Friday, June 16, 2006

Mounting global Inequalities - do We Care?

In 2007 the majority of the world's people will be living in urban centres. One third of them will be poor slum dwellers, according to the UN. This is a problem the rich world ought not to ignore:

"When a critical mass of people are in one place, if you don't empower them they will empower themselves through revolution," Anna Tibaijuka, head of UN-HABITAT said in London, presenting the agency's State of the World's Cities 2006/7 report.

What does the rich world do? For many years the flows of money paid in interest and amortisation of loans going from the poor south to the rich north have been larger than total devlopment aid.

Listen to the transcript of the press conference in Camp David where George Bush met with the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen:

First, I appreciate the Prime Minister's belief that freedom can help change the world, and that freedom is universal. We had a really important discussion about our desire to help others realize the great blessings of liberty, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They seem to believe that freedom is the answer to all prayers in this world. However, economic freedom does not seem to help, because economic freedom favours the efficient and competitive. Also there is a lot of double standards here, when it comes to applying the freedom to others. The US and the EU still have heavily subsidized and protected agriculture, i.e. trade barriers that keep the products coming from these poor areas out of the US and EU markets.

Here is what the PM answered the president:

I think it's fair to say that Danish companies are at the edge in developing new technologies, and they are already engaged in the United States. Some of them are traveling with me to the West Coast on Monday.
Which brings me to my final point on our bilateral economic relations. Trade and investment between the United States and Denmark is flourishing at impressive growth rates. The United States is now the biggest foreign investor in Denmark. Likewise, Danish companies have turned their attention towards the United States. Our top five companies have created more than 20,000 jobs in the United States, and they have engaged in a vast number of subcontractors. I think that the broad range of subjects demonstrates the vitality and closeness of our relations. (Quoted from the PM's website)

There seems to be a reason why it's a good thing to have close contacts with Uncle Sam. By the way, only the profits of the biggest of the companies mentioned above is much higher than the total national income of a country like Niger in Africa with 10 million inhabitants.

We live in a world where millions of children are starving. Some people have a completely different set of problems - another quote from the press conference:

Mr. President, the health experts tell us that we need daily exercise. So before we even start thinking about lunch, I'm looking forward to exploring Camp David in even greater detail on bike. It's going to be hard work; I know that. But I will do my very best to keep up with you, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Brothers in Arms - Certainly not in alms!!

(We're only in it for freedom and democracy!)
Press release from The White House, april 21:

President Bush will host Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen at Camp David on Friday, June 9, 2006. Denmark is a close ally in the war on terror, a valued partner in advancing freedom in the world, and a key member of the United Nations Security Council. Under Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen's leadership, Denmark is making significant contributions to support the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, is promoting reform and democracy in the broader Middle East, and is an advocate of a transatlantic partnership working together on common challenges. In July 2005, Prime Minister and Mrs. Rasmussen hosted the President and Mrs. Bush in Denmark. The two leaders look forward to continuing their discussions at Camp David on a range of bilateral and strategic issues.

This was the first time a Danish prime minister got such an invitation. The US seems to appreciate the Danish contribution - even though it is only with some 500 soldiers in the southern, more peaceful part of Iraq. In June/July Denmark sends some 290 soldiers to the restive Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan. - Not much, compared to American and British contributions. It has mostly symbolic value.

What's in it for Denmark? In Denmark there's a growing opposition to the u-turn in Danish foreign policy implemented by the Rasmussen conservative-liberalist government, when in 2001 it started cutting down on Danish development assistance, and in 2003 decided to send Danish troops to Iraq. Decades of low-profile NATO alliance membership was replaced by an activist foreign policy. Brothers in arms with other leaders of the free world. One of the things Rasmussen said on coming home was that the fight for freedom and democracy was the important part of it. To wage this struggle you have to trample over tens of thousands of human lives, Iraqis who are made victims of war.

It is a well-known secret that the economic reconstruction of Iraq has been a very interesting thing for any capitalist out to make a good bargain. At a world bank/IMF meeting in Dubai in september 2003 the victors decided on the economic set-up for the "liberated" country. This was - and is indeed - a capitalist's paradise. Don't forget to bring bibles and prayer books:

Investors allowed 100% ownership of Iraqi assets
full repatriation of profits
equal legal standing with local firms
Foreign banks would be welcome to set up shop immediately, or buy into Iraqi ventures
Income and corporate taxes would be capped at 15%
Tariffs would be slashed to a universal 5% rate

This is not India we are dealing with - with a fussy nanny state interfering in private enterprise with a lot of red tape and restrictions. Nor is it China with forceful local competitors. What is it then? Read my lips, dummy!!
It is even more interesting for the friends of the coalition who get privileged access to the enormous amount of money channeled into reconstruction in the country. And reconstruction will be an eternal money wheel. A brotherhood of Arms is not one of alms.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The New Labour Spin Called

Madeleine Bunting has a good piece in The Guardian today:

The key for Labour is to revisit the concept that Tony Blair dug out of the sociology textbooks and used to great effect. He seized upon Anthony Giddens's ideas of rapid globalisation. Huge change was sweeping through every area of life, particularly the labour market, it was claimed. Blair used this to outmanoeuvre anyone who didn't endorse his idea of "modernisation": they were characterised as dinosaurs while he was surfing the wave of tumultuous change all around us.
But this story of huge change was only part of the picture - what about all those lives shaped by humdrum, which haven't been changing? Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, does a brilliant job in the most recent edition of Renewal, demolishing all the exuberant guff about the "knowledge economy". In fact, there has been only a little growth in skilled, knowledge-based jobs and much more in unskilled cleaning, care, security and sales assistants. So much for this great wave of change. Even by 2010, 78% of jobs will not require a degree.
Why is this so important? Because it punctures the myths about meritocracy and it belies all the speeches about opportunity. The lived experience of the British electorate bears little relationship to the reality that Labour's political elite has been pronouncing upon. The more a Labour politician talks about opportunity, the more a substantial number of voters are left scratching their heads and wondering what opportunity, and if it's just them who are losers. Or even worse, they wonder if it is just their ethnic group, or their housing estate, that has been the loser.

She says Labour has lost touch with its common voters. That is a very true description. It also applies to the Social Democrats in Denmark. They are actually copying New Labour. It is only recently they voted against keeping Danish forces in Iraq. The conservative government in Denmark won't tax homeowners more than they are being taxed at the moment. Their taxes have been frozen. The Social Democrats agree with them out of sheer fear of the voters. It's populist policy. It's not Social Democratic policy, if by that phrase you mean politcies in the interests of common people.

One of the results of this has been that home owners' equities have risen astronomically. It is, however, the more well-to-do have have gained most by the rising house prices. The normal average Social Democratic voters have not experienced so big gains, because they mostly live in small house and semi-detached houses in more "modest" residential areas.

Madeleine Bunting says further:

What we glimpse is the gravy train on which this elite travels: the freebies that "come your way" and the kind of gambling with property and mortgages now considered respectable. And alongside it, an implicit contempt for modest, unambitious, ordinary lives

This is the game of turning the whole population into petty capitalists: "Gambling" with equity values in houses, investing on the stock exchange. There's nothing intrinsically wrong in that, of course. But the chances of doing it with some success and profiting enormously from it are so unequally distributed. Of course, we can all become capitalists, but some are so much more successful capitalists than others. Maybe we should start trying to find life's meaning in a completely different direction.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Tip of the Iceberg

The BBC on Thursday informed of yet another atrocity committed by US forces against Iraqi civilians. The video evidence contradicts the initial US account of the events of March 15, 2006 in the village of Ishaqi, in the Abu Sifa district near Balad, some 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The Americans deny it. When you hear about how the 24 Haditha deaths were covered up, and how the Iraqi families were offered compensation for their dead relatives, this does not give credibility to the American version.

It is, however, interesting to hear the Iraqi Prime Minister tell that atrocities against Iraqi civilians are committed on a daily basis. What else could you expect? The American army consists of professional soldiers. Many of them have been recruited in poor parts of the southern USA with lots of unemployment. Robert Fisk has called it the "army of the slums" in the Independent, young Americans, many of them from ethnic backgrounds, many with low educations, who have been looking for the fairly well-paid steady job that could give them some kind of a tolerable life. How do they react when put in a seemingly hopeless situation i the Iraqi desert and in run-down towns? Are they educated well enough for the complexities of this job? Probably not, it's a very sad story.

The Iraqi PM is probably right. What we see is only the tip of the iceberg.

We have written about the atrocities before on this blog, when we quoted the Iraqi blogger Citizen of Mosul who had two versions of events on his blog in March:

news item now reported by the Associated Press:
"An unidentified relative mourns over the bodies of children, reportedly killed during a U.S. raid, as they arrive in a hospital in Tikrit, 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, March 15, 2006. Eleven people, most of them women and children were killed when a house was bombed during a U.S. raid north of Baghdad early Wednesday, police and relatives said. The U.S. military acknowledged four deaths in the raid that they said netted an insurgent suspect (emphasis added) in the rural Isahaqi area, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital. (AP Photo/Bassim Daham)Iraqis Say U.S. Raid Kills 11 People March 15, 2006This news item has a picture gallery of this massacre. Can the U.S. military count? or are they in their usual low level mode of 'counting' killed U.S. soldiers, instead of declaring the true figures of dead soldiers?.يـُعرض مع هذا الخبر بالإنكليزية عدة صور للضحايا الأطفال. يقول الجيش الأمريكي بأن عدد الضحايا هو أربعة فقط، بضمنهم "المشتبه" فيه. ألا تستطيع قوات الإحتلال الأمريكية العــدّ بالنظر المـُجرّد الى هذه الصور؟ أم أنها على سجيتها في "التقليل" من العدد المـُعلن لضحايا جنودها الذين يـُقتلون على أيدي المقاومة؟"ـ.

The Iraqi version:"Amer Fiadh, the Councillor of Al-Ishaqi (pronounced Al Is-haqi) District in Salah Al-Din province said that the American forces have executed eleven people belonging to one family, including a six-months old baby and four children who were less than eleven years old.Fiadh further stated today that these people were executed in front of their home, after having their hands tied behind their back and summarily shot. After their execution, American helicopters then strafed the family's home levelling it to the ground."The Councillor of Al-Ishaqi District claims that the American forces have executed eleven members of one family (In Arabic) March 15, 2006

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mr. Bush - Tear down this Wall!

"Mr. Gorbatjov, tear down this wall!" Who said so 20 years ago? It may be disappearing into the annals of history, but it's important to remember president Ronald Reagan's words to the Soviet leader in Berlin 20 years ago. Gorbatjov followed the friendly advice and did not intervene when the Berliners started tearing it down 4 years later - and that was well done!

So why do people start erecting new walls? Like the wall in Palestine built by the Israelis and cutting Palestine West Bank in two - in countervention of international agreements - the Oslo peace talks?

Or the fence and wall between Mexico and the US? Last year 400 Mexicans lost their lives trying to get across to the promised land. To get their small share of the American dream they were promised after the signing of the NAFTA free trade agreement in 1994. What has happened since then?
Still more Americans die of obesity from eating too many big Macs, and too many Mexicans die of starvation or malnutrition, some of them from buying subquality tin can food in over priced Wal marts.

More than a million underpaid Mexican women work in maquiladora assembly plants just acroos the border from the US. In the name of the free trade credo the Americans believe in. They should be allowed to cross the border to try and get a job in God's own country. Why aren't they allowed to do that? The merchandise is allowed back and forth, but not the people. The Americans want to keep their affluence to themselves. Don't share it with Mexicans! They can become nannies and gardeners and do other menial tasks, but they shouldn't come in too big numbers. That would press wages down.

According to the credo of free trade and economic competition, NAFTA should have given some equalization of wages on both sides of the border. That was one of the reasons for the Mexicans to sign the treaty. Wages in Mexico have stagnated in the last decade. The minimum wage is only a little more than the price of a bigMac, a day, and millions of workers in the informal sector, which is very big in Mexico, do not even make that.

That's why the Americans have to build a wall - to keep people out. The Soviets built a wall to keep people in! The Americans wanted them out! If they get out in too big numbers that's a problem, - but the ultimate proof of a superior system!

"Mr. Bush, tear down this wall!" Follow the advice of your great presidential icon, Mr. Reagan - and tear it down!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Proud Freedom Defending Traditions among Danish liberalist Politicians

Number three from the left on this photo is the Danish minister of health and vicechairman of the governing party Venstre. In 1988 he visited the Mujahedeen freedom fighters in Afghanistan to deliver to them 100.000 $ that had been collected in Denmark. There were no terror lists at that time, so it was not illegal to make such a donation - which it would probably be today. Anyway, these Mujahedeen are the Osama folks that you're certainly not supposed to cooperate with today. At that time it was different, because they fought the Soviets. So all freedom loving and idealistic liberalists and conservatives who were ready for a good fight for Western values helped the Mujahedeen in their fight against the atheistic communists. The photo was published in a Danish popular magazine with the caption: "Lars Lokke as Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. He is giving one of the guerillas' Kalashnikovs a try and at the same time collecting money for Osama bin Laden".

At that time Lars Lokke was only 25 and chairman of Venstre's youth organisation. Today he is number 2 in the Danish political hierarchy, right below Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and considered official "crown prince" in the party. It is the Danish paper the Information that ran the story.
- It really warms your heart to see this amount of idealism in such a young man!