What is really going on in Venezuela?

By Joe Montero

Venezuela has just gone through an election for a new Constituent Assembly. This is a new body, designed to lift discussion about the country’s future and bring about the peace, put forward by government led by Nicolás Maduro.

Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the claim, at the very least, it should be acknowledged that the voters were asked and encouraged to cast their verdict.

A sticking point is that the Constituent Assembly would have the power not to change the constitution. The truth is that it will only have the power to make recommendation that will then have to be  put a referendum. A clear guideline has been set, based on what has been called the “nine lines of work, which are

  1. Achieve peace, isolate the violent, reaffirm the values of justice and accountability.
  2. Perfect and broaden the Venezuelan economic system, to design or install a new post-petroleum economic system
  3. Include within the Constitution all of the Missions and Grand Missions established by Comandante Chávez and the Revolution, among them those focused on housing, education, health, and culture.
  4. Strengthen the functioning of the justice, security, and citizen protection system.
  5. Promote new forms of participation.
  6. Advance the defense of national sovereignty.
  7. Promote cultural identity and the country’s new spirituality.
  8. Guarantee youth a future.
  9. Show concern for the survival of life on the planet.

Despite the ‘official opposition’ boycott, 6,100 candidates stood for 456 positions, representing Venezuela’s different social sectors. Not all were government Maduro supporters.

Forty-three international observers and electoral experts oversaw the vote and have declared the result legitimate. The have also appealed for the will of the people of Venezuela to be respected.

In a statement the observers said,

“the Venezuelan people have made their case for peace despite threats and interventionist actions from the United States as well as their associates and allies.”

They also said that Venezuelans “have concurred in a civic and peaceful manner to exercise their right to vote in a free, universal, direct, and secret election as expressed in Article 63 of the Bolivarian Constitution.”

Much of the media coverage outside Venezuela has chosen to ignore all this and only put out the story provided by statements coming from the opposition. The line here is that this is about a dictator, working to consolidate his absolute power.

The vote for Constituent Assembly is for representatives of social sectors, in addition to representing electorates. This means that workers, peasants women, youth and students will have their own representatives.  Provision has been made to also include representatives for indigenous people, Afro-Venezuelans and the disabled. The opposition also objects to social sector representation.

Video from TeleSur

 

The reality is that the opposition’s support base is concentrated and does not spread across all sectors, especially working class and poor communities. This put it at a disadvantage and has a lot to do with the decision for a boycott.

Trawling through the reporting, shows wholesale unverified reporting, relying on uncritical repetition of media releases from this opposition. There is a lack of proper investigation. Only one story gets out and anything getting in its way is effectively censored by the major media outlets.

For instance, the unrealistic claim that 70 percent of the electorate supported their boycott and stayed away from the polls has been peddled widely. On this basis, the election process was labeled a fraud by the White House and sanctions on the South American country are being stepped up.

What is not mentioned is that the figure comes from a survey of intention conducted by the opposition, before the election. Any fair-minded person would accept that this is not the actual voting figure and needs to be verified against other evidence in any case.

Official figures of the count show that over 41 percent of the population voted. It may be short of a full turnout. But it was the highest turnout at any election for the past 18 years. Higher than when the collective opposition won a majority in the Congress in 2015.

Given the context in which the election occurred, this was a respectable turnout.

Video from TeleSur

 

For months, the opposition had been waging an openly violent and armed campaign in the streets to prevent the ballot from taking place. Perceived opponents have been hunted down by gangs. Continue reading What is really going on in Venezuela?

Privatisation has damaged the economy says ACCC chief

Patrick Hutch (The Sydney Morning Herald 27 July 2017) reports that Rod Sims, the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), stating that the sale of public assets has harmed the Australian economy. Many voices have been saying the same for years. When someone in Rod Sim’s position says it, can there remain any room for doubt?

Selling public assets has created unregulated monopolies that hurt productivity and damage the economy, according to Australia’s consumer and competition tsar, who says he is on the verge of becoming a privatisation opponent.

In a blistering attack on decades of common government practice, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said the sale of ports and electricity infrastructure and the opening of vocational education to private companies had caused him and the public to lose faith in privatisation and deregulation.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims says privatisation is hurting productivity.  Photo: Vince Caligiuri

“I’ve been a very strong advocate of privatisation for probably 30 years; I believe it enhances economic efficiency,” Mr Sims told the Melbourne Economic Forum on Tuesday.

“I’m now almost at the point of opposing privatisation because it’s been done to boost proceeds, it’s been done to boost asset sales and I think it’s severely damaging our economy.”

Deregulating the electricity market and selling poles and wires in Queensland and NSW, meanwhile, had seen power prices almost double there over five years. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Mr Sims said privatising ports, including Port Botany and Port Kembla in NSW, which were privatised together, and the Port of Melbourne, which came with conditions restricting competition from other ports, were examples where monopolies had been created without suitable regulation to control how much they could then charge users.

“Of course you get these lovely headlines in the Financial Review saying ‘Gosh, what a successful sale, look at the multiple they achieved’,” Mr Sims said.

“Well of course they bloody well did: the owners factored in very large price rises because there’s no regulation on how they set the price of a monopoly. How dopey is that?”

Mr Sims, who recently launched legal action against Medibank Private alleging it concealed changes to health insurance policies to boost profits ahead of its privatisation, said billions of dollars had been wasted in the scandal-plagued vocational education sector since it was opened up to the private sector.

A deal to privatise the Port of Melbourne was struck in March with conditions that restricted competition from other ports.

Deregulating the electricity market and selling poles and wires in Queensland and NSW, meanwhile, had seen power prices almost double there over five years, he said.

“When you meet people in the street and they say ‘I don’t want privatisation because it boosts prices’ and you dismiss them … recent examples suggest they’re right,” he told the room of influential economic and policy experts.

“The excessive spend on electric poles and wires has damaged our productivity. The higher energy price we’re getting from some poor gas and electricity policies are damaging some of our productive sectors.”

Mr Sims said he was growing “exasperated” as governments including the Commonwealth became more explicit in trying to maximise proceeds from asset sales.

“I think a sharp uppercut is necessary and that’s why I’m saying: stop the privatisation,” he said.

Mr Sims also used the forum to continue a public stoush with opponents of a proposed “effects test”, saying they were relying on “bogus” arguments against the Harper review proposal to give the ACCC powers to block action that had the purpose or effect of substantially lessening competition.

The Productivity Commission last week joined the Business Council of Australia, the federal Labor opposition and the supermarket giants in opposing the so-called “effects test”, which is a pet policy of National Party MPs including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

 

Continue reading Privatisation has damaged the economy says ACCC chief

Trump got an icy reception at G20 summit

By Joe Montero

As so many predicted, Donald Trump and the message he took to the Group of 20 summit at Hamburg received an icy reception.

On every major issue, the United States was left isolated.

Despite two days of photo shoot back slapping and smiles, the ambition to recruit support for the American position on North Korea failed. China and Russia took hold of the initiative, with their peace based on mutual disarmament and easing of sanctions position.

The differences became most marked on trade, migration and global warming. This is important because the G20 represents the world’s leading economies and therefore carries as great deal of global political influence.

American isolation marks the departure from an era, where American supremacy has been the rule since the end of World War Two, as the superpower succumbs to growing economic weakness, reaction against its increasing reliance of force as its assertiveness is also a major factor behind the differences.Europe, under the leadership of  Germany, ans secondly France, does not want to play second fiddle to American interests and is increasingly positioning itself as a major competitor.

The best illustration of this now, are the differences between Germany’s chancellor Angle Merkel and Donald Trump that has become evident over recent months. It was Merkel that took the lead in Hamburg. At a news conference as well as openly saying she “deplores,” the American decision to walk away, she said “We as Europeans have to take our fate into our own hands”. While she was specifically referring to climate warming, it really covered the tone over gulf that has opened over all the key issues.

Representing France, the newly elected president Emmanuel Macron, lined up with Merkel. “The world has never been so divided,” he said. If this is not drawing a line in the sand, what is?

Trump is now due in Paris and is likely to find it a bit of a challenge.

Even with the  post summit language of consensus over the final resolution, it remains that the Trump demand to punish nations for what he sees as unfair trade practices, did not get up. This is not surprising, given that the targets are China and Europe.

Washington has been trying to impose open access for American business interests, while at the same time, denying challengers entry into the American economy.

Many nations are genuinely worried that Washington may launch harmful trade wars.

Referring to this last Friday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “We will respond with countermeasures if need be, hoping that this is not actually necessary”.

In this context, a resolution expressing support for open markets and opposition to protectionism is hardly a victory for the American position. It is vague, commits to nothing, yet opens to, shall we say, infinite flexibility in its application. This is a non-statement, geared to save face, rather than offer anything.

On migration and refugees, the hard line of the United states in the Trump era, won support from only the United Kingdom and Italy. Everyone else called for a more humane policy.

But it is on the matter of global warming where the differences were most evident.

An agreement was made to move forward without the participation of the United States, which has abandoned a pledge made last year at the Paris Climate Agreement, to bring greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The other 19 members of the group broke explicitly with the American position in their embrace of the Paris deal and some of them have moved further than the limited protocols achieved in Paris.

It remains that the United States has made the greatest contribution to the threat of carbon emissions and its failure to act is a setback. Chances are that this will lead to ongoing diplomatic repercussions, further political isolation and the potential for economic sanctions against the United States. Global warming is emerging as a source of political tension that may eventuate to add to political instability.

while the leaders were closeted behind closed walls,huge protests took place outside. They were met with a show of force that has reached a new level against up to 100,000 local citizens and others who were there to express their collective opinion on the summit, Donald Trump, neoliberalism and other issues. Blaming a between one and two thousand anarchists of causing trouble, was used as a cover to turn water cannons, teargas and capsicum spray onto everyone.

Turning Hamburg into something resembling a city under military occupation,did not go unnoticed. There was the “ring of steel” around the summit, extending to roadblocks and high security zones. More than 20,000 police were involved, many of them heavily armed. Street patrols were frequent and many backed by drones and the latest surveillance technology. Helicopters permanently “parked” in the clouds, become a background sound.

Much more was going on here than dealing with a few anarchists.

Germany is experiencing a groundswell of opinion that wants a change in economic and political direction. Merkel and her government are out of touch with this and are now seen to be trying to impose control through its own heavy handed means. It has not gone down too well, not only in Germany, but across Europe.

 

German police running to their target

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caricatures of G20 leader

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using water cannon against non-violent protesters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Police using capsicum spray and teargas to disperse demonstrators

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Unions call on super funds and government to act on affordable housing

From New South Wales

Unions covering teachers, police and other emergency and those working in other emergency services, have taken on the issue of housing affordability.

They find that many of their members are struggling to put a roof over one’s head provide for family.

Many union members do not qualify for public housing or other forms on non-privately owned properties, which go under the banner of social housing. The result is that a growing body of working Australians are being pushed into the urban fringes, where they miss out on many important services and must often commute long distances to work. This impacts on quality of life issues.

The big problem is the lack of affordable housing stock, in a market characterised by a bubble that has sent both mortgage repayments and rents through the roof.

Some unions have consequently began to look at ways in which they can help their members.

Early talks have begun in New South Wales, between the Australian Teachers Union in this state (NSW Teachers Federation) and First State Super and Teachers Mutual Bank, aimed at accessing suitable housing in the areas where teachers work. It was announced at the union’s 4 July conference by state general secretary General Secretary John Dixon.

The initiative has encouraged other unions to look at doing something similar.

However, pursuing affordable housing is not supported by the New South Wales Industrial Commission, not by the Australian Fair Work Commission, which have imposed a narrow band of matters on which unions and business can agree. Unions face the need pursue creative means by which to move ahead.

Taking on affordable housing is an important step, especially if it catches on and becomes a national campaign involving all public sector unions and expanding to  other unions and sections of the workforce.

Means of financing is there, in the form of superannuation funds. After all, the money going into them comes from the wages of workers. Even the employer contribution does, because it is the outcome of direct wages trade-offs. There is no reason why this money should not be put to work for those to whom the the money belong.

Up to now, the money in these superannuation funds has been at the disposal of major employers, to be used as a source of back up capital loans or as means to acquire shares in other companies.

 

 

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Australian households are not becoming better off

by Jim Hayes

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) information shows that total household wealth stood at a record $9.6 trillion at the end of March, which is 2.4 percent higher in one quarter.

This is somewhat misleading however. It does not mean that the wealth of the average Australian household is rising.

Household wealth is based on total of assets, including business assets and liabilities in the economy and then divided by the number of households. This very different from measuring income, which is a much better indication of standard of living.

Secondly, the liability of one is an asset of another, which means that there is a measure of double counting.

Nor does the household wealth measure consider the distribution of this wealth. Rather than the average household becoming wealthier, it could be that some do and others become poorer.

If an increase has been reported at the same time as the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has experienced negligible growth, it must be that much of it represents the shift of wealth from some households to others and that the measure is inaccurate. After all, new wealth must come from somewhere.

This is exactly what has happened. GDP for the quarter grew by just 0.3 percent. Match this with the  reported 2.4 percent rise in average household income and it just doesn’t add up.

Another truth is that nominal household income has been sewed upwards by the real estate bubble. It is questionable whether this is real wealth when it comes to the household’s residential address, given that the cost of a transfer from one dwelling to another would cancel out the gain on the average.

Household wealth should be based on real, rather than nominal wealth and this means discounting inflationary growth.

The biggest growth has been in shares. These are now worth a record $826 billion, due to a rise by just over $36 billion for the quarter. Superannuation funds growth account for $29.9 billion of this. Although these numbers are used to add up assets it represents a transfer of assets, from one form to another and are not the creation of any new wealth. It is about distribution not accumulation.

Welfare groups have said that the ABS information highlights the growing disparity between rich and poor across Australia. They are right.

There is a transfer away from disposable income to shares.

Consumption expenditure almost kept constant, rising only by 0.1 percent. Savings decreased by 0.4 percent, suggesting that  expenditure other than for consumption was funded at the cost of savings.

It no longer looks like average households are improving their position.

Chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said that nearly 3 million people still living below the poverty line.

“The reality is that people in the bottom 50 per cent of the community own just 6 per cent of the overall nation’s wealth,” she said.

“This is a story about, well, how are we making sure that the benefits of the overall wealth in the country are being shared more fairly.”

The inescapable conclusion is that one should not take official statistics at face value. There is usually more to the story than we are often told. Most people have not acquired the skills to properly interprete statistics and can therefore easily be misled by false conclusions.

In this case, a misinterpretation of what is really going on at the average household level, hides the truth and therefore detracts from what needs to be done to overcome the real problems faced by many. This needs to be corrected.

 

 

 

Official site of the May Day Committee (Malbourne)

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