Saturday, December 20, 2008
Even while the ruling class deviates from the neoliberal orthodoxy in monetary and fiscal policies, lowering interest rates, monetizing debt, and creating temporary jobs and extending temporary benefits in an attempt to stimulate the economy, it continues to push to structurally transform labor in its neoliberal image (the strongest weapon of neoliberalism is its ability to pit the workers in the primary labor market -- the public sector and oligopolistic industries -- against workers who are excluded from it to begin with, weakening the former even while extending thin new benefits to the latter to maintain the neoliberal hegemonic bloc, at which Brazil's Lula and Turkey's AKP for instance are expert). That is what the ruling class did to workers in Japan, increasing poverty and aggravating inequality.
Needless to say, making labor more precarious is a recipe for prolonging rather than exiting deflationary stagnation, no matter how much fiscal and monetary stimuli the government applies at the same time. The crisis doesn't automatically bring an end to neoliberalism. It's up to the working class to end it, or else the economy won't even recover.
Friday, December 19, 2008
We, the undersigned, view the circumstances surrounding the Iranian authorities' arrest of Hossein Derakhshan aka Hoder, one of the most prominent Iranian bloggers, as extremely worrying. Derakhshan's disappearance, detention at an unknown location, lack of access to his family and attorneys, and the authorities' failure to provide clear information about his potential charges is a source of concern for us.
The Iranian blogging community is one of the largest and most vibrant in the world. From ordinary citizens to the President, a diverse and large number of Iranians are engaged in blogging. These bloggers encompass a wide spectrum of views and perspectives, and they play a vital role in open discussions of social, cultural and political affairs.
Unfortunately, in recent years, numerous websites and blogs have been routinely blocked by the authorities, and some bloggers have been harassed or detained. Derakhshan's detention is but the latest episode in this ongoing saga and is being viewed as an attempt to silence and intimidate the blogging community as a whole.
Derakhshan's own position regarding a number of prisoners of conscience in Iran has been a source of contention among the blogging community and has caused many to distance themselves from him. This, however, doesn't change the fact that the freedom of expression is sacred for all not just the ones with whom we agree.
We therefore categorically condemn the circumstances surrounding Derakhshan's arrest and detention and demand his immediate release.
Signed, in alphabetical order:
Hossein Bagher Zadeh
This statement first appeared in Pedram Moallemian's blog Eyeranian.net on 18 December 2008. The links to the text of the statement are added for informational purposes.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
As the POTUS spoke nonsense into the void,
His final insult to Iraqis unfurled,
There the embattled journalist stood,
And fired the shoes heard round the world.
Muntadar al-Zeidi's shoes are the Lexington and Concord of creative anti-imperialist resistance in the age of YouTube.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
- "One critical but often overlooked explanation for China's manufacturing competitiveness is that approximately 70% of manufacturing work is done by migrants. Over the last 25 years, some 150-200 million Chinese have moved from the countryside to urban areas in search of employment. Although the great majority of these migrant workers have moved legally, they suffer enormous discrimination. For example, because they remain classified as rural residents under the Chinese registration system, not only must they pay steep fees to register as temporary urban residents, they also have no rights to the public services available to urban born residents (including free or subsidized education, health care, housing and pensions). The same is true for their children, even if they are born in an urban area."
- "Chinese wages as a share of GDP have fallen from approximately 53% of Gross Domestic Product in 1992 to less than 40% in 2006. Private consumption as a percent of GDP has also declined, falling from approximately 47% to 36% over the same period."
- ". . . [T]he region's export/GDP ratio grew from 24% in 1980 to 55% in 2005. By comparison, the world average in 2005 was only 28.5%."
- Between 1992-3 and 2004-5, the East Asian share of China's final goods exports declined from 49.5% to 26.5%, while the OECD share (excluding Japan and Korea) increased from 29.3% to 50.1%.
- According to various estimates cited by the Asian Development Bank, it appears that the percentage of Asian exports consumed within Asia ranges from a high of 22% to a low of only 11%.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
* In contrast, "Financial Crisis Leaves Iran Untouched" (Al Jazeera, 8 Oct 2008):
See, also, "Iran and the Financial Crisis" (Al Alam TV, 7 October 2008):
Friday, October 17, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
It's true that, if China, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and the United States functioned as one politically (if not legally) coherent establishment, Americans would be back in the black:
Global Balance of Payments ($bn, 2007)
SOURCE: Martin Wolf, "Asia's Revenge," Financial Times, 9 October 2008, p. 9.
Therefore, a radical shift in global class relations could come only if there were a radical shift in any one of the aforementioned countries, but these are the very ones where the Left has the least chance in the world.
Is China, though, a weak or strong link in this chain of empire (to which Latin socialists, Islamists from the Hindu Kush to the Persian Gulf to the Horn of Africa to the Niger Delta, Maoists in Nepal and India, the national security interests of Russia, etc. have provided a partial material -- if ideologically incoherent -- counterweight)?
"[T]he needs of our economy require that our financial institutions not take this new capital to hoard it, but to deploy it" ("Text: Henry Paulson Remarks Tuesday," 15 October 2008).
"Investors are recognizing that the financial crisis is not the fundamental problem. It has merely amplified economic ailments that are now intensifying: vanishing paychecks, falling home prices and diminished spending. And there is no relief in sight" (Peter S. Goodman, "Markets Suffer as Investors Weigh Relentless Trouble," New York Times, 16 October 2008).
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Global Balance of Payments ($bn, 2007)
SOURCE: Martin Wolf, "Asia's Revenge," Financial Times, 9 October 2008, p. 9.
What lay behind the savings glut? The first development was the shift of emerging economies into a large surplus of savings over investment. Within the emerging economies, the big shifts were in Asia and in the oil exporting countries (see chart). By 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund, the aggregate savings surpluses of these two groups of countries had reached around 2 per cent of world output.There is no political or economic incentive on the part of the biggest deficit spenders, especially the US, to change this pattern. The change therefore has to come from surplus generators.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Last year, the aggregate surpluses of the world's surplus countries reached $1,680bn, according to the IMF. The top 10 (China, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Switzerland, Norway, Kuwait, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates) generated more than 70 per cent of this total. The surpluses of the top 10 countries represented at least 8 per cent of their aggregate GDP and about one-quarter of their aggregate gross savings.
Meanwhile, the huge US deficit absorbed 44 per cent of this total. The US, UK, Spain and Australia -- four countries with housing bubbles -- absorbed 63 per cent of the world's current account surpluses.
That represented a vast shift of capital – but unlike in the 1970s and early 1980s, it went to some of the world's richest countries. (emphasis added, Wolf, p. 9)
Thursday, October 09, 2008
The Global Financial Crisis Has a Social Cause, Too: the World of Low Wages: An Interview with Emiliano Brancaccio
An Interview with Emiliano Brancaccio
by Waldemar Bolze
Emiliano Brancaccio is a professor of labor economics at the University of Sannio, member of Rifondazione Comunista, and advisor to the largest union of Italian metalworkers FIOM-CGIL.
You maintain that the financial crisis is not purely a technical financial phenomenon but has a social cause. Why?
The starting point is the weakness of the labor movement, which has made a world of low wages possible. However, this world is structurally unstable, which we are now beginning to experience. Today every country tries to keep the wage level low, thereby diminishing the domestic demand, and must find foreign markets for its own products.
This mechanism has worked for the last ten years because the United States has functioned as a "vacuum cleaner" for surplus products of other countries. And not because the wages of American workers were so high, but because a huge private debt was accumulated in the United States. The system led to workers paying their mortgage debts with new loans and paying the interests on the loans with new credit cards.
Could such a fragile credit structure actually hold?
It was nothing other than a time bomb, which has now exploded. The consequences are once again passed onto workers and employees, while executives of Wall Street, who manufactured these explosives, could even profit from them.
Take, for example, the Paulson plan. It stipulates that the government is to buy the risky assets of investment banks and in return place fresh money at their disposal, leaving a possibility that the banks, once the storm has passed, can regain their titles. If the government pays high enough prices, the bankers can eventually pocket a nice profit at the expense of the state budget.
What obvious impact will the current crisis have?
Much will depend on its duration and depth. At the moment, the establishment is pursuing a strategy which Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa spelled out in his book The Leopard: "If we want everything to remain as it is, we must change everything." The Paulson plan is an example of this strategy, because it consists of a barter of cash for debts, designed to intervene as little as possible in the terms of ownership and control of bank capital. The same applies to the sales of preferred shares to the government because these restrict the voting right at the meetings of shareholders.
Has the ideology of neoliberalism failed and are the days of capitalism numbered?
The idea is amusing, but it would be naïve to assume an imminent end of capitalism. I cannot see how such a thing can materialize. The big absentee in this colossal state of emergency is precisely the labor movement. Rather, I see the possibility of a shift in relative power from finance lobbies to political pressure groups and also from Western and American political lobbies to Asian ones.
Can we then speak of the decline of the American empire?
The appearance and all temporary upsurges and short-term successes notwithstanding, the American decline has continued for at least a quarter century. For this decline is symptomatic of the long-term development of the dollar, whose price -- converted to today's currency -- has fallen from 1.50 euros to around 70 euro cents within 20 years. This decline ensures distrust toward the dollar and will likely prevent the USA from playing the role of the "vacuum cleaner" for surplus products of other countries again. Since there is no alternative international hegemon, there is a danger that the international monetary system will hit a dead end. In that event, the development of this crisis could take on really dark and unpredictable characteristics.
The original interview in German appeared in junge Welt on 9 October 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Once upon a time, the Right believed, like Francis Fukuyama, that history had ended, with the culmination of history in capitalism + liberal democracy. This belief has been shaken by various events: Islamic resistance to the West's politico-military campaign to create a New Middle East, a resurgence of the Left in Latin America, the West's self-destruction of its own liberal and democratic facade through the "War on Terror," and finally the global financial crisis starting in the subprime states of America.
Now both sides have to approach history as an open-ended process of struggle.
Friday, October 03, 2008
But I take comfort in the thought that even the dimmest bulbs in the middle of Middle America must be too appalled by the financial crisis to obsess over Muslims.
As a matter of fact, the market value of Islam might even be going up just now among the financially insecure: Syed Zahid Ahmad, "Islamic Banking Restrains Bankruptcy" (RGE, 28 September 2008); Mohammed Al-Hamzani, "Islamic Banks Unaffected by Global Financial Crisis" (Asharq Al-Awsat, 30 September 2008); "Non-Muslims Turn to Islamic Bank as a Safe Option" (Birmingham Post, 3 October 2008).
Thursday, October 02, 2008
What are the underlying causes of crisis -- overaccumulation, overproduction, underconsumption, or what?
But the question that we should have been really debating, learning from historical examples, is: in case of a crisis, how do we counter a financial blackmail of capital (e.g., if you don't give us $700 billion, we'll commit suicide bombing and take you all down)? As long as we capitulate to this blackmail and seek a solution on capital's terms, we'll remain social democrats.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Great-nation chauvinism, to be fair, is not unique to the US. Below a certain threshold (in terms of GDP, population, armed forces, etc.) the security interests of a nation begin to fade from the concerns of more powerful nations.
But can any nation, even the US, afford to ignore the security interests of a nuclear power that is not only the eighth largest holder of its public debt but also allied with its soon-to-be-biggest creditor?
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Now, with two-thirds of Afghanistan under their control, the Taliban are closer to ending the fighting than anybody has been since 1979. For Pakistan, peace in Afghanistan would bring a major dividend, including the possibility of re-opening trade routes to Central Asia and curbing the flood of opium, heroin and automatic weapons that have made large parts of Pakistan virtually ungovernable.
Other neighboring countries are deeply wary of the Taliban. For Iran, the Taliban's Islamic militancy is less important than the fact that the Taliban are mostly Sunni Muslims, long at odds with the Shiite Muslims who predominate in Iran.
Iran backed the Government ousted by the Taliban, which was headed by Persian-speaking leaders from Afghanistan's Tajik minority. Russia, wary of the spread of militant Islam to the newly independent Central Asian states, also backed the Government, as did India.
But Western diplomats in Islamabad say that there has been no sign that the Taliban leaders want to spread their beliefs beyond Afghhanistan's frontiers, or that they are inclined to back terrorism. ("New Afghan Rulers Shock Even Their Backers in Pakistan," 30 September 1996)
Sunday, September 21, 2008
This ought to be the year when, despite assorted left-wing candidates like Nader and McKinney taking about 15% of the votes, Obama will still prevail, the GOP cast into the dustbin of history, but Americans being who they are (e.g., one in ten Americans is said to be "on the lookout for the Antichrist"), and Obama being who he is (the top recipient of campaign contributions from "Finance/Insurance/Real Estate"), the moral and economic bankruptcy of the nation under W gives the Democratic candidate only a slim advantage:
When asked how the Wall Street crisis might affect their presidential vote, slightly more registered voters say it increases their chances of voting for Barack Obama (29%) than say this about John McCain (23%), with roughly 4 in 10 saying it will have no impact on their decision. (Jeffrey M. Jones, "Wall Street Crisis May Give Obama Slight Political Benefit," Gallup.com)
Saturday, September 20, 2008
by Emir Sader
A new crisis of capitalism, in the style of 1929. The theories of casino capitalism are confirmed. The US government contradicts itself again and heavily intervenes, demonstrating that its confidence in the market isn't as great as its propaganda displayed. Neoliberal capitalism spills its guts, and the theories of the Left -- Keynesian or anti-capitalist -- critical of neoliberalism are corroborated.
Our theories about the anti-social and perhaps terminal character of capitalism borne out, we leftists smile, rubbing our hands, eager for social and political consequences of crises.
Should we? Or perhaps should we ask ourselves how prepared we are to confront this new crisis with left-wing alternatives? Not just with theories, but with the social, political, and ideological force to contest hegemony in crisis. Are we ready to ask ourselves if the measures taken by governments wouldn't mean more suffering for the poor, more desperation, abandonment, unemployment, and precarious labor, without people being able to see alternatives?
If we are to merely play an intellectual role of being critics of capitalism, the new crisis is a great feast. We can rejoice and churn out, day after day, week after week, new articles that foresee -- "as we have written already" -- the end of capitalism in short order.
But every catastrophism is self-deceiving. In the 30s, the Communist International subscribed to the theory of economist Eugen Varga, who revisited Lenin's theory to diagnose that the crisis of 1929 brought capitalism, finally, to its final stage. As the New Deal rescued capitalism from itself, the category of the "second phase of the final stage of capitalism" was introduced. By now we must be in the fifth or sixth phase.
Giovanni Arrighi recalls that, in the 70s, the debate was not about the end of capitalism but about when, where, and how capitalism would end -- the subject that was apparently accepted by even theoreticians in favor of capitalism.
Nevertheless, as Lenin himself reminds us, capitalism doesn't collapse, nor will it ever collapse, unless it gets defeated -- as shown by the revolutionary processes that ended up with capitalism, temporarily or definitively. It doesn't collapse on its own, and it even demonstrates capacity for recovery. Who knew that the homeland of Lenin, of the first worker-peasant revolution in the history of humanity, would see restoration of capitalism, in a gangster version?
Who knew that the United States, "mortally wounded" by the crisis of 1929, would preside over the longest and deepest cycle of expansion of capitalism in its history -- its "golden era" according to Hobsbawm -- after WW2, pressuring the USSR and defeating it technologically and economically, before facilitating its political implosion?
I'm not saying this to be characterized as a propagandist of apologetic visions of capitalism or to encourage demoralization, but to perform a salutary affirmation of Brecht, who said that "we must attack the strongest flank of the enemy," so as not to deceive ourselves about the real conditions of the battle against it, so as not to underestimate its forces, and, above all, so as not to overestimate our forces.
Every crisis that the Left faces with hand-rubbing glee leaves it even more defeated than before, for such a Left is one content with contemplating the last days of a capitalist Pompeii, which however persists and survives thanks to the lack of alternatives -- theoretical and political -- on the Left, the very Left that appears to believe that finally one day, in the not too distant future, peoples of the world will be persuaded of its apocalyptic theory, without it having made its theory real as an economic, social, political, and ideological force.
For the time being -- as Marx said of the petit bourgeoisie -- it seems that the people are not yet mature enough to understand the theory of a Left that is satisfied with itself, with our marvelous theory that tells us that, whether in the long, medium, or short term, inevitably history will reveal that it's advancing toward socialism.
The turns -- both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary -- of the 20th century have taught us nothing if we are still waiting for the corpse of our enemy to turn up, rather than meticulously preparing to make our dreams and utopias a reality, as recommended by Lenin's revolutionary realism.
The original article "A crise do capitalismo e a esquerda" was published in the Blog do Emir section of the Carta Maior Web site on 18 September 2008. Click here for a Spanish translation by Insurrectas y Punto. English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
By the way, it was on 20 September 1792 when the French Revolution made divorce lawful, to the happiness of women, like Europe, trapped in unhappy marriages:
During the radical years of the Revolution a number of pieces of legislation were designed to improve family life, deemed hitherto to have been cruel and immoral, like the Ancient Régime itself. Family courts were instituted to deal with family conflict, penalties for wife beating were introduced which were twice as heavy as for assaulting a man, and the age of majority was reduced from 25 to 21. Of greatest importance was a divorce law voted at the last session of the Legislative Assembly, on 20 September 1792. This gave women remarkably broad grounds for leaving an unhappy or violent marriage. Nationally, perhaps 30,000 divorces were decreed under this legislation, especially in towns; in Paris, there were nearly 6,000 in 1793-5. (Philip G. Dwyer and Peter McPhee, The French Revolution and Napoleon: A Sourcebook, Routledge, 2002, p. 84)
- Syria makes peace with Israel without extracting concessions from it (in which case the leader of Syria can get assassinated like Sadat), and Iran, now without its closest ally,1 will become the last defender of the heart -- Palestine -- of the Arab cause (to the chagrin of Iranian liberals and anti-Shia Arab sectarians).
- Both Iran and Syria make peace with Israel without extracting concessions from it,2 and the Palestinian people will become a homeless orphan in the Middle East (in which case the leaders of Iran and Syria can both get assassinated like Sadat).
- Both Iran and Syria make peace with Israel, having extracted concessions (which can get the leader of Israel assassinated -- Rabin was for only seeming to make a concession) from it that would allow the Palestinian people to establish a state (which will be to Israel at best what Mexico -- the provider of cheap labor and natural resources -- is to the United States3).
- Iran, Syria, and Israel settle for "cold peace": no normalization, but mutual self-restraint (i.e., both Israel and Hezbollah focus more on their respective domestic politics than on each other).
- Israel, having acquired 1,000 Boeing GBU-39 smart bombs (so-called bunker busters4) from the USA, attacks Hezbollah again.
- Israel, having successfully bombed Syria and having acquired 1,000 Boeing GBU-39 smart bombs from the USA, bombs Iran, too, and all hell breaks loose.
1 Sarkozy's Mediterranean Union is a far more successful first step in this direction than Bush's Annapolis.
2 That would be the final realization of a new Middle East as envisioned by the United States government:
A central component of this vision is the normalization and integration of Israel into the Middle East. The US envisions a Middle East resting upon Israeli capital in the West and Gulf capital in the East, underpinning a low-wage, neoliberal zone that spans the region. What this means is that Israel's historic destruction of Palestinian national rights must be accepted and blessed by all states in the region. (Adam Hanieh, "Palestine in the Middle East: Opposing Neoliberalism and US Power: Part 1," MRZine, 19 July 2008)3 The Israeli vision of a Palestinian state looks like this:
Dov Lautman, the former president of the Association of Israeli Industrialists and one of the owners of "Delta-Galil Industries," stated in a meeting with Palestinian manufacturers in 1993: "The important issue is not whether a Palestinian state, an autonomy, or a Palestinian-Jordanian state is established, the important thing is that the economic borders between Israel and the territories remain open." For Lautman, and many others, economic relations between the states of Israel and Palestine should be modeled after "the free trade agreement that exists between Mexico and the U.S." For him (and others), there was no doubt as to who would play the role of the United States and who, the role of Mexico. (endnotes omitted, Efraim Davidi, "The Sewing Factory in Gaza, the Administration in Tel-Aviv, and the Owners in New York: Israeli Industrialists' Strategy in the Global Supply Chain," MRZine, 18 May 2006)4 I say "so-called," for GBU39s are said to have an ability to penetrate only six feet of concrete. Therefore,
the GBU-39 would have limited utility against deeply-buried, hardened targets like those at Iran's nuclear research facilities. Covered by layers of concrete and earth, some of the research labs at Natanz (and other locations) are at least 30 feet underground, and perhaps as deep as 60 feet. ("The Consolation Acquisition," In from the Cold, 15 September 2008)They represent a powerful threat against Hezbollah, but they are of uncertain utility against Iran.
Friday, September 19, 2008
If the United States manages to unleash a civil war in Bolivia, the plan is to extend it throughout the region and to resort to massive and extensive use of violence to regain ground, said Luis Bilbao, director of Revista América XXI, in an interview with Ernesto Villegas (via satellite) for the VTV program "Mediodías en Confianza."
"What is at stake in Bolivia is peace and democracy for the entire Latin America," the Argentine journalist and economist added in the conversation, analyzing the results of the recent summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), regarding the unrest in Bolivia, as well as the economic crisis.
Venezolana de Televisión
The original text in Spanish appeared on Aporrea.org on 18 September 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
by Maurice Lemoine
On the tenth of September, one day before the 35th anniversary of the death of Chilean President Salvador Allende, Evo Morales, the Bolivian head of state, declared US Ambassador Philip Goldberg "persona non grata." This is not a contrived symbolic decision. It came after the sabotage of a gas pipeline in the Department of Tarija by opposition extremists in Bolivia with whom the diplomat maintained close contacts.
In Cobija (in the Department of Pando), on the eleventh of September, eight people were killed and over thirty injured during a confrontation -- the first instance where firearms were used -- between government supporters and "autonomist" groups.
the firm support of the governments of Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, Mr. Morales denounced an attempted "civil coup d'état."
Read "Périlleux bras de fer en Bolivie" (Dangerous Arm Wrestling in Bolivia) in the September 2008 issue of Le Monde diplomatique.
The original article in French was published in the "valise diplomatique" section of Le Monde diplomatique on 12 September 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
by Knut Mellenthin
According to a report by the Russian newspaper Kommersant on Thursday, a group of NATO experts arrived in Georgia. The group will estimate the military needs of the country after its attack on South Ossetia and war against Russia. The activities of this working group will be kept secret. However, its presence and basic task have been confirmed by a spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Tbilisi, writes Kommersant. The paper quoted the ministry spokesman as saying: "That visit and the negotiations are not for the press."
The newspaper establishes a connection between the visit of the NATO experts and that of a high-level NATO Council delegation to Tbilisi on 15-16 September 2008. The delegation, as Der Spiegel confirmed, will be led by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. What should be a routine visit "planned for a long time" according to Der Spiegel, it is also about setting the agenda for the rearmament of Georgia, says Kommersant. The findings of the expert group should serve as basis for decision-making.
The only official acknowledgment in the Pentagon announcements so far came this week: a US "assessment team" is being sent to the Black Sea country, to "help us begin to consider carefully Georgia's legitimate needs and our response." "We must support Georgia. We seek to . . . assist in rebuilding its military," Eric Edelman, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (the third highest ranking position in the Defense Department), said at a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday. "Georgia, like any sovereign country, should have the ability to defend itself and to deter renewed aggression."
Among other things, the rearmament of Georgia concerns restoring destroyed military infrastructure, like the radar system and the bases in Gori and Senaki. In addition, the Georgian armed forces, given the experiences of the short war in August, will be modernized and strengthened. Among other things they will receive anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.
Meanwhile, President Mikheil Saakashvili leaves no doubt that he wants to start a war of revenge as soon as possible. This time, he boasts, with the full backing of the NATO and the "international community."
In response, Russia submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to ban arms supplies to Georgia. In his explanation, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: "the unrestrained militarization of Georgia in recent years, backed by the United States and certain other countries, certainly contributed to the act of aggression committed by [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili against South Ossetia." The Russian draft prohibits not only weapons deliveries but also "any aid, consultations linked with military activity."
The original article in German was published in junge Welt on 12 September 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
by Theodor W. Adorno
What the common sense made ill by its very health resists most fastidiously is the supremacy of all things objective over individuals, in their social existence as well as in their consciousness, which may be starkly experienced every day. This supremacy is dispelled as groundless speculation, so that individuals may preserve their flattering illusion, their standardized ideas made the unconditioned truth in the double sense in the meantime, in the face of a suspicion: that is not so, and our lives are under a doom.
Today is the birthday of Theodor W. Adorno (11 September 1903 - 6 August 1969). The text above is a translation of the beginning of Part 3, Chapter 2 ("Weltgeist und Naturgeschichte. Exkurs zu Hegel") of Negative Dialektik. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Monday, September 08, 2008
Everywhere I traveled during my stay in the tribal areas and in Peshawar, I met impoverished Pakistanis who told me Robin Hood-like stories about how the Taliban had challenged the wealthy and powerful people on behalf of the little guys. Hamidullah, for instance, was an illiterate wheat farmer living in Khyber agency when, in 2002, a wealthy landowner seized his home and six acres of fields. Hamidullah and his family were forced to eke out a living from a nearby shanty. Neither the local malik nor the government agent, Hamidullah told me, would intervene on his behalf. Then came Namdar, the Taliban commander. He hauled the rich man before a Vice and Virtue council and ordered him to give back Hamidullah’s home and farm.
Now Hamidullah is one of Namdar’s loyal militiamen.
“There are so many guys like me,” he said, cradling a Kalashnikov.
The social revolution that has swept the tribal areas does not bode well for the plans, laid out by Governor Ghani, to oust the Taliban by boosting the tribal elders. Nor does it hold out much promise for the Americans, who have expressed hope that they could do in the FATA what they were able to do with the Sunni tribes in Iraq. There, local tribesmen rose up against, and have substantially weakened, Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. (Dexter Filkins, "Right at the Edge," New York Times, 7 September 2008)
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Even before America invaded Iraq, Immanuel Wallerstein prophetically wrote: "the use of such force when the conditions of hegemony have already been undermined is a sign of weakness rather than of strength, and weakens the user" ("Iraq: How Great Powers Bring Themselves Down," 1 April 2002).
Why had "the conditions of [US] hegemony" been undermined by then, though? It would have been nice if it had been due to the strength of the working class, but it was largely due to the weakness of workers, in the United States above all (where workers were so thoroughly defeated that they could sustain their living standards only by working more and more and going deeper and deeper into debt), but also in China (whose economy rapidly developed -- and is still developing -- at the cost of greater inequality) and much of the rest of the world (whose savings -- at the expense of the working class -- went into big accumulations of dollar reserves that helped to keep interest rates low and finance the ever rising US debts).
What comes after the US hegemony remains to be seen.
Russia is considering increasing its assistance to Iran's nuclear programme in response to America's calls for Nato expansion eastwards and the presence of US Navy vessels in the Black Sea delivering aid to Georgia.This report probably isn't true because Sunday Times coverage of Iran as well as Russia has always been full of psychological warfare based on leaks from anonymous sources. But a question does arise: how far will the Russians go in their conflict with the West? Depending on the answer to this question, new possibilities may open up for the states at odds with the empire.
The Kremlin is discussing sending teams of Russian nuclear experts to Tehran and inviting Iranian nuclear scientists to Moscow for training, according to sources close to the Russian military. (Mark Franchetti, "Vladimir Putin Set to Bait US with Nuclear Aid for Tehran," Sunday Times, 7 September 2008)
The threat to sell S-300 to Iran and Syria, for instance, is something the Russians have been willing to use (e.g., "Russia May Push Forward with S-300 Sales to Iran, RIA Novosti, 1 September 2008), but if they actually sold it, they could no longer use it as a bargaining chip with the West, so they will probably hold on to it for the time being. But eventually they may decide to act on the threat, as well as cut the Russian routes to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan, if the West (especially the United States, which just announced a $1 billion aid to Georgia, making it "one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid after Israel and Egypt") doesn't cease and desist from its military advancement toward Russia. After all, Russia will be holding its first joint naval exercise with Venezuela on 10-14 November 2008 ("Russian, Venezuelan Navies to Hold Manouvers in Caribbean," ITAR-TASS, 7 September 2008).
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
by Serge Halimi
The question of responsibility for the conflict in the Caucasus didn't trouble us for long. Less than a week after the Georgian attack, two French commentators, experts on all things, pronounced it "obsolete." An influential American neo-conservative had set the tone for them. Knowing who started the conflict is "not very important," Robert Kagan opined, because, "[i]f Saakashvili had not fallen into Putin's trap this time, something else would have eventually sparked the conflict."1 One hypothesis calls for another: if it had not been the young polyglot Saakashvili, a graduate of Columbia Law School in New York, who initiated a military operation, on the day of the opening ceremony of the Olympics no less, would Western governments and their media have held back their outrage against such a heavily symbolic act?
But when you know good and bad characters in advance, it is easier to follow the story. The good, like Georgia, have a duty to protect their territorial integrity from separatist schemes hatched by their neighbors; the bad, like Serbia, would have to agree to the self-determination of their Albanian minority (Kosovo) . . . or else be subjected to the bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The moral of the story gets even more edifying when, to defend his territory, the good pro-American president brings home a division of soldiers whom he sent . . . to invade Iraq.
On the 16th of August, President George W. Bush correctly invoked, with all seriousness, the "resolutions" of the "United Nations Security Council" and the "sovereignty and independence and territorial integrity" of Georgia whose "borders should command the same respect as every other nation's." It follows that only the United States must have the right to act unilaterally when it perceives (or pretends) that its security is at stake. In reality, this series of events follows a simpler logic: Washington uses Georgia (and vice versa) to work against Russia; Moscow uses not only South Ossetia but also Abkhazia to "punish" Georgia.
Since 1992, two reports of the Pentagon have explored the question of how to prevent a possible resurgence of the then crumbling Russian power. These reports indicated that, to perpetuate the American hegemony born of the victory of the United States in the Gulf War and the breakup of the Soviet bloc, it was important to "[convince] potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role." And, failing to convince them, Washington must "discourage" them. The main target of these considerations? Russia, "the only power in the world with the capability of destroying the United States."2
Can we then blame the Russian leadership for having experienced Western assistance to the "color revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia, former Warsaw Pact allies' membership in the NATO, and the installation of American missiles on Polish soil as elements of the old strategy aimed to weaken their country, whatever its regime? Besides, Mr. Bernard Kouchner, French Foreign Minister, admitted as much: "Russia has become a great power, which is worrisome."3
The architect in 1980 of the very dangerous Afghan strategy of Washington (giving military support to Islamists to defeat communists. . .), Mr. Zbigniew Brzezinski has spelled out another aspect of the American design: "Georgia is of strategic importance because we have access through Georgia, through a pipeline that runs from Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, through Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, down to Turkey, and to the Mediterranean Ocean, a pipeline which gives us access to the oil, and soon also the gas, that lies not only in Azerbaijan, but beyond it in the Caspian Sea, and beyond it in Central Asia. So, in that sense, it's a major and very important strategic asset to us."4 Mr. Brzezinski cannot be accused of inconstancy: even when Russia was at its nadir in the era of Boris Yeltsin, he was trying to chase it out of the Caucasus and Central Asia to secure energy supply for the West.5 Since then, Russia has fared better, the United States worse, and oil is now more expensive. A victim of its own president's provocations, Georgia is being buffeted by the clash of these three dynamics.
1 Respectively, Bernard-Henri Lévy and André Glucksmann in the 14 August 2008 issue of Libération and Robert Kagan in the 11 August 2008 issue of the Washington Post.
2 Cf. Paul-Marie de La Gorce, "Washington et la maîtrise du monde," Le Monde diplomatique, April 1992.
3 Interview, Journal du dimanche, Paris, 17 August 2008.
4 Bloomberg Television, 12 August 2008.
5 Zbigniew Brzezinski, Le Grand Echiquier, Paris: Bayard, 1997.
Serge Halimi is a French journalist of Tunisian origin. He has written for Le Monde diplomatique since 1992 and served as the magazine's editorial director since March 2008. The original article "Retour russe" appears in the September 2008 issue of Le Monde diplomatique. English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
24 August 1954
Río de Janeiro
He puts himself on the side of wages, not profits. At once, businessmen declare war.
So that Brazil shall cease to be a sieve, he stops the hemorrhage of wealth. At once, foreign capital begins sabotage.
He regains control of oil and energy, which are national sovereignty as much as or more than the flag and the anthem. At once, monopolies, offended, retaliate with a ferocious offensive.
He defends the price of coffee without, as was the custom, burning half the harvest at the stake. At once, the United States cuts its purchases by half.
In Brazil, journalists and politicians of all regions and persuasions add their voices to the chorus of outrage.
Getúlio Vargas has governed on his feet. Forced to go down on his knees, he chooses the dignity of death. He picks up his revolver, aims it at his own heart, and fires.
The text above is a translation of an excerpt from Eduardo Galeano, El siglo del viento (Siglo XXI, 2000), pp. 188-189. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
Monday, August 18, 2008
A growing array of military leaders, Arctic experts and lawmakers say the United States is losing its ability to patrol and safeguard Arctic waters even as climate change and high energy prices have triggered a burst of shipping and oil and gas exploration in the thawing region.
The National Academy of Sciences, the Coast Guard and others have warned over the past several years that the United States’ two 30-year-old heavy icebreakers, the Polar Sea and Polar Star, and one smaller ice-breaking ship devoted mainly to science, the Healy, are grossly inadequate. Also, the Polar Star is out of service.
And this spring, the leaders of the Pentagon’s Pacific Command, Northern Command and Transportation Command strongly recommended in a letter that the Joint Chiefs of Staff endorse a push by the Coast Guard to increase the country’s ability to gain access to and control its Arctic waters.
In the meantime, a resurgent Russia has been busy expanding its fleet of large oceangoing icebreakers to around 14, launching a large conventional icebreaker in May and, last year, the world’s largest icebreaker, named 50 Years of Victory, the newest of its seven nuclear-powered, pole-hardy ships. (Andrew C. Revkin, "A Push to Increase Icebreakers in the Arctic," New York Times, 17 August 2008)
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Asunción, 15 August (EFE) -- Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano today publicly apologized to Paraguayans for the war that his country, allied with Argentina and Brazil, fought against Paraguay between 1865 and 1870.
"Let me take this opportunity to apologize as an Uruguayan, because that [imperialist] punishment [for the crime of protecting the workers and products of the nation] was inflicted through three neighboring countries of Paraguay," Galeano said at a press conference in which Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, and Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo participated.
Fernando Lugo, Presidente de Paraguay
con Leonardo Boff, Eduardo Galeano, y Ernesto Cardenal
The author of Open Veins of Latin America regretted his country's participation in a war "that was said to last three months" but lasted five years "and exterminated the entire adult male population of this country."
Guerra do Paraguai / Guerra del Paraguay
"That model was misnamed 'free trade,' which, as we know well, is a freedom that imprisons people, a big lie, because that's the name that the global North gives to everything that it preaches but doesn't practice," said the Uruguayan.
For his part, Boff expressed how pleased he was to have taken part in the civic festival in Paraguay today on the occasion of the inauguration of Lugo and said: "I think all who are at this table are for liberation, and for me, who comes from that theology, this is an extremely happy moment."
He reminded all that the purpose of this religious current "is to practice not so much theology as liberation, because what matters to God is not theology, it is the concrete liberation of individuals" and stressed that "the pressure of the poor has given a very powerful force to a government that realizes the dreams denied for so many generations."
Cardenal spoke in the same vein, describing Lugo as "true bishop of liberation."
Moreover, he said: "We are celebrating the rise to power of one more liberator of Latin America."
"A few days ago I was in Bolivia, and there I saw a miracle: an Indian president of Bolivia. Now I have seen another miracle here, too: a bishop president," said Cardenal.
In the end, Lugo said he was honored to have shared "a feast" with Galeano, Cardenal, and Boff and reaffirmed that he doesn't feel any fear about his friendly relation with the politics of Chávez, Morales, and Correa.
"People say: Don't be close to Chávez or Evo. I'm not afraid of Chávez, I'm not afraid of Evo, I'm not afraid of anyone. Latin America is living a different moment," said Lugo, who put an end to 61 years of the conservative Colorado Party hegemony in government.
The original EFE dispatch in Spanish was published in Yahoo! Noticias on 16 August 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
Friday, August 15, 2008
In the Shadow of the Caucasus Crisis
by Knut Mellenthin
Russia's response to the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia has been the central theme of the media for a week, and it's scarcely noticed that the human tragedy in northwest Pakistan will probably be of no less great political significance. On Friday, the ninth day of a punitive military expedition against Bajaur Agency in the so-called tribal areas, over 100,000 people were seeking refuge. No one knows the exact number, which reflects the fact that there is no organized aid for refugees. An English-language Pakistani newspaper, The News, said on Friday that "several hundred thousands" were fleeing. News agencies reported that, according to the Governor of the North-West Frontier Province, into whose capital Peshawar tens of thousands fled, the number is about 219,000.
Many had to leave all their possessions behind, because the "security forces," in their campaign against suspected insurgents, repeatedly used heavy artillery, helicopters, and fighter planes against villages. In addition, there are systematic expulsions. Leaflets are dropped from helicopters, calling on people to immediately vacate certain areas. The leaflets contain detailed instructions about how to behave, any failure to comply with which carries the risk of lethal attacks by the "security forces": No vehicle movements after sunset. Cars may not be parked under trees, or in the shade. Upon seeing a helicopter, all refugees must come out of their vehicles with their hands up. Those who don't receive leaflets or cannot read -- a majority of the population in the area -- are in mortal danger. Air raids on refugee convoys are not uncommon. Many families are fleeing on foot. Those who were expelled or have simply fled are not supplied with food and medical care. Tens of thousands have to sleep outdoors.
Bajaur is one of many districts in which such punitive expeditions have taken place in recent months. The "security forces" had already similarly wreaked havoc in Swat and Hang before, outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, in the North-West Frontier Province. As the Pakistani media reported on Friday, now thousands are fleeing from Mohmand Agency, on the southern border of Bajaur. which it is suspected the "security forces" will strike next.
These military actions cannot be called appropriate or effective even for the purpose of the US/NATO counter-insurgency campaign. Their function is essentially to demonstrate to Washington, which is more and more aggressively putting pressure on Islamabad, that things are under control and there is no reason for a US intervention in Pakistan.
The original article in German appears in junge Welt on 16 August 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
by João Pedro Stedile
The Movement of Financial Capital
In recent years, there has been an intensive, continuous process of concentration and centralization of corporations operating and controlling the entire production process of global agriculture.
Concentration is the concept used in political economy to explain the movement of large corporations to combine, accumulate, and become large groups. Thus, in every sector of production, a situation of oligopoly is being created, with a few corporations controlling the sector. The second movement of capital is centralization, in which a single corporation comes to control several sectors of production, sometimes even the sectors unrelated to one another. These two logical movements of capital have been accompanied in the agricultural sector with a process of internationalization of control of the market and trade at the global level. In other words, some corporations have come to operate in every country and control the global market.
This dual movement of capital -- which was very much noticeable, from as far back as the theory of imperialism, in large industrial enterprises -- also came to dominate the agricultural sector in the last ten years. And what is most dangerous, now under the hegemony of financial capital, the velocity and volume of capital invested in agriculture were much faster and greater than had been the case in other productive sectors through the course of the twentieth century. That is because much capital in the form of money, i.e. financial capital, accumulated in rich countries in recent years. This capital was shifting to the purchase of shares in the most profitable corporations of the primary sector as well. Thus, in just a few years, as an effect of the investment of this financial capital in stock purchases, concentration and centralization became extraordinary.
Today, almost all branches of agricultural production are controlled by groups of oligopolistic corporations, which coordinate among themselves. Thus, Cargill, Monsanto, ADM, Dreyfus, and Bunge alone are responsible for 80% of the total world production of and trade in grains such as soybeans, corn, wheat, rice, and sunflowers. Monsanto, Novartis, Bayer, and Syngenta control the entire production of transgenic seeds. In the dairy products and derivatives sector we come up against Nestlé, Dannon, and Parmalat. Here in Brazil, the entire production of raw materials for fertilizers is controlled by just three transnational corporations: Bunge, Mosaic, and Yara. Only two corporations, Monsanto and Nortox, produce glyphosate, a raw material for agricultural pesticides. AGCO, Fiat, New Holland, etc. oligopolize the agricultural machinery sector.
This movement, which had begun to develop in the 1990s, accelerated in the past two years with the crisis of capitalism in the United States. Interest rates in the core countries fell to an annual rate of 2% and, given the inflation rate, reached the point where banks would lose money. Then, financial capital shifted to the periphery of the system to protect itself from the crisis and maintain its profit rates. Over the past two years, nearly 330 billion dollars of money poured into Brazil. A part of that capital was invested through local banks, to encourage the buying of real estate, household appliances, and cars on credit, at the average annual rates of 47%. Sheer madness, compared with the rates in developed countries.
Another part of capital was destined to the purchase of lands. One report in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper estimated that foreign capital bought more than 20 million hectares in recent years, especially in the midwest regions and the new agricultural frontier of the so-called Ma-pi-to (Maranhão, Piauí, and Tocantis), where land prices were much lower. Yet another part headed to the Amazon in search of mining areas, hydroelectric projects, and possession of huge areas of biodiversity which later will bear fruit if they are exploited by their laboratories.
In the cellulose sector, three large groups -- Aracruz (Norway), Stora Enzo (Sweden-Finland), and International Paper (US) -- moved their entire production to the rich soil and climatic conditions found in Brazil. So, the expansion of eucalyptus monoculture throughout the region stretching from Bahía in the south to the Uruguay border and six new factories are being planned. Thousands of hectares of industrial eucalyptus plantations will destroy everything, creating a veritable green desert.
Likewise, there was a major investment of foreign capital in the expansion of sugarcane monoculture for ethanol production and export. The sugarcane area increased from 4 to 6 million hectares. There are 77 projects for new ethanol plants, which will be built along four major alcohol pipelines projected to transport alcohol from the midwest to the ports of Santos and Paranaguá and from the Palmas region (Tocantins State) to the port of São Luis (in Maranhão State). Two of these alcohol pipelines are owned by Petrobras and the other two will be owned by foreign investors.
Foreign capital also speeded up its investment in the production and multiplication of transgenic seeds, especially maize. Hence Syngenta, Monsanto, and Bayer are lobbying and pressuring the government to allow their varieties of GM corn. Some of these varieties are banned in Europe, but here . . . anything goes!
This avalanche of foreign capital to control our agricultural production and inputs and to expand production for export was made possible only by the alliance of the aforementioned corporations and the big landowners. The landowners with large tracts of land are getting in on the action as subordinate associates of big corporations, plundering the environment, overexploiting agricultural labor, and sometimes even using slave labor.
This agricultural model, which is called agribusiness, is the marriage of transnationals and big landowners. In it there is no room for peasant family agriculture or agricultural labor, for it uses herbicides and high-tech mechanization at all levels.1
The result is already visible in statistics. Brazil is turning toward large-scale monoculture for export. A kind of agro-export re-colonization, reminiscent of the days of empire. Of the 130 million tons of grain produced, no less than 110 million tons are just soybeans and corn. In cattle production, 300 million hectares are for export production. And what's left is an immense green desert of eucalyptuses. That's the Brazilian model! It will be profitable to some landowners and a few foreign corporations. But the Brazilian people will be left with environmental liability, unemployment, and poverty.
Contradictions Emerge Rapidly
The contradictions of this perverse model come to the surface quickly. Food prices soared, as a result of financial capital's speculation at the stock exchanges and oligopolistic corporate control of the market. The dollar prices of food doubled over the past year. Food is increasingly contaminated by the intensive use of pesticides. Agribusiness fails to produce healthy food, without herbicides. Only peasant family farming succeeds in doing so. The intensive production of ethanol through sugarcane monoculture does not solve the problem of global warming -- on the contrary, it aggravates it. The biggest problem concerning fuels is not just oil -- it is, above all, the individual form of transportation promoted by financial capital to push for increased sales of cars on credit. They are transforming our cities into a hell.
This form of monoculture depletes natural resources, soil and groundwater, and affects the quality and location of water. Monoculture destroys biodiversity and upsets the environmental balance of the region.
Faced with this situation, social movements, assembled into Via Campesina of Brazil, resolved to unite and amplify their protests. In recent months, peasant protests multiplied in all states, against the model and operation of transnational corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta, Bunge, Bayer, etc. These protests have served as a kind of pedagogy of masses -- a warning to Brazilian society that it must wake up given the gravity of the problem and its future implications.
The Response of Businesses. . . .
Foreign corporations and their Brazilian guard dogs are aware of the social and environmental problems that they are causing. Since they don't have right on their side in the way they dominate nature, they have resolved to confront the movements of Via Campesina by combining a variety of tactics. First, million-dollar PR campaigns featuring famous artists in the press. Second, right-wing sectors' manipulation of the judiciary and the Public Ministry, which stand by them ideologically, in order to criminalize, with many prosecutions, social movement leaders and activists. And where none of these solves the problem, resort to repression, particularly in the states ruled by right-wing parties such as Río Grande Do Sul,2 São Paulo, Rio, and Minas Gerais, where the state governments do not hesitate to use the military police to violently repress the movement.
It is nothing but self-deception to believe that this type of problem can be solved with PR or repression. This is a historic conflict between two ways of producing food. One seeks only profits, even at the cost of poisoning nature and its products. The other is geared to the production of healthy food as a right of all people. There will be many battles -- that is certain.
1 For the Brazilian model of agriculture, see Via Campesina Brazil, "Queremos producir alimentos" (We Want to Produce Food), , 10 June 2008.
2 In the State of Río Grande do Sul, the Landless Workers Movement (MST) faces powerful judicial persecution: the Public Ministry has come to seek its dissolution, and several militants of social movements have been prosecuted. See Frei Betto, "Suprimir el MST o el latifundio improductivo?" (Suppress the MST or the Unproductive Latifundium?), 8 July 2008.
João Pedro Stedile is a National Coordinator of Via Campesina Brazil. The original article in Portuguese, "O capital internacional esta dominando a agricultura brasileira," was published on the Web site of the Agencia Latinoamericana de Información on 29 July 2008 and the Spanish translation "El capital internacional está dominando la agricultura" appeared on 30 July 2008. English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.