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Gutting the INF: Bolton Must be Stopped

 

by JOE CIRINCIONE

 

John Bolton relishes in targeting nuclear arms treaties. He is very good at it.

The U.S. national security adviser’s latest hit is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, but his list of victims goes back decades. He had a hand in either the U.S. withdrawal or repeal of Richard Nixon’s Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Bill Clinton’s Agreed Framework with North Korea and Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.

Now he has helped put the knife into Ronald Reagan’s landmark treaty, one that broke the back of the nuclear arms race in 1987. It was the first time that the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to destroy, not just limit, nuclear weapons. Together they destroyed almost 2,700 perfectly good nuclear weapons that they had spent billions of dollars and many years building. It began the process of massive reductions in global nuclear arms that continued until the current administration.

Why is Bolton against these nuclear security treaties that Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, have championed? Because he thinks they make America weak. In 1999, he decried the liberal “fascination with arms-control agreements as a substitute for real non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” A year later, he ridiculed “the Church of Arms Control.”

For Bolton and others like him, these agreements are part of the effort by the global Lilliputians to tie down the American Gulliver. In his mind, we must have maximum flexibility and multiple military options to preserve our security and interests around the world. We must protect our nation with military might, not pieces of paper.

Russia is likely in violation of the INF Treaty. It has deployed missiles near its border with Europe at ranges that exceed those allowed by the agreement. But when someone breaks the law, the answer is not to repeal the law. There are well-established methods for bringing an offending nation back into compliance. Reagan, in fact, negotiated the INF Treaty while the Soviets were in violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He pushed and cajoled them for several years. After signing the INF Treaty, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev relented and shut down the offending radar. We could do the same for the INF Treaty by pushing for an agreement on mutual inspections, as many experts have suggested.

But Bolton does not want to fix the treaty; he wants to kill it. “Violations give America the opportunity to discard obsolete, Cold War-era limits on its own arsenal and to upgrade its military capabilities to match its global responsibilities,” Bolton wrote in 2014.

America will pay a high price for this rigid ideology. President Trump walking out of Reagan’s treaty is a gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. It doesn’t fix the problem; it makes it worse. Now, there will be no restraints whatsoever on Putin’s ability to deploy hundreds of missiles, should he desire. The United States will likely be blamed for the collapse of the treaty, widening the split within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Europeans are already shaken by the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran nuclear deal. This will increase their doubts about U.S. commitment to their security.

All this plays into Putin’s hands. It raises serious questions about whether Putin and Trump discussed this in any of their five secretive meetings. Whatever Bolton’s ideological agenda, this is certainly helping not hurting Putin’s Russia.

This goes beyond geopolitical advantage. For those who followed the arms race of the 1980s, it feels like déjà vu to again watch countries matching adversaries’ military deployments with their own in a futile effort to overcome or intimidate. And this time, it isn’t just a two-nation race. For some, the real payoff for leaving the INF Treaty is that it will allow the United States to deploy new missiles against China’s medium and intermediate-range missiles, even though we already have multiple ways to target their systems and vastly more nuclear weapons.

Thankfully, Congress has indicated that it will not idly watch as the nuclear security house burns down. Last Thursday, 10 senators, led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and including three Democratic 2020 presidential candidates, introduced legislation barring any funding for any new weapon that would violate the INF Treaty. The House is certain to follow suit.

Congressional and European pressure may yet combine to pull Trump back from this self-destructive brink. European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini called on Friday for both sides to stick to the treaty. “What we definitely don’t want to see is our continent going back to being a battlefield or a place where other superpowers confront themselves,” she said. “This belongs to a faraway history.”

The danger is that the INF Treaty is not the last arms control treaty to die. Many fear that Bolton has his eyes on the New START agreement that limits long-range nuclear forces. That treaty expires in 2021, unless we act to extend it. Otherwise, for the first time since 1972, there will be no limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.

Bolton must be stopped before he strikes again.

This was produced by The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post, where this column originally appeared.

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Chavez

After the death of Chavez, we have read and heard numerous comments. Whether, one describes Chavez as a Bolivarian revolutionary, an anti-American, a Socialist, or a populist, depends on one’s personal outlook. President Ahmadinejad has said that Chavez “will be resurrected alongside Jesus Christ…” to each his own. When former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Duddy, stated that”Chavez was both a divisive figure and revered leader. It is undeniable that he changed Venezuela. Many of the poor considered him a champion and will mourn his passing.” may be closer to the target.

Without putting a colored glass of bias, it seems, that Chavez undoubtedly empowered Venezuela’s poorest citizens, levels of poverty and unemployment saw a remarkable decline under his 14 years in power, and, by increasing popular participation in politics, the culture of democracy has outstandingly improved. At the same time, it seems to be factual that Chavez’s death has brought Venezuela to face an uncertain future.

I have included two interesting articles written on the impacts of Chavez on Venezuela’s political topography for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.

Professor Mekonen Haddis

What Chavez Left Behind

The bus slid along the Bolivian jungle road, with evangelical music blasting out of the speakers. Rain dripped steadily through the holes in the roof as the vehicle surged ahead in fits and starts, past the lights of small villages and the vast blackness of the Chapare, a tropical region in the center of the country. Eventually the rain gave way to dawn, and a hot sun baked the damp bus as we rolled into the city of Santa Cruz, where the 2003 Ibero-American Presidential summit was taking place. On the outskirts of the city, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez later spoke to a stadium packed with Bolivian coca farmers carrying bags of the green leaf and miners with mini Bolivian flags waving from their helmets.

Chávez captivated the stadium for hours, talking about baseball and Simón Bolívar, criticizing George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and congratulating Bolivia for recently ousting a neoliberal president in popular protests. Smoke blew over the crowd from barbecues and occasional fireworks as the Venezuelan leader spoke into the night.

Here was a president marked by the movements and politics that surrounded him. Brazil’s Landless Movement cheered him on in a dusty gathering Porto Alegre in 2005 as he announced that Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution (named after the Latin American independence leader) was a socialist political project. And the crowd went wild later that same year in Argentina as Chávez, alongside Maradona, celebrated the death of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

At these encounters, what was always the most impressive thing about Chávez was not so much what he said or did, but the political space and moment that surrounded him. From the Bolivian coca farmers who felt common ground in his ant-imperialist stance, to the many fellow leftist Latin American presidents that came into office during his 14 years in power, Chávez was defined by an era and a movement in Latin America that is far from depleted.

As an icon of the contemporary Latin American left, he helped create a space for other presidents to move in, whether it was with Ecuador’s Rafael Correa kicking out a US air base, or Bolivia’s Evo Morales nationalizing natural gas industries in Bolivia. The progressive constitution that Chávez helped rewrite provided a model for other governments to follow over the past decade. The regional blocs he worked to create fostered south-to-south economic and political alliances, provided a check to US military power in the region, and encouraged the leftist politics and economic policies of presidents across Latin America.

Beyond this regional influence, some of Chávez’s greatest legacies are not in the presidential palace, but in the streets, factories and neighborhoods of Venezuela, among the activists, workers and neighbors who have built the Bolivarian Revolution from the bottom up.

From communal councils to worker-run factories, Venezuela is the site of the some of the most sophisticated and successful experiments in direct democracy, socialism and worker-control in the world. While Chávez was a key figure in the development of many of these projects and initiatives, it is the Venezuelan people that brought them to life and will keep them alive after his death. Many of these programs are characterized not by top-down, bureaucratic state policies, or government funding handed out to create electoral support. They are the projects of people using the Bolivarian Revolution as a grassroots tool.

Since taking office in 1999 Chávez used his mandate as a leader, and the nation’s oil wealth, to create programs that provide free education, dental and health clinics, land and housing reform, government-subsidized supermarkets, and hundreds of thousands of business cooperatives. In Venezuela, where much of the population lives below the poverty line, these programs have had an enormous impact. Other government initiatives have helped spur on activism from below, self-governance at a local level, and direct democracy in political decision-making and funding.

A story from the neighborhood of El 23 de Enero in Caracas is emblematic of such progressive trends. El 23 de Enero neighborhood has a history of social consciousness and rebellion; as a poor, working class neighborhood, El 23 de Enero was marked by the police as a dangerous area, whose residents should be controlled and repressed. During conservative presidencies, the local police station was a place of torture and imprisonment for many leftist community leaders. After decades of state violence, and following the election of Chávez, the community was able to reclaim and transform this center of police repression. Juan Contreras, a radio producer, leader in the community organization Coordinador Simón Bolívar, and long-time resident of the neighborhood, told me how he and his compañeros took over the police station—for decades an outpost for crackdowns on leftist organizing—and transformed it into a community radio station and cultural center.

“This place was a symbol of repression,” Contreras explained to me in the studio, which smelled like fresh paint. “So we took that symbol and made it into a new one.” He continued: “It is evidence of the revolution made by us, the citizens. We can’t hang around waiting for the revolution to be made for us; we have to make the changes.” The station receives state funding, but community members fought hard for permission to reclaim the police station by occupying the building without permission. El 23 de Enero’s victories are examples of how Venezuelan movements worked with the Chávez administration by demanding attention through direct action, and then working with subsequent state support.

The tactic used in El 23 de Enero of seizing upon the opportunities and space provided by the Chávez government, while also maintaining grassroots autonomy and momentum from below, is the foundation of many of the hopeful social changes going on in Venezuela today. Communal councils offer an interesting look into some of the participatory aspects of the Bolivarian process. They were created by the government in 2006, and thousands of them exist across the country today. The councils work to solicit funding from the government, begin social projects, programs, and missions in their community, and deal with issues like the management of local health and water projects. Long-time Venezuelan activist Alfonso Olivo believed the communal councils were “the most revolutionary measure that this government has taken” due to their transfer of power from mayors and governors to the ordinary citizens in the councils. “The people are capable [of social planning] by themselves, without the involvement of the state or the bureaucratic officials,” he explained in the excellent edited collection of interviews Venezuela Speaks! Voices From the Grassroots.

Communal councils in Venezuela show the fascinating push and pull that emerges where the state creates structures and projects that build community bonds. The councils are sometimes autonomous from, or even antagonistic toward, the Bolivarian state and party. The Chávez administration organized the councils in ways that encourage community involvement. Anyone over the age of fifteen can participate, and for a decision to be officially made, at least 30 percent of those in the council have to vote on it. In urban areas, councils must involve a minimum of 150 families, and around 20 families in rural areas. This scale means that the councils promote direct participation and are relatively easy to self-manage. When a council comes to a decision for a project, they can receive funding directly from the national government or national institutions, dispersing power away from local mayors and officials and into the hands of residents themselves.

Communal councils have provided a check to the power of local governments, as well as a platform to demand transparency and a more efficient bureaucracy from the government. The smaller scale and local focus of these councils is essential to their functionality, helping to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and circumvent corrupt or unresponsive politicians.

The councils can also provide a counterweight to a more centralized state. Political scientist Sara Motta writes in Reclaiming Latin America: Experiments in Radical Social Democracy that the communal councils “are an attempt to create a new set of state institutions that bypass the traditional state, and distribute power in a democratic and participatory manner.” The elasticity of the relationship between the grassroots and the state is tested here through a public empowered by state-created institutions—institutions that citizens can then use to challenge the traditional state if necessary.

The balancing act between remaining autonomous from the state and engaging it is described by council participant Edenis Guilarte in Reclaiming Latin America, “We must obtain the tools to be able to struggle against the bureaucracy and search for a way to get rid of leaders who want to control us, look to maintain their own power, and who divide the community.” In this sense, the councils can be a tool of emancipation. “What we are doing,” Guilarte explained, “is training, creating consciousness, which is a process that goes beyond repairing a road, obtaining a service, enabling access to water. It’s a macro process, a process of social change, a fight over ideas and practice.” The social bonds created by working on development projects through these state-created institutions can supersede the immediate goals of the actual project.

While communal councils manage budgets and develop community projects, they also serve as a basis for networking and developing community ties, which are then useful beyond the councils’ work. For example, Ismila, a community activist in a Caracas neighborhood, explained that when the public water company Hidrolara didn’t respond to demands from her community to deal with a sewage backup for two days, the members of her communal council decided to take matters into their own hands.

Because they were used to working together, debating and organizing, it was easy to coordinate a trip to the Hidrolara offices and demand to speak with the person in charge of dealing with sewage emergencies. Together, they had to pressure the officials for two hours, but ended up returning to their community with an engineer to take care of the problem. Ismila said, “We learned today that Hidrolara is useless as an institution, it does not work for the communities. These officials think they know everything and don’t listen to the community until there’s a problem.” So while the bureaucracy posed a problem, the solidarity and sense of community developed through the communal councils helped to solve it. The communal councils provide the tools for local organizing, which has a great potential to dismiss government clientelism and assert autonomy, helping people to live and organize beyond the state.

The Chávez government worked to open up spaces for community organizing, like that of communal councils and cooperatives, but also to encourage worker-control at factories and work places. In 2005, the Chávez administration announced decrees that enabled the state to expropriate businesses and factories to allow workers to manage them as cooperatives. With the legal steps in place for the state to intervene when a factory or business shuts its doors, the government can now collaborate with the workers to make sure the business continues and the workers remain employed. Furthermore, under worker self-management, workers have control over major decisions about how their workplace is organized. Dozens of businesses across Venezuela have come under state and worker control.

In 2005, workers took control of Inveval, a valve-producing business on the outskirts of Caracas. Pablo Cormenzana of Inveval explained in a 2006 interview with journalist Marie Trigona that the plant shut down on December 9, 2002, leaving the workers out of jobs. “Originally, there were 330 workers at the plant. A group of these workers decided to begin a fight to demand that the former owner pay them back what he owed them. Later, this demand transformed into the idea of recovering their jobs and to re-open the company.” This legal and political battle went on for years of organizing, workers camping outside the factory, and legal battles, until the factory went under state and worker control.

“Not only are the workers at Inveval successfully running a company without bosses or an owner, they’re also doing it without technocrats or bureaucracy from the government. The government has had little participation in the functioning of the company,” Cormenzana explained. “All of the workers make the same salaries, it doesn’t matter if they are truck drivers, line workers, or the president of the company. They are putting into practice genuine worker control at Inveval.” Inveval provides an interesting example of empowered workers taking charge to push the government to operate as a tool for the workers, rather than the other way around.

Throughout these various projects, conflicts, and relationships, the Venezuelan public has utilized the state as a people’s tool, and collaborated with it when the causes of the people and the government intersect. A true test for these movements from below is to what extent the Bolivarian Revolution will outlast Chávez.

Beyond the ongoing, everyday activism and organizing of people across Venezuela, one step will be the new presidential elections, now slated to take place on April 14th. Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, who was first elected to the National Assembly in 2000, was chosen by Chávez to be his successor. Maduro, who was Vice President and is now interim President, will run in the upcoming elections against right-wing opponent Henrique Capriles Radonski, who Chávez beat by 11 percent in last October’s election. It is likely Maduro will win. Regardless of the outcome, the influence of Chávez-initiated programs and policies will be felt for generations in Venezuela and across Latin America.

The examples illustrated here are just some of the many hopeful projects in direct democracy and worker-control that mark Chávez’s legacy. Beyond Venezuela’s borders, this legacy includes a wider movement against US imperialism and capitalism, and for human rights, progressive land reform, peace and a just global economy.

On December 2, 2011, as clouds hovered just above the working class neighborhoods on the green hillsides around Caracas, the foundational summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) met. When walking around their meeting room, I realized that the political left of the 20th century was together there with the left of the 21st century: former guerrillas-turned-presidents Daniel Ortega and Raúl Castro sat at the same table as Cristina Kirchner and Evo Morales, with Chávez looking over it all from the head of the room. The goal of the meeting of 33 Latin American and Caribbean heads of state was to create a regional alliance that would make the US-dominated Organization of American States obsolete, and move toward self-determination outside of Washington’s power.

At that first gathering of the CELAC, Chávez reflected on the 200 years that have passed since Latin America’s independence from Spain, and the continued foreign colonization of the region through capitalism and imperialism. He quoted the last line in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude: “[R]aces condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”

The late Venezuelan leader concluded: “To us it appears someone had condemned us to one hundred years of solitude, and to one hundred more. But perhaps, because we were condemned to these first hundred and to these second hundred, someone has given us a second opportunity on this earth.”

Benjamin Dangl’s latest book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press)

Where is America’s Hugo Chavez?

Two events coincided this week that illustrate the crisis of political economy in the capitalist West—the premature and intensely sad death of Hugo Chavez and the trite idiocy symbolizing the class warfare declared by the rich against the rest of us as the Dow Jones stock index reached its highest point ever. Where Mr. Chavez dedicated (and likely gave) his life to improving the lot of Venezuela’s and the regional South’s poor and building the infrastructure of real economic and political democracy, America’s ‘liberal’ President Barack Obama claimed the right of extra-judicial assassination of the citizenry at his whim while ‘sequestering’ the economic interests of poor and working Americans to bolster the already substantial fortunes of the pirate financiers and industrialists he serves. To the political ‘left’ that voted for Mr. Obama, the contrast is there if you care to see it.

Lest there be confusion around the matter, the richest 1% of Americans own 40% of financial assets and the richest 10% own 80%. The soaring stock market symbolizes the ascendancy of a tiny economic elite with all social resources dedicated to consolidating its power. Remove financial and oil company profits, two industries existing on government transfer payments, tax breaks, business guarantees and occasional wars, all at public expense, along with the nearly $3 trillion in Federal Reserve asset purchases designed to boost the value of wealth ‘owned’ overwhelmingly by America’s plutocracy, and the stock market would be trolling the lower depths of hell. Through their mouthpieces in the capitalist media the wealthy put forward their wealth as fact of nature when it is anything but. As Mr. Chavez was able to demonstrate, from whence it came to where it goes, social wealth can be made to once again serve its social purpose.

A thought unlikely to occur to most Americans is the profoundly anti-democratic sidestep around habeas corpus that Mr. Obama’s claim to the right of extra-judicial murder of citizens implies ties directly to his economic policies. At a time when the U.S. uses murder robots around the globe to slaughter people charged with no crime, launches ‘pre-emptive’ wars of aggression, incarcerates millions of overwhelmingly people of color in for-profit prisons and returns immigrants to countries U.S. trade policies have rendered economically dysfunctional, the economic and political elite here enjoys near complete immunity from prosecution for any of a large number of war, political and economic crimes. As the informed left might have it, the concentration of wealth so facilitated by Mr. Obama’s economic policies ties directly to the concentration of political power amongst America’s plutocracy. While Republican voter suppression efforts appear directly anti-democratic, Mr. Obama’s policies to revive the fortunes of the rich while leaving everyone else to rot renders voting irrelevant to the formation of public policy through the relation of economic to political power.

Although circumstances between Mr. Chavez’s Venezuela and the U.S. differ, Mr. Chavez took his (their) fight to the people of Venezuela and he repeatedly and consistently won majorities of the vote in free and fair elections. The received wisdom in the U.S., a pathetic lie no doubt, is that deference to the wishes of the plutocrats is the prerequisite to fighting in the interests of ‘the people.’ The rank oblivion evidenced in the passions of purportedly thoughtful people in favor of Mr. Obama (‘New’ Democrats—Mr. Obama is but a placeholder) in the recent election supports this capitulation in the quasi-religious hope that if we give the plutocrats everything they ask for they might be nice to us in return.

What is in fact taking place is economic pillage with the full cooperation and facilitation of Mr. Obama and his administration. From banker bailouts to stolen homes, incarceration for profit, student loan penury, wars for oil, profit extracting sick-care and social insurance cuts, class war was launched and is being fought from above. And the non-conflictual economic theories of classical and neo-liberals have rendered cooperation the mechanism of self-subjugation. Against far greater odds Hugo Chavez fought back the forces of global capital, plutocracy and their servants in the oil mafia (CIA) to improve the lot of Venezuela’s poor. What he showed is the straightest path to achieving social justice is to fight for it.

The recurrent theory expressed by people who by now should know better is that Mr. Obama must ‘be made’ to do the right thing. What Hugo Chavez demonstrated is that an actual leader has a political-economic core which only evidence that ideas and policies aren’t working as intended informs and changes. The irony here is that to anyone paying attention, Mr. Obama also has just such a core and it is neo-liberal. Unless his supporters believe him to be incapable of seeing whether or not his policies are working, their continuation suggests they are working just as he intended them to. The difference then is that Mr. Chavez said what he believed and Mr. Obama said what he thought would win elections. Mr. Obama’s policies have consistently deviated from his explanations of them and always in the direction of supporting the ruling class against broader social well being.

As part of the national mythology many Americans, and likely nearly all liberals and progressives, accept the premise that policies designed to boost the fortunes of the already wealthy might be misdirected, but not outright destructive to their interests. After four years of unwavering support for America’s plutocrats and malignant acts toward their economic victims in every actual administration policy—witness his continuing call to cut social insurance programs while 20 million people remain un and under-employed as corporate profits and financial markets soar, Mr. Obama’s faithful retain the belief he is working in ‘their’ interest. In contrast, Mr. Chavez faced a ruling elite in Venezuela with a long history of taking all of the social resources they could get away with taking and there was never the pretense that allowing oligarchs (and / or the U.S.) to put social wealth in their own pockets benefited ‘everyone.’ Put another way, Mr. Chavez effectively articulated this point to those to whom it wasn’t already clear.

Venezuela’s oil wealth may have made this point more clearly visible, but no more true than it is in the U.S. today. Nature didn’t give Barack Obama the ‘right’ to murder U.S. citizens (or anyone else) without trial or evidence—a policy conspicuously against the interests of all who lack the social power to resist it. This point is likely well understood by those who have historically been on the receiving end of coercive (captive) state power—people of color and various permutations of the poor and dispossessed. The economic elite who have so benefited from Mr. Obama’s policies clearly don’t see themselves and their families as potential targets of the state’s newly ‘legitimated’ right to murder. To the extent economic class provides the dividing line between the giving and receiving ends of this power, the relation between it and wealth concentration is made visible. And it is this very line Mr. Obama has helped to so clearly demarcate.

And so to what effect is Mr. Obama’s ‘effort’ to raise the minimum wage if the entirety of his time in office is spent empowering the same plutocrats who resist the idea and are determined to see it defeated? These titans of finance and industry were hobbled and momentarily humbled when Mr. Obama entered office and today they are fully restored, in large measure due to his efforts. The distribution of corporate profits clearly indicates their intent with the lowest proportion in history going to labor and the highest to capital. Liberal economists decry this outcome as they use aggregated data that hides it to argue Mr. Obama’s economic policies have been a relative ‘success.’ Of what benefit is GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ‘growth’ if what it accomplishes is to grow the political power of a ruling elite determined to use it to reduce the political power and economic circumstance of everyone else?

When Mr. Obama reiterated (for the 8,000th time) ‘his’ willingness to cut social insurance programs whose only shortcomings are that corrupt, self-interested executives and capital are bleeding them dry, where were the fools who insisted he was only doing so because he was being forced to by obstinate demagogues in the Republican party?

Tens of millions of people are only a few dollars away from living in the street and cutting social insurance programs will put them there. If his supporters are still dull enough to believe he is being forced into policies he doesn’t really support, why then has he so focused on delivering political power through his economic policies to the enemies of social insurance programs that we, the people, pay for?

To reiterate, there is nothing personal in this critique of Mr. Obama—the problem is his policies and it is his institutional role that is being criticized. By contrast, there is everything personal in calling Hugo Chavez a great leader; a champion of the poor and dispossessed, and ultimately in his institutional role as a facilitator of economic and political democracy that knows it can only exist by keeping its enemies humble.

The Western mythologies of political democracy in the context of economic plutocracy and of ‘natural’ distribution of economic resources was tried in Venezuela and was shown to produce a political economy where a few thrive at the expense of broader society, not from ‘nature’ but from the deliberate acts of people. The same is true in America today. With Hugo Chavez as a model, my contention is Americans would respond to a leader with a social justice core s/he is willing to fight for. What we don’t need is just one more cynical windbag with the patina of ‘liberal’ shilling for the military oil banker mafia.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York

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Opinion&Analysis: Can SA make an impact in the Horn of Africa?

Eritrea and South Africa formally established diplomatic relations in 1994. Eighteen years later, the two states seem to be strengthening their bilateral relations.

In March, Iqbal Jhazbhay, the new South African ambassador to Eritrea, presented his credentials to President Issayas Afeworki. Significantly, Jhazbhay was warmly received by the president only a week after his arrival, which is a very unusual occurrence. This demonstrates the importance that Eritrea accords to South Africa.

Jhazbhay is a member of the international relations sub-committee of the ANC’s national executive committee. He is also a member of the ANC’s international relations rapid response task team, which steers party-to-party relations, including those with the ruling parties of South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia.

In May, Eritrea introduced regular flights to South Africa and in July a South African business delegation visited Eritrea and was received at the highest level. This visit was meant to explore additional areas of trade and investment as Eritrea has large deposits of precious minerals such as gold and copper.

More significantly, in August, Osman Salih Mohammed, Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, paid an official visit to South Africa, his second since President Jacob Zuma took office in 2009. During this well-publicised visit, he met Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation. They signed a declaration of intent and promised to work towards developing mutual business interests. They also exchanged views on developments in the Horn of Africa, including the stability of Somalia and the negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan.

For Eritrea, building a strategic relationship with South Africa is a top foreign policy priority. Firstly, Eritrea is animated by the long-term economic objective of reviving its declining economy by developing its mining sector, in which South Africa mining companies are increasingly engaged. For instance, Senet, a South African mining infrastructure company, has effectively developed the infrastructure of Bisha, Eritrea’s principal mine. Moreover, South Africa is one of Eritrea’s major trading partners. According to South African sources, in 2010 exports from South Africa to Eritrea amounted to R202m and consisted mainly of mining equipment.

Secondly, from an Eritrean perspective, building an alliance with South Africa has an added value. Indeed, following the loss of diplomatic and financial support from Egypt and Libya, Eritrea views South Africa as a useful African ally. South Africa is serving a second term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. The Security Council had imposed sanctions on Eritrea in December 2009 over concerns that it supported insurgents seeking to destabilise Somalia. In December 2011 it tightened the sanctions in a resolution cosponsored by Nigeria and Gabon. Eritrea wants South Africa to use its membership to back the lifting of the Eritrean sanctions, which were called for by the AU.

Thirdly, Eritrea is expending great diplomatic energy to reengage with the international community, the AU and regional states. For instance, in August 2011 President Isaias made a three-day visit to Uganda.

Fourthly, Eritrea has taken a calculated risk to counter the perceived influence of Ethiopia in the AU. In July, it lent its support to South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who subsequently was elected the AU Commission (AUC) chairperson.

Undeniably, Eritrean–South African relations have received renewed impetus as a result of this tightly contested AUC election. South Africa’s courting of Eritrea was partially informed by the short-term benefit of gaining Eritrea’s vote in the election. The election also unseated Jean Ping, the incumbent from Gabon, who had spearheaded the vote for the sanctions against Eritrea. According to sources in Addis Ababa, South Africa was visibly exasperated by Ethiopia’s backing of Ping. In fact, during the diplomatic campaign it mounted to get Dlamini-Zuma elected, South Africa faced stiff challenges from Nigeria and Ethiopia. These two states did not approve of South Africa’s breaking of the gentlemen’s agreement that the chairperson position should not be contested by the larger African states.

At the forefront of South Africa’s foreign policy seems to be the conviction that there ought to be an AU chairperson who can chart a distinctly independent course in African affairs and become the only voice of the continent on issues of mutual concern. South Africa felt the AU was marginalised in the conflicts in Ivory Coast and Libya. Moreover, the AUC chairperson election betrayed South Africa’s growing ambition to use the AU to enhance its soft power. Indeed, South Africa wanted to gain more visibility as the continent’s leader and more influence in AU decision-making.

Predictably, economic necessity, not altruism, motivated South Africa to befriend Eritrea. It wants to ensure that its companies get a sizeable share of Eritrea’s potentially lucrative mining concessions and agreements. Yet South Africa’s relations with Eritrea extend beyond AU power politics and economic motivations. South Africa has started focusing on what is happening in the stormy and polarised Horn of Africa and on achieving lasting peace and stability there.

The ANC’s international relations policy discussion document explains that “the damage that the current stalemate (between Ethiopia and Eritrea) has caused to the region and to relations between these related peoples is huge”. It demonstrates that South Africa is prepared to diplomatically engage with the two states and help them negotiate an amenable agreement that could break the stalemate and ultimately lead to an all-inclusive regional security arrangement.

However, it seems South Africa has not fully considered the deep-rooted factors underlying the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It also does not seem to have realised that a too-intimate embrace of Eritrea may raise Eritrean expectations unfairly. Its relations with Ethiopia could also become strained. Any leaning towards Eritrea, a near-pariah state in the region and continent, will inevitably upset the regional balance and further complicate the Ethiopian–Eritrean conflict.

Berouk Mesfin is a senior researcher with the Institute of Security Studies. This article was first published on http://www.issafrica.org

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Susan Rice: Qualified


by Brent Budowsky

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is qualified to be secretary of State and if nominated should be confirmed. The attacks against her are grossly unfair. In my new column “Petraeus: Lessons Learned,” I suggest that war and peace should never be partisan matters, that when America goes to war we should go “all in” and if we are not “all in” before the decision to wage a war, we should not wage that war.

This is why I (along with many commanders in the Army and Marine Corps) advised AGAINST going to war in Iraq. Regarding Benghazi, there should be independent investigation and accountability but not witch-hunts or Watergate committees, which embody the brand of politics voters rejected in the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2012.

Ambassador Rice did absolutely nothing wrong on Benghazi. She appeared on television and repeated the intelligence information she was given. I know far more about intelligence matters than most here, more than I am even allowed to publicly discuss, from earlier presidencies. Ambassador Rice was sent to give interviews and gave them; she was given intelligence information and spoke honorably about what she was told. Whatever mistakes were made were not her responsibility. She is not culpable as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was when Rice spoke of “mushroom clouds” involving the alleged WMD in Iraq.

I did not oppose Rice’s nomination to be secretary of State and Senate Democrats joined Senate Republicans in confirming her. Senate Republicans should join Democrats in confirming Ambassador Rice if President Obama nominates her.

I warn Senate Republicans if they threaten to filibuster a Cabinet nomination for unfair partisan reasons they will guarantee a Senate majority will move to end these abuses of filibusters once and for all.

Let me emphasize as well that in my opinion, the most able and qualified person in America to be secretary of State is Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.). Kerry would be one of the most extraordinarily qualified nominees ever for secretary of State. He would be confirmed by large bipartisan majorities of senators for secretary of State, Defense or any other position.

It is no reflection on Ambassador Rice that Kerry is uniquely qualified to be secretary of State with a level of experience, contacts, depth and both diplomatic and military knowledge that are unprecedented since President Truman named Gen. Marshall to lead at Foggy Bottom.

If Ambassador Rice is nominated, I would strongly support her. The election is over. It does no service for Republicans to continue electioneering politics over the secretary of State position barely hours after the polls have closed, and if they do, Republicans will be reminded again why they suffered major losses in the national elections of 2006, 2008 and 2012. Voters want this partisanship ended. Let’s end it.

The Hill Magazine

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Blind to changes in Africa

Old Habits Die Hard

PCI

A large number of investors from Europe maintain negative perceptions of Africa as a risky investment destination, a recent survey by global professional services firm Ernst & Young reveals.

Analysts at Ernst & Young, in their second “Africa attractiveness survey”, challenge what they term a “stubborn perception” that continues to hamper efforts to attract investment in Africa.

The recently published survey highlights Africa’s growing economic competitiveness and the outlaying investment opportunities in infrastructure development and the abundant natural resources.

E&Y also highlights the positive impact that economic integration will bring to Africa’s growing economic cake, clearly stating that its “unbridled optimism” does not mean sweeping under the carpet the challenges that the continent is still grappling with.

E&Y admits that “Afro-pessimism … has been dominant for too long” and offers that Africa’s is a “positive story that demands telling and re-telling”.

“We have been subjected to negative stories about Africa for far too long,” Ernst & Young says.

The survey reveals that while awareness of Africa’s qualities are changing, the continent is still being viewed as a “relatively unattractive destination compared to most other geographical regions”.

Perceptions, though, amongst investors with a presence on the continent have changed for the better and they rank Africa’s attractive above every other region except Asia. Those surveyed who do not have a presence on the continent have “overwhelmingly negative” perceptions of Africa.

“In fact, for these respondents, the continent is viewed as by far the least attractive investment destination in the world. They cite risk factors such as political instability, corruption and security as major obstacles,” E&Y says.

E&Y analysts challenge these perceptions and argue that reforms, progress and growth are repositioning Africa as a continent and in terms of the individual countries, which are viable alternatives to other emerging market investment destinations.

Regulatory and economic reforms that started at the turn of ‘90s are continuously reshaping the continent, E&Y contends. The continent is now far more stable than it was decades ago and a raft of economic reforms and increased financial prudence in the public sector are contributing to lower inflationary pressures, low debts and budget deficits and the strengthening regulatory and legal systems means that most economies are opening up to doing business with international partners.

E&Y says these structural changes are helping invigorate markets and commerce, creating an environment that is increasingly conducive to business and investment. Improvements in political governance, the commodities boom, rising levels of disposable incomes, rapid urbanization and a developing services sector have contributed to a continued and a sustainable growth path for Africa, E&Y analysts say.

Of those surveyed, 60 percent said that their perception of Africa as a place to do business has improved over the last three years, though 11 percent said their perceptions had deteriorated. Some 73 percent of respondents anticipated Africa’s attractiveness to improve over the next three years while only four percent believed it would deteriorate.

Of those who believe that Africa’s growth prospects in the near-term are significantly positive, half have a dedicated strategy in place and 92 percent have an active presence on the continent. But in as far as Africa is compared to other regions, the perception gap is still strong, E&Y says.

“When comparing Africa to other regions, both developed and emerging, Africa is viewed as relatively unattractive, in comparison to most other regions in the world, comparable only to former Soviet states as an investment destination,” E&Y says.

In relation to other regions, the continent still has a lot of work to do to improve global perceptions. While investors with a presence in Africa rank only Asia as a relatively “most-attractive investment destination”, those without a presence are overwhelmingly negative “to the extent that it actually distorts the overall result”, E&Y says.

“In fact, for those respondents with no business presence in Africa, the continent is viewed as by far the least attractive investment destination in the world.

“Breaking these negative perceptions down to account for regional differences, potential investors from Europe are the least positive about Africa’s relative investment attractiveness.

North America investors are somewhat less so, ranking Africa as more attractive than Middle East, and Asian investors rank Africa ahead of the former Soviet states and Central America and on a par with Eastern Europe.”

Negative perceptions are centered around political risk factors, corruption, weak security, ease of doing business, local access to finance, tax regulations, and bottlenecks to movement of goods and people across borders.

The survey also reveals that even though FDI into Africa year-on-year rose by 27 percent, the whole of Africa only attracted a miniscule 5.5 percent of global FDI in 2011 up from 4.5 percent the previous year.

Africa attracted fewer FDI projects than India and a little more than half as many as China. Since 2003, Africa has only attracted 4.3 percent of global FDI projects, compared with India’s six percent and China’s 10.5 percent.

“One key factor is the perception gap between negative historical beliefs about the continent, and the positive reality of the African continent growth story over the past decade. As a result, many investors still seem to approach Africa with greater caution than they do other rapid growth markets and regions,” E&Y analysts say.

E&Y analysts challenge the overall negative perception of a politically unstable, corrupt and challenging business environment. They argue that the continent’s democratization is real and is characterized by a significant decline in armed conflicts across the continent.

While corruption is undoubtedly a major challenge in Africa and across the world, E&Y says the “perceptions that corruption is rampant across the continent, or that African countries are inherently more corrupt than other rapid growth markets, do need to be challenged”.

They cite Transparency International’s corruption ranking which recently ranked 14 African countries higher than India and 35 higher than Russia.

Based on a 2011-12 weighted average score on “irregular payments and bribes”, Botswana, Cape Verde and Rwanda all rank ahead of the United States. The three countries, as well as Gambia, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa, rank ahead of Brazil and China. Sixteen African countries including Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, rank ahead of India and 19 are ahead of Russia. E&Y analysts have some choice words of advice to would-be investors in Africa.

“There are no doubt those that will accuse us of unbridled optimism, pointing to the very real challenges that still remain.

“Yes, we are optimists, but we are realistic optimists ‑ our perspective is deliberately a half full glass rather than a half empty one.

“This is partly a response to the Afro-pessimism that has been dominant for too long, but mainly because we believe that it takes a positive mindset to success in Africa. If you set out expecting difficulty and risky, you will find it.”

[The Southern Times]

 

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Shamus Cooke doesn’t believe that Obama is firm and serious enough to see through the rich “paying their fair share” when it comes to fixing the ever ballooning U.S. deficit. Cooke also believes that Obama’s “tax the rich” is only a campaign ploy, “demagoguery”. I hope not. “Democrats and the Fiscal Cliff” is a good article in support of the working poor of the U.S.

 

Professor Mekonen Haddis

November 12, 2012

The Coming “Historic Betrayal”

Democrats and the Fiscal Cliff

Literally the day after the election a sudden “urgency” gripped the nation: the imminent danger of the so-called “fiscal cliff” — the national automatic tax increases and spending cuts due in January. The media screamed that the suddenly approaching fiscal cliff would trigger a recession, forcing Democrats and Republicans to consider a “grand bargain” budget deal to avoid disaster.

Of course the fiscal cliff was looming throughout the presidential campaign; politicians simply agreed not to talk about it, since they shared — more or less — the same very unpopular “grand bargain” solutions: austerity cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other popular social programs.

Yes, Obama talked incessantly about the rich “paying their fair share” during his campaign, but he greatly exaggerated his willingness to make this happen, as well as the real differences between the Republicans and Democrats when it came to fixing the deficit.

This fact is revealed by the pro-corporate grand bargain that Obama nearly brokered last summer to fix the fiscal cliff.

The New York Times explains:

The White House agreed to cut at least $250 billion from Medicare in the next 10 years and another $800 billion in the decade after that, in part by raising the eligibility age. The administration had endorsed another $110 billion or so in cuts to Medicaid and other health care programs, with $250 billion more in the second decade. And in a move certain to provoke rebellion in the Democratic ranks, Obama was willing to apply a new, less generous formula for calculating Social Security benefits, which would start in 2015.

There you have it. Obama was already guilty of everything he accused the Republicans of during his presidential campaign. His “tax the rich” demagoguery was mainly for show, the exact same promise he broke after the 2008 election.

Some Democrats are already preparing to help Obama break the 2012 promise. The New York Times reports:

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, extended an olive branch to Republicans, suggesting Thursday that he could accept a tax plan [to fix the deficit] that leaves the top tax rate at 35 percent [leaving the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy in place].

And although Obama has vowed to stay firm over taxing the rich (this time), his toughness is only skin deep, and comes with dangerous strings attached.

For example, Obama only wants to tax the rich enough to be able to sell the grand bargain to the American public; any grand bargain will include historic cuts to cherished national programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and Obama wants to avoid some of the outrage by claiming that the rich were forced to share in the “sacrifice” too.

This is the “balanced approach” to deficit cutting that Obama discusses, meaning that he wants to raise some revenue from the rich while also making gigantic cuts to social programs.

But in a society racked by massive inequalities, this kind of “balance” is ludicrous. The rich, the banks and other corporations have accumulated trillions of dollars that, if taxed at high enough rates, would easily make ANY cuts to social programs unnecessary.

The nation is not broke, but much of the money has floated to the top. And while Obama is striving to pass a largely symbolic “tax the rich” measure as part of his grand bargain, he’s doing so only to push forward the massive cuts.

This is the political context that makes the demands “No Cuts, Tax the Rich” incredibly necessary not only to Labor and community groups but to all working people, who would be able to unify and fight these austerity cuts by organizing nationally coordinated demonstrations and putting forth the pro-worker solution of No Cuts, Tax the Rich to address the Fiscal Cliff and all future austerity budgets, whether they occur on a city, state, or national level.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has already put out a call to working people to organize and “fight like hell” to prevent any cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Labor and community groups must immediately stop celebrating Obama’s election victory and quickly start mobilizing their members against his anti-worker agenda, lest they spend the next four years crying about the coming “historic betrayal.”

Shamus Cooke

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EU’s dilemma: austerity or job growth?

Austerity, or job growth?

If there was a time in history that has shown the spectacular failures of neo liberalism and free market fundamentalism, it is now. Those who still push for austerity measures as a solution to the economic abyss they have created globally, but in particular, in Greece, Portugal and in Spain are incapable of recognizing the disastrous reality their economic regime has created.

Citizens are enduring the most extreme form of fiscal austerity imposed on them by their governments. This past Summer at Los Cabos, a statement released at the end of the G20 meeting spoke about “the leaders of the world’s largest economies have agreed to step up efforts to boost growth and job creation”. What we have seen since then is the same austerity policy being enforced.

Now in Berlin, the heads of five of the world’s most influential finance and economic organizations have met for talks on the global economy. (OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, ILO Director General Guy Ryder, IMF Director Christine Lagarde and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim). It seems the focus of the meeting was on growth as a solution to the economic crisis Europe is in. You don’t say. No, really. At least in theory, they are almost there. What policies the EU will follow to create job growth still remains a mystery.
Professor Mekonen Haddis

 

 

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