Grinch at Christmas; reflections from a Red Diaper Baby

The following series of articles, prompted by reflections around the Christmas-holiday season, will contain a mixture of the personal and political. So if you wish to skip this article, that is perfectly okay. I do not wish to bore anybody with details of my own memories and life story. However, I do believe that our personal and individual lives are deeply interconnected with, and influenced by, the political, social and cultural circumstances in which we find ourselves. The Christmas holidays in Australia are usually a time for reflecting over the year gone by, recollecting precious memories and learning the lessons of our life experiences.

This will be the first in a series of upcoming articles. Stay tuned.

For those who celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday – more power and joy to you. Those from non-Christian faith groups, and those who choose to celebrate in a non-denominational or secular way – more power and joy to you. The title of this essay includes reference to The Grinch, a fictional character from a children’s story written by Dr Seuss. The Grinch is a misanthropic, green, furry recluse, that attempts to steal the joy and happiness from the Christmas occasion. Yes, it is a cartoon character – but we can learn from it. There is a grinch that is stealing Christmas, but it is not a small, grumpy animal, but an ideology. We will get to this ideology later, the doctrine that is at the heart of our problems.

The Grinch - image courtesy of Wikipedia
The Grinch – image courtesy of Wikipedia

 

For now, all I ask is that you consider not only my own biases, but that you also consider your own as I compile a series of recollections. These subjects are not necessarily the most important, or the most topical – there are many issues that we could cover from 2016 – Trump, Brexit, the ongoing conflict in Syria, ultra-right populism, Venezuela – the list could go on. However, I wish to summarise the issues that are important to my sense of identity and well-being. As I stated earlier, if you wish to skip this article, then please do so – no worries on my part.

Reporting on spending – reporting on poverty

In November this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australians will be spending huge amounts of money on Christmas shopping. The article by Lucy Cormack is entitled “Australia to spend $8.8 billion on Christmas presents, more than half on credit”. The writer examines the spending habits of different groups of Australian shoppers, and how most of the 8.8 billion dollars will be spent on credit. For instance, you may read in the article that:

The Christmas spending survey found that the biggest spenders this festive season will be in NSW, where shoppers will part with $2.9 billion.

In a close second, Victorians are expected to spend $2.3 billion this Christmas, followed by Queensland ($1.7 billion), Western Australia ($1 billion) and South Australia ($615 million).

The survey referred to in the above quote is one conducted by the peer-to-peer lending company SocietyOne.

Santa Claus and presents - image courtesy of ACW blog
Santa Claus and presents – image courtesy of ACW blog

It is useful to report on Christmas spending and the retail behaviour of customers, just as it is important to report on the daily gyrations and fluctuations of the stock market. Millions of Australians are shareholder-investors, even if only through their managed superannuation funds. But this leaves us with a huge question – why do we not report on poverty, unemployment, and inequality in the same way we do on the stock market?

That question is not my own; it comes from an article in Talking Point Memo online magazine entitled “What If We Reported On Poverty The Way We Report On The Stock Market?” The author, Sean McElwee, is elaborating on the American situation with regard to inequality and poverty, but his observations have equal relevance for the Australian context as well. Millions upon millions of Americans face a life of destitution, or near-penury, struggling with meeting day-to-day living costs, all the while wages stagnate and corporate profits increase.

While it is important to report the progress of the stock market, the media can shape and distort our perceptions of economic reality, and present us with a picture of upward social mobility. In fact, the majority of Americans, since the 2008 capitalist economic meltdown, are facing more perilous circumstances and greater financial insecurity. McElwee observes that the economic divide is widening, and it finds greater expression in the growing racial divide:

While the stock market has been humming along and corporate profits rebounded quickly, unemployment remains stubbornly high and wages low. At the same time, the recovery has been divided across racial lines, with the racial wealth gap in 2013 even larger than before the Great Recession. But news reports tend to downplay race gaps in unemployment, what Reniqua Allen calls the “permanent recession,” focusing on the broad indicator. Newspapers and television anchors treat stock prices as though they are a symbol of broad prosperity, rather than a symbol that the rich are getting richer.

In Australia, the picture of inequality and poverty is no less troubling. The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has been consistently documenting the growth of inequality in Australia, even though as a country our collective wealth has increased over the last several decades. Back in 2015, in their report on “Inequality in Australia: A Nation Divided”, ACOSS found that while Australia’s economy and GDP has grown since the 1970s, a person in the top 20 percent income group has around five times as much income as someone in the bottom 20 percent. The growth in employment in the 1970s and 1980s has offset income inequality somewhat, but the stagnation in wages has meant that income inequality has steadily increased. As the ACOSS report notes; “Over the 25 years to 2010, real wages increased by 50% on average, but by 14% for those in the bottom 10% compared with 72% for those in the top 10%.’

The situation regarding wealth inequality is no better; “The top 10% of households own 45% of all wealth, most of the remainder of wealth is owned by the next 50% of households, while the bottom 40% of households own just 5% of all wealth.” Back in 2014, Will Morrow wrote an article for the WSWS web site that Forbes magazine published a list of Australia’s 50 wealthiest people, celebrating their riches and intending for the billionaire bounty to continue. Their combined wealth, back in 2014, was worth $US101.9 billion. Why shouldn’t we celebrate their wealth? Morrow elaborates the relevant background:

Put into context, the wealth of these 50 individuals is $US5 billion more than the federal government’s entire budgetary spending on healthcare, education, public transport and housing in 2013, and more than three times the combined annual gross domestic product of eight countries in the South Pacific region—East Timor, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati—inhabited by more than ten million people.

For all the talk about Australia being an egalitarian land of the ‘fair go’, we are rapidly becoming a vastly unequal nation:

Wealth and income inequalty - image courtesy of The Conversation
Wealth and income inequality – image courtesy of The Conversation

Before this is dismissed as Bolshevik Soviet propaganda from the Kremlin, let’s listen to the words of The Conversation online magazine:

As you would expect, Australia as a whole has become much wealthier since 1970: the total stock of capital has grown twice as fast as national income during the decades since then.

But what is more striking is the marked increase in wealth inequality over the same time. We have become collectively richer but much more unequal.

A reasonable estimate is that, currently, the poorest 40% of Australian households effectively have no wealth at all: about half of them actually have negative net wealth because of their personal debts. At the opposite pole, the wealthiest 10% have more than half the nation’s total household wealth. The top 1% alone have at least 15% of the total wealth.

Red Diaper Baby

I have fond memories of Christmas, and we spent happy times growing up as a red diaper baby. What does that mean? I took that expression from a book, published back in 2004, called “Red Diapers: Growing up in the Communist Left”. The book is a collection of writings about the experiences of those children whose parents were members of the Communist Party, or who were affiliated with leftist and socialist organisations. The book obviously covers the American experience; I have adopted that term for myself in the Australian context. I am a red diaper baby, the only-child of socialist-minded parents. My late father was an active socialist, and never wavered in his convictions. He was a humanitarian socialist and loving parent.

Before anybody becomes concerned about my childhood, let me clarify. No, my late father never forced me to memorise Das Kapital. No, he never neglected me, and I was never left wanting for anything. Yes, he scolded me when I misbehaved. Yes, he helped me with my school homework. Yes, he took me on family outings, visits and social activities. Every year, the primary school I attended (Catholic school) held an Easter hat parade, where each student would bring a creation of their arts-minded parents. The ultimate prize? A large chocolate egg. My father designed a pharaonic-style hat, mimicking the headdress of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs. I won a huge chocolate egg – for the most original hat in the parade.

As I grew into adolescence, I wanted my own independent life, and adopted the “oh dad, go away” attitude – the teenager that wants to avoid the social embarrassment of being seen with the ‘uncool’ dad. Yes, he told me silly dad jokes, and had a lively and engaging personality. Yes, he bought me toys for Christmas. Yes, there were times when we clashed; we had our sad moments, conflicts and resentments. Hey, until today, when I think of my father and the bad times, I catch myself curling my hands into fists and getting ready to hit. But he also taught me about the way the world works, that we need to be active citizens, not just passive consumers. I remember his compassion, sincerity and generosity.

He displayed an unceasing passion for, and interest in, the Arab and Islamic worlds, having kept the Islamic statement of faith on the dining buffet table. It was a small picture, with gold writing on a black background. He kept a copy of the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Islamist philosopher. He kept a portrait of the late Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, on prominent display in the lounge room. The portrait, showing Nasser holding his hand to his cheek, was flanked by the Islamic declaration, the Shahada. Unlike the vast majority of the Egyptian-Armenian gusano-types, he respected the Arab and Muslim as an equal, while choosing not to necessarily worship in the Islamic way. He strongly identified with, and supported, the Palestinian cause – not only for the purpose of self-determination, but also as a struggle against the influence of imperialism in the Middle East.

He had the portraits of Marx and Lenin hanging in his study – and a smaller one of Joseph Stalin. He kept a close watch on developments in global politics, the role of Australian capitalism as a deputy sheriff of the United States, and rejected the rampant consumerism and mind-numbing celebrity-worship culture that pervades Australian society. He saw the deleterious effects of the ideology that underpins our current socioeconomic system – neoliberalism. The Grinch that is ruining Christmas for everyone is the destructive philosophy of ultra-competitive individualism. As George Monbiot explained in his article, referred to earlier in this piece:

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Yes, I know that the Soviet Union was disbanded by the Gorbachev leadership in 1991, and that Russia has been a capitalist country since then. Yes, I know that Vladimir Putin – the Charles de Gaulle equivalent of the Russian federation – is a fiercely nationalist right wing politician. No, he is not going to restore the USSR. No, he is not a secret communist, hellbent on covertly resurrecting the Communist apparatus. It is possible to chew gum and walk at the same time – Putin, like de Gaulle, is anti-American imperialism, but not anti-imperialist.

It is possible to oppose the capitalist regime in the Kremlin, and reject the anti-Russia hysteria that is gripping large sections of the American capitalist class. We will get to that subject in another article – it is on the To Do list. There are many reasons why I have remain a loyal red diaper baby – too many to elaborate here. As a short answer, I will recycle the words of the late Eugene V Debs, an American socialist, whose words have striking relevance for today:

Image courtesy of AZ quotes.
Image courtesy of AZ quotes.

Every Christmas, I remember how my late father clashed with the Egyptian-Armenian gusanos during our visits, and how he never backed down. The gusanos are victims of their own bigotry, as they celebrate the cruise missiles that imperialism fires at the Arab and Islamic countries. But that is okay, because they taught me valuable lessons – in how to cravenly capitulate to the seemingly seductive allure of imperial might. After this lesson, I can safely file away the opinions and ideas of the gusano-types in the appropriate storage facility.

Every Christmas, I remember my late father – and am proud to have grown up a red diaper baby.

I would not change that for anything in the world.

Dutton’s remarks, and being told to go back to where I come from – a constant refrain my whole life

Australia’s current Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, made a number of ignorant and bigoted comments in recent weeks regarding the presence of Lebanese Muslims in Australia. He stated that the Liberal Party Prime Minister in the 1970s, Malcolm Fraser, made a mistake in allowing Lebanese to settle in the country, because a proportion of their grandchildren have been guilty of terrorism-related offences. Linking a particular ethnic group to terrorism, Dutton promoted xenophobic sentiments, and his boss, current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, has stated his support for the Immigration Minister. As Omar Bensaidi, a philosophy and law student at Western Sydney University, explained in an article for The Guardian newspaper, Dutton’s misguided remarks did not appear out of thin air:

He is just another voice who continues to espouse a “common sense” political incorrectness that is somehow deemed heroic. He again privileges a baseless white anxiety that has, by force of repetition, and by the astounding rise of Donald Trump, come to turn the word “immigrant” into a threat or mistake.