Ecuador has come under fire for scrutinizing non-profits like Accion Ecologica, many of whom get millions from Europe and North America.
Ecuador, the tiny South American nation sandwiched between Colombia and Peru, rarely makes waves in the English-speaking world’s corporate mediascape. Last year, news traveled far on at least two occasions.
First, with an earthquake that killed at least 673 people. Second, when the government moved to investigate and potentially dissolve a nonprofit called Accion Ecologica in connection with deadly violence between members of an Amazonian tribe and police sent to protect a Chinese-operated mining project.
Ecologists and prominent activists friendly to the group, including heavy-weights such as Naomi Klein, called out what they characterized as a callous repression and criminalization of Indigenous people protecting the unparalleled richness of the Amazon and alleged state prejudice against an underdog non-profit organization that was only there to save the rainforest and its inhabitants.
Ecuador’s socialist government, on the other hand, sees the “underdog” label as misplaced.
NGOs may be seen as do-gooders, but that’s not always the case. As a country historically vulnerable to the whims of powers in the North, Ecuador has, under the administration of the outgoing President Rafael Correa, put up a guard against a new kind of public diplomacy from abroad that focuses on gaining the favor of civil society to indirectly execute their political priorities.
NGOs are flagged when they operate outside the bounds of the law and their stated objectives, indicators of potential pressure from outside funders to protect their interests rather than those of nationals.
“We’re an Ecuadorean NGO, born here in Ecuador and working for 30 years in the defense of the rights of the environment and of communities across the country, and for that work we are very well known, even at an international level,” Alexandra Almeida, president of Accion Ecologica, told teleSUR.
“But that doesn’t mean that a foreign organization could manipulate us with anything — with funds, with nothing — that’s how we operate.”
NGOs have rarely had to justify their work to anyone, let alone prove that they act for the good of the people only. But Ecuador is not an ordinary country. Rich in resources but export dependent, authorities are attempting to manage the many foreign hands trying to pull the country’s development in their favor.
Silent Action Meets Loud Reaction
This government is the first to scrutinize NGOs, but their scrutiny has not been limited to Accion Ecologica.
In 2012, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa boldly declared that NGOs have been entering the country like never before during the previous decade. Many, backed by foreign states and foreign money, are out to destabilize the state, Ecuadorean leaders stated.
“Their interest is not the country, impoverished sectors, natural resources or strengthening democracies,” said Paola Pabon, director of the National Ministry of Political Management, which is responsible for tracking NGOs, in an interview with teleSUR last year. “What interests them is having control over governments, having influence over civil society to create elements of destabilization.”
Executive Decree 16, which went into effect in 2013, created a system to catalogue the financing, decision-making and activities of every registered social organization — a total of over 46,000 in the country, including non-profits, unions and community organizations, among others.
The resulting action saw 26 foreign NGOs expelled from the country for a lack of transparency and compliance with national law; in brief, for declaring themselves “non-governmental organizations” while acting on behalf of foreign governments. Among the more high-profile cases was Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical missionary relief organization that received funding and support from USAID. Fifteen others were given two weeks to get their activities in order.
A handful of Indigenous organizations, which had previously mobilized against Correa’s government, attacked the decree via the Constitutional Court. Two years later, Ecuador reformed the regulations with Executive Decree 739, which fine-tuned the reasons for closing an NGO — the main one, “diverting from stated objectives” — and, caving to demand, eliminated the requirement for organizations to register projects financed from abroad.
Donor Nations: Generous or Greedy?
The trend that prompted Ecuador’s law was not without precedent.
Through the U.S. Agency for International Development, known as USAID, and the linked but publicly independent National Endowment for Democracy, known as NED, the United States pumped over US$100 million into Venezuela to create 300 new organizations credited with contributing to the coup d’etat against Hugo Chavez in 2002. In a similar move, USAID admitted that it tried to provoke a “Cuban Spring” by setting up Zunzuneo, a kind of Cuban Twitter, to circulate calls to protest.
The most common nonprofits close to foreign governments and private interests are those that stand tallest against their states. In Ecuador, that tends to be groups that work closely with Indigenous communities, with those protecting their right to their land and with those defending women and the environment. Funding by private foundations and corporations, while more widespread, is far less transparent and tougher to quantify. Big names like the Ford Foundation and Open Society, however, are well known for injecting funds into NGOs in the global south to advance specific political visions.
But the United States isn’t the only country to have funneled funds to Ecuador through NGOs.
Official numbers from Ecuador’s Chief Administrative Office of International Cooperation, or SETECI, show that since Correa assumed office in 2007 until 2015, foreign NGOs have managed over US$800 million from abroad. Top givers include the U.K. and Spain, followed by several European states.
No one, however, beats the United States. In that same period, the U.S. sent over twice the amount of money of the next-highest donor, with a total of over US$282 million and 780 projects, or 35 percent of all funding.
Of those funds, which only count NGOs based abroad that invested in local or regional projects, 13 went to projects in the Amazon led by non-profits like Care International, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Wildlife Fund, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Mitsubishi Corporation Foundation for the Americas. Projects based in Morona Santiago, the province where the anti-mining protests that led to the death of a police officer broke out, brought in over US$1 million from the U.S. since 2007.
The flow of funds is indicative of a broader attitude between receiver and giver, who “take advantage of the assumption that they have a perfect democracy, which is completely false – there’s a paternalistic attitude that must be regulated,” said Fernando Casado, research fellow at the National Institute for Higher Studies on public administration in Ecuador and Venezuela. Conversely, a flow in the opposite direction would immediately raise suspicion from developed countries, he added.
Yet money itself doesn’t tell the full tale: the funds are tied directly to foreign policy objectives, Casado told teleSUR. “The powers of the North have changed strategy.”
Each state has its own way. Germany, which has had 151 NGO projects in Ecuador since 2007, is known for meddling in affairs of developing countries through its Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, or BMZ. When SETECI found that three-quarters of its funds went toward stopping another mining project in the Amazon’s Yasuni region last March, it kicked the German agency out of Ecuador.
The United States has several agencies do its work, the most prominent being USAID, NED — funded through money allocated to USAID by Congress — and the Broadcast Board of Governors. The stated missions: to promote development, democracy creation and a free press, respectively, while strictly adhering to U.S. foreign policy priorities.
“We should not have to do this kind of work covertly,” said former head of NED Carl Gershman on CIA missions to the New York Times in 1986. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”
What Givers Want
The “work” the United States has set out for Ecuador — according to a 2016 Office of Inspector General report on the U.S. embassy leaked by WikiLeaks — is “to mitigate the effects of the contentious political environment created by the Ecuadorean Government” with the help of other government agencies, which play a “critical role.”
The report, intended for the eyes of the BBG and Congress, said the embassy was “actively engaged with civil society leaders and nongovernmental organizations to increase Ecuadorean awareness of and support for U.S. policies and values, promote Ecuadorean civil society and government accountability, and strengthen environmental initiatives.”
To set up a climate conducive to U.S. meddling, the U.S. Government Accountability Office included Ecuador on a shortlist with Colombia, Egypt and the West Bank/Gaza the year Correa was elected to closely study public opinion in “specific, targeted public awareness campaigns.”
It also either commissioned or was the beneficiary of a study from Stratfor, a secretive intelligence company contracted by the State Department and the U.S.’s multinational titans, which evaluated the extent to which Ecuador is manipulable by NGOs. The 2013 report, leaked by WikiLeaks, focused especially on how NGOs can influence trade policy and corporate regulation. Its conclusion: based on a scale likely defined in relation to other developing nations, Ecuador is fairly resilient to NGO pressure but has submitted in certain instances.
USAID sends hundreds of millions to local projects in Ecuador, some less explicitly political, but some indirectly benefiting opposition groups, according to U.S. Ambassador in Ecuador Adam Namm. BBG affiliate, TeleAmazonas, has been accused of fomenting strong opposition rhetoric against Correa. And the NED spends over US$1 million annually on dozens of local programs with broad objectives like “promoting citizen oversight of elected officials,” “monitoring due process and the independence of the judicial system,” “monitoring the use of public resources in government advertising” and “facilitating dialogue and consensus on democracy.”
Both Germany’s BMZ and USAID are back in Ecuador following a deluge of NGO activity after the April earthquake. The workload of the National Ministry of Political Management has peaked ever since, said Pabon.
The Sneaky Alliance With Mother Earth
One pet project of USAID was the Conservation in Managed Indigenous Areas, or Caiman, which ended before Correa took office but was among several USAID programs to conserve the country’s biodiversity and promote alliances between Indigenous communities and private businesses.
Caiman worked with various groups working in ecological and Indigenous rights, including Accion Ecologica. For several years, Caiman had Accion Ecologica help them battle against the Ministry of the Environment and train park rangers to oppose contamination from oil and mining.
Whether or not USAID or foreign foundations have funded Accion Ecologica directly is unclear. Unlike many others in the industry, the non-profit does not publish its financial information on its website, and refused multiple requests from teleSUR for copies of audits. When asked, the organization’s president said she does not know specifics on foreign funders and could not answer.
Almeida did say that Accion Ecologica receives funds from Europe — from individuals, “small organizations, alliances, groups that form” around fundraising events on ecological issues. She did not say how much or cite specific names but mentioned Italy and Belgium.
A 2012 investigation from Andes, an Ecuadorean state publication, found that both Accion Ecologica and the Regional Foundation of Human Rights Advising, another powerful nonprofit, are financed by the European Commission, Oilwatch, the Netherlands embassy and a few international ecological networks. Almeida said the accusations were false.
While Europe may be the principal interested party in the success of Accion Ecologica, the U.S. is also well known to have played an active role in similar battles.
In 2013, the year after Correa took the lead against foreign NGOs and a year before he expelled USAID, Bolivia accused USAID of spending US$22 million to divide Indigenous groups on the exploitation and nationalization of oil in their lands.
“Since the right can’t find arguments to oppose the process of change, it now turns to campesino, Indigenous and native leaders who are paid by several NGOs and foundations with perks to foment a climate of conflict with the national government to deteriorate the process of unification that the country is experiencing,” said Morales as he gave USAID the boot.
Beyond Accion Ecologica
“Theoretically speaking, NGOs shouldn’t exist,” said Casado. NGOs operate within a logic of narrowing, minimizing and weakening the role of the state so they can keep filling holes in public services and keep their jobs, which are at risk of disappearing if the state works as it should, added Casado.
“They elect themselves representatives of civil society in general,” and yet their role is limited and entirely reliant on and responsive to funding, which at the end of the day remains in their pockets. Other social organizations and popular movements, said Casado, operate only on conviction.
If an NGO is completely free to operate without regulations, a country would open itself to any corporate and foreign interest that found an open hand, he argued. Latin America is intimately familiar with that process — of consolidating power in the monied class — and NGOs back similar corporate interests, only with a more benevolent face.
It’s near-impossible to identify the perfect case of foreign intrusion — and, as in Accion Ecologica’s case, near-impossible to prove. Multiple factors are always at play, from the ideology of individual members to the decision-making process to however events play out on the ground. Casado said that the first step to uncovering hidden interests is financial transparency — a move that faces stiff opposition precisely for the interests that it could reveal.
Ecuador’s answer is to carefully collect records and draw a clear line between what is acceptable and what is not. Foreign NGOs, state the decree, cannot participate “in any form of party politics, any form of interference or proselytism, any threat to national security or public peace or any other activity not permitted under their migratory status.”
When Accion Ecologica testified before the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of the Environment, it argued that it had been doing the same work — protecting the rainforest — for decades, always in a peaceful manner. The evidence presented showing they provoked violence through a series of tweets in and around the time of violent clashes was “a bit absurd, very absurd,” said Almeida.
In the end, the government’s case did not hold, and the Environment Ministry concluded there was not enough credible evidence to shut down the group. Accion Ecologica credited “pressure” from its supporters, as its representatives continue to urge for a deregulation of NGOs.
“It’s not only NGOs, but also any organization that will be at risk, especially their right to free expression and the right to free association” if the decree regulating NGOs remains intact, said Almeida.
Her position echoes those taken up by opposition politicians, whose one commonality is their depiction of Correa’s government as one systematically trouncing on citizens’ rights and freedoms.
In an election year, rhetoric makes the difference.
Dianileysis Cruz contributed reporting.
Iran has confirmed the discovery of 15 billion barrels of new in-place oil reserves, but a top official says huge investments and state-of-the-art technology are required to exploit those reserves.
Ali Kardor, the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), was quoted by domestic media as saying that around 2 billion barrels of the newly-discovered reserves were “recoverable”.
Kardor added that around 1.8 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of in-place reserves of natural gas – around half of which he said were recoverable – had also been discovered. However, he did not specify when and where the new discoveries had been made.
Meanwhile, NIOC Director for Corporate Planning Affairs Karim Zobeidi said the overall volume of Iran’s oil reserves stood at 771.53 billion barrels, of which around 102 billion barrels would be recoverable at a rate of 24.6 percent.
Zobeidi added that Iran’s in-place reserves of natural gas stand at 55 tcm of which 33 tcm could be recovered at a rate of around 70 percent.
The NIOC chief was further quoted by the Persian-language newspaper Iran as saying that a new round of tenders – scheduled for the next few weeks – would pave the ground for international energy companies to help develop the country’s oil and gas reserves.
Kardor also said that Iran’s production of high-quality oil would reach four million barrels per day (mb/d) before April – what could be a landmark success for the country after the sanctions that had kept production a little above 2 mb/d were lifted in January 2016.
Over-population of a particular kind contributes to planetary environmental degradation, poverty, and wars without end. Thanks to Oxfam, we know just who the offending individuals are. Eight people now have the same wealth as the poorest half the world’s population.
Heading the list of the world’s richest is Microsoft magnate Bill Gates; number three is investor Warren Buffett. The Gates Foundation, bolstered by Buffett’s fortune, is the world’s largest private charity. Without a hint of irony, the foundation’s website describes their vision to “develop strategies to address some of the world’s most challenging inequities.”
The supreme irony of our modern era – really a contradiction – is that the forces of production have developed to the level that there is a material basis for eliminating poverty for the first time in human history. Yet the relations of production are such that unprecedented accumulations of wealth are ensured, threatening our very existence with destruction by either WMDs or ecocide also for the first time in human history.
The Gates Foundation is a leading modern promoter of the neo-Malthusian gospel of over-population, which has historical antecedents in British cleric Thomas Malthus’s theories of 1798. The ideology of over-population diverts criticisms of capitalist social relations of unequal distribution, serving to justify a system that creates needs without the means of satisfying them.
After World War II, Malthusian theory was resurrected to support the ideological initiatives of the ascendant US superpower and its cohorts. This ideological initiative in the service of international capital took place in the context of a wave of national liberation struggles in the post-war period. Peasant tillers of the soil were demanding land reform. To this rightful claim, the Cold Warriors offered population control coupled with the commercialization of land using the model of US agribusiness.
According to the Gates Foundation, population growth “contribute(s) significantly to the global burden of disease, environmental degradation, poverty, and conflict.”
Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster comments on this framing of global problems:
“There can be little doubt that the real aim of the neo-Malthusian resurrection of Malthus, then, was to resurrect what was after all the chief thrust of Malthusian ideology from the outset; that all of the crucial problems of bourgeois society and indeed of the world could be traced to over procreation on the part of the poor.”
“The biggest danger of blaming over-population for environmental problems,” warns Anne Hendrixson of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College, “is that it ignores the real culprits.”
Conceptually underlying this particular understanding of the dynamics of human population growth is that these deleterious effects are somehow natural, because human reproductive activity is itself natural. In fact, poverty and environmental destruction are not simply and inevitably natural consequences of the human condition but are mediated by particular historical circumstances.
The high fertility rates of the poor and the high resource consumption rates of the rich are both environmental issues that should not be counter-posed, but should be seen as keys to understanding a single larger solution to environmental destruction.
For the super-rich such as Gates and Buffett and their self-serving foundations, over-consumption is not an especially troubling problem but over-population is. Illustrating the consumption gap, Oxfam reports “someone in the richest one percent of the world’s population uses 175 times more carbon on average than someone from the bottom 10 percent.”
Poverty is an inevitable by-product of a socio-economic system that generates increasingly inequitable wealth. Wealth is linked as a driver of population growth because the high fertility rates of the poor are a response to their precarious condition. A large family is the poor person’s work force and retirement fund.
Martin Luther King, Jr., commented, “I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.” The 1960’s counterculture slogan “serve the poor… eat the rich” put it more crudely.
The more trenchant predicament, though, is not so much a moral one that the super-rich have too much money and live in obscene luxury, but the political one that they have too much power. Let them keep their mansions and yachts, if only they’d hand over their senators, generals, and presidents.
We do have an over-population problem – too many too rich people. The capitalist system, which creates both great wealth with unsustainable consumption rates and great poverty with unsustainable population growth rates, is the fundamental adversary of the environment.
As Bill and Melinda Gates counsel:
“Our friend and co-trustee Warren Buffett once gave us some great advice: ‘Don’t just go for safe projects,’ he said. ‘Take on the really tough problems.’”
Surely ending wealth inequality and the capitalist system that produces it must top the to-do-list.
Roger D. Harris is on the State Central Committee of the Peace and Freedom Party, the only ballot-qualified socialist party in California.
The United States Geological Survey has announced the discovery of the largest oil field in the United States to date.
The Wolfcamp formation, in the Permian Basin in a West Texas desert, is believed to hold some 20 billion barrels of oil, worth roughly $900 billion at today’s prices. It is also believed that this field contains an estimated 16-trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 1.6 billion barrels of liquid natural gas. “The estimate lends credence to Pioneer Natural Resources Co. Chief Executive Officer Scott Sheffield’s assertion that the Permian’s shale endowment could hold as much as 75 billion barrels, making it second only to Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar field,” Bloomberg reports.
The Wolfcamp find is three times larger than the previous largest fossil-fuel discovery in the US, the North Dakota’s Bakken field.
The area, controlled by several energy companies, has been producing gas for the past 100 years. The latest find was previously inaccessible as it is buried under four layers of shale. To retrieve it, modern methods such as fracking and horizontal drilling must be used, Newser reported.
“The fact that this is the largest assessment of continuous oil we have ever done just goes to show that, even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the potential to find billions more,” Walter Guidroz, program coordinator for the USGS Energy Resources Program, said in a statement.
“Changes in technology and industry practices can have significant effects on what resources are technically recoverable.”
The party platform adopted at the Democratic National Convention, on page 45, calls for a national mobilization on the scale of World War II. What enemy deserves the wrath endured by Hirohito and Hitler? Climate change! Democrats want to declare a war on climate.
Here is the amazing declaration: “We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis. We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II.”
This scale of mobilization is incredibly expensive and disruptive to people’s lives, something to which the Democrats seem oblivious. Great sacrifices by average Americans were required for mobilization during the Second World War, enforced by massively intrusive government authority. Is this what the Democrats want, the supreme government control that comes with a wartime effort?
To begin, there was widespread government rationing of essential products. For most families, driving was limited to just three gallons of gas a week. If the Democrat’s war on climate is designed to curtail fossil fuel use then will gasoline again be rationed, in spite of longer commutes due to massive post-war suburbanization? What about natural gas and coal-fired electric power? Meat and clothing were also rationed. Will this be repeated?
Even worse, many consumer products were simply not produced; their production prohibited in favor of war materials. These included most appliances, including refrigerators, plus cars, of course. Today’s banned appliance list might well include computers, smart phones and televisions, and again cars, as well as air conditioners and refrigerators. Will all these technologies be stopped in favor of building climate war materials like windmills, batteries and solar panels?
Not only is mobilization horrendous, there is no scientific justification for it. It is now clear that what is called “lukewarming” is probably the correct scientific view. Human activity may be causing a modest global warming that is actually beneficial. Beyond that climate change is natural and so beyond human control.
The only purpose for which a war on climate makes sense is justifying a massive increase in government power. Mobilization means controlling both production and consumption, as well as wage and price controls, all of which require detailed central planning of economic activity. This in turn requires a host of new agencies, programs, boards, etc. We have seen it all before.
Of course we have had so-called “war” policies before, such as the war on drugs. But these were mostly metaphorical policy names, typically just a shift in focus with a modest budget increase. The Democratic platform is very different because it specifies that the scale of the war on climate will be comparable to the Second World War mobilization, which entailed wrenching lifestyle changes.
If the Democrats are in fact serious, then we are talking about central economic planning on a massive scale, imposing great sacrifices on Americans, all in the futile name of stopping climate change. Sacrifice is harmful in its own right so this raises a host of moral issues. Which immediate harms will be deemed less harmful than speculative future climate change? Medical care is now a major sector of the economy, will it be curtailed? Will poverty be left to languish, or even encouraged via wage controls? Will travel be forbidden? Unfortunately the platform gives no clue, so this should be a major election issue.
In fact the specter of a WWII-scale mobilization to fight climate change dwarfs everything else proposed in the Democrats’ platform combined. It is also contrary to most of these other proposals, given the widespread restrictions that mobilization requires. Perhaps they do not understand what they are calling for, but if they do then they need to tell us what it is. Clarifying and justifying this outrageous mobilization declaration is essential to the election process.
Voting for mobilization without knowing what it means would be incredibly foolish.
David Wojick is a former consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. He has a Ph.D. in the philosophy of science and mathematical logic from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.S. in civil engineering from Carnegie Tech. He has been on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon and the staffs of the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the Naval Research Lab.
Ecuador’s proven oil reserves grew recently with the announcement by Vice-President Jorge Glas that Block 43 in the Amazonian province of Orellana counts on 1,672 million barrels of oil, an increase of 82 percent over previous findings.
U.S. oil engineering company Ryder Scott conducted an evaluation and confirmed the amount of proven reserves. The new certification means that the country as a whole now has nearly 4 billion barrels in proven reserves.
At current prices, the additional reserves will translate into US$19.5 billion in revenue.
Block 43 is one of Ecuador’s key oil deposits in the Amazon and oil extraction there has been the subject of controversy as the block is located inside the Yasuni National Park, considered one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.
Ecuador originally proposed keeping the oil in the ground but an appeal to the international community for contributions to prevent extraction failed after donors pledged a small fraction of the amount needed.
In late 2013, the government opened a small portion of the Amazon to oil extraction with a commitment to minimize any environmental consequences.
The state oil company Petroamazonas is tasked with the project and has committed to extracting in a responsible manner. The company won an environmental prize last year over from London’s Energy Institute for its efforts to mitigate the environmental impact of oil extraction in the Ecuadorean Amazon.
The license for oil exploration specifies that less than 1 percent of the total area of the Yasuni National Park will be affected.
The government of President Rafael Correa has been subject to criticisms from some environmental groups for its decision to open a portion of the Yasuni National Park for oil exploration. However, many of the criticisms come from organizations and politicians openly opposed to the Correa government.
As an oil-exporting country, the income derived from oil extraction is a critical component of the national budget.
President Correa celebrated the news of additional oil reserves on his official Twitter account, reaffirming his opinion that the decision to open up Yasuni to oil extraction was the correct one.
Under the Correa government, the income generated from oil extraction has been reinvested in the country through the construction of schools, hospitals, and roads. Ecuadorean law demands that 12 percent of the revenues stay within the affected zone, in an effort to benefit the surrounding communities.
The sharp drop in the price of oil has impacted government revenue, however, yet the price of oil is expected to stabilize at US$50 this year. The ITT region of the Yasuni National Park encompassing Ishpingo, Tambococha and Tiputini is expected to produce 20,000 barrels a day by year’s end.
Japan is continuing preparations for an unofficial visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Russia, secretary general of the Japanese government Yoshihide Suga said. In an exclusive interview with Sputnik, former Russian Ambassador to Japan Alexander Panov clarified Japan’s intentions and explained its “disobedience” to Washington.
Earlier, during a telephone conversation with Abe, US President Barack Obama asked him to refrain from visiting Russia in May, but the Japanese politician has refused his advice. In some media, this move has almost been regarded as a sign of a Japanese rebellion against the dictatorship of the United States.
However, according to Panov, Japanese authorities on the contrary stick to a very “balanced” position. On the one hand, they are planning Abe’s trip to Russia, and on the other they are coordinating their efforts with the US and other Western countries.
“On the one hand, Abe is preparing for his visit to Moscow, on the other he is trying to sooth his partners saying that it [the visit] won’t cause serious damage to a common position of G7, especially regarding Ukraine,” the expert said.
Panov argued that Abe’s visit to Russia is most likely to take place as planned. According to him, both parties may be interested in discussing bilateral economic cooperation.
“Maybe it is not a coincidence that the restrictions on the acquisition of controlling stakes in a number of Russian hydrocarbon deposits by Japanese companies are announced to be removed,” the expert said.
“Japan asked for this for a long time, but Russia did not go for it and made exceptions only for China. Now it will be possible to find a formula of Japanese participation in such projects, in spite of the sanctions,” Panov explained.
Regarding the resolution of a long-standing dispute between Russia and Japan over four Pacific Ocean islands, the expert, however, remained skeptical.
“The parties stick to the same positions. The Russian side proceeds from the fact that the ball is on the Japanese side, and Japan should offer some sort of compromise,” the expert concluded.
By M. David |Counter Current News | January 15, 2016
It took decades of protests and petitioning the government, but after being continuously ignored, African American activists took over a federal wildlife refuge.
While sites are drawn up in the debate over who is right or wrong in the Bundy militia stand off in Oregon today, it is worth noting that this group of activists did the same thing, decades ago, in a protest against what they considered an unjust land grab by the U.S. government.
The armed protesters today occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns was not the first of its kind, but it has had a very different response from law enforcement when compared to the very similar standoff 39 years ago in Harris Neck, Georgia.
The Harris Neck protesters were mostly displaced descendants of West African slaves. The FBI described them as “squatters” – even though they stated from the outset that their intentions were very much political in nature.
The group was called the People Organized for Equal Rights. They set up camp much like the Occupy Wall Street movement later would.
The encampment was on a patch of land stolen by the federal government south of Savannah, back on April 30, 1979.
The group of prominent civil rights leaders, and other activists brought concrete blocks and bags of mortar to build new homes, but they were unarmed.
The Oregonian summarizes that “following the Civil War, a white plantation owner deeded the land on the Georgia coast to a former slave. In the decades that followed, the descendants of slaves moved to Harris Neck to build houses, factories and boats. They fished, hunted for oysters and grazed cattle.”
In time, “Harris Neck evolved into a thriving community. Its members were recognized as a culturally unique group of African Americans called Gullah.”
Finally, in 1942, the U.S. military told Harris Neck residents that they had only three weeks to vacate the land. They cited eminent domain laws, and ordered residents to leave their property so they “could construct an airbase for training pilots and conducting anti-submarine flights.”
African American residents were given an insulting $26.90 per acre. Caucasian residents were given $37.31 for the same amount of land.
“Residents were paid only for the unimproved value of their land, receiving nothing more for houses, barns, or crops in the field, all of which were bulldozed or burned,” The New American reported in 2010.
After World War II, the government held onto the land – never giving it back. They eventually turned it into the 2,762-acre Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
According to the Oregonian, on May 2, 1979, U.S. deputy marshals “forcibly removed” the men. “‘Their bodies taut and motionless,’ the men were dragged out of their tent, handcuffed and hoisted into a waiting van.”
The men were all sentenced to jail, and two years later, in 1981, “a fire destroyed county records with details on the original home sites.”
What do you think accounts for the difference between how both groups were treated when they took over federal wildlife sanctuaries? Is it racism? Or was the fact that the 1979 activists were unarmed the deciding factor law enforcement standing down?
Here Are the Lessons of History the Press Ignores
“You cannot hope to bribe or twist – thank God! – the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”
So wrote the witty early twentieth century British man of letters Humbert Wolfe. His assessment of American journalists isn’t recorded but, where pivotal issues are concerned, they have probably proved even more naïve lately than their British counterparts.
American journalistic naïveté has rarely been more embarrassingly on display than in recent coverage of the Chinese economy.
Here is probably the most successful export economy in world history, yet American journalists have somehow been persuaded that it is in such terrible shape that it needs a devaluation. CNBC, for instance, reported the other day that “most experts” believe the yuan is overvalued by fully 10 percent. This despite the fact that the Chinese currency has already dropped more than 8 percent against the U.S. dollar in the last two years.
True China’s export performance has been lackluster lately – exports were down 3.7 percent in yuan in November, for instance, and the drop was considerably greater in dollars. What is rarely mentioned, however, is that China’s exports are one of the most volatile series in global economics. Short-term setbacks of as much as 20 percent or more are common and bespeak remarkably little about China’s underlying economic health. What matters is the long-term trend, a rate of growth in dollar-denominated export revenues that has averaged more than 17 percent a year in the last fifteen years. That is a truly sensational number and its accuracy is attested by other nations’ imports.
It hardly needs to be said that, pace what the press’s “expert” sources say, the case for devaluation does not stand up to even cursory examination. After all, the point of exchange rates is to ensure that trade is conducted on fair and mutually advantageous terms. Yet for a generation now the yuan has been so undervalued that it has wreaked havoc on what little has remained of America’s once superlative industrial base.
The result as of 2014 was that America’s bilateral trade deficit with China totalled $348 billion. This accounted for the vast bulk of the entire U.S. current account deficit with the world as a whole, which totalled $389 billion (the current account is the widest and most meaningful measure of a nation’s trade). Meanwhile China enjoyed a current account surplus of $220 billion.
Even in the face of figures like this, the press has often put a distinctly negative spin on Chinese economic news. Indeed many journalists have gone so far as to entertain suggestions – emanating ultimately from Sinology’s lunatic fringe – that the Chinese economic miracle is just smoke and mirrors and that in reality China is teetering on the brink of economic or political disaster, or both.
The political consequences are hard to exaggerate. Reports of economic trouble in China not only pander to wishful thinking among ordinary Americans but provide U.S. policymakers with an excuse to procrastinate on long-overdue measures to crack down on China’s trade cheating. Meanwhile the ground is cut from under economic hawks like Donald Trump who want to get tough with China.
In the circumstances the Beijing authorities could hardly be better served and it seems clear that for many years they have been quietly promoting a “bad news” propaganda agenda. (Japan does so as well, but that is a story for another day.)
The root of the press’s problem is a poor choice of sources. Instead of proactively seeking out trustworthy, independent sources, journalists too often sit around passively heeding whomsoever happens to be within earshot. Far too often this means listening to sources artfully placed in prominent positions by the China lobby.
What is clear is that many of the top academic Sinologists seem to be congenitally pro-Beijing. Others are merely ambitious, and know that to land a big job in a future presidential administration, they have to avoid saying things that might discomfit the China lobby. That lobby is largely funded by major U.S. corporations that do much of their manufacturing in China. One of the lobby’s most obvious objectives has been to keep the yuan low, with all that has implied for the future of America’s manufacturing base. As the lobby controls large tranches of China-studies money, it has had little difficulty ensuring that America’s most frequently quoted Sinologists are on message.
As for other key sources, China-watching securities analysts and bank economists are generally even less reliable than university-based Sinologists. They are clearly constrained by a need to please their most profitable and demanding customers, among whom various financial arms of the Chinese system have long taken pride of place. (China is now a vast exporter of capital, which is, of course, great news for those Wall Street firms who find favor in Beijing.)
Of course, some frequently quoted sources undoubtedly do believe what they are saying. In particular there is a minority of far-right China-watchers who love to preach textbook American laissez-faire to an apparently benighted Beijing. This is the “Tea Party” wing of American Sinology. Its members seem to be particularly lacking in the listening skills that are essential to understanding a place like China (basically you have to listen to the unsaid – something that Tea Party types probably consider an oxymoron). Of course, precisely because such Sinologists are so often wrong, they are viewed in Beijing as useful idiots who work wonders in keeping Americans confused and disunited.
While we can rarely say for sure whether any particular China watcher is in Beijing’s pocket, most undoubtedly are. Though they would be horrified to be so identified, their agenda is pretty obvious in the way they censor themselves. Instead of speaking out on China’s trade barriers, intellectual property theft, and the undervalued yuan, they typically tiptoe away from frank discussions of such matters.
Let’s take a closer look at some of Sinology’s more problematic figures. It takes no more than a cursory internet search to turn up countless China watchers who have vainly predicted the Middle Kingdom’s eclipse, if not collapse, over the years. In a moment we’ll look at Gordon Chang, who ranks as the king of the “collapsing China” crowd, but first let’s consider a few pretenders to the throne.
One often quoted source is the Beijing-based professor and analyst Michael Pettis. Though the tenor of Pettis’s comments varies, he has often come across as a super-bear.
Here, for instance, is how he described the Chinese economy to the Associated Press in 2007: “Right now, we’re in a sweet spot. Everything is as good as it can get…. You can make a very plausible case that we have all the conditions for a serious crisis when there’s an adverse shock. There’s a lot more debt out there than we think.”
Any U.S. policymaker who was persuaded by this would have been blindsided by subsequent events. China’s exports, for instance, multiplied more than three-fold in dollar terms in the next seven years.
Among China super-bears, few are more outspoken than Arthur Waldron, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. As far back as 2002, he claimed that Chinese economic growth was make-believe. Writing in the Washington Post, he backed a madcap theory that instead of growing at about 6 percent, as officially stated, the Chinese economy had actually been contracting for the previous four years. He concluded that China’s industrial policy was “a recipe not for growth but for economic collapse.”
Another Sinologist who has played an outsize role in confusing American opinion is Susan Shirk. As the Ho Miu Lam Professor of China and Pacific Relations at the University of California, San Diego, Shirk remains what she has long been: a notable “friend of China.” An early indication of her style came in 1994 when she published How China Opened Its Door: The Political Success of the PRC’s Foreign Trade and Investment Reform. She went on as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton administration to play a key role in negotiations that led to China receiving Most Favored Nation trade status.
Her claim to fame as a China super-bear is based largely on her 2007 book, China: Fragile Superpower: How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise. The book postulated a supposedly serious risk that the Chinese regime would be overthrown in a popular revolution. The consequences, she suggested, could be devastating not only for China but for the West. She urged the West not only to accord Chinese leaders exaggerated respect but to adopt an explicit policy of keeping them in power. Among other measures that presumably meant holding back on complaints about China’s trade policies.
Virtually every aspect of her analysis can be debunked but a full rebuttal would require more space than I have here. The first thing to note is that she claimed her analysis was based on conversations with numerous top Chinese leaders. That may well be so – but she evidently didn’t ask herself what was in it for them. After all they have made a fine art of keeping things secret from their own people. Why would they pour their hearts out to a mere gweilo (and a gormless one, by the sound of it)?
For now let’s simply note that for millenia, Chinese leaders have generally shown themselves uncommonly adept at nipping in the bud any signs of incipient revolution. Supreme leader Deng Xiaoping perpetuated the tradition by so brutally breaking up the Tiananmen protests in 1989. Today’s leaders moreover seem more secure than their predecessors in that they are equipped with modern methods of electronic surveillance that can provide a much earlier warning of incipient trouble than in the past.
Now let’s consider David Shambaugh, a political scientist at George Washington University. Long noted for suggestions that the People’s Liberation Army is a paper tiger, he has become outspokenly pessimistic about China’s political system in recent years. One recent essay, published in the National Interest in 2014, was headed “The Illusion of Chinese Power.”
Then in March 2015 he persuaded the editors of the Wall Street Journal to publish a commentary headed “The Coming Chinese Crackup.”
He wrote: “The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun, I believe, and it has progressed further than many think.” Referring to Communist Party rule, he added: “Its demise is likely to be protracted, messy and violent. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr. Xi will be deposed in a power struggle or coup d’état.”
His analysis was so melodramatically worded that it attracted considerable criticism, not least a point-by-point rebuttal from Forbes.com commentator Stephen Harner (who, unlike Shambaugh, can claim to have spent much of his career in China).
Shambaugh’s central point was a surmise that Chinese president Xi Jinping’s efforts to curb corruption had dangerously ruffled the feathers of power rivals.
As a measure of Xi’s allegedly weakening grip, Shambaugh mentioned that on a recent visit to a Chinese campus bookstore, he noticed that a pile of pamphlets by Xi didn’t seem to be moving. This, of course, is broadly as fatuous as an illiterate Chinese visitor judging Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects from the height of a pile of pamphlets at Columbia University.
Shambaugh also noted that an increasing number of Chinese students have been studying abroad lately. This, he suggested, stemmed mainly from a morbid fear of political instability at home. He did not seem to wonder whether less sensational explanations might suffice. After all, on the latest figures, Koreans are proportionately nearly seven times more likely than the Chinese to study in the United States – and the Taiwanese are more than four times more likely. Are we to believe that the danger of “crackup” is even greater in South Korea and Taiwan than in China? The truth is that East Asian students study abroad for a variety of rather mundane reasons, most notably the chance to improve their English. The trend has been powerfully stimulated not only by East Asia’s increasing wealth but by the same advances in air travel and communications that have been generally promoting globalization.
Perhaps Shambaugh’s most important point was that many super-rich Chinese families have been buying homes overseas. But, as Stephen Harner pointed out, this is hardly news. The Chinese have been doing so for generations. The only difference these days is that they have so much more money to spend. This, of course, attracts notice and even gets written about in the press.
Probably the single most widely publicized member of the “collapsing China” club is Gordon Chang, a Chinese-American lawyer. Since he published The Coming Collapse of China in 2001, he hasn’t had a good word to say about China’s prospects. Yet between 2001 and 2014, China boosted its exports from $267 billion to $2,331 billion – a more than eight-fold rise and a compound annual growth rate of an almost unbelievable 18.1 percent. This signified a rate of sustained productivity growth that few, if any, other nations have ever matched.
Contacted recently, Chang professed to be still a convinced China super-bear. But if China managed to escape economic Armageddon in the wake of his book’s publication fourteen years ago, what’s different today? In its latest reformulation, Chang’s argument is that China is facing devastating new competition from India. Just as a rising China wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy, a rising India supposedly poses a similar threat to the Chinese economy.
To a non-economist, especially one who is not familiar with Asia, this might not seem entirely implausible. In reality Chang’s argument is based on one of the most elementary fallacies in economics, the idea that success is a zero-sum game. His implicit assumption is that for some nations to win, others necessarily have to lose. This is Malthusianism and it overlooks the fact that in normal modern conditions economic growth is an expanding universe. Think, for instance, of the rise of Scandinavia. Though Norway, Sweden and Denmark now rank near or at the top of the world income league, this has hardly on balance posed a problem for a nation like Germany.
What Chang seems to be implying is that India will be accorded carte blanche to use the same super-aggressive methods on the Chinese industrial base that China has used on the American industrial base. He fails to note, however, that Washington has been asleep at the switch, with the result that China has been allowed to get away with the economic equivalent of murder. In particular China has extorted a cornucopia of advanced production technologies from America. U.S. corporations have been told that to sell their products in China they must manufacture there and bring their best technologies. To say the least, such diktats ride roughshod over China’s obligations under international trade agreements. India is unlikely to be permitted to use similar extortion techniques against China.
In truth about the only thing India and China have in common is an Asian address. In economic and political fundamentals, they are chalk and cheese. In trade, for instance, India remains a negligible force, despite many years of bullish econobabble in the West. At last count it was not only being out-exported nine to one by China but China seemed to be lengthening its lead. (Measured since 2006, India’s exports have hardly doubled, whereas China’s have more than quadrupled.)
Crucially the Indian savings rate runs little more than half of China’s. Worse, the Indian authorities seem to lack the authoritarian tools necessary to boost it. (In In the Jaws of the Dragon, a book I published in 2008, I showed how China uses authoritarian controls to suppress consumption, thereby automatically and powerfully boosting the savings rate.)
Another key distinction is that whereas China has run huge current account surpluses for decades, the Indian balance of payments remains stubbornly in the red.
A second strand in Chang’s argument is that capital flight threatens to destroy the Chinese economy. Though this again may impress a non-economist, there is again a lot less here than meets the eye. For a start, China is necessarily a huge capital exporter as a result of its current account surpluses (as a matter of simple arithmetic, every dollar of surplus represents a dollar of capital that will willy-nilly be exported).
To be sure Chinese leaders have often talked as if they are worried about capital flight. The point of such talk, however, would appear to be merely to deflect attention from the People’s Bank of China’s market interventions to keep the yuan undervalued.
What is clear is that if the Beijing authorities can control the internet and the press, a fortiori they can control capital flight (which requires mainly just a firm grip on a mere handful of major banks, most of which are, in China’s case, state-owned). What we know for sure is that historically other nations with a far more liberal tradition – the United Kingdom in the mid-twentieth century, for instance – have had little trouble maintaining effective capital controls. Moreover the investment case for the British getting their money out in those days was far greater than for the Chinese today. After all Britain’s economic performance was persistently anemic, whereas China’s current growth rate, at around 6 percent, remains one of the world’s highest. In the unlikely event that Chinese capital flight really becomes a problem, the authorities have a host of remedies available, not least an Orwellian system of electronic snooping far more intrusive than anything known in the West today, let alone in the United Kingdom of the 1960s.
So what are we left with? It is past time the American press remembered its traditional commitment to balance – and recovered its commonsense. Hearteningly, not all members of the press are incapable of learning from experience.
I will leave the last word to Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times. He cut to the core of the matter in a well-balanced commentary in 2012.
It is clearly true that China has enormous political and economic challenges ahead. Yet future instability is highly unlikely to derail the rise of China. Whatever the wishful thinking of some in the west, we are not suddenly going to wake up and discover that the Chinese miracle was, in fact, a mirage.
“My own scepticism about China is tempered by the knowledge that analysts in the west have been predicting the end of the Chinese boom almost since it began. In the mid-1990s, as the Asia editor of The Economist, I was perpetually running stories about the inherent instability of China – whether it was dire predictions about the fragility of the banking system, or reports of savage infighting at the top of the Communist party. In 2003, I purchased a much-acclaimed book, Gordon Chang’s, The Coming Collapse of China – which predicted that the Chinese miracle had five years to run, at most. So now, when I read that China’s banks are near collapse, that the countryside is in a ferment of unrest, that the cities are on the brink of environmental disaster and that the middle-classes are in revolt, I am tempted to yawn and turn the page. I really have heard it all before.
Eamonn Fingleton reported on East Asian economics and finance from a base in Tokyo for 27 years. He met China’s supreme leader Deng Xiaoping in 1986 and predicted the Japanese stock market and real estate crashes in a major article in Euromoney in September 1987. He is the author of Unsustainable: How Economic Dogma Is Destroying American Prosperity (New York: Nation Books, 2003).
While India has embarked on an ambitious renewable energy pathway, coal is likely to remain its primary source of energy for the next couple of decades at least.
India will not agree to any proposal at the climate change negotiations that will seek to restrict the use of coal as a source of energy in the near term, a key member of the country’s negotiating team said on Wednesday.
More than 190 countries will gather in Paris later this month for a two-week annual climate change conference that is expected to deliver a global agreement this year.
“We cannot agree to any proposal that will restrict our ability to generate energy from coal or inhibit our efforts to ensure energy access to all our people in an accelerated manner,” Ajay Mathur, director general of Bureau of Energy Efficiency, told The Indian Express.
While India has embarked on an ambitious renewable energy pathway, coal is likely to remain its primary source of energy for the next couple of decades at least.
In a recent projection, the government had said it hoped to bring down its dependence on coal for electricity production from the current 61 per cent to 57 per cent by 2031-32. By that year, the contribution of renewable energy — solar, wind and biogas — in total electricity generation was projected to grow to 29 per cent from the current 12 per cent.
“There is no looking away from it. Coal is going to remain India’s primary source of electricity generation for some time. We cannot agree to anything that restrains us from using coal,” he said.
Mathur said that in Paris, India will ask for a more stringent international mechanism to ensure that the developed countries deliver on the commitments they have made to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In the last few months, countries have submitted their climate action plans — steps that they intend to take to deal with climate change — up to the year 2032. There is debate over the mechanism to be adopted to assess whether all the actions are consistent with the objective of keeping the rise of global average temperatures within 2 degree celsius compared to pre-industrial times.
The climate change negotiations accept a principle of differentiation in the responsibilities of developed and developing countries in dealing with climate change. Mathur said this differentiation must extend to the compliance process as well.
“The assessment of the developed countries’ actions must be subjected to a stronger review as compared to other countries,” Mathur said.