Posts Tagged ‘Sovereignty’

Despite DAPL, Trump Plans to Steal More Native American Oil

December 7, 2016

A few days ago the water protectors in North Dakota won a victory against big oil when Barack Obama finally did the right thing, and refused to award the oil company the final permit that would allow them to dig. Despite this victory for the First Nations, and the very many Americans of all races and creeds, who came together to support them, it seems big oil and their puppets in Congress still want to take Native Americans’ final natural resources.

In this short piece from The Young Turks, Ana Kasparian and her hosts discuss plans by Donald Trump’s advisors to privatise the oil deposits on the Indian reservations, so that they can be exploited by private industry. Although the reservations comprise only 5 per cent of America’s land, they hold 20 per cent of the country’s oil deposits. And so naturally the oil companies want to get their mitts on them. If this goes through, it would violate the reservations’ status as sovereign nations. Kasparian and The Turks believe that the advisors will try to sell this idea to Native Americans as an opportunity for them to become prosperous through the exploitation of their mineral wealth. However, in reality this is just another episode in the long history of Native Americans having their lands seized by the American government and private industry. They also make the point that the American government actively overthrows governments in the interests of big business, such as Arbenz’s government in Guatemala and the 1953 coup that toppled Mossadeq in Iran. Arbenz was a democratic Socialist -but not a Communist – who nationalised the banana plantations. Most of these were owned by the American company, United Fruit, who had the American government organise a right-wing coup. This set up a brutal military dictatorship, which kept the majority of Guatemalans as virtual slaves to the plantation masters. Mossadeq in Iran was also overthrown, because he nationalised the Iranian oil industry, which again was in foreign hands. As a result, America organised a coup, which overthrew him, thus initiating the brutal rule of the Shah as absolute monarch, a rule which only ended with the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Trump’s administration really is one of rapacious capitalism, absolutely determined to crush Americans’ civil liberties, and the rights of minorities for the benefit of big business. Not that Killary’s regime would have been any different. She was gearing up for more war in the Middle East, wars which would have been fought not free its peoples from dictators, but simply so that American multinationals could loot their oil and state industries.

Tribal sovereignty is, quite rightly, a very sensitive issue with Native Americans. Way back in the 1980s there was an armed stand-off between one of the Amerindian people in New York state. The FBI had pursued a Native American man, who was a member of the American Indian Movement, for a series of violent offences. The man drove into the reservation, and the way was blocked by angry indigenous Americans when the FBI tried to follow him. They claimed that the reservation was a sovereign country in its own right, and that any attempt by the authorities to infringe that sovereignty would be met with force. The tribe’s chief stated that if the police and the FBI tried to enter, the matter would then be up to the tribe’s young warriors.

I think the issue must have been legally clarified since then, as I can remember that at the same time there was considerable controversy over the decision by some Amerindian peoples to issue their own passports, as separate, independent nations.

Given how extremely sensitive the matter of sovereignty and land rights are to Native Americans, this latest scheme by Trump’s friends in the oil industry seems to me to have the potential to do immense harm, not just in the potential environmental damage, and the further dispossession and impoverishment of the First Nations, but also in overturning what must have been a series of very delicate negotiations between the Federal law enforcement agencies and the First Nations. This is quite apart from the various other programmes that have been launched over the years to bring Native and non-Native Americans together, and incorporate their point of view into the wider story of American history.

As for trying to convince Native Americans that private ownership of their oil would bring prosperity, that was the line the mining companies were trying to sell to the Aboriginal Australians back in the 1980s. I can remember a piece in the Torygraph of the time moaning that left-wingers were keeping Aboriginal Aussies poor by refusing them to mine the uranium on their lands.

Given the immense environmental damage oil pipelines like DAPL have done, and the rapacity of the oil companies and American government when it comes to exploiting other nations’ oil, Native Americans would likely be very well advised to keep well away from this. One of the instances of massive environmental damage done by the oil corporations show in one of the American left-wing news sites – I can’t remember whether it was The Turks, Majority Report or Secular Talk, was the destruction of hundreds of acres of waterways in Louisiana. The oil company had completely removed all the available oil, which had formed a supporting layer under the fertile rock and soil. As a result, the surface started sinking, with the marshland and waterways degenerating into a toxic, oil-sodden sludge.

The multinational companies in the Middle East also pay very little in royalties to the countries, whose oil deposits they exploit. Greg Palast in his book, Armed Madhouse, states that Aramco, the oil conglomerate formed to exploit the oil in Saudi Arabia, actually only gives one per cent of its profits to the Saudis as royalties. It’s a pittance, though enough to support the bloated and corrupt Saudi ruling caste in obscene luxury and absolute power. Similar trivial amounts of money are paid to the other Middle Eastern countries for exploitation rights, including Iraq.

If this goes ahead, the Amerindians can look forward to losing more of their territory, the devastation of the tribal lands, which is at the heart of the culture, and further poverty as the oil companies keep the profits for themselves.

Of course, the oil deposits do offer the possibility of enriching the tribes that posses them. But you can raise the question quite legitimately why a private company is needed, or should be allowed, to extract the oil. I understand that many tribes have set up their own, collectively owned companies to manage and exploit their natural resources for themselves, through tourism, woodland management and agriculture. One of the First Nations in California set up a company to catch, can and market the area’s salmon. If companies are to drill for oil on tribal land, a strong case could be made that the company should be at least part-owned by the tribe as the sovereign people, and very strict provisions put and rigorously enforced to protect the people and their homeland.

Vox Political on the Workers’ Rights at Risk if Britain Leaves Europe

June 22, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political put up an interesting piece today, reporting the findings of an employment silk, Michael Ford, QC, to the TUC on the employees’ rights that could be lost if Britain leaves the European Union. These include regulations on working time, the rights that can be transferred from one employer to another if an organisation is taken over or outsourced; protection for agency workers; the current levels of compensation paid to the victims of discrimination; and the rights of the workers’ representatives to be consulted in the case of major changes to a company, such as in the recent negotiations over the fate of British steel.

And these are not the only rights that are at risk. Other rights are also, and that those that remain may only be enforced by British courts if Britain decides to leave.

Mike also points out that depending on the British courts to help you in a legal battle over your rights with an employer won’t be much help, as Michael Gove has cut legal aid.

#EUref: Forty years of progress on rights at risk for workers if Britain Brexits

Let’s be clear about this: while many people are worried about immigration, it’s employment rights that are really at the heart of this move. The Conservatives have always hated Brussels primarily because of the social charter and the protection it gives European workers, not just because, or even necessarily primarily because they consider it a threat to British sovereignty, as expressed in books like ‘The Abolition of Britain’ and similar scaremongering nonsense. Dennis Skinner in his autobiography makes the point that there isn’t any real freedom of movement within the EU. This is shown by the imprisonment of the refugees and other unfortunates in the migrant camp at Calais. Those foreign workers, who come to Britain are brought in by the big companies through gang masters. This is an important point. Skinner makes no secret in his book that he would like Britain to leave the EU, but not because of UKIP, whom he aptly describes as ‘turbo-charged Tories’. Skinner makes a good point. However, at the moment the only people behind the campaign to take Britain out of the EU are extreme right-wing Tories like Boris, Gove and Priti Patel. All of them wish to strip British workers of the rights to have them labouring like their counterparts in the sweatshops of the Developing World. All for the profits of big business. Patel and her fellow Tories made that very clear in the book Britannia Unchained.

Don’t be taken in. Immigration is actually an irrelevant diversion to the real issues driving the Tory Brexit campaign. It’s what Farage and the rest of this gang want people to think it’s all about, while the real reason they’re promoting Brexit is to deprive us all, whether we’re Black, White, Asian, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish or whatever, of our employment rights under European law.

Open Democracy Webinar on Alternative Democracy

February 25, 2016

Last Thursday, February 18th 2016, I was privileged to attend a webinar held by the Open Democracy forum on ‘alternative democracy’. Webinars, if you’ve never come across before, like me, are discussions held over the internet between a number of participants. They remain in their own homes, and talk to each other via their webcams or digital cameras attached to the computers. In this instance, the main speaker at any given point occupied most of the screen, while the other participants were each shown at the bottom. I was invited to go by Michelle Thomasson, a member and a commenter on this blog. The discussion was an hour long, covering topics that have been central to the issue of democracy since the very first democratic theorists like the ancient Athenians and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These include the fact that democracy leads to popular government, rather than right government; the problem of applying a political system that originally arose in small city states to large, complex modern societies, and the problem of energising and encouraging public engagement in politics and the political process at a time when increasing numbers feel disenfranchised, and that politicians are self-serving and isolated from the rest of society.

The first issue, that of democracy allowing the public to vote for the ‘wrong’ people, or make the ‘wrong’ decisions, is shown by the controversy about capital punishment and the EU. One of the female participants made the point that she wasn’t happy with referenda, because if one was a held on those two issues, the British public would almost certain vote in favour of reinstating the death penalty and leaving the European Union, both of which she considered wrong and unjust. She also made the point that there was a problem in that people don’t understand how parliament itself works. People have been horrified by what they’ve seen of it and the parliamentary process on television, especially since the launch of the parliament channel. She also discussed the problem of young people becoming uninterested in politics. She felt that part of the solution to this problem of increasing political indifference and disenfranchisement was for parliament itself to become more representative. She was in favour of quotas, and particularly for more women in parliament. She also felt that there should be more teaching in schools about the importance of politics, democracy and political participation. There still were areas for the public to be involved in politics in local issues, but these were becoming increasing rare as many local amenities, such as youth clubs, were being closed down. There was therefore a real danger of people retreating into social media.

The participants also discussed the possibility of learning from the Occupy Movement, which mobilised people against the cuts and bankers’ bail-outs across the world. People were disillusioned and felt that politicians were distant. One possible solution was digital democracy, but it was felt that this also was not the right way to go. They also pointed out that as far back as ancient Greece, politicians have never done what the electorate wanted. There was also the additional problem of democratic decisions in large societies like modern Britain. They pointed out that although the march against the Iraq War were the largest modern protests, most people still supported the invasion of Iraq, because they had been deliberately given the wrong information. There were similar problems with the reforms attacking and dismantling the welfare state. This led to a discussion of the wider problem of how communities could be connected to parliament.

Some possible solutions included the transformation of the House of Lord’s into a genuine popular assembly, and the revitalisation of political parties. Trump and Bernie Sanders in America, and Jeremy Corbyn over here at sparked an upturn in people joining and becoming interested in political parties. This led to the problem of how to involve other organisations to balance the power of the big corporations now involved in defining and influencing politics. They felt that the revitalisation of the political parties should be done through the existing political system. However, one of the problems with Jeremy Corbyn was that one of the speakers felt he hadn’t drawn new people into the party, but caused older members, who had let their membership lapse, to rejoin.

That led in turn to the question of what should be done with all the new political activists and participants, once they’d been energised, so that they could transform society. One of the men stated that the Labour party had declined from a genuinely popular movement into a party, in which people in suits made decision on behalf of the people they represented. This led to the question of local democracy in the Aristotelian sense. He considered that we currently have local administration rather than democracy. Most of the funding for local councils in England comes from central government, compared with Sweden where 80 per cent comes from local taxes. One of the other participants pointed out that the Coalition was indeed trying to reverse this situation under the guise of localism. They also discussed the way the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition had dissolved the regional partnerships, that had some success in regenerating the local political and economic situation. On the other hand, the Coalition has also encouraged local authorities to group together so that they could co-operate across borders. This worked well in some areas, like Manchester, but was less effective in others.

They also discussed whether Britain needed a constitution. It was pointed out that those nations with constitutions were not necessarily any more democratic than those which did not. One of the speakers was also quite scathing about the way the leadership in Labour party had blocked a bill on corporate funding in order not to upset the trade unions. The result of this was that the Tories were continuing to enjoy massive corporate donations, while trying to find ways to deprive the Labour party of money.

They also returned to the question of referenda. They stated that this worked in small countries with a tradition of direct democracy, like Switzerland. It was much less effective in large countries like Britain. As an example, when the Americans set up internet polling following the British example, the two petitions with greatest number of signatures were for America to build a Death Star, like the one in Star Wars, and to deport Justin Bieber back to Canada.

They also raised the issue of untrained cabinet ministers. Many ministers didn’t know how to manage the performance of the civil servants under them, as it wasn’t a requirement for cabinet ministers. There was poor human resource management in the Civil Service and poor project managers. However, expertise in specific areas did not necessarily make someone a more efficient minister. Andrew Lansley was an expert on health and healthcare, and yet his reforms were dreadful. The Coalition had also performed a number of U-turns, as no-one had told its members what the results of their reforms were intended to be. Overall, they concluded that the problem was one of improving the existing system, rather than overturning it.

All of these issues are complex and it’s fair to say that they need long and careful examination if we are to overcome the continuing crisis in British democracy. People do feel bitter and disenfranchised by their politicians. The scandal over MPs’ bonuses showed how bitter the public felt about their claims. Hopefully, more seminars and discussions like this will lead to the discovery of better ways to reverse this, and to bring people back to participating in the political process, which is supposed to serve them. Democratic political theory states that political sovereignty lies with the people. It’s a question of putting them back in charge, and taking power away from an increasingly managerial elite.

And if digital democracy is not a solution to this problem, than the internet has also provided part of the solution. Yes, there is the danger that people are retreating into social media. But the same social media has enabled political discussions like the above, by connecting people vastly separated from each other, who can discuss weighty issues like this easily in the comfort of their own homes.

A recording of the webinar, plus comments, can be found at: https:​//plus.​google.​com/events/cqjpogiqt6osi7fliui​4k4tkg4c
Thanks, Michelle.