Thursday, August 18, 2011

Somalia: Global War on Terror and the Humanitarian Crisis

In Somalia, half of the population is at risk of famine. This famine endangers the lives of over 11 million people in the Horn of Africa. The scale of this crisis makes one raise questions. What is famine today? How is it possible to have famine today in the midst of plenty? How is it possible that nearly 20 years since Operation Restore Hope, the ‘development secretary’ of the United Kingdom Andrew Mitchell is warning that ‘humanity is in a race against time’ in Somalia? The famine is one wake-up call for us to realise that some of our priorities are wrong.

Andrew Adasi, an eleven-year-old boy in Ghana, showed the passion and care of real people when he went and mobilised money from among the people of Ghana for the children in Somalia. This mobilisation by this young man should inspire all of us to be concerned about the children who are now threatened all over the Horn of Africa. The African Union has appointed another Ghanaian, former president Jerry Rawlings, as its representative for Somalia. Only four countries in Africa have made donations, and up to this point, the response inside of Africa has not matched the scale of this human tragedy. Two days ago the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) pledged US$350m to help famine victims in Somalia.

Yet in the midst of this crisis we must look beyond the hype of fundraising and go deeper. Famine and drought makes good business for NGOs and international organisations that have ulterior motives for their ‘humanitarianism’. I must reassert the view that only a confederation of democratic societies in the Horn can protect the people from the devastation of further disasters such as this famine. It is also in the context of African unity with democratic leadership where it will be possible to lay the foundations for the conditions to prevent future famines and the militarism that has spread behind droughts and dislocation of citizens. Some entrepreneurs have travelled to the region to sell to the people the technology to make rain. This is a travesty. International cooperation to end famine and starvation should not be an exercise for people to make money. I want to use my personal journey with the struggles for peace in Somalia to raise my voice to support the Somali and East African people in this hour of need.

MILITARISM AND OPPORTUNISM IN SOMALIA

Somalia is the most homogenous country in Africa. But this homogeneity has been shattered by the imperialist partition of Africa that divided the Somali people in five different places – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and the different parts of Somalia (one dominated by British colonialism and the other by Italian colonialism). These forms of colonial divisions and partitioning were compounded by the internal colonialism of the Somali Bantu by other Somalis. Somali independence became compromised during the Cold War. After independence in 1960, the military coup of Siad Barre in 1969 brought a populist regime that proclaimed itself socialist and aligned with the Soviet Union. This same leader became an avowed supporter of the West after the Ethiopian revolution in 1974. Siad Barre invaded the Ogaden region of Ethiopia in 1977 and the US and the Soviet Union immediately switched sides. The US, which had been the main supporter of Ethiopia, supported Siad Barre. Before the Ethiopian revolution, the Soviet Union had supported Siad Barre. The only principled leader and society that did not join this opportunism was Fidel Castro of Cuba. This was the time when the decomposition of the politics of Somalia set in as the link to Saudi Arabia brought in resources for political leaders who were supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Islamic influence increased through Saudi financial and ideological support for the political leadership in Mogadishu. Read more

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost: US Credit Downgrade

On Friday 5 August 2011, one of the world’s leading credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor’s (S&P), downgraded the United States’ top-notch AAA rating for the first time ever in the United States’ history. S&P cut the long-term US rating down to AA+ with a negative outlook, citing concerns about budget deficits and political gridlock. In their statement justifying the downgrade S&P stated that:

‘The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics.

‘More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.’

Additionally, Standard &Poor’s indicated that it might further lower the US long-term credit rating to AA within the next two years if the United States’ deficit reduction measures were deemed inadequate. These are strong statements from a private agency bent on disciplining the government of the United States with the threat of a further downgrade. What gives this agency such power? In answering this question, we would seek to understand what is a credit rating agency; the source of a credit rating agency’s power; what is S&P’s track record and what implications do its decisions have for the international political system, especially for humanity.

In all major capitalist countries, the power of the dominant faction is hidden behind ideology (free market), law (protection of private property), propaganda (corporate-controlled media), the coercive organs of the state (military, police and prison) and the power of finance capital (banks, insurance and financial instruments). Credit rating agencies represent the power of financial capitalists and are usually held in the background to discipline corporations and governments. In moments of crisis these agencies show their hand.

These agencies along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the US military have been the weapons against the true self-determination of humanity. United States citizens are now beginning to pay attention to the power that the IMF, credit rating agencies and the military wielded over most countries in the world. US Treasuries (or T-bills) are traditionally considered to be a risk-free investment precisely because in the country’s 200+ year history, its rating has never been downgraded and the securities are backed by the government.

The downgrade of the credit rating of the United States by Standard & Poor’s is much more than a psychological blow to the prestige of the imperial overlords in the United States. This is a sign of a power shift and another blow to the position of the US as the sole superpower. The most oppressed must organise to break the power of capital and the imperial overlords or humanity will pay a high price.

WHAT IS A CREDIT RATING AGENCY?

Credit rating agencies provide information on issuers of securities whether the issuers are corporations or countries. A credit rating agency informs investors whether issuers of securities (such as debt obligations, fixed income securities) can meet their obligations to those securities. The top three credit rating agencies with international influence are Standard & Poor’s, Fitch Ratings, and Moody’s Investor Services. Read more

Saturday, August 6, 2011

US Debt Ceiling Debate and the Alternatives

On 2 August, a few hours before the deadline for the US government to raise its debt ceiling or face default, President Barack Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act, after Congress passed it by wide margins. This debt ceiling agreement calls for over $2 trillion ($900 billion now and $1.2 trillion by the end of the year) in fiscal spending cuts spread over 10 years. These cuts are expected to only reduce GDP (gross domestic product) growth in 2012 by 0.1 per cent. However, if an agreement is not reached on the $1.2 trillion spending cuts, the debt deal contains automatic spending cuts which some estimates suggest could reduce GDP growth by 0.8 per cent in 2013. Note that current 2013 GDP growth forecast is 3 per cent. The combined impact of reduced government procurement spending, reduced government support for personal incomes and continued high levels of unemployment seems to indicate a two-year period of lower levels of GDP growth, consumption as a percentage of GDP and subsequently total non-oil imports relative to their respective levels prior to America’s financial crisis.

This kind of deficit reduction that spares the wealthy from higher taxes and protects the bloated military budget from cuts is an assault on the ordinary citizen who depends on government programmes as social safety nets.

This week, I heard extended discussions on the mainstream media about the positive aspects of socialism. One popular progressive TV anchor, Keith Olbermann, charged ordinary folks to rise up against the assault on social safety nets. Usually, such discussions on socialism are carried out by small groups of the left, away from the mainstream media. Now however it is clear from the depth of the multiple crises that people are now thinking out clearly about alternatives. Keith Olbermann called on the people to rise up. In a passionate commentary, Olbermann called for a new movement to rise up and build a protest movement against the Budget Control Act. Olbermann stated on his show:

‘Where is the outrage to come from?’

‘From you! It will do no good to wait for the politicians to suddenly atone for their sins … it will do no good to wait for the media to suddenly remember its origins as the “free press” … it will do no good to wait for the apolitical public to get a clue.’

Without a protest movement, the ‘tide’ that had brought the debt deal ‘will crush us, because those who created it are organized and unified and hell-bent. And the only response is to be organized and unified and hell-bent in return.’

Olbermann was calling for self-organisation and self-mobilisation to meet the challenges of the financial–military complex.

Drawing inspiration from the anti-war and anti-racist struggles of the past generation, Olbermann called on the US population to ‘find again the energy and the purpose of the 1960s and early 1970s and we must protest this deal and all the goddamn deals to come, in the streets.’

This is a call to non-violent arms. It was the most explicit call from the progressive side. Olbermann’s call for organisation was a far cry from those who were looking to Obama for answers or those who called the deal a defeat for progressives. The reality is that progressives have not yet begun to fully organise. They have allowed the conservative forces to dominate the debate about the debt, the dollar and the budget for war and oppression.

POPULIST CONSERVATISM, CLASS POWER AND THE BUDGET CONTROL ACT

On 3 August 2011, the editorial of the New York Times commented that this Budget Control Act:

‘is as contrived as the artificial crisis that spawned it. The bill, like a tired opera production, is full of clumsy staging and failed gimmicks left over from previous decades. It is not only bad policy in its goals of cutting spending too much, but it is bad procedure. It allows members of Congress to avoid responsibility for their actions through a cutout committee, a spending limit and the pretense that this Congress can tell the next one what to do.’

This paper did not however explain to the readers the fact that this bad procedure was serving a clear purpose, that of ensuring the dominance of a small 2 per cent of the population. The outrage in the society from all sides had been too great, so this platform for the liberal wing of the ruling class came out with these words. While it is true that the mainstream media has been carrying the talking points and spin of the two dominant parties, there can be no hiding from the fact that millions are now paying attention to the realities of the economic crisis in the United States.

For two and a half years the Tea Party forces had seized the public political space. Loud and aggressive, these Tea Party forces of populist conservatism reproduce the values of white supremacy and militarism. It is now well documented that the financial supporters of the Tea Party are some of the crudest billionaires from the financial services sector.

These politicians thrive on progressive people’s political apathy, but the drama had been running for too long so people want the details. They want to know what it means that the Budget Control Act grants a $400 billion increase in the government's debt ceiling to stave off the threat of default, with an additional $500 billion increase available from February to be effective on the president's authority. There will be a further increase of $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion that will become available only if a balanced budget amendment is considered by Congress by the end of the year. Read more