ARTICLE: The Politics of Widodo’s Prioritisation of Accelerated Infrastructure Construction by Max Lane

Published in ISEAS Perspectives, 18 August, 2015.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

• After the initial fracas over Cabinet appointments and the tensions between the police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), President Widodo launched a programme of speaking at the commissioning ceremonies of major infrastructure projects. Achieving economic growth driven by infrastructure projects has become his key policy focus for the moment. It is also his key political project.

• This prioritisation of infrastructure projects is a continuation, repackaged, of Yudhoyono’s Masterplan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development (MPE3I) but boosted with a major increase in government funding for infrastructure.

• President Widodo has been able to secure unanimous parliamentary support for this economic prioritisation and the concomitant changes in budget.

• The increase in government funding for infrastructure has been enabled by the ending of fuel price subsidies, the imposition of new government charges and the mobilisation of funds associated with insurance and health programs. Most of these decisions are reducing the disposable income of the lower middle class and lower income strata.

•  The Red-White Coalition (KMP) opposition is concentrating criticism on minor issues aimed at generating uncertainty about the capabilities of the Widodo government while making sure it is not seen as an obstacle to any of the infrastructure plans, and is most likely waiting for failure in this area.

• The gap between Widodo’s infrastructure prioritisation and a range of other service agendas which surfaced during the 2014 election campaigns is providing the context for various initiatives to start up new parties appealing to those agendas. This gap may be partly ameliorated in the coming year if there is concrete and palpable implementation of health and education reforms making these services more.

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A NEW SHORT STORY: ABDUL AND LINA by Max Lane

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Maybe you missed this last time.

Originally posted on MAX LANE ONLINE:

Abdul and Lina.

A Short Story by Max Lane

He didn’t know what people would have thought if they could see him now. His mouth was wide open, his jaws aching from the stretching gape. It was if he was screaming. In fact he was, but there was no sound – except the horrific screech inside his mind. His hands gripped the metal frame under the bottom bunk that he was sitting on. He could feel the sharp steel edge cutting into his hand, but he couldn’t let go. The scream inside his head continued.

Was it his pain, he felt, or hers too Was it a pain they shared? She left crying, her cheeks wet from so many tears and her eyes red.

Or was it just his guilt He glanced down to his arm, just below the short sleeve. He could feel it, but only see it in…

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A NEW SHORT STORY: ABDUL AND LINA by Max Lane

Abdul and Lina.

A Short Story by Max Lane

He didn’t know what people would have thought if they could see him now. His mouth was wide open, his jaws aching from the stretching gape. It was if he was screaming. In fact he was, but there was no sound – except the horrific screech inside his mind. His hands gripped the metal frame under the bottom bunk that he was sitting on. He could feel the sharp steel edge cutting into his hand, but he couldn’t let go. The scream inside his head continued.

Was it his pain, he felt, or hers too Was it a pain they shared? She left crying, her cheeks wet from so many tears and her eyes red.

Or was it just his guilt He glanced down to his arm, just below the short sleeve. He could feel it, but only see it in his mind’s eye. He had told the Indian that he was going to break it off with her.

“It is impossible.” He had said, this time his eyes watering, the tears welling up. “It is impossible. She will be by herself with the child. I promised I would help. I shouldn’t have. I knew it was impossible.”

“It is not your child.”

“I know, but I promised.” He could feel too the fear of the pain he would soon inflict.

“Ok, you will feel guilty. You will have a guilt boil for a while.”

A guilt boil.

Now sitting on the bunk, alone in the cabin, he could see a festering, yellow, pussy boil, almost bubbling ooze on his arm.

His soundless scream continued.

The ship suddenly surged. A big swell. Then it settled but the movement startled him. He let go of the frame and looked at the red marks across his hands. He closed his eyes to try to resume control over his feelings. He stopped the silent pain-filled screech. He already missed her. It was his first ever love, even if only so brief.

But he knew. His task must come first. The ship was in Singapore harbour. His mind turned to how he would get ashore. He had no passport. It was 1967 and there was no way a former party activist could get a passport – except to a mass grave. He already knew what he would need to do tonight when it was dark. It scared him. It would not be easy. Continue reading

Article: Stopping the boats is about smashing social solidarity by Max Lane

(This article was first published in RED FLAG newspaper on June 18, 2015.)

It seems fairly certain now that Australian Customs and Navy personnel paid the captain and crew of an Indonesian ship carrying 65 asylum seekers, including children and a pregnant woman, to take the Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis and Burmese back to Indonesia.

Sixty-five desperate people, all from situations of misery and repression, who had no doubt spent much of their little cash on the boat ride to New Zealand, were put on two new boats and turned around. This is despite requests by the refugees to be taken on board the Customs and Navy ships.

The Australian state paid the crew to betray their desperate customers and take them back to a society with a per capita income of only US$4,000 per year and mass poverty. No offer was made to bring them to Australia, one of the richest countries in the world (whatever the unjust distribution of that wealth).

Former Labor prime minister Paul Keating introduced mandatory detention. Then Liberal PM John Howard escalated the propaganda about “border security”. His government told the disgusting lie in 2001 that children were “thrown overboard” by asylum seekers in order to force the Navy to rescue them. And it instituted the notorious “Pacific solution”.

Since then, “stop the boats” has become a central platform in the Australian ruling class’s ideological agitation, articulated by both the Liberals and the ALP. It was Rudd’s ALP that came up with the cruel policy that no refugee arriving by boat would ever be settled in Australia, but instead be sent to Papua New Guinea. Abbott added to this with the criminal and inhumane tow-back policy.

But why?

Neither party is opposed to receiving refugees in Australia. In 2012-13, 20,000 visas were issued under Australia’s humanitarian program, according to the Department of Immigration. This is nowhere near enough, but it indicates that the elites here have no in-principle objection to refugees settling in Australia. People arriving in Australia on tourist visas by plane who then seek asylum also face minimal obstacles to their settlement.

Neither are the numbers of arrivals by boat huge: in 2009-13, the average was around 10,000 per year. This is an easily absorbable number of people in a population of 24 million. And it is only a fraction of the total annual migration to Australia (around 200,000 people). So why is the hysterical agitation of “stop the boats” and “illegal arrivals” (they are not illegal) so central?

The idea that it is about “defending sovereign borders” is, of course, a joke. Most boats aim only to arrive at Christmas Island, which is a huge distance from the Australian continent and hardly within real borders. The same is true for Ashmore Reef.

As a huge island continent, Australia has always had porous borders. Until Howard’s Tampa agitation, it was considered only a minor problem to do with small numbers of smugglers. Furthermore, the refugees coming by boat are not trying to sneak into Australia – they report directly and as quickly as they can to Australian authorities.

So why?

There is only once conclusion: the issue fulfils a propaganda need for the Australian ruling class. It uses the issue to undermine any philosophy of collective solidarity. The policies legitimise cruelty and inhumanity towards others in the name of “defending sovereignty”, which has become a code word for an illusory “what we have”. This helps legitimise the idea that the world’s have-nots should “wait their turn” in a “queue” that is policed by the haves. This is the reason that “both sides” of bourgeois politics agitate around this issue.

In one sense, it is a good sign that the elite feel that they need such an issue, and that they have to make it so central to their politics. The need indicates that they fear the Australian public’s sense of solidarity with others would otherwise come to the fore. In a society where the trend is for wealth to be redistributed upwards, while cutting back on the level of social services and culture for the majority, an awakened sense of solidarity among people would be a disaster for the ruling class.

“Aspiration”, the cry, is legitimate – but the rich want aspirations fulfilled only for themselves and their close associates. “Defend our borders” is their code word for defending self-interest, even if it means cruelty to others.

This is an existential issue for late capitalism and its escalating upward redistribution. In a rich country like Australia, with a per capita income of $40,000 per year and already advanced infrastructure, which is in a situation of serious relative abundance, where can society be taken?

There are only two choices: more and more redistribution upwards as we head for some kind of technologically advanced barbarism of walled elites, or using that abundance to improve the quality of life for all human beings.

“Stop the boats”, and similar cruel, anti-human slogans, are one of the ruling class’s weapons to defend their choice. Systematising cruelty is laying the foundation for barbarism.

ARTICLE: Widodo, the death sentence and Indonesia’s political vacuum – by MAX LANE

I do not know what the prospects are that President Widodo will stop the current implementation of the death sentence for people convicted of drug related crimes. There is nothing in any of Widodo’s statements that indicates a change of mind on this issue. In a recent interview with Al Jazeera he reaffirmed his decision stating that it was necessary also to “remember the victims”. It was not clear whether this was being presented as a means to lessen the criminal activity as a disincentive or simply as punishment. On the other hand, the Indonesian government has now several times announced a delay in the process to await the outcome of legal processes. A positive outcome in one of the legal appeals is probably the best hope of commutation of sentences, although Indonesia is in an unpredictable state and perhaps anything can happen.

Within Indonesia itself there have been people both fighting the executions practically, such as the groups of lawyers, including well known legal figure, Todung Mulya Lubis, who have been assisting in various legal cases as well as speaking out. Human rights and civil liberties organisations have also spoken out. There have been public fora where academics from several different universities have spoken out against the death sentence. These include, among others, academics from the Jakarta State University, University of Indonesia and the Islamic oriented Paramadina University. The English language news media, especially the Jakarta Globe, has strongly editorialised against the death sentences. The Jakarta Globe’s editorial was entitled: “Okay, Mr. Tough Guy. We Get It. Now Stop.” Former foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda has also spoken out against the death sentences.

In an article on March 8 in the Jakarta Globe, the reporter was able to find street vox pop’s both in favour of the death penalty for drug crime convictees as well as those who thought the punishment was too harsh.

Despite these voices, it is probably true to say that they have been unable to make a major impact on the national political discourse. Widodo has announced, or hinted, that there may be an eventual moratorium on the death sentence. This was mentioned at a recent U.N. commission hearing in Geneva.  Such a hint probably reflects a combination of the considerable international criticism Widodo has received, as well as from the dissident domestic voices in society, and perhaps also in his cabinet. Even so, the dominant theme in the mainstream political conversation has not been around the rights and wrongs of the death sentence, but rather around the importance of resisting attacks on sovereignty on this issue, that is of resisting criticism and pressure from outside of Indonesia.

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