Thursday, October 30, 2008

Eco Crunch

World Facing Brutal Eco Crunch

29 October 2008, Wednesday
The US have the have the largest ecological footprint per person. Photo by WWF
The planet is headed for an extreme ecological "credit crunch," as demands on natural resources overreach what the Earth can sustain by almost a third, a new report issued by conservation groups show.

The Living Planet Report, which is the work of WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, says more than three quarters of the world's population lives in countries where consumption levels are outstripping environmental renewal.
This makes them "ecological debtors", meaning that they are overdrawing on the agricultural land, forests, seas and resources of other countries to sustain them.

The countries with the biggest impact on the planet are the US and China, together accounting for some 40% of the global footprint. The US and United Arab Emirates have the largest ecological footprint per person, while Malawi and Afghanistan have the smallest.

"The events in the last few months have served to show us how it's foolish in the extreme to live beyond our means," said WWF's international president, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, as cited by BBC.

"Devastating though the financial credit crunch has been, it's nothing as compared to the ecological recession that we are facing."

"If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles," said WWF International director-general James Leape.


Cuban Embargo

UN General Assembly
Demands U.S. Lift Embargo on Cuba
October 29 (RIA Novosti) - The UN General Assembly adopted on Wednesday a resolution demanding the U.S. lift an economic, trade and financial embargo against Cuba.

The resolution was passed by an overwhelming majority of votes in the 192-member world body with 185 states in favor, three against (the United States, Israel and Palau) with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstaining.

The draft resolution was introduced by Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque who said before the vote that the U.S. sanctions had been imposed in violation of the international law and became a major obstacle in the socio-economic development of Cuba.

Cuban authorities earlier stated that two-thirds of its current population had been born under the blockade, which causes hardship to all the island's social programs such as health, education, culture, science, transport and municipal services. The Cuban government estimates that the blockade has resulted in financial losses of around $86 billion.

The UN General Assembly has been adopting resolutions urging the United States to lift economic embargo against Cuba annually since 1991.

However, Washington, which does not have diplomatic relations with Havana and considers Cuba to be a state-sponsor of terrorism, has consistently refused to abolish the sanctions against the country.

The United States first introduced an arms embargo in the late 1950s, during internal conflict between Cuban rebels and the Batista government. In 1960, the then U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower introduced a partial economic embargo, and since then a succession of presidents have reinforced the blockade policy. In 1992, the U.S. introduced the Helms-Burton Act, which penalized foreign companies trading with Cuba.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wolves And Poodles

A Soul Defying, Tacit Approval Of Torture:
How Did We Come To This?

Preface: the above face is not that of the author of this article, but of David Hicks held in Guantanamo for six years. His face and his story (though he is Australian) seem to belong with this article.

By Phil Rockstroh

29 September, 2006

"True sanity entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that False Self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality ... and through this death a rebirth, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer." —R. D. Laing

The pathology of American culture is as ubiquitous as its strip-mall ugliness. It is abundantly evident, in almost every aspect of contemporary life. From the predatory (to the point of psychopathic) practices of its morally scurvy pirates at the helm of the corporate/governmental ship of state, down to the pandemic enervation and proliferate anomie of its galley slaves languishing in their soulless cubicles -- from the genitalia-devoid mascots at Disney World to the genitalia-obsessed torturers of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo -- the soul-sickness spreads before us like George W. Bush's taunting, executioner's smirk.

Ronnie Laing's profound dictum leaves us confronting many poignant questions regarding the true nature of the psychic lives of us so-called ordinary citizens of The United States of America and our ability to function within this corrupt and crumbling empire. In short, is it sane to be able to adapt to an insane culture?

Moreover, it begs the following question. If an individual’s conformity to group, cultural, and national pathology is rewarded -- thereby encouraging the formation of the "False Self” -- how might one, stranded within the dysfunctional dynamic, resist it all and begin to work towards an awareness of their own essential nature, then perhaps arriving at an individual reckoning involving how to live, flourish, and subvert the life defying demands of the present era.

First off, what engenders the formation of the False Self? Laing grasped: When we were children, authority, in the form of parents, educators, clergy, loomed before us. Alternatively menacing and comforting, these powerful figures could just as easily have crushed us as comforted us.

Tragically, all too often, they perpetrated the primary. Hence, to accommodate the overwhelming demands of authority, we learned how to curry favor from these baffling, seemingly implacable forces by the creation of a cipher persona, a False Self, a tricky and/or obsequious, tap-dancing, little apple polisher, who strives to garner approval and acceptance, thereby avoiding punishment, rejection and scorn, by means of the reflexive subjugation of his true nature.

The victims of False Self adaptation are the quintessence of the corporate/consumer citizen. Although, they're presence is far from benign: While they are compelled to show an agreeable face towards unyielding authority, this trope merely serves to mask a mind seething with misplaced resentments and shallow subterfuge. Doesn’t this read like a personality profile of Condoleezza Rice or any other member of that present day Executive Office cast of Lord of the Flies known as the Bush administration?

This process of metaphysical identity theft begins in childhood. Then, as now, the presence of individuality-decimating authority can create irreconcilable anxieties within us, because the actions and activities of authority figures seem as overwhelming and unpredictable as nature itself.

Now add this to the already haunted landscape of childhood -- our present day government’s campaigns of perpetual fear mongering, plus the dominate corporate culture's modus operandi of commercial exploitation -- and we’re left with one freaked out populace – one comprised of both children and alleged adults.

Consequently, this fear-ridden existence has rendered us a society of grotesques: In the present day United States, children have grown as fat as steroid-fed, corporate-farmed livestock; this has transpired because we overfeed them a diet consisting of steroid-fed, corporate-farmed livestock -- as well as – myriad other variations of nutrient-devoid, calorie-laden faux food dispensed at a mall's food court, through a drive-thru window, or out of a cardboard box delivered by a franchised junk food chain.

Our motives for doing this shouldn’t be a mystery to us: We habitually shovel high fat, high carbohydrate, high sugar-content junk into their grousing gobs, in a desperate, futile attempt to stuff down the boredom, the anxiety, the lassitude they suffer due to their confinement inside the commercially branded, repressed, empty, holographic facsimile of childhood we have created for them.

This is the reason why our children overeat like neurotic domestic pets. As is the case with housebound, bored, anxious domestic animals, what do they have to look forward to -- but dinner? Accordingly, the corporate food industry provides plenty (at a bloated profit, of course) of junk food -- the table scraps fallen from the table of the ruling elite of our fat-ass empire – in order to keep them (and all the rest of us) obese, obedient, and anxiously waiting by our master's table for more.

And these proto-fascist, behavioral control tricks are not just for kids. Corporate Capitalism has left us Americans psychologically arrested in a pathetic simulacrum of childhood where our inchoate fears of being preyed upon by our (so called) protectors (who we internally and accurately recognize as monsters) are displaced into compulsive consumerism (including overeating) and a reflexive fear of outsiders.

If we were to awaken to this subterfuge, we would apprehend: Our individual uniqueness is being robbed from us on a daily basis due to our enslavement to a mindless system that lives for no other reason than it lives -- a system that eats its fatted young (giving new meaning to the term consumer economy) -- and exists only to perpetuate itself -- a system that has become a soul-devouring monster -- the embodiment of Alan Ginsburg’s Moloch.

Why do we accept this soul defying situation? For most of us, the price we would have to pay for confronting authority would be far too prohibitive; hence, we learn it is acceptable (as well as politically useful to our power mad leaders) to displace our anger and fear upon outsiders. Ergo, the so-called Clash of Civilizations is unloosed and slouches, by way of the Washington Beltway, to Iraq, Iran and beyond to be born.

This is the manner that we as a society came to believe we can “compromise” on acts of torture committed in our name and not fear the loss of our souls as a result of our complicity. Although, the loss of our national soul would only prove redundant: Years ago, we decided our souls, both individual and national, were somewhat less than useful to us – and not nearly as compelling as a new widescreen, plasma TV and the like -- hence they were discarded into the reeking landfills of this toxic country like an old appliance.

These actions are what the corporate/military/consumer empire demands of us: For it does not take long for us to learn which aspects of our personalities are accepted and rewarded, and, conversely, which ones will be punished and scorned. In essence, the roles we’re expected to play in exchange for being loved, fed, clothed, and sheltered.

This exchange insures us that we're given a "safe" place within the community -- not cast out into the wilderness and fed to the wolves. This fear is not an outrageous fantasy: It is, in fact, a primal memory. Due to the fact, numerous forms of infanticide were once common practices in nearly all cultures, including the act of abandoning outcast children to die in the wilderness.

Moreover, this knowledge still lingers within our psyches, where the memories of such terrors still howl just beyond the tree line of our waking awareness, instilling within us the terror of ridicule, of failure, of being ostracized. Far too many of us succumb to these fears and begin playing the roles circumscribed by their families, communities, and cultures. Tragically, their true selves, for all practical purposes, were smothered in their cribs.

In itself, the False Self, as well as other varieties of habitual self-centeredness, is a variety of imprisonment. The world is spread before the cell of the self, yet we prisoners cannot leave the confines of our small, self-involved anxieties; therein, mind, heart and imagination become atrophied by a lack of experience, empathy and spontaneity. The bars of the cage might be invisible, yet the sense of confinement is palpable across our corporatized culture. Ergo, a collective numbness and apathy levels upon the land – and ultimately our desensitization to genocide and torture.

To begin to free oneself from the bondage of the False Self, one must become aware of one’s own fraudulence. That being: the awareness of one's desperate machinations before exploitive authority.

Self-knowledge can provide us with a point of entry to the act of empathy. Yes, even extending it towards one as loathsome as George W. Bush. Years ago, the sorry ass son of bitch put on a mask (its contours, both menacing and ridiculous) in a vain attempt to shield himself from being crushed by power. Imagine having his parents: that soulless cipher of a father and blood-freezing Medusa of a mother. Try to imagine the psychological carnage involved. It’s the same trauma we experience daily due to our own powerlessness against the dictates of the corporate state and its threats, both implied and overt, to cast us into the howling wilderness of financial ruin, poverty, and homelessness.

(A caveat: The proffering empathy to Dick Cheney would be pushing the parameters of empathy to the breaking point: Upon being subjected to Cheney's glowering, reptilian aura, even Mahatma Ghandi would be reaching for a pair of brass knuckles.)

Even in this fear-ridden era, there are some among us -- types such as non-conformists, creative thinkers, and artists -- who welcome (rather than cower before) the metaphorical wolves (that are recognized, each to each, as fellow outcasts). Instead of being eaten by the wolves, they are suckled and raised by them.

Nourished by their outsider status, the creative spirit thrives when freed from the constraints of a mindless adherence to groupthink. The dark terrain of societal abandonment becomes their natural habitat: they howl at the moon; they reject the daylight world of bland consensus; they learn to see in the dark, apprehending their own interior darkness and, as a result, gain an understanding into the hearts of darkness beating within those in power.

The wilderness of political activism, of poetry, of art becomes their home: they don't clean-up nicely for polite company; they don't let themselves be bred down (as a few domesticated wolves did) to yapping Toy Poodles, in exchange for a few food scraps.

Yes, when you’re looking at a Toy Poodle -- you're looking at a former wolf, as when your looking at the corporate press corps, you’re looking at folks whose ancestors long ago were journalists.

One moment, you're loping through the woods, snout held high, smelling the scent of fresh game on the wind, then the next thing you know -- you're being led around on a leash and collar, encrusted with tacky rhinestones and you're salivating at the sound of an electric can-opener. One moment, you're a child, entranced in play, hardwired to eternity -- the next thing you know, you're sitting at work and your passions, hopes, and yearnings have been shrunk down to Toy Poodle-sized agendas ... You're truckling for your boss's approval; you're counting the minutes until break time, when you can devour some junk food. Like a domesticated pet, or an unfortunate animal incarcerated in a zoo, you are no longer a noble animal – you’re a Thing That Waits For Lunch.

To resist, we must cast off the fear of being an outcast. I remain hopeful: There is yet a molecule or two of the wild wolf left within us cringing, cloying Toy Poodles.

One must always remember this: We human beings are of nature too. Accordingly, within us lies an indomitable self, encoded with the grace and fury of the natural world, and, if acknowledged and respected, it will awaken and arise. Then the real dogfight begins: The fur will fly, as we fight, fang and claw, to retake our own essential natures, and, by extension, begin the struggle to restore health, imagination and empathy to a nation of cage-accepting, torture-countenancing sick puppies.

Phil Rockstroh, a self-described, auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at:

addendum: Jiddu Krishnamurti quote:
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rich And Poor

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America
From NAFTA to the SPP

Here comes the Security and Prosperity Partnership, but—what security? whose prosperity?
Which is closer to your vision of North America?

Vision A: Three interdependent countries with vibrant social movements, respect for labor rights, and environmentally sustainable economies anchored in provision of social needs and respect for cultural autonomy?

Or Vision B: An unequal alliance dominated by the United States, complete with pumped up oil and gas production, increasing militarization, corporate transnational planning groups, and guest worker programs to ensure cheap, vulnerable labor?

If your answer is Vision A, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that this past August at a summit of the leaders of the United States, Canada, and Mexico in Montebello, Quebec, labor, environmental and globalization activists braved riot police and tear gas to demand democratic input into North American decision-making. The bad news is that the summit was about the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP)—the real-world name of Vision B.

While left activists and researchers in Canada and Mexico have been spreading the word about the SPP for several years, so far in the United States the SPP, which was officially launched in March 2005, has mainly caught the attention of the right wing, which sees it as a stealth plan to impose a European Union-style government on the continent.

The SPP is not a North American version of the European Union. But it is a stealth plan—one aimed at bypassing the kind of international solidarity that halted the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. The European Union emerged after years of public debate and a treaty ratified by member states. By contrast, the SPP is not a treaty and will never be submitted to the U.S., Mexican, or Canadian legislatures. Instead it attempts to reshape the North American political economy by direct use of executive authority. And while the European Union maintains an explicit role for government in addressing inequality within and between countries, the SPP’s foundation is an unequal alliance where the United States retains the political and economic trump cards.

Designed to shore up the United States’ weakening position as a global hegemon, the SPP’s primary goals are to link economic integration of the three countries to U.S. security needs; deepen U.S. access to oil, gas, electricity, and water resources throughout the continent; and to provide a privileged—and institutionalized—role for transnational corporations in continental deregulation. The stakes for labor, the environment, and civil liberties in all three countries couldn’t be higher. Yet because of the SPP’s reliance on executive authority to push the agenda, many of the SPP’s initiatives remain virtually invisible, even to many activists.

SPP Basics
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which went into effect in 1994, was designed to enhance the access of transnational capital from the United States to cheap Mexican labor and Canadian natural resources. The SPP deepens these relations and harnesses the so-called war on terror to an expanded U.S.-Mexican-Canadian trade agenda and a lopsided energy grab to secure U.S. access to dwindling continental oil and gas reserves.

As its name implies, the SPP has two basic parts: the Security Agenda and the Prosperity Agenda. Both are rooted in the United States’ deteriorating global position, particularly its increased competition for access to global oil and gas reserves and worsening trade balance with China.

With the explicit aim of securing North America from “internal” as well as external threats, the Security Agenda coordinates intelligence activities among the three countries and streamlines the movement of “low risk” goods and people (especially so-called “NAFTA professionals”) across borders. It also involves extensive military coordination, much of it focused on protecting energy and transportation infrastructure. (Consolidating a North American military structure no doubt also serves as an offensive hedge against Venezuela’s attempt to shape an independent South American energy policy.)

The Prosperity Agenda continues the Security Agenda’s focus on energy. World demand is growing as traditional sources from the Middle East, Russia, and South America are becoming less secure; and the resulting price increases and realignment of power threaten a redistribution of wealth and power in favor of the oil and gas producers, many of them in the Global South. The Prosperity Agenda aims first and foremost at consolidating U.S. control over North American energy supplies, first by expanding production in Canada and Mexico, and second by increasing U.S. access to that production by deregulating energy markets. In addition to expanding energy production, Prosperity Agenda activities include a tri-national framework for “minimizing” regulatory “barriers”; special committees on the auto and steel industries; removal of constraints on movement of capital and financial services; and expanded and streamlined cross-border transportation networks—networks that will facilitate not only trade within the continent, but more outsourcing to Asia.

The official SPP website posts official documents, but ongoing discussions are shrouded within tightly controlled annual summits, ministerial level meetings, and working groups that exclude civil society participation. Corporations, however, have a privileged view of the road ahead and provide guidance and direction through a specially-created North American Competitiveness Council. U.S. members of the NACC include Wal-Mart, Merck, GE, UPS, FedEx, and Kansas City Southern. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Council of the Americas—whose website brags that its blue-chip members represent the majority of private U.S. investment in Latin America—serve as the U.S. secretariat.

NACC advice is taken seriously. In February 2007, the NACC issued detailed recommendations for energy integration, streamlining regulatory processes, and the speedy resumption of trade after emergencies. Six months later at their August 2007 summit, the countries announced an energy cooperation agreement, an avian flu preparedness plan with emergency border-management procedures, and a regulatory cooperation framework. The regulatory framework—complete with goals and action plan—specifically incorporates NACC recommendations to increase reliance on voluntary standards and to analyze regulations for their cost to trade. Although the framework doesn’t say exactly how principles would be applied to different industries, the NACC’s 2007 report gives several telling examples, including regulations harmonizing “hours of service” for truck drivers that would expand permissible weekly driving hours, which safety advocates are already challenging in court. Canadian plans to “harmonize” pesticide use to U.S. levels—an action that will raise exposure levels for most regulated pesticides—also provide a glimpse at the kinds of regulatory changes we can expect from the SPP.

“Community” from the Top
In the United States, the best-known proponent of the SPP is Robert Pastor, director of the Center for North American Studies at American University. NAFTA broke new ground by linking Mexico (a developing economy) with the United States and Canada (two major industrialized nations) in a pact to increase trade and investment. Predictably, NAFTA increased rather than decreased inequality. But for Pastor, NAFTA’s real problem was its failure to build continent-wide institutions to push integration even further. He sees the SPP as a means of building those institutions, and envisions it as a new model for global governance—by and for elites— that could be used to link other developed and developing countries.

Building a North American Community, a 2005 independent task force report of the Council on Foreign Relations on which Pastor served, reveals the breadth of SPP’s ambitions. The report called for a security perimeter around the three countries by 2010, so that goods and people would be checked once on entry and then move freely—while being tracked—within the continent, greatly diminishing the costs of trade. There would be a common tariff for goods from outside North America. Currently, NAFTA rules of origin require checking goods to ensure they contain sufficient North American content to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA. A common external tariff would save money by eliminating the need to check for North American content. It would also facilitate expanded supply chains and outsourcing.

“Full labor mobility” would be preceded by greatly expanded guest worker programs tying immigration status to employment. “Development” funds for Mexico would translate into transportation and energy infrastructure to help foreign investment push past the maquila zone on the border into central and southern Mexico where poverty is greatest and wages lowest.

Intelligence sharing and joint military exercises would increase “interoperability” and protect strategic energy and transportation infrastructure. Mexican reticence to accept U.S. troops on its soil—the result of eight U.S. invasions since its independence—would be overcome in small steps such as joint disaster coordination and plans for fighting organized crime.

Academic and political exchange programs and North American Studies centers would help build a North American identity. Policy areas not touched by NAFTA or never implemented would be revisited. As one SPP participant put it, during NAFTA negotiations, the Canadians wouldn’t talk about exporting water, the Mexican’s wouldn’t talk about privatizing oil, and the United States wouldn’t talk about immigration. Barriers to maximizing energy production and cross border trade in oil, gas, and electricity would be eliminated and pressure put on Mexico’s state-owned energy company, Pemex, to dramatically open itself to private investment. Air, rail, and trucking companies would be given unlimited access to all three countries.

Meanwhile, a common regulatory scheme would make “harmonized” (read: lower) North American standards the default approach to new regulations, and countries would have to justify more stringent requirements. A seamless North American market would create economies of scale for the largest corporations. Delays and costs of checking goods for compliance at the borders would be minimized. A rule of “tested once” would eliminate “duplicative” reviews of product safety and—according to the council—substantially raise profits for biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms.

The Perils of Being Close
U.S. corporations and elites that dominate continental production chains clearly stand to gain the most from the SPP. But in fact, the SPP’s earliest roots lie in proposals by Canadian businesses and think tanks for what Canadians call “deep integration.” Essentially a strategy for bypassing U.S. protectionism, deep integration seeks to leverage Canada’s geographic proximity for greater access to U.S. markets. The idea received a serious boost in the days after 9/11. The United States buys 80% of Canada’s exports, and so when the United States closed its borders following the attacks, Canadian businesses lost millions of dollars every hour. Canadian elites promptly concluded—correctly—that the price of continued access to U.S. markets was deeper cooperation on security matters.

Canada, like Mexico, quickly signed a “smart-border” agreement and began conforming its security practices to the needs of the Bush administration’s war on terror. In 2002 Canadian officials provided information that helped the U.S. deport a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, to Syria, where he was tortured. The Canadian government has since apologized, and Arar, a software engineer whose wife stood as a candidate for the New Democratic Party in 2004, has signed on to a public demand that SPP provisions be submitted to Canadians for a vote.

But the SPP’s dangers for Canadians go beyond threats to civil liberties. Like NAFTA and the Canadian U.S. Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA) before it, the SPP is a Trojan horse aimed at trapping Canadian workers into a downward spiral of global competition and neoliberal policies.

Both NAFTA and CUFTA were sold to Canadians on the grounds that increasing trade would boost employment and productivity; that would in turn solidify the economic base for Canadian social spending, including the deeply popular single-payer health insurance program. Instead, elites used the logic of competition to tighten first monetary and then fiscal policy—much as Reagan did in the United States in the 1980s. As in the United States, recession followed. Canadian exports, particularly of raw materials, increased, but overall competitiveness came largely from pushing up unemployment and driving down wages. Meanwhile, budget politics were used to squeeze rather than support social spending. The resulting deterioration in services became the pretext for experiments in private health care provision that could jeopardize the entire single-payer system. In many cases, it is Canadian divisions of U.S. transnationals that are profiting.

Not surprisingly, Canadian activists began arguing for abrogating NAFTA and reversing cutbacks in health care funding and other public services. With its security trump card and stratagem of rule by executive order, the SPP helps sidestep popular opposition to belt-tightening and the more expansive deep integration agenda.

Deep Integration and Natural Resources
Energy provides the strategic example of how SPP and deep integration would merge the interests of Canadian and U.S. elites at the expense of ordinary Canadians.

The United States is the world’s largest energy consumer, and by 2025 it will be importing one third of its supply. Canada is the largest supplier of crude oil and natural gas to the United States, and has been deregulating its energy sector since the 1980s to increase access to U.S. markets. Now that rising oil prices have increased the financial feasibility of oil production from the vast Alberta oil sands, total Canadian oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s. Canadian oil concerns are more eager than ever to increase sales to the United States.

In a fully integrated, privatized North American energy market, U.S. users would buy the lion’s share of energy resources; at the same time, demand would increase for Canadian production, and so would prices. Not surprisingly, fully integrating North American energy markets figures prominently in the hopes of both U.S. and Canadian elites.

But the same mechanism would make energy more expensive for Canadian consumers, who will be in direct competition with U.S. buyers. In addition, easily-tapped Canadian conventional reserves are dwindling rapidly. Raising oil production accelerates their depletion and risks Canadian energy and environmental security. The huge quantities of gas and water needed for production from the oil sands increase environmental risks even more, and also make economic feasibility dependent on continued high oil prices.

Finally, Canada is home to a quarter of the earth’s fresh water. Although it is not mentioned in official SPP documents, Canadian activists believe that SPP includes discussions of bulk water exports to the United States, threatening Canadian water security just as the world enters a period of anticipated severe water shortages.

From NAFTA to the SPP
If Canada’s path to the SPP can be described as a voluntary regression from developed welfare state to exporter of natural resources, Mexico’s reveals the combination of coercion and repression running through the SPP and NAFTA.

Mexico bought into NAFTA and neoliberalism as a result of the 1980s debt crisis. U.S. banks made huge low-interest loans to developing countries and then ratcheted up interest rates. When Mexico defaulted, the United States and the International Monetary Fund renegotiated Mexico’s loans and saddled Mexico with free-market reforms that opened the country to foreign investment. Wages and living standards plummeted. Mexico abandoned what remained of its development plans and turned to neoliberalism, free trade, and the promise of increased foreign direct investment to pay its bills.

Foreign investment never materialized on the level expected. Meanwhile, Mexico enthusiastically reduced agricultural tariffs under NAFTA even as the United States flooded it with subsidized corn. Two million small farmers were driven from their land, increasing unemployment and driving down wages. Today half of all Mexicans live in poverty, with 15 million in extreme poverty. Half of new labor-market entrants can’t find employment in Mexico, and remittances from migrants to the United States outstrip foreign direct investment. The situation will become even more dire when all remaining agricultural tariffs under NAFTA expire later in 2008.

Any economic plan actually centered on the needs of the Mexican people would include renegotiating NAFTA’s agricultural provisions. Instead, agriculture is off the table, and immigration has taken center stage. Rebuffed by the anti-immigrant backlash in the U.S., Mexico is turning to Canada for an expanded guest-worker program, and the two countries have set up an SPP working group to discuss labor mobility.

Meanwhile, SPP negotiators are discussing funds to address “uneven development.” In practice this means connecting Central and Southeastern Mexico—regions which have some of Mexico’s highest poverty rates and lowest wages, but also some of its richest gas reserves—to U.S. markets. The region is also the target of former president Vicente Fox’s 2001 Plan Puebla Panama, an $8 billion infrastructure program aimed at integrating southern Mexico with the CAFTA countries. The overall vision: stepped-up development of energy and gas reserves, an even lower-wage workforce for maquila production than on the U.S. border, and transportation and energy networks needed to produce and carry finished goods to U.S. consumers.

Of course, appropriating land for highways and other projects requires massive dispossession of farmers and indigenous peoples. Since many of the peasants NAFTA has displaced have already crossed the border to the United States, stepped-up immigration control and labor repression are both in the offing. So far, the two countries appear poised to limit migration from the CAFTA countries into southern Mexico, regulate the flow of Mexican immigrants to the United States in the north, and seal a captive, repressed workforce in between.

Mexico’s participation in the SPP’s security perimeter will greatly stiffen security along its southern border, where several hundred thousand migrants annually try to cross into Mexico from Central America to get to the United States. And the United States has already tightened security along Mexico’s northern border, where 500,000 cross annually.

Bush’s $1.4 billion request to the U.S. Congress for a “Plan Mexico,” which he hopes eventually to extend to Central America, is linked to this plan. Billed as a “new paradigm” for security cooperation and fighting drug crime, in reality it’s another step toward a U.S.-led continental military and security structure. It won’t position U.S. soldiers on Mexican ground, but it will deepen coordination and provide intelligence, training, and equipment to Mexican military and police. The resources are certain to be used to against Mexico’s growing social movements. Mexico’s anti-terrorism law has already made it easier to criminalize protest. In 2002, the People’s Front for Defense of the Land managed to halt construction of an airport that was part of Plan Pueblo Panama, and the Front also participated in the Zapatista campaign to boycott the last presidential election. In April 2006 the group came to the aid of flower growers and vendors in a confrontation with police in nearby San Salvador Atenco. Thirty five hundred police beat 200 of the town’s 300 inhabitants; arrested 150; sexually assaulted 30 women; and killed two youths. For his part in the resistance, the movement’s leader was sentenced to 67 years in prison—the first prosecution under Mexico’s post-9/11 anti-terrorism law.

Mexico’s Energy Matters Too
As with Canada, Mexican energy is where the largest stakes are being played. Mexico is currently the third largest supplier of oil to the United States, yet estimates are that Mexican oil and natural gas reserves could be exhausted in as little as ten years. The SPP’s plan to step up Mexican oil production by completely privatizing gas production and increasing private investment in its oil sector will strip Mexico of crucial resources for development at a time when world oil prices make them most valuable.

The main barrier to the SPP’s privatization strategy is the Mexican constitution, which guarantees the benefits of the energy sector to the Mexican people and places management of oil and gas in the hands of state-owned Pemex. Pemex is a symbol of national sovereignty, and Mexico refused to commit to privatizing Pemex during NAFTA negotiations. But legislation in the ‘90s chipped away at Pemex’s jurisdiction while expanding the scope for private sector contracts. More importantly, Pemex was severely undermined during the 1980s debt crisis, when oil and gas revenues were chained to foreign debt repayment.

As a result, Pemex has been chronically starved for funds for exploration and development. The shortage is routinely used as an argument for privatization. The SPP has plans to release a report this year highlighting Pemex’s purported inefficiencies and need for private capital. Sixty percent of Pemex’s revenues go to supplying nearly 40% of Mexico’s national budget; no private firm could survive under similar constraints. Ironically, the 1970s loans that led to the 1980s debt crisis were made so Mexico could develop newly discovered oil during a period of record prices. Those record prices were the result of the 1973 OPEC oil boycott. OPEC deposited the profits from those price hikes in U.S. banks, and those funds in turn became the capital U.S. banks used to lend to Mexico. Chaining Pemex’s revenues to debt repayment in the 1980s meant Mexico was forced to increase output and add to what by then was a glut of world energy supplies—thereby contributing to lower world prices and weakening its own revenues. In effect, Mexico went into debt slavery to help undermine OPEC and cheapen the cost of energy for U.S. corporations. SPP’s agenda brings the cycle full circle, with the United States willing to accelerate exhaustion of Mexico’s remaining reserves to bolster its own increasingly precarious international energy position.

Upping the Ante
The SPP ups the ante for activists. Until now, labor and progressives—at least in the United States—have tended to focus on specific targets such as trade agreements or demands for debt relief. And when we analyzed NAFTA, we analyzed it in class terms, not in geopolitical terms. But the SPP’s goals are broader and deeper even than NAFTA’s goals. They aim at nothing short of remaking the political and economic governance structure of North America.

The wishes of Canadian and Mexican elites notwithstanding, the SPP’s primary purpose is to buoy U.S. capitalism’s flagging international position, from its trade deficit to its energy deficit. U.S. security, energy and transportation needs are the touchstones, and the draft agreement aligns the policies of Canada and Mexico—and appropriates natural resources—to meet those needs. Economic integration is conditioned on military integration, which in turn aims at consolidating the U.S. position in the hemisphere.

While the United States maintains most of the economic leverage in the triad, most hot-button issues are in Mexico and Canada. For U.S. activists in particular, bringing these issues alive will first require a much deeper understanding of our neighbors, and an ability to link their issues to domestic U.S. concerns.

Chief among the dangers for ordinary people in all three countries are the environmental consequences. Increasing rates of fossil fuel extraction in North America may feed the U.S. energy habit, but the solution is short term. The contributions to global warming for North America and the world, however, will not be.

The SPP’s bundling of security with economic concerns also fuels Bush’s war on terror, the accelerating militarization of U.S. foreign policy, and continued U.S. leadership of neoliberal globalization. Canada’s commitments of troops in Afghanistan, increased military spending, and willingness to find common ground with the United States on Latin America and the Caribbean are one product of the noxious mix. Another is Mexico’s willingness to serve as a counter-weight to Venezuelan attempts to harness its oil wealth to alternative regional and global development strategies.

In terms of daily governance, the SPP privatizes the regulatory functions of government on an international scale not seen before in industrialized democracies. NAFTA and other WTO agreements limit the legislative and regulatory powers of member states by imposing global standards such as “market access” and “national treatment” on how countries treat foreign investors. These standards create “one way roads” to privatization once countries begin liberalizing a sector. Applied to Canadian experiments in private health care, they could end up forcing Canada first to open its doors to for-profit foreign providers and insurance companies, and then to pay them the same subsidies given to Canadian public and nonprofit operators. In the United States (where health insurance is already private), they could be used to prevent the United States from putting its own single-payer system in place.

By contrast, the SPP bypasses national authority to create formal, tri-national structures for corporate regulatory input prior to involvement by legislatures or citizens. Many SPP goals are thus hidden at their inception; even after they emerge, most will be buried in the daily workings of executive agencies who have been directed to give maximum attention to corporate needs and trade. In the United States, a short list of agencies already involved in the SPP includes the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Finally, the SPP is a frontal assault on labor and civil liberties. Plan Mexico should be seen as a threat to human rights throughout the continent. The North American labor movement desperately needs a democratic Mexico where independent organizing and labor rights can be exercised without threat of violence. Instead, the SPP will intensify exploitation of Mexican labor and deepen the low wage neoliberal model in both the United States and Canada, as well.

What It Will Take
Currently, Bush is politically weakened by the Iraq war, Mexico’s president Felipe Calderón by his election scandal, and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper by his lack of a parliamentary majority, raising the question of whether the SPP will survive the leaders’ terms in office.

But even if it were stopped in its current form, much of the SPP would continue. A Framework for Regulatory Cooperation has been signed, complete with goals for action and annual work plans. The North American Energy Working Group—now integrated into the SPP—was actually established in 2001. Plan Mexico, once funded, will take on its own life, and the push to privatize Pemex will continue.

Opposition to Plan Pueblo Panama gives some indication of the depth and breadth of the activism that will be needed to be effective with the SPP’s agenda. Calderón recently revived Plan Puebla Panama, with an added military component—no doubt inspired by the SPP. Yet it was stalled for many years by protests against displacement of farmers and destruction of the environment, and a vibrant cross-border network of activists has grown up around it. The breadth of the Plan Puebla Panama led activists to conclude that opposing environmentally destructive infrastructure projects wasn’t sufficient: what is necessary is a deeper understanding of the economic and political vision behind Plan Pueblo Panama, and development of an alternative analysis.

An effective response to the SPP agenda will require the same kind of expanded cross-border contacts and focused study of the North American and global political economies. This is the very work the left needs to do to begin creating economic and political alternatives that reflect its values.

The challenge is particularly difficult for activists in the United States. Unlike the left in countries where domestic agendas have been affected by U.S. actions for many years, most in the United States think of domestic issues as controlled by domestic politics. But as rising oil prices combine with a falling dollar, and U.S. economic autonomy begins to be more constrained, more people in the U.S. may understand the need for different allies.

U.S. activists need a democratic Mexico with strong labor rights and a Canadian welfare state that survives the ravages of neoliberal globalization. We need to build an environmental agenda based on conservation and renewable resources and an economic agenda based on diversity and human rights. We need a progressive voice that can drown out right wing cries that the problem of globalization is the loss of U.S. dominance and power. Most of all, we need an international, powerful, and organized response from the left, and popular forces to challenge the more deeply coordinated and increasingly militarized forces of international capital. Reasoned opposition is no longer enough.

Written by Katherine Sciacchitano

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Water Riots - Africa

We are on our own: but we are together

Inkani is a short film which follows the riots in Durban, South Africa over water and sanitation facilities. A piece of the puzzle in understanding Africa is beautifully given here, one that makes sense of the many other difficult aspects to understand about South Africa.
Umlazi info

Durban: The Third Force

by S'bu Zikode Friday, Nov. 18, 2005 at 10:08 AM
The shack dwellers' movement that has given hope to thousands of people in Durban is always being accused of being part of the Third Force. In newspapers and in all kinds of meetings this is said over and over again. They even waste money investigating the Third Force. We need to address this question of the Third Force so that people don't become confused.

I must warn those comrades, government officials, politicians and intellectuals who speak about the Third Force that they have no idea what they are talking about. They are too high to really feel what we feel. They always want to talk for us and about us but they must allow us to talk about our lives and our struggles.

We need to get things clear. There definitely is a Third Force. The question is what is it and who is part of the Third Force? Well, I am Third Force myself. The Third Force is all the pain and the suffering that the poor are subjected to every second in our lives. The shack dwellers have many things to say about the Third Force. It is time for us to speak out and to say this is who we are, this is where we are and this how we live. The life that we are living makes our communities the Third Force. Most of us are not working and have to spend all day struggling for small money. AIDS is worse in the shack settlements than anywhere else. Without proper houses, water, electricity, refuse removal and toilets all kinds of diseases breed. The causes are clearly visible and every Dick, Tom and Harry can understand. Our bodies itch every day because of the insects. If it is raining everything is wet - blankets and floors. If it is hot the mosquitoes and flies are always there. There is no holiday in the shacks. When the evening comes - it is always a challenge. The night is supposed to be for relaxing and getting rest. But it doesn't happen like that in the jondolos. People stay awake worrying about their lives. You must see how big the rats are that will run across the small babies in the night. You must see how people have to sleep under the bridges when it rains because their floors are so wet. The rain comes right inside people's houses. Some people just stand up all night.

But poverty is not just suffering. It threatens us with death every day. We have seen how dangerous being poor is. In the Kennedy Road settlement we have seen how Mhlengi Khumalo, a one year old child, died in a shack fire last month. Seven others have died in fires since the eThekwini Metro decided to stop providing electricity to informal settlements. There are many Mhlengis all over our country. Poverty even threatens people in flats. In Bayview, in Chatsworth, a woman died of hunger earlier this year - she was fearing to tell the neighbours that she had no food and she died, alone.

Those in power are blind to our suffering. This is because they have not seen what we see, they have not felt what we are feeling every second, every day. My appeal is that leaders who are concerned about peoples' lives must come and stay at least one week in the jondolos. They must feel the mud. They must share 6 toilets with 6 000 people. They must dispose of their own refuse while living next to the dump. They must come with us while we look for work. They must chase away the rats and keep the children from knocking the candles. They must care for the sick when there are long queues for the tap. They must have a turn to explain to the children why they can't attend the Technical College down the hill. They must be there when we bury our children who have passed on in the fires, from diarrhoea or AIDS.

For us the most important struggle is to be recognised as human beings. During the struggle prior to 1994 there were only two levels, two classes - the rich and the poor. Now after the election there are three classes - the poor, the middle class and the rich. The poor have been isolated from the middle class. We are becoming more poor and the rest are becoming more rich. We are on our own. We are completely on our own.

Our President Mbeki speaks politics - our Premier Ndebele, and Shilowa in Gauteng and Rasool in the Western Cape, our Mayor Mlaba and mayors all over the country speak politics. But who will speak about the genuine issues that affect the people every day - water, electricity, education, land, housing? We thought local government would minimise politics and focus on what people need but it all becomes politics.

We discovered that our municipality does not listen to us when we speak to them in Zulu. We tried English. Now we realise that they won't understood Xhosa or Sotho either. The only language that they understand is when we put thousands of people on the street. We have seen the results of this and we have been encouraged. It works very well. It is the only tool that we have to emancipate our people. Why should we stop it?

We have matured in our suffering. We had a programme to find a way forward. Our programme was to continue with the peaceful negotiations with the authorities that first started ten years ago. But our first plan was undermined. We were lied to. We had to come up with an alternative plan.

The 16th of February 2005 was the dawn of our struggle. On that day the Kennedy Road committee had a very successful meeting with the chair of the housing portfolio of the executive committee of the municipality, the director of housing and the ward councillor. They all promised us the vacant land on the Clare Estate for housing. The land on Elf Road was one of the identified areas. But then we were betrayed by the most trusted people in our city. Just one month later, without any warning or explanation, bulldozers began digging the land. People were excited. They went to see what was happening and were shocked to be told that a brick factory was being built there. More people went down to see. There were so many of us that we were blocking the road. The man building the factory called the police and our local councillor, a man put into power by our votes and holding our trust and hopes. The councillor told the police "Arrest these people they are criminals." The police beat us, their dogs bit us and they arrested 14 of us. We asked what happened to the promised land. We were told "Who the hell are you people to demand this land?" This betrayal mobilised the people. The people who betrayed us are responsible for this movement. Those people are the second force.

Our movement started with 14 arrests - we called them the 14 heroes. Now we have 14 settlements united together as abahlali base mjondolo [shack dwellers]. Each settlement meets once a week and the leaders of all the settlements meet once a week. We are prepared to talk but if that doesn't work we are prepared to use our strength. We will do what ever it costs us to get what we need to live safely.

We have learnt from our experience that when you want to achieve what you want, when you want to achieve what is legitimate by peaceful negotiations, by humbleness, by respecting those in authority your plea becomes criminal. You will be deceived for more than ten years, you will be fooled and undermined. This is why we have resorted to the streets. When we stand there in our thousands we are taken seriously.

The struggle that started in Kennedy Road was the beginning of a new era. We are aware of the strategies that the police are coming with to demoralise and threaten the poor. We don't mind them building the jails for us and hiring more security if they are not prepared to listen to what we are saying. It is important for every shack dwellers to know that we are aware of what is happening in Alexander in Johannesburg, in P.E., in Cape Town. We know that our struggle is not by itself. We have sent our solidarity. We will not rest in peace until there is justice for the poor - not only in Kennedy Road there are many Kennedy Roads, many Mhlengis, many poor voices that are not heard and not understood. But we have discovered the language that works. We will stick with it. The victims have spoken. We have said enough is enough.

It must be clear that this is not a political game. This movement is a kind of social tool by which the community hopes to get quicker results. This has nothing to do with politics or parties. Our members are part of every political organisation that you may think of. This is a non political movement. It will finish its job when land and housing, electricity and basic services have been won and poverty eliminated. It is enough for us to be united until our people have achieved what is wanted - which is basic. But until that is materialised we will never stop.

The community has realised that voting for parties has not brought any change to us - especially at the level of local government elections. We can see some important changes at national level but at local level who ever wins the elections will be challenged by us. We have been betrayed by our own elected councillor. We have decided not to vote. The campaign that has begun - 'No Land, No House, No Vote', is a campaign that has been agreed upon in all 14 settlements.

We are driven by the Third Force, the suffering of the poor. Our betrayers are the Second Force. The First Force was our struggle against apartheid. The Third Force will stop when the Fourth Force comes. The Fourth Force is land, housing, water, electricity, health care, education and work. We are only asking what is basic - not what is luxurious. This is the struggle of the poor. The time has come for the poor to show themselves that we can be poor in life but not in mind.

For us time has been a very good teacher. People have realised so many things. We have learnt from the past - we have suffered alone. That pain and suffering has taught us a lot. We have begun to realise that we are not supposed to be living under these conditions. There has been a dawn of democracy for the poor. No one else would have told us - neither our elected leaders nor any officials would have told us what we are entitled to. Even the Freedom Charter is only good in theory. It has nothing to do with the ordinary lives of poor. It doesn't help us. It is the thinking of the masses of the people that matters. We have noted that our country is rich. More airports are being built, there are more developments at the Point water front, more stadiums are being renovated, more money is floating around, even being lent to Mugabe. But when you ask for what is basic you are told that there is no money. It is clear that there is no money for the poor. The money is for the rich. We have come to the decision of saying 'enough is enough.' We all agree that something must be done.

S'bu Zikode is the elected Chairman of the abahlali base mjondolo [Shack dwellers] movement which currently includes 14 settlements in Durban and will march on Mayor Obed Mlaba on 14 November. [This march was later banned and violence unleashed on abahlali base mjondolo members when they tried to march from Foreman Road]


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mexico Stays Strong

May Avoid the Worst
of the US Financial Meltdown

Few countries are more reliant on the United States than Mexico. The
United States is the consumer of Mexico's exports, the home for its
dollar-remitting migrants, and the main source of its foreign
investment. Moreover, the northern neighbor's Gibraltar-like
stability has anchored Mexico's economy for almost the entire decade
and a half since the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, came
into being.

So now that the famous rock has broken free from the coast and is
sinking in the Mediterranean, why isn't Mexico plummeting along with
it? The United States' financial catastrophe has provoked speculation
that the end of American economic superpower status is nigh, but no
one is predicting a corresponding decline from its southern neighbor.
For Mexicans, the crisis will continue to cause intense spells of
national worry, but thus far Mexico has remained largely resilient to
the US's financial maladies.

First, the ill effects that we have witnessed: the peso, whose
stability over the last decade had been Mexico's singular monetary
accomplishment, recently suffered its largest one-day decline in
value in fifteen years. The government has already exhausted 10
percent of its foreign reserves (some $9 billion) to maintain the
currency's stability. The weaker peso has led analysts to predict an
increase in inflation, which, combined with lower American demand,
will make Mexico a much less attractive place for investors.

The problems don't end there: as has been the case elsewhere, the
Mexican stock market has see-sawed wildly. Compounding matters, the
basic social security retirement account (called an afore) provided
to every Mexican with a formal job is invested in stocks, so drops in
the market impact the future of millions of Mexicans. The list goes
on: remittances from immigrants in the United States dropped 12
percent from last year. Slowed economic growth means that the labor
market will also lose steam, which, combined with the return of
erstwhile migrants fleeing the American recession, could lead to a
sharp rise in unemployment. The crisis will also limit American
consumption, which will hit export and tourist industries especially

At the same time, no one is predicting a meltdown in Mexico. Its
banks, torched in 1995 by a crisis not entirely unlike that presently
occurring in the United States, remain safe. Rogelio Ramírez de la O,
a prominent leftist economist, wrote in an otherwise gloomy
column, "The Mexican banks don't face a crisis of insolvency of

Mauricio Cárdenas of the Brookings Institution told CNN en Español
viewers, "I see the Latin American financial system as very strong."

Economically, Mexico is better off as well. Most independent analysts
are revising their growth projections downwards from 3 percent to 1
percent, but no one is yet predicting recession. The government's
budget projects 1.8 percent growth in 2009. That may prove overly
optimistic, but thus far there is no fear of a prolonged recession in

The bizarre world environment in North American economics is also
evident in each country's reaction. The US has been slammed for its
absent president, the failed first pass on the $700 billion bailout,
and the generally poor coordination of the response. In Mexico,
President Felipe Calderón offered a stimulus package that quickly
earned the approval of the entire political class as well as the
International Monetary Fund. It cut the 2009 budget outlays by about
$27 billion, shifted government spending into infrastructure
projects, and freed up government credit for small businesses, all of
which should soften the impact of the crisis both for the government
and for individual Mexicans.

As Andrés Oppenheimer pointed out in a recent column, Mexico's
experience with its 1995 meltdown could now serve as a paradigm for
the American recovery, both in the near- and long-term. While it
wound up an easy target for leftist populists, Fobaproa (as their
bailout became known) succeeded in resurrecting Mexico's banking
sector. It also forced greater financial regulations on the industry,
which is why Mexico is much less exposed to today's credit crisis
than the United States.

That's not to suggest that Mexico is free from worry, because it
isn't. The present crisis is more than a mere hiccup, and the
problems could certainly worsen in Mexico. Thus far, perhaps the
greatest consequence of the crisis has been the political opportunity
cost. With so much attention focused on the economic fiasco invading
from the North, Mexico is in danger of taking its eye off other vital
issues. That's why oil reform legislation lingers unapproved, and
Mexico's security problems seem to have fallen from the front of
policy-makers minds. Such issues are likely to remain thorny for
Mexico long after the present crisis has passed.

By Patrick Corcoran

Fidel On Obama

The Empire's Hypocritical Politics

By Fidel Castro Ruz

It would be dishonest of me to remain silent after hearing the speech Barack Obama delivered at the Cuban American National Foundation, created by Ronald Reagan. I listened to his speech, as I did [John] McCain's and Bush's. I feel no resentment towards Obama, for he is not responsible for the crimes perpetrated against Cuba and humanity. Were I to defend him, I would do his adversaries an enormous favour. I have therefore no reservations about criticising him and about expressing my points of view on his words frankly.

What were Obama's statements?

Throughout my entire life, there has been injustice and repression in Cuba. Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy... This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century –- of elections that are anything but free or fair ... I won't stand for this injustice, you won't stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba'', he told the annexationists, adding: ``It's time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime... I will maintain the embargo.''

The content of these declarations by this strong candidate for the US presidency spares me the work of having to explain the reason for this reflection.

José Hernandez, one of the Cuban American National Foundation directors who Obama praised in his speech, was none other than the owner of the 50-calibre automatic rifle, equipped with telescopic and infrared sights, which was confiscated, by chance, along with other deadly weapons while being transported by sea to Venezuela, where the foundation had planned to assassinate the writer of these lines at an international meeting held in Margarita, in the Venezuelan state of Nueva Esparta.

Pepe Hernández' group wanted to renegotiate a former pact with Clinton, betrayed by Mas Canosa's clan, who secured Bush's electoral victory in 2000 through fraud, because the latter had promised to assassinate Castro, something they all happily embraced. These are the kinds of political tricks inherent to the United States' decadent and contradictory system.

Presidential candidate Obama's speech may be formulated as follows: hunger for the nation, remittances as charitable hand outs and visits to Cuba as propaganda for consumerism and the unsustainable way of life behind it.

Global crises

How does he plan to address the extremely serious problem of the global food crisis? The world's grains must be distributed among human beings. Fish, [the supplies of which] become smaller every year and more scarce in the seas that have been over-exploited by the large trawlers which no international organisation could get in the way of. Producing meat from gas and oil is no easy feat. Even Obama overestimates technology's potential in the fight against climate change, though he is more conscious of the risks and the limited margin of time than Bush. He could seek the advice of [former US vice-president Al] Gore, who is also a Democrat and is no longer a candidate, as he is aware of the accelerated pace at which global warming is advancing. His close political rival Bill Clinton, who is not running for the presidency, an expert on extra-territorial laws like the Helms-Burton and Torricelli Acts, can advise him on an issue like the blockade, which he promised to lift and never did.

What did he say in his speech in Miami, this man who is doubtless, from the social and human points of view, the most progressive candidate to the US presidency? ``For two hundred years'', he said, ``the United States has made it clear that we won't stand for foreign intervention in our hemisphere. But every day, all across the Americas, there is a different kind of struggle -- not against foreign armies, but against the deadly threat of hunger and thirst, disease and despair. That is not a future that we have to accept -- not for the child in Port au Prince or the family in the highlands of Peru. We can do better. We must do better... We cannot ignore suffering to our south, nor stand for the globalisation of the empty stomach.'' A magnificent description of imperialist globalisation: the globalisation of empty stomachs! We ought to thank him for it.

But, 200 years ago, Simon Bolivar fought for Latin American unity and, more than 100 years ago, Jose Martí gave his life in the struggle against the annexation of Cuba by the United States. What is the difference between what [US President James] Monroe [who in 1823] proclaimed [the Americas were the USA's domain] and what Obama proclaims and resuscitates in his speech two centuries later?

I will reinstate a Special Envoy for the Americas in my White House who will work with my full support. But we'll also expand the Foreign Service, and open more consulates in the neglected regions of the Americas. We'll expand the Peace Corps, and ask more young Americans to go abroad to deepen the trust and the ties among our people'', he said near the end, adding: Together, we can choose the future over the past.'' A beautiful phrase, for it attests to the idea, or at least the fear, that history makes figures what they are and not [the other] way around.

Today, the United States has nothing of the spirit behind the Philadelphia declaration of principles formulated by the 13 colonies that rebelled against English colonialism. Today, they are a gigantic empire undreamed of by the country's founders at the time. Nothing, however, was to change for the natives and the slaves. The former were exterminated as the nation expanded; the latter continued to be auctioned at the marketplace —- men, women and children -— for nearly a century, despite the fact that ``all men are born free and equal'', as the Declaration of Independence affirms. The world's objective conditions favoured the development of that system.

US blockade

In his speech, Obama portrays the Cuban Revolution as anti-democratic and lacking in respect for freedom and human rights. It is the exact same argument which, almost without exception, US administrations have used again and again to justify their crimes against our country. The blockade, in and of itself, is an act of genocide. I don't want to see US children inculcated with those shameful values.

An armed revolution in our country might not have been needed without the military interventions, the Platt Amendment [which in 1901 made Cuba a virtual colony of the US] and the economic colonialism it visited upon Cuba.

The revolution was the result of imperial domination. We cannot be accused of having imposed it upon the country. The true changes could have and ought to have been brought about in the United States. Its own workers, more than a century ago, voiced the demand for an eight-hour work shift, which stemmed from the development of productive forces.

The first thing the leaders of the Cuban Revolution learned from Martí was to believe in and act on behalf of an organisation founded for the purposes of bringing about a revolution. We were always bound by previous forms of power and, following the institutionalisation of this organisation, we were elected by more than 90 per cent of voters, as has become customary in Cuba, a process which does not in the least resemble the ridiculous levels of electoral participation which, many a time, as in the case of the United States, stay short of 50 per cent of the voters. No small and blockaded country like ours would have been able to hold its ground for so long on the basis of ambition, vanity, deceit or the abuse of power, the kind of power its neighbour has. To state otherwise is an insult to the intelligence of our heroic people.

Delicate questions for Obama

I am not questioning Obama's great intelligence, his debating skills or his work ethic. He is a talented orator and is ahead of his rivals in the electoral race. I feel sympathy for his wife and little girls, who accompany him and give him encouragement every Tuesday. It is indeed a touching human spectacle. Nevertheless, I am obliged to raise a number of delicate questions. I do not expect answers; I wish only to raise them for the record.

1. Is it right for the president of the United States to order the assassination of any one person in the world, whatever the pretext may be?

2. Is it ethical for the president of the United States to order the torture of other human beings?

3. Should state terrorism be used by a country as powerful as the United States as an instrument to bring about peace on the planet?

4. Is the Cuban Adjustment Act [which grants permanent residence in the US to Cubans who flee Cuba], applied as punishment on only one country, Cuba, in order to destabilise it, good and honourable, even when it costs innocent children and mothers their lives? If it is good, why is this right not automatically granted to Haitians, Dominicans and other peoples of the Caribbean, and why isn't the same Act applied to Mexicans and people from Central and South America, who die like flies against the Mexican border wall or in the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific?

5. Can the United States do without immigrants, who grow vegetables, fruits, almonds and other delicacies for US citizens? Who would sweep their streets, work as servants in their homes or do the worst and lowest-paid jobs?

6. Are crackdowns on illegal residents fair, even as they affect children born in the United States?

7. Are the brain drain and the continuous theft of the best scientific and intellectual minds in poor countries moral and justifiable?

8. You state, as I pointed out at the beginning of this reflection, that your country had long ago warned European powers that it would not tolerate any intervention in the hemisphere, reiterating that this right be respected while demanding the right to intervene anywhere in the world with the aid of hundreds of military bases and naval, air and ground forces distributed across the planet. I ask: Is that the way in which the United States expresses its respect for freedom, democracy and human rights?

9. Is it fair to stage pre-emptive attacks on 60 or more ``dark corners'' of the world, as Bush calls them, whatever the pretext may be?

10. Is it honourable and sound to invest [trillions] of dollars in the military industrial complex, to produce weapons that can destroy life on Earth several times over?

Before judging our country, you should know that Cuba, with its education, health, sports, culture and science programs, implemented not only in its own territory but also in other poor countries around the world, and the blood that has been shed in acts of solidarity towards other peoples, in spite of the economic and financial blockade and the aggression of your powerful country, is proof that much can be done with very little. Not even our closest ally, the Soviet Union, was able to achieve what we have.

The only form of cooperation the United States can offer other nations consists in the sending of military professionals to those countries. It cannot offer anything else, for it lacks a sufficient number of people willing to sacrifice themselves for others and offer substantial aid to a country in need (though Cuba has known and relied on the cooperation of excellent US doctors). They are not to blame for this, for US society does not inculcate such values in them on a massive scale.

We have never subordinated cooperation with other countries to ideological requirements. We offered the United States our help when hurricane Katrina lashed the city of New Orleans. Our internationalist medical brigade bears the glorious name of Henry Reeve, a young man, born in the United States, who fought and died for Cuba's sovereignty in our first war of independence.

Our revolution can mobilise tens of thousands of doctors and health technicians. It can mobilise an equally vast number of teachers and citizens, who are willing to travel to any corner of the world to fulfill any noble purpose, not to usurp people's rights or take possession of raw materials.

The good will and determination of the people constitute limitless resources that cannot be kept and would not fit in a bank's vault. They cannot spring from the hypocritical politics of an empire

El Buen Vivir

Evo Morales Ayma:

Ten commandments to save the planet

Message to the Continental Gathering of Solidarity with Bolivia in Guatemala City
October 9, 2008 -- Sisters and brothers, on behalf of the Bolivian people, I greet the social movements of this continent present in this act of continental solidarity with Bolivia.

We have just suffered the violence of the oligarchy, whose most brutal expression was the massacre in Panda, a deed that teaches us that an attempt at power based on money and weapons in order to oppress the people is not sustainable. It is easily knocked down, if it is not based on a program and the consciousness of the people.

We see that the re-founding of Bolivia affects the underhanded interests of a few families of large landholders, who reject as an aggression the measures enacted to favour the people such as a more balanced distribution of the resources of natural gas for our grandfathers and grandmothers, as well as the distribution of lands, the campaigns for health and literacy, and others.

To protect their power and privileges and to evade the process of change, the ruling elite of large landholders of the so-called Half Moon (Media Luna) clothe themselves in the movements for departmental autonomies and the rupture of national unity, lending themselves to the yankee interests of ending the re-founding of Bolivia.

However, in the revocation referendum of August 10, we just received the mandate of two-thirds of the Bolivian people to consolidate this process of change, in order to continue advancing in the recovery of our natural resources, and to insure the well being of all Bolivians, to unite the distinct sectors of society of the countryside and the city, of the east and the west.

Sisters and brothers, what happened with this revocation referendum in Bolivia is something that is not only important for Bolivians but for all Latin Americans. We dedicate it to the Latin American revolutionaries and those throughout the world, reaffirming the struggle for all processes of change.

I was going to express the way to recover the life ways of our peoples, called Live Well (el Buen Vivir), to recover our vision of the Mother Earth, that for us is life, because it is not possible for the capitalist model to convert Mother Earth into a commodity. Once again we see the profound correlations between the indigenous movement and the organisations of the social movements, which also throw in their lot in order to Live Well. We greet them so that together we can seek a certain balance in the world.

10 commandments to save the planet

Along these lines, I want to share and propose for debate some 10 commandments to save the planet, for humanity and for life, not only at this level but also to debate among our communities, and our organisations.

First, if we want to save the planet earth to save life and humanity, we are obliged to end the capitalist system. The grave effects of climate change, of the energy, food and financial crises, are not a product of human beings in general, but rather of the capitalist system at it is, inhuman, with its idea of unlimited industrial development.

Second, to renounce war, because the people do not win in war, but only the imperial powers; the nations do not win, but rather the transnational corporations. Wars benefit a small group of families and not the people. The trillions of millions of dollars used for war should be directed to repair and cure Mother Earth wounded by climate change.

Third proposal for debate: a world without imperialism nor colonialism. Our relationships should be oriented to the principle of complementarity, and to take into account the profound asymmetries that exist family to family, country to country, and continent to continent.

And the fourth point is oriented to the issue of water, which ought to be guaranteed as a human right to avoid its privatisation into few hands, given that water is life.

As the fifth point, I would like to say that we need to end the energy debacle. In 100 years we are using up fossil energies created during millions of years. As some presidents are setting aside lands for luxury automobiles and not for human beings, we need to implement policies to impede the use of agro-fuels and in this way to avoid the hunger and misery for our peoples.

As a sixth point: in relationship to the Mother Earth, the capitalist system treats the Mother Earth as a raw material, but the Earth cannot be understood as a commodity; who could privatise, rent or lease their own mother? I propose that we organise an international movement in defence of Mother Nature, in order to recover the health of Mother Earth and re-establish a harmonious and responsible life with her.

A central theme as the seventh point for debate is that basic services, whether they be water, electricity, education or health, need to be taken into account as human rights.

As the eighth point, to consume what is needed, prioritise what we produce and consume locally, end consumerism, decadence and luxury. We need to prioritise local production for local consumption, stimulating self-reliance and the sovereignty of the communities within the limits that the health and remaining resources the planet permits.

As the next to last point, to promote the diversity of cultures and economies. To live in unity respecting our differences, no only physical, but also economic, through economies managed by the communities and their associations.

Sisters and brothers, as the tenth point, we propose to Live Well, not live better at the expense of another, a Live Well based on the lifestyle of our peoples, the riches of our communities, fertile lands, water and clean air. Socialism is talked about a lot, but we need to improve this socialism, improve the proposals for socialism in the XXI century, building a communitarian socialism, or simply Live Well, in harmony with Mother Earth, respecting the shared life ways of the community.

Finally, sisters and brothers, certainly you are following up on the problems that exist. I have reached the conclusion that there will always be problems, but I want to tell you that I am very content, not disappointed or worried because these groups who permanently enslaved our families during the colonial time, the time of the republic and this period of neoliberalism, they continue as family groups, resisting us.

It is our struggle to confront these groups who live in luxury and who do not wish to lose their luxury, or lose their lands. This is a historic struggle and this struggle lives on.

Sisters and brothers, in the hope that the Continental Gathering of the Social Forum of the Americas culminates with strong bonds of unity among you and a strong action plan in favour of the people of Bolivia and of our peoples, I repeat my fraternal greeting.

Monday, October 20, 2008

So Long Suckers!

Millionaire Hedge Fund Boss Thanks 'Idiot' Traders And Retires At 37

By Andrew Clark, The Guardian

The boss of a successful US hedge fund has quit the industry with an extraordinary farewell letter dismissing his rivals as over-privileged "idiots" and thanking "stupid" traders for making him rich.

Andrew Lahde's $80m Los Angeles-based firm Lahde Capital Management in Los Angeles made a huge return last year by betting against subprime mortgages.

Yesterday the 37-year-old told his clients that he had hated the business and had only been in it for the money. And after declaring he would no longer manage money for other people, because he had enough of his own, Lahde said that instead he intended to repair his stress-damaged health; he made it clear he would not miss the financial world.

"The low-hanging fruit, ie idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking," he wrote. "These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government," he said.

"All of this behaviour supporting the aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America."

Lahde became one of the biggest names in the investment industry when one of his funds produced a return of 866% last year, largely by forecasting the US home loans industry would collapse.

In his farewell letter, which concluded with an appeal for the legalisation of marijuana, Lahde said he was happy with his rewards and did not envy those who had made even more money.

"I will let others try to amass nine, 10 or 11 figure net worths. Meanwhile, their lives suck," he wrote, citing a life of back-to-back business appointments relieved only by a two-week annual holiday in which financiers are still "glued to their Blackberries".

Lahde's retirement came amid an implosion among the hedge fund industry - some 350 of the funds have liquidated this year, according to Hedge Fund Research.

His final words of advice? "Throw the Blackberry away and enjoy life."

The Depression

The Depression:

A Long-Term View

by Immanuel Wallerstein

The depression has started. Journalists are still coyly enquiring of
economists whether or not we may be entering a mere recession. Don't
believe it for a minute. We are already at the beginning of a
full-blown worldwide depression with extensive unemployment almost
everywhere. It may take the form of a classic nominal deflation, with
all its negative consequences for ordinary people. Or it might take
the form, a bit less likely, of a runaway inflation, which is simply
another way in which values deflate, and which is even worse for
ordinary people.

Of course everyone is asking what has triggered this depression. Is
it the derivatives, which Warren Buffett called "financial weapons of
mass destruction" ? Or is it the subprime mortgages? Or is it oil
speculators? This is a blame game, and of no real importance. This
is to concentrate on the dust, as Fernand Braudel called it, of
short-term events. If we want to understand what is going on, we need
to look at two other temporalities, which are far more revealing. One
is that of medium-term cyclical swings. And one is that of the
long-term structural trends.

The capitalist world-economy has had, for several hundred years at
least, two major forms of cyclical swings. One is the so-called
Kondratieff cycles that historically were 50-60 years in length. And
the other is the hegemonic cycles which are much longer.

In terms of the hegemonic cycles, the United States was a rising
contender for hegemony as of 1873, achieved full hegemonic dominance
in 1945, and has been slowly declining since the 1970s. George W.
Bush's follies have transformed a slow decline into a precipitate one.
And as of now, we are past any semblance of U.S. hegemony. We have
entered, as normally happens, a multipolar world. The United States
remains a strong power, perhaps still the strongest, but it will
continue to decline relative to other powers in the decades to come.
There is not much that anyone can do to change this.

The Kondratieff cycles have a different timing. The world came out of
the last Kondratieff B-phase in 1945, and then had the strongest
A-phase upturn in the history of the modern world-system. It reached
its height circa 1967-73, and started on its downturn. This B-phase
has gone on much longer than previous B-phases and we are still in it.

The characteristics of a Kondratieff B-phase are well known and match
what the world-economy has been experiencing since the 1970s. Profit
rates from productive activities go down, especially in those types of
production that have been most profitable. Consequently, capitalists
who wish to make really high levels of profit turn to the financial
arena, engaging in what is basically speculation. Productive
activities, in order not to become too unprofitable, tend to move from
core zones to other parts of the world-system, trading lower
transactions costs for lower personnel costs. This is why jobs have
been disappearing from Detroit, Essen, and Nagoya and factories have
been expanding in China, India, and Brazil.

As for the speculative bubbles, some people always make a lot of money
in them. But speculative bubbles always burst, sooner or later. If
one asks why this Kondratieff B-phase has lasted so long, it is
because the powers that be -- the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve
Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and their collaborators in
western Europe and Japan -- have intervened in the market regularly
and importantly -- 1987 (stock market plunge), 1989 (savings-and- loan
collapse), 1997 (East Asian financial fall), 1998 (Long Term Capital
Management mismanagement) , 2001-2002 (Enron) -- to shore up the
world-economy. They learned the lessons of previous Kondratieff
B-phases, and the powers that be thought they could beat the system.
But there are intrinsic limits to doing this. And we have now reached
them, as Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke are learning to their chagrin
and probably amazement. This time, it will not be so easy, probably
impossible, to avert the worst.

In the past, once a depression wreaked its havoc, the world-economy
picked up again, on the basis of innovations that could be
quasi-monopolized for a while. So, when people say that the stock
market will rise again, this is what they are thinking will happen,
this time as in the past, after all the damage has been done to the
world's populations. And maybe it will, in a few years or so.

There is however something new that may interfere with this nice
cyclical pattern that has sustained the capitalist system for some 500
years. The structural trends may interfere with the cyclical
patterns. The basic structural features of capitalism as a
world-system operate by certain rules that can be drawn on a chart as
a moving upward equilibrium. The problem, as with all structural
equilibria of all systems, is that over time the curves tend to move
far from equilibrium and it becomes impossible to bring them back to

What has made the system move so far from equilibrium? In very brief,
it is because over 500 years the three basic costs of capitalist
production -- personnel, inputs, and taxation -- have steadily risen
as a percentage of possible sales price, such that today they make it
impossible to obtain the large profits from quasi-monopolized
production that have always been the basis of significant capital
accumulation. It is not because capitalism is failing at what it does
best. It is precisely because it has been doing it so well that it
has finally undermined the basis of future accumulation.

What happens when we reach such a point is that the system bifurcates
(in the language of complexity studies). The immediate consequence is
high chaotic turbulence, which our world-system is experiencing at the
moment and will continue to experience for perhaps another 20-50
years. As everyone pushes in whatever direction they think
immediately best for each of them, a new order will emerge out of the
chaos along one of two alternate and very different paths.

We can assert with confidence that the present system cannot survive.
What we cannot predict is which new order will be chosen to replace
it, because it will be the result of an infinity of individual
pressures. But sooner or later, a new system will be installed. This
will not be a capitalist system but it may be far worse (even more
polarizing and hierarchical) or much better (relatively democratic and
relatively egalitarian) than such a system. The choice of a new
system is the major worldwide political struggle of our times.

As for our immediate short-run ad interim prospects, it is clear what
is happening everywhere. We have been moving into a protectionist
world (forget about so-called globalization) . We have been moving
into a much larger direct role of government in production. Even the
United States and Great Britain are partially nationalizing the banks
and the dying big industries. We are moving into populist
government-led redistribution, which can take left-of-center
social-democratic forms or far right authoritarian forms. And we are
moving into acute social conflict within states, as everyone competes
over the smaller pie. In the short run, it is not, by and large, a
pretty picture.

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