Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Obama and Romney Are the Same on Imperial Grand Strategy

by , October 06, 2012 


Despite the sharp charges and counter-charges about foreign policy there are no important differences on such matters between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney. The back and forth between the candidates on international issues is largely about appearance not substance.

The Washington Post noted on Sept. 26 that the two candidates “made clear this week that they share an overriding belief – American political and economic values should triumph in the world.” Add to that uplifting phrase the implicit words “by any means necessary,” and you have the essence of Washington’s international endeavors.

There are significant differences within the GOP’s right wing factions – from neoconservatives and ultra nationalists to libertarians and pragmatic realists – that make it extremely difficult for the Republicans to articulate a comprehensive foreign/military policy. This is why Romney confines himself to criticizing Obama’s international record without elaborating on his own perspective, except to imply he would do everything better than the incumbent.

Only nuances divide the two ruling parties on the principal strategic international objectives that determine the development of policy. Washington’s main goals include:
  • Retaining worldwide “leadership,” a euphemism for geopolitical hegemony.
  • Maintaining the unparalleled military power required to crush any other country, using all means from drones to nuclear weapons. This is made clear in the incumbent administration’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and the January 2012 strategic defense guidance titled, "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense."
  • Containing the rise of China’s power and influence, not only globally but within its own East Asian regional sphere of influence, where the U.S. still intends to reign supreme. Obama’s “pivot” to Asia is part of Washington’s encirclement of China militarily and politically through its alliances with key Asian-Pacific allies. In four years, according to the IMF, China’s economy will overtake that of the U.S. – and Washington intends to have its fleets, air bases, troops and treaties in place for the celebration.
  • Exercising decisive authority over the entire resource-rich Middle East and adjacent North Africa. Only the Iranian and Syrian governments remain to be toppled. (Shia Iraq, too, if it gets too close to Iran.)
  • Provoking regime change in Iran through crippling sanctions intended to wreck the country’s economy and, with Israel, threats of war. There is no proof Iran is constructing a nuclear weapon.
  • Seeking regime change in Syria, Shia Iran’s (and Russia’s) principal Arab ally. Obama is giving political and material support to fractious rebel forces in the civil war who are also supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The U.S. interest is in controlling the replacement regime.
  • Weakening and isolating Russia as it develops closer economic and political ties to China, and particularly when it expresses opposition to certain of Washington’s less savory schemes, such as continuing to expand NATO, seeking to crush Iran and Syria, and erecting anti-missile systems in Europe. In 20 years, NATO has been extended from Europe to Central Asia, adjacent to China and former Soviet republics.
  • Continuing the over 50-year Cold War economic embargo, sanctions and various acts of subversion against Cuba in hopes of destroying socialism in that Caribbean Island nation.
  • Recovering at least enough hegemony throughout Latin America – nearly all of which the U.S. dominated until perhaps 15 years ago – to undermine or remove left wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
  • Significantly increasing U.S. military engagement in Africa.
Both the right/far right Republican Party and the center right Democratic Party agree on these goals, although their language to describe them is always decorated with inspiring rhetoric about the triumph of American political and economic values; about spreading democracy and good feeling; about protecting the American people from terrorism and danger.

Today’s foreign policy goals are contemporary adaptations of a consistent, bipartisan international perspective that began to take shape at the end of World War II in 1945. Since the implosion of the Soviet Union ended the 45-year Cold War two decades ago – leaving the U.S. and its imperialist ambitions as the single world superpower – Washington protects its role as “unipolar” hegemon like a hungry dog with a meaty bone.

The people of the United States have no influence over the fundamentals of Washington’s military objectives. Many Americans seem to have no idea about Washington’s actual goals. As far as a large number of voters are concerned the big national security issues in the election boil down to Iran’s dangerous nuclear weapon; the need to stand up for Israel; stopping China from “stealing” American jobs; and preventing a terrorist attack on America.

One reason is the ignorance of a large portion of voters about past and present history and foreign affairs. Another is that many people still entertain the deeply flawed myths about “American exceptionalism” and the “American Century.” Lastly, there’s round-the-clock government and mass media misinformation.

After decades of living within an aggressive superpower it is no oddity that even ostensibly informed delegates to the recent Republican and Democratic political conventions engaged in passionate mass chanting of the hyper-nationalist “USA!, USA!, USA!” when they were whipped up by party leaders evoking the glories of killing Osama bin-Laden, patriotism, war and the superiority of our way of life.
Since Romney has no foreign policy record, and he’ll probably do everything Obama would do only worse (and he probably won’t even win the election) we will concentrate mainly on Obama’s foreign policy and the pivot to China.

One of President Obama’s most important military decisions this year was a new strategic guidance for the Pentagon published Jan. 5 in a 16-page document titled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”

The new doctrine is the response by the White House and Congress to the stagnant economy and new military considerations. It reduces the number of military personnel and expects to lower Pentagon costs over 10 years by $487 billion, as called for by the Budget Control Act of 2011. This amounts to a cut of almost $50 billion a year in an overall annual Pentagon budget of about $700 billion, and most of the savings will be in getting rid of obsolete equipment and in payrolls. This may all be reversed by Congress.

Introducing “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership” to the media, Obama declared:
“As we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and the end of long-term nation-building with large military footprints – we’ll be able to ensure our security with smaller conventional ground forces. We’ll continue to get rid of outdated Cold War-era systems so that we can invest in the capabilities that we need for the future, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, counterterrorism, countering weapons of mass destruction and the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access. So, yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”

Following the president, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared:

“As we shift the size and composition of our ground, air and naval forces, we must be capable of successfully confronting and defeating any aggressor and respond to the changing nature of warfare. Our strategy review concluded that the United States must have the capability to fight several conflicts at the same time. We are not confronting, obviously, the threats of the past; we are confronting the threats of the 21st century. And that demands greater flexibility to shift and deploy forces to be able to fight and defeat any enemy anywhere. How we defeat the enemy may very well vary across conflicts. But make no mistake, we will have the capability to confront and defeat more than one adversary at a time.”

The Congressional Research Service summarized five key points from the defense guidance, which it said was “written as a blueprint for the joint force of 2020.” They are:
  1. A shift in overall focus from winning today’s wars to preparing for future challenges.
  2. A shift in geographical priorities toward the Asia and the Pacific region while retaining emphasis on the Middle East.
  3. A shift in the balance of missions toward more emphasis on projecting power in areas in which U.S. access and freedom to operate are challenged by asymmetric means ("anti-access") and less emphasis on stabilization operations, while retaining a full-spectrum force.
  4. A corresponding shift in force structure, including reductions in Army and Marine Corps endstrength, toward a smaller, more agile force including the ability to mobilize quickly. [The Army plans to cut about 50,000 from a force of 570,000. In 2001 there were 482,000.]
  5. A corresponding shift toward advanced capabilities including Special Operations Forces, new technologies such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and unmanned systems, and cyberspace capabilities.
Here are the new military priorities, according to Obama’s war doctrine (notice the omission of counter-insurgency, a previous favorite):
  • Engage in counter-terrorism and irregular warfare.
  • Deter and defeat aggression.
  • Project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges.
  • Counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
  • Operate effectively in cyberspace and space.
  • Maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent.
  • Defend the homeland and provide support to civil authorities.
  • Provide a stabilizing presence.
  • Conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations.
  • Conduct humanitarian, disaster relief, and other operations.
In an article critical of the military and titled “A Leaner, More Efficient Empire,” progressive authors Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis wrote:

“In an age when U.S. power can be projected through private mercenary armies and unmanned Predator drones, the U.S. military need no longer rely on massive, conventional ground forces to pursue its imperial agenda, a fact President Barack Obama is now acknowledging. But make no mistake: while the tactics may be changing, the U.S. taxpayer – and poor foreigners abroad – will still be saddled with overblown military budgets and militaristic policies.

“‘Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow,’ the president told reporters, ‘but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow.’ In fact, he added with a touch of pride, it ‘will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration,’ totaling more than $700 billion a year and accounting for about half of the average American’s income tax. So much for the Pentagon’s budget being slashed.”

The Obama Administration’s so-called pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, actually East and South Asia (including India) and the Indian Ocean area, was unveiled last fall – first in an article in Foreign Policy magazine by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton titled “America’s Pacific Century,” then with attendant fanfare by President Obama on his trip to Hawaii, Australia and Indonesia.

The “pivot” involves attempting to establish a U.S.-initiated free trade zone in the region, while also strengthening Washington’s ties with a number of existing allied countries, such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and India, among others. A few of these allies have sharp disagreements with China about claims to small islands in the South China Sea, a major waterway for trade and commerce. The U.S., while saying it is neutral, is siding with its allies on this extremely sensitive issue.

Over the months it has become clear that the principal element of the “pivot” is military, and the allies are meant to give the U.S. support and backing for whatever transpires.

The U.S. for decades has encircled China with military might – spy planes and satellites, Navy warships cruising with thousands of personnel nearby and in the South China Sea, 40,000 U.S. troops in Japan, 28,000 in South Korea, 500 in the Philippines, many thousands in Afghanistan, plus a number of Pacific island airbases.

Now it turns out that the Navy is moving a majority of its cruisers, destroyers and aircraft carrier battle groups from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In addition, old military bases in the region are being refurbished and new bases are under construction. Australia has granted Obama’s request to allow a Marine base to be established in Darwin to accommodate a force of 2,500 troops. Meanwhile Singapore has been prevailed upon to allow the berthing of four U.S. Navy ships at the entrance to the Malacca Straits, through which enter almost all sea traffic between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, a key trade route.

An article in the Sept./Oct. 2012 Foreign Affairs by Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell, titled “The Sum of Beijing’s Fears,” paints a clear picture of American power on the coast of China:

“U.S. military forces are globally deployed and technologically advanced, with massive concentrations of firepower all around the Chinese rim. The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) is the largest of the United States’ six regional combatant commands in terms of its geographic scope and non-wartime manpower. PACOM’s assets include about 325,000 military and civilian personnel, along with some 180 ships and 1,900 aircraft. To the west, PACOM gives way to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for an area stretching from Central Asia to Egypt. Before Sept. 11, 2001, CENTCOM had no forces stationed directly on China’s borders except for its training and supply missions in Pakistan. But with the beginning of the ‘war on terror,’ CENTCOM placed tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan and gained extended access to an air base in Kyrgyzstan.

“The operational capabilities of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific are magnified by bilateral defense treaties with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and South Korea and cooperative arrangements with other partners. And to top it off, the United States possesses some 5,200 nuclear warheads deployed in an invulnerable sea, land, and air triad. Taken together, this U.S. defense posture creates what Qian Wenrong of the Xinhua News Agency’s Research Center for International Issue Studies has called a “strategic ring of encirclement.”

An article in Foreign Policy last January by Clyde Prestowitz asked: “Why is the ‘pivot’ a mistake? Because it presumes a threat where none exists but where the presumption could become a self-fulfilling prophecy and where others could deal with any threats should they arise in the future. Because it entails further expenditures far beyond what is necessary for effective defense of the United States and its interests. And because it reduces U.S. productive power, competitiveness, and long-term U.S. living standards by providing a kind of subsidy for the offshoring of U.S.-based production capacity.”

This development cannot be separated from the increasing economic growth and potential of China in relation to the obvious beginning of America’s decline. Washington may remain the world hegemon for a couple of more decades – and Beijing is not taking one step in that direction and may never do so. (Beijing seems to prefer a multipolar world leadership of several nations and regional blocs, as do a number of economically rising countries.)

“Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership,” as noted above, specified that the thrust of the Pentagon’s attention has now shifted to Asia. The most recent Quadrennial Defense Review already has informally identified China as a possible nation-state aggressor against which America must defend itself. The U.S. claims it is not attempting to contain China, but why the military buildup? It cannot be aimed at any other country in the region but China. Why also in his convention acceptance speech did Obama brag that “We’ve reasserted our power across the Pacific and stood up to China on behalf of our workers.”
The U.S. evidently is developing war games against China. On Aug. 2 John Glaser wrote in Antiwar.com: “The Pentagon is drawing up new plans to prepare for an air and sea war in Asia, presumably against China, in the Obama administration’s most belligerent manifestation yet of the so-called pivot to Asia-Pacific…. New war strategies called ‘Air-Sea Battle’ reveal Washington’s broader goals in the region,” including a possible war.”

The Aug. 1 Washington Post reported that in the games "Stealthy American bombers and submarines would knock out China’s long-range surveillance radar and precision missile systems located deep inside the country. The initial ‘blinding campaign’ would be followed by a larger air and naval assault."

Both candidates have opportunistically interjected China-bashing into their campaigns, second only to Iran-bashing. Obama has several times told working class audiences that China is stealing their jobs. Romney fumes about China’s alleged currency “cheating.” Republican former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sharply criticized both candidates Oct. 3 for “appealing to American suspicions of China in their campaigns.”

Kissinger, whose recent book “On China” we recommend, also wrote a piece in the March-April Foreign Affairs titled “The Future of U.S.-Chinese Relations – Conflict Is a Choice, Not a Necessity” that injects an element of understanding into the matter.

“The American debate, on both sides of the political divide, often describes China as a ‘rising power’ that will need to ‘mature’ and learn how to exercise responsibility on the world stage. China, however, sees itself not as a rising power but as a returning one, predominant in its region for two millennia and temporarily displaced by colonial exploiters taking advantage of Chinese domestic strife and decay. It views the prospect of a strong China exercising influence in economic, cultural, political, and military affairs not as an unnatural challenge to world order but rather as a return to normality. Americans need not agree with every aspect of the Chinese analysis to understand that lecturing a country with a history of millennia about its need to ‘grow up’ and behave ‘responsibly’ can be needlessly grating.”

Clearly, the Obama Administration is opposed to modern China even becoming “predominant in its region” once again, much less in the world. At this stage Washington is predominant in East Asia, and between its military power and subordinate regional allies it is not prepared to move over even within China’s own sphere. No one can predict how this will play out in 20 or 30 years, of course.

The Coming Age of Austerity



The coast is clear, the media tells us; economic disaster has been averted. The Euro Zone is finally stable and the U.S. economy is recovering. Whew!

Why, then, are government policies internationally still pursuing extremist measures? In the U.S., a third round of excess money printing —called Quantitative Easing — began recently in which banks are directly profiting by unloading their toxic mortgages on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet (another backdoor bailout paid by taxpayers).

After the U.S. presidential election, both Democrats and Republicans are committed to different versions of historic cuts to social services, education, Medicare, unemployment benefits, and very likely Social Security. This bi-partisan plan is often referred to as a “grand bargain,” the details of which both parties are still haggling over.

In Europe things are no better. After the Euro Zone central bank promised investors its full backing to bailout all Euro Zone members — by printing money — the world economy sighed a heavy relief. But still the Euro Zone — along with the U.S. — is pursuing a two-pronged solution for an extreme economic crisis: austerity measures and the less-discussed “structural reforms.”
What are these policies? Austerity is simple enough: government cuts to social spending, health care, education, pensions, etc. — to balance heavily indebted public budgets (at the expense of working people, rather than taxing the rich and corporations). Austerity can also be achieved through privatization, where once publicly run programs/facilities are sold cheaply to private firms to make a profit, thus taking the cost off the government’s budget.

Structural reforms on the other hand are meant to boost economic (corporate) growth, by government intervention in commodity markets — most commonly the labor market. It’s called structural reform because markets are usually relatively stable. For example, the labor market is deep-rooted in powerful social forces — wages, benefits, and working conditions are heavily influenced by unions, who use their organization and strike threat to pressure corporations and governments to pay living wages. Non-union workers benefit directly by the unions’ ability to alter the national labor market, since non-union companies have to compete with union companies for workers, who naturally go where wages are higher. Professional, higher-paid workers benefit too, since society expects them to get higher wages than, say a carpenter.

In Europe, structural reforms targeting the labor market — alongside austerity measures — are rousing the unions and broader community into the streets with massive demonstrations: Spain, Portugal, Greece, and other countries are fighting reforms that politicians are euphemistically calling “labor market flexibility.” This simply means that unions will be undermined by their inability to protect workers’ jobs, making firing easier (“flexibility”), which results in compelling workers into accepting lower wages and benefits.

The pro-corporate Economist magazine reports about Portugal:
“With his decision to finance a reduction in company [corporate] costs through a sharp cut in workers’ take-home pay, Pedro Passos Coelho, Portugal’s prime minister, appears to have taken reform past the limit of what is deemed acceptable by large sections of the electorate.”
And France:
“… [President] Hollande has given union leaders and bosses until December to negotiate [anti-union] labor-market changes. On the table are various options, including making it possible for firms [corporations] to reduce hours and salaries in a downturn against a guarantee of job security, along the lines introduced by [Germany's prime minister]… in 2003.”
And Spain:
“… the new [labor] law makes it easier and cheaper to lay off workers. For most firms, maximum lay-off payments [unemployment benefits] will be reduced from 42 months’ pay to 12 months… it will hugely boost business confidence.”
Reducing unemployment benefits is a very popular labor market structural reform for the 1%, since it makes workers more desperate for work, and thus more accepting of low-wage jobs — consequently lowering workers’ power in the labor market overall, as wages are lowered nationally.

And while Europe’s austerity and structural reforms are on the front page of international media — due to the giant protests and general strikes against them —  the exact same policies have been pursued by the U.S. with barely a murmur. Were it not for the labor upsurges in Wisconsin and more recently Chicago, these policies would be completely off the public’s radar.

The Wisconsin uprising was in response to a labor-market structural reform pursued by Republicans, denying unions bargaining rights — effectively destroying the union.  Democrats, however, are pursuing anti-labor structural reforms — weakening unions — as national policy also, though less directly, by demanding that unions across the country take massive concessions in wages and benefits — a slower, yet more effective form of labor market restructuring.

The teachers in Chicago went on strike against another form of anti-labor structural reform pursued by both Democrats and Republicans. The media-hype around “firing bad teachers” is really a labor-market reform in disguise; the real intention is to bust unions, who are only able to stay strong by their ability to protect the jobs of their members (of course there already exists ways to fire bad teachers).

Teacher merit pay is yet another labor reform measure aimed to weaken unions, since it effectively lowers wages by preventing raises (there is zero evidence that merit pay raises education standards, or that charter schools outperform public schools). It means that every teacher’s salary is negotiated individually, and it allows management to punish its critics by denying them merit pay raises.

The teachers are especially targeted in the U.S. because they are the strongest union in the country, due to their numbers, organization, and connections to the community. If they are forced to give “structural” concessions, other unions will be heavily pressured to do so, and thus the labor market will be altered to the benefit of the corporations.

The labor reform attacks — combined with austerity budget cuts — are happening in different forms on a city, state, and federal level with the full backing of the Democrats and Republicans (there is no “debate” in the presidential election about education policy). Thus, if not for the Wisconsin and Chicago struggles, there would be little social consciousness around these issues.
The reasons that austerity and structural adjustment have not produced a Europe-like movement yet is because most labor unions have increasingly accepted these concessions without putting up a real fight. Many labor leaders would simply rather accept these policies, since fighting them would put them in conflict with their “friends,” the Democratic politicians pursuing these anti-labor policies.

Hopefully, the post-Occupy movement can show the labor movement the way forward. On November 3rd there will be  protest demonstrations against austerity in a number of cities across the country. These protests are targeting the ongoing state by state cuts — and federal post-election cuts — to education, transportation, health care, social programs, and public-sector workers. The protests are challenging the very concept of austerity, as working people refuse to pay for the crisis created by the rich and corporations. There is a potential for these protest demonstrations to teach the American public the word “austerity,” assuming they are large enough and connect with the broader community that directly experiences these policies.

Regardless of the results of November 3, demonstrations about the austerity issue in the U.S. will inevitably continue, since even mainstream economists mostly agree that there will be no return to the pre-recession economy. The policies of austerity and structural reform — along with war — are long-term survival strategies of capitalism, which is evolving to survive a global-wide crisis of corporate growth rates by creating a “new normal” of social expectations: lower wages and fewer social programs.

The first step in fighting these measures is mobilizing working people and the broader community in massive Europe-like demonstrations. This tactic educates the whole nation about the issues, which would otherwise remain in the dark. Once the 99% is in the streets together screaming collective demands with a united voice, the movement will decide how best to act, whether it be the general strikes or new political parties that have emerged in Europe.

The U.S. post-election austerity surprises will give new opportunities for millions of people to get into the streets. They will no longer be able or willing to remain ignorant about the nation’s new normal.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

World in Serious Trouble on Food Front

July 24, 2012
Lester R. Brown

In the early spring of 2012, U.S. farmers were on their way to planting some 96 million acres in corn, the most in 75 years. A warm early spring got the crop off to a great start. Analysts were predicting the largest corn harvest on record.

The United States is the leading producer and exporter of corn, the world's feed grain. At home, corn accounts for four-fifths of the U.S. grain harvest. Internationally, the U.S. corn crop exceeds China's rice and wheat harvests combined. Among the big three grains – corn, wheat, and rice – corn is now the leader, with production well above that of wheat and nearly double that of rice.The corn plant is as sensitive as it is productive. Thirsty and fast-growing, it is vulnerable to both extreme heat and drought. At elevated temperatures, the corn plant, which is normally so productive, goes into thermal shock.

As spring turned into summer, the thermometer began to rise across the Corn Belt. In St. Louis, Missouri, in the southern Corn Belt, the temperature in late June and early July climbed to 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher 10 days in a row. For the past several weeks, the Corn Belt has been blanketed with dehydrating heat.

Weekly drought maps published by the University of Nebraska show the drought-stricken area spreading across more and more of the country until, by mid-July, it engulfed virtually the entire Corn Belt. Soil moisture readings in the Corn Belt are now among the lowest ever recorded.

While temperature, rainfall, and drought serve as indirect indicators of crop growing conditions, each week the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases a report on the actual state of the corn crop. This year the early reports were promising. On May 21st, 77 percent of the U.S. corn crop was rated as good to excellent. The following week the share of the crop in this category dropped to 72 percent. Over the next eight weeks, it dropped to 26 percent, one of the lowest ratings on record. The other 74 percent is rated very poor to fair. And the crop is still deteriorating.

Over a span of weeks, we have seen how the more extreme weather events that come with climate change can affect food security. Since the beginning of June, corn prices have increased by nearly one half, reaching an all-time high on July 19th.

Although the world was hoping for a good U.S. harvest to replenish dangerously low grain stocks, this is no longer in the cards. World carryover stocks of grain will fall further at the end of this crop year, making the food situation even more precarious. Food prices, already elevated, will follow the price of corn upward, quite possibly to record highs.

Not only is the current food situation deteriorating, but so is the global food system itself. We saw early signs of the unraveling in 2008 following an abrupt doubling of world grain prices. As world food prices climbed, exporting countries began restricting grain exports to keep their domestic food prices down. In response, governments of importing countries panicked. Some of them turned to buying or leasing land in other countries on which to produce food for themselves.

Welcome to the new geopolitics of food scarcity. As food supplies tighten, we are moving into a new food era, one in which it is every country for itself.

The world is in serious trouble on the food front. But there is little evidence that political leaders have yet grasped the magnitude of what is happening. The progress in reducing hunger in recent decades has been reversed. Unless we move quickly to adopt new population, energy, and water policies, the goal of eradicating hunger will remain just that.

Time is running out. The world may be much closer to an unmanageable food shortage – replete with soaring food prices, spreading food unrest, and ultimately political instability– than most people realize.

Lester R. Brown is President of Earth Policy Institute and author of Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, due to be published in October 2012.

Copyright © 2012 Earth Policy Institute

*NOTE: This piece originally appeared in The Guardian on July 24, 2012.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Syngenta Charged Over Covering Up Animal Deaths from GM Corn

June 18th, 2012


By Anthony Gucciardi

In a riveting victory against genetically modified creations, a major biotech company known as Syngenta has been criminally charged for denying knowledge that its GM Bt corn actually kills livestock. What’s more is not only did the company deny this fact, but they did so in a civil court case that ended back in 2007. The charges were finally issued after a long legal struggle against the mega corp initiated by a German farmer named Gottfried Gloeckner whose dairy cattle died after eating the Bt toxin and coming down with a ‘mysterious’ illness.

Grown on his own farm from 1997 to 2002, the cows on the farm were all being fed exclusively on Syngenta’s Bt 176 corn by the year 2000. It was around this time that the mysterious illnesses began to emerge among the cattle population. Syngenta paid Gloeckner 40,000 euros in an effort to silence the farmer, however a civil lawsuit was brought upon the company. Amazingly, 2 cows ate genetically modified maize (now banned in Poland over serious concerns) and died. During the civil lawsuit, however, Syngenta refused to admit that its GM corn was responsible. In fact, they went as far as to claim having no knowledge whatsoever of harm.

The case was dismissed and Gloeckner, the farmer who launched the suit, was left thousands of euros in debt. And that’s not all; Gloeckner continued to lose many cows as a result of Syngenta’s modified Bt corn. After halting the use of GM feed in 2002, Gloeckner attempted a full investigation with the Robert Koch Institute and Syngenta involved. The data of this investigation is still unavailable to the public, and only examined one cow. In 2009, however, the Gloeckner teamed up with a German action group known as B√ľndnis Aktion Gen-Klage and to ultimately bring Syngenta to the criminal court.

Using the testimony of another farmer whose cows died after eating Syngenta product, Gloeckner and the team have charged the biotech giant for the death of over 65 cows, withholding knowledge of the death-link, and holding the corporation liable for not registering the cattle deaths. The team is even charging Hans-Theo Jahmann, the German head of Syngenta , personally over the withholding of knowledge.

The charges bring to light just how far large biotechnology companies will go to conceal evidence linking their genetically modified products to serious harm. Monsanto, for example, has even threatened to sue the entire state of Vermont if they attempt to label its genetically modified ingredients. Why are they so afraid of the consumer knowing what they are putting in their mouths?

Read more: http://naturalsociety.com/syngenta-charged-over-covering-up-animal-deaths-gm-corn/#ixzz1yABc24Jj

Vagina. Can't Say it? Don't Legislate It.

Because Freedom Can't Protect Itself

"I'm flattered you're all so interested in my vagina. But no means no."

With those words, Michigan state representative Lisa Brown told the Speaker of the House exactly what she thought of the vicious anti-choice measure he was trying to push through the legislature.

Here's what happened next. She was banned from speaking as the legislation moved forward. So was another female legislator, Rep. Barb Byrum, who reportedly shouted "vasectomy" out of turn.

They were silenced as the House of Representatives passed war on women legislation that could, among other things, shut down clinics that provide safe, legal abortions and end medication abortions throughout the state.

Silencing female legislators is a direct violation of their First Amendment rights and limits their ability to directly serve the people they represent. We can't let it stand.

Tell leaders of the Michigan Senate to protect freedom of speech and stop silencing women's voices.

Women deserve a seat at the table especially when legislation impacts our bodies and our health. Clearly we have much work to do if using an anatomically correct word causes such moral panic that it derails us from examining the larger issue: women are still being excluded from conversations about women's health.

We can't legislate on reproductive health if we aren't allowed to talk about our bodies. Stand with the ACLU in declaring: If you can't say it, don't legislate it. Remind leaders of the Michigan Senate to protect all of our First Amendment rights and defend women's reproductive health care.
Thanks for taking action,

Kary Moss
Executive Director, ACLU of Michigan
P.S. — This isn't the first time House majority leadership has denied women a voice on the issues that impact us the most. During a committee hearing last week, no woman — nearly 90 were present — was allowed to testify against the bills. Only women in support were given the time to speak out. We must send a message loud and clear: stop silencing women's voices.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

The horrific ramifications of the Gulf oil spill

This piece originally appeared on AlterNet.

Almost two full years after the BP oil spill, a panel of experts gathered at the 17th annual Tulane Environmental Law Summit, to present the continuing impacts of the BP Oil Spill. That spill began with the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling unit used by BP 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. Eleven men lost their lives. The resulting spill of oil into the Gulf of Mexico stands as the largest oil spill in U.S. history and the second largest environmental disaster in this country to date besides the nearly decade-long Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Scientists at the summit presented recent photographs of shrimp with no eyes and fish with cancerous tumors born long after the gulf was declared “safe” for fishing.

It turns out that testing water and fish flesh under the surface oil after the spill was not very telling about long-term impacts as oil and water don’t mix and the chronic, toxic impacts were delayed until long after BP was put in charge of the “cleanup.” When BP sprayed chemical dispersants containing a slew of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, the oil didn’t magically disappear. It sank into the sediment. Disturbingly, the allowable levels set by the government for the toxins in our seafood are based on health impacts for a 176-pound adult eating less than two medium shrimp a day. The testing is for one chemical out of a crude oil mixture containing thousands of chemicals. No synergistic effects are considered. This in no way protects children, fetuses, people who weigh less than 176 pounds or anyone who eats seafood on a daily basis like the folks here on the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Andrew Whitehead, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Louisiana State University, who is studying the BP spill and has reviewed much of the scientific studies of the Exxon Valdez spill, explained that stock declines of species may take several years to develop as reproduction is impacted in successive generations and across species. The Exxon Valdez spill is now known to be responsible for the decline of many species, including marine mammals, marine birds, and fishes such as pink salmon and herring. Though we have a take on the immediate acute impacts of the BP spill on animals caught in the oil, the chronic ultimate impacts of the BP spill are still unknown. But we do know that the killifish, the most abundant forage fish for the bigger fish in Gulf Coast marshes, are being affected. Fish from oiled marshes show signs of direct toxicity and reproductive impairment. Dr. Whitehead’s experiments involving exposures to oiled sediments, done in collaboration with colleague Dr. Fernando Galvez, show that killifish embryos are taking longer to develop or don’t hatch at all. They are being born with malformed hearts and hearts that may not function properly when they mature. And as the impacts from the spill on the fish bioaccumulate and propagate across generations, liability is harder to prove without good and strategic scientific study that sadly is harder to fund.

But some impacts are being felt now, especially for sediment dwelling seafood. Current reports from fisherman up and down the coast are startling. The oyster harvest for 2010 was the worst in more than four decades and oystermen continue to report catches down as much as 75 percent. Crab catches are in steep decline. Brown shrimp production is down two-thirds. And the white shrimp season was even worse, leading to descriptions of “worst in memory” and “nonexistent.” This from the region that before the spill provided 40 percent of the nation’s seafood.

Dr. Patricia Williams, Ph.D., Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology, Associate Professor, Coordinator of Toxicology Research Laboratories, Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences, University of New Orleans, spoke at the summit about what she sees as a failure to properly assess the impact of the spill on seafood and on human health. She said:
In 1996, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration acknowledged that direct measurement of tissue for PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) concentrations generally does not provide a useful indicator of exposure of fish to PAHs from petroleum spills. Regardless, an extremely expensive seafood testing program was launched using this method. Testing included only 13 PAH parent compounds out of 200 PAHs present in crude oil. PAHs act on each other resulting in greater toxicity than expected from a single PAH (synergism). The synergistic nature of the PAHs were ignored in interpretation of the results. Additionally, the Levels of Concern were calculated for a 176 pound individual. This does not address toddlers and children or the developing fetus and placental transfer. The public was not warned of these deficiencies in the seafood testing program.
Dr. Williams explained that “PAHs are endocrine disruptors that interfere with the normal blood-borne hormones (e.g., estrogen and testosterone) that are responsible for the regulation of reproductive and developmental processes. Only very low amounts of chemicals are needed to disrupt the normal endocrine balance of both humans and animals. Evidence of reproduction imbalance is seen in the second generation of white shrimp in the 2011 harvest. Shrimp were harvested with defective eye stalks, pleopods, and pereiopods. Such anatomical defects are occurring in the markedly reduced white shrimp population in the Gulf and warn of endocrine dysfunction that could result in the loss of the species.”

Furthermore, “The heavy metals known to be present in crude oil are being ignored in the testing of seafood. Metal toxicity can produce neurobehavioral abnormalities in sea life such as: alterations in avoidance or attraction responses; critical swimming speed; changes in social interactions (e.g. aggression), reproduction, feeding, and predator avoidance; food foraging with reduced feeding ability; loss or orientation in swimming and changes in schooling behavior. Heavy metal testing in BP Oil clean-up workers has documented increased arsenic levels in 24 hour urine specimens.”

Finally, Dr. Williams warned that “The future chronic health effects from consumption of contaminated seafood and biomagnification along the food chain are yet to be realized in both sea life and humans. Chronic effects may take years to present and may elude an analysis of their causal origins. ”

On the second day of the summit, a settlement between private plaintiffs and BP was announced in the press. This settlement does not resolve the government cases, either civil or criminal, against the responsible parties. But the settlement of the private case raises the question whether the government prosecutions will be resolved without a trial and without jail time for executives ultimately responsible for the deaths of 11 workers and severe and ongoing environmental and economic impacts on the region. The summit attendees were abuzz with speculation about what will happen in the federal and State of Louisiana cases.

In Louisiana, petroleum is king. This state is the third largest producer of petroleum in America, Louisiana is responsible for more than one-quarter of the nation’s natural gas production, and Louisiana is the third leading refiner of petroleum in the country. In addition, the state makes over 600 petroleum products making it the second in the nation in primary production of petrochemicals. The 20-mile stretch on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Baton Rouge known as “The Cancer Corridor” pumps out one-quarter of the chemicals made in America. Louisiana leads the United States in release of toxic chemicals into the environment. The seven-parish industrial corridor has the highest density of petrochemical industries in the nation and possibly the world.

All this money in petroleum has a huge impact on politics in Louisiana, just as it does on a national and international level. It’s probably impossible to get elected to any Louisiana office without courting petroleum dollars and making campaign promises to that industry. A visit to the petroleum friendly website for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources reveals the following section titled “Legacy Liability Reform.”

This “Legacy Liability Reform” is less likely to ensure any protection for Louisiana’s resources or its citizens than it is to assure petroleum companies that Louisiana and its resources are theirs for the taking. The reform is code for “don’t worry about liability because immunity for really bad stuff is all part of the deal for investing in Louisiana.” Oh, by the way, the Louisiana courts have been very protective historically of petroleum interests as well.

From the 1950s on, drilling for oil and gas on federal lands and waters has produced the second largest source of revenue for the federal government besides taxes. This has led to a rather cozy relationship between the federal government and those corporations that extract petroleum here. Let us not forget that since the inception of the Minerals Management Service (now renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to emphasize what it should be doing) has been involved in numerous scandals. For example, in 1990, MMS employees were linked to prostitution, and in 2008 the Department of Interior’s inspector general reported that MMS employees were engaged in both drug use and sexual activity with employees from the very energy firms they were to be regulating. This wasn’t just the foxes guarding the chicken coop, but the foxes actually in bed doing lines of coke with the chickens.

Clint Guidry, president, Louisiana Shrimp Association, spoke at the summit about the political ramifications of the spill and the unlikelihood of real justice coming from the government case. Mr. Guidry had worked for BP earlier in his career like so many Louisiana men have. He knows intimately both the oil industry and the fishing industry. When the spill happened, Louisiana shrimping was devastated. First, Guidry lobbied for jobs for all the shrimpers when the fisheries closed. Then he fought for job site safety for the workers and community residents impacted by the cleanup. Guidry’s role became that of witness to the harms on fisherman response workers when they began to suffer from being exposed to aerial application of the chemical dispersant and being downwind from burn sites of the surface oil. For instance, on May 26 seven shrimpers from the offshore response crew were admitted to West Jefferson Hospital with chemical poisoning. Two days later, after Obama’s May 27 visit to Grand Isle where he was photographed picking up tar balls, two more shrimpers were airlifted to West Jefferson Hospital for emergency medical treatment, also for chemical poisoning. Guidry met with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, and with other government representatives from the local to the federal including Secretaries Napolitano and Salazar and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Mr. Guidry still has the following unresolved questions:
  1. Why did we allow people who caused the oil spill to be in charge of the cleanup? Everything they did was to limit liability, not to protect the environment, the resources or the people.
  2. How could the government announce on Aug. 5, 2010, that suddenly 75 percent of the oil had disappeared? Corporations run this country and they operate under the Golden Rule: Who holds the gold makes the rule.
  3. According to statements made by Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Garret Graves, BP is choosing the direction of the environmental damage assessment. Shouldn’t the Oil Spill Recovery fund be administered independently so it could fund real scientists like Dr. Whitehead?
  4. Oil companies are good at covering up spills and sinking the oil with additional chemicals, but they are no good at cleaning up spills. If we are allowing these companies to drill in the Gulf, shouldn’t they be required to have the technology to prevent disasters and to clean them up? They don’t.
  5. Even after the largest loss of life and oil, no laws have been changed. Eleven men are dead but I don’t believe anybody will go to jail. The government is the keeper of the record of the criminal investigation and if they settle the case, the public will never see that information. If the record is not made public in a trial, how do we learn from this spill?
  6. I’m a third generation fisherman. We were the first environmentalists because if you don’t take care of the environment, it doesn’t take care of you. I love wildlife. The spill has devastated wildlife. What price do you put on a dead dolphin?
  7. The head of Minerals Management Service at the time of the BP disaster came from big oil. She was fired by Obama and MMS was split up but no one else was fired. Is that enough house cleaning? Can these people keep us safe when they have failed in the past?
As the federal government and affected states including Louisiana move toward trial or settlement, we should all be asking these questions.

How will the government cases be resolved? Potential penalties of more than $17 billion for environmental violations remain on the books for BP. Peter Lehner, executive director of Natural Resources Defense Counsel writes in his blog, “How the remainder of the case pans out says a lot about the future of energy in this country. Will the government allow BP, and the rest of the oil industry, to continue business as usual with nothing more than a slap on the wrist? Or will the company be put on trial and held accountable for its actions? Will the penalties be severe enough to make the oil industry clean up its act? BP reported profits of $21.7 billion in 2011, nearly 3 times the estimated cost of its settlement with private parties in the Gulf.”
And one question looms even larger than the spill, the resulting legal cases or even BP profits: How can we establish a separation between the oil industry and our government?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Manifesto for Economic Democracy and Ecological Sanity | Truthout

by: David van Arsdale, Michael McCabe, Costas Panayotakis , Jan Rehmann, Sohnya Sayres and Richard D. Wolff, Economic Democracy Manifesto Group | Op-Ed

A new historical vista is opening before us in this time of change. Capitalism as a system has spawned deepening economic crisis alongside its bought-and-paid for political establishment. Neither serves the needs of our society. Whether it is secure, well-paid and meaningful jobs or a sustainable relationship with the natural environment that we depend on, our society is not delivering the results people need and deserve. We do not have the lives we want and our children’s future is threatened because of social conditions that can and should be changed. One key cause for this intolerable state of affairs is the lack of genuine democracy in our economy as well as in our politics. One key solution is thus the institution of genuine economic democracy as the basis for a genuine political democracy as well. That means transforming the workplace in our society as we propose in what follows.

We are encouraged by The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement spreading across the United States and beyond. Not only does OWS express a widespread popular rejection of our system’s social injustice and lack of democracy. OWS is also a movement for goals that include economic democracy. We welcome, support, and seek to build OWS as the urgently needed, broad movement to reorganize our society, to make our institutions accountable to the public will, and to establish both economic democracy and ecological sanity.
1) Capitalism and “delivering the goods”

Capitalism today abuses the people, environment, politics and culture in equal measures. It has fostered new extremes of wealth and poverty inside most countries, and such extremes always undermine or prevent democratic politics. Capitalist production for profit likewise endangers us by its global warming, widening pollution, and looming energy crisis. And now capitalism’s recurrent instability (what others call the “business cycle”) has plunged the world into the second massive global economic crisis in the last 75 years.

Yet both Republican and Democratic governments have failed to bring a recovery to the great mass of the American people. We continue to face high unemployment and home foreclosures alongside shrinking real wages, benefits and job security. Thus, increasing personal debt is required to secure basic needs. The government uses our taxes to bring recovery from the economic crisis to banks, stock markets, and major corporations. We have waited for bailouts of the corporate rich to trickle down to the rest of us; it never happened. To pay for their recovery we are told now to submit to cuts in public services, public employment, and even our social security and Medicare benefits. The budget deficits and national debts incurred to save capitalism from its own fundamental flaws are now used to justify shifting the cost of their recovery onto everyone else. We should not pay for capitalism’s crisis and for the government’s unjust and failed response to that crisis. It is time to take a different path, to make long-overdue economic, social and political changes.

We begin by drawing lessons from previous efforts to go beyond capitalism. Traditional socialism – as in the USSR - emphasized public instead of private ownership of means of production and government economic planning instead of markets. But that concentrated too much power in the government and thereby corrupted the socialist project. Yet the recent reversions back to capitalism neither overcame nor rectified the failures of Soviet-style socialism.

We have also learned from the last great capitalist crisis in the US during the1930s. Then an unprecedented upsurge of union organizing by the CIO and political mobilizations by Socialist and Communist parties won major reforms: establishing Social Security and unemployment insurance, creating and filling 11 million federal jobs. Very expensive reforms in the middle of a depression were paid for in part by heavily taxing corporations and the rich (who were also then heavily regulated). However, New Deal reforms were evaded, weakened or abolished in the decades after 1945. To increase their profits, major corporate shareholders and their boards of directors had every incentive to dismantle reforms. They used their profits to undo the New Deal. Reforms won will always remain insecure until workers who benefit from the reforms are in the position of receiving the profits of their enterprises and using them to extend, not undermine, those reforms.

The task facing us, therefore, goes well beyond choosing between private and public ownership and between markets and planning. Nor can we be content to re-enact reforms that capitalist enterprises can and will undermine. These are not our only alternatives. The strategy we propose is to establish a genuinely democratic basis – by means of reorganizing our productive enterprises – to support those reforms and that combination of property ownership and distribution of resources and products that best serve our social, cultural and ecological needs.
2) Economic Democracy at the Workplace and in Society

The change we propose – as a new and major addition to the agenda for social change – is to occur inside production: inside the enterprises and other institutions (households, the state, schools, and so on) that produce and distribute the goods and services upon which society depends. Wherever production occurs, the workers must become collectively their own bosses, their own board of directors. Everyone’s job description would change: in addition to your specific task, you would be required to participate fully in designing and running the enterprise. Decisions once made by private corporate boards of directors or state officials - what, how and where to produce and how to use the revenues received – would instead be made collectively and democratically by the workers themselves. Education would be redesigned to train all persons in the leadership and control functions now reserved for elites.

Such a reorganization of production would finally and genuinely subordinate the state to the people. The state’s revenues (taxes, etc.) would depend on what the workers gave the state out of the revenues of the workers’ enterprises. Instead of capitalists, a small minority, funding and thereby controlling the state, the majority – workers – would finally gain that crucial social position.

Of course, workplace democracy must intertwine with community democracy in the residential locations that are mutually interactive and interdependent with work locations. Economic and political democracy need and would reinforce one another. Self-directed workers and self-directed community residents must democratically share decision-making at both locations. Local, regional and national state institutions will henceforth incorporate shared democratic decision-making between workplace and residence based communities. Such institutions would draw upon the lessons of past capitalist and socialist experiences.
3) Benefits of Workplace Democracy

When workforce and residential communities decide together how the economy evolves, the results will differ sharply from the results of capitalism. Workplace democracy would not, for example, move production to other countries as capitalist corporations have done. Workers’ self-directed enterprises would not pay a few top managers huge salaries and bonuses while most workers’ paychecks and benefits stagnate. Worker-run enterprises sharing democratic decision-making with surrounding communities would not install toxic and dangerous technologies as capitalist enterprises often do to earn more profits. They would, however, be far more likely to provide daycare, elder care and other supportive services. For the first time in human history, societies could democratically rethink and re-organize the time they devote to work, play, relationships, and cultural activities. Instead of complaining that we lack time for the most meaningful parts of our lives, we could together decide to reduce labor time, to concentrate on the consumer goods we really need, and thereby to allow more time for the important relationships in our lives. We might thereby overcome the divisions and tensions (often defined in racial, gender, ethnic, religious, and other terms) that capitalism imposes on populations by splitting them into fully employed, partly employed, and contingent laborers, and those excluded from the labor market.

A new society can be built on the basis of democratically reorganizing our workplaces, where adults spend most of their lifetimes. Over recent centuries, the human community dispensed with kings, emperors, and czars in favor of representative (and partly democratic) parliaments and congresses. The fears and warnings of disaster by those opposed to that social change were proved wrong by history. The change we advocate today takes democracy another necessary and logical step: into the workplace. Those who fear (and threaten) that it will not work will likewise be proven wrong.
4) An Immediate and Realistic Project

There are practical and popular steps we can take now toward realizing economic democracy. Against massive, wasteful and cruel unemployment and poverty, we propose a new kind of public works program. It would differ from the federal employment programs of the New Deal (when FDR hired millions of the unemployed) in two ways. First, it would focus on a “green” and support service agenda. By “green” we mean massively improving the sustainability of workplace and residential communities by, for example, building energy-saving mass transportation systems, restoring waterways, forests, etc., weatherizing residential and workplace structures, and establishing systematic anti-pollution programs. By “support service” we mean new programs of children’s day-care and elder-care to help all families coping with the conditions of work and demographics in the US today.

However, the new kind of pubic works program we propose would differ even more dramatically from all past public works projects. Instead of paying a weekly dole to the unemployed, our public works program would emphasize providing the unemployed with the funds to begin and build their own cooperative, self-directed democratic enterprises.

The gains from this project are many. The ecological benefits alone would make this the most massive environmental program in US history. Economic benefits would be huge as millions of citizens restore self-esteem damaged by unemployment and earn incomes enabling them to keep their homes and, by their purchases, provide jobs to others. Public employment at decent pay for all would go a long way toward lessening the gender, racial, and other job discriminations now dividing our people.

A special benefit would be a new freedom of choice for Americans. As a people, we could see, examine and evaluate the benefits of working inside enterprises where every worker is both employee and employer, where decisions are debated and decided democratically. For the first time in US history, we will begin to enjoy this freedom of choice: working in a top-down, hierarchically organized capitalist corporation or working in a cooperative, democratic workplace. The future of our society will then depend on how Americans make that choice, and that is how the future of a democratic society should be determined.
5) The Rich Roots Sustaining this Project

Americans have been interested in and built various kinds of cooperative enterprises – more or less non-capitalist enterprises - throughout our history. The idea of building a “cooperative commonwealth” has repeatedly attracted many. Today, an estimated 13.7 million Americans work in 11,400 Employee Stock Ownership Plan companies (ESOPs), in which employees own part or all of those companies. So-called “not-for-profit” enterprises abound across the US in many different fields. Some alternative, non-capitalist enterprises are inspired by the example of Mondragon, a federation of over 250 democratically-run worker cooperatives employing 100,000 based in Spain’s Basque region. Since their wages are determined by the worker-owners themselves, the ratio between the wages of those with mostly executive functions and others average 5:1 as compared to the 475:1 in contemporary capitalist multinational corporations.

The US cooperative movement stretches today from the Arizmendi Association (San Francisco Bay) to the Vida Verde Cleaning Cooperative (Massachusetts) to Black Star Collective Pub and Brewery (Austin, Texas), to name just a few. The largest conglomerate of worker owned co-operatives in the U.S. is the "Evergreen Cooperative Model" (or "Cleveland Model"), consisting e.g. of the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry (ECL), the Ohio Cooperative Solar (OCS), and the Green City Growers. These cooperatives share a) common ownership and democracy at the workplace; b) ecological commitments to produce sustainable goods and services and create "green jobs", and c) new kinds of communal economic planning, mediated by "anchor institutions" (e.g. universities, non-profit hospitals), community foundations, development funds, state-owned banks or employee ownership banks etc. Such cooperatives are generating new concepts and kinds of economic development.

These examples’ varying kinds and degrees of democracy in the workplace all attest to an immense social basis of interest in and commitment to non-capitalist forms of work. Contrary to much popular mythology, there is a solid popular base for a movement to expand and diversify the options for organizing production. Workplace democracy responds to deep needs and desires.
If you are interested in getting further information about this proposal, in joining the discussion it engages, or in participating in activities to achieve its realization, please find us on Facebook at Economic Democracy Manifesto or email manifesto@rdwolff.com.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Losing" the World: American Decline in Perspective, Part 1

By Noam Chomsky                          
Tomdispatch.com, February 14, 2012

Significant anniversaries are solemnly commemorated -- Japan's attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, for example. Others are ignored, and we can often learn valuable lessons from them about what is likely to lie ahead. Right now, in fact.

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-World War II period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.

The prime target was South Vietnam. The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during World War II, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this, Henry Kissinger's orders were being carried out -- "anything that flies on anything that moves" -- a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record. Little of this is remembered.
Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.

When the invasion was launched 50 years ago, concern was so slight that there were few efforts at justification, hardly more than the president's impassioned plea that "we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence" and if the conspiracy achieves its ends in Laos and Vietnam, "the gates will be opened wide."

Elsewhere, he warned further that "the complacent, the self-indulgent, the soft societies are about to be swept away with the debris of history [and] only the strong... can possibly survive," in this case reflecting on the failure of U.S. aggression and terror to crush Cuban independence.

By the time protest began to mount half a dozen years later, the respected Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall, no dove, forecast that "Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity… is threatened with extinction...[as]...the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size." He was again referring to South Vietnam.

When the war ended eight horrendous years later, mainstream opinion was divided between those who described the war as a "noble cause" that could have been won with more dedication, and at the opposite extreme, the critics, to whom it was "a mistake" that proved too costly. By 1977, President Carter aroused little notice when he explained that we owe Vietnam "no debt" because "the destruction was mutual."

There are important lessons in all this for today, even apart from another reminder that only the weak and defeated are called to account for their crimes. One lesson is that to understand what is happening we should attend not only to critical events of the real world, often dismissed from history, but also to what leaders and elite opinion believe, however tinged with fantasy. Another lesson is that alongside the flights of fancy concocted to terrify and mobilize the public (and perhaps believed by some who are trapped in their own rhetoric), there is also geostrategic planning based on principles that are rational and stable over long periods because they are rooted in stable institutions and their concerns. That is true in the case of Vietnam as well. I will return to that, only stressing here that the persistent factors in state action are generally well concealed.

The Iraq war is an instructive case. It was marketed to a terrified public on the usual grounds of self-defense against an awesome threat to survival: the "single question," George W. Bush and Tony Blair declared, was whether Saddam Hussein would end his programs of developing weapons of mass destruction. When the single question received the wrong answer, government rhetoric shifted effortlessly to our "yearning for democracy," and educated opinion duly followed course; all routine.

Later, as the scale of the U.S. defeat in Iraq was becoming difficult to suppress, the government quietly conceded what had been clear all along. In 2007-2008, the administration officially announced that a final settlement must grant the U.S. military bases and the right of combat operations, and must privilege U.S. investors in the rich energy system -- demands later reluctantly abandoned in the face of Iraqi resistance. And all well kept from the general population.

Gauging American Decline

With such lessons in mind, it is useful to look at what is highlighted in the major journals of policy and opinion today. Let us keep to the most prestigious of the establishment journals, Foreign Affairs. The headline blaring on the cover of the December 2011 issue reads in bold face: "Is America Over?"

The title article calls for "retrenchment" in the "humanitarian missions" abroad that are consuming the country's wealth, so as to arrest the American decline that is a major theme of international affairs discourse, usually accompanied by the corollary that power is shifting to the East, to China and (maybe) India.

The lead articles are on Israel-Palestine. The first, by two high Israeli officials, is entitled "The Problem is Palestinian Rejection": the conflict cannot be resolved because Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state -- thereby conforming to standard diplomatic practice: states are recognized, but not privileged sectors within them. The demand is hardly more than a new device to deter the threat of political settlement that would undermine Israel's expansionist goals.

The opposing position, defended by an American professor, is entitled "The Problem Is the Occupation." The subtitle reads "How the Occupation is Destroying the Nation." Which nation? Israel, of course. The paired articles appear under the heading "Israel under Siege."

The January 2012 issue features yet another call to bomb Iran now, before it is too late. Warning of "the dangers of deterrence," the author suggests that "skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease -- that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran's nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States."

Others argue that the costs would be too high, and at the extremes some even point out that an attack would violate international law -- as does the stand of the moderates, who regularly deliver threats of violence, in violation of the U.N. Charter.

Let us review these dominant concerns in turn.

American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster. Despite the piteous laments, the U.S. remains the world dominant power by a large margin, and no competitor is in sight, not only in the military dimension, in which of course the U.S. reigns supreme.

China and India have recorded rapid (though highly inegalitarian) growth, but remain very poor countries, with enormous internal problems not faced by the West. China is the world's major manufacturing center, but largely as an assembly plant for the advanced industrial powers on its periphery and for western multinationals. That is likely to change over time. Manufacturing regularly provides the basis for innovation, often breakthroughs, as is now sometimes happening in China. One example that has impressed western specialists is China's takeover of the growing global solar panel market, not on the basis of cheap labor but by coordinated planning and, increasingly, innovation.

But the problems China faces are serious. Some are demographic, reviewed in Science, the leading U.S. science weekly. The study shows that mortality sharply decreased in China during the Maoist years, "mainly a result of economic development and improvements in education and health services, especially the public hygiene movement that resulted in a sharp drop in mortality from infectious diseases." This progress ended with the initiation of the capitalist reforms 30 years ago, and the death rate has since increased.

Furthermore, China's recent economic growth has relied substantially on a "demographic bonus," a very large working-age population. "But the window for harvesting this bonus may close soon," with a "profound impact on development": "Excess cheap labor supply, which is one of the major factors driving China's economic miracle, will no longer be available."

Demography is only one of many serious problems ahead. For India, the problems are far more severe.

Not all prominent voices foresee American decline. Among international media, there is none more serious and responsible than the London Financial Times. It recently devoted a full page to the optimistic expectation that new technology for extracting North American fossil fuels might allow the U.S. to become energy independent, hence to retain its global hegemony for a century. There is no mention of the kind of world the U.S. would rule in this happy event, but not for lack of evidence.

At about the same time, the International Energy Agency reported that, with rapidly increasing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, the limit of safety will be reached by 2017 if the world continues on its present course. "The door is closing," the IEA chief economist said, and very soon it "will be closed forever."

Shortly before the U.S. Department of Energy reported the most recent carbon dioxide emissions figures, which "jumped by the biggest amount on record" to a level higher than the worst-case scenario anticipated by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That came as no surprise to many scientists, including the MIT program on climate change, which for years has warned that the IPCC predictions are too conservative.

Such critics of the IPCC predictions receive virtually no public attention, unlike the fringe of denialists who are supported by the corporate sector, along with huge propaganda campaigns that have driven Americans off the international spectrum in dismissal of the threats. Business support also translates directly to political power. Denialism is part of the catechism that must be intoned by Republican candidates in the farcical election campaign now in progress, and in Congress they are powerful enough to abort even efforts to inquire into the effects of global warming, let alone do anything serious about it.

In brief, American decline can perhaps be stemmed if we abandon hope for decent survival, prospects that are all too real given the balance of forces in the world.

"Losing" China and Vietnam

Putting such unpleasant thoughts aside, a close look at American decline shows that China indeed plays a large role, as it has for 60 years. The decline that now elicits such concern is not a recent phenomenon. It traces back to the end of World War II, when the U.S. had half the world's wealth and incomparable security and global reach. Planners were naturally well aware of the enormous disparity of power, and intended to keep it that way.

The basic viewpoint was outlined with admirable frankness in a major state paper of 1948 (PPS 23). The author was one of the architects of the New World Order of the day, the chair of the State Department Policy Planning Staff, the respected statesman and scholar George Kennan, a moderate dove within the planning spectrum. He observed that the central policy goal was to maintain the "position of disparity" that separated our enormous wealth from the poverty of others. To achieve that goal, he advised, "We should cease to talk about vague and... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization," and must "deal in straight power concepts," not "hampered by idealistic slogans" about "altruism and world-benefaction."

Kennan was referring specifically to Asia, but the observations generalize, with exceptions, for participants in the U.S.-run global system. It was well understood that the "idealistic slogans" were to be displayed prominently when addressing others, including the intellectual classes, who were expected to promulgate them.

The plans that Kennan helped formulate and implement took for granted that the U.S. would control the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire (including the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East), and as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially its commercial and industrial centers. These were not unrealistic objectives, given the distribution of power. But decline set in at once.

In 1949, China declared independence, an event known in Western discourse as "the loss of China" -- in the U.S., with bitter recriminations and conflict over who was responsible for that loss. The terminology is revealing. It is only possible to lose something that one owns. The tacit assumption was that the U.S. owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed.

The "loss of China" was the first major step in "America's decline." It had major policy consequences. One was the immediate decision to support France's effort to reconquer its former colony of Indochina, so that it, too, would not be "lost."

Indochina itself was not a major concern, despite claims about its rich resources by President Eisenhower and others. Rather, the concern was the "domino theory," which is often ridiculed when dominoes don't fall, but remains a leading principle of policy because it is quite rational. To adopt Henry Kissinger's version, a region that falls out of control can become a "virus" that will "spread contagion," inducing others to follow the same path.

In the case of Vietnam, the concern was that the virus of independent development might infect Indonesia, which really does have rich resources. And that might lead Japan -- the "superdomino" as it was called by the prominent Asia historian John Dower -- to "accommodate" to an independent Asia as its technological and industrial center in a system that would escape the reach of U.S. power. That would mean, in effect, that the U.S. had lost the Pacific phase of World War II, fought to prevent Japan's attempt to establish such a New Order in Asia.

The way to deal with such a problem is clear: destroy the virus and "inoculate" those who might be infected. In the Vietnam case, the rational choice was to destroy any hope of successful independent development and to impose brutal dictatorships in the surrounding regions. Those tasks were successfully carried out -- though history has its own cunning, and something similar to what was feared has since been developing in East Asia, much to Washington's dismay.

The most important victory of the Indochina wars was in 1965, when a U.S.-backed military coup in Indonesia led by General Suharto carried out massive crimes that were compared by the CIA to those of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. The "staggering mass slaughter," as the New York Times described it, was reported accurately across the mainstream, and with unrestrained euphoria.

It was "a gleam of light in Asia," as the noted liberal commentator James Reston wrote in the Times. The coup ended the threat of democracy by demolishing the mass-based political party of the poor, established a dictatorship that went on to compile one of the worst human rights records in the world, and threw the riches of the country open to western investors. Small wonder that, after many other horrors, including the near-genocidal invasion of East Timor, Suharto was welcomed by the Clinton administration in 1995 as "our kind of guy."

Years after the great events of 1965, Kennedy-Johnson National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy reflected that it would have been wise to end the Vietnam war at that time, with the "virus" virtually destroyed and the primary domino solidly in place, buttressed by other U.S.-backed dictatorships throughout the region.

Similar procedures have been routinely followed elsewhere. Kissinger was referring specifically to the threat of socialist democracy in Chile. That threat was ended on another forgotten date, what Latin Americans call "the first 9/11," which in violence and bitter effects far exceeded the 9/11 commemorated in the West. A vicious dictatorship was imposed in Chile, one part of a plague of brutal repression that spread through Latin America, reaching Central America under Reagan. Viruses have aroused deep concern elsewhere as well, including the Middle East, where the threat of secular nationalism has often concerned British and U.S. planners, inducing them to support radical Islamic fundamentalism to counter it.

The Concentration of Wealth and American Decline

Despite such victories, American decline continued. By 1970, U.S. share of world wealth had dropped to about 25%, roughly where it remains, still colossal but far below the end of World War II. By then, the industrial world was "tripolar": US-based North America, German-based Europe, and East Asia, already the most dynamic industrial region, at the time Japan-based, but by now including the former Japanese colonies Taiwan and South Korea, and more recently China.

At about that time, American decline entered a new phase: conscious self-inflicted decline. From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the U.S. economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing. These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on.

Meanwhile, for the majority, real wages largely stagnated, and people were able to get by only by sharply increased workloads (far beyond Europe), unsustainable debt, and repeated bubbles since the Reagan years, creating paper wealth that inevitably disappeared when they burst (and the perpetrators were bailed out by the taxpayer). In parallel, the political system has been increasingly shredded as both parties are driven deeper into corporate pockets with the escalating cost of elections, the Republicans to the level of farce, the Democrats (now largely the former "moderate Republicans") not far behind.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, which has been the major source of reputable data on these developments for years, is entitled Failure by Design. The phrase "by design" is accurate. Other choices were certainly possible. And as the study points out, the "failure" is class-based. There is no failure for the designers. Far from it. Rather, the policies are a failure for the large majority, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movements -- and for the country, which has declined and will continue to do so under these policies.

One factor is the offshoring of manufacturing. As the solar panel example mentioned earlier illustrates, manufacturing capacity provides the basis and stimulus for innovation leading to higher stages of sophistication in production, design, and invention. That, too, is being outsourced, not a problem for the "money mandarins" who increasingly design policy, but a serious problem for working people and the middle classes, and a real disaster for the most oppressed, African Americans, who have never escaped the legacy of slavery and its ugly aftermath, and whose meager wealth virtually disappeared after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008, setting off the most recent financial crisis, the worst so far.