sábado, 2 de maio de 2009

how the EU orchestrated support from African business for EPAs

Pulling the strings of African business - how the EU orchestrated support from African business for EPAs

23 March 2009

In March the European Parliament hold a two-day vote in Strasbourg on the EU’s push for Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. The vote included several resolutions plus votes on the assent to two agreements signed with governments so far.

Information obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory through access-to-documents requests shows that the EU Commission not only relied on arm-twisting Southern governments to push these agreements forward. DG Trade also put considerable energy into orchestrating African business support for its own negotiating aims.

This included setting up the Business Trade Forum EU-Southern Africa and co-drafting with the European employers’ federation, BusinessEurope, a pro-EPAs position for the EU-Africa Business Forum. African businesses were over-ridden by
this political joint venture between European big business and the Commission.

Read the whole article here:

sexta-feira, 1 de maio de 2009

The story of May Day

The story of May Day

Elizabeth Schulte tells the history of May Day, a socialist holiday founded to honor the Haymarket Martyrs and celebrate international workers' solidarity.

Engraving of the scene at Haymarket Square in 1886Engraving of the scene at Haymarket Square in 1886

"THERE WILL be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today." Those were the last words of August Spies, one of four innocent men executed for an explosion at Chicago's Haymarket Square in May 1886.

The real "crime" for which Spies and his comrades were condemned was being labor militants fighting for workers' rights and the eight-hour day. The national strike for the eight-hour day that they organized was called for May 1, 1886--it was the first May Day.

Their struggle, and the struggle of thousands alongside them, convinced a generation of labor militants and radicals to devote their lives for the fight for workers' rights and for socialism.

Still, although May Day was founded to honor a U.S. labor struggle, few workers in this country typically know its origin, because the history is largely untold. This has changed, however--since the mass immigrant workers' May Day marches that began in 2006.

A couple years ago, I was on a city bus and saw this notice: "Riders of the Pulaski bus may experience delays due to International Workers' Parade on May 1." I thought at the time, May Day has finally come home.

(This is an excerpt. Click on the title to read the full article.)

quinta-feira, 30 de abril de 2009

Global trade - Free for a wealthy few, costly for many

Global trade - Free for a wealthy few, costly for many

I have seen first-hand the effects of “free trade” in several countries, and it is not the fairy tale that the mainstream politicians would have us believe. I have seen men, women and children working 20 hours a day in deplorable conditions to keep up with the influx of foreign goods. I have seen farmers who used to trade corn for clothes struggle because they do not have the cash to participate in the new “free” economy.

Seattle Medium | 22 October 2008

Global Trade - Free For A Wealthy Few, Costly For Many

by Nicole Lee
NNPA Columnist

Search for “free trade” in any dictionary and you will find a variety of definitions promoting the global benefits of countries producing for export over producing for their own use.

What you will not find is the truth about what those definitions really mean. After reading between the lines, the question we should be asking is not, “What is free trade,” but “For whom is it free?”

The answer to that question reveals a double standard in global politics and development where industrialized nations and transnational corporations repeatedly take advantage of human and natural resources in developing countries to expand their power and wealth. Civil society and other movements that protest this injustice rise up in opposition, only to be suffocated, sometimes violently, and otherwise discredited through the mainstream media.

Today, Colombia continues to execute a costly campaign for approval of the U.S. - Colombia Free Trade Agreement, and to increase its profits in the market for bio-fuels. Over 18,000 sugarcane workers and additional supporters continue to hold demonstrations for improved labor conditions, but are ignored by both the Colombian and U.S. governments. Many of the workers are indigenous and Afro-Colombian, and are forced to work with inhumane pay and in deplorable conditions that the Colombian government has repeatedly failed to address. Employers of the sugarcane workers regularly disregard basic employee rights, and fail to pay health and retirement benefits.

Not surprisingly, we see the same failure of free trade policies in Africa. AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, was signed in 2000 and renewed in 2002. It offers preferred access to the U.S. market to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that engage in liberal trade, but the only African countries that truly benefit from this arrangement are the ones rich in oil resources.

Agreements like AGOA have led to more U.S. exports entering African countries than African imports are allowed in the U.S. What we see, yet again, are U.S. foreign policies that put the interests of trade over the basic human rights of the people living on the African continent and the Diaspora.

The U.S. loudly claims that free trade actually benefits those in other countries, but in reality we see no notable improvements in worker conditions and protection in the AGOA countries.

Throughout the world, the terms and exceptions of free trade are set by governments and the private sector and are driven by profit-interest versus human interest. In too many places, that narrow focus means worker exploitation, food insecurity, increased migration, and tyranny over democracy.

If you look back to that “free trade” dictionary definition, you will likely find a lot of big words and confusing explanations. I wish people were more concerned with trade being fair than meeting some obscure standard of “free.”

Real fairness is respecting the culture and economy of local people. Real fairness means genuinely caring about their health and welfare. I have seen first-hand the effects of “free trade” in several countries, and it is not the fairy tale that the mainstream politicians would have us believe. I have seen men, women and children working 20 hours a day in deplorable conditions to keep up with the influx of foreign goods. I have seen farmers who used to trade corn for clothes struggle because they do not have the cash to participate in the new “free” economy.

The current financial crisis has turned free market ideology on its head. As we wade through fears of a recession, massive job loss, and home foreclosures, it is time to accept that the neo-liberal economic policies of the past, which have been driven by the interests of a select few, have done nothing but accelerate inequality and instability throughout our global community. Until we learn from our mistakes and accept that fair trade, human rights and human security go hand in hand, this devastating cycle will continue.

Nicole C. Lee is the Executive Director of TransAfrica Forum.

quarta-feira, 29 de abril de 2009

G8 Agriculture Ministers admit failure on hunger

G8 Agriculture Ministers admit failure on hunger

20 April 2009

“The G8 has failed the world’s one billion hungry people.”

Chris Leather Senior Food Advisor, Oxfam International

Political leaders have admitted that they will probably fail to deliver on promises to halve world hunger by 2015, said international agency Oxfam at the close of a G8 Meeting on Agriculture in Italy today.

"G8 Ministers have made an extraordinary admission of collective failure. This would be a sack-able offence in any other arena," said Chris Leather, Oxfam International’s Senior Food Advisor. “The G8 has failed the world’s one billion hungry people.”

It now falls to Development Ministers, who are meeting at the end of April, to come up with concrete proposals to tackle the food crisis. These proposals must be agreed by Heads of State when they meet in July. “When leaders of the world’s richest countries meet in July they must put an end to the grandstanding and take concrete action to end hunger," said Leather.

The final communiqué from the G8 Agriculture Ministers meeting says the world is ‘very far from reaching’ the United Nations goal of halving the number of people facing chronic hunger by 2015. This is the closest Ministers have come to admitting they will not deliver on the Millennium Development Goal – one of the eight international development goals that 192 United Nations member states agreed to achieve by the year 2015.

An extra 150 million people have become chronically hungry in the last year as a consequence of high food prices, making the world total near to one billion people. Without urgent action the number will increase rapidly due to the global economic crisis and in the face of climate change.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture agency has called on world leaders to take action in order to eradicate world hunger by 2025. However setting a new goal will achieve little if rich countries fail to deliver on their promises.

Oxfam is calling for G8 leaders to commit to a legally binding international convention that aims to eradicate hunger. There is currently no way of holding governments to account for their failure to deliver on promises to tackle hunger. A legally binding commitment would enable civil society to hold governments to account for their failure to prevent people dying from hunger in a world where we have the means to prevent it.

Oxfam welcomes the G8’s commitment to agriculture and the need to boost food production by poor farmers in developing countries. However it is also calling for G8 countries to commit to favor and support the establishment of ambitious food and agriculture policies in poor countries that will increase food production and protect people in chronic poverty against shocks such as drought, floods, and market volatility.

terça-feira, 28 de abril de 2009

American Casino

American Casino movie trailer from Leslie and Andrew Cockburn on Vimeo.

Overhauling the IMF

No Money Without Reforms

Overhauling the IMF


The International Monetary Fund turns 65 this year. Until the current economic crisis, it had reduced its workload drastically to a near-retirement level. Its total loan portfolio plummeted by 92 percent in four years. But like many senior citizens who have been hit by the world recession, the Fund has kept working past retirement age – and is now expanding its responsibilities.

The IMF has a track record, which seems to have been almost completely ignored in discussions of a proposed $750 billion increase in its resources. Nearly twelve years ago a financial crisis hit Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia. The word “contagion” became part of the financial reporting lexicon as the crisis spread to Russia, Brazil, Argentina and other countries.

The IMF’s response to that crisis was roundly criticized by economists at the time. Jeffrey Sachs, then at the Harvard Institute for International Development, called the IMF “the Typhoid Mary of emerging markets, spreading recessions in country after country.” Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, also criticized the Fund for its mishandling of the Asian crisis, and went on to write systematic critiques of a number of IMF policies.

In the Asian crisis, the Fund failed to provide desperately needed foreign exchange when it was most needed. It then imposed policies that worsened the downturn. It did the same in Argentina, and lent tens of billions of dollars to prop up an unsustainable exchange rate, which inevitably collapsed along with a record sovereign debt default.

After that experience, many middle-income countries piled up reserves so that they would never have to depend on the Fund again.

No one at the IMF was held accountable for the mistakes that caused so much unnecessary unemployment, lost output, and poverty. Nor were any major reforms of the institution introduced. The Fund has 185 member countries, but a handful of rich countries – mostly the U.S., Europe, and Japan – have a solid majority and the U.S. Treasury is the Fund’s principal overseer.

The IMF claims that it has changed, but a look at nine “standby arrangements” – its basic short-term loan agreement -- that it has negotiated since September of last year reveals a number of the same mistakes that it made in the last crisis. All of them provide for spending cuts, despite the IMF’s avowed commitment to a worldwide fiscal stimulus.

El Salvador has signed an agreement with the IMF that prevents it from using expansionary fiscal policy – as the United States is now doing – to counter a downturn. Since El Salvador has the U.S. dollar as its currency, fiscal policy – increased spending or lower taxes – is practically the only too it has to fight a recession that is practically inevitable as the U.S. economy continues to shrink. El Salvador gets 18 percent of GDP in the form of remittances from the U.S., and exports about 9.6 percent of GDP there.

Pakistan has agreed to significant spending cuts, as well as raising interest rates, despite negative demand shocks to the economy. Ukraine has also had to battle with the Fund over public spending cuts, despite the fact that GDP is falling by 9 percent this year and the country has a low public debt.

These and other examples indicate that in spite of the depth of the world recession, the Fund is too willing to sacrifice employment, and increase poverty, in pursuit of other goals. A country can always reduce a trade deficit by shrinking its economy, since that causes households and businesses to import less. The main purpose of IMF lending in the current crisis should be to enable low- and middle-income countries to do more of what the rich countries are doing: adopt stimulus packages that counter the downturn.

Most countries can do this, if they do not run into balance of payments problems. China, for example, has nearly $2 trillion in international reserves, and can therefore pursue a large fiscal stimulus. If the IMF were willing to help, more countries could follow suit.

Governments should not commit more money to the IMF without requiring that institution revisit its recently negotiated agreements, and adopt serious reforms that will require accountability and changes in policy.

Mark Weisbrot is an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

segunda-feira, 27 de abril de 2009

A disaster caused by the free market

A disaster caused by the free market

More than 100 people gathered in San Francisco June 7 for a forum and discussion on the global food crisis featuring Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, and Elizabeth Terzakis, a contributor to the International Socialist Review.

Socialist Worker is reprinting the speeches from the meeting in two parts--Elizabeth Terzakis' remarks in this issue, and Anuradha Mittal's tomorrow.

A Guatemalan child being treated at a health center for malnourished children (Patrick Farrell | MCT)A Guatemalan child being treated at a health center for malnourished children (Patrick Farrell | MCT)

ON APRIL 19, the Economist ran its cover story on the world food crisis under the title "The Silent Tsunami," likening the current crisis to a natural disaster, when in fact, it is absolutely orchestrated and man-made.

The editors in that issue calmly proclaimed that the world of cheap food is gone, and they go on to outline what the crisis means for different segments of the population around the world.

For what they call the "middle classes," it means cutting out health care or rent and food. For what the Economist calls the "middling poor"--the roughly 2 billion people or one-third of humanity living on $2 a day--it means pulling children out of school and cutting back on vegetables so they can still afford rice. For those living on a dollar a day--1 billion people, or a sixth of humanity, fall into that category--they're cutting back on everything but cereals, and moving from two bowls a day to one.

The only group the Economist refers to as desperate are those living on 50 cents a day, and for them, the crisis means disaster. Although, isn't living on 50 cents a day already a disaster?

(You can find the full article by clicking on the title)

domingo, 26 de abril de 2009

Despite a Crashing Economy, Private Prison Firm Turns a Handsome Profit

GEO Group, Inc.: Despite a Crashing Economy, Private Prison Firm Turns a Handsome Profit by Erin Rosa, Special to CorpWatch
March 1st, 2009

Cartoon by Khalil Bendibhile the nation’s economy flounders, business is booming for The GEO Group Inc., a private prison firm that is paid millions by the U.S. government to detain undocumented immigrants and other federal inmates. In the last year and a half, GEO announced plans to add a total of at least 3,925 new beds to immigration lockups in five locations. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and the U.S. Marshals Service, which hire the company, will fill the beds with inmates awaiting court and deportation proceedings.

GEO reported impressive quarterly earnings of $20 million on February 12, 2009, along with an annual income of $61 million for 2008 – up from $38 million the year before. But the company’s share value is not the only thing that’s growing. Behind the financial success and expansion of the for-profit prison firm, there are increasing charges of negligence, civil rights violations, abuse and even death.

Detaining immigrants has become a profitable business, and the niche industry is showing no signs of slowing down. The number of undocumented immigrants the U.S. federal government jails has grown by at least 65 percent in the last six years. In 2002, the average daily population of immigration detainees was 20,838 people, according to ICE records. By 2008, the average daily population had grown to 31,345.

Since 2003, more than a million people have been processed through federal immigration lockups, which are part of a network of at least 300 local, state and federal lockups, including seven contracted detention facilities. GEO operates four of those seven for-profit prisons.

Numerous investigations and reports have documented problems at GEO’s immigration detention facilities.

At the company’s Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, federal prosecutors charged a GEO prison administrator in September 2008 with “knowingly and willfully making materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements to senior special agents” with ICE, according to court filings. A February 2008 audit found that over a period of more than two years ending in November 2005, GEO hired nearly 100 guards without performing the required criminal background checks. The GEO employee responsible, Sylvia Wong, pleaded guilty. In the plea agreement the federal government stated that Wong falsified documents “because of the pressure she felt” while working at the GEO lockup to get security personnel hired at the detention center “as quickly as possible.”

Two months before the fraud charges, a study by the Seattle University School of Law and the nonprofit group OneAmerica reported that conditions at the Tacoma facility violated both international and domestic laws that grant detained immigrants the right to food, due process and humane treatment.

Federal immigration officials have the authority to incarcerate undocumented immigrants, asylum-seekers, and even lawful permanent residents while they await hearings with immigration judges or appeal decisions. ICE reports the average length of stay is 30 days, but detentions can last years, according to a November 2008 ICE fact sheet.

Pramila Jayapal, executive director with OneAmerica, took part in interviewing a random sample of more than 40 immigrants detained at the Northwest Detention Center, which holds approximately 1,000 immigrants at any given time.

“It’s a very giant concrete box. It’s just like a jail,” said Jayapal. “You’re only supposed to meet in the client area, which is only a few rooms.”

One inmate from Mexico, Hector Pena-Ortiz, told interviewers that guards had interrogated and handcuffed him twice, demanding that he sign immediate deportation papers despite the fact that he had a pending appeal. Under federal law, immigrants cannot be deported from the United States if their immigration legal cases are still pending. During one of the incidents, guards admitted to having a file on the wrong inmate, Pena-Ortiz said.

In addition to violations of legal rights, inmates cited food as a major concern. The vast majority of the 40 prisoners interviewed at the facility said rations were inadequate and sometimes rotten. Inmates with financial resources depended on food bought from the lockup’s commissary. Others went hungry. A man identified in the study as “Ricardo” said he had lost 50 pounds of his original 190-pound weight since arriving at the detention center.

ICE officially denied the claims in the report, but in 2005, annual agency inspections at the Northwest Detention Center documented problems with the quality and quantity of food and found that some meals were so poor, guards had to collect and replace them.

(This is an excerpt of the full article which you can access by clicking on the title)