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Monthly Archives: February 2010
FAR FROM THE FRONT IN AFGHANISTAN
Berlin. Imagen if there would be a war and no one would stand up and protest against it!
“One has to wonder,” said one onlooker on Saturday to another, “Do you see over there a pair of pacifists on the square?” Actually, on the square are 1500 people. The man continued, “Seven from ten Germans oppose the war in Afghanistan, but when it comes to protesting it [these days], one sees only the same old banners.” There are only the same old folks showing their true colors.
Standing next to the protestor’s stage [on Saturday Feb. 20] was Peter Strutynski. He had just been up on that stage speaking, raging, and shouting. “What actually will continue to grow in Afghanistan in the near future are opium poppies, corruption, and prostitution, “ as the Speaker of the Bundestag Parliamentary Committee on Peace and Public Opinion had been reported to claim that day.
However, no one has patience any more in order to take time and listen to politicians. War and nothing but war will be waged by the German military in the Hindu Kush. This must be stopped.
There was scattered applause for Peter Strutynski. “It is claimed that the Peace Movement is exhausted,” he continued “One hears here and there that the Peace movement doesn’t have the energy to mobilize.” Some don’t have the strength to continue, etc.
“’The war is very very far away’ says one man. Another one then claims, ‘We currently are overwhelmed by the Economic Crisis here. One has to be directly affected to take to the streets these days.”
Meanwhile one man walks by carrying an impressively huge poster and by his demeanor one is reminded of the great anti-weapons and anti-war demonstrations of years gone-by, such as during the anti-Vietnam War or anti-Iraq war protests. There must be a reason as to why the great demonstrations have now disappeared once again from the streets of Germany.? Strutynski responds, “I know but I fight windmills even if it is foggy.”
What Strutynski does recognize is that the masses are missing now in terms of visible support. Of the five major parties in the Bundestag or German Parliament, only one—THE LEFT Party—had advocated protest against the continuing war build up from Germany’s military in Afghanistan. Shaking his head, he observed, “Even the Green Party have pulled out of the Anti-War [Peace] movement.”
To this [crises in the Peace Movement put in play by the Greens’ public silence], he adds, “The opposition SPD deserve a special medal for weakly capitulating [to the governing coalition on this issue.” For Strutynski, the Social Democratic party [SPD] Germany is disaster-of-the-week. First, Sigmar Gabriel had said that there would be NO MORE TROOPS for Afghanistan. Next, Frank Walter Steinmeier [last year’s SPD candidate for Chancellor] announced that the party would support that very same plan [opposed by others in his party]. “I just don’t get it, “ he said and indicated that the government would be getting opposition votes for the 2010 troop buildup.
Many of those who had already advocated strong protest day turnouts in Munich and Dresden [earlier in February] are also deeply frustrated. Nevertheless, these protestors will always recall the famous words of Eugen Drewermanns of church-critic-fame who had once shouted during his days as protest leader, “Thank you all for coming here and simply saying ‘NO’.”
The following is an urgent action appeal from my friends at (Burma)Buddhist Relief. it tells of an attack in Bengladesh on the Buddhist minority there.
Human Rights Abuse against Indigenous People in Bangladesh
An Urgent Appeal for Protection
On February 19-20, 2010, members of the Bangladesh army and illegal Bengali settlers
attacked fourteen villages of the indigenous Jumma people in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs) in Bangladesh. In these pre-planned attacks, at least 200 houses, seven shops, a UNDP-sponsored villagecenter, Buddhist temples, and a church were burned
to the ground.
After the settlers began torching the buildings, the army opened fire, killing at least six Jumma villagers and injuring at least twenty-five. Many others are missing.
To add insult to injury, six injured Jumma villagers who were admitted to Baghaichari hospital werearrested. The army claims that the attacks were actually
a clash between ethnic groups, that the soldiers firedonly blanks, and that the fires were set by the villagers themselves. All of these claims are patently false. Sixvillagers were killed, the villagers would not destroy their own homes, and no settlers were injured.
Because of the attacks, about 1,500 Jummas, whose houses were burned, are still taking refuge in the jungle. Since their food supplies were also destroyed, they are close to starvation, but no relief has been provided.
In order to prevent the truth from coming out, curfew has been imposed in the district. The Bangladesh army personnel have prevented journalists and human rights activists from visiting the affected areas. On February 20, two journalists from Bengali newspapers tried to enter the villages, but they were attacked by the illegal settlers, and one reporter’s motorcycle was burned.
These latest attacks are part of a drive by Bengalis, backed by the Bangladesh Army, to take over land owned by the indigenous Jumma people, which has been going on since 2005. The villagers have repeatedly lodged complaints, but nothing has
been done to stop the illegal settlers.
For a full report of the attacks, and the background of the struggle, please see the AsianHuman Rights Commission report “Bangladesh IPs Massacred for Land Grab” at
For more information, please contact Buddhist Relief Mission firstname.lastname@example.org
WHY ARE THE TOTAL FIGURES ON UNINSURED AMERICANS and Residents between 30 MILLION & 90 MILLION? CAN’T ANYONE COUNT??
This last week, President Obama asked the right questions but he used some questionable statistics. With lackluster, Obama told lackluster Republicans: “I’d like the Republicans to do a little soul searching and find out are there some things that you’d be willing to embrace that get to this core problem of 30 million people without health insurance and dealing seriously with the pre-existing condition issue.”
Just last year, the Obama White House had stated numerous times that there were 46 to 48 million (or 60% more than he noted last week) unemployed peoples in the USA who did not have health care. “The claim was made repeatedly in a report published by the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) on June 2 and again in an op-ed published the same day by Christina Romer, the chair of CEA.”
“The claim that there are 46 million uninsured ‘Americans’ has also been used by members of Congress and news organizations.” The White House noted that this figure included 10 million non-Americans who do not have health care at the time last Spring when many census figures were counted.
This shift from nearly 50 Million Unemployed in America to 30 Million in less than 9 months is outrageous politics by the White House. As I (not-to-mention-my-wife) am currently an uninsured American living abroad, I would estimate that the number of Americans who are uninsured and are forced to work outside the USA during any recent census might be several million more than the 46 to 48 million figure used by the Obama Administration most of 2009. In other words, Obama’s White House is as of this past week undercounting well-over ten million transient or foreign (& American) laborers in and outside the USA who are not being covered by health care in the USA.
As late as October 2009, the Kaisar Foundation “ha[d] analyzed census data to provide a closer look at the people without health insurance in the U.S. Its report, focused on people younger than age 65, found 45.7 million “nonelderly” uninsured people in the U.S. last year (including the elderly, the number of uninsured was 46.3 million). Low-income adults without dependent children — who generally do not qualify for government programs like Medicaid — were hit hardest. Despite heated rhetoric on the issue, immigrants are not driving the problem; 80% of the uninsured under age 65 are native-born or naturalized citizens. The uncompensated cost of providing health care to the uninsured last year was $57 billion, three-quarters of which was picked up by the Federal Government.”
In the last decade, the federal government and states have only marginally improved health care in one area, i.e for children in the USA—and I am not certain that non-American children are covered as well by good health care. Moreover, the uninsured parents of “insured children” are forced to damage their health further by overworking or stressing themselves out job hunting full-time in today’s market.
Interestingly, there is still another report from CNN in 2009 that nearly 90 million Americans had been uninsured in 2007 and 2008. CNN reported, “The study, commissioned by the consumer health advocacy group Families USA, found 86.7 million Americans were uninsured at one point during the past two years.”
Why is the White House not using these higher, 86.7 million figures to make its point that we need health care across the board?
Worse still, a Raw Story report had already clarified last December 2009, “If Democrats manage to pull off efforts to reform the US healthcare system and ensure coverage for millions who are currently without insurance, the new system — by design — will likely still leave tens of thousands to die without insurance before reforms kick in.”
In addition, “A Raw Story analysis, based on a recent Harvard Medical School study, estimates that 135,000 American citizens and over 6,600 US veterans will die due to a lack of health insurance before current proposed healthcare reform measures would take effect.”
To make the numbers easier to envision for readers, The Raw Story explained, “One hundred and thirty-five thousand US lives far exceeds the total number of Americans who died in the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the attacks of 9/11 combined. The lives of over 6,600 US veterans is more — by over 1,300 — than the total number of US soldiers who have thus far died in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”
The only credible source that might indicate that the lower totals of uninsured peoples in America used last week by Obama to talk to Republicans in congress is appropriate comes from a WSJ article. In late June 2009 the Wall Street Journal’s Carl Bialik wrote about the “Unhealthy Accounting of Uninsured Americans”. Bialik noted, “The Census Bureau estimates that the number of uninsured amounts to 45.7 million people. But the agency might be overcounting by millions due to faulty assumptions. Another problem: That 45.7 million figure includes undocumented immigrants, even though they aren’t likely to be covered under new laws.”
I read through Bialik’s article, but found only half of his flawed assumption charges actually held water.
For example, Bialik writes, “Of the rest, some people are eligible for health insurance but don’t know it and many can afford it but don’t want it. About 43% of uninsured nonelderly adults have incomes greater than 2.5 times the poverty level, according to a report released Tuesday by the business-backed Employment Policies Institute.”
Again Bialik is making too many assumptions. I think a lot of civil servants do fail to notify people of their legal eligibilities for health care at the state and federal level.
As well, Bialik ignores the millions of US contract employees and businessmen working abroad to bring earnings back to the USA each year. I, for example, have been making that much money in some of the last 2 decades, but often I have had no health insurance for or within the continental USA. (As a teacher, I often have 2 to 4 months holiday in the year which would theoretically allow me to return t the USA—but due to lack of insurance I have often avoided doing so for more than a month.)
I wonder how many other overseas-laboring (or contracting) Americans in places, like Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere do not have good health care coverage when they return to their families in the USA each year.
This condition of “failing to have state-side insurance” does not have to do with the fact that these individuals do not want insurance. Other realities, like pre-existing conditions rules or the very high start-up costs of health care for a one to three month-long visit back in the USA are too much to put financially together at one time for most Americans with families. (i.e. Have you tried to get good short-duration full time health coverage in the USA? How much do you think it costs?)
In summary, why is Obama Administration slacking off on using a well-backed statistic that there were nearly 50 million people in American in 2009 who were uninsured? The President needs to be using robust figures and stronger language in protecting interests and concerns of all Americans anywhere and all peoples living within its borders.
GERMAN MEDIA SILENCE: GERMANY GOES AHEAD with NATO Expansion THIS WEEK as DUTCH GOVERNMENT COLLAPSES
TODAY’S VOTE AND GERMAN MEDIA SELF CENSORSHIP
Only DIE LINKE (The Left) Party stood firm against the nearly 17% increase in German troop involvement in Afghanistan approved by the German Bundestag today. Soon Germany will have well over 5300 troops in Afghanistan. On the other hand, despite the media blackout on the popular debate about Germany’s role in NATO outside of Europe, it should be noted that nearly 160 German parliamentary representatives either withheld their vote or directly voted against the NATO troop increase.
DIE LINKE party tried to use a series of parliamentary rules and procedures to delay the vote on the immediate expansion of German troop presence in Afghanistan. However, the opposition SPD leadereship eventually sided with the ruling German coalition to vote down procedural blockage of floor debate by the leftist and some Green and SPD party members.
I fully believe the self-censorship of the German media has been GREATLY responsible in recent months to the lack of German citizen’s attention to the details of Germany’s creeping leadership in NATO as an active war executioner. Just this past Sunday, I heard a local minister say the following when I noted that my brother-in-law was being sent to Afghanistan. The pastor said, “We don’t even hear much about Afghanistan any more.”
This is a sad trend in media and society. This is because it signals a shift in Germany’s sense of self in the Post-Nazi era. As in the case of Japan, Germany had largely been proud to have a sort of peace constitution in place since 1949. That is, “Germany’s post-war Constitution (Basic Law) was until the late 1990s held to prohibit participation in wars outside its borders. However, since then Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court, however, has found another interpretation of the Constitution, i.e. “that – without amending the Constitution or any other pertinent legislation – has allowed “a ‘German solution’ which reconciles the putative post-war prohibitions with Germany’s obligations as a member of the United Nations.”
By not questioning the creeping expansion of Germany as a nation carrying out war-making powers across its borders, e.g. in Afghanistan, in this decade, the German media is doing a disservice to its own target audience. Moreover, the media is lulling German citizens into believing that the end of war is coming soon, i.e. with Obama’s next big push in Afghanistan and Pakistan this spring.
“Whereas during the Cold War the Bundeswehr was functioning within its original function in defending its borders and the alliance, conscientious objection within the ranks of the military was of rather abstract importance. This changed the moment defense missions began to be redefined and inflated to include the most distant world regions such as the Hindukush. At this point, individual Bundeswehr soldiers suddenly began to refuse to obey orders which they considered incompatible with Basic Law and international law standards. The most consequential case happened in 2003 when Major Florian Pfaff, at that time Major in the Bundeswehr, bravely opposed orders that would have involved knowingly participating in a “crime against international law” (Professor Reinhard Merkel, Hamburg).”
In the case of Major Florian Pfaff, the German courts ruled that demoting the major to captain was appropriate. Since then, the Peace Constitution and nation’s love affair with the International Laws, with which it should be embedded in limiting Germany’s roles in foreign wars, has practically ceased in most of German media.
This lack of self-reflection on the changes in German media attitude toward the making of foreign wars in Germany is tragic. Germans need to be encouraged to consider rolling the clock back on a trend that is not good for its standing as a peacemaker or at least as a just or neutral partner in many parts of the third world.
In summary, “The Bundeswehr’s classic mission of defending Germany’s borders and the NATO alliance are still valid, yet have unmistakably become less important. Instead . . . the German military’s top priority as ‘the prevention of international conflicts and crisis management, to include the fight against international terrorism’, and only as a second priority is the ‘protection of German territory and its citizens’ listed.” In addition, “[t]he Bundeswehr’s new and almost exclusive orientation as an intervention force deployed in ‘conflict management and crisis prevention’ is also [now] reflected by its structure: In the case of ‘rapid, robust reaction and network-enabled operations for missions involving high-intensity conflicts’ – which is the Orwellian newspeak for ‘war’ in post-modern military jargon – a contingent of 35,000 German soldiers is planned. This includes 15,000 to be deployed in the ‘NATO Response Force’, 18,000 as the German contribution to the European rapid reaction force, in accordance with the ‘European Headline Goal’, 1,000 to be deployed by the United Nations according to the “UN Standby arrangement system” as well as 1,000 to be sent in national rescue and evacuation operations”.
I really doubt that it is my presence in Germany that has forced the image or rebranding of Citibank here, however, Citibank is certainly undertaking that rebranding full-speed ahead here this year. Citibank Germany is now called TARGO or Targobank (Targo Bank).
This website [below] of Citibank Germany has now been changed to Targo Bank.
Targo Bank has actually been a bank brand in Germany of Citibank for sometime, i.e. after Citibank first bought out Targo in 2007. [Quickly, Citibank’s logo on the Werder Bremen Soccer team was changed at that time to Targo.]
Since the beginning of 2007, I have written nearly ten articles on the need for the USA federal government to take over Citibank and turn it into something else—like a halfway humane banking and financial entity which doesn’t rob thousands (or millions) of peoples of their good credit rating (and good business reputations) each year. One of the more recent articles I published was “TIME TO TAKE OVER CITIBANK AMERICAN TAXPAYERS: DEMAND THAT OBAMA FORCE IT TO GIVE LOANS TO HELP HOME OWNERS AND WORKERS TAKE OVER BADLY RUN COMPANIES LIKE GENERAL MOTORS”.
I have been a victim of Citibank’s illegal financial assistance practices and had filed claims against the company with 5 Attorney Generals in 4 states during the past decade. One of the more popular articles of mine on Citibank was: “CITIBANK CORRUPTION EXPLAINED!!!”
German economic newspapers note that Citibank (now officially Targo) is continuing to make profits hand over fist in Germany. What is not often noted in the press is that several of the private but U.S.-federal- and USA-military-contracting firms in Germany often require their employees to use Citibank cards. How did Citibank earn or come to command such a cozy relationship with USA contractors around the world?
I’d like to see some investigation of Citibank’s practices in U.S. federal and military contracting in Germany and around the globe.
Right now President Obama and a bi-partisan group of Congressional leaders are in a high stakes nationally televised meeting on healthcare reform. This summit is President Obama’s attempt to jumpstart health reform that is stalled in Congress.
We’re outraged that in the last year health insurance companies earned 56% more in profits and covered 2.7 million fewer people. And, healthcare insurance rate hikes of up to 39 percent are now happening across the country!
It’s time for American families to come together to state the obvious. Congress represents us, the families of America, not insurance companies. They must take action to pass health reform now before more families lose their access to healthcare and are priced out of getting the care they need.
The days following the summit will make or break healthcare reform. . . .
What’s the plan? MomsRising members will work in unison with other national organizations to amplify the drumbeat of emails and calls to Congress in the coming weeks, reminding them that America’s families need reform now.
We’re already off to an amazing start. Just yesterday people across America sent over a MILLION messages to Congress telling them to get down to business and pass real healthcare reform. In the next few days we’ll build on this momentum by circulating a massive nationwide petition that calls on Congress to stand up for families, not health insurance lobbyists, and get healthcare reform done. And we’ll make sure Congress can’t ignore us by donning our MomsRising supermom t-shirts and personally delivering these petitions.
Congress needs to hear that we can’t wait any longer. We need healthcare reform now. No excuses. No more politics. It’s time to get it done.
But we need your help. This campaign for healthcare reform has taken longer than we had hoped and we can’t keep up the fight without your continued support. Can you help out now . . . .?
Now is the time to give it all we’ve got. We are so close to finally passing real healthcare reform which stops unfair insurance practices that deny people coverage who have pre-existing conditions and raises rates or drops people just when they get sick. We have fought too hard and too long to let the insurance companies win another battle and continue to line their pockets at the expense of America’s families and our children’s health. Help push this win over the finish line. We may not have another chance like this for many years to come.
Thank you for the heroism you show every day!
–Donna, Ashley, Anita, Julia, Molly, Ariana, Kristin, and the MomsRising Team
STACK’S SUICIDE ATTACK REMINISCENT of Oklahoma City Bombing, 9-11, and the Corder OR Byck Suicide Attacks on the White House
Most readers know that last week, a man named Joseph Andrew Stack flew a plane into an IRS [Internal Revenue Service] office building, the Echelon Building, in Austin, Texas—killing at least one person. His name was reportedly, Joseph Stack.
It seems the man left a lot of suicide notes online explaining the reasons for his attack on the IRS as he was a computer software program and knew how to get his message across online. I haven’t tried much to search online for the suicide messages because I have been told that a lot of websites and government officials had the messages taken down. However, now on the web new ones are appearing.
Notice how the producer of this video managed to add Middle Eastern rhythm to the letter—implying that some Eastern conspiracy or prediction from Osama bin Laden may be coming true in good old USA. I don’t know readers. What do you say? Whose propaganda is now here at work—fascist westerners against Islam or fascist Islamists against the West?
Here is a less provocative version. It doesn’t bias with the music—at least.
I used to Drive into Austin on that highway by the IRS offices when I lived in Bryan, Texas and visited the Texas state capital. I used to be listening sometimes to loud music like this one.
There are some news stories online that have the truer effect of a lot of cars passing by without slowing—acting oblivious to the smoke and destruction about them.
This one provides you with interviews from witnesses of the fire at the man’s house and at the Echelon Building.
More than 50 YouTube videos are online currently.
Psychological troubles will be faced by many for months or years to come. This video gives some advice for those affected. People who have experienced similar attacks in the past, like at the Pentagon, World Trade Centers or OKC bombings might all have memories reawakened.
This video reminds us, Americans, how many have been facing PTSD in recent years.
Three ways of identifying Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome or Disorder (PTSD) is explained on this site.
I believe partially society, government, and the marginalization of mentally disturbed peoples is a great cause of the stress we all face. This site shares with great examples of how politics and stress lead to increased explosions in PTSD and attacks on others.
There is a problem, and a problem that I talked about in my book Freefall. Actually, there’s more than one problem. One of them is that they were so associated with the failures of the past that even were they to give the correct advice, there would be a suspicion. There would be a suspicion, partly, as I say, because they’ve been very closely connected with some of the measures that were clearly done to benefit the financial sector, the banks.
Two examples. They were—one of them was very closely associated with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that allowed the “too big to fail” banks to get even bigger. For commercial banks, that are supposed to do boring banking, and the banks, the investment banks, that are supposed to manage money for high-income people, they allowed those to get together, and the culture of risk-taking took over the whole industry. They were responsible for the law that said we will not allow the regulators to regulate derivatives, these—what Warren Buffett called “financial weapons of mass destruction.” One bailout, that of AIG, costing taxpayers $180 billion. So, you know, that was the first problem.
The second one is that it’s not always clear that people change their mindset so quickly. If you believe that markets are always self-correcting, that they always take care of themselves, that you don’t need regulation—even when the evidence comes in, that that’s not true—the question is, do you think it’s a minor adjustment that’s required, or do you think there’s a more major overhaul that’s required? Is there a problem with the plumbing—we just need to unclog the plumbing, and everything will flow quickly? Or is the real problem with the design of the system, the balance between the market and the state? And the risk is that they will be too aligned with the mistaken economic philosophy that has dominated the last three decades.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor at Columbia University, has just written a new book. It’s called Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor at Columbia University. His latest book is called Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Joe Stiglitz, one of the things that intrigued me about your book was the effort that you did to look at the historical development that preceded this Great Recession of 2007, 2008. You actually trace the origins of some of the aspects of the crisis back about a decade to what was happening in the third world, especially in Asia, all of the countries that experienced crises in 1997, 1998—Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia. And it reminded me very much that people forget that the Great Depression of the 1930s was actually preceded by an enormous crisis in the third world in the 1920s that, if people had been looking, would have told them what was about to happen here in the United States. Now, you had a front-row seat in that, because you were involved with the World Bank back then. Could you talk about what happened in the late ’90s and its relationship to the current crisis?
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: There are actually two connections. One of them is that we were seeing played out around the world the consequences of the kinds of deregulation, financial market deregulation, that had begun in the United States and around the world in the era of Reagan and Thatcher. In the quarter-century before that, the world had experienced the first extended period in which there was no financial crisis since the beginning of capitalism. Financial crises had happened over and over and over again, and after the Great Depression, we passed a set of regulations in the United States, and similar ones in other countries, that at last had provided an element of financial stability. We had stopped the banks from engaging in the excesses that had repeatedly marked their behavior.
We forgot that, those lessons. We deregulated. Unfortunately, the World Bank and the IMF were at the forefront of that in the days and the years before I arrived, and the result of that was that there were literally more than a hundred financial crises around the world in the period after the deregulation movement began. And the consequences were really serious. I saw, for instance, Indonesia, in the central island of Java, the unemployment rate got up to 40 percent. You know, I can remember people saying, you know, “We’re so much smarter than we were back in the Great Depression, we know how to prevent another recession of that depth.” But we were as smart then as we are now, and the right policies were not put into place, and Indonesia went into this really serious depression.
The second link is a forward-looking link. Because of the way the US Treasury and the IMF managed those crises around the world, the policies they pushed on these countries, the economic downturns turned into recessions, recessions turned into depressions. I talked to the prime minister of one of these countries, and he said, quite frankly, “We were in the class of ’97. We saw what happens if you don’t have enough reserves.” And then he went on to say, “We’ll never let this happen again.” And he and countries all over the developing world started to save. They started to build up reserves, hundreds of billions of dollars every year.
Now, this led to greater security for them, but it has contributed to a global problem. If people aren’t spending, there’s a lack of global aggregate demand, a lack of spending that will sustain the global economy. In a world of globalization, it is global aggregate demand that matters a great deal.
So, what we are now seeing, and we’re likely to see in the future, is that this problem, already serious, is going to get worse, because the countries that did better in this crisis were the countries that had built up the most reserves. China has built up reserves of over $2.3 trillion. Yeah, it’s a huge amount of money. China is the one country that never went into a recession. Growth did slow down from about 12 percent down to seven, eight percent, maybe for some quarters even lower than that, but it’s back to nine percent. It could do that because it had these huge reserves. So the lesson that countries are learning is save, don’t spend. And, of course, if the countries follow that lesson, then the global recovery will be very anemic.
AMY GOODMAN: Coming forward to today, Joe Stiglitz, I wanted to turn to President Obama in his State of the Union address, who called for a freeze on government spending, except, well, notably, in relation to spending on war. The record $3.8 trillion budget Obama unveiled the following week boosts money for war while cutting domestic spending. This is what he said.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not be affected. But all other discretionary government programs will. Like any cash-strapped family, we will work within a budget to invest in what we need and sacrifice what we don’t. And if I have to enforce this discipline by veto, I will.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama in his State of the Union address. Your assessment of this? You’re also author, with Linda Bilmes, of The Three Trillion Dollar War. What about the cost of war and the spending freeze on everything but war?
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, first, wars are very expensive, and that was the point that Linda and I made in our book, that much of the cost of the war is beneath the ground, dishonest accounting, costs that we’re going to have to pay, for instance, for the disabled. The fraction of those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that are coming back disabled is enormous. It’s now almost one out of two. And many of these disabilities are very, very serious. And we are going to be paying these costs for a half-century going forward. So we should remember that these costs are larger than the costs that they’re admitting to.
But going back to the basic economics of what we’re talking about here, two points I’d make. The first is a point that Linda and I made in our book, and that is, spending on the war is spending that does not stimulate the economy. It provides the least bang for the buck in terms of the economy of almost any other kind of spending. In Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve used large numbers of foreign contractors. Money that’s spent over there doesn’t have a second round of effects back at home. What we count on when we spend money in other areas is that we spend the money, the people who receive the money spend the money, that creates more jobs, and then they spend the money. And that round—that circulation of the money around keeps building up. But if we spend the money over on war costs, we don’t get those kinds of indirect benefits.
Secondly, unlike other kinds of spending—on investments, on education, infrastructure, technology—we don’t get extra tax revenues from the extra growth. When we spend money on these other areas, the economy grows. When the economy grows, tax revenues increase. It’s reflecting the same kind of shortsighted behavior perceptions that got the country into trouble in the first place. It’s not the national debt today that matters; it’s the national debt five, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. If we spend the money well and that creates a stronger economy, that will create more tax revenue. And just like a firm borrows to make profits in the future, it makes perfect sense for us to borrow to create jobs today and to get more tax revenues in the future, and our national debt will actually be lower if we spend more money now.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Joe Stiglitz—
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: The final point, the President—
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: You know, I just want to emphasize the point, the jobs problem is much more serious than the President seems to realize. We’re not going to be out of this by 2011, 2012. Even the administration and the CBO have said unemployment—in their, I think, optimistic projections—is not going to get back to normal at least until the middle of the decade. So the timing here is also off.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Joe Stiglitz, you’ve also urged a second stimulus package, especially focusing on the problems that state governments are going through, because, obviously, as real estate has collapsed, the value of real estate throughout the country has collapsed, that means that property taxes, which are a huge portion of local state revenues, have also collapsed. And this is going to be a problem for years to come, in terms of states being able to balance their budgets.
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: That’s exactly right. And the important point is that the states have what are called “balanced budget framework.” That means that the revenues are going down, and they’re going down by over $200 billion a year. As the revenues go down, they either have to cut back spending or raise taxes. This is a negative stimulus to the economy. So the stimulus at the federal level is being offset by the negative stimulus at the state level.
Same problem happened in the Great Depression. One of the reasons the Great Depression lasted as long as it did was that as the New Deal kicked in, the states were contracting. And the result of it was that we didn’t really recover for years from the Great Depression.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Joe Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist. His new book is called Freefall. You know, in our headlines, we just read that Yvo de Boer, the head of the climate change talks in Copenhagen, is quitting, is resigning. He won’t be there for the Mexico City talks. You’ve been very involved with the issue of climate change. Talk about what needs to be done and what you feel isn’t being done by this country.
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, let me first try to give a link between climate change and the economic recovery. What is so disturbing about our current global economic situation is that we have this enormous excess capacity, and we have these unmet needs, unmet needs that we have to retrofit the global economy to meet the challenges of global warming. We have a couple billion people living in dire poverty around the world. We need to have investment to increase their standards of living. So we have this incongruity of excess supply and unmet needs. And our economy and our political leaders can’t seem to bring the two together.
In Copenhagen, if we had succeeded in raising the price of carbon—the cost of carbon emissions that pollute the atmosphere are going to impose enormous costs all over the world. If we had succeeded in doing that, that would have provided a market signal. It would have told firms, you have to invest to reduce your carbon emissions. There would have been this retrofitting of the global economy to meet the needs of global warming. That would have stimulated an enormous level of investment and stimulated a lot of spending. And that would have been the critical thing that could have gotten us out of the current Great Recession.
But as it is, what we did is left even greater uncertainty. Where are we going? The result of that is that—greater hesitancy even to make the kinds of investments that we were in the process of making. So, in fact, the failure in Copenhagen has its economic consequences right now.
JUAN GONZALEZ: In your book also, in terms of dealing with or analyzing the current crisis, you try to make the point that, really, this crisis was not the result of decisions of any few individuals, but you say, precisely, “This book has a different aim. Its view is that essentially all the critical policies, such as those related to deregulation, were the consequence of political and economic ‘forces’—interests, ideas, and ideologies—that go beyond any particular individual.” If these forces resulted in the current crisis, what kind of policies are you proposing that would get us out of the crisis?
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, the point is that, you know, a lot of attention has been focused on, say, Alan Greenspan or Bernanke for the failures of regulation that led to the crisis. And what I was trying to do here is to say, if Greenspan hadn’t been there, there would have been somebody else. Reagan would have appointed another person who believes that regulation isn’t needed. And if you have regulators who don’t believe in regulation, you’re not going to get effective enforcement of regulation.
Right now we’re seeing some of that, the same mixture of ideology, interests, that are stopping us from restructuring the regulatory framework. So you see the outpouring of money, trying to persuade Congress not to adopt the regulations that are obviously needed. We should have learned from this experience, but so far, very little regulatory reform has been done. They use these arguments like, “Oh, we can’t go overboard. We’ll stifle innovation.” The fact is, as Paul Volcker has pointed out, there is—this innovation was not innovation that was positive. Only the bankers did well; not even their shareholders and bondholders did well. But the economy did disastrously. The taxpayers have lost. The workers have lost. Homeowners have lost. So this innovation has not been beneficial. So this conjunction of ideology, wrongly framed ideas, and interests are stopping now the regulatory reforms that are needed.
And finally, you asked the question, well, what’s behind all this? It’s obviously campaign contributions. Five lobbyists for every congressman. And unfortunately, in the Citizens United case before the Supreme Court, things have gotten worse. The Supreme Court basically allowed them to unleash the amount of spending to try—you know, we always had the best government that money could buy, and now the price has just gone up. And the likelihood of our political process being distorted has gotten worse.
AMY GOODMAN: The latest news in the New York Times about the crisis in Europe, and particularly in Greece, reporting that Wall Street tactics that were akin to what caused the subprime mortgage disaster are being used to enable governments to hide their mounting debts. And what they were talking about was the deal created by Goldman Sachs that helped Greece obscure billions in debt from the budget overseers in Brussels. What did Goldman do? And what do you think of this?
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, our banks were very creative in their accounting. They first used this creative accounting to avoid paying taxes, but then they discovered that you could use the same kind of creative—more accurately called “deceptive”—accounting to deceive investors, move things off balance sheet, hide what was going on, and do very well by yourself, even if, in the long run, other people are going to pick up the tab. And in this, in the case of the banks, it was the American taxpayers who’ve picked up a lot of the tab, but also, of course, the shareholders and the bondholders.
They then started marketing this kind of deception all over the world. And there are ways that you can move things off balance sheet so that the costs that you’re going to have to pay, years into the future, are not apparent. You see revenues coming in. The particular issue at the time was Greece was trying to get into the EU. It had to satisfy certain conditions about the deficits and the debt. And these were very clever ways of making it appear as if they were actually meeting the criteria, when in fact, of course, the problems persisted.
What is so upsetting to many people in Greece and all over Europe—I just came back from two weeks in Europe—is that the banks, after causing the crisis, after the governments having bailed out the banks, having had to spend a huge amount of money to stop a depression or a deep, deep recession caused by the banks, these same banks are now attacking the countries, criticizing them for the deficit that the banks’ irresponsibility helped create, and are trying to manage a speculative attack against these countries, the result of which is they are demanding that salaries be cut, wages be cut, meanwhile saying, “We need to keep our big bonuses. Don’t attack our bonuses. That’s necessary for the working of a market economy.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Joseph Stiglitz, finally, the issue of the derivatives market, this ticking time bomb, unregulated, no transparency. Most people don’t even know, even on Wall Street, which particular deals have been made and what they entail. Your assessment of how the Obama administration is moving on the front of bringing some regulation into the derivatives market?
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: The derivatives market, let me just emphasize, was very critical in the deceptive accounting in Greece, important in the deceptive accounting that led to the freezing of the credit markets, because no one knew what their financial position was. And you could see what happened in AIG, where one moment it said it had a $10 billion problem, the next moment the taxpayer had to put in $89 billion, wound up $180 billion, money that some of which went to Goldman Sachs, which you mentioned before. We’ll never get that money back. So, those are the dangers that these derivatives can expose. We should have known that, because back in ’98, one hedge fund, LTCM, almost brought down the entire global economy. And so, we should have known the riskiness of that.
The Obama administration has not proposed doing anything adequate about these. Some of the new things that the Obama administration proposed in January deal with other problems that, until then, had not been adequately dealt with—the problem of “too big to fail” banks. But the problem of these under-regulated derivatives remains, and therefore the risks remain.
Let me just emphasize, a part of this is this lack of transparency. One of the things is the Obama administration is trying to encourage more of the trading to go to standardized products traded on exchanges, but it isn’t really going to force it. And the depository institutions, the “too big to fail” institutions, that we underwrite—we the taxpayers bailed them out—are continuing to write most of these derivatives. So, in the end, these are insurance policies without the kinds of regulation that insurance normally requires, without the kind of careful analysis that insurance normally requires, but at the end, the US taxpayer bears the big losses when these gambles don’t work out. And so, while they’re, in a sense, sold as insurance, not regulated as insurance, they’re really gambling products, but they’re gambling where the potential losses are going to be borne by the US taxpayers. And we just haven’t done anything significant about this.
AMY GOODMAN: Joe Stiglitz, we’re going to leave it there. We want to thank you very much for being with us. The new book he has written is Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. He’s a professor at Columbia University.
Barnett summarized a slow current change underway in China, i.e. since the region-wide riots in Tibet two years ago.
“We are seeing changes in China. There are very important discussions coming on this. This writer who I’ve been working with, Wang Lixiong, an enormously significant intellectual, who’s starting to use terms like ‘cultural imperialism’ to describe China’s way of treating Tibetans. These conversations are beginning to emerge inside China. Very significant. But it’s going to be a long time before they lead to real policy changes in the leadership of China. That’s going to take time,” noted Professor Barnett.
Barnet noted earlier, “Of course, China has legitimate interests, like other major powers do, in securing sea channels and so on. But there are some areas in Southeast Asia and South Asia where there is some nervousness about China. And interestingly, Tibet is exactly at the center of those tensions. Tibet is becoming surprisingly significant in ways that I think nobody really realized twenty years ago, in that it’s the nuclear tri-junction, probably the only one in the world, between Pakistan, India and China. Three nuclear powers face each other over that Tibetan border. And it’s also the source for the water supply for the main rivers that feed about a fifth of the world’s population. And, as we know, the glaciers there are showing signs of drying up. So future conflicts about water, that a lot of people predict, will probably involve Tibet, if it comes to that kind of tension. So, there are some feelings of nervousness about China in certain parts of Asia.”
In short, with the possible confrontations awaiting China, India and Pakistan over the water supply of the Himalayas, i.e. with Tibet at its center, China might seriously want to significantly improve Tibetan and national government relations immensely over the next two decades. Likewise, border relations need to be strengthened within Tibet to ward off any nuclear or other military confrontations in the Himalayas—
SO-CALLED WELFARE REFORM [OF 1996]???
On Democracy Now, Seth Wessler stated yesterday, “I mean, we’re in a situation in which, almost fifteen years ago, the federal government basically decimated the cash assistance program, after another decade and a half of highly racialized attacks against the program that demonized the program, stigmatized the problem deeply. And at the same time, consecutive administrations, Republican and Democratic administrations, have de-stigmatized the Food Stamp Program. And we’re seeing now that that program is on the rise, that there’s more access to that program. So people are leaning more heavily now on that program.”
Likewise, the sheer numbers of American Medicaid users have already reached an all-time high already. “According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than three million people signed up for Medicaid in the year ending last June, increasing enrollment 7.5 percent to a record 46.8 million. Thirteen states reported double-digit increases. As enrollment has ballooned, states across the country have tried to cut benefits to keep up with budget constraints. The Kaiser study says twenty-nine states are considering further reductions or have already made them since the current fiscal year began.”
Juan Gonzalez reports, “The number of Americans receiving food stamps is at an all-time high. Earlier this year, the Agricultural Department said one in eight Americans—nearly 38 million people—received food stamps last October. The New York Times reported that about six million Americans receive food stamps, saying they have no other income. A new investigation from ColorLines Magazine, supported by the Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund, shows that some poor families are forced to sell their food stamps on the black market for cash in order to survive this prolonged recession. When Congress overhauled welfare in 1996, it created the Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or TANF, program, which placed time limits on aid and made cash assistance contingent on finding a job.”