Category Archives: Development

Chart of the day: Wealth rises to the top, again

Just as the rich are getting richer while the rest of us stagnate, so too the richer economies are getting richer while the poorer economies can’t keep up.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:


Big Agra African land grabs raise risk of violence

Regions of Africa where the relative availability of fresh water, as calculated by the Blue Water Index [BWI] threatens violence as the competition got fresh water between smallholders and giant foreign-owned farms intensifies.

Regions of Africa where the relative availability of fresh water, as calculated by the Blue Water Index [BWI] threatens violence as the competition got fresh water between smallholders and giant foreign-owned farms intensifies.

We’ve long been concerned about the increasing share of African farmlands, once owned in common by the people who farm them, being sold to foreign agricultural giants by cash-strapped African governments.

One of our deepest concerns has been the power of those corporations, largely own by Chinese and European multinationals, to gain control over the continent’s water supplies, raising the risk of starvation and violence for the planet’s poorest continent.

And now comes a study confirming our suspicions and revealing just where the risks of conflict are greatest.

From Sweden’s Lund University:

For the first time, researchers point to areas in Africa where foreign agricultural companies’ choice of crops and management of fresh water are partly responsible for the increased water shortages and greater competition for water. This in turn increases the risk of outright conflicts between all those who need water – plants, animals and humans.

During the 21st century, foreign companies have leased large tracts of land in Africa – more so than in other parts of the world – in order to produce cheap food, cheap timber and cheap raw material for biofuels. An interdisciplinary study from Lund University in Sweden shows that about three per cent of the land leased in Africa by foreign companies has been registered as currently in production, for the purpose of growing crops. For various reasons, the companies have either pulled out or not started producing on other leased land.

The study also shows that the crops that foreign investors decide to grow often require more water than the traditionally grown crops. Furthermore, it shows that the same crop can have very different needs for water, depending on the climate where it is grown and which irrigation systems the companies use.

The researchers in Lund, together with a colleague in France, have developed a model that shows how much water is needed for different production systems, in different types of climates, in different parts of the continent. The model takes into account both the size of the land and the type of irrigation system.

This model has enabled researchers to distinguish between areas where rainwater accounts for the largest share of irrigation water, and areas where large foreign agricultural companies satisfy more than half of their water needs by using fresh water sources, such as groundwater, rivers and ponds. This has allowed the researchers to highlight the areas around the continent where increased competition for water escalates the risk of water-related conflicts between different sectors and ecosystems.

“These hotspots have not been identified in this way before. Previous studies have often focused on the size of the area and not on how much fresh water is used to grow the demanding crops that foreign companies are interested in”, says physical geographer Emma Li Johansson, who was in charge of the study.

The leases are often written for periods of 33 to 99 years. The contracts rarely include any rules or limits concerning the use of water.

“Our research can perhaps lead to foreign investors showing greater consideration for how much water is necessary, in relation to how much water is actually available. Hopefully, the results can serve as a basis for documents that regulate the water consumption of large-scale farming companies”, says Emma Li Johansson.

The results are published in an article in the scientific journal PNAS.

Download article: Johansson E L et al (2016) Green and blue water demand from large-scale land acquisitions in Africa. PNAS (open access).

Map of the day: Land cover in the United States


From the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Land Cover Database, and here’s the key to all those colors:


Game of Zones heats up, confrontation looms

From BBC News, one of the venues for the Game of Zones in Asian waters.

From BBC News, one of the venues for the Game of Zones in Asian waters.

The Game of Zones, our term for the escalating multinational confrontations in the China Seas, are reaching the boiling point, with military encounters between China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines occurring on a daily basis as a nuclear-armed North Korea watches from the sidelines.

The looming crisis is the result of the Asian Pivot, a strategy created by Barack Obama and his then-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Five tears ago, Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, dissected the Obama/Clinton Asian policy for The Nation:

The South China Sea has had increased prominence in Washington’s strategic calculus in recent years as China has asserted its interests there and as its importance as an economic arena has grown. Not only does the sea sit atop major oil and natural gas deposits—some being developed by US companies, including ExxonMobil—it also serves as the main route for ships traveling to and from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The Chinese say the South China Sea is part of their national maritime territory and that the oil and gas belongs to them; but Washington is insisting it will fight to preserve “freedom of navigation” there, at whatever cost. Whereas Taiwan once topped the list of US security challenges in the western Pacific, Hillary Clinton said on November 10 that “ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” is now Washington’s principal challenge.

Focusing on the South China Sea achieves several White House goals. It shifts the emphasis in US security planning from ideological determinism, as embedded in the increasingly unpopular drive to impose American values on the Middle East and fight a never-ending war against Islamist jihadism, to economic realism, as expressed through protecting overseas energy assets and maritime commerce. By dominating sea lanes the United States poses an implied threat of economic warfare against China in any altercations by cutting off its access to foreign markets and raw materials. And, through its very location, the South China Sea links US strategic interests in the Pacific to its interests in the Indian Ocean and to those of the rising powers of South Asia. According to Secretary Burns, a key objective of the administration’s strategy is to unite India with Japan, Australia and other members of the emerging anti-Chinese bloc.

Chinese officials following these developments must see them as a calculated US effort to encircle China with hostile alliances. How, exactly, Beijing will respond to this onslaught remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that it will not be intimidated—resistance to foreign aggression lies at the bedrock of the national character and remains a key goal of the Chinese Communist Party, however attenuated by time. So blowback there will be.

Perhaps the White House believes that military competition will impede China’s economic growth and disguise US economic weaknesses. But this is folly: China has far greater economic clout than the United States. To enhance its position vis-à-vis China, America must first put its own house in order by reinvigorating its economy, reducing foreign debt, improving public education and eliminating unnecessary overseas military commitments.

Ultimately, what is most worrisome about the Obama administration’s strategic shift—which no doubt is dictated as much by domestic as foreign policy considerations, including the need to counter jingoistic appeals from GOP presidential candidates and to preserve high rates of military spending—is that it will trigger a similar realignment within Chinese policy circles, where military leaders are pushing for a more explicitly anti-American stance and a larger share of government funds. The most likely result, then, will be antagonistic moves on both sides, leading to greater suspicion, increased military spending, periodic naval incidents, a poisoned international atmosphere, economic disarray and, over time, a greater risk of war.

The Obama/Clinton push for a remilitarized Japan

The push for a Chinese confrontation has only grown stronger, and a key element is Japanese militarization, a full reversal of longstanding U.S. policy that began with the Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the U.S.-imposed military governor of Japan after World War II.

MacArthur’s chief accomplishment was a new national constitution, embraced by the Japanese, in which the nation was barred from creating all but a token military, one designed only for self-defense — hence the name, the Japanese Self Defense Forces.

But no more, as Roll Call’s Rachel Oswald reported in May:

In recent years, Japan, eager to show its commitment to working with the U.S. military, has moved past the strictly pacifist security posture it adopted after World War II. A little over a year ago, the United States and Japan finalized new defense cooperation guidelines allowing deeper military collaboration.

In September, Japan’s parliament, the Diet, approved legislation that would, in the words of the Abe government, “reactivate Japan’s innate right to collective self-defense,” authorizing the country’s Self-Defense Forces to come to the defense of threatened allies, namely the United States.

Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for East Asia, said “2015 was a historic year for us and for the alliance,” and the United States wants “to ensure that momentum continues.”

Japanese officials are trying to demonstrate to Washington they are working overtime to modernize their regional defense posture.

“Japan is the most determined military partner of the United States,” said Yoji Koda, a retired vice admiral of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. But Koda and others worry there is little awareness of Japan’s role in world security efforts. “Washington always complains, ‘free rider.’ But if there were no Japan, U.S. world strategy doesn’t function.”

The crisis begins to boil

The confrontation between China and the Japanese/U.S. partnership is heating up, with the latest developments especially troubling.

From BBC News:

Japan’s foreign minister has warned that ties with China are “significantly deteriorating”, after Chinese vessels repeatedly entered disputed waters in the East China Sea.

Fumio Kishida said he had called China’s ambassador to protest against the “incursions”.

On Friday, about 230 Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels sailed near islands claimed by both countries.

Beijing has been increasingly assertive about waters it believes are Chinese.

The Japan-controlled, uninhabited islands – known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China – are the source of a long-running dispute.

The Japanese coast guard said on Monday that about 13 Chinese coast guard ships, some of them armed, had been seen near the islands, higher than the usual number.

“The situation surrounding the Japan-China relationship is significantly deteriorating,” Mr Kishida told Cheng Yonghua, Beijing’s envoy to Tokyo, according to a statement on the foreign ministry website.

“We cannot accept that [China] is taking actions that unilaterally raise tensions.”

Much more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Resisting the Greek capitulation to the banksters

Greek’s have seen austerity at its worst, inflicted by the joint powers of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

The austerians are acting in the interest of the banks of Germany and France, lending institutions that bankrolled arms deals that profited the military/industrial complexes of the lender nations.

While Greek official corruption was clearly involved in some of the deals, the bribe payments came from German companies eager for profits from the sale of weapon systems, warships, and other materiel necessary for the new Cold War.

A succession of Greek governments signed off on massive cuts in public salaries and pensions, restrictions on the national public health system, and the sell-off of ports, railroads, islands, and other public assets.

Finally, the Greek people said “Enough!,” and in and in January 2015, they voted in a new government headed by a previously marginal party, a coalition of the Left named Syriza [previously], swept to power on a platform calling for an end of the payments.

With party leader Alexis Tsipras becoming chancellor, Syriza seemed on track to mount the first real resistance to the ave of austerity programs imposed on nations of Ireland and Southern Europe in the wake of the crash caused by the institutional corruption of Wall Street and the City of London.

Seven months after taking power, Syriza called a referendum on the issue of whether or not Greece should accept the latest austerity mandates from the Troika. When the votes were tallied, 61 percent of the Greek electorate declared no to further austerity.

Two months later the leaders of the anti-austerity movement were gone, and Tsipras was ready to surrender once again.

In this interview with The Real News Network, one of those leaders talks about those critical events, and the launch of a new party to continue the resistance to the money lord of the North:

Odious Debt and the Betrayal of the Popular Will in Greece

From the transcript:

DIMITRI LASCARIS, TRNN: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting from Lesbos, Greece, for The Real News.

This week, The Real News is in Lesbos to cover the Crossing Borders Conference on the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

This afternoon we’re joined by Zoe Konstantopoulou. Zoe Konstantopoulou is the former speaker of the Greek Parliament. She was elected to that position in February of last year with a record number of votes from her fellow MPs, including, surprisingly, the support of the right-wing New Democracy Party. But her tenure as speaker of the Greek Parliament was short-lived. Her position was vacated in October of last year after the SYRIZA government decided to implement an austerity program that was even more severe than [the one that] over 60 percent of the population of Greece had rejected in a referendum in July of last year.


LASCARIS: Now, last year, after the referendum in which over 60 percent of the Greek population effectively voted to reject an austerity program that was even less severe than what was ultimately implemented, the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, called a snap election and there was a rebellion of the left wing of the SYRIZA party, and they formed another party called Popular Unity, which I understand you supported in the election that was held in September.

KONSTANTOPOULOU: I cooperated as an independent candidate with Popular Unity.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: The Imperial Olympic$

From Pacific University political scientist and scholar of the politics of sports Jules Boykoff, writing for Jacobin [emphasis added]:

Since at least the 1980s, the Olympics have been big business. Corporate sponsors flock to the games to bask in the five-ring glow.

NBC forked over $4.4 billion to broadcast the Olympics from 2014 through 2020, and recently paid another $7.65 billion to extend their contract through 2032. Already the network has raked in a record-setting $1 billion in ad revenues for this summer’s games.

But well-connected local developers make out like bandits too. The Olympics are all about real estate — not the jobs, tourists, or tantalizing “legacies” that Olympic boosters use to sell the games. The public pays for expensive development schemes that fill private entities’ bank accounts. As urban geographer Christopher Gaffney puts it, “The flaccid Olympic mantras, superstar pedestal climbers, stadiums, and legacy promises are mere distractions from the realpolitik of urban development.”

The Olympics create a state of exception — a sort of “jock doctrine” — where elites can commandeer the city with uncommon speed and ease. As Rio mayor Eduardo Paes put it back in 2012 — supposedly as a joke — “The Olympics pretext is awesome; I need to use it as an excuse for everything.” He added, “Some things could be really related to the games, others have nothing to do with them.”

Take Rio’s Olympic golf course, a brazen transfer of public resources into private pockets. Mayor Paes helped site the project in the wealthy western suburb Barra da Tijuca where billionaire developer Pasquale Mauro could make a killing. During the Christmas holiday in 2012, Paes called an emergency session to pass a law allowing Mauro to build the course inside Marapendi Nature Reserve — home to a number of threatened species — and to ring it with 140 luxury condominiums. As long as Mauro footed the $20–30 million bill for the golf course, he could sell each condo at $2 million or more.

You don’t need a calculator to figure the monster profits. And thanks to Paes, pesky environmental impact reports and public hearings didn’t slow down the project. It was full steam ahead for the mayor and his cronies.

Austerity on the march in Portugal and Brazil

The austerians, the folks who impose a “new fiscal order” on nation-states in order to assure the ongoing profits of banksters and corporateers, are exercising their reign across the globe, forcing governments to public abandon healthcare systems, public spaces, public sector pensions, and other institutions that had characterized the post-World War II political and social landscapes.

The rhetoric the austerians use is inevitably pretentious and portentous, declaring, in effect, that the plight of the poor in developed in late-stage developing nations is essentially their own fault, and that programs designed to lift them from poverty are really sloth-inducing handouts.

The bottom line, of course, is the bottom line. Not the bottom line of the social contract, but the bottom line on corporate and banksters spreadsheets.

Austerianism, in short, makes the world save for corporatocracy.

Two classic examples can be found in events unfolding in two nations an ocean apart, yet united by a common language.

Austerity on the march in Portugal

Portugal, one of the PIIGS nations [along with Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain] of post-Bush crash Europe, has never recovered from the crash, and state financing has been critical to keeping the country viable.

But enough is enough, the austerians have decreed.

From United Press International:

European Union finance ministers supported sanctioning Spain and Portugal for breaking targeted budget deficits Tuesday.

The EU’s economic and financial affairs council decided Spain and Portugal should be sanctioned for breaking rules that countries’ budget deficits must remain within 3 percent of gross domestic product.

“The Council found that Portugal and Spain had not taken effective action in response to its recommendations on measures to correct their excessive deficits” the European Council said in a statement on its website on Tuesday. The Council’s decisions will trigger sanctions under the excessive deficit procedure.”

According to the EU, Portugal and Spain have 10 days to appeal the decision. And the commission has 20 days to recommend fines that could amount to 0.2 percent of GDP.

But top EU officials have indicated the sanctions are likely to be symbolically set at zero, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In other words, Portugal has just been served notice.

Austerians and the Brazilian coup

The government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, while less than perfect, had been struggling to keep the social contract alive, but that didn’t suit the Brazilian plutocracy, the spiritual descendants of the colonial land and cattle barons who exploited the native population and were the largest buyers of African slaves, outstripping the American South by far.

They used their bought-and-paid-for legislators to oust Rousseff through a vote of impeachment for crimes that, events have subsequently made clear, could be more rightly charged to them than to Rousseff.

And now, challenged with potential criminal charges for their own looting, they are busily engaged in the sell-off of the Brazilian commons, opening up endangered landscapes for industrial agriculture, displacing native populations, and generally grabbing up as much as they can whilst the sun still shines.

The latest grab, via teleSUR English:

Brazil’s unelected interim President Michel Temer said his government is considering the privatization of two of the country’s busiest airports in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

“It is possible that we will privatize Congonhas and Santos Dumont, which should give a good sum” of money, Temer said in an interview with the Folha de S.Paulo website, referring to Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo and Santos Dumont in Rio de Janeiro.

The interim government, imposed by the Brazilian Senate, is considering two options for privatizing the airports: one would keeping the government airport authority Infraero as a minority partner while giving most control to private companies, while the other would keep Infraero as the biggest stockholder with 51 percent of shares while private companies would manage the airports.

In both cases such moves would lead to thousands of people losing their jobs, as private contractors would seek to bring in new staff with new contracts and less oversight by the state.

Temer said the sale of state assets and major privatization plans is meant to generate sufficient revenues to meet the fiscal target for 2017, which foresees  a deficit of around US$42 Billion.

So who are the Brazilian lootocrats?

Glenn Greenwald has conducted a fascinating interview with U.S.-born Portuguese-speaking journalist Alex Cuadros, who covered the Brazilian plutocracy for Bloomberg.

Author of the just-published Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country, a book on Brazil’s financial elite, he describe the relevance of the Brazilian experience for folks in the U.S.

From the Intercept:

[T]he relationship between Brazil and its billionaires is relevant to an American reader. There was something about studying this relationship in a country that’s not my own, where I don’t have nearly as much baggage, that made it easier to see how it works. But really it’s a relationship that exists in most countries today. In the end I think that the Brazilian billionaire tradition is simply an extreme version of a natural relationship between wealth and political power.

There are some differences. In Brazil, partly because the state has always had a large presence in the economy, a lot of wealthy families owe their fortunes to personal connections to the government or even outright corruption. This clashes with the American ideal of the self-made man who gets rich thanks only to his own talent and hard work.

But of course, if you look at the richest people and companies in the U.S., they tend to defend their fortunes by putting their money to work in the political system, swaying the rules in their favor through lobbying, campaign donations, and other, less transparent contributions. Obviously there’s a difference between outright graft and legal forms of influence, but the desire and the effect are often similar: to allow the very rich to claim a larger piece of the economic pie without necessarily making the pie larger.