Friday, October 20, 2017

Reconquer democracy at the national level to combat international neoliberalism

I have just read an interesting article on neoliberalism in Europe that calls for restoring or regaining democratic debate at the national level in European countries. I will cite paragraphs from the article, written by William Mitchell and Thomas Fazi, which came out today in Social Europe: "Everything You Know About Neoliberalism Is Wrong." Although I do not like the title of the article, I like the text.

Thomas Fazi
"Even though neoliberalism as an ideology springs from a desire to curtail the state’s role, neoliberalism as a political-economic reality has produced increasingly powerful, interventionist and ever-reaching – even authoritarian – state apparatuses.

The process of neoliberalisation has entailed extensive and permanent state intervention, including: the liberalisation of goods and capital markets; the privatisation of resources and social services; the deregulation of business, and financial markets in particular; the reduction of workers’ rights (first and foremost, the right to collective bargaining) and more in general the repression of labour activism; the lowering of taxes on wealth and capital, at the expense of the middle and working classes; the slashing of social programmes, and so on. These policies were systemically pursued throughout the West (and imposed on developing countries) with unprecedented determination, and with the support of all the major international institutions and political parties.

(...) Conventional wisdom holds that globalisation and the internationalisation of finance have ended the era of nation states and their capacity to pursue policies not in accord with the diktats of global capital. But does the evidence support the assertion that national sovereignty has truly reached the end of its days? (...)

More in general, as we explain in our new book Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post- Neoliberal World, globalisation, even in its neoliberal form, was (is) not the result of some intrinsic capitalist or technology-driven dynamic that inevitably entails a reduction of state power, as is often claimed. On the contrary, it was (is) a process that was (is) actively shaped and promoted by states. All the elements that we associate with neoliberal globalisation – delocalisation, deindustrialisation, the free movement of goods and capital, etc. – were (are), in most cases, the result of choices made by governments.

(...) [there was] a deliberate and conscious limitation of state sovereign rights by national elites, through a process known as depoliticisation. The various policies adopted by Western governments to this end include: (i) reducing the power of parliaments vis-à-vis that of the executive and making the former increasingly less representative (for instance by moving from proportional parliamentary systems to majoritarian ones); (ii) making central banks formally independent of governments; (iii) adopting ‘inflation targeting’ – an approach which stresses low inflation as the primary objective of monetary policy, to the exclusion of other policy objectives, such as full employment – as the dominant approach to central bank policymaking; (iv) adopting rules-bound policies – on public spending, debt as a proportion of GDP, competition, etc. – thereby limiting what politicians can do at the behest of their electorates; (v) subordinating spending departments to treasury control; (vi) re-adopting fixed exchange rates systems, such as the euro, which severely limit the ability of governments to exercise control over economic policy; (vii) limiting the capacity of governments to regulate in the public interest, by means of so-called ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement) mechanisms, nowadays included in most bilateral investment treaties (of which there are more than 4,000 in operation) and regional trade agreements (such as the FTAA and TPP); and, most importantly perhaps, (viii) surrendering national prerogatives to supranational institutions and super-state bureaucracies such as the EU.

(...) the creation of self-imposed ‘external constraints’ allowed national politicians to reduce the political costs of the neoliberal transition – which clearly involved unpopular policies – by ‘scapegoating’ institutionalised rules and ‘independent’ or international institutions, which in turn were presented as an inevitable outcome of the new, harsh realities of globalisation, thus insulating macroeconomic policies from popular contestation. The war on sovereignty has been in essence a war on democracy. This process was brought to its most extreme conclusions in Western Europe, where the Maastricht Treaty (1992) embedded neoliberalism into the EU’s very fabric, effectively outlawing the ‘Keynesian’ polices that had been commonplace in the previous decades.

(...) for more democratic control over politics (and particularly over the destructive global flows unleashed by neoliberalism), which necessarily can only be exercised at the national level, in the absence of effective supranational mechanisms of representation. The EU is obviously no exception: in fact, it is (correctly) seen by many as the embodiment of technocratic rule and elite estrangement from the masses, as demonstrated by the Brexit vote and the widespread euroscepticism engulfing the continent. In this sense, as we argue in the book, leftists should not see Brexit – and more in general the current crisis of the EU and monetary union – as a cause for despair, but rather as a unique opportunity to embrace (once again) a progressive, emancipatory vision of national sovereignty, to reject the EU’s neoliberal straitjacket and to implement a true democratic-socialist platform (which would be impossible within the EU, let alone within the eurozone). To do this, however, they must come to terms with the fact that the sovereign state, far from being helpless, still contains the resources for democratic control of a nation’s economy and finances – that the struggle for national sovereignty is ultimately a struggle for democracy. This needn’t come at the expense of European cooperation. On the contrary, by allowing governments to maximise the well-being of their citizens, it could and should provide the basis for a renewed European project, based on multilateral cooperation between sovereign states.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Electronic waste from the first world contaminates the blood of Africans

That our electronic waste contaminates the blood of poor Africans is a scandal. Here is an article about it, published on 21 September 2017 by Residuos Profesional and based on research by Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC) and the Hospital Insular, "Residuos electrónicos del primer mundo contaminan la sangre de los africano".

La sangre de los inmigrantes africanos que llegan a Canarias, con independencia de su país de origen, está contaminada por vanadio a niveles desconocidos en occidente y también por trazas de cobalto, arsénico, níquel… Es rastro de la basura tecnológica que el primer mundo envía a África.

RAEE Africa


Basura tecnológica

Los firmantes del artículo no tienen dudas respecto a qué se debe todo ello: se calcula, dicen, que el 80 % de la “basura tecnológica” genera el primer mundo se envía a África, tanto para abastecer el comercio de estos productos con modelos de segunda mano, muchas veces obsoletos y de vida muy corta, como para nutrir cadenas de reciclaje “informales” (eufemismo de insalubres o ilegales).
El trabajo apoya esa afirmación en varios datos estadísticos: los 16 países examinados están entre los más pobres del mundo, pero las concentraciones de esos metales son más altas entre los inmigrantes procedentes de naciones con más PIB, con más teléfonos por 100 habitantes, con más usuarios de internet y, sobre todo, con mayor volumen de importación de dispositivos electrónicos de segunda mano.

Un ciudadano, un móvil

Los autores remarcan otro hecho: África puede estar atrasada respecto al resto del mundo en líneas telefónicas fijas, pero el uso del móvil se ha disparado en sus países en los últimos años, tanto las ciudades como las zonas rurales, hasta el punto de que muchos estados han alcanzado el paradigma de “un ciudadano, un móvil”. Eso sí, el 97 % de los móviles del continente son de segunda mano.
Por todo ello recomiendan hacer un mayor seguimiento de este tipo de contaminantes, porque “algunos de esos elementos comportan un enorme riesgo, sobre todo para los niños”, y porque “es bien sabido que la polución no respeta fronteras, así que el manejo inadecuado de esos los residuos tecnológicos en esos países puede producir un aumento generalizado de la presencia mundial de esos contaminantes”.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Secret EU memorandum on the privatisation of water in Greece

Painting of Thessaloniki by Aafke Steenhuis
What is prohibited by law in the Netherlands, the privatisation of water, is being forced on Greece by the European Union, as you can read in the article below.

Leaked EU Memorandum Reveals Renewed Attempt at Imposing Water Privatization on Greece

Tuesday, August 25, 2015 By Satoko Kishimoto and Olivier Hoedeman, Corporate Europe Observatory | News Analysis

The requirement to sell off €50 billion in public assets is one of the most controversial aspects of the 'agreement' that Eurozone countries and the Troika forced on the Greek government during mid-July's "night of shame".
Details of exactly what Greece is required to privatise have now emerged with the leaking of the "Memorandum of Understanding for a three-year ESM programme" prepared by the Troika's International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank. [1] The leaked document lists 23 state assets, ranging from airports to service utilities, and presents precise steps and timelines for privatisation.
It comes as a shock that this list includes two large public water companies: Athens Water Supply & Sewerage S.A (EYDAP) and Thessaloniki Water Supply & Sewerage S.A. (EYATH), which provide drinking water for the country's two biggest cities. The Troika had insisted on water privatisation in an earlier memorandum, but strong public opposition had blocked this proposal.
In June 2014 the Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, ruled that transferring a controlling stake in Athens' public water utility EYDAP to private hands was unconstitutional because of the responsibility of the state to protect citizens' fundamental right to health. [2] The new Memorandum foresees the sale of 11% of EYDAP shares, which seems minimal at face value, but given that 38.7% of EYDAP's shares are already owned by private companies and individuals, it would leave 49.7% of the utility in private hands.
As for Thessaloniki, a non-binding referendum was held in May 2014, resulting in a 98% vote against water privatisation. This citizen-led initiative mobilised 218,002 voters and sent a crystal clear message rejecting the planned sale of 51% of EYATH shares to private investors (French water multinational Suez and Israel's state-owned Merokot had shown interest). The leaked Memorandum now orders the liquidation of 23% of state-owned shares; knowing that another 26% are already in private hands, this would make the company 49% private.
- to read further click HERE 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Dani Rodrik, Barry Eichengreen and Paul Craig Roberts

Trump's UN speech

There are articles that you may like to read or read already such as these two by authors who belong to the FONDAD Network:

"Macron’s Labour Gambit" by Dani Rodrik At the end of August, French president Emmanuel Macron unveiled the labour-market overhaul that will make or break his presidency – and may well determine the future of the eurozone. His goal is to bring down France’s stubbornly high rate of unemployment, just a shade below 10%, and energize an economy that badly needs a […]

"The Euro’s Narrow Path" by Barry Eichengreen With Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election, and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union enjoying a comfortable lead in opinion polls ahead of Germany’s general election on September 24, a window has opened for eurozone reform. The euro has always been a Franco-German project. With a dynamic new leader in one country and a […]

And there are also articles you are not interested in because they are authored by someone you do not know, mistrust or dismiss. This may be the case with Paul Graig Roberts. Do you know who he is and what articles and books he has published? If not, you may like to read one of his latest articles, Trump’s UN Speech.

If you don't like this article or disagree with it, I wonder why and on what facts your opinion is based.

I noticed that I tended to dismiss Paul Graig Roberts' opinion after I had read on internet certain things of and about him that give reason to dismiss his opinion. But I realized this is unfair because the fact that he has written articles I do not agree with is not a good reason to dismiss other, sensible, articles by him.

Many of the things Roberts says in his article about Trump's UN speech I find sensible. There are also some things I disagree with or wonder whether he is (fully) right such as his statement or suggestion that the US "war on terror" has resulted in 'tens of millions of slaughtered, maimed, and displaced persons'. 

However, it is interesting to investigate what is true and not true in this and other statements by Paul Graig Roberts.

One, positive, reviewer (Edward Curtin) of a recent book authored by Roberts, The Neoconservative Threat to World Order, says about him: A former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan administration and an editor and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Paul Craig Roberts has escaped all easy labels to become a public intellectual of the highest order. He is a prolific critic of U.S. foreign and domestic policies, with a special emphasis on the nefarious influence of the neoconservatives from the Reagan through the Obama administrations. A savage critic of the mainstream corporate media – he calls them “presstitutes” – he dissects their propaganda and disinformation like a truth surgeon and penetrates to the heart of issues in a flash.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Macron wants debt relief for Greece and warns about China's presence in Europe

Piraeus: A gateway for China's New Silk Road into Europe

French president Emmanuel Macron stressed again that Greece's debt burden needs to be reduced. By the way, earlier so-called rescue packages for Greece were in fact rescue packages for French and other European banks that had made profiting loans to Greece. Below is an article from the Swiss journal Le Temps.
Does Macron also want less influence for China in Europe, given his warnng that China (Cosco) already took posession of the main part of the Port of Piraeus (see last paragraph in the article below)? Here you can see a short video I made last year about China taking control of the Port of Piraeus: The Port of Piraeus

Pour Macron, la dette grecque doit être renégociée

7 septembre 2017

Le président français a prononcé jeudi un discours sur la démocratie européenne à Athènes. Mais en arrière-plan de sa visite, un sujet principal: la dette grecque et l’Allemagne
Priorité: ne pas «braquer» Angela Merkel et son puissant ministre des Finances, Wolfgang Schaüble. Dès ses premiers entretiens à Athènes, où il a prononcé jeudi un discours sur la démocratie et l’Europe sur la colline boisée de la Pnyx, face à l’Acropole, Emmanuel Macron a confirmé à ses interlocuteurs grecs qu’il n’avait pas changé de position.
Comme conseiller à l’Elysée à partir de juin 2012, puis comme ministre, le chef de l’Etat français a toujours plaidé pour une restructuration (le fameux «haircut») de la dette publique grecque, qui se maintient depuis 2011 à plus de 170% du produit intérieur brut, aux alentours de 350 milliards d’euros. Son point de vue, selon son entourage, reste inchangé: «C’est la position de la France. Elle est connue. Il faudra mettre le sujet sur la table et l’aborder avant l’été 2018, qui marquera la fin du troisième plan d’aide européen», confirme-t-on à l’Elysée.
Sur la dette grecque, Paris estime que le moment est mûr pour bouger. «On a de plus en plus confiance sur la reprise de l’économie grecque et sur la capacité du pays à passer à quelque chose de nouveau. Nous n’avons pas de raisons de penser que le plan grec va déraper dans cette dernière ligne droite. Il est de l’intérêt collectif que les autorités helléniques puissent passer à une nouvelle phase», souligne-t-on à l’Elysée. Le troisième plan d’aide grec, approuvé en mai 2016, porte sur un montant total de prêts de 10,3 milliards d’euros, dont le versement a été achevé en juillet par le Mécanisme européen de stabilité basé à Luxembourg.

Se protéger des racheteurs extra-européens

La question qui pose problème aujourd’hui, pour aborder la réduction de la dette, est selon la France celle des «investissements stratégiques», un terme qui désigne le processus de privatisation et la revente d’actifs publics à des entreprises contrôlées par des puissances extérieures à l’UE telles que la Chine. «Il nous faut maintenant d’urgence construire des consortiums européens pour éviter que l’on ne se retrouve devant une autre cession problématique, comme celle d’une partie du port du Pirée (rachetée en janvier 2016 par le géant Cosco) aux Chinois», plaide-t-on du côté français. (...)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Four Lessons For Europe From Italy’s Experience With Populism

Four Lessons For Europe From Italy’s Experience With Populism

Giuliano Bobba
Giuliano Bobba
Over the past two decades, Italy has been one of the strongest and most enduring markets for populist parties in Western Europe. While in other European countries the rise or the emergence of populism is a recent development or has occurred only occasionally, it is a persistent feature of Italian politics. In the sixteen years since 2001, Italy has had populist governments for roughly half of this period (eight and a half years) if one counts the three governments led by Silvio Berlusconi that were in power from 2001 until 2005, 2005 to 2006, and 2008 to 2011. Furthermore, in the last Italian general election in 2013, populist parties (People of Freedom/Forza Italia, Lega Nord, and the Five Star Movement) gained over 50% of the vote.
Interestingly, if one looks closely enough, they can identify some common patterns characterising the emergence of populist parties in Italy. In the early 1990s, the rise of Forza Italia (FI) and the Lega Nord (LN – Northern League) was closely tied to political and economic crises. In a similar fashion, since 2008 a new period of economic and political crisis has coincided with the ascent of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. Italy thus offers a useful case study for assessing the consequences that are implied by a continuous and strong populist presence in national politics. If we look across these years as a whole, the Italian experience highlights four particular threats to democracy that can emerge from this populist presence.
First, there have been implications for the checks and balances that exist within the Italian political system. Populist parties have repeatedly attacked the work of judges, notably in the case of Silvio Berlusconi. They have also had a sizeable impact on the role of the media in Italian politics. This is true both of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the Five Star Movement, who have both posed a threat to the freedom and autonomy of media organisations.
Second, there has been a general oversimplification of political discourse in Italy. The debate about the cost of politics is a good example. Initially introduced by the Northern League and Forza Italia in the 1990s, complaints over the cost of politics have also become one of the most successful topics for Beppe Grillo to mobilise support around. Yet despite the presence of this debate for two decades in Italian politics, the political attention it has received has failed to produce significant savings (as shown, for instance, by several expensive and incomplete attempts to abolish provincial councils). There is cross-party consensus among the main political parties on the need to reduce the number of MPs. This implies a certain reduction of political representation, while the reduction in terms of the cost of politics is rather uncertain.
Third, Italy has experienced the spread of populist themes and frames even among non-populist parties. In the last few years, the success of populist campaigning among citizens has pushed even mainstream parties to react using populist rhetoric, styles and sometimes also populist content of their own. An example would be a much-shared Facebook post produced by Matteo Renzi on migration, which stated that ‘we need to free ourselves from a sense of guilt. We do not have the moral duty to welcome into Italy people who are worse off than ourselves’.
Finally, Italian populism illustrates the so called ‘cultivation theory’. To paraphrase George Gerbner and his colleagues, instead of ‘growing up with television’ we might address the issue of ‘growing up with populism’. Italy is now characterised by general discontent among citizens and strong political disaffection. The country is not an exception in this respect among Southern European countries and, obviously, the blame for this situation cannot be attributed solely to populist parties. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that, at least in part, the success of populist parties is achieved through the de-legitimisation of politics, institutions, and the ruling class, and that it produces a vicious circle fuelling citizens’ distrust and dissatisfaction.
Although populist parties can pose threats of this nature to democracy, usually their leaders are also political entrepreneurs that build off several problems not adequately addressed by mainstream parties. Their successes, indeed, rely on the ineffectiveness of governments to take seriously the problems identified by populist parties, such as political corruption, inefficient use of public money, the integration of migrants, and the demands of those who are excluded from the benefits of the globalisation process. Finding viable solutions to these issues is the obligatory path for Italian politics to follow if it is to reduce the growing gap that separates it from Italian citizens.
First published by LSE Europp blog
About Giuliano Bobba

Sunday, September 3, 2017

How Fares Emmanuel Macron?

Below you can read two articles about French president Emmanuel Macron:

France: Macron unveils assault on workers’ rights

Trade unions protested in Paris on August 31 as President Emmanuel Macron unveiled his new attacks on workers’ rights, the Morning Star said the next day. Macron’s proposed labour “reforms” would make it easier for bosses to hire and fire workers.
Macron wants parliament to vote on the new legislation — the third attack on workers’ rights in the past few years — without a chance to amend it.
The country’s labour code is seen by the neoliberal president as the major cause of joblessness in France. However, other large European countries such as Italy and Spain, with fewer protections for workers, have higher rates of unemployment.
The protest against the reforms was called by union federations CGT and Solidaires, Right to Housing and Attac France in the Parisian suburb of Jouy-en-Josas.
“Mr Macron represents the big bosses, and those who want to cut public services, social protection and everything achieved by workers,” one protester said.
The unions have called for mass demonstrations against the new law on September 12, but two of France’s biggest unions, the Force Ouvriere and CFDT, have said they will not take part. Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of left-wing party France Unbowed, has called a further protest on September 23.
Published in

EXCLUSIF - La popularité de Macron dégringole encore en septembre

Dans notre baromètre mensuel YouGov, le couple exécutif voit son image se dégrader une nouvelle fois à la rentrée après un été compliqué.

04/09/2017 05:00 CEST | Actualisé il y a 1 heure

Charles Platiau / Reuters
Après un été difficile, la cote de popularité du président Macron chute encore de 6 points dans notre baromètre YouGov.
POPULARITÉ - Le mois d'août fut morose, la rentrée n'est guère plus réjouissante. La cote de popularité du couple exécutif poursuit sa chute vertigineuse. Selon notre baromètre mensuel réalisé par YouGov pour Le HuffPost et CNews, Emmanuel Macron voit son image se dégrader pour le deuxième mois consécutif dans l'opinion. Sa cote de confiance perd 6 points en septembre pour atteindre 30% d'opinions favorables après en avoir perdu 7 au mois d'août.
Un désamour qui justifie amplement le changement de stratégie de communication de l'Elysée. Mais celui-ci n'a pour l'heure pas eu le temps d'infuser dans l'opinion. Il faudra attendre le mois d'octobre pour déterminer si l'hémorragie a été enrayée.
En plein débat sur la réforme du code du travail, c'est du côté des électeurs socialistes (-8 points) et d'extrême gauche (-7 points) que la baisse est la plus notable. Mais le coeur de cible électoral du président n'échappe pas à la décrue: le chef de l'Etat perd encore 6 points chez les électeurs du centre. A l'inverse, Emmanuel Macron regagne 6 points chez les sympathisants Les Républicains (à 45% d'opinions favorables), preuve que les réformes libérales et les coupes budgétaires ordonnées par l'exécutif ne déplaisent pas à tout le monde. ... (to read further, click the title of the article)