Thursday, December 1, 2011


Today (Dec 1, 2011) a student wrote 'I doubt the Arab Spring would’ve succeeded without the Internet and the information age.'
There has been quite a controversy about the alleged impacts of Facebook (FB) and other social media on the Arab Spring.
Before FB, there was simply email and websites. This allowed a massive anti war global protest in 2003 with 11 million organized in a few weeks, to protest the US plans to invade Iraq.
Before email and websites, there was radio and television. In 1986, massive demonstrations )"people power") led to the peaceful overthrow of a US backed dictator in the Philippines. Popular uprisings that followed included those in Thailand, South Korea, Mongolia and Indonesia. Pre-FB resistance led to the overthrow of the S African regime of Apartheid. In Latin America, dictatorships transformed into democracies, thanks to people power type protests.
Going back further in time, before WWII, there was organized resistance to British imperialism throughout the Middle East. In Iraq there were four uprisings alone. Pan Arabism, socialism and other resistance movements (which we covered early on in the class) led to coup d'etats and regime changes in many ME countries.
Social media perhaps hastens the day, ie quickens the rate at which events develop, but that is true for everything today.
But in terms of getting people out into the streets, I don't think social media has that much of an impact,
One could say that organized and mass resistance to oppression has had a history stretching over millenia, PW

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Lively discussion this week in my graduate Women and Health class, on Radical Feminism theory. From Amber, who critiques the theory of Radical Feminism suggesting that "violence [by women US soldier at Abu Graib) is indicative of sexual domination of the vulnerable, rather than gender warfare between men and women."
Focusing on gender only doesn't include unequal distributions of power. For example, a wealthy upper class woman has more power than a poor working class man. This idea comes under Identity Politics (in the RF lecture), and is echoed by Jeremy who wrote:
“However, what radical feminism does not appropriately take into account is the impact that racial and class identity has in society. For instance, an upper class white woman living in a suburban household in the United States may not easily relate to the gender problems that a poor Nigerian woman faces.”

Jeremy also wrote
“To be honest, I was disappointed that it was only the Abu Ghraib incident that was used to explain the female abuse over men. Not that this was not an appropriate case, but like you mentioned I thought it was a small cross section to examine. I really expected more and I thought that the "decoy" argument was weak. Instead, I would point to Amin Mallouf's book, "In the Name of Identity," for a better suggestion for female violence toward men. Instead of saying that women in power humiliate men by putting them through the same abuse that women are subjected to is not simply an example of "gender decoy," but more so the fact that all individuals hold multiple identities. Maalouf argues that people choose their primary identity as the identity that is most likely under attack. The small sample of women at Abu Ghraib are also educated Americans who saw themselves as superior and more human then the Middle Eastern men that were now under their control. I would argue that these women did not hold gender at the same level of identity as the men did and the women mocked it. Nevertheless, I think there are too many variables in the Abu Ghraib case when attempting to explain behavior.”

Identity politics describes Mallouf’s point. This was from the lecture this week “EACH WOMAN IS SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED DIFFERENTLY, BECAUSE OF A MULTIPLICITY OF IDENTITIES (GENDER, SEXUALITY, CLASS, ETHNICITY, NATIONALITY)” (Winkler, 2011, p. 1).
RF is an over-arching theory that doesn’t allow for a contextualized analysis. As Brandon wrote ‘I agree with your idea that a total change will not be successful without taking into consideration race, economics, and class.’
By the way, including Abu Graib in the readings wasn't meant to be a sweeping statement about the US military's approach to torture, but an intriguing and unique case which appears to counter the RF philosophy. But, I worry that the small number of soldiers who were imprisoned for Abu Graib torture, were scapegoated unfairly. There was a permissive atmosphere in the era immediately after 9/11, where rules regarding torture were relaxed. The US under the Bush Administration condoned renditions, and the use of certain types of torture. Today, the Obama Administration continues renditions, which is when prisoners are flown to countries that use unlimited forms of torture. See this:

The UK sent prisoners to be tortured by Ghaddafi’s security services in Libya…this was revealed after the rebels took over Libya.

Betul also critiques RF, pointing out that violence is committed by women against women, such as FMG. In the UK, there are continuous newspaper reports about Indian fathers and mothers who kill their daughters for falling in love with someone outside their faith. In India, for every 1000 boys, there are at least about 60-70 girls under the age of 6 years who were killed before or within 6 years after birth.
The mothers are often involved in the murders. This is explained through the idea of ‘internalized oppression.” Here is how the concept is explained from a psychological viewpoint:
We know that every hurt or mistreatment, if not discharged (healed), will create a distress pattern (some form of rigid, destructive, or ineffective feeling and behavior) in the victim of this mistreatment. This distress pattern, when restimulated, will tend to push the victim through a re-enactment of the original distress experience either with someone else in the victim role or, when this is not possible, with the original victim being the object of her/his distress pattern.


I like the term ‘internalized censorship”. This explains why a mother would kill or mistreat her daughter, by the fact that social messages are internalized such that they bypass all human instincts of compassion, and even, basic mothering instincts.
Or, this phenomena could be explained by the fact that the mothers themselves could be victims if they did not kill their own daughters. In which case, they have chosen their own lives over those of their daughters…somehow, for me, a less likely explanation.
Betul then writes “The main difference is that women as a whole are more compassionate and less likely to commit atrocities such as torture, terrorism, and genocide that patriarchal societies have carried out in previous decades.” Most feminists believe that a kinder society results from a full participation by women at all levels. It is believed that individual women in a male-centric environment would have no choice but to adopt its dominant values.
Finally, Bridgett makes a great point, which is also a critique of RF “Violence against men is also an important topic that must not be overlooked”.
RF theory has not proved to be sustainable, by many students. But most did not comment on the amazing Umoja, the village where men are forbidden, in which a temporary woman-only solution seems to be working.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Readers of my book based on my PhD thesis (SANCTIONS ON IRAQ: FEMINIST ACTIVISM VS.PATRIARCHAL POLICY 1990-2003: A political-psychological analysis, 2010) will recall its principal thesis: that male elites suffer from cognitive dissonance. This is a form of psychosis identified by the organizational management consultant Chris Argyris. Essentially, it says that those in power adhere publicly to a set of morals but in practice, violate them. It's something we all do to an extent. For example, I might say I believe that animals should be not be killed inhumanely, but in practice, I don't change my eating habits.
So it was interesting to read of a study wherein it was found that one in 25 bosses 'is a psychopath' but hides it with charm and business-speak. This is from a Daily Mail article, by Duncan MacPherson, that appeared September 2, 2011.

"New York psychologist Paul Babiak has discovered how many psychopaths had infiltrated major firms.

'We have identified individuals that might be labelled "the successful psychopath".

'Part of the problem is that the very things we're looking for in our leaders, the psychopath can easily mimic.

'Their natural tendency is to be charming. Take that charm and couch it in the right business language and it sounds like charismatic leadership.'

Dr Babiak designed a 111-point questionnaire with the University of British Columbia's Prof Bob Hare - the world's pre-eminent expert in psychopathy and a regular adviser to the FBI - to determine how many industry bosses were psychopaths.

They found that nearly four per cent of bosses fitted the profile, compared with one per cent among the general population.
Workplace bosses, who are four times more likely to be psychopathic than the general population, climb the career ladder by charming their superiors

Workplace bosses, who are four times more likely to be psychopathic than the general population, climb the career ladder by charming their superiors

Dr Babiak said: 'These were all individuals who were at the top of an organisation - vice-presidents, directors, CEOs - so it was actually quite a shock.'

The results revealed that psychopaths were actually poor managerial performers but were adept at climbing the corporate ladder because they could cover up their weaknesses by subtly charming superiors and subordinates.

This, said Dr Babiak, makes it almost impossible to distinguish between a genuinely talented team leader and a psychopath."

Read more:

Monday, August 1, 2011


The US military is the most powerful in the world, which gives it a hegemonic position. However, US is the world's largest debtor nation. This won't matter much (despite what the politicians say) if the debts aren't called in. A surprising array of countries could call in their Treasury Bonds, including a number of Less Developed Countries such as the Philippines, Brazil and Mexico. Third largest US Bond holder is a conglomeration of 'oil exporters' ( Oil exporters include Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar,Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Gabon, Libya, and Nigeria.)
See this list:

Adrienne Reid (student, INTL 5400, Summer 2011) wondered why Greece's national sovereignty is at risk due to its debt, but not the US'. She writes that Greece has no competitive advantage. But the US has: its vast military expenditure, financed by taxpayers. She writes:

'The other major difference that distinguishes the U.S. from Greece, is that US debt is denominated by its own currency, over which it has sovereign control...The government holds within its ability to create money at will, to cover debt...When Greece replaced it national currency with the euro, the basis of its economic sovereignty was forfeited.'

I suppose the Federal Reserve, which is not a government institution, could deny the US government a request to print money. And, possibly, the US could one day face a fire sale.

In June 2011, Greece put €50bn of national assets on sale in hotel ballroom but private equity firms were not interested. But China, Japan etc will be very interested in any nationally owned US real estate up for sale. US national sovereignty will be also impaired by massive budget cutbacks curtailing military spending.

Feminist International Relations theorists sum up the changing balance of power of states, as a non issue. The King is dead, long live the King. In other words, a new type of hegemony composed of mainly male elites, will emerge. How enlightened it will be, remains to be seen.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


I've always found in hard to research petrodollars...they are immured in secrecy. Last week, I received a paper from student Justin Alpert, that cleared up some of the history connected with this elusive albeit crucial form of currency. Here are some excerpts from Justin's paper:

The term “petrodollar” means quite simply a dollar that has been traded for oil. The “petrodollar standard” refers to the US dollar’s historical role as the currency of choice for virtually all oil producing nations around the world.No official deal to promote the petrodollar standard is known to have ever been formalized with the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries as a whole...The protection of the US military and favored access to US markets were the basic conditions offered by Washington to OPEC in return for their pledge to only accept US dollars in return for oil shipments. Larger OPEC nations like Iran (then ruled by the pro-western Shah of Iran) and Saudi Arabia were happy to oblige and the dollar became the only currency they would accept. Smaller producer states followed the lead of the larger producer states and the value of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency was saved from free fall. The added benefit of locking out the Soviets and their allies to OPEC oil reserves was also considered an important consequence of the agreement. (Gokay 2005)

In 1972, President Nixon sought to quell the possibility of a run on US gold reserves by removing the gold standard from the dollar completely. Shortly after the US floated its currency on the market, other developed nations followed suit leaving “EXCHANGE RATES TO BE GOVERNED BY RULES OF GOOD CONDUCT to STANDARDIZE CURRENCY EXCHANGE” per the IPE glossary. (Gokay 2005) While this prevented a loss to US gold reserves, it angered OPEC oil producers who were unhappy that the so many of their holdings had just been devalued. Already angry about the US rearming of Israel after the six day war, they demanded that oil be priced in relation to gold and implemented an embargo in protest.

While the resulting embargo crippled the world oil supply, the situation also presented both the US and OPEC with an opportunity. (Clark 2005) Rather than risk losing monetary credibility by creating “fiat” currency, a formal agreement was brokered between the US and Saudi Arabia (this was known as the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Joint Economic Commission and reputedly brokered by Henry Kissinger) at the end of the 1973 OPEC Oil Crisis that would give the US dollar a vital new role in the world economy and would prevent its collapse. (Gokay 2005) However, the rise of globalization, the current US deficit crisis, and the loss of the USSR and the bipolar hegemonic system turned what once was a very useful system to the US into an economic albatross. [It should be noted that Iran has opened its own oil bourse, PW, Ed]. As our IPE glossary (obtainable by emailing points out, “LIBERALIZATION PROGRAMS HAVE SPREAD WITH GLOBALIZATION.” This principal gave rise to the euro, which is now the chief competitor to the US petrodollar as the world’s favored petro-currency. This has created unfavorable complications for the US as oil producers and consumers no longer need to sustain American debt to procure this vital commodity. However, even oil producing nations not aligned with the cartel tend to follow the petrodollar standard, e.g. Brazil, Mexico, Post-Soviet Russia, and the US of course(Johnson 2008)...

The question at hand is whether the US can sustain the petrodollar standard in a liberalized economic climate and if so, would it be worth it to anyone else? To put it another way, the question in the 1970’s was how many barrels of oil could a dollar buy? Today, the question is rapidly becoming how many dollars can a barrel of oil buy?

Clark, William R. Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society, 2005

Gokay, Bulent. "The Beginning of the End of the Petrodollar: What Connects Iraq to Iran." Alternatives - Turkish Journal of International Relations Winter 4.4 (2005). Print.

Update April 20 2013. This really brilliant essay by Justin is further substantiated by the rise of the PetroYuan. Both Russia and Iran are trading oil for Yuan. Other countries are sure to follow. China is building up its blue water fleet to ensure protection of its sea lanes against Obama's Pacific military build up in the Pacific  (the so called Asia Pivot).
Update April 3 2015    A year later, and we may be sighting the end of the petrodollar.  In 2014, Russian President Putin announced a gas deal with China The 30-year deal states that every year, the Russians will deliver 1.3 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas to China.  It is  safe bet that income and expenses will not be in petrodollars.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Updated 7/17/2011

Have you heard of the saying...'first they came for the Jews, then the Catholics, then the gays...and finally they came for me?"

No longer are SALs confined to lesser developed countries. Today, after the 2007-8 economic crisis, we are seeing quite advanced countries such as Iceland, Greece and Ireland, in line for the same treatment: loans with conditions.

See this from the IMF:

IMF Approves €30 Bln Loan for Greece on Fast Track

May 9, 2010

IMF and EU loans come with conditions: the cutting of social benefits to Greeks. We are witnessing vast protests in Athens this week due to this type of austerity measure. See this:

At this point, you might be interested in this:

Say you have a mortgage, but you have fallen into financial difficulties. Your house then defaults back to the bank. This is, in a nutshell, how banks acquire physical assets. On the international stage, banks and countries that loan, can acquire physical assets if loans aren't paid back. In the future, I expect to see large chunks of US real estate being acquired by China and other countries which are in a more stable financial situation.

Greece's debt was at 127% of its GNP when it decided to take out more loans. The US' debt is at roughly 90% of its GNP. The so-called solutions are a) to pile on more debt to pay for the interest on the old debt; b) 'austerity' measures for the masses; and c) buying up the debtor country's physical assets.

I liked how Robert explained the blame game, as countries fail to repay their debt:

'It's remarkable that IOs like the IMF and WorldBank continue to champion SAPs as the vehicles for economic growth, given the obvious failures since the 1980s. Ha-Joon Chang's summarized the typical attitude of the IMF/WorldBank in his lecture. He talked about how, when SAPs were producing bad results early on, people kept saying, "we just need more time." Over time, when the programs still failed to produce positive results, they said its because countries did not abide by recommendations. Then, if a country did follow the recipe but the policies were unsuccessful, IMF/WorldBank folks would say the country's government was corrupt, that their culture is incompatible with the programs, or that the country suffered from bad geography. How long does it take before someone can step back and admit that the policies might just be wrong?'
How did LDCs get into this position in the first place? The causes can be traced back to European colonization of pre capitalist countries from the 15th century to the 19th century. The colonization disrupted and virtually ended, pre-capitalist economies which were largely based on subsistence agriculture. A capitalist economic model was imposed on these militarily weaker societies by the French, British, Germans, Japanese. These countries then became the resource basket for the wealthy. For example, Congo's agricultural crops were decimated to make way for the rubber industry.

Independence came after WWII, but it could be called an imperfect de-colonization. So while LDCs achieved a formal separation from imperialist powers, financial structures were set up to retain their dependency.

That's how the core dependency theory explains the situation. A class analysis does a better job to explain why the working masses will bear the brunt of a state's debt, whether it's a LDC or a powerful state like the US.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Technological Innovation and Capitalism

This week in INTL 5400, you discussed the differences between comparative and competitive advantage. Briefly, comparative advantage belongs to the liberalism school of thought. It promotes free trade, product specialization and cheap prices. Competitive advantage belongs to the realist school of thought, which promotes protectionism and government intervention that increases national security. As some of you noted, Japan’s economy reflects aspects of both theories. Most countries tend to blend aspects of both theories.

Both theories operate within the paradigm of capitalism, which promotes the private acquisition of capital, mass production and consumption, and intense use of technology. This is the modernist approach.

By now, you’ve understood that ‘political economy’ is the study of the political distribution of power as expressed through the economy. This has raised philosophical issues about who controls what resource, and who benefits from that control. In fact, there is a bachelor’s degree in the UK called Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE).

The question has become, in this day and age of protests against food prices and unemployment, is capitalism the most efficacious way of a) distributing resources, and b) promoting advancements in technology that improve our quality of life?

In Week 7, you will be studying these protests and how they are linked to economies that rely on food imports. In Week 8, we will look at the issue of global water.

Technological innovations are usually believed to be an outcome of capitalism. The idea is to produce advanced machines that lower labor costs, make cheaper widgets which then sell on a massive scale.

Historically we know that other economic models spur innovation. For example:the Romans focused on engineering, the Islamic Renaissance from 900 to 1200 CE, gave us much of our modern medicine and mathematics. The European Middle Ages spurred advancements in building construction.

Technological innovations also arise from:
1) Creativity combined with altruism. For example, the alternative energy industry in the US has been innovating for decades, but with very little promise of profit. It has to contend with the power of the oil lobbies, and lack of US government support. We will learn in Wk 5 that China’s government is financing research and development in this field.
2) Necessity is the Mother of Invention. Here we can look at prehistory: the success of agriculture is largely due to inventions by what have been mis-named ‘primitive’ societies.
3) Military Matters. Here is where you see protectionism at work. Most governments pour money into military research and development, which have benefits for civilian society. For example: the Internet. Marilyn Waring, as you know, critiques the ‘benefits’of weapons.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011



First of all, what are global population rates? Scary stories abound...usually headlined The Population Bomb. We are overpopulating the planet, apparently. But is that true?

A hidden revolution is going on around the world, and it's down to women being educated and controlling how many children they have. UN statistics say that the average woman today has 2.5 children. In Iran it's about 1.8. In India, it's 2.8. In Brazil it's 2.2. Also, see this:

The global population could very well go into reverse by the middle of the 21st century. That means, a glut of older people and not enough young people.

The UN Population Division in 2002, predicted a population decline, and many countries are not replacing their populations. See:

It remains to be seen if poverty will be reduced along with the global population, as it is currently believed.

What we do know is that there is over consumption by advanced countries.

“The richest 20 percent of humanity consumes 86% of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth consumes just 1.3 percent.” (Shah, Global Issues, 2011).

“The population of the U.S. tripled during the 20th century, but the U.S. consumption of raw materials increased 17-fold”.1 (Factoids, 2011).

Today we are in a period called ‘neo-colonialism” which refers to the institutional ways that the rich nations impose unequal economic relations on the former colonies. This is done through loans by rich countries that impose conditions that aren’t healthy for poor populations. These conditions (called STRUCTURAL ADJUSTMENT PROGRAMS or SAPs) often include the privatization of state services such as health and education, which puts them out of the reach of the poor. SAPS introduce cheap goods that undercut local production, or insist on cash crops like coffee for Western markets, rather than food stuffs to feed the population.

Western governments fail to offset over-consumption by Western nations.

Let's look at a case study: Niger.

The current population of Niger is 16,468,886 with a population growth rate of 3.643%. (CIA Fact book) The estimated life expectancy for the total population is 53.4 years with 14.11 deaths/1,000.(CIA Fact book)

Here is my question: Is a growth rate of 3.6 percent so terrible that it justifies the very high mortality rate and the extreme poverty of Niger? It's actually very similar (3.28) to the rate of the population growth of United Arab Emirates, which isn't known for its high poverty levels, and people can expect to live to 76 years of age, in the UAE.

See these statistics about population growth rates globally:®ionCode=eas&rank=215#ja

My personal belief is that a woman and her partner, should both make decisions about reproduction. Clearly, there is a reason to restrict multiple and frequent births, given the impact on women’s health, but this needs to be balanced by a study of resource availability on a global scale. Before Malthusian type policies are enacted, it would be best to that advanced countries start consuming at a more sustainable rate.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


This week, I’ve come across a report that makes these basic points about the global sex trafficking trade: “The culture, particular mass media, is playing a large role in normalizing prostitution by portraying prostitution as glamorous or a way to quickly make a lot of money" (Hughes, Donna M, "The Demand: Where Sex Trafficking Begins",2004.)

My comment: Films like PRETTY WOMAN come to mind. Many US-made films propagate the myth of the ‘happy prostitute’. The Western media in general objectifies women’s sexuality to sell commodities to men, such as cars. Therefore we should not just blame the culture in ‘backward’ countries but also the mass media in Western countries.

The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence in the US ( estimates there are between 100,000 and 150,000 under-aged sex workers in the US who generate billions of dollars in revenue for their pimps. The US is also a destination country to which prostitutes around the world, are sent to work.

Hughes' report focuses on ‘destination countries’: ‘In destination countries, strategies are devised to protect the sex industries that generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year for the state where prostitution is legal, or for organized crime groups and corrupt officials where the sex industry is illegal.” “I believe that only by going to the root causes, which are corruption and the demand in destination countries, will we end the trafficking of women and children.”

The full report is accessed at


The most common destinations for victims of human trafficking are Thailand, Japan, Israel, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the US (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “UNODC launches Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking”, 2007).

Note that the majority of these countries are supposedly the ‘advanced’ nations. What does that say about their culture? From WIKIPEDIA (see source): “Of the 45,000 to 50,000 that are brought to the U.S., 30,000 come from Asia, 10,000 from Latin America and 5,000 from other regions e.g., the former Soviet Union. The primary Asian source countries to the U.S. are China, Thailand and Vietnam. Although trafficking into the U.S. and Europe has gained a lot of attention in recent years, anti-trafficking advocates in Asia have been addressing these issues on the continent for decades (FIROZA CHIC DABBY, TRAFFICKING: CONSIDERATIONS & RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BATTERED WOMEN’S ADVOCATES, Revised September 2008,

The major sources of trafficked persons include Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine ("The Emancipation Network". Retrieved 2011-03-22.)

My solutions?

1. ERADICATE POVERTY WORLDWIDE. Only the fair distribution of wealth globally, will fund education, health and other social services for women. I know you've heard this before, but it bears repeating.



MY THEORIES? SOCIALIST FEMINISM explains the underside of poverty, and how women are particularly affected. RADICAL FEMINISM explains the global nature of patriarchy, the rule of male elites over women and subordinated men. COMMENTS WELCOMED.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


I better declare my bias. I am a naturalized American, and was raised in the world’s first national health care system, in the United Kingdom. My father was a pioneering doctor in this system which was established right after World War II. Rather than practice as a private doctor, and make pots of money, my father cared for four generations of poor families in one of London’s working class districts, and was paid as a civil servant. Here in the US, I call myself part of the ‘intellectual working class’ because I don’t have job security, employee health insurance or retirement benefits. Recently I broke my arm which meant an out of pocket cost of $5000 because I could only afford the least expensive insurance rate. I can’t afford to replace two missing ‘smile’ teeth (not a good look!) So, this is a topic dear to my heart.
Carolyn wrote “Across the United States, women are forced to forego both preventative and urgent medical and dental care due to economic considerations. “Uninsured women account for 20% of the population of women ages 18 to 64”,(Women's Health2, 2010)
It was good to hear from our military colleagues that they are receiving comprehensive health care.
Sometimes I wonder if we as Americans are being asked to choose between the world’s largest military or universal health care and education.
A student wrote
‘It is more difficult to sustain healthcare coverage in a federal system where states legislation can differ and difference of level of states’ income is so wide
Military taxes are raised federally. It makes sense when you consider that a nation has to pay for its defense, as one entity within physical borders. But, as Carolyn wrote ‘A nation's health underpins its ability to remain competitive in the global sociopolitical arena.’ So, shouldn’t health costs be raised federally too? Medicare is a federal expense.
This raises the issue of how one defines ‘national security’. Should it be about war- preparedness and fighting, or should it also be about ensuring that the population is relatively healthy?

Friday, April 1, 2011


A student wrote “The United States has been a beacon to the world on how economic freedom brings more wealth, prosperity, and opportunity to its people. “
Supporting that contention, the UN Human Index Development report for 2010 indicates that the US is rated fourth highest in development among approx. 190 countries in the ratings when averages are taken. See:
However, when categories are broken down, another picture appears. For example:
U.S. is ranked 30th (out of approx. 190 countries) in global infant mortality (deaths of children under age 5). Infant mortality rates are used to ascertain wellbeing and prosperity of a population. Source:
Given that the US’ GNP is one of the highest in the world, this indicates a pyramid structure of wealth which flattens out when you take averages.
In terms of poverty levels by race, the US Census Bureau in 2008 came up with the following:
Table 714 shows that Hispanics and African Americans have higher poverty levels than Whites, with such estimates staying steady over the last 30 years.
Approximately 43.6 (14.3%) million Americans were living in poverty in 2009, up from 39.8 million (13.2%) in 2008 ( "Poverty rate hits 15-year high",Reuters. September 17, 2010).
In terms of the distribution of income, the US ranks one of the lowest in the advanced industrialized countries. The CIA reports that the US ranks 45th in 2008 (dropping from 40th in 1997). Source: For comparison, income distribution in Rwanda was 46.8 in 2000. Indonesia was 37th in 2009. Denmark was ranked 29th in 2007.
Today, according to one 2007 estimate, the richest 1 percent in the US account for 24 percent of the nation's income (
This indicates an elite in operation. I think you see this best in Congress. There are no less than 261 millionaires in Congress, that’s about half. See this:

Ratings, data compilation and statistics can be tricky. Sometimes, sources contradict one another. According to the CIA Factbook, the US enjoys 99 percent literacy:
United States
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99% (2003 est.)

But contradicting this, the NAAL (National Assessment of Adult Literacy) administered tests which revealed in 2008 that an estimated 14% of US residents would have extreme difficulty with reading and written comprehension ( It’s not clear whether which of those tested were born in a country other than the US.

To overcome this type of discrepancy, students, academics and statisticians look for a range of estimates.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


by Katie Curran

Ms Curran is in Haiti to train young film-makers.

I wanted to say hi and also let you know more about the situation here in Haiti, at least from my perspective. It’s pretty bad. Actually, it’s horrific, in many ways. I am very grateful to be able to focus on working with the kids here (I call them kids but most are in their 20s) five days a week – they’re fun, smart, very talented, and I hope they can really push for independent media here, which I think is of utmost importance, for Haitians and the world.

The conditions are probably worse than you can imagine, for the majority of Haitians. It was ranked as the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere before the earthquake, and conditions have only worsened. 1,300,000 people were left “homeless” after the earthquake (I put that in quotes, because the shacks so many were living in qualified as homes) and there are still 1,050,000 homeless. They are in camps all over Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas (many neighborhoods have more tents than other buildings). There are a few that are bearable (like the one that is across the street from me), but a recent human rights survey I read described the conditions as close to unlivable (and from what I’ve seen, I agree).

The sanitation is one of the worst problems – though many organizations (over 10,000 NGOs in Haiti) have tried to implement compost toilets, the efforts only scratch the surface. Toilets are overflowing to the point where people are shitting in plastic bags and with no trash services, the bags are just thrown in ravines. The water situation is obviously so bad that it led to cholera. Sanitation conditions of the entire city are absolutely deplorable. Streets are covered with trash and just flow with the water when it rains. Every single ravine is clogged with trash.

The cost of living here is higher than the U.S. People averaging a dollar a day face tuna fish packages that are $4(maybe $2 in the U.S.), $8 orange juice ($4 in the U.S.), $5 for a box of $2 American cereal. A room for rent in a clean house is about $500 a month. I have NO idea how people are surviving.

The political situation is tenuous, to say the least. Protests are a regular occurrence, but they haven’t been very big lately. As you probably know, the president responsible for mass murders and torture has returned, and I didn’t find out until today that I was actually at the same event as him last night (more on that later). The state hasn’t filed any charges against him, though a few individuals have. Though Duvalier/Baby Doc was a relentless dictator, poverty is actually worse now then when he was in office, and many people are supporting him because anything seems better than what they have now – especially the younger ones that didn’t live through his reign. Aristide is supposed to come back, but I’ve heard various rumors as to whether he will, all surrounding stupid bureaucracy about his passport. Lavalas (his party) has been holding press conferences (I live in the same house as the other Haiti Reporter teachers and with other independent journalists who have been reporting on the press conferences). I’ve received very different opinions on Aristide (from rational people that have lived here a long time). The kids, except for a few, are not super interested in politics and I don’t blame them – people say that the country was just broken when Aristide came back(the second time) and spoke nothing of the economic justice he promised, as he had before the US supported coup that ousted him (as the first democratically elected president of Haiti). The kids, in general, like reporting on Haitian culture, the people who have stayed strong against the odds, and the good parts of Haiti, which I totally understand and support. (By the way, I’m writing mostly about the negative stuff because it is so overpowering, but I don’t mean to leave out the amazing things – like the incredible artistic talent, the inner strength and courage and the kindness of so many Haitians – this is, after all, the first slave rebellion that overthrew slavery and colonization). But the kids typically don’t lean towards overtly political stories (their stories, by the way, have been great so far – I’ve been blown away by what they’ve accomplished in 2 months). I think many of them see “politics” not as something that can be of regular people coming together to take control of their own lives, but as the rich, consistently corrupt men that stay at fancy hotels and take power through illegitimate elections (of which they recently had and is still being disputed) and are supported by various members of the military, state police, UN and “paramilitaries” (sometimes referred to as street gangs). Everyone, for the most part, hates the UN and police – the UN is constantly rolling around in their tanks and trucks with machine guns, often pointed directly at people, and the state police are also everywhere. The country is pretty much occupied by the UN soldiers who seem free from any state or international oversight (constantly using live ammunition at protests, etc.).

I have had some interesting insights as a foreigner, ones that I didn’t have last time I came (late spring of 2009).One of the journalists staying here has a lot of connections in the NGO and journalist world, most of which I’ve found to be pretty disgusting. A few of us went to a party at a big house of an NGO in the richest neighborhood of Port au Prince. The (terrifying) motor ride we took to get there drove us by thousands of tents, and once inside the gate EVERYONE was white (except for security) and all dressed up like they were in New York and EVERYONE worked for an NGO or media conglomerate. Then, last night, a few of us went to a“jazz festival”. I was told today that Duvalier was among the guests that included, again, all the NGO people (they all know each other), journalists and ambassadors of all the first-world countries – US, Canada, Spain, etc. It was a group of people that under any other circumstance I would be protesting their political and economic castrations, rather than mingling with them. It was disgusting. When I say NGO, I include not only people from all the different aide organizations (many of whom are paid outrageous salaries to be here) but the World Bank and Organization of American States. I met a guy last night that worked for the OAS in finance, and I said something like, “you all have got to change your economic approach -- capitalism has obviously not worked and its starving people and making everything worse”. And he said, “I totally agree. If you want to see capitalism at it’s best, come to Haiti”. I was quite amazed that he admitted that.

I have never been in a place of such economic disparity. (There are mansions here bigger than the ones on Long Island.)

One of the problems with Haiti is that organizations have either purposefully sidestepped the Haitian state with the good intentions (as obviously the state has not been trustworthy with its funds) or bypassed it out of their own interest. The results are completely disorganized and in-cohesive attempts to improve Haitian living conditions by organizations of every type working independently of each other (resembling hundreds of people trying to stop a gigantic surge of water with small and misshapen plugs) and with no coordination, and economic interests run wild (often
under the auspice of an NGO title). Some of the organizations have done a lot of good, and maybe the situation would be much worse without them, but the lack of coordination and community is a lot of wasted resources at best and contributing to the problems at worst.

The bottom line is that the underlying, root causes are not being addressed and a lack of political structure holds nothing together – I would label the biggest problems as neo-liberal capitalism/globalization, international political destabilization (to support capitalism run riot)and a lack of democracy. I’m pretty convinced that the best use of money/donations is investing in community, grassroots organizations working for political empowerment,education and economic justice, even though it’s tempting to just give money to anybody, anywhere, as that might buy them a meal. Until the political system changes, not much of anything else will change.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Freedom and Capitalism

How free is the worker in capitalism? A student wrote “ The corporate domain is not the only area in which a laborer lives; the laborer leaves the workplace and may do as he or she pleases.”

True, although as some other students point out, in times of recession the worker is reluctant to walk out on a job. Karl Marx, in Das Capital,(1867) makes the point that capitalism is predicated, among other factors, on the freedom of the worker to sell his labor power. Marx says this is why capitalism could not exist in antiquity (slavery) or the Middle Ages (feudalism).

Why does he say that? In Chapter Six, he makes the following points:

1. Labor power is a commodity because it has use value and exchange value.

2. The worker must sell his labor power which he owns as a free person, to the capitalist. The worker’s labor power is the worker’s private property

. 3. The worker sells his labor power because he does not own the means of production and therefore cannot go into business himself.

4. The worker is not however free to sell the commodities that his labor power has produced

In Chapter 7, Marx makes the following points:

1. All value comes from the laboring process. In other words, trees are value-less until they are handled by laborers to have use-value (for example, a table) and exchange value (the selling price of the table in the market place).

2. The capitalist pays the laborer enough for him to subsist or survive (enough for food, clothing, shelter etc). Marx gives the example of a worker paid 3 shillings for six hours work.

3. For the capitalist to make a profit, the worker must work 12 hours at 3 shillings - six hours of which are free to the capitalist. This is why workers’ struggles revolve around hours in a working day.

Paula wrote" However, it is the right of workers, as human beings to enjoy certain alienable privileges that are also protected in collectively such as those explained by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "ARTICLE 4. NO ONE SHALL BE HELD IN SLAVERY OR SERVITUDE; SLAVERY AND THE SLAVE TRADE SHALL BE PROHIBITED IN ALL THEIR FORMS. "

My comment: There is no doubt that capitalism arose at the same time as human rights ideologies, around the 17th century in Europe. Marx believed it’s important to distinguish workers in capitalism from slaves, although the expression ‘wage slaves’ exists. There are other articles in the UDHR and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which the US has ratified) that declare the right to bargain collectively.

Slaves don’t receive wages, therefore they cannot be consumers.

Consumerism is a critical function of capitalism. You need people to buy items so they can be sold at a profit. One of the causes of the US Civil War in the 19th Century was that industrialists in the North needed free labor power for industrialization profit making.

Marx makes a critical point. He says that since value comes ONLY from human labor, it must be manipulated in such as way as to create profit. Some might say, isn’t profit created by setting prices? This is my comment: If prices are raised beyond the value that labor has created, the price of the workers’ subsistence will also have to be raised. The only way to realize profit is to add hours to the working day, beyond how much it cost for the workers to subsist and return to work every day. This, again, explains the fight over the working day. The capitalist wants to add more unpaid workers’ hours beyond what it cost to keep the workers ‘alive.


Monday, February 7, 2011

What is Global Governance?

There was an explosion of all kinds of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) after the end of the Cold War. Academically during the 1990s, this explosion was understood from the perspective of a new concept: global governance. Let’s unpack what that discussion has been about:

Global Governance and NGOs: Opposing viewpoints

1) Global governance is a mainstream notion developed during the 1990s. It was a response to globalization, which became truly global after the end of the Cold War. The idea is that transnational actors such as international institutions and NGOs, are called on to provide solutions to transnational problems that are global: refugees, the environment, immigration, wars. Global governance implied that the ‘free market’ solution wasn’t working, and another authority had to supply coordination, cooperation, management and altruistic projects that the ‘free market’ couldn’t offer. Academics also believed that terrorism was and popular uprisings were the result of poorly managed economies and poverty. NGOs, it was believed, would step in and start up employment and reduce poverty. I participated in many academic debates on ‘global governance’ during the mid-1990s. This debate has died down somewhat in academia, because high hopes for GG and NGO participation globally, have not been realized.

2) Conservative investigative sites were the first the sound the alarm re: the new concept of global governance. Reporters like Alex Jones said it was nice-sounding term for a behemoth, un-elected, dictatorial ‘one world government’ under the auspices of the United Nations. In this view, NGOs are the well meaning puppets of this ‘one world government’. The puppet masters are considered to be the most elite bankers and multinational corporate leaders, who want stability to ensure good conditions for profit making. I think this view has a lot of validity if we look at it from the point of view of ‘elite theory’ (that a small elite is managing our lives and want to centralize power in fewer and fewer hands). MY CRITIQUE. Conservatives like Alex Jones want to eliminate as much government intervention as possible. I believe that the only a shift of wealth from the rich to the poor, under the management of the state, can effectively make change for the better.

3) On the other hand, left wing thinkers called the proliferation of NGOs ‘the rise of civic society’. The idea was that NGOS, whether under the auspices of the UN or a state, were the spokespeople for the masses, whose voices were going unheard at the state international level. NGOs provided the framework at the UN and other interstate institutions to voice popular concerns and to raise human rights issues. This view also has some validity. I have been a NGO delegate at the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1994,1996 and 1999. I myself have initiated resolutions and surfaced human rights issues that otherwise would have gone ignored (the humanitarian impacts of UN sanctions, for example). My book in 2004, describes my experiences. I saw firsthand the hard ‘human rights’ football that states play. It goes like this: I won’t raise your human rights issues, if you don’t raise mine. So for example, Russia was afraid that the US would accuse them of human rights violations in Chechnya, so didn’t want to raise US violations of Iraqi human rights during the UN sanctions period in Iraq, 1990-2003. But ultimately, I found human rights NGO efforts were productive. MY CRITIQUE: NGOs aren’t elected, and should not take the place of genuine democratic institutions. If funded by a party to a conflict, they cannot be considered neutral.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011



The battle over the spread of global corporate control in the last two decades is ongoing. The 2008 global economic crisis seems to ‘prove’ that the bankers and corporate leaders are headed in the wrong direction: millions of unemployed, widespread pollution, and the sort of protests we saw in early 2011, in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia.
The authors critique comparative advantage theory. “Under comparative advantage concepts, the viability of economic systems depends entirely upon whether the importing community can pay for its imports with the earned income of its exports…in practice, this neat formula rarely works. Export markets are variable, volatile, and unreliable. More than one nation is now facing a hunger crisis caused by the failure of comparative advantage theories, as export prices crash” (p 162).
What are some alternatives? Cavanagh and Mander suggest that natural resources belong to all us and to future generations, and should go under the heading of the ‘commons’.
The commons, the authors say, include earthly resources, the oceans, outer space, the moon, asteroids, as well as cultural resources, electronic broadcast waves, the internet, and the genes of human beings, animals and plants. All of this is being placed into private hands (unelected, for the most part).
These are the authors’ suggestions.
• Recognition of the Commons, as the heritage of everyone on earth
• Strengthen multilateral treaties such as the Kyoto Protocols. By the way, I don’t agree with the authors about global governance of the environment, because I am not sure how democratic this governance would be
• Install more public trust models to ensure ecological integrity. For example, wide swaths of wilderness in the US are kept by the state on behalf of the public.
• Implementing subsidiarity, which means favoring local production whenever a choice exists. Local commons should be the property of the local community. Includes protectionism of local domestic economies. For example, preventing a Walmart from undercutting local merchants, and encouraging small scale local organic agriculture and energy infrastructures.
• Ground capital and investment in the community. Profits made locally should remain local.
• Introduction of new taxes, such as the “Tobin Tax” on speculative financial transactions and ending corporate tax relief.
• Re-introduction of exchange controls, reregulation of banks and finance institutions. Increase capital gains tax and limit tax evasion tactics.

My view: This book is long on proposals for alternatives but these are never presented in great detail. Implicit in many of the proposals is advocacy for a form of political decentralization. But how does that work in real life? I felt that an imagined case study was needed. The authors could have imagined Anytown, USA, adopting the principles of the commons. Questions of how federal, state and local government might interact, could be answered hypothetically. The best part of the book describes successful alternative policies and systems already in use in communities around the world today.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


A 2010 Human Development Report by the UN states that overall, life expectancy around the globe has jumped to 70 years in 2010, up from 58 in 1970.

The Human Development Index (HDI) looks at both political and economic status as indicators of development. For example, it looks at gender equality.

The HD Report shows that , in some African countries, life expectancy decreased because of AIDs and wars. Life expectancy decreased in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine. The report blames alcoholism and the stress of shifting to a market economy in the former Soviet Union. Countries that improved the most since 1970 are: China, Oman, Nepal, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Laos, Tunisia, S Korea, Algeria and Morocco. A study of one or more of these countries would be useful. Is some form of strategic trade theory being applied, I wonder?

Developed nations still rank the highest HDI, although the US has gradually been shifting downwards. For example, the US is ranked 37th in gender equality (measured by number of women in Congress, maternal health, etc). 2010 HDI Report is here:

The Legatum Institute's Prosperity Index also doesn't measure prosperity by income or GDP alone. It also considers personal freedoms, safety/security,and entrepreneurship. It has ranked Egypt, scene of this month's uprising against a US-backed military dictatorship, as 89th out of 110 nations. Two countries in the Middle East are in the bottom 10: Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Around the world, millions are suffering. This is from the non profit site World Hunger:

* Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger. 75% of them are children.
* There is enough food to feed every person on earth, yet 17% of us are currently malnourished or starving.
* The problem affects people of every race and on every continent.
* 1,386 people died from Hurricane Katrina, yet 24,000 people die EACH DAY from starvation or malnutrition.
* Even in the richest country in the world, the United States, over 10 million people suffer from hunger.
* More people around the world are dying of starvation than any other time in history.
* Malnutrition, as measured by stunting of growth, affects 32.5 percent of children in developing countries