G8 Summit: an unsightly family picture

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Relaxed, smiling, senior representatives from Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, France, Canada and Italy, seven tieless men and one woman (Angela Merkel), accompanied at the ends, by the Presidents of the Commission and the European Union greet the public at the end of the of the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Wish you were here: the G8 leaders at Lough Erne © The Guardian

Wish you were here: the G8 leaders at Lough Erne © The Guardian

Why do make fun the attendees of this ersatz, this inefficient and pretentious group of international multilateralism? After so many nonsense and crises they provoked they could be more circumspect when snapped. As a minimum.

Then it would be worthy to put the brakes on fanatic liberalism without further delay, to leave as soon as possible that shameful « invention » of the Reagan-Thatcher era. And start diligently rebuilding the United Nations authority provided with appropriate means (personal, financial and technical).

As always, the result of the meeting is a sum of platitudes and purposes that repeatedly let us down: powers « agree to fight tax evasion by strengthening EU proposals relating to tax havens and condemn the undiscriminating austerity » Remember when in 2008 G8 spoke of « rescue » at that auspicious times provoked by the « surprise » of financial crisis, and they solemnly promised regulation of financial flows and purging of tax havens. They are presently more satisfied than ever.

Moreover, all measures are listed in a conditional way as simple recommendation: « Countries should … multinationals should … (…) The restoration of financial stability needs to go hand in hand …fiscal policy should … »

Should … should … should …

How can 6, 7, 8 or 20 countries pretend running a world of 196 states? They did a good job: weakening the nation-state, transferring economic and political power to large financial institutions and speculative supranational consortia, sidelining the UN and its agencies, replacing ethical values ​​by the law of market.

Maybe their smiles indicate that « we are in command still enough. » as the United Nations were born to support – « We the people … » – the design and construction of a better world. And the G7, G8, etc. originated with large hegemonic ambitions to continue to strengthen their members’ prosperity and power.

If the G8 had little time, if this was its farewell…

How nice it would be if it was…

The political economy of networks

AN « EXCESS »  OF DEMOCRACY  (2/3)

Networked forms of the 1960s/70s were distinctive because essential to their origin, character and sustainability were values of solidarity, equality and democracy. Consciousness of these origins could help us now, when networked organizations are everywhere, to distinguish between the instrumental use of the concept of network in essentially undemocratic organizations (i.e. within states and corporations) and, on the other hand, as a way of connecting distributed activities based on shared values of social justice and democratically agreed norms.

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The latter possibility is radically enhanced through the new information and communications technology in its non-proprietorial forms. The new possibilities of systems coordinating a multiplicity of autonomous organizations with shared values, through democratically agreed norms or protocol, can help upscale economic organizations based on non-capitalist – collaborative, P2P (peer to peer organizations such as The Pirate Bay) co-operative or other social and democratic – forms of ownership, production, distribution and finance.

What enables us to make this apparently surprising dive from the forms of organization shaped by the consciousness-raising groups of the women’s movement (or indeed other civil society initiatives of the same period, such as the factory shop stewards’ committees combining against multi-plant, multinational corporations and developing alternative plans for socially useful production is the importance they give to practical, experiential knowledge and the need to share and socialize it.

The political economy of knowledge

The reason why this is important for the development of a political economy beyond capitalism is that behind the imposed choice between capitalist market and the state is the polarization between scientific, social and economic knowledge on the one hand and practical knowledge on the other. While the former was regarded as the heart of economic planning and centralized through the state, defenders of the free market sustained the latter as being held individually by the entrepreneur, capable of coordination only through the arbitrary workings of the market, based on private ownership. The relevant step forward of the women’s and other movements of the 1960s/70s was to make the sharing and socializing of experiential knowledge – in combination with scientific forms – fundamental to their focused, but always experimental, organizations. And to do so through consciously coordinated (networked) and self-reflexive relations between autonomous (distributed) initiatives.

Translating this into economics in the age of information and communications technology – a project requiring much further work – points to the possibility of forms of co-ordination that can include and help to regulate a non-capitalist market. A regulated, socialized market, that is, in which the drive to accumulate and make money out of money is effectively inhibited. It also provides a base for democratizing and, where appropriate, decentralizing the state, within the context of democratically agreed social goals (such as concerning equality and ecology).

It is over these issues concerning the sharing of knowledge and information and the implications for the relationship between autonomy and social co-ordination that the ideas coming from the Occupy movement can creatively converge with those of earlier movements. It is interesting in this context to read the economics working group of Occupy London describing in the Financial Times how Frederick von Hayek, the Austrian economist and theorist of free-market capitalism, with his ideas on the significance of distributed knowledge, is the talk of Occupy London. No doubt this was partly a rhetorical device for the FT audience. But the challenge of answering Hayek and his justification of the free market on the basis of a theory of distributed practical and/or experiential knowledge does provide a useful way of clarifying for ourselves the importance of the networked social justice initiatives of today and the anti-authoritarian social movements of the past for an alternative political economy. (http://www.tni.org/archives/books_arguments)
There is a point at which Hayek’s critique of the ‘all knowing state’ at first glance converges with the critique of the social democratic state made by the libertarian-social movement left in the 1960s/70s. Both challenge the notion of scientific knowledge as the only basis for economic organization and both emphasize the importance of practical and experiential knowledge and its ‘distributed’ character. But when it comes to understanding the nature of this practical knowledge and hence its relation to forms of economic organization, these perspectives diverge radically.

Whereas Hayek theorizes this practical knowledge as inherently individual and hence points to the arbitrary, unplanned and unplannable workings of the market and the price mechanism, the radicals of the 1960s/70s took, as we have just explained, a very different view. For them, the sharing of knowledge embedded in experience and collaboration to create a common understanding and self-consciousness of their subordination and of how to resist, was fundamental to the process of becoming a movement. In contrast to the individualism of Hayek, their ways of organizing assumed that practical knowledge could be socialized and shared. This led to ways of organizing that emphasized communication and shared values as a basis for co-ordination and a common direction. It provided the basis for purposeful and therefore more or less plannable action – action that was always experimental, never all-knowing; the product of distributed intelligence that could be consciously shared.

At the risk of being somewhat schematic, it could be argued that the movements of the 1960s/70s applied these ideas especially to develop an unfinished vision of democratizing the state. This took place both through attempts to create democratic, participatory ways of administering public institutions (universities and schools, for example) and through the development of non-state sources of democratic power (women’s centers, police monitoring projects and so on). It involved working ‘with/in and against’ the state, such as in the early 1980s when Madrid was handled by Enrique Tierno Galvan and the Greater London Council was led by Ken Livingstone.

Today’s movements are effectively focusing their energies especially on challenging the oligarchic market, and the injustice of corporate, financial power. Here the development of networked forms are increasingly linked to distributed economic initiatives – co-ops, credit unions, open software networks, collaborative cultural projects and so on. In this way, today’s movements are beginning to develop in practice a vision of socializing production and finance and creating an alternative kind of market, complementary to the earlier unfinished vision of democratic public power.

What they have in common, more in practice than in theory, is an assertion of organized democratic civil society as an economic actor, both in the provision of public goods and in the sphere of market exchange.

From social rebellion to transformation

AN « EXCESS »  OF DEMOCRACY  (1/3)

As we become increasingly dominated by the pursuit of economic growth, what campaigners can learn us from #occupy as well as previous radical movements in our attempt to forge a new kind of political economy based on a framework of equality, mutuality and respect for nature.

occupy-everything2The philosophy and experience of radical movements in the 1960s and 70s are complementary to the ideas of the direct action movements today. It is here to examine the possibility of forging a new kind of political economy by assimilating the best of both of them.

The Occupy movement’s ability to create platforms out of our closed political system to force open a debate on inequality, the taboo at the core of the financial crisis, is impressive. It is a new source of political creativity from which we all have much to learn.

One cannot fail to be impressed by the similarities between the late 1960s and 1970s and the current movement. There are both within the same strong feeling of power “from below” that comes from the dependence of the powerful on those they dominate or exploit. There’s the creative combination of personal and collective change, and proper rapport between resistance and experiments in creating alternatives here and now. There’s the repulse of hierarchies and the creation of organizations that are today described as ‘horizontal’ or ‘networked’ – and that now with the new technology tools for networking (Twitter, Facebook …) have both more potential –but it should also lend to greater distortion…

Here come back the same old problems: informal and unaccountable leaderships, tensions between inclusion and effectiveness. The Tyranny of Structurelessness, a strong assay of American feminist Jo Freeman inspired by her experiences in the 1970s in favor of the liberation of women and addressing, in particular, those unforeseen difficulties from the perspective of the movement women’s liberation, may be well read.

But that was 40 years ago – even before the widespread use of faxes, not to mention personal computers and mobile phones. Reflecting on these marginalized earlier movements possibly take forward the debates opened by Occupy and the Indignados.

From social rebellion to capitalist transformation

The fate of the energies and aspirations of that rebellious decade is a long and complex cluster of stories. Considering their relevance today, I want only to point to a historical process that was not generally anticipated at the time and still is not fully understood today. This was the ability of capitalism, which sought a way out of its stagnation and crisis, to feed opportunistically on the chaotic creativity and experimental culture-restless of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

For example, in the 80s while attacking unions, corporate management was also dismantling the military-style hierarchies characteristic of many leading companies and decentralizing the production process. A new generation of managers, especially in the innovative industries, assumed that more tacit knowledge by workers would infer a valuable source of increased productivity and higher profits – as long as workers have little or no power on their real redistribution.

Another prime example is how, in the endless pursuit of new markets, marketing experts were able to identify and anticipate business opportunities in the broad perspective and wants of a growing number of women with own income.

The key underlying feature of these and similar trends is that much of the innovative nature of capitalism’s renewal in the 1980s and 1990s – strengthened by the credit expansion– came from external sources to both the society and the state. In fact, frequently its origins lay in the resistance and the search for alternatives to both.

In other words, capital proved very much more agile in responding and appropriating the new energies and aspirations stimulated by the critical movements of the 1960s and 1970s than did the parties of the left – for which these movements could have been a force for democratic renewal.

Counter-movement

Now, with the credit that supported the social turmoil of this particular period of capitalism having become toxic, the search for alternatives is back again. Even the Financial Times, much to our astonishment, insisted in a series of articles on the crisis of capitalism to conclude that “at the heart of the problem is widening inequality”.

Are we witnessing in the combination – not necessarily convergence – of unease within at least the cultural elites, the growth of sustained popular resistance and public unhappiness, the emergence of what Karl Polanyi called a ‘counter-movement’ to the socially destructive consequences of rampant capitalism? And to what extent might the ideas of the movements of the 1960s and 1970s influence the character of that counter-movement?

A fundamental break

To answer this we need briefly to remind ourselves of the essential nature of the original social critique driven up by the 1960s/70s movements and in particular the nature of its potential break with the institutions of the post-war order: their paternalism, their exclusions, their narrow definition of democracy and the assumption that production and technology were neutral values.

Essential to the character of this assessment was its aspiration, more in practice than in theory, to overcome the deleterious dichotomies of the Cold War between the individual and the collective/social; freedom and solidarity/equality; ‘free’ market versus ‘command’ state – dichotomies that were refrozen through neoliberalism and the conditions in which the Berlin Wall fell.

The ideas and practices of the feminist’s movement are particularly explanatory. This movement arose partly from the gender-blind inconsistencies and from unfulfilled promises of radical movements of the time. It deepened and extended their transformation, adding ideas emerging from women’s specific experiences of breaking out of their subordination.

Especially important here was an emphasis on the individual as social and the collective as based on relationship between individuals: a social individualism and a relational view of society and social change. After all, the momentum of the women’s liberation movement was encouraged both by women’s desire to develop as individuals and their determination to end the social relationships that blocked these possibilities of progress. This required social solidarity: an organized movement.

The nature of its organization was shaped by a constant attempt to create organizational forms that combined freedom and autonomy – what every man struggles for– with solidarity, mutuality and values of equality. The result – cutting a complex and tense story short – was ways of relating that allowed autonomy, coordination and mutual support, without having to go through a single center. It’s what might be called an early solution, pre-ICT (*), a form of network organization.

The corporate capture of governments

The G20 — the most powerful summit of world governments — meets tomorrow to discuss the global economic crisis, and who is sponsoring the meeting? Banks and corporations.

No wonder the site of the meeting — the French city of Cannes — is completely locked down to any ordinary citizens, while banks and large corporate CEOs have all access passes to tell our governments what to do.

Corporations and banks have captured our governments, winning vast bailouts after helping to create the crisis. Now they are buying their way into the very meeting that could decide the world’s financial future.

The line between corporate power and responsible government has steadily blurred, undermining our democracies and our economy. Politicians take money from corporations for their campaigns, make policies that reward them when in office, and then take high-paid jobs with them after they leave. It’s venality, plain and simple.

Now Société Générale, a French bank that received a public bailout and has a vested interest in Europe’s financial policy, is an official sponsor of the summit. This bank and 20 other corporations have paid large sums of money in sponsorship for a seat at the table of our governments.

The only way to get policies that protect jobs, tackle speculators and guarantee a fair future for us all is to kick back against the lobbies and prise our leaders away from corporate interests.  The global economic crisis resulted in large part from reckless banks that were no longer regulated effectively by governments because of the control banks stress over our leaders. This corporate capture of government is the major threat today, both to democracy, and to an efficient and fair economy.

Northern Africa: A Choice between Reform and Stability

In the wake of uprisings in North Africa, West may be forced to make a choice between much-needed reform or stable dictatorships. NATO will need to reconsider its newest partnerships, beyond the interest of its allies, and start guaranteeing actual security.

Doused in paint thinner, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in Tunisia on Dec. 17, sparking a string of protests throughout northern Africa. The 20-year old college graduate, angry after the government confiscated his source of income- a fruit cart- and beat him, has been credited as the beginning of a series of uprisings in North Africa.

Protests have now spread to Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, as well as Morocco and Algeria. Citizens have taken to the streets in protest of high food prices, and even higher unemployment rates, and general discontent with, in many cases, decades of inefficient dictatorial regimes.

With protests mounting from country to country, igniting passion for reform in nations’ citizens, the uprisings of North Africa may be the 21st century’s Berlin Wall. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recognizes the potential effect the uprisings could have on the world order, but says, “The outcome of this turmoil remains unclear.”

Resource-rich North Africa has become a strategic battlefield among the US, Europe, China and Russia. The US and Europe seemed to prevail under two NATO initiatives: the Mediterranean Dialogue and a military alliance with the 53 countries of the African Union (AU).

Member nations of the AU and the Mediterranean Dialogue are believed to benefit from the initiatives under the broad public goals of countering security threats against Africa and using NATO as a model for the African Standby Force. But NATO members will receive more concrete benefits, such as limiting Russian and Chinese expansion and blocking arms suppliers of non-NATO members.

The interests of NATO fake ahead, devoid of serious regard to its public objectives. Rasmussen has outlined his concerns with the uprisings in terms of its impact upon the Middle East peace process and a possible increase of illegal immigration to Europe, validating NATO-centric concerns to the world under a “we don’t interfere in domestic politics” stance. Forget about partnerships, dialogues, and goals.

This lack of response from NATO is only amplified by a muted response from the US, with Europe following suit. Though Obama exercised caution in denouncing violence against peaceful protesters in Libya out of fear that the Gadhafi regime would target American nationals in Libya, Washington was also slow to react to protests in Egypt earlier in February.

Only after receiving strong criticism in the media did Obama denounce Mubarak, a long-time ally to the US, calling for transition “now.” Washington has supported up dictatorial regimes, such as that of Mubarak, for decades, benefiting from such stable relationships with dictators. In Egypt, which has been known to hold and torture terrorist suspects for the US, there has been a “protect us in our war and we will forgive your human rights abuses” policy. It seems US policy is in support of stable dictators, rather than fledgling democracies. Why would the US and NATO, which so avidly promote democracy, not have supported it in North Africa?

“The US and allies pull out no stops to prevent democracy because of major energy resources,” says Noam Chomsky, a well-respected American intellectual. In fact, as the protests spread to Libya, the major concern in the US was rising gas prices, not Gadhafi dropping bombs on his own citizens and executing Libyan soldiers who refused to kill their compatriots. Oil prices, which could reach $220 per barrel if Libya and Algeria, both dealing with internal protests, were to cut off oil supplies, could slow down economic recovery.

Both NATO and the US have screened selfish intentions behind national sovereignty, but after decades of support for allied dictators and more recent initiatives for a firm grasp on African affairs, perhaps it is not an honest stance to take. And if the US and NATO do not take a stance, we should hope they set aside potential gains and focus on allowing the internal movements of Africa choose the next step.

Recently, NATO has urged all parties to stop violence and ensure peaceful transition to democracy. A little less recently, Mubarak urged protestors for ‘orderly transitions’ that only served to postpone change. While we can hope and urge for peaceful transitions, we must remember that NATO should not be just a collection of military power, but also a political entity with a widely stated goal to “promote democratic values to build trust and prevent conflict in the long-run. To prevent conflict in the long run, might it be in the best interests of North Africa to allow reform?

West cannot both call for stability and advocate reform. It will need to reconsider its newest partnerships, beyond the interest of its allies, and start guaranteeing actual security.

Libyan costly battles

The battle in the Libyan desert lacks of cinematographic epics.

Neither “Rommel” Muammar el-Qaddafi withdraws as in Germanic retreat with his Jamahiriya’s Afrika Korps nor does Montgomery-champion-of-freedom conclude crushing the bad guys. But one thing’s for sure, we see how accurately are destroyed from the air some armored tanks that seem relics of the Second World War. We also perceive groups of insurgents, up the road, down the road, burning wheel on civilian vehicles with batteries of rockets that on no occasion will reach any target.

Clumsy images, testimonial prints, broadcasted and televised where the self-proclaimed members of the Libyan Free Army proclaim: « God’s with us. » Allah’s intervention must be prodigious, because only in this way insurgents have not been literally wiped out by the Muammar el-Qaddafi’s worshippers. But we do not see either pictures of massacres – unless the good old Tarantino is unable to record them.

It is a war of mirages, where the only unnatural gadget is the overwhelming war machine deployed by NATO, U.S., UK and France at the forefront. France which does not miss an opportunity, that’s why it is the third world’s biggest arms exporter. In fact, France sold military equipment to Libya up to yesterday. That may be, but our Odyssey Dawn is limited in terms of GDP. Nothing to do with the fireworks deployment that the American Tomahawk missiles display – hundreds of which have been released at a rate of 600,000 euros each. France is further unpretentious. Our tiny little Raffale fighters consume nearby 40,000 insignificant euros in fuel per flight hour. Best not to shoot or we sink our GDP.

Economic anemia and financial crisis (I)

First released in ‘Segunda Naturaleza‘ on 28 March 2009. Updated March 16, 2011

Prior to the financial crisis and as a prelude to the one we behold, we are witnessing a gradual but determined economic anemia. Since 2006.

The history of capitalism is marked by crisis. Definitely, since the 70’s we are witnessing a dip every 5 or 6 years. Systematically. Yet, the current one we endure, we ignore its internal mechanics: this is neither a cyclical crisis we ensue periodically nor a predictable structural collapse – so not analyzable in conventional terms.

Since capitalism exists per se in the dawn of the nineteenth century, the housing issue became a matter of essential focus. The issue is whether or not granting a mortgage to someone who has no assets, but offers reasonable assurance to invest the equivalent of 5 – 7 years earnings, which is the average housing cost. The loan is granted through a mortgage atop the object by itself, provided that the financial institution truthfully assesses the applicant’s income – say provided holder’s solvency. The financial institution does not usually covers further than 70 to 80% overall. The mechanism relies therefore on the holder’s complementary efforts.

However, in practice, since the late 90’s, the tendency in the United States has been encouraging a majority of citizens to become capitalist (whether they were solvents or not) and beginning with the house. The Bush administration pushed this ahead, banks operated with lax « after all, they said, why not lending to anyone. » Often, the assessment on the client’s financial coverage capacity depended if his face fitted, when not in practice, he was supposedly solvent. The bank saved itself because its solvency position no longer depended on the borrower’s sole creditworthy but especially on the intrinsic value of the property: so, if the holder failed to pay, the bank expropriated (sometimes people speak wrongly of seizure) and sold the house to redeem the debt. This system generalized up to December 2008. U.S. banks and European to a lesser extent, granted credit indiscriminately, especially low-income families and active minorities (Hispanics and African Americans), bestowing 100, 110 and even 120% of the property value with the reason that there is always some home remodeling to perform or new furniture to buy when you get settled in a new place. And in order to get a more tempting technique when possible, financial engineering used to propose a financial gimmick: namely, there was no capital refund thru the first 2 or 3 years, other than interests. The uncut gadget was escorted by variable interest rates, i.e. fluctuating, under the pretext that with time, « you’ll see your earnings will go up. » This is what has come to be called the doctrine of constant expansion.

Throughout the summer of 2007 roughly 1,700,000 American families loosed their homes, seized, evicted and their children threw out the street, frequently evicted from the school system. In fact expropriation measures were targeted at around 4,000,000 households, but the authorities responsible for executing the judgments of eviction – judges and police –refused regularly to enforce such unpopular measures. This impelled serious cash flow problems for a lot of credit institutions –to say bankruptcy as they were holding massive amounts of toxic loans (150 to 300,000 million dollars). The multiplier effect soon arose and the entire U.S. banking system realized it was holding failed, flawed, toxic mortgages: the so called subprime lending involved an extra interest rate, a bonus on the event of the loan holder was insolvent.

Yet we cannot talk of robbery; let us rather point to a cynical « brutalization » of the banking system inasmuch as the system decided not to deal with individuals (families, children and their risks), but with objects (the value of their risks). In an ethical and regular system, their loss statements should have been assessed, compulsory provision of funds required and finally the security authorities (central bank and stock exchange authorities) would have taken the necessary steps. Not so. Most financial institutions disguised toxic  loans with others who were not, creating packages, the perverted packages. These, in turn, were subject to new transactions targeted to other entities (which obviously did not warn the gambit). With it, banks got rid of noxious loans on their balance sheets while new (surreptitious) assets appeared healthy. This technique, called « securitization of credit », is perfectly legal but it has been denatured in those circumstances. In theory it happens to convert assets (loans, for example) in securities or bank values. In practice, the conversion was made ​​based on personal loans, thus giving rise to corrupted assets because the failed effects remained hidden behind the creditworthy assets. The hoax is unquestionable as long as the U.S. banks have accepted the situation and many Western banks assumed the subprimes without question. Since then the new titles became « marketable securities » throughout the world, ie they were admissible to official stock exchange quoting and were therefore transferable in the stock market. Titles invaded Western markets and, little by little, the deposit banks collapsed: some were aware of it and others suspected insolvent loans in their portfolio, but they were incapable to determine how many and how important they were. The perversion led to extreme fraud:  there were cases where the mortgage ownership on a home was split throughout several titles so as to detach and include them throughout different packages. Who bids higher?

Very few banks were clever enough to assess their risk or that of their neighbor whom, so far, traded cash daily. Mistrust among banks generalized and interbank credit was finished off.

As for Q4 2008, the real (productive) economy suffered strongly the bias effect of the increasing blockade of credit lines to businesses and small firms. From then on, banks do not guarantee their fundamental duty, i.e. the necessary cash « irrigation » in order to keep in force the levels of trade.

Next post: The imbalances in the spotlight

Libya, the international community and the responsibility to protect

The situation in Libya requires the international community to get involved early. In such cases, the problem of sovereignty must give way to the responsibility to protect. The international community cannot accept that the government of Muammar el-Qaddafi keeps on insisting that these are facts that relate only to Libyan domestic policy, then to be managed in terms of domestic policy.

The international community’s response must be fast, firm and effective. The history of Rwanda in 1994, Srebrenica and Darfur does not allow us to be very optimistic about the effectiveness of the international community when responding to emergency situations. But we must try it. A special meeting on Libya took place at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday February 25. The next day, the Security Council of United Nations met in New York in this regard. This last resort has ultimately a role and in particular the International Criminal Court – once the ICC is entitled to act at the request of the executive organ of the UN.

The fact that the Security Council of United Nations recognizes that the Libyan issue is of its concern, portends a significant point. At most if the Council just requested the ICC to take hand in the matter. Libya is not a State Party to the Rome Statute (1). Conversely, the Security Council can always promote preliminary investigations: in the case of Darfur, the Council established an investigation committee headed by Italian jurist Antonio Cassese (2). The work of the commission allowed the ICC to be aware and to have jurisdiction on the atrocities committed in the Darfur region.

Such a committee would be useful in elucidating the events in Libya and would be a quick reaction faster to materialize in situ. Its presence and implementation would largely stem the state of violence and abuses that run on the ground at the moment. There are precedents.

So, can the UN act effectively? What can be done?

Both much and little. Because the United Nations are States. The ones that might be fully involved and committed. There has been progress lately, yet the UN machine still remains slow-moving today. The Security Council meets permanently and the Human Rights Council can be in session urgently. Obviously a watchdog having a streamlined executive resolving power would be more effective, but the reality of the current international relations does not allow a real quick response in dealing with such concerns.

Since Monday 28 February, the Human Rights Council shall be meeting for 3 weeks. Surely Libya shall be at the center of the debate. Last Friday, during the Council special session, while the Libyan seat remained empty in the morning, the second secretary at the Libyan embassy in the UN announced in the afternoon, amidst loud applause, that from that moment the Libyan delegation in Geneva represented « the free people of Libya. »

________

(1)  The treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Adopted in Rome on July 17, 1998, and that 139 countries have now ratified.

(2) Antonio Cassese was the first President of the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia. He is Professor of International Law at the University of Florence and Editor in Chief of the Journal of International Criminal Justice

Related Posts:

· The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in the spotlight

Way forward for the Palestinian recognition is underway

After direct peace talks with Israel failed last autumn, Palestinian leaders have stepped up their drive to gain global recognition for a Palestinian state. Israel has warned the move could hamper further peace efforts.

Map showing states having recognized or have special diplomatic arrangements with Palestine. ©Wikipedia

Since Brazil in December officially recognized a Palestine as a sovereign, independent state within its borders prior to 1967 a whole wave of other Latin American nations have followed. In recent weeks Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador have done the same. Chile and Peru also recognized a Palestinian state, but declined to mention particular borders in their recognition.

South American and Arab states are due to discuss these developments at a summit in Lima this weekend.
Ireland last month upgraded the status of the Palestinian delegation to that of a mission, thereby elevating the head of the mission to the rank of ambassador. A spokeswoman for the Irish foreign ministry said, the country was following the example of France, Spain and Portugal.

Israeli irritation

Israel has criticized the recent wave of recognitions. It called Latin American countries’ recognition of a Palestinian state “highly damaging interference” by countries that were never part of the Middle East peace process.
Ireland’s decision drew an angry response from Israel, which condemned Dublin for a “long-standing biased policy on the Middle East”. “This will only strengthen the Palestinians’ rejection of any return to direct dialogue and peace negotiations,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Currently, more than 100 countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, have recognized a Palestinian state. Palestinian authorities are hoping for a diplomatic domino effect to back their claim for a state in all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel disputes the Palestinian claim on all the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land it captured from Jordan in a 1967 war and has extensively settled.

Revolts put focus on Arab civil society

Youth revolts in Tunisia and Egypt could spread throughout the Maghreb and the Arab World as the discontented masses take to the streets.

Street clamor is not exactly the same in Egypt as in Tunisia

In Tunisia, a popular insurrection knocked down a dictator for the first time in Arab history. In the meantime, the largest protests in decades have broken out in Egypt. Could Morocco and Algeria be next?

Tunisia’s revolution generated tremors not just in Egypt. Throughout the Maghreb, authoritarian regimes like those in Morocco and Algeria have a difficult time addressing the frustration and despair of their young populations. Could the revolutionary example set in Tunisia take root among its neighbors?

The revolution arose on mid December when a desperate, unemployed computer scientist named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the small town of Sidi Bouzid. Bouazizi’s death symbolized the despair of a generation, triggering a series of general protests that ultimately swept longtime dictator President Ben Ali from power.

“We have 13 percent unemployment but the figures in the interior of the country are significantly higher, sometimes upwards of 70 percent,” said Adelwahab El Hani, a Tunisian human rights lawyer from Sidi Bouzid. “80,000 Tunisians have just finished up with their studies and they need jobs. That’s an enormous challenge for the government.”

Extreme imbalances and poor human rights records
One Tunisian student said it was like the top cover had shot off of a pressure cooker. He wasn’t just alluding to his homeland, but to the entire Maghreb. In Morocco, half the population is under 25 years old and 40 percent of them do not have a steady job. Young graduates are especially hard hit. The grumbling from the streets has become audible. Sure, there are limited political freedoms, woman’s rights, a parliament and a government – but no genuine open democracy. The military and secret police are omnipresent. The social imbalances are extreme.

“Motives for these kinds of revolts are all over the Maghreb,” said Francis Ghiles, from the Center for International Studies in Barcelona. “The elites in Morocco live the high life, but that doesn’t guarantee social stability. The pie can’t just belong to the rich. When there’s no redistribution of wealth, when the upper class parades around arrogantly, then there will be revolt someday.”

In Algeria it has already reached that point. This massive land is a social barrel of gunpowder. In January there were wounded during protests against high grocery prices. In many Algerian cities, the young expressed their rage in a flurry of stones, tear gas grenades and Molotov cocktails.

Algeria’s government promised to take decisive action, but the country is politically stagnant. Longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is supported by a corrupt clique of military officers and secret police. Three-fourths of Algerians are under 30. Most of them do not have jobs, lodging or perspective. All this despite the fact that the state strongboxes are full with money from oil and gas exports.

Algeria “has accumulated 150 billion euros in foreign exchange,” Ghiles said. “The problem is not a lack of money, but a clientele economy. It’s a casino. There’s no order, no plan, no perspective. And on top of that the government is autistic. Those in power just don’t listen, they don’t see the problems of their people, or they simply just don’t want to see.”

But now they have to see. A growing number of desperate, well-educated young people are extinguishing themselves in gasoline and lighting themselves on fire: In Egypt, in Yemen, in Mauretania and also in Algeria. Just like Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, whose final act of self-determination set a whole country in flames.

Domino effect
Ghiles believes that the so called “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia is a historic event that has shaken the entire Maghreb. However, he does not believe that it will set off a domino effect which collapses other authoritarian regimes throughout the region. The Moroccan King Mohammed VI has a broad power base and his role as the highest religious leader of the Moroccan people lends him additional legitimacy.

In Algeria the middle class, which played a critical role in Tunisia, has largely disappeared. There has been social turmoil for years, but the regime has never been seriously threatened. The military and secret police are so tightly connected with the halls of power and the oil and natural gas industries that they have too much to lose in a revolution.

In glaring contrast to Tunisia, the Algerian army would gun down demonstrators. And nobody wants a new civil war in Algeria – the last one cost 200,000 lives. Even if the states of the Maghreb do not fall like dominoes, Tunisia serves as a warning. When these kinds of events repeat themselves, like recently in Algeria or a few years ago in Morocco, or even in Tunisia or Egypt, then governments have to draw some conclusions. If they don’t do that, then the pressure cook will explode – just somewhat later.
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Francis Ghiles, The Maghreb refuses to share, Le Monde Diplomatique, Feb. 2010; El Coste del No-Maghreb, IEMed and ToledoPax, Madrid, May 2006 and Barcelona, Nov. 2007.

Development, Democracy and Human Security

An approach to the concerns on democracy promotion.

There is a great debate about the principles that should guide promotion of democracy abroad.  There are sensitivities involved in promoting democracy and we should be mindful of how its democracy assistance is perceived in recipient countries.  Others should raise the importance of democratic assistance to Western interests and values.

Many analysts see democracy promotion as a key foreign policy responsibility and suggest that Western states should focus on a holistic approach with a specific focus on developing civil society and establishing long-term goals. Western countries need to be accountable for their actions abroad. They can best promote democracy by leading by example.

Other analysts note that Western countries should only engage in democracy promotion activities when invited by other states, arguing that democracy must take root from within.  Still others felt that democracy promotion was best left to NGOs with indirect support from Western governments.

Significant elements of democratic governance

There is a wide variety of elements of democratic governance.  Some think that developed countries should focus on civic education of children (particularly girls) and youth while others think the establishment of democratic institutions and rule of law are of greater importance.

There is a great debate on what should come first: democracy or development – yet, no consensus is formed. Views diverge on whether economic development is sufficient to bring democracy to other countries.  Many specialists suggest that a market economy is not a precondition or impetus for democratization. Some others focus on the need for an empowered civil society, human rights and free media as essential elements of democratic governance.

How developed countries can promote Democracy

Following along from the discussion of guiding principles above, one should agree that democracy is best cultivated using a bottom-up approach:  hence, the important distinction between democracy promotion and imposition.

In this light, West can promote democracy through its participation in international or regional forums (i.e. by sharing best practices).  In that way, EU missions abroad could support democracy promotion by engaging citizens who had previously lived in the EU.

Developed countries could assist with enhancing the elements of democratic governance.  For example, contributing to dynamism of civil society, supporting the logistics of a free media, encouraging forums of assembly, giving support to international exposure of grassroots democratic struggles, promoting human rights and generally providing consultation and support for countries who request it.

Barriers such as conflict and state fragility, poverty and authoritarian regimes are often interlinked.  Western countries can work to increase transparency and accountability through their efforts to strengthen corporate social responsibility, meet an Official Development Assistance (ODA) level of 0.7% of GDP and restrict financial support to countries with authoritarian regimes (Note that some countries just focus their resources on one region of the world.)

Other analysts mention that it could best assist democracy by focusing at home and implementing, for example, a proportional representation electoral system.

© Department of Political Science, Duke University (1)

Main obstacles to democracy promotion

The state, whether authoritarian or exaggeratedly bureaucratic, is the main obstacle to democracy promotion.  In these situations, it is highly recommended to support the community-based democratic initiatives and a strong focus on the mobilization of civil society and a strong middle class.

Lessons learned from South Africa

In this regard, it is interesting to note the South African experience. According to the South African Institute for Security Studies, four critical elements are particularly important to strengthening democracy:

1. Fairness of elections and electoral processes;
2. Freedom to form and participate in an opposition party;
3. Adherence to limits on time served in office as outlined by constitutions; and,
4. Independence of the judiciary.

Another remarkable action is the relative success of US NGO involvement in the colour revolutions (2) that occurred in three countries of the former Soviet Union.  But note that although this method was an example of productive outside intervention, it may not be appropriate in other areas of the world.

Sources:

· David Held, Models of Democracy, Polity and Stanford University Press, 1987.
· New Institute for Multiparty Democracy (IMD).
· openDemocracy.
· Rights & Democracy.
· Samantha Power, Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Take a view on her very interesting approach at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUUOO5cCNVg.
· Wikipedia.

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(1) This graphic is world imports in 2002, Colors reflect the level of democracy (blue) or autocracy (tan) in each of these countries (based on the POLITY IV indicators). What is most notable about this cartogram is the disappearance of the African continent: Africa is almost invisible in terms of global trade patterns, a continuing point of contention in (barely) ongoing global trade negotiations.

(2) Participants in the colour revolutions have mostly used nonviolent resistance to protest against governments seen as corrupt and/or authoritarian, and to advocate democracy. These movements all adopted a specific colour or flower as their symbol. The colour revolutions are notable for the important role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and particularly student activists in organizing creative non-violent resistance. So far these movements have been successful in Serbia (especially the Bulldozer Revolution of 2000), in Georgia’s Rose Revolution (2003), in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (2004), and (though more violent than the previous ones) in Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution (2005). Each time massive street protests followed disputed elections and led to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by their opponents to be authoritarian.

Glory Days of Counter Terror Industry

New York City, September 2001

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On 14-15 April 2010, London’s Kensington Olympia will play host to a Counter Terror Expo, one of the most relevant international exhibition and conference of its kind to take place in the UK.

Happening sponsored by the French arms company Thales, the Expo will be carried through Clarion Events which is also responsible for organizing the Defense Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition held every two years in London’s Docklands, where some 1,000 arms companies congregate to get rid of lethal arms, bombs and other weapons to buyers from all over the world.

The culture of fear and distrust that has grown up around this century’s terror culture and its associated wars has created vast new markets for anything that can be branded with the words ‘security’ or ‘defense’.

Officially supported by a plethora of military, police and private security associations, the Counter Terror Expo will showcase over 250 security, surveillance and specialist logistics companies such as BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin; state agencies including NATO and the defense ministries from many countries — and anyone else claiming to provide protection against terrorism for both the armed forces and civilian populations.

Joining the fray are a number of corporations involved in creating identity verification technologies. The biometrics and database management companies whose invasive products, based on the recognition of physiological characteristics, are finding voice as futuristic ’solutions’ in, what is deemed, an ’increasingly dangerous world’.

Surveillance systems will be a major focus of the expo, with companies promoting biometric and data gathering/mining technologies — technologies promoting “freedom” through ever greater control and documentation of our daily lives.

May God have mercy on our souls !

Obama saves more for better care

Obama’s reform: An expense or an investment?
For conservatives (Republicans but also some thirty Democrat representatives) this is an expense, a redistribution gadget: those who are able to earn money are bled for the benefit of those who are not able to bring in. For liberals we are facing an investment: spending for the poor health, any American – even rich ones – will gain. Besides, this reform is similar to the French universal health coverage-CMU (which impressed Hillary Clinton): taking care of the poor, first you avoid the risk of contamination from the poor to the rich, and then you consolidate an employable and compliant workforce. In the US, the health reform will cost 940 billion dollars over ten years and some 32 million Americans would benefit of it. The aim is to cover active and young, 95% of the population under 65 years. So it costs money.

And it saves money… the hardest to understand. Explanation in 5 points.

The reform creates a more competitive market for insurance and it will be overall cheaper for Americans. So far the insurers provide the richest people who have no health problems. But they do not cover sick. Reform is more than a humanitarian measure; it puts pressure on the cost of health insurance as insured contributors will make the practice to compare proposals.

President Obama’s reform establishes a commission to control health spending, composed of independent experts approved by the Senate. They observe spending excesses in that event.

The most unpopular, but the clearest, the tax on Cadillac insurance (1). Today, employers pay 70% of their better paid employees’ insurance plans and do not pay taxes on it: 250 billion dollars annually for top executives and other senior officers who waste health outrageously. There will be taxed up a certain ceiling: a right way to limit rising of unnecessary health spending.

Turn doctors into caregivers, instead of health merchants. Today, Americans buy health like cars, except they do not want a third car they won’t buy. In health matters, the more doctors push Americans to consume, the more they consume. Obama strikes first at hospitals that offer Therapy Packs with the result one easily anticipates at the end. For the most part, the reform consists in discard the most expensive system in the world, the same who cares the least.

Summarizing the preceding: reforming the philosophy of health, and there, even Republicans agree. Today US system limits health care expenses taking no care of people. Now, the less we care of people, the more health expenses explode. With president Obama’s system, elected people’s representatives will be compelled to focus on health spending, even though they let them go off course drift in the past. Final outcome is $ 138 billion saving cost of Federal deficit in the next ten years and 1,200 billion over the next decade. Obama reform is both an investment and a sharp cutback scheme.

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(1) Sometimes referred to as a “Cadillac” or “gold-plated” insurance plan, a high-cost policy is usually defined by the total cost of premiums, rather than what the insurance plan covers or how much the patient has to pay for a doctor or hospital visit.
People who have Cadillac plans often have low deductibles and excellent benefits that cover even the most expensive treatments, but this is not always the case. Premium costs can be high for reasons other than generous benefits, including the age, gender and health status of the customer. In an employer-based plan, premiums are based on the pooled risk of employees and may be higher if many of the employees are sick, older, female or live in a region with expensive health costs. Additional information in ebri.org.

Should we be afraid of China?

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China Town by Bala ©

Inexorably, despite global protests, China goes on with colonization of Tibet. Inexorably China enters the African continent as well by cooperating with countries such as Zimbabwe or Sudan, which West considers beyond the pale. China, which economic dynamism is impressive, helped derail the climate summit in Copenhagen. Because of its energy needs China proved a reliable ally for Iran, despite its aggressive and repressive threat of programmed access to nuclear weapons. Deaf to international pressure, the Chinese government has put to death Amal Shaikh, a British citizen convicted of drug trafficking and suffering from severe mental disorders. Confronted with the former British colonial power, PRC has made it a matter of sovereignty. On Christmas Day, the intellectual dissident Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in prison for circulating a petition favorable to democracy. We could go on but we better stop the list here and ask the question: is China dangerous?
China is stronger, more powerful and influential and for that reason the peculiarity of its governance is becoming more visible to our eyes. But China has never been so dangerous for the Chinese than during the Great Leap and in the Cultural Revolution – that is when we were not familiar enough with PRC. Paradoxically, and despite the excesses warned above, there is an even worse and extremely painful point which affects the provocative way China treats the issues on human rights: there are no softer and more peaceful dissident than Liu Xiaobo in his efforts to improve human rights status; just as the Gao Xiaosheng’s evaporation last year. Gao Xiaosheng is a pro human rights lawyer who took on defending victims of earthquake in Xishuang: The Chinese Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, interviewed by foreign journalists on the question where was Gao Xiaosheng last year, replied simply: « He is where he should be » – which represents a denial of rights, even by Chinese standards. These types of harm have always existed but today their impact is amplified.

In addition, there was always a militant Chinese presence in Africa, competing with Taiwan and the USSR, but the means and economic issues are now at a completely different scale, even worse. Think of the Chinese diaspora of more than one million people living in Africa – and not only in Zimbabwe or Sudan. The Chinese method of governance calls ours into question because it is awfully efficient and we Westerners are demoralized by the Chinese resourceful success. The effect of democracy devitalization that follows is even more dangerous because it removes from the Chinese scenario the perspective of improvement on freedoms situation in the short term. There is furthermore its projection capability abroad and the fact that China gives a global dimension to its economic interests – interests that affect the West: oil, Iran, tolerance to nuclear North Korea.
To what extent is China potentially aggressive? By reason of its nationalism exacerbation and the non-compliance to international standards? Think about the repeated humiliations to European leaders – the latest was Gordon Brown’s concern for the execution of British citizen, mentally handicapped, Shaikh Amal.

China has become the world’s largest exporter, the main workshop, the major laboratory, the key farm and the World’s Bank. It takes place in the concert of nations without respecting the rules of the game. So, must we be afraid of China? Is it not an unfair and premature conclusion?

The example of its development is totally new: An asymmetric society whose Leninist system of governance coexists with wilderness capitalism. The emergence of an illiberal capitalism – a non-democratic capitalism – disturbs economists as it worries political experts. Some, resigned, wonder if China has not found even the right formula. Hence, here arises the idea of devitalization of our democratic model, a society that has lost faith in itself challenged by the arrogant success of the unpredictable neophyte.

The issue that harass minds is: an unscrupulous country takes advantage of its special economic status without respect for human rights, while it freezes on a nationalist project that weights international system – not yet a rogue state but deaf to international pressure. And beyond that, is its development socially sustainable and to what extent China is potentially aggressive taking into account the mass effect of its demographic power?

Unrepentant Blair

Protestors called Blair a 'liar' and a 'war criminal'

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been appearing before an inquiry looking into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War. Blair said he did not wait for UN backing, because he believed it would never be given.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he wanted the backing of the United Nations in the Iraq war, but believed that he would never get it. Giving evidence to a UK public inquiry into the decision to go to war, he said he thought that it would be pointless to continue debating the war with fellow United Nations Security Council members.

The inquiry is examining the legitimacy of the war as well as when the decision on providing military support for the 2003 US-led invasion was made. Blair, now an international envoy to the Middle East, said he doubted at the time that it would be possible to secure a UN “second resolution” that would add legitimacy to the war under international law.

“It was very, very clear to me that the French, the Germans and the Russians had decided they weren’t going to be in favor of this (…) There was a straightforward division, frankly, and I don’t think it would have mattered how much time we had taken; they weren’t going to agree that force should be used.”

Blair denied the accusation that he made a secret agreement with his US counterpart George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq. The former Labour Party leader was asked whether he had pledged to support the war during a visit to the then president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. Blair said he had told Bush, “we are going to be with you in confronting and dealing with this threat,” but that no promises were made.


9/11 attacks changed judgement

The September 11 attacks changed the “calculus of risk” and meant it was no longer possible to contain Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein through sanctions, Blair also said. Britain committed 45,000 troops to the war. It was the most controversial episode of Blair’s 10-year premiership, provoking huge protests, divisions within his party and accusations he had deceived the public about the justification for invasion.

Under close questioning, Blair said the September 11 Qaeda attacks on the United States – and the threat of weapons of mass destruction – were the main factors in Britain’s decision to invade Iraq.

“We were advised that these people would use chemical or biological weapons or a nuclear device if they could get hold of them; that completely changed our assessment of where the risks for security lay.”

Unrepentant Blair defends war in Iraq without UN backing

No regrets over decision

At the end of the session, Blair said that he did not regret the war despite the fact that weapons of mass destruction were not found.

“If I’m asked if I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better with Saddam and his two sons out of power, then I believe indeed we are.”

The British inquiry has already heard from senior civil servants who said intelligence in the days before the March 20, 2003 invasion indicated that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had already been dismantled.

Protesters outside of the building where the inquiry was being held chanted “Tony Blair, war criminal!” as he entered through a back door amid high security.

Observers say that Blair’s appearance may not only affect his personal political legacy but also damage the Labour government of his successor Gordon Brown, who was chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the Iraq invasion.