Subject: ON ECONOMIC REALISM AND
NATURE OF THE BEAST" : FROM THE CENTER FOR THE ADVANCED STUDY OF
INSTITUTIONS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS,
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Not withstanding the doomed neo-conservative project, called "The New American Century," which met resistance almost from the start and now seems to be fatally wounded, the Bush-II White House is struggling to stay afloat in a sea of indictments with new leaks everyday threatening the integrity of his tightly knit phalanx of corporate-government interests in Washington, D.C. Our readers are encouraged not to suffer amnesia during the vociferous days of protest which lie ahead. (The emancipation from slavery, wrote one abolitionist, does not rely on changing the names of the masters.)
As a radical reminder of the nature of the beast, our research center invites readers go back and take a good look at the so-called Clinton Doctrine and his administrations foreign policy (before Bush-II) under the guidance of Ms. Madeleine Albright, to better understand the economic imperatives of American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. [For more on this subject, we recommend the writings of our CEIMSA research associate, Professor Edward S. Herman.]
If the 800-pound gorilla has been wounded by the resistance in
Below, in item A., is a description of The November 2nd Mobilization across the
Item B. is a article by award-winning journalist Greg Palast, which was first published in Harper's Magazine, on the economic consequences of the war in Iraq, i.e. a defeat for the neoconservatives at the Pentagon and for neo-liberal theory; and a victory for the Arab oligopoly which controls the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Arab-dominated oil cartel.
Item C. is an article by Harold Pinter, who recently won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature in which he reminds readers that the Bush-II administration in responsible for the killings of over 100,000 Iraqi civilians in less than three years of illegal warfare.
Item D. is a reminder of the status of
In item E. Dollars & Sense shares with us some "left-wing visions of the future" by renowned American activists.
Item F. is a reminder by Robert Weissman of Multinational Monitor that democratic movements have won significant victories in the past: "The People's Triumphs Over Corporate Power".
And finally, item G. is
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
ZNet | Activism
1 November 2005
by Debra Sweet
On November 2, people in 67 cities, 43 colleges and universities, and 90 high schools (at last count) are walking out of school and work and demonstrating to drive out the Bush regime.
This will be the first major proclamation of an unprecedented and urgently needed social movement in this country: a movement aimed - not at this or that policy - but directly at driving out a regime.
The past week underscored just why a whole new level of opposition this movement to Drive Out the Bush Regime - is needed, now! In the face of setbacks like the Miers withdrawal, Libby's indictment, global condemnation of
November 2nd, as the beginning of this movement to drive out the Bush regime, is history in the making.
And building up to November 2nd, this is what has happened already:
- Thousands have signed the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime including Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter, Jane Fonda, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Eve Ensler, Richard Serra, Jonathan Kozol, Gore Vidal, Cindy Sheehan, Howard Zinn, Michael Eric Dyson, Russell Banks, Cornel West, Michael Ratner, Ron Kovic, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Ed Asner, Kevin Powell, Boots Riley and Tom Morello [Go to website for quotes from the voices speaking out]. They join organizations like Code Pink, the Progressive Democrats of America, the National Lawyers Guild, ACT UP/NY, ANSWER/NY, the Campus Anti-War Network, and other organizations in making this call.
- A battle is brewing over high school students walking out in schools through out
- In the four months since the WCW call was issued, chapters have been formed in 53 cities, with demonstrations taking place in another 14. The 34 states now covered are an equal mix of blue and red. Along with New York, San Francisco, Chicago, LA, there are demonstrations planned in Norfolk, Virginia; Burlington, Vermont; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Hood River, Oregon; Boone, North Carolina; Great Falls, Montana; and Springfield, Missouri.
- Katrina Survivors will demonstrate in New Orleans at Jackson Square, the very site of Bushs nationally-televised speech after Katrina, in which he laid out his sickening plans for re-building New Orleans. Malik Rahim of Common Ground Collective has issued a statement calling on Katrina survivors wherever they are to join the protests.
- The battle for public opinion is becoming sharper and more contested. At 3pm on Monday, October 31, Hot
- Street-theatre depicting the horrors of Guntanamo has provoked tremendous debate on our moral and political responsibility in these times.
Millions are outraged by the Bush program of war, torture and a rising theocracy, yet it is being proven time and again that the Democrats, and politics as usual, is not, and will not provide a vehicle to express this outrage. And, as we say in our call, There is not going to be some magical "pendulum swing." People who steal elections and believe they're on a "mission from God" will not go without a fight.
The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come. .. But Silence and paralysis are NOT acceptable. That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn or be forced to accept. .. History is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious. And it is also full of examples of people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined. as our Call puts it. (www.worldcantwait.org).
The World Cant Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime! is seeking to create a political situation where the Bush regime's program is repudiated, where Bush himself is driven from office, and where the whole direction he has been taking society is reversed.
November 2nd must be the first giant step in this movement, making a powerful statement: "NO! THIS REGIME DOES NOT REPRESENT US! AND WE WILL DRIVE IT OUT!" Join us go to www.worldcantwait.org for more info on the convergence closest to you or start one in your campus, your town or your city.
From Greg Palast :
October 24, 2005
OPEC AND THE
ECONOMIC CONQUEST OF
Twilight of the neocon gods)
by Greg Palast (*)
magazine, we are reproducing here for the first time the entire
article on the
TWO AND A HALF YEARS AND $202 BILLION into the war in
Just what to do with this proxy power has been, almost since President Bush's first inaugural, the cause of a pitched battle between neoconservatives at the Pentagon, on the one hand, and the State Department and the oil industry, on the other. At issue is whether
According to insiders and to documents obtained from the State Department, the neocons, once in command, are now in full retreat. Iraq's system of oil production, after a year of failed free-market experimentation, is being re-created almost entirely on the lines originally laid out by Saddam Hussein.
Under the quiet direction of U.S. oil company executives working with the State Department, the Iraqis have discarded the neocon vision of a laissez faire, privatized oil operation in favor of one shackled to quotas set by OPEC, which have been key to the 148% rise in oil prices since the beginning of 2002. This rise is estimated to have cost the
Given this economic blow, and given that OPEC states account for 46% of America's oil imports, it may seem odd that the United States' "remaking" of Iraq would allow for a national oil company that props up OPEC's price gouging. And in fact the original scheme for reconstruction, at least the one favored by neoconservatives, was to privatize
By February 2003, Cohen's position had been enshrined as official policy, in the form of a hundred-page blueprint for the occupied nation titled, "Moving the Iraqi Economy from Recovery to Sustainable Growth"-a plan that generally embodied the principles for postwar Iraq favored by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and the Iran-Contra figure Elliott Abrams, now Deputy National Security Adviser. Nominally written by a committee of Defense, State, and Treasury officials, the blueprint was in fact the brainchild of a platoon of corporate lobbyists, chief among them the flattax fanatic Grover Norquist. From overhauling tax rates to rewriting copyright law, the document mapped out a radical makeover of Iraq as a free-market Xanadu-a sort of Chile on the Tigris-including, on page 73, the sell-off of the nation's crown jewels: "privatization... [of] the oil and supporting industries."
In plotting the destruction of OPEC, the neocons failed to predict the virulent resistance of insurgent forces: the
The working group's ideas about the war had been far less starry-eyed than those of the neocons. "The petroleum industry, the chemical industry, the banking industry-they'd hoped that Iraq would go for a revolution like in the past and government was shut down for two or three days," Aljibury told me. "You have a martial law . . . and say
Roughly six months before the invasion, the Bush Administration designated Philip Carroll to advise the Iraqi Oil Ministry once
Soon after Carroll resigned his post in September 2003, the new provisional government appointed an oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum. Uloum (who had been maneuvered into the job by then-neocon favorite Ahmad Chalabi) quickly fired Muhammad al-Jiburi, chief of Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization, and Thamer Ghadhban, the expert in charge of the southern oil fields, both of whom had been trusted by the Western oil industry. Production faltered from a combination of incompetence, wholesale theft (
With pipelines exploding daily, the fantasy of remaking
In November 2003, McKee quietly ordered up a new plan for
For months, the State Department officially denied the existence of this 323-page plan for Iraq's oil, but when I identified the document's title from my sources and threatened legal action, I was able to obtain the complete report, dated December 2003 and entitled "Options for Developing a Long Term Sustainable Iraqi Oil Industry." The multi-volume document describes seven possible models of oil production for
While promoting IOC control of the fields, the authors take care to warn the Iraqi government against attempting to squeeze IOC profits: "Countries that do not offer risk-adjusted rates of return equal to or above other nations will be unlikely to achieve significant levels of investment, regardless of the richness of their geology." Indeed, to outbid other nations for Big Oil's favor will require Iraq to turn over quite a large share of profits, especially when competing against countries such as Azerbaijan that have given away the store. The Azeri government, notes the report, has "been able to partially overcome their risk profile and attract billions of dollars of investment by offering a contractual balance of commercial interests within the risk contract." This refers to the fact that
Given how easily the interests of OPEC and those of the IOCs can be aligned, it is certainly understandable why smashing the oil cartel would not strike oilmen as a good idea. In 2004, with oil approaching the $50-a-barrel mark all year, the major
When I talked to Ariel Cohen at Heritage, his dream of smashing OPEC in shambles, he blamed the State Department for acquiescing to the Saudis and to
According to Morse, the switch to an OPEC-friendly policy for
Even, I asked, if those are artificially high prices, set by OPEC? "The VP's office [has] not pursued a policy in Iraq that would lead to a rapid opening of the Iraqi energy sector . . . so they have not done anything, either with producers or energy policy, that would put us on a track to say, 'We're going to put a squeeze on OPEC.'"
Opposition to OPEC was handled in a style that would have made Saddam proud. On May 20, 2004, Iraqi police raided Ahmad Chalabi's home in
But just when you thought the fat lady sang for the neo-cons, who should rise from his crypt eight months later but Ahmad Chalabi. In January 2005, Chalabi cut a deal with his former oil minister's father, a Shia power broker, and rode that religious ethnic vote back into office. Chalabi landed himself the post of Second Deputy Prime Minister and, in addition, the tantalizing title of interim oil minister. The espionage investigation was dropped; the King of
But Chalabi had learned his lesson: don't mess with
And Dick Cheney, far from "putting the squeeze on OPEC," has taken his de facto seat there, assenting by silence to the oil monopoly's piratical price gouging. But hasn't OPEC's stratospheric crude prices choked the life out of
from Harold Pinter :
October 30, 2005
Torture and Misery in
the Name of Freedom
by Harold Pinter (*)
were adapted during Mr. Pinter's acceptance speech on winning the
Award earlier this year. ]
The great poet Wilfred Owen articulated the tragedy, the horror -- and indeed the pity -- of war in a way no other poet has. Yet we have learnt nothing. Nearly 100 years after his death the world has become more savage, more brutal, more pitiless.
But the "free world" we are told, as embodied in the
What would Wilfred Owen make of the invasion of
An independent and totally objective account of the Iraqi civilian dead in the medical magazine The Lancet estimates that the figure approaches 100,000. But neither the
We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it " bringing freedom and democracy to the
You may say at this point: what about the Iraqi elections? Well, President Bush himself answered this question when he said: "We cannot accept that there can be free democratic elections in a country under foreign military occupation". I had to read that statement twice before I realised that he was talking about Lebanon and Syria.
What do Bush and Blair actually see when they look at themselves in the mirror?
I believe Wilfred Owen would share our contempt, our revulsion, our nausea and our shame at both the language and the actions of the American and British governments.
(*)Harold Pinter recently won the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature. Published on Friday, first published on 14 October 2005 Independent/UK.
from Dr. Amir Ali
copyright: May 2003
Focus on American and Arab Interests and Relations
Lifting the Iraq
Embargo After Almost 2 Million Deaths
(What Have We Learned From the Embargo's Lessons?)
by Amir Ali
On May 22, 2003, the United Nations Security
passed resolution 1483 finally lifting the 12-year embargo on Iraq. The
Nations had imposed a comprehensive ban on trade with Iraq on August 6,
under resolution 661, amounting to a complete siege on the country. The
was then enforced by a military land, air, and sea blockade. This
continued until the end of the recent 2003 war, with land border
Jordan, naval interdiction of ships, and no-fly zones imposed in the
south of the country.
After the imposition of the embargo, a devastating bombing campaign against Iraq in 1991 destroyed the country's civilian infrastructure (water, sewage, and electrical power infrastructure, among other sectors). Much of the diseases rampant in Iraq are due to the destruction of the civilian infrastructure and lack of spare parts in the 1991 war. Some of which was modestly repaired between 1991 and 2003, was destroyed again in the 2003 war. Contaminated drinking water and lack of electricity for hospitals are a major cause of the suffering for Iraqs twenty five million people today.
In addition, the depleted uranium (DU) shells used in both the 1991 and 2003 wars have caused a significant increase in radiation-related cancers and birth defects. Iraq still does not have the necessary tools (primarily due to the embargo) to clean up the DU contamination.
What Was Destroyed in War
The 2003 war can only be a continuation of what happened in 1991, since the 12-year embargo did not allow the rebuilding of what was destroyed then. The 1991 war destroyed or severely damaged the following sectors of the civilian infrastructure, and the 12-year embargo prevented its the proper reconstruction:
1) Drinking water infrastructure
2) Sewage system
3) Electrical power grid
4) National healthcare infrastructure (more than 100 hospitals and healthcare centers destroyed)
5) National education system (over 4,000 schools, institutes, colleges, universities destroyed)
6) Transportation sector (air traffic banned, sea vessels damaged, railroad cars & trucks crumbling)
7) Telecommunications (telephone exchanges and transmitters destroyed)
8) Textile and other light industries (factories destroyed)
9) Pharmaceutical sector (factories destroyed and components and ingredients banned by embargo)
10) Social fabric and modernity (modern society reduced to sufficing with obtaining food and medicine only)
Summary of the Effects
According to the humanitarian reports, the ongoing embargo imposed in 1990, coupled with the destruction caused by the 1991 Gulf war, has in turn directly caused the following:
1) As of March 2003 (just prior to the war), between 1.7 and 2 million Iraqi civilians have died due to malnutrition and disease, about 700,000 of them are children. Health Ministry documents under-5 and over-50 deaths due to disease and/or malnutrition at 1.7 million. If over-5 and under-50 age sectors are added, which is well over 500,000 deaths, that makes the total number of deaths over 2 million. Estimates of deaths due to the 2003 war range from 10,000 to 100,000.
2) Prior to the 2003 war, 1.5 million children were made orphans.
3) Prior to the 2003 war, 10,000 Iraqi civilians were dying every month (half of which were children). That amounted to 333 deaths a day, or 14 deaths an hour. An Iraqi civilian died from malnutrition and disease every 4 minutes. Since the 2003 war caused even more destruction of the civilian infrastructure (water, electricity, etc), coupled with the extensive of anti-personnel cluster bombs dropped on Iraq, and the mass lootings of hospitals and pharmacies, this average will be greatly skewed for the initial months after the 2003 war, until such a time when the civilian infrastructure is properly rebuilt.
4) The combination of the destruction of the water pipes and the water pumping stations in the 1991 war and the looting after the 2003 war, coupled with the lack of chlorine and electricity to re-activate the pumps for over 12 years due largely to the embargo, all make clean drinking water widely unavailable today in Iraq, and thereby creating a dangerous recipe for a rapid spread of infectious diseases and possible epidemics. Prior to 1990, over 90% of Iraqis has access to clean drinking water, whereas it was between 33-50% just prior to the 2003 war (1999 UN Report).
5) The destruction of the national medical healthcare system has been one of the largest single contributors to the death and disease in Iraq. Over 100 hospitals and healthcare centers were destroyed in the 1991 war. Prior to 1990, over 90% of Iraqis had access to high quality medical care, free of charge, whereas as the majority of Iraqis lack it now (1999 UN Report).
6) The destruction of the national school system in the 1991 war has caused a sharp decline in the overall literacy rate. Half of Iraq's schools (4,000 out of 8,000) were bombed. The remaining schools (4,000) sharply decayed and became dilapidated due to the 12-year embargo. This lack of enough schools coupled with Iraq's growing population, made the problem even worse. When Iraq had over 8,000 functioning schools in 1990, the country's population was about 18 million. Now that Iraq's population is well over 25 million, the number of functioning schools is less than a quarter of what it was in 1990. This severe shortage of schools has caused a sharp increase in the illiteracy rate and led to children wandering in the streets. Prior to 1990, over 80% of Iraqis could read and write, whereas now the school attendance is almost 50% (1999 UN report).
7) Prior to the 2003 war, the local Iraqi currency (dinar) had been decimated as a result of U.S. counterfeiting efforts, the 1991 destruction of the civilian infrastructure, and the 12-year embargo which banned foreign (hard) currency from legally entering the country. The combination of the counterfeiting, bombing, and embargo has caused the value of the dinar to drop from its original value of just over three dollars to being worth 1/20th of a cent (20 dinars makes a cent), just prior to the 2003 war.
8) Prior to the fall of the former government, Iraq was essentially a massive welfare state. The state employed over a million people and provided food coupons for over 80% of Iraq's 25 million people. The fall of the government meant the effective end of this welfare state. In addition, the U.S. administration's firing of hundreds of thousands of paid state employees has made the situation even worse. The government employees, who were barely living above the starvation level, are now unemployed and income-less.
9) Clearly the most short-sighted decision taken yet by the U.S. administration in Baghdad was to totally dissolve Iraq's military, leaving its employees with no compensation at all. That decision meant that over half a million ex-military men were left to starve, along with their families. Since the typical Iraqi family is made of at least five members, that meant at least 2.5 million Iraqis were left to starve. What would prevent these starving men from armed revolt to avoid starvation? Anyone with some common sense would have devised a plan to either retire these men with some type of retirement income to prevent them from starving and revolting, or offering them new jobs as policemen or the like, similar to what the U.S. military did with the former Japanese soldiers after World War 2. This decision is indeed a recipe for disaster.
Unfortunately Iraq is to remain a military occupied zone for the forseeable future. The new UN Security Council resolution
Although, the resolution calls for "a process leading to an internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq," it does not place any time limits or bench marks for this to happen. In other words, the U.S. and British military occupation can take as long as they want to before forming a new Iraqi government. And although paragraph 25 calls for a "review [of] the implementation of this resolution within twelve months of adoption," it does not specifically place any deadlines whatsoever to establish an Iraqi government. In other words, Iraq is now the property of the U.S. and British militaries, with no deadline or specified timeframe of when Iraq can be free and independent.
The text referring to the lifting of the 12-year embargo is in paragraphs 10 and 16 of resolution 1483, which specifically voided the original embargo resolution 661 of 1990 and the so-called "oil-for-food" resolution 986 of 1995, which allowed the UN to control Iraq's oil exports. The resolution honored the current 6-month UN oil plan, but specifically dissolved the UN oil program and handed over all responsibility and monies over to the newly formed Development Bank administered by the US and British military authority.
A very strange paragraph in this resolution obliges Iraq to continuing paying 5% of its oil revenues to the 1991 war compensation fund. According to the UN's official website as of 5-20-2003, Iraq has already paid almost 20 billion dollars to this compensation fund established under resolution
Resolution 986 of 1995 originally ordered Iraq to pay one-third of its UN oil plan to this compensation fund. This 33% percent of Iraq's oil revenue was paid from December 1996 until December 2000. After December 2000, the percentage was changed to 25%. The latest resolution, 1483, now sets this compensation to 5%.
Since Iraq already has paid almost 20 billion dollars to a host of nations and multinational corporations, why is Iraq still ordered to pay this compensation, especially when Iraq badly needs the money to repair its civilian infrastructure still suffering from the 1991 war? Further, since the UN did NOT authorize the 2003 war, thereby making it an illegal war, why should Iraq be forced to continue pay compensation, when it itself deserves compensation for being attacked in the 2003 war?
The ironic part in all this is the original embargo resolution 661 of 1990 stated that it would be lifted after Iraq left Kuwait. After the 1991 war, the conditions for lifting the embargo were the so-called "weapons of mass destruction." The 12-year embargo was maintained and justified by this unsubstantiated excuse. It is quite clear now after the 2003 war that those weapons were destroyed immediately after the 1991 war. The reason why the U.S. and British military failed to prove or find any prohibited weapons in Iraq, after the 2003 invasion, was because there weren't any. The 2003 war clearly proved what earlier UN reports and weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter had said all along, that Iraq destroyed its weapons in the early years after the 1991 war, and that Iraq was effectively disarmed by the mid-1990's.
In other words, the excuse of "weapons of mass destruction" used to maintain this crippling embargo for 12-years and then to invade Iraq, was just that, an excuse, not backed up by any facts. Twelve years of starvation and deprivation was justified by non-existent weapons. Almost 2 million Iraqis died needlessly due to the embargo for an imaginary excuse, called "weapons of mass destruction."
The 2003 war proved that the 12-year embargo itself was the only real weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, a weapon that the Iraqi people are still paying a high price for and still suffering from this failed policy built on misinformation and/or disinformation.
This embargo has killed so many and devasted the lives of almost all Iraqis. Almost everyone is in agreement that lifting the embargo is a good thing. It is long overdue, but still a good thing. Nevertheless the sufferings and injustices of the embargo has left a permanent mark on Iraqi society. This should help explain the phenomenon of why not many Iraqis are celebrating this long overdue action.
Many Iraqis are asking "Who will compensate the families of almost 2 million Iraqis who needlessly died for this terrible policy of maintaining the embargo for 12 years?" That injustice remains as a legacy for a failed policy that we as a nation should learn from, in order to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
The most important lesson that we should learn from this catastrophe is that embargos (sanctions) do NOT work to force behavioral changes from governments, rather they only hurt and kill innocent civilians. Let us hope we never again use embargos (sanctions) as a tool of foreign policy.
2003 All Rights Reserved by FAAIR.
from DOLLARS & SENSE
Thirty Years from Today : Visions of Economic Justice
I would like to see a completely gender equitable world 30 years from nowan equal proportion of men and women working for pay and earning the same amount on average, regardless of which jobs they are in. Similarly, I would like to see the elimination of race and ethnicity-based differences in economics and politics; a more gender- and race-integrated work force in which most jobs
are not sex and race typed as they are now; men and women sharing equally in the care of children, elders, and other family members or friends in need; everyone able to choose the partners and family compositions that suit them best, including living
alone or living communally; and all groups represented in governments according to their share in the population. In other words, the complete elimination of all discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Such a change would eliminate a large share of poverty. Paying women comparably with similarly qualified men, for example, would eliminate an estimated half of all
poverty in families with working women in them. Nine of ten long-term low earners (those earning less than $15,000 per year across 15 years) are women. The low-wage labor market is very largely a female labor market, with women often working in jobs that pay less because women hold them.
While many more changes would be necessary to bring about a more democratic economy in which the average person has more control over her or his economic fate, I would like to see us start by achieving equal pay for comparable work in the
labor market as well as an equitable distribution of family care at home. Heidi Hartmann
Where the United States has declared an end to military intervention, has eliminated its intelligence agencies, has dismantled its overseas military bases, has reduced its armed forces to a small peace-keeping contingent ready to heed the call of the U.N. General Assembly for emergencies, and where the resultant saving of half a trillion dollars is then added to another half trillion dollars that comes from a wealth tax and a truly progressive income tax, the trillion dollars then to be used in the following ways:
that this program be enacted. Howard Zinn
We build the ark and call assembly. We float like butterflies and sting like bees. We use our little mice teeth to chew the insulation off the mainstream media. We use our little mole claws to burrow under the walls of orthodoxy.
We send our multicolored warblers to harmonize into the skies. We gum up the circular machineries of might-makesright just so and their humvee elephant treads tear up the very superhighways that they travel on.
We stand on principle, reroute the power, and redesign the system. We share our code. We secede from empire and weave our economic bill of rights into the center of the world-wide web. We give everyone a stake in our collective enterprise, for which they pay with work and taxes, if they can. We defend the commons, dancing, demand democracy, and inch toward global economic care. Nancy Folbre
Whether in 30 years there will be a more economically just world depends on several factors, including the ability of progressive social movements to advance beyond resistance and articulate a program for power. If we succeed, we will have to address the potential environmental catastrophe facing this planet; the need for global wealth redistribution; the provision of education and health care. But we will also have to rethink the role of people in controlling their own destinies. Democracy must be more than multi-party elections; it must concern the ability of regular people to engage in a process of transformation of their societies.
We must develop a vision and organizational form to pull together diverse political forces, rejecting the postmodern notions of struggling only along identity lines, and advance
a program for social transformation. We must build a compelling social vision that, while recognizing the deep fissures that divide us, unites our struggles. Bill Fletcher
In plenty of ways, the aims of the U.S. and global economic justice movements appear to be receding today, not drawing closer. Still, it is important to keep those aims in mind. On this 30th anniversary, Dollars & Sense asked a number of thinkers and activists to describe their vision of a more economically just world 30 years hence, and to outline what they consider the most important steps to take today to move toward that vision.
Possibly the most important task for the next 30 years is to ensure that we understand the history of the past fifty. That is true in the strategic and political sphere, where much about the Cold War and our deep politics remains half-hidden.
But it is also true in economics. Here deeply flawed and sometimes fraudu- But it is also true in economics. Here deeply flawed and sometimes fraudu- lent doctrinessuch as natural rate theories of unemployment and interest, phobias about deficits, and misguided
notions about debt corrupt thought and confuse policy. Only in such a climate
can an otherwise sensible public get whipped up over invented problems of Social Security 40 years hence, while little is done about nuclear risks and nothing is done about our precarious dependence on oil. Outrage and activism are necessary but not sufficient.
Thirty years from now the problems of peace, full employment prosperity, economic justice, nuclear security, and environmental sustainability will be much the same as today.
If we understand them a little better, we may do a better job of getting them right from time to time. In particular, if by the centenary of Keyness General Theory of Employment,
Interest and Money in 2036 the world has ment, in 2036 the world has a decent community of people whove read it, that would be progress indeed. James K. Galbraith
In the short run, any changes that improve the bargaining power and economic conditions of workers versus owners and what we might call the coordinator class (managers, lawyers, doctors, etc.)as well as of poorer developing economies versus dominant first-world economieswill be highly progressive. So too will be a shift in investment spending from war and maintaining the advantages of the rich to addressing the needs of the majority.
Eliminating the World Bank, IMF, and WTO and replacing them with new institutions meant to bend the rules and dynamics of international exchange so that most of the benefits of trade accrue to the poor and weak rather than overwhelmingly to the rich and powerful would also be very positive.
But accomplishing all that depends, in some considerable part, on people believing that these changes would lead in time to a new world with different economic and social logicsnot just to old institutions later re-imposing and re-intensifying old hierarchies against our innovations. In the economic sphere, for me, that means replacing private ownership of productive assets, corporate divisions of labor, remuneration for property, power, or even output, authoritarian decision making, and either markets or central planning, and thus class rule, with, instead, workers and consumers councils, balanced job complexes, remuneration for duration, intensity, and harshness of work, self-managed decision making, and participatory planning, and thus classlessnesswhich is to say, replacing capitalism with participatory economics. As an initial focus, I am partial to fighting for a dramatically shorter workday and work week, then augmenting this change with redistribution, training, and the like. Fighting for reforms that can better peoples lives in the present expands aspirations, builds organizations, and strengthens the commitment to win further gains. But at the same time I think its particularly important to develop a shared postcapitalist vision. Economic activists must be able to rebut Margaret Thatchers claim that There Is No Alternative by describing and making a convincing case for that alternative. Michael Albert
Institute for Womens Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Howard
a historian and activist, professor emeritus of political science at
University, and the author of many books including A
History of the United States. Nancy Folbre teaches economics at
University of Massachusetts-Amherst and is a staff economist with the Center
for Popular Economics. Bill Fletcher is president of TransAfrica
Forum and former education director of the AFL-CIO. James K. Galbraith
economics at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the
University of Texas,
Austin. Michael Albert is a founder and staff member of Z
Magazine and ZNet; he is the author of many books including Parecon:
from Multinational Monitor :
T H E P
E O P L E V S
. C O R P O R A T E P O W E R
by Robert Weissman
Indigenous People Mobilize
Brazil's Landless Movement
Damming the Dams
Ozone Layer Treaty
Free and Open Software
Living Wage Movement
Justicle for Janitors
Malaysia Imposes Capital Controls
Biotech Crop Bans
Access to Essential Medicines
Campaign Finance Reform
User Fee Rollback
Argentina Defies the IMF
Scaling Back Commercialism
Tobacco Control Treaty
Blocking Media Concentration
Big Banks and the Environment
The Unocal-Burma Lawsuit
When you are in the business of tracking and reporting on multinational corporate activity, it is inevitable that you you are going to traffic in tales of sorrow, woe and misery.
Deprivation of land and livelihoods; poisoning, homogenizing and genetically altering the food supply; price gouging and union busting; fraud and theft; reckless endangerment of workers and consumers; destruction of communities and private enclosure of public and community assets and space; denial of life-saving medicines and marketing of deadly products; clearcutting forests and altering the earths climate; imposing charges for education and healthcare and no-charge dumping of toxics into the air and water: these are the routine byproducts of the multinational corporations single-minded drive for profits. And so, they are the stuff of Multinational Monitor reporting.
But for all their power, multinational corporations do not always prevail. Their plans are frequently thwarted, their power restrained, their authority displaced.
Almost always, a common thread ties together these defeats of corporate power: an organized group of people. Sometimes it is a handful of skillful campaigners, sometimes a mass movement of millions. But people power does regularly overcome and triumph over concentrated corporate power.
In this issue marking Multinational Monitors twenty-fifth anniversary, we celebrate those citizen victories with the first of a two-part series recounting peoples wins over corporations and their supporting structures and institutions.
Here, we present brief profiles of 25 victories; we will profile an additional 25 winning campaigns in the November/ December issue.
We dont claim these are the most important achievements over corporate power of the last quarter century, though we do think these were all landmark accomplishments. Nor are we making any effort to rank this list in importance it is presented in a very rough chronological order, taking into account that many of these victories have unfolded over a long period, sometimes as long as or longer than the lifespan of Multinational Monitor.
Want to let us know about a citizen win you think should be added to this list? Send us a note at email@example.com.
After nearly five decades in force, South Africas race-based system of apartheid collapsed in the early 1990s. Apartheid had strong cultural, and even religious, foundations. It was a system of political control and exclusion. It also functioned as a system of economic colonization, enabling the white elite to control the nations vast economic and natural resource wealth, and to subjugate black labor. Multinational corporations readily collaborated with, buttressed and benefited from the apartheid regime.
The overthrow of apartheid was the culmination of the long struggle of the South African majority for democracy and justice. The South African liberation movement organized resistance to oppression on a scale rarely seen. It had an armed struggle component, but the dramatic expressions of resistance were overwhelmingly nonviolent mass civil disobedience, national general strikes and more. Without underestimating the importance of iconic figures such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the struggle was one that threw forward hundreds or thousands of vibrant, charismatic and inspirational leaders, and engaged millions.
The international community also made an important contribution to this struggle, Nelson Mandela noted shortly after his release from prison, not least through the imposition of economic and other sanctions.
Around the world, the South African solidarity movement was one of the broadest and most effective ever.
In the United States, much of the campaigns focus was on the multinationals doing business in and with South Africa. The divestment movement called on state and local governments to stop doing business with companies doing business in South Africa; demanded universities and others pull their investments from firms doing business in South Africa; and pressured the companies directly to pull out from apartheid South Africa.
The results were dramatic. More than 150 universities and colleges divested in whole or part from companies doing business in South Africa, according to Richard Knight of the African Activist Archive. By 1991, writes Knight, 28 states, 24 counties, 92 cities and the Virgin Islands had adopted legislation or policies imposing some form of sanctions on South Africa. In 1986, overriding a veto from President Ronald Reagan, the U.S. Congress passed a law banning new investment in South Africa, and in 1987 the Congress passed a law effectively imposing double taxation on South African-related business income, fueling the flight of multinationals from the country. By the end of 1987, according to Knight, more that 200 U.S. companies including such major firms as GM and IBM had withdrawn from South Africa.
Even as the nuclear industry continues to posture as a safe alternative to fossil fuels, the nuclear purveyors are on the ropes.
In the United States, the anti-nuclear movement has stopped construction of any nuclear facility during Multinational Monitors lifetime.
There has not been a successful new nuclear reactor order since 1973, points out the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear resource center that has more than a little bit to do with this fact. The only major new atomic facility even proposed since the 1980s, a uranium enrichment plant slated for a poor, African-American community in northern Louisiana, was stopped by citizen activism in 1998. Moreover, citizens across the country have begun to actively resist existing nuclear reactors. Ten large commercial reactors have been closed, in large part due to citizen activism, in the past decade. Active and concerned people have proven they can take on the nuclear industry and win.
Globally, nuclear construction is on the wane. According to the World Nuclear Association, there was a worldwide net gain of only three nuclear reactors from 1998 to 2003.
And in Germany, as part of the governing coalition, the Green Party led the country to announce a 20-year phaseout of nuclear power, which supplies roughly a third of the countrys power.
Indigenous peoples mobilize
Indigenous peoples have organized into powerful national, regional and global networks over the last quarter century. This global mobilization, as the Forest Peoples Programs Marcus Colchester notes in this issue, has helped curb local processes of expropriation of indigenous lands, defeating countless efforts by multinational and domestic corporations to exploit resources at the expense of indigenous peoples well-being. It has led to changes in national laws and constitutions throughout Latin America and Asia, and perhaps soon in Africa as well, that recognize indigenous peoples customary rights and land claims.
A few notable highlights:
In 1993, the Inuit in Northern Canada won control of a vast territory, known as Nunavut, over which they now exercise governmental authority. Activists led by Kayapo indigenous people gathered at Altamira in 1989 and initiated a global campaign against a series of six dams on the Xingu river in the Brazilian Amazon. They convinced the World Bank and Brazilian government to abandon plans for the dams, though they are now being revived. ought the 28-year struggle over the Crandon, Wisconsin mining project to a successful conclusion by buying the mine site and stopping the mine permitting process. The Uwa people in Colombia managed to evict Occidental Petroleum from their ancestral territories. The Uwa threatened to commit collective suicide if Oxy proceeded with drilling on their lands. Supported by an international campaign, they persuaded the oil company to abandon its oil exploration and drilling plans.
Sewing justice in the U.S. South
Before it moved production to the Third World, the U.S. textile industry shifted production to the U.S. South for the same reasons it would later make the global shift to access cheap labor and escape unions.
The southern states presented an anti-union climate, with right-to-work laws, rampant intimidation of workers, workers divided by race, and a general culture of fear of authority. Successes in organizing the South were hard fought, and infrequent.
One historic victory was the successful campaign to unionize J.P. Stevens, the inspiration for the movie Norma Rae. For almost two decades, the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union (now part of UNITE HERE) sought to organize the then-textile giant that employed as many as 40,000 workers. J.P. Stevens resisted with every trick in the book.
In 1976, the union launched a boycott and one of the first union-directed corporate campaigns against a company. Five years later, as Multinational Monitor was getting started, the union finally prevailed. More than 3,000 workers at 10 plants in the Carolinas and Alabama gained collective bargaining agreements.
Directed by Ray Rogers, the corporate campaign now a mainstay of union organizing efforts played a key role. It targeted the financial enterprises interlocked with Stevens, and split them off from the textile company. Campaign pressure led to the resignations of top corporate officers from the boards of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. (then the nations fourth largest bank), New York Life Insurance Co. and J.P. Stevens itself.
Wrote the New York Times, Pressure on giant banks and insurance companies and other Wall Street pillars, all aimed at isolating Stevens from the financial community, helped generate a momentum that could not be achieved through the 1976-1980 worldwide boycott of Stevens products or through more conventional uses of union muscle such as strikes and mass picketing.
Cushioning the blow
The slow introduction of life-saving airbags in motor vehicles had nothing to do with the state of the technology.
Airbag technology was developed in the 1950s and 1960s, and roughly 10,000 airbag-equipped cars were sold in the 1970s.
The U.S. government tried to mandate automakers install airbags, but they resisted with a legendary set of regulatory and legal challenges that are, literally, textbook the story is used in law school textbooks as exemplifying regulatory opposition and delay. Thousands of people died needlessly for this delay.
The industry stonewall against airbags was finally breached not by government regulation, but government purchase.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader persuaded the General Services Administration to issue a procurement specification for airbag-equipped cars. Ford agreed to the specified standards, and provided 5,300 Tempos with airbags. That prompted the company to offer optional air bags in Tempo and Topaz models. Soon after, Chrysler made airbags a standard feature on many of its models, and Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca, a longtime opponent, began bragging about the airbag safety feature in the company ads in which he starred.
Although the industry had long claimed that consumers did not care about safety, airbags once introduced and marketed proved enormously popular. They also proved to work: they reduce driver and front passenger fatalities by more than 30 percent, and have saved thousands of lives.
After the market had already spoken, the federal government finally issued mandatory requirements for airbags in 1991.
Land for the landless
Its no secret that the best way to help the rural poor is through land reform taking land from rich, often absentee owners of large plots and distributing it to the landless and peasants with small holdings.
But, for obvious reasons, genuine land reform is easier said than done.
In Brazil, a country with among the greatest wealth and land holding inequalities in the world, one of the most dynamic non-violent peasant movements of the last 50 years is taking matters into its own hands. Founded in 1984, the Landless Workers Movement, known by the acronym MST, has obtained land title for hundreds of thousands of families. It involves more than 1.5 million people.
The MST employs an array of tactics, but its most assertive has been to organize occupations of unproductive large plantations and settle the landless on them.
The movement has evolved into much more than a vehicle to address the land hunger of the poor. It has knit together settled families into dozens of agricultural cooperatives. It has established 1,800 public schools, with more than 150,000 students enrolled in primary education. It has supported organic farming and reforestation.
The MST has been critically engaged with the progressive government of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, embracing the Brazilian presidents commitment to justice but criticizing the governments failure to deliver on promises of land reform.
In November 2003, the MST reached an agreement with the government to settle 400,000 families in the first three years of the presidents term in office. But, according to the MST, halfway through that period, fewer than 60,000 families have been settled and the land reform budget has been slashed.
In May 2005, the MST mobilized 12,000 peasants for a 17-day, 150-mile protest march, ending in Brasilia, the nations capital.
They do not intend to accept broken promises, nor do they plan on bowing to the power of the rich landowners, even in the face of the violence their activists routinely encounter.
Damming the dams
A global movement of environmental, social and indigenous organizations has blocked countless large dams and other plans to transform rivers. With the Berkeley, California-based International Rivers Network often playing a key role, this movement has revealed large dam technology to be misguided and insisted that it is unacceptable to recklessly displace and dispossess people who live in areas to be flooded.
Among the movements achievements:
Farmworkers are probably the most abused segment of the U.S. labor force. Exempted from many of the federal rules regarding the minimum wage, worker safety and other workplace protections, farm employers have felt free to mistreat and underpay their traditionally immigrant-heavy workforce.
Organizing for protection has been an immense challenge for farmworkers for a variety of reasons, including the claims by individual farmers that if they pay more, they wont remain competitive.
One solution has been to target the corporate, large-scale buyers of farm products, and demand they purchase produce only from farms that recognize unions, or pay a decent wage. Succeeding in such a campaign is difficult, but it can be done, as several farmworker unions and organizations have shown.
In 2005, following a three-year boycott, the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers won agreement from Taco Bell that it would pay a penny-per-pound surcharge on tomatoes to increase farmworkers pay. The company also agreed to work for legislative reforms to strengthen farmworker rights.
This is an important victory for farmworkers, says Lucas Benitez, a leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, one that establishes a new standard of social responsibility for the fast-food industry and makes an immediate material change in the lives of workers. This sends a clear challenge to other industry leaders.
The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has succeeded in several similar campaigns. In 1986, following a seven-year endeavor, FLOC won a deal with Campbells Soup to enable tomato pickers at its suppliers to be unionized and paid a higher wage. The Campbells Soup victory enabled FLOC to reach deals with Midwest pickle makers Vlasic, Heinz, Aunt Jane, Green Bay Foods and Dean Foods all quickly agreed to union agreements. In North Carolina, pickle maker Mt. Olive fought FLOCs effort to obtain union recognition for cucumber pickers. After a more than five-year campaign, FLOC prevailed, and won union recognition and improved working conditions for 8,500 Mexican and other Latin American guest workers on the North Carolina farms supplying Mt. Olive.
Restoring the ozone
Thanks to the resistance of DuPont and other chemical makers, it took more than a decade for science to be translated into action, but the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer stands as a landmark accomplishment of the environmental movement.
Perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date has been the Montreal Protocol, says Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations.
Researchers discovered in 1974 that production of CFCs (used as a coolant and an aerosol) and a handful of other chemicals was depleting the atmospheric ozone layer, which absorbs most of the cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Thinning of the ozone layer has led to a sharp rise in skin cancer.
It took more than a decade of further scientific investigation and aggressive advocacy from environmental groups for the chemical industry to acknowledge the problem and governments to agree to take action.
In 1987, countries adopted the Montreal Protocol. More than 180 nations have now signed the treaty.
It calls for countries to first freeze and then phase out ozone-depleting substances, with a faster timetable established for industrialized countries and a slower one for developing nations.
As is often the case, substituting for the phased-out chemicals has proven much easier than predicted. More than 90 percent of the global production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances has been eliminated.
The results are now beginning to be seen, though there is a major time lag between reduction in ozone-depleting substances and repair of the ozone layer.
The hole in the Antarctic ozone layer, where the atmospheric concentration is thinnest, reached its largest size in 2003, and it has approached that size in 2005. But scientists think the problem has now peaked, and the ozone layer will slowly repair itself. Full recovery, if it ever comes, is not expected until the middle of the century, according to the United Nations meteorological agency.
The lilliputians and microsoft
In its day, the Standard Oil Trust must have seemed invincible, too.
The modern equivalent must be Microsoft, which supplies the operating system for 90 percent of the worlds computers. One reason the company seems so powerful in the marketplace is its response to competitive threats: copying and then displacing competitors innovations, or simply buying competitors and incorporating them into the Microsoft machine.
The most profound threat to Microsoft, it turns out, has come not from any corporate competitor but from a decentralized global network of programmers of free and open software. More than a million programmers in North America alone report working on some free and open software projects.
These programmers have developed an alternative operating system, GNU/Linux, and while their products represent only a small share of the desktop computer operating system market, they possess much more substantial portions of higher-end markets. Most notably, Apache is the dominant web server, with more than two thirds of the market. Microsofts competitor is second with about 20 percent. Other free and open software products including, for example, an alternative to Microsofts Office are rapidly gaining ground.
Now major corporations such as IBM are investing billions in the development of free and open software.
What is most remarkable about the free and open software movement is that it rejects entirely the proprietary model.
It turns out that an open approach has strong developmental advantages with lots of eyes looking at a problem, and each product developmental step completely open to scrutiny, better and more stable products can be created.
But the first motivation for the free and open software approach was one of principle: that ideas belong in the public domain, and should not be owned by private interests. With free products, people are free to use the software, study its source code, copy it and publish modified versions all without paying rents to someone who claims to own it.
One danger free software faces is that someone will take it, make an addition or improvement, and then claim to own their modified version. To address this problem, Richard Stallman, a pioneer of the movement, developed a special licensing arrangement known as the GNU General Public License. When a program is GPL-covered, explains Stallman, you are free to publish a modified version, but your version must also be free, meaning that I can use your improvements just as you can use mine.
Working for a living
The U.S. minimum wage has stagnated at $5.15 an hour for eight years. It is now at its lowest inflation-adjusted level since 1955 (with the exception of 1989). The stingy minimum wage consigns millions of workers and their families to poverty, and is an important factor in the ever-growing income and wealth inequality in the United States. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that 8.2 million workers including those making up to a dollar more than the minimum wage would be affected by a minimum wage hike.
Faced with a Congress and president unwilling to budge the minimum wage, campaigners have turned to other policymakers.
A grassroots effort led by ACORN and other organizations and supported by countless community groups and labor unions has asserted the need to respect workers by paying them a living wage. Adjusted for the local cost of living, different communities define the threshold of a living wage differently in many places, it is set at more than twice the minimum wage.
The campaign has succeeded in getting 130 cities and counties to adopt living wage laws. These require government contractors, and sometimes companies receiving government benefits, to pay a living wage. Hundreds of thousands of workers are covered by these laws, which have been adopted in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, among many other locales.
Meanwhile, campaigners have succeeded in forcing an increasing number of states to adopt their own minimum wage laws, which apply to all employers. Thirteen states now maintain minimum wage laws higher than the federal standard. In November 2004, voters in Florida and Nevada overwhelmingly approved minimum wage ballot measures, each by a greater than two-to-one margin.
Banning the burn
In a throwaway society, what happens to all the garbage? Until recently, the answer for much of the U.S. waste stream was: it got burned in incinerators.
That started to change in the 1990s, as the grassroots environmental justice movement pointed out that burning trash didnt make it go away, it just converted garbage into ash and air emissions. And, worse, the process of burning actually created toxins incineration is now recognized as a leading source of highly toxic dioxin, mercury, lead and other dangerous air pollutants.
The campaign against incinerators consisted of dozens of local fights. Waste disposal firms located or sought to foist incinerators on working class and minority communities, who were presumed more likely to accept them quietly. Aided by organizations such as Greenpeace and what is now known as the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, and assisted by the fact that the economics of incineration turned out to be disastrous for municipal governments, community after community beat back incinerator proposals or forced existing facilities to close.
Healthcare Without Harm, a focused campaign on medical waste responsible for a surprisingly high portion of the waste stream, and with a high proportion of plastic waste, which when burned creates dioxin forced hospitals to stop sending their trash to be burned.
The result: From more than 5,000 incinerators in the United States in the mid-1990s, there are less than 100 today.
Now the anti-incinerator campaign has gone global. GAIA (the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance) has 360 member organizations in 66 countries. Healthcare Without Harm has more than 443 member groups in 52 countries.
This global campaign, focusing heavily on reducing the amount of waste generated as well as opposing incinerators, is chalking up an increasing number of victories. One example: Spearheaded by the Korea Zero Waste Movement Network, South Korea has started limiting the use of disposable items. Since 1999, the country has banned the free distribution of disposable items such as plastic shopping bags and disposable drinking cups from fast food restaurants.
Justice for janitors
In the era of outsourcing, why should the owners of an office building bother to maintain a janitorial staff with decent wages and benefits, when they can save money and bother by contracting out the work to a cleaning firm?
That has been the thinking of more and more real estate moguls, who have fired their janitorial staff and replaced them with subcontracted help.
The switch has redefined the nature of a janitorial job. In Los Angeles, for example, in 1983, the average janitor earned $7.07 per hour and received full health insurance for their family. Three years later, the average wage had dropped by more than a third, to $4.50, and health insurance coverage was a relic of a bygone era.
The Justice for Janitors campaign, a project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has worked since its founding in 1985, to undo the changes brought about by real estate firms subcontracting, with enormous success.
The key structural challenge facing Justice for Janitors was the fragility of the cleaning firms. The firms said they didnt earn enough revenue to pay hire wages. If one firm were forced to pay more than competitors, it could easily be displaced. Or, given the low level of capitalization in the business, a unionized firm could simply go out of business, and then reopen with a new name.
The solution was to hold the commercial real estate firms directly accountable, and demand they directly pay a decent wage and provide good benefits, or employ cleaning firms that did so.
That solution, however, was easier said than done.
It took a major campaign of strikes, civil disobedience, demonstrations and broad community coalition building to force the building owners to accept the Justice for Janitors demands.
There are now roughly 200,000 janitors, overwhelmingly immigrants, in SEIU. Thanks to the Justice for Janitors campaign, they enjoy better wages, basic benefits and reasonable job security.
Malaysia defies IMF, imposes capital controls
In 1997, financial crisis spread throughout Asia. From South Korea to Indonesia, countries saw their economies collapse. The poverty rate in Indonesia, to take one example, doubled. While all of these nations had underlying weaknesses that left them vulnerable, the proximate cause of their sudden and severe collapse was financial speculation and the exaggerated response of international financial markets to their problems.
Facing balance of payment problems, most countries turned to the IMF, which prescribed a combination of contractionary policies and the opening of banking sectors to foreign investment. Even the IMF has admitted it erred in its recommendations.
Malaysia took a different course. It combined expansionary policies with protections from overseas speculative attacks on the currency. These measures included fixing the exchange rate of the ringgit (the local currency) to the U.S. dollar, ending the ringgits trade abroad, and imposing stringent capital controls (including a one-year prohibition on foreign investors taking money out of the country).
The Malaysian economy recovered quickly, Malaysians suffered much less pain than people in the other affected countries, and the country was able to maintain its restrictions on foreign ownership.
Once permitted on market, it is not at all clear that genetically modified crops can ever be withdrawn.
Thats because genetically modified crops do not stay within prescribed boundaries. Seed blows to neighboring farms and contaminates conventional crops. It doesnt respect property lines, or even political boundaries.
Once the genie is out of the bottle, it cant be put back in.
That means Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry are not only conducting a massive experiment on humans and the environment by luring farmers around the planet to plant biotech seed, when the health and environmental effects of biotech crops remain a major uncertainty. It means they are conducting an experiment that will be difficult if not impossible to call off.
Against this backdrop, activists in many countries have succeeded in convincing their governments to ban genetically modified crops.
Europe maintained an effective ban on biotech crops from 1999 to 2004, only to have its rules challenged by the United States, Canada and Argentina at the World Trade Organization. But even with the European ban lifted, Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg have decided to maintain their own bans on eight specific genetically modified crops.
Mexico adopted a ban on genetically modified corn in 1998, but in 2002 scientists discovered native corn at its source of origin in Oaxaca, Mexico to be contaminated by genetically modified variants, probably due to farmers unwittingly planting biotech corn.
Most of Africa, with the notable exception of South Africa, imposes major restrictions on use of genetically modified seed. Zambia prohibits biotech imports, and Malawi, Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe all prohibit imports of unmilled genetically modified corn including even food aid fearing it might contaminate local seed supplies.
Notes Amadou Kanoute, director of Consumers International Regional Office for Africa, Zambia, which imposed an outright ban on the acceptance of genetically modified food aid, not only managed to cope with its crisis, but is now able to export non-genetically modified food to its neighbors.
Access to essential medicines
HIV/AIDS is the worst pandemic the world has seen since the Black Death.
One big difference: there are treatments to keep people with HIV/AIDS alive.
As the millennium approached, it was becoming clear to anyone who cared to know how severe the pandemic was. Three million people are now dying a year from the disease.
Yet the brand-name drug companies that controlled the patent rights on lifesaving AIDS medications were charging people in poor countries the same exorbitant prices they were demanding in rich countries ($10,000 a year per person, or more). Where the high price in rich countries meant a drain on public and private insurance systems, in poor countries it meant that people would simply be denied the medicines they needed to survive.
Enter the access to medicines campaign, an informal collaboration of M餥cins Sans Fronti貥s (Doctors Without Borders), chapters of the AIDS activist group ACT-UP, Health GAP, and the Consumer Project on Technology, among other groups.
Their pressure on the drug companies, and the U.S. government, which was doing the companies bidding in international fora, led the Clinton administration in 2000 to issue an Executive Order by which the U.S. government committed not to pressure countries on patent issues if they were abiding by international trade agreements. That same year, international pressure combined with the mobilization of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa led to the drug companies dropping a suit against the South African government over a law intended to lower drug prices.
Then, in 2001, following negotiations with groups in the access to medicines campaign, the Indian company Cipla announced that it could make a three-drug AIDS cocktail for $350 a year.
Generic competition then drove down the price of the brand name firms to a fraction of what they had been.
To obtain generic medicines, Mozambique, Zambia, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Africa all issued compulsory licenses authorizations for generic production of products even while they remain on patent.
Lowering the price of drug treatment made it possible for foreign aid to be used to keep people with HIV/AIDS alive. Billions have been committed, and a million people with HIV/AIDS in the developing world are now on treatment.
Frederick L. Webber, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, knows the U.S. campaign finance system is utterly bankrupt. He says he had an epiphany after Hurricane Katrina. Political fundraising in this town has gotten out of control, he told the Washington Post.
Join the club, Mr. Webber. The corrupting influence of a system that requires elected officials to raise huge amounts of money from private interests is obvious to most of the public. But thats not enough to get the system fixed; the impediments to far-reaching reform, especially at the federal level, are overwhelming.
So, many campaign finance activists have taken their battle to the states.
The most aggressive of the many reform proposals calls for clean money elections public financing of public campaigns. Under the clean money approach, if a candidate declines the clean money option, the other candidates get a bump up in their public funding, so they can remain competitive.
This idea is catching on. So far, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont have adopted some variant for state elections (not for federal elections for House of Representatives, Senate or the presidency). States that have adopted the clean money approach have seen more candidates running, candidates spending far less time on fundraising (candidates need to raise a small amount of money from a broad pool of voters to become eligible for public funding), and less money being spent on elections.
User fee rollback
Many International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank loans have called for the imposition of user fees charges for the use of government-provided services like schools, health clinics and clean drinking water. The idea was to raise revenue and curb excessive demand. When a service costs money, people will think twice about demanding it, one World Bank report noted.
User fees definitely do work at curbing demand. For very poor people, even modest charges may result in the denial of access to services. When the World Bank mandated that Kenya impose charges of $2.15 for sexually transmitted disease clinic services, for example, attendance fell 35 to 60 percent.
In 2000, the U.S. Congress mandated that U.S. representatives to the IMF, World Bank and other international institutions oppose loans and projects calling for user fees for primary education and healthcare.
Slowly, this is translating into on-the-ground policy changes. Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, among others, have rolled back school fees. As a result, hundreds of thousands of children, mostly girls, are attending schools that otherwise would have been closed to them.
Argentina stares down the IMF
In late 2001, Argentina defaulted on loans from private foreign creditors. Amidst an economic crisis, the government insisted that devoting funds to national needs took priority over paying back private creditors. The government would eventually declare unilaterally that it would discount payments to private creditors by 75 to 90 percent.
This move also marked a break with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as the government refused to accept a number of IMF conditions in negotiations with the Fund. Instead, Argentina threatened not to pay back the Fund unless it agreed to back down on its standard policy prescriptions policies that had helped plunge Argentina into a severe depression from 1998 to 2002.
Shortly after default and staring down the IMF, Argentina began an economic recovery. By showing that it did not need any assistance from the IMF, and by growing very rapidly after refusing to agree to the IMFs conditions, Argentina put the final nail in the coffin of the Funds once-powerful influence over middle-income countries, says Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. This is a very important positive change for those who believe that countries should, as much as possible, choose their own national economic policies.
Commercialism run a little bit less amok
Anyone with the remotest connection to the popular culture is aware that the level of commercialism in the United States has soared during Multinational Monitors lifetime.
But it could be worse. Parents and citizens groups, such as Commercial Alert, have defeated countless commercialism initiatives and expanded the sphere of public, commercial-free space.
Schools have been a major contested area. Responding to the proliferation of Coke, Pepsi and other junk food in school vending machines and cafeterias, many communities are now dismissing the junk food hucksters from school. Arizona, California, Texas and Maine and New Jersey are among the states with bans on junk foods in some or all schools. Cities with bans include Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle.
In another notable school victory, an outfit named ZapMe proposed to loan computers to schools, bombard them with ads, and spy on how students used the Internet and then provide the data to advertisers and marketers. The plan collapsed and the company is out of business.
There have been dozens of victories outside of the classroom, too. Ads on police cars seem to be an idea thats gone the way of New Coke. San Franciscans voted down the idea of selling naming rights to the baseball field, Candlestick Park. Citizens defeated a proposal to sell naming rights to the Boston subway T. The South Carolina Democratic Party backed off the idea of putting corporate logos on primary ballots.
These ideas may sound crazy, but many commercial incursions sound nuts, only to then become entrenched and part of the cultural landscape.
Persistence against pollutants
There is no escape.Whoever you are, wherever you go, you will be contaminated by Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).
POPs are a class of chemicals that are toxic, persist in the environment, accumulate in the body fat of humans and animals, concentrate up the food chain, and can be transported across the globe. There is strong evidence that even minor exposures to POPs have dangerous health and environmental effects.
Emerging from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio came a demand to end human production of these substances. An expanding global environmental and public health network organized as the International POPS Elimination Network (IPEN) mobilized support for an international instrument to do away with POPs.
In 2001, that effort finally resulted in the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs Treaty). Three years later, in 2004, the fiftieth signatory ratified the treaty, bringing it into force.
The POPs Treaty calls for the elimination of a dozen POPs nine pesticides and three industrial byproducts.
The ratification of this treaty is a true landmark for environmental health, says Monica Moore of Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), a founding member of IPEN. By targeting an entire class of chemicals for global phaseout, it moves us a giant step forward in protecting people and the planet.
In addition to the phaseout of the dozen products, the treaty is noteworthy for establishing the Precautionary Principle simply put, to err on the side of safety in the face of uncertainty as a guiding precept.
Restraining big tobacco
Thanks in significant part to the deceptive marketing and product manipulation efforts of Big Tobacco, tobacco-related disease takes the lives of 5 million people a year. The World Health Organization projects that the annual death toll entirely preventable will rise to 10 million by 2030, with 70 percent of the deaths occurring in developing countries.
In 2003, thanks to campaigning by public health groups, the member countries of the World Health Organization unanimously adopted a tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The treaty commits those countries which ratify it to enact comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, use large health warnings on tobacco packs, increase tobacco taxes and provide for smokefree workplaces and indoor public places. It has the potential to save, literally, millions of lives.
Blocking media concentration
There are ever fewer corporations controlling what is shown, played and published on television and cable, in movies, on the radio, and in books and magazines. Fewer than 10 conglomerates control what most people in the United States see, hear or read about as news, or experience as popular culture.
Democracy activists, who believe a broader diversity of ideas and viewpoints is healthy indeed, essential for a functioning democracy, think the concentration of corporate control of the media is a bad thing.
But not the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In 2003, the FCC voted 3-2 to change several of its remaining media ownership rules, to permit still further consolidation. One rule, for example, prohibits the same entity from owning a TV station and newspaper in the same local market.
The FCCs plans to enact this change unleashed one of the great expressions of grassroots dissent in recent U.S. history. Three quarters of a million people submitted comments against the proposal. Organizations from MoveOn.org to the National Rifle Association rallied members against the proposal.
The broad-based public opposition led Congress to roll back parts of the FCCs deregulatory agenda, though the Republican leadership maneuvered to undermine the congressional majoritys will to overturn the FCCs rule changes altogether.
That broader victory would be won in the courts. An appeals court ruled in favor of the Prometheus Radio Project, in a legal challenge to the FCCs rules brought on the projects behalf by the Media Access Project. In January 2005, the Bush administration decided not to contest the appellate court ruling. And so, for now at least, the modest FCC restrictions on media concentration remain in effect.
Citi and the forests
Sometimes the mining, forestry or oil companies that exploit natural resources in developing countries are vulnerable to consumer action in rich countries.
But sometimes not. Many of these resource companies do not sell consumer products. Many dont care about their public image. And many are not be based in countries where activists are strongest.
What to do?
The answer from the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network (RAN): take Deep Throats advice, and follow the money.
Thus was born RANs Global Finance Campaign.
The idea is to target big private banks that fund resource projects around the world, and force them to stop lending to support environmentally destructive projects, including projects contributing to global warming.
RAN started at the top, targeting the giant financial conglomerate Citigroup. Citi at first laughed off the demands from the ragtag forest campaigners. But after a few years of concerted campaigning and disruptive protests, Citi changed its tune.
By 2004, Citigroup announced a landmark, comprehensive environmental policy. Under the policy, Citi became the first multinational bank to prohibit investment in any extractive industry (e.g. oil and gas, mining, logging) in primary tropical forests and place severe restrictions on destructive investment in all endangered ecosystems worldwide. It also contained important measures to ensure the bank is not funding illegal logging operations, and committed the company to audit its climate-changing investments.
Subsequent victories have come in months, rather years. Bank of America agreed to adopt an environmental policy an improvement over Citis agreement in May
Unocal, meet human rights rules
The vicious military junta in Burma maintains its power by savagely repressing the people of Burma. It is fueled by monies from international trade including the narcotics trade and foreign investors.
Among the most significant foreign investors is Unocal, which operates a natural gas pipeline running from Burma to Thailand. Human rights groups have shown that construction of the pipeline depended on massive violations of the rights of Burmese people along the pipelines path. Thousands were dragooned into forced labor for the pipeline. People in the area were ruthlessly displaced. Many were tortured, raped and even murdered.
Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights and EarthRights International filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. courts against Unocal; Total, its French corporate partner; and the Burmese government. The suit, filed on behalf of unnamed Burmese victims of the pipeline project, charged the companies with violating international human rights.
In March 1997, the federal district court hearing the matter ruled that the case would go forward against Unocal. (It ruled Burma was protected by sovereign immunity; and Total was later dropped for lack of jurisdiction.) This was, as the Center for Constitutional Rights notes, the first U.S. ruling ever to contemplate holding a multinational corporation liable for human rights violations.
The case continued for years, with each side scoring some notable victories. In 2004, the Bush administration submitted a brief calling for the case to be dropped, on the grounds that it would interfere with the executive branchs ability to conduct foreign policy.
In April 2005, Unocal agreed to settle the case, and compensate the victims. Terms of the settlement are not public, but the lawyers say it will provide substantial assistance to people who suffered hardships in the region.
Corporations can no longer fool themselves into thinking they can get away with human rights violations, said a statement by the legal team. This case will reverberate in corporate boardrooms around the world and will have a deterrent effect on the worst forms of corporate behavior.
from Dollars & Sense
Latin Americas Left
BY MATIAS VERNENGO
[Latin America has a new crop of leftist
leaders, but their
macroeconomic policies are sadly familiar.]
For several years, electoral results in
Beyond these center-left electoral victories, it is clear that the majority of civil society in
The resurgence of the left is a momentous step in
Observers of the region have usually credited this left turn to dissatisfaction with the neoliberal, "
Many observers have tried to sort the new left-leaning leaders into "good" and "bad" camps. Rutgers Tom᳠Eloy Martz, an Argentinean writer, sees two antagonistic economic models at play. In his view, a "negative left," embodied by Chᶥzs Bolivarian Revolution, uses the windfall gains from higher oil revenues to promote an unsustainable redistribution policy without laying the foundations for future growth. The "positive left" is represented by Lula and his policy of macroeconomic austerity as the necessary prerequisite for sustainable growth, allowing, in a hoped-for second phase, redistribution of the fruits of prosperity to the less privileged.
Jorge Casta, ex-foreign affairs minister of
Unlike Eloy Martz, Casta sees macroeconomic orthodoxy dominating the region as a whole, Chᶥz and Kirchner included. Unfortunately, his view is closer to the truth. Apart from some anti-imperialist rhetoric, the economic policies of the new governments in
Good Luck, Not Good Policies
If Keynesian fiscal policiesprogressive taxation, increased spending on social programs, and deficit spending to maintain full employmentare the hallmarks of a progressive government, then the new left governments in Latin America cannot be seen as particularly progressive.
Despite variations in political discourse, the countries macroeconomic policies are broadly similar, and represent little change from those of the previous regimes. The continuity of macroeconomic policies is most evident in the arena of fiscal policy. All the center-left governments in the region have accepted the logic behind an emphasis on fiscal discipline: that high fiscal deficits cause inflation, and, by generating fears of default, cause capital flight and lead to balance-of-payments problems. All accept the dictum that they cannot pursue more progressive fiscal policies because international financial markets would punish their countries with a run on their currencies.
All of these center-left governments are prioritizing fiscal austerity to control government debt accumulation and are committed to maintaining primary surpluses even in periods of recession. (Primary surpluses correspond to the difference between spending and revenues, but excluding interest payments on outstanding debt. In other words, a government with revenues of $100 that pays $35 in interest payments and $70 on other expenditures would have a nominal deficit of $5 but a primary surplus of $30.) This is a significant change compared to the Keynesian approaches that dominated policymaking in the region prior to the 1990s and is more extreme than the anti-Keynesian bias in the developed world. The consequences are stark: maintaining primary fiscal surpluses has squeezed public investment and spending on social programs, dampened economic growth, and favored financial interests and the well-to-do.
Although exchange-rate policies vary somewhat, most Latin American governments across the political spectrum today emphasize the role of exchange rates in controlling inflation. Their role in promoting external competitiveness has become secondary. By controlling exchange rates, governments are able to keep the prices of imported goods, which crucially affect inflation, down. But this also means that the prices of domestic products are less competitive, and so hobbles the development of domestic industries.
At times exchange rate controls are seen as a temporary device to avoid balance-of-payments crises, but not as instrumental in promoting development. For example,
If the macroeconomic policies of the regions left regimes are successful, perhaps it doesnt matter whether or not they are progressive. In fact, recent economic performance in
However, these strong growth rates have more to do with external drivers than with any innovative policies of the regions new leaders. Ultimately, the remarkable expansion of China, which has increased its trade with Latin America considerably, the United States mild recovery, and an improvement in the terms of tradethe relative price of Latin Americas exportsexplain the positive Latin American performance. That external factors are propelling the regions economies casts serious doubt on the sustainability of their growth. The economic policies pursued by the left will not be of much help if economic growth in
Macroeconomic Conservatism and Distribution
Economic growth alone is not enough to improve the lot of the regions poor anyway.
Kirchner has been accused of promoting irresponsible economic policies and favoring unsustainable redistribution towards the poor, but its hard to see why. Argentinas current fiscal stance will require continued primary surpluses to pay for debt servicing. Its true that the government established a program of transfers to the unemployed (Plan Jefes de Hogar), but the benefits are insufficient, and other public investments are simply not being made. Maintaining primary surpluses means that the resources available for social transfers, including the Plan Jefes de Hogar, are severely constrained. Overall, then, with the exception of the fixed exchange-rate system, Kirchners government is adhering to basically the same set of macroeconomic policies that prevailed through the 1990s.
The Venezuelan story is similar. Chᶥzs 1998 government program (
More importantly, Chᶥz generated great expectations about using oil revenues to pay for social programs. His government did indeed implement a massive program of social spending, including an expansion of health assistance and distribution of foodstuffs; social spending as a share of total government spending did go up. Deficits soared, but less as a result of the increase of government spending than as the consequence of lower non-oil revenues due to recession. The social conflicts associated with the political resistance against Chᶥz exacerbated the fall in non-oil government revenues and forced the government to increase the amount of debt finance. Public debt has soared; interest payments on outstanding debt corresponded to around 40% of total spending last year.
Like Argentina and Brazil, Venezuela has kept substantial primary surplusesreaching 3% of GDP in 2004even as its nominal deficits have grown. According to Leonardo Vera, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela, a vicious circle has developed in which reduced revenues lead to more indebtedness, and indebtedness, in turn, leads to higher debt service costs. As this vicious circle turns, wealth is redistributed, but not in the way Chᶥz hopedrather, from the poor to the wealthy owners of public bonds.
Across Latin America, governments both center-right and center-left have pursued fiscal policies aimed at containing deficits and trying to reduce the burden of debt. As a result, they have shunned countercyclical spending programs and neglected the effects of fiscal policy on income distribution. The region as a whole obtained a primary surplus of 1% of GDP in 2004, while the nominal deficit was close to 2% of GDP. This means that Latin America, a region of highly unequal income distribution, transferred on average 3% of GDP to the owners of government bonds last year.
With Latin American governments maintaining primary surpluses even in times of crisis and channeling a sizable share of spending into interest paymentsin other works, redistributing it to the wealthyit is not surprising that unemployment remains high across the region. The average rate of unemployment in 2003, according to ECLAC, was above 10%, with Argentina (15%) and Venezuela (18%) heading the charts. As high as these official measures of unemployment are, they underestimate the problems of underemployment and low-productivity jobs typical in the region. These numbers are particularly problematic because leveling the income distribution and reducing unemployment are essential to addressing the regions high poverty rate. Poverty fell in 2004, but not enough to make up for the increase between 2001 and 2003; around 43% of Latin Americans still live below the poverty line. And nothing in the macroeconomic policies of the new left governments suggests that their outcomes are likely to diverge from those in the rest of the region in the coming years.
Fiscal Policy and International Financial Reform
Fiscal policy was central to the development of the systems of welfare in the developed world, and for industrialization in the global South, including in Latin America. What is often forgotten about the role of fiscal policy is that it was most effective during the Bretton Woods period, the so-called Golden Age of capitalism from the end of World War II until the 1970s. The Great Depression and the rise of fascism and communism had led the leaders of the rich countries to adopt a fiscal pact that allowed higher levels of social spending in order to save capitalism from itself. Under the Bretton Woods regime, capital controls forced interest rates to low levels. This allowed governments to increase spending, while keeping the burden of debt service within reasonable levels.
Today, a more comprehensive reform of the international financial system along the lines of Keynes proposals at Bretton Woods, as advocated by some heterodox economists, is necessary not just to stabilize financial markets and reduce balance-of- payments crises, but to promote more just fiscal policies. Controls on capital flows would allow lower rates of interest, reduce spending on debt service, and allow for more public investment and higher levels of social transfers. These policies should be complemented with trade polices that promote full employment, and a coherent set of industrial policies to promote international competitiveness. The experience of the new left-leaning governments in Latin America suggests that as long as the existing rules of the international financial system remain in force, global South governments will be unable to adopt progressive economic policies whatever their political stripes.
Furthermore, international financial reform is unlikely to come as a result of the victory of the left in developing countries. (Admittedly, progressive observers hoped there would be less subservience to international financial markets in Latin America with left-of-center governments in power. China and India, for example, adopt strict capital controls.) Historically, reforms of the international financial system result from crises at the center, not at the periphery, of the global economic system. But it is still important to see things for what they are. The center-left governments in Latin America have maintained or implemented macroeconomic policies that redistribute income towards financial markets and elites. Only Latin American magical realism explains how these policies could be seen as progressive alternatives to neoliberalism.
Sources Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer, eds., The Economics of the Third Way: Experiences from Around the World (Edward Elgar, 2001); Jorge Casta, "Las dos izquierdas latinoamericanas,"
from Fred Lonidier :
Subject: BPP fotos I took in Seattle in June 1968
27 October 2005
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research