Category Archives: Asia

The brink of crisis: Globalization reaches a peak

The world may be on the brink of another financial collapse, this time with the Chinese economy as the likely catalyst, and with Britain holding $500 million in Chinese debt, the “sceptered isle” may bear a major portion of the impact.

One thing is certain: The world’s economy can’t continue with an agenda of unlimited development and endless consumption of throwaway goods, given that limits to extractive resources may have already peaked.

British radical economist James Meadway has been tracking the state of the globalized economy, and he sees major shifts already underway as China shifts from its economic roles.

Meadway, formerly an economist with the New Economics Foundation, described his concerns in a September essay for the Guardian:

Has globalisation peaked? Two fundamental factors suggest it may have. First, the financial crisis itself revealed the systemic weaknesses inherent in an over-extended financial system. Major financial institutions, banks chief among them, are now significantly more wary about reaching beyond their home bases. In the event of a future crisis, they will require strong, supportive states ready to back them up. This has drawn banks and states closer together, with weak states and weak banks propping each other up, as in the eurozone’s “sovereign-bank nexus” (the strong links between government debt and banks).

Second, states themselves are acting strategically. Globalisation was associated with a belief in the supreme merits of government inaction on the economy, but governments are increasingly strategic economic actors.

China is attempting an immense shift away from its decades-old role as low-cost exporter to the world, expanding both its domestic market, and seeking to create a new, regional trading block around the new Silk Road. The collapse of its stock market, naturally, necessitated a huge (if deeply flawed) government intervention. Protectionism is on the rise, whilst yuan devaluation has raised the spectre of “currency wars”. The German state, meanwhile, is an assiduous defender of its own interests as a manufacturing exporter.

Failure to address the looming crisis will only make the crisis worse, he explains.

In this, the latest edition of Taiq Ali’s Telesur English series, The World Today, Meadway explains his concerns as well as possible reforms to adjust the world’s economy to the new realities of the 21st Century:

The World Today: The State of the Economy

Program notes:

Tariq Ali talks to James Meadway, radical economist, about the global economy, the failure of world leaders to effectively resolve the financial crisis in 2008, and the probability of another crisis occurring in the future.

Chart of the day: Baltic Dry Index record low

A clear sign of troubled times ahead comes in the form of the Baltic Dry Index, a measure of global shipping activity. The really bad news is that the index has hit an all-time low, indicating that global shipping has come to a near-stop, largely because of the growing economic problems in China and China, where imports of raw materials and exports of finished goods are stalled and construction has undergone a dramatic downturn.

First, from Bloomberg, a one-month chart showing Friday’s all-time low:

BLOG Baltic dryy index 2

And from via Business Insider, a graph covering the pre-Great Recession China-fueled high, followed by a precipitous decline, and the ongoing low level of shipping activity the the years since:

BLOG Baltic dry inedx

Chris Hedges hosts a new show on Telesur

Telesur English is getting very interesting. In addition to weekly episodes of shows by esnl favorites Abby Martin and Laura Flanders, the Venezuelan broadcaster has added the inimitable Chris Hedges, former Mideast bureau chief for the New York Times.

In this latest episode of Days of Revolt, Hedges discusses the insidious nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] with attorney Kevin Zeese, co-director of and It’s Our Economy, an organization that advocates for democratizing the economy. Zeese is a political activist and former press spokesperson for Ralph Nader, and in an unsuccessful 2006 Senate run, he was the only candidate ever nominated simultaneously by the Green, Libertarian, and Populist parties.

From Telesur English:

The Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History

An excerpt from the transcript, discussing the TPP’s provision for overturning the power of the American judiciary in the interests of the corporation:

HEDGES: And they’re not allowed to make any amendments, no changes, nothing.

ZEESE: No amendments. Up or down vote. That’s it. And in the Senate, there’s no filibuster, so it’s only 50 percent. You can’t force them to 60 votes. It’s only 51 they need. And so it’s a very restricted Congress.

And all these agreements, by the way, as Ralph mentions in that quote, greatly restrict each branch of government, and Congress [crosstalk]

HEDGES: Well, let’s talk a little bit about how they do that, this kind of–part of this kind of creeping coup d’état, corporate coup d’état that’s taking place.

ZEESE: And I just want to say one more thing about this coup d’état. This is just one aspect of it. We’re seeing the corporate power grow in the United States with Citizens United and the buying of elections and all that corruption. But we’re also–out of places like the World Economic Forum, they’ve come out with a working group called the–that’s redesigning, the Global Redesign Initiative that’s redesigning the way governance works to minimize the nationstate and maximize transnational–. They want the UN to become a hybrid government and corporate body. So that’s what the World Economic Forum is working on as this is all going on, too. So this is a big, big fight about where we go. This is the epic struggle of our times, corporate power versus people power.

Now, the way that they–what Ralph was talking about in that quote was one aspect of this, which is the trade tribunal system, which already exists, but this is expanded. For the first time, for example, financial services can use the trade tribunals to overrule legislation to regulate the big banks.

HEDGES: Now, these trade tribunals, they’re three-person tribunals. They’re made up of corporate lawyers. One of the things I think I was speaking with you that you told me is that if you’re a citizen or advocacy group, you’re excluded from even going to these.

ZEESE: Yeah. You know, in our federal court system, which is the third branch of government that–Ralph’s favorite branch, I think. He just opened the museum in his —

HEDGES: Right, a tort museum.

ZEESE: — in his hometown, a tort museum, which is a great museum. People should go to Winsted to see it, by the way.

But, anyway, in our federal court system, an individual can sue a corporation. They can find a lawyer who takes it on retainer, only get paid if they win. You get a jury of your peers to decide it. That’s a real court system. It has lots of weaknesses that need to be improved on. They’ve been cutting back on it is much as they could with so-called tort reform–as Ralph calls tort deform. And so it’s getting weaker. But it’s still an important branch of government.

This overrules that. Our courts cannot review what a trade tribunal does. The trade tribunal judges are three corporate lawyers who can also represent corporations in other cases. So there’s a real conflict of interest here, because if you’re a lawyer who’s filing suits on behalf of corporations at these trade tribunals, you want to broaden the power of the trade tribunal and the corporation. So as a judge, you can decide things that, say, corporations have this power, corporations have that power, no, that the security issue doesn’t matter, the corporation still wins. They can create legal fictions.

Chart of the day: Poverty, the real terrorism

From SHOCK WAVES: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty [PDF], a new publication of the World Bank:

BLOG Child killers

Headline of the day: Taking a bite out of crime?

They’re already sentenced to death, and the new measure is only designed to keep them sober when they face the firing squad. From Channel NewsAsia:

Indonesia plans crocodile-guarded prison island for drug convicts

The proposal is the pet project of anti-drugs chief Budi Waseso, who plans to visit various parts of the archipelago in his search for fierce reptiles to guard the jail

Chart of the day: Which countries work hardest?

Data from the OECD, via BBC News:

BLOG Labor

A world ablaze: Fires in Indonesia, Amazonia

Massive fires, directly linked to ongoing deforestation, have erupted on opposite sides of the globe, resulting in massive releases of greenhouse gases which, in turn, will lead to further global warming and more fires.

First a report from the World Resources Institute:

Indonesia’s Fire Outbreaks Producing More Daily Emissions than Entire US Economy

More than half the fires are burning on peatlands, which hold some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth.

According to estimates released this week by Guido van der Werf on the Global Fire Emissions Database, there have been nearly 100,000 active fire detections in Indonesia so far in 2015, which since September have generated emissions each day exceeding the average daily emissions from all U.S. economic activity. Following several recent intense outbreaks of fires—in June 2013, March 2014 and November 2014—the country is now on track to experience more fires this year than it did during the 2006 fire season, one of its worst on record.

Global Forest Watch Fires shows that more than half of these fires have occurred on peatland areas, concentrated mainly in South Sumatra, South and Central Kalimantan, and Papua.

The burning of tropical peatlands is so significant for greenhouse gas emissions because these areas store some of the highest quantities of carbon on Earth, accumulated over thousands of years. Draining and burning these lands for agricultural expansion (such as conversion to oil palm or pulpwood plantations) leads to huge spikes in greenhouse gas emissions. Fires also emit methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2), but peat fires may emit up to 10 times more methane than fires occurring on other types of land. Taken together, the impact of peat fires on global warming may be more than 200 times greater than fires on other lands.

Next, a video from the Center for International Forestry Research delves into the causes for the Indonesian fires:

Indonesia on Fire

Program notes:

In Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province, the peat areas are burning and emitting a toxic smoke causing untold damage to the environment, wildlife and human health.

Most of the fires in Central Kalimantan are blazing in former peatland forests, which have been drained, cleared and burned for oil palm and agriculture, large and small. The dried-out peat ignites easily, burns underground and creeps under the surface.

Experts from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) travel to the heart of the fires to see the situation with their own eyes and measure the extent of the impact.

Next, via CarbonBrief, a NASA map revealed that most of the world’s carbon monoxide releases are now coming from the Indonesian blaze:


The Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers and Thinkers, an Australian NGO, has more on impacts of the Indonesian fires:

Scientists have been warning for many months that the Asia-Pacific region will face ‘Godzilla’ this year — a fire-breathing El Niño drought of frightening severity.

Devastating air pollution from Indonesian forest and peatland fires — especially in Sumatra, Borneo, and New Guinea — have become a virtually annual event.  Add a major El Niño drought to the mix — as is happening now — and the situation is inevitably a lot worse.

Predictably, the burning season this year has turned into an international disaster.  Among the more notable calamities:

  • Because of the dense, choking smoke, schools and airports across large expanses of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have had to be repeatedly closed; Micronesia and the Philippines are also suffering.
  • Hospitals in burning centers In Indonesia have reported large spikes in the number of people in respiratory distress, with medical authorities warning people not to go outside.
  • Singapore has launched legal actions and arrested high-ranking employees from several forest-destroying corporations that are headquartered there, leading to a major diplomatic spat with Indonesia.
  • This year, carbon pollution from rampaging Indonesian peat fires alone have exceeded the carbon emissions produced by the entire United States economy.
  • Politicians in Indonesian Borneo recently wore face masks to Parliament, to protest the rampant fires, and have threatened a class-action lawsuit against the Indonesian federal government.
  • The respected Indonesian forest expert and ALERT member, Dr Erik Meijaard, has recently called the nation’s fires the “biggest environmental crime of the twenty-first century”.

Finally, via NASA’s Earth Observatory, an aerial view of fires raging on the Indonesian island of Borneo [and, no, those aren’t clouds — that’s smoke]. Makassar Strait is on the lower right:

BLOG Borneo

Next, those fires in Amazonia, starting with some good news in the form of an Agence France-Presse report from Phys.Org:

A fire that for more than a month has ravaged a region in northeast Brazil inhabited by an isolated Native American tribe has finally been contained, the authorities said.

Luciano Evaristo, a local director of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, said Friday that heavy rains had extinguished 90 percent of the fires in Maranhao state, on the edge of the Amazon jungle, with an additional 10 percent now under control.

The destruction has been extensive in the Arariboia Indigenous Reserve, amounting to more than half its 413,000 hectares (1 million acres), or the rough equivalent of 190,000 football fields.

And a key detail:

The indigenous people have said the fire was “of criminal origin,” blaming it on clandestine timber-cutting operations. They say the blaze was in retaliation for efforts by the natives to step up surveillance to prevent the illegal deforestation of their lands, according to Greenpeace.

“They are burning our forest, and it’s a crime against my people and against the isolated peoples but also against the biodiversity of the Earth,” an Arariboia leader, Olimpio Guajajara, told Greenpeace a few days ago.

And to put the latest fire in context, consider this from Vice News:

A recent government report estimated that there are more than 1,000 active fires in the Amazonas state, while nearly 190,000 fires have been reported countrywide side the beginning of the year. The number marks a 23 percent increase from last year, and a 209 percent increase from 2013.

Drought has plagued other parts of the country, including the São Paulo, where authorities have said the water shortage is “critical.” Other central states, such as Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Tocantins, and Minas Gerais have also shown a spike in drought-fueled fires.

Earlier this year, President Dilma Rousseff promised to achieve zero illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030 while restoring 120,000 square kilometers that had been cleared. She also announced, in September, that Brazil would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent in 2025 and 43 percent by 2030.

But environmentalists say the goals are weak and noted that policies have yet to slow forest loss. According to a report by the group IMAZON, deforestation in the region between August 2014 and June 2015, had increased by 65 percent compared to the previous period.