Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Revamp global finance structures

FROM THE UN - Anjali Sharma

Joseph Stiglitz, chairman of the panel of experts on reforms of the international monetary and financial system, described the panel’s recommendations in the General Assembly.
The panel released wide-ranging recommendations ahead of the final report to be tabled in the June conference on the impact of economic meltdown.
It said that the international finance structures must be drastically overhauled to deal with the current global economic crisis, as it called on wealthier nations to direct one per cent of their economic stimulus packages to help developing countries address poverty.
The panel of experts, commissioned by the president of the General Assembly, is proposing far-reaching changes in international finance structures and strong measures to overcome the current economic crisis.
It recommended that one per cent of developed-country stimulus packages be directed to the developing world to fight poverty and build global demand.
Mr Stiglitz said that while a coordinated stimulus is required for global recovery, many poorer developing countries lack the requisite resources. He stressed that many poorer countries lack the resources necessary to tackle the crisis, and developed nations should not attach inappropriate conditionalities to such funds.
“The nature, the severity of this crisis has really opened up opportunities for change for reform that I think would not have been conceivable even a few months ago,” Mr Stiglitz told reporters.
The experts also called for the IMF to increase the availability of funds for hard-hit nations.
The panel proposed a number of additional sources, including an immediate issuance of Special Drawing Rights and supports regional efforts, like the Chang Mai initiative.
It emphasised that such funds should be provided without the inappropriate conditionality often associated with such assistance.
The panel also advised enactment of an approved IMF measure to double SDRs to hard-hit countries, up to SDRs 42.8 billion.
It has proposed an overhaul of the current system of global reserves to the world economy get back on its feet, and to guard against a repeat global financial debacle.
The commission said that a new global reserve system possibly based on greatly expanded SDRs, could contribute to economic stability and equity.
It would reduce the deflationary effects of the massive reserve accumulations that countries have found necessary to protect themselves against the high level of global instability.
Such a system is “feasible, non-inflationary and easily implemented”, and counteracts the risk of a rapid fall in the value of a major reserve currency, gutting hard-earned reserve funds, Mr Stiglitz told reporters at a Press conference.
GA President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann empanelled the Commission of Experts in response to the downward spiral in the world economy.
These recommendations were considered at the Thematic Interactive Dialogue on the global financial crisis that ended in New York on 27 March. Various national representatives, UN officials, experts and civil society stakeholders participating in the three-day meeting.
The following are the recommendations by the commission:
i) An elected and representative Global Economic Coordination Council, within the UN system, to meet annually at Head-of-State level to assess developments and problems, coordinate policies, and lend leadership on social and environmental as well as economic concerns. Such a body would provide “a democratically representative alternative to the G-20”.
ii) A Global Financial Regulatory Authority and a Global Competition Authority, accountable to the Coordination Council, under more broad-based governance than the current Financial Stability Forum, to oversee global financial stability, prevent regulatory arbitrage, harmonise regulations, and prevent the growth of multinational firms that represent a threat to competition or pose a problem having become too big to fail.
iii) A new international credit facility that could provide additional credit to developing countries without pro-cyclical conditionality, and whose governance would be both more representative of the new donor countries and more sensitive to the concerns of the developing countries.
It might be most rapidly opened under the umbrella of the World Bank, where efforts are already under way to remedy inadequacies in governance and lending practices, or in regional development banks, where developing countries enjoy more equitable representation.
Focus on specific clashes: Alliance of Civilisations has announced its second campaign for understanding cultures and said that its purpose was to help reconcile specific communities, not to resolve political conflicts or divisive issues.
Director of the forum Marc Scheuer said the overall aim is “to help reduce tensions across cultural divides that threaten to inflame existing political conflicts or trigger new ones,” as he previewed the Forum which is scheduled to take place on 6 and 7 April in Istanbul.
“The Forum will be about that dialogue that delivers, focusing on concrete situations and trying to change the situation on the ground,” he added.
He said this second Forum will bring together religious leaders, governments, philanthropists, representatives of corporations and the media, academics and activists.

France is threatening G20 walkout

France will walk away from this week's G20 summit if its demands for stricter financial regulation are not met, the finance minister has told the BBC.

Christine Lagarde told Hardtalk that President Nicolas Sarkozy would not sign any agreement if he felt "the deliverables are not there".

Strengthening financial regulation will be one of the key issues at the G20.

France wants a stronger global financial regulator than the US and the UK would like.

If France were to leave the summit, it would be a blow to both UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US President Barack Obama.

Both men have spoken of their high hopes for the meeting to stimulate international recovery.

"Leaders meeting in London must supply the oxygen of confidence to today's global economy and give people in all of our countries renewed hope for the future," Mr Brown said.

President Obama is due to arrive in London for the summit later. It will be his first visit to Europe since he became president.

'Moral boundaries'

The prime minister also called for the "values that we celebrate in everyday life" to be brought to the financial markets.

"I believe that unsupervised globalisation of our financial markets did not only cross national boundaries, it crossed moral boundaries too," Mr Brown said.

He was speaking at a gathering of religious leaders in St Paul's Cathedral with the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Mr Rudd warned that the global economic crisis was having a devastating effect on developing countries.

"This is the unseen cost of the crisis, the invisible face of the global recession," he said.

"But in conscience and for people of conscience we cannot stand idly by."

Cracks emerging?

However, splits among other world leaders on how to tackle the economic crisis have also begun to emerge in other areas.

European countries, in particular, are resisting calls to commit to spending more this year and next.

President Sarkozy has previously spoken out against "Anglo-Saxon" economies, as has the prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker.

"This crisis started in the United States. The Anglo-Saxon world has always refused to add the dose of regulation which financial markets, the international financial system needed," Mr Juncker said last week.

The European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, denied that there were any splits within the EU itself.

"In the last European summit we have agreed on a common position, a very ambitious position," he told the BBC.

"I will be happy if I see all our partners with the same level of ambition."

'Absolutely determined'

However, there have also been expressions of optimism.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is reported to have said that chances were high that agreements - for example, to regulate hedge funds - would be reached.

And in spite of her walkout threat, Ms Lagarde was eager to stress that the G20 leaders agree on a range of important issues.

"I am absolutely determined, and President Sarkozy has said it loud and clear, that we actually eradicate non-cooperative centres and tax havens," she said.

"I know that Chancellor Merkel is very much on that line, I know that Gordon Brown has said that old tax havens have nothing to do with this new world.

"Well, we need to deliver on that and we need to be extremely united and strong."

World leaders will meet later this week in London to discuss measures to tackle the downturn. See to the G20 summit. The G20 countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK, the US and the EU.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/03/31 14:48:42 GMT

Economic crisis keeps G20 divided

By Alan Fisher in London, England

Differences between American and European policies to tackle the global financial crisis are likely to dominate the G20 meeting in London on Thursday, April 2.

London's Excel Centre, which sits on the bank of the Thames, is more used to hosting careers' fairs and trade conferences. This week, for one day only, it will become the centre of the search for a way out of the current international financial crisis.

The G20 was formed in the wake of the 1999 Asian financial crisis. It includes the world's major industrial powers, such as the US and Germany, as well as emerging economic nations such as Brazil, China and India.

The UK holds the rotating presidency of the group and has set down big aims for the G20 but, as is often the way at events like this, drafts of the final statement are already being circulated.

Public dissent is unhelpful. This is about putting on a united front and hoping others take their cue from that.

There are three main areas for discussion: first, the central demand for co-ordinated action to revive the world economy, countries will be encouraged to cut interest rates and increase public spending.

"While there will be handshakes, smiles and nods of agreement on many of the key points, the G20 is split"

Alan Fisher
AL Jazeera correspondent

Then, there is the understanding that banks and financial institutions must be regulated much more rigorously than in the past to prevent a future global meltdown.

And finally, there is the hope there will be a new blueprint for future reform of international bodies such as the International Monetary Fund.

But while there will be handshakes, smiles and nods of agreement on many of the key points, the G20 is split. Not everyone agrees on the best way forward.

US plan 'a way to hell'

The US wants all countries to share in stimulating the world economy. However, the current holder of the European Union presidency, the Czechs, describe the US plans as "a way to hell".

Many European countries have traditionally spent more on public services than the US and have tried hard to cut public debt and to adopt the American approach would put their recent successes at risk.

So, they do not see why they should create problems in the future just to help bail out America, which they argue was the country where fiscal irresponsibility caused the crisis in the first place.

Security is tight at the Excel centre as widespread protests are expected [AFP] The early drafts of the agreement suggest the countries involved will pat themselves on the back for the measures already taken and will boast of the creation of millions of jobs. The final figure will be agreed in the communiqué.

There will be a prediction of global growth in 2010 and there will be more money for the IMF. David Miliband, the British foreign minister, says it will get around $500 billion although the final figure has still to be agreed.

There will also be assistance for developing countries and the G20 will agree to meet again before the end of the year to review progress.

While all this is going on, thousands of protesters will take to the streets to demand real action from the politicians.

Police leave cancelled

Police leave has been cancelled and there is a worry that many of the demonstrations may turn violent. City workers in London have been told to ditch their business suits and their normal office attire so they do not attract attention and cannot be singled out.

One police spokesman said "familiar faces" have returned to the protest scene although he would not clarify what that meant.
In June 1933, delegates from 66 countries gathered in London to try to agree a way to revive the global economy in the midst of what became known as the Great Depression.

Within a month, agreements reached were worthless as a new US president decided he must do what he had to, to revive the US economy.

The collapse created bad faith across the world, trade barriers were erected and rising unemployment created political instability in Europe, which contributed to the outbreak of the second world war.

Political leaders have a big task on their hands to revive confidence and chart the way out of the current crisis. Failure has massive implications which we can only even begin to imagine.

Source: Al Jazeera

Saturday, March 28, 2009

G20 demonstrators march in London

Tens of thousands of people have marched through London demanding action on poverty, climate change and jobs, ahead of next week's G20 summit.

The Put People First alliance of 150 charities and unions walked from Embankment to Hyde Park for a rally.

Speakers are calling on G20 leaders to pursue a new kind of global justice.

A big security operation is in place in case the protest turns violent, but police say it is relatively quiet with no arrests made so far.

Police estimate that 35,000 people are at the event and its organisers say they were very happy with the turnout.

Protesters taking part described a "carnival-like atmosphere" with brass bands, piercing whistles and stereos blasting music as the slow-paced procession weaved through the streets.

"The sun is shining - there are lots of banners and flags and everyone is in good spirits," said Chris Jordan, an Action Aid campaigner.

Families with children in pushchairs were among those marching along the 4.2-mile route under banners with slogans including 'capitalists - you are the crisis' and 'justice for the world's poor'.

As protesters passed the heavily-policed gates of Downing Street, there were chants and jeers with one person shouting "enjoy the overtime".

BBC News reporter Mario Cacciottolo said people were clearly angry, but the atmosphere was not tense.

Milton McKenzie, 73, from Essex, told him: "How the hell can we have a situation here in Britain where we have people out of work and the bankers just cream it off and are helped by the government."

Jake Corn, from Cambridge, said he was marching to show his support for a more sustainable future.

"We feel this is an important moment with the G20 coming here. We want to get our message across to as many people as possible," he said.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said he wanted to see G20 leaders agree a plan of action to deal with the financial downturn.

"Where I hope we will see a consensus emerge is in the recognition that unless they act together, then the problems are only going to get worse.

"This, unlike any other recession, is a recession right across the world."

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said it was important for the G20 to make commitments on helping the environment as well as the economy.

"There are some people who will say you can either tackle the economic crisis or the climate crisis.

"But the truth is that both come together with this idea of a Green New Deal, of investing in the jobs of the future, which are going to be in the green industries of the future."

The director of the the Adam Smith Institute, Dr Eamonn Butler, said governments have caused the economic crisis.

"The world market economy is actually a very moral system that raised a billion people out of poverty in the last 10 years," he said.

A huge security operation is under way in the run-up to the G20 summit, at which world leaders will discuss the global financial crisis and other issues.

There have been fears that banks and other financial institutions could be the focus for violent protests.

Commander Simon O'Brien, one of the senior command team in charge of policing security, said: "It's fair to say that this [the march] is one of the largest, one of the most challenging and one of the most complicated operations we have delivered.

"G20 is attracting a significant amount of interest from protest groups. There is an almost unprecedented level of activity going on."

Saturday's march will be followed by a series of protests on Wednesday and Thursday by a variety of coalitions and groups campaigning on a range of subjects, from poverty, inequality and jobs to war, climate change and capitalism.

Berlin march

Ahead of the summit, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been visiting a number of countries seeking support.

On Friday, during a visit to Chile, he said people should not be "cynical" about what could be achieved at next week's summit, saying he was optimistic about the likely outcome.

However, in an interview with Saturday's Financial Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel dampened expectations of a significant breakthrough.

She said one meeting would not be enough to solve the economic crisis and finish building a new structure for global markets.

In Berlin, thousands of protesters have also taken to the streets with a message to the G20 leaders: "We won't pay for your crisis".

Working on the inside...but for which side?

Veteran activist Van Jones' appointment by Barack Obama raises old questions about working inside the system, says Todd Chretien.

March 25, 2009 | Issue 693

VAN JONES, one of the Bay Area's most important activist leaders and a well-known progressive voice nationally, has been appointed to serve in the Obama administration as "green jobs czar," charged with developing policies for federal investment in environmentally sustainable economic projects.

While many have hailed Jones' appointment as good news for environmental policy, it poses an old question for the left--about the role of activism, and the relationship between social movements and state power.

Jones himself raised this concern in a March 16 interview with GreenBiz.com in which he said, "When Nelson Mandela came out and the ANC took over, people left the townships and went into parliament, and the movement politics and the township politics really suffered. I think that it had a negative impact."

Jones went on to say that he was "not concerned" about something similar happening as a result of his own appointment because the movement was "growing" and he could be replaced.

But, of course, any serious comparison of the strength of the South African freedom movement and the state of the American grassroots left makes it clear that if South Africa's social movements could be drained of their strength in the townships by joining the government, that danger is only greater here because the movement is weaker organizationally.

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IN A March 11 interview with Cy Musiker on KQED radio, Jones said, "What's good for the environment is a job. Solar panels don't put themselves up, and wind turbines don't manufacture themselves."

Jones popularized these ideas in his best-selling book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. The book is filled with ideas for reforming the economy in order to maximize job creation, especially for inner cities devastated by unemployment and racism, and reduce the free market's destruction of the environment. It has won praise from many quarters, including activists like Winona LaDuke, and it even boasts an introduction by Al Gore.

The fact that Barack Obama chose Jones to work in his administration is a welcome sign of his break with the know-nothing, oil-drenched policies of his predecessor.

Like the appointment of Hilda Solis as labor secretary, Jones' selection partially reflects Obama's belief in the need to restore labor to having some voice in government and to address the escalating environmental crisis--as well as a basic recognition that he owes his victory to pro-labor, pro-environment voters.

This, of course, has provoked the ranting of crackpot right-wing talk show hosts like Michael Savage, who called Jones a "thug from the gutters of the Bay Area," appointed by "Barack Hussein Obama" to create a "personal army of, not Brown shirts, but Green shirts."

This type of racist blather, no less dangerous for its delusional paranoia, must be squarely denounced and Jones, not to mention Obama, should be forthrightly defended from these forces.

But that doesn't change the fact that Jones' appointment raises another set of questions which the left must consider carefully.

In the same KQED interview, Musiker asked Jones, "You've always been a critic from outside the system. I wonder if you've thought about what happens if the president or people close to the president ask you to endorse policies you're not completely behind."

Jones replied, "Well, that's the part of what it means to work in an administration when you're not the president. I will argue vigorously for the right answer as I see it behind the closed door, but obviously you can't have an administration that gets anything done if people take those fights outside."

This response raises the question of what is the most effective way to fight for and win thoroughgoing, systemic change: working outside or inside the power structure--i.e., the state and the Democratic Party.

In fact, Jones himself raised these same questions in a May 1992 essay written in the days after the rioting and protests that followed the acquittal of the Los Angeles cops who beat Rodney King. The article, titled "Notes Under Curfew: West Coast Riots Indict both Left and Right," was republished in May 2007 on HuffingtonPost.com in order, in Jones' words, to provide "aid and comfort to a new generation of racial justice activists." Here are Jones' conclusions in 1992:

These riots were not revolution; without revolutionary values and revolutionary organization, they were merely sharp outcroppings of the systemic chaos that social injustice breeds. But flashpoints of rage can never substitute for radical social vision or grassroots coordination...

Here, I am not speaking only of our political defeats, but also of our ideological surrenders. We no longer feel comfortable saying, "Feed the children because they're neat little people who deserve to eat." Instead, we say, "Feed them because it's an investment in the country's future economic competitiveness."

But when we base our arguments for social change on profit-mongering and American nationalism, we have already admitted defeat. By conceding the very terms of the debate, we may get a policy initiative pushed through here or there. But we leave dominant values unchallenged, and dominant institutions intact.

Thus, we have no real answers when racist juries acquit racist cops. Because we have already accepted the system that makes racism and police abuse necessary and inevitable.

And, having abandoned socialism as unworkable (or at least unfashionable), we no longer have a credible, well-developed, counter-view of how we would like to see wealth created and distributed...We must recognize that our opposition has become ideologically, tactically and morally bankrupt.

As we rebuild [Los Angeles], let us also build a radically feminist, antiracist, green and humanitarian people's movement--complete with a revolutionary theory that will both describe our dilemma AND point a way out...Let us build a real Opposition that can take down their paper tiger, once and for all.

Among other observations, Jones hits on three central questions here:

1. What is the role of the free market, and can we win social justice playing by its rules?

2. Do we need systemic, revolutionary change?

3. If so, how do we organize so our "radical social vision" can win?

These questions remain as legitimate today as they were back then, and Jones' political trajectory in the meantime provides a very good opportunity for examining them.

Here, the important issue to bear in mind isn't Jones' ideas "then and now," but rather the question of reforming the system from within versus revolutionary change as strategies for social transformation. From that point of view, let's examine Jones' 1992 conclusions in the light of 2009 reality.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

FIRST, CAN we rely on the free market to solve our economic and social crises? Given the financial collapse and escalating unemployment, it would seem that this hardly needs much argument today. However, while President Obama has initiated an impressive array of social spending (including billions of dollars for green jobs), he has spent 10 or 20 times as much money trying to rescue the profit-driven, private, market-oriented banks and credit institutions.

At base, the reliance on the free market holds humanity's well-being hostage to the narrow, individual, competitive interests of big business.

In 1992, Jones' argued that "we have already admitted defeat" when we base the fight for social justice on "profit-mongering and American nationalism." However, today, he seems to have largely conceded to this point of view, arguing on March 11:

You just can't imagine the U.S. economy recovering in the long term if we don't have more energy independence, more clean energy, a smarter grid, a better-trained green workforce.

What's good for the environment is a job. Solar panels don't put themselves up, and wind turbines don't manufacture themselves. We're maturing as a country. We're getting comfortable with all classes and all colors and all kinds of people.

Of course, clean energy and a smarter (that is, more efficient) electricity grid are perfectly good ideas. But "energy independence" is normal Washington-speak for the whole line of argument about national security (American nationalism) being undermined by dependence on "foreign oil."

Green jobs manufacturing and installing solar panels are also wonderful ideas, but if "getting comfortable with all classes of people" means relying on big business (which building solar panels will inevitably become if we leave the market to determine our horizons), then rather than creating high-paying, union jobs with real benefits, workplace rights and job security, we will see the new "Green Economy" go exactly the way of all other industrial sectors based on the profit motive.

Second, can we change the world if, in Jones' words in 1992, "we have already accepted the system that makes racism and police abuse necessary and inevitable"?

Jones has a well-deserved reputation as an insightful and creative organizer against police brutality, the mass incarceration of California youth and the post-9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

He rightly argued that these problems were not disassociated phenomena that simply "happened" to be occurring at the same time; rather, they were part of a system that had to be critiqued and challenged as a whole in order not to excuse one atrocity in the interest of organizing to stop a different one.

Yet today, as President Obama increases bombing attacks and special forces raids into Pakistan, sends another 17,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan, plans to leave some 50,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely, and continues to give Israel a blank check, Jones is--in his words--caught "behind the closed door."

Instead of adding his powerful voice to building a serious antiwar movement--one that prevents the Pentagon from preying on precisely those inner-city youth Jones wants to target for green jobs--he must remain silent.

Worse, he must support the president's foreign policy in public. What is this teaching a "new generation of racial justice activists?"

Jones is making the calculation that he can do more good "inside" than "outside." Many honorable and dedicated people have made this choice with the best of motives. But there is a price to pay--accepting the totality of the system and working inside the boundaries it has developed to protect itself over the last 200 years.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THIRD, IF we decide that we can't rely on the free market, and we recognize that the changes the system will permit from the inside are severely limited, is it possible to organize a grassroots "real Opposition" that can win?

If that project is impossible--if transforming the system and eliminating the profit motive as the basis for our economy is a utopia--then we should accept working within the system as the only meaningful political strategy.

Such a conclusion would mean relying on the same economic forces that have led us to the current global meltdown to somehow chart a path for eliminating global hunger, saving the environment and providing future generations with fulfilling lives. If ever a political strategy could be called utopian, this would be it.

But is there an alternative? As Jones wrote in 1992, we need "a radically feminist, antiracist, green and humanitarian people's movement--complete with a revolutionary theory that will both describe our dilemma AND point a way out."

In my opinion, such a movement must be based on the ability of the vast majority of ordinary working-class people to participate meaningfully in the economic, social and political decisions that shape their lives.

It means mobilizing millions in new unions through organizing drives, protests and strikes. It means building a determined opposition within the military, among rank-and-file soldiers, to new deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. It means organizing and educating a new generation of student activists who will seize their campuses in opposition to budget cuts. It means developing community organizations that will speak out and march against police brutality.

It means returning to the lessons we learned from the great leaders and thinkers in our history, like Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And it means beginning a serious discussion of whether any of this is possible without challenging the basic notions of capitalism itself.

As the historian Howard Zinn once said, "What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in--marching outside the White House, pushing for change."

Jones seems to distance himself from this point of view in his March 11 interview:

I just want to serve. I think we've got a president who is committed to a green America that is green and just and inclusive. My big hope is that I can make it possible for some people who might be poor, might not have the educational opportunities right now, to participate to get in on the ground floor of this green revolution, which will be the cornerstone of the next American economy.

Despite using the word "revolution," Jones' emphasis is on the changes that President Obama intends to deliver to people and what Jones can do to support those efforts--in place of what demands ordinary people will fight for on their own behalf.

Again, good people can believe that this is a realistic and worthwhile strategy. But it leaves unanswered the question of whether we can truly transform the world, or we are condemned to merely make changes around the edges. It means leaving aside a "radical social vision" of a "real Opposition that can take down the Paper Tiger once and for all."

People on the left can come down on opposite sides of this issue and still find many areas within which to work in common. But this is a debate that must not be ignored.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Slumming of Suburbia

[Although this article takes a liberal, racist and theoretically problematic stance on class, it does highlight the deepening of a very serious social and ecological crisis. One that shouldn't be overlooked] - Kali

By: David Villano Print

The financial meltdown has produced a vast patchwork of foreclosed and abandoned single-family homes across America, accelerating the decades-long migration of our nation's poor from cities to the suburban fringe. In 2005, as rising property values reduced affordable-housing stock in inner-city neighborhoods, suburban poverty, in raw numbers, topped urban poverty for the first time.

The trend will continue. By 2025, predicts planning expert Arthur C. Nelson, America will face a market surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (a sixth of an acre or more), attracting millions of low-income residents deeper into suburbia where decay and social and geographic isolation will pose challenges few see coming.

"As a society, we have fundamentally failed to address our housing policy," said Nelson, director of metropolitan research at the University of Utah. "Suburbia is overbuilt and yet we will keep on building there. Most policymakers don't see the consequences, and those who do are denying reality."

Nelson and others warn that suburbia's least desirable neighborhoods - aging, middle-class tract-home developments far from city centers and mass transit lines — are America's emerging slums, characterized by poverty, crime and other social ills. Treating those ills is complicated by the same qualities that once defined suburbia's appeal — seclusion, homogeneity and low population density. "We built too much of the suburban dream, and now it's coming back to haunt us," Nelson said.

To be sure, the low-income drift to suburbia has less to do with bucolic appeal and more to do with economics. Over the past two decades, the gospel of urbanism has spread though the American mainstream, Nelson and others argue. The young, the affluent, the professional class and empty-nesters are reclaiming the urban living experience — dense, walkable, diverse, mixed-use neighborhoods in and around city centers — while the poor disperse outward in search of cheap rent. Low-income residents often subdivide suburban homes, sharing them with multiple families. Studies reveal that population densities in suburban neighborhoods increase two to four times when low-income families replace the middle-class, Nelson said.

Meanwhile, layoffs and other effects of the economic crisis are contributing to higher poverty levels in once-solidly middle-class communities.

Most experts believe the market-driven migration of the poor to suburbs and the affluent to urban zones — sometimes called "demographic inversion" — will continue for decades.

"Americans are disillusioned with sprawl, they're tired of driving, they recognize the soullessness of suburban life, and yet we keep on adding more suburban communities," said Christopher B. Leinberger, a land-use expert at the University of Michigan. He said consumer preference is reflected by Hollywood: "People identify with Sex and the City and Seinfeld. So why are we still building like Leave it to Beaver?"

Leinberger is an unabashed urbanist who preaches the gospel of dense, mixed-use communities like a missionary saving souls in the jungle. As a visiting fellow this year at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., he walks to his office and to appointments around the city. He argues, with few dissenters, that suburbs are losing favor because they make little sense, forcing people into their cars, limiting social interaction and discouraging racial and socio-economic diversity. Enlightened planners across the country are promoting compact "24/7" urban centers were people live, work and play in close proximity. Virtually every major U.S. city is targeting once-gritty urban neighborhoods for revitalization and, inevitably, gentrification.

The displaced poor find value in the aging, outer-ring tract-home developments that once promised easy living far from the city's hustle and bustle. And housing officials, resolved to breaking up pockets of concentrated poverty (where at least 40 percent of the families are living below the poverty line), are thrilled. The federal Section 8 housing program, which allows recipients to negotiate government-subsidized rentals anywhere, is grounded in the belief that a safe, stable neighborhood can help unbuckle the straps of poverty.

But the positive benefits of moving to a neighborhood of less poverty diminish as the number of poor relocating there increases, new research suggests. In other words, families are far less likely to pull themselves out of poverty when their exposure to other poor families reaches a kind of tipping point. George C. Galster, a professor of urban affairs at Wayne State University, has quantified this poverty threshold as roughly 15 to 20 percent of a neighborhood. If the poverty rate exceeds that, Galster said, "All hell breaks loose" in the form of crime, drop-out rates, teen pregnancies, drug use and, in turn, declining property values.

Galster's working paper for the National Poverty Center, Consequences from the Redistribution of Urban Poverty During the 1990s: A Cautionary Tale, warns that polices to break up concentrated poverty may be backfiring. While the number of Americans living in the poorest neighborhoods has notably declined since 1990, by about 25 percent, poverty elsewhere has inched up. Galster worries that the rush to relocate the urban poor, through Section 8 and other poverty redistribution programs, has pushed many less-desirable suburban neighborhoods to this tipping point.

And when they tip, he added, neighborhoods tend to spiral deeper into poverty: Declining property values attract more poor residents, gradually displacing the middle-class families that provide stability, further depressing prices.

Miami real estate broker Adrian Salgado said he's witnessing the spiral, even within newer tract-home development in the region's southern and western fringes. With many areas overbuilt, and foreclosure rates high, Section 8 tenants and other low-income renters are finding deals too good to pass up. "I know everybody needs a place to live, but we're creating a social disaster," said Salgado, noting that many early middle-class buyers in these transition neighborhoods are desperate to sell but can't.

Although national data is thin, local officials across the country are reporting an increase in violent crime, gang activity, drug use and other social breakdowns within suburban neighborhoods. In places like New York City, Atlanta and Chicago, urban crime rates are dropping while rising on the outskirts of town. Crime is also rising in the fast-growing sunbelt communities hit hard with foreclosures. Leinberger noted that in Lee County Fla., where nearly 25 percent of the homes stand empty, robberies were up nearly 50 percent last year.

Indeed, police in some cities are monitoring suburban foreclosures to identify neighborhoods at risk for increased crime, while others look at Section 8 relocations, arguing that a sudden rise in low-income rental densities is among their most reliable indicators of a coming crime spike.

Such tactics rankle some anti-poverty advocates, but a growing body of research is challenging suburban relocation as a remedy for poverty. Ed Goetz, a housing policy specialist at the University of Minnesota, said the suburban dream often fades for poor families because old support systems are severed, and access to programs and services — day care, after-school programs, job training, drug treatment and counseling — are greatly hampered by shear distance.

"The isolation can be both physical and emotional," Goetz said. "The frequency of interaction with neighbors declines, social networks break down. We haven't considered that carefully enough." Goetz said studies show a surprising willingness among the suburban poor to return to urban, high-poverty neighborhoods where services are more accessible and mass transit more convenient.

But the suburban diaspora of America's poor is unlikely to subside, most experts agree, posing complex challenges for policymakers. If anything, added Alan Berube, a housing expert at the Brookings Institution, suburban poverty will grow not just from in-migration of the poor but from within as the financial crisis "pushes middle-class families down the economic ladder."

With that in mind, Galster recommends strict monitoring of suburban poverty rates to prevent neighborhoods from reaching the so-called tipping point. Such data would allow housing officials to push for laws requiring property owners in low-poverty neighborhoods to accept Section 8 tenants (the existing program is voluntary), something he recommends. Conversely, he argued, laws should prevent landlords from accepting low-income tenants when neighborhood poverty rates exceed designated levels. He also supports "inclusionary zoning" rules that mandate a small number of low-income housing units in new single-family developments.

But Nelson, whose research predicts the vast oversupply of large-lot homes in the coming decades — and the growing "suburbanization of poverty" — said much can be done today to reshape the residential landscape. Most of the homes he expects to exist in 2025 have yet to be built. He said planners can reduce that oversupply by crafting long-term growth policies that reflect a careful assessment of regional demands for all housing types over a generation or more. What they will find, he said, is a preference among all income groups for denser, mixed-use communities with access to mass transit.

Leinberger agreed, arguing that planners should acknowledge that the suburban experiment has failed. "I wouldn't add another new road in American today," he said. "The changing geograph y of poverty is another reminder that our housing policies today will be felt for years to come, and in ways nobody ever imagined."

Burning Questions:What Does Economic "Recovery" Mean on an Extreme Weather Planet?

By Tom Engelhardt

It turns out that you don't want to be a former city dweller in rural parts of southernmost Australia, a stalk of wheat in China or Iraq, a soybean in Argentina, an almond or grape in northern California, a cow in Texas, or almost anything in parts of east Africa right now. Let me explain.

As anyone who has turned on the prime-time TV news these last weeks knows, southeastern Australia has been burning up. It's already dry climate has been growing ever hotter. "The great drying," Australian environmental scientist Tim Flannery calls it. At its epicenter, Melbourne recorded its hottest day ever this month at a sweltering 115.5 degrees, while temperatures soared even higher in the surrounding countryside. After more than a decade of drought, followed by the lowest rainfall on record, the eucalyptus forests are now burning. To be exact, they are now pouring vast quantities of stored carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas considered largely responsible for global warming, into the atmosphere.

In fact, everything's been burning there. Huge sheets of flame, possibly aided and abetted by arsonists, tore through whole towns. More than 180 people are dead and thousands homeless. Flannery, who has written eloquently about global warming, drove through the fire belt, and reported:

"It was as if a great cremation had taken place… I was born in Victoria, and over five decades I've watched as the state has changed. The long, wet and cold winters that seemed insufferable to me as a boy vanished decades ago, and for the past 12 years a new, drier climate has established itself… I had not appreciated the difference a degree or two of extra heat and a dry soil can make to the ferocity of a fire. This fire was different from anything seen before."
Australia, by the way, is a wheat-growing breadbasket for the world and its wheat crops have been hurt in recent years by continued drought.

Meanwhile, central China is experiencing the worst drought in half a century. Temperatures have been unseasonably high and rainfall, in some areas, 80% below normal; more than half the country's provinces have been affected by drought, leaving millions of Chinese and their livestock without adequate access to water. In the region which raises 95% of the country's winter wheat, crop production has already been impaired and is in further danger without imminent rain. All of this represents a potential financial catastrophe for Chinese farmers at a moment when about 20 million migrant workers are estimated to have lost their jobs in the global economic meltdown. Many of those workers, who left the countryside for China's booming cities (and remitted parts of their paychecks to rural areas), may now be headed home jobless to potential disaster. A Wall Street Journal report concludes, "Some scientists warn China could face more frequent droughts as a result of global warming and changes in farming patterns."

Globe-jumping to the Middle East, Iraq, which makes the news these days mainly for spectacular suicide bombings or the politics of American withdrawal, turns out to be another country in severe drought. Americans may think of Iraq as largely desert, but (as we were all taught in high school) the lands between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the "fertile crescent," are considered the homeland of agriculture, not to speak of human civilization.

Well, not so fertile these days, it seems. The worst drought in at least a decade and possibly a farming lifetime is expected to reduce wheat production by at least half; while the country's vast marshlands, once believed to be the location of the Garden of Eden, have been turned into endless expanses of baked mud. That region, purposely drained by dictator Saddam Hussein to tame rebellious "Marsh Arabs," is now experiencing the draining power of nature.

Nor is Iraq's drought a localized event. Serious drought conditions extend across the Middle East, threatening to exacerbate local conflicts from Cyprus and Lebanon to Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel where this January was reported to have been the hottest and driest in 60 years. "With less than 2 months of winter left," Daniel Pedersen has written at the environmental website Green Prophet, "the region has received only 6%-50% of the annual average rainfall, with the desert areas getting 30% or less."

Leaping continents, in Latin America, Argentina is experiencing "the most intense, prolonged and expensive drought in the past 50 years," according to Hugo Luis Biolcati, the president of the Argentine Rural Society. One of the world's largest grain exporters, it has already lost five billion dollars to the drought. Its soybeans -- the country is the third largest producer of them -- are wilting in the fields; its corn -- Argentina is the world's second largest producer -- and wheat crops are in trouble; and its famed grass-fed herds of cattle are dying -- 1.5 million head of them since October with no end in sight.

Dust Bowl Economics

In our own backyard, much of the state of Texas -- 97.4% to be exact -- is now gripped by drought, and parts of it by the worst drought in almost a century. According to the New York Times, "Winter wheat crops have failed. Ponds have dried up. Ranchers are spending heavily on hay and feed pellets to get their cattle through the winter. Some wonder if they will have to slaughter their herds come summer. Farmers say the soil is too dry for seeds to germinate and are considering not planting." Since 2004, in fact, the state has yoyo-ed between the extremities of flood and drought.

Meanwhile, scientists predict that, as global warming strengthens, the American southwest, parts of which have struggled with varying levels of drought conditions for years, could fall into "a possibly permanent state of drought." We're talking potential future "dust bowl" here. A December 2008 U.S. Geological Survey report warns: "In the Southwest, for example, the models project a permanent drying by the mid-21st century that reaches the level of aridity seen in historical droughts, and a quarter of the projections may reach this level of aridity much earlier."

And talking about drought gripping breadbasket regions, don't forget northern California which "produces 50 percent of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables, and a majority of [U.S.] salad, strawberries and premium wine grapes." Its agriculturally vital Central Valley, in particular, is in the third year of an already monumental drought in which the state has been forced to cut water deliveries to farms by up to 85%.

Observers are predicting that it may prove to be the worst drought in the history of a region "already reeling from housing foreclosures, the credit crisis, and a plunge in construction and manufacturing jobs." January, normally California's wettest month, has been wretchedly dry and the snowpack in the northern Sierra Mountains, crucial to the state's water supplies and its agricultural health, is at less than half normal levels.

Northern California, in fact, offers a glimpse of the havoc that the extreme weather conditions scientists associate with climate change could cause, especially when combined with other crises. In a Los Angeles Times interview, new Secretary of Energy Steven Chu offered an eye-popping warning (of a sort top government officials simply don't give) about what a global-warming future might hold in store for California, his home state. Interviewer Jim Tankersley summed up Chu's thoughts this way:

"California's farms and vineyards could vanish by the end of the century, and its major cities could be in jeopardy, if Americans do not act to slow the advance of global warming... In a worst case... up to 90% of the Sierra snowpack could disappear, all but eliminating a natural storage system for water vital to agriculture. 'I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen,' [Chu] said. 'We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California.' And, he added, 'I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going' either."
As for East Africa and the Horn of Africa, under the pressure of rising temperatures, drought has become a tenacious long-term visitor. For East Africa, the drought years of 2005-2006 were particularly horrific and now Kenya, with the region's biggest economy, a country recently wracked by political disorder and ethnic violence, is experiencing crop failures. An estimated 10 million Kenyans may face hunger, even starvation, this year in the wake of a poor harvest, lack of rainfall, and rising food prices; if you include the drought-plagued Horn of Africa, 20 million people may be endangered, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Recently, climatologist David Battisti and Rosamond Naylor, director of Stanford University's Program on Food Security and the Environment, published a study in Science magazine on the effect of extreme heat on crops. They concluded, based on recent climate models and a study of past extreme heat waves, that there was "a 90% chance that, by the end of the century, the coolest temperatures in the tropics during the crop growing season would exceed the hottest temperatures recorded between 1900 and 2006." According to the British Guardian, under such circumstances Battisti and Naylor believe "[h]alf of the world's population could face severe food shortages by the end of the century as rising temperatures take their toll on farmers' crops... Harvests of staple food crops such as rice and maize could fall by between 20% and 40% as a result of higher temperatures during the growing season in the tropics and subtropics."

Not surprisingly, it's hard to imagine -- perhaps I mean swallow -- such an extreme world, and so most of us, the mainstream media included, don't bother to. That means certain potentially burning questions go not just unanswered but unasked.

The Grapes of Wrath (Updated)

Mind you, what you've read thus far represents an amateur's eye view of drought on our planet at this moment. It's hardly comprehensive. To give but one example, Afghanistan has only recently begun to emerge from an eight-year drought involving severe food shortages -- and, as journalist Christian Parenti writes, it would need another "five years worth of regular snowfall just to replenish its aquifers." Parenti adds: "As snow packs in the Himalayan and Hindu Kush ranges continue to recede, the rivers flowing from them will diminish and the economic situation in all of Central Asia will deteriorate badly."

Nor is this piece meant to be authoritative, exactly because I know so relatively little. Think of it as a reflection of my own frustration with work not done elsewhere -- and, by the way, thank heavens for Google University. Yes, Googling leaves you on your own, can be time-consuming, and tends to lead to cul-de-sacs ("Nuggets end 17-year drought in Orlando"), but what would we do without it? Thanks to good ol' G.U., anyone can, for instance, check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Drought Information Center or its U.S. Drought Monitor, or the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center and begin a self-education.

Now let me explain why I even bothered to write this piece. It's true that, if you're reading the mainstream press, each of the droughts mentioned above has gotten at least some attention, several of them a fair amount of attention (as well as some fine reporting), and the Australian firestorms have been headlines globally for weeks. The problem is that (the professional literature, the science magazines, and a few environmental websites and blogs aside) no one in the mainstream media seems to have thought to connect these dots or blots of aridity in any way. And yet it seems a no-brainer that mainstream reporters should be doing just that.

After all, cumulatively these drought hotspots, places now experiencing record or near-record aridity, could be thought of as representing so many burning questions for our planet. And yet you can search far and wide without stumbling across a mainstream American overview of drought in our world at this moment. This seems, politely put, puzzling, especially at a time when University College London's Global Drought Monitor claims that 104 million people are now living under "exceptional drought conditions."

Scientists generally agree that, as climate change accelerates throughout this century (and no matter what happens from here on in, nothing will evidently stop some form of acceleration), extreme weather of every sort, including drought, will become ever more the planetary norm. In fact, experts are suggesting that, as the Washington Post reported recently, "The pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems."

Now, no one can claim beyond all doubt that global warming is the cause of any specific drought, or certainly the only cause anyway. As with the Texas drought, a La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific is often mentioned as a key causal factor right now. But the crucial point is what the present can tell us about the impact of a global pattern of extreme weather, especially extreme drought, on what will surely be a more extreme planet in the relatively near future.

If global temperatures are on the rise and more heat means lower crop yields, then you're talking about more Kenyas, and not just in Africa either. You're probably also talking about desperation, upheaval, resource conflicts, and mass out-migrations of populations, even -- if scientists are right -- from the American Southwest. (And in case you don't think such a thing can happen here, remember Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath or think of any of Dorothea Lange's iconic photos of the "Okies" fleeing the American dustbowl of the 1930s.)

Burning Questions

Right now, the global economic meltdown has massively depressed fuel prices (key to farming, processing, and transporting most crops to market) and commodity prices have generally fallen as well, including food prices. Whatever the future economic weather, however, that is not likely to last.

So here's a burning question on my mind:

We're now experiencing the extreme effects of economic bad "weather" in the wake of the near collapse of the global financial system. Nonetheless, from the White House to the media, speculation about "the road to recovery" is already underway. The stimulus package, for instance, had been dubbed the "recovery bill," aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the question of when we'll hit bottom and when -- 2010, 2011, 2012 -- a real recovery will begin is certainly in the air.

Recently, in a speech in Singapore, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund, suggested that the "world's advanced economies" -- the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan -- were "already in depression," and the "worst cannot be ruled out." This got little attention here, but President Obama's comment at his first press conference that delay on his stimulus package could lead to a "lost decade," as in Japan in the 1990s (or, though it went unmentioned, the U.S. in the 1930s), made the headlines.

If, indeed, this is "the big one," and does result in a "lost decade" or more, here's what I wonder: Could the sort of "recovery" that everyone assumes lies just over a recessive or depressive horizon not be there? What if our lost decade lasts long enough to meet an environmental crisis involving extreme weather -- drought and flood, hurricanes, typhoons, and firestorms of unprecedented magnitude -- possibly in some of the breadbasket regions of the planet? What will happen if the rising fuel prices likely to come with the beginning of any economic "recovery" were to meet the soaring food prices of environmental disaster? What kind of human tsunami might that result in?

Once we start connecting some of today's drought dots, wouldn't it make sense to try to connect a few of the prospective dots as well? After all, if you begin to imagine what the worst might look like, you can also begin to think about what might be done to mitigate it. Isn't that more sensible than looking the other way?

If the kinds of hits regional agriculture is now taking from record-setting drought became the future norm, wouldn't we then be bereft of our most reassuring formulations in bad times? For example, the president spoke at that press conference of our present moment as "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." On an extreme planet, no such comforting "since the..." would be available, nor would there be any historical road map for what was coming at us, not if we had already run out of history.

Maybe the world we knew but scarce months ago is already, in some sense, long gone. What if, after a lost decade, we were to find ourselves living on another planet?

Feel free, of course, to ignore my burning questions. After all, I'm only an amateur with the flimsiest of credentials from Google U. Still, I do keep wondering when the media pros will finally pitch in, and what they'll tell us is on that distant horizon, the one with the red glow.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt

New Home Sales Fell In February, Not Rose

By Dollars and Sense

From Barry Ritholtz in the RGE Monitor:

WSJ: Sales of new homes rose in February for the first time in seven months, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday, another sign that the housing market is thawing

Bloomberg: Purchases of new homes in the U.S. unexpectedly rose in February from a record low as plummeting prices and cheaper mortgage rates lured some buyers. Sales increased 4.7 percent to an annual pace of 337,000 . . .

Marketwatch: The U.S. housing sector continues to see signs of improvement. The latest government data showed new home sales climbed in February for the first time in seven months, sending shares of home-building companies soaring.

The parade of the mathematically innumerate business writers continue to misread data. The latest evidence? New Home Sales.

After incorrectly reporting the Existing Home Sales, the mainstream media misread the Census department report of New Homes.

No, New Home Sales data did not improve. In fact, they were not only not positive, they were actually horrific. The year over year number was a terrible down 41%. Sales from this same period a year ago have nearly been halved.

Why did the media report this as positive? If you only read the headline number, you saw a positive datapoint: February was plus 4.7% over January.

To get the the facts, you need to read below the headline. In the present case, it wasn't the seasonality factor that was confusing, it was the "90-percent confidence intervals"—or as it is more commonly known, the margin of error.

From the Census Bureau:

Sales of new one-family houses in February 2009 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 337,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 4.7 percent (+/-18.3%)* above the revised January rate of 322,000, but is 41.1 percent (+/-7.9%) below the February 2008 estimate of 572,000.

The median sales price of new houses sold in February 2009 was $200,900; the average sales price was $251,000. The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of February was 330,000. This represents a supply of 12.2 months at the current sales rate.

Note that the month over month data at 4.7% - plus or minus 18.3% - is statistically insignificant. (i.e., meaningless). The reported data does not inform us if sales improved month-over-month or not. It is a range, from down -13.6% to plus 23%. Since "zero" is part of that range, we can draw no conclusion. As the Census Department itself notes, "the change is not statistically significant; that is, it is uncertain whether there was an increase or decrease."

The data does however, tell us that the year-over-year sales fell 41.1% plus or minus 7.9% gives us a range of -49% to -33.2%. The entire range is negative, therefore we can conclude sales fell year-over-year.

These are facts. This is data. This is how you interpret it. Most of the MSM reports (WSJ, Marketwatch, Bloomberg) were simply wrong.

Not nuanced, not shaded, but 2+2=5 wrong.

Let me remind that many of these folks incorrectly misinformed you that Housing wasn't getting worse in 2006, 2007 and 2008 - just as Home sales and prices went into an historic freefall. Now, these same folks are misinforming you that Housing has turned around and is improving. That is simply unsupported by the data.

(And don't even ask about television - they simply read the wrong news. Here is a life lesson for you: Never believe news people who read teleprompters. They have no idea what they are doing, they are reading what someone else wrote. When it comes to data interpretation, they are quite literally clueless. Rely on news readers to your personal financial detriment).

The bottom line: Learn to interpret data correctly. Avoid using the people who cannot do so as primary news sources.
Labels: Barry Ritholtz, home sales, housing market, RGE Monitor

3/26/2009 06:56:00 PM

G20 Protests: Fake cash, pop-up tents and protests to hit London

Mar 27 2009 16:31

They're printing fake money, priming the pop-up tents and putting the finishing touches on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Protesters are gearing up to gatecrash the G20 summit in London next week, preparing everything from a traditional march ending in Hyde Park to a siege of the Bank of England.

Some of the usual suspects are participating: anti-war activists, trade unions and environmentalists. But newer organisations have sprung up as well -- among them G20 Meltdown, an anti-globalisation group planning a series of stunts.

In the face of a massive police operation, demonstrators say they're using social networking sites such as Facebook and micro-blogging service Twitter to keep in touch and coordinate events.

"It's going to be a very challenging couple of days," Metropolitan Police Commander Simon O'Brien told the Associated Press this week as police divers scoured the basins around the Excel Centre, the summit's east London venue.

Activists are already distributing literature -- in the form of bogus editions of the Financial Times -- to London commuters. The banner above the newspaper's name offers the motto, "Our pain, your gain."

The protests are due to kick off at noon on Saturday with a "Put People First" march through central London. Participants run the gamut: from Sudanese Women for Peace to the British Musicians' Union. More established players, such as Friends of the Earth and the Trades Union Congress, are pushing an agenda of "jobs, justice and climate."

"The format is 'traditional demonstration,"' said Nick Dearden, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, one of more than 150 groups involved in the march. He said he doubted the turnout would approach the monster masses that thronged London to protest the Iraq War in 2003. But he still expected a big crowd, British weather permitting.

"We've got [buses] coming in from all around the country," he said.

Other activists said they were trying to think outside the box.

"Marching from A to B solves nothing," said G20 Meltdown's self-described "Facebooker-in-chief," Marina Pepper. Between posting directions to activists on Facebook, the 41-year-old coordinator said her group's protests would be marked by theatre and fun -- distributing thousands of pounds in fake paper money, setting up a giant monopoly game at the London Stock Exchange and rattling the doors of the delegates' swanky hotels.

The Meltdown group's most talked-about event is slated for April 1, as summit delegates trickle into the capital ahead of the meeting the next day. Thousands of demonstrators were expected to converge on the Bank of England, led by anti-globalisation's take on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse -- a red horse against war, a green horse against climate change, a silver horse against financial crimes, and a black horse against homelessness.

"With any luck April 1 at the bank will be a revival of all the best part of the original '90s anti-capitalist movement," Mark Barrett, the group's spokesperson, said in an e-mail. Participants are being urged to come in costume and (this is Britain, after all) bring tea. Barrett added that the protest would be nonviolent -- "a picnic, not a riot."

Britain's Anarchists have other ideas, and in what they've either called the "Spring Offensive" or the "Summer of Rage," they've promised action against unspecified targets. Wednesday's attack on the Edinburgh home of Sir Fred Goodwin, former chief executive of part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland, has heightened fears of violence.

Environmental groups also threaten to cause headaches. The Camp for Climate Action, a loose network of green activists, has said it wants to set up a tent city somewhere in the middle of London's financial district.

Scotland Yard admitted it would be put to the test over the next week.

"We're going to be stretched," O'Brien said. -- Sapa-AP

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
Web Address: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-03-27-fake-cash-popup-tents-and-protests-to-hit-london

Democracy Now: The Struggle in Guadeloupe


Another Left is Possible: The Protests in France and the New Anti-Capitalist Party

Nathan Rao

It would be wrong to see last Thursday's massively successful protest actions in France as distant and exotic, of no particular relevance to us here in Canada. With the economic meltdown heralding a new political era, and with most of the country's Left and social movements still stunned and disoriented following their embrace of the misguided and failed Liberal-led coalition plan, the French experience is instructive and inspiring.

France has just gone through another day of mass strikes and protests against the hard-Right government of president Nicolas Sarkozy. The protest action is hugely popular in opinion polls and comes on the heels of another successful but smaller day of action on January 29, a victorious six-week general strike on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe that spread to other overseas colonial territories and the proliferation of radical protest actions among students and in a number of workplaces - all in the context of growing job losses and a deepening financial and economic crisis.

‘France's Thatcher’ on the defensive

Not long ago, Sarkozy was widely hailed in Anglo-American circles, from the Blairite “centre-Left” across to the Bushite and Harperite neo-conservative Right, as the French Thatcher – the man that would usher in the “normalization” of French society by at long last breaking resistance to growing inequality, job insecurity, privatization and cutbacks. And yet, a mere 18 months into his mandate the swaggering and obnoxious Sarkozy is now stumbling in the face of the resilience and scale of popular resistance.

Though still very far from being defeated, Sarkozy and the neoliberal project more generally are on the defensive in France, a country at the heart of the global capitalist and imperial order. This has not failed to raise a few eyebrows in other European and western capitals, where the fear is that developments in France will serve as an example for workers and young people in their own countries.

Further stoking these fears is the fact that Olivier Besancenot – the 34 year-old postal worker and spokesperson of the newly created New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) – has consolidated his position as by far the most popular opposition figure in the country. For several months now, polls have ranked him well ahead of the leader of the nominally social-democratic Socialist Party (PS) Martine Aubry – and even further ahead of the PS candidate in the 2007 presidential elections Ségolène Royal and centre-Right leader François Bayrou. Besancenot recently even earned the unusual distinction of being the only left-wing and working-class figure to be named to the Financial Times list of 50 people “who will frame the debate on the future of capitalism.”

New Party, New Politics for France's Left

As its name suggests, the NPA has an explicitly anti-capitalist profile and its program calls for a revolutionary transformation of the country's political institutions and property relations. It is an activist party, with a growing base of more than 10,000 members across the country involved in local organizing efforts and broad activist campaigns and the internal work and debates of the NPA itself.

The party brings together former members of the largest surviving (and now “self-dissolved”) organization of the 1968-era far-Left (the “Trotskyist” LCR), a wide array of experienced and previously non-party-affiliated trade-union and social-movement activists, a new generation of radicalized students and youth and a significant layer of people of all ages for whom the party is their first political experience ever. It is quite easily – certainly within the industrialized world at any rate – the most dynamic and radical example of attempts at fashioning a left-wing alternative to the increasingly discredited policies and institutions of neoliberalism and capitalism.

Relevant to Canada's Left?

This is all very heady stuff. So heady, in fact, that it is tempting to see these developments in France as distant and exotic, of no particular relevance to our own work and debates here in Canada. That would be unfortunate.

To be sure, there are important differences between the context and relationship of forces in the two countries. For one thing, today's protest movements are at least in part an extension of those that have shaken France since late 1995; and the initiative to found the NPA was taken only after a long, complicated and occasionally rancorous debate between the various political and social-movement forces involved in these movements in one way or another. It will certainly take time and a significant upsurge of protest and resistance in Canada before these kinds of debates get any kind of traction beyond the margins of political life here.

Fundamentally, however, the strategic lay of the land in the two countries is not so dramatically different. Whatever the fate of Sarkozy's cabinet in the face of the present protest movement or of Sarkozy himself in the 2012 presidential elections, the NPA are under no illusions that there will be a serious breakthrough for anti-capitalists in the short term. Even in France, the relationship of forces and rules of the institutional game are firmly stacked against such an outcome.

The NPA understand that they are just now entering a long period of rebuilding working-class and anti-systemic movements and of developing a new vision and strategy for enduring radical change. This is something the party's program describes as “21st century socialism,” tipping its hat to the Bolivarian revolutionary process underway in Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

What are the broad lessons we can take away from the French experience?

For one thing, the protests and strikes, and the organizing that made them possible, show that resignation, panic and “everyone for themself” are not the only possible responses to the onset of economic hard times. While people will often respond in a conservative and individualist manner at the onset of a crisis, there comes a time when they realize that systemic issues are at play and that only broad, collective action and political alternatives will do.

For another, the party and trade-union organizations of the traditional Left are too weakened and compromised by years of adaptation to neoliberalism and dependence on positions in parliament and the state to respond to the challenges thrown up by the hard-Right and the economic crisis. While rightly associated with a range of measures of socio-economic progress, the post-war mediations between the organized working classes, their party, trade-union and social-movement representation and the state itself were never ideal; but after 25 years of neoliberalism they have ceased even to be operative for some time now.

In France, repeated waves of mass protest and organizing over the past 13 years have failed to halt the traditional Left's drift toward the Blairite “centre-Left.” As the Right and ruling elites toy with various ineffective solutions to the crisis, the forces of the “centre-Left” will be quick to latch on to the handful of “stimulus” and ersatz “Keynesian” measures that are thrown into the mix to artfully declare a major breach in the neoliberal fortress. So the crisis is just as likely to deepen the rightward trend of the traditional Left and “centre-Left” as it is to push these forces in a more radical and combative direction.

The new days of action in France provide further confirmation of this analysis. While they could not have occurred without trade-union unity at the top, this unity “from above” came about in response to pressure “from below” and simultaneously acts as a trammel on the further development of the current movement. The pressure “from below” has itself been the result of a surprising and noteworthy development – the confluence of a substantial segment of public opinion with radical sectors scattered across traditional and new trade-union groupings, local workplace and activist campaigns, the student and international-solidarity movements and the relatively small party-political organizations of the radical Left.

How a ‘Radical Left’ Can Get a Wide Hearing

And this brings us to the particular significance of the NPA. It is as much a product of this surprising confluence of forces as it is a vital ingredient in ensuring that the present unity and momentum are not lost in the face of hard-Right intransigence and “centre-Left” weakness and perfidy.

In other words, the debate on political strategy and organization now occupies centre stage; and the main lesson of the NPA's undeniable success is that a radical-Left political project can both receive a sympathetic hearing and play this strategically essential unifying and galvanizing role, on condition that:

Its message consistently targets the systemic origins of the crisis and identifies those responsible for bringing us to the brink of economic and ecological calamity.

It contains an iron-clad commitment to the broadest unity “in the streets” of all forces willing to oppose the right-wing agenda, overall and on an issue-by-issue basis.

It confidently enters the electoral, institutional and media fray but strikes a position of defiance and strict independence on the question of electoral and governmental agreements and alliances with the forces of the traditional “Left” and “centre-Left” (not to mention centre-Right forces such as those around François Bayrou in France and the Liberal Party here in Canada). These forces are beyond redemption as any kind of credible vehicle for popular aspirations and seek to govern at all costs – in practice along lines that vary only slightly from those of the Right and hard-Right.

It prioritizes work among those sectors of the population and country ignored or abandoned by the traditional institutions of the “Left” and “centre-Left.” The NPA has, for example, made a priority of organizing in the working-class and immigrant areas that have been hit hard by neoliberal structuring and were the backdrop of the banlieues revolt of late 2005. This is why the topics of racism and the precarious work imposed on young people figure prominently in the NPA's internal discussions.

It aims to be a grassroots force, rooted in the actual struggles and debates of workers and young people, eschewing any kind of elitist, rigid and hyper-activist model of organizing and transformation, throwing its doors wide open to seasoned activists and interested newcomers alike, while creating a democratic and transparent framework for collective discussion, decision-making, action and the drawing of balance-sheets.

It takes a long-term approach to its project of social and political transformation and understands that we are in an extended period of resistance and development of alternatives to capitalism and imperialism. While history and politics always have surprises in store, especially in a period of deep crisis such as now, the relationship of forces is too unfavourable, and the vision of an alternative too weak, to expect major breakthroughs on an institutional level in the near term. Better to understand this and get down to the serious work of organizing and rethinking than to feed technocratic and armchair illusions about quick fixes and imminent elite-level “paradigm shifts.”
A New Generation's ‘New Left’

Finally, the protest movements in France and the birth of the NPA inaugurate a new chapter in the life of the international radical Left, especially when viewed in tandem with the developments of recent years in Latin America. The fact that the main figure associated with events in France was born in the mid-1970s also signals the emergence of a new generation of radicals.

We had a whiff of this trend during the wave of anti-globalization protests ushered in by the Battle of Seattle in 1999. But now it appears to be asserting itself much more forcefully, with a larger and more receptive audience than the one that existed just a short time ago. This, too, is a tremendously important and encouraging development. •

Nathan Rao attended the founding convention of the NPA in Paris earlier this year. He lives in Toronto and is a supporter of the Socialist Project. He welcomes comments at natrao99[at]gmail[dot]com.

This article is reproduced from rabble.ca.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

China calls for new global currency

Zhou did not mention the dollar by name but said the financial crisis had shown the need for reform [EPA]
The head of the Chinese central bank has called for a new global currency controlled by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), saying such a move would give governments particularly in the developing world the ability to manage their economies more efficiently.

In an online essay Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, said the global financial crisis had exposed the danger of relying on one nation's currency for international payments.

The essay, released on the bank's website late on Monday, did not mention the US dollar by name, but the vast majority of international finance is carried out in dollars.

The comments come ahead of a major meeting of leaders from the Group of 20 major economies in London which will focus on measures to alleviate the global economic crisis.

"This will significantly reduce the risks of a future crisis and enhance crisis management capability"
Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China.

During the meeting, beginning on April 2, China is expected to call for developing economies to have a bigger say in global finance and step up pressure for changes to a system dominated by the US dollar and Western governments.
The unusual step of publishing Zhou's essay in both Chinese and English versions is seen as indicating his comments are aimed at an international audience ahead of the G20 meeting.

China has become increasingly assertive in economic issues and while the global financial crisis has hit Chinese export industries hard, its leaders are also viewing the crisis as a potential opportunity to increase China's global clout.

'Creative reform'

In his essay Zhou said the financial crisis had shown the need for "creative reform of the existing international monetary system towards an international reserve currency".

Zhou said a new global currency should be controlled by the IMF [EPA] A reserve currency is the unit of denomination in which a government holds its reserves.
Zhou said the proposed new currency should also be used for trade, investment, pricing commodities and corporate bookkeeping.

He said the new currency should be based on shares in the IMF held by its 185 member nations, which are known as special drawing rights (SDRs).

The Washington-based IMF advises governments on economic policy and lends money to help with balance-of-payments problems.

In his essay Zhou said the new currency would let governments manage their economies more efficiently because its value would not be influenced by the needs of any one nation to regulate its own finance and trade.

"A super-sovereign reserve currency managed by a global institution could be used to both create and control global liquidity," he wrote, adding the changes would ""significantly reduce the risks of a future crisis and enhance crisis management capability."

The fallout from the financial crisis has underscored long-standing unease in Beijing about China's reliance on the dollar for the bulk of its trade and to store foreign reserves.

Earlier this month Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, publicly appealed to Washington to avoid any steps that might erode the value of the dollar and Beijing's estimated $1 trillion holdings in Treasuries and other US government debt.

“Preserving Inequality: Analyzing Obama’s Boycott of the Durban Review Conference”

By Kali Akuno
Monday, March 23, 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder was right, that when it comes to talking about racism the United States is a “nation of cowards”. In bullying the Durban Review Conference (DRC) to accept its suffocating terms of engagement, President Obama, like the forty-three Presidents before him, is following the time-honored U.S. tradition of denying and downplaying the brutal reality of racism. As we go to presss, it is unclear whether the
DRC organizers will successfully resist Obama’s pressure.

The UN is convening the DRC to assess progress since the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerances (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. During the week of April 20th delegates from nearly all UN member states and hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) will gather in Geneva, Switzerland to evaluate the steps governments have taken towards the elimination of racism as outlined in the 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA). The DDPA is a comprehensive document that covers prevention-education-and protection strategies and specific measures to eliminate racism, in all its forms, against indigenous peoples, people of African descent, migrants, displaced people and others. The document includes a focus on gender-based violence and trafficking, racial profiling and a call for reparations. (For more information on the DRC and the 2001 Plan of Action visit http://www.un.org/durbanreview2009/).

The Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA) helped reinvigorate a critical dialogue about race, racism, restitution, and reparations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Since 2001 the DDPA has served as a moral and political weapon to press for structural changes and institutional remedies to eliminate racism and all its vestiges in many of the societies in these regions. Colombia, Brazil, South Africa, and Venezuela have each incorporated DDPA principles into their respective constitutional and legal structures including protected recognition for Africa and Indigenous peoples, rights to ancestral lands, resources for cultural preservation, and various “affirmative action” programs.

This was not the case in the U.S. First and foremost because the Bush administration walked out on the WCAR proceedings, and did almost everything within its power (including economic and diplomatic sanctions against several nations) to undermine Durban and its outcomes. The events of September 11th, 2001, occurring just days after the WCAR, ceased nearly all discussion of the conference and its outcomes. In the wake of September 11th the national debate about reparations and how to eliminate the structural foundations of racism in the U.S. was virtually silenced by the political policing of the Bush administration and the domineering promotion of American nationalism by the administration and corporate media.

Many oppressed peoples in the U.S. and nations throughout the world held out hope that the Obama administration, with its promises of “hope”, “change”, and open dialogue, would change the course of U.S. policy and practice and fully engage the DRC and similar processes. Obama’s decision to continue the U.S. governments boycott is an effort to avoid confronting the systemic persistence of racism and xenophobia and eliminate initiatives to redress past crimes against humanity. The strong-arm tactics, particularly relating to the conferences Outcome Document, are an attempt to bully the world into a limited, diversionary conversation that avoids the primary issues of the day:
• Islamophobia
• The so-called “war on terror
• Israeli apartheid and the systematic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their land
• Reparations for the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere

The Obama administrations maneuvering to squash all principled positions on these issues are more than a mere act of cowardice. Rather, it demonstrates that the Obama administration has no fundamental intention of breaking with the strategic orientation of its predecessors in regards to eliminating the structural pillars of racism that shape the U.S. “project” and the modern capitalist world-system itself.

The strategic requirement of the U.S. project is to preserve the social structures built on settler-colonial foundations, and to maintain and expand its hegemonic global position to extract the resources and capital needed to maintain its “unapologetic” way of life. The project is the direct result of the genocide and dispossession of indigenous peoples and the colonial subjugation, displacement, enslavement, and exploitation of African, Asian, and Latino peoples. Its ideological pillars are white supremacy, divine providence, manifest destiny, individualism, “exceptionalism”, and “free-enterprise” capitalism.

The rationale for the administration’s boycott, outlined in the February 27th State Department’s press release must be viewed through the lens of this strategic requirement. The press release was titled, “U.S. Posture Towards the Durban Review Conference and Participation in the UN Human Rights Council” (see http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/02/119892.htm),.

The press release was harsh by diplomatic standards and reveals how tenaciously the Obama administration clings to the prerogatives of the imperial project:
Sadly, however, the document being negotiated has gone from bad to worse, and the current text of the draft outcome document is not salvageable. As a result, the United States will not engage in further negotiations on this text, nor will we participate in a conference based on this text. A conference based on this text would be a missed opportunity to speak clearly about the persistent problem of racism.

The United States remains open to a positive result in Geneva based on a document that takes a constructive approach to tackling the challenges of racism and discrimination. The U.S. believes any viable text for the Review Conference must be shortened and not reaffirm in toto the flawed 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action (DDPA). It must not single out any one country [namely Israel] or conflict, nor embrace the troubling concept of “defamation of religion.” The U.S. also believes an acceptable document should not go further than the DDPA on the issue of reparations for slavery (bold added).

It is important to look at the provisions of the original draft Outcome Document issued on January 23rd, 2009 that the Obama administration is objecting to (for full document see http://www.un.org/durbanreview2009/pdf/intersession_open_ended19109.pdf).

The Palestinians, Israeli Apartheid, and Zionism

Paragraph 31: “Reiterates that the Palestinian people have the inalienable right to self-determination and that, in order to consolidate the Israeli occupation, they have been subjected to unlawful collective punishment, torture, economic blockade, severe restriction of movement and arbitrary closure of their territories. Also notes with concern that illegal settlements continue to be built in the occupied Arab territories since 1967.”

Paragraph 32: “Reaffirms that a foreign occupation founded on settlements, laws based on racial discrimination with the aim of continuing domination of the occupied territories as well as the practice of reinforcing a total military blockade, isolating towns, villages and cities from one another, totally contradicts the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and constitutes a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a crime against humanity, a contemporary form of apartheid and serious threat to international peace and security and violates the basic principles of international human rights law.”

Support for the Zionist settler-colonial project is a corner stone of U.S. imperialism. Maintaining the Israeli state is essential for U.S. geo-strategic positioning, political control of the region and its peoples, and vital resource extraction and control (oil, gas, and increasingly water). That the US is not only supportive of the Israeli apartheid matrix of domination over the Palestinian people and their land, but is the major financier, should not be viewed as an aberration of U.S. policy or principle. The U.S. has a long history of giving uncritical support to avowedly racist settler-colonial projects, like South Africa and Australia. In defending these projects, it is fundamentally defending and justifying its own existence as a European settler-project vested in maintaining its control over stolen lands. In choosing to boycott the DRC in defense of Israel and its apartheid system, the Obama administration is merely demonstrating its overall commitment to these projects and the global system that reaffirms and reinforces them.

Islamophobia and the Defamation of Religion

Paragraph 53: “Acknowledges that a most disturbing phenomenon is the intellectual and ideological validation of Islamophobia…”

Paragraph 160: “Calls on States to develop, and where appropriate to incorporate, permissible limitations on the exercise of the right to freedom and of expression into national legislation;” [relating to the defamation of religion, which the U.S. identifies as a threat to freedom of speech and expression].

The Obama administration is opposed to the references against Islamophobia and the defamation of religion because of the limits it poses to the conduct of the U.S. post-September 11th strategy of global containment. Although the Obama administration is no longer using the “war on terror” slogan propagated by the Bush administration, the fundamental imperial strategy remains and Islamophobia is its fundamental ideological anchor. Islamophobia seeks to equate the religion and practice of Islam with “terrorism”, sexism, anti-Semitism, and anti-liberalism, and reduce it to a racialized practice defined by people of Arab, North African, Central and South Asian descent. This equation justifies the “othering” of the religion and its adherents and renders them easy targets for elimination.

Reparations, Slavery, and Genocide

Paragraph 156: “Urges States that have not yet condemned, apologized and paid reparations for the grave and massive violations as well as the massive human suffering caused by slavery, the slave trade, the transatlantic slave trade, apartheid, colonialism and genocide, to do so at the earliest.”

If the United States were to comply with the demand for restitution and reparations for the crimes of genocide and slavery, the U.S., as presently constituted, would fundamentally cease to exist. Complying with this demand means that it would have to restructure its economy to equitably manage and distribute the indemnity. And just as critically, it would have to alter its relationship with indigenous peoples and relinquish all claims to sovereignty over the lands it possesses.

Will Obama prevail?

As of March 17th, all of the critical points raised above have been removed from the Draft Outcome Document. This evisceration is a direct result of the bullying of the Obama administration and its allies: the ex-officio imperial powers of Europe and their settler-colonial offshoots (namely Australia, Canada and Israel) (see http://www.un.org/durbanreview2009/pdf/Rolling%20text%20YB,%2017-3-2009.pdf). These states cannot afford - either structurally or programmatically – to address the crimes against humanity that they profited from and/or were founded upon. They also desperately don’t want to be confronted or exposed for the failings of their present policies, practices, and social outcomes.

This is especially true of the U.S. The eight years of the Bush regime constituted one of the most egregious periods of racism, racial profiling and xenophobia on a world scale in recent history. In choosing not to “look into the past” as it were to prosecute the Bush regime for its numerous human rights violations or seek justifiable restitution for the multitude of its domestic and international victims, the Obama administration is in fact sanctioning these crimes. Obama rationalizes this sanctioning as an attempt to preserve racial “harmony” and domestic social order against white reaction. In fact, it breeds impunity and preserves the wholly inequitable status quo. Answering for the crimes of the Bush regime is not the only reason the Obama administration doesn’t want to engage the DRC however. It also doesn’t want its weak civil and human commitments to be exposed and scrutinized before the world. It is not an accident therefore, that despite a person of African descent sitting as its head, that the U.S. is leading the charge of sabotaging the DRC.

The revisions imposed by Obama constitute a major setback to the international movement to eliminate racism, xenophobia, colonialism, and imperialism. They preserve the status quo ante of race, power and exploitation on a world-scale. And they are advancing U.S. imperialism’s strategy of politically disarming the liberation movements around the world that are striving to eliminate the status quo. Eight years after the Bush boycott failed, the Obama boycott and bullying tactics are shamefully on the verge of eliminating any substantive discussion or outcome for the DRC. Anti-racist, anti-colonial, and anti-imperialist activists throughout the world must take decisive action to stop this political charade and reclaim the space that is rightfully ours.

Kali Akuno is the National Organizer for the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM). MXGM is a mass organization struggling for the self-determination of New Afrikan people within the boundaries of the U.S.