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Austerity Revisited: How Global Financiers Rigged the Bank Bailouts of the 1980s
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
20 May 2014
In the first part of this Global Power Project series, I examined the origins and early evolution of the International Monetary Conference, an annual meeting (to be held June 1-3 in Munich) of several hundred of the world’s most influential bankers who gather in secrecy with the finance ministers, regulators and central bankers of the world’s most powerful nations. The second part looked at the role of the IMC in the lead-up to the 1980s debt crisis. Now, in Part 3, we examine the role the IMC played throughout that debt crisis which began in August of 1982.
At the 1982 International Monetary Conference, bankers noted that they had been cutting back extensively on loans to developing countries, with some leading bankers warning that the lending cut-backs could result in “aggravating the problems of countries already in economic difficulties and threatening to throw them into default” – which is exactly what happened a couple of months after that’s year’s conference.
A. W. Clausen, former CEO of Bank of America, spoke at the IMC in 1982 as then-president of the World Bank, and told the assembled bankers it was “an honour to be the first President of the World Bank to address the International Monetary Conference,” noting that, “themes of partnership and interdependence have repeatedly been at the center of our IMC meetings.” It was the subject Clausen wanted to address, “the tightening interdependence between the developed and the developing nations,” announcing “a new era of partnership between the World Bank and international commercial banks for helping the economies of the developing countries.”
Clausen told the bankers that “in order to develop a closer partnership with you, we intend to expand the International Finance Corporation [the investment arm of the World Bank] to explore the possibility of a multilateral insurance scheme for private investment, and to develop new mechanisms for attracting commercial bank co-financing.”
He also noted that the “fundamental objective of the World Bank” was “to help raise the standard of living of people, especially poor people, in the developing countries,” and argued that “people in developing countries will benefit from a closer partnership between the World Bank and international commercial banks.” Clausen was speaking roughly three months before Mexico announced its debt repayment problems, sparking the debt crisis, though he acknowledged that the developing world was experiencing a “balance-of-payments disequilibrium and debt-servicing difficulties.”
In addition, Clausen noted that the affiliate organization of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, had a special purpose which was “to encourage productive private enterprises in developing nations” whose loans do not have to be guaranteed by governments, and which can take equity (or shareholdings) in corporations. Clausen noted that together with the IMF and the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the World Bank “has helped to build an interdependent global economy,” adding: “International commercial banking depends on the relatively integrated, dynamic, and peaceful world economy that these official institutions have nurtured.”
Thus, he suggested, “we should now develop the complementarity between the World Bank and international commercial banks into a closer relationship of collaboration,” and recommended “greater collaboration between [the] IFC and commercial banks,” which “has great potential for stimulating commercial investment in the developing countries.” All of the initiatives Clausen proposed revolved around the basic objective of increasing “the collaboration of the international banking community” with the World Bank, in order “to assist poor nations to better manage their economies through the establishment of economic policies that are conducive to economic growth and development” and thus “bringing them fully into the global economy.”
The Debt Crisis
In the first full year of the international debt crisis that tore Latin America and other developing countries into financial ruin – with entire populations pushed overnight into poverty through austerity measures that were demanded by the IMF and the global banks, in return for additional loans and debt rescheduling – the more than 200 global bankers at the International Monetary Conference met in Belgium where they were “treated like royalty,” met at the airport by “special hostesses” and were then chauffeured in Mercedes limousines to the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The bankers attended a cocktail party at the Palais d’Egmont and hosted the King of Belgium for an afternoon lunch. It was in this “fairy-tale atmosphere,” as the New York Times described it, that the world’s top bankers met with government officials and central bankers and enjoyed “the luxury of thinking about the grand problems of world finance, unfettered by the real world’s concerns.”
The bankers at the 1983 conference agreed that the major debtor countries, in particular Brazil and Mexico, would need time to reshape their economies, with estimates ranging from three to seven or eight years of austerity, and various “structural reforms” designed to enforce neoliberal economic policies upon those entire populations. James Wolfensohn, a former partner at Salomon Brothers who started his own consultancy (and later went on to become President of the World Bank), delivered a popular speech at the IMC recommending that there could be no one solution to the debt crisis, but that each country would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.
The banker William S. Ogden, a former vice chairman of Chase Manhattan, presented another popular speech at the IMC in which he explained that what was needed to resolve the debt crisis was “sustained world economic growth, avoidance of protectionism, increased government aid to the third world and more disciplined economic policies among the developing countries.” In other words, harsh austerity measures.
That very same year, Ogden was in the midst of creating a unique organization of international banks and bankers to represent their collective interests as a global community in the face of the debt crisis. That organization came to be known as the Institute of International Finance, itself the subject of a previous set of exposés in the Global Power Project.
At the 1984 meeting of the International Monetary Conference (IMC), a special meeting occurred among some of the top banks that held a large percentage of Mexico’s debt. They participated in a “closed meeting” with major central bankers and finance officials, including representatives of the IMF, who recommended that the banks lower their interest rates on loans to Mexico in order to reduce pressure on the country. Walter B. Wriston, chairman of Citicorp, who had previously opposed any concessions to the impoverished nations in crisis, at this point appeared willing to adhere to some reductions in interest rates for Mexico.
The closed meeting was also attended by Willard C. Butcher, Jr., the chairman of Chase Manhattan; John F. McGillicuddy, chairman of Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company; Lewis T. Preston, chairman of J.P. Morgan & Company; Walter V. Shipley, chairman of Chemical Bank; Wilfried Guth, managing director of Deutsche Bank; Guido R. Hanselmann, executive board member of Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS), and Sir Jeremy Morse, chairman of Lloyds Bank of London.
The following day, the international banks announced that they would agree to negotiate a long-term debt solution for Mexico. Included in the decision as well was the IMF managing director, Jacques de Larosiere; the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker; and a special representative of the banks, Citibank Vice Chairman William R. Rhodes, who announced the decision to negotiate on behalf of the banks and who was personally responsible for chairing multiple “bank advisory committees” that negotiated debt rescheduling with various countries in Latin America.
Three years later, in 1987, Mexico was still caught in a painful crisis and the world’s bankers were still meeting for the IMC in luxurious surroundings, partaking in opulent social events to discuss the issue of world debt problems. The more than 200 bankers at the meeting expressed their frustration with the problems of the global monetary system, the instability of the floating exchange rate system, and currency crises. William Butcher, that year’s chairman of the IMC, warned that the global monetary system would not “correct itself” and instead the search for a new and more stable system “must be intensified.”
The most popular speech at the IMC that year was delivered by Japan’s vice minister of finance for international affairs, Toyoo Gyohten, who proposed the establishment of “some international mechanism” which would be responsible for managing international monetary crises, and would be required “to have at least several hundred billion dollars in order to influence the financial markets.”
At the next year’s meeting of the IMC, then-Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, spoke to the assembled bankers, explaining that further declines in the U.S. Dollar would not help American exports. His comments led to a rise in the Dollar, “greeted positively in the financial markets,” and stock and bond prices rose on Wall Street. The heads of the central banks of other major industrial nations, such as West Germany and Britain, were also present at the conference where collectively the central bankers “reiterated the need to keep inflation down as a way to continue worldwide economic growth” – a position met with great approval by the bankers present at the meeting.
At the 1989 meeting of the IMC, many of Mexico’s largest international lenders attended a special meeting after which they announced a $5.5 billion “aid” package (aka bailout) for Mexico in cooperation between Japanese banks, the IMF and the World Bank. But the so-called “aid packages” handed out by Western banks and international organizations to the crisis-hit developing nations were, in fact, bailouts for the major banks: the funds were given to the countries explicitly to pay the interest that they owed to the banks, while at the same time forcing those governments to implement strict austerity measures and other economic reforms.
William R. Rhodes, Citibank’s main official responsible for debt rescheduling agreements, was present at the meeting, which was also attended by Angel Gurria, the chief debt negotiator for Mexico. Rhodes stated that the meeting at the IMC “set the stage for rapid progress.” In the final part of the Global Power Project series on the International Monetary Conference, I examine the continued relevance of the IMC from 1989 to the present – including the bankers who composed its leadership, as well as a review of leaked documents pertaining to the 2013 meeting of the IMC in Shanghai.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 27-year-old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
How the International Monetary Conference Helped Fuel the 1980s Debt Crisis
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
14 May 2014
Last week, in Part 1 of the Global Power Project’s investigations into the machinery behind the International Monetary Conference, I examined the history and evolution of the IMC from its founding by the American Bankers Association in 1954 to the global financial and monetary disruptions of the late 1970s.
The IMC, happening June 1-3 in Munich, brings together hundreds of top bankers with leading finance officials and central bankers from the world’s industrial powers to discuss major economic, financial and monetary issues of the day – and to form a consensus on policies for managing the world economic order. In part 2 of the series, I look at the role of the IMC in the lead-up to the 1980s debt crisis.
What Fueled the Debt Crisis?
The 1980s debt crisis erupted when Mexico announced in 1982 that it could no longer service its debts to Western, and primarily American, banks. This resulted in a crisis that quickly spread across Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia. The oil price rises of the 1970s had led to a surge in revenues for oil-producing nations, which had invested their surplus oil wealth in Western banks that then lent the money to poor, developing nations requiring oil in order to finance their industrialization.
Then, following the 1979 oil shocks, the Federal Reserve in the United States decided to dramatically increase interest rates. The result: interest payments on “third world” debts skyrocketed, ultimately forcing Mexico and other nations to seek bailouts in order to pay their interest to the world’s major banks.
At the 1980 International Monetary Conference meeting, two years before the debt crisis erupted, some of the world’s top bankers – particularly Wilfried Guth, the managing director of Deutsche Bank – warned that a “safety net” may be needed to bail out the major banks that lent money to the developing world. Chase Manhattan Chairman David Rockefeller, who also attended the meeting, agreed that such a “safety net” for the banks was “well worth considering.”
Other leading bankers warned that since the world’s major banks were big lenders to each other, there was “a danger that if one large institution were to fail, a chain reaction could be started that would topple other banks around the world.” (“A ‘Safety Net’ for Banks is Proposed,” New York Times, June 3, 1980).
An Exclusive Event
The June 1980 meeting of the IMC took place in New Orleans, to which The New York Times reported that “only the most elite of the world’s financiers are invited.” American participants at that year’s meeting included Treasury Secretary G. William Miller and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker, as well as the chairmen of America’s three largest banks: David Rockefeller (Chase Manhattan), A.W. Clausen (Bank of America) and Walter Wriston (Citibank). The New York Times noted that the IMC “has been a forum where the heavyweights of world finance often take off their gloves.” (“Bankers Meet in Discord,” New York Times, 2 June 1980).
The bankers who attended the conference to discuss issues of debt and poverty were greeted at the New Orleans airport by police officers who provided them with security and doubled as “porters and chauffeurs,” driving the bankers in unmarked police cars to their hotels. The IMC, which is presided over by a 15-member board that decides who gets invited to the yearly meetings, admits banks based upon their size and the scope of their international operations.
At this gathering, eight of the 15 board members were Americans, including Walter B. Wriston, chairman of Citibank; Willis W. Alexander, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, and leading figures representing First National Bank of Chicago, Wells Fargo, Mellon Bank and Chemical Bank, among others (“The Talk of New Orleans: Agonies of World Banking,” New York Times, 8 June 1980).
Though official sessions of the meeting were closed to the press, in briefings afterward the bankers warned that some developing nations were having increasing difficulty paying interest on their debts to the big banks – and that although the situation had not yet reached crisis proportions, they were wary of what was to come. David Rockefeller declared an urgency “for official organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, to increase their lending to oil-consuming countries,” and suggested that “private banks and the international institutions should work more closely together.”
Likewise, Wilfried Guth of Deutsche Bank presented a 35-page paper in which he stated that the global financial system was “fairly under control for 1980,” but warned that “critical developments are feared for 1981 and later” when many developing nations “will find it extremely difficult to raise the money they need to pay for oil and other essential imports, including food.” Powerful bankers and monetary officials at the conference widely supported Guth’s paper and presentation, with David Rockefeller warning that international loans given by commercial banks had already surpassed $1 trillion.
The global bankers noted that the underlying issue was “the huge transfer of wealth from the oil-consuming nations to the oil-producing nations,” and warned that “economic stability can be achieved only if the oil-consuming countries accept declines in their living standards” and “an indefinite recession” (“Oil Payment Worries Grow,” New York Times, 7 June 1980).
Meanwhile, the most popular person at the conference that year was a specially-invited guest named Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist known for his promotion of neoliberal economic orthodoxy. As the New York Times noted, “It seemed that just about everyone wanted to sit at Mr. Friedman’s lunch and dinner tables.” Friedman had been invited to the IMC to preside over a debate on nothing less than “how monetary policy should be designed and implemented.”
The 1980 IMC meeting seemed to bear formal fruition when Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in January of 1981, as his new economic policies won “praise from at least one important foreign group – bankers.” The New York Times noted that the several hundred of the world’s top financiers from the IMC meeting “expressed understanding and support of even the most controversial of American monetary policies – the record interest rates that have strengthened the dollar and battered most foreign currencies as a result.”
It was the very same interest rate hikes that led to highly-indebted poor countries finding themselves unable to pay the increased interest on their loans – which pushed them into bankruptcy and the need for bailouts. But for global bankers, there was nothing but praise. Sir Jeremy Morse, chairman of Lloyds Bank of London one of those in attendance at the IMC, stated that, “In general, most people feel that high interest rates are appropriate to the inflationary position of the Western world, and are appropriate to the United States position.”
The only issue of bankers’ “irritation” with the Reagan administration, it seemed, was the fact that incoming Treasury Secretary Donald T. Regan – the Chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch from 1971 to 1980 – had cancelled his trip to the IMC at the last minute. As many at the conference noted, it was “tradition” to have “a formal address by a senior American economic official.” The President of Wachovia, John G. Medlin Jr., commented, “I think he should have come … I don’t think he understood the importance of this group.”
In the absence of Regan, the responsibility of explaining official American economic policies fell to Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, himself a former official at Chase Manhattan where he had worked for David Rockefeller. Volcker stood up to the challenge and “was a great success among the bankers [at the IMC], many of whom expressed support for him.”
In the next installment of this series investigating the International Monetary Conference, I examine the role of the IMC throughout the 1980s debt crisis and its position as an important, influential forum that helped to articulate and definitively shape consensus around neoliberal Western economic policy.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year-old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a
Global Power Project: The Group of Thirty, Financial Crisis Kingpins
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
25 February 2014
The following article was originally posted on 18 December 2013 at Occupy.com
Following parts one, two and three of the Global Power Project’s Group of Thirty series, this fourth and final instalment focuses on a few of the G30 members who have played outsized roles both in creating and managing various financial crises, providing a window on to the ideas, institutions and individuals who help steer this powerful global group.
The Assassin of Argentina
Prior to 2008, one of the most notable examples of a highly destructive financial crisis took place in Argentina which, heavily in debt, faced a large default and was brutally punished by financial markets and the speculative assault of global finance, otherwise known as “capital flight.” Less known in the story of Argentina’s 1998 to 2002 economic catastrophe was the significant role played by just one man: Domingo Cavallo.
A longtime member of the Group of Thirty, Cavallo formerly served both as Governor of the Central Bank and Minister of Economy in Argentina. He has been referred to by Pulitzer Prize-winning economic researcher Daniel Yergin as “one of the most influential figures in recasting the relationship of state and marketplace in Latin America.”
Between 1976 and 1983, Argentina, ruled by a ruthless military dictatorship, was marred by excessive human rights abuses and persecution of intellectuals and dissidents during the so-called “Dirty War” in which as many as 30,000 people were killed or disappeared . The terror was reminiscent of nearby Chile, where a coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973, with the help of the CIA, provided a petri-dish experiment in the implementation of neoliberal “reforms.” It was Chile’s dictatorship that set the example, and Argentina’s soon followed.
In a 2002 interview, Domingo Cavallo noted that, “The experience of Chile during the ’80s was very instructive, I think, for most Latin American economies, and many politicians in Latin America, because Chile was successful by opening up and trying to expand their exports and in general their foreign trade and getting more integrated into the world economy… And of course we used, particularly here in Argentina, the experience of Chile to go ahead with our own reforms.”
Asked about the association between economic “reforms” in Chile and the ruthless dictatorship that implemented them, Cavallo explained, “There were discussions on the feasibility of implementing market reforms in a democracy. But in 1990… the first democratic president after Pinochet maintained the reforms and also tried to improve on them [and] it was demonstrated that itwould be possible to implement similar reforms under a democratic regime.”
What specific reforms was Cavallo referring to? Under Argentina’s military dictatorship, Cavallo served for one year as Governor of the Central Bank in 1982, where he was responsible for implementing a state bailout of corporations and banks. After, Cavallo returned to academic life. But all that changed with the election of Carlos Menem in 1989, who served as president until 1999. In 1991, Menem appointed Cavallo as Minister for Economy, a position he held until 1996.
Cavallo led the neoliberal restructuring of Argentina: pegging the Argentine peso to the U.S. dollar, trying to reduce inflation, undertaking massive privatizations while opening up the economy to “free trade,” and deregulating financial markets. The New York Times in 1996 heaped praise on Cavallo for his “constructive” role in leading the economy “back to vitality and international respectability,” despite the fact that his reforms “brought high unemployment and painful reductions in social programs.”
Another NYT article credited Cavallo for the “stability” brought to Argentina through his “economic miracle,” while noting, without irony, that Cavallo’s miracle had “left million of Argentines… without a safety net” and with record-high unemployment, the emergence of urban slums, abandoned street children, over-crowded food banks, homeless shelters in churches, and even some people who were forced to eat cats in desperation. The “miracle” was so great, in fact, that despite all of the so-called stability it facilitated, President Menem ultimately dismissed Cavallo to the jubilation of tens of thousands of protesters in the streets. Though the people were pleased, financial markets expressed their disapproval .
With multiple economic and financial crises erupting around the world and in neighboring nations, Argentina, which pegged its currency to the U.S. dollar, found it could no longer compete. The touted neoliberal reforms were taking a toll as the country plunged into recession. Menem was replaced in 1999 by President Fernando De la Rua, who quickly sought support from the IMF to help repay the country’s debts owed to foreign – largely American – banks.
But Cavallo wasn’t out. In 2001, he was re-appointed as the country’s Minister of Economy just in time to receive emergency powers enabling him handle the country’s ongoing financial crisis that he helped to create . At that point, financial markets felt Argentina could not be trusted to repay its debt and the IMF refused to provide further loans, on the basis that the country had not implemented enough neoliberal reforms to meet its demands. The economy crashed and the “much-hated” Cavallo had to resign, as did the President, who fled by helicopter from the Casa Rosada as Argentines protested en masse .
Even the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco noted in 2002 that there was “some truth” to the view that “Argentina’s debt position would have been sustainable if only market uncertainty had not triggered a crisis.” But, it added, had Argentina made the effort asked of it to reduce its debt, it could have avoided “potentially destabilizing shifts in market sentiment.”
The role played by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in creating the conditions that led to the 2008 global financial meltdown is known to many. What is less known is that Greenspan, too, is a former member of the Group of Thirty. Greenspan did not work alone, of course, in his efforts to deregulate the financial system and spur the growth of the derivatives markets, which laid the groundwork for the worst financial crisis in modern times. Larry Summers, who then served as deputy secretary and later Secretary of Treasury under Bill Clinton, was also very helpful in this regard. Summers, too, is a current member of the Group of Thirty.
Currently serving as President Emeritus and as a professor at Harvard University, Summers was the former director of President Obama’s National Economic Council from 2009 to 2011. Previously, he was President of Harvard (2001 to 2009) and, prior to his positions during the Clinton administration he was Chief Economist at the World Bank (1991 to 1993). Currently, Summers is a member not only of the G30 but of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and he was also a member of the Steering Committee of the Bilderberg Group.
While Chief Economist at the World Bank, Summers signed an infamous 1991 memo in which it was suggested that rich countries should dump their toxic waste and pollutants in the poorest African nations — because by the time the toxins spurred the growth of cancer in the local population, they would already statistically be dead due to already high mortality rates. The memo noted : “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.”
When Summers later went to work for the Clinton administration under Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, he along with Rubin and Fed Chairman Greenspan formed the “Three Marketeers,” as Time referred to them, dedicated to “inventing a 21st century financial system” where they placed their “faith [in] financial markets.”
In the final two years of the Clinton presidency, Summers served as the Treasury Secretary alongside his deputy and protégé, Timothy Geithner, another member of the G30 who would go on to make a mark on the financial crisis — largely by convincing President Obama to bail out the Wall Street banks that crashed the economy, with zero penalty to them. Under the Obama administration, Summers served for nearly two years as Chair of the National Economic Council and was a highly influential policymaker . In 2009, he had spoken at the highly influential ultra-conservative think tank, the Peterson Institute for International Economics, where he explained the administration’s approach to the economic recovery, noting that , “Our approach sought to go as much as possible with the grain of the market” as opposed to regulating markets.
When Summers left the Obama administration in late 2010, he returned to Wall Street and made a fortune working for the hedge fund D. E. Shaw & Co. and Citigroup. This past summer, he was considered Obama’s favorite pick to replace Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman, but faced such stiff opposition within the Democratic Party that he withdrew his name, leaving Janet Yellen – the Vice Chair of the Fed and herself a former member of the Group of Thirty – to step in .
What we see, in this analysis of the Group of Thirty, are the connections between those in positions of power to respond to and manage economic and financial crises, and those in positions of power who created such crises. Naturally, as well, the G30’s membership includes numerous bankers who, as fortune had it, shared handsomely in the profits of those crises. Put simply, the G30 can be thought above all as an exclusive club of financial crisis kingpins. And it is a club, no doubt, that will continue to play a significant and not altogether helpful role in global financial management for years to come — or until something is done to stop them.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year-old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project , chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost .
Corporate Culture and Global Empire: Food Crisis, Land Grabs, Poverty, Slums, Environmental Devastation and Resistance
Corporate Culture and Global Empire: Food Crisis, Land Grabs, Poverty, Slums, Environmental Devastation and Resistance
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Corporate power is immense. The world’s largest corporation is Royal Dutch Shell, surpassed in wealth only by the 24 largest countries on earth. Of the 150 largest economic entities in the world, 58% are corporations. Corporations are institutionally totalitarian, the result of power’s resistance to the democratic revolution, which was begrudgingly accepted in the political sphere, but denied the economic sphere, and thus was denied a truly democratic society. They are driven by a religion called “short-term profits.” Corporate society – a state-capitalist society – flourished in the United States, and managed the transition of American society in the early 20th century, just as Fascists and Communists were managing transitions across Europe. With each World War, American society – its political and economic power – grew in global influence, and with the end of World War II, that corporate society was exported globally.
This is empire. The American military, intelligence agencies, and national security apparatus operate with the intention of serving U.S. – and now increasingly global – state and corporate interests. Wars, coups, destabilization campaigns, support for dictators, tyrants, genocides and oppression are the products of Western interaction with the rest of the world.
In the same sense that “God made man in his own image,” corporations remade society in their own interest; and with equal arrogance. Corporations and banks created or took over think tanks, foundations, educational institutions, media, public relations, advertising, and other sectors of society. Through their control of other institutions, they extend their ideologies of power – and the variances between them – to the population, to other elites, the ‘educated’ class, middle class, the poor and working class. So long as the ideas expressed support power, it’s ‘acceptable.’ It can extend critiques, but institutional analysis is not permitted. Ideas which oppose institutional power are ‘ideological’, ‘idealist’, ‘utopian’, and ultimately, unacceptable.
Corporate culture dominates our society in the West. Being inherently totalitarian institutions, the culture – and its institutions – become increasingly totalitarian. This is the response by private economic power to undo the achievements in human history which came through increased democracy in the political sphere. Corporations and banks seek to control and consume all things, to dominate without end.
The only reason corporations were and are able to be the defining cultural institution of the 20th and now 21st century, is because of their economic power. This is derived from exploitation: of resources, the environment, labour, and consumers. It is enforced with repression: the job of the state in the state-capitalist society, along with massive subsidies and protectionist measures for corporate and financial interests. As corporate power extended around the world, the rapid destruction of the environment and resources accelerated, and Western powers ‘outsourced’ the environmental devastation our consumer societies ‘require’ to the so-called Third World. We consume, and they suffer; a marriage of inconvenience that we call “civilization.” Corporations and our state keep the rest of the world in a state of poverty and repression, eternally attempting to block the inevitable global revolution to create a human society that acts… humanely. We were busy buying things. Couldn’t be bothered.
Now what our societies have done to the people on whose land we now live, or everyone else in the world, is being done internally, to us. Everything is up for sale! Corporations make record profits, hoard billions and trillions in cash reserves, NOT being invested, but likely waiting until your standard of living is significantly reduced so that your labour and resources are cheaper, and thus, ultimately more profitable. This is called ‘austerity’ and ‘structural reform,’ political euphemisms for impoverishment and exploitation.
Corporations, banks and states have in recent years caused a massive global food crisis, driving food costs to record highs almost every subsequent year from 2007 onward. With billions of people in the world living on less than $2 per day, the majority of humanity spends most of their income on food. Price increases in food, caused primarily by financial speculation (big players include Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Barclays), push tens of millions more people into poverty and hunger. Roughly one billion – 1/7th of the world’s population – live in slums. And they are growing rapidly. Massive urban slums were developed out of the imperialism Western states and corporations imposed upon the rest of the world, pushing people off the land and into the cities, whether induced by poverty or coerced by bombs and guns. All billed to the imperial Western state sponsors of terrorism. We supported (and support) ruthless and tiny elites in the countries we dominate[d] around the world, and now we are just beginning to realize the ruthless and tiny elite which rules over our own domestic lives. Their social function is that of a parasite: to suck the life blood out of all global society.
Food price increases have helped spur a massive global land grab, with Western (as well as Gulf and Asian powers) grabbing vast tracts of land – and water – around the world, for pennies on the dollar. This grab is most extensive in Africa, where in the past several years, mostly Western investors have grabbed land which amounts to an area roughly the size of Western Europe. The land not only contains extensive resource wealth, most importantly water (the Nile is up for sale!), but it is home to hundreds of millions of people, and globally, there are 2.5 billion poor people engaged in small-scale farming. This is primarily done through communal land ownership, something which Western society – with its ‘divine right’ of private property – does not understand. Thus, in international, state, and corporate law – which we designed – we deem communally owned and used land to be legally owned by the state. Our ‘investors’ – banks, hedge funds, pension funds, corporations and states – strike deals with corrupt states across the world to give us 40-100 year contracts for vast tracts of land, paying little or sometimes no rent. Then the “empty land” – as we call it – is cleared (of it’s “emptiness”, no doubt), evicting peoples who have been there for generations and beyond, who depend upon the land and the food it produces for their very lives. These people are being driven to cities, and ultimately, slums.
This is what we call “productive” use of land. So naturally, we then destroy it, eviscerate its environment, poison and pollute, extract, exploit, plunder and profit. Or we simply hold onto the land, not using it at all, just waiting until it goes up in profit. Even major American universities like Harvard are getting involved in the massive land grabs across Africa and elsewhere. This is the largest land grab in history since the late 19th century ‘Scramble for Africa’ where Europeans colonized almost the entire continent. When we do use the land for ‘productive use’, we say it will “help the climate” and “reduce hunger.” How? Because we will produce food and biofuels. And in doing so, we will use massive amounts of chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, deforestation, biodiversity destruction, highly mechanized and heavy fuel-use farming techniques. The food we produce – which is not much, we have more interest in things like biofuels, lumber, minerals, oil, cash-crops, etc. – is then exported to our countries, and away from the poor ones where hunger and poverty are so prevalent. They lose their land, gain more poverty, with the added bonus of extensive food insecurity, hunger, starvation, slum growth, increased mortality rates, disease, and violence. Poverty is violence.
This is how Western states, banks, corporations and international organizations address the issue of “hunger”: by creating more of it. And in a deeply disturbing irony, we call this moving towards “sustainability.” Little did we know that power interests have a different definition of “sustainability” than most people: they simply combined the words sustained and profitability, and called it “sustainability.” And coincidentally, that word already has a meaning to most people, so we simply misinterpreted the meaning. But there are people who take that concept seriously, those who experience the major costs of an unsustainable society.
We are witnessing a massive global resistance to these processes, largely driven by indigenous peoples – in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and now in North America. In Canada, the ‘Idle No More‘ movement began with four indigenous women in Saskatchewan deciding to meet up and discuss their concerns about Steven Harper’s “budget bill,” which, among other things, had reduced the amount of Canada’s protected rivers, lakes, and streams from roughly 2.5 million (as of Dec. 4, 2012) to somewhere around 62 (as of Dec. 5, 2012). Now a large, expanding, and increasingly international social movement led by indigenous peoples is taking place. Less than two months ago, it began with four women having a discussion.
Canada’s Indigenous peoples are showing Canadians – and others around the world – how to stand up against power. And they’ve had practice. For over 500 years, our societies have been oppressing and often eradicating indigenous populations at ‘home’ and abroad. Indigenous peoples, like other oppressed peoples, are at the front lines of the most oppressive nature of our society: they experience and have experienced exploitation, environmental devastation, domination and decimation. With the world’s Indigenous peoples speaking – not only in Canada, but across Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere – it is time that we in the West begin to listen. It is always important to listen to those who are most oppressed; the histories of our ‘victims’ are rarely written or known, at least not to us. Victims remember. And it matters that we begin to listen.
How can we expect to change – or know what and how to change – our societies if we do not listen and learn from those who have experienced the worst of our society? Indigenous people are now giving us a lesson in democratic struggle. If we continue on our current path, Indigenous communities will be completely wiped out; the powers that rule our society will have completed a 500-year genocide.
So we have to ask ourselves the question: should we now listen to, learn from, and join with these people in common struggle for justice and the idea of a humane society, or… are we still too busy buying things?
Perhaps it is time we all should be ‘Idle No More’.
The above was a short summary of roughly three separate chapters currently being researched and written as part of The People’s Book Project. To help the Project continue, please consider spreading the word, sharing articles, or donating.
The Great Corporate Colony: Welcome to Canada Inc., A Subsidiary of the American Empire & Co.
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is a sample from the first volume of The People’s Book Project, a crowd-funded initiative to produce a series of books studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance. Please consider donating to help the Project come to fruition.
As one of the most resource-rich countries on earth, and the largest single trading partner with the United States, Canada is strategically positioned to influence the changing nature of global power structures. Do we support – and siphon our resources for the benefit of – the American Empire, co-operating in the wholesale plundering of the world, the oppression and impoverishment of peoples, destruction of global ecology, all for the benefit of an increasingly small class of global corporations and banks… Or, do we become independent and free? Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper once said, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” With multiple “free trade” agreements under way, expanded corporate rights, expropriation of vast amounts of natural resources, Canada is becoming one of the world’s foremost corporate colonies, unrecognizable from what Canadians once imagined our nation to be.
The Plundering Potential of Resource Wealth
Canada is the second largest country by landmass in the world, after Russia, and with roughly 10% of the population of the United States, it is also one of the most resource rich countries on the entire planet. Looking at a list of the ten most resource-rich nations on earth (determined not by the multitude, but rather the ‘market value’ of the resources they contain) is rather revealing. At number ten, and in descending order is: Venezuela, Iraq, Australia, Brazil, China, Iran, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Russia. Canada has one of the largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iran (though these are largely located in the difficult-to-extract Alberta tar sands), as well as having some of the largest mineral resource deposits in the world, with the second-largest proven reserves of uranium and the third largest amount of timber. According to Statistics Canada, the nation’s natural wealth tripled in value between 1990 and 2009, then valued at $3 trillion, largely due to the increased price of oil.
In June of 2012, the United Nations released a major report in which it established a new index to account for and define ‘wealth’ beyond mere reports of GDP. Termed the “Inclusive Wealth Index” (IWI), it determines national wealth based upon three types of assets: “manufactured” (machinery, buildings, infrastructure, etc.), “human capital” (the population’s education and skills), and “natural capital” (land, forests, fossil fuels, minerals, etc.). The study, Inclusive Wealth Report 2012, analyzed 20 different countries, and was intended to take into account depleting resources and sustainability for future generations when determining a nation’s real wealth. While GDP growth has taken place in China, the U.S., South Africa and Brazil, these nations have significantly reduced their natural capital. Between 1990 and 2008, the “natural capital” of the United States declined by 20%, 17% for China, 25% for Brazil, and 33% for South Africa. In fact, 19 out of the 20 countries studied showed a decline in natural capital, offset only by an increase in human capital (education and skills).
Human capital is based upon the average years of schooling, wages that the country’s workers can demand, and how many years they are expected to work before they retire or die. With this measurement, human capital amounts to the largest percentage of a nation’s wealth (except for Nigeria, Russia, and Saudi Arabia), accounting for 88% of Britain’s wealth and 75% of America’s. Canada is of course included among the 19 countries with rapidly declining natural capital.
Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver spoke to a gathering of Canaccord Genuity Corporation (a financial services conglomerate) in Toronto in September of 2012, where he explained that Canada’s “tremendous natural wealth” included “huge capacities and reserves of energy, including the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world,” as well as “tremendous hydroelectric capacity, massive tracts of forests and an abundance of minerals and metals.” He added, however: “it’s not enough to have the resources… You have to do something with them.” Oliver listed some of the many resources which Canada has and produces in abundance: oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity, uranium (second largest producer in the world), more than 200 mines turning out more than 60 minerals, “including more potash than anyone else,” as well as aluminum, cobalt, diamonds, nickel, platinum group metals, titanium concentrate, tungsten, chromite, the second-largest exporter of primary forest products, and is the “biggest exporter of wood pulp, newsprint and softwood lumber.” The resource sector, explained Oliver, “is the cornerstone of our economy, our long-term prosperity and our quality of life.”
Oliver explained that the energy, forestry, metals and minerals industries accounted for roughly 15% of Canada’s nominal GDP, the “direct contribution” to the Canadian economy, while the indirect GDP (taking into account “goods and services purchased from other sectors – construction, machinery and equipment, business and professional services”) takes the number up to roughly 20%. The key areas and industries are oil in Alberta, forestry in British Columbia, potash and uranium in Saskatchewan, mining in Ontario and hydro-power in Quebec. Oliver told the assembled crowd in the heart of Toronto’s finance industry that there was “about $650 billion invested in over 600 major resource projects currently underway in Canada or planned in the next 10 years.” He added: “Countries in the Asia-Pacific region are especially hungry for the energy and minerals and metals and forest products they need to fuel their growth and build a better quality of life for their citizens.” There were, he acknowledged, still inherent problems with the global economy which could effect this outlook, but suggested that what the Canadian government can – “and is doing – is establish a competitive business climate so the private sector can capitalize on our enormous potential.” In other words, the Canadian government will establish a highly protective and subsidized market for multinational corporations to more effectively plunder the natural resources. All for altruistic intentions, of course!
Canada’s highly influential big business dominated think tanks have not been far behind in promoting resource plundering by multinational corporations. The Conference Board of Canada published a report in June of 2012 arguing that “Canada’s trade strengths are concentrated in industries that extract natural resources and process raw materials,” including agricultural and food products, minerals and metals, forest products, and electricity exports. In the report, Adding Value to Trade: Moving Beyond Being Hewers of Wood, Michael Burt wrote: “These industries rely heavily on natural resource wealth such as land, water, forests, and mineral products. The abundance of these resources gives Canada a robust comparative advantage in the industries that extract and process them.” Thus, it would be desirable to promote the “development and use of our natural resources, and industries that support the primary sector are competitive with world standards.” The board of directors of the Conference Board of Canada includes executives and/or board members of the Business Development Bank of Canada, EPCOR Utilities, CGI Group, GE Canada, Canada Post Corporation, TransAlta Corporation, ICICI Bank Canada, Cisco Systems Canada, Desjardins Group, IBM Canada, Shell Canada, Xerox Canada, SaskTel, SaskPower, and John Manley, the President and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), the main business interest group in Canada, made up of the top 150 corporate CEOs in the country.
In October of 2012, the Canadian International Council (CIC) – the Canadian counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S. – published a report entitled, Becoming a Resource Superpower, in which the author, Madelaine Drohan (the Canada correspondent for The Economist) argued that, “without strong leadership and collaboration we risk losing an opportunity to become a real resource superpower.” A series of recommendations were laid out, including the possibility of establishing a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) to pool and invest money made from resources, encouraging the provincial and federal governments in Canada to “stop treating” revenue from resources “as income to be spent and start treating them as capital to be saved or invested.” In other words, the money made from resources should not go back to benefit Canadians, but rather be used to exclusively benefit the investor class.
Other recommendations focused on expanding the relationship between government, business, and academia (as if we don’t have enough of this already): “To do this, federal and provincial governments must concentrate their funding for research and development on collaborative projects between groups of companies and academic institutions.” Another recommendation focused on expanding “trade” networks and energy customers, specifically in the Asia-Pacific, noting: “Canada should focus on negotiations involving the largest possible number of countries, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and look beyond China so we do not repeat the error of putting all our eggs in one basket.” The report then recommended the government to establish highly protectionist trade agreements for corporations, writing: “Government can help companies plug into global value chains by removing impediments and securing the right trade and investment deals.” By definition, that is the opposite of “free trade,” which is why it is important that we call it “free trade,” when in actuality, it is highly protectionist, involving state intervention designed to undermine the ‘market’ and give corporations a subsidized advantage, thus, undermining competition. The last major recommendation was for federal, provincial, and territorial governments to “collaborate on a national blueprint for resource development that identifies the gaps to be filled – including in infrastructure, environmental protection, trade diversification, education, immigration, technology, and supporting sectors – and sets out how to address them, with achievable goals and deadlines.” In other words, massive state-capitalist planning and plundering is required.
The board of directors of the Canadian International Council (CIC) includes the president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Chair of the Atlantic Council of Canada, Raymond Chrétien (nephew of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien), while the chief sponsors of the CIC include: Bennett Jones, Power Corporation of Canada (owned by the Desmarais family, Canada’s Rockefellers), the Royal Bank of Canada, AGF, Barrick Gold, BMO Financial Group, Sun Life Financial, Scotiabank, and TD Bank. So naturally, it has everyone’s interests at heart, and by ‘everyone’, I mean, everyone that matters to the investor class (i.e., the investor class).
So, as Canada increases production of oil from Alberta’s tar sands, the government is seeking to expand the major pipelines to the coast in the hopes of acquiring China as a major trading partner, instead of just the United States. Canada sits atop “unknown quantities” of natural gas reserves, what The Economist calls an “unconventional bonanza,” adding: “Just as the 20th century was the age of oil, the 21st could prove to be the century of gas.” However, in August of 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared that Canada’s future economic hopes depend upon the natural resources of the Arctic, which has been the focus of a new global grab for resources since the Arctic ice has begun to break up more rapidly. On a visit to the region, Harper stated, “Obviously, there is a tremendous economic opportunity here. The fact that we are attracting investment not just domestically, but from around the globe speaks very highly to the future.” As revealed by documents released to the press, in late 2011, the Mining Association of Canada was lobbying the Environment Minister Peter Kent “to change regulations and allow non-metal mines, such as diamonds, oilsands and coal, to discharge potentially polluted water under federal guidelines.”
In other words, now that the ice is breaking and resources are being readied for plunder, the major mining conglomerates want the government’s permission to treat the Canadian environment the way they treat the environment in the rest of the world, notably, in poor, conflict-ridden countries like Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. After all, what is plundering without the added bonus of environmental devastation? It’s not just a matter of extracting and exploiting all available resources, from which to gain massive profits, but it’s also important for corporations to destroy the surrounding environment so that little, if anything, can flourish and replenish. That is plundering at its most profitable. In October of 2012, it was reported that Canada was going to claim ownership of a massive size of undersea territory in the Arctic, larger than the size of the province of Québec, and roughly equal to 20% of the country’s surface area.
In 2013, Canada will begin chairing a two-year term of the Arctic Council, a grouping of eight nations working together to manage the development of the Arctic as an economically and strategically important global region. With the opening of new and large opportunities for economic exploitation and resource plundering, the states with territory in the Arctic have become increasingly aggressive in their military posturing in the region, “increasingly designed for combat rather than policing,” according to a study by the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. The report noted: “Although the pursuit of co-operation is the stated priority, most of the Arctic states have begun to rebuild and modernize their military capabilities in the region.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been publicly making aggressive statements about competition in the Arctic, particularly in relation to Russia. In private, however, Harper had been making different claims. As revealed by Wikileaks, Harper expressed the message to the Secretary-General of NATO that there was no real military threat in the Arctic, instead expressing the perspective that, “Canada has a good working relationship with Russia with respect to the Arctic, and a NATO presence could backfire by exacerbating tensions.” Harper added, according to the released cables, “that there is no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favoured a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where ‘they don’t belong’.” All the public statements and aggressive military stances in the region have, however, helped to sway public opinion into believing that there is a “security or sovereignty threat to the northern border,” and thus justify increased expansion into the region for exploitation. The issue is not one of security, but of securing resources (for corporations, no doubt). One released cable from 2009 relayed this point accurately, noting that Canada’s defense plan to build six Arctic Patrol ships for the navy was “an example of a requirement driven by political rather than military imperatives, since the navy did not request these patrol ships. The Conservatives have nonetheless long found domestic political capital in asserting Canada’s ‘Arctic Sovereignty’.” By the summer of 2012, the aggressive rhetoric had essentially vanished, and Harper’s missions to the Arctic were entirely diplomatic and aimed at exploiting the region’s vast natural resources. The Obama administration has also identified the Arctic as “an area of key strategic interest.”
Canada For Sale: “Free Trade” Fanaticism
Canada has been pursuing a vast array of so-called “free trade” agreements with specific countries around the world, as part of the overall program of plundering resources and giving multinational corporations unprecedented control over society. Since the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada has pursued agreements with several countries, including Israel, Jordan, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Peru and is in talks with the European Union and Japan, as well as China and India.
On August 15, 2011, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement – a highly protectionist corporate-driven agreement (like all “free trade” agreements) – came into effect. The agreement was reached in 2008, receiving “royal assent” in 2010, and is sure to benefit major corporations and help finance a state which is responsible for the greatest human rights violations in the Western Hemisphere. Canada’s top five exports to Colombia include wheat, newsprint and paper, machinery and equipment, dump trucks as well as beans, peas, and lentils. Colombia’s top five exports to Canada include coal, coffee, bananas, fuel oil and cut flowers (note: this list excludes illicit trade products like cocaine, of which Colombia is a major global exporter).
As critics of the deal pointed to Colombia’s record on human rights abuses, Stephen Harper commented, “No good purpose is served in this country or in the United States by anybody who is standing in the way of the development of the prosperity of Colombia,” by which he means to say that human rights are irrelevant so long as multinational corporations are making large profits. And indeed, policies fit that paradigm very well. Harper added: “Colombia is a wonderful country with great possibility and great ambition. And we need to be encouraging that every step of the way. That’s why we have made this a priority to get this deal done. We can’t block the progress of a country like this for protectionist reasons.” In this sense, the word “protectionist” refers to any impediments, regulations, or barriers to the unhindered exploitation and plundering of a country by multinational corporations. When agreements are protectionist in favour of corporations, securing and enforcing their unhindered monopolization of markets and exploitation of resources, this is called “free trade.”
With more than 70 Canadian corporations in Colombia, from oil and mining to finance, the agreement will open up more access for major companies. For those who mention human rights abuses, Harper had this to say: “I think there are protectionist forces in our country and in the United States that don’t care about development and prosperity in this part of the world. And that’s unfortunate.” Chris Spaulding of Talisman Energy, a Canadian corporation doing business in Colombia, commented that, “It’s very business friendly. They want foreign investment. The labor force is very good. The resources are there.”
According to the Globe and Mail, Colombia has “near bullet-proof potential for rapid growth,” due to low wages, abundant resources, and with the return of “order” (a euphemism for state oppression and control), though the country still has a high murder rate, five times the rate of the United States. Colombia not only signed a free trade agreement with Canada, but also with the U.S., and has received top rates from the World Bank for fostering a good “business climate.” Scotiabank, one of Canada’s big five banks, made a $1 billion purchase of a 51% stake in Colombia’s fifth largest bank, Banco Colpatria. Rick Waugh, the CEO of Scotiabank, declared that, “Colombia is very important to us.”
Toronto-based mining company Gran Colombia Gold Corp has been seeking to remove an entire town, a 500-year old community, to make way for an open-pit mine. When the Colombian government was preparing to displace the town, villagers in the community formed a committee to defend themselves. One of the organizers, a local priest, Father José Reinel Restrepo, publicly denounced the plan to move the town for the benefit of a foreign corporation, even giving television interviews in which he denounced “Canadian imperialism.” He explained: “If they are going to drive me out of here, I would tell them they would have to expel me by way of bullets or machetes – but they can’t oblige me to leave.” Four days later, Father Restrepo was shot dead while traveling to visit his family.
Colombia has a long history with powerful business interests allying themselves with paramilitary outfits to “silence opponents and displace rural populations living atop natural resources.” Under the guise of the “war on drugs,” Colombia’s military, with billions in “aid” from the United States, has co-operated with big business interests and criminal paramilitary groups, purportedly to fight rebel groups (notably FARC), but mostly to clear rural communities to allow for corporate plundering of the resources upon which they sit. In recent decades, some four million people have been displaced by such actions, leaving the country with Latin America’s “most inequitable distribution of wealth.” On top of that, Colombia is a major narco-state, with state, paramilitary and rebel groups all participating in the massive cocaine trade. Many historians have described Colombia as “the world’s most enduringly violent country,” with over five decades of constant internal warfare. With over 20 major Canadian companies holding major investments in Colombia, it’s no wonder that the World Bank rated the country as the best investment climate in Latin America.
The brand of “order” that the government of Colombia has enforced in recent years represents a continuation of the policies of several administrations before it. The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Colombia is “staggering in scale,” with millions displaced, killed, tortured, raped, kidnapped or “disappeared,” more than 280,000 people had to flee their homes in 2010 alone. State, paramilitary and rebel groups have all routinely been accused of vast human rights abuses and war crimes. While the new government of President Santos promised to prioritize human rights when he came to power in 2010, the reality, according to Amnesty International, was that “threats against and killings of leaders of displaced communities and of those seeking the return of lands misappropriated during the conflict, mainly by paramilitary groups, have increased during the Santos government.” In criminal investigations of human rights abuses, witnesses, victims, lawyers, and judges have continuously been threatened or even killed. Threats and murders have also increased for human rights activists, trade unionists, and community leaders.
Canadian law demands that the government table a human rights report for Parliament on the impact of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement. Instead of submitting the report, the Canadian government decided, in May of 2012, that it would not even adhere to Canadian law, and refused to submit any such report, instead stating that it would produce a report for May of 2013. With more than 259,000 people displaced from their homes in Colombia in 2011 (on top of the 280,000 displaced in 2010), human rights abuses and war crimes will continue, with the tacit (and perhaps active) cooperation of Canadian corporations, notably mining companies. The Canadian government has effectively given the green light for such abuses to continue. While Colombia’s Constitutional Court identified 34 Indigenous nations in the country that were in “grave danger of extinction,” Canadian indifference continued. Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada declared that, “Canada must not turn its back on the human rights crisis in Colombia for yet another year… The crucial question that should not be postponed is what role is Canadian investment playing with regard to this emergency?” Neve added: “Failure to carry out a full impact assessment violates Canada’s responsibility of due diligence under international law and denies Canadian corporations working in Colombia the information they need to avoid implicating themselves in grave human rights violations.”
The website for the Canadian ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Trade declared that the Canada-Colombia FTA provided “a key boost for Canadian companies in five important sectors: agriculture, information and communication technologies, mining, oil and gas, and services.” Noting that Canada’s interest in the narco-state was “growing strongly,” the ministry website added that Colombia had “undergone important economic and legal reforms, spurring democracy and global direct investment.” The business climate, it declared, was “now stable and predictable, making Colombia a secure business partner and a solid investment destination.” With that in mind, Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed an agreement with the Colombian military in November of 2012 to strengthen its “military relationship with Colombia,” which MacKay stated, “represents a natural evolution in our relationship… And we look forward to continuing to build our ties with the Colombian Armed Forces.” No doubt, as they continue to displace hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to clear the land for foreign corporations, and of course, to help advance the profits of the international illicit drug trade.
Scotiabank decided to expand its operations further in Colombia, with the purchase of a majority stake in one of Colombia’s largest pension fund companies. Scotiabank has taken on a major role in “financing Colombia’s energy and mining sectors,” with the bank’s head of global wealth management stating, “We look to continue the growth and expansion of this business.” Another executive at Scotiabank stated, “We continue to invest in Colombia because we see this as a market with great potential for growth.” Interestingly, the Canadian Embassy in Colombia is located in the new Scotiabank Tower in Bogota.
Canada continues to pursue further “free trade agreements” with other countries as well, notably, Japan and China. In March of 2012, Canada and Japan agreed to begin free trade talks, already steadfast trading partners. On top of “free trade,” the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that Canada and Japan would also be advancing defence and security “co-operation.” At the announcement, Harper declared that, “This is a truly historic step that will help create jobs and growth for both countries.” Jayson Myers, the president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association stated, “Japan is a strategic commercial partner… However, it is also a country with whom we’ve had a persistent trade deficit when it comes to manufacturing. These negotiations provide the appropriate forum to resolve ongoing concerns.”
As revealed by secret documents obtained by the media, the Canadian government had been lobbying the United States to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement for the main reason of gaining more access to Japan, with one document noting that the TPP without Japan “does not excite us.” In November of 2012, it was reported that Japan was likely to follow Canada’s entrance into the TPP, the largest and most secretive trade agreement in history, involving 11 Pacific rim countries, and negotiated in cooperation with over 600 corporations. The TPP is highly controversial within Japan, since it could potentially – and likely would – lead to reduced protections and subsidies for the Japanese agriculture sector, an area long considered untouchable. A spokesperson for the Canadian department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade stated, “We welcome Japan’s interest in joining the TPP. Japan’s participation in the TPP would further strengthen Canada and Japan’s strong trade and investment relationship. We are already working closely with Japan towards a bilateral free trade agreement that will bring new jobs and increased prosperity to Canadians and we would welcome the opportunity to also work together in the TPP.”
(For more information on the TPP, please see my three-part series here: The Trans-Pacific Partnership)
Canada has also begun talks with India and hoped to sign a free trade deal with the country by the end of 2013, with Stephen Harper stating, upon a visit to India, “I think I am very clear that we need to go farther and faster.” Stephen Harper lamented against the fact that India has democratic institutions, and thus, undemocratic policies are harder to implement. He stated: “What we do have to realize when we deal with India, as opposed to some other countries that we’re dealing with in the developing world – this country is a democracy… And that means that governments cannot simply dictate a whole set of policy changes to happen the next day. That means governments must develop consensus behind policy changes. And that, in this country is not easy. We understand that.” Luckily for Harper, he doesn’t have to face any such problems at home, with a majority government, tearing the country to pieces day-by-day. Stephen Harper once boasted many years ago, that if he was given the chance to become Prime Minister, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Indeed, that turns out to be quite true. Indeed, back in 1997, Harper wrote an article in which he referred to Canada as “a benign dictatorship,” though there seems to be little ‘benign’ about his majority-government rule.
In September of 2012, Stephen Harper signed an investment treaty with China (as a precursor to a potential free trade agreement), called the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA). The details of the agreement were kept secret until the deal was tabled in the Canadian Parliament in late September, but the agreement is not to be debated in Parliament because treaty making “is a royal prerogative,” and can thus become law through the initiative of the Prime Minister’s cabinet alone, so long as the treaty is ‘tabled’ in Parliament. Canada already had roughly 24 FIPAs in operation, with roughly a dozen more in the works. FIPAs are not “free trade agreements,” but are designed to simply “protect and promote” foreign investment in legally-binding agreements. In essence, they are quicker and smaller versions of “free trade” agreements, and designed with a similar purpose: to advance corporate rights and the expense of democratic rights.
China’s ambassador to Canada stated that the two countries should move quickly toward a free-trade agreement within a decade, adding, “It’s time to open each other’s markets.” The comments came as a major Chinese state-owned corporation was seeking to take over a Canadian energy company, which would be the first direct foreign takeover of a major actor in Canada’s energy sector, a major concern for Canadians who fear Canada’s resource wealth will not benefit Canadians. On this issue, the Chinese ambassador noted, “Business is business. It should not be politicized… If we politicize all this, then we can’t do business.” The ambassador told a Canadian journalist, “We are not coming to control your resources.” No, of course not, they’re just coming to take the resources. Within a couple months, Prime Minister Harper approved of the Chinese takeover of the Canadian energy company Nexen, as well as another takeover by a Malaysian company in the Canadian energy sector. However, Harper then stated that there would be restrictions on foreign governments buying some of Canada’s largest energy conglomerates (just not these ones in particular). At a press conference, Harper stated, “When we say that Canada is open for business, we do not mean that Canada is for sale to foreign governments.” Except, of course, for all the exceptions to that rule.
Critics of the Canada-China FIPA warned that it would reduce Canada to little more than a “resource colony,” which would bind Canada to new investment rights with China for 30 years. Not only does it allow China to gain an increased foothold in Canada’s economy, and specifically, in purchasing Canadian resources, but it also acts “to protect Canadian capitalists when they go into China.” What more could someone ask for? The Council of Canadians, a public interest organization, referred to the Canada-China FIPA as a “corporate rights pact” that would have serious repercussions on Canadian environmental, energy, and financial policies. This is because the deal would allow for lawsuits against the Canadian federal and provincial governments for having “barriers” to investments, which could then be overturned.
Canada is also in the final stages of negotiating a trade agreement with the European Union, called the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), designed to reduce tariffs and open up “new markets,” having major impacts upon agriculture, intellectual property rights (copyright and patent laws), with drug prices likely to increase “significantly,” as well as allowing for more “labour mobility,” a euphemism for increased labour exploitation. The agreement, which has been in negotiations for years, would “deal another blow to Canada’s already battered manufacturing sector,” with roughly 28,000 jobs under threat, deemed to be the “best-case scenario” by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The “worst-case” scenario could see up to 152,000 jobs being “vaporized.”
As is typical, the negotiations are “behind closed doors” and barely deal with actual “trade.” CETA is, much like the TPP, termed a “next generation” free trade agreement, negotiated since May of 2009, and would further deregulate and privatize the Canadian economy, and of course, therefore, increase corporate power, and thus at the expense of democratic accountability. The agreement could restrict how local and provincial governments could spend money, even banning “buy local” policies, increase the cost of drugs by $3 billion, increase Canada’s trade deficit with the EU, allow for European corporations to attack environmental and health protections within Canada as “barriers to investment,” potentially even apply pressure to privatize water, transit, and energy, and even prevent farmers from saving their seeds, as a major gift to GMO manufacturers. Where corporate rights are advanced, democratic rights are dismantled.
A leaked document from the European Commission dated November 6, 2012, revealed that the practice of Canadian municipalities “buying locally” would disappear with the Canada-EU CETA, and that “provincial development programs could go with them.” Canadian municipalities were offering better terms for European access to municipal contracts that those which Canadian provinces give each other. The document, prepared for the European Commission’s Trade Policy Committee noted that the agreement is “the most ambitious and comprehensive offer Canada and its provinces have made to any partner, including the U.S.” EU negotiations will, however, continue to press for more access to energy sectors. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians noted: “The amount of room our provinces, municipalities and local communities have to support local farmers and otherwise create the jobs of tomorrow is threatened again by a Canada-European Union free trade deal that will forever prohibit these kinds of economic strategies.” The province of Ontario could alone lose between 13,000 and 70,000 jobs as a result of the agreement, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Openly acknowledged by European politicians was that Canada would be getting the short end of the stick in the CETA deal, as a Danish member of the European Parliament stated, “At the moment Europe will be able to export more than what Canada will be exporting.” Another European official closely linked to the negotiations stated, “We will gain a bit more.” Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said, “[t]he potential benefits to Canadians under a free trade agreement with the European Union are immense,” though he forgot to acknowledge that the ‘Canadians’ he was referring to are largely corporations, and the elite class that owns them. Michael Hart, a trade expert at Carleton University noted, “[t]rade agreements do not create jobs. Never have. Never will. But ministers have never accepted that economic insight.” And understandably so, after all, it’s rather challenging to sell a trade deal to the public if one openly declares it is for the singular purpose of advancing corporate rights, domination, and plundering. So instead, politicians must always mutter the magical word of “jobs,” which in political language, translates accurately into “profits,” as Noam Chomsky has suggested in the past. Thus, when politicians say that trade agreements will “create jobs,” which they never do, what they are actually saying is that such agreements will “create profits,” and exclusively for major multinational corporations, which they always do.
Canada’s trade agenda is of course driven by big business, whose interests will be served by such “free trade” agreements. In regards to CETA, the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT) was established in 1999 to contribute “recommendations on trade and investment to government officials and hosting thematic, high-level meeting focused on developing strategic relationships between company executives and with government officials,” according to the website for CERT. A declaration of support in 2008 for a Canada-EU trade agreement was signed by over 100 executives in Europe and Canada, urging Canadian and EU leaders to “design a new type of forward-looking, wide-ranging and binding bilateral trade and investment agreement.” Such an agreement, the document stated, “will provide European companies with a gateway into the vast North American free trade area, while increasing Canadian opportunities in the European Common Market,” serving as “a strategic and important step towards the eventual creation of a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment area.” Among the signatories to the statement were top executives at the following companies: Anglo American plc, AstraZeneca, Barrick Gold Corporation, BASF, Bayer, Bertelsmann, BNP-Paribas, Bombardier, British Airways, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, CN, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, E.ON AG, Gaz de France, GlaxoSmithKline, Lafarge, Manulife Financial, Merck, Monsanto Canada, Munich Re, Pfizer Canada, Power Financial Corporation, Rio Tinto plc, Royal Dutch Shell, Siemens, SNC-Lavalin, Société Générale, SUEZ, Suncor, ThyssenKrupp, TOTAL SA., TSX Group, Ubisoft Entertainment, and Volkswagen, among many others.
In late October 2012, a number of European and Canadian big business lobbying groups, including BusinessEurope, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business (CERT), sent a letter to the Canadian and European trade negotiators, Ed Fast and Karel de Gucht, respectively, urging them to push through on the CETA. The signatories called for Canada and the EU to reach “an ambitious and successful conclusion to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiations by the end of 2012.” The letter said it was “imperative” to “maintain a high level of ambition” in key areas which would benefit Canadian and European corporate interests. Among the many areas for which the letter suggested “a high level of ambition” were in recommending the “full and rapid dismantling of tariffs for all industrial goods,” and “[a]ccess to raw materials and energy products,” the removal of barriers and “discriminations” in service sectors, “full access” to the agricultural sector, including “a satisfactory path forward on the bio-tech issues that have caused trade impediments,” by which is meant to advance the interests of GMO manufacturers. Further recommendations included “access to government procurement” which removes all barriers and allows for increased privatization, and of course, “[r]obust protection and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights in both markets,” which would include “the targeting, seizing and destroying of counterfeit imports and exports,” so as to undermine competition and protect monopoly and oligopoly corporations. Finally, the letter stated that the Canada-EU agreement “must also ensure improved labour mobility,” which would allow for increased labour exploitation, enhancing competition between the labour forces of Europe and Canada, which always results in lost jobs, lower wages, and reduced protections and benefits. These are, of course, all very good things for multinational corporations. Since they are terrible things for the populations, they have to be coded in political and economic language, so instead of saying, “we want easily exploitable and cheap labour,” they suggest, “improved labour mobility,” which is also at times referred to as “labour flexibility” (i.e., making labour “flexible” to the interests of multinational corporations).
The Great Canadian Corporate Colony
Such letters from corporate leaders are necessary in order to remind political leaders whose interests they are in office to serve. The Canadian government ensured that it would serve big business interests through trade policy by appointing, in May of 2012, a new ‘advisory panel’ which would “help guide Canada’s ambitious, pro-trade plan in large, dynamic and fast-growing priority markets.” Speaking at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, International Trade Minister Ed Fast stated: “Our government’s top priority is the economy – creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadian workers, businesses and families… We understand the importance of trade to our economy… That is why we are deepening Canada’s trading relationships in priority markets around the world.”
Ed Fast announced the formation of the new advisory panel at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. The members of the panel include: Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO of Alliance Grain Traders Inc.; Paul Reynolds, president and CEO of Canaccord Financial; Kathleen Sullivan, executive director of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA), representing 80% of Canada’s agri-food sector; Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, former president and CEO of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, former president and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporations (CBC), and former government minister; John Manley, former Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, former Foreign Affairs and Finance Minister, and currently president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), a corporate interest group made up of Canada’s top 150 CEOs; Catherine Swift, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses; Jayson Myers, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters; Brian Ferguson, president and CEO of Cenovus Energy Inc, a major Canadian oil company; Serge Godin, founder and executive chairman of the board of CGI Group Inc, one of the largest information technology businesses in the world; and Indira Samarasekera, president of the University of Alberta. Upon the announcement of this panel, Ed Fast stated: “I look forward to receiving advice from these knowledgeable Canadian leaders.”
So we return to the statement once made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” Sadly, this is quite true as Harper Inc. advance Canada to the status of one of the world’s premier corporate colonies, where plundering for profits, environmental degradation, mass privatization, deregulation, and democratic devastation are the rules of the day. A Canada once thought of as democratic, free, and peaceful, is ever-advancing toward a fully privatized outpost of global corporate tyranny: Canada Inc., a subsidiary of the American Empire & Co.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch, Occupy.com, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
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Welcome to the World Revolution in the Global Age of Rage
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
I am currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and the global resistance, rebellious and revolutionary movements that have emerged in reaction to this crisis. Our world is in the midst of the greatest economic, social, and political crisis that humanity has ever collectively entered into. The scope is truly global in its context, and the effects are felt in every locality. The course of the global economic crisis is the direct and deliberate result of class warfare, waged by the political and economic elites against the people of the world. The objective is simple: all for them and none for you. At the moment, the crisis is particularly acute in Europe, as the European elites impose a coordinated strategy of class warfare against the people through “austerity” and “structural adjustment,” political euphemisms used to hide their true intention: poverty and exploitation.
The people of the world, however, are beginning to rise up, riot, resist, rebel and revolt. This brief article is an introduction to the protest movements and rebellions which have taken place around the world in the past few years against the entrenched systems and structures of power. This is but a small preview of the story that will be examined in my upcoming book. Please consider donating to The People’s Book Project in order to finance the completion of this volume.
Those who govern and rule over our world and its people have been aware of the structural and social changes which would result in bringing about social unrest and rebellion. In fact, they have been warning about the potential for such a circumstance of global revolutionary movements for a number of years. The elite are very worried, most especially at the prospect of revolutionary movements spreading beyond borders and the traditional confines of state structures. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s former National Security Adviser, co-founder with banker David Rockefeller of the Trilateral Commission, and an arch-elitist strategic thinker for the American empire, has been warning of what he terms the ‘Global Political Awakening’ as the central challenge for elites in a changing world.
In June of 2010, I published an article entitled, “The Global Political Awakening and the New World Order,” in which I examined this changing reality and in particular, the words of Zbigniew Brzezinski in identifying it. In December of 2008, Brzezinski published an article for the New York Times in which he wrote: “For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.” This situation is made more precarious for elites as it takes place in a global transition in which the Atlantic powers – Western Europe and the United States – are experiencing a decline in their 500-year domination of the world. Brzezinski wrote that what is necessary to maintain control in this changing world is for the United States to spearhead “a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management,” or in other words, more power for them. Brzezinski has suggested that, “the worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening.” In 2005, Brzezinski wrote:
It is no overstatement to assert that now in the 21st century the population of much of the developing world is politically stirring and in many places seething with unrest. It is a population acutely conscious of social injustice to an unprecedented degree, and often resentful of its perceived lack of political dignity. The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches…
The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as well. With the exception of Europe, Japan and America, the rapidly expanding demographic bulge in the 25-year-old-and-under age bracket is creating a huge mass of impatient young people. Their minds have been stirred by sounds and images that emanate from afar and which intensify their disaffection with what is at hand. Their potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious “tertiary level” educational institutions of developing countries… Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred.
Important to note is that Brzezinski has not simply been writing abstractly about this concept, but has been for years traveling to and speaking at various conferences and think tanks of national and international elites, who together form policy for the powerful nations of the world. Speaking to the elite American think tank, the Carnegie Council, Brzezinski warned of “the unprecedented global challenge arising out of the unique phenomenon of a truly massive global political awakening of mankind,” as we now live “in an age in which mankind writ large is becoming politically conscious and politically activated to an unprecedented degree, and it is this condition which is producing a great deal of international turmoil.” Brzezinski noted that much of the ‘awakening’ was being spurred on by America’s role in the world, and the reality of globalization (which America projects across the globe as the single global hegemon), and that this awakening “is beginning to create something altogether new: namely, some new ideological or doctrinal challenge which might fill the void created by the disappearance of communism.” He wrote that he sees “the beginnings, in writings and stirrings, of the making of a doctrine which combines anti-Americanism with anti-globalization, and the two could become a powerful force in a world that is very unequal and turbulent.”
In 2007, the British Ministry of Defence issued a report looking at global trends over the following three decades to better plan for the “future strategic context” of the British military. The report noted that: “The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx… The world’s middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.” In my April 2010 article, “The Global Economic Crisis: Riots, Rebellion, and Revolution,” I quoted the official British Defence Ministry report, which read:
Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism.
In December of 2008, the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned that the economic crisis could lead to “violent unrest on the streets.” He stated that if the elite were not able to instill an economic recovery by 2010, “then social unrest may happen in many countries – including advanced economies,” meaning the Western and industrialized world. In February of 2009, the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, warned that the economic crisis “could trigger political unrest equal to that seen during the 1930s.” In May of 2009, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, stated that if the economic crisis did not come to an end, “there is a risk of a serious human and social crisis with very serious political implications.”
In early 2009, the top intelligence official in the United States, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence (who oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies), stated that the global economic crisis had become the primary threat to America’s “security” (meaning domination). He told the Senate Intelligence Committee: “I’d like to begin with the global economic crisis, because it already looms as the most serious one in decades, if not centuries… Economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they are prolonged for a one-or-two-year period… And instability can loosen the fragile hold that many developing countries have on law and order, which can spill out in dangerous ways into the international community.” He also noted that, “there could be a backlash against U.S. efforts to promote free markets because the crisis was triggered by the United States… We are generally held responsible for it.”
In December of 2008, police in Greece shot and killed a 15-year old student in Exarchia, a libertarian and anarchist stronghold in Athens. The murder resulted in thousands of protesters and riots erupting in the streets, in what the New York Times declared to be “the worst unrest in decades.” Triggered by the death of the young Greek student, the protests were the result of deeper, social and systemic issues, increasing poverty, economic stagnation and political corruption. Solidarity protests took place all over Europe, including Germany, France, and the U.K. But this was only a sample of what was to come over the following years.
In the early months of 2009, as the economic crisis was particularly blunt in the countries of Eastern Europe, with increased unemployment and inflation, the region was headed for a “spring of discontent,” as protests and riots took place in Lithuania, Bulgaria, and Latvia. In January of 2009, more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Latvia in one of the largest demonstrations since the end of Soviet rule. A demonstration of roughly 7,000 Lithuanians turned into a riot, and smaller clashes between police and protesters took place in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Hungary, while police in Iceland tear gassed a demonstration of roughly 2,000 people outside the parliament, leading to the resignation of the prime minister. The head of the IMF said that the economic crisis could cause more turmoil “almost everywhere,” adding: “The situation is really, really serious.” A mass strike took place in France, bringing hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets and pushing anti-capitalist activists and leaders to the front of a growing social movement.
May 1, 2009 – the labour activist day known as ‘May Day’ – saw protests and riots erupting across Europe, including Germany, Greece, Austria, Turkey and France. In Germany, banks were attacked by protesters, leading to many arrests; there were over 150,000 demonstrators in Ankara, Turkey; more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Madrid, Spain; thousands took to the streets in Italy and Russia and social unrest continued to spread through Eastern Europe. Results from a poll were released on early May 2009 reporting that in the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Britain and Germany, a majority of the populations felt that the economic crisis would lead to a rise in “political extremism.”
In April of 2009, the G20 met in London, and was met there with large protests, drawing tens of thousands of people into the streets. In London’s financial district, protesters smashed the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland, which was the recipient of a massive government bailout during the early phases of the financial crisis. One man, Ian Tomlinson, dropped dead on the streets of London following an assault by a British police officer, who was later questioned under suspicion of manslaughter.
In November of 2011, a month of student protests and sit-ins erupted in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, triggered by budget cuts and tuition fees. The protests began in Austria, where students occupied the University of Vienna for over a month, quickly spreading to other cities and schools in Germany, where roughly 80,000 students took part in nationwide protests, with sit-ins taking place in 20 universities across the country, and the University of Basel in Switzerland was also occupied by students.
The small little island-country of Iceland has undergone what has been referred to as the “Kitchenware Revolution,” where the country had once been rated by the UN as the best country to live in as recently as 2007, and in late 2008, its banks collapsed and the government resigned amid the mass protests that took place. The banks were nationalized, Iceland got a new prime minister, a gay woman who brought into her cabinet a majority of women, fired bank CEOs; the constitution was re-written with significant citizen participation and the government took steps to write off debts and refused to bailout foreign investors. Now, the economy is doing much better, hence why no one is talking about Iceland in the media (woeful is power to the ‘tyranny’ of a good example). Iceland has even hired an ex-cop bounty hunter to track down and arrest the bankers that destroyed the country’s economy. As the debt burdens of a significant portion of the population of Iceland were eased, Iceland was projected in 2012 to have a faster growing economy than those in the euro area and the developed world. As reported by Bloomberg, the main difference between how Iceland has dealt with its massive economic crisis and how the rest of the ‘developed’ world has been dealing with it, is that Iceland “has put the needs of its population ahead of the markets at every turn.” Instead of rewarding bankers for causing the crisis, as we have done in Europe and North America, Icelanders have arrested them, and protected homeowners instead of evicting them.
As Greece came to dominate the news in early 2010, with talk of a bailout, protests began to erupt with more frequency in the small euro-zone country. In early May, a general strike was called in Greece against the austerity measures the government was imposing in order to get a bailout. Banks were set on fire, petrol bombs were thrown at riot police, who were pepper spraying, tear gassing, and beating protesters with batons, and three people died of suffocation in one of the bombed banks.
In May of 2010, British historian Simon Schama wrote an article for the Financial Times entitled, “The world teeters on the brink of a new age of rage,” in which he explained that historians “will tell you that there is often a time-lag between the onset of economic disaster and the accumulation of social fury.” In act one, he wrote, “the shock of a crisis initially triggers fearful disorientation” and a “rush for political saviours.” Act two witnesses “a dangerously alienated public” who “take stock of the brutal interruption of their rising expectations,” which leads to the grievance that someone “must have engineered the common misfortune,” which, I might add, is true (though Schama does not say so). To manage this situation, elites must engage in “damage-control” whereby perpetrators are brought to justice. Schama noted that, “the psychological impact of financial regulation is almost as critical as its institutional prophylactics,” or, in other words: the propaganda effect of so-called “financial regulation” on calming the angry plebs is as important (if not more so) as the financial regulations themselves. Thus, those who lobby against financial regulation, warned Scharma, “risk jeopardizing their own long-term interests.” If governments fail to “reassert the integrity of public stewardship,” then the public will come to perceive that “the perps and the new regime are cut from common cloth.” In the very least, wrote Scharma, elites attempting to implement austerity measures and other unpopular budget programs will need to “deliver a convincing story about the sharing of burdens,” for if they do not, it would “guarantee that a bad situation gets very ugly, very fast.”
As French President Nicolas Sarkozy began implementing austerity measures in France, particularly what is called “pension reform,” unions and supporters staged massive strikes in September of 2010, drawing up to three million people into the streets in over 230 demonstrations across the country. Soldiers armed with machine guns went on patrol at certain metro stations as government officials used the puffed up and conveniently-timed threat of a “terrorist attack” as being “high risk.” More strikes took place in October, with French students joining in the demonstrations, as students at roughly 400 high schools across the country built barricades of wheelie bins to prevent other students from attending classes, with reports of nearly 70% of French people supporting the strike. The reports of participants varied from the government figures of over 800,000 people to the union figures of 2-3 million people going out into the streets. The Wall Street Journal referred to the strikes as “an irrational answer” to Sarkozy’s “perfectly rational initiative” of reforms.
In November of 2010, Irish students in Dublin began protesting against university tuition increases, when peaceful sit-ins were met with violent riot police, and roughly 25,000 students took to the streets. This was the largest student protest in Ireland in a generation.
In Britain, where a new coalition government came to power – uniting the Conservatives (led by David Cameron, the Prime Minister) and the Liberal Democrats (led by Nick Clegg, Deputy PM) – tuition increases were announced, tripling the cost from 3 to 9,000 pounds. On November 10, as roughly 50,000 students took to the streets in London, the Conservative Party headquarters in central London had its windows smashed by students, who then entered the building and occupied it, even congregating up on the rooftop of the building. The police continued to ‘kettle’ protesters in the area, not allowing them to enter or leave a confined space, which of course results in violent reactions. Prime Minister David Cameron called the protest “unacceptable.” The Christian Science Monitor asked if British students were the “harbinger of future violence over austerity measures,” There were subsequent warnings that Britain was headed for a winter of unrest.
Tens of thousands again took to the streets in London in late November, including teenage students walking with university students, again erupting in riots, with the media putting in a great deal of focus on the role of young girls taking part in the protests and riots. The protests had taken place in several cities across the United Kingdom, largely peaceful save the ‘riot’ in London, and with students even occupying various schools, including Oxford. The student protests brought ‘class’ back into the political discourse. In November, several universities were occupied by students, including the School of Oriental and African Studies, UWE Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan. Several of the school occupations went for days or even weeks. Universities were then threatening to evict the students. The school occupations were the representation of a new potential grass-roots social movement building in the UK. Some commentators portrayed it as a “defining political moment for a generation.”
In early December of 2010, as the British Parliament voted in favour of the tripling of tuition, thousands of students protested outside, leading to violent confrontations with police, who stormed into crowds of students on horseback, firing tear gas, beating the youth with batons, as per usual. While the overtly aggressive tactics of police to ‘kettle’ protesters always creates violent reactions, David Cameron was able to thereafter portray the student reactions to police tactics as a “feral mob.” One student was twice pulled out from his wheelchair by police, and another student who was struck on the head with a baton was left with a brain injury. As the protests erupted into riots against the police into the night, one infamous incident included a moment where Prince Charles and his wife Camilla were attacked by rioters as their car drove through the crowd in what was called the “worst royal security breach in a generation,” as the royal couple were confronted directly by the angry plebs who attacked the Rolls-Royce and Camilla was even ‘prodded’ by a stick, as some protesters yelled, “off with their heads!” while others chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” As more student protests were set to take place in January of 2011, Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command contacted university officials requesting “intelligence” as students increased their protest activities, as more occupations were expected to take place.
In December of 2010, a Spanish air traffic controller strike took place, grounding flights for 330,000 people and resulting in the government declaring a state of emergency, threatening the strikers with imprisonment if they did not return to work.
Part way through December, an uprising began in the North African country of Tunisia, and by January of 2011, the 23-year long dictatorship of a French and American-supported puppet, Ben Ali, had come to an end. This marked the first major spark of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring. Protests were simultaneously erupting in Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere. In late January of 2011, I wrote an article entitled, “Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?,” noting that the protests in North Africa were beginning to boil up in Egypt most especially. Egypt entered its modern revolutionary period, resulting in ending the rule of the long-time dictator, Hosni Mubarak, and though the military has been attempting to stem the struggle of the people, the revolutionary struggle continues to this day, and yet the Obama administration continues to give $1.3 billion in military aid to support the violent repression of the democratic uprising. The small Arab Gulf island of Bahrain (which is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet) also experienced a large democratic uprising, which has been consistently and brutally crushed by the local monarchy and Saudi Arabia, with U.S. support, including the selling of arms to the dictatorship.
In early 2011, the British student protests joined forces with a wider anti-austerity social protest against the government. As protests continued over the following months all across the country, banks became a common target, noting the government’s efforts to spend taxpayer money to bailout corrupt banks and cut health, social services, welfare, pensions, and increase tuition. Several bank branches were occupied and others had protests – often very creatively imagined – organized outside closed bank branches. On March 26, roughly 500,000 protesters took to the streets of London against austerity measures. As late as July 2011, a student occupation of a school continued at Leeds.
Throughout 2011, protests in Greece picked up in size and rage. In February, roughly 100,000 people took to the streets in Athens against the government’s austerity measures, leading to clashes with riot police that lasted for three hours, with police using tear gas and flash bombs and some protesters reacting with rocks and petrol bombs. In June of 2011, Greece experienced major clashes between protesters and police, or what are often called “riots.” During a general strike in late June, police went to war against protesters assembled in central Athens. Protests continued throughout the summer and into the fall, and in November, roughly 50,000 Greeks took to the streets in Athens.
In March of 2011, as Portugal plunged forward into its own major crisis and closer to a European Union bailout, roughly 300,000 Portuguese took to the streets of Lisbon and other cities protesting against the government’s austerity measures. Driven by the youth, calling themselves Portugal’s “desperate generation,” in part inspired by the youth uprisings in North Africa, the Financial Times referred to it as “an unexpected protest movement that has tapped into some of Portugal’s deepest social grievances.”
The Portuguese protests in turn inspired the Spanish “Indignados” or 15-M movement (named after the 15th of May, when the protests began), as youth – the indignant ones – or the “lost generation,” occupied Madrid’s famous Puerta del Sol on May 15, 2011, protesting against high unemployment, the political establishment, and the government’s handling of the economic crisis. The authorities responded in the usual way: they attempted to ban the protests and then sent in riot police. Thousands of Spaniards – primarily youth – occupied the central square, setting up tents and building a small community engaging in debate, discussion and activism. In a massive protest in June of 2011, over 250,000 Spaniards took the streets in one of the largest protests in recent Spanish history. Over the summer, as the encampment was torn down, the Indignados refined their tactics, and began to engage in direct action by assembling outside homes and preventing evictions from taking place, having stopped over 200 evictions since May of 2011, creating organic vegetable gardens in empty spaces, supporting immigrant workers in poor communities, and creating “a new social climate.”
The Indignados spurred solidarity and similar protests across Europe, including Greece, Belgium, France, Germany, the U.K., and beyond. In fact, the protests even spread to Israel, where in July of 2011, thousands of young Israelis established tent cities in protest against the rising cost of living and decreasing social spending, establishing itself on Rothschild Boulevard, a wealthy avenue in Tel Aviv named after the exceedingly wealthy banking dynasty. The protest, organized through social media, quickly spread through other cities across Israel. In late July, over 150,000 Israelis took to the streets in 12 cities across the country in the largest demonstration the country had seen in decades, demonstrating against the “rising house prices and rents, low salaries, [and] the high cost of raising children and other social issues.” In early August, another protest drew 320,000 people into the streets, leading some commentators to state that the movement marked “a revolution from a generation we thought was unable to make a revolution.” In early September, roughly 430,000 Israelis took to the streets in the largest demonstration in Israeli history.
In May and June of 2011, a student movement began to erupt in Chile, fighting against the increased privatization of their school system and the debt-load that comes with it. The state – the remnants of the Pinochet dictatorship – responded in the usual fashion: state violence, mass arrests, attempting to make protesting illegal. In clashes between students and riot police that took place in August, students managed to occupy a television station demanding a live broadcast to express their demands, with the city of Santiago being converted into “a state of siege” against the students. The “Chilean Winter” – as it came to be known – expanded into a wider social movement, including labour and environmental and indigenous groups, and continues to this very day.
The Indignados further inspired the emergence of the Occupy Movement, which began with occupy Wall Street in New York City on 17 September of 2011, bringing the dialectic of the “99% versus the 1%” into the popular and political culture. The Occupy movement, which reflected the initial tactics of the Indignados in setting up tents to occupy public spaces, quickly spread across the United States, Canada, Europe, and far beyond. There were Occupy protests that took place as far away as South Africa, in dozens of cities across Canada, in countries and cities all across Latin America, in Israel, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and in hundreds of cities across the United States.
On October 15, 2011, a day of global protests took place, inspired by the Arab Spring, the Indignados, and the Occupy movement, when over 950 cities in 82 countries around the world experienced a global day of action originally planned for by the Spanish Indignados as a European-wide day of protest. In Italy, over 400,000 took to the streets; in Spain there were over 350,000, roughly 50,000 in New York City, with over 100,000 in both Portugal and Chile.
The Occupy movement was subsequently met with violent police repression and evictions from the encampments. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was busy spying on various Occupy groups around the country, and reportedly was involved in coordinating the crack-downs and evictions against dozens of Occupy encampments, as was later confirmed by declassified documents showing White House involvement in the repression. The FBI has also undertaken a “war of entrapment” against Occupy groups, attempting to discredit the movement and frame its participants as potential terrorists. Following the example of tactical change in the Indignados, the Occupy groups began refurbishing foreclosed homes for the homeless, helping families reclaim their homes, disrupting home foreclosure auctions, and even take on local community issues, such as issues of racism through the group, Occupy the Hood.
In late November of 2011, a public sector workers’ strike took place in the U.K., with tens of thousands of people marching in the streets across the country, as roughly two-thirds of schools shut and thousands of hospital operations postponed, while unions estimated that up to two million people went on strike. The host of a popular British television show, Jeremy Clarkson, said in a live interview that the striking workers should be taken out and shot in front of their families.
In January of 2012, protests erupted in Romania against the government’s austerity measures, leading to violent clashes with police, exchanging tear gas and firebombs. As the month continued, the protests grew larger, demanding the ouster of the government. The Economist referred to it as Romania’s “Winter of Discontent.” In early February, the Romanian Prime Minister resigned in the face of the protests.
In February of 2012, a student strike began in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec against the provincial government’s plan to nearly double the cost of tuition, bringing hundreds of thousands of students into the streets, who were in turn met with consistent state repression and violence, in what became known as the ‘Maple Spring.’ Dealing with issues of debt, repression, and media propaganda, the Maple Spring presented an example for student organizing elsewhere in Canada and North America. The government of Quebec opposes organized students but works with organized crime – representing what can be called a ‘Mafiocracy’ – and even passed a law attempting to criminalize student demonstrations. The student movement received support and solidarity from around the world, including the Chilean student movement and even a group of nearly 150 Greek academics who proclaimed their support in the struggle against austerity for the “largest student strike in the history of North America.”
In the spring of 2012, Mexican students mobilized behind the Yo Soy 132 movement – or the “Mexican Spring” – struggling against media propaganda and the political establishment in the lead-up to national elections, and tens of thousands continued to march through the streets decrying the presidential elections as rigged and fraudulent. The Economist noted that Mexican students were beginning to “revolt.”
In May of 2012, both the Indignados and the Occupy Movement undertook a resurgence of their street activism, while the occupy protests in Seattle and Oakland resulting in violent clashes and police repression. The protests drew Occupy and labour groups closer together, and police also repressed a resurgent Occupy protest in London.
In one of the most interesting developments in recent months, we have witnessed the Spanish miners strike in the province of Asturias, having roughly 8,000 miners strike against planned austerity measures, resorting to constructing barricades and directly fighting riot police who arrived in their towns to crush the resistance of the workers. The miners have even been employing unique tactics, such as constructing make-shift missiles which they fire at the advancing forces of police repression. For all the tear gas, rubber bullets and batons being used by police to crush the strike, the miners remain resolved to continue their struggle against the state. Interestingly, it was in the very region of Asturias where miners rebelled against the right-wing Spanish government in 1934 in one of the major sparks of the Spanish Civil War which pitted socialists and anarchists against Franco and the fascists. After weeks of clashes with police in mining towns, the striking workers planned a march to Madrid to raise attention to the growing struggle. The miners arrived in Madrid in early July to cheering crowds, but were soon met with repressive police, resulting in clashes between the people and the servants of the state. As the Spanish government continued with deeper austerity measures, over one million people marched in the streets of over 80 cities across Spain, with violent clashes resulting between protesters and police in Madrid.
This brief look at the resistance, rebellious and revolutionary movements emerging and erupting around the world is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it meant to be. It is merely a brief glimpse at the movements with which I intend to delve into detail in researching and writing about in my upcoming book, and to raise the question once again: Are we witnessing the start of a global revolution?
I would argue that, yes, indeed, we are. How long it takes, how it manifests and evolves, its failures and successes, the setbacks and leaps forward, and all the other details will be for posterity to acknowledge and examine. What is clear at present, however, is that no matter how much the media, governments and other institutions of power attempt to ignore, repress, divide and even destroy revolutionary social movements, they are increasingly evolving and emerging, in often surprising ways and with different triggering events and issues. There is, however, a commonality: where there is austerity in the world, where there is repression, where there is state, financial and corporate power taking all for themselves and leaving nothing for the rest, the rest are now rising up.
Welcome to the World Revolution.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
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