Apr 052013

Global Research

BRICS Summit draws clear red lines on Syria, Iran


The BRICS just became impossible to ignore.  At the close of the Fifth annual BRICS Summit in Durban, South Africa last week, there was little question that this group of five fast-growing economies was underwriting an overhaul of the global economic and political order.

The eThekwini Declaration issued at summit’s end was couched in non-confrontational language, but it was manifestly clear that western hegemony and unipolarity were being targeted at this meeting.

The BRICS hit some major western sore spots by announcing the formation of a $50 billion jointly-funded development bank to rival the IMF and World Bank. Deals were signed to increase inter-BRICS trade in their own currencies, further eroding the US dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

A series of unmistakable challenges were dealt to old world leaders: reform your institutions and economies – or we’ll do it ourselves.

Intent on filling a leadership void in global economic and financial affairs, the BRICS also began to draw some firm political lines in the sand.

For starters, the summit was focused on development in Africa – a resource-rich continent where competing economic interests have drawn increasingly polarized geopolitical battle lines in the past few years. The BRICS were invited to the African table via their newest member state, South Africa, and have used this opportunity to fully back the African Union (AU).

The AU has been Africa’s attempt to integrate and unify the continent economically – via the establishment of a single currency and development fund that could bypass the very punishing IMF – and militarily – via the establishment of security/defense organizations and joint military forces, among other things.

AU success would necessarily mean less old-style western imperialism in the region, reducing exploitative foreign economic activities and excluding foreign forces like the US military’s African Command (AFRICOM) from engaging in the African military theater.

At the heart of the Summit’s agenda lies the BRICS’ determination to anchor any emerging global order in “multilateralism” – whether by demanding permanent seats within the UN Security Council, forging alternative economic constructs that will shift the balance of power their way, or proactively influencing outcomes in global conflict zones.

Syria and Iran 

The Durban summit therefore was not going to ignore the two most prominent issues on UN Security Council’s docket – Syria and Iran.

Last week, the BRICS collectively rejected any further militarization of these problems, advocated political solutions negotiated through diplomatic initiatives, expressed concern over unilateral sanctions and warned against infringement on the “territorial integrity and sovereignty” of these nations.

The eThekwini Declaration says about Iran:

“We believe there is no alternative to a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. We recognize Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue.”

And on Syria, the BRICS fully backed the Geneva principles as the framework for resolving the two-year conflict:

“We believe that the Joint Communiqué of the Geneva Action Group provides a basis for resolution of the Syrian crisis and reaffirm our opposition to any further militarization of the conflict. A Syrian-led political process leading to a transition can be achieved only through broad national dialogue that meets the legitimate aspirations of all sections of Syrian society and respect for Syrian independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty as expressed by the Geneva Joint Communiqué and appropriate UNSC resolutions.”

The BRICS positions on Iran and Syria cannot, however, be viewed solely within the parameters of the summit’s declaration. For starters, the statement is nothing new – the BRICS have been advocating these points in some form or another since they issued their first foreign policy communiqué in November 2011.

To understand the depth and breadth of commitment behind these Mideast stances, one needs to look beyond the sanitized, diplomat-speak of the summit environment. India, Brazil and South Africa, for instance, don’t offer up much commentary on Syria and Iran – they leave that to their UNSC permanent-member colleagues in Russia and China, who are the BRICS’ front-men on these issues.

Earlier in March, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow on his first foreign trip as head of state, and told audiences there: “We must respect the right of each country in the world to independently choose its path of development and oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”

A clear warning against aggressive western interventionism, Xi’s visit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin emphasized the importance of their “strategic partnership” in geopolitical affairs.

On Syria, in particular, Russia has taken the BRICS lead with the blessing of its fellow members – including China – so Moscow’s view of the situation is a critical one to analyze.

The Russians have recently released a concept paper on the importance of their participation in the BRICS – a view that is likely to reflect similar priorities at the highest levels of fellow member states.

BRICS drawing red lines

Putin and Xi say the one way to end the Syrian crisis is through dialogue [Xinhua]

Putin and Xi say the one way to end the Syrian crisis is through dialogue [Xinhua]

For all the BRICS, financial and economic considerations are the driving momentum behind the formalization of this strategic coalition. There is, say the Russians, “a common desire of BRICS partners to reform the obsolete international financial and economic architecture which does not take into account the increased economic power of emerging market economies and developing countries.”

But for fundamental economic shifts to take place, a simultaneous rebalancing of political power worldwide must also occur.

Moscow believes that the BRICS “can potentially become a key element of a new system of global governance primarily in the financial and economic areas. At the same time, the Russian Federation stands in favor of positioning BRICS in the world system as a new model of global relations, overarching the old dividing lines between East and West, and North and South.”

It’s a bold new world, but there’s real value in some of the old ways. For one, the BRICS are big proponents of the Rule of Law in global affairs, concepts the West often tosses around, but rarely adheres to in pursuit of its own strategic interests, i.e. interventionism, regime-change, militarization of conflict.

For the Russians, an absolute BRICS priority is “building on the commitment by the participating states to the rule of law in international relations, to progressively expand the foreign policy cooperation with BRICS partners in the interests of peace and security with due respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states and non-interference in their internal affairs.”

The BRICS are backing the UN model to help achieve these basic principles. For them, the vehicle is not what is broken – the problem lies with its drivers. And in particular, the notion that regime change, sanctions and military intervention are acceptable tools in international affairs.

The BRICS, according to Moscow, can “enhance in every possible way interaction within the UN as well as to preserve and strengthen the UN Security Council’s role as a body bearing the primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security; to prevent the use of the UN, first of all the Security Council, to cover up the course towards removing undesirable regimes and imposing unilateral solutions to conflict situations, including those based on the use of force.”

As an aside, it’s hardly a coincidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sent a widely-reported letter to the BRICS during the Summit. Here, after all, was the head of state of a sovereign nation requesting the help of the newly-ascendant BRICS in protecting the territorial integrity of Syria by rebuffing ”blatant foreign interference” in contradiction of the ”UN Charter.”

That letter hit all the BRICS soft spots: Rule of Law in international relations, preservation of global peace and security, peaceful resolution of conflict, de-militarization … and recognition of the importance of the BRICS in the new world order.

Assad’s letter came one day after the Arab League gave Syria’s seat away to an external-based opposition coalition backed by Syrian foes – a move the Russians called “unlawful and invalid” and a hindrance to the peaceful resolution of the conflict.

It may be that BRICS intended to set an example here. Receiving this letter at the summit clearly bestows legitimacy on Assad and his claims – and it is hard to imagine that this was not an event coordinated in advance.

Moscow’s positions on the Syria issue cannot be seen out of the context of these shared BRICS principles. The Russians may have more at stake in what is going on in Syria – as others do in Iran – but these are consistent red lines in what the BRICS hope to achieve globally.

And they are willing to bet on it too. Part of the wager is that faltering western economies are so far gone on their current trajectories, that only “time” is required for these global shifts to materialize.

In any regard, shortly after the Summit concluded Russia vowed to prevent any measure in the UN Security Council to give Syria’s seat to the opposition.

The potential for chaos looms large though as a new political order emerges, and as a collective the BRICS will not be shy about pushing their agendas hard – a task made easier by the considerable clout they now share.

On his flight back from Durban to Moscow last Thursday, Putin ordered surprise large-scale military maneuvers in the Black Sea, which borders Syrian-foe Turkey – a move most observers took as a warning for foreign interventionists in Syria.

It is unlikely that BRICS nations would go to such lengths to draw red lines and not defend those positions. How this would transpire in the cases of Syria or Iran is uncertain – it is unlikely we are going to see a BRICS army fighting battles anytime soon. On the other hand, these strategic relationships are likely to give way to coordinated military positions and some special forces planning for exactly these kinds of scenarios.

This is not hard to fathom. BRIC was just an acronym created by Goldman Sachs to describe some fast-growing emerging economies a few years ago. Today, they are engaged in bilateral military exercises, funding banks, building institutions, and remapping global priorities for the 21st century Continue reading »

Jan 202013

Global Research
Paul Craig Roberts

American Flag

Those concerned about “The New World Order” speak as if the United States is coming under the control of an outside conspiratorial force. In fact, it is the US that is the New World Order. That is what the American unipolar world, about which China, Russia, and Iran complain, is all about.

Washington has demonstrated that it has no respect for its own laws and Constitution, much less any respect for international law and the law and sovereignty of other countries. All that counts is Washington’s will as the pursuit of hegemony moves Washington closer to becoming a world dictator.

The examples are so numerous someone should compile them into a book. During the Reagan administration the long established bank secrecy laws of Switzerland had to bend to Washington’s will.

The Clinton administration attacked Serbia, murdered civilians and sent Serbia’s president to be tried as a war criminal for defending his country. The US government engages in widespread spying on Europeans’ emails and telephone calls that is unrelated to terrorism. Julian Assange is confined to the Ecuadoran embassy in London, because Washington won’t permit the British government to honor his grant of political asylum. Washington refuses to comply with a writ of habeas corpus from a British count to turn over Yunus Rahmatullah whose detention a British Court of Appeals has ruled to be unlawful. Washington imposes sanctions on other countries and enforces them by cutting sovereign nations that do not comply out of the international payments system.

Last week the Obama regime warned the British government that it was a violation of US interests for the UK to pull out of the European Union or reduce its ties to the EU in any way.

In other words, the sovereignty of Great Britain is not a choice to be made by the British government or people. The decision is made by Washington in keeping with Washington’s interest.

The British are so accustomed to being Washington’s colony that deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and a group of UK business executives quickly lined up with Washington.

This leaves Great Britain in a quandary. The British economy, once a manufacturing powerhouse, has been reduced to the City of London, Britain’s equivalent to Wall Street. London, like New York, is a world financial center of which there are none in Europe. Without its financial status, there wouldn’t be much left of the UK.

It is because of the City’s financial importance that the UK, alone of the EU member states, kept the British pound as its currency and did not join the euro. Because the UK has its own currency and central bank, the UK was spared the sovereign debt crisis that has plagued other EU member states. The Bank of England, like the Federal Reserve in the US, was able to bail out its own banks, whereas other EU states sharing a common currency could not create money, and the European Central Bank is prohibited by its charter (at Germany’s insistence) from bailing out member states.

The quandary for the UK is that the solution to the sovereign debt crisis toward which the EU is moving is to strip the member governments of their fiscal sovereignty. For the individual countries, the spending, taxing and, thereby, deficit or surplus positions of the member countries’ budgets will be set by EU central authority. This would mean the end of national sovereignty for European countries.

For Britain to remain an EU member while retaining its own currency and central bank would mean special status for Great Britain. The UK would be the only member of the EU that remained a sovereign country. What are the chances that the UK will be permitted such exceptional status? Is this acceptable to Germany and France?

If the British are to fold themselves into Europe, they will have to give up their currency, central bank, their law, and their economic status as a world financial center and accept governance by the EU bureaucracy. The British will have to give up being somebody and become nobody.

It would, however, free the UK from being Washington’s puppet unless the EU itself is Washington’s puppet.

According to reports, sometime this year Scotland, a constituent part of the UK, is to vote on leaving the UK and becoming an independent country. How ironic that as the UK debates its dismemberment the country itself faces being merged into a multi-national state. Continue reading »

Jan 032013

Webster Tarpley

In Charles Dickens’ celebrated short story A Christmas Carol (1843), the Malthusian miser and London stock exchange speculator Ebenezer Scrooge is told by the ghost of his deceased partner Jacob Marley that “it is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and traveled far and wide” for the purpose of doing good works of charity and thus alleviating human suffering.

In this spirit, let us briefly examine the economic condition of humanity at the close of 2012.

Our finding is sadly that the ongoing world economic depression continues to increase the needless privations of the vast majority of the inhabitants of this planet. The great scourges of mankind remain poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, disease, unemployment, homelessness, inadequate sanitation, low social mobility, and exclusion — and many of these are getting worse.

27,000 children die each day from needless poverty

The tragic condition of humanity is perhaps most dramatically reflected in the fact that between 22,000 and 27,000 children die each day due to poverty, largely in the form of starvation, malnutrition, and diseases like diarrhea which can be cured for a few pennies. The upper end of this range corresponds to one needless childhood death caused by poverty every three seconds. Total needless childhood deaths from poverty, these data suggest, must be approaching at least 10 million per year – a yearly total which by itself rivals any of the great genocides of world history. Of the 2.2 billion children who live in today’s world, one billion live in poverty. This is the estimate from the most recent United Nations Human Development Report.

And these figures only include children. Estimates for total daily avoidable mortality, including children, suggest a level of 40,000 to 50,000 fatalities per day — for a yearly hecatomb of over 18 million deaths.

We need look no further for the severest condemnation of the existing economic systems of the world, including especially the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Bank for International Settlements, the Asian Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the international system of privatized central banks, and similar entities.

Three billion people on less than $2.50 per day

These deaths occur in the world in which about a billion people try to survive on less than one dollar per day. 2.6 billion people or 40% of the world’s population are struggling to subsist on less than two dollars a day. It is a world in which a total of 3 billion people or 50% of the world total must try to get along on less than $2.50 per day. For all the talk of a growing middle class made possible by globalization, 80% of humanity receives less than $10 per day. At the other end of the scale, the most prosperous 20% of the world’s population account for 75% of total world income, and this distribution becomes even more extreme when permanent assets are considered.

Almost a billion malnourished worldwide

Closely correlated with needless death and needless immiseration is the problem of world hunger. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome, there are in 2012 some 925 million persons experiencing hunger and malnutrition. Some 578 million of the hungry live in the Asian and Pacific countries, followed by 239 million malnourished in sub-Saharan Africa. Even in the developed countries, the FAO lists 19 million hungry. We should recall that, in the United States, some 50 million people rely on food stamps for their survival, meaning that they may have as little as $1.50 to spend per meal and per person.

The FAO’s world hunger estimates are very likely too low. This agency assumes that world hunger was about at its current level in 2008, and then rose to over one billion people in 2009, before returning to approximately the 2008 level in 2010. but this may turn out to be wildly optimistic, and perhaps deliberately so.

Another big factor in economic immiseration is the current high level of world unemployment. Here the statistics are even sketchier. The CIA assumes a world unemployment rate of 9.1%. The United Nations International Labor Organization (ILO) sets this rate at about 6% — meaning about 200 million current jobless — but at the same time concedes that in many developed countries – such as the United States and the nations of the European Union – the combined figure for unemployment and underemployment is in the neighborhood of 30%. These are depression levels by any reckoning.

Especially dramatic is the situation of youth unemployment. According to the ILO, almost 70 5 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were unemployed, yielding a global youth unemployment rate of 12.7%, up one full percentage point from pre-depression levels. Young people are currently three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. In Greece and Spain, 50% of youth are jobless.

The ILO notes a global tendency for discouraged workers to drop out of the labor market in despair, thus disappearing from the official unemployment statistics on which these estimates are based. Almost 29 million workers dropped out of the labor force in 2011, according to their figures, On a world scale, more and more of those previously employed are now exiting the labor force: The employed portion of the population has declined from 61.2% in 2007 to 60.2% in 2010. This is no ordinary shrinkage, but rather represents the largest decline recorded since these statistics started being kept in 1991. The ILO thinks that this data series is headed for a double dip, with a new all-time record low set to be registered during 2013.

The ILO concludes that the world requires a minimum of 600 million new productive jobs to be created over the coming decade. This is once again doubtless a lowball estimate, but at least gives some basis for programmatic discussions. Who could finance the creation of 600 million new productive jobs, with the high level of capital investment per job which this implies? Surely it cannot be the private zombie banks, which barely manage to keep themselves and their mass of toxic, kited derivatives in existence through massive infusions of money from governments and privatized central banks. It is unlikely to be the national treasuries, which are already under heavy pressure to maintain the existing social safety nets. As the Woytinsky-Lautenbach program and the experience of American Lend-Lease suggest, capital investments on such a scale can only come through the nationalization of the central banks, requiring them to provide the necessary trillions in 0% long-term loans and bonds for infrastructure, manufacturing, construction, energy production, agriculture, scientific research, and other productive activities.

1.1 billion lack clean water

This work is especially urgent because the lack of modern hard and soft infrastructure plays a central role in the continuing immiseration of mankind. Fully 1.1 billion people in developing countries today lack adequate access to clean water. One third of all children, or 640 million kids, exist without adequate shelter. One fifth of all children, or a total of 400 million, do not have access to safe water. One seventh of all children, or 270 million, are denied access to adequate health services.

The United Nations report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2013, published on December 18, 2012, points to a significant slowdown in the already anemic levels of world economic activity. This reflects first of all the devastating impact of the austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank, and European Commission (the “troika”) on the depression-stricken economies of southern Europe. It also tries to factor in the grave danger of a similar deflationary shock in the United States, under the rubric of the “fiscal cliff,” imposed by reactionary Republicans and Obama’s Wall Street Democrats. Another major factor is the marked downturn of the Chinese economy, a byproduct to a large extent of the ongoing recessions in much of Europe.

Political instability rooted in economic immiseration: Egypt

The world economic depression has of course been a major factor in the youth unemployment and food price inflation which have played a central role in the destabilizations commonly known as the “Arab Spring.” Those destabilization had been prepared by the austerity demands of the IMF on countries like Libya and Syria. As the imperialists had intended, the new regimes left in the wake of those destabilizations are weaker than their predecessors, and thus even more likely to sell out to the demands of the international financiers. A case in point is the new Egyptian government of Mohammed Morsi. Morsi capitulated to the IMF on the critical question of food and fuel subsidies in the last week of November, setting the stage for a major crisis of his regime. Under Morsi’s sellout to the IMF, the price of a liter of gasoline has gone from 2.75 Egyptian pounds to five Egyptian pounds – a price hike sure to cause riots in any country. The IMF has forced Morsi sea to set a goal of reducing fuel subsidies by one third, cutting them by $5 billion to a level of about $11.4 billion. At the same time, Morsi is supposed to increase the sales tax as part of a transition towards a value added tax (VAT), which translates into a massive shift towards regressive taxation, the most socially destructive type. In addition, new levies on personal property and telecommunications our plan. This is the freshest example of what not to do.

What the world needs, by contrast, is a decisive repudiation of neoliberal economics, a rejection of austerity measures, and a reaffirmation of the priority of a social safety net, combined with measures to shift the cost of the world depression off the backs of working people and onto the parasitical bankers who created the depression in the first place. The centerpiece of a world recovery program will be the nationalization of the existing central banks and their transformation into Hamiltonian national banks dedicated to providing masses of extremely cheap, long term loans and bond purchases for the purpose of reviving infrastructure and a broad array of tangible, physical production, thus turning the world economy away from the hyper-financialization and casino economy of recent years.

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Nov 202012

Testosterone Pit

The Eurozone debt crisis is exacting its toll. Convoluted undemocratic taxpayer-funded bailouts of bondholders and banks designed to keep the Eurozone together can’t kick the can down the road far enough. But the price has been huge, and people have expressed their anger in massive protests. Now, these efforts are also tearing up the fabric of the 27-member European Union: the first one out may be the UK.

If offered a referendum, 56% of the British would vote for a UK exit from the EU (with 34% definitely and 22% probably). Only 30% would vote to keep the UK in the EU. It wouldn’t even be close! It would be a landslide. Thus, if it came to a referendum today, the UK, a cornerstone of the EU, would bail out.

The EU has little patience with the will of the people. In most member states, decisions such as ratification of EU treaties, scrapping one’s own currency, or bailing out holders of sovereign bonds are made by parliamentary vote. But in instances, when people were finally given a vote, they had a nasty tendency to surprise the elite—the politicians, bankers, and unelected bureaucrats that run the show.

The Lisbon Treaty, the chef d’œuvre of the EU’s political elite, was supposed to repeal existing treaties and replace them with a European Constitution that would transfer significant national sovereignty to unelected EU bureaucrats and their institutions. Negotiations started in 2001, and by 2005, a majority of member states had ratified it by parliamentary vote.

But in France, the people got an opportunity to ratify it by referendum—after parliament had passed it with 93% of the votes. What should have been a cakewalk turned into an epic battle that split the Socialist Party in two. And the people, who loved their sovereignty and wanted to hang on to it, “unexpectedly” killed the thing by a margin of 55% to 45%. In the Netherlands, a similar scenario played out. 2005 was the year that referendum became a dreadful word in the European political lexicon.

The lesson was unforgettable: don’t let the riffraff decide. Such matters should be handled by politicians, bankers, and unelected bureaucrats. And so they did damage control. Many of the measures in the failed constitution were revived as reforms in a watered-down treaty. That was in 2008. As a precaution, the uppity people in France and the Netherlands weren’t allowed to vote on it. Irish voters were, however. And they killed it. They too wanted to hang on to their sovereignty.

But then the financial crisis hit. The Irish got scared. Their banks were in trouble. The economy was going south. So the referendum was re-run after the Irish government had negotiated some concessions, and the people changed their mind (the treaty became effective December 1, 2009).

European politicians dread a referendum more than anything. It threatens their power. Early November last year, at the margin of the G-20 meeting in Cannes, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou tried to use that fear to extort more bailout money from taxpayers elsewhere. So he lobbed a single sentence with the most powerful threat he could think of: a referendum in Greece. He wanted to let the people vote on the austerity measures that would strangle them.

The threat knocked financial markets around the globe into a tailspin. The Euro plummeted. Italian and French yields spiked. It gave birth to a new word: papandemonium.

But it was dealt with swiftly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy summoned Papandreou to a French dinner. Afterwards, a dour-faced Merkel and a grimacing Sarkozy set out to squash the referendum. They’d cut off bailout payments, they said. And for the first time, they verbalized Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. It was a tour de force.

Parliamentary chaos broke out in Greece. Politicians in Papandreou’s own party rebelled against him. He got kicked out of office. And by the time the caretaker government took over, the referendum had been buried. Politicians just hate the idea of giving people an opportunity to muck up their delicate plans that had been hashed out with such finesse behind closed doors and had been laced with beautiful side deals.

That hasn’t changed. Not even in the UK. In one of the innumerable EU ironies, Prime Minister David Cameron, like all reigning EU politicians, would do everything in his power to stymie the efforts to hold a referendum. And if unable to stop it, he’d campaign with all his might to keep the UK inside the EU, though it would alienate a big part of his own voter base and much of the public.

The British have their reasons for being leery of EU governance that is encroaching more and more on their turf. Yet the EU has united 27 countries whose people had been waging war on one another long before the concept of nation state had even been invented. In that respect, and in many other respects, the EU has been a phenomenal success. Then the debt crisis erupted. And now that family of nations is threatening to tear itself apart over the euro that has become a religious dictum, and no price is too high to save it. Read….  The Curse Of The “Irreversible” Euro.

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Nov 162012

Output drops across single currency bloc as economists warn of no early end to crisis

The Independent
Ben Chu

The eurozone has double-dipped back into its second recession in three years, official figures confirmed yesterday – and analysts warned economic pain across the single currency will continue well into 2013.

Output across the 17-member bloc fell by 0.1 per cent over the third quarter of 2012, following a 0.2 per cent decline in the second quarter, according to Eurostat.

The picture across the Continent was uneven with France and Germany both eking out 0.2 per cent growth between July and September, while The Netherlands and Austria showed declines. Meanwhile, the crisis-hit states of Spain, Italy and Portugal, which have been in recession all year, shrank once again. Protesters in all three countries took part in anti-austerity demonstrations on Wednesday.

Economists predict weakness among the currency bloc’s southern states to drag Germany and France into recession too in the coming months, with most expecting Europe’s dominant economy to register negative growth in the fourth quarter of the year.

The European Commission has forecast that the bloc will shrink by 0.4 per cent over the course of 2012 and expand just 0.1 per cent in 2013.

The slowdown is making it more difficult for eurozone member states to hit their targets under the Fiscal Compact, which compels them to bring deficits down to 3 per cent of GDP.

The European Commission, which polices the Compact, showed some signs of flexibility on deficit reduction this week when the EU economic commissioner, Olli Rehn, said that Spain would not be required to make more cuts this year to compensate for being thrown off course by recession. But he added that Brussels would “look at every country case by case”.

Paul De Grauwe of the London School of Economics said that the latest downturn had been brought on by the drastic spending cuts already enacted in southern Europe.

“We are getting into a double-dip recession which is entirely self-made,” he said. “It is a result of excessive austerity in southern countries and unwillingness in the north to do anything else.”

Steen Jakobsen, the chief economist at Saxo Bank, agreed, saying: “This was totally expected because of austerity policies combined with world growth slowing down and a fall in activity in Germany and the Netherlands.”

Separate figures this week showed the Greek economy shrank at an annual rate of 7.2 per cent in the third quarter, up from 6.3 per cent in the previous three months. The International Monetary Fund yesterday reiterated its call for the European Central Bank and the European Union to write off more of the country’s debt.

“The IMF has done what it needs to do in the context of its framework,” the fund’s spokesman William Murraysaid. “Clearly there has to be other actions taken to reach debt sustainability.”

Athens’ public debt is expected to hit 190 per cent of GDP next year. Greece is facing a sixth-successive year of contraction in 2013.

There was, however, a flicker of good news for Ireland yesterday as the Fitch credit rating agency upgraded its outlook for the country’s BBB sovereign bonds, citing its success in cutting the deficit and return to capital markets.

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Nov 082012

In These Times
Rebecca Burns

Is a debt strike the future of Occupy?

Though the Occupy camps have disbanded, many organizers believe they’ve found the next big tent under which the year-old movement can regroup: debt. At the one-year anniversary celebration of Occupy Wall Street, members of the group Strike Debt distributed 5,000 free copies of a “Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual.”

Debt, Occupiers argue, is a new way of understanding what sets the 99% apart from the 1%. With wages remain- ing stagnant as the cost of living has increased, workers increasingly finance their day-to-day lives on a deficit. An estimated 75 percent of households now carry some amount of debt. And the problem goes even deeper: Creditors ranging from seedy sub-prime lenders to the International Monetary Fund have the power to compel cities, states and entire nations to forgo basic necessities in order to fulfill their promissory notes.

Could this new offshoot of Occupy reignite the movement? In These Times organized a dialogue about the prospect of a modern-day debtors’ revolt—and how the creditors might fight back. Participating were Pam Brown, an organizer with Strike Debt; Jodi Dean, professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute; and Peter Rugh, an organizer with theOccupy Wall Street Environmental Solidarity working group. 

Most Occupiers have been reluctant to organize the movement around any one overarching issue. What’s the potential benefit of focusing on debt?
Jodi: The issue of debt is typically embedded in the austerity agenda. Debt, whether our nearly unfathomable national debt or debilitating personal debt, supposedly signifies a will too weak to sacrifice present pleasures for future benefits. And in a country so punitive that weakness of any sort invites cruelty and condemnation, debt has given Republicans—and Democrats tripping over themselves in their race to the Right—an opportunity to inflict pain on “the 47 percent” by cutting much-needed benefits and services. So Strike Debt’s move to claim debt as a cause for the Left is a welcome change.
Pete: It would be a mistake to understand Occupy as a single-issue movement focused on debt. For example, OWS Environmental Solidarity is helping coordinate direct actions against fracking and other forms of extraction. But there is a symbiotic relationship between the exploitation of the planet and the exploitation of people, and debt is a useful lens for this. The question we ask by focusing on debt is “Who owes who?” We are all owed a future, but we aren’t going to get one if we accept that Wall Street is entitled to cash in on the investments it’s already made in wrecking the planet.

What are the challenges of organizing people as debtors—rather than as workers, women or others who have been the basis of mass movements?
Jodi: The individual quality of debt makes a collective response a big challenge. Unlike the factory, where worker encounter one another daily, debtors accumulate debt—and face the consequences of default—privately. That others are in the same boat may feel reassuring, but it doesn’t change one’s credit score. And because it’s often hard to figure out who actually owns a loan, it will be hard to organize and target debtors’ actions.
Pam: It’s true that debt is much harder to organize around than the collective grievances of the workplace. But that’s why, as the power of labor declines, figuring out how to build a debt resistance movement is so important.
During the Red Scare, federal support for increased home ownership was considered vital to the project of combating Soviet influence. While nothing longer than a five-year mortgage existed before the Great Depression, homeownership shot up once the government began insuring loans for home building and home buying. The 30-year mortgage was created, and it was an axiom of the time that a homeowner encumbered by years of mortgage debt was less likely to go on strike. So the acceleration of our indebtedness, and its erosion of collective action, was in many ways a response to the power of worker solidarity.
So what could a collective response to debt look like?
Mike: While the language of “striking debt” is important and provocative, there are a number of problems that a strike against paying debts to creditors would encounter.
In a factory strike, workers have leverage because the bosses and owners are losing money and want the factory to resume running. But creditors often want people to miss the first payment so they can charge fees and penalties, and third-party collection agencies get a windfall through defaults on student loans. This raises the question: If a debt strike takes the form of encouraging people to miss payments or default, how can it be effective in an industry that would likely cheer such a move?
There’s also the question of retribution. Your boss can’t work against your renting a house or getting a phone in a different city five years down the road because you went on strike, but your creditor can. So part of the project will be thinking of new ways of imagining a strike.
Pam: On the horizon is a Rolling Jubilee, where we will be purchasing defaulted debt and legally abolishing it. We are also in the process of building an international organization analogous to a union. In the same way factory strikes improved conditions, withdrawing from the debt system opens up space to reclaim our future. 
Pete: The fact that Pam is proposing an “organization analogous to a union” without fear that her bicycle will get keyed shows how far Occupy has come from a vehement fear of codifying anything. But this effort may require organization to a greater extent than we’ve seen so far. 
Is a campaign against debt in part an argument for a stronger welfare state?
Jodi: Debilitating medical and student debt are the result of a market approach to medicine and education. So if Strike Debt grows, we could see demands for free healthcare and free universities. Once people stop thinking of banks as entitled to interest and fees, then we may also decide as a society that public sector workers, pensions and basic infrastructures are more important than playing the bankers’ game.
Mike: Strike Debt could serve as the basis for a campaign to reestablish education, health, civic infrastructure and income maintenance as part of our basic commons, not to be auctioned off for the benefit of the few.
One challenge is that the government is also increasingly on the other side of these debts, and the same powers that make it a good provider of social insurance make it a vicious debt collector. The government can outwait even the most resistant of student loan debtors. There are more and more stories about senior citizens pushed into poverty or having their Social Security checks garnished to make student loan payments. Strikes work against factories because eventually the capital owners need the factory to start working again, but there’s no indication that this leverage exists with the debts governments stand behind. Factor in how law enforcement is increasingly acting as a front line of debt collection, and this is a poisonous combination.
Occupy has to this point resisted making demands. But could a broad demand for something like debt cancellation advance the movement at this stage?
Pam: Many of us believe that cancellation of some sort is inevitable; the question is who will have their debts canceled and who will not. But I don’t think we’ll see one demand, even as it relates to debt, coming out of Occupy.

Pete: One year into the movement, we need to sustain the bonds that have been forged between Occupiers working on different issues in different parts of the world. How do we do this without demands? We shouldn’t be afraid of raising “mini-demands” under the broad banner of Occupy, whether we are student debt resistors or environ- mental activists fighting nuclear power. Together, we are all demanding a more just and sustainable world.Help Us Transmit This Story

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Nov 062012

Weekly Standard
Daniel Halper

A chart from the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee shows that “U.S. Per Person Debt [Is] Now 35 Percent Higher than that of Greece.

“According to estimates from the International Monetary Fund, America’s total government debt will be $16.8 trillion by the end of the calendar year, compared to $441 billion for Greece,” the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee explains. “On a per person basis, that means U.S. debt is $53,400 for every man, woman, and child, compared to $39,400 for every man, woman, and child in Greece. The disparity between per capita debt in the U.S. and Greece has grown 40 percent (roughly $8,400) since 2011. Now, U.S. per person debt is 35 percent higher than that of Greece, and is also higher than per capita debt in Portugal, Italy, or Spain (which together with Greece make up the so-called PIGS countries).”

IMF calculates these figures based on total government debt, which is federal, state, and local government debt. IMF does not include intragovenmental debt, which is debt issued and owned by the federal government. However, Treasury data shows U.S. gross federal debt, including intragovernmental debt but excluding state and local debt, at $16.2 trillion, meaning that U.S. per person gross federal debt exceeds total Greek debt by an even wider margin (as well as that of every other Eurozone nation). Under the President’s budget, gross federal debt will rise to $25.4 trillion by 2022, according to White House projections. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have refused to present any budget plan for consideration at all, skirting federal law.

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Nov 022012

Funding for the European Union has sparked a rebellion in the British Parliament.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s own Conservative backbenchers dealt him the worst defeat since he took power in 2010.

Eurosceptic Tories joined forces with the opposition and voted for cutting the UK’s cash flow to Brussels.

Mark Pritchard believes the EU is inefficient and that Britons should get the chance to vote on whether to stay part of it…

RT LIVE http://rt.com/on-air

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Oct 182012
Global Research
Ben Schreiner

The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet

With signs of a global economic downturn mounting, US aggression across the Middle East and North Africa ratchets up. And once again, US imperialism stands poised to swing open the gates of Hell.

The choice presently confronting humanity, then, is one between imperialism on the one hand, and the struggle against imperialism on the other. 

Global Capitalism Imperiled

According to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook report released last week, the “risks for a serious global slowdown are alarmingly high.” The report projects the world economy to expand just 3.3 percent this year and 3.6 percent in 2013—both projections down from the IMF’s July forecast. As Joseph Davis, chief economist at the Vanguard Group, cautioned to the Wall Street Journal, “The odds of a global recession are not fully appreciated.”

Indeed, for as the Financial Times reports, the Tracking Indices for the Global Economic Recovery, the Brookings Institution-Financial Times index of the world economy, finds severe problems “in both advanced and emerging markets.”

“The global economic recovery,” Brookings’ senior fellow and index creator Eswar Prasad warned, “is on the ropes.”

And though in its latest report the IMF continued to peddle the harsh elixir of austerity for the depressed economies of the euro zone periphery, the Fund also came to tacitly acknowledge the limits of austerity.

“The IMF now says global efforts to slash deficits and debt may have hurt growth because they occurred too quickly and too widely,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

But with the limits of austerity as a means of resolving the present crisis apparent, the last remaining card for the capitalist elite to play in their attempt to regenerate global capitalism appears to be in unleashing the forces of “creative destruction” wrought by military aggression. As Henryk Grossman warned in his Law of Accumulation, “The destructions and devaluations of war are a means of warding off the immanent collapse [of capitalism], of creating a breathing space for the accumulation of capital.”

It is thus out of the need to renew the impetus for capital accumulation that the iron fist of US imperialism gains free rein once more across the full spectrum of what American neo-conservatives deem the “arc of instability.”

US Imperialism on the March

According to the New York Times, the Pentagon is readying military strikes in Libya in retaliation for the September attack on the US compound in Benghazi. As the paper reports, “The top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is compiling so-called target packages of detailed information about the suspects.”

“Potential military options could include drone strikes, Special Operations raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden and joint missions with Libyan authorities.”

The Times goes on to report that the Pentagon is also rushing to train and equip a 500 member Libyan commando force to be used to combat “Islamic extremists” within the country.

At the same time, the Pentagon has reportedly dispatched a task force of 150 military “planners” and “specialists” (i.e., special operations troops) to a Jordanian military base along the Jordan-Syria border. Speaking at a NATO conference in Brussels last week, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that the task force was sent to help Jordan “monitor chemical and biological weapons sites in Syria.”

The specter of chemical weapons has been increasingly used as a pretext by the Atlantic powers to threaten military intervention into Syria. As President Obama declared in August, the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would be a “red line,” which would force him to change his “calculus” on intervention.

“Once again, Western powers are digging deep for excuses to intervene militarily in another conflict-torn Middle East country,” an editorial in the state-run Xinhua news agency of China read in response to Obama’s threat.

Sure enough, as the New York Times reported, discussions have already taken place over using the Jordanian-stationed US task force to help establish a buffer zone within Syrian territory.

(In addition to the deployment of troops along the Jordan-Syria border, CIA operatives are presently active along the Syria-Turkey border, facilitating the flow of arms to rebel forces. Meanwhile, a recent report in the Los Angeles Times noted that the US military is currently using aerial surveillance drones to monitor Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles.)

Of course, the stepped up targeting of Syria cannot be decoupled from the joint Israel-US campaign against Iran. After all, as hawks Michael Doran and Max Boot argue in a New York Times op-ed, the first reason American intervention in Syria is now merited is because it “would diminish Iran’s influence in the Arab world.”

The road to Tehran, we see, may very well lead through Damascus; although, the urge to fly non-stop to Tehran may just prove too strong to resist.

Marching Toward Tehran

With Iran clearly in mind, the US and Israel are set to begin a massive three-week joint missile and air defense exercise later this month. The exercise, Business Week reports, will include 3,500 US personnel and 1,000 members of the Israel Defense Forces, making it the largest joint military exercise held between the two nations. The planned war game also occurs amid mounting speculation of a looming strike against Iran.

According to a report in Foreign Policy by David Rothkopf, the US and Israel are actively planning a joint “surgical strike targeting Iranian enrichment facilities.” Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy, cites his source as stating that “the strike might take only ‘a couple of hours’ in the best case and only would involve a ‘day or two’ overall.”

The strike, Rothkopf quotes an “advocate” of an attack as stating, would have a “transformative outcome: saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.” This, of course, being the essence of the proverbial neo-con wet dream.

Remarkably, Rothkopf even goes as far as to triumph the idea of a “surgical strike” as a potential October Surprise Obama could use to propel himself back to the White House.

It appears now, however, that Rothkopf’s “report” may have been little more than a plant by the Israeli embassy in Washington. A move, perhaps, intended to further coerce Obama into adopting a more hawkish stance on Iran, while simultaneously serving to downplay the risks of an attack.

Of course, peddling the notion of a so-called “surgical strike” on Iran is nothing particularly new. In March, Jeffrey Goldberg reported for Bloomberg that Israeli talk of striking Iran had assumed a rather optimistic tenor.

“One conclusion key [Israeli] officials have reached,” Goldberg wrote after a trip to Israel, “is that a strike on six or eight Iranian facilities will not lead, as is generally assumed, to all-out war.”

(One cannot help wonder if the Rothkopf and Goldberg share the same source.)

Such assessments, though, are rather dubious, given that they directly contradict numerous assessments determining that any strike against Iran would quickly spiral into a regional conflict. A report earlier this year in the New York Times, for instance, noted a war game simulation run by the Pentagon forecast that an Israeli strike “would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead.”

Likewise, a September war game organized by Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, resulted in a dangerous escalation from both sides. As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported, “The game showed how easy it was for each side to misread the other’s signals.”

“Misjudgment was the essence of this game,” Ignatius continued. “Each side thought it was choosing limited options, but their moves were interpreted as crossing red lines. Attacks proved more deadly than expected; signals were not understood; attempts to open channels of communication were ignored; the desire to look tough compelled actions that produced results neither side wanted.”

“War,” as Clausewitz wrote, “is the province of danger.”

Toward Barbarism

US imperial dreams, however, are hardly confined to setting the Middle East ablaze. Imperial ambitions—rooted in the capitalist logic of endless expansion—are inherently limitless. Thus, we see the US today readying to propel the greater Middle East into the abyss, while simultaneously “pivoting” to the Asia-Pacific in order to “contain” a rising China.

US imperialism, however, is destined for defeat (and sooner rather than later). The US, after all, can only use its immense military power to keep potential competitors in check for so long. The universal law of change cannot be held at bay by the barrel of a gun in perpetuity. As Lenin asked and answered in his pamphlet Imperialism: “Is it ‘conceivable’ that in ten or twenty years’ time the relative strength of the imperialist powers will have remained unchanged? Absolutely inconceivable.”

But imperial powers are always dangerously deluded by the strength of their power—impervious to its ultimate limits. As a George W. Bush administration official once remarked to the journalist Ron Suskind: “’We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

(One would be mistaken to believe that such hubris is not as present in the Obama White House as it was in the Bush administration.)

Such arrogance from the power elite—indicative of imperial rot—is but a byproduct of the imperialist imperative of endless expansion and conquest. And it is this very imperative that today compels US imperialism towards igniting a military conflagration in the Middle East threatening to ensnare the global powers. “A great cemetery,” as Luxemburg warned nearly a century ago, awaits such a triumph of barbarism.

The only means with which to elude such a miserable fate is found in the revolutionary power of working people to resist. As Luxemburg argued, escape from barbarism is only possible once the working class comes to seize “its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey to the ruling classes.”

The only genuine and enduring hope for humanity, then, lies is in the struggle for socialism.

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