US lawmakers are already threatening Russia with economic sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine. Trade, business, investment, and G8 membership closely link the Russian, American and European economies.
While the West is considering going down the ‘sanction road’, here’s a look at what’s at stake for the markets.
In terms of billions of dollars, trade is higher between Russia and the EU, but the US remains Europe’s biggest export market.
Net trade between Russia and the US was $38.1 billion in 2013, according to US Chamber of Commerce data. The US exported $11.26 billion to Russia, and imported $26.96 billion worth of goods.
Russia exports more than $19 billion of oil and petroleum products to the United States, as well as $1 billion in fertilizer products, according to Chamber of Commerce data.
“Is Russia going to be cut off from the world? That is very unlikely given what Russia provides to the world, which are oil, gas, raw materials,” Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia told Reuters.
Russia is very dependent on trade with the EU, as member states account for about 50 percent of total Russian imports and exports. In 2012, trade between the two neighbors reached €123 billion.
One of Russia’s most valuable exports to Europe is something factories and households run on every day: natural gas. Europe imports one-third of its natural gas from Russia, with Germany being the biggest client importing nearly 30 billion euro annually. In 2012, 75 percent of all European imports from Russia were energy.
Many countries in Europe have strategic partnerships with Russia’s state-owned gas giants, Rosneft and Gazprom.
According to Eurostat data, Russia accounts for 7 percent of total imports and 12 percent of total exports in the 28 European Union bloc, making it the regions third most important trading partner, behind the USA and China.
US companies with big Russia presence
Several of America’ biggest companies- Boeing, Cargill, Ford, General Motors, ExxonMobil, to name a few- all have a huge presence in the Russian market.
Boeing’s investment in Russia is deep, as the aerospace carrier sources a considerable amount of steel, titanium, and aircraft parts from Russian companies. Boeing receives about 35 percent of its titanium from state-owned, Rostec. In 2013, Boeing’s deliveries to Russian carriers were valued at $2.1 billion, and the company plans to spend $27 billion in Russia, Bloomberg reports.
“We are watching developments closely to determine what impact, if any, there may be to our ongoing business and partnerships in the region,” Doug Alder, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, told Bloomberg by email.
Last year, Russia was a $11.2 billion market for the US, with heavy trade in automobiles and aircrafts, according to Commerce Department data.
US automakers have a high exposure to Russian markets, so are closely watching US economic actions against Russia. Ford has sold over 1 million automobiles in Russia, and in 2013, sold 105,000 cars. GM, which has a 9 percent market share, sold 258,000. Both companies have shifted production plants from Europe to Russia, which is set to become Europe’s biggest car market by 2016.
ExxonMobil has partnered with Rosneft in exploring the Bazhenov oil field in Western Siberia, a deal that could be worth up to $500 billion. ExxonMobil is planning to build a $15 billion LNG terminal project in the Bazhenov field, and also has joint venture projects set up to explore Black Sea reserves.
Senator Chris Murphy, chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on Europe, said the sanctions could be extended to Russia’s banks. Russia’s two largest state banks are Sberbank, Europe’s third largest, and VTB. Both banks have a strong industry presence in London, which has indicated it isn’t moving towards the sanctions. A leaked document from Downing Street shows that the UK government doesn’t plan to follow America-led asset freezes or trade restrictions, but are mulling over visa restrictions and travel bans on key Russian politicians.
The self-proclaimed government in Kiev is reportedly planning to cut pensions by 50 percent as part of unprecedented austerity measures to save Ukraine from default. With an “empty treasury”, reduction of payments might take place in March.
According to the draft document obtained by Kommersant-Ukraine, social payments will be the first to be reduced.
“The Finance Ministry has prepared a plan for optimizing budget expenditures, which implies budget sequestration is to be in force before the end of March. For this purpose, in particular, it has been proposed to reduce capital costs, eliminate tax schemes and preferences and to cut social benefits, for example, 50 percent of pensions to working pensioners,” Kommersant-Ukraine reported.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Social Policy reported on December 1, 2013, that an average pension in Ukraine is $160.
Right after the formation, the self-proclaimed government in Kiev announced that the “treasury is empty”.
Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseny Yatsenyuk, promised the government would do its best to avoid a default, adding that he expects an EU/IMF economic stabilization package soon. The plan has been formulated in record time, with the government’s strategy ratified in the Ukrainian parliament on February 27, and the document being sent for evaluation to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade on March 3.
The European Commission offered Ukraine an 11 billion euro loan if Kiev agrees a deal with the IMF, European Commission President Jose Barroso announced on Wednesday. As a rule, help from financial organizations such as the IMF or the World Bank normally includes drastic austerity measures.
Accepting IMF money will mean many sacrifices for Ukraine’s economy, which are likely to include increased gas bills, frozen government salaries, and all around budget cuts.
The government in Kiev has already announced sequestration plans from $6.8 to $8.4 billion in 2014.
Russia says it will retaliate against any possible sanctions that the United States may impose on Moscow over its involvement in Ukraine.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow would have to respond in such situations that are provoked by “Washington’s rash and irresponsible actions.”
“We have frequently explained to the Americans… why unilateral sanctions do not fit the standards of civilized relations between states,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
Lukashevich also added that such response would not be necessarily symmetrical.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday criticized the West’s threats of “sanctions and boycotts” against the country.
At the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Lavrov said those who speak of sanctions are the ones that “ultimately polarized Ukrainian society.”
Earlier, the US and the European Union had warned Moscow of the consequences of its military action in Ukraine.
Lavrov also said that the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula is necessary to protect the country’s citizens.
“We are talking here about protection of our citizens and compatriots, about protection of the most fundamental of the human rights—the right to live and nothing more,” he noted.
The US Senate and the Obama administration are discussing possible measures against the Russian government such as a halt to military cooperation, and economic sanctions in addition to moves against individual Russians, including visa bans and asset freezes.
By the early 1980s the more perceptive sectors of the neoliberal ruling classes realized that their policies were polarizing the society and provoking large-scale social discontent.
Neoliberal politicians began to finance and promote a parallel strategy “from below,” the promotion of “grassroots” organization with an”anti-statist” ideology to intervene among potentially conflictory classes, to create a “social cushion.” These organizations were financially dependent on neoliberal sources and were directly involved in competing with socio-political movements for the allegiance of local leaders and activist communities. By the 1990s these organizations, described as “nongovernmental,” numbered in the thousands and were receiving close to four billion dollars world-wide.
Neoliberalism and the NGOs
The confusion concerning the political character of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stems from their earlier history in the 1970s during the days of the dictatorships. In this period they were active in providing humanitarian support to the victims of the military dictatorship and denouncing human rights violations. The NGOs supported “soup kitchens” which allowed victimized families to survive the first wave of shock treatments administered by the neoliberal dictatorships. This period created a favorable image of NGOs even among the left. They were considered part of the “progressive camp.”
Even then, however, the limits of the NGOs were evident. While they attacked the human rights violations of local dictatorships, they rarely denounced the U.S. and European patrons who financed and advised them. Nor was there a serious effort to link the neoliberal economic policies and human rights violations to the new turn in the imperialist system. Obviously the external sources of funding limited the sphere of criticism and human rights action.
As opposition to neoliberalism grew in the early 1980s, the U.S. and European governments and the World Bank increased their funding ofNGOs. There is a direct relation between the growth of social movements challenging the neoliberal model and the effort to subvert them by creating alternative forms of social action through the NGOs. The basic point of convergence between the NGOs and the World Bank was their common opposition to”statism.” On the surface the NGOs criticized the state from a “left” perspective defending civil society, while the right did so in the name of the market. In reality, however, the World Bank, the neoliberal regimes, and western foundations co-opted and encouraged the NGOs to undermine the national welfare state by providing social services to compensate the victims of the multinational corporations (MNCs). In other words, as the neoliberal regimes at the top devastated communities by inundating the country with cheap imports, extracting external debt payment, abolishing labor legislation, and creating a growing mass of low-paid and unemployed workers, the NGOs were funded to provide “self-help” projects, “popular education,” and job training, to temporarily absorb small groups of poor, to co-opt local leaders, and to undermine anti-system struggles.
The NGOs became the “community face” of neoliberalism, intimately related to those at the top and complementing their destructive work with local projects. In effect the neoliberals organized a “pincer” operation or dual strategy. Unfortunately many on the left focused only on “neoliberalism” from above and the outside (International Monetary Fund, World Bank) and not on neoliberalism from below (NGOs, micro-enterprises). A major reason for this oversight was the conversion of many ex-Marxists to the NGO formula and practice. Anti-Statism was the ideological transit ticket from class politics to “community development,” from Marxism to the NGOs.
Typically, NGO ideologues counterpose “state” power to “local” power. State power is, they argue, distant from its citizens, autonomous, and arbitrary, and it tends to develop interests different from and opposed to those of its citizens, while local power is necessarily closer and more responsive to the people. But apart from historical cases where the reverse has also been true, this leaves out the essential relation between state and local power—the simple truth that state power wielded by a dominant, exploiting class will undermine progressive local initiatives, while that same power in the hands of progressive forces can reinforce such initiatives.
The counter position of state and local power has been used to justify the role of NGOs as brokers between local organizations, neoliberal foreign donors (World Bank, Europe, or the United States) and the local free market regimes. But the effect is to strengthen neoliberal regimes by severing the link between local struggles and organizations and national/international political movements. The emphasis on “local activity” serves the neoliberal regimes since it allows its foreign and domestic backers to dominate macro-socio-economic policy and to channel most of the state’s resources toward subsidies for export capitalists and financial institutions.
So while the neoliberals were transferring lucrative state properties to the private rich, the NGOs were not part of the trade union resistance. On the contrary they were active in local private projects, promoting the private enterprise discourse (self-help) in the local communities by focusing on micro-enterprises. The NGOs built ideological bridges between the small scale capitalists and the monopolies benefiting from privatization—all in the name of “anti-statism”and the building of civil societies. While the rich accumulated vast financial empires from the privatization, the NGO middle class professionals got small sums to finance offices, transportation, and small-scale economic activity.
The important political point is that the NGOs depoliticized sectors of the population, undermined their commitment to public employees, and co-opted potential leaders in small projects. NGOs abstain from public schoolteacher struggles, as the neoliberal regimes attack public education and public educators. Rarely if ever do NGOs support the strikes and protests against low wages and budget cuts. Since their educational funding comes from the neoliberal governments, they avoid solidarity with public educators in struggle. In practice, “non-governmental” translates into anti-public-spending activities, freeing the bulk of funds for neoliberals to subsidize export capitalists while small sums trickle from the government to NGOs.
In reality non-governmental organizations are not non-governmental. They receive funds from overseas governments or work as private subcontractors of local governments. Frequently they openly collaborate with governmental agencies at home or overseas. This “subcontracting”undermines professionals with fixed contracts, replacing them with contingent professionals. The NGOs cannot provide the long-term comprehensive programs that the welfare state can furnish. Instead they provide limited services to narrow groups of communities. More importantly, their programs are not accountable to the local people but to overseas donors. In that sense NGOs undermine democracy by taking social programs out of the hands of the local people and their elected officials to create dependence on non-elected, overseas officials and their locally anointed officials.
NGOs shift people’s attention and struggles away from the national budget and toward self-exploitation to secure local social services. This allows the neoliberals to cut social budgets and transfer state funds to subsidize bad debts of private banks, and provide loans to exporters. Self exploitation (self-help) means that, in addition to paying taxes to the state and not getting anything in return, working people have to work extra hours with marginal resources, and expend scarce energies to obtain services that the bourgeoisie continues to receive from the state. More fundamentally, the NGO ideology of “private voluntaristic activity” undermines the sense of the “public”: the idea that the government has an obligation to look after its citizens and provide them with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that the political responsibility of the state is essential for the well-being of citizens. Against this notion of public responsibility, the NGOs foster the neoliberal idea of private responsibility for social problems and the importance of private resources to solve these problems. In effect they impose a double burden on the poor who continue to pay taxes to finance the neoliberal state to serve the rich, but are left with private self-exploitation to take care of their own needs.
NGOs and Socio-political Movements
NGOs emphasize projects, not movements; they “mobilize” people to produce at the margins but not to struggle to control the basic means of production and wealth; they focus on technical financial assistance of projects, not on structural conditions that shape the everyday lives of people. The NGOs co-opt the language of the left: “popular power,” “empowerment,” “gender equality,” “sustainable development,” “bottom-up leadership.” The problem is that this language is linked to a framework of collaboration with donors and government agencies that subordinate practical activity to non-confrontational politics. The local nature of NGO activity means that “empowerment” never goes beyond influencing small areas of social life, with limited resources, and within the conditions permitted by the neoliberal state and macro-economy.
The NGOs and their post-Marxist professional staff directly compete with the socio-political movements for influence among the poor, women, and the racially excluded. Their ideology and practice diverts attention from the sources and solutions of poverty (looking downward and inward instead of upward and outward). To speak of micro-enterprises, instead of the elimination of exploitation by the overseas banks, as the solution, is based on the notion that the problem is one of individual initiative rather than the transference of income overseas. The NGO’s aid affects small sectors of the population, setting up competition between communities for scarce resources, generating insidious distinctions and inter- and intra-community rivalries, thus undermining class solidarity. The same is true among the professionals: each sets up its NGO to solicit overseas funds. They compete by presenting proposals more congenial to the overseas donors, while claiming to speak for their followers.
The net effect is a proliferation of NGOs that fragment poor communities into sectoral and sub-sectoral groupings unable to see the larger social picture that afflicts them and even less able to unite in struggle against the system. Recent experience also demonstrates that foreign donors finance projects during “crises”—political and social challenges to the status quo. Once the movements have ebbed they shift funding to NGO-style “collaboration,” fitting the NGO projects into the neoliberal agenda. Economic development compatible with the “free market” rather than social organization for social change becomes the dominant item on the funding agenda.
The structure and nature of NGOs, with their “apolitical” posture and their focus on self-help, depoliticizes and demobilizes the poor. They reinforce the electoral processes encouraged by the neoliberal parties and mass media. Political education about the nature of imperialism, and the class basis of neoliberalism, the class struggle between exporters and temporary workers, are avoided. Instead the NGOs discuss “the excluded,” the “powerless,” “extreme poverty,” “gender or racial discrimination,” without moving beyond the superficial symptom to the social system that produces these conditions. Incorporating the poor into the neoliberal economy through purely “private voluntary action,” the NGOs create a political world where the appearance of solidarity and social action cloaks a conservative conformity with the international and national structure of power.
It is no coincidence that as NGOs have become dominant in certain regions, independent class political action has declined, and neoliberalism goes uncontested. The bottom line is that the growth of NGOs coincides with increased funding under neoliberalism and the deepening of poverty everywhere. Despite the claims of many local successes, the overall power of neoliberalism stands unchallenged and the NGOs increasingly search for niches in the interstices of power.
The problem of formulating alternatives has been hindered in another way too. Many of the former leaders of guerrilla and social movements, trade union and popular women’s organizations have been co-opted by the NGOs. Some have undoubtedly been attracted by the hope—or the illusion—that this might give them access to levers of power which would allow them to do some good. But in any case, the offer is tempting: higher pay (occasionally in hard currency), prestige and recognition by overseas donors, overseas conferences and networks, office staff, and relative security from repression. In contrast, the socio-political movements offer few material benefits but greater respect and independence and, more importantly, the freedom to challenge the political and economic system. The NGOs and their overseas banking supporters (Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank) publish newsletters featuring success stories of micro-enterprises and other self-help projects—without mentioning the high rates of failure as popular consumption declines, low-priced imports flood the market, and interest rates spiral, as in Mexico today.
Even the “successes” affect only a small fraction of the total poor and succeed only to the degree that others cannot enter the same market. The propaganda value of individual micro-enterprise success, however, is important in fostering the illusion that neoliberalism is a popular phenomenon. The frequent violent mass outbursts that take place in regions of micro-enterprise promotion suggests that the ideology is not hegemonic and the NGOs have not yet displaced independent class movements.
Finally NGOs foster a new type of cultural and economic colonialism and dependency. Projects are designed, or at least approved, based on the “guidelines” and priorities of the imperial centers and their institutions. They are administered and “sold” to communities. Evaluations are done by and for the imperial institutions. Shifts of funding priorities or bad evaluations result in the dumping of groups, communities, farms, and co-operatives. Everything and everybody is increasingly disciplined to comply with the donors and project evaluators’ demands. The new viceroys supervise and ensure conformity with the goals, values, and ideologies of the donor as well as the proper use of funds. Where “successes” occur they are heavily dependent on continued outside support, without which they could collapse.
In many ways the hierarchical structures and the forms of transmission of “aid” and “training” resemble nineteenth-century charity, and the promoters are not very different from Christian missionaries. The NGOs emphasize “self-help” in attacking “paternalism and dependence” on the state. In this competition among NGOs to capture the victims of neoliberals, they receive important subsidies from their counterparts in Europe and the United States. The self-help ideology emphasizes the replacement of public employees by volunteers, and upwardly mobile professionals contracted on a temporary basis. The basic philosophy of the NGO intellectuals is to transform “solidarity” into collaboration and subordination to the macro-economy of neoliberalism, by focusing attention away from state resources of the wealthy classes toward self-exploitation of the poor.
But, while the mass of NGOs are increasingly instruments of neoliberalism, there is a small minority which attempt to develop an alternative strategy that is supportive of anti-imperialist and class politics. None of them receive funds from the World Bank, European, or U.S. governmental agencies. They support efforts to link local power to struggles for state power. They link local projects to national socio-political movements: occupying large landed estates, defending public property and national ownership against multinationals. They provide political solidarity to social movements involved in struggles to expropriate land. They support women’s struggles linked to class perspectives. They recognize the importance of politics in defining local and immediate struggles. They believe that local organizations should fight at the national level and that national leaders must be accountable to local activists.
Let us examine some examples of the role of NGOs and their relation to neoliberalism and imperialism in specific countries:
In 1985 the Bolivian government launched its New Economic Policy (NEP) by decree: freezing wages for four months while inflation raged at a 15,000 percent annual rate. The NEP annulled all price controls and reduced or ended food and fuel subsidies. It also laid the basis for the privatization of most state enterprises and the firing of public-sector employees. Massive cutbacks in health and education programs eliminated most public services. These structural adjustment policies (SAP) were designed and dictated by the World Bank and the IMF and approved by the U.S. and European governments and banks. The number of poverty stricken Bolivians grew geometrically. Prolonged general strikes and violent confrontations followed. In response the World Bank, European, and U.S. governments provided massive aid to fund a “poverty alleviation program.” Most of the money was directed to a Bolivian government agency, the Emergency Social Fund (ESF), which channeled funds to the NGOs to implement its program. The funds were not insignificant: in 1990 foreign aid totaled $738 million.
The number of NGOs in Bolivia grew rapidly in response to international funding: prior to 1980 there were 100 NGOs; by 1992 there were 530 and growing. Almost all the NGOs are directed toward addressing social problems created by the World Bank and the Bolivian government’s free market policies, which the dismantled state institutions no longer can deal with. Of the tens of millions allocated to the NGOs, only 15 to 20 percent reached the poor. The rest was siphoned off to pay administrative costs and professional salaries. The Bolivian NGOs functioned as appendages of the state and served to consolidate its power. The absolute levels of poverty stayed the same and the long-term structural causes—the neoliberal policies—were cushioned by the NGOs. While not solving the poverty problem, the NGO-administered poverty programs strengthened the regime and weakened opposition to the SAP. The NGOs, with their big budgets, exploited vulnerable groups and were able to convince some leaders of the opposition that they could benefit from working with the government. According to one observer, commenting on the NGO role in the “poverty program”: “If this (NGO programs) did not create direct support, it at least reduced potential opposition to the government and its program.”
When the public school teachers of La Paz went on strike to protest $50-a-month wages and crowded classrooms, the NGOs ignored it; when cholera and yellow fever epidemics raged in the countryside, the NGO self-help programs were helpless where a comprehensive public health program would have been successful in preventing them. The NGOs did absorb many of Bolivia’s former leftist intellectuals and turned them into apologists for the neoliberal system. Their seminars about “civil society” and “globalization” obscured the fact that the worst exploiters (the private mine owners, new rich agro-exporters, and high paid consultants) were members of “civil society” and that the SAP was an imperial design to open the country’s mineral resources to unregulated pillage.
In Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship in 1973-1989, the NGOs played an important role denouncing human rights violations, preparing studies critical of the neoliberal model and sustaining soup kitchens and other poverty programs. Their numbers multiplied with the advent of the massive popular struggles between 1982 and 1986 that threatened to overthrow the dictatorship. To the extent that they expressed an ideology, it was oriented toward “democracy” and “development with equity.” Of the close to two hundred NGOs, fewer than five provided a clear critical analysis and exposition of the links between U.S. imperialism and the dictatorship, the ties between World Bank funded free market policies and the 47 percent level of poverty.
In July of 1986 there was a successful general strike—a guerrilla group almost succeeded in killing Pinochet—and the United States sent a representative (Gelbard) to broker an electoral transition between the more conservative sectors of the opposition and Pinochet. An electoral calendar was established, a plebiscite was organized, and the electoral parties re-emerged. An alliance between Christian Democrats and Socialists was forged and eventually won the plebiscite, ending Pinochet’s rule (but not his command of the armed forces and secret police); this alliance subsequently won the presidency.
The social movements which played a vital role in ending the dictatorships were marginalized. The NGOs turned from supporting the movements to collaborating with the government. The Socialist and Christian Democratic NGO professionals became government ministers. From critics of Pinochet’s free market policies they became its celebrants. Former President of CIEPLAN (a major research institute) Alejandro Foxley publicly promised to continue managing the macro-economic indicators in the same fashion as Pinochet’s minister. The NGOs were instructed by their foreign donors to end their support for independent grassroots movements and to collaborate with the new civilian neoliberal regime. Sur Profesionales, one of the best known research NGOs, carried out research on the “propensity for violence” in the shantytowns—information that was useful to the police and the new regime in repressing independent social movements. Two of its chief researchers (specialty: social movements) became government ministers administering economic policies that created the most lopsided income inequalities in recent Chilean history.
The NGOs’ external links and the professional ambitions of its leaders played a major role in undermining the burgeoning popular movement. Most of its leaders became government functionaries who co-opted local leaders, while undermining rank-and-file style community assemblies. Interviews with women active in the shantytown Lo Hermida revealed the shift in the post-electoral period. “The NGOs told us that because democracy has arrived there is no need to continue the (soup-kitchen) programs. You don’t need us.” Increasingly the NGOs conditioned their activities on supporting the “democratic” free market regime. The NGO functionaries continued to use their participatory rhetoric to hustle votes for their parties in the government and to secure government contracts.
One striking impact of the NGOs in Chile was its relationship to the “women’s movement.” What started as a promising activist group in the mid-1980s was gradually taken over by NGOs who published expensive newsletters from well-furnished offices. The “leaders” who lived in fashionable neighborhoods represented a shrinking number of women. During the Latin American Feminist Conference in Chile in 1997, a militant group of rank-and-file Chilean feminist (”the autonomists”) provided a radical critique of the NGO feminists as sellouts to government subsidies.
The most dynamic social movement in Brazil is the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). With over five thousand organizers and several hundred thousand sympathizers and activists, it has been directly involved in hundreds of land occupations over the past few years. At a conference organized in May 1996, by the MST, at which I spoke, the role of NGOs was one of the subjects of debate. A representative from a Dutch NGO appeared on the scene and insisted on participating. When he was told the meeting was closed, he told them that he had a “proposal” for funding ($300 thousand) community development, and insisted on entering. In no uncertain terms the MST leaders told him that they were not for sale and that anyway, they, the MST, design their own “projects” according to their own needs and don’t need NGO tutors.
Later the women’s caucus of the MST discussed a recent meeting with rural-based feminist NGOs. The MST women pushed for a class struggle perspective, combining direct action (land occupations) and the struggle for agrarian reform with gender equality. The NGO professionals insisted that the MST women break with their organizations and support a minimalist program of strictly feminist reforms. The end result was a tactical agreement opposing domestic violence, registering women as heads of families, and encouraging gender equality. The MST women, mostly daughters of landless peasants, perceived the NGO professionals as divisive careerists, not willing to challenge the political and economic elite that oppressed all peasants. Despite their criticisms of their male comrades, they clearly felt greater affinity with the movement than with the class-collaborationist “feminist” NGOs.
In our discussion, the MST distinguished between NGOs that contribute to the movement (money, resources, etc.) to finance class struggle, and NGOs that are essentially missionary outfits that fragment and isolate peasants, as is the case with many pentecostal and USAID and World Bank sponsored NGO projects.
Throughout Latin America peasant militants have voiced serious criticisms of the role and politics of the vast majority of NGOs, particularly about the patronizing and domineering attitude that they display behind their ingratiating rhetoric of “popular empowerment” and participation. I encountered this directly during a recent visit to El Salvador, where I was giving a seminar for the Alianza Democratica Campesino (the ADC, or Democratic Peasant Alliance) which represents 26 peasant and landless workers’ organizations.
Part of our collaboration involved the joint development of a project to fund a peasant-directed research and training center. Together with the leaders of the ADC we visited a private Canadian agency, CRC SOGEMA, which was subcontracted by CIDA, the Canadian government’s foreign assistance agency. They administered a $25 million (Canadian) aid packet for El Salvador. Before our visit, one of the ADC leaders had held an informal discussion with one of the Salvadoran associates of CRC SOGEMA. He explained the proposal and its importance for stimulating peasant-based participatory research. The CRC SOGEMA representative proceeded to draw a figure of a person on a piece of paper. He pointed to the head. “That,” he said, “is the NGOs: they think, write, and prepare programs.” He then pointed to the hands and feet, “that’s the peasants: they provide data and implement the projects.”
This revealing episode was the background to our formal meeting with the head of CRC SOGEMA. The director told us that the money was already earmarked for a Salvadoran NGO: FUNDE (Fundacion Nacional para el Desarrollo, the National Foundation for Development), a consulting firm of upwardly mobile professionals. She encouraged the peasant leaders to co-operate and to become involved because, she said, it would be “empowering.” In the course of our conversation, it emerged that the Salvadoran associate of CRC SOGEMA who had expressed that outrageous view of the relation between NGOs (the head) and peasants (the hands and feet) was a “link” between FUNDE and SOGEMA. The ADC leaders responded that, while FUNDE was technically competent, their “courses” and research did not meet the needs of the peasants and that they had a very paternalistic attitude toward the peasants. When the Canadian director asked for an example, the ADC leaders related the incident of the “political drawing” and the role to which it relegated peasants.
This was, said the director of SOGEMA, a “very unfortunate incident,” but they were nonetheless committed to working with the FUNDE. If the ADC wished to have an impact they would best attend FUNDE meetings. The ADC leaders pointed out that the project’s design and goals were elaborated by middle class professionals, while peasants were invited to collaborate by providing data and attending their “seminars.” In a fit of annoyance, the director called the meeting to an end. The peasant leaders were furious. “Why were we led to believe that they (the Canadian agency) were interested in peasant participation, democracy, and all the other crap, when they are already plugged into the NGOs, who don’t represent a single peasant? That study will never be read by any peasant, nor will it be at all relevant to our struggle for land. It will be about “modernization” and how to swindle the peasants out of their land and turn them into commercial farms or tourist areas.”
The managers of NGOs have become skilled in designing projects. They transmit the new rhetoric of “identity” and “globalism” into the popular movements. Their activities and texts promote international cooperation, self-help, micro-enterprises, and forge ideological bonds with the neoliberals while forcing people into economic dependency on external donors. After a decade of NGO activity these professionals have “depoliticized” and de-radicalized whole areas of social life: women, neighborhoods, and youth organizations. In Peru and Chile, where the NGO’s have become firmly established, the radical social movements have declined.
Local struggles over immediate issues are the food and substance that nurture emerging movements. NGOs certainly emphasize the “local,” but the crucial question is what direction local actions will take: whether they will raise the larger issues of the social system and link up with other local forces to confront the state and its imperial backers, or whether they will turn inward, while looking to foreign donors and fragmenting into a series of competing supplicants for external subsidies. The ideology of NGOs encourages the latter.
NGO intellectuals frequently write about “co-operation” but without dwelling on the price and conditions for securing the co-operation of neoliberal regimes and overseas funding agencies. In their role as mediators and brokers, hustling funds overseas and matching the funds to projects acceptable to donors and local recipients, the “foundation entrepreneurs” are engaged in a new type of politics similar to the “labor contractors” (enganchadores) of the not too distant past: herding together women to be “trained”; setting up micro-firms subcontracted to larger producers or exporters employing cheap labor. The new politics of the NGOs is essentially the politics of compradores: they produce no national products; instead, they link foreign funders with local labor (self-help micro-enterprises) to facilitate the continuation of the neoliberal regime. The managers of NGOs are fundamentally political actors whose projects and training workshops do not make any significant economic impact in raising workers’ and peasants’ incomes. But their activities do make an impact in diverting people from the class struggle into forms of collaboration with their oppressors.
To justify this approach, NGO ideologies will often invoke “pragmatism” or “realism,” citing the decline of the revolutionary left, the triumph of capitalism in the East, the “crisis of Marxism,” the loss of alternatives, the strength of the United States, the coups and repression by the military. This “possibilism” is used to convince the left to work within the niches of the free market imposed by the World Bank and structural adjustment, and to confine politics to the electoral parameters imposed by the military.
The pessimistic “possibilism” of the NGO ideologues is necessarily one-sided. They focus on neoliberal electoral victories and not on the post-electoral mass protests and general strikes that mobilize large numbers of people in extra-parliamentary activity. They look at the demise of communism in the late eighties and not to the revival of radical social movements in the mid-nineties. They describe the constraints of the military on electoral politicians without looking at the challenges to the military by the Zapatista guerrillas, the urban rebellions in Caracas, the general strikes in Bolivia. In a word, the possibilists overlook the dynamics of struggles that begin at the sectoral or local level within the electoral parameters of the military, and then are propelled upward and beyond those limits by the failures of the possibilists to satisfy the elementary demands and needs of the people.
The pragmatism of the NGOs is matched by the extremism of the neoliberals. The 1990’s has witnessed a radicalization of neoliberal policies, designed to forestall crisis by handing over even more lucrative investment and speculative opportunities to overseas banks and multinationals: petroleum in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela; lower wages and less social security payments; greater tax exemption; and the elimination of all protective labor legislation. Contemporary Latin American class structure is more rigid and the state more directly tied to the ruling classes than ever. The irony is that the neoliberals are creating a polarized class structure much closer to the Marxist paradigm of society than to the NGO vision.
This is why Marxism offers a real alternative to NGOism. And in Latin America, there do exist Marxist intellectuals who write and speak for the social movements in struggle, committed to sharing the same political consequences. They are “organic” intellectuals who are basically part of the movement—the resource people providing analysis and education for class struggle, in contrast to the “post-Marxist” NGO intellectuals, who are embedded in the world of institutions, academic seminars, foreign foundations, international conferences and bureaucratic reports. These Marxist intellectuals recognize the centrality of local struggles, but they also acknowledge that the success of those struggles depends to a large extent on the outcome of the conflict between classes over state power at the national level.
What they offer is not the hierarchical “solidarity” of foreign aid and collaboration with neoliberalism, but class solidarity, and within the class, the solidarity of oppressed groups (women and people of color) against their foreign and domestic exploiters. The major focus is not on the donations that divide classes and pacify small groups for a limited time, but on the common action by members of the same class, sharing their common economic, predicament struggling for collective improvement.
The strength of the critical Marxist intellectuals resides in the fact that their ideas are in tune with changing social realities. The growing polarization of classes and the increasingly violent confrontations are apparent. So while the Marxists are numerically weak in the institutional sense, they are strategically strong as they begin to connect with a new generation of revolutionary militants, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the MST in Brazil.
Below are the remarks of US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew before the 2014 Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC) These are clearly the remarks of the banker for the Empire. It should be noted that Lew’s remarks on Ukraine appear to be in line with those of Rand Paul and though Lew’s comments clearly show that he considers Israel as the 51st, and most important state, his views on sanctions are more moderate than those of Rand.
Read the remarks only if you have a strong stomach. Note the re-introduction of the IMF as key financial enforcer. During a stop over in SF, Lew admitted that the IMF is a tool of the US.
I want to thank President Kassen, incoming President Cohen, the Board of Directors, and everyone for inviting me here today. There are so many familiar faces in this room—friends of many years from my time in Washington, New York, and around the country. It is truly wonderful to be with you.
Before turning to the focus of my remarks, let me say that we are closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine with grave concern. As President Obama told President Putin yesterday, Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity is a breach of international law. I have spoken several times to the Ukrainian Prime Minister who assures me that the government is prepared to take the necessary steps to build a secure economic foundation, including urgently needed market reforms that will restore financial stability, unleash economic potential, and allow Ukraine’s people to better achieve their economic aspirations.
The United States is prepared to work with its bilateral and multilateral partners to provide as much support as Ukraine needs to restore financial stability and return to economic growth, if the new government implements the necessary reforms.
An IMF program should be the centerpiece of the international assistance package, and the United States is prepared to supplement IMF support in order to make successful reform implementation more likely and to cushion the impact of needed reforms on vulnerable Ukrainians.
Now the reason we are all here is because for more than 40 years, AIPAC has been the indispensable leader in keeping the alliance between the United States and Israel unbreakable. And you have done that through your powerful example of advocacy and activism—you make your voices heard, you take your case to your representatives here in Washington, and you stand up for what you believe in. This is not just your right as Americans. It is your responsibility. It is the essence of our democratic system.
And as everyone here recognizes, the future of the United States is tied to the future of Israel. This is something that every President since Harry Truman has understood.
In fact, in 1948, it took President Truman only 11 minutes to recognize the Jewish state of Israel. And from then on, the American-Israel relationship has not been a Democratic cause or a Republican cause, it has been an American cause.
President Obama has remained true to this proud legacy since the first day he took office, and he has made it clear that for him and for this Administration, America’s commitment to Israel is ironclad. As he said as President-elect, before he even took office: “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is nonnegotiable.” And he has never wavered from that position.
Like the President, Israel’s security is not only a public policy conviction for me, it is a personal one. As many of you know, no one grew up with a deeper appreciation for the state of Israel than I did. And I have no doubt that a strong and secure Israel is vital to America’s strength and America’s security.
As we meet, America’s support for Israel’s security has never been stronger. And over the next three days, you’re going to hear about all the things that the Administration is doing to advance Israel’s security—from promoting a lasting peace with the Palestinians to preserving Israel’s military edge so it can protect itself against any threat.
Today, I will discuss one of the most pressing national security concerns for Israel and the United States—and that is Iran’s nuclear program.
Let us not forget that when President Obama took office, Iran was strengthening its position throughout the region and the international community was unable to provide a unified response. But because of President Obama’s leadership, Congressional actions, American diplomacy, which AIPAC has supported, we put in place a historic sanctions regime and Iran now finds itself under the greatest economic and financial pressure any country has ever experienced.
Initially, many claimed sanctions on Iran would never work, but we have proven exactly the opposite. From the beginning, this sanctions program has had one purpose: Persuade Iran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. There can be no alternative.
To be clear, we never imposed sanctions just for the sake of imposing sanctions. We did it to isolate Iran and sharpen the choice for the regime in Tehran. And we did it by bringing the community of nations together. We are talking about China, Russia, India, Japan, Europe, Canada, South Korea, and the list goes on.
Having the international community united in opposition to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon made an enormous difference.
We now have in place the most sweeping, most powerful, most innovative, and most comprehensive sanctions regime in history. And because of the impact of these unprecedented, international sanctions, Iran finally came to the negotiating table seeking relief and fully aware that to get relief, it had to take concrete steps to curtail its nuclear program. Those negotiations led to the Joint Plan of Action, which went into effect in January.
Today, for the first time in a decade, progress on Iran’s nuclear program has been halted and key elements have been rolled back.
The temporary deal struck in Geneva provides us with a six-month diplomatic window to try to hammer out a comprehensive, long-term resolution, without fear that Iran, in the meantime, will advance its nuclear program. Now, I want to emphasize something: Before we agree to any comprehensive deal, Iran will have to provide real proof that its nuclear program, whatever it consists of, is—and will remain—exclusively peaceful.
This deal will only be acceptable if we are certain that Iran could not threaten Israel or any other nation with a nuclear weapon.
Yet make no mistake: Even as we pursue diplomacy, and even as we deliver on our commitments to provide limited sanctions relief, the vast majority of our sanctions remain firmly in place. Right now, these sanctions are imposing the kind of intense economic pressure that continues to provide a powerful incentive for Iran to negotiate. And we have sent the very clear signal to the leadership in Tehran that if these talks do not succeed, then we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran and that all options remain on the table to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
We are under no illusions about who we are dealing with. Iran has threatened Israel’s very existence, supports terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and has failed to live up to its promises in the past.
Still, it is critically important that we give negotiations, backed by continuing economic pressure, a chance to succeed. I have sat with two presidents as they weighed the enormous decision to send men and women into harm’s way to protect our nation. And while all options must remain available, I believe it is our responsibility to do as much as we reasonably can to reserve force as a last option.
This is as much a strategic obligation as it is a moral one. You see, maintaining the sanctions regime that has crippled Iran’s economy requires international cooperation. No amount of U.S. sanctions would have the same crippling power as this international effort. For other nations to continue to remain steadfast with us, they need to know that we have given negotiations every chance to succeed. And if the moment comes when we have to use force, the whole world needs to understand that we did everything possible to achieve change through diplomacy.
To that end, we do not believe that now is the time to adopt new sanctions legislation. We do not need new sanctions now – the sanctions in place are working to bring Iran to the negotiating table and passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective. But as I have said, and as President Obama has said, we continue to consult closely with Congress, and if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions.
Now, in the next two days or so, you may hear some say that the very narrow relief in the interim agreement has unraveled the sanctions regime or eased the choke-hold on Iran’s economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I want to take a few moments to go through a few basic facts.
The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the sanctions, monitors the numbers carefully. And when you consider the ongoing sanctions that remain in place, the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief is extremely limited—totaling an estimated $7 billion. To put that into context, during the same six month period, Iran will lose roughly $30 billion in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place.
Put simply, this relief will not enable Iran’s economy to recover from the deep economic damage inflicted by the sanctions program. The bulk of this relief does not come from suspending sanctions on economic activity like manufacturing or exports. It comes from the measured release of Iran’s own funds that are now impounded in overseas banks. The fact is, because of years of sanctions enforcement, Iran has about $100 billion locked up in overseas banks. The interim agreement allows Iran to access $4.2 billion of these funds.
I want to underscore that Iran’s access to this limited relief is neither immediate nor instantaneous. It will be provided in separate installments on a rolling basis over the six-month period of the Joint Plan, and it will only flow if Iran demonstrates week by week that it continues to comply with its agreement to freeze and rollback its enrichment program.
Other measures amount to less than $2 billion — the limited suspension of sanctions on the export of plastics, the import of parts for Iran’s automotive sector, and tuition assistance for students studying abroad. And the core architecture that makes the program work, oil and financial sanctions, remains in effect fully.
If at any point Iran fails to fulfill its commitments under the Joint Plan, the money will stop, and the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place. And when the six-month deal expires, so does the relief.
The bottom-line is: Promises are not enough—Iran must meet its obligations. This is not a case of trust and verify. This is a case of verify everything.
No matter what, Iran’s economy will continue to feel severe economic pressure from our ongoing sanctions regime. For example, our oil sanctions that remain in place have forced Iran’s oil exports to drop by more than 60 percent over the last two years. And we will continue to enforce them.
All told, the crushing sanctions have deeply damaged economic conditions in Iran. There are four key indicators that tell the whole story: first, last year the economy shrunk by 6 percent and it is expected to shrink again this year; second, the value of its currency, the rial, has plummeted, having lost about 60 percent of its value against the dollar; third, the unemployment rate is over 15 percent; and finally, the inflation rate is about 30 percent, one of the highest in the world.
The economic sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy on many fronts.
Claims that Iran’s economy is undergoing a recovery because of the Joint Plan of Action are just plain wrong. After the election of President Rouhani last June, and well before the Joint Plan took effect, there was a slight drop in the country’s very high inflation rate and small improvements in other economic indicators. This was due to a wave of public optimism that greeted the election of a new president, the appointment of a more capable economic team, and the hope that a deal to lift sanctions would soon materialize.
But the slight improvements in these indicators only mean that a badly wounded economy is not getting worse. It does not mean the economy is getting better. And it certainly does not mean that the Joint Plan has led to a recovery.
Further, if Iran fails to reach a deal with us, business and consumer confidence will quickly erode as will many of the gains the economy has seen over the last few months.
Iran’s economy suffered a serious blow from sanctions, and the impact of sanctions is not being reversed. Iran’s economy remains in the same state of distress that brought the government to the table in the first place. Imagine how any economy would feel, if, by a recovery, it meant leveling off at the bottom of a recession. That is what is happening in Iran today.
There is no question that the relief provided under the six-month plan will not steer Iran’s economy to a real recovery. It is a drop in the bucket. In fact, there will be a net deepening of the impact of sanctions when you consider the new damage that will be inflicted like the $30 billion in additional lost oil sales.
What this relief will do is give the people of Iran and their leaders a small taste of how things could improve if they were to take the steps necessary to join the community of nations. This is a choice for Iran to make. If it wants to pull its economy out of the deep hole it is in, it must remove any doubt that its nuclear program is peaceful and come to a comprehensive agreement with the international community. Until then, we will remain steadfast in our enforcement of U.S. and international sanctions.
Now, when I say we remain firm in our enforcement of sanctions, these are not just words, we are talking about action. For instance, shortly after the Joint Plan went into effect, we moved against more than 30 Iran-related entities and individuals around the globe for evading U.S. sanctions, for aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and for supporting terrorism. As President Obama recently said, if anyone, anywhere engages in unauthorized economic activity with Tehran, the United States will—and I quote—“come down on them like a ton of bricks.”
I have personally delivered that message to hundreds of business and banking executives in America and around the world, and we are in regular contact with our international partners—including Israel—to sustain the pressure on Iran’s government.
On top of that, our enforcement officials at the Treasury Department who have been responsible for crafting and implementing this historic sanctions regime have been traveling around the world and putting their expertise and unremitting effort to bear to keep Iran isolated.
Even though I have said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business. Have no doubt, we are well aware that business people have been talking to the Iranians. We have been very clear that the moment those talks turn into improper deals, we will respond with speed and force. Anyone who violates our sanctions will face severe penalties. Our vigilance has not, cannot, and will not falter.
In closing, let me say, this is a time of great uncertainty. But during difficult times like these, the bonds between the United States and Israel do not grow weaker, they grow stronger.
The U.S.-Israel relationship, which is rooted in our shared story of people yearning to be masters of their own destiny, is as vibrant as ever. And that vibrancy is very much on display here. As I look out across this room, I am reminded of how every year hundreds of young people come to this conference from every corner of the United States. They travel to our nation’s capital because of their boundless hope, their sense of duty, and their unshakeable belief that the future can be brighter, better, more prosperous and more secure. And I am confident that by all of us working together, we can make that happen.
Many countries around the world are plagued by all kinds of armed rebellions, economic sanctions, civil wars, “democratic” coup d’états and/or wars of “regime change.” These include Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, Thailand, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia and Lebanon. Even in the core capitalist countries the overwhelming majority of citizens are subjected to brutal wars of economic austerity.
While not new, social convulsions seem to have become more numerous in recent years. They have become especially more frequent since the mysterious 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 and the 2008 financial collapse in the United States, which soon led to similar financial implosions and economic crises in Europe and beyond.
Despite their many differences, these social turbulences share two common features. The first is that they are largely induced, nurtured and orchestrated from outside, that is, by the Unites States and its allies—of course, in collaboration with their class allies from inside. And the second is that, contrary to the long-established historical pattern of social revolutions, where the desperate and disenfranchised masses rebelled against the ruing elites, in most of the recent struggles it is the elites that have instigated insurgencies and civil wars against the masses. The two features are, of course, integrally intertwined: essentially reflecting the shared interests and collaborative schemes of the international plutocracies against the global 99%.
Fighting to Make Austerity Economics Universal
The official rationale (offered by the U.S. and its allies) that the goal of supporting anti-government opposition forces in places such as Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela is to spread democracy no longer holds any validity; it can easily be dismissed as a harebrained pretext to export neoliberalism and spread austerity economics. Abundant and irrefutable evidence shows that in places where the majority of citizens voted for and elected governments that were not to the liking of Western powers, these powers mobilized their local allies and hired all kinds of mercenary forces in order to overthrow the duly elected governments, thereby quashing the majority vote.
Such blatant interventions to overturn the elections that resulted from the majority vote include the promotion of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine (2004 and 2014), Rose Revolution in Georgia (2003), Cedar Revolution in Lebanon (2005), Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan (2005) and the Green Revolution in Iran (2009). They also include the relentless agitation against the duly elected governments of the late Hugo Chavez and now his successor Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, as well as the rejection (and effective annulment) of the duly elected Hamas government in Palestine.
So, the real driving forces behind wars of regime change need to be sought elsewhere; specifically, in the imperatives of expansion and accumulation of capital on a global level. Socialist, social-democratic, populist or nationalist leaders who do not embrace neoliberal economic policies, and who may be wary of having their markets wide open to unbridled foreign capital, would be targeted for replacement with pliant leaders, or client states. This is, of course, not a new explanation of economic imperialism; it is as old as the internationalization of trade and investment.
What is relatively new, and seems to be the main driving force behind the recent wars of regime change, is that, as the U.S. and other major capitalist powers have lately embarked on austerity economic policies at home they also expect and, indeed, demand that other countries follow suit. In other words, it is no longer enough for a country to open its markets to investment and trade with Western economic powers. It seems equally important to these powers that that country also dismantle its public welfare programs and implement austerity measures of neoliberalism.
For example, after resisting imperialist pressures for years, the late Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi eventually relented in 1993, and granted major oil and other transnational corporations of Western powers lucrative investment and trade deals. Under pressure, he even dismantled his country’s nuclear technology altogether in the hope that this would please them to “leave him” alone, so to speak. None of the concessions he made, however, proved satisfactory to the U.S. and its allies, as his regime was violently overthrown in 2011and he was literally butchered by the thuggish gangs that were trained and armed by Western powers.
Why? Because the U.S. and its allies expected more; they wanted him to follow the economic guidelines of the “experts” of global finance, that is, of the U.S. and European economic “advisors,” of the International Monetary Fund and of the World Trade Organization—in short, to dismantle his country’s rather robust state welfare programs and to restructure its economy after the model of neoliberalism.
The criminal treatment of al-Gaddafi can help explain why imperialist powers have also been scheming to overthrow the populist/socialist regimes of the late Hugo Chavez and his successor in Venezuela, of the Castro brothers in Cuba, of Rafael Correa Delgado in Ecuador, of Bashar Al-assad in Syria and of Evo Morales in Bolivia. It also helps explain why they overthrew the popularly elected nationalist governments of Mohammad Mossadeq in Iran, of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, of Kusno Sukarno in Indonesia, of Salvador Allende in Chile, of Sandinistas in Nicaragua, of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti and of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.
The imperialist agenda of overthrowing al-Gaddafi and other “insubordinate” proponents of welfare state programs abroad is essentially part of the same evil agenda of dismantling such programs at home. While the form, the context and the means of destruction may be different, the thrust of the relentless attacks on the living conditions of the Libyan, Iranian, Venezuelan or Cuban peoples are essentially the same as the equally brutal attacks on the living conditions of the poor and working people in the US, UK, France and other degenerate capitalist countries. In a subtle way they are all part of an ongoing unilateral class warfare on a global scale. Whether they are carried out by military means and bombardments or through the apparently “non-violent” processes of judicial or legislative means does not make a substantial difference as far as their impact on people’s lives and livelihoods is concerned.
The powerful plutocratic establishment in the core capitalist countries does not seem to feel comfortable to dismantle New Deal economics, Social Democratic reforms and welfare state programs in these countries while people in smaller, less-developed countries such as (al-Gaddafi’s) Libya, Venezuela or Cuba enjoy strong, state-sponsored social safety net programs. Plutocracy’s intolerance of “regimented” economies stems from a fear that strong state-sponsored economic safely net programs elsewhere may serve as “bad” models that could be demanded by citizens in the core capitalist countries.
In a moment of honesty, former U.S. President Harry Truman is reported as having expressed (in 1947) the unstated mission of the United States to globalize its economic system in the following words: “The whole world should adopt the American system. The American system can survive in America only if it becomes a world system” .
In a similar fashion, Lord Cecil Rhodes, who conquered much of Africa for the British Empire, is reported to have suggested during the heydays of the Empire that the simplest way to achieve peace was for England to convert and add the rest of the world (except the United States, Germany and few other Western powers of the time) to its colonies.
The Mafia equivalent of Truman’s or Rhodes’ statements would be something like this: “You do it our way, or we break your leg.”
The mindset behind Truman’s blunt statement that the rest of the world “should adopt the American system” has indeed served as something akin to a sacred mission that has guided the foreign policy of the United States ever since it supplanted the British authority as the major world power.
It explains, for example, the real and the main reason behind the Cold War hostilities between the U.S. and its allies, on the one side, and the Soviet Union and its allies, on the other. While the “threat of communism” has been the official rationale for the start and escalation of those hostilities, there is convincing evidence that not only Joseph Stalin and his successors in the Soviet Union had no plans to wage war against the United States or its allies but that, in fact, they played a restraining role to contain independent revolutionary movements worldwide. “It is often forgotten,” points out Sidney Lens, “that for a few years after the war, he [Stalin] assumed an exceedingly moderate posture. . . . His nation had lost 25 million people in the war, was desperately in need of aid for rebuilding, and continued for a long time to nurture hopes of coexistence. Far from being revolutionary, Stalin in those years put the damper on revolution wherever he could” . To accommodate the United States and other Western powers in the hope of peaceful coexistence, Stalin often advised, and sometimes ordered, the pro-Moscow communist/leftist parties in Europe and elsewhere in the world to refrain from revolutionary policies that might jeopardize the hoped-for chances of coexistence.
The goal or mission of converting other economies to the U.S.-style capitalism also helps explain why the United States has engaged in so many military operations and engineered so many coup d’états and regime changes around the world. The Federation of American Scientists has recorded a list of U.S. foreign military engagements which shows that in the first decade after the collapse of the Berlin Wall (1989-99) the U.S. engaged in 134 such operations, the majority of which are altogether unknown to the American public .
Global financial elites change “unaccommodating” regimes not only in the less developed countries but also in the core capitalist countries. They accomplish this not so much by military means as by utilizing two very subtle but powerful means: (a) artificial, money-driven elections, peddled as “democracy in action”; and (b) powerful financial institutions and think tanks such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), central banks and bond/credit rating agencies like Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Group. An unfavorable rating report by these agencies on the credit status of a country can create havoc on that country’s economic, financial and currency position in world markets, thereby dooming its government to collapse and replacement. This is how during the ongoing financial turbulence of recent years a number of governments have been changed in places like Greece and Italy—no need for the traditional or military style regime change, the “soft-power” financial coup d’état engineered by the IMF and/or rating agencies would serve the purpose even more effectively.
Class War on a Global Scale
As noted, all the schemes and wars of regime change, whether by the traditional military means or by the “soft” power of the global financial juggernaut, essentially represent one thing: a disguised class war on a global level, a relentless worldwide economic war by the one percent financial-economic oligarchy against the rest of the world population.
Class struggle in an economically-tiered society is of course not new. What is relatively new in the recent years’ war of the 1% against the 99% is its escalated pace, its widespread scale and its globally orchestrated character. While neoliberal austerity attacks on the living conditions of the public in the core capitalist countries began (formally) with the supply-side economics of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher more than three decades ago, the brutality of such attacks have become much more severe in the context of the current financial/economic crisis, which began with the 2008 financial crash in the United States.
Taking advantage of the crash (as an economic shock therapy, as Naomi Klein put it), the financial oligarchy and their proxies in the governments of the core capitalist countries have been carrying out a systematic economic coup d’état against the people the ravages of which include the following:
• Transfer of tens of trillions of dollars from the public to the financial oligarchy through merciless austerity cuts;
• Extensive privatization of public assets and services, including irreplaceable historical monuments, priceless cultural landmarks, and vital social services such as healthcare, education and water supply;
• Substitution of corporate/banking welfare policies for people’s welfare programs;
• Allocation of the lion’s share of government’s monetary largesse (and of credit creation in general) to speculative investment instead of real investment;
• Systematic undermining of the retirement security of millions of workers (both white and blue collar) and civil servants;
• Ever more blatant control of economic and/or financial policies by the representatives of the financial oligarchy.
Combined, these policies have significantly aggravated the already lopsided income/wealth distribution in these countries. The massive cuts in social spending have resulted in an enormous transfer of economic resources from the bottom up. The transfer has, indeed, more than made up for the 2008 losses of the financial speculators. In the U.S., for example, the wealthiest one percent now own 40 percent of the entire country’s wealth; while the bottom 80 percent own only seven percent. Likewise, the richest one percent now take home 24 percent of the country’s total income, compared to only nine percent four decades ago .
This shows that, as pointed out earlier, while neoliberal attacks on the 99% in the core capitalist countries may not seem as violent as those raging, for example, in Venezuela, Syria or Ukraine, the financial impact of such attacks on the living conditions of the 99% is not any less devastating.
Plutocrats of the World Are United
Policies of regime change are usually designed and carried out as collaborative schemes by cross-border plutocracies, that is, by the financial oligarchies of the imperialist countries in partnership with their native counterparts in the less-developed countries.
In addition to constant behind-the-scenes strategizing, representatives of transnational capital and their proxies in capitalist governments also routinely meet at international conferences in order to synchronize their cross-border business and financial policies—a major focus of which in recent years has been to implement global austerity measures and entrench neoliberal policies worldwide. These include the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the World Bank and IMF annual meetings, the Periodic G20 meetings, the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival, The Bilderberg Group annual geopolitics forum, and the Herb Allen’s Sun Valley gathering of media moguls—to name only a handful of the many such international policy gatherings.
Through its global strategies and operations, transnational capital has broken free from national constraints and commitments at home and successfully shifted the correlation of class forces and social alliances worldwide. Today’s elites of global capitalism “are becoming a trans-global community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home,” writes Chrystia Freeland, Global Editor of Reuters, who travels with the elites to many parts of the world. “Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves,” she adds .
Implications for Globalization from Below
What conclusions can the 99% draw from this? What can the working people and other grassroots do to protect their jobs, their sources of livelihood, their communities and their environment? What can communities of ordinary people do to undermine the strategies of the global 1% that block life-sustaining progressive social and economic reforms?
In the same fashion that, in their fight against the working people, the elites of the international capitalist class are not bound by territoriality or national boundaries, so does the working class need to coordinate its response internationally.
A logical, first step deterrent to transnational capital’s strategy of blackmailing labor and communities through threats such as destroying or exporting jobs by moving their business elsewhere would be to remove the lures that induce plant relocation, capital flight or outsourcing. Making labor costs of production comparable on an international level would be crucial for this purpose. This would entail taking the necessary steps toward the international establishment of wage and benefits, that is, of labor cost parity within the same company and the same trade, subject to (a) the cost of living, and (b) productivity in each country.
A strategy of this sort would replace the current downward competition between workers in various countries with coordinated bargaining and joint policies for mutual interests and problem-solving on a global level. While this may sound radical, it is not any more radical than what the transnational 1% is doing: coordinating their anti-99% strategies on a global scale. If at an earlier stage of capitalist development “workers of the world unite” seemed an outlandish dream of the leading labor champion Karl Marx, internationalization of capital, the abundance of material resources and developments in technology, which has greatly facilitated cross-border organizing and coordination of actions by the 99%, has now made that dream an urgent necessity.
As capital and labor are the cornerstones of capitalist production, their respective organizations and institutions evolve more or less apace, over time and space. Thus, when production was local, so was labor: carpenters, shoemakers, bricklayers, and other craftsmen organized primarily in their local communities. But as capitalist production became national, so did trade unions. Now that capitalist production has become global, labor organizations too need to become international in order to safeguard their and their communities’ rights against the profit-driven whims of the footloose and fancy-free transnational capital.
Many would argue that these are not propitious times to speak of radical alternatives to capitalism. The present state of the sociopolitical landscape of our societies appears to support such feelings of pessimism. The high levels of unemployment in most countries of the world and the resulting international labor rivalry, combined with the austerity offensive of neoliberalism on a global level, have thrown the working class and other grassroots on the defensive. The steady drift of the European socialist, Social Democratic, and labor parties/governments toward the U.S.–style market economies and the erosion of their traditional ideology, power, and prestige have led to workers’ confusion there. The collapse of the Soviet Union, however much some socialists have always distanced themselves from that system, haunts the specter of socialism, and is likely to do so for some time to come. These developments have understandably led to workers’ and other grassroots’ confusion and disorientation globally.
None of these, however, mean that there is no way out of the status quo. Capitalism is not only “destructive,” it is also “regenerative,” as Karl Marx put. As it captures world markets, universalizes the reign of capital, and disrupts the living conditions for many, it simultaneously sows the seeds of its own transformation. On the one hand, it creates common problems and shared concerns for the majority of the world population; on the other, it creates the material conditions and the technology that facilitate communication and cooperation among this majority of world citizens for joint actions and alternative solutions.
When the majority of world population, the global 99%, will come to the realization and determination to actually appropriate and utilize the existing technology and material resources for a better organization and management of the world economy, no one can tell. But the potential and the long term trajectory of global socioeconomic developments point in that direction. The distance between now and then, between our immediate frustrations and the superior but elusive civilization of our desire, can be traversed only if we take the necessary steps toward that end .
Ismael Hossein-zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave – Macmillan 2007), the Soviet Non-capitalist Development: The Case of Nasser’s Egypt (Praeger Publishers 1989), and most recently, Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis (forthcoming from Routledge, April 29, 2014).
What Do Ukrainians Really Want?
When Ukraine is the topic, the major U.S. media outlets agree: “Europe and the United States have made a priority of fostering democracy in the former Soviet republics,” David M. Herszenhorn wrote in the New York Times. The Washington Post asserted that Ukraine is “a country that has been struggling to become a genuine democracy” with help from Western powers, who keep it “from becoming an autocratic Kremlin colony, like neighboring Belarus.” “Ukraine is the crossroads between a free and an authoritarian Europe,” the Wall Street Journal concurred, while Yale professor Timothy Snyder urged, in a CNN piece, Europe and America to back the Ukrainian protesters—“a chance to support democracy,” he emphasized. Marvelous. But in the real world, Ukrainian democracy is not merely something Washington has failed to support, but is actually incompatible with U.S. governmental aims.
U.S. officials are quite open about their opposition to Ukrainian self-determination and well-aware how unpopular Washington’s preferred policies are. Nearly a decade ago, for example, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Europe met for a hearing on “Ukraine’s Future and U.S. Interests.” Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-NE) opened the session, noting that “a recent survey conducted by a center for economic and political research suggests that up to 40 percent of Ukrainians believe that relations with Russia should be a priority.” Meanwhile, “28 percent gave preference to the EU,” and “2 percent said that relations with the U.S. should be a foreign policy priority. Another survey suggested that almost two-thirds of the population would consider supporting a political union with Russia,” Bereuter concluded. “So,” he went on, “I think that United States policy must remain focused” on incorporating Ukraine “into European and Euro-Atlantic structures.” Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) spoke next, reiterating that U.S. policy should “further Ukraine’s integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions;” Steven Pifer, the former Ambassador to Ukraine, drove the point home, outlining “the United States Government’s vision for Ukraine”: “increasingly close ties to Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions.” This vision persisted over the following decade. The Atlantic Council’s Damon Wilson, speaking before the U.S. Senate’s Subcommittee on European Affairs—the topic was “Ukraine at a Crossroads”—in February 2012, explained that “Ukraine’s genuine European integration” remained a major objective.
And recent commentary and news coverage depicts European integration as something most Ukrainians desire. In early February, Secretary of State Kerry, at the Munich Security Conference, remarked that Ukrainians should be permitted “to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations”—Europe and the U.S. obviously being the partners, integration to be deepened via what the Times’ Herszenhorn referred to as “sweeping political and trade agreements” that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “refused to sign” last November, resulting in “a broken promise between a leader and his citizens,” and then the uprisings. Now Al Jazeera reports that the acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, has “made clear that Kiev’s European integration would be a priority,” thereby giving Ukrainians what we’re told they want.
But British and U.S. governmental studies reveal the Ukrainian public is ambivalent about European integration. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for example, funded a “scoping study” through the British Embassy in Kyiv a year ago, titled “A blueprint for enhancing understanding of and support for the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement [AA] including DCFTA [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area] in Ukraine.” The AA was one of the key “sweeping political and trade agreements” Yanukovych refused to sign. British officials, in their report, stressed that “support for the AA is not overwhelming amongst the population at large,” observing that “opinion polls show that about 30% of respondents are in favour of European integration, 30% for the Customs Union [Moscow-led integration], and about 30% are undecided.” This bleak situation called for a propaganda offensive, or “a national public awareness ‘Campaign of Arguments,’” as the British dubbed it, which was to “be aimed at the general public as its primary target audience.” British advisers urged PR teams “to formulate advertising slogans, global and targeted messages,” and to play up “the European civilizational model” and other benefits the AA allegedly would bring. This “civilizational model” today entails “massive attacks on public services, wages, pensions, trade unions, and social rights” under imposed “draconian austerity policies,” Asbjørn Wahl wrote in January’s Monthly Review—a reality the British indoctrination scheme’s outline studiously avoided, it’s hardly worth mentioning.
The propaganda barrage may have been successful to some extent. But as the year progressed, the U.S. government had a hard time finding evidence of overwhelming Ukrainian support for European integration. The International Republican Institute (IRI), for example, polled Ukrainians last September: “If Ukraine was able to enter only one international economic union, with whom should it be?” Forty-two percent of respondents chose the EU, while 37% preferred the Russian Customs Union. IRI then asked, “How would you evaluate your attitude towards the following entities?” Fifty percent of respondents felt “warm” towards Russia; 41% felt “warm” towards Europe—and just 26% were fond of the U.S. IRI figures resembled those USAID published in a December 2013 report. Its authors found it “interesting to note that Ukrainians are split on whether the country should join the European Union or the Customs Union. Thirty-seven percent would like Ukraine to take steps to join the European Union, 33% prefer the Customs Union and 15% say Ukraine should join neither of these blocs.” Furthermore, “34% say that Ukraine should have closer economic relations with Russia, 35% say it should have closer economic relations with Europe and 17% say it should have good relations with both.” A Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll reinforced these findings: “Ukraine is split practically 50/50 over the accession to the European Union or the Customs Union,” Interfax-Ukraine summarized the study’s conclusions.
Reviewing this data forces us to ask: Who is Washington’s chief enemy in Ukraine? Is it Russia, bent on killing Ukraine’s budding democracy? Is it the tyrant Yanukovych? The U.S. policy record points to a different conclusion, one a Johns Hopkins Center for Transatlantic Relations study—included in the official transcription of the Senate’s 2012 “Ukraine at a Crossroads” hearing—discusses in the context of Ukraine’s potential NATO membership. “The main obstacle” to Ukraine’s joining the organization “is not Russian opposition,” its authors emphasized, “but low public support for membership in Ukraine itself.” Again: on this and other issues, the Ukrainian people are “the main obstacle” to U.S. foreign policy aims. We should bear this fact in mind as the crisis deepens in Eastern Europe.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC.
Roger Cohen, what a disappointment. He is not Tom Friedman or David Brooks, and shouldn’t be insulting an entire nation based on a clump of tired old clichés and a lack of information. Argentina is “the child among nations that never grew up” he writes, and “not a whole lot has changed” since he was there 25 years ago. OK, let’s see what we can do to clean up this mess with a shovel and broom made of data.
For Cohen, Argentina since the government defaulted on its debt has been an economic failure. Tens of millions of Argentines might beg to differ.
For the vast majority of people in Argentina, as in most countries, being able to find a job is very important. According to the database of SEDLAC (which works in partnership with the World Bank), employment as a percentage of the labor force hit peak levels in 2012, and has remained close to there since. This is shown in Figure 1.
Argentina: Employment Rate, Percent of Total Population
Source: SEDLAC (2014).
We can also look at unemployment data from the IMF (Figure 2). Of course the current level of 7.3 percent is far below the levels reached during the depression of 1998-2002, which was caused by the failed neoliberal experiment that the Kirchners did away with – it peaked at 22.5 percent in 2002. But it is also far below the level of the boom years of that experiment (1991-1997) when it averaged more than 13 percent.
Argentina: Unemployment Rate
Source: IMF WEO (Oct 2013).
How about poverty? Here is data from SEDLAC (Figure 3), which does not use the official Argentine government’s inflation rate but rather a higher estimate for the years after 2007. It shows a 76.3 percent drop in the poverty rate from 2002-2013, and an 85.7 percent drop in extreme poverty.
Argentina: Poverty and Extreme Poverty
Source: SEDLAC (2014).
Most of the drop in poverty was from the very high economic growth (back to that in a minute) and consequent employment. But the government also implemented one of the biggest anti-poverty programs in Latin America, a conditional cash transfer program.
Finally, there is economic growth. In a terribly flawed article today, the Wall Street Journal reported on a soon-to-be published study showing that Argentina’s real (inflation-adjusted) GDP is 12 percent less than the official figures indicate. (As the article noted, the government, in co-operation with the IMF, implemented a new measure of inflation in January, which should resolve this data problem that has existed since 2007). If we assume that the 12 percent figure is correct, then using IMF data Argentina from 2002-2013 still has real GDP growth rate of 81 percent, or 5.6 percent annually. That is the third highest of 32 countries in the region (after Peru and Panama). And incidentally, very little of this growth was driven by a “commodities boom,” or any exports for that matter.
Despite current economic problems, the country that Cohen ridicules has done extremely well by the most important economic and social indicators, since it defaulted on most of its foreign debt and sent the IMF packing at the end of 2002. This is true by any international comparison or in comparison with its past. Many foreign corporations and the business press, as well as right-wing ideologues, are upset with Argentina’s policies for various reasons. They don’t really like any of the left governments that now govern most of South America, and Washington would like to get rid of all of them and return to the world of 20 years ago when the U.S. was in the drivers’ seat. But there’s really no reason for Roger Cohen to be jumping on this bandwagon.
Earlier this week Washington Post Columnist Matt Miller published an excellent piece making the case for a large increase in the federal minimum wage, including arguments drawn from a wide range of prominent business and political figures, as well as mention of my own recent New America article on that issue.
Given the importance of the topic, it is hardly unexpected that the column attracted some 600 comments. But far more surprising was the overwhelmingly negative response of those readers. Given that the Post is a centrist-liberal newspaper and Miller a centrist-liberal columnist, one suspects that the vast majority of the commenters were similarly of the centrist-liberal orientation. But I suspect that most of their hostile remarks would have been indistinguishable from what would have greeted a similar suggestion posted on National Review or FoxNews or the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity; and therein lies a tale.
Although the ideological spectrum of American political discourse is casually rendered along a Left-to-Right spectrum, the range of views obviously has high dimensionality; and projecting an idea-space of ten or fifteen independent degrees of freedom onto a single axis is surely absurd, with even the two most prominent dimensions of “social issues” and “economic issues” failing to capture the underlying reality.
Thus in 2008 we saw many of America’s most influential Republican pundits urging Sen. John McCain to select Sen. Joe Lieberman as his vice presidential selection to assuage and reassure distrustful conservatives. This came despite Lieberman having one of the most liberal Senate voting records on hot-button social and economic issues such as abortion, gay rights, gun control, affirmative action, immigration, taxes, regulations, and almost everything else, while even having served as candidate Al Gore’s loyal vice presidential Democratic pick just a few years earlier. But in 2008, Lieberman’s enthusiastic support for the continued Iraq Occupation and Bush’s “Great War on Terror” had momentarily eclipsed all other issues among much of the conservative elite.
Similarly, over the last couple of decades, the economic well-being of America’s working- or middle-classes seems to have been relegated to an afterthought, not merely among Republicans and conservatives, but also among their Democratic and liberal opponents as well. The shocking truth that the average American family is probably poorer today in real terms than they were fifty years ago has been almost entirely ignored by both parties, and therefore ignored by the media as well, presumably under the theory that what people don’t know won’t really hurt them.
Meanwhile, the loud battles over Gay Marriage and Gun Control, whose outcome would directly impact an utterly negligible fraction of our total population, generates front-page headline after front-page headline, perhaps because these issues excite the people who write those headlines or those who fund our campaigns. As a leading Democratic political consultant in California once joked to me during the late 1990s, no wealthy liberals he knew had any interest in funding a minimum wage increase or any similar meat-and-potato economic issue of the traditional Left; instead, the ideal initiative for fundraising purposes would promise to “Save the Gay Whales from Second-Hand Smoke.”
The near-total intellectual hegemony established by neoliberal economics during the last generation is further demonstrated by the skeptical response to Miller’s minimum wage column by Slate financial columnist and progressive pundit Matt Yglesias (refuted here). The latter seems to see Federal Reserve monetary policy as the solution to all our economic problems, worrying that the inflationary impact from increasing wages at the lower end of the spectrum would interfere with attempts to keep interest rates low, thereby derailing the desperately-awaited recovery. Given that five years of exceptionally low interest rates seem to have benefited Wall Street a great deal but Main Street little or nothing, it’s far from clear whether another five years of the same policy would do much different.
In any event, a rise in the minimum wage to $10 or even $12 per hour would simply produce a one-time jump in prices, perhaps in the range of a couple of percent, rather than the sort of continuing inflationary spiral which might unnerve the Fed. Lower wage-earners would gain vastly more than they lost, the affluent wouldn’t even notice the difference, while hundreds of billions of dollars in additional disposable income for those who spend every dollar might finally jumpstart the economy, being an enormous stimulus package funded entirely by the private sector.
In fact, the AFL-CIO has suggested that a Republican Party which strongly supported a higher minimum wage might warrant a strong second look from the vast number of ordinary American workers who had refused to even consider the plutocratic candidacy of a Mitt Romney.
As it happens, I was recently invited by The Aspen Institute to speak at their DC headquarters on a March 6th panel addressing a minimum wage increase, and perhaps some of these important points will come out during the discussion.
This same bipartisan elite consensus on the harmful effects of raising workers’ wages by law also manifests itself in a wide range of other issues. Leading Democrats and Republicans are now lining up in favor of a new amnesty program for America’s 11 million or so illegal immigrants, planning to combine this legislation with expanded quotas for skilled immigrants and also some sort of guestworker program for the lesser skilled.
It is surely an odd thing for a country’s political leaders to propose substantial increases in new immigration at a time of such high unemployment and so much economic misery among the middle- and working-classes. Obviously part of the explanation is that our elites are doing very well financially, with the DC area having become America’s wealthiest region. But the political cross-currents are quite intriguing.
Throughout most times and places, business interests have always tended to favor high immigration levels, for the obvious reason that a greater supply of available workers drives down wages and increases profits. So the responsiveness of Republican officials to their business donor class is hardly surprising, nor is the position of business-funded thinktanks and pundits.
But for exactly the same reason, worker advocates have traditionally been doubtful or hostile to immigration, even if they might often be friendly towards existing immigrants or had themselves originally come from such a background. It is hardly surprising that America’s leading anti-immigrationist figure throughout most of the 1960s and 1970s was famed labor leader Cesar Chavez.
Given such realities, the eagerness with which the Democratic side of the aisle have embraced a softening of immigration policy without any commensurate protections against job loss or wage decline is surely a sign they too have been captured by the business elites, just as was their widespread support for financial bailouts at the top of the economy and their disinterest in minimum wage increases at the bottom. As some Internet pundits have noted, President Obama actually traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada to announce his immigration proposal, selecting the highest-unemployment state to roll out a proposal hardly likely to alleviate that problem, but certainly one which would benefit the mega-wealthy employers of the low-wage service workers who staff the local casino-and-hotel economy. In our current political system, only the views—and dollars—of the latter much matter.
Given the obvious connection between more immigrants competing for jobs and a relentless downward pressure on wages, I would suggest that the easiest way for both Democrats and Republicans to demonstrate that they are not wholly owned subsidiaries of our business class would be to explicitly link the two issues by attaching a large rise in the federal minimum wage to any proposed immigration reform. After all, the primary force which originally drew those 11 million illegals to America was the attractive availability of so many millions of low-wage jobs in our country, and unless this suction force at the bottom of the economy is eliminated, more border crossers will eventually come to take their places once the current ones are legalized.
As I have argued at length elsewhere, immigration and the minimum wage are deeply intertwined policy issues, and should naturally be addressed together. Raising our minimum wage to $12 per hour as part of the proposed amnesty legislation would probably do more to solve future immigration problems than would any sort of electronic fence or national ID card.
“Call It Democracy”
Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor
Who rob life of its quality
Who render rage a necessity
By turning countries into labour camps
Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom
Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament -
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called “developed” nations’
Idolatry of ideology
North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It’s just spend a buck to make a buck
You don’t really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery
IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there’s one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt
See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello
And they call it democracy
See the loaded eyes of the children too
Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
One day you’re going to rise from your habitual feast
To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
They call the revolution
IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there’s one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt
From the tenth-floor balcony of our hotel in Buenaventura, we sit with community leader Miguel Duarte and watch as the sunset over the Pacific Ocean streaks the sky with peach and mauve before fading to a shroud of lavender-gray and darkness. Below us, teenage girls chase a soccer ball. A few hundred yards away, a patch of the island is covered with tree tops like the heads of broccoli. “Take a photo of that island,” says Duarte, pointing at the tree line. “There are thousands of dead bodies buried on it.”
“We need a commission from the Attorney General’s office to count the bodies,” he continues. “The island is controlled by paramilitaries.”
The violence in Buenaventura is staggering, yet reliable statistics are hard to attain: official documentation is lacking and it’s left to community leaders, like 18-year-old Jesús, to try to compile the data independently. At our meeting, he pulls out his notebook and begins reading off his handwritten list of victims from a recent massacre. He gets to the end of his list, glances up, and says, “Children were cut up and heads were found in barrios Santa Monica and Campo Alegro. Last night Alberto’s cousin was killed in a confrontation. That one made the newspaper.”
According to a report issued in January 2014, the city sees two-to-three murders and three-to-six forced disappearances daily. In November 2013 alone, fighting between different armed groups displaced 2,500 families in Buenaventura.
“We’re convinced of one thing,” says Duarte. “This pressure is so that people leave.”
On the heels of shoot-outs in waterfront neighborhoods, city officials arrive and ask residents if they’re ready to sign documents in which they agree to vacate the zone. On February 5 and 6, local security forces staged an elaborately orchestrated tsunami drill for neighborhoods near the port, with armed men blocking off streets and redirecting traffic into the night. According to Colombian Process of Black Communities (PCN), the exercise was yet another effort to brainwash Buenaventura’s Bajamar residents into believing that it’s not safe to live in the area and that they should be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Many point out that Buenaventura is dangerous for people who live in neighborhoods slated for commercial development but that, paradoxically, these same areas are safe for tourists. Below our hotel, a seafood fusion-sushi bar does slow business just yards from a neighborhood where armed groups recently did battle.
It’s Friday night in this commerce town, and clubs cater to weekend carousers with pockets full of pesos. Against a backdrop of giraffe-like cranes, half-built high-rises sprouting rebar, and a balmy breeze dispersing salsa beats, Duarte explains that 15 or 20 years ago, people began to talk about megaprojects in the region: port expansion, a cargo terminal, a tourist boardwalk, and an international airport in nearby Cali. Those conversations coincided with the beginning of the market liberalization process, as the port changed from public to private ownership.
Over the past 15 years, as the armed conflict arrived to nearby rural areas, many residents fled their farming communities at the outskirts of Buenaventura and settled in ocean-front neighborhoods near the city center, joining communities of Afro-Colombians who had arrived generations ago. In 2005, the FARC and Colombian military battled in Buenaventura. In 2006, paramilitaries entered the urban zone to protect businesses and terrorize the local population.
The first interurban displacement in Buenaventura—in which people fled from one neighborhood to another within the city—was in 2009. Today, ground zero for violent displacement coincides perfectly with zones marked for port expansion, a coal warehouse, a massive container storage area, and a tourist promenade. The violence, PCN states, is “part of the war strategy to control territory and clean out the zone to bring in projects.”
Residents in vulnerable neighborhoods are not opposed to the city’s economic growth, per se. But many feel that projects should benefit all people in the area, not bring prosperity to few while forcing misery on most.
That’s what Remedios’ husband, Eduardo believed. Their home in Caucana, about 45 minutes from the port, is along the road being widened to facilitate port expansion and accompanying projects in order to make Buenaventura competitive for Free Trade Agreement projects.
The old road is narrow, windy, and unpaved, meaning that it currently takes a truck seven or eight hours to make the trip from Buenaventura to Bugalagrande, a town along the Pan-American Highway. The new road will reduce the journey to about an hour.
Eduardo opposed the road expansion through their community because small children play there, and the project was contaminating their air and bad for people’s health. Remedios said, “He’d been looking to strengthen the community. He didn’t want to leave people in misery.” He’d been advocating for the community’s right to Free Prior and Informed Consent for new projects on their land guaranteed under Law 70, or the “Law of Black Communities.”
One morning Eduardo got a call that warned him he’d be killed if he ran in upcoming community council elections. For months he lived under the dark cloud of death threats, and on February 23, 2013, he was murdered. A year later, despite the efforts of his wife and other community members to seek justice, the government has made no progress in the investigation of his death.
“It has left me desperate, my kids too. They’re struggling at school. They don’t remember their vowels, just sleep, play, fight, scream….My children want to know why their father was murdered. They’re small, thinking bad thoughts, seeking vengeance. I’m asking for help because I don’t want my kids to become bad people.”
While we are in Buenaventura, a death threat is circulated, naming as military targets indigenous groups, campesinos, Marcha Patriotica members, protestors who block roads, and “guerilla-defending” NGOs—the name often used by paramilitaries to refer to NGOs that work on human rights issues.
Back on the tenth-floor balcony, a man whose community is surrounded by illegal armed groups looks out over the port, past the island of dead bodies, to the green lights blinking at the edge of the bay. He says, “If we don’t act quickly in Buenaventura, there will be more deaths.”
Margaret Boehme is a member of the Witness for Peace Colombia team based in Bogotá.
We’ve been seeing a lot of unexpectedly cool weather across the world. While this may be explained by local phenomenon such as the Northeast Monsoon in Malaysia and the Polar Vortex in the USA, a longer term trend of worldwide cooling is headed our way.
I say this because the sun – the main source of light and heat for our planet – is approaching a combined low point in output. Solar activity rises and falls in different overlapping cycles, and the low points of several cycles will coincide in the near future:
A) 11-year Schwabe Cycle which had a minimum in 2008 and is due for the next minimum in 2019, then 2030. Even at its recent peak (2013) the sun had its lowest recorded activity in 200 years.
B) 87-year Gleissberg cycle which has a currently ongoing minimum period from 1997 – 2032, corresponding to the observed ‘lack of global warming’ (more on that later).
C) 210-year Suess cycle which has its next minimum predicted to be around 2040.
Hence, solar output will very likely drop to a substantial low around 2030 – 2040. This may sound pleasant for Malaysians used to sweltering heat, but it is really not a matter to be taken lightly. Previous lows such as the Year Without A Summer (1816) and the Little Ice Age (16th to 19th century) led to many deaths worldwide from crop failures, flooding, superstorms and freezing winters.
But what about the much-ballyhooed global warming, allegedly caused by increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere? Won’t that more than offset the coming cooling, still dooming us all to a feverish Earth?
Regarding this matter, it is now a plainly accepted fact that there has been no global temperature rise in the past 25 years. This lack of warming is openly admitted by: NASA; The UK Met Office; the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, as well as its former head Dr. Phil Jones (of the Climategate data manipulation controversy); Hans von Storch (Lead Author for Working Group I of the IPCC); James Lovelock (inventor of the Gaia Theory); and media entities the BBC, Forbes, Reuters, The Australian, The Economist, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
And this is despite CO2 levels having risen more than 13%, from 349 ppm in 1987 to 396ppm today. The central thesis of global warming theory – that rising CO2 levels will inexorably lead to rising global temperatures, followed by environmental catastrophe and massive loss of human life – is proven false.
(All the above are clearly and cleanly depicted by graphs, excerpts, citations and links in my collection at http://globalwarmingisunfactual.wordpress.com – as a public service.)
This is probably why anti-CO2 advocates now warn of ‘climate change’ instead. But pray tell, exactly what mechanism is there for CO2 to cause climate change if not by warming? The greenhouse effect has CO2 trapping solar heat and thus raising temperatures – as we have been warned ad nauseum by climate alarmists – so how does CO2 cause climate change when there is no warming?
Solar activity is a far larger driver of global temperature than CO2 levels, because after all, without the sun there would be no heat for greenhouse gases to trap in the first place. (Remember what I said about the Gleissberg cycle above?)
And why is any of this important to you and I? It matters because countless resources are being spent to meet the wrong challenges. Just think of all the time, energy, public attention and hard cash that have already been squandered on biofuel mandates, subsidies for solar panels and wind turbines, carbon caps and credits, bloated salaries of dignitaries, annual jet-setting climate conferences in posh five-star hotels… To say nothing of the lost opportunities and jobs (two jobs lost for every one ‘green’ job created in Spain, which now has 26% unemployment!). And most of the time it is the common working man, the taxpayer, you and I who foot the bill.
What if all this immense effort and expenditure had been put towards securing food and clean water for the impoverished (combined 11 million deaths/year)? Or fighting dengue and malaria (combined 1.222 million deaths/year)? Or preserving rivers, mangroves, rainforests and endangered species? Or preparing power grids for the increased demand that more severe winters will necessitate – the same power grids now crippled by shutting down reliable coal plants in favour of highly intermittent wind turbines?
In the face of such dire needs that can be met immediately and effectively, continuing to throw away precious money to ‘possibly, perhaps, maybe one day’ solve the non-problem of CO2 emissions is foolish, arrogant and arguably malevolent. To wit, the UN World Food Programme just announced that they are forced to scale back aid to some of the 870 million malnourished worldwide due to a $1 billion funding shortfall and the challenges of the ongoing Syrian crisis. To put this is context, a billion is a mere pittance next to the tens of billions already flushed away by attempted adherence to the Kyoto Protocol (€6.2 billion for just Germany in just 2005 alone!).
During the high times for global warmist doomsaying, sceptics and realists who questioned the unproven theories were baselessly slandered as ‘anti-science’, ‘deniers’, ‘schills for big oil’… Or even ‘war criminals’ deserving Nuremberg-style trials for their ‘crimes against humanity’!
Now that the tables are turned, just let it be known that it was not the sceptics who flushed massive amounts of global resources down the drain – while genuine human and environmental issues languished and withered in the empty shadow of global warming hysteria. Crimes against humanity, indeed.