Monday, September 24, 2007

Parenti on how wealth contributes to poverty

Mystery: How Wealth Creates Poverty in the World
There is a “mystery” we must explain: How is it that as corporate investments and foreign aid and international loans to poor countries have increased dramatically throughout the world over the last half century, so has poverty? The number of people living in poverty is growing at a faster rate than the world’s population. What do we make of this?

Over the last half century, U.S. industries and banks (and other western corporations) have invested heavily in those poorer regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America known as the “Third World.” The transnationals are attracted by the rich natural resources, the high return that comes from low-paid labor, and the nearly complete absence of taxes, environmental regulations, worker benefits, and occupational safety costs.

The U.S. government has subsidized this flight of capital by granting corporations tax concessions on their overseas investments, and even paying some of their relocation expenses---much to the outrage of labor unions here at home who see their jobs evaporating.

The transnationals push out local businesses in the Third World and preempt their markets. American agribusiness cartels, heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, dump surplus products in other countries at below cost and undersell local farmers. As Christopher Cook describes it in his Diet for a Dead Planet, they expropriate the best land in these countries for cash-crop exports, usually monoculture crops requiring large amounts of pesticides, leaving less and less acreage for the hundreds of varieties of organically grown foods that feed the local populations.

By displacing local populations from their lands and robbing them of their self-sufficiency, corporations create overcrowded labor markets of desperate people who are forced into shanty towns to toil for poverty wages (when they can get work), often in violation of the countries’ own minimum wage laws.

In Haiti, for instance, workers are paid 11 cents an hour by corporate giants such as Disney, Wal-Mart, and J.C. Penny. The United States is one of the few countries that has refused to sign an international convention for the abolition of child labor and forced labor. This position stems from the child labor practices of U.S. corporations throughout the Third World and within the United States itself, where children as young as 12 suffer high rates of injuries and fatalities, and are often paid less than the minimum wage.

The savings that big business reaps from cheap labor abroad are not passed on in lower prices to their customers elsewhere. Corporations do not outsource to far-off regions so that U.S. consumers can save money. They outsource in order to increase their margin of profit. In 1990, shoes made by Indonesian children working twelve-hour days for 13 cents an hour, cost only $2.60 but still sold for $100 or more in the United States.

U.S. foreign aid usually works hand in hand with transnational investment. It subsidizes construction of the infrastructure needed by corporations in the Third World: ports, highways, and refineries.

The aid given to Third World governments comes with strings attached. It often must be spent on U.S. products, and the recipient nation is required to give investment preferences to U.S. companies, shifting consumption away from home produced commodities and foods in favor of imported ones, creating more dependency, hunger, and debt.

A good chunk of the aid money never sees the light of day, going directly into the personal coffers of sticky-fingered officials in the recipient countries.

Aid (of a sort) also comes from other sources. In 1944, the United Nations created the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Voting power in both organizations is determined by a country’s financial contribution. As the largest “donor,” the United States has a dominant voice, followed by Germany, Japan, France, and Great Britain. The IMF operates in secrecy with a select group of bankers and finance ministry staffs drawn mostly from the rich nations.

The World Bank and IMF are supposed to assist nations in their development. What actually happens is another story. A poor country borrows from the World Bank to build up some aspect of its economy. Should it be unable to pay back the heavy interest because of declining export sales or some other reason, it must borrow again, this time from the IMF.

But the IMF imposes a “structural adjustment program” (SAP), requiring debtor countries to grant tax breaks to the transnational corporations, reduce wages, and make no attempt to protect local enterprises from foreign imports and foreign takeovers. The debtor nations are pressured to privatize their economies, selling at scandalously low prices their state-owned mines, railroads, and utilities to private corporations.

They are forced to open their forests to clear-cutting and their lands to strip mining, without regard to the ecological damage done. The debtor nations also must cut back on subsidies for health, education, transportation and food, spending less on their people in order to have more money to meet debt payments. Required to grow cash crops for export earnings, they become even less able to feed their own populations.

So it is that throughout the Third World, real wages have declined, and national debts have soared to the point where debt payments absorb almost all of the poorer countries’ export earnings---which creates further impoverishment as it leaves the debtor country even less able to provide the things its population needs.

Here then we have explained a “mystery.” It is, of course, no mystery at all if you don’t adhere to trickle-down mystification. Why has poverty deepened while foreign aid and loans and investments have grown? Answer: Loans, investments, and most forms of aid are designed not to fight poverty but to augment the wealth of transnational investors at the expense of local populations.

There is no trickle down, only a siphoning up from the toiling many to the moneyed few.

In their perpetual confusion, some liberal critics conclude that foreign aid and IMF and World Bank structural adjustments “do not work”; the end result is less self-sufficiency and more poverty for the recipient nations, they point out. Why then do the rich member states continue to fund the IMF and World Bank? Are their leaders just less intelligent than the critics who keep pointing out to them that their policies are having the opposite effect?

No, it is the critics who are stupid not the western leaders and investors who own so much of the world and enjoy such immense wealth and success. They pursue their aid and foreign loan programs because such programs do work. The question is, work for whom? Cui bono?

The purpose behind their investments, loans, and aid programs is not to uplift the masses in other countries. That is certainly not the business they are in. The purpose is to serve the interests of global capital accumulation, to take over the lands and local economies of Third World peoples, monopolize their markets, depress their wages, indenture their labor with enormous debts, privatize their public service sector, and prevent these nations from emerging as trade competitors by not allowing them a normal development.

In these respects, investments, foreign loans, and structural adjustments work very well indeed.

The real mystery is: why do some people find such an analysis to be so improbable, a “conspiratorial” imagining? Why are they skeptical that U.S. rulers knowingly and deliberately pursue such ruthless policies (suppress wages, rollback environmental protections, eliminate the public sector, cut human services) in the Third World? These rulers are pursuing much the same policies right here in our own country!

Isn’t it time that liberal critics stop thinking that the people who own so much of the world---and want to own it all---are “incompetent” or “misguided” or “failing to see the unintended consequences of their policies”? You are not being very smart when you think your enemies are not as smart as you. They know where their interests lie, and so should we.

Michael Parenti's recent books include The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), Superpatriotism (City Lights), and The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press). For more information visit: www.michaelparenti.org.
 

"the Pentagon is really raking it in"

--  “To a rational observer, such spending—totaling more than $1 trillion in 2008, according to the figures I've just cited—seems quite literally insane. During the Cold War, hawks scared Americans into tolerating staggering but somewhat lesser sums by invoking the specter of Soviet Communism. Does anyone, anywhere, truly believe that we need to spend more than a trillion dollars a year to defend ourselves against small bands of Al Qaeda fanatics?”

It’s just astounding. The United States is now spending roughly half of the world’s combined defense budget. And much of the expenditure is a result of the incredibly expensive weapons systems that the Pentagon seems to ever-so desperately crave.

“According to the reputable Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, there are at least 28 pricey weapons systems that, just by themselves, will rack up a whopping $44 billion in 2008,” Dreyfuss points out. “The projected cost of these 28 systems—which include fighter jets, the B-2 bomber, the V-22 Osprey, various advanced naval vessels, cruise-missile systems, and the ultra-expensive aircraft carriers the Navy always demands—will, in the end, be more than $1 trillion.”  --

full article -- http://www.progressive.org/mag_apb092107

Fun Facts About Invertebrates

....“But Grampa, at least Democrats are brave, right? I mean, they have more guts than a squid, don't they?”

Well technically, sweetheart, we know a squid has guts, because we can see inside it. Squid are transparent, you see, and that’s one thing you could never say about Congressional Democrats. Oh sure, they all claim to have “intestinal” fortitude and the “stomach” for a fight when they’re on the campaign trail, but once they get voted into office they line up to be gutted like nihilistic sardines fighting to get into the can. And once Democratic politicians are eviscerated, they leave behind whatever vestige of moral courage they once possessed as thoughtlessly as a lobster sheds his carapace. They quake in terror at the mere mention of imaginary sea monsters lurking in the Strait of Hormuz, and spend most of their time groveling on bended-fin before a barnacle encrusted, not-very-lifelike cement statue of “King Neptune the Invincible”, something 71% of the other fish find laughable, if not utterly baffling. It’s the damndest thing...” ....

Drug Trade Blooms in Afghanistan

 

Seven CIA Veterans Challenge 9/11 Commission Report

Official Account of 9/11 a “Joke” and a “Cover-up”

September 23, 2007 – Seven CIA veterans have severely criticized the official account of 9/11 and have called for a new investigation. “I think at simplest terms, there’s a cover-up. The 9/11 Report is a joke,” said Raymond McGovern, 27-year veteran of the CIA, who chaired National Intelligence Estimates during the seventies. “There are a whole bunch of unanswered questions. And the reason they’re unanswered is because this administration will not answer the questions,” he said. McGovern, who is also the founder of VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity), is one of many signers of a petition to reinvestigate 9/11.[1]...

 

....Their letter read:

"[W]e the undersigned wish to bring to the attention of the Congress and the people of the United States what we believe are serious shortcomings in the report and its recommendations. …

Omission is one of the major flaws in the Commission’s report. We are aware of significant issues and cases that were duly reported to the commission by those of us with direct knowledge, but somehow escaped attention. …

The omission of such serious and applicable issues and information by itself renders the report flawed, and casts doubt on the validity of many of its recommendations. ...

The Commission, with its incomplete report of "facts and circumstances", intentional avoidance of assigning accountability, and disregard for the knowledge, expertise and experience of those who actually do the job, has now set about pressuring our Congress and our nation to hastily implement all its recommendations. …

We the undersigned, who have worked within various government agencies (FBI, CIA, FAA, DIA, Customs) responsible for national security and public safety, call upon you in Congress to include the voices of those with first-hand knowledge and expertise in the important issues at hand. We stand ready to do our part.”

And they and thousands of dedicated, loyal, and experienced military officers, intelligence service and law enforcement veterans, and government officials still stand ready to provide assistance for a thorough, impartial, and honest investigation into the terrible acts of 9/11....

Iran: The hawks are itching

Brzezinski: U.S. in danger of 'stampeding' to war with Iran

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski likened U.S. officials' saber rattling about Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions to similar bellicose statements made before the start of the Iraq war.

"I think the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq," Brzezinski told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" on Sunday.

In October 2002, five months before Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was toppled for what the United States said was his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush said, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."

No evidence was found that Iraq was then pursuing such weapons.

Earlier this month during a televised speech about Iraq, the president said, "Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region."

However, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes" that "insecurity in Iraq is detrimental to our interests."

Brzezinski also disapproved of Bush's statement.

"When the president flatly asserts they are seeking nuclear weapons, he's overstating the facts," he said. "We are suspicious, we have strong suspicions, but we don't have facts that they are."

Brzezinski, who served under President Jimmy Carter, said he is not sure how to interpret Iran's intentions. Iran has insisted its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes.

"I think it's quite possible that they are seeking weapons or positioning themselves to have them, but we have very scant evidence to support that," he said. "And the president of the United States, especially after Iraq, should be very careful about the veracity of his public assertions."

But Henry Kissinger, the former national security adviser and secretary of state under President Nixon, appeared not to doubt Iran's alleged ambitions.

"I believe they are building a capability to build a nuclear bomb," Kissinger told CNN. "I don't think they're yet in a position to build a nuclear bomb, but they may be two or three years away from it."

Brzezinski urged American officials to be patient, whatever Tehran's intentions may be. "If we escalate the tensions, if we succumb to hysteria, if we start making threats, we are likely to stampede ourselves into a war, which most reasonable people agree would be a disaster for us," he said.

"And just think what it would do for the United States, because it would be the United States which would be at war. We will be at war simultaneously in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we would be stuck for the next 20 years."

Kissinger said the international community should enlist support from countries opposed to Iran becoming a nuclear power.

"The current objective has to be to unite the countries that will suffer directly from Iranian nuclear weapons, the members of the Security Council and other countries in a program of diplomacy," he said.

Kissinger and Brzezinski also disagreed over whether Columbia University in New York should have offered to present a lecture by Ahmadinejad, scheduled for Monday....

http://weazlsrevenge.blogspot.com/2007/09/lifelong-warmonger-and-global-elistist.html

Cheney considered pushing Israel to strike Iran?

"...Citing two unnamed sources the magazine called knowledgeable, the magazine quoted David Wurmser, until last month Cheney's Middle East advisor, as having told a small group of people that "Cheney had been mulling the idea of pushing for limited Israeli missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz - and perhaps other sites - in order to provoke Tehran into lashing out."

According to the report, "The Iranian reaction would then give Washington a pretext to launch strikes against military and nuclear targets in Iran."
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Newsweek said that it had corroborated Wurmser's remarks, which it said were first published by Washington foreign-policy blogger Steven Clemons..."
 

Anniversary of Majestic 12, Purported Secret Government UFO Board

1947: If the secret committee known as the Majestic 12 ever really existed, this is the day that the group was allegedly created by a memorandum from President Harry Truman.

If real, this shadowy coven of scientists, military brass and government officials came together in response to the Army's recovery of an alien spacecraft that crashed on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947. Their purpose: to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Roswell incident and to maintain vigilance against further alien incursions...

http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2007/09/dayintech_0924

The reason this war is happening

Is because it is making some people very rich.

"...The money spent on one day of the Iraq war could buy homes for almost 6,500 families or health care for 423,529 children, or could outfit 1.27 million homes with renewable electricity, according to the American Friends Service Committee, which displayed those statistics on large banners in cities nationwide Thursday and Friday.

    The war is costing $720 million a day or $500,000 a minute, according to the group's analysis of the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard public finance lecturer Linda J. Bilmes.

    The estimates made by the group, which opposes the conflict, include not only the immediate costs of war but also ongoing factors such as long-term health care for veterans, interest on debt and replacement of military hardware.

    "The wounded are coming home, and many of them have severe brain and spinal injuries, which will require round-the-clock care for the rest of their lives," said Michael McConnell, Great Lakes regional director of the AFSC, a peace group affiliated with the Quaker church.

    The $720 million figure breaks down into $280 million a day from Iraq war supplementary funding bills passed by Congress, plus $440 million daily in incurred, but unpaid, long-term costs..."

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/092207E.shtml

The War Prayer, by Mark Twain

 "O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle—be Thou near them! With them—in spirit—we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it—for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."
 

What may be the largest high-level international meeting ever on climate change

"...More than 80 heads of state or government are expected among the representatives of better than 150 countries attending the UN session. Then on Thursday, President Bush will convene at the White House a gathering of leaders from the world's top emitters of greenhouse gases.

In addition, the Clinton Global Initiative will host a forum in New York Wednesday, drawing business and international political leaders to promote grass-roots responses to global warming.

Over the past weekend, at a UN conference in Montreal, the governments of about 200 countries agreed to accelerate a treaty to phase out hydrochlorofluorocarbons.

Together, the meetings put climate change at the center of the global stage this week – and they will make it harder for leaders to drop the issue in the future, experts say. That may be especially true of Mr. Bush: He may be known internationally as the foot-dragging leader of a top emitter of fossil-fuel pollutants, but by endorsing Mr. Ban's meeting and then calling for his own at the White House, he will be seen as committing to a path of no return on climate-change action.

The Monday UN meeting "is looking to be quite an extraordinary event in what is turning out to be a remarkable year in the international response to climate change," says Richard Kinley, deputy executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change..."

"...Other factors this year, he says, include what many experts describe as a "conclusive" report from an international group of scientists and officials finding evidence of global warming to be "unequivocal." The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded with what it termed near certainty that the warming taking place is the result of human activities..."

Voodoo economics assailed

"...And yet the Republican right keeps coming back, and back, and back. Their fortunes rise and then dip, but each peak is higher than the last peak, and each dip is higher than the last dip. Consider the present situation. Things have gone about as badly as they could have in George W. Bush's second term. A Republican administration started and lost a major war in Iraq; presided over an economy that has failed to deliver higher wages for most Americans; contributed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the near-wipeout of a major American city; launched a failed assault on Social Security, the most popular social program in the history of the United States; and saw its members suffer an almost unprecedented string of sexual and financial scandals. Still, Democrats find themselves holding only the slimmest of majorities in the House and Senate. Even if they hold their majorities in Congress and win the White House in 2008, the structural forces in Washington will make it nearly impossible to roll back any significant chunks of the Bush tax cuts, let alone take on crises like global warming or the forty-five million Americans lacking health insurance..."
 

Providing Information May Be Hazardous to Your Job

Is there an attempt "to flush out would-be whistle-blowers" at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which "focuses on how pollution and other toxins in the environment contribute to disease"? Managers at the North Carolina institute recently "distributed 'record of congressional inquiry' forms to employees," asking "for details of each telephone call from the offices of members of the House or Senate, including on the information sought," reports the Associated Press. "Their distribution came in the midst of multiple and ongoing investigations by Congress," including by Sen. Charles Grassley's (R-Iowa) staff. Grassley wrote to National Institutes of Health director Dr. Elias Zerhouni about the "curious" timing of the forms. NIH whistle-blowers have informed Grassley's staff of previous management communications that "left them with the impression that there would be retaliation if it was discovered they had provided information to among others, congressional investigations," the Senator's letter states.
 

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