Archive for International


Looking before leaping

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Many refugees. Fewer solutions. Even fewer explanations.

Grim news from Austria:

A truck full of refugees discovered abandoned on an Austrian motorway on Thursday contained more than 70 bodies, the interior ministry said on Friday, announcing an updated death toll.

Austrian police had originally put the toll at up to 50 and are due to announce the exact number within hours. The vehicle had come to Austria from Hungary.

Dozens more perished in a sinking off the coast of Libya:

A boat reportedly packed with people from Africa and South Asia bound for Italy has sunk off the Libyan coast, raising fears that dozens have died.

A security official in Zuwarah, a town in the North African nation’s west from where the overcrowded boat had set off, said on Thursday there were about 400 people on board.

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While we’re believing that Donald Trump is going to deport millions of undocumented immigrants without a plan to pay for it, and while we’re believing he’ll build a 2,000 mile-long southern border fence and get Mexico to pay for it (because Donald knows how to negotiate), why not engage in a military buildup without a plan to pay for it? (And without raising taxes. That’s a given.)

According to Politico, “a growing roster of Republican hopefuls” believe the U.S. needs dozens of new warships if it expects to keep throwing around its global weight. Not that the news outlet could find any to quote for the article. Honestly, this almost reads as if it should be labeled “sponsored content” from the Navy League of the United States for the group’s lobbying campaign, “America’s Strength: Investing in the Navy-Marine Corps Team”:

It’s a love affair steeped in the ideology that more warships bristling with aircraft and missiles translates into more security — and that control of the high seas will not only guarantee international trade but also check the worst ambitions of other powers like Russia and China. And it’s also fueled by a powerful shipbuilding lobby in Washington that is also calling anew for billions more in federal spending to beef up the sea service.

Christie was the first to raise the issue earlier this election season, saying the Navy “should be an armada without equal,” and pledging, if elected president, to reach the goal of 350 ships. Walker also noted earlier this year that “we’re at, what, 275, 280 vessels right now? We’re headed down toward 250. That’s less than half of where we were under Reagan.”

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American presidential candidates debate deporting millions of immigrant families to Mexico as Europe faces the worst refugee crisis since WWII. On the Macedonian border with Greece, CNN reported last night:

Refugees who are soaking wet and hungry in makeshift camps, with only a few nongovernmental organizations present to help, told the CNN team of sheer misery.

A Syrian man said he never imagined Europe would be like this.

“Look at her,” he said, motioning to his 3-year-old daughter in his arms. “In Syria she was a princess, now she is like a rag. They are treating us like animals.”

He said that if someone could get him back to Syria, he would go. “Better to die from bombs in my homeland than die out here,” he said.

The Independent reports this morning:

For a second day, they came. And, for a second day, they faced a wall of riot shields, razor wire and batons. But on Saturday something was different. As the Macedonian police waved a handful of exhausted refugees through from Greece, something snapped and hundreds rushed the lines, causing chaos and police retaliation in the form of volleys of stun grenades and beatings. Many were injured.

And yet they still came and, eventually, with the tide of humanity too much to hold, the Macedonians opened the border with Greece. The police, who only hours before had swiped and batted at the crowds, simply stepped aside as thousands – men, women and children, many from Syria – streamed through, crying tears of joy as they began their next step to sanctuary and escape from the horrors of war in their own countries.

The Guardian, also this morning:

Hundreds of migrants have crossed unhindered from Greece into Macedonia after overwhelmed security forces appeared to abandon a bid to stem their flow through the Balkans to western Europe following days of chaos and confrontation.

Riot police remained, but did little to slow the passage of a steady flow of migrants on Sunday, many of them refugees from the Syrian war and other conflicts in the Middle East, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

Macedonia had declared a state of emergency on Thursday and sealed its southern frontier to migrants arriving at a rate of 2,000 per day en route to Serbia then Hungary and the EU’s borderless Schengen zone. This led to desperate scenes at the border, as adults and children slept under open skies with little access to food or water.

Elsewhere on the Mediterranean, Italian and other naval vessels rescued another 2,000 refugees yesterday, responding to distress calls from more than 20 vessels in danger of sinking.

Donald Trump and others on the right are too busy insisting we have walls to build across our southern border to take notice. But maybe someone should point out that this is a suspiciously “European” solution coming out of the mouths of American politicians:

Throughout Europe, leaders are succumbing to the keep-them-out syndrome. Hungary is building a fence (along its border with Serbia). Spain has done the same (in Ceuta and Melilla). Bulgaria followed suit (on the border with Turkey). More fencing is springing up in Calais.

In Macedonia, which is not in the EU, they are deploying armoured vehicles against migrants. Will this work? Unlikely. When you flee atrocities and war, the desperation to reach a haven will always be stronger than security fences and dogs.

The causes of migration in Europe and the Middle East are more instability than economics, argues Patrick Kingsley in the Guardian. Human smugglers often portrayed as the source of the problem are simply reacting to the opportunities presented by demand for their services, as any conservative economist could tell you. But as I recall, one of the last mass migrations in my lifetime occurred after the U.S. military debacle in Vietnam. Not enough attention has been paid to the fact that the current crisis presents itself in close proximity to American adventures in Iraq and Syria. Strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett has suggested that one of America’s greatest exports is security. Isn’t instability more like it?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : International, National
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Which way to the revolt?

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Robert Reich sees Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ rising popularity as evidence of a growing revolt against America’s ruling class. Go figure. When venture capitalist Tom Perkins last year compared Occupiers and progressives to Kristallnacht, then held up his watch on TV and bragged, “I could buy a 6-pack of Rolexes for this,” he was less than six degrees of Marie Antoinette. And just as clueless.

Reich writes:

We’ve witnessed self-dealing on a monumental scale – starting with the junk-bond takeovers of the 1980s, followed by the Savings and Loan crisis, the corporate scandals of the early 2000s (Enron, Adelphia, Global Crossing, Tyco, Worldcom), and culminating in the near meltdown of Wall Street in 2008 and the taxpayer-financed bailout.

Along the way, millions of Americans lost their jobs their savings, and their homes.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates to big money in politics wider than ever. Taxes have been cut on top incomes, tax loopholes widened, government debt has grown, public services have been cut. And not a single Wall Street executive has gone to jail.

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Categories : Corporatocracy, National
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All your democracy are belong to us

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This is breaking about 4 a.m. EDT.

Greece reaches a deal with creditors after all-night summit:

Euro zone leaders clinched a deal with Greece on Monday to negotiate a third bailout to keep the near-bankrupt country in the euro zone after a whole night of haggling at an emergency summit.

“Euro summit has unanimously reached agreement. All ready to go for ESM programme for Greece with serious reforms and financial support,” European Council President Donald Tusk announced on Twitter, referring to the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund.

However the tough conditions imposed by international lenders led by Germany could bring down Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ leftist government and cause an outcry in Greece. Even before the final terms were known, his labour minister went on state television to denounce the terms.

The deal would create a fund for repaying Greek debt from privatizing unspecified state assets.

Details now trickling out (via the Guardian, 5:34 a.m. EDT):

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Categories : International
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Revenge of the Midas cult

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King Midas with his daughter, from A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls by Nathaniel Hawthorne (text author). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The troika didn’t take well to Greek voters telling them where they could stick their austerity. Rebels from the country that invented democracy last week seemed poised to jump into their X-wing fighters and … okay this is really going off the rails. Or maybe not.

Creditors counterattacked and tightened their grip. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras now seems ready to accept more austerity with no write-down of his country’s debt, something voters soundly rejected just last Sunday:

“Each one of us shall be confronted with his stature and his history. Between a bad choice and a catastrophic one, we are forced to opt for the first one,” Tsipras said in a speech before his party’s lawmakers, according to local media. “It is as if one asks you for your money or your life.”

It’s just slightly less than Bond-villianish. The Washington Post reports that the deal includes “phasing out a subsidy for poor pensioners and privatizing sprawling state industries.” The voters have spoken and were ignored.

At the Guardian, George Monbiot examines how the financial powers have built a colonial empire that essentially renders democracy moot. (Throughout, I’m citing the referenced version of this piece from Monbiot’s blog.):

Consider the International Monetary Fund. The distribution of power here was perfectly stitched up: IMF decisions require an 85% majority, and the US holds 17% of the votes. It’s controlled by the rich, and governs the poor on their behalf. It’s now doing to Greece what it has done to one poor nation after another, from Argentina to Zambia. Its structural adjustment programmes have forced scores of elected governments to dismantle public spending, destroying health, education and the other means by which the wretched of the earth might improve their lives.

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One can only hope

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In his post-Greek referendum analysis, Howard Fineman sees echoes of the past:

It’s a new echo on a global scale of the politics of a much earlier, but in some ways remarkably similar, era in the U.S. As the U.S. became a continental economy in the late 19th century, with vast new hordes of wealth built in railroads, coal, electricity and communications, a political backlash arose. The new “money power” was judged too big and uncontrollable: an engine not of prosperity, but of inequality and corruption. The backlash launched America’s Progressive movement, which among other reforms pushed laws to rein in the power of big corporations in the interests of ordinary people.

Now that the planet’s economies have essentially become one, and the world’s top dozen banks control $30 trillion in assets, the callous demands of a new and even larger “money power” is starting to spark a worldwide backlash.

The International Monetary Fund, writes Fineman, has become since its founding “something akin to a collection agency” for private banks. Still, it is not clear yet whether the backlash Fineman sees is real or apparent.

The corruption of democracy by this system (or perhaps the subjugation of democracy to it) is beginning to filter into the public consciousness. When TV stations in Georgia start doing investigations of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), opinion is beginning to move. The ugliness of this system is becoming ever more apparent to the public at large.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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The business of business

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President Calvin Coolidge once said, “The chief business of the American people is business.” But in examining the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trade Promotion Authority, etc., one can see the business of business is not America.

It was clear last week that the TPP and TPA (fast track) were not dead, but unlike Monty Python’s parrot, really just resting. Politico reports on maneuvers by House Speaker John Boehner and Republican leaders to revive fast track:

Under the emerging plan, the House would vote on a bill that would give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a sweeping trade deal with Pacific Rim countries, sending it to the Senate for final approval. To alleviate Democratic concerns, the Senate then would amend a separate bill on trade preferences to include Trade Adjustment Assistance, a worker aid program that Republicans oppose but that House Democrats have blocked to gain leverage in the negotiations over fast-track.

Decoupling TAA and TPA might be a non-starter with many Democrats. But the political mechanics are not as interesting as the broader trajectory of dealings between government and business.

In any of these deals, no matter what the promised benefits, the general public always seems to come out holding the short end of the stick. You can smell it. Somebody is going to make a lot of money. It’s just never us. We get to do the paying.

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Oh, Lawdy-Lawd, he’s desp’at!

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This Tweet went by the other day and I just had to go back and find it:

Comparisons have been made and disputed between Walker’s diversion of state funds to the arena and his cuts in state education funding. And yes, team owners have conned Democrats too. But the specifics of the Wisconsin deal are not what interests me this morning.

These deals always remind me of the Blazing Saddles scene in which Sheriff Bart puts his own gun to his head and threatens to shoot himself. Except with sports arena deals it is owners threatening to shoot their teams, “Build us a new stadium or your team gets it!” Flustered officials blurt out, “Hold it, men. He’s not bluffing.” Then they ante up taxpayer dollars. We pay them to make money.

We regularly decry corporate capitalism’s race to the bottom. But the phrasing assumes there is a bottom. I’m not so sure. Considering offshoring, tax incentives, and tax repatriation legislation, you have to wonder just what level of taxation — including none — would rent-seeking, modern corporations accept without whining, without looking for even more ways to squeeze blood from a stone or more work from workers for even less?

There is a runaway, kudzu-ish element to corporate capitalism, but there is a Tom Sawyer-ish feature as well. Public corporations won’t be satisfied until We the People are paying them for making a profit — the way Tom Sawyer tricked friends into paying for the privilege of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence. These sports arena deals remind us that when an Obama tells business owners, you didn’t build that, he’s right.

Pretty soon working people will be paying the elite in brass door knockers (or their equivalent) for building it for them.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Peking sitting ducks

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So while most of the press is wondering when ISIS will kill us in our beds with their long, curved knives, or taking bets on how many clowns Republicans can fit into that car, I am watching this dispute over control of the South China Sea. It is the sort of thing that in the 20th century sometimes led to unpleasantness.

China has been rapidly building what is being called the Great Wall of Sand. Engineers and fleets of dredges have descended on the disputed Spratly Islands to construct artificial islands built from sand thrown atop reefs and capped with concrete and imposing buildings of unknown purpose. And a runway. Photos here. Worrisome yes, but militarily? Sitting ducks.

The Washington Post Sunday summarized what is going on:

For generations, the South China Sea was a regional common. Fishing boats from all of the surrounding countries would roam its waters, pausing now and then to trade cigarettes or potatoes or gossip.

But then Vietnam, followed by the Philippines, began staking claims to some of the islands, and now China is moving in, in a big way. Beijing is building up the outposts it has established, enlarging islands that it controls and claiming exclusive rights to fishing grounds.

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