Friday, November 26, 2010

Upper Volta with Missiles- and Banks

Ian Williams

Arms and the world’s most powerful man

by Ian Williams
Tribune , November 19th, 2010

Dismissively, but not entirely inaccurately, American commentators used to dismiss the Soviet Union as “Upper Volta with missiles” – a country that failed to provide the goods for its own people, but excelled at military production.

Watching President Barack Obama tour the world, the phrase came back. On his tour, he was selling fighters and transport aircraft to India and Saudi Arabia. He had already offered fighters to Israel (for free, naturally). Taiwan, Japan and others were in line for a visit from the arms salesperson.

Obama gave every indication of trying use military sales, especially aircraft, to stimulate the United States economy and provide jobs. There is a reason for that. When the Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher era straddled the Atlantic, manufacturing collapsed in both countries, and subsequent governments in Washington and London effectively encouraged the process in the name of free trade and free markets.

As a result, the US, like the Soviet Union, hardly produces anything anyone wants to buy except agricultural commodities and weapons. The US is now Upper Volta with missiles – and banks, of course.

Britain sells a lot of weaponry as well, of courser. However, in the absence of fields of waving soya beans, it is probably more like desert-like Chad with missiles and banks. Aneurin Bevan once famously said: “This island is almost made of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organising genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish in Great Britain at the same time.”

Bevan would probably not have been surprised that the organising genius that closed down the coalmines and fished out the surrounding seas was Adam Smith’s invisible hand, but he would have been eloquently scathing about the all too visible hands from his own party that applauded the process and furthered it.

Indeed, he did not even know that, as well as fish, the seas were filled with oil and gas. Once again, he would not necessarily have been surprised that Thatcher’s Tory Government squandered the revenue from them to pay the costs of making the miners and countless other manufacturing workers unemployed.

Now we have another Reagan-Thatcher-style convergence. The British Government is pursuing policies of the kind that brought in the Great Depression on both sides of the Atlantic and, sadly, any plans that Obama had to stimulate the economy are now likely to fall foul of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Republican and New Democrat coalition in the Senate.
Under George W Bush, the rich fed themselves cake and took bread from the poor. In the face of a mounting deficit and two expensive wars, Congress voted for a package of tax cuts which overwhelmingly benefited the filthy rich, who seem to have used the money to pour into bubbling derivatives and bring about the current crisis.

The one small compromise the Democrats extracted was that this looting of the public purse would expire at the end of this year.

Now the resurgent Republicans want to extend them all – even as they wail, gnash teeth and don sackcloth and ashes about the size of the fiscal deficit. Somehow, the Democrats, including Obama, have been unable to take the field against this obscene absurdity. The obvious response is to extend the tax cuts for the lower and middle income people, but not the filthy rich and to say so, vigorously and viciously, while pointing out what they would do to wipe away the crocodile tears of conservatives concerned about the deficit.

But they seem mesmerised. In the face of callous class warfare on a scale unimagined since the age of the robber barons, Obama and friends seem worried that it would not seem “responsible” to go against the plutocrats who financed the recent successful electoral assault on them. And it does not help that, like Ed Miliband, Obama has to overlook the policies of his Democratic predecessors. The now understandably forgotten “Third Way” of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair used exactly the same rhetoric and hidebound free market ideology that is now being brandished by Cameron and Eric Cantor, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives.

Despite all Obama’s weaknesses, the world is a better place than it would have been if he had not been elected. However, while he still has time, he really had better start organising to fight these ideas and their holders with sharper weapons than Clintonian triangulation and, like the new British Labour leader, repudiate the mistakes of his predecessors wherever necessary.
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About The Author
Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Mid Term Elections

The economy is the bottom line
By Ian Williams
Asia Times 4 November 2010

WASHINGTON - With the Democrats holding onto the senate, albeit barely, and the Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives following Tuesday's mid-term elections in the United States, there is still not likely to be a dramatic change in the policy of the United States.

Above all, President Barack Obama remains in the White House with a veto that the Republicans cannot surmount, not least because many of the so called "Blue Dog" Democrats who so often acted like a Republican fifth column actually lost their seats. So the result was not the Tea Party tsunami, not least with the resounding defeat of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware but it was certainly more than a storm in a teacup.

The good news for democracy is that the US elections reportedly experienced a record turnout. The bad news is that that was just over 41% of registered voters, who amount to only 71% of eligible US citizens. So all it takes for a landslide is a vote of some 15% of Americans and a switch by just a handful of votes. The result does not signal a huge popular upsurge, let alone a tectonic shift in the bedrock of the American body politic, as a quick look at the map shows.

The heavily populated and urbanized East and West Coast stayed Democrat, in the senate, the House and the governorships. In California, despite the huge personal fortunes of the Republican contenders being brought to bear, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown comfortably won the senate seat and the governorship. In New York, both Democratic senators and the governorwon handily, as did the Democratic contender for the attorney-general, who is the watchman for Wall Street.

Democrat senate and House leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, despite being used almost as swear words by the Republican campaign material, actually won re-election
comfortably. Landslides are relative at the best of times, and the whole US system is designed to ensure that not too much can change in one election - which is another reason for the low turnout.

But while the Republican strode to victory on all the things they are against, by getting the majority in the House they have fitted themselves up. After two years of trying to frustrate every Democratic initiative, and blaming their opponents for the economic crisis, they are now in charge of spending and tax-setting for the next two years. In short, they are responsible for the deficit. They should be prepared since their incumbent leaders were responsible for building it to the heights that Obama inherited.

The split control means that the Republicans cannot actually take initiatives that do not have the support of the president and the Democrats in the senate. If they want to make Obama's day, they will continue the campaign of negativity they have maintained for two years and attack him continuously.

The polls show that even with the lost support from the continuing economic doldrums, Obama is actually more popular than the Republican party now. With two years more of gridlock, the anger they exploited this time will splash back on them. Almost certainly, the Tea Party candidates lost the Republicans the chance to take the senate, but enough of them were elected to make it highly likely that the Republicans in congress will be culpably uncooperative for the next two years.

The world watches
So what do tonight's results mean for the rest of the world? Interestingly, foreign relations were not a big issue. For example, in an election dominated by anger, conservatives were unsure whether they should condemn Obama for continuing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or for not withdrawing.

Tea Party candidates refused interviews with the "mainstream media" who might have elicited views on the rest of the world and their followers are from a long tradition of American isolationists and exceptionalists who had certainly put foreign relations very low in their priorities, unless it was to find out which African country they thought had given birth to Obama.

Relatively muted compared with previous years, there is a persistent susurrus of repudiation of international organizations and the United Nations, and there were the populist jibes, from both sides of the partisan divide, about China. International agreements on almost any issue from disarmament to climate change will almost certainly fail ratification in the senate.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's supporters were praying for a Democrat defeat, they will find it will do little good. If the Republicans choose to challenge Obama on foreign policy issues, they risk serious alienation of those whose anger voted them in. That anger was based on the economic situation and a certain degree of amnesia about whose policies actually brought it about. A demand, for example, that the US continue to give billions of dollars to a foreign government that refuses to listen to Washington is not one that is a winner outside some neo-conservative and Christian right circles.

Obama will certainly not neglect US commitments to the rest of the world, but he can scarcely risk taking too high a profile if he seems to be neglecting the domestic economy, whose care and resuscitation will clearly absorb much attention, even though he seems to trust Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to cover his back there.

However, the worst effect for the rest of the world is that, despite the setbacks, the fiscal and trade deficits and the military over-stretch, the US is still the locomotive of the world economy. And thanks to its dysfunctional system of government, ossified over 200 years, it is off the rails with no clear hand on the controls.

The US economy needs decisive action and leadership, and the elections have made it even less likely than before that it will get it. That is bad news for the rest of the world, now matter how much schadenfreude other countries might derive from seeing the giant cut low, they will be hurt as well if it stumbles.

Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military
Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Monday, November 01, 2010

Spirits Up for Haiti!

I am serving the Rum!

Public-Private Alliance Foundation

You are invited….
“Partners Against Poverty” Event
to benefit the

Public-Private Alliance Foundation
and its work in Haiti

Thursday November 4 6 – 8 pm

Since the January 12 earthquake PPAF is helping Haitians revitalize their country by partnering with business, the Diaspora, non-profits, the Government, the United Nations and individuals on key projects that improve peoples’ lives and help achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals. The fundraiser will help advance this. The Foundation, a recognized non-profit, also works in the Dominican Republic and Madagascar.

The setting for the event is the outstanding exhibit of Haitian paintings on display at Affirmation Arts, on 37th Street in Manhattan.

The Foundation welcomes actor/director Tony Plana (of “Ugly Betty” fame) and pundit Ian Williams to its November 4 Benefit. Ian will turn mixologist for samples of Haiti's internationally famous Barbancourt Rum. Michael Yarema, Executive Vice President and National Sales Manager at Crillon Importers will comment on the importance of Barbancourt Rum to the Haitian economy.

A current main focus for the Foundation is collaboration with several partners to promote improved stoves and fuel in Haiti. Locally-grown and distilled sugar ethanol will fuel cookstoves manufactured, marketed and distributed in the country. The project aims to improve lives and health, especially for women and children, and reduce the heavy reliance on wood and charcoal that has stripped the country of forest and topsoil. Livelihoods for farmers and small scale entrepreneurs will likewise be improved.

Come enjoy the artwork, learn more about the Foundation’s work, and help Haiti build back better.

WHEN: Thursday, November 4, from 6 to 8 pm

WHERE: Affirmation Arts, 523 West 37th St., Manhattan (1/2 block from the Javitts Center; nearest subway is Penn Station)

REFRESHMENTS: Wine, soft drinks hors d’oevres and a tasting of Barbancourt Rum!

TICKETS: Students and under 30’s -- $30; supporters -- $50; sponsors -- $250 and up. Go to: and click on the “Donate” buttons for PayPal or JustGive. Donations also accepted at the door. Prepaying helps reduce a line at the door!

RSVP: Tel: 914-924-1413 or e-mail

David Stillman, PhD
Executive Director

The Public-Private Alliance Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to reducing poverty in the world by bringing together business, governmental, community, academic, United Nations and other interests. Through collaboration, PPAF helps stimulate entrepreneurship and commerce-related activities and encourage investment for sustainable development. PPAF supports the principles of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Focusing on the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Madagascar, our vision is to make a difference for human betterment. PPAF works closely with the United Nations for policies and actions to advance public-private alliances. PPAF is associated with the Department of Public Information of the United Nations and is a participant in the United Nations Global Compact..

Tuesday - Armageddon?

Democrats poised for mid-term hit as cash floods to Republicans

Ian WilliamsTribune 30 October 2010

It is third world politics, perhaps befitting a country that has a third world social safety net - and is proud of it. Huge sums of fisco-money (fortunes amassed from tax cuts) are pouring into the mid-term elections and the one sure result will be yet more legislative gridlock as the United States tries to steer away from the iceberg into which Captain George Bush steered it.

The Republicans could win a majority in the House of Representatives, but are unlikely to get the Senate, but in any case, their majority will not be big enough to over-ride a Presidential veto. Indeed some Democrats - albeit not those who would lose their seats - almost welcome a slim Republican majority, since it means the conservative negativists would have to assume responsibility for legislative initiatives that would allow, or force, Obama to confront them.

So far the Republican campaign has been entirely reactionary, in every sense of the word, inveighing against handouts to banks (which came from Bush) the stimulus programme which they claim has failed (they did their best to ensure it by restricting funds available) the deficit (that they and Bush built to record heights before the crisis) and ‘Obamacare’ (but would they really try to take insurance away from patients with ‘pre-existing’ conditions).

A defeat might look like a setback to the high hopes represented by the election of a black President, but as a consolation, he is still by far the most popular politician in the country, with far more favorable ratings than Congressmen as an entity. Additionally, where the really looney Tea Party types won Republican primaries their candidates have all the credibility of the Monster Raving Loony Party. In the major New York state races the Democrats seem to be holding their own while in California billionaire Meg Whitman has spent $130 million of her own money and yet is trailing veteran Democrat Jerry Brown in the race for Governor, similarly the high spending Republican candidate for Senator is failing against incumbent Barbara Boxer, who as Democrats go, goes right too often.

The leftists who dismiss Obama as a plutocrat’s pawn should consider that open Wall Street donations were flowing towards the Republicans, where before they went to the Democrats, and as a new factor, armed with the Supreme Court decision that said corporations had all the rights of Freed Slaves, the newly liberated companies are now pouring money into the types of groups that gave us the “Swift Boat” libel campaign against Kerry. Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 20, such under cover Republican leaning groups spent $118 million to $45 million for their Democratic counterparts. These donors are not people who think Obama is a foreign born Muslim, but they are cynically happy to take advantage of what one Republican lobbyist (now in gaol) candidly referred to as the “Wackos.”

In a confusing melee of hand to hand combats across the political field, where candidates rarely identify themselves by party, one definite conclusion is that Obama and the Democrats have consistently pulled their punches in campaigning, as if mesmerised by Faux TV accusations of inherent socialism. Indeed, even “liberal” is now almost a McCarthyite smear. They have to get over it. This ship really could sink while they wrestle the wheel into immobility.