Saturday, 30 April 2011


MAY DAY 1886 - MAY DAY 2011 may not seem like they have anything in common. After all, what does 21st century modern man and woman in developed or semi-developed society have in common with ethnic workers in Chicago getting themselves killed during the unfolding of the Industrial Revolution? And what relevance does such a symbolic day that most of the world celebrates in honor of the worker's struggle for social justice?

Should people just go collect flowers on May Day (International Workers' Day) (in most case buy or order them from their nearest florist), and should the intellectuals ignore this day as no different than any other day? As a reminder that the military and police remain guardians of capital that has preeminence over workers' rights, the US has designated May 1st, LAW AND ORDER DAY, one of the many law and order days that difference cities and states celebrate!

Does the intellectual have any moral or social responsibility beyond that of any other person to promote social justice? Is the intellectual merely a microcosmic reflection of society that demands institutional/sociopolitical conformity? Or at best, is the intellectual merely observing and analyzing the world from above as the poems THE RAVEN by Edgar Allan Poe and ALBATROSS by Charles Baudelaire so eloquently articulate? Unlike ethical duty-bound creatures (Abraham and Agamemnon), intellectuals cannot help it but to remain a sky-view observers as the father of Existential philosophy Soren Kierkegaard argued, despite his belief that "subjectivity is truth and truth is subjectivity."

If the goal of the businessperson is to make money, why should the intellectual who is also serving a function in society be any different? Should any profession from medical to artistic or philosophical deviate from society's norms, and does it have a higher ethical and social obligation to call the public's attention to injustices?

What are we to make of the values of intellectuals if they are conformists because money, power, and glory are the only things society values? What does it reveal about their values if intellectuals are mere observers and analyzers of nature, of people, and of their craft for the satisfaction it yields to them personally (Kantian view)? Is it at all possible for intellectuals to be above society's commonly shared values whether in a pluralistic society or not? Would the teachings and writings of a devout religious person in a traditional (heavily religious-influenced society) reflect the same values as those of an atheist who encourages skepticism, critical thinking and evaluation, rationalism and rejection of mysticism, all reflecting pluralistic conditioning?

The concept of social responsibility on the part of intellectuals is ancient. We find evidence in classical Greek writers Solon, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Thucydides of a sense that they intended their writings to be as much a mirror for society as a critique and a vehicle for consciousness raising. The same holds true for some writings of classical Rome that continued the secular tradition of Greece. Social justice, however, was hardly the domain of Greek and Roman scholars, as we find evidence of it in India, Persia, China, Mesopotamia and Arabia. Clearly social justice in secular Greece and Rome lacked the religious and/or mystical sense around which it was dressed in Asian countries. Intellectuals under Christendom, East and West, also had to express social justice and social responsibility in religious and/or mystical terms from the time of Saint Augustine to the Age of Reason.  

Operating within the Enlightenment's ideological framework, the French Revolution inculcated the idea into the public mind that the intellectual had a higher obligation to society, namely to work toward its secular 'progress' as the Enlightenment defined it - including principles of personal freedoms, end of slavery, rights for women, representative government, end of privileged orders and institutions in society. That was all in theory and it remains so. For the pragmatic if not opportunistic intellectual, the road to progress is conformity and not an ethical dissident route that yields no benefits and it may be an impediment to personal progress and may even invite punishment.

What if no intellectual spoke out about the rights of workers in the 19th century when industrialists and bankers ruled like mobsters under the protection of government in the world. On 1 May 1886, anarchists in the American Federation of Labor demanded an 8-hour work day. More than 400,000 people, skilled and unskilled, black and white, men and women, native and immigrant took part in the labor strike in Chicago. What followed in known in history as the Haymarket Massacre that inspired a generation of intellectuals and activists throughout the Western World.

Because of the struggles of activists and intellectuals to raise the level of awareness of injustice against workers on the symbolic MAY DAY, and because of ongoing struggle and countless tragedies on the part of workers, women, and ethnic, religious and racial minorities, some progress toward social justice was made.

Although capital, its political defenders, and its apologists in media and intelligentsia constantly fought against every demand by workers to gain some ground toward improving economic, social and political life, that struggle would not have gone very far if major intellectuals stayed silent on social justice. Imagine, if intellectuals merely observed like the RAVEN from the sky and did not descend to the earth to be a part of life down here where tragedies unfolded in May 1886.

MAY DAY 2011 is not very different from that of 1886. Today, not just workers but the middle class is  struggling to maintain its social status that has been waning in the last three decades. In a world where the state affords institutional protection for capital that is far more powerful today than it was on May Day 1886, the intellectual has to reexamine her/his values and ask if there is an ethical obligation to speak out for social justice and against the tyranny of economic dictatorship operating under cover of 'free economy'. 

Friday, 29 April 2011


Taking the long view on Anatolia's intermediary role between East and West, it is indeed true that there has been much written on the issue. The Erdogan regime is interested in having Turkey play an essential diplomatic role between West (NATO, especially US) and Middle East. It is no secret that Turkey wants to recapture some of its Ottoman glory through diplomacy; it wants a greater geopolitical role that would give it leverage to have a voice in determining the regional balance of power.

There is some speculation that Turkey may develop into one of the world's top 25 economies in the world, but that scenario may be optimistic, against the reality of large balance of payments deficits, financed with external borrowing. Moreover, the key sectors that include automotive, pharmaceutical, IT, shipbuilding and textiles may not remain competitive in the future. On the plus side, the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa only helps to strengthen Turkey, assuming that minority and dissident segments do not rise up against the regime.

Turkey's political and economic ascendancy makes sense because there is no longer a Communist bloc, the Middle East has weakened, the US has failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, both EU and US appear helpless in bringing about a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it seems that such a course would solidify Erdogan's domestic political base threatened by secularists inside the military as well as outside. Until the archives of a number of countries become available to the public, we will not know why Turkey and Israel chose to clash in such a dramatic fashion.

From published reports so far we have a nebulous picture. Some dynamics behind the clash include:
1. Turkey's desire to bring out into the open US foreign policy on whether Ankara will play the catalytic role that the Obama administration desired when it took office; a time when Bush's foreign policy appeared it was not achieving anything desirable for broader US interests. Erdogan talks tough about the West, but capitulates when it comes time to go along with NATO as the case of Libya and Syria have proved.

2. Challenging Israel has been a great way to unify reluctant generals behind the regime and to recapture public support at home and in the Muslim world where there are no great leaders speaking out. However, Turkey has played the Israeli issue just enough to tease the Muslim population at home and abroad without going to the brink as to completely alienate the US.

3. Turkey's ties to Iran and Hamas are justified from a political perspective, if we consider the intermediary role Erdogan wants to play in the Middle East and the absence of an alternative from the Arab side. Besides, Iran is a lucrative market and one that presents great opportunities for the future if Turkey wants to play a greater regional role. Turkey's trade target with Iran is set at $30 billion annually, or three times higher than the current level.

4. Turkey's increasing economic ties with its neighbors and especially Russia, that has signed a number of agreements on energy is something that EU and US have taken notice. Turkey has a sense that it needs to pursue a multi-dimensional foreign policy, and the place to do it starts with neighbors as well as China that has a growing interest in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey-China trade is set to triple so that it reaches $50 billion annually by 2015 and $100 billion by 2020. In essence, China will become the dominant economic power, complicating matters for a country that is a NATO member. Militarily linked to the West and economically linked to the Orient may very well be a great balancing act for Ankara.

5. Turkey has to play the geopolitical card more so today than ever because it sees that EU membership will be delayed amid a protracted economic recession and European reluctance for political, financial, and cultural/religious reasons to allow Turkish membership into the Eurozone. Although the US wants Turkey's greater integration with the EU, France and Germany are adamantly against it for a number of political, ideological, economic and cultural considerations. EU's reluctance may actually best serve Turkey to continue the path of multilateral foreign policy and economic relations.

6. Given Turkey's vote at the UN Security Council not to continue with the US-led ''sanctions diplomacy," it now seems likely that Israel, with US approval, adopted a more hostile attitude in the last two years. Nevertheless, Turkey has played a brokering role between Hamas and Israel to mitigate hostilities, especially in Gaza. Israel and US both want to continue the triangle between Turkey, Greece and Israel as a means of counterbalancing the Arab states, and that is a strategy that EU supports as long as it promises to lead to lessening regional tensions.

Tayyip Erdogan may or may not have illusions about the limitations of his ambitious foreign policy and the limit of Turkey's economic potential. Turkish foreign policy is not determined solely by domestic forces from military to business, and by 'national interests' as the regime defines it, but by the EU and US which sets the limits and with Israel helping behind the scenes to make certain a regional power gap is not filled by any country that Tel Aviv does not approve.

The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa could prove to be of great diplomatic and economic benefit to Turkey, or they could prove to be a disaster if trouble spreads inside Turkey and the regime resorts to force against minorities and dissidents. Turkey appears to be on the road to regional greatness, the bridge between Asia and Europe that could benefit in many respects.

Cultivating closer ties with Asia and Africa, Turkey could play the role that the US and EU want it, a role that carries enormous risks given the anti-Western sentiment that prevails among Muslims. Turkey will continue to pursue a symbolic non-aligned type role for the sake of domestic and foreign public consumption, while behind the scenes it will continue to be faithful to its traditional military partners and new economic allies. In short, Turkey will remain a western client state militarily for the near future until such time as its economic status and ascendancy in the Middle East permits a more independent foreign and defense foreign policy.

Thursday, 28 April 2011


Is the difference for victims between 'terrorism' and war crimes only in what the party defining the terms intends and not much as far as actual activity? Should war crimes invariably committed by the state be in the same category as 'terrorism' invariably linked to insurgent groups or renegade states? And is it the case that the world's sole superpower is the only one that has the political, legal and moral authority to define war crimes and terrorism, while exempting itself by silently invoking the doctrine of American Exceptionalism?

From the French Revolution's 'Reign of Terror' (1793-1794) until the US 'war on terrorism' (Patriot Act following the 9/11) the topic of terrorism is one that has been controversial largely because of what it means and its impact on an open society rooted in a democratic tradition and human rights and civil liberties protection.

Many books and articles analyze the topic from different ideological and political perspectives. But governments around the world have their own definition for practical considerations to apply it in policy against group (s) that threaten the status quo. For example, the US defines Hezbollah as terrorist. As far as Syria is concerned, not only is Hezbollah is a freedom-fighting organization, but the US and Israel are guilty of war crimes against Palestinians. Who decides who is right and who is wrong?

War crimes are defined as violations of laws and humanitarian conduct in time of war - abusing, torturing or killing POWs and/or civilians, targeting schools, hospitals, mental institutions, and other non-combatant non-military-related targets. While it is generally acknowledged by many scholars that war invariably has a devastating impact on non-combatants, especially women and children, and that atrocities ranging from looting to rape and murder are inevitable, some standards ought to be maintained that distinguish acceptable from unacceptable conduct that may result in genocide as we have numerous cases in the last century from Armenian and Jews to Cambodians and Rwandans.

The Holy Roman Empire Tribunal of 1474 held the first “international” war crimes trial, thus setting a precedent. The Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), Geneva Conventions (1864 to 1949), and the International Criminal Court (2002) based at the Hague are the legal international institutions to which governments and organizations resort to for war crimes cases. Because there is a direct link between war crimes and state-sponsored terrorism, it is useful to examine these issues together, and to include 'insurgent terrorism' carried out by rebel groups fighting against established regime (s).

Clearly the term 'terrorism' implies violence and use of force, whether by insurgent groups or the state. However, is it violence and use of force only if carried out by non-governmental groups, or is terrorism something that states are also engaged in that various conventions throughout history also classify as 'war crimes'? Various US agencies  have their own definitions of terrorism that they limit to 'insurgent rebels' and exclude the state from such conduct, except in those cases where the state is an openly declared enemy (for example, the US has Iran, Syria, and North Korea, among others, on its list of state-sponsors of terrorism, but it does not have Israel on that list, and certainly not itself).

FBI definition: "Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."  U.S. State Department definition is that terrorism is "premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."

"The Reign of Terror" coined the term terrorism during the French Revolution, raising the issue of what constitutes legitimacy, if the state that accords legitimacy to itself is the instrument of killing innocent civilians, engaged in mass murder or genocide. In addition there is the issue of ideology attributed to 'terrorism'. For example, Stalin's Communist regime was committing terrorist acts in the name of Communism, while the atrocities by pro-West authoritarian right-wing regimes were excused because the governments were defending themselves again rebel violence preemptively or not.

The US has resorted to 'support of terrorism' or war crimes from the US-Spanish American War where it used terrorist tactics in the Philippines to Nicaragua in the 1920s, Guatemala in the 1950s, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s, Chile in the 1970s, Nicaragua, Panama in the 1980s, Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to the present. As a supporter of terrorism carried out by authoritarian regimes in the last century, the list is very long and it includes states from South Africa and Zaire to Indonesia and Greece, Portugal and Spain during the eras of dictatorships that ended in the mid-1970s.

Documented cases of allegations against US for war crimes (state-sponsored terrorism):
1. 1902: Lodge Senate Investigating Committee of US war crimes in the war against Philippines

2.  1943: Canicatti and Biscari massacres - US troops massacred Italian civilians in Biscari, Italy and German and Italian war prisoners in Biscari, but no one was ever charged. General George Patton dismissed the massacres of dozens of people as exaggerations.

3. 1945: Dachau massacre - US troops killed German prisoners of war. General Patton dismissed the charges.

4. The Pentagon's Vietnam War Crimes Working Group Files confirm US war 320 separate cases of war crimes, excluding My Lai Massacre of 350 unarmed men, children and women, that US Army documented.A single conviction came out of that era.

5. Agent Orange - French-based  International Tribunal of Conscience in Support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange violated the Hague Convention of 1907, Geneva Conventions of 1927 and 1949.
No one was ever held accountable. The US District Court of Brooklyn dismissed a law suit in the case in 2005 on the basis that: "No treaty or agreement, express or implied, of the United States, operated to make use of herbicides in Vietnam a violation of the laws of war or any other form of international law until at the earliest April of 1975."  The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled that "Agent Orange and similar U.S. herbicides cannot be considered poisons banned under international rules of war."

6. NATO bombing of Yugoslavia: 1999 - 400-1000 civilians killed in deliberate targeting of civilians and infrastructure. No one prosecuted.

7. 2002: War on Terror - A presidential memorandum gave the right to interrogators to deny prisoners basic protections as stipulated by the Geneva Convention, thereby permitting violations resulting in war crimes. On that basis, US personnel carried out torture of prisoners that the US classified as 'unlawful combatants', thus circumventing Geneva Convention rules. US Justice Department redefined the law to allow for war crimes to be committed and at the same time not be held accountable.

8. 2006: Human Rights Watch charged that Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld was criminally liable for his involvement in the abuse of a Guantanamo detainee. In November 2006, legal proceedings went ahead in Germany against Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, and a number of other Bush administration officials. The Military Commissions Act of 2006, however, provided amnesty for war crimes for they were carried out against the War on Terror.  Both Tony Blair and George Bush were accused before the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Iraq, but the US has not signed the treaty that would have given jurisdiction to ICC. The UN Security Council could have charged Bush and Blair for well known crimes in Iraq, but US has veto power.

In April 2011, El-Baradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1997 to 2009, charged that US administration officials were guilty of war crimes. Under Bush in 2002-2003  sought to manipulate the UN nuclear inspection team in Iraq into a US-directed inspection team intended to find non-existing evidence as a pretext for the US to declare war on Iraq. After 700 inspections of potential weapons sites in Iraq, the inspector found no evidence to support the bogus U.S. claims of weapons of mass destruction. El Baradei may be motivated

 The Soviet Union was guilty of state-sponsored terrorism, but US-backed dictatorships around the world, including apartheid South Africa were not on the same list. Besides legitimacy that people believe stems from statehood, there is the issue of moral equivalence between insurgent violence and state sponsored violence.
Wikileaks has now uncovered documents from 2002 to 2008, revealing that the Bush administration's 'War on Terror'" was itself a terrorist campaign at several levels. In addition to human rights violations of foreign nationals, the civil liberties of US citizens suffered in the process because government operated as a police state.

Memos from the joint task force at Guantanamo to U.S. Southern Command in Florida indicate that US government knew that a number of  Guantanamo detainees were innocent. Nevertheless, the US continued to detain innocent people because of the following reasons: a) substantial resources were spent to capture suspects; b) it was politically embarrassing to release them after classifying them 'high risk'; c) it would have sent the wrong signal to admit mistakes were made and it would have projected an image of 'softness' on terrorism.

The policy of detaining innocent men in Guantanamo started with Bush but continues under the Obama administration that argues of the 171 in detention most are awaiting military trial. A decision to close the detention facility where state terrorism has been taking place in the last ten years is no longer an option. Moreover, the US Patriot Act that in effect has resulted in US becoming a quasi-police state is continuing under Obama and lawmakers are likely to extend it.

Meanwhile, the US has turned a blind eye, in some cases support, for known 'terrorist' groups is
indicative of the hypocrisy of the 'war on terrorism. For example, the US has no problem with the Kurdish groups opposed to Syria and Iran, although they could be classified as 'terrorist', nor does it have a problem with the Iranian Mujahedeen-e Khalq Organization, or MEK, whose goal is to overthrow the current Iranian regime.

Interestingly enough, the CIA in its web site acknowledges that it does have the freedom to work with what it labels as 'unsavory' elements, that is, terrorists. We know that the US has not only collaborated with 'the enemy' in Afghanistan, but it has gone as far as allying itself with mother of terrorism al-Qaeda to bring down Gaddafi regime in Libya. What is the world coming to when the US declares war on terrorism and then collaborates with terrorists in a number of Muslim countries?

While war crimes are the most serious form of state-executed terrorism, they invariably go unpunished, except in few cases where the powerful nations have decided to punish a regime and/or reigning or former leader by leveling war crimes charges. The most egregious cases of war crimes carried out by the militarily  powerful nations go unpunished. By contrast, nations from US to Israel, from Russia to China are free to define 'terrorism' as they see fit against insurgent or dissident groups using violence and to punish the offenders as they see fit.

Like the Cold War around which US and other governments built their institutions, 'terrorism' as a replacement is designed to:
a)  engender conformity into US citizens and the world
b) permit the US to operate globally with impunity by exercising military options unilaterally where it wants to and with NATO backing when it must. 
c) keep the US influential globally. As a waning economic power, US has no other cards to play but the military one as a means of exerting global influence.
d) provide the legitimate cover for pursuing police state methods while claiming to defend 'freedom and democracy'.

On 28 September 2012, the US State Department removed the Iranian dissident group MUJAHEDDIN a-KHALQ, otherwise terrorist by any definition that any one without an ulterior agenda would use, from the official 'terrorist' list. Placing and removing dissident organizations on the terrorist list based solely on a political criteria intended to undermine a third part, in this case Iran while placating Israel, totally discredits the use of the term terrorism by anyone's definition. Naturally, the civil war in Syria and the ongoing instability in Iraq, combined with the seemingly endless disagreements between the US and Israel on drawing a red line for Iran - presumably the nuclear program currently devoted to energy and medical purposes - were important factors in the US removing the terrorist group MUJAHEDDIN e-KHALQ from the list of terrorist organizations. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


Israel, the US, Israel, and some EU nations would love for Syria to undergo regime change, but not for the right reasons as many democratically-minded people wish. The interest of US, Israel and EU is to keep the Middle East weak and divided, and its assets sold at low prices through western corporations.

Syria's domestic situation has indeed turned tragic and loss of life seems to be continuing without any kind of compromise in the offing between Assad's regime and protesters. Demonstrations have spread in 'mixed areas' like Dara'a with a Sunni-Alawite population. It now seems this is a national uprising that involves all sects and ethnic groups including Kurds who demand citizenship and basic freedoms, like using their own language. Too little too late as far as many people's reaction to Assad's reform proposals. But is this a genuine Syrian uprising free of Western influences, and if not, are we likely to see another Libyan situation in the Middle East?

Syria adamantly opposed the US invasion of Iraq and made no secret about it. In 2005, president Bush authorized funds for the political opposition to Assad's regime. Obama has continued the same policy toward Syria while pursuing a diplomacy of rapprochement at more official levels. Wikileaks has provided information showing that US intelligence became aware in 2009 that Syrian intelligence knew of the two-tiered US foreign policy toward Damascus - one intended to improve relations and the other to undercut the regime through covert channels by working with opposition groups.

When Bush authorized the CIA to run a massive 'information war' called the Democracy Fund ($50 million initially) against Iran, it did the same for Syria and Lebanon. Because Israel considers Syria more significant geo-politically, so does the US, especially considering the antagonistic history between Damascus and Washington for most of the last half century. In April 2011, as Syria finds itself in a terrible social uprising, the Western media is trying to project the image that Assad's Syria is isolated.

First, nations do not 'like' each other, they have tangible interests and negotiate at various levels from trade and defense, to tourism and cultural issues. Second, Syria and Turkey have a very good relationship at various levels, largely because in Turkey a number of businesspeople come from the ranks of the military (old guard Kemalist) who have interests in the Syrian market. Turkey wants a resolution to the social uprising because it too has a Kurdish minority and dissident elements that could be encouraged by the Syrian demonstrations. CIA chief Leon Panetta discussed the Syrian issue with Turkish intelligence, given Ankara's concern about possible spillover impact in the Kurdish areas.

Third, Syria supported Iran during the war against Iraq, something that initially alienated a few of the Arab nations, but as Saddam Hussein was becoming unpopular this too was not a major issue. The US has warned Iran not to intervene in Syria, while Iran is denying involvement and is accusing the US and West of psychological warfare. 

Fourth, Syria has a historic relationship with Lebanon that is sort of a patron-client one, but generally one of harmonious co-existence. Lebanon is concerned that instability in Syria has economic repercussions and political instability with a possible spillover effect. 

Fifth, Syria has generally had a good relationship with Egypt going back to the days of Nasser, but that too has had its ups and downs even with Nasser. There have been anti-Assad demonstrations in Cairo and it is only natural that the post-Mubarak regime would support the demonstrators in Syria.

Sixth, Syria has fairly normal relations with Iraq, after foreign minister Walid Muallem visited Iraq in 2006 and the two countries exchanged ambassadors. Syria also has fairly cordial relations with Jordan, largely improved after the First Gulf War. Syria has not had good relations with Saudi Arabia, especially after the assassination of Rafik al Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister in 2005.

A wealthy businessman with joint Saudi-Lebanese citizenship, Hariri enjoyed a close ties to Riyadh's ruling house. In the last two years, however, Syrian-Saudi relations have improved. None of this means that Syria's neighbors would not do their utmost to see regime change in Damascus, and the weakening of Syria, which entails the strength of those still standing, namely Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and of course Israel that would love nothing more than to have not just a weak Syria but weak Arab neighbors. Meanwhile, the world is observing that the US and its NATO allies are silent on regime for Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, while democracy and freedom are cited as the only reasons justifying foreign intervention in Libya and Syria.

Some time ago, I wrote in a posting for WAIS that the US was preparing to go after Syria. At that time, the reaction I received was that there was nothing in the news about such moves. Today, the news is a bit clearer. US is consulting with EU about imposing sanctions on Syria. Sanctions is the first move, as it was in Libya. What follows depends on how events unfold on the ground. If Syria is next after Libya for US-EU intervention, the goal is as CIA chief Panetta discussed, to bring down Assad so that the Saudi regime is spared. What follows is Iran as the next most significant target.

The US has been allegedly funding Mujahedeen-e Khalq Organization, or MEK, whose goal is to overthrow the current Iranian regime. Although the US has listed MEK as a terrorist group, it has provided substantial funding to the organization in order to destabilize Iran. EU governments, including UK, have also had a supportive relationship with MEK, although they too recognize that it has a long history of 'terrorism', bringing into question of Western support for terrorism in the war against terrorism.

Western overt and covert intervention intended to determine the balance of power in the Middle East will backfire as it has with the aimless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that contributed to the current US recession and downsizing of the economy and middle class living standards. Meanwhile, China continues to march forward with economic growth, probably replacing the US as the world's preeminent economic power in five years according to the IMF.

There are those who believe that if the US and its NATO allies continue down the road of destabilizing regimes and/or intervening in internal affairs, it is not entirely implausible for a war to start at the regional level and escalate into a large one, with China and Russia on one side and the US and its allies on the other. I am a bit more optimistic and give more credit to the Chinese and the Russians than other analysts, but for how long and where will the line be drawn if the US is unwilling to place limitations on its own global reach?

Monday, 25 April 2011


Just a few months  ago, I wrote on the prospects of China's economy when it replaced Japan as the world's second largest behind the US. Relying primarily on IMF studies that speculated how China would surpass the US economy within the next two decades, I then argued that the state-directed Chinese economy was easily leaving behind the 'neo-liberal' state-backed and managed economies of the G-8.

The IMF has now revised its forecast, arguing that in less than five years, China will be the world's largest economy, if we use purchasing power parity (PPP). It is easy to see that when PPP figures are taken into account, China has a much higher GDP than what 'real' numbers indicate in dollars. Ten years ago, the US had about 24% of the world's GDP share, while China had around 6%. In just five years, the US and China will both have about 18% each of the world's GDP, and thereafter, China will continue making inroads, while the US will be facing massive problems as one of the world's largest deficit countries.

China has enjoyed an annual average growth rate of 10% in the last 30 years, it has become the world's largest exporter and second largest importer, one of the world's largest market for foreign investment that reached $100 billion in 2010, and the world's fastest growing foreign investment country, accounting for the fastest growing foreign investment in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The more nationalistic among analysts argue that by pouring massive investments, China has been undermining the US in Latin America, EU in Africa, and Japan in Asia. In 2010, China has poured an estimated $100 billion in Latin America, or equal to the amount of incoming foreign investment in China.

While poverty in 1981 stood at 53%, it has been between 2.5 and 11% in the past five years, depending on the source. By contrast, the US has seen its poverty line remain in double digits, hovering around 14% in 2010, accompanied by a steady drop in living standards for workers and the middle class in the last 30 years.

What can the US do to catch up with China as opposed to what it will actually do are different things. Large corporate interests drive US economic policy, for it is they that fund political campaigns and pour money for lobbies. The US will not change course no matter how ominous the threat that China will become the world's number one economy. We can expect increasing government support for corporate welfare accompanied by austerity-style policies resulting in downward socioeconomic mobility. In short, continued decline of middle class and working class living standards and greater concentration of capital in the top ten percent of the population that currently owns 80% of US stocks and bonds, while the bottom 90% of the population owns just 20% of assets.

As far as monetary policy, we are unlikely to see much change there either. The overvalued dollar and undervalued yuan are part of what is at the core of IMF's new report whose purpose behind it obviously is to send the political message that austerity type measures are long overdue in US. Continuing to devalue foreign debt with an even cheaper dollar will only mean that investors will be discouraged from placing their money in US. Moreover, other reserve currencies will make it more difficult for the US to continue its current monetary policy.

It is true that the dollar is overvalued and if it were not a reserve currency it would have sunk to its proper level to reflect the real economy. However, US exports will decline if monetary policy changes rapidly and sharply. The emergence of China as the world's number one economy poses significant questions about global trade, and political and military balance of power, given that a Chinese economic superpower could only bring US-EU-Japan cooperation closer; at least that is the theory. However, China is heavily interdependent with EU, US, Japan, Russia, Australia, and Latin America. I am not sure that it is in any country's interest to try and undercut Chine through regional trade/investment blocs. Resorting to bloc trading zones would most certainly retard global trade and precipitate recession for all.

China does have structural problems that could slow its growth, in addition to social and political problems that are kept under control, but for how long? The housing market is a potential problem, as prices in major cities have exploded in the last ten years. Consumer prices have been rising faster than in the recession-ridden West, but with rapid growth inflation is unavoidable and not necessarily such a bad thing as IMF and many pro-free market economists present it. Inflation at five-six percent is not bad when growth rate is twice that rate.

The most important element in the economy is how the government will manage the economy to a slower and steadier pace so that when recession comes it is not as bad. At the same time confronting pressures for democratization from a growing middle class, dissidents, and minority ethnic groups is a greater problem than managing the domestic economy and foreign trade and investments. The Communist Party would have to change to reflect real changes in society, and so far the signs for change are not encouraging. If social uprisings begin to take hold, the Chinese economic miracle could turn into a nightmare. Just as it was a political decision to modernize the economy under capitalism was a political decision, so is social and political modernization.

Does it make it any difference if China is number one in the world, or the US, considering that capital has no nation and it flows freely between nations? Is it not true that the companies moving to China from US and other countries did so to realize greater profits, and it is corporate investors that are the real winners, instead of nation-states? Does an investor care if profits come from a multinational corporation that has operations in US or China, France or Brazil? What is at stake is the image of the US - PAX AMERICANA gone for good. Image in politics means leverage in political, investment, trade, diplomatic and other negotiations. China will have greater leverage, and US will have lesser leverage in the future.

Just as UK had to play second fiddle to the US after WWII, the US may eventually have to do the same with China. This does not necessarily have to play out like so, but short of political restructuring to end welfare capitalism; severely cut defense spending and end military adventures in the world that benefit a few corporations at the expense of the national economy; strengthen the middle class and workers through a new fiscal policy and wage policy;  the US is headed for a long decline.

The worst case scenario is that US could become entangled in a disastrous war if a reckless president decides that is the only card left to play in the face of losing the economic competitiveness in the world. From Rome to England, empires during their decline resort to war as they see it as the most direct route to power, when in fact war at such juncture hastens decline. Maybe the US empire will be the exception to the rule.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

DRONE WARS: now destroying a Third World country near you!

Drone wars is a video game that children play online.  However, it is also a new type of autonomous weapons' system warfare that the US and UK have been visiting on Muslim countries - Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and now Libya. The real kind of Drone war is carried out like a video game, because it is impersonal, computer-guided that destroys pre-programmed targets. Often included in those targets are innocent civilians - women and children among them that the Pentagon dismisses as 'collateral damage', accidentally killed for the higher cause of freedom and democracy!

Last week, Obama approved Drone warfare against Libya, just as Sen. John McCain was visiting the rebels in Benghazi and calling for more US military aid, military training, and air support in the civil war that could end if Gaddafi accepts the latest deal that Russia and Greece have proposed, or it could go on for months or years. Meanwhile, an average of a dozen people are killed every day in Libya and more than 100 wounded; numbers that will rise sharply with the introduction of Drone warfare. In the future, Drone war may be approved to hit targets in other countries that the US wants to have regime change; and from such small wars larger ones explode.

Although Drones can identify objects as small as a basketball from 20,000 feet in the air, the history of drone warfare is one of indiscriminately killing, thus making it controversial with legal scholars and analysts who see war crimes committed behind the veneer of techno-war. The Pentagon insists that the unmanned drones will help defeat Gaddafi's forces by targeting rebels "nestling up against crowded areas".

They said the same in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In short, the US has been prepared to accept 'collateral damage' casualties in Libya, as a Pentagon spokesperson candidly admitted:  "Now you have the intermixing of the lines, so it's very difficult to pick friend from foe. A vehicle like the Predator (drone) that can get down lower and get IDs helps us."

UK, US, and France, 'the crusading trio', leading this war have stated that they are not currently interested in ground forces deployment, given that there is no popular support for the NATO campaign in Libya that has gone as wrong for the 'crusading trio' as it could have so far. US and UK that use Drones hope for a techno-fix to a political problem, or at least a techno-fix that generates profits for defense contractors and keeps the public focused on a foreign enemy instead of the huge economic and social problems at home.

That the US opts for military solutions to political problems is an old story and it has its apologists, some arguing from an ideological perspective, others from a political, and defense contractors from a practical self-interest one. Are drones the latest form of US-NATO warfare against the Third World whose cheap labor and natural resources the rich nations want at gunpoint?  Human rights groups have repeatedly argued that innocent civilians have been indiscriminately killed by Drones.

After dozens of civilian casualties in Pakistan, many in that country have called on the air force to shoot down Drones, while others have asked that Pakistan block NATO supply routes from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Just as the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan have turned decidedly against the US, partly because of Drone warfare, so have the Iraqis and so will the Libyans that the 'crusading trio' claims it wants to help establish democracy.

Drone warfare is largely a CIA operation, but to blame the agency would be a mistake. Drone warfare is a political decision and one backed by the companies involved - General Electric whose profits were up 77% in the last quarter, Northrop Grumman whose profits whose stock price has doubled since Obama took office, and General Atomics, originally a division of General Dynamics and one of the most significant defense contractors in the world. By 2012, the Pentagon will have more than 8000 Drones as part of its arsenal to maintain a 'military' world order and secure energy and other raw material resources to keep the market economy healthy. Of the top six nations supplying 74% of the weapons in the world, the US accounts for just under half of that percentage,, followed by Russia, Germany, UK, China and France.

The defense contractors are making enormous profits by providing a new type of Stars Wars technology for the US and other countries are responding to the political decision that TERRORISM is the new enemy requiring new means of combat. In the past five years, the history of Drone warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the political problems remain and actually made worse by employing military solutions. Moreover, the US and other countries have used terrorism as a pretext to impose their hegemony abroad and to maintain conformity at home among their own citizens.

Legal scholars have debated Drone warfare, given that it is intended to preemptively destroy enemy targets - namely rebels along with non-combatants that may be in the way - before the rebels have the opportunity to strike. In short, this is a case of killing 'the enemy' before it has acted, and not in the course of actual combat.
There is also the question of non-combatants (those who are computer-guiding the Drones) participating in war without the privilege of combatants violating the law by killing.

Are non-combatants engaged in techno-war immune from prosecution and where is the line drawn between combatants and non-combatants? Finally, there is the question is what constitutes a 'war zone', and is it a war crime to intentionally plan to kill innocent civilians by having a very broad and loose definition of war zone and operational means carried out by unmanned Drones? Stay tuned! Drone wars may be coming soon to yet another Third World country near you, killing civilians by remote control just like a video game, but always in the name of freedom and democracy!

Friday, 22 April 2011


Do economic crises and wars exacerbate racism among all social classes and result in greater social tensions and political polarization to the degree that moderate conservatives more farther to the right and moderate centrists inadvertently find themselves defending the left? There is certainly ample proof that economic crises do result in higher crime rates against people and property, but do they result in hate crime expressed in subtle and overt ways?

During the Enlightenment the concept of the “universality of human nature” prevailed among philosophers from Rene Descartes (precursor to the era) to David Hume and Immanuel Kant, who claimed that they did not consider any factor such as skin color, religion, ethnicity, body size, or any trait other than intellectual capacity and artistic creativity. Enlightenment thinkers believed that human progress cannot take place with stereotypes, prejudice, and intolerance and only when human beings rest on reason and empirical criteria can they be closer to the truth and be able to make a contribution to the edification of humanity.

In theory, this was based largely on an empiricist philosophy–racism is learned behavior and not an integral part of human nature that has always existed and will always exist. The Enlightenment was indeed a great step forward for Europeans that were at the time engaged in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonizing, frequently with very violent wars against non-whites with the sole purpose of exploiting their labor and resources, while a select few intellectuals argued the boundless horizon of reason and the limitations of the irrational.

Racism in European society (and in the North American colonies) became prevalent because there was a motive of power and profit. Therefore, racism was deeply ingrained in the minds of white Europeans, including prominent philosophers like Hume among others who believed that non-whites differed (were inferior) from whites who were presumed “civilized” for it was widely believed northwest Europe was God’s chosen center of the universe.

Euro-centrism that included racism remained a characteristic of European culture, shared by American colonists who were born into a society of prejudice, intolerance, and stereotypes that served domestic and foreign policy goals, military schemes, economic interests, and of course social interests. Racism was as natural as colonialism. Whites grew up believing in their biological–physical and mental–and their moral (linked to Christianity) superiority that fed into innate human proclivities of fear, anxieties, insecurities about identity, potentialities, and abilities, and guilt, all projected on the other of a different race lower down the evolutionary chain; the other that is the ubiquitous enemy looking back from inside the mirror with a menacing look.

Racism also goes hand in hand with militarism. We see a substantial rise of racism in all facets of Western societies during the era of colonialism that resulted in the 19th and 20th-century wars of imperialism, wars that intensified racism among whites. Similarly, we see that the rise of Japan as an economic power in the late 19th century and its subsequent rise as a regional military power, after it defeated Russia in 1905, resulted in the rise of racism against the Chinese and Koreans, later to include other Asian nationalities.

Besides irrational proclivities in human beings, as Enlightenment thinkers correctly identified as the source of prejudice and intolerance, power, especially military power afford human beings a sense of superiority that in popular culture it translates into prejudice, stereotypes and intolerance. Modern society is still operating under the ideals of the Enlightenment, the last intellectual revolution of the Western World, and it does so because there is societal consensus that harmony and progress cannot take place in the absence of tolerance in an increasingly multicultural world.

Racism is not ethical politics, it is not good business, it is not good for any institution that endeavors to project an image of responsibility and constructiveness in society. The question, however, is the degree to which racism does have a place in politics and business, and the degree to which human beings, when they are all alone or with others who think like them, do not candidly reveal the irrational racist self because it “feels good” to feel a sense of superiority–man playing God.

Therefore, while constitutions and laws provide for punishment of racism and encourage tolerance, in the real world–whether in the streets of Chicago among poor teenagers of different ethnic and racial groups or in New York’s, London’s or Tokyo’s corporate board rooms or in the battlefield in Iraq or Gaza–the enemy is still objectified and reduced to a racially inferior being, for that is the essence of power many human beings worship more than they value any virtue in theory.

Far more dangerous and destructive than any direct or overt racially motivated act or speech is the subtle form of racism as we have witnessed since Obama became president by people who are too ignorant to recognize that he is as quintessentially “establishment” as any other president and represents the white Anglo-Saxon value system as much as he does finance capitalism.

Nevertheless, the Tea Party and especially Glenn Beck have launched repeated attacks on America’s first black president and his Jewish supporters like billionaire George Soros. The irony of such racially motivated attacks is the sheer ignorance and stupidity of those delivering the divisive rhetoric, as Salon magazine exposed in an article about Beck, Palin and Soros.

“Given Soros’s alleged role plotting to destroy the United States, Beck and his Fox viewership might be surprised to learn that one of Sarah Palin’s top aides has been on Soros’s payroll for years.That would be Republican lobbyist Randy Scheunemann, Palin’s foreign policy adviser and a member of her small inner circle. He runs a Washington, DC consulting firm called Orion Strategies. Scheunemann and a partner have since 2003 been paid over $150,000 by one of Soros’s organizations for lobbying work, according to federal disclosure forms reviewed by Salon. The lobbying, which has continued to the present, centers on legislation involving sanctions and democracy promotion in Burma.”
(I wrote this post in November 2010)

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Three African countries, Nigeria the most populous African nation with more than 156 million, Uganda with 35 million, and Burkina Faso with 17 million people are experiencing sociopolitical unrest that could explode into a situation similar to what has been taking place in Muslim countries. Although Africans south of the Sahara are aware of what has been happening in the Muslim north, the causes of social unrest in each country are unique to its conditions, no matter how inspired they may feel from Muslim rebels.

As in the Muslim north ruled by regimes that are corrupt and use repression, regimes in Nigeria, Uganda and Burkina Faso are not much different. As in the Muslim north, the three sub-Saharan countries have large segments of the population under abject poverty. Recently there have been large increases in basic consumer necessities.

Is there a return to Nigeria's 'Biafra conflict' in 2011, or is the current situation symptomatic of the sociopolitical turmoil in the Muslim countries? In July 1966, British-backed colonel Yakubu Gowon staged a coup, prompting the cessation by the Ibos who seceded and created the state of Biafra. More than 30,000 were killed and two million were displaced during the civil war in which the French supported Biafra and UK were behind colonel Gowon.

In the last few days, there have been riots that have resulted in killings and injuries of several dozen people, and in tens of thousands of displaced people in a north (Muslim)-south (Christian) conflict that has deep historical roots. Although 14 states are in some manner impacted, the clash centering in the northern state of Kadunaare supposedly over the Muslim population's dissatisfaction with the victory of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian who took power in May 2010, after Umaru Yar'Adua, a northern Muslim, died.

While the Christian south is rich in oil, the Muslim north is near the Sahara and it is immersed in abject poverty. While religion and ethnicity stick out as possible causes of the conflict, economics and politics are the root causes.

In October 1969, the State Department informed the British Foreign Office that the Nigerian civil war (Biafra) was more deadly than Vietnam, as casualties mounted from famine (200,000) and dislocation (700,000 minimum). The Biafra conflict was about Anglo-French desire to gain access to oil. After the civil war, the winners were US, UK, and French corporations that were given lucrative contracts to 'contribute to Nigeria's development' and modernize it. That promise of development was made 40 years ago by US, UK and France.

The West tried to convince the Gowon regime that by following IMF monetary and fiscal policies, and free trade and foreign investment practices Nigeria would join the community of developed nations.  
In 1970, Nigeria's annual per capita income was $343, while in 2010 it stands at $2,400 or 180th in the world. In short, after 40 years of promises by IMF, World Bank, US and Europe that their only interests is to help develop Nigeria and raise income levels, the result is greater poverty today than when Biafra ended. 

It is true that Nigeria has suffered under corrupt authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes that have failed to diversify the economy and kept the majority of the population impoverished where life expectancy is 47 years. But the governments of Nigeria are mere puppets of the West and western corporations that buy influence and merely exploit the country's resources and labor.

Failure of economic diversification and policies geared toward inward development intended to meet the material needs of the population now ranking 8th in the world is a very serious problem that at some point will explode as it did during Biafra. Goldman Sachs has Nigeria listed as one of the strongest 'emerging economies', but the wealth mostly in oil is a resource that has not translated into broad economic development in the last half century.

As a regional and relatively stable military power, Uganda, although a heavily agrarian economy, has experienced some economic growth. However, its annual per capita GDP is half that of Nigeria, and more than a third lives below the poverty level - so much for the Poverty Eradication Action Plan for Uganda and Africa! 

As is the case in Nigeria, Uganda has been operating under neo-liberal policies that include privatization intended to create a stronger private sector with an export-oriented economy that rests on coffee and other agricultural products. In short, Uganda and Nigeria operating under IMF policy recommendations have failed to create economies that eradicate poverty and raise living standards.

One of the smaller countries, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), north of Ghana and south of Mali, has been subject to social turmoil that stems from students clashing with police, soldiers that have not been paid, and merchants protesting that soldiers are looting. These developments started in February 2011 and continue unabated.

French involvement in the coup of 1987 that Blaise Compaore carried out was intended to stop Thomas Sankara from trying to pursue a democratic path of inward development. Like authoritarian leaders who stay in power for life, Compaore has been in office for almost a quarter of a century in a country whose annual per capita GDP is the same as Uganda's, and poverty level is above 50% and illiteracy is at 68%.

Despite monumental economic and social problems, Compaore has been more interested in keeping the status quo in sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and in the Cote d’lvoire where Alassane Ouattara and Guillaume Soro have been vying for power against Laurent Gbagbo. There seems to be a French and Western connection to Compaore and to all the authoritarian regimes that Compaore is trying to sustain in Africa.

It is simplistic and an insult to the intelligent political observer that the sociopolitical upheavals in sub-Saharan Africa are all about elections and personalities, as the western media has been projecting. The issues are about not only in the rejection of authoritarianism and repression, but about chronic social injustice and continued Western neo-imperialism that prevents African countries from developing economically and realizing their potential.

In August 2009, Hilary Clinton visited several African countries to promote US corporate and military interests. After the Bush administration had focused primarily on Africa in pursuit of 'the war on terrorism', the Obama administration turned its attention more on economic issues. However, the uprisings of Muslims across the Middle East and North Africa have eclipsed the otherwise ignored sub-Saharan region that is struggling with its own issues of social injustice under authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes carrying out Western interests competing for neo-colonial spheres of influence. As a new player in sub-Sahara Africa, China has only recently joined the neo-colonial race and it has justly earned the stigma of neo-colonialism by none other than the old and very experienced Europeans.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Human rights organizations are charging that NATO has been using white phosphorus, a napalm-like chemical to combat the rebels of Afghanistan. While I would like to hear about use of white phosphorous from the Pentagon or some official NATO source, or at least have empirical evidence independently confirmed before stating as fact that this monstrous and illegal activity is indeed taking place, we have at least one issue that should concern the US if the allegations are correct. 

In the June 1984 issue of the State Department Bulletin, the US raised the issue of chemical weapons use in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion. The US argued that chemical weapons use constituted a "violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, related rules of customary international law, and the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention." Moreover, the US took its case before the UN General Assembly at a time that president Reagan's defense secretary was talking about 'limited nuclear war' as 'acceptable' as long as it does not take place in the US.

That was then when the Soviets had troops in Afghanistan. In the 1980s, the CIA encouraged Afghan war lords to have peasant grow heroin along with hashish that was sold to Soviet troops. During the last ten years, war lords have used the exact same strategy on NATO troops they used on Soviets. This is one problem facing NATO troops that know better than anyone the war in Afghanistan is a lost cause. 

From 2003 until 2009, the media reported that Afghan rebels were allegedly using white phosphorus. But who exactly produces white phosphorus? We know that Israel has used it against Palestinians. The chemical decomposes the human flesh like a strong acid poured. If Afghan rebels acquired white phosphorus, who provided it for them?

China and Russia may be candidates, but not the only ones, if they have any role at all. Another possibility is that the Soviets left behind white phosphorus in the 1980s. But how much of this stuff was left behind and who exactly took inventory of it? How did it fall into rebel hands after more than two decades? The logistics of how white phosphorus could be in rebel hands now leaves more unanswered questions and it appears as a pretext to deflect attention from possible NATO use. The US government and western media have accused the rebels of using the chemical, and in every instance admitted that NATO uses it but for uses other than warfare, although related to war. This is as close to an admission of use as we will ever get from the US and NATO.

NATO and US have a history of denying atrocities and war crimes that contracted mercenaries and US-paid warlords carry out against civilians. Theft, rape and murder, desecration of mosques and mutilation of corpses are some of the atrocities that US-paid warlords have carried out. The US has backed ethnic Tajik elements against ethnic Pashtun civilians. Although the UN confirmed allegations of war atrocities and US/NATO use of disparate ethnic tribes against one another, NATO denies any wrongdoing.
If there is hard evidence to prove US/NATO use of chemical weapons, if the UN or other entity does eventually provide such evidence, should some neutral country - let us say Brazil - take the issue before the UN General Assembly, should human rights groups bring symbolic law suits against US and NATION leadership for violating the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the 1972 Biological and Toxin weapons Convention, for death squads by mercenary soldiers and for committing crimes against humanity? How much difference does the banned use of chemical warfare make amid mass catastrophe in Afghanistan? And all toward what possible benefit to any one except a few corporations making money from war and destruction?

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Presidential election years are usually good for the US economy, and that helps the world economy as well. Obama alone plans to spend one billion dollars, and who knows what the combined sum will be for all politicians throughout the land from local races to contests for senate seats? Invariably, the incumbent follows a liberal monetary policy on an election year to stimulate the economy, but already we have indications such policy may not be an option amid major federal budgetary cuts and most of the states suffering tremendous pressure to pay off past debt and balance their budgets.

If the government at federal and state levels will not be providing a growth stimulus in 2012, will the private sector be the engine of growth for the world's largest economy? The answer is modest growth will come from the private sector, but not jobs-intensive growth and given real salary reductions we will not have a robust consumer-led recovery.

Part of the problem is that only the strongest companies are healthy, and this because the government poured money to sustain them in the last three years. We have a great deal more of 'shaking out' in the private sector before we begin to see recovery, and that will not happen until we have yet another  'income-and-jobs recession' in 2012. The definition of this term is that we will have corporate growth but continued lagging of income and jobs growth for labor and the middle class in the US and on a global scale.

Between 2008 and 2010, the US government closed 322 banks at a cost to the FDIC of $76.8 billion. This does not include the several trillion dollars ($2 officially in 2008 and 2009, and much higher according to private sources) in bailout and stimulus packages. There are unofficial estimates that the AIG bailout alone has cost every American family $1400, but not incurring that cost could have entailed derailment of the entire financial system that is now suffering an immense debt-to-GDP ratio crisis; a common problem that afflicts many countries from near-bankrupt Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, to the US.

Foreclosures continue reaching record levels and beneath the top corporations medium-sized and small businesses are struggling to survive largely because banking credit has been very tight and consumer demand curbed owing to sharp salary cuts. This is a global and not just a US phenomenon, and it is likely to become worse in 2012 as consumers and small businesses will exhaust their savings. The issue is to revive the credit economy, but the way the G-20 are doing it is to continue strengthening the strongest sectors - top-down - instead of bottom up; a prescription for further wealth concentration.

In mid-April 2011, the G-20 agreed to a plan that would bring under control budgetary and balance of payments deficits that threaten to derail the global economic recovery if they go unchecked. The natural disasters in Japan are a legitimate concern for economic slowdown, as are the North Africa-Middle East uprisings that have precipitated high oil prices. At the same time, EU has a number of high-debt nations that are slowing EU growth, while China's economy is showing signs of inflation.

A tighter monetary policy intended to cool off the economy would entail slower growth globally. All the problems stated above would not be sufficient to derail the global recovery if it were not for the US facing serious public debt and balance of payments problems. The US public debt and equilibrium problems were well known seven years ago when the IMF sounded the alarm.

Addressing this issue in spring 2004, I wrote: "On 14 April 2004, IMF chief economist Raghuram Rajan issued a report on the impact of U.S. budgetary deficits on the world economy in the next 15 years. Because of increased U.S. government borrowing, owing to soaring defcits will reduce America's output by 3.7 percent and global economic output by 4.2 percent in the next 15 years. Monetarist economists blame the impending rising interest rates in the U.S. and around the world from 2005 to 2020. 

Though it inherited a surplus, the Bush administration will leave a legacy of the largest deficits in U.S. history and global economic contraction. After the booming "new-internet economy" of the 1990s, and given the cyclical nature of the world economy, it was inevitable that a contraction would take place, regardless of who was in the White House. The challenge for any administration is one of prudent management of the U.S. and the world economy through the IFIs. The administration's policy of containment militarism was costly in every respect, and that I doubt it would result in a safer world, or that the cost-benefit ratio was worth this anachronistic road of the early Cold War. 

Now we have the IMF confirming that the global economic contraction for the next 15 years fall on the shoulders of the U.S. Though not the only factor in the budgetary deficits, skyrocketing defense spending and supplemental spending for Iraq in the next 10-15 years is something to consider. People throughout the world will suffer lower living standards because American neo-Conservative ideologues have been pursuing a diplomacy based on fabrications and a dream of an expanding American empire that cannot possibly become a reality in this complex multipolar world".

The real issue is whether the IMF-backed scheme of 2011, which the G-20 endorsed, would in fact work to strengthen the world economy, or precipitate further contraction of consumer spending by the working class and middle class. It is true that the annual US debt-to-GDP ratio is the same as Ireland's at 10.8%, and just a notch better than Japan's that will likely rise in 2011, owing to the massive catastrophes.

With an equivalent 56% of GDP devoted to maturing debt in 2011, Japan leads the world, followed by the US with 29%, and then we have EU members - Greece, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, and France - at 20%; maturing debt that deprives the economy of absorbing capital it needs for 'income-jobs' growth economic recovery. Herein rests the problem with the global debt crisis and the ominous threat that 2012 will be worse than 2012 for labor and the middle class throughout the world.

Rising deficits will have to translate into rising yields, although it is highly unlikely that rating houses Fitch, S and P, and Moody's will take the same type of aggressive steps to downgrade US bonds as they have toward Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Ratings houses have warned about US federal debt as has the IMF, but Moody's chief economist Mark Zandi is actually critical of the Republicans pursuing budgetary cuts, arguing that GDP growth and jobs creation would suffer if fiscal tightening continues. Moody's as well as S and P support the budgetary proposals coming out of the White House and Congress to lower the deficit and public debt, and they retain a rating of Aaa with stable outlook.

Can the US economy drag down the world economy in 2012 in the manner that it did in 2008? A deflating dollar intended to stimulate exports and in effect discount debt payments is not a sustainable policy, for it will eventually lead to even higher prices of precious metals and commodities. On a number of occasions, I have written that world commodity prices will rise and with them social and political instability. It now seems clear that the G-20 that own more than 80% of the world's wealth are determined to save the global credit economy by pursuing tight fiscal and monetary policies that will further strengthen the strongest corporations and will wipe out smaller businesses and those relying heavily on credit.

The IMF prescription to which the G-20 have agreed will mean rising poverty and more rapid downward mobility in 2012. This does not mean that the credit economy should not be fixed. Helped by government policies, parasitic finance capitalism out of control to realize greater profits has seriously debilitated the credit economy. But the proposed fix will result in socioeconomic polarization and I predict in very serious social upheaval in many countries around the world. We may not see popular uprisings similar to those of North Africa and Middle East, but as the G-20 are preparing to sink the world in another JOBS-INCOME RECESSION, we will see mass social unrest that will destabilize governments. 

SOUTHERN EU BLOC: a practical proposal

On my posting of 14 April regarding Spain and the EU debtor-creditor conflict, I need to clarify some points, as I am sure I was rather vague or probably left the wrong impression with some readers. First, the motivation of the article does not stem from any sense of nationalism, as I have never regarded myself as anything but world citizen. This does not mean I am in sympathy with Anarchists, but I just do not feel a sense of identity with any nation-state.

Second, my writings from 1980 to the present have never demonstrated any sense of nationalism for any country that I have covered in books and articles. Scholarly analysis in my view must be above national sympathies if the underlying assumption is social justice. Third, my suggestion in the article posted on 14 April was not that Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain "gang up" on Germany and France. That would not be a prudent course of action and it would do as much damage as good. I want to make it very clear that there is a de facto Franco-German financial bloc just as there is a de facto Anglo-French military bloc.

All I am suggesting is that Spain, as the eurzone's fourth largest economy assume the lead in a politically preemptive move to forge a southern European bloc, one that Belgium would probably join, but I am hesitant to say what Italy would do under Silvio Berlusconi. In such a Spanish-led bloc within the EU, there is and should be a great deal of negotiating leverage. Specifically, substantial discounting of debt and reducing interest rates on existing debt. German public and private banking officials are well aware that they will have to go that route in any case. So why shouldn't Spain forge a bloc to gain some leverage? As far as Germany continuing business as usual, the fact is that Merkel is under immense political pressure and losing ground fast to SDP. She is unlikely to win the next election.

The key question is what kind of European Union does Germany want for the future? I believe the Germans are debating among themselves and they are as confused and divided about what is in their short-term v. long-term interest. The conservatives want a US patron-client model of integration, while the Social Democrats want to go back to the inter-dependent model.

The French political and financial elites are even more confused than the Germans. They have been hiding behind rhetoric of pre-monetary union EU model, while in reality they are closer to the conservative German view, for it is their interest to take advantage of this recession to reconfigure the inter-dependent model into a patron-client one.

Those who follow EU political economy know all of this, as do the debtor nations. But debtor nations have been powerless to act thus far because they see the risks outweighing the benefits. Besides, the US, China and IMF are behind France and Germany. My suggestion assumes strong debtor-nations' political leadership that would mobilize business and labor unions behind the southern EU bloc. In the long run, this would help revive the EU economy on sound footing and the stronger countries would benefit even more than the debtor members.

Friday, 15 April 2011


After meeting young college graduates without work or working in fields outside their academic training, I thought of writing this article to address some issues of our time. One can easily search on the web for statistics of unemployed, underemployed college graduates, or employed in areas unrelated to their degree, and there one finds that this number is staggering.

Yet, the mainstream media, experts and consultants argue that it is the fault of the individual that s/he chose THE WRONG field to study. I had no idea that any type of college education was THE WRONG field, until apologists of corporate welfare capitalism defined it as such. If one studies physics, but most jobs are in high tech electronics, physics is THE WRONG field. In short, creativity and the quest for self-development is determined by the marketplace that inculcates into society the image of prudent career choices.

The modern guru media mavens, consultants, and businesses and politicians they serve are shaping both individual identity and social conscience that is far adrift from any human-based and human-geared model. And why not, given that the ultimate goal is to develop a corporate social conscience and a corporate-molded identity. Would our world and humanity be better off if John Steinbeck, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Einstein, just to bring up a few examples, had followed the corporate model of social conscience and individual identity? 

The innate moral compass is guided by both rational and irrational forces and shaped by family, community, local, national and world culture. This is in essence what leads to the individual to develop a strong or weak social conscience rooted in a sense of social justice and it is indicative of mature and reflective development of the mind that recognizes the individual is an appendage of the community. Not to sound as though the I am promoting the Hindu philosophy, but it is imperative to stress that it is difficult for the individual to know the many complex layers of self independently or separately of the community that encompasses all of mankind as Einstein argued. Therefore, having a social conscience is a way of self-understanding and appreciating the inexorable link between self and world.
Another dimension of social conscience is the embodiment of society's values and norms that invariably include religious doctrinal influences either consciously or not. Without wishing to enter into a detailed analysis of how religious conscience could be antithetical to social conscience because the former emphasizes personal salvation as the ultimate goal, I would argue that religious conscience can and has throughout history raised social conscience. Most people would agree that social conscience brings to mind such terms as altruism, benevolence, and above all humaneness toward one's fellow man. Therefore, we will dismiss for the sake of our thesis the suggestions that 'shopping' to benefit the economy, maximizing profit as a manifestation of 'success' (or a Calvanist sign that God favors the successful person), and other such examples that have individual benefit as the ultimate goal.

How has social conscience waned as the corresponding rise of the market economy evolved in the last half century? Atomistic value system is not a product of 'baby boomers' or 'generation X'; it is not a manifestation of post-WWII materialistic society; nor is it the byproduct of a bourgeois Western society that American-centered capitalism molded in the post-Great Depression era, especially in the 'affluent society' known for ostentatious consumerism (shopping mall revolution) from the late 1950s to the present. Atomistic values are found in ancient societies, but institutional structures that undercut social conscience or define it to suit their atomistic goals are of more recent origin.

Transcending time and place, the atomistic value system is rooted in learned behavior that the individual is above and outside the empirical world that is there to cater to the needs and desires of the individual who has no reciprocal obligation or ethical duty to serve the community. Separateness of consciousness - individual v. community - is what allows for the growth of atomistic values that in the individual's mind become the only reality. How is human identity shaped and why is it so steeped in atomistic values at a time that the social fabric is redefined if not disintegrating? Family may appear as the obvious answer, but what shapes family values? Institutions that mold individual identity of self v. community do so because there is an ideological, political, social, and economic interest in promoting such values.

The market-based political economy and institutions operating under its aegis is the dominant influence in shaping atomistic values. Is it a necessarily a negative development for the welfare of society to have the political economy shape atomistic values? Not at all if the goal of society is to promote a pyramid social structure (structural inequality) with all of its energies designed to commercialize (commoditize) everything from religion to theoretical science, thus subordinating creativity to the realm of a useful commodity intended to promote yet another round of profits. In such a society, the human mind's creative potential is conditioned to serve the institutional structures instead of realizing the innate creative potential.

If we agree that society is the total sum of atomistic interests in a state of perpetual conflict, and there is no sense of responsibility to the collective welfare, then the world in which we live is indeed great. But is it possible for any society to operate under such model, or is this a prescription for slow long-term decadence?Is it possible for such a society to be subordinating the creative mind into commercialized success or oblivion?

Is the human mind relegated to the realm of the corporate model - untapped human potential to generate more profits; to mindless depictions by the mass media and popular commercial entertainment with the only goal of greater profits; to the political realm where blatant lies and distortions are so packaged that they appear more truthful than any religious dogma? Has the desire for mere survival killed all sense of social conscience and buried creativity beneath the rubble of a decadent political economy shaping an atomistic culture and value system?

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Now that Portugal has joined Greece and Ireland in the group of EU members to undergo IMF-EU austerity measures in order to qualify for bailout money, Spain is the next target. Should Spain not take the lead to form a mini-bloc of EU debtor nations that threaten default unless their demands for substantial debt write off takes place? On the surface of the sovereign debt crisis, it appears that the creditors hold all the cards. However, this is not actually the case today any more than it was in the 1930s when a number of nations defaulted. Debtor nations acting in solidarity have enormous negotiating leverage, if they choose to exercise it and not remain divided.

A number of months ago, I wrote in this blog and in WAIS that Greece was in fact already bankrupt; that it was operating under a managed bankruptcy situation and that debt restructuring was inevitable. It seemed then that my suggestions were groundless a a couple of people who read them expressed as much to me, arguing that the strict definition of bankruptcy is stopping of payments. But what if the payments have not stopped because the new loans to service old loans are coming in to prevent the formality of bankruptcy, and in the process the middle and lower social are squeezed dry to pay for servicing such loans that only exacerbate the debt crisis?

In April 2011, the EU is waiting to see how Portugal's bailout packaged attached to austerity measures will play out while giving Spain some time to see if it can salvage its finances, so that it does not join Greece, Ireland and Portugal seeking IMF-EU bailout. In short, Spain will require a great deal more than Ireland, Greece, and Portugal combined, and it will send shock waves to the eurozone, thus it is not in the creditors' interest to do anything yet.

Once the field is clear on whether Spain will or will not need a bailout package, the next step if for EU to arrange debt restructuring for Greece, which means for Ireland and Portugal as well. Behind the sovereign debt crisis of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal is a new political economy paradigm that Germany and France support. This is designed to strengthen their national economies and strongest sectors. If I were a bond investor, I would want to know about the stability of bonds of the debtor EU countries, but also about the sustainability of the euro at such high levels. At the same time, I would hedge my bets depending on my sense of what would be politically acceptable and the degree to which I believed the euro's strength is sustainable against other reserve currencies.

Granted the US is currently pursuing a liberal monetary policy in contract with the EU, but can the EU win this competitive game in which investors like currency Soros among others are talking up the EU but betting against it and hoping that Spain is the next victim to seek bailout assistance and enter into IMF-EU austerity?
In the last seven months or so, a number of big international bonds and currency traders have been actively betting against Spain with credit default swaps.

This means that there is a great likelihood of a bailout - itself a political decision that rests more with Germany and France than with Spain. This is high stakes gambling, but it may have a large payoff if Germany and France decide that the northern EU countries would benefit by having Spain included in the bailout debtor group. That the EU debtor nations wait until one-minute before midnight to announce entrance into EU-IMF program is also a political decision intended not to spread panic in the markets and among the general population that knows what to expect.

Germany and France are waiting to see how the economy evolves in 2011 and how Spain's economy performs during the year. If there is an improvement sufficient to avert resorting to IMF-EU bailout for Spain, then the sovereign debt crisis for EU is over and the euro will stabilize. However, my guess is that with rising interest rates and an expensive reserve currency and a tight monetary and fiscal policy, the EU is making it very difficult for the debtor nations to recover quickly in the next five years. Spain would be the big pay off for speculators and they will try to have a good payday. How much help will they receive from the governments of France and Germany and the European Central Bank is unknown.

What can Spain do? Play along with Germany and France and suffer the same fate as Portugal, Ireland, and Greece. Otherwise, it could form a solidarity debtor bloc within the EU. After all, there is already a creditor bloc working against debtors in any event.  Creditor countries rely on debtors to purchase to purchase everything from toothpaste to submarines. The decision by creditors to squeeze every once of capital from debtors in order to strengthen their weakened private sectors is nothing new because it has taken place before and it is how the integrated global market economy operates. The issue is that EU is breaking up into blocs and the debtors may as well realize it and form their own if they wish to have any negotiating leverage on any issue. Otherwise, they may as well announce to their citizens that sovereignty for all of Europe rests with Germany and France.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

APOCALYPSE 2011: crises convergence

Apocalyptic rhetoric has been around since the dawn of civilization when organized religion steeped in superstition about the forces of nature provided humans with a holistic, coherent and easy to grasp world view and a means to remain in justifiable awe and fear of nature's overwhelming forces. For modern humanists and rationalists carrying out the legacy of the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment it may be easy to dismiss apocalyptic rhetoric that intentionally dramatizes the temporal existence and fragility of human life subject to natural and institutional forces beyond the individual's control.

Taking the long view of human history, however, there have been many cases where it was perfectly rational to conclude that apocalypse had befallen society; and not just in Biblical stories, but in classical Greek and Roman worlds, during Europe's plague coinciding with the Hundred Years' War, the first and second world wars. Outside of Judaism and Christianity, apocalyptic tradition is found in most religions including Hinduism and Mayan culture, even in Isaac Newton's occult studies.

While the religious or spiritual approach to mega crises continues to have a mass appeal and finds its way into modern fiction and motion pictures, analyzing specific crises from a rationalist/humanist perspective and proposing constructive solutions for the duration best suits human welfare especially in a secular world. It is also worth looking at how specific crises converge and what their impact may be on society? Is it merely the irrational fascination with the end of all life, or are there tangible signs that convergence of crises spells trouble for humanity and the ecosystem?

The rationalist approach to apocalypse that I am proposing betrays my faith in assumptions developed in the Age of Reason when 18th century thinkers were confident of solutions by the application of reason and the scientific method as though human nature operates like a machine. With that caveat in mind, the concern about crises convergence today is worth analyzing methodically without superstitious or religious preconceptions.

After three years of the most damaging global recession affecting workers and middle class on a world scale since the Great Depression; after months of North Africa-Middle East revolts; and after the natural disasters in Japan that caused the nuclear plant catastrophe that is now worse than Chernobyl, I am convinced that it may be worth examining some of the more significant crises and their impact on humanity.

Clearly, some of the crises are confined to the northern hemisphere, but many afflict people in the southern hemisphere where there is a large concentration of the world's poor, although they live in lands rich in natural resources. Not to place the issue into the North/South dichotomy that has become a cliche, but this is clearly an issue of popular sovereignty for the weaker countries, an issue that includes everything from water and sanitation justice to food and energy sovereignty. At least this is how some see it that analyze conditions in the southern hemisphere and in poorer northern countries.

1. Climate change, deforestation, desertification, environmental degradation. All are the result of institutional mismanagement of the ecosystem that operates in order to serve a political economy of mass consumerism and maximizing profits for the short term. Although governments and corporations are well aware that ecosystem mismanagement has a longer-term cost and devastating consequences to human welfare there is no incentive to alter course, other than to engage in PR 'green economy' exercises to placate the public.

2. Widening gap between rich and poor nations, between rich and poor social classes, widespread poverty, rapidly rising population, commodities shortages and rising prices, food riots in more than 65 countries in the last four years, one percent of Americans is engaged in food production. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for a 70% rise in food production to meet rising demand. Biofuel production contributed to food shortages and rise of food prices. Chronic energy problems in the early 21st century that destabilize the world economy points to failures by the private sector to invest in alternative sources of energy and to governments' failure to take the lead in research and development as well as creating public ventures for alternative energy sources.

As far as the promise of capitalism to make people wealthier, the record of the last 500 years has demonstrated that wealth is created but because it is perpetually concentrated the poor-rich gap remains. Despite UN, World Bank, and policies by the developed countries to close the poverty gap and better manage population growth, those familiar with the issue know that the political economy has no incentive to find a solution for poverty-related problems, because it is giving birth to them with the process of capital concentration. All campaigns proposed as solutions to these problems are intended as vehicles to generate more profits by commercializing natural resources, including water and land, rather than ending poverty, disease and illiteracy, human trafficking and rising narcotics trade that are all an integral part of the rich-poor social and geographic gap.

3. Sovereign debt crises for many countries, discredited credit economy and corresponding rise of precious metals and declining currency values, 'Ponzi scheme' (fraudulent) markets protected and financed by the state. The preeminence of finance capital in the marketplace and its support by the state and central banks as well as transnational organizations like the IMF, World Bank, OECD, etc. accounts for a regime of economic oligarchy that perpetually maintains a system of cyclical economic crises that devastate the lives of workers and the middle class. Such cyclical crises wither away the social fabric and gradually lead toward the evolution of social discontinuity.

4. The crisis of authoritarianism in Islamic countries and the trend toward authoritarianism under the guise of democracy for many countries, including the US, combined with the dictatorship of finance capital that dictates the course of the economy. Operating under the veneer of 'democracy', the market economy of neo-liberalism and globalization is maintained largely by a media that is heavily concentrated and geared not just to sell products, but a market-based value system and ideology. Therefore, indoctrination is ubiquitous so that people are convinced they are content with the status quo or at least have no choice.

5. Militarism drains resources from the civilian economy on a world scale. Even amid the global recession of 2008-2011, defense budgets continued almost unaffected. Shockingly for some, predictably for others, Germany and France backed by NATO and US demanded that the debtor EU members like Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Spain continue to maintain high defense budgets and spend billions on new purchases while they were borrowing to finance past debt and imposing massive austerity measures.

In a previous posting devoted to militarism, I noted that within that corporate welfare structure rests the defense sector, which is largely parasitic and contributes to sectoral imbalances in the global economy. In 2009 global military expenditures amounted $1.531 trillion, or 2.7% of world GDP. Led by the US, which spends about half (48%) of the world defense spending is 49% higher today than in 2000. Europe comes in second highest in the world with 20% spending on defense, Chine at 8% and Russia at 5%. 

The rise in US defense spending despite the 2008-2010 economic crisis, and despite Obama whose slick PR campaign convinced the American voters that he would change course from the previous regime. And he did in areas where the basic structure of corporate welfare capitalism was not impacted. When I addressed this issue on the WAIS Forum in 2004, global defense spending stood at $1.1 trillion and the US share was $623 billion.

In the US, the current debate on cutting social programs at the local, state and federal levels, including entitlements, is accepted as a worthy sacrifice, while defense cuts are seen as unpatriotic. Under the powerful influence of banks and defense contractors, governments refuse to cut defense but have no problem cutting health and education.

6. Globalization is gradually destroying local and national cultures while China's emerging global economic hegemony and realignment of regional economic blocs. Many years ago in the US,  one of my students from Japan studying in the US commented how tragic it was that the Spaniards destroyed native cultures in Latin America. The other students were surprised with the comment, assuming that the Japanese would understand sacrificing culture in the name of 'techno-progress'.  Today, it is not only the political economy based on social and environmental injustice that is at stake as far as many dissidents are concerned, but the all out effort to efface native cultures in order for globalization to succeed. For many, this is the dawning of a new cultural Ice Age.

A recent article in a business journal blog listed ten of the Fortune 500 companies - high tech, defense-contractors and conglomerates - as the solution to the US economy.  Is the solution more and better neo-liberalism under globalization, or is the solution the abandonment of this failed experiment? Considering the phenomenal advances in science and technology, considering the enormous reservoir of talented people on the planet, why have we not solved many of the problems listed above?

Is it because science and technology operate under the political economy of capital accumulation that does not allow for solutions? Is it because rationalist assumptions are all wrong and we must redirect ourselves toward a new way of thinking? Why is there mass violence (wars) and predilection to destruction by the state? Is the solution a matter of a better techno-fix, altering institutions, altering human nature, spiritual orientation, other, what....?