Disaster Capitalism in Haiti

From Ashley Smith at Counterpunch:

Aid in Haiti has always been used to further imperial interests. This is obvious when you look at how the U.S. and Canada treated the Aristide government in contrast to the coup regime. The U.S. and Canada starved Aristide of almost all aid. But then after the coup, they opened a floodgate of money to back some of the most reactionary forces in Haitian society.

We should therefore agitate against any attempt by the U.S. and other powers to use this crisis to further impose their program on a prostrate country.

We should also be wary of the role of international NGOs. While many NGOs are trying to address the crisis, the U.S. and other governments are funneling aid to them in order to undermine Haitians’ democratic right to self-determination. The international NGOs are unaccountable to either the Haitian state or Haitian population. So the aid funneled through them further weakens what little hold Haitians have on their own society.  [there’s more]

Naomi Klein:

Readers of the The Shock Doctrine know that the Heritage Foundation has been one of the leading advocates of exploiting disasters to push through their unpopular pro-corporate policies. From this document, they’re at it again, not even waiting one day to use the devastating earthquake in Haiti to push for their so-called reforms. The following quote was hastily yanked by the Heritage Foundation and replaced with a more diplomatic quote, but their first instinct is revealing:
 

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.”

To make donations for earthquake relief in Haiti and ongoing development, check MADRE, an organization that’s been working in Haiti for years and combines its struggle for resources with a rights-based philosophy to advance social justice.
 
UPDATE:  From Chris Floyd at Information Clearing House –
Yes, there will now be a great outpouring of immediate aid, as there always is after any spectacular disaster. And of course, this is laudable, and I encourage anyone who can to contribute what they can to these efforts. But unless there is a sea-change in American policy, unless there finally comes an end to the curse that has been laid on Haiti — not by God, or by the Devil, but by the hard hearts of elites following blindly in the cruel traditions of their predecessors — then this flurry of caring and attention will soon give way again, as it has always done, to callous disregard, brutal repression and inhumane exploitation.

The tale of these cruel traditions — and the “continuity” with them that Obama has already displayed — does not augur well for such a change. But as that wise man, Edsel Floyd, always says, we live in hope and die in despair. And such a hope for Haiti is worth holding onto, and working toward.

At the same time, hope must not be blind; you have to acknowledge the grim realities in order to know just what you’re up against. So let’s take a long, hard look.  [more]

Try Partners in Health for donations to Haiti

UPDATE II:  And the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund

What If?

My capacity to wonder has been damaged recently.  Good thing Rebecca Solnit is still up for it.  Of course, I am a lot older than her.

What if Obama would say what he has to know, what they all have to know, that saving the planet from our slo-mo, unevenly distributed version of Judgment Day requires destroying the status quo and maybe changing everything? What if he’d just learn from Schwarzenegger that you can do quite a lot and still survive politically?

Yes Rebecca.  What if?

There’s much more.

How Indeed?

From Michael Lebowitz:

Thus, a growing circle — a spiral of growing alienated production, growing needs and growing consumption. But how long can that continue? Everyone knows that the high levels of consumption achieved in certain parts of the world cannot be copied in the parts of the world which capital has newly incorporated into the world capitalist economy. Very simply, the Earth cannot sustain this — as we can already see with the clear evidence of global warming and the growing shortages which reflect rising demands for particular products in the new capitalist centers. Sooner or later, that circle will reach its limits. Its ultimate limit is given by the limits of nature, the limits of the Earth to sustain more and more consumption of commodities, more and more consumption of the Earth’s resources.

But well before we reach the ultimate limits of the vicious circle of capitalism, there inevitably will arise the question of who is entitled to command those increasingly limited resources. To whom will go the oil, the metals, the water — all those requirements of modern life? Will it be the currently rich countries of capitalism, those that have been able to develop because others have not? In other words, will they be able to maintain the vast advantages they have in terms of consumption of things and resources — and to use their power to grab the resources located in other countries? Will newly emerging capitalist countries (and, indeed, those not emerging at all) be able to capture a “fair share’’? Will the impoverished producers of the world — producers well aware of the standards of consumption elsewhere as the result of the mass media — accept that they are not entitled to the fruits of civilisation? How will this be resolved?

Read the whole article here

Canada’s Foreign Policy

I’m no nationalist.  Still, I’ve had moments of being proud to be a Canadian because, in the past, we have tended to represent the voice of reason and compassion in foreign affairs and have often been on the side of peace.  The position my country took at the UN this week with respect to the resolution on Israel and Gaza shocked me into paying greater attention to the path Canadian foreign policy has taken in recent years.

Todd Gordon puts all this in perspective.  He says, in part, this:

Canada’s stance on Israel shouldn’t be taken in isolation. It needs to be situated within Canada’s overall foreign policy, which is becoming more belligerent.

Since the early 1990s, Canadian corporate investments have spread at a considerable pace around the globe and into the developing world. Canada ranked eighth among the top foreign investor nations in the world in 2007, and has consistently ranked in the top ten in the last several years. Controlled for the size of its economy, Canada is the second largest investor among G7 nations in the global South. And income earned by Canadian multinationals off of their developing world investments has increased steadily over the last few decades, rising by 535 per cent from 1980 to 2007, for a total of $23.6 billion in earnings in the latter year.

And just like the third world investments of other rich nations, Canada’s are mired in human rights violations and environmental catastrophe. From mining, to oil and gas development, to sweatshop manufacturing, to banking, Canadian companies are systematically engaging in displacement of indigenous peoples from their land, destruction of ecosystems, targeted violence against local resistance to their investments and union busting.

All this is done with the support of the Canadian government, whether headed by Liberals or Tories. The government has facilitated the global expansion of Canadian capital through its aggressive pursuit of structural adjustment policies, one-sided trade and investment agreements and an aid policy designed in large measure to liberalize foreign markets. We also shouldn’t forget Canada’s absolute refusal to establish human rights legislation to govern the foreign activities of its corporations, many of which receive government funding for their predatory activities. Canada has also sought to undermine the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Canada’s view of the world, in other words, is one in which the South is subordinate to the whims and predilections of the North.

Read the whole thing here, at rabble

There isn’t much happening with respect to real leadership on the Israel/Gaza issue.  Michael Ignatieff has made it clear that he’s on Israel’s side and the NDP has nothing to be proud of in this regard either.  It makes sense to understand these positions outside of the idea of our leaders having any particular love for Israel.

Books and Blog Writers On The Economy

The Credit Crunch: Housing Bubbles, Globalisation and the Worldwide Economic Crisis by Graham Turner

From Andrew Jackson at Relentlessy Progressive Economists:

This book argues that the current financial turmoil signals a crisis in globalization that will directly challenge the free market economic model. Graham Turner shows that the housing bubbles in the West were deliberately created to mask the damage inflicted by companies shifting production abroad in an attempt to boost profits. As these bubbles burst, economic growth in many developed countries will inevitably tumble. The Japanese crisis of the 1990s shows that banks and governments may struggle to contain the fallout. The problem has not been limited to the US, UK and Europe: housing bubbles have become endemic across wide swathes of emerging market economies. As the West slides, these countries will see an implosion of their credit bubbles too, shaking their faith in the free market.   [more]  

Canadian economist bloggers:  watch the posts on Relentlessly Progressive Economics

Also watch Worthwhile Canadian Initiative and Shock Minus Control

Here’s Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman at the NYRB with What To Do

And another book recommendation:  John Maynard Keynes and International Relations, Economic Paths to War and Peace by Donald Markwell

Gender Gap

On Wednesday, the World Economic Forum released the 2008 Global Gender Gap Report – here it is in pdf format.

As reported by The WIP, Time Magazine responded this way to the Report:

It’s not just about equality anymore. A country’s economy, health and productivity increase as its gender gap narrows, according to the authors of this study published by the World Economic Forum, the Swiss non-profit that hosts an annual meeting in Davos of world political and business leaders.

Perhaps it’s a bit sad that the principle of equality on its own won’t make for change.  Not to be overly deterministic, the reality is that most change happens when it’s economically necessary.  I’ve noticed that the economic necessity is referred to more regularly these days when it comes to developing countries.  Maybe something will happen then … other than a steady stream of reports that tell women what we already know.

Congo’s Holocaust

Yes, we’ve all been sitting on our butts here in the West while a holocaust rages in Congo.  5.8 million people dead; untold numbers of women raped, gang-raped, forced into pregnancy, infected with HIV and maimed for life.  When I read the history of WW II, I often come across the question, why did we do nothing to stop the mass killing of Jews?  We can ask the same question now:  why have we done nothing, why are we still doing nothing, to stop the holocaust in Congo?  I thought it was never supposed to happen again.

From Johann Hari at The Independent:

The deadliest war since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe is starting again – and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket. When we glance at the holocaust in Congo, with 5.4 million dead, the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a “tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you.

 

Every day I think about the people I met in the war zones of eastern Congo when I reported from there. The wards were filled with women who had been gang-raped by the militias and shot in the vagina. The battalions of child soldiers – drugged, dazed 13-year-olds who had been made to kill members of their own families so they couldn’t try to escape and go home. But oddly, as I watch the war starting again on CNN, I find myself thinking about a woman I met who had, by Congolese standards, not suffered in extremis.

I was driving back to Goma from a diamond mine one day when my car got a puncture. As I waited for it to be fixed, I stood by the roadside and watched the great trails of women who stagger along every road in eastern Congo, carrying all their belongings on their backs in mighty crippling heaps. I stopped a 27 -year-old woman called Marie-Jean Bisimwa, who had four little children toddling along beside her. She told me she was lucky. Yes, her village had been burned out. Yes, she had lost her husband somewhere in the chaos. Yes, her sister had been raped and gone insane. But she and her kids were alive.

I gave her a lift, and it was only after a few hours of chat along on cratered roads that I noticed there was something strange about Marie-Jean’s children. They were slumped forward, their gazes fixed in front of them. They didn’t look around, or speak, or smile. “I haven’t ever been able to feed them,” she said. “Because of the war.”

Their brains hadn’t developed; they never would now. “Will they get better?” she asked. I left her in a village on the outskirts of Goma, and her kids stumbled after her, expressionless.

There are two stories about how this war began – the official story, and the true story. The official story is that after the Rwandan genocide, the Hutu mass murderers fled across the border into Congo. The Rwandan government chased after them. But it’s a lie. How do we know? The Rwandan government didn’t go to where the Hutu genocidaires were, at least not at first. They went to where Congo’s natural resources were – and began to pillage them. They even told their troops to work with any Hutus they came across. Congo is the richest country in the world for gold, diamonds, coltan, cassiterite, and more. Everybody wanted a slice – so six other countries invaded.

These resources were not being stolen to for use in Africa. They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole – and slaughtered. The rise of mobile phones caused a surge in deaths, because the coltan they contain is found primarily in Congo. The UN named the international corporations it believed were involved: Anglo-America, Standard Chartered Bank, De Beers and more than 100 others. (They all deny the charges.) But instead of stopping these corporations, our governments demanded that the UN stop criticising them. [emphasis mine]

There were times when the fighting flagged. In 2003, a peace deal was finally brokered by the UN and the international armies withdrew. Many continued to work via proxy militias – but the carnage waned somewhat. Until now. As with the first war, there is a cover-story, and the truth. A Congolese militia leader called Laurent Nkunda – backed by Rwanda – claims he needs to protect the local Tutsi population from the same Hutu genocidaires who have been hiding out in the jungles of eastern Congo since 1994. That’s why he is seizing Congolese military bases and is poised to march on Goma.

It is a lie. François Grignon, Africa Director of the International Crisis Group, tells me the truth: “Nkunda is being funded by Rwandan businessmen so they can retain control of the mines in North Kivu. This is the absolute core of the conflict. What we are seeing now is beneficiaries of the illegal war economy fighting to maintain their right to exploit.”

See the whole thing here

And see Roxanne Stasyszyn at Dissident Voice:

Most every Congolese citizen will agree that the reason for the instability in Congo is the international influence within their borders. Some point their finger at mineral trafficking. Some point to tribal and historical ‘facts’. Others, like Vital Katembo, claim it is obvious that people are doing harm when they are not achieving what they claim to work for—speaking of the humanitarian aid and conservation sectors—especially when they have the needed resources to accomplish their missions.

No matter where you point your finger or for what reason, the DRC is an international playground filled with extremely dangerous toys and irresponsible playmates. Many times, knowing where to point is simply based on how dangerous it is to point that way.

We Are In Our Hands

We are in a state of global emergency that not enough people recognize:

Few would doubt that we are living at a time of emergency. The world’s population presently stands at 6.7 billion, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. That figure is projected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030. It is understood now just how quickly the earth is warming, because of the increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases arising from human activity. If the earth continues to warm at its present rate, we know what our fate will be, and yet we seem set on destroying ourselves. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in power away from the West; the emergence of China, India and Brazil, with their new wealth and aspirational middle classes, is putting an intolerable strain on the world’s finite resources. As I write the price of oil has reached $128 a barrel. It has never been higher. One need not be a pessimist to predict some kind of Malthusian denouement to the human story if we are unable or unwilling to alter our ways of being: scarcity wars, famine, large-scale environmental degradation.

Likely not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself why there does not yet exist a critical mass of people who are demanding that our governments, local, national and international respond to our state of global emergency.  I believe the answer is complex and thus multi-faceted as well as perhaps still partly hidden.  Perhaps some of us are too comfortable, yet that explains neither the inability of the comfortable to perceive adequately the threat to their comfort and the comfort of their children and grandchildren; nor what is sometimes understood to be the quiescence of those who are far from comfortable yet not powerless.

Just to get started on an answer to that question, for myself, I think that the interests of the very comfortable are fatally aligned with the source of that comfort: global capitalism.  Joel Bakan has written convincingly about the psychopathy of the large scale, usually multi-national and interrelated corporations that advance mercilessly toward the goal of maximum profit with little to no ability to respond to long-term degradation of both the labour force and the environment.  [See The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power and The Corporation Film]

Those who are identified with global capitalism by virtue of their own ability to maximize personal profits may well be engaged in folly or their own psychopathy, having convinced themselves that unregulated capitalism will inevitably prove capable of handling any difficulty thrown in its path, despite the facts; or simply because they’ve lost their ability to care about anything but enriching themselves.

What of those who are merely comfortable and increasingly  less so?  And those who are assumed, by many, to be simply too ignorant to know better, or powerless to do anything about it, though their “comfort” has been seriously compromised?

 From that psychological viewpoint used by Bakaan, I wonder if we aren’t all either suffering from some horrible combination of mass post and ongoing trauma, accompanied by combinations of dissociation, numbness, and learned helplessness; if many of us aren’t simply overwhelmed by the fuel crisis, food crisis, global warming crisis and other forms of environmental threat, unwinnable wars all over the world, various forms of oppression caused by totalitarianism or legitimated coercion and resulting inroads into the power of democracy and the rule of law as well as failing economies in the West and just general malaise.  To what should we pay attention?  Whom should we believe about both the proper identification of the sources of our problems and adequate resolutions?  What avenues of power can we access to force our leaders into addressing our problems?  What forms of organization will draw us into effective alliances across lines of gender, race, “class”, ability, ethnicity and nationality?  Can we address all of the emergencies at once or do we need to prioritize them?  If the latter, how do we prioritize such an impressive and pressing batch of emerging issues?

Just asking the questions can be overwhelming and depressing in itself.  It can lead to outright despair when we realize that our means of collective thinking, decision making and action have been seriously eroded by the advances of “post modern” capitalism.  We are more and more forced back upon ourselves.  We no longer live or meet together as communities of people living or working together in the same numbers that we did when we actually had cohesive neighbourhoods and communities; fewer and fewer of us are organized into unions of working people who can identify interests and act together to force the changes we need.  The complexity and amount of information  we need to gather and synthesize in order to craft realistic solutions is unheard of in history.  Post modern life keeps us busier and more distracted than we’ve ever been.

At the same time, we are discovering new ways of organizing and connecting with each other through advancing technologies.  I do believe that we will, inevitably, act on behalf of humanity and the planet and all it holds.  My question is, will we do it in time?  And when I ask that question, yet another question surfaces:  in time for what?  At this point in the questioning, I come to rest on hope and the small contributions each of us makes to the greater good.  And at this point, I wish I believed in a beneficent creator who has the best in mind for each of us and for all.  But I believe that “we” are in our own hands.  And I believe that is the most difficult thing to accept of all the things we face.

WTO Talks

Robert Weissman from Z-Space on the collapse of the trade talks:

Predictably, the cheerleaders for corporate globalization are bemoaning the collapse of World Trade Organization negotiations.

“This is a very painful failure and a real setback for the global economy when we really needed some good news,” said Peter Mandelson, the European Union’s trade commissioner.

Even worse, says the corporate globalization rah-rah crowd, the talks’ failure will hurt the developing world. After all, these negotiations were named the Doha Development Round.

“The breakdown of these talks is bad news for the world’s businesses, workers, farmers and most importantly the poor,” laments U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue.

But don’t shed any tears for the purported beneficiaries of the WTO talks. If truth-in-advertising rules applied, this might have been called the Doha Anti-Development Round.

The alleged upside of the deal for developing countries — increased access to rich country markets — would have been of tiny benefit, even according to the World Bank. The Research and Information System for Developing Countries points out that Bank analyses showed a successful conclusion of the Doha Round would, by 2015, increase developing country income in total by $16 billion a year — less than a penny a day for every person in the developing world.

The World Bank study, however, includes numerous questionable assumptions, without which developing countries would emerge as net losers. One unrealistic assumption is that governments will make up for lost tariff revenues by other forms of taxes. Another is that countries easily adjust to import surges by depreciating their currencies and increasing exports.

In any case, the important point is that there was very little to gain for developing countries.

By contrast, there was a lot to lose.

The promise to developing countries was that they would benefit from reduced agricultural tariffs and subsidies in the rich countries. Among developing nations, these gains would have been narrowly concentrated among Argentina, Brazil and a few other countries with industrial agriculture.

What the spike in food prices has made clear to developing countries is that their food security depends fundamentally not on cheap imports, but on enhancing their capacity to feed themselves. The Doha rules would have further undermined this capacity.

“Opening of markets, removal of tariffs and withdrawal of state intervention in agriculture has turned developing countries from net food exporters to net food importers and burdened them with huge import bills,” explains food analyst Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute. “This process, which leaves the poor dependent on uncertain and volatile global markets for their food supply, has wiped out millions of livelihoods and placed nearly half of humanity at the brink of hunger and starvation.”

Farmers’ movements around the world delivered this message to government negotiators, and the negotiators refused to cave to the aggressive demands made by rich countries on behalf of agricultural commodity-trading multinationals. Kamal Nath, India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, pointed out that the Doha Development Round was supposed to give benefits to developing countries — especially in agriculture — not extract new concessions.

The immediately proximate cause of the negotiations’ collapse was a demand by developing countries that they maintain effective tools to protect themselves from agricultural import surges. Rich countries refused the overly modest demand.

And agriculture was the area where developing countries were going to benefit.

The rough trade at the heart of the deal was supposed to be that rich countries reduce market barriers to developing country agricultural exports, and developing countries further open up to rich country manufacturing and service exports and investment.

Such a deal “basically suggests that the poor countries should remain agricultural forever,” says Ha-Joon Chang, an economics professor at the University of Cambridge and author of Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. “In order to receive the agricultural concession, the developing countries basically have to abolish their industrial tariffs and other means to promote industrialization.” In other words, he says, developing countries are supposed to forfeit the tools that almost every industrialized country (and the successful Asian manufacturing exporters) has used to build their industrial capacity.

In sum, says Deborah James, director of international programs for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, this was a lose-lose deal for developing countries. “The tariff cuts demanded of developing countries would have caused massive job loss, and countries would have lost the ability to protect farmers from dumping, further impoverishing millions on the verge of survival,” she says.

By the way, it’s not as if this is a North vs. South, rich country vs. poor country issue. Although there have been multiple lines of fragmentation in the Doha negotiations, the best way to understand what’s going on is that the rich country governments are driving the agenda to advance corporate interests, not those of their populations. That’s why there is so little public support for the Doha trade agenda, in both rich and poor countries.

Says Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch: “Now that WTO expansion has been again rejected at this ‘make or break’ meeting, elected officials and those on the campaign trail in nations around the world — including U.S. presidential candidates — will be asked what they intend to do to replace the failed WTO model and its version of corporate globalization with something that benefits the majority of people worldwide.”