Free Market Ideology = Corporate Welfare in Practice

And of course, Big Corn is not the only pig at the trough. Monbiot runs down the list:

  • Advanced Technology Program which was supposed to promote high-tech innovation in a non-competitive environment (and here I thought competition was the engine of innovation) and instead funnels boatloads of $$ to IBM, General Electric, Dow Chemical, Caterpillar, Ford, DuPont, General Motors, Chevron and Monsanto.

  • Foreign Military Financing program which gives money to other countries to buy weaponry from American manufacturers (but it’s to make the world safer from the terrorists!!).
  • The Department of Defense and the always hilarious (since Reagan) Missile Defense Shield (between $120bn and $150bn so far and still not working).

  • USAid: 80% of its grants and contracts go to US companies.

  • And then there is the tax code whose loopholes are extremely favorable to corporations:

So please, there is no such thing as free market in the US corporate world. The only free market prescriptions in place imposed on workers. They are the ones placed in competition with 15-year old girls working in sweatshop in Bangladesh. They are the ones who should get their health care on the market because it is sooo much more efficient. They are the one who should not expect assistance from the government because, you know, that fosters dependency and we don’t want that. If the government provided comprehensive social services, all these poor women (read: non-white) would pop kids non-stop just to collect benefits.

Ultimately, for Monbiot, it all goes back to the power of big money in politics.

And so, the rule remains privatization of profits and socialization of risks… for the wealthy and the corporations. This is a form of social Darwinism where corporations, banks and the wealthy are implicitly perceived as having greater social value than you and I. So, they need to be protected and defended against their own egregious behavior.

Class warfare is alive and well.

And as both political and economic institutions face a major crisis of legitimacy (to use Habermas‘s expression), one can expect the usual response: an increase in surveillance and repressive mechanisms as well as more deals behind closed doors.

Ogaden – The Forgotten Dirty Little War

Burnt villages, displaced populations, mass rapes, assassinations… does this sound familiar? This has become the usual pattern of new wars. Except this one does not receive any publicity and it takes place in Ethiopia, in the Eastern region of Ogaden where the Ethiopian military has been conducting operations for a little over a year.

Human Rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have raised the alarm since June, denouncing a conspiracy of silence and accusing the Ethiopian military of war crimes:

The full report is here.

Here, as in Darfur, we find peoples from different ethnic background, a Somali pocket in Ethiopia. The situation is also an overflow of the disintegration of Somalia. When in January 2007 Somali Islamic courts were defeated, they reorganized themselves into guerillas. The Ethiopian army confronted them on Mogadishu while smaller extremist groups continued to operate in Somali regions.

This surge in activity on the part of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), created more than 20 years ago, is attributed to the Ethiopian intervention into Somalia (with the blessings of the international community and especially the US). Initially, the Ethiopian army was supposed to be relieved by an international force. To this day, the African Union has sent 3,000 soldiers whereas the UN has not sent any blue helmets. The US policy has been to placate Ethiopia, the only ally they have in this region where Sudan and Erythrea are open hostile to Washington. And so, everybody keeps quiet as to what goes on in Ogaden.

For instance, the Ethiopian military controls food aid, so, villages that are suspected to support the ONLF are not receiving food distributions. While the ONLF accuses the Ethiopian government of starving Ogaden, even the World Food Program acknowledges that the humanitarian situation of Somali populations is critical and deteriorating. A few weeks ago, Doctors Without Borders announced it was leaving Ogaden because they are unable to provide medical care. A year ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross was kicked out of the region for alleged support for the rebels.

So, as the military operations have decreased because the Ethiopian government claims to have defeated the ONLF. However, it still does not allow NGOs to operate as they want in the region and are under strict governmental control.

And all this, of course, has to be added to the current famine in Ethiopia where food aid is urgently needed, in the context of rising food prices and a major drought that has left 5 million people in a desperate situation there. So, on the one hand, Ethiopia is a country dependent upon international aid and organizations but on the other hand, it expects to be able to exercise internal policy without control or accountability. A not uncommon dilemma for African countries.

The Failed Bailout Was a Good Thing

Don’t listen to the pundits. Congressfolks were probably swamped with emails and phonecalls and a lot of them are up for reelection… damn "people", they screwed up the big Obama-Paulson plan.

As always, Ian Welsh explains:

"Over the last 30 years the US had a class war , and the middle class lost almost every battle. Congress’s refusal yesterday to spend over $700 billion bailing out the nation’s richest people did not confirm that the US was a banana republic, as Paul Krugman would have us believe, where the top 1% of the population steals from the poor and the small middle class to take for themselves.

On the contrary, the bailout’s failure signals that America rejected the opportunity to solidify its role as the world’s largest plutocracy — a country run by the rich for the rich. This was the most significant victory against US plutocracy in 30 years.

The US has been trending towards plutocracy for over three decades . From being the Western nation with the most social mobility, America went to being the country with the least. From having the least inequality in the Western world it went to the most. The amount of money the rich had ballooned to Gilded Age levels and the middle class didn’t get a single raise . Families went from being able to support themselves with one wage earner to needing two.

There has never been a better time to be rich in America. In the last decades the truly rich have gone from merely flying first class to owning their own jets. They’ve gone from earning 20 or 30 times what a normal employee earns to taking home tens of millions of dollars every single year—even when they are running the company, and the country, into bankruptcy.

Congress after Congress, Administration after Administration systematically stripped rules and regulations from the financial system to make more and more leverage and thus more and more profits possible. Tax levels on the rich collapsed and unearned income was taxed at lower and lower rates, while those who earned their money by the sweat of their brow instead of buying securities were taxed much more.

In other words a huge amount of money was very deliberately transfered by government from the working class to the rich. As Jesse Wendel points out , this transfer of wealth only accelerated in the Bush years, where most of the debt run up was for tax cuts for the rich, and most of the rest was for a war which certainly didn’t benefit ordinary Americans, but did enrich companies like Halliburton—that just coincidentally had connections at the highest political levels.

The US has been run, for over 30 years, for the benefit of the rich. The financial sector, which once accounted for about 10% of the economy’s profits, burgeoned to about 40% based on loose money, deregulation and so-called "free" trade—which was no such thing. These profits, as Kevin Phillips among others has explained at length, were chimerical, illusionary, a sign of America’s weakness and not strength.

The Paulson bill was to be the capstone. While billed as 700 billion it actually allowed much money to be spent than even that. If it had been passed, the US government would have effectively promised to take on all the losses of the financial sector and to bail out the rich on the back of the poor and middle classes. It was to be the final act in the descent to American Plutocracy: the capstone law which made it formal "the rich can never lose, only the middle class. The rich are the most important people in this economy and must be protected at any cost to anyone else."

The markets are now panicking, and we are being told the end of ages are coming. And there’s some truth to that: if Congress holds firm on this and then goes on to write and pass a bill which takes care of Main Street rather than Wall Street, then the end of an age is indeed happening; since the financial sector had become so large, so parasitical on the real economy, the end of that age is going to hurt a ton. The US has spent decades offshoring and outsourcing jobs, not rebuilding infrastructure properly, ignoring education, not dealing with fundamental problems like energy supplies, letting its universities work for for short term corporate cash instead of long term gains, and so on. The real economy, in other words, has been under invested even as the financial economy has sucked up all the room. Financial companies promised 15% returns, normal companies were forced to try and do the same, but the reality is almost no company can deliver that without fraud, extremely risky business practices, or both."

Click on these links in the post and read the whole thing.

Of Goddesses and Lady Saints

Ok, let me just say this, I find this ridiculous… I mean, it’s a great job and all but still:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/indias-hugging-saint-embraces-a-military-target-946125.html

India’s hugging saint embraces a military target – Asia, World – The Independent via kwout

50,000 hugs a freakin’ day?? Good grief. Again, there are tougher jobs but I can’t believe people buy that… plus there’s the personal hygiene question… I mean, having 50,000 rubbung themselves against you every day… Yuck.

Actually, it’s not totally stupid:

""There had been a lot in the media about the number of suicides in the military and Amma wanted to help," said Swami Nijamrita, one of her followers, who is overseeing the project.

"The response has been great. We did not expect such a response," he added. "We thought people would take part because they had been told to but they say that the classes make them feel more peaceful." The free lessons involve a combination of yoga and meditation that Amma drew up specifically for the troops. Mr Nijamrita said at least 25,000 soldiers had already taken part in the sessions and more were planned.

Not having fought a full-scale war for decades, India’s million-plus army appears to lose more troops to suicide than it does in domestic insurgencies, civil riots and border skirmishes. Experts say the growing levels of stress are probably the result of low morale, poor working conditions, insufficient home leave and bad pay.

Mr Nijamrita said the sessions enabled troops to stay focused on the task in hand. "For us, being peaceful does not mean being unable to react. It means being centred and not being distracted by other things," he added.

Amma, 55, whose adopted name means "Mother of Absolute Bliss", is well known for her humanitarian work. In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, her organisation donated a billion rupees (£12m) to the relief effort. It also helped the relief effort after the Pakistan earthquake in October 2005.

Born to a low-caste family in a poor fishing community, Amma reportedly refused either to go to school or get married, preferring to meditate. She was still young when she started hugging devotees. In the early 1980s she founded an ashram for her followers and persisted with hugging people as means of easing their woes.

What an interesting concept, though, promoting peacefulness as focus and not passivity or apathy.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7642798.stm

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Maoists appoint ‘living goddess’ via kwout

This is a bit surprising considering an earlier ruling by Nepal’s Supreme Court that scrapped the status of ‘living Goddess" and stated that the designated girl must go to school and that keeping the girl locked up in a palace is a violation of her basic rights. And even in the name of culture and traditions, that is not acceptable according to the Court. However, the government reversed its position and has now authorized the appointment of a new Kumari, one who passed ritual tests and possesses 32 beauty traits. She will rule until she menstruates… after that, she gets the shaft (ain’t that typical).

The Children of Forgotten Wars – Democratic Republic of Congo

Sadly, Samuel’s story is fairly typical of what happens to young boys in the DRC, forced to become child soldiers. But they are not the only victims: women and girls are systematically raped and victims of all sorts of sexual violence.

Sexual violations are indeed a defining trait of new wars, it is a weapon of war, used publicly with the deliberate purpose not only to humiliate and degrade the women and girls but the men as well. It was used systematically by Bosnian Serbs in a similar fashion as part of the campaigns of ethnic cleansing. The ultimate goal is the destruction of entire social communities (see also similar cases in Darfur).

And according to Amnesty’s report, abductions are on the increase:

The full report is here.

“The Century of Migrating Peoples”

Antonio Guterres (Wikipedia page), Un High Commissioner on Refugees, gave an interview to Le Monde at the occasion of the UN General Assembly meeting to discuss the question of climate refugees, a status yet not legally recognized.

If there is a debate on climate change (big "if"), there is, according Guterres, no debate concerning the implications of climate change on forced migration. For lowering of every centimeter of the oceans, one can expect one million displaced people. Such an impact will be direct (as in droughts, natural disasters, the disappearance of islands. Or it will be indirect, such as the increased competition for access to water.

So, we can already start discussing the question of hunger refugees and climate refugees even though these have no legal recognition. Victims of war are already protected by the 1951 Refugee Convention, but hunger and climate change have now to be treated as sources of forced displacement. And the processes that cause such displacement will only accelerate. The 21st Century, as Guterres puts it, will be the Century of Migrating Peoples… or Peoples on the Move and the international community is not ready for it. The only measures that nations have taken so far is to increase border controls and restrict access. It is all in vain if the causes of such displacements are not addressed.

In the absence of clear legal status, there exists mechanisms of cooperation with the UN system but there is a need for more systematic protection of these population. What is the solution when island-states disappear? These people cannot become stateless. They have to be placed somewhere with some degree of protection of their culture and identity.

The problem is even worse when governments do not let humanitarian agencies help internally displaced people, as is the case in Darfur, but also in Myanmar. For Guterres, it is a scandal that these governments have to be begged to let humanitarian agencies help their citizens. And all the talk of humanitarian intervention and of the "responsibility to protect" has been damaged by the war in Iraq as more countries have become suspicious that the "responsibility to protect," recognized by the UN General Assembly, is just a coverup for Western domination. This concept of protection need to be reactivated.

In addition, the current food crisis have not improved the situation. There are currently 11 million refugees and 27 million displaced people because of conflicts. These people need food air, mostly provided by the World Food Program, which, we know, is already struggling because of high food prices. Guterres notes that it is profoundly immoral to not have too much trouble finding $700 billion to save the financial system, but it is incredibly difficult to fin just $1 billion to support agricultural production on the poorest countries. This really shows where the priorities.

[My editorial comment] The poor can starve, but Wall Street gamblers have to be bailed out.

Back to the question of refugees, Guterres insists that nation-states have not only the responsibility for the security of their citizens but they also need to define their own migration policies and have an obligation to provide protection to those in need; this includes refugees and asylum seekers who need to be able to physically access the territories where they seek protection. And as countries tighten their border controls, it is more and more difficult for these people to exercise their rights under international statutes.

Now, up until 2006, there have been a reduction in the annual number of refugees as some conflicts, such as Sierra Leone or Liberia, finally came to an end. But since then, there has been an intensification of conflicts, either in less visible parts of Central Africa (DRC), or in very visible areas, such as Afghanistan, Somalia or Sudan. As these conflicts intensify, the numbers of IDPs and refugees increase again.

Now, where have these people gone? There is no European invasion. The vast majority of refugees live in the Global South: Pakistan, Iran or Syria, for instance. Their goal is to go home when the security situation permit it. The racist and ethnocentric rhetoric of invasion in core countries is not supported by facts and reality. However, such fears of global migration (especially from South to North) fuel global nationalistic ideologies that certain political parties in the North can tap into to build a social basis of support.

Afghanistan’s Most Famous Policewoman Assassinated in Kandahar

Kandahar, as the article indicates, is a Taliban stronghold. Malalaï Kakar, 40, mother of 6, was in charge of the Division of crimes against women at th Kandahar police department. She had received threats from the Taliban before. Herself the daughter of a police officer, she had fled the country when the Talibans had taken over but had returned in 2001. She had then become the first woman police officer.

Two years ago, Malalaï Kakar refused to wear the burqa and never went out without her weapon and in the company of a male relative. Police officers are especially targeted by the Talibans in the current wave of violence. In the past 6 months, 720 police officers have been killed. A policewoman had already been assassinated by the Talibans last June in the Western part of the country.

This is part of a clear pattern that indicates that living conditions are still precarious for women in Afghanistan, especially those that challenge the traditional gender role… or cages where the Taliban would like to have them confined.

Best Explanation of the Crisis I’ve Seen

By RDF over at European Tribune:

"Two guys standing nearby get into a discussion and Fred says to Sam, "I’ll bet you $5 that Joe wins his bet."

Next to them are Bill and Bob. Bill says: "I’ll bet you $10 that Fred welshes on his bet if he loses."

Next to them is Sally. Sally says: "For $3 I’ll guarantee to Bill that if Bob fails to pay off, I’ll make good on the bet."

Sally then goes to Mary and borrows the $7 needed in case she has to ever pay off and promises to pay back $8. She doesn’t expect to every have to pay since she believes Bob will always make good. So she expects to net $2 no matter what happens to Joe.

A quick calculation indicates that there is now 2+5+10+3+7 = $27 riding on the outcome of the horse race.

Question how much has been "invested" in the horse race?

Answer:

$50,000 by the owner of the horse who is expecting to recoup his investment from the winnings of the horse and other future deals. Everyone else is gambling, not investing.

The issue with the home market is that the only "investor" was the person who bought the home. All those engaged in the meaningless derivatives spun off from this are gambling. You can see how quickly the face value of all these side bets can exceed the underlying investment. Who is holding these side bets – not the homeowner? It is the people at the failing investment banks, hedge funds and similar enterprises. Notice that the bailout is being directed at them not the homeowners.

The real world is, of course, even more complicated. Over the last 30 years people have been allowed to place bets on everything starting with the value of stock averages. They might as well bet on the temperature in Newark at 8:00 AM.

So when you hear everybody saying this is a crisis caused by the housing collapse, be skeptical. We are in the midst of a classic pyramid or Ponzi scheme and there is no way out except for people to lose a lot of money. All that is different this time is that it is the taxpayers who are being asked for the cash."

Emphasis mine.