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Posts Tagged ‘Geo-politics’

The Wrong Friends: The Uncomfortable Lesson Of The Uprisings In The Middle East

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm


Demonstrators burn a poster of former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali while protesting out front of the Prime Minister's office in Tunis, Tunisia, Jan. 24, 2011. Gen. Rachid Ammar, a general who may be both the most powerful and the most popular figure in Tunisia spoke publicly Monday for the first time since the ouster of the former dictator Ben Ali. Gen. Rachid Ammar. He pledged to uphold "the revolution" and urged patience until the interim government can hold new elections.


Oldspeak: “Today, many Arabs believe that Western exhortations of religious tolerance and democracy are a cover for attempts at political control. A sounder US policy towards Middle Eastern governance would be one that considers what the people there truly want, not on our terms, but on theirs — whether secular or not.”

From David Mednicoff @ The New York Times:

In a region prone to religious violence and sorely lacking in democratic government, the thinking goes, it is secular regimes that hold the most promise for change, and have been the easiest for us to support. Though perhaps never stated in such simple terms, this thinking underlies much of our diplomacy and analysis of a volatile and strategically important region.

It’s easy to see why: A secular government is more like a modern Western democracy, and a better fit with our own tradition of separating church and state. We tend to believe that even if secular Arab regimes are oppressive, they represent at least a small step toward a more modern, stable, and democratic future for the region. Washington has funneled its greatest Arab aid to secular strongmen like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who openly trumpet the need to squelch Islamic political movements. It has dealt more warily with Islamic monarchies like Saudi Arabia.

But can today’s secular governments really be the basis for a stable Middle East? The recent overthrow of the president of Tunisia suggests an uncomfortable answer. The Tunisian revolution was the biggest political news in the Arab world in years, triggering wide speculation on its deeper causes and how much it will spread to other countries. But one thing is undeniable: In a region full of monarchies and other unelected regimes, the government that fell — the one government unable to maintain enough hold on the public to weather a crisis — was the most secular one.

For over four decades, Tunisia’s political leadership looked, if not like a model regime, then at least like a step in the right direction. Habib Bourguiba, its first independent leader, banished religion from a role in the state and actively promoted women’s rights and education. Since ousting Bourguiba in 1987, ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali attracted Western ties and tourists, consistently fighting Islamism and raising fears about its influence. Despite an impressive general record of economic achievement, Ben Ali has just become the first modern Arab leader to be ousted through popular mobilization. In Egypt, the most populous Arab country, another secular regime struggles to fend off the seething anger of its people. And in secular Algeria and Yemen, copycat protests may be setting the stage for similar widespread demonstrations.

This rising tide of mass protests against Arab secular strongmen urges us to think again about the role of Islam and government. Decades of Western policy have pushed Middle Eastern governments toward secular reforms. But a more nuanced view of the region — one that values authenticity as much as Western dogma — suggests something different. If we are concerned about stability, balance, even openness, it may be Arab Islamic governments that offer a better route to those goals.

To most Western thinkers, suggesting a role for religion in government seems to be sailing against the wind of history. Europe’s rise to industrial greatness, democracy, and global power came in the wake of deliberate secularization. Part of the enduring appeal of the American dream is its religious tolerance. Russia, China, and the rest of East Asia have all flourished economically, if undemocratically, under secular rule.

Yet the examples in the Arab world look very different. The Middle East and North Africa is the world region most lacking in democratic government, tempting policy makers to imagine that positive change, as it has elsewhere, will go hand-in-hand with secularization. But the Middle East is also the origin and heartland of Islam, a faith sustained in part through its ability to serve as a political order as well as a religious belief. Unlike Americans, who may be deeply religious but are also raised to believe in separate realms of church and state, many quite moderate Muslims see nothing strange in the notion of a government fully infused with religious purpose.

Survey research in the Arab world, such as the University of Michigan’s Arab Barometer project, has found that respondents generally consider themselves Muslims above other markers of identity, including national citizenship. As a result, Islam isn’t just a feature of a national government; for many citizens, it may be as important as the idea of the nation itself. By forcing Islam out of state politics, as Tunisia did, the government can actually reduce its own legitimacy in the eyes of the people, leaving it vulnerable and forcing it to lean more heavily on the machinery of a police state.

One implication unsettling for many Westerners is that democracy in the Middle East might look very different from democracy in the West. In a global poll known as the World Values Survey, the vast majority of citizens of countries as diverse as Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan argue that state politics should be based on Islam’s system of jurisprudence known as the sharia. Similarly strong support exists for the proposition that Arab officials should be good Muslims. Secular regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have stayed in place through military force and fear.

If citizens were allowed to choose, as they almost could before the army intervened in Algeria in 1992, they might vote for something that looks very different than our idea of a modern pluralistic government. But it might be insulated from the kind of instability and uncertainty we have seen recently. When Tunisians took to the streets this month, part of what motivated them was moral outrage about the corruption of their secular president’s family and cronies. Good Muslim leaders might not ignore their religion’s calls for social justice by so gross a level of stealing public funds.

The uncomfortable fact for Western policy makers is that Arab traditional monarchies have fared much better in recent decades than secular republics: With at least a toehold in Islamic political tradition, monarchies have been able to weather crises and enjoy stable transitions between leaders. And although it’s common to lump all Arab governments together, whether conservative Muslim states like Saudi Arabia or police states like Syria, in fact the stability and popular legitimacy of an Islamic monarchy can allow for something surprising: modern openness.

For example, Morocco holds yearly allegiance ceremonies confirming the king with titular status as head of the national religious community, dramatizing his legitimacy as a traditional leader. But over the years, Morocco has also accommodated religious opposition and debate. The country is one of the last Arab bastions of an autonomous, open Jewish community. Since independence in 1956, it has had the most and freest political parties in the Arab world. And Morocco’s Arab monarchical peers to the East, countries like Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have become centers of global culture, education, media, and tourism in recent years. The small kingdom of Qatar will be the first Middle Eastern state to host the World Cup, in 2022.

Arab kings can act as a calming buffer between popular citizen demands and state institutions. Their relative legitimacy has allowed them to trim their repressive security apparatus, in comparison with states like Tunisia. Generally, monarchies rank highest among Arab states on global measures of good governance such as Freedom House’s index of freedom and the World Bank’s rule of law indicator. Morocco is the only Middle Eastern state to establish a national commission to acknowledge and redress previous human rights violations. By contrast, the mass killings of secular rulers like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez el-Asad in Syria have nothing like a parallel in post-colonial Arab royal history.

If we think of “modern” governments as those that can accommodate change, freedom, and pluralism, then Islamic monarchies have satisfied this definition much more than secular republics in recent years. Certainly the thousands of protesters in Tunisia in the last month, and in Egypt at the moment, haven’t seemed impressed with the achievements of their secularist leaders.

In fact, Arab monarchies that simulate aspects of the political Islamic past are not only comparatively stable, but better bets for controlled transitions to free governments. Recent global experience suggests that, despite the much-publicized intolerance of extremists, Islamic political ideas are compatible with democracy. Arab Islam’s long history provides many concepts that resemble, without duplicating, Western democratic practices, such as town meeting (“majlis”) and representative consultation (“shura”). Indeed, today’s Arab kings have adapted such ideas to negotiate and build consensus around important policies. And there is ample evidence that Islamist political opposition parties compete fairly in Arab elections, when they are allowed to do so.

Washington’s understandable concern about particularly aggressive manifestations of Islam such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban — and the anti-Americanism of Iran’s Islamic revolution — has pushed us to hold almost monolithic views about the general nature of Muslim politics. But the bleak record of secular Middle Eastern states suggests that a sounder policy would be one more open to Islamic models of rule like Morocco and Qatar — nations sufficiently inoculated against direct attacks in the name of Islam that they can create public space for liberal education and open media. Such public space has already borne fruit in the form of increasing religious, secular, and mixed alternatives to express political views.

Secular plural democracy developed in the West through a gradual process of disentangling the rigid links between state institutions and religion. Yet religious belief endured. Islamist monarchies have birthed cosmopolitan societies, such as in Dubai, and influential independent media empires, like Al-Jazeera in Qatar. When they are flexible, these monarchies may well be the midwives of a comparable, steady process of democratization that is appropriate to contemporary Arab Islam.

By thinking more broadly about the progressive potential for Islamic politics in the Middle East, the West may reap another benefit. Viewed from the region, American intervention doesn’t look nearly as benevolent as Americans may imagine, and this has magnified a widespread view that Western powers fail to practice the ideals of freedom that they preach. Today, many Arabs believe that Western exhortations of religious tolerance and democracy are a cover for attempts at political control. A sounder US policy towards Middle Eastern governance would be one that considers what the people there truly want, not on our terms, but on theirs — whether secular or not.

David Mednicoff is a professor in public policy and social and political thought at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a research fellow at the Dubai Initiative at the Kennedy School at Harvard, and a former Fulbright Scholar to Morocco and Qatar.



Haiti Transformed into the “Republic of The NGOs”: A Year Later 1 Million-Plus Remain Homeless And Displaced In Haiti

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Oldspeak: “One year after the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti, reconstruction efforts have barely begun. 9 billion in promised international aid has yet to be distributed. “There is a dramatic power imbalance between the international community—under U.S. leadership—and Haiti. The former monopolizes economic and political power and calls all the shots this unequal relationship is reflected in the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.” The IHRC is co-chaired by Bill Clinton.”

From Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

Guest: Alex Dupuy, a professor of sociology at Wesleyan University. His latest book is The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti.

Related stories

AMY GOODMAN: One year later, the words of Dr. Evan Lyon, a professor with Partners in Health, are agonizingly true: Haiti is still in pain. If anything, the situation has gotten worse. A cholera epidemic has spread throughout the country, killing more than 3,600 people, infecting more than 170,000. More than a million people remain homeless, still living in makeshift shelters in hundreds of tent camps. Port-au-Prince is a city of earthquake refugees. There is little food, clean water or sanitation.

Reconstructions efforts have barely begun a full 12 months after the disaster. By some estimates, less than five percent of the rubble has been cleared, and only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built. Less than 10 percent of the $9 billion pledged by foreign donors has been delivered.

Meanwhile, Haitian women and girls are facing an increasing threat of sexual violence. Amnesty International says more than 250 cases of rape in several makeshift camps were reported in the first 150 days after the earthquake.

This all comes amidst continuing political uncertainty following the disputed presidential elections last November. The vote was widely denounced as flawed, with reports of fraud and intimidation at polling stations, and protests broke out when the provisional results were announced in December. On Monday, it was reported the Organization of American States will recommend that Jude Célestin, the governing party candidate, should be dropped from the runoff vote.

Today we spend the hour on Haiti. We’ll speak with four Haitians. We begin by going to Alex Dupuy. He’s a Haitian American professor at Wesleyan University. He is joining us from Middletown.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Professor Dupuy. Your reflections on this first anniversary of this catastrophe of epic proportions?

ALEX DUPUY: Thank you for having me on your program.

Well, you summarized the situation quite well. Most of the pledged—the money that was pledged has not been delivered. Of the money that has been delivered, very little of it has been spent. Most of the rubble around the capital city and in the capital city has not been removed, other than some arteries that lead into the city. And reconstruction, as envisioned by both the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission and the Haitian government, has not begun. Most people—most of the homeless, those displaced by the earthquake, are still living in shelters, though the number has dropped to less than a million. From the latest figures that I’ve seen, it seems to be around 800,000. But it’s not clear under what conditions those who have left the camps are still living. Electricity is still in short supply. Water is not available to most citizens of the city, and especially in the camps, where they’re being delivered by aid organizations. Hospitals have not been rebuilt. Healthcare is not being delivered, and so on. So, the condition is pretty much as you’ve described it, that it’s pretty grim a year later, though, of course, given the extent of the damage, reconstruction would be slow. But at least one would have hoped that more progress would have been achieved at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dupuy, you wrote a piece in the Washington Postcalled “Foreign Aid Keeps the Country from Shaping Its Own Future.” Explain what you mean. Lay out your argument.

ALEX DUPUY: Well, my argument is basically twofold. One is to distinguish between the humanitarian aid, the massive humanitarian aid that was given to Haiti immediately after the earthquake, and the long-term—the short- and long-term reconstruction of Haiti as envisioned by the international community. And by the international community, I mean the major foreign powers, such as the United States, Canada and France, and the international financial institutions—the World Bank, the IMF, the USAID and the Inter-American Development Bank. And the problem here, as I see it, is that the strategies that they have devised for Haiti’s reconstruction are no different than the strategies that they had put in place in Haiti for the past three decades or more that have proven to have failed. Those strategies were based on a twofold strategy. One was to transform Haiti into a supplier of the cheapest labor in the region for the garment industry, for export primarily to the United States, and the other was to dismantle all protective tariffs against food imports and other imports into Haiti that resulted in the devastation of Haitian agriculture, to the point where Haiti went from being able to produce up to 80 percent of its food in the mid-1980s to now importing—to producing only 42 percent, and especially rice production, which is a major staple crop in Haiti, where Haiti used to have self-sufficiency in producing rice. Now it’s the largest—the fourth largest importer of U.S. rice in the world. And former President Clinton himself admitted in testimony to the Senate Foreign Committee that the strategies that he himself had pushed on Haiti have not worked. They have benefited his farmers in Arkansas, but they were detrimental to Haitian agricultural production, especially rice. Yet, it is—these are the same policies that are now being pushed again on Haiti by the Interim Haiti Commission, which he and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive co-chair.

But I should point out that within the commission, even though there are equal numbers of Haitians and foreign members on the committee, that the foreign members of the committee call all the shots. And the Haitians have, in fact, openly complained that they are being excluded from meetings and from decision-making processes. Moreover, when the commission was being set up and the Action Plan for Reconstruction of Haiti was being developed, Haitian grassroots organizations, organizations from civil society that represented a cross-section of the Haitian population, were systematically sidelined. They were ignored. Their voices were ignored. And yet, they are the ones who have been proposing meaningful alternatives for a more progressive, more just, more equal reconstruction of Haiti. So the point that I was trying to make in the op-ed in theWashington Post was precisely that the objectives of the foreign community, so to speak, the international community, is not so much about Haiti as it is about helping their own firms, their own farmers, their own—you know, their own exporters and their own economies, rather than that of Haiti and the Haitian—and the needs, meeting the needs of the Haitian people.

The other point that I raised in the piece was that Haiti has now been transformed into what has been correctly called the “Republic of the NGOs.” And this is a strategy that was started about, oh, three decades ago whereby foreign donors would systematically bypass the Haitian state and fund instead non-governmental organizations to provide services to the Haitian population, in effect rendering the state even weaker than it was before and making it less able to respond to the needs of its citizens. Now, the Haitian state has a long history of neglecting the needs of the majority of Haitians, but rather than working with the Haitian government and compelling it to respond to the needs of its citizens, in terms of healthcare, jobs, housing, education and so on, by bypassing the state and funding NGOs directly, it sapped even further the capacity of the state to face up to its responsibilities and weakening it even further. So, the point is that—the point I was trying to make is that the foreign community has a direct role to play, in collaboration with the Haitian elites, to create a situation in Haiti where the vast majority of the population continued to live in poverty, and their basic needs and their basic rights are being ignored. That was the point of the article.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to ask you to stay with us. But when we come back, we’re going to go directly to Haiti to speak with Patrick Elie, who we spoke to when we were last in Haiti six months ago, a longtime Haitian democracy activist. We’re speaking with Wesleyan University professor Alex Dupuy. This isDemocracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, on this first anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Ti Rosemond, he won the equivalent of the American Idolcompetition in Haiti. We saw him when we first went to Haiti right after the earthquake. He was traveling with a large family, making his way out of Port-au-Prince, escaping, as so many Haitians were trying to do, to get away from the terror. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

It’s the first anniversary of the tè tremblé, the earth trembles. That’s Creole for the earthquake. And we go directly to Port-au-Prince, where we’re joined by Patrick Elie, a longtime Haitian democracy activist, Haiti’s former Secretary of State for Public Security. He’s speaking to us from downtown Port-au-Prince in front of the Champ de Mars, just opposite the National Palace, where thousands of Haitians continue to live in a massive tent camp.

It’s good to see you again, Patrick Elie. Can you share your reflections on this first anniversary of the earthquake, especially just where you stand, what you’re looking out over?

PATRICK ELIE: Well, I’m looking at the end of an era, the end of politics for tens of years, if not centuries. And I’m looking at the defeat of that vision. But I’m also looking at the incredible will to live that exists in this country. And to tell you the truth, even though I’m sad today, but I’m not giving up, I’m not discouraged. And I believe the Haitian people will once again surprise the world precisely by its creativity and its will to live, that is unshakable, even by such a monstrous earthquake.

AMY GOODMAN: When we last spoke, we were standing on the rubble of the Montana Hotel, where people were buried underneath. You’re standing in front of the Champ de Mars. Thousands of people remain there. I think this is very hard for people outside of Haiti to understand how still a million people are displaced in Haiti, this after the catastrophe of a quarter of a million at least killed, and now you have cholera on top of this. What has happened in this year?


AMY GOODMAN: Why hasn’t aid come, Patrick?

PATRICK ELIE: Well, first of all, you know, you were dealing with a country that was in very bad shape to start with. And you were dealing with a state that was weak for the mission it must execute. And the earthquake—and paradoxically, the outpour of solidarity—has not made things better in terms of the ability and the will of the state to rise up to the challenge. So, of course, one year later, I believe everybody would have expected to see better result, a more pronounced improvement of the situation. But really what I’m seeing is, if you want, question me, but it’s not at all as bad as it is usually described. I don’t think, truly, that the Haitian people have to be pitied or mourned. They have to get true solidarity in their endeavor to rebuild, and not to rebuild the same.

You know, Port-au-Prince is a city, and a city is a living organism. And Port-au-Prince, as we speak, is trying to relive the same way it was, and that would be a catastrophe for the country. Port-au-Prince has been strangling the rest of this nation, the rest of this country, for decades. It’s time, after the earthquake, to question the whole vision of how Haiti was built. It is time, if you want, to—I don’t want to say to destroy Port-au-Prince, but to put it in its right place in this country. We must resist the impulse to rebuild Port-au-Prince the way it was: a city of exclusion, of hyper-concentration and of shanty towns, which, if you want, contributed very, very much to the high toll that we’ve paid after the earthquake. So, we definitely have to break away from the course we seem to have been taken, which has been to do more of the same. We must do that; otherwise, it’s going to be worse than before.

AMY GOODMAN: Who controls Haiti now? Who is in control of the reconstruction? We were just speaking with Professor Alex Dupuy, who talked about the IHRC, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by Bill Clinton and the Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

PATRICK ELIE: I believe that at the moment Haiti is controlled by a foreign government and foreign interests, the so-called international community. And I’m afraid that in the month or maybe years to come, it’s going to get even worse, because, as you know, the election did not, if you want, mobilize the Haitian people, and whoever gets elected is going to be a very weak government, very weak president, with very little popular legitimacy. So, the ability of this new leadership to actually mobilize Haitians for reconstruction and be able to engage the international community on a partner-to-partner basis is going to be very, very small.

So, it’s going to take time, but I do believe that the earthquake is also a signal for us to build Haitian democracy on sound foundations, which means the neighborhood committees, the grassroot organization, instead of trying to build a democracy from the top down. That’s how we built our houses in Port-au-Prince, and you saw what happened. So, I believe it’s time for serious soul searching for the nation and to do an assessment of what has been the latest episode in Haiti’s search for democracy, which has lasted at least a quarter of a century with very poor result, as we speak.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in Jean Saint-Vil and then get your response, Patrick Elie. We’re turning to Canada. He’s in Ottawa, the Haitian writer and activist, his website, godisnotwhite.com.

On this first anniversary of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, now more than a million—and the country is only 10 million people—and cholera ravaging through the country, Jean Saint-Vil, your thoughts?

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Well, I was listening attentively to Alex Dupuy and Patrick, and they’ve really covered a lot of my thoughts. And I think one of the things that is common in what they’ve said is that there is not evidence that we’ve made that shift. Patrick mentioned that Port-au-Prince is trying to rebuild itself on the same principle that it had built itself before and is—has collapsed. The same thing with the way Alex Dupuy described the international community.

I think that another Haitian author described it pretty well: Edwidge Danticat, who published in the Miami Herald earlier this week an article titled “Haitians Are Tired, But We Are Not Defeated.” I would add that we are sick and tired, but not defeated. As you mentioned, we have lost more than 3,700 Haitians through the cholera brought to Haiti by U.N. troops.

And what we are seeing is, instead of resources being mobilized to deal with protecting human lives, building infrastructures for a new Haiti, instead we’re seeing the international community, which includes the United Nations, mobilizing resources to maintain the status quo. So, my perspective on this is that one year after the earthquake, we are seeing the Haitian population being treated and seen as a threat, rather than as an asset. And to me, that’s the major paradigm shift that must occur if we have to get out of this mess.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Alex Dupuy, before we go back to Port-au-Prince with Patrick Elie, about the U.S. official who was in charge of relief efforts following Haiti’s devastating earthquake who has accused a major contractor of shortchanging him for his assistance in securing more than $20 million in reconstruction deals. It was the Haiti Recovery Group he’s suing, and it was Lewis Lucke that the Associated Press was reporting on.

ALEX DUPUY: Well, I don’t know all the specifics of that suit, but what is known is that, of the contracts that have been given out by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, most of those contracts have gone to U.S. firms. Only two of them went to Haitian firms. And a significant percentage of the contracts that went to U.S. firms went to two firms, according to news reports, with no-bid contracts. So, I am not sure if this is what the suit is targeting, but—

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask—let me ask Jean Saint-Vil. Are you familiar with this case?

JEAN SAINT-VIL: Yes, I have read the report on the web about this. And if I am not mistaken, Mr. Lewis Lucke is actually a former U.S. ambassador to Swaziland, and he was working with the USAID in Haiti. And he’s suing the Haitian company led by Bigio, the Bigio Group [GB Group], which—actually, Bigio is described as the richest man in Haiti, part of the small Haitian elite that controls basically the economic life of Haiti. What’s interesting in this article is that it’s describing that the work that Lewis Lucke has done is really lobbying former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush for contracts that he was securing for American companies. To me, this is an example of exactly what is wrong with the current model, where non-Haitians have more power than Haitian leaders in Haiti, and the corruption that has been treated in Haiti as if it was, you know, a genetic disease that only affects the Haitian players.

We are seeing that the IHRC, led by Bill Clinton and Jean-Max Bellerive, is actually only led by the international players. People have actually been asking, “Where is the Haitian prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive?” At the last meeting that took place in Dominican Republic, he wasn’t even there. And that’s where the 12 members of the Haitian participants in this commission were saying that contracts are being signed, major decisions are being made, without them being involved. So, basically, the Clinton Global Initiative and Bill Clinton himself, not to talk about all the conflict of interest being the husband of the U.S. Secretary of State—I mean, Haiti is not being led by Haitians, and that’s basically what’s been wrong with the situation since 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Elie, I want to come back to you, as you stand there in front of the Champ de Mars, where so many people remain in these refugee camps. And I was wondering if you could give us a history lesson, for those not familiar with Haiti, in its birth out of a slave rebellion, and then what you think needs to happen right now concretely on the ground, as you say your country is being controlled by foreign interests, by foreign governments.

PATRICK ELIE: It is indeed a huge challenge that we’re facing as a people, maybe as big as the one we did face successfully in 1804. And as for, if you want, the vultures descending on Haiti, I believe we evoked that the last time we met on the Montana. And the only people that can prevent that are the Haitians themselves, with the help of foreign friends that keep their vigilance high, because, you know, things are going on that are beyond the back of the people of the world that were so generous toward Haiti and beyond the back of the Haitian people. And really what needs to be done is not easy to map out. To tell you the truth, there is no magic wand.

A lot of the people you see out in the Champ de Mars, they were not living any better before in Cité Soleil and in the different shanty towns. The difference is that now they’re making their presence known, they’re in your face, so to speak. And I hope that they will be able to show both the world outside and the Haitian elite that things have to change. And in a way—and I measure my words—to see these people in the Champ de Mars right smack in front of the National Palace is a positive message. It has to remind anyone who find itself in this ruin of a building, anyone who is living in a five million U.S.-dollar mansion, that these are Haitians, and they have to be, if you want, enfranchised and that their needs and their demands have to be met. So, you know, as they say in Haiti, “C’est un bien pour un mal,” we’ve exchanged an evil for a message that had to be heard for years and years.

AMY GOODMAN: What, at this point, do you feel needs to be done? Do you feel that the IHRC, that is run by President Clinton, former President Clinton, and Bellerive, should it continue? Should it be dismantled? You talk about a community organizations that could rise up, a changing of Port-au-Prince, but how will this actually happen?

PATRICK ELIE: I do believe that we need something different from the Haitian state as it is, and as it will emerge from this election, to lead the effort in reconstruction. Obviously, there has to be parliamentary representative of the donors, but mostly the Haitian representation should reflect more the Haitian community as it is. It’s not enough to have big-shot lawyers and technicians. The voice of the communities, both of Port-au-Prince but also in the other parts of the country, which represent our way out of this mess, their voices have to be heard also. And to be frank, I have not heard those voices spoken in the reconstruction. So, for me, personally, one of the very encouraging things that emerged from the earthquake was the birth, or the rebirth, of the neighborhood committees. And many of them, I must admit, you know, just organized so that they could profit for the charity. But some of them have remained, and they are, if you want, sketching their way ahead. And the movement has spread away from Port-au-Prince and away from the cities to what we call the lakou, which are the small peasant communities. In my opinion, there lies the future of Haiti and of its democracy, not up in the fancy hotel or the convention centers.

Million-Plus Remain Homeless and Displaced in Haiti One Year After Earthquake

From Bill Quigley and Jeena Shah:

One year after the January 12, 2010 earthquake, more than 1 million people remain homeless in Haiti. Homemade shelters and tents are everywhere in Port-au-Prince. People are living under plastic tarps or sheets in concrete parks, in encampments that sprawl up to the edges of major streets, in the side streets, behind buildings, in between buildings, on the sides of hills – literally everywhere.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that more than 1 million people – 380,000 of them children – still live in displacement camps.

“The recovery process,” as UNICEF says, “is just beginning.”

One of the critical questions remaining is how many people are still without adequate housing. While there are fewer big camps of homeless and displaced people, there has been extremely little rebuilding. The United Nations (UN) reported that 97,000 tents have been provided since the quake. Tents are an improvement over living under a sheet, but they are not homes. Many families have moved multiple times in the last year, circulating among rough shelters, tents, one or more camps and situations living alongside other families.

It is important to understand that a family may leave the huge, unsupervised camps and still be homeless someplace else, such as a tent in another part of the city or country. Families’ moves from one type of homelessness to another cannot be declared progress against homelessness and displacement.

The key human rights goal is for people displaced by the earthquake to obtain housing, not for them to simply move out of the displacement camps.

One illustration of the housing challenge facing the Haitian people can be found in a recent report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM December report announced a reduction in the number of persons remaining in displacement camps. The IOM then wrongly concluded that the number of people displaced and homeless was reduced accordingly. Why is this conclusion wrong? Because the IOM report does not even try to track where displaced persons go after they leave a particular camp. They equate homeless families moving out of displacement camps with families finding housing.

These types of erroneous conclusions are not only misleading – they also threaten to hinder badly needed relief efforts one year after Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

Careful consideration of the IOM report provides an opportunity to examine some of the many important housing challenges still facing Haitians:

IOM assertion: “We finally start to see light at the end of the tunnel for the earthquake-affected population. … [T]hese are hopeful signs that many victims of the quake are getting on with their lives.” IOM reported that there has been a 31 percent decrease in the number of internally displaced people (IDP) living on IDP sites in Haiti since July.

Fact: Getting on with their lives? Of Haiti’s estimated 1,268 displacement camps, at least 29 percent have been forcibly closed – meaning tens of thousands of people have been evicted, often by violent means. Many who are forcibly evicted from one site move on to set up camp for their families in another, often more dangerous, location. This is not getting on with life; this is searching for less dangerous places for the family tent.

IOM assertion: People with houses labeled red (uninhabitable or extremely dangerous) or yellow (in need of repair) have “chosen to return to the place of origin or nearby to establish a shelter.”

Fact: As of December 16, 2010, only 2,074 of the estimated 180,000 destroyed houses had been repaired and only a small percentage of the rubble had been cleared. Decisions by desperate homeowners to move back into still-destroyed homes is hardly progress.

It is not even possible for large numbers of people who were renters to return to their destroyed homes. The destruction of more than 180,000 private residences, coupled with the influx of international aid workers, has caused Haiti’s rental market to soar. An estimated 80 percent of Haitians rendered homeless by the earthquake were either renters or occupiers of homes without any formal land title. Current rents are unreachable for the majority of displaced Haitians, many of whom lost their means of livelihood during the earthquake. The IOM admits that, “The lack of land tenure and the destruction of many houses in already congested slums left many of those displaced with few options but to remain in shelters.”

IOM assertion: “Some households rendered homeless after the earthquake left congested Port-au-Prince all-together, going home to the regions. Others sent their children to the countryside for a better life.”

Fact: Rural Haiti before the earthquake was home to 52 percent of the population, 88 percent of which was classified as poor; 67 percent was considered extremely poor. The per capita income for rural residents was one-third of that for people living in urban areas, and rural Haitians’ access to basic services was extremely limited. Disaster response following the earthquake has not tackled the extreme structural violence that exists in rural areas, and Hurricane Tomas further destroyed the livelihoods of rural communities. People moving from displacement camps in the city to tents in the countryside have not really moved out of homelessness – they have just moved.

IOM Assertion: “Surviving in poor living conditions during the long hurricane season has persuaded many to seek alternative housing solutions.”

Fact: Homeless people are always seeking “alternative housing solutions.” Camp conditions even before Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak revealed that displaced Haitians were in camps because they had no “alternative housing solutions.” According to a study conducted by City University of New York (CUNY) professor Mark Schuller, before both Hurricane Tomas and the cholera outbreak, 40 percent of displacement camps did not have access to water and 30 percent did not have toilets of any kind. Only 10 percent of families even had tents, many of which were ripped beyond repair during the hurricane season; the rest were sleeping under tarps, or even bedsheets. A study conducted even earlier by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti found that 78 percent of families lived without enclosed shelter; 44 percent of families primarily drank untreated water; 27 percent of families defecated in a container, a plastic bag, or on open ground in the camps; 75 percent of families had someone go an entire day without eating during one week; and over 50 percent of families had children who had gone without eating for an entire day.

Human rights principles require housing for displaced people, not the forcing away of earthquake victims from displacement camps. Haiti needs practical and sustainable solutions for re-housing, along with services and protections for the people who are still homeless.

One year after the quake, it is critically important for the international community to assist Haitians in securing real housing. The one million homeless Haitians – and the hundreds of thousands who have moved out of the large homeless camps into other areas – are our sisters and brothers, and they still need our solidarity and help.




China’s Economy Not Looking So Hot

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Oldspeak:”UH OH. Not good. China is holding a significant portion of U.S. debt, and has basically replaced the U.S. Manufacturing sector that provides many U.S. retailers with ever more sweatshop consumables for sale here. Unfortunately, it seems as though much like in the U.S., the Chinese Gov’t has been captured by powerful corporate business interests that influence economic policy. Something has got to give, and with Business as Ususal in full effect on Wall St. and other financial markets world wide, it’s probably gonna be you; the taxpayer. The kicker is bailouts only serve to put off for a short time, the inevitable total economic/financial system failure that is sure to come. The Chinese are getting caught up in the same greed driven casino capitalism that has infected the U.S.”

From Paul Krugman @ The New York Times:

These days, China seems to play much the same role in American public discourse that Japan did two decades ago.

We Americans look at our own economic follies — which are immense — and then at the Chinese and their expanding economy, and ascribe to them all the virtues of foresight and determination that we lack.

But Japan’s conventional monetary policy failed in the 1990s and the nation got stuck in a deflationary trap. The Chinese are also making mistakes, their policy makers subject to the same confusion and inability to make hard choices that everyone else is.

China’s current macroeconomic policy will someday be the basis of a cautionary tale. Basic economics says that when they decided to undervalue the renminbi, the Chinese put themselves under inflationary pressure, and sure enough, inflation is rapidly becoming a serious problem in that nation.

China’s economy has been growing at a fast pace and banks are widely lending money; the resulting increases in the costs of labor and materials are reflected in rising consumer prices.

In fact, the government announced in August that consumer prices were 3.5 percent higher than a year ago.

But domestic political considerations seem to be ruling out all options for reasonable responses to this problem, including the revaluation of the renminbi.

The Chinese won’t increase the value of their currency because that would hurt politically influential exporters. And while the government announced on Dec. 25 that it was immediately raising interest rates — for the second time in a little over two months — it had been reluctant to make this move because raising rates would hurt influential real estate developers.

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The government is also trying to impose quantitative limits on credit, but powerful borrowers are able to circumvent the new rules.

Attempts to impose price controls on some agricultural commodities will inevitably come apart at the seams unless policy makers do something about the underlying pressures of accelerating inflation.

It’s an edifying spectacle.

Now, schadenfreude should not lead to any complacency on the part of the United States; China may be corrupt and unable to make sensible short-run choices when it comes to dealing with inflation, but the United States outdoes China in terms of our fundamental inability to deal with long-term problems.

Still, it’s worth remembering that all paragons have feet of clay.

© 2010 The New York Times Company

Are Palestinians The Last Zionists?

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Oldspeak: “Interesting perspective.”

From Daniel Gavron @ Newsweek:

Are the Palestinians the last Zionists? It would seem so. The situation of Israel has become surreal. Just as we Israelis are making a stupendous effort to ensure the dissolution of the Jewish state, envisioned by Theodor Herzl in 1896, by hanging onto the occupied territories, the Palestinians, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are working to ensure the survival of the Zionist enterprise by striving to establish a Palestinian ministate in the West Bank and Gaza.

Let us be very clear on just what is happening here: the Palestinians are doing their best to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza on a mere 22 percent of British Mandate for Palestine, which would afford us Zionist Jews a predominantly Jewish state on the remaining 78 percent. This is surely more than we could ever have envisaged when we set out to create a Jewish state and guarantees the survival of the state of Israel. Against this, we Israelis are fighting to keep the West Bank, which will soon result in an Arab majority and the end of a Jewish majority state.

Moreover, the Palestinians are supported by the Arab and Muslim nations, who are offering, via the Arab initiative, normal relations with the Jewish state. They are even prepared to accept our settlement folly by means of land swaps, which will leave a majority of the Israeli Jews who settled illegally in the West Bank during the past four decades inside the state of Israel.

The Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians are, of course, backed by virtually the entire population of the planet, led by the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is devoting a significant portion of her time to finding a formula for peace, including an agreement with Syria in return for our withdrawal from the Golan Heights. This will result not only in our dreamed-for Jewish state, but also will go a long way toward neutralizing the threats to Israel posed by Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas.

And how are we Israelis responding? We are mobilizing every possible means of obstruction and delay. We are continuing to build in locations in the West Bank that will preclude the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state and in East Jerusalem, which is scheduled to be the Palestinian capital—as opposed to West Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Furthermore, the so-called Israeli majority for peace—the 60-plus percent who support a two-state solution—is so apathetic that we must be regarded as accomplices in the anti-peace path that our right-wing government is currently taking.

We are demanding that the Palestinians declare their support for Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” which is totally unnecessary, as Israel’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, already defines the state as “Jewish and democratic.” Thus it is adequate for the Palestinians to recognize the state of Israel, which they already do.

We are insisting that the Palestinians and other Arabs agree in advance to give up the “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel. This also is superfluous, as the Arab initiative makes it clear that the solution to the refugee problem must be just, fair, and (most significantly) “mutually agreed.” It is generally accepted that if there is a significant return of refugees, it will be to Palestine, not to Israel.

And now our latest demand: that the Americans put in writing their promises of aid and support. After decades of firm American support, this last demand is the very personification of chutzpah, and the U.S. administration is calling our bluff by giving us this document.

Following the Holocaust and the wars to establish Israel, it is understandable that we Jews deal cautiously with our Arab neighbors. But we have moved into the realm of paranoia. It is time to seize the remarkable opportunity before us. Peace with Egypt, the strongest Arab state, laid the foundations; peace with Palestine and Syria, backed by the Arab and Muslim nations, will finally place the roof on the Jewish house. The Obama administration’s effort to establish a small Palestinian state, accompanied by withdrawal from the Golan Heights and peace with Syria, will finally ensure survival of the state of Israel. Why are we Israeli Jews trying so hard to prevent it?

Gavron is the author of nine books on Jewish history, Israel, and the Palestinians. His latest is Holy Land Mosaic.

Asian Powers Are Starting To Call The Shots, And The U.S. Can’t Do Anything About It

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Oldspeak: “We are witnessing the end of the era of American hegemony. Thanks to 30 years of efforts by multinational corporatist governed government and perpetual, misguided wars, the once great U.S.A. has been transformed from the biggest most diverse and thriving economy with a robust middle class, to the world’s largest debtor nation, plutocratically oriented, with a decimated middle class and nothing to offer the world but weapons and soldiers and entertainment.”

Fr0m Juan Cole @ Tomsdispatch:

Blocked from major new domestic initiatives by a Republican victory in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama promptly lit out for Asia, a far more promising arena.  That continent, after all, is rising, and Obama is eager to grasp the golden ring of Asian success.

Beyond being a goodwill ambassador for ten days, Obama is seeking sales of American-made durable and consumer goods, weapons deals, an expansion of trade, green energy cooperation, and the maintenance of a geopolitical balance in the region favorable to the United States.  Just as the decline of the American economy hobbled him at home, however, the weakness of the United States on the world stage in the aftermath of Bush-era excesses has made real breakthroughs abroad unlikely.

Add to this the peculiar obsessions of the Washington power elite, with regard to Iran for instance, and you have an unpalatable mix.  These all-American fixations are viewed as an inconvenience or worse in Asia, where powerful regional hegemons are increasingly determined to chart their own courses, even if in public they continue to humor a somewhat addled and infirm Uncle Sam.

Although the United States is still the world’s largest economy, it is shackled by enormous public and private debt as well as fundamental weaknesses.  Rivaled by an increasingly integrated European Union, it is projected to be overtaken economically by China in just over a decade.  While the president’s first stop, India, now has a nominal gross domestic product of only a little over a trillion dollars a year, it, too, is growing rapidly, even spectacularly, and its GDP may well quadruple by the early 2020s.  The era of American dominance, in other words, is passing, and the time (just after World War II) when the U.S. accounted for half the world economy, a dim memory.

The odd American urge to invest heavily in perpetual war abroad, including “defense-related” spending of around a trillion dollars a year, has been a significant factor further weakening the country on the global stage.  Most of the conventional weapons on which the U.S. continues to splurge could not even be deployed against nuclear powers like Russia, China, and India, emerging as key competitors when it comes to global markets, resources, and regional force projection.  Those same conventional weapons have proved hardly more useful (in the sense of achieving quick and decisive victory, or even victory at all) in the unconventional wars the U.S. has repeatedly plunged into — a sad fact that Bush’s reckless attempt to occupy entire West Asian nations only demonstrated even more clearly to Washington’s bemused rivals.

American weapons stockpiles (and copious plans for ever more high-tech versions of the same into the distant future) are therefore remarkably irrelevant to its situation, and known to be so.  Meanwhile, its economy, burdened by debts incurred through wars and military spending sprees, and hollowed out by Wall Street shell games, is becoming a B-minus one in global terms.

A Superpower With Feet of Clay

Just how weakened the United States has been in Asia is easily demonstrated by the series of rebuffs its overtures have suffered from regional powers.  When, for instance, a tiff broke out this fall between China and Japan over a collision at sea near the disputed Senkaku Islands, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered to mediate.  The offer was rejected out of hand by the Chinese, who appear to have deliberately halted exports of strategic rare-earth metals to Japan and the United States as a hard-nosed bargaining ploy.  In response, the Obama administration quickly turned mealy-mouthed, affirming that while the islands come under American commitments to defend Japan for the time being, it would take no position on the question of who ultimately owned them.

Likewise, Pakistani politicians and pundits were virtually unanimous in demanding that President Obama raise the issue of disputed Kashmir with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his Indian sojourn.  The Indians, however, had already firmly rejected any internationalization of the controversy, which centers on the future of the Muslim-majority state, a majority of whose inhabitants say they want independence.  Although Obama had expressed an interest in helping resolve the Kashmir dispute during his presidential campaign, by last March his administration was already backing away from any mediation role unless both sides asked for Washington’s help.  In other words, Obama and Clinton promptly caved in to India’s insistence that it was the regional power in South Asia and would brook no external interference.

This kind of regional near impotence is only reinforced by America’s perpetual (yet ever faltering) war machine.  Nor, as Obama moves through Asia, can he completely sidestep controversies provoked by the Afghan War, his multiple-personality approach to Pakistan, and his administration’s obsessive attempt to isolate and punish Iran.  As Obama arrives in Seoul, for instance, Iran will be on the agenda.  This fall, South Korea, a close American ally, managed to play a game of one step forward, two steps back with regard to Washington-supported sanctions against that energy-rich country.

The government did close the Seoul branch of Iran’s Bank Milli, sanctioning it and other Iranian firms.  Then, the South Koreans turned around and, according to theFinancial Times, appointed two banks to handle payments involving trade between the two countries via the (unsanctioned) Tehran Central Bank.  In doing so, the government insulated other South Korean banks from possible American sanctions, while finding a way for Iran to continue to purchase South Korean autos and other goods.

Before the latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions South Korea was doing $10 billion a year in trade with Iran, involving some 2,142 Korean companies.  Iran’s half of this trade — it provides nearly 10% of South Korea’s petroleum imports — has been largely unaffected.  South Korea’s exports to Iran, on the other hand, have fallen precipitously under the pressure of the sanctions regime.  Sanctions that hold Iran harmless but punish a key American ally by hurting its trade and creating a balance of payments problem are obviously foolish.

The Iranian press claims that South Korean firms are now planning to invest money in Iranian industrial towns.  Given that Obama has expended political capital persuading South Korea to join a U.S.-organized free trade zone andchange its tariffs to avoid harming the American auto industry, it is unlikely that he could now seek to punish South Korea for its quiet defiance on the issue of Iran.

China is the last major country with a robust energy industry still actively investing in Iran, and Washington entertains dark suspicions that some of its firms are even transferring technology that might help the Iranians in their nuclear energy research projects.  This bone of contention is likely to form part of the conversation between Obama and President Hu Jintao before Thursday’s G20 meeting of the world’s wealthiest 20 countries.

Given tensions between Washington and Beijing over the massive balance of trade deficit the U.S. is running with China (which the Obama administration attributes, in part, to an overvalued Chinese currency), not to speak of other contentious issues, Iran may not loom large in their discussions. One reason for this may be that, frustrating as Chinese stonewalling on its currency may seem, they are likely to give even less ground on relations with Iran — especially since they know that Washington can’t do much about it.  Another fraught issue is China’s plan to build a nuclear reactor for Pakistan, something that also alarms Islamabad’s nuclear rival, India.

Rising Asia

If you want to measure the scope of American decline since the height of the Cold War era, remember that back then Iran and Pakistan were American spheres of influence from which other great powers were excluded.  Now, the best the U.S. can manage in Pakistan is the political (and military) equivalent of a condominium or perhaps a time-share — and in Iran, nothing at all.

Despite his feel-good trip to India last weekend, during which he announced some important business deals for U.S. goods, Obama has remarkably little to offer the Indians.  That undoubtedly is why the president unexpectedly announced Washington’s largely symbolic support for a coveted seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a ringing confirmation of India’s status as a rising power.

Some Indian politicians and policy-makers, however, are insisting that their country’s increasing demographic, military, and economic hegemony over South Asia be recognized by Washington, and that the U.S. cease its support of, and massive arms sales to, Pakistan.  In addition, New Delhi is eager to expand its geopolitical position in Afghanistan, where it is a major funder of civilian reconstruction projects, and is apprehensive about any plans for a U.S. withdrawal from that country.  An Indian-dominated Afghanistan is, of course, Pakistan’s worst fear.

In addition, India’s need for petroleum is expected to grow by 40% during the next decade and a half.  Energy-hungry, like neighboring Pakistan, it can’t help glancing longingly at Iran’s natural gas and petroleum fields, despite Washington’s threats to slap third-party sanctions on any firm that helps develop them.  American attempts to push India toward dirty energy sources, including nuclear power (the waste product of which is long-lived and problematic) and shale gas, as a way of reducing its interest in Iranian and Persian Gulf oil and gas, are another Washington “solution” for the region likely to be largely ignored, given how close at hand inexpensive Gulf hydrocarbons are.

It is alarming to consider what exactly New Delhi imagines the planet’s former “sole superpower” has to offer at this juncture — mostly U.S. troops fighting a perceived threat in Afghanistan and the removal of Congressional restrictions on sales of advanced weaponry to India.  The U.S. military in Afghanistan is seen as a proxy for Indian interests in putting down the Taliban and preventing the reestablishment of Pakistani hegemony over Kabul.  For purely self-interested reasons Prime Minister Singh has long takenthe same position as the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, urging Obama to postpone any plans to begin a drawdown in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011.

The most significant of the Indian purchases trumpeted by the president last weekend were military in character.  Obama proclaimed that the $10 billion in deals he was inking would create 54,000 new American jobs.  Right now, it’s hard to argue with job creation or multi-billion-dollar sales of U.S.-made goods abroad.  As former secretary of labor Robert Reich has pointed out, however, jobs in the defense industry are expensive to create, while offering a form of artificial corporate welfare that distorts the American economy and diverts resources from far more crucial priorities.

To think of this another way, President Obama is in danger of losing control of his South Asian foreign policy agenda to India, its Republican supporters in the House, and the military-industrial complex.

As the most dynamic region in the world, Asia is the place where rapid change can create new dynamics.  American trade with the European Union has grown over the past decade (as has the EU itself), but is unlikely to be capable of doubling in just a few years.  After all, the populations of some European countries, like powerhouse Germany, will probably shrink in coming decades.

India, by contrast, is projected to overtake China in population around 2030 and hit the billion-and-a-half-inhabitants mark by mid-century (up from 1.15 billion today).  Its economy, like China’s, has been growing 8% to 9% a year, creating powerful new demand in the world market.  President Obama ishoping to see U.S. exports to India double by 2015.  Likewise, with its economy similarly booming, China is making its own ever more obvious bid to stride like a global colossus through the twenty-first century.

The Hessians of a Future Asia?

Unsurprisingly, beneath the pomp and splendor of Obama’s journey through Asia has lurked a far tawdrier vision — of a much weakened president presiding over a much weakened superpower, both looking somewhat desperately for succor abroad. If the United States is to remain a global power, it is important that Washington offer something to the world besides arms and soldiers.

Obama has been on the money when he’s promoted green-energy technology as a key field where the United States could make its mark (and possibly its fortune) globally.  Unfortunately, as elsewhere, here too the United States is falling behind, and a Republican House as well as a bevy of new Republican governors and state legislatures are highly unlikely toeffectively promote the greening of American technology.

In the end, Obama’s trip has proven a less than effective symbolic transition from George W. Bush’s muscular unilateralism to a new American-led multilateralism in Asia.  Rather, at each stop, Obama has bumped up against the limits of American economic and diplomatic clout in the new Asian world order.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney thought in terms of expanding American conventional military weapons stockpiles and bases, occupying countries when necessary, and so ensuring that the U.S. would dominate key planetary resources for decades to come.  Their worldview, however, was mired in mid-twentieth-century power politics.

If they thought they were placing a marker down on another American century, they were actually gambling away the very houses we live in and reducing us to a debtor nation struggling to retain its once commanding superiority in the world economy.  In the meantime, the multi-millionaires and billionaires created by neoliberal policies and tax cuts in the West will be as happy to invest in (and perhaps live in) Asia as in the United States.

In the capitals of a rising Asia, Washington’s incessant campaign to strengthen sanctions against Iran, and in some quarters its eagerness for war with that country, is viewed as another piece of lunatic adventurism.  The leaders of India, China, and South Korea, among other countries, are determined to do their best to sidestep this American obsession and integrateIran into their energy and trading futures.

In some ways, the darkest vision of an American future arrived in 1991 thanks to President George H. W. Bush.  At that time, he launched a war in the Persian Gulf to protect local oil producers from an aggressive Iraq.  That war was largely paid for by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, rendering the U.S. military for the first time a sort of global mercenary force.  Just as the poor in any society often join the military as a way of moving up in the world, so in the century of Asia, the U.S. could find itself in danger of being reduced to the role of impoverished foot soldier fighting for others’ interests, or of being the glorified ironsmiths making arsenals of weaponry for the great powers of the future.


Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Comment website.

Who Decides How The Oppressed Should Fight Oppression?

In Uncategorized on November 16, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Oldspeak: “Oppression is one of the most bitter fruits of colonialism. Violence and nonviolence are mostly collective decisions that are shaped and driven by specific political and socioeconomic conditions and contexts. Unfortunately, the violence of the occupier has a tremendous role in creating and manipulating these conditions under which the oppressed struggle to survive. The violence and brutality of the occupier is seldom factored into discussions of “terrorism” and civil unrest when oppressed peoples resist the oppressors efforts to subjugate them.”

From Ramzy Baroud @ Truthout:

An American activist once gave me a book she had written that detailed her experiences in Palestine. The largely visual volume documented her journey in the occupied West Bank, a place rife with barbed wire, checkpoints, soldiers and tanks. It also highlighted how Palestinians resisted the occupation peacefully – in contrast to the prevalent media depictions linking Palestinian resistance to violence.

More recently, I received a book glorifying nonviolent resistance and referring to self-proclaimed Palestinian fighters who renounced violence as “converts.” The book elaborated on several wondrous examples of how these “conversions” came about. Apparently a key factor was the discovery that not all Israelis supported the military occupation. The fighters realized that an environment that allowed both Israelis and Palestinians to work together would be best for Palestinians seeking other, more effective means of liberation.

An American priest also explained to me the impressive scale on which nonviolent resistance is happening. He showed me brochures he had obtained during a visit to a Bethlehem organization that teaches youth the perils of violence and the wisdom of nonviolence. The organization and its founders run seminars and workshops and invite speakers from Europe and the United States to share their knowledge on the subject with the (mostly refugee) students.

Every so often, an article, video or book surfaces with a similar message: Palestinians are being taught nonviolence; Palestinians are responding positively to the teachings of nonviolence.

As for progressive and Leftist media and audiences, stories praising nonviolence are electrifying, for they ignite a sense of hope that a less violent way is possible, that the teachings of Gandhi are not only relevant to India, in a specific time and space, but throughout the world, anytime.

These depictions repeatedly invite the question: where is the Palestinian Gandhi? Next they invite the answer: a Palestinian Gandhi already exists, in numerous West Bank villages bordering the Israeli Apartheid Wall, where they peacefully confront the carnivorous Israeli bulldozers eating up Palestinian land.

In a statement marking a recent visit by the group Elders to the Middle East, India’s Ela Bhatt, a “Gandhian advocate of non-violence,” explained her role in The Elders’ latest mission: “I will be pleased to return to the Middle East to show the Elders’ support for all those engaged in creative, nonviolent resistance to the occupation – both Israelis and Palestinians.”

For some, the emphasis on nonviolent resistance is a successful media strategy. You are certainly far more likely to get Charlie Rose’s attention by discussing how Palestinians and Israelis organize joint sit-ins than by talking about the armed resistance of militant groups ferociously fighting the Israeli army.

For others, ideological and spiritual convictions are the driving forces behind their involvement in the nonviolence campaign that is reportedly raging in the West Bank. These realizations seem to be largely led by Western advocates.

On the Palestinian side, the nonviolent “brand” is also useful. It has provided an outlet for many who were engaged in armed resistance, especially during the Second Palestinian Intifada. Some fighters, such as those affiliated with the Fatah movement, have become involved in art and theater after hauling automatic rifles and topping Israel’s most-wanted list for years.

Politically, the term is used by the West Bank government as a platform that would allow for the continued use of the word moqawama – Arabic for “resistance” – but without committing to a costly armed struggle, which would certainly not go down well if adopted by the non-elected government deemed “moderate” by both Israel and the United States.

Whether in subtle or overt ways, armed resistance in Palestine is always condemned. Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah government repeatedly referred to it as “futile.” Some insist it is a counterproductive strategy. Others find it morally indefensible.

The problem with the nonviolence bandwagon is that it is grossly misrepresentative of the reality on the ground. It also takes the focus away from the violence imparted by the Israeli occupation – in its routine and lethal use in the West Bank, and the untold savagery in Gaza – and places it solely on the shoulders of the Palestinians.

As for the gross misrepresentation of reality, Palestinians have used mass nonviolent resistance for generations – as early as the long strike of 1936. Nonviolent resistance has been and continues to be the bread and butter of Palestinian moqawama, from the time of British colonialism to the Israeli occupation. At the same time, some Palestinians fought violently as well, compelled by a great sense of urgency and the extreme violence applied against them by their oppressors. It is similar to the way many Indians fought violently, even during the time that Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas were in full bloom.

Those who reduce and simplify India’s history of anti-colonial struggle are doing the same to Palestinians.

Misreading history often leads to an erroneous assessment of the present, and, thus, a flawed prescription for the future. For some, Palestinians cannot possibly get it right, whether they respond to oppression nonviolently, violently, with political defiance or with utter submissiveness. The onus will always be on them to come up with solution, and to do so creatively and in ways that suit our Western sensibilities and our often selective interpretations of Gandhi’s teachings.

Violence and nonviolence are mostly collective decisions that are shaped and driven by specific political and socioeconomic conditions and contexts. Unfortunately, the violence of the occupier has a tremendous role in creating and manipulating these conditions. It is unsurprising that the Second Palestinian Uprising was much more violent than the first, and that violent resistance in Palestine gained a huge boost after the victory scored by the Lebanese resistance in 2000, and again in 2006.

These factors must be contemplated seriously and with humility, and their complexity should be taken into account before any judgments are made. No oppressed nation should be faced with the demands that Palestinians constantly face. There may well be a thousand Palestinian Gandhis. There may be none. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. Only the unique experience of the Palestinian people and their genuine struggle for freedom could yield what Palestinians as a collective deem appropriate for their own. This is what happened with the people of India, France, Algeria, South Africa, and many other nations that sought and eventually attained their freedom.

The Economic Hit Man Confesses Again : John Perkins

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 at 10:43 am

Oldspeak:”Trinket capitalism,” an economic system that produces junk that people don’t really need. Behold, a rare and beautiful sight. A corporatocracy whistleblower who’s still alive and hasn’t been discredited! A wide-ranging interview with one of the most important and seldom heard voices of reality.”

From Reclaima!:

Reclama: Thank you for the opportunity to interview you. We’ve found that many Peace Corps Volunteers have read your books. One told me that “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” totally reshaped her view of our foreign policy. She just wishes she would have read it sooner. Another reconsidered a job proposal working on one of the large infrastructure projects you used to forecast after reading the book. So it’s definitely had an impact on our community, which is why we wanted to interview you.

John Perkins: Well, I’m glad to hear that. Incidentally, when I’m on speaking tours at universities, I often have students come up to me and tell me they’re considering Peace Corps. They ask what I recommend, and I always say, “Go! Do it! It’s an incredible experience.” That happens quite frequently; I promote Peace Corps.

How do you respond to people who read about your economic hit man work and say, “This is just too fantastic to believe, it’s just one man’s story, and there is no way to independently verify the claims he makes?”

I almost never get that question because I think that most people who talk to me about these things say that they always figured that stuff like that was going on, but they’d never actually seen anyone write about it before. I will say that The New York Times did a major piece. It was the whole top fold of the front page of the business section in the Sunday edition back three years ago. They went in and looked at the details and it was thoroughly vetted. So the information is all there if they’re willing to dig.

Everything that I talk about obviously happened – the assassination of Roldos of Ecuador and Torrijos of Panama is pretty well known throughout Latin America. You can ask people in the Dominican Republic, I’m sure that most people who were alive at that time in Latin America realized that it was an assassination. And there’s tremendous amounts of evidence. And there was no question that economic hit men were talking to those two people along with many others. Every incident I talk about in my books happened. You can verify it. The only question might be, was I actually one of the economic hit men there? And my passport proves that I was in those countries at the time. So, there’s a lot of evidence.

Bechtel Corporation wrote a letter setting up a lawsuit against me, saying that they wanted us to remove their name and portions of the book that refer to Bechtel. Other organizations did something similar. We gave them the backup information that I had – my files are extensive. So we told them that if they continued to try to blackmail us, we would write an addendum to the next edition of the book exposing the fact that they were trying to get us to change things that are facts. They never filed a lawsuit, they never gave us more trouble. The evidence is all there; I have no problem at all substantiating it if people really want to dig, like Bechtel did and The New York Times did. But most people, I think, have a real sense that these things go on anyway, and so the book just confirms what they already suspected.

While discussing modern robber barons in “Hoodwinked,” you write that “from a purely economic perspective, philanthropy is inefficient. A person who has accumulated billions of dollars and in doing so has caused others to lose their jobs, closed the doors of small businesses, or ravaged the environment, and then donates a small percentage of his fortune to correcting those problems or to the arts, would have served the world far better by making fewer profits while increasing employment, supporting small businesses, and insisting that his executives practice good environmental stewardship.” This is such a critical point that even most educated people don’t recognize. Why haven’t universities made this point clear, and how can we ensure that the next generation will learn this obvious and important point?

I do all I can do, which is when I’m at universities and this question comes up I say exactly that, and I talk to university professors and have told them they should point that out. So it seems to me that it’s something that ought to be part of business school curricula, particularly, but of course I have no control over [laughs] what Wharton or Stanford or Cornell or any of the other business schools teach. All I can do is, every chance I get, I say these things. I also want to say that although I come down pretty hard on these kinds of philanthropists – people like Bill Gates today, and in the past, the Carnegies, and so on – I also recognize that once someone has done the things they’ve done and perhaps sees the light, has a change of heart, that I certainly honor the fact that they are trying to somehow redeem themselves by giving some of the money back, and so I certainly do encourage that, too. After all, I did some pretty bad things in my life as an economic hit man and now I’m working to turn things around, to try to change those very things. So I think it is important that if people have done things that are not the best for the world, that if they realize their mistakes, we do everything we can to encourage them to give back as much as they can. However, it would be far better if they had worked hard in the beginning to do the socially and environmentally responsible things, as I write in the book. So all I can do is encourage that in my writings and in my speeches and I hope more and more business schools will teach that, too.

You criticize what you call “trinket capitalism,” an economic system that produces junk that people don’t really need. However, our current model is also heavily financialized, producing speculation no one really needs; indeed, much of the blame of the financial crisis rests on highly leveraged, little-understood financial “trinkets” based on a housing bubble, not real production. One of the best examples of the uselessness of this financial speculation is the commodities market, where many of the goods produced by poor farmers are gambled on by traders and manipulated by huge agribusiness conglomerates. As you know, this price volatility wreaks havoc on the Third World, which is ironic since futures contracts were designed to provide stability. Are these financial instruments causing more harm than good? Should they be eliminated?

Yeah! Absolutely. I think they should be eliminated for the most part or at least we should have very strong laws regulating them so that they do more good than harm. The system that we’ve experienced, which has brought us into this global recession that we’re in today, has virtually let these people – hedge funds and other investment types – get away with what I consider to be criminal activity. Legally speaking, it’s not criminal because we’ve passed laws to decriminalize it, but it should be criminal. In other words, investments, business in general, should be there to support the public good. I think the guideline is that the first 100 years of the United States, no company, including investment companies, could get charters unless they could prove that they were serving the public interest. On average, the charter lasted ten years. Then the company had to go back in and demonstrate that it had served the public interest and would continue to do so.

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I think that’s a very reasonable thing to expect of corporations. There’s absolutely no reason why they should not be serving a public interest as well as making profits and serving their investors. Investors need to get a fair rate of return. But that should not be at the expense of everyone else. And we need regulations to support that, or, if there’s vehicles out there such as certain hedge funds that can’t possibly serve a public interest, we ought to get rid of them.

Do you think the forces behind “trinket capitalism” – cultivating a demand and hyping selling points of essentially useless items – has been applied to the realm of politics, like in elections?

No question. The politicians are controlled by big money – what I call the corporatocracy. Nobody gets elected in this country – or almost nobody – without the support of the corporatocracy. Nobody gets elected to a major national office without that support. We saw that with Obama. He went in saying he was not going to accept money from big corporations; by the end he accepted a lot of money from big corporations. And we’re now seeing the results. His financial policy is essentially run by Wall Street, particularly Goldman Sachs, and his agricultural policy is run by the big agribusinesses, especially Monsanto, because they provided so much money in his campaign. So politicians are very, very much tied in with these corporations.

But we the people ought to recognize that ultimately, we’re the ones with the control. Because these big corporations only benefit, only survive, when we support them, by buying their goods and services or allowing our tax dollars to buy their goods and services. So the marketplace is democratic if we choose to make it democratic, if we choose to shop consciously, invest consciously, and let them know. Send emails. Let Nike know that we’re not going to buy from them anymore because they’ve got sweatshops. Send them an email and if enough of us do that, they’ll have to turn their sweatshops into legitimate factories that pay real wages and have working conditions that are supportive of life rather than making life miserable for the workers. We have the control. And I say in “Hoodwinked” that the way we vote when we shop is just as important as – and perhaps more important than – the votes we give in polls on election day. We need to recognize that every time we buy something or choose not to, we’re casting a vote, but it’s important to communicate that and email makes it very easy to communicate to these corporate executives why we’re buying their goods and services or why we’re not buying them.

Do you believe there are enough affordable options to really provide a choice – a democratic marketplace, as you say?

I do. And it’s increasing all the time. Within the last month I’ve spoken at the Chicago Green Festival and the Seattle Green Festival. And there’s another one coming up in DC and then one in San Francisco. And they have a marketplace of these many, many vendors that have been vetted for their environmental and social responsibility. They offer a lot of options, from tennis shoes to toilets, food and clothes. We need to support those people. Now, I don’t think there’s anybody out there that’s one hundred percent perfect, and I’m not sure anybody ever will be one hundred percent perfect; who amongst us is? But what we need to do is encourage those companies and the entrepreneurs and the small companies even, like in the green marketplace, that are trying, that are making headway, and if we continue to do that then we’ll find that, ultimately everybody will have to go along with it. We have a lot of choices. You can go to dreamchange.org; there’s links there to various places if you’re looking to buy tennis shoes, shirts, food, there’s links that will help you to know which companies are trying to do their best job. We need to keep pushing harder and harder for that, letting people know that we absolutely refuse to buy things that are not socially and environmentally green, and we will buy things that are done that way. And I think it’s also important while saying this to say that we all need to cut back. We don’t need so many pairs of shoes and t-shirts and blue jeans, most of us don’t anyway – and we don’t need to use as much energy. We need to be much more conservative in the way we approach life.

You seem to be very positive about the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement. In fact, that seems to be your cure for the mutant form of capitalism you describe. You say that today every major company pays “at least lip service to the idea of the ‘triple bottom line, ‘” that is, financial, social, and ecological costs and benefits. Many would argue that most of it remains just that – lip service. Can we reasonably expect a company not to focus on short-term profit maximization given that, generally speaking, within the current system of state capitalism, it will be driven out of business by competitors if it focuses on anything but?

I don’t think it will be driven out of business by competitors if we the people insist that we will only buy from socially and environmentally responsible sources. Those that are not will be driven out of business. We have sent the message that we want cheap t-shirts and tennis shoes even if they’re made in sweatshops by slaves in Indonesia or Honduras. And we want cheap oil even if that means destroying the Amazon. That’s the message we the consumers have sent these corporations, and they maximize their profits based on that message. We need to send an entirely different message. It’s not acceptable; we won’t buy anything that’s made in sweatshops. It’s not that we’re trying to put Indonesians out of work, but we want the sweatshops to pay life-supporting wages and provide decent working conditions. Or we won’t buy from them. That’s the message we want to send, and that’s the only way these corporations are going to make profits, is if they do these things. We the people have to send that message, and that’s why I’m encouraged, because I think we are getting the word out there.
I’ve been lecturing in universities since “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” came out, so it’s been a little over five years, and I’ve seen a tremendous change in attitude among students, especially in MBA programs, across the United States and China, Iceland and in Latin America.

Five years ago, all these students were telling me they wanted to make more money, wanted to have more power. Now, most of them – the ones I talk to anyway [laughs] – are saying that they want to do the right thing. They want to create businesses, they want to support businesses that are responsible, they want to create a world that they can be proud to bring children up in. I’m seeing a change in attitude. I am encouraged by that. I am hopeful that we can turn things around.

When I was in the Peace Corps in the Amazon, I was near death at one point, and I was cured by a shaman. Shamans teach us that we can change things – I wrote about this in a book called “Shapeshifting” that talks about this – by applying energy and intent to the things we want to create in the future. We can turn things around, as they put it. We change the dream by giving energy into a new dream. And it can happen very quickly. We’ve seen it happen. We got out of Vietnam because people changed their energy. We got corporations to clean up terribly polluted rivers in the United States because people put new energy into it. We got rid of apartheid in South Africa because of it. Recently, we got trans fats out of foods, for the most part, because people gave that energy. Now we need to give energy to a whole new scenario, which is to say, we’ll only support corporations that make profits within the context of creating a sustainable, just and peaceful world for everybody on this planet.

Do you think international agreements that regulate production and pricing of commodities should take the place of “free trade” agreements, which you recognize as heavily biased to favor wealthy countries? The International Coffee Agreement which Reagan torpedoed in 1989 comes to mind.

I’m all for real free trade and agreements that will support real free trade. But most of the ‘free trade’ agreements – in quotations – these days are just the opposite. They work in the benefit of the corporatocracy, the big international corporations, and, as you know and as every Peace Corps Volunteer probably knows, they generally work against the campesinos, the farmers in these other countries. I think that there’s a movement in Latin America today to support that. We’ve seen a number of presidents recently elected democratically who are really trying to establish true free markets, at least amongst their countries. I’m particularly thinking of Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales, and I think Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, despite all the controversy that always swirls around him, is trying to promote some of these things. So I think that we can see agreements amongst countries in South America and I’d like to see that happen more in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. The idea of true free trade is excellent, but the idea of the kind of free trade that’s promoted by the United States and the G8 countries is a horrible form of exploitation – a subtle and yet very effective type of exploitation.

On that note, in an interview with Malibu Magazine you defended Chavez against the false portrayals of him as a dictator in the corporate media. You stated that while you didn’t appreciate his rhetorical approach, “He is a wild man, but one needs to be a wild man to do what he did.” What has he done for Venezuela?

Well, I don’t know if I can speak for the Venezuelans; I can’t. I’m not Venezuelan, so to say what he’s done for Venezuela – I’m not in a position to do that. I’m a United States citizen. I’m much more comfortable speaking about my country. And what I will say is that Hugo Chavez made the United States back down. He’s made history in a big way; people will remember Hugo Chavez for hundreds of years because he stood up to the United States. The coup launched against him in 2002 was successful for, I think about 40 hours. But he overcame it; he was very smart, and he knew what he was up against. And by doing that, he set a new precedent. The other countries in Latin America after that, many of them voted in presidents that probably would not have run for office had Chavez not been successful in putting down that coup. But it gave a tremendous impetus to people throughout Latin America, and I think in other parts of the world, too.
So by showing the United States to be a paper tiger in 2002, I think he sent a very strong message out to the world. I think he’s played a major role in world politics, and when I talked to a lot of poor Venezuelans, they love many of the things that he’s done in terms of education and healthcare and setting up clinics for poor people, etcetera. Talk to wealthy Venezuelans, they’re unhappy with what he did, so, personally, I’d rather not comment on what he’s done or not done for Venezuela. That’s simply to say that he has done something to the United States and he has encouraged a spirit of liberty and optimism throughout South America. As I travel in places like the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Costa Rica, and Nicaragua and Ecuador, I hear young people being very, very inspired by the fact that a president successfully stood up to a CIA-orchestrated coup in 2002 and survived and is now trying to establish various alliances throughout Latin America.

This information seems to be lost on most progressives. How do we bridge the gap that allows so many well intentioned people to be misled about the great progress being made in Latin American countries that have rejected the neoliberal approach to development?

I think we all have to keep talking about it a lot more [laughs]. We have to understand that the mainstream press is aligned against the progressive movement in Latin America primarily because it is either owned outright by the corporatocracy or supported through advertising budgets, and, therefore, the mainstream press does not want to talk about the tremendous revolution that’s taking place in Latin America. So the rest of us have to do it a lot more. And however we can, using whatever media that’s available to us. And it’s so important to spread this word, but I totally agree with you, it’s just not said very much in the United States. It is throughout Latin America, but not in the United States.

One of my favorite presidents is Rafael Correa, who has a PhD in economics from the University of Illinois and recently pushed through a new constitution which was supported in a referendum by roughly 75 percent of the population of Ecuador – the first constitution in the history of the world that gives unalienable rights to nature. And now Correa is looking to introduce a new currency in his country that will reflect the value of people who normally are outside the market economy – housewives, people taking care of children, subsistence farmers – so amazing things are happening there. And yet we don’t get information in the United States.
It’s very significant that today in the United States, every time you turn on the radio you hear about the BP oil spill in the Gulf, and yet you still don’t hear about the biggest environmental lawsuit in the history of the world: $27 billion dollars on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorians against Chevron. This is what Texaco, which Chevron now owns, did in Ecuador in the ’60s and ’70s, spilling, the last time I heard, roughly 400 times more toxic waste in the Amazon than BP has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico at this point. We don’t hear about that. We just don’t hear about these things and I think it’s a terrible travesty that we don’t. For The New York Times to claim that it has “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” is very ironic in this case, because they don’t print these kinds of things very much. So you and I have to keep pushing to get this information out there.

One last question on that thread: The transformation occurring in Latin America that you speak of with such respect and hope is founded on participatory democracy with some socialist economic features, or at least some steps in that direction. Chavez, in a recent interview with the BBC, said: “I … believed in a ‘third way,’ but it was all a farce. I thought it was possible to articulate … a capitalism with a human face, but I realized I was wrong. Democracy is impossible in a capitalist system … it’s the tyranny of the richest against the poorest. That’s why the only way to save the world is through a democratic socialism.” How do you compare this approach with your own? Your stance, if I portray it accurately, is that capitalism is not inherently the problem, but it must be fixed.

I think we’re playing with words, to a certain degree. What is capitalism? Capitalism has been around for about 400 years and it’s taken many different forms. Most recently, for most of my lifetime, as for most of Chavez’s lifetime, it’s taken the form of what I call predatory capitalism, which is based on some very faulty assumptions, the first assumption being that the only responsibility of business is to maximize profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs; and, number two, that they shouldn’t be regulated – that you should minimize all the rules and regulations around business because that gets in the way of making profit; and, number three, everything should be run by private business – let’s privatize everything, including the military, the schools, the jails, everything. Those three premises were really promoted by Milton Friedman, the economist from the Chicago School of Economics. They were embraced by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and just about every major president since then, Democratic and Republican alike in the United States, and presidents throughout the world. And they brought us to a terrible situation where all we can say is that this is a failure.

Less than 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States and consumes almost 30 percent of the world’s resources, while roughly half of the world lives in dire poverty, many people starving or on the verge of starving. That’s a failed system, it’s not a model; it can’t be replicated in Latin America or Africa or anywhere else. It’s a failure. But that doesn’t mean that capitalism in and of itself is a failure. It is, however, a question of definitions. I would rather define capitalism as being the use of capital, and capital includes mental capital; it includes creativity; it includes poetry and writing. Those are forms of capital. So in a way we’re playing with words here.

The fact of the matter is, we need to come up with a new system that takes care of the poorest of the poor. We are a species in evolution and I think nature is quite perfect in that nature puts species on this planet and throws tests in front of them and if they fail, they go extinct. And I think you can say that at this point, with our current predatory capitalistic system, we’re on the verge of extinction. We’re on the verge of failing. We’ve created a system that simply does not work. It’s not sustainable. By definition, if you’re a species that’s doing practices that are non-sustainable, you’re not going to survive. So we need to turn it around. And I don’t really care if we call it capitalism or xyz-ism. It doesn’t matter what we call it, but we need a system that will allocate the use of our resources in ways that help everybody, every living human being and, in fact, every sentient being.
We need to come up with a system that creates a just and peaceful world for all life on this planet. We simply must do that. And I think that some of the leaders in Latin America are headed in that direction and I don’t really care whether you call it democracy or capitalism, or social democracy or social capitalism, or whatever you call it; we just need to come up with a system, like the one I outlined in “Hoodwinked,” that will allow us to move forward into a world that my grandson will be happy to inherit and every child on this planet will be happy to inherit.

With regard to your account of the last military coup in Honduras, raising the minimum wage may have been the last straw for the internal elite, but you’ve also recognized the use of what happened to President Zelaya as a signal. Was the Obama administration showing that it is not afraid to get its hands dirty to “maintain credibility,” or was this a pet project of other actors at the State Department and the Pentagon acting on behalf of companies like Dole and Chiquita?

The coup was definitely acting on behalf of companies like Dole and Chiquita, Kraft, Russell Athletics, and all the other multinational corporations that are exploiting the people and resources of Honduras, no question. I think Obama’s in a very difficult situation, where Eric Holder, his attorney general, had been the chief attorney for Chiquita in Colombia and had very close ties, as did many other people in the Obama administration – very close ties to these companies. That’s part of the problem with the system: it’s this revolving door where people at the top of the government come out of these corporations and know that they’ll go back into the corporations later on. It’s a tremendous conflict of interest there.
And the other thing that we all need to be aware of is that any United States president – whether his name is Obama or Bush – whatever his name is, is in a very vulnerable position. These presidents know that they can be brought down very quickly if they do things that are not liked by the corporatocracy. Today there’s many ways to destroy a person. You don’t necessarily have to physically assassinate him – there’s character assassination. Bill Clinton experienced character assassination with the Monica Lewinsky deal. A guy like Obama has got to know the first day he’s in the White House that he’s in a very vulnerable position and his ability to do things that the corporatocracy doesn’t like is extremely limited. So regarding his position in Honduras, I don’t know what he personally would have liked to have done, but I suspect that if he had wanted to support Zelaya, he would’ve been in a very vulnerable and difficult situation.

In “Hoodwinked,” you state that the corporatocracy’s candidate did not win the 2008 presidential elections. Given what you’ve just said, and that Obama received more money from Wall Street than McCain, do you still agree with that statement? Doesn’t it just illustrate that both parties are equally indebted to different factions within the same corporatocracy?

I think the corporatocracy has a lot of control all along the line and although they might’ve preferred to see McCain win, when Obama began to establish himself as a popular candidate, they immediately stepped in and supported his campaign financially. So they were supporting both. Big money – Wall Street, big agribusinesses, many of the other big corporations – were supporting both candidates. So by the time Obama got elected, he may not have been the corporatocracy’s first choice, but they had a lot of leverage over him by then, through campaign financing, and, also, as soon as he gets into office, as I just said earlier, he was read the riot act, and he knows that they can take him down very easily. We’ve all got skeletons in our closet, of course Obama has skeletons in his closet; I don’t know what they are, but I’m sure he’s got them [laughs]. Who knows what’s there? [laughs] And actually, even if you don’t have skeletons in your closet, just rumors can bring a person down – whether they’re true or not, if they’re placed in the right places and repeated often enough. So by the time Obama became president, the corporatocracy was pretty comfortable that they would get their way with him on most cases.

Is Peace Corps as an institution still serving as a gateway for more economic hit men? What would you suggest for a volunteer approaching close of service who doesn’t want to serve the corporatocracy? Any career paths that you recommend, where one can earn a living wage while doing good, and also express her or his creativity?

Well, I was screened by the NSA [the National Security Agency] even before taking on the Peace Corps position. I learned a lot from Peace Corps, and that helped me see past the lies as an economic hit man because I had that experience of living and working with the people impacted by these programs, although it took a full ten years to manifest itself. I was lured in by an interest in seeing and living in Asia and Indonesia; my weaknesses and proclivity as a very young man for sex and wealth were exploited. I think my Peace Corps experience is probably what distinguished me from the rest of my economic hit man peers and provided the grounding to expose this system. I was in Ecuador when Texaco first began operations.
One of the benefits of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer is learning the language, and language influences, in a subtle way, how you think. I think somewhat differently in Spanish than I do in English, which expands my capacity to understand. I would tell volunteers to follow your heart. Follow your passion – it’s the only way you’re really going to be successful. Don’t sell out to the big corporations; money doesn’t buy happiness. If you do work for a big multinational, make a commitment to using your position as a platform to help that corporation become dedicated to serving the public interest, to creating a sustainable, just and peaceful world. Life experience and the gratification of doing good work are what’s important. Do what you love. If you want to write books, write books. If you like to paint, paint. If you become a lawyer, commit to using the law to protect the environment and downtrodden people. Or if journalism calls you, be a journalist who exposes the truth and strives to inspire others to fashion a compassionate world.

One of my concerns has been that many people take away the wrong lessons from Peace Corps – that development simply doesn’t work or that campesinos are just lazy. The Progressive Circle, which publishes Reclama is trying to open volunteers’ eyes to the structural and historicalcauses for the decisions and attitudes which prevail among the poor with whom we work. Do you have any suggestions for accomplishing this?

Wow. I’m not sure about this one. This is an issue that I’m devoting my life’s work to at this point. Talking with you, doing this interview, dedicating time to magazines like this, spreading the word and not blaming the victims of the system. I can’t imagine anyone spending two years in the Peace Corps, nearly three years in my case, coming away thinking that these people are lazy; these people are hungry, they have parasites, no good medical care, and yet they’re the hardest-working people I’ve ever seen in my life. It reminds me of the whole immigration issue – immigrants are the hardest working people in our society. I speak Spanish, and I talk with so many of them and I find that many of them don’t want to be here, they would rather be back in Guatemala or wherever with their families. They’re here because we destroyed their livelihoods with free trade agreements – NAFTA and CAFTA, for example.

For those of us living on the Dominican side of Hispaniola, the case of Haiti is never far from our minds. Even before the earthquake, that country probably had more development workers per capita than anywhere else in the world. Why has development work there and elsewhere been such a failure?

Well, Haiti is a country that we’ve exploited forever. I mean, [laughs] since Columbus arrived. The French exploited it, and it was one of the first countries to declare independence and the first to get rid of slavery in the hemisphere. The French then sued Haiti, saying that by getting rid of slaves, that it hurt the French economy. When the United States Marines went in there in the early 1900s, the cry was, “You gotta pay back the French for the money you owe them.” It goes way back in time, including money that’s owed them because you got rid of slavery. I mean, how awful is that?!
And there’s no question at this point in time – for anybody who seriously looks at this issue – that Jean-Bertrand Aristide was taken out by the CIA, and probably for the same reasons that Zelaya was taken out of Honduras, and that is because he was increasing the minimum wage. Haiti and Honduras set the bottom line for the minimum wage in this hemisphere, especially Haiti. No country in the Americas will allow itself to have a minimum wage below that of Haiti. And so, when the president of Haiti decides to increase the minimum wage, it doesn’t just impact Disney and the other companies that have sweatshops in Haiti. It potentially impacts every company that’s working in Latin America, because if Haiti actually increases its minimum wage, then it probably means that everybody else is going to have to increase their minimum wage just to stay that much more above Haiti. That’s the way it works.

So, Aristide was taken down because he strongly opposed the corporatocracy; he was trying to create something more egalitarian for his people. And there’s this long history. Sadly, I think a lot of the nonprofits – certainly not all of them, by any means – but a number of nonprofits working in Haiti are basically serving the interests of the corporatocracy, rather than the people of Haiti. Haiti is an example of a country that we know has a huge, long history of terrible corruption, but we have to take responsibility for being the people that have corrupted it and kept corrupt leaders in power. And when leaders try to step up to the plate to do something different, we in the United States take them down, and take them out one way or another. It has been consistent and consistent and consistent.

What are your thoughts about what happened to the humanitarian aid flotilla that Israel attacked in international waters, killing nine people?

Well, I can’t speak from any personal experience; having never been there, having never worked in Israel, I don’t know the circumstances. But I think it’s very much to the detriment of Israel, and everyone else, that Israel is taking such a hard stance against the Palestinians and other people. Certainly, what’s happened with this flotilla has created extremely bad press for Israel. Again, I don’t know the truth behind it or the circumstances, but it’s put Israel in a terrible, terrible light and I think Israel needs to try very hard to turn the situation around, to show much more compassion for the Palestinians, and other Arab people. Not just because it’s the morally and ethically correct thing to do, but because ultimately it will serve Israel’s future best. Israel right now is in a very, very vulnerable position and the world is outraged by what happened there. Again, I don’t know what happened there, but reading the press from around the world, there’s an outpouring of outrage against Israel which certainly can’t serve Israel’s long-term interests, or anyone else’s.

On that note, despite being out of the economic hit man game, you remain well informed. In the past you’ve criticized the corporate media, which includes almost everything the average person sees. Aside from Democracy Now!, which you have recommended before, what other sources do you suggest?

There’s tremendous sources. There’s the Internet. It’s hard to be terribly specific because, for example, I go onto a lot of Latin American media because I can read Spanish. Other people don’t have that option, but you can go to other English-speaking countries and look at what they’re doing online. There are so many sources available that I don’t like to promote any particular one very much. People have a tremendous number of options, I just think that we don’t need to rely on The New York Times and Fox [laughs] or The Washington Post anymore. All of those are very biased in favor of the corporatocracy. There’s so many alternatives and I think the Internet provides a great equalizer.

The hot spot in the so-called War on Drugs seems to have been transferred from Colombia to Mexico. This has made it easier to blame someone else for the problems our drug-user demand and prohibition program create since that country is our neighbor. A leaked report from the Mexican government identified 23,000 deaths in that country related to the narcotrafficking problem since the start of the crackdown in 2006 (no doubt initiated as a bargaining chip for immigration reform that Bush had promised Mexican President Vicente Fox). The powerful military-industrial complex obviously has a big stake in maintaining and expanding the drug war, but how can the American people put an end to this nightmare?

We have to put our foot down about this whole military-industrial-complex, the corporatocracy. We have to realize that we have to create a new economy in this country. And you’re absolutely right, I mean, so many of the drug wars around the world, whether it’s Colombia, Mexico or wherever, are driven by the fact that the corporatocracy makes a huge amount of money in sales of equipment. Colombia has been the number four recipient of US military aid in the world, following behind Egypt, Israel and Iraq. And I suspect that Afghanistan may have surpassed Colombia, but the drug war in Colombia has provided a tremendous source of revenue for big US corporations that are providing helicopters, planes and other military equipment. And now we’re doing it in Mexico.

In my opinion – and it’s just my opinion – the CIA is very, very deeply involved in drug trafficking. We know about the Iran-Contra deal, where very mysterious things were going on; we know about the Opium Wars that were started under the British Empire, in India and China. These countries have a history of using drugs as a way to finance clandestine activities. And for a long time, in Vietnam and throughout the Golden Triangle of Asia, the CIA was funneling funds from drug use into its own clandestine operations. We know this goes on. I’m sure it’s part of what’s happening in Colombia and Mexico now. Again, it’s a tremendous impetus for weapons suppliers and industries that support that. We have to remember that every time a missile is sold, or an AK-47 that’s made in the U.S. or any other military equipment made in the United States or sold by a multinational corporation, it isn’t just the manufacturer and distributor that make money, it’s insurance companies that support these corporations, healthcare service companies, it’s the banks, every one of these major military suppliers has a huge ripple effect on many other industries. And we, the people of the United States, must insist that we get out of this terrible dependency that we have on the military. In the last budget that the Obama administration presented, 25 percent of it was allocated to direct military expenditures. That doesn’t include Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s amazing that this is outside the budget. And it also doesn’t show these ancillary businesses that are supported by the military establishment. As I mentioned, the banks, the insurance companies, health servers, the pensions funds and so forth.

How were you able to morally justify the work you performed as an economic hit man to yourself?

I didn’t try to justify it morally at the time. At the time I thought it was the right thing because business school had taught me – as all business schools, the World Bank and everybody in the business promoted in those days – that by investing lots of money into infrastructure projects in developing countries, you could increase their economies – and in fact, the statistics showed that you did. You increased gross domestic product. But what the statistics didn’t show was that only a few people – a few wealthy families – really benefited. And the poor got poorer, and the gap between rich and poor got wider. And as I saw that over time, I kept thinking, well, I can be the exception. I’ll go in and do this and then I’ll expose the system and turn it around. Which in a way is what I’ve done. It took me a long time to get here. So at the time I kept convincing myself I was doing the right thing. In the process I was getting to see countries around the world, I was flying first-class, I was staying in the best hotels and eating at the best restaurants. I can’t justify what I did, but I can say that now, what I’m trying to do is everything I possibly can to turn it around.

I have a two-and-a-half-year-old grandson and I realize that he can’t inherit a sustainable, just, and peaceful world, unless every child – growing up in Botswana, Bolivia, Indonesia, every country on the planet – has that same opportunity. We live in a very tiny, interwoven global society today, and in order for any of our grandchildren to inherit a world that they will want to live in, we have to understand that every child has to inherit that world. We must understand that for us to have homeland security in the U.S. means that we must see that the planet is our homeland. This is not about protecting the U.S., it’s about protecting the planet. We’re all citizens of this planet and we must simply devote ourselves to doing that. I think my experiences in the Peace Corps and then later as an economic hit man helped me to really be clear on this and now I have to do everything I can for the rest of my life to promote that.

It’s been a tremendous pleasure. Thank you very much.

My pleasure. Keep up your great work. I really appreciate what you’re doing and my final comment to Peace Corps volunteers out there is: see the opportunities. We’re in revolutionary times. This is a time that’s more important than the American Revolution of the 1700s. This is a global revolution and it’s fun to be a part of it. The most gratifying, rewarding thing you can do is to create a better world for ourselves and future generations. Nothing is more fun, more rewarding, more satisfying than doing that, and I think the Peace Corps provides a tremendous launching pad for that kind of career.

¡Reclama! is a small, quarterly print publication produced in the Dominican Republic by the Progressive Circle, a loose, independent collective of activists concerned with critical analysis, social justice and universal human development. They can be reached at progcircle@gmail.com.

Will The US And China Be Locked In A Global Battle Over Oil?

In Uncategorized on September 21, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Oldspeak:”China has overtaken America to become the world’s number one energy consumer, a development that signals a massive global power shift. The fact that China is the world’s leading energy consumer is bound to radically alter its global policies, just as energy predominance once did America’s.  No doubt this will, in turn, alter the course of Sino-American relations, not to speak of world affairs.  With the American experience in mind, what can we expect from China?”

From Michael T. Klare @ Tomsdispatch:

If you want to know which way the global wind is blowing (or the sun shining or the coal burning), watch China.  That’s the news for our energy future and for the future of great-power politics on planet Earth. Washington is already watching — with anxiety.

Rarely has a simple press interview said more about the global power shifts taking place in our world.  On July 20th, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Fatih Birol, told the Wall Street Journal that China had overtaken the United States to become the world’s number one energy consumer.  One can read this development in many ways: as evidence of China’s continuing industrial prowess, of the lingering recession in the United States, of the growing popularity of automobiles in China, even of America’s superior energy efficiency as compared to that of China.  All of these observations are valid, but all miss the main point: by becoming the world’s leading energy consumer, China will also become an ever more dominant international actor and so set the pace in shaping our global future.

Because energy is tied to so many aspects of the global economy, and because doubts are growing about the future availability of oil and other vital fuels, the decisions China makes regarding its energy portfolio will have far-reaching consequences.  As the leading player in the global energy market, China will significantly determine not only the prices we will be paying for critical fuels but also the type of energy systems we will come to rely on.  More importantly, China’s decisions on energy preferences will largely determine whether China and the United States can avoid becoming embroiled in a global struggle over imported oil and whether the world will escape catastrophic climate change.

How to Rise to Global Preeminence

You can’t really appreciate the significance of China’s newfound energy prominence if you don’t first grasp the role of energy in America’s rise to global preeminence.

That the northeastern region of the young United States was richly endowed with waterpower and coal deposits was critical to the country’s early industrialization as well as to the North’s eventual victory in the Civil War.  It was the discovery of oil in western Pennsylvania in 1859, however, that would turn the U.S. into the decisive actor on the global stage.  Oil extraction and exports fueled American prosperity in the early twentieth century — a time when the country was the planet’s leading producer — while nurturing the rise of its giant corporations.

It should never be forgotten that the world’s first great transnational corporation — John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company — was founded on the exploitation and export of American petroleum.  Anti-trust legislation would break up Standard Oil in 1911, but two of its largest descendants, Standard Oil of New York and Standard Oil of New Jersey, were later fused into what is now the world’s wealthiest publicly traded enterprise,ExxonMobil.  Another descendant, Standard Oil of California, became Chevron — today, the third richest American corporation.

Oil also played a key role in the rise of the United States as the world’s preeminent military power.  This country supplied most of the oil consumed by Allied forces in both World War I and World War II.  Among the great powers of the time, the U.S. alone was self-sufficient in oil, which meant it could deploy massive armies to Europe and Asia and overpower the well-equipped (but oil-starved) German and Japanese militaries.  Few realize this today, but for the architects of America’s victory in the Second World War, including President Roosevelt, it was the nation’s superior endowment of petroleum, not the atom bomb, that proved decisive.

Having created an economy and military establishment based on oil, American leaders were compelled to employ ever more costly and desperate measures to ensure that both always had an adequate supply of energy.  After World War II, with domestic reserves already beginning to shrink, a succession of presidents fashioned a global strategy based on ensuring American access to overseas petroleum.

As a start, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf kingdoms were chosen to serve as overseas “filling stations” for U.S. refiners and military forces.  American oil companies, especially the descendants of Standard Oil, were aided and abetted in establishing a major presence in these countries.  To a considerable extent, in fact, the great postwar strategic pronouncements — the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, the Nixon Doctrine, and especially the Carter Doctrine — were all tied to the protection of these “filling stations.”

Today, too, oil plays a critical role in Washington’s global plans and actions.  The Department of State, for example, still maintains an elaborate, costly, and deeply entrenched military capability in the Persian Gulf to ensure the “safety” and “security” of oil exports from the region.  It has also extended its military reach to such key oil-producing regions as the Caspian Sea basin and western Africa.  The need to retain friendly ties and military relationships with key suppliers like Kuwait, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia continues to dominate U.S. foreign policy.  Similarly, in a globally warming world, a growing American interest in the melting Arctic is being propelled by a desire to exploit the polar region’s untapped hydrocarbon reserves.

Planet Coal?

The fact that China has now overtaken the United States as the world’s leading energy consumer is bound to radically alter its global policies, just as energy predominance once did America’s.  No doubt this will, in turn, alter the course of Sino-American relations, not to speak of world affairs.  With the American experience in mind, what can we expect from China?

As a start, no one reading newspaper business pages could have any doubt that Chinese leaders view energy as a — possibly the — major concern of the country and have been devoting substantial resources and planning to the procurement of adequate future supplies.  In addressing this task, Chinese leaders face two fundamental challenges: securing sufficient energy to meet ever-rising demand and deciding which fuels to rely on in satisfying these requirements.  How China responds to these challenges will have striking implications on the global stage.

According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), Chinese energy consumption will grow by 133% between 2007 and 2035 — from, that is, 78 to 182 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs).  Think about it this way: the 104 quadrillion BTUs that China will somehow have to add to its energy supply over the next quarter-century equals the total energy consumption of Europe and the Middle East in 2007.  Finding and funneling so much oil, natural gas, and other fuels to China is undoubtedly going to be the single greatest economic and industrial challenge facing Beijing — and in that challenge lays the possibility of real friction and conflict.

Although most of the country’s energy funds are still expended domestically, what it spends on imported fuels (oil, coal, natural gas, and uranium) and energy equipment (oil refineries, power plants, and nuclear reactors) will significantly determine the global price of these items — a role that, until now, has been largely filled by the United States.  More important, however, will be the decisions China makes about the types of energy it will come to rely on.

If Chinese leaders were to follow their natural inclinations, they would undoubtedly avoid relying on imported fuels altogether, given how vulnerable foreign-energy dependence can make a country to overseas supply disruptions or, in China’s case, a possible U.S. naval blockade (in the event, say, of a prolonged conflict over Taiwan).  Li Junfeng, a senior Chinese energy official, was recently quoted as saying, “Energy supply should be where you can plant your foot on it” — that is, from domestic sources.

China does possess one kind of fuel in abundance: coal.  According to the most recent DoE projections, coal will make up an estimated 62% of China’s net energy supply in 2035, only slightly less than at present.  A heavy reliance on coal, however, will exacerbate the country’s environmental problems, dragging down its economy as health-care costs mount.  In addition, thanks to coal, China is now the world’s leading emitter of climate-altering carbon dioxide.  According to the DoE, China’s share of global carbon-dioxide emissions will jump from 19.6% in 2005, when it barely trailed the U.S. at 21.1%, to 31.4% in 2035, when it will tower over all other countries in net emissions.

As long as Beijing refuses to significantly reduce its reliance on coal, ignore its rhetoric on global-warming negotiations.  It simply won’t be able to take truly meaningful steps to address climate change.  In this way, too, it will alter the face of the planet.

Recently, the country’s leaders seem to have become far more sensitive to the risks of excessive reliance on coal.  Massive emphasis is now being placed on the development of renewable energy systems, especially wind and solar power.  Already, China has become the world’s leading producer of wind turbines and solar panels, and has already begun exporting its technology to the United States.  (Some economists and labor unions, in fact, claim that China is unfairly subsidizing its renewable-energy exports in violation of World Trade Organization rules.)

China’s growing emphasis on renewable energy would be good news, if it resulted in substantial reductions in coal use.  At the same time, the country’s drive to excel at these techniques could push it into the forefront of a technological revolution, just as early American dominance of petroleum technology propelled it to the front ranks of world powers in the twentieth century.  If the United States fails to keep pace, it could find the pace of its decline as a world power quickening.

Whose Saudis Are They?

China’s thirst for added energy could also lead quickly enough to friction and conflict with the United States, especially in the global competition for increasingly scarce supplies of imported petroleum.  As its energy use ramps ever upward, China is using more oil, which can only lead to greater political economic, political, and someday possibly even military involvement in the oil-producing regions — areas long viewed in Washington as constituting America’s private offshore energy preserves.

As recently as 1995, China only consumed about 3.4 million barrels of oil per day — one-fifth the amount used by the United States, the world’s top consumer, and two-thirds of the amount burned by Japan, then number two.  Since China pumped 2.9 million barrels per day from its domestic fields that year, its import burden was a mere 500,000 barrels per day at a time when the U.S. imported 9.4 million barrels and Japan 5.3 million barrels.

By 2009, China was in the number-two spot at 8.6 million barrels per day, which still fell far below America’s 18.7 million barrels.  At 3.8 million barrels per day, however, domestic production wasn’t keeping pace — the very problem the U.S. had faced in the Cold War era.  China was already importing 4.8 million barrels per day, far more than Japan (which had actually reduced its reliance on oil) and nearly half as much as the United States.  In the decades to come, these numbers are guaranteed only to get worse.

According to the DoE, China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s leading oil importer, at an estimated 10.6 million barrels per day, sometime around 2030.  (Some experts believe this shift could occur far sooner.)  Whatever the year, China’s leaders are already enmeshed in the same power “predicament” long faced by their American counterparts, dependent as they are on a vital substance that can only be acquired from a handful of unreliable producers in areas of chronic crisis and conflict.

At present, China obtains most of its imported oil from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Angola, Oman, Sudan, Kuwait, Russia, Kazakhstan, Libya, and Venezuela.  Eager to ensure the reliability of the oil flow from these countries, Beijing has established close ties with their leaders, in some cases providing them with significant economic and military assistance.  This is exactly the path once taken by Washington — and with some of the same countries.

China’s state-controlled energy firms have also forged “strategic partnerships” with counterpart enterprises in these countries and in some cases acquired the right to develop major oil deposits as well.  Especially striking has been the way Beijing has sought to undercut U.S. influence in Saudi Arabia and with other crucial Persian Gulf oil producers.  In 2009, China imported more Saudi oil than the U.S. for the first time, a geopolitical shift of great significance, given the history of U.S.-Saudi relations.  Although not competing with Washington when it comes to military aid, Beijing has been dispatching its top leaders to woo Riyadh, promising to support Saudi aspirations without employing the human rights or pro-democracy rhetoric usually associated with American foreign policy.

Much of this should sound exceedingly familiar.  After all, the United States once wooed the Saudis in a similar way when Washington first began viewing the kingdom as its overseas filling station and turned it into an unofficial military protectorate.  In 1945, while World War II still raged, President Roosevelt made a special trip to meet with King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and establish a protection-for-oil arrangement that persists to this day.  Not surprisingly, American leaders don’t see (or care to recognize) the analogy; instead, top officials look askance at the way China is poaching on U.S. turf in Saudi Arabia and other petro-states, portraying such moves as antagonistic.

As China’s reliance on these overseas suppliers grows, it is likely to bolster its ties with their leaders, producing further strains in the international political environment.  Already, Beijing’s reluctance to jeopardize its vital energy links with Iran has frustrated U.S. efforts to impose tough new economic sanctions on that country as a way of forcing it to abandon its uranium-enrichment activities.  Likewise, China’s recent loan of $20 billion to the Venezuelan oil industry has boosted the status of President Hugo Chávez at a time when his domestic popularity, and so his ability to counter U.S. policies, was slipping.  The Chinese have also retained friendly ties with President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir of Sudan, despite U.S. efforts to paint him as an international pariah because of his alleged role in overseeing the massacres in Darfur.

Arms-for-Oil Diplomacy on a Dangerous Planet

Already, China’s efforts to bolster its ties with its foreign-oil providers have produced geopolitical friction with the United States.  There is a risk of far more serious Sino-American conflict as we enter the “tough oil” era and the world supply of easily accessible petroleum rapidly shrinks.  According to the DoE, the global supply of oil and other petroleum liquids in 2035 will be 110.6 million barrels per day – precisely enough to meet anticipated world demand at that time.  Many oil geologists believe, however, that global oil output will reach a peak level of output well below 100 million barrels per day by 2015, and begin declining after that.  In addition, the oil that remains will increasingly be found in difficult places to reach or in highly unstable regions.  If these predictions prove accurate, the United States and China — the world’s two leading oil importers — could become trapped in a zero-sum great-power contest for access to diminishing supplies of exportable petroleum.

What will happen under these circumstances is, of course, impossible to predict, especially since the potential for conflict abounds.  If both countries continue on their current path — arming favored suppliers in a desperate bid to secure long-term advantage — the heavily armed petro-states may also become ever more fearful of, or covetous of, their (equally well-equipped) neighbors.  With both the U.S. and China deploying growing numbers ofmilitary advisers and instructors to such countries, the stage could be set for mutual involvement in local wars and border conflicts.  Neither Beijing nor Washington may seek such involvement, but the logic of arms-for-oil diplomacy makes this an unavoidable risk.

It is not hard, then, to picture a future moment when the United States and China are locked in a global struggle over the world’s remaining supplies of oil.  Indeed, many in official Washington believe that such a collision is nearly inevitable.  “China’s near-term focus on preparing for contingencies in the Taiwan Strait… is an important driver of its [military] modernization,” the Department of Defense noted in the 2008 edition of its annual report, The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China.  “However, analysis of China’s military acquisitions and strategic thinking suggests Beijing is also developing capabilities for use in other contingencies, such as a conflict over resources…”

Conflict over planetary oil reserves is not, however, the only path that China’s new energy status could open.  It is possible to imagine a future in which China and the United States cooperate in pursuing oil alternatives that would obviate the need to funnel massive sums into naval and military arms races.  President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, seemed to glimpse such a possibility when they agreed last November, during an economic summit in Beijing, to collaborate in the development of alternative fuels and transportation systems.

At this point, only one thing is clear: the greater China’s reliance on imported petroleum, the greater the risk of friction and conflict with the United States, which relies on the same increasingly problematic suppliers of energy.  The greater its reliance on coal, the less comfortable our planet will become.  The greater its emphasis on alternative fuels, the more likely it may make the twenty-first century China’s domain.  At this point, how China will apportion its energy needs among the various candidate fuels remains unknown.  Whatever its choices, however, China’s energy decisions will shake the world.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet.

The Politics Of Terror: Why The Ubiquitous “War on Terror” Is The Greatest Covert Operation Ever Conceived.

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2010 at 9:50 am

Oldspeak: “Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. In almost every act of our lives whether in the sphere of politics or business in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.” – Edward Bernays, 1928

From Douglas Valentine @ Consortium News:

Editor’s Note: The following commentary is drawn from a speech delivered by Douglas Valentine at a peace conference last week:

The politics of terror are the greatest covert operation ever.

In explaining why, I’ll begin by defining some terms, because, when discussing the covert op called “the politics of terror,” words and their management are all important.

How are politics and terror actually defined: how are these meanings manipulated; for what purposes, and by whom?

Terrorism is defined as “violence against civilians intended to obtain a political purpose.”

This is an ambiguous phrase, which begs the questions: what are politics and violence?

Politics is defined as “the process by which groups of people make collective decisions.” And violence in this context is the use of force to compel a person or group to do or think something against their will. That includes the violence of words – of threatening to hurt – and of social structures, as well as the violence of deeds.

So, by definition, terrorism is political violence – hurting people, or threatening to hurt them, in order to make them govern themselves (or acquiesce to an external force) against their will.

In America, terrorism is always condemned by the government, and, accordingly, America is never a perpetrator of terrorism, but always the victims of it.

The U.S. war on terror is the ultimate expression of this principle: it is a military response to terrorism; violence in self-defense, not (ostensibly) violence for a political purpose.

That’s the official story – the assumption. But I’m going to show that America does engage in terrorism – violence against civilians for political purposes. This “state” terrorism, however, is covert, in so far as it is equated with national security, and thanks to that built-in ambiguity, it has both stated and unstated purpose.

The State and Unstated Policy in America

Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. But who really makes the overarching political decisions in America? Who governs us?

The two political parties represent the people and they compete for control of the government. Historically, Republicans have generally favored business and Democrats have favored labor. The political division is, generally, class based.

Now, the government can be controlled by either political party; but the state endures –  “the state” being the nation’s indispensable industries and infrastructure (banking, auto industry, insurance, Microsoft), and the institutions which defend the nation’s enduring interests: the military, law enforcement, the intelligence and security services.

In Europe they often, cynically, refer to the state as “industry” or Big Business. In America we tend to call “the state” the Establishment – an ambiguous word that needs to be defined.

The dictionary defines Establishment as, “An exclusive group of powerful people who rule a government or society by means of private agreements and decisions.”

I would venture to say that the interests of the state and the Establishment are the same, and that the definition of Establishment with a capital E is the pivotal phrase in discussing “state” terrorism.
Consider this: there is the politics of the two parties vying for control of the government, and there is the Establishment, the state, making the covert (ostensibly non-political) decisions that effectively govern America.

Many of those covert decisions concern national security: they are unstated policy.

Moreover, these covert policy decisions about national security are made by people who control the military, law enforcement, and intelligence and security services. These guardians of “the state” are collectively called the National Security Establishment.

Like the Establishment that secretly rules the “state,” the National Security Establishment is an exclusive group that is not accountable to the political whims of the people.

These professional guardians of the state – the Establishment – are assumed to be above partisan politics. Their loyalty is assumed to be to the law or national security. And that assumption is the Big Lie upon which state terrorism is based.

Yes, it is true that the National Security Establishment is not accountable to the people: and, in fact, it has built a series of ever-larger, concentric moats around itself called the National Security State, precisely to keep the people out of its business.

The National Security Establishment rules the National Security State, with an iron fist, but it is pure propaganda that the National Security Establishment and State are not political.

In order to get inside the National Security Establishment, and rise to a position of authority within it, one must be born there (like Bush or make billions like Bill Gates), or submit to years of right-wing political indoctrination calibrated to a series of increasingly restrictive security clearances.

Political indoctrination – adopting the correct right-wing ideology – and security clearances represent the drawbridge across the moats.

The National Security State is the covert social structure of the Establishment, and it has as its job not just defending the Establishment from foreign enemies, but also expanding the Establishment’s economic and military influence abroad, while preserving its class prerogatives at home.

By “class prerogatives,” I mean the National Security State is designed to keep the lower class from exerting any political control over the state; especially, redistributing the Establishment’s private wealth.

To these unstated ends – imperialism abroad and repression at home – the National Security State engages in terrorism – i.e. political violence – on behalf of the Establishment.

Indeed, the National Security State is political violence, terrorism, in its purest form.

The Establishment and its National Security State as Terrorism

The lower classes in America have little voice in making government or state policy. Some members of the lower classes have given up hope, others are content: but in either case, voter turnout is a mere 54 percent.

Whether hopeless or content, they know they cannot fight conventional thinking. For example, when the Establishment exerts its influence, it is not considered politics; it is simply the status quo. The rich create jobs and must be accommodated with trillion-dollar bailouts, paid for by workers taking furloughs.

That’s just the way it is. Politicians in the service of the Establishment, for over-arching reasons of national security, have to keep the capitalist financial system afloat.

It is the same thing with the National Security Establishment: America invaded Iraq, and there was nothing the people could do about it. The decision was made for them. Peace activists, least of all, had no voice in the decision, because they are assumed to have no stake in national security.

You will not find peace activists in the National Security Establishment; and that political repression is part of covert state terrorism.

Likewise, if labor seeks to exercise influence, its efforts are described as exploiting the state for more than it deserves, because it does not have an enduring stake in the state.

It is a fact: only Establishment wealth – ownership – is equated with national security.

Consider the immortal words of Leona Helmsley: “Only the little people pay taxes.”

That injustice in the tax code is political repression and, in so far as it makes the people fearful, it is state terrorism. The Establishment fears losing its loopholes, while workers and the poor fear losing their homes: two types of fear, one for each class, one stated, one unstated.

The Establishment engages imperialism and political repression through propaganda (word management violence) and social structures. This state terrorism also is unstated, covert.

Only when the people rebel and challenge the Establishment is the word terrorism applied.

Likewise, the military, police or intelligence actions that provoke rebellion, or the responses to rebellion, are never called terrorism: they are national security.

And that’s how the management of words helps to repress the lower classes.

Language and the Psychology of State Terror

America’s industrial-sized war machine was never said to terrorize Iraq; the invasion was not political because the war machine is owned by the Establishment.

The Establishment profiting from war is not politics; it is ideological neutral “profits.”

In fact, America exerts its unwanted political influence overseas, through the state terror of aircraft carrier fleets, bombers, nuclear subs, shock and awe invasions, pacification programs, the overthrow of governments, and support of repressive puppet regimes.

This state terrorism, which you never hear about, is the biggest covert psychological warfare operation of all time.

This psywar operation depends on narrowly defining terrorism as a suicide bomber, a hijacked plane, the decapitated body of a collaborator: the “selective terrorism” of rebels and nationalists who, outgunned and outlawed in their own country, have no other options, other than submission.

The purpose of this “selective terrorism” by rebels is psychological: to isolate collaborators, while demonstrating to the people the ability of the rebels to strike at their oppressors. Brutal pacification cam paigns – state terrorism – prevent people from making a living. Selective terrorism does not.

That’s a big, meaningful “class” difference.

The National Security Establishment understands that selective terror achieves political and psychological goals that state terror does not – that it rallies people to revolutionary ideals.  So the National Security Establishment engages in selective terror, too, by targeting the rebel, his family and friends in their homes.

This is the selective terror con ducted by counter-terrorists. But don’t be confused: it is terrorism. All terrorism is psychological and political; state terror seeks to immobilize people and make them submissive, apathetic and/or ostensibly “content.”

The National Security Establishment fully understands that once people have been terrorized, they have been politically defeated, without necessarily receiving bullets.

As former Director of Central Intelligence William Colby once said: “The implication or latent threat of terror was sufficient to insure that the people would comply.”

This principle of the psychological use of “the implication or latent threat of terror” is what brings us back to America and the business of terror.

The Business of Terror

State terror – colonization abroad and political repression at home – is a key means of extracting profits and maintaining ownership of property. Ask the American Indian.

In its colonies abroad, the U.S. engages in state terrorism by removing all legal protections for rebels; detention, torture, and summary execution are the price for rebellion against U.S. policy.

State terrorism overseas, imperialism, is never acknowledged by the U.S. media, because the media is a big business closely affiliated with the National Security Establishment; indeed, two of the major networks are owned by defense contractors.

And state terrorism applied domestically to ensure “internal” security is never acknowledged. But the National Security State is well thought out, by professionals in language management, and political and psychological warfare, aimed at you.

“Personal violence is for the amateur in dominance,” says Johan Galtung, a founder of the disciipline of peace and conflict studies. But he adds “structural violence is the tool of the professional. The amateur who wants to dominate uses guns; the professional uses social structure. The legal criminality of the social system and its institutions, of government…is tacit violence. Structural violence is a structure of exploitation and social injustice.”

As Colby said:The implication or latent threat is enough to insure people will comply.”

The war on terror and its domestic version “homeland security” are the law of the land – America’s new legally criminal social structure based on administrative detention, enshrined in The Patriot Act and a number of executive orders, some secret.

This lack of due process comes on top of a justice system already skewed to protect the propertied elite and pack the prisons with the poor, through “structural violence,” mainly the drug wars.

The Establishment’s new anti-terror and anti-drug laws make the National Security State the most fearsome covert political and psywar machine the world has ever seen. And the National Security State is growing: the “Top Secret America” series in the Washington Post put it at 750,000 cadres.

This secret state within a state extends into the homeland’s critical infrastructure and beyond. For example, the arms industry provides good jobs, making American imperial aggression seem a positive value.

And this is how the psyched-out people become one of the moats.

As it is modeled on the totalitarian corporate paradigm, the National Security State in all its manifestations fits the classic definition of a fascist dictatorship. And we know what its intentions are. They have been stated.

In the days after 9/11, right-wing Republican stalwart Kenneth W. Starr, the Clinton inquisitor, said the danger of terrorism requires “deference to the judgments of the political branches with respect to matters of national security.”

But is there an on-going emergency that requires deference to the political branches, meaning the right-wing ideologues who rule the National Security State? And what does it mean for Establishment opponents if due process is completely abandoned at home, and subjected to politics?

Michael Ledeen, a former counter-terror expert on Reagan’s National Security Council, blamed 9/11 on President Bill Clinton “for failing to properly organize our nation’s security apparatus.”

Ledeen’s solution to the problem of those who sneered at security was “to stamp out” the “corrupt habits of mind.” By which he means Liberalism.

In other words, the reactionary right-wing that owns the National Security State wants to impose its total rule on the people in order to create a security conscious, uniform citizenry – marching in lock step, flags waving – that is necessary to win the war on terror.

This is how the National Security professionals are incrementally creating the requisite fascist social structure – through terror, the best organizing principle ever.

“This is time for the old motto, ‘kill them all, let God sort ’em out.’ New times require new people with new standards,” Ledeen asserted. “The entire political world will understand it and applaud it. And it will give us a chance to prevail.”

When Ledeen says “political” world he means the “owners of the business” of state terror, the right-wing ideologues who pack the National Security State and the capitalist Establishment they serve.

And they have won the propaganda war, folks.

Douglas Valentine is author of The Phoenix Program, which is available through Amazon, as well as The Strength of the Wolf and the new book Strength of the Pack. His Web sites arehttp://www.douglasvalentine.com/index.htmlhttp://www.members.authorsguild.net/valentine/,  and http://trineday.com/paypal_store/product_pages/Strength_of_the_Pack.html

U.S.A. A Failed State? It May Be Closer Than You Think

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2010 at 3:12 pm
Oldspeak:” Everything is a version of something else…”
From Paul Wallis @ Digital Journal:
There’s only one common factor in the failure of great nations: Mismanagement. The USA is heading down a well traveled road to its own Armageddon. Rome, China, Russia, the British Empire and others have all been there before.
The Caligula- like state of the US as a corporate entity is hardly a secret. Caligula made his horse a god, the US media has made dis-informative demagogues gods. Any factually inaccurate piece of information has a fairly good chance of becoming accepted as gospel truth in this environment.
The political environment is utterly incapable of governance without melodrama. The GOP doesn’t listen, and the Democrats apparently don’t learn. The ultra-constipated movement of legislation regularly brings actual government to an actual standstill, it just carries on by inertia until someone condescends to pass an appropriation.
Economically the nation’s a disaster area, and the only notable growth in employment is for press release writers who don’t particularly care what they write or why they write it.
This could be considered a continuation of the Civil War by other means. This time, however, the enemy is the public. “They the people” have no effective means of fighting back, and the slaves are now bonded to cheapskate salaries which have created a class of Working Poor which never really existed except in the absolute bottom minimum wage jobs before about 1980. The public has been politically neutered.
Nothing gets done well. Wars, budgets, policies, whatever, they all stagger along in a dysfunctional daze until some new crisis emerges. This is exactly the same story as many fallen civilizations.
The rule the Romans could have taught the US is simple: “Don’t go broke.” Economic chaos was more common than not in the Roman Empire, and the disasters multiplied as the financial tangles and lack of money progressively beggared everything but the military. Ultimately, the military auctioned off the job of Emperor to somebody, decided they didn’t like him, and killed him, before another succession of emperors killed off the Western Roman Empire and an entirely different civilization emerged in the east.
The Chinese could have taught the US another basic lesson: “Insularity destroys countries.” The Chinese went from being the most advanced nation on Earth to a primitive, closed society incapable of dealing with Western and Japanese expansion. That wasn’t ancient China, by the way. It was the story of China up to 1911. Nearly a half a century of unrestrained bloodbaths did the rest.
The Russians can provide a lesson that “A monomaniacal approach to spending is fatal.” The crash of the Soviet Union was a hideous event inside Russia, resulting in the life expectancy dropping by a few decades for a while. The end result was a totally different nation, much amended geographically and politically.
The British Empire has another lesson: “However big you are, ignorance and hidebound policies will wipe you out.” A few wars, a lot of social and economic mismanagement, and where’s the British Empire?
Poland could have taught the US a thing about politics: “Politics and sleaze are the same things”. In the 18th century, 100% vote was required to pass legislation. The result was a roaring trade in vote buying, national poverty and the country was absorbed by Prussia and Russia.
The US, through a truly insane, self-inflicted mix of these factors, has managed to achieve a condition which would have been unthinkable a generation ago. A complete misconception of itself has helped a lot. The US is a super power, not because of its nukes, but because of its economic clout. That clout has been reduced to a paper fan by the recession, unprecedented loss of real capital, and the shutdown of America’s truly global range secret weapon, credit, now well and truly disarmed by its own operators. Trade, internal and external, is now a twitching mess of signals, with all indicators looking every way but up.
The social results are well known. Crime, media pandering to privileged nutcases and politics are now the only real growth industries. The basics of Middle America have been falling to pieces. Home ownership, health, education, welfare, you name it. The state economies are deficit-riddled disaster areas. The Midwest has been gutted. Michigan was in deep recession long before the crash. Jobs which generate domestic capital were long ago exterminated by outsourcing. California has been battling its budget for decades. The South is a “job free zone”, made worse by the recession. The West? What West? There’s a West?

And the result so far?

What’s most fascinating about this train wreck is the aura of respectability so many people who’ve contributed to it seem to think they have. Duly elected ignoramuses claiming they know a damn thing about running a hot dog stand. Arguably the most gutless, talentless, and notably very unelected collection of people in history providing a Rent A Mob Rule effect in the media. A collection of naïve, absolutely powerless dupes like the Tea Party somehow deciding they’ve figured out what’s wrong with everything and can fix it with slogans.
The Tea Party could rename itself the Tea Towel, because that’s how much actual influence they have. They’re free publicity for political interests, have no power base, no capital, no direct enabling connections and no way of influencing anything that doesn’t want to be influenced. They’re also paying very large amounts of money for the privilege.
On the Liberal side, “Hunker Down” has replaced “Yes We Can”. Once again, idealism is supposed to educate, house, tend to the sick and employ people, and create a future out of rhetoric.
Wanna bet?
The great immovable sewer blockage which is modern Washington is hardly the best tool for actual achievement. Its contribution to date over what feels like centuries of bipolar girlish tantrums is self delusion. Nothing, a round and jolly zero, has been done to de-clog the thing. Legislation is one thing, working methods are another, and facts don’t seem to agree with either of them. Ideology has gone from a revolutionary principle to an excuse. This lesson seems never to be learned.
It doesn’t matter how sincere you may be, how talented, or how pragmatic. What matters is what’s achieved. The US needs to get its head out of its backside and start working on real achievements. If liberal progressives want to claim any sort of achievement, that’s where to start. Find the methods, and stop tinkering with a machine which no longer works, or even pretends to work.

The definition of a failed state is “Can’t get anything done and things keep getting worse”. How close is that, would you say?