Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Superannuation: The big swindle kills the illusion of the golden nest-egg

Max O.

Recently the media reported on a superannuation study entitled, "Not So Super" by Per Capita, a social justice think-tank, whose survey showed that Super earns better for those on high incomes (mainly men) but not those on low to no incomes (mainly women). Under capitalism superannuation is the Hermes of Greek mythology - a sneaky trickster, stealing things from other gods and hiding them in mindboggling locations.

The Hawke Labor government in the early 1980s ushered in superannuation to provide a savings retirement scheme so workers could supposedly retire in dignity. It was intended to take the edge of wage demands as part of a "social wage" concession. It became Labor's signature policy that ALP politicians would triumphantly boast as their great innovation.

However, there is nothing to boast about superannuation for the working class, it has turned out to be a liability for them and only an innovation for finance capital. Financial sources in 2016 calculated that the average Super saved by men was between $290,000 and $300,000, and for women between $138,000 and $180,000, which is not enough to provide for a comfortable retirement.

A retired person would need from $400,000 to $550,000 in their Super and a couple from $600,000 to $1.2 million to live reasonably. By far the majority of workers have Super accounts far lower than these amounts as indicated by the Retire Ready Index; it detailed that 47% of the workforce, 5.1 million of Australian workers will not have enough funds in their Super for a secure retirement.

Women big superannuation losers

Superannuation for most women is even more precarious because of the sexist nature of Australia's capitalist society. The Per Capita survey found that women retire on 47 per cent lower sums than men. Just achieving the inadequate figure of $150 000 in Super, saw poor results: three out of 10 for women and six out of 10 for men reach this sum.

One in every two Australian women works part-time, compared to only one in every five men. And still more are employed away from the formal workforce where they don't receive superannuation. On average those who are employed full-time get 20 per cent less than men.

All up, it means women get 33 per cent less than men while in the workforce, and a lot less overall because they are often out of the workforce having children, caring for children or caring for relatives. The world of work has worsened so much that superannuation was a flawed project from the beginning, or as Per Capita puts it: "Superannuation was designed around a model of employment that is rapidly disappearing."

Wage theft

Around 2.8 million people were owed $5.6 billion, an underpayment of $2,025 a person each year, in unpaid Superannuation Guarantee Charge in 2013-14 reported the Australian Tax Office. The major offenders come from the construction, hospitality, manufacturing and mining industries.

The increase of casual, part-time and cash-in-hand employment has seen a surge of non-compliance of compulsory Super obligations by employers. Tony Sheldon, national secretary of the Transport Workers Union called such practice wage theft: “It’s not break and enter, … it is the plague of billions of dollars in wages and superannuation which employers take from the pay packets of their employees,” he said. “It is wage theft. And needs to be treated like any other form of theft by making it an offence, with jail sentences.”

The current severe anti-union industrial scene has led to the weakening of implementing enterprise agreements and compulsory superannuation. Governments and business have aggressively restricted unions' capacity to monitor and enforce correct wages, conditions and entitlements such as Super.

The Federal government has implemented a detrimental number of changes to Super: frozen the expected increase of the superannuation guarantee from 9% to 12%; altered the pension asset test that penalised 300,000 superannuated retirees who are now in a financially poorer position; the last budget imposed a cap of $1.6 million on the amount of super that can be transferred into retirement phase, making it that much harder for retirees to achieve a comfortable retirement.

The Coalition government obviously has a clear policy agenda of emasculating the Super retirement savings of the five million Australian workers. Another measure they have concocted to carry out this agenda is their intention to appoint an 'independent chair' and a third of board seats with 'independent directors' to industry not-for-profit Super funds to make them "accountable and transparent" - amd open to pressure from Government appointees.

Retail super funds offer lousy deals

Industry super funds have accused the big bank operated retail super funds of underperforming by 1.9% per year for the last decade compared to theirs. They point out that the 10-year Australia Prudential Regulation Authority (Apra) performance data demonstrated that bank-owned retail super funds have not delivered above-median returns for 95% of their members over the previous 10 years.

Industry Super Australia stated: "Constant outperformance by industry super funds over bank-owned super funds reflects the differences between for-profit and not-for-profit business models, which over the last two decades have seen significantly different member outcomes.

“The fact is, running a super fund to profit a parent bank sits very uneasily with the interest of members and the social policy objectives of compulsory superannuation."

Not-for-profit super sector generated 96% ($42.9bn) of cumulative fund-level investment returns above the median over the last 10 years, whereas the for-profit retail sector accounted for 96% ($25.4bn) of value lost relative to the median. After this suspicious performance, the Coalition government is not contemplating an investigation of the bank-owned retail super funds nor their governance.

Tax evasion by the rich

Superannuation for the rich has become a means for tax evasion. People on high incomes have covetously moved much of the earnings into super. For example, the amount earned over a $180,000 is taxed at 49 cents in the dollar. This can be reduced by putting that portion into a super account where is will be taxed at 15%.

One of the biggest losses to the Federal Budget is the tax concessions for superannuation. It is losing around $30 billion a year through tax evasion schemes practiced by the wealthy.
Superannuation tax concessions are growing at 13% a year; however, the government is more concerned that the pension scheme is growing at 3% a year. The tax loss of super tax concessions to the government budget will be greater than the cost of the pension.

The poor receive no tax discounts and in fact are penalised whilst the rich are granted charitable concessions, and the government insanely forfeits huge sums of revenue.
apitalism formerly relied on accumulated profits, wealthy shareholders and bank credit loans for its continual expansion. Now superannuation funds play a significant role in providing investment capital.

Per Capita reported that Australian Super is worth $2.3 trillion, which is more than Australia's annual GDP. It naively thought that the present superannuation system should be scrapped and a scheme that paid out according to need should replace it.

Subsequently Per Capita came to the conclusion it was too far gone because the finance industry lobbyists would line up against this. Their grasping, Hermes-like fingers have too strong a hold of the Super industry. Superannuation has become just one more scam in a litany of scandals that plague capitalism's pursuit of expanding accumulation.

The Labor Party in creating the superannuation system in fact the betrayed the working class and sacrificially handed up its earnings to capital for expropriation.

A decent social system - socialism - would provide a secure and comfortable retirement for all, something capitalism refuses to do.

Stop finance capital’s unacceptable trade in water rights!

Nick G.

Last night’s ABC Four Corners program revealed that billions of dollars in tax payers' money, poured into rescuing the rivers and streams of the Murray-Darling Basin to save it from environmental collapse, had instead benefitted a handful of wealthy cotton growers.

Aided by corrupt officials in the NSW Department of Water, cotton growers are stealing water from the Barwon River and Darling Rivers to create massive shallow dams from which to irrigate vast tracts of land on which cotton is grown.

Imperialist finance capital buys up our water

As valuable as the program was in exposing these rorts, it really only scratched the surface of problems related to Australian freshwater supplies. And those problems do not exist in isolation. They are part of a global theft of public commons by giant multinational financial corporations which have forced their way into a deliberately constructed private water market that allows them to speculate with their surplus capital.

The seizure of freshwater supplies contained in rivers and the Great Artesian Basin by finance capital investors, miners and gas extraction companies mirrors the wave of privatisations and corporatisations of city and state water utilities that occurred in the mid-1990s. The major beneficiaries of the latter included French companies Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux and Vivendi, Thames Water and Lend Lease.

Water trading followed a June 1995 decision to establish the Murray-Darling Cap to put a limit on the amount of water that could be taken out of the Murray-Darling river catchments.  Ostensibly a response to concerns about environmental flows, the Cap came with a new system that allowed irrigators to trade their entitlements to waters taken from the Murray-Darling, and also to trade annual allocations taken under those entitlements.

Investment funds with active interests in water emerged after 2007, when investors no longer had to own land in the Murray Darling Basin to be eligible to buy and sell its water rights.

Water was no longer a common good, that is, a resource deemed to be under the ownership of all Australian citizens and available for their use and enjoyment, but a private commodity, “blue gold” as it was quickly dubbed by corporate investors. And it was no longer a simple commodity, but a financial instrument which could be held, in the case of entitlements, as a security against mortgages.

Whilst making this fundamental change to ownership and control of freshwater supply, the federal government chose not to maintain any register of foreign capital purchasing Australian water rights.  Very belatedly, a register will be introduced in December of this year.

Despite the lack of clarity around who owns our water, several major players have been identified.

By 2010 the major players in our water market, then valued at $30 billion included:

• $20 million worth of entitlements bought by the US-owned Summit Global Management through an Australian subsidiary;
• An estimated $130 million worth of water bought by Olam International of Singapore in a deal involving the purchase of almond groves in northern Victoria;
• More than $30 million worth of rights in western NSW held by Tandou which has substantial British and US ownership.


(It is worth noting that Summit’s assets were sold in 2015 to noted enemies of the Australian working class in the Aware Water investment group, owned by former ports bosses Chris Corrigan and Peter Scanlon. Corrigan, who tried to smash the Maritime Union of Australia is also tied to the Webster Group, one of two corporations currently owning 70% of the Barwon River’s water.)

It was estimated that by 2010, 8.1% of Australian freshwater was owned by foreign capital. By 2013, that figure had risen by 60% to 13.7%.  No doubt the figure will be higher again when the registry data is released next year.

There are currently two investment funds serving to channel local and foreign capital into the water market. One is BlueSky Alternative Investments which incorporates private equity, hedge fund and venture capital divisions and whose major shareholders are JP Morgan Nominees Australia Ltd and HSBC Custody Nominees (Australia) Ltd.
T
he other is a private fund, Kilter Investments.  Financial analyst Alan Kohler reported how in 2015 he “spoke yesterday with Cullen Gunn who runs a wholesale water investment fund (for “sophisticated” high net worth investors and big super funds only) called Kilter. He says water is a "great asset class". "It’s like commercial property except there’s no problem with impairment or messy tenants. The yield is sold, about 5-8 per cent and if someone doesn’t pay you just take the asset back, instead of having to apply to have a tenant evicted."

"Also, it’s clear to me that climate change means there is going to be less water in future, so the economic value of it will increase."

The Australian Constitution – an obstacle to a national approach to water management

As we have stated elsewhere, the Australian Constitution was a weak three-way compromise between the British, the colonial elites in the separate colonies, and the proponents of a central government. It does not provide for control of Australian freshwater by the Australian government. Rather, that control is vested in the States.

As a consequence of our ineffective and outdated Constitution, our two major freshwater systems rely on the cooperation and goodwill of the state and federal governments. Hence there are the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee. The former holds powers referred to it by State Ministers; the latter advises Ministers on behalf of various stakeholder groups.

This is an unacceptable arrangement.  There should be single national authorities with exclusive powers over both Basins. 

In the case of the Great Artesian Basin, there are divergent views on its sustainability.  Some view it as a renewable supply, refreshed by rains falling in north-eastern Queensland.  But another view sees it as a plutonic source of water derived from steam generated by vulcanism deep in the earth over millions of years and hence essentially not renewable.

As per the Constitution, three separate states and the Northern Territory are in charge of their own Great Artesian Basin waters.  SA allows Olympic Dam to extract up to 42 million litres per day. 

The Queensland government has given Adani open slather on Great Artesian Basin waters.  It has no limit on what it can extract but merely needs to monitor and report the amount of water it extracts with a permit that runs until 2077.

Gas producer Santos plans to drill 850 coal seam gas wells through the Great Artesian Basin.

The Achilles heel of the current cooperative arrangements between the states and the federal government over the two Basins is that individual players can walk away at any stage as indeed was mooted by NSW Department of Primary Industry and Water Deputy Director Gavin Hanlon.

In a confidential phone discussion with irrigator lobbyists, a tape of which was played on the Four Corners program, Hanlon raises the Plan B “walk away” option, much to the delight of the lobbyist. When one realises that the value of the NSW water market is equal to the entire value of Australia’s wool exports, the potential for corrupt relations between senior public servants and traders of water entitlements and allocations becomes immediately apparent.

What can be done?

In the short term and within the current Constitution’s limited provisions, the federal Government must regulate the water market to ensure equity and access, control increases in the price of water, restrict the entry of foreign capital to the market, and secure water for environmental flows all the way to and through the mouth of the Murray.

In the longer term, water must be protected as a public trust, as a common good, within a new anti-imperialist and republican Constitution. Private ownership of our freshwater supplies must be abolished and the assets of foreign investors confiscated without compensation.  The two Basins must be administered by a national public authority created to ensure fair water allocation and a healthy freshwater ecosystem.

Only an independent and socialist Australia can implement these changes.

Monday, July 24, 2017

SA Power Networks workers rally against the ABCC

Nick G.

Three hundred members and supporters of the CEPU, the SA branch of the Electrical Trades Union, rallied outside the Adelaide office of the Australian Building and Construction Commission yesterday.

The ABCC is the federal government’s “tough cop on the beat”, enforcing vicious punitive sanctions against construction workers, sanctions that, until now, have applied to no other workers in the country.

When the federal government introduced legislation to revive and strengthen the ABCC on the 15th of February this year, Employment Minister Senator Michaelia Cash stood in Australian Senate and expressly stated that the ABCC Commissioner would exempt a building contractor or a building industry participant providing essential services relating to, amongst other things, the supply of electricity. This debate arose expressly in the context of enterprise bargaining at SA Power Networks (SAPN), which had initially refused to even attempt to be exempted from the Code.

Cash has now broken those assurances, with around 25% of SAPN employees in the Construction and Maintenance Services (CaMS) section placed under the ABCC. Those workers typically:

• maintain the high voltage transmission network for ElectraNet – including the repair of transmission towers following storms;
• rollout the National Broadband Network; and
• exend the electricity grid to new property developments.


Applying the ABCC Code to SA Power Networks directly threatens the employment security of over two thousand secure jobs in South Australia. The Code strips away long held rights and will permit the industry to be flooded with cheap labour in a race to the bottom.
It means that any future EBA must be “code compliant” and would ensure that around 36 clauses of SAPN workers’ current agreement would be illegal. Some of these clauses include consultation, hours of work, safety, wage parity with contractors and labour hire, and protection of union members and delegates.


In trashing the assurances she gave re exemptions from the ABCC for emergency services workers, Cash is showing the government’s determination to bring more and more workers under draconian anti-union provisions. This was well understood by representatives of other unions attending the rally, some of whom spoke of moves to strip wages and conditions from enterprise agreements and have them transferred to “policy”, that is, to have them subject to management prerogative and liable to change at the employers’ whim.

Although the SAPN decision will be reviewed by the Federal Court on September 25, ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks told the rally that the things that unions have fought for and won have rarely come through the courts.

“Rather, they have come because workers have done what you’re doing: taking to the streets, standing up and showing you’re willing to fight,” he said.

The rally ended with chants of “When workers’ rights are under attack – Stand up! Fight back!”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Flames of Fear

(Contributed by a retired construction worker)
 
The fear……...Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
The outcome……....  Hundreds of thousands dead
The truth…….... Lies
The damage…….... The truth
CAN THEY EVER BE TRUSTED?
 
Two events of note occurred within a week of each other in London England recently. The outcomes of these events are as relevant to Australia and other similar countries as to England.
 
The first involved horrific acts of murder on the famous London Bridge by 3 frenzied knife wielding men now declared terrorists. Eight innocent victims died needlessly and dozens of others were injured for whatever misguided right-wing religious rationale drove these three culprits.
 
As a result of this and other similar declared terrorist attacks over the past decade or so, the British Government immediately went into a frenzy with Prime Minister May declaring, “enough is enough” while assuring the public her government was in control of the situation and will introduce even more legislation, more police, the armed forces and all other types of security measures required to stop this terror. Clearly, the vast amounts of money to pay for all this was not an issue so far as the government was concerned. The protection of the public against terrorism, in her view, was the first priority.
 
The second event of note and even more horrific than the occurrence on London Bridge, was the burning of the 25 stories ‘Grenfell Tower’ apartment building. Reports suggest the fire commenced on the lower floors and climbed its way to the top 25th level at unprecedented speed. Within this building, in the early hours of the morning, lived hundreds of innocent sleeping family members.
 
At the time of writing this article 80 people are assumed dead with 100s injured. It has also been confirmed by authorities that there was no act of terrorism involvement in this tragedy what-so-ever.
 
The cause of the fire (at the time of writing) has not been declared, but the evidence is mounting that none of the fire alarms had been working and no sprinkler system was even in place. Complaints about a fire risk of newly renovated outside wall cladding, costing millions of dollars and many other safety concerns, had not only been ignored by government officials and politicians, but the cladding was condoned. It was also reported that fire fighters were seriously hampered by the inability of their ladders and fire truck snorkels to reach the upper levels. Quite clearly the fire was a result of neglect, corruption, profiteering and abuse of power.
 
The initial response from the government was full of platitudes and wringing of hands and a belated declaration by Prime Minister May of a government inquiry to look into the facts surrounding the fire. Of course, we all know what happens when a government “inquiry” is put in place, people could wait years for a watered-down report but very little else except, justification for all the above suggested causes.
 
By any stretch of the imagination and as a matter of fact, ‘Grenfell Towers’ seriously outweighed the London Bridge attack as “tragic” just on the numbers of dead alone. But the initial reactions from the Government to each of these events would have us think otherwise.
 
No need of any such inquiry for the London Bridge attack, just straight into it based on one of these events being a terrorist attack and “priority” and the other not. “Enough is enough”, more police, use the armed forces, new legislation etc etc.
 
The ruling class wants us to be afraid
 
The promotion of fear of terrorism has become so invasive that the slightest suggestion of the word, “terrorist” results in hundreds of millions of dollars being thrown around like confetti by governments of the world, while at the same time we lose hard fought for rights at unprecedented speed without hardly a murmur from a panicked public.
 
It is understandable that terrorism must be taken seriously and combated, but equally, the day to day safety of the public must not be minimised to a level that any declared act of terror is deemed top priority by default and common right laws reduced to the level of lip service.
 
People throughout the world face greater dangers every day from avoidable disasters like ‘Grenfell Towers.’ Regardless of the public reporting and laying of complaints to government bodies of the potential for disaster, governments and private industry continually ignore them, especially when these bodies can refer to “risk management” to justify non-resolution of any potential disasters which could otherwise eat into any profit.
 
To make matters worse the pressure to reduce costs is so overwhelming governments now accept too much ‘red tape’ is a needless impost on business. It used to be called “good governance” and was accepted as a reasonable cost to protect the public from unsafe practices, shysters, corruption and other types of undesirable practices found in the community of profit seekers.
 
Of course, when you dig deep enough as to who is advising governments re risk management, you will always find the profit seekers and those who will profit the most from reduction of “red tape” regardless of the industry under discussion.
 
The point is, many more people are killed and injured from government inaction at the very best - or at the very worst, collusion - with the profit makers. Whichever option taken it is the people being ignored and their rights being removed who are ultimately the victims. Yet the concentration on the most minor of incidents re “terrorism” is blown way out of proportion compared to the calculated preventable injuries and deaths observed every day for the sake of maximising profits.
 
The use of fear is a great weapon to create confusion and distraction to control popular dissent against the terrors of capitalism in all its guises. 
 
Our rights and liberties under attack
 
In Australia, we now see governments introducing even more restrictions on peoples’ rights. The legal assumption that we are “innocent until proven guilty” has been under attack for some time.
 
Construction industry workers are now treated as guilty of breaching industrial relations laws if charged. Compelled under the threat of jail to give evidence against themselves and others if called as a witness. Now many other workers and the public, through an expanded interpretation of the Act covering the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), will be facing the same treatment if that interpretation is upheld by the courts.
 
We have all been brought up to believe fundamental tenets of western democracy like, ‘innocent until proved guilty”, define us as more civilised than others. But now the balance between peoples’ rights and public security has become more and more skewed towards the latter because the main government advisers, relating to security, are the security forces.
 
By definition the job of the security forces is to ensure security is primary, even at the expense of individual rights. The counter balance should be progressive social forces bringing enough pressure on leading lights in society and politicians to ensure individual rights are not removed by those intent on destroying the limited rights people already have. 
 
Following some recent declared terrorists’ attacks in Australia, some State Governments are proposing changes to state terrorist laws intent to reverse the presumption of “innocence” to ensure the security forces are given every right to arrest, detain and jail anyone suspected of being a terrorist threat to the community. These changes do not only affect the actual or suspected terrorists, but all of us lose our rights.
 
The divide expected in a “democracy” between civil forces and military forces is becoming blurred almost beyond recognition with the militarisation of police, security/emergency services etc. due to the fear of terrorism. The legal divide between these forces is seen as fundamental to protecting the integrity of a democratic system. Each force is specifically trained, one to deal with the public in criminal and civil matters, the other to deal with enemies of the State and war. Police officers and soldiers are not the same and never should be.
 
We now hear the Australian Prime Minister, Turnbull, explain why it is necessary to change laws, or re-interpret laws originally introduced to separate the roles of civil and military forces. Rules governing military forces operate in accordance with a chain of command hierarchy and totally differ from what’s considered the natural rule of law. It has been reported (New Daily 17-07-17) that,
 
“Similar laws in France and the UK have allowed the military to harass individuals, shut down peaceful protests and perform house arrests without a warrant, all in the name of fighting terror.”
 
This is a serious concern, especially considering the suggested reduction of peoples’ rights now appears to be limitless. The proposed changes by Turnbull also have no time limits or restrictions but appear to be forever.
 
During war, emergency measures for the protection of the public etc is not new in Australia or elsewhere, but emergency measures without time limits is unusual and raises serious questions as to why it is required when already 70 pieces of anti-terrorist legislation has already been introduced in Australia since the 9/11 attack in the USA.
 
A new super ministry has also just been announced combining Australian Federal Police, ASIO and the Australian Border Force under the control of Minister Peter Dutton. Minister Dutton, a former police officer is considered to be a very conservative right-wing member of parliament with many of his decisions lacking empathy for victims and going against the general public’s views on a “fair go”.  He is also well known for his views on security being priority.
 
Just another concern for those who believe their rights are being smashed day in and day out because the flames of terrorist fear are constantly fanned throughout society, diverting the public’s attention away from other resolvable causes of unnecessary deaths, injuries and destruction.
 
If it is really about protecting the public against terror, why not start with capitalism and the most dangerous accepted “terror” which goes on all over the world, day after day, unspoken, unabated and unpunished, like “Grenfell Tower”.

Indian diplomacy: proxy for Western “Defence” and “Security”

(Contributed)  
Recent high-level diplomacy between India with the United States and Israel reveals the extent of a changing balance of forces in the Asia-Pacific region.
 
Indian diplomacy, in general, has therefore focused upon Western attempts to buttress the country with huge armaments sales in preparation for possible hostilities with China.
 
The rise of China has effectively countered US hegemonic positions: the traditional western position is beginning to crumble, their leaders and cronies have entered a state of panic.
 
One specific example of Chinese endeavour and the manner in which the West has responded reveals a heightening of diplomatic tensions across the Asia-Pacific region together with the likely outcome.
 
In late June, far-right Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visited Washington to meet President Donald Trump. The high-level diplomacy was, in reality, a formality. A following visit by Modi to Israel less than a fortnight later, was, however, closely linked to US sponsored diplomatic initiatives.
 
Modi arrived in Israel in what was described as 'a ground-breaking first visit by an Indian PM with growing ties between the countries including billions of dollars in defence deals'. (1) An official media release about the Indian-Israeli diplomacy stated 'India is the world's biggest importer of defence equipment and Israel has become one of its major suppliers'. (2)
 
Many of the specific items of military technology remain hidden although those publicised include more than usual defence and security provision and form part of planning to modernise the Indian armed forces by 2025. (3) They are preparing for combat positions. Israel also has a huge defence sector as part of its national economy, much of which is based in high-tech military equipment. It is therefore no surprise that part of the Israel-India arms deals include 'satellite technology' and 'communications technology'. (4)
 
Military links between the two countries have also extended to the highest level of intelligence with what has been described as long-standing co-operation with 'counter-terrorism and exchanging information'. (5)
 
Behind the scenes of the military expenditure bean-feast, however, lie far deeper causes for the flood of money for weaponry to pursue aggressive diplomatic initiatives.
 
The rise of China has effectively changed the balance of forces in the wider Asia-Pacific region: traditional western hegemonic positions have been challenged. Countries associated with US-backed diplomatic positions have therefore concentrated their efforts upon India to become a buttress against China. India is about the only country with similar economic potential, while others flounder and have often been drawn into Chinese spheres of influence.
 
The emerging situation has been exacerbated by two developments: the Trump administration which has pursued a strange and contradictory approach to foreign affairs raising questions about its competence; and the success of Chinese diplomacy and their longer-term planning when dealing with countries of interest which include the Russian Federation.
 
In 2001, China became involved with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which had a focus upon 'economic ties between the nations and serves as a counter to American hegemony in Central Asia'. (6) Later, in October 2007, the SCO then led by China, 'signed an agreement with the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO)' which was headed by the Russian Federation. (7) A decade later the combined diplomatic entity of China and the Russian Federation has equalled the power of the US. And with it, the combined diplomatic entity has extended its influence over a vast area.
 
Within the Asia-Pacific region the altering balance of forces can be observed by countries such as the Philippines, traditionally very closely associated with US diplomatic positions. The present Duterte administration is now, however, openly pursing closer links with China and the Russian Federation.
 
In the wider area, Iran has been brought into the spheres of influence: traditionally possessing strong links with Russia, over a decade ago China also developed strong diplomatic contact with Iran. By 2004, China became the largest oil export market for Iran. It has also financed huge infrastructure projects through more than a hundred Chinese state organisations based in Iran. (8) 
 
A recent announcement China Petroleum was entering into a partnership with Iran Petropars to develop the South Pars natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, thought to be one of the largest in the world, is further evidence of Chinese influence in the wider region. (9) How the development fits into a bigger picture of the present diplomatic rift between Qatar and other US-backed Sunni countries in the Middle East has yet to be established given Qatar made recent favourable diplomatic initiatives to strengthen links with Iran. It is likely, however, to be highly relevant given an official diplomatic statement from Qatar noted they intended to boost natural gas exports to become the 'world's biggest LNG exporter'. (10)   
 
It is also significant to note recent diplomatic initiatives between the Russian Federation and Qatar which have included the signing of a military cooperation agreement in September, 2016, and investment in the energy sector. References have already been made about Russian involvement in natural gas-fields. (11) 
 
The fact Iran is the centre of Shia Islam has provided the combined diplomatic entity of China and the Russian Federation with considerable influence with Muslims throughout the world, a position regarded as untenable with Israel.
 
It is, however, the role of China planning and beginning their massive One Belt, One Road infrastructure program has thrown US imperialist and other Western defence and security systems into panic mode. The program will assist with the economic development of China and those countries linked into the plan, some of which have strong allegiance with Islam such as Afghanistan. No wonder NATO have recently decided to boost their so-called 'Afghanistan commitment' following a directive from 'NATO commanders to provide about 3,000 troops'. (12) They have no wish to see the country fall from their grasp and the present Western circle of influence.
 
It is also significant to note a recent strengthening of diplomatic links between China and Syria, with plans to create a 'Syrian hub' in the One Belt, One Road program. (13) Likewise, no wonder NATO continue to offer support and arms for jihadists to destabilise the country and topple the Assad administration. The recent US bombing of Russian Federation military facilities, which was planned to damage infrastructure, might also be seen in this context. It had nothing to do with chemical weapons. (14)
 
Just one example of western behaviour toward the program, however, is worthy of considerable scrutiny to throw further light upon the relentless nature of Western attempts to encircle and contain China as a provocative military strategy.
 
In late June, coinciding with Modi visiting the US, an official media release from New Delhi announced India was beginning 'a new Asian space race' which was intended to tighten 'control of regional skies and alliances by leveraging its ability to send satellites into orbit'. (15) The statement also included information about India activating a global positioning system next year which it had 'offered to share with its neighbours', one of which was clarified as Afghanistan. (16) 
 
The position of India within Western-based regional defence and security provision was clearly defined in the media release. It acknowledged, for example, while 'most of India's recent space diplomacy has been a rearguard action against China', the planning was intended for steering counties in the region 'away from Beijing's influence' and 'at stake in its contest is regional leadership'. (17)
 
The recent period has been marked by western diplomacy becoming more aggressive toward China. It is not difficult to establish the real nature of diplomatic behaviour. China has already complained that recent Indian diplomacy and provision of satellite ground stations in Brunei, Indonesia and Mauritius were intended for 'military purposes to monitor the South China Seas'. (18)  
 
A further example of a more aggressive Western diplomatic stance in the region can also be seen with an announcement Indian-based Astrome Technologies plan to launch 150 satellites to provide coverage of areas including Bangladesh and the Indonesian archipelago. (19) The diplomatic statement 'given US-Israel friendship, working with Israel fits into Modi's plan to strengthen New Delhi's relations with the US', can also be clearly established from other defence and security considerations. (20)
 
Using a standard Peters Projection actual-size world map the arc from US military facilities based on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean has a radius to other sensitive facilities in India, Bangladesh and Pine Gap in Central Australia which, in turn, reveals the nature of recent Indian diplomacy with the US and Israel. The fact the radius also encompasses a multitude of shipping-lanes in the wider region together with the Middle East and Persian Gulf is no coincidence. (21)
 
Just what proportion of the massive US $40 billion space budget is now being allocated for use with India and its large satellite program has yet to be established. Recent India diplomacy with the US and Israel would tend to indicate the allocation is considerable. And the space budget is not intended for usual internet access purposes, but war.
………………………………
1.     Defence deals unite Modi, Bibi, Australian, 6 July 2017.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Israel making waves in the Indian-Pacific, The Weekend Australian, 8-9 July 2017.
4.     Ibid., and Australian, op.cit., 6 July 2017.
5.     Weekend Australian, op.cit., 8-9 July 2017.
6.     A New World War for a New World Order, Andrew Gavin Marshall, Nexus Magazine, February-March 2010, page 27.
7.     Ibid.
8.     Ibid.
9.     Total's $1.3 bn kicks off Iran play, Australian, 4 July 2017.
10.   We will be leader in LNG, says Qatar, Australian, 5 July 2017.
11.   Russia and Qatar, Bulgaria Analytica, 12 July 2017.
12.   NATO boosts Afghanistan commitment, Australian, 12 July 2017.
13.   New Silk Road, Information Clearing House, 14 July 2017.
14.   Trump ignored intel, 25 June 2017,
        Website - http://www.rt.com/usa/393993 – trump – intel - syria - tomahawk – chemical/ 
15.   India takes on China in Asian space race, Australian, 30 June 2017.
16.   Ibid.
17.   Ibid.
18.   China State Media, quoted, Ibid.
19.   Ibid.
20.   The Weekend Australian, op.cit., 8-9 July 2017.
21.   Sites go silent as base gets supplies, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 2001, which provides a detailed list of the range of the Diego Garcia facilities together with their links to Australia and other US military bases in Japan and Singapore.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Syrian army winning ground against terrorists and imperialism

Bill F.

In the past month the Syrian government forces have recaptured vast areas of the Syrian countryside, routing the murderous ISIS fanatics and liberating thousands of people from cruel oppression, hunger and misery.

Fighting continues into the eastern desert as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) pushes ahead to lift the ISIS siege on the government-held town of Deir ez-Zor.

Elsewhere in the country, government forces face off with shrinking pockets of “rebel” groups, including many backed by US imperialism and the remnants of Al Quaeda and Jabhat Fateh al Sham (previously known as the head-chopping jihadist al Nusra Front) When not sniping at government positions, any number of these groups form and re-form alliances and factions and shoot at one another!

No wonder then that the government has been able to negotiate a ‘reconciliation’ process that allows some ‘rebel’ fighters to leave with their families and small arms for other ‘rebel-held’ parts of the country, while the remainder are disbanded or can join the SAA.

Illegal foreign intervention


In the north, an alliance of mainly Syrian Kurdish forces has rolled back the ISIS fanatics and has now surrounded their stronghold of Raqqua where fierce street by street fighting continues. While the Kurdish forces have been receiving material support from US imperialism, as time goes on more and more direct US intervention is building up. The US clearly wants to have a presence in the future of Syria and has established a number of forward bases in the North and East of the country, plus significant air power.

Between the Kurdish forces and the Assad government there seems to be a truce of sorts, with only occasional flare-ups.

The US purports to be targeting ISIS terrorists with its illegal airstrikes, but it is really wrestling with Assad government forces for control of key regions inside Syria, and between Syria and its neighbours.  It has brazenly attacked and killed Syrian government forces as it did, for example, on 18 May. This was a deliberate attempt to deny Syrian government troops access to the Iraqi border in the south-east of Syria through which Iranian supplies are passed.  As Robert Fisk noted the next day in The Independent, “Cutting Syria off from Iraq – and thus from Iran – appears to be a far more immediate operational aim of US forces in Syria than the elimination of the Sunni “Caliphate” cult that Washington claims to be its principal enemy in the Middle East”.  

More recently, a US claim that it had evidence that Syrian troops were planning to use sarin gas came to nothing. It clearly lacked credibility even though it was used to threaten Syria with a second cruise missile attack.

Turkey has also moved to have a stake in the post-ISIS ‘re-structuring’ of Syria, by driving a wedge between the eastern and western Kurdish areas, and aimed at preventing any movement towards the establishment of a Kurdish province within Syria or indeed a separate Kurdish state. This is consistent with the Erdogan government’s vicious treatment of the Kurdish people and its persecution of the Kurdish Workers’ Party.

Both the US and Turkish intervention are, of course, illegal: never invited by the legal Assad government and never authorised or endorsed by the United Nations. In contrast, the Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies of the Assad government are there by invitation, even if they have their own agendas to block and frustrate US imperialist hegemony in the region.

Golan Heights


Scarcely mentioned in all of this is the role of key US ally Israel, which continues its illegal occupation of Syria’s Golan territory. For all their fundamentalist jihadist rhetoric, ISIS has not attacked Israel! Nor have the ‘patriotic rebel’ forces tried to liberate the Golan, but have used it as a secure haven for the treatment of their wounded. Israel, for its part, regularly bombs Syrian government positions in ‘retribution’ for stray mortars that land in the occupied Golan. You have to wonder, just who launches these mortars, and whether Israel needs an excuse to bomb Syria, anyway?

Question we can already answer


As the curtain falls on the ISIS ‘Caliphate’ will US imperialism just go home and let the Syrians work out their own future, or will they beef up their own enclaves to attack the Syrian government?

Will the Kurds still have the support of US imperialism when they try to recover the land occupied by Turkey?

The Australian air force and some troops are presently, at least officially, confined to Iraq under the command of US imperialism. Will Australia be dragged into yet another war zone as the loyal deputy sheriff?

Victory to the courageous Syrian Arab Army!

Victory to the Kurdish people!

India-China military standoff: placing a choke-hold on the “chicken’s neck”?

Nick G

A military confrontation between India and China that flared up towards the end of June remains unresolved.

Caught in the middle is the tiny independent kingdom of Bhutan.

The crisis erupted in a small portion of territory whose control is in dispute between China and Bhutan. The area is known as Doklam. China claims that it is part of Yadong County of the Tibet Autonomous Region according to an 1890 Convention on Sikkim and Tibet which was formally signed between the then Qing government of China and the UK. The area is regarded by Bhutan as part of its territory.

When China began construction of a road in Doklam, Indian troops crossed over from neighbouring Sikkim and troops from the two countries jostled and pushed each other.  According to reports, they remain in a situation of tense stand-off. India claimed that it was defending Bhutan, although no request for Indian involvement was issued by the Bhutanese government.

Strategic significance of the “chicken’s neck”

Doklam is one of three small areas in dispute between China and Bhutan. It is not far from the “chicken’s neck”, a small gap less than 30 kilometres wide in some places situated between Nepal and Bangla Desh through which India accesses its North-Eastern provinces. China also claims part of Arunachal Pradesh, currently held by India, to Bhutan’s east.

The state-owned Chinese Global Times was not shy in hinting at China’s potential to cause trouble for India.

“Though the statement of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs evaded the issue, Indian experts, scholars and the media openly pointed out the Indian army's real motive of this action: to prevent China's construction in the Doklam area and possible future military deployment, which could block the road from mainland India to the "chicken neck" of northeast India. Northeast Indian people don't identify closely with India, and there are several armed organizations striving for northeastern states' independence from India.

“This incursion reflects that India fears China can quickly separate mainland India from northeast India through military means, dividing India into two pieces. In this case, northeast India might take the opportunity to become independent.”

Both Global Times and People’s Daily have warned that India is inviting a repeat of the 1962 war between the two countries, a war provoked by India.

India a part of US containment of China

India is not blameless. Sikkim became India’s 22nd state in 1975 when Indian troops deposed its monarchy. Bhutan has so far maintained its independence although it has an agreement with India whereby that country “guides” its defence and foreign policy.

Under Narendra Modi’s Prime Ministership, India has developed closer ties with the US, Israel, Australia and Vietnam. Last September for instance, PM Modi announced a new line of credit of $500 million for Vietnam to facilitate deeper military cooperation.  It has refused to endorse or support China’s One Belt, One Road initiative and has strongly opposed China’s actions in the South China Sea.

China’s latest road construction in disputed territory with Bhutan (it has been doing so on and off since 2005) occurred at the same time that Modi was hugging Donald Trump at the White House (June 26) and being feted by Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv (July 4).  China is clearly displeased with Modi’s anti-China alliances.

Although Modi is confronting China politically, diplomatically and militarily, India has bought into the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and is its second-largest shareholder after China. China has made an initial commitment of $29.87 billion compared to India’s $8.37 billion. Sharing a capital partnership with China, India must carefully consider how far it should go in provoking China. 

The world is a village, and even a fire in a tiny back lane can soon spread to nearby houses and the whole community.

India should take its troops back to Sikkim.  It should withdraw any pressure on Bhutan to prevent it from establishing diplomatic relations with China and the Chinese should refrain from provocative gestures such as road building in disputed areas. 

Bhutan and China should continue talks which have been going on over the years to resolve border disputes peacefully and on the basis of mutual equality.