Posts Tagged ‘world bank’
by stuartbramhall in The Global Economic Crisis
Here comes another prediction, from the blog Ecomomic Collapse, that it will. It’s based on evidence that the government and major banks are making preparations they aren’t telling us about.
Among other ominous signs, blogger Michael Snyder points to:
1. A secretive directive from regulators that big investment banks, like Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, set up contingency plans to dismantle themselves if their Ponzi pyramid bubble bursts and they have to declare bankruptcy. (These are already technically insolvent since their debt level vastly exceeds their assets.)
2. The US government is stockpiling food and ammunition, and Obama is signing a raft of executive orders to be implemented in response to a societal meltdown.
3. The European debt crisis continues to worsen as EU economies continue to contract. There is even talk of Germany leaving the Euro.
4. Over the past 12 months, hundreds of banking executives have been resigning and selling off enormous quantities of stock. Many have been shopping for “prepper* properties” in rural communities.
5. Economists and European leaders are predicting the next banking crisis will be worse that the one in 2008 – mainly because governments are too indebted to deliver more bailouts – and other policy fixes (such as dropping interest rates and quantitative easing) have already been enacted. One former World Bank economist believes the coming banking crisis will be so severe that civilization won’t survive it.
6. The problems facing human society aren’t merely economic. Energy, water and food distribution (especially with the severe drought in the US and Russia) are also in totally disarray.
It’s clear from Snyder’s blog that he’s been predicting economic collapse for awhile – he uses the site to hawk gold, silver, emergency food rations, seeds and guns (to keep your neighbors from stealing veggies out of your garden). However I find it highly significant that he’s citing mainstream sources, such as Reuters, a former World Bank economist, a Fortune 300 executive and a member of the European Parliament.
Read more here.
*A prepper, a term derived from preparedness, is someone who becomes self-sufficient in providing for food and other basic needs.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism
The World Economic Forum Weighs In
A British acquaintance has sent me a link to one of the background documents to be used when world leaders gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland January25-29. The document is called Global Risks 2012 (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalRisks_Report_2012.pdf)
The World Economic Forum is a Swiss non-profit corporation that brings together some 2,500 “top” global business and political leaders every January in a remote Swiss mountain resort. Along with the G-7, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum has a strong pro-corporate agenda and is a regular target for antiglobalization protests. The antiglobalization movement is a loosely knit network of anti-corporate groups that started in Asia and Europe in the 1990s, in response to the international treaty that created the World Trade Organization (WTO). Its American counterpart was born in November 1999, when 50,000 people marched in the streets of Seattle and thousands committed civil disobedience to derail the WTO Third Ministerial meeting. Currently the WTO and so-called “Free Trade” treaties, such as NAFTA, receive scant coverage in the mainstream media. Nevertheless labor and environmental activists remain deeply concerned about the power these international treaties give corporations to overturn democratically enacted labor and environmental protections.
Since 2001, grassroots activists from all over the world have been holding a World Social Forum in a developing country (usually Brazil) at the same time as the World Economic Forum. The philosophy behind the World Social Forum is that ordinary people have an even greater need for international conferences than corporate elites. It’s only by coming together and organizing that they can resist efforts by global elites to strip them of the limited democratic and economic rights they still enjoy.
Emphasis on Global Social Unrest
When the Guardian article that accompanied the report (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/11/world-economic-forum-meeting-davos) stated that Global Risks 2012 focuses mainly on economic turmoil and social unrest (as opposed to globalization and free trade), I was extremely keen to read it. Would it mention Occupy Wall Street? It sure does, right there on page 16 under “Case 1: Seeds of Dystopia”:
“Two dominant issues of concern emerged from the Arab Spring, the ‘Occupy’ movements worldwide and recent similar incidents of civil discontent: the growing frustration among citizens with the political and economic establishment, and the rapid public mobilization enabled by greater technological connectivity.”
The document is full of other surprises. Unlike the mainstream media, Global Risks 2012 is surprisingly sympathetic towards the Occupy movement. The authors are deeply concerned about “dystopia,” the opposite of utopia, which they define as “a place where life is full of hardship and devoid of hope.” They go on to talk about the danger of declining economic conditions in Western Europe, North America and Japan jeopardizing “social contracts” between states and their citizens. These they define as has historic understandings that workers will be guaranteed access to health care (by North America they must mean Canada – this has never been true in the US) and decent pensions in old age.
They express concern (implying that corporate CEOs should also be concerned) about the link between global recession and increasing rates of poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, divorce, domestic violence and the abandonment, neglect and abuse of children (page 18).
They talk about the large numbers of unemployed young people around the world being a “lost generation” (page 22). Even more surprisingly, they identify huge income disparity as being one of the most serious global risks. They caution that when “social mobility” (i.e. individual ability to advance socially and economically) is attainable, income disparity can spur people to work harder. When it’s clearly not, as in the current global recession, feelings of powerlessness, disconnectedness and disengagement can “take root.” (page 19).
They conclude the dystopia section with the following warning:
“The social unrest that occurred in 2011, from the United States to the Middle East, demonstrated how governments everywhere need to address the causes of discontent before it becomes a violent, destabilizing force.” (page 19).
Destructive Corporate Lobbying
Global Risks 2012 also talks about destructive corporate lobbying (my translation – they use more obscure, intellectually lofty language) in trying to enact environmental and health regulations: “By their very nature, the costs involved in implementing safeguards, such as quality standards and risk mitigation practices, may give some individuals, firms or organizations reasons to lobby to minimize them and look for ways around them.” (page 22)
They are equally critical of the “too big to fail” banks: “When losses can be passed on to others – as when banks are defined as “too big to fail” – excessive risk-taking is likely to occur.” (page 22).
They conclude with the argument (making the 2008 banking crisis a case in point) that dangerously lax regulations “in just one jurisdiction could trigger global catastrophe.” (page 22)
How Will CEOs Answer the Discussion Questions?
I have to admit my favorite part of Global Risks 2012 are the “Questions for Stakeholders,” inserted at the end at the end of each section to make sure the corporate elites and the politicians who accompany them to these meetings are paying attention. I would give anything to listen in to the answers JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, give to some of these:
- What steps can be taken to reduce income disparity? (they need to get Dimon to answer this one.)
- How can appropriate regulations be developed so that firms will undertake effective safeguards?
- How can business, government and civil society work together to improve resilience against unforeseen risks? (the report uses the word resilience, which they borrow from the sustainability movement, a lot).
- How can fostering entrepreneurship prevent the seeds of dystopia from taking root? (this wouldn’t be my approach, but at least they admit urgent action is needed.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on Civil Liberties, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
This is the fourth in a series of posts about the antiglobalization movement.
After Seattle, the antiglobalization movement continued to grow by leaps and bounds. Over the next 20 months, large contingents of North American activists followed international economic summits around the world to protest the anti-democratic agenda of the global economic elite. There were massive demonstrations at the April 2000 meeting of the IMF/World Bank in Washington DC, the May 2000 meeting of the Asian Development Bank in Chiang May Thailand, the July 2010 Republican Convention in Philadelphia, the August 2010 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, the World Economic Forum in Melborne in Sept 2000, the IMF/World Bank meeting in Prague in Sept 2000, at George W Bush’s inauguration (to protest his theft of the 2000 election) in January 2001, at the third Summit of Americas Fair Trade of the America’s Agreement (FTAA) meeting in Quebec City in April 2001, and at the G8 Summit in Genoa in July 2001.
Antiglobalization activists also organized the first World Social Forum in Puerte Allegre Brazil January 25-30, 2001 – as an alternative to World Economic Forum held in Davos Switzerland January 27 2001. In retrospect, this was the first split in antiglobalization movement, with 50,000 antiglobalization activists choosing to go to Puerte Allegro Brazil instead of protesting in Davos.
Then 9-11 happened and everything changed. The Patriot Act, which clearly was written in advance of the Twin Tower attacks, was passed virtually overnight, along with similar legislation in Canada. Many believe the antiglobalization movement, rather than potential Muslim terrorists, was the real target of the Patriot Act, which essentially criminalized dissent.
One for Our Side
The US launched the Doha round of negotiations in 2002, hoping to capitalize on the worldwide sympathy and support they enjoyed following the 9-11 attacks. It didn’t work. Third world countries continued to hold their ground – mainly over the US refusal to end agricultural subsidies. Negotiations on the Doha round broke down in Cancun in 2003 (in part, due to Korean farmer Lee Kyang Hae’s public suicide), in Geneva in 2004, and in Hong Kong in 2005. The Doha round was officially suspended in 2006 following the breakdown of G-4 (Brazil, India, EU and the US) talks in Pottsdam. In 2007, more than 90 international non-profit organizations wrote their governments demanding an end to the Doha round and a two year moratorium on WTO Ministerial meetings. The moratorium was granted after the last WTO Ministerial, in Geneva in November 2009, also ended in stalemate.
Clearly the antiglobalization movement can claim the collapse of the Doha round as a massive victory for the movement – in essence we won the Battle of Seattle. Yet we can only claim partial credit for dead-ending WTO negotiations before multinational corporations achieved the extremely undemocratic concessions they were demanding. The WTO treaty is largely about allowing the industrial north preemptive rights in the developing south – an agenda that has become meaningless with the increasing power and status of the “emerging” economies (the BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Even more important, the prior obsessive preoccupation with expanding international trade has been totally overshadowed by the crisis of international capitalism – manifested in the global recession and debt crisis, resource depletion, catastrophic climate-related events, and the food crisis.
The Marginalization of the Antiglobalization Movement
In a parallel process, the antiglobalization movement also became largely irrelevant after 9-11, as antiglobalization activists shifted their focus to the antiwar movement opposing the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The antiwar movement was subsequently co-opted by the Democratic Party, which enticed activists back to electoral politics, with their very seductive campaign to Defeat George Bush at All Costs.
Simultaneously there were major splits over tactics in the antiglobalization movement, with activist energy being diverted from mass protests to the World Social Forum movement. The latter, as Australian political researcher Michael Barker has documented, seems to have major funding and support from CIA-linked left gatekeeping foundations (http://www.zcommunications.org/corporate-fronts-astroturf-groups-and-co-opted-social-movements-by-michael-barker).
The criminalization of dissent – via the Patriot Act and similar legislation in other countries – may have aggravated this split. Global capitalists have taken to meeting in remote locations (such as Davos, Switzerland), and employing a strong police and military presence to prevent protestors from influencing third world delegates. Demonstrators are deliberately caged off in “protest zones” remote from the actual conference site. This, along with arbitrary visa denials and preemptive arrests of activists based on their ideological beliefs, has substantially reduced the impact and effectiveness of these international protests.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, End of Capitalism, Global south
Former Wall Street analyst (and fellow expatriate) Max Keiser predicts that American workers are unlikely to manifest the same revolutionary fervor as their comrades in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain until they experience comparable difficulties paying for food. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-B2V2l_6QE (link kindly provided by a reader). Egyptians pay 40% of their income for food, Americans only 12%. Nevertheless with the impending double dip recession, continuing wage and benefit cuts, and financial markets massively speculating in food derivatives (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/07/03/speculating-with-our-food/), Keiser believes, as I do, that this day isn’t far off.
As a doctor and health food advocate, I was already well aware that the federal government massively subsidizes cheap fast food and junk food (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/12/13/ending-the-obesity-epidemic/). America’s agricultural subsidies kill literally millions of Americans every year, by creating an epidemic of obesity and related medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Yet until Keiser raised the issue, I never recognized the importance of these subsidies in suppressing popular unrest. It seems the main purpose of US agricultural subsidies isn’t to help farmers or even the massive food conglomerates that run factory farms. They are intended is to control the single most important factor driving third world resistance movements – namely the cost of food.
I was also interested in Keiser’s view that no subsidy program has the ability to control rising food costs, so long Obama refuses to regulate the investment banks that are driving up food prices by speculating in the food commodities market.
A World Bank Perspective
World Bank President Robert Zoellick describes the link between the cost of food and regime change in an oped he wrote for the Financial Times in February 2011 (only paid subscribers can read the FT article, but it’s summarized at http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2011/02/20110216153135elrem0.863125.html#axzz1TFa72yUl). The oped points to the widespread food riots that occurred in 2008 due to a sudden spike in food prices – as well as triggering regime change in Haiti. Yet according to Zoellick, the 2011 food crisis is even worse – with rising food costs forcing 44 million people into poverty between June 2010 and January 2011.
The February 27 Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/the-price-of-food-is-at-the-heart-of-this-wave-of-revolutions-2226896.html and March 2 Energy Bulletin http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-03-02/energy-food-revolution-inextricable-link offer a somewhat less ideological analysis than the World Bank president. The Energy Bulletin links the collapse of the Soviet Union to skyrocketing food prices. They point to a sudden decline in oil prices (with oil exports being the Soviet’s primary source of foreign revenue) in the late 1980s that left the Soviets unable to buy adequate wheat on world markets.
Most commentators seem to agree that the magic number is 40% – that civil unrest becomes inevitable once food prices consume more than 40% of workers’ incomes.
I think the number that ultimately triggers food riots in the US might be lower. During the Great Depression, Americans were forced to spend 35% of their income on food (http://www.enotes.com/1930-lifestyles-social-trends-american-decades/making-do-family-life-depression). Although we don’t read about them in mainstream history books, there were extremely bloody battles in Washington over Hoover’s refusal to pay the bonus that had been promised World War I veterans. Barbara Kingsolver writes about some of them in her 2009 historical novel The Lacuna.
Otherwise I totally agree with Keiser’s and Zoellick’s food theory of revolution, especially in countries like the US where psychological oppression is a bigger problem than political oppression. Psychological oppression is less much less prevalent in countries like Greece, France and Spain (and apparently Britain), where strong working class consciousness enables workers to instantly identify when the government and corporate elite are screwing them. In these countries, workers are far more willing to take to the streets over less life threatening issues – for example, high youth unemployment, pension cuts, an increase in the retirement age, unpopular wars and evidence of corruption in the criminal justice system.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, Challenging the Corporate Media, The Global Economic Crisis
In 2011, “food derivative” speculation has replaced financial derivatives as the hot new investment promoted by major investment banks like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. According to new research from the World Development Movement, the same banks that caused the 2008 economic crash are also responsible for skyrocketing food prices (see http://www.wdm.org.uk/sites/default/files/hunger%20lottery%20report_6.10.pdf and http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/931513/a_guide_to_food_speculation_how_to_argue_with_a_banker.html). They estimate that in 2010 Goldman Sachs made $1 billion in profits from speculating on food (http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/542538/goldman_sachs_makes_1_billion_profit_on_food_price_speculation.html). The really scary news is that in addition to speculating heavily on food commodities, these same private equity funds are also buying up huge tracts of land in the third world.
Trading in Commodities Futures
Individual investors have always had the ability to trade in commodities futures (i.e. buy a 2012 bushel of corn at a fixed price before it’s produced). However the commodities market has always been so unreliable that serious investors have viewed it in the same category as roulette and horse racing. Recently, however, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and other investment banks have used factors that appear to threaten food security – extreme weather events, water shortages and increasing demand due to the Asian economic boom – to aggressively pitch “agri” funds in a big way to investors. The ultimate effect of massive trading in food futures is to drive up the current cost of food, in the same way the subprime mortgage bubble massively inflated the cost of real estate prior to the 2008 economic crash.
The difference here is that high food prices are a life or death issue for billions of people around the world. Yet, as usual, the issue is virtually invisible in the US media.
The Great Land Grab
A 2009 research project by the Oakland Institute (The Great Land Grab http://media.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/LandGrab_final_web.pdf) reveals startling facts about the corporate land grab in the third world – another major factor in skyrocketing food prices. The Spain-based non-governmental organization GRAIN first drew attention to the land grab issue in its October 2008 brief, Seized! The 2008 land grabbers for food and financial security. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IF PRI) has reported that foreign investors sought or secured between 37 million and 49 million acres of farmland in the developing world between 2006 and the middle of 2009. In addition to the role played by major investment banks, multilateral institutions like the International Financial Corporation (the private sector branch of the World Bank) are also major players in the “corporatization” of global agriculture. The IFC plays a dual role in increasing private investment in the third world – via direct investment and by lobbying developing countries to create “business enabling environments.” Another World Bank agency, The Foreign Investment Advisory Service (FIAS ), also plays a role in pressuring third world governments to improve their “investment climate,” by relaxing environmental, tenant rights and food security laws and abolishing tax and duties on foreign investments.
Africa is the major target, both for western investment banks and booming Asian economies, driving tens of thousands of subsistence farmers off land they have farmed for generations.
To be continued, with a look at specific private equity companies that are displacing African subsistence farmers.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class
I’ve been at WOMAD for the last three days collecting signatures on a Green Party petition opposing government plans to privatize four of New Zealand’s state owned energy companies. Most people sign – well aware of the sad and embarrassing results of earlier privatization exercises (including the bank and railroad that failed and had to be rescued by the government).
When people don’t sign, a common response is “I’m okay, thanks.” It doesn’t mean they disagree with the petition. What it means is that they’re making a clear choice not to involve themselves in the political process. Marxist psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich argues in the Mass Psychology of Fascism that disengaging from the political process is an active choice to a strong external authority. It relates to peoples’ lack confidence in their own ability to make responsible decisions.
Where Have I Heard This Before?
I used to get the same “I’m okay, thanks” during my 14 years as a single payer activist in Washington State. There this response had quite a different meaning. It was a typical reaction from union workers and professionals who had good health insurance through their employer and saw no reason to reform the health care system. They were also afraid any change might leave them worse off.
In fact, this attitude – and not insurance and drug company opposition – was the largest single obstacle we faced. People simply couldn’t grasp the extreme danger of allowing health insurance companies to corporatize health care – that once we allowed health care to become a profit-making commodity, insurance companies would jack premiums up exponentially while shifting medical costs were shifted back to patients . And that even people with good coverage would have no safety net if they lost their job or if they or family member developed a serious illness that required extensive treatment.
With the economic downtown, our predictions came true – as thousands of Washingtonians who rejected our single payer petition joined America’s 50 million uninsured.
My Kids Are Okay, Thanks
Curiously I run into a similar response from parents who, frightened by the chaos in many public schools, have opted to enroll their kids in privately run charter schools. Their kids are doing fine, so they see no problem with the massive attack by Republicans and conservative Democrats on public school, teachers and teachers unions. In fact many of these parents argue that teachers should be sacked and schools closed if they don’t do a proper job of educating kids.
The problem, as with single payer movement, is convincing them that there’s an agenda behind the charter school movement – namely the privatization of education – spearheaded by people who don’t see education as a basic human right, but as a potential profit-making commodity. While their own children may have lucked out in securing free placement in a privately run charter school, their grandchildren and great grandchildren may not be so fortunate. Moreover if we allow our neighborhood public schools to close, they won’t have that option, either.
Once charter schools cease to be under public control, there’s absolutely nothing to stop the people who run them from charging fees and tuition, as occurs in many third world countries. It’s a pattern we see repeatedly, when neoliberal institutions like the IMF and World Bank force debtor nations to privatize education in the name of “structural adjustment.” If we fail to defend the right to free public education, we will become like India and other third world countries where only children of well-off families learn to read.
The Dilemma of Being a Progressive Parent
I totally understand the dilemma parents face in ensuring their kids acquire a strong education to prepare them for college and a career. I faced it myself in deciding to keep my own daughter in public school, when I knew she would get a far better education at the private school Bill Gates attended. I could only make that decision by assuming an active role in her progress and school board campaigns and by making a big stink at PTSA and school board meetings when I saw wrongheaded decisions being made.
Liberal and progressive parents always walk a fine line between helping their kids prepare for their future and fighting (in view of global warming and the vicious attacks on the working class, democracy and civil liberties) to ensure that they even have a future. Nevertheless there are some very powerful people seeking to do away with the right to free public education. No matter what type of school our children attend, we need to support public schools and stand with teachers and other public services workers who are under attack.
by stuartbramhall in New Zealand, Sustainability
Obviously there is both an upside and a downside to living in New Zealand. All developed and developing countries are forced to operate under the same global capitalist system, which is under near absolute control of multinational corporations, via the WTO, the Global Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) and other free trade treaties and the draconian financial policies enforced by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. New Zealand is no exception and has many of the major economic and social problems other developed countries are experiencing. In a few areas, New Zealand has adopted some of the worst aspects of global capitalism, which results in uniquely negative consequences for the New Zealand public. However, for the most part, Kiwis retain their commitment to the “democratic socialism” they brought here from Europe. This, in my view, results in a society and culture that tends to be far more humane than is found in the US.
Nevertheless, as a capitalist industrialized nation, New Zealand shares a number of pernicious social problems found in all modern capitalist countries:
- Worsening income equality – only 9% of Kiwis have incomes above $70,000 ($53,000 in US dollars), whereas nearly one third earn less than $14,000 ($10,5000 US).
- Irrational and blind adherence to a continuous economic growth paradigm. In a small country like New Zealand, this has much more serious impact, in terms of toxic soil and water contamination and habitat destruction due to mining and aggressive dairy expansion. Over the past two decades, the majority of New Zealand’s picturesque waterways have become unsuitable for swimming owing to farm effluent and fertilizer run-off.
- Slow uptake of renewable energy production (owing nonexistent finance capital or government subsidies)
- Slow uptake of growth management (sprawl prevention strategies) essential to the development of cost effective public transportation and food and water security.
- Slow uptake of the food miles concept, owing to an economy that is totally reliant on tourism and exports (that sells dairy products, lamb and beef to China to survive).
- Heavy mainstream media emphasize on stereotypical female roles, resulting in massive pressure on New Zealand women to look young, thin and sexually attractive. Fortunately cosmetic surgery is still much less common here than in the US – there simply aren’t enough Kiwis who can afford it.
- Massive household debt (150% of disposable income – largely owing to chronic low wages).
- Factory shut-downs and movement of well-paid union and manufacturing jobs to overseas sweat shops.
- Diets which are excessively dependent on foreign food imports, as opposed to more sustainable reliance on locally and regionally produced food in season.
- Factory farming of pigs and chickens, which have to be fed antibiotics daily, as the cramped quarters cause a large number of animals to be diseased. Owing to heavy, sustained Green Party lobbying, sow stalls have been banned as of 2015. Nevertheless, thanks to the high prevalence of battery hen operations in New Zealand (and constant exposure of chickens to feces), a high proportion of fresh chicken sold in supermarkets is contaminated with salmonella and/or campylobacter (which is destroyed by freezing but not cooking). Both organisms cause food poisoning in humans. New Zealand enjoys the highest per capita incidence of campylobacter infection in the world.
by stuartbramhall in New Zealand, The Global Economic Crisis, The Wars in the Middle East
It took moving overseas for it to sink in that Americans owe their high standard of living to US military domination of third world resources. I have always understood the theory of “economic imperialism” – that the US maintains a monopoly on cheap third world labor and resources via military support of puppet dictators (such a Mubarek), CIA destabilization campaigns, and Wall Street and IMF/World Bank loan, debt and currency manipulation. As a progressive, I placed the entire blame for the bloated US military budget on the US military-industrial complex and the immense power defense contractors wield via their campaign contributions and ownership of US media outlets. I didn’t fully understand the financial consequences of world military domination for ordinary Americans – mainly a lower price for for most consumer goods. It took the physical reality of living in a smaller, poorer, non military nation and paying a lot more for gasoline, books, meat, fish and other products – on a much lower income.
Americans Love Cheap Gasoline, Coffee and Sugar
I think the American public, for the most part, is profoundly ambivalent about the concept of empire. In public opinion polls, Americans consistently oppose foreign wars, except where “US interests” are at stake. However policy makers and the mainstream media are deliberately vague in defining “US interests.” Prior to 1980, a threat to American interests meant a clear threat to America’s democratic system of government or the lives of individual Americans. When Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada in 1984, the official pretext was to evacuate American students at the medical school at St George University (the real reason was to oust pro-Cuban prime minister Bernard Coard).
With the current wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, “US interests” have clearly expanded to include the billions of gallons of cheap foreign oil required for the health of the American economy. Americans love their cheap gasoline, coffee, sugar and chocolate. And most aren’t consciously aware that they owe these cheap luxuries to US military conquests in the third world. If pollsters actually posed the question “Would you give up cheap imported consumer goods to end foreign military aggression?” – I believe the percentage supporting war would rise significantly.
What Americans Sacrifice for Military Empire
I like to think I would be willing to make the sacrifice. In essence I have, by moving to a much smaller, poorer country where tax dollars are used to fund universal health care, subsidized child care and housing and long term unemployment benefits - because New Zealanders don’t feel compelled to invade and occupy other countries.
Prior to 1980, the US also had fairly generous social services for low income Americans. I somehow lost sight of this, as well. Until I came to work in a country that still provides a generous safety net for unemployed, disabled and elderly Kiwis.
Prior to the Reagan presidency and the ballooning of American military expenditures, I could rely on federally funded jobs, vocational rehabilitation and subsidized housing programs to get clients recovering from major mental illness back on their feet. The systematic dismantling of the American safety net began under Reagan and Bush – as they redirected our tax dollars toward military priorities – a phenomenally expensive missile defense system (aka Star Wars) and military interventions in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Grenada, Panama, the Philippines, Somalia and Iraq.
Instead of restoring the social safety net programs his Republican predecessors abolished, Bill Clinton continued the trend by ending the welfare entitlement for single mothers Franklyn Roosevelt enacted in 1935 – to finance a war against Serbia, as well as continued funding for Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Sustainability
I have blogged before about chronic disease (and the need to produce extra farm labor) being the primary population pressure in the third world. Demographers seeking to understand first world population pressures simply look at the US with its 2.1 fertility rate – compared to a 1.1 – 1.4 rate in the most of the industrialized world. In my mind, the fact that the capitalist elite view our high fertility rate as a success story says it all: namely that there are deliberate policies and messaging in operation to encourage robust US population growth (I wrote an article in June for Counterpunch regarding the aggressive targeting of women by the US advertising industry – see http://www.counterpunch.org/bramhall06252010.html)
Most demographers are unanimous on the two main reasons for rapid population growth in the US: 1) it has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the world 2) American women have the worst access in the developed world to affordable contraception, mainly due to extreme political pressure exerted by a well-funded religious right (guess what, anti-abortion laws aren’t about morality).
Part I: What Progressives Can Do – In the Third World
For once Bill Gates and I are on the same page – kind of - about chronic disease causing overpopulation in the developing world. Unfortunately we don’t agree on the solution. He favors mass immunization, which in my view is like trying to cure measles by cutting the spots off. Vaccines are of very little benefit in communities where people are starving to death. Funny that Gates would spend all that time in Africa and not notice the connection between poverty, malnutrition and disease.
In my opinion, the best way for progressives to address third world overpopulation is to address the root cause of third world poverty, starting with the racket World Bank and IMF have going to aid and abet Export Credit scammers and other global financial institutions – who borrow money from the Federal Reserve and other central banks for 0.25% interest and charge developing countries 6.25% interest. Then when countries, such as Pakistan and Haiti, have their economies wiped out by earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters, the World Bank and IMF waltz in and loan them more money – on condition that they agree to slash government expenditures for education, health and nutritional support.
The best way to put an end to this scam is to get behind the Jubilee movement, started in the UK in the late nineties. Have you ever noticed the Christian right is very selective about which Biblical laws they follow? The Jubilee movement, based on Jubilee and Sabbatical Law Moses was given on Mount Sinai [Exodus 21:2-6, Exodus 23:10-11, Leviticus 25:1-7, 18-22, and Deuteronomy 15:1-11, 12-18], has the ultimate goal of forgiving all third world debt. Over the last ten years, they have successfully lobbied to have debt payments suspended or written off in numerous countries.
Right now the focus is on Pakistan and Haiti. There is an Avaaz petition campaign to cancel the debt incurred by both countries by past military dictatorships – in the case of Pakistan to support US strategic and military objectives in Afghanistan. Below are some important Jubilee links:
Other links regarding the nefarious US Export Credit scam:
Part II: What Progressives Can Do – In the US
1. Reducing teen pregnancy:
Studies show that sex education is the most effective intervention in reducing teen pregnancy rates. And there is absolutely no reason why the Christian right should have a monopoly on pregnancy counseling. Progressives need to start our own rape crisis and sex education clinics, comparable to the “birth right” counseling movement. It’s especially important to educate teenage girls about where they can obtain free and low cost contraception and morning after pills – and about date rape and the fact that men who engage in it can be prosecuted. Studies also show most unintended teen pregnancy results from unprotected intercourse with men over 18. And here again, teenagers need to be vigorously supported in pursuing prosecution.
2. Making contraception (including abortion) accessible and affordable:
In a number of states, the well-funded religious right has been very effective in lobbying for laws restricting access, not just to abortion, but to all contraception. As always, progressives need to vigorously oppose this trend.
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, End of Capitalism, Mind Control and Disinformation, New Zealand, The Global Economic Crisis
Three days ago Radio New Zealand National reported that the IMF was asking the New Zealand government to make further cuts in public spending. I had shivers up my spine, flashing back to the time my grandmother had a collision with a known Mafia figure and our family received one of those offers you can’t refuse. My colleagues in the National Health Service (where I work as a child and adolescent psychiatrist) and I are very wary of the IMF’s so-called “recommendations.” In fact we can see little difference between the IMF knocking at your door and a mafia or gang member trying to sell you a protection racket.
New Zealand is the only industrialized country I know of that didn’t implement economic bail-outs for banks, jobless workers or families losing their homes. Moreover, as a result of the recession, our government has already made major cuts to public spending, resulting in the layoff of 1500 public service workers. However the IMF expects us to go still further, with specific recommendations that we end free GP visits (for children, seniors and the disadvantaged) and student loan rebates (to address an extremely critical shortage of doctors and teachers). In other words they want us to “privatize” aspects of our health care system and tertiary education.
The Pressure to Privatize Our National Health Service
Given that New Zealand has a national health service, and that both National (the conservatives) and Labour (the liberals) support the belief that health care is a basic human right, I see a clear subtext here. It is well known the people who run the IMF (who for the most part represent financial institutions such as banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies) do not accept the notion of a right to health care. They view health care delivery as a commodity with immense profit potential – and see absolutely no reason why private health insurance companies should be denied the right to make a profit from illness and human misery in all industrialized countries, as they do in the US. I know this because the structural adjustment programs they impose on debtor nations always include a demand that these countries abolish their publicly funded health systems and open their markets to private insurance companies.
What Happens if We Refuse an Offer We Can’t Refuse?
If New Zealand were frittering away IMF money, I could accept that the IMF might be in a position to dictate how we spend it. However New Zealand hasn’t borrowed any money from the IMF. At present New Zealand borrows approximately $250 millions per week from commercial lenders at 4 – 6.5% interest. We pay a low interest rate because of our AA+ credit rating (countries receive credit ratings just like individuals).
The threat, of course, is that if New Zealand fails to cut public spending enough to satisfy its global lenders, our credit rating will be downgraded from AA+ to BBB- (like Iceland and Greece) and our government will be force to borrow from the IMF (like Iceland and Greece). We will then be forced to pay 18% interest and agree to draconian cuts in health and education. Fitch and other rating agencies are supposed to be independent from the financial institutions that control the IMF. However recent criminal prosecutions suggest that they aren’t – and that banks and other financial institutions can “buy” favorable or unfavorable credit ratings to suit their commercial interests.
If New Zealand was inhospitable to foreign companies wanting to do business here or irresponsible in collecting taxes or managing government fraud and corruption, it would be a far different story. However New Zealand is consistently designated as the country with the least red tape and regulation for foreign businesses, as well as the most fraud free. We also have a well-earned reputation for frugality. Our government ran a surplus between 1999 and Oct 2008 – the month the world economy collapsed and we stopped selling exports and overseas travel to tourists – owing to circumstances which were totally beyond our control