Tags: China, East Asia, India, interstate system, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, South Korea, the Philippines, United Nations, United States, US hegemony, Vietnam
Rarely has the manufacturing of consent in the mainstream media been as thorough as it has been in the case of North Korea. It is the original ‘hermit kingdom,’ isolated from the outside world by a dynasty of communist dictators–a ‘socialism in one family’–and irrational to the extent of threatening Washington with a nuclear Armageddon. This reigning consensus is so widespread that there has been little challenge to it in the major news outlets of the world and yet, a moment’s reflection suggests that there are many flaws in this narrative.
In the first instance, in a rare piece of insight into North Korea, a former Western intelligence officer who writes under the pseudonym of James Church has argued that since isolationism is a two-way street, the rest of the world is even more ignorant about North Korea than Pyongyang is about the wider world. After all, North Korean officials can monitor radio and television broadcasts, plug into the Internet, and analyse books and magazines from the outside world. They know what people outside their borders are thinking and doing. But people outside North Korea have little insight into what goes on in the country and are metaphorically reduced to examining the entrails of sacrificial animals to divine Pyongyang’s intentions.
Hence, Church writes, “We…have developed a fog of myths about them as a substitute for knowledge. These myths, handed down from administration to administration, are comforting in their long familiar ring, but make it difficult for us to avoid walking in circles. The North Koreans move nimbly through this fog” like small boats deftly weaving in and out between lumbering vessels.
Rather than nuclear weapons, Church argues, North Korea’s greatest strength is the capacity to behave badly: by carefully choosing the right time, it knows its actions will force big powers to pay close attention even though they may grind their teeth. What it fears most is being swept aside in big power politics, so by playing its weak hand cleverly, it seeks dialogue with the United States, a process that was derailed when former president George W. Bush labelled it part of an “axis of evil.”
Recent concerns about Pyongyang’s nuclear program stemmed from an underground nuclear test on February 12, 2013—its third in seven years. In response, the United States and its allies pressed the UN Security Council to add new sanctions on the country: enhanced scrutiny over shipments and air cargo, a ban on the sale of luxury goods, expanded restrictions on a range of institutions and senior officials. China, notably, signed on to these sanctions and did not veto them.
If China is dragging its feet on the issue of North Korea, it is also because Beijing has a stake in the survival of the Kim Jong-eun regime. The collapse of North Korea could bring a stream of refugees to China which already has 2 million ethnic Koreans and threaten the stability of the border region. Moreover, since a unified Korea is likely to be led by Seoul, it raises the possibility of US forces on China’s border with Korea. A unified Korea with some 70 million people would also become a formidable economic competitor and transform the dynamics of the regional economy as Timothy Beardson writes in the Financial Times.
When President Barack Obama acknowledges that North Korea does not have a single deployable nuclear warhead, and according to SIPRI, the five permanent members of the Security Council—all declared nuclear powers—had approximately 19,265 as of January 1, 2012, this response to Pyongyang’s third nuclear test seems disproportionate. This is all the more so since North Korea has withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the other states outside the NPT—India, Israel, and Pakistan—are not treated in the same way as Pyongyang. As Jonathan Steele writes in the Guardian, “If it is offensive for North Korea to talk of launching a nuclear strike against the United States (a threat that is empty because the country has no system to deliver the few nuclear weapons it has), how is it less offensive for the US to warn Iran that it will be bombed if it fails to stop its nuclear research?”
In response, statements in the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), Rodong Simun, on March 6, 2013 declared that if the US continues to threaten it with nuclear weapons, Pyongyang now had the ability to turn Seoul and Washington into “a sea of fire.” North Korea also repudiated the 1953 Korean War ceasefire and cut the Red Cross hotline though lines between military and aviation authorities across the 38th parallel remain open.
Notably, till the middle of March, its foreign office maintained that it will abandon its nuclear weapons program if the United States removes its nuclear threats and abandons its hostile posture.
In reply, as Peter Hayes and Roger Cavazos of San Francisco’s Nautilus Institute note, on March 25 the United States flew B-52 Stratofortress stealth bombers over South Korea in military exercises that stimulated a nuclear attack on North Korea. Not only did these military exercises stir deep memories in North Korea where air raids killed an estimated 20 per cent of the population during the Korean War but the B-52 flights at the same time demonstrated China’s inability to affect US mobilization. The United States also bolstered its anti-missile batteries in Alaska and the West Coast.
Should it then surprise us that the North Korean ruling party’s Central Committee Plenum meeting set a ‘new strategic line’ of simultaneously pursuing the path of economic construction and “building nuclear armed forces”? It also announced that it would resume uranium enrichment at the Yongbyon reactor plant that had been moth-balled in October 2007 as a part of the denuclearization process.
Nevertheless, the WPK’s Central Committee Plenum ended by also declaring that “As a responsible nuclear weapons state, the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will make positive efforts to prevent the nuclear proliferation, ensure peace and security in Asia and the rest of the world and realize the denuclearization of the world.”
In a state born of guerrilla struggle, leadership requires as Hayes and Cavazos suggest, endless battles and if Kim’s leadership itself is not under threat, he needs to embellish his own credentials. Hence, his belligerence is intended as a professor of Sociology at Seoul National University also suggests, as a manoeuvre to outflank the military while preparing the ground to initiate a more pragmatic economic policy. Thus amid the rattling of nuclear sabres, Kim has appointed as his premier, Pak Pong-ju a pragmatic economist who had been forced out of office in 2007 by the military, reportedly because he followed Chinese suggestions on economic reforms too closely.
North Korea does not have enough resources to build its economy and to maintain the world’s third largest conventional armed force. Unlike China when it started its reform process in the late 1970s, Pyongyang does not have a huge reserve labor force in agriculture. Its economy is sustained only by extensive food and oil imports from China. To successfully pursue economic growth, a nuclear deterrent will enable Kim to divert labor from his conventional military and hence the ‘new strategic line’ announced by the WPK’s Central Committee Plenum—to simultaneously work at both economic construction and ‘building nuclear armed forces.’
However, by promising not to export nuclear weapons or material, Kim signals that he has no intention of crossing red lines. Indeed, during the recent visit to North Korea by US basketball star Denis Rodman, Kim asked him to tell President Obama to phone him. The American president pointedly refused to accept this invitation in an interview with George Stephanopoulos.
Again, in an unusual move, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hyon Hak-bong addressed the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and asserted that North Korea’s only interest was its legitimate self-defence. While North Korean ambassadors have attended meetings of fraternal associations in the past, it has usually been to accept messages of appreciation or praise—not usually to make statements. What better way to signal Pyongyang’s intentions to negotiate than for its ambassador to make a statement in a European capital?
All US Secretary of State, John Kerry, would offer in return was an offer to talk if North Korea offered unspecified concessions to show its good faith. Faced with US and South Korean intransigence, North Korea effectively closed the Kaesŏng Indusrial Park—a special industrial region—where 123 South Korean companies had been employing 53,000 North Korean workers and directly paying Pyongyang $90 million in wages every year. Significantly, while this is a serious loss to the Kim regime, it is also a non-military response to what the regime sees as persistent US provocation.
While the military was suspicious of Kaesŏng, viewing it as a Trojan horse, the regime’s decision to close it (perhaps temporarily) may indicate that it is trying to show that it is willing to bear a significant cost to send a message that it is serious in its stance.
This should be seen in the light of the fact that the government has turned a blind eye to the growth of a market activities in the country which, Andrei Lankov, a Russian specialist on Korea estimates provides 75 per cent of the income of the people outside the military and the upper echelons of the party. Frequent travel to China and the availability of DVDs about South Korea have opened their eyes to new possibilities offered by consumerism.
This makes it all the more important for the regime to compel its adversaries to change their policies, to secure a peace agreement, to denuclearize the peninsula, and to get reparations from the Japanese who colonized the country from 1895 to 1945. This has been the aim of the regime for 60 years but has assumed a new urgency. A peace treaty is a sign that Pyongyang needs to show that the United States and its friends that grotesquely masquerade as “the international community” accepts it as a legitimate state.
Tags: Egypt, European Union, Gaza, Human Rights, international relations, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Nations, United States, West Bank, world politics
Israel’s eight-day assault on Gaza caused enormous damage to the physical infrastructure of that impoverished coastal strip and a vastly disproportionate human toll on the Palestinians. Yet, in a preliminary balance sheet, Hamas is a clear winner. Long shunned by the European Union, Israel, and the United States, it has now emerged as a legitimate player. its rival–the Palestinian Authority–was completely sidelined with its foreign minister forced to visit Gaza with an Arab League delegation! The Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmud Abbas did not visit Gaza at all in contrast to the Egyptian Prime Minister and the Tunisian Foreign Minister. Four years ago, when the Israeli’s had launched their last assault on Gaza, the Palestinian Authority had prevented demonstrations in support of the people of Gaza on the West Bank: this time it could not hold back support for Gaza. It was able to launch rockets to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that even the more militarily capable Hezbollah had not contemplated when Israel invaded Lebanon. Hezbollah, itself, by continuing to back Syria’s Bashar al-Assad who is engaged in a murderous internal war to retain his position, has also lost considerable legitimacy in the Arab street. Conversely, on this register too, Hamas by distancing itself from the Syrian regime and moving its headquarters from Damascus to Qatar, emerges stronger.
In the deliberately ambiguously worded ceasefire negotiated by Cairo and Washington, none of the terms insisted by the Quartet–the US, the EU, Russia, and the United Nations—that Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel in return for an engagement were mentioned. Instead, the ceasefire agreement accepted, however vaguely, Hamas’ central demands that targeted assassinations of individuals be stopped and that the border crossings be opened to the free movement of goods and people has been accepted. Whether these agreements will be implemented remains to be seen of course.
Egypt’s newly elected president Mohamed Morsi has emerged as a key regional power weight. less than 48 hours after the Israeil bombardment, he dispatched his prime minister, Hesham Kandil, to Gaza in a show of support and pointedly condemned Israeli aggression. When the United States continued to unflinchingly support Israel, and refusing to engage Hamas, and with Turkey’s prime minister, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, having cut his ties to Israel, Morsi was the only credible interlocutor capable of negotiating a ceasefire. In fact, emboldened by his role in the Gaza ceasefire, Morsi has flexed his political muscle domestically: conferring on himself extensive powers and immunity from judicial overview.
Cementing Hamas’ role as a legitimate regional power has been a defeat for the United States. Once again, as the Israeli assault on Gaza began, President Barack Obama said he “fully supported israel’s right to self-defense” and both houses of Congress passed lopsided resolutions in favor of Israel. Yet, as even the Economist magazine indicated the casualties have been disproportionate.
- Number of Israelis killed by fire from Gaza between January 1st 2012 and November 11th 2012: 1
- Number of Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israeli fire during the same period: 78
- Number of Israelis killed by fire from Gaza, November 13th-19th 2012: 3
- Total number of Israelis killed by rocket, mortar or anti-tank fire from Gaza since 2006: 47
- Number of Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israeli fire from April 1st 2006 to July 21st 2012: 2,879
- Number of people killed in traffic accidents in Israel in 2011: 384
Unable to deal directly with Hamas with which it has no formal engagement, the United States was forced to deal with them through Morsi and thus for the first time in the long history of Israeli occupation of Palestine, the ceasefire was announced in an Arab capital!
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may have thought that another attack on Gaza, less than two months before an election, would have bolstered support for him. But continued international pressure, and the impossibility of stifling Gaza resistance to Israeli oppression compelled him to agree to a ceasefire. A poll found that more than 70 percent of those polled in Israel were opposed to the ceasefire, signaling possibly that Netanyahu had badly miscalculated his pre-election war strategy. No doubt, the US will fund a large part of the costs of the Israeli assault: each interceptor missile fired by its Iron Dome system costs $62,000 and each of the 5 Iron Dome batteries cost $50 million and it plans to deploy a total of 13 batteries. This cost will undoubtedly be borne by the American taxpayers–given the US Administration and Congress’ unconditional support for Israel.
Aid from Qatar and other Arab states–in October 2012, the Emir of Qater was the first head of state to visit Gaza since the tiny coastal enclave was turned into an open air prison by Israel in 2007–will help rebuild its arsenals and the infrastructure, along with of course support from Iran. Moreover, even as Israeli missiles and air-strikes may have devastated its weapons factories and arsenals, by bombing buses, Hamas has reminded Israeli leaders of its extraordinary resilience.
In any preliminary assessment of the Israeli assault on Gaza, Hamas and Morsi have emerged as winners, though at a terrible cost to the people of Gaza–another thing that Netanyahu has to answer for.
Tags: democracy, Human Rights, India
During the last weekend, the entire city of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital came to a standstill as the xenophobic Hindu fundamentalist leader, Balasaheb Thackeray died on Saturday November 17, 2012. A 21-year old woman from Palghar in the neighboring Thane district posted on Facebook, the message:
This was “liked” by another 20 year-old woman, Renu Srinivasan. Shockingly, the two were arrested for “hurting religious sentiments” and by Sunday night, Shiv Sainiks–members of Thackeray’s political party–ransacked the orthopedic hospital of Dr. Abdul Dhada, the uncle of the woman who had posted the original message on FB.
In cold death as in life, Thackeray has been a menace, Since he founded the Shiv Sena–the army of Shiv–in 1966, he has plagued Maharashtra, first, by unleashing campaigns against migrants from South India, and later in the 1990s by vicious anti-Muslim agitations that led to more than 900 deaths, and in this century campaigns against North Indians. His strength stemmed from the Shiv Sena’s unions, which worked with employers to counter–and eventually subdue the more militant trade unions of the city’s textile mills. The Sena also acted as a cultural police targeting Valentine’s day celebrations, Indo-Pakistani cricket matches, and Pakistani writers and artists. Anyone critical of Shivaji, the great Maratha emperor also faced the Sena’s wrath as the historian James Laine found out when he wrote a book about Shivaji, Hindu King in Muslim India. His book was banned first in Maharashtra, and later in all of India, and the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute where he conducted his research was vandalized.
Rather than confronting arguments in a book, the preferred policy of the Indian government is to ban them altogether. Any book–or cartoon–that depicts someone or some community in an unflattering light is banned: recently a textbook that had a cartoon of Ambedkar, the Dalit leader; a novel by Rohinton Mistry; the noted scholar A. K. Ramanujam’s essay on the Ramayana; Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses to name just a few. Banning of books means of course no one in the country can assess the validity of the charges laid against the work in question and why a research institution where an academic consulted books should be vandalized is beyond rational comprehension.
Even then, the case of the arrest of the two women who were arrested in the latest incident should send a chill down the spine of everyone. They had not mentioned Thackeray by name and there are suggestions the arrests were made and the hospital vandalized to settle some local scores. Yet, how these FB posts were singled out among the literally thousands of such posts expressing similar ideas gives great concern.
No one can doubt it is fear that shut Mumbai down: surely one cannot expect the South Indians, the Muslims, and more recently the North Indians to moan the death of a man who persecuted them. What is worse, major political figures from the President of India to Bollywood stars and sporting royalty like Sachin Tendulkar all queued up to pay homage to him on his deathbed!
This is the real legacy of Bal Thackeray. To make political violence so routine that it ceases to outrage. To make the strategy of scapegoating and targeting particular ethnic, religious, or political groups part of the calculus of everyday politics. To make fear and intimidation a legitimate, accepted part of political leadership. And to constantly remind any potential critic, in media or otherwise, of the threat of violent reprisal for saying something that Thackeray and his thugs might not appreciate.
No less part of Thackeray’s legacy is the fact that the political establishment, world of Bombay celebrities, and mediapersons who fawned over him when he was alive as much as they are doing now appear to have quiescently accepted all of this. The curious insistence on journalists addressing Bal Thackeray as ‘saheb’ — imagine, for instance, an article beginning with the words, “Herr Hitler, responsible for the death of millions of German citizens”–merely reflects this legacy.
Only the former Supreme Court of India justice and current Chair of the Press Council of India, Markandey Katju, courageously proclaimed that he could not pay tribute to Thackeray for persecuting his many victims. This too is because
Thackeray did not…come out of nowhere. He was not the creation simply of disaffected subaltern Maharashtrian communities or of middle-class Maharashtrian communities who felt outsiders had snatched what was their due. He represented something central in Indian political society–not an essentialist, ahistorical tendency but a historically produced capacity for using violence as a form of political reason, the absence of a coherent vision of solidarity that could respect similarity and difference, and the many deep failures of the postcolonial Indian state that our exceptionalist pieties about Indian tolerance, coexistence, and secularism often obscure.
They are already talking of constructing a memorial for him in Shivaji Park–imagine what this must indicate to his many victims! Yet another blot on the tattered fabric of Indian democracy
Tags: Egypt, Gaza, Human Rights, international relations, Israel, Middle East, Palestine, United States, US politics, world politics
Nothing illustrates the gulf between the racist complicity of American imperial policy and the humanitarian concerns of the peoples of the world than President Barack Obama’s blanket support for the brutal Israeli aggression visited on the Palestinians in Gaza.Speaking to reporters in Thailand, President Obama said he “fully” supported Israel’s “right to defend itself,” ignoring that the Palestinians launched missiles only after israel assassinated Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military commander. In the first instance, Israel is an occupying power and as such cannot claim to be defending itself against the peoples whom they have dispossessed as Noam Chomsky and others have underlined.
Worse, as Gilad Sharon, the son of the former Israeli prime minister wrote in the Jerusalem Post,
We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.
There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.
Were this to happen, the images from Gaza might be unpleasant – but victory would be swift, and the lives of our soldiers and civilians spared.
And Haaretz reported that Eli Yishai, the Israeli Interior Minister said
The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years.
Israel not only bombed Hamas offices in Gaza even if they were in densely populated neighborhoods and hence virtually certain to lead to massive civilian casualties, but also pro-Hamas news organizations and television stations.
This is the brutal atrocity that the US Administration and Congress is unflinchingly supporting! Supporting the unchecked use of military power supplied by the US against an impoverished and largely defenseless population. In terms of casualties inflicted, the violence done to the Palestianians by Israel is unmatched by all counts.
Israel’s arrogant and murderous assault on the Palestinians is only possible because of the military and diplomatic support of the United States–even though the Israeli prime minister backed Barack Obama’s opponent in the 2012 elections, Obama has neither the moral backbone or the courage to condemn Israeli aggression!
Yet. despite the wanton brutality of Israel’s politicians and armed forces, it is clear that there is no military solution to the problem. Ineffective though they may have been, the missiles launched against Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from Gaza indicate a greater sophistication of Palestinian weaponry. As Rami Khoury noted, this is an indication that time is not on the side of Israel. Continued wanton destruction and murder by Israel will lead to the growth of even more extremist organizations like the several Salafist Islamic organizations that have sprouted up all over the Middle East including Gaza. As Nick Kristof noted in a recent tweet, Israel had initially nurtured Hamas to undermine the PLO–only to suffer a blowback as Hamas became a far more obdurate foe of the Zionist state.
Meanwhile, the Arab Spring and the installation of legitimate governments in Egypt and Tunisia implies that they will not be coopted by the United States to be complicit in the continuing Israeli dispossession of the Palestinians–they may not go to war against a lopsidedly powerful Israel but will find meaningful ways to assist the Palestinian resistance.
Tags: Egypt, Human Rights, international relations, interstate system, Israel, Middle East, Morocco, Palestine, US politics, world politics
Almost four years ago, just before Barack Obama was inaugurated, fearing that the new US president will be less tolerant of Israeli occupation and oppression of the Palestinians than his predecessor, Israel launched a punishing attack on the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009. Now in a little more than 10 days after Obama’s re-election for a second term, in a targeted, extra-judicial strike, the Israeli forces assassinated Hamas’ military commander, Ahmed Jabari, just hours after he had received the draft of a permanent peace agreement with Israel. Despite this wanton sabotage of a peace deal, despite this illegal, extra-judicial murder by the Israeli Defense Force, and its follow up by air strikes, the Obama Administration chose to pick not on these attacks by the most sophisticated and powerful military against a largely defenseless and impoverished people crowded into a barren land but to highlight the few missiles the Palestinians launched in anger and which caused minor casualties. When Morocco and Egypt brought the attacks on Gaza to the UN Security Council, US Ambassador Susan Rice defended Israel’s ‘right to self-defense.”
By what perversion of commonsense can the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians be seen as a fight between two opposing armies? The Israelis are armed with the most sophisticated US weapons, the Palestinians in Gaza are an impoverished people with no formal military aid, their landlocked territory being virtually a prison camp till the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s collaborationist government last year. More Palestinians, many of them women and children were killed by the Israelis on November 14 than the number of Israelis by Palestinian missiles in the last three years. Yet, the mainstream US media continue to highlight the threat to Israel and to underplay, or worse, simply to ignore, the casualties suffered by the Palestinians.
In fact, as Yousef Munayyer writes that while Israeli officials recount the number of rudimentary missiles that the Palestinians fire into Israel–now reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem–these largely fall harmlessly or are intercepted by sophisticated anti-missile defenses. Israeli officials are also notably cagey on the brutal punishment they mete out to the people they occupy:
For example, in 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza have been responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 where women or children, and the injury of 468 Palestinians, of which 143 where women or children. The methods by which these causalities were inflicted by Israeli projectiles breaks down as follows: 57 percent, or 310, were caused by Israeli aircraft missile fire; 28 percent, or 150, where from Israeli live ammunition; 11 percent, or 59, were from Israeli tank shells; while another 3 percent, or 18, were from Israeli mortar fire.
Through September 2012, Israeli weaponry caused 55 Palestinian deaths and 257 injuries. Among these 312 casualties, 61, or roughly 20 percent, were children and 28 were female. 209 of these casualties came as a result of Israeli Air Force missiles, 69 from live ammunition fire, and 18 from tank shells. It is important to note that these figures do not represent a totality of Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza but rather only Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza which cause casualties. The total number of Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza is bound to be significantly larger.
If President Obama, during his first months in office had offered the Palestinians a “new beginning” in their relationship with the United States in a speech in Cairo, now the US Administration appears to have gone back to the old ways of blindly siding with Israel even if its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly supported Obama’s Republican challenger. Given his own targeted extra-judicial assassinations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Yemen, the Philippines and elsewhere, Obama of course has no moral authority to condemn such actions.
Since 1948, the Palestinians have been forced off much of their land and israel’s continuing settlements in violation of international law and a raft of UN Security Council resolutions have confined the Palestinians into ever-narrower bantustans–so much so that even former US President Jimmy Carter was compelled to liken Israeli Occupation to Apartheid. The continuing massacre of the Palestinians now raises one question: will the world allow Israel to implement its Final Solutiion?
Tags: democracy, Human Rights, Labor, US politics
People on the Left, even while criticizing President Barak Obama, often argue that there is no alternative to voting for him. Chameleon-like Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, has disavowed his own greatest accomplishment–the Massachussets health care law that he passed when he was governor of that state–to pander to the hard-right Tea Party wing of the Republican party. A Romney victory, if he does not change his policies once elected and there is no indication that he will, would lead to further tax reductions on the wealthy, an increase in defense spending even though the armed forces do not request it, abject support for Israei’s Benjamin Netanyahu not only against the Palestinians but also for a pre-emptive strike against Iran even though the Israeli defense hierarchy is opposed to it, a rollback of Obama’s signature health care law, massive cuts in domestic spending that will have a disproportionately adverse effect on the poor. It would give the Republicans an opportunity to stack the Supreme Court for many years given that 3 justices are in their seventies and are likely to retire during the next presidential term. A Romney presidency would likely try to reverse Roe v. Wade especially if it can stack the Supreme Court and seek to ban gay marriages and reverse a host of social legislation. As indicated by the third and last of the presidential ‘debates’ on October 22, Romney is likely to continue an aggressive foreign policy.
Yet, because Romney is bad is not cause enough to endorse Obama. As Conor Friedersdorf wrote in the Atlantic Monthly,
If two candidates favored a return to slavery, or wanted to stone adulterers, you wouldn’t cast your ballot for the one with the better position on health care. I am not equating President Obama with a slavery apologist or an Islamic fundamentalist.
Though President Obama’s policies are not as heinous as promoting chattel slavery, as the New York Times reported on 29 May 2012, every Tuesday, the President discusses and personally approves a “kill list,” of targets intended for assassination without trial or due process by drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines and elsewhere. In these “Terror Tuesdays,” without any constitutional or legal mandate, Obama decides on the execution of people on macabre “baseball cards” including those of underage American citizens like the 16 year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki.
Obama’s rapid escalation of the drone war has not only killed thousands of innocent civilians but also probably created more enemies than those killed, apart from ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands–the constant noise of drones circling overhead in Afghanistan and Pakistan, driving people crazy by preventing them from sleeping and making them afraid of a strike at any hour of the day or night.
Domestically, the continuing economic crisis has had a disproportionately adverse impact on African-Americans, but Obama’s 2011 State of the Union speech was the first since 1948 not to mention poverty or the poor as Frederick C. Harris, director of the Institute for Research on African-Americans at Columbia University observed. Daniel Gillion, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that in his first two years in office, President Obama talked less about race than any Democratic president since 1961.
Tags: 21st Century Capitalism, Manufacturing, Political Economy, Production, US Economy, US politics, World-economy
News today that the US unemployment rate dropped in September 2012 to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent in August and is now at the lowest level since President Barack Obama took office will undoubtedly boost his campaign for re-election, two days after his dismal performance in the first debate with his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. If this is good news for the president, the situation is less rosy than it appears. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workers stuck in part-time jobs in September stood at 8.5 million, an increase of 581 million from the previous month and double the level it was in September 2007. Even worse, the number of full-time workers in the US has declined by 5.9 million since September 2007 while the number of part-time workers has increased by 2.6 million.
In fact, if the number of part-timers looking for full-time work, the U6 unemployment rate, is considered, it is unchanged
And as Moira Herbst writes in the Guardian,
It’s distressing to think that after 20th-century labor struggles won the battle for the 40-hour work week, the 21st-century struggle is a fight for enough working hours to make a living wage.
In another report in today’s New York Times, the average number of employees per new firm declined from 7.7 persons in 1999 to 4.7 in 2011. For almost the last half-century, new companies have accounted for the bulk of jobs created in the United States, In fact, without new start up companies, the United States would have seen a growth in jobs for only 7 years since 1977! The numbers of new jobs created by new companies was the greatest in 1999 as a result of the dot com boom and by 2011, it had declined by some 46 percent.
One major result of the decline of full-time employment and the rise of part-time employment is that part-timers are denied virtually all benefits. Without healthcare and other benefits, workers are increasingly compelled to rely on Medicaid and emergency room visits for illnesses and as Herbst noted, this leads to a shift in costs from employers to tax payers. This is of course covered up by both political parties in the United States: the Democrats tout the new decline in unemployment figures but never mention that 6.9 million people were working multiple jobs in the US in September. The Republicans stress cutting taxes–making health care even less accessible to the poor.
Both focus on a middle-class that is rapidly shrinking and not on the increasing numbers of people below the middle class. For them, neither candidate has anything to offer–and therein lies the shame! In today’s politics, the concerns of the masses are silent–the decline of manufacturing not only hollowed out industries but by also kneecapping labor, it has made both major political parties alike–both shifting further and further to the right, and both having nothing to offer to the vast majority of the population.
Tags: Eurozone, Greece, Political Economy, Portugal, Spain, world politics, World-economy
Earlier this week, confronted by massive street protests and criticism from his coalition’s junior partner, the center-right Portuguese Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, reversed his controversial plan for “financial devaluation.” When tax revenues fell by 3.5 percent in the first seven months of this year–due to unemployment rates spiking to above 15 percent–against a projected increase of 2.6 percent for the year, it became apparent that Lisbon would not be able to meet the budget deficit target of 4.5 percent of GDP imposed by the troika of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the Interantional Monetary Fund as a condition for disbursing the next tranche of the €78 billion bailout they promised.
Passos Coelho’s solution to this dilemma was to cut employer’s social security contribution by 5.75 percent and finance this by increasing workers’ contributions by 7 percent. This would have been tantamount to a currency devaluation by significantly reducing unit labor costs and was heralded as a “potential game changer” by the IMF’s Poul Thompsen.
In the continued decline of the country’s GDP and high rates of unemployment, this proposal was condemned by members of the prime minister’s own party as well as by the leader of the junior partner in his coalition–the conservative People’s Party–and by many business leaders as well as of course by more than half a million people who marched in Portugal’s cities in the largest demonstrations since the end of the Salazar dictatorship in 1974.
“We are not the children of the revolution.” their posters said, “We are the parents of the next revolution.” Meanwhile, in Spain, the miners of Asturias have been battling the police for months with rocket launchers, and protestors jn Madrid were met with a fusillade of rubber bullets. With over half the youth unemployed, and the government of prime minister Mariano Rajoy planning to implement deeper austerity measures in order to say that these were taken by their own volition rather than imposed by the troika as a condition for a bailout, the right and the left united in opposition. In recognition of this united opposition, the riot police in Madrid hid their identity badges:
A startling example of police culture came in a tweet from José Manuel Sánchez of the Unified Police Union (SUP). “We support them not wearing badges for violent demonstrators,” he said during the demonstration. “Give it to them hard.” Television pictures of baton charges and rubber bullets suggest they did exactly that.
And in Spain’s second city, a million and a half people led by the provincial government marched for Catalan independence–here it was not merely the demonstrators but the regional legislators who were challenging the post-Franco accord.
Athens exploded as well in a burst of flames as the unions called a general strike grounding flights, shuttering shops, museums, and monuments, and docking ships for hours as over 200,000 people demonstrated outside parliament protesting the new round of austerity measures the three-month old government of prime minister Antonis Samaras. Though details of the cuts were not made public, it was expected to slash pensions, wages and benefits even more.
All across Europe, these riots seem a repetition of the ‘anti-IMF’ riots that raged across Latin America and Asia in the 1980s and 1990s. As Ha-Joon Chang writes
it is ironic to see the European governments inflicting an old-IMF-style programme on their own populations. It is one thing to tell the citizens of some faraway country to go to hell but it is another to do the same to your own citizens, who are supposedly your ultimate sovereigns. Indeed, the European governments are out-IMF-ing the IMF in its austerity drive so much that now the fund itself frequently issues the warning that Europe is going too far, too fast.
Just as the IMF number crunchers did not take into account the people whose livelihoods would be crippled by the savage cuts being proposed by the troika and imposed by their puppets in Athens, Lisbon, Madrid. But as the Gurardian editorialized:
Amid all their talk of haircuts (on debt values) and tranches (of loans), European leaders have barely talked about the people who are bearing the brunt, first of the crisis and then of the throat-clearing that passes for firefighting in Brussels. This is not accidental. The euro project has relied upon draining the politics out of the inherently political: the very existence of a 17-nation economic union without a common treasury is testimony to that.
The protests are now inserting the politics back into the issue–demanding that those who had no part in the financial mess created by the collapse of housing bubbles, bad loans, and high deficits should not bear the price of these costly gambles made by bankers and politicians. it is not merely the question of bad financial regulations–it is the more the question of democracy that is at stake in Europe. The Portuguese reversal of its “financial devaluation” is the first step towards reversing the tide of neo-liberalism! A small step for Portugal, a giant leap for Europe!
Tags: Capitalism, democracy, European Union, financial crisis, Germany, Greece, Political Economy, Spain, United States, world politics
Though it should not have caused any surprise, the news that Eurozone economies had contracted by 0.2 percent in the second quarter of 2012 underscored the deepening economic crisis faced by the 17-state bloc. Though the German economy may have grown by 0.3 percent, France recorded a third straight quarter of no growth, and the Finnish, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish economies all fell sharply. Greece, of course, suffered the steepest fall: 6.2 percent in the second quarter–and was 18 percent below its GDP level in the April-June quarter of 2008.
There is little doubt that the declines have been aggravated by a failure of political imagination. Confronted by budget deficits brought about by high levels of government borrowing and by the collapses of housing bubbles, the creation of a common currency has meant that indebted Eurozone economies have not been able to resort to a currency devaluation to gain a competitive edge. Consequently, the troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund sought to impose an “internal devaluation” on these economies by forcing budget cuts to lower government deficits and wage cuts.
It follows as the night the day that if budgets and wages are cut, the economy will shrink. Lower government spending due to budget cuts means welfare and pension benefits fall, the cost of health care rises, and educational opportunities vaporize. These impact far more adversely on the elderly and the young. With wage cuts, people have less money to spend and this will depress all sectors of the economy–as sales reduce because of lower spending, companies will slash their work forces leading to greater declines in sales and to further cuts in employment. In the most severely affected of the southern European economies, unemployment rates for the youth are already at 50 percent or more. By May 2012, unemployment in the euro zone had already reached 11.1 percent or 17.5 million people and the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that it would rise to almost 22 million in the next four years. And if the euro zone were to break up, the ILO estimates unemployment in the 17-state bloc could reach 17 percent.
The adverse conditions created by the stringent cuts mandated by the troika are aggravated by the greater interest rates imposed on the weaker economies by international financial markets–thus for instance, while Austrian banks and other financial institutions can borrow at 2 percent, Italian banks have to pay 6 percent. As these higher interest costs are passed on by the banks to their borrowers, the cost of doing business in Italy, Spain, Portugal, or Greece increases correspondingly and could even negate the wage cuts imposed by the troika!
The effects of economic contraction will spread to the better performing economies. After all, Germany has been able to have a strong industrial sector because cheaper credit to other eurozone members had allowed them to buy German products while the German small-scale sector–which employs 60 percent of the country’s labor force–did not have to worry about currency movements in other European countries or fear that a strong German mark will price them out of the market in other countries.
As Susan Watkins has written, German lessons on debt repayment are especially galling to the Greeks.
Under the Nazi occupation, a hefty monthly payment was extracted from the Greek central bank to cover the Wehrmacht’s expenses; in March 1942 an additional forced loan of 476 million Reichsmarks was levied by the Axis powers. Greek partisans put up some of the toughest military resistance to the Nazis in Europe; the damage wreaked by the occupiers’ revenge was commensurate. Reprisals were exacted on the civilian population at a rate of fifty Greeks for every German killed. Much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed; forced exports and economic collapse helped bring about one of the worst famines in modern European history.
German occupation (strictly a tripartite occupation since the Italians and the Bulgarians also participated) of Greece also led to hyperinflation–Richard Clogg says it was
five thousand times more severe than the Weimar inflation of the early 1920s. Price levels in January 1946 were more than five trillion times those of May 1941. The exchange rate for the gold sovereign in the autumn of 1944, shortly after the liberation, stood at 170 trillion drachmas.
After the war, the question of German reparations were deferred till German reunification and in the so-called 2+4 (Bonn and Berlin with the US, the USSR, the UK and France) agreement of 1990, Greek claims were excluded. Though several Greek politicians including the current prime minister, Antonis Samaras when he was the foreign affairs minister in 1991, had raised the issue of 476 million marks with the Germans, their demands were summarily dismissed. If this money had, in fact, been paid as the Germans are legally obliged to do, with interest for more than half a century, Greece would no longer be a problem economy.
It is galling too because while ancient historical myths as Greece being the ‘birthplace of democracy’ are routinely trotted out in discussions of the contemporary situation, recent history that people over 70 remember are carefully hidden from view! Be that as it may.
What is crucial is that the crisis demonstrates that capital and finance markets need to be regulated more stringently. It was irresponsible lending that led to high government deficits in Greece and to the housing bubbles in Spain and Ireland, to the subprime crisis in the US, and to the meltdown of the Icelandic economy to mention just the most obvious cases. Financial markets are continuing to demand punitive rates of interest from the weaker economies. The unchecked power of finance must be corralled–or we will enter another great depression just as the obsession with the gold standard led to the depression as Karl Polanyi showed in his Great Transformation.
What is required is a new political imagination not the shrill advocacy of measures that have already aggravated the situation!
Tags: democracy, Human Rights, racism, United States, US Economy, US politics
With alarming regularity, gunmen have been shooting dead innocent people on college and high school campuses, movie theaters, and most recently in a gurudwara (Sikh temple) in the United States. Each gruesome event reignites the debate on gun control, and when the victims are largely from an ethnic minority, issues concerning racism. Gun control and racism, important in their own right, are however merely symptoms of a deeper malaise–the crisis of capitalism in the United States–that is seldom raised in the mainstream media.
In recent years, spurred by propaganda by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the right to bear arms enshrined in the US constitution by the Second Amendment has become almost inviolate. Yet, as Jill Lepore wrote in the New Yorker–in an article that was later plagiarized by Fareed Zakaria–the right to bear arms was seen not as Frankln Delano Roosevelt’s solicitor general argued before the US Supreme Court in 1939
not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state.