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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, Part 7: Banking on Influence with Citigroup
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Originally posted at Occupy.com
In the second quarter of 2013, the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, Citigroup, posted a 42% increase in profits which CEO Michael Corbat praised as a “well balanced” result of “cost cutting” programs, including the firing of 11,000 workers.
This big bank has a sordid history of predatory profiteering and criminal activity, not unlike all the other large banks. In the early 20th century, what was then National City Bank was the main bank for the Rockefeller Standard Oil interests. Over ensuing decades and mergers it eventually came to be Citibank, and in the late 1990s, Citigroup. At that time, the bank was dealing with accusations that it had aided in the laundering of roughly $100 million in payoffs by Mexican drug cartels.
In 2000, the mega-bank was accused of abusing borrowers and clients through predatory lending practices. The bank aroused further controversy by helping Enron evade financial rules which allowed the company to hide its real financial reporting from government regulators. In 2005, Citigroup paid a $2 billion settlement to Enron investors who had filed a class-action lawsuit against the bank for helping Enron hide billions of dollars in debt.
A 2005 report by Citigroup created the term ‘plutonomy’ to describe the modern state capitalist system in which there is only the rich “and everyone else”; an economy in which the rich increasingly become the consuming class, driven to a significant degree by “disruptive technology-driven productivity gains, creative financial innovation, [and] capitalist friendly cooperative governments.”
Referencing the United States, the U.K., Australia and Canada as modern plutonomies, Citigroup global strategist Ajay Kapur noted, “The Plutonomy is here, is going to get stronger, its membership is swelling,” and while the “risks” of plutonomies include “war, inflation, financial crises, the end of the technological revolution and populist political pressure,” Kapur noted that “the rich are likely to keep getting even richer, and enjoy an even greater share of the wealth pie over the coming years.” Indeed, Citigroup would ensure that this was the case.
In the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin helped to deregulate Wall Street and allow for massive mergers and the proliferation of dangerous financial instruments in the derivatives market, which helped create the future housing crisis. After leaving the White House, Rubin became an adviser to Citigroup, and ultimately the bank’s chairman, where he helped push the mega-bank further down the path taken by Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to build up an unprecedented housing bubble. When the inevitable happened, Citigroup owned tens of billions of dollars in bad debts. Meanwhile, Robert Rubin was appointed as an economic adviser to the transition team for President Obama.
Citigroup was subsequently bailed out by the federal government, that is, the U.S. taxpayer, and became the largest single recipient of bailout funds totaling some $476.2 billion in cash and guarantees. Citigroup was essentially put into receivership by the government, which decided to reward the bank after its highly effective and efficient participation in the destruction of the economy. The U.S. Treasury eventually sold the last of its shares in Citigroup in 2010.
Since that time, the bank has been quietly settling civil complaints and lawsuits, further proving that criminal activity by major financial institutions comes down to a cost-benefit analysis: if the cost of committing massive crimes is less than the benefit of engaging in such criminal activity, there is little incentive to obey the law rather than pay comparably lower fines after breaking it.
Between 2003 and 2011, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused Citigroup of securities fraud five separate times, with the bank agreeing to pay settlements in each case, amounting to a slap on the wrist from the SEC. As a Bloomberg report stated bluntly, for Citigroup “obeying the law is too damn hard.” Or rather, simply, it is unnecessary.
In 2011, Citigroup paid a $285 million settlement with the SEC for defrauding investors. In 2012, the bank paid another settlement of $590 million for defrauding investors, though it made sure not to admit guilt as the payment was “solely to eliminate the uncertainties, burden and expense of further protracted litigation.” In 2013, Citigroup agreed to pay a further $968 million to Fannie Mae over the bad mortgage loans it sold to the company in the run-up to the financial crisis.
But before you assume that Citigroup simply defrauded investors and other institutions, know this: the bank also undertook foreclosures on hundreds of U.S. military members during the financial crisis, often while the military personnel were in Iraq or Afghanistan. After illegally foreclosing on military personnel while they were overseas fighting wars for the America’s imperialists and profiteers, Citigroup made a later appearance in Iraq, announcing in 2013 that it would be the first U.S. bank to open a branch in Bagdad “as major international oil groups as well as industrial and construction companies are looking to invest in Iraq.”
Iraq is just the latest hub of overseas criminal financial activities for Citigroup, which has meanwhile been struggling to “comply” with anti-money laundering laws after also participating in the largest financial scam in history: the Libor rate-rigging scandal. At the same time, the bank has been dooming the European Union’s crisis countries (namely Greece) to a faster decline, issuing self-fulfilling reports that suggest the region is headed for further crisis, thus reducing investor confidence and pushing the crisis-hit economies into even deeper crisis.
In sum, Citigroup’s fraudulent lifestyle – with its increased quarterly profits – is one more example of how the institutions of the financial system function as criminal conglomerates on a scale far surpassing any Mafia on record. And of course, for such criminal activity to go unpunished, the institution cannot exist in isolation. In fact, like all other big banks, Citigroup is heavily integrated in the national – and increasingly international – structure of elite institutions, with cross-membership between major corporations, think tanks, governmental positions, media and educational institutions.
Thirty-seven individuals on the executive committee and board of directors of Citigroup were examined for the Global Power Project. The most represented institution was the Council on Foreign Relations, with six individual affiliations, followed by Morgan Stanley, Banco Nacional de Mexico (Banamex), American Express, the Foreign Policy Association, IBM, the Brookings Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University, and Stanford University, among many others.
Meet the Elites
On the board of directors of Citigroup is Franz B. Humer, the chairman of Roche Holding, a major pharmaceutical conglomerate. Humer also sits on the International Advisory Council of JPMorgan Chase, and is chairman of INSEAD, chairman of Diageo Plc, a member of the international advisory board of Allianz SE, a member of the board of Jacobs Holdings, and a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists (which advises EU leaders on promoting policies beneficial to large corporate and financial interests). Humer also serves, comfortingly, as chairman of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.
Judith Rodin, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, is on the board of Citigroup. Rodin also served as the President of the University of Pennsylvania from 1994-2004, after which she remained as President Emerita. A former Provost of Yale University, Rodin also serves as a director of Comcast Corporation, AMR Corporation, the World Trade Memorial Foundation and Carnegie Hall. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former honorary director of the Brookings Institution. Additionally, Rodin is a member of the board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) – a joint venture between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote the advancement of GMOs in Africa – and she served as a member of the High Level Panel of the African Development Bank. Rodin currently serves as a member of the international advisory council of the Mary Robinson Foundation, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. She is also a participant in the World Economic Forum, the Global Humanitarian Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative’s “poverty alleviation track,” and she is a board member of Obama’s White House Council for Community Solutions.
Another member of the Citigroup board is Ernesto Zedillo, the former President of Mexico from 1994 to 2000, who was pivotal in implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), much to the benefit of big banks and corporations, and to the detriment of poor and working people. Zedillo had previously served a number of positions in the Mexican government, including deputy director of the Bank of Mexico. Currently, Zedillo is the director of the Center for the Study of Globalization and an International Economics and Politics professor at Yale University. He is a member of the Group of Thirty, on the board of directors of Alcoa and Procter & Gamble, and on the international advisory boards of both BP, Rolls-Royce and ACE Ltd.. He is additionally an adviser to the Credit Suisse Research Institute, a member of the Foundation Board of the World Economic Forum, a former member of the Trilateral Commission, the former chairman of the Global Development Network, a former chair of the High Level Commission on Modernization of the World Bank Group Governance, a former member of the international advisory board of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Coca-Cola Company, a former member of the Global Development Program Advisory Panel of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and he is currently a member of the board of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
William R. Rhodes, another Citigroup board member, serves as a senior advise to Citi and is president and CEO of William R. Rhodes Global Advisors. A director of the Private Export Funding Corporation, Rhodes is a senior adviser to the World Economic Forum, the global management firm Oliver Wyman, vice chairman of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a director of the Korea Society and the U.S.-China Business Council, a member of Korean President Lee’s Council of Global Advisors, a member of the international advisory board of the National Bank of Kuwait, a senior adviser to the Dalian Government in China, a member of the private sector advisory board of the Inter-American Development Bank, a member of the international policy committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a member of the board of the Foreign Policy Association, and a trustee of the Asia Society and the Economic Club of New York. Rhodes is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Group of Thirty, the Lincoln Center Consolidated Corporate Fund Leadership Committee, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Business Committee, and he sits on the advisory council of the Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce. He is a former vice chairman of the Institute of International Finance, a chairman emeritus of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, a director of the U.S.-Russia Business Council and the U.S.-Hong Kong Business Council, a chairman of the U.S.-Korea Business Council, a trustee and member of the board of governors of the New York Presbyterian Hospital, a chairman of the board of trustees of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, and a member of the board of overseers of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.
Like all the big banks, Citigroup is heavily integrated with other dominant institutions in American and international society, which helps explain why the bank can break so many laws and get away with it. It’s not simply financial weight that makes this bank “too big to fail” and “too big to jail.” It’s the institutional affiliations that also help make it that way.
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 hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership: This is What Corporate Governance Looks Like
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
The following is the first installment of a three-part exclusive for Occupy.com on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Originally published at Occupy.com
In 2008, the United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced the U.S. entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks as “a pathway to broader Asia-Pacific regional economic integration.” Originating in 2005 as a “Strategic Economic Partnership” between a few select Pacific countries, the TPP has, as of October 2012, expanded to include 11 nations in total: the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia, with the possibility of several more joining in the future.
What makes the TPP unique is not simply the fact that it may be the largest “free trade agreement” ever negotiated, nor even the fact that only two of its roughly 26 articles actually deal with “trade,” but that it is also the most secretive trade negotiations in history, with no public oversight, input, or consultations.
Since the Obama administration came to power in January of 2009, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has become a quiet priority for the U.S., which overtook the leadership role in the “trade agreement” talks. In 2010, when Malaysia joined the TPP, the Wall Street Journal suggested that the “free-trade pact” could “serve as a counterweight to China’s economic influence,” with Japan and the Philippines both expressing interest in joining the talks.
In the meantime, the Obama administration and other participating nations have been consulting and negotiating not only with each other, but with roughly 600 corporations involved. The TPP is accelerating the most dangerous free market policies of previous U.S. administrations, bestowing unprecedented powers and privileges upon Trans-National Corporations (TNCs) while dismantling regulations and laws without any democratic oversight or input.
This three-part investigative series examines the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a legally binding trade agreement for advancing transnational corporate tyranny and dismantling domestic democratic accountability.
I. Trade Representatives: The Global Corporate Lobby
Who negotiates trade agreements? The answer is simple: trade representatives. The term “trade representative” is essentially another way of saying “corporate lobbyist.”
To prove this point, it would be useful to quickly glance over the biographies of the important U.S. Trade Representatives (USTR) since the George H.W. Bush administration, when USTR Carla A. Hills was lead negotiator for NAFTA and the WTO.
Embedded within the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Hills had a long career in government and was the USTR from 1989 to 1993, after which she established and became CEO of Hills & Company, an international consulting firm with a focus on global trade and investment for clients such as the Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble, American International Group (AIG), Novartis, Bechtel, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Inter-American Development Bank, Pfizer and Chevron.
A few accolades: Hills is a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, Gilead Sciences, and is on international advisory boards for Rolls Royce, the Coca-Cola Company and JPMorgan Chase. She is also a member of the Trilateral Commission, the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Following Hill, from 1993 to 1997, the U.S. Trade Representative was Michael Kantor, who now advises corporate clients as a partner in the law firm Mayer-Brown. A member of the board of CBRE (a real estate services company), Kantor also serves on the advisory boards of ING USA and Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm.
Next in line, from 1997 to 2001 the USTR was Charlene Barshefsky, who is now on the boards of American Express, the Estée Lauder Company and Intel; like Hill, she is a member of both the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.
The USTR from 2001 to 2005 was Robert Zoellick, who afterwards served as Deputy Secretary of State, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs from 2006 to 2007, and President of the World Bank from 2007 to 2012. Following Zoellick, from 2005 to 2006, the USTR was Rob Portman, a U.S. Senator who was a possible running mate for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
And only after him did Susan Schwab, the USTR from 2006 to 2009, commit the U.S. to joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Schwab has since joined the boards of FedEx, Caterpillar and Boeing. Based on the evidence of her and her predecessors’ tenures, it is safe to say there has been a significant interchange between “trade representatives” and “corporate representatives” — to the point where it is almost impossible to distinguish them apart.
Now let’s get even more caught up to speed on appointed “government officials” so we can know exactly what we’re talking about.
In 2008, as Obama was campaigning for president, he stated, “I have done more to take on lobbyists than any other candidate in this race. I don’t take a dime of their money, and when I am president, they won’t find a job in my White House.”
Within a week of becoming president, Obama changed his mind and his “transition team” (responsible for selecting the Obama cabinet) became co-chaired by John Podesta, co-founder with his brother Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, a major Washington lobbying firm.
Podesta was Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff and, as co-chair of Obama’s transition team, he declared his team was implementing “rules that are the strictest, the most far-reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history.” A top lobbyist whose firm has represented clients ranging from Wal-Mart, BP and Lockheed Martin to the Egyptian military dictatorship, Podesta appeared the ideal figure to implement Obama’s “strict” rules against hiring corporate lobbyists, right?
A little further background: the Podesta Group counts among its recent lobbying successes the stalling of a Senate bill which was calling on Egypt “to curtail human rights abuses.” The Group’s website also boasts that it “challenged” Wall Street reform after “one of the world’s largest banking firms came to the Podesta Group seeking help with their opposition” to proposed regulations for banks.
Thus, it should come as little surprise that part of the “strictest” and most “far-reaching ethics rules” announced by John Podesta in relation to lobbying was that no official could be appointed to the Obama administration if s/he had been an active lobbyist within the previous two years. Luckily for Ron Kirk, Obama’s U.S. Trade Representative, these “strict” rules only applied to the Washington D.C. area; and since Kirk was a corporate lobbyist in Austin, Texas, for the investment bank Merrill Lynch (before it was taken over by Bank of America in 2008), the “far-reaching ethics” promised by Podesta didn’t reach Kirk.
Kirk’s main priority since becoming USTR has been the Trans-Pacific Partnership, worked on in secret for nearly four years with several other countries and 600 corporations. President Obama has called it “a next-generation trade agreement” and a “model” for future agreements.
But not everyone agrees.
In May of 2012, more than 30 legal scholars from nations that will be affected by the TPP signed a letter addressed to USTR Kirk expressing their “profound concern and disappointment at the lack of public participation, transparency and open government processes in the negotiation” of the TPP.
In late June of 2012, more than 130 members of Congress followed this up with a letter that they signed and sent to Kirk urging transparency in TPP negotiations, and an inclusion of Congressional consultations, stating: “We are troubled that important policy decisions are being made without full input from Congress.”
In his not-to-worry response, Kirk reassured the public: “I believe … that we have very faithfully operated within the spirit of the Obama administration to have the most engaged and transparent process as we possibly could.”
Meanwhile, the TPP has received strong endorsements from large transnational corporations and their official lobbies, such as Thomas Donohue, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who told the Financial Times that, “[t]his must be an agreement with high standards. These standards will set the bar on regulatory coherence, investment and intellectual property.”
Part of these “high standards,” according to a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group (APEC), are “deep commitments that go beyond tariff reduction and pass existing World Trade Organization standards.” In other words, it goes far beyond “trade.” This was confirmed by Iwan Azis, the head of the Asian Development Bank’s regional integration office, who stated that the TPP was intended to deal with “behind the border” issues, typically decided by domestic policy, and “which go beyond the normal scope of trade agreements” including issues of labor, environmental and intellectual property standards.
Azis commented: “As a concept, this is definitely something big… This is so comprehensive, it is like a Grade A agreement.” The TPP is designed “to be a structure on to which other nations, including possibly South Korea, and eventually even China, could be bolted.”
At the 2011 APEC summit, Chinese president Hu Jintao stated: “China supports the goal of the regional integration of the Asia-Pacific economy, using the East Asian free trade zone, full economic partnerships in Asia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership as foundations.”
The aim of the TPP appears to be in establishing a core “trade bloc” in order “to create a gravitational force that would bring others in,” according to Karan Bhatia, the Vice-President for international law at General Electric and a former deputy U.S. trade representative. Ultimately, this objective includes bringing both Japan and China into the fold.
In May of 2012, Kirk stated that he “would love nothing more” than to have China join the TPP, following the more immediate additions of Mexico, Canada, and Japan. And in November of 2011, President Obama spoke to the Australian parliament, explaining: “I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority… The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay.”
One observer and critic has noted that the TPP has the potential to become a new “global trade agreement.” Charlene Barshefsky, the USTR from 1997 to 2001, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal in October of 2012 in which she strongly endorsed the TPP as a “crucial opportunity” to overcome “barriers to innovation.” Referring to the TPP as the “most important trade negotiation of the past decade,” Barshefsky wrote that it “will set the terms of trade for many years in the world’s most economically dynamic region.”
Gary Horlick, who is rated one of the world’s top international trade lawyers with a long career representing major U.S. and global multinational corporations, and more than 20 countries in international trade negotiations and disputes – and who was the first Chairman of the World Trade Organization’s Permanent Group of Experts on subsidies – commented on the TPP: “This is the least transparent trade negotiation I have ever seen.” As part of this “transparency,” participants in the negotiations had to sign a memorandum of understanding which forbids them from releasing any “negotiating documents until four years after a deal is done or abandoned.”
What Horlick referred to as the “least transparent trade negotiations” he had ever seen, Kirk referred to as “the most engaged and transparent process” possible. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that Kirk has access to the draft document and observes and participates in the negotiations, unlike the representative bodies of governments or their populations.
So let’s call this what it is: a transnational corporate coup over the democratic process and public accountability.
Kirk explained that “there’s a practical reason” for all the secrecy in the negotiations over the TPP: “for our ability both to preserve negotiating strength and to encourage our partners to be willing to put issues on the table they may not otherwise, that we have to preserve some measure of discretion and confidentiality.”
Indeed, this is “practical.” After all, as he explained, if the talks were not done in secret, the public would be aware of what was being discussed, and if the public knew what was being planned, they would oppose it.
So secrecy is necessary in order to make the agreement as undemocratic and unaccountable as possible, to ensure that corporations get what they want while the public remains in the dark. Deceptive and saturated with disdain for democracy, certainly, but “practical” nevertheless.
Part II of Marshall’s investigative series on the Trans-Pacific Partnership will appear Wednesday.
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.
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.
Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book come to completion.
The Maple Spring and the Mafiocracy: Struggling Students versus “Entitled Elites”
It says a great deal about our society when hundreds of thousands of students – already largely indebted, a significant portion of whom live well below the poverty line, who already work what few jobs exist for a generation forgotten before we leave home – take to the streets in protest and are portrayed as “entitled”, “spoiled brats” as they attempt to “negotiate” their very chance of having a future in this society… with a government that supports and works with organized crime, which is beholden to an economic elite, and which supports only those who can already support themselves.
There is something deeply wrong with a society in which students who struggle for a very chance in life are insulted, degraded, beaten, arrested, humiliated and denigrated. First, we were told for years that we were “lazy” and “apathetic”: Generation MTV, Generation iPod, a techno-savvy but reality-detached deluge of pseudo-humanoids. We were seen as concerned only with ‘self’, worshipping of wealth, and with celebrities like Paris Hilton and whatever Car-crashian disaster is on reality TV this week, who could blame people for thinking this? Our media raised us. Television raised us. Advertising raised us. Public relations agencies raised us. They have told us what to wear, how to behave, what to drink, what to eat, what to listen to, dance to, sing to, who to speak to, who to admire, who to hate, what to spend time thinking about, what to be concerned about, what and how to think and be. We were set up to be Generation Obscurity.
But then, something changed: our circumstances.
For those of us who grew up middle class, we started to have a harder time getting by. We worked while we were in high school, but that was okay, the extra money was nice. But then we graduated and it was time to begin our lives. So we either worked full time, or went to school, and probably work part-time. School is expensive, and whether you live in Quebec, the rest of Canada, the United States, or a great host of many other places, school is more expensive for us than it was for our parents. Our minimum wage might seem higher, but the cost of living has soared since our parents were getting their first few jobs, so in real terms, we earn much less. So we lived and often continue to live at home while we go to school or even while we work. With rent so high, and cities so expensive, who can afford their own space in this crazy kind of place? School was still too expensive, even as we worked and as our parents helped however they could. After all, they were and are struggling too. So we got student loans. And now we’re deep in debt.
Suddenly, our world was thrown into a deep economic crisis. Most of us don’t know how this came to be, or who is responsible, all we know is that we only did what we were told to do: consume. And what did that do for us? We’re in debt. All we know is that even though we didn’t cause this global crisis, we are being held responsible for it. All we know is that we are told we are in a “recovery,” but we don’t feel like it. How many people truly feel more financially secure now than they did in 2007? Do you? I don’t!
But now we are told that we are in a “recovery” because those who caused the economic crisis are doing much better. In fact, many of them are doing better than ever! During the crisis, our government’s said we had to “bail out” the banks that had colluded with the governments to create the crisis in the first place. We were scared, so we sat back and watched as our governments gave banks blank checks. First, I should add, our governments worked with the banks in passing (or dismantling) laws and regulations, implemented policies, undertook joint programs, spent enormous sums of money between them, as our political leaders left office to sit in bank boardrooms, and as bankers left the private vaults to the public treasury. This relationship between big business, big banks, and big government (most emblematic in the central banking system, in which private banks with public powers control the very value of our currencies), is what created the economic crisis. And when that crisis erupted, those same governments gave those same banks more money than ever before, to ensure that they were rewarded for creating such a massive global crisis. At the same time, the governments then gave themselves even more power over the economy and their own social and political environments, all the while ensuring that the banks and corporations were involved in every decision, and would benefit from every outcome. So those who caused the crisis rewarded themselves with more money and more power than they had when they created the crisis in the first place.
At the same time, we, the people, have to pay for everything. We have to pay with increased taxes (remember, that bailout money has to come out of YOUR pockets), with rising prices for food and fuel, with inflated property prices (if they weren’t already collapsing, in which case, we face potential foreclosure), with increased debt – not even to consume, but simply to subsist – with decreased jobs, with unemployment, with increased homelessness, increased reliance upon food stamps, increased welfare and state assistance (which comes with intense scrutiny of your personal finances and life), and now, with austerity: further tax increases, less social services and support, mass layoffs and pay-cuts, decreased support for health care and education, increased tuition, and increased struggles. But remember, we have to suffer under austerity so that our governments can pay for all the rewards they gave to the banks for… making us suffer.
This is called “Capitalism.”
Now, take Canada as an example. Canada is perhaps the best example to use in this situation because, let’s face it: we have one of the better “reputations” among Western nations of the world (though largely undeserving), we are seen as peaceful (though we are now always at war), and compared to the rest of the industrialized West, we fared through the economic crisis much better than most. Our banks, in fact – with five Big Banks that dominate the economy – are consistently rated as among the world’s “strongest banks.” In April of 2012, Moody’s Investors Service rated Canada’s banks as the “safest in the world.” And we better believe Moody’s, because they failed to predict the economic crisis itself, and as their CEO even admitted when questioned about the agency being funded by Wall Street firms, “potential conflicts exist regardless of who pays.” For four years in a row, the World Economic Forum has rated Canada’s banking system as the most sound in the world. Even the Canadian Bankers Association praises Canada’s banks. Imagine that!
Unfortunately for their self-congratulations, it was recently revealed that Canada’s banks actually received a “secret bailout” in 2008, for a total of $114 billion, or $3,400 for every Canadian man, woman, and child. The bailouts took place between 2008 and 2010, funded by the Bank of Canada, the United States Federal Reserve, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. The government continues to deny it gave the banks a bailout, instead, our Finance Minister insists, it was just “liquidity support,” which means… the government did not “bail out” the banks with public money, it just gave the banks public money… in “support.” Call it what you will, they gave them $114 billion. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of Canada (our central bank), and a former executive with Goldman Sachs (what’s not to love?), even admitted that the Bank of Canada gave tens of billions of dollars to our private banks. The U.S. Federal Reserve provided $33 billion to Canada’s big banks, while the official numbers of what the Bank of Canada provided remain a “secret,” as the government has refused to respond to Access to Information requests on the subject. Available information, however, points to $41 billion given to our banks by the Bank of Canada by December of 2008. Even some foreign banks had access to money from the Bank of Canada. Thus, Canada’s big five banks – Royal Bank of Canada, T.D. Bank, Scotiabank, the Bank of Montreal and CIBC – received collectively over $114 billion in “bailouts.” Oh, excuse me, I mean, “liquidity support.” And now, these same banks have inflated a major housing bubble in Canada which is eerily similar to that which existed in the United States in 2007, with housing prices dangerously high, and the average household debt at $103,000. But don’t worry, these big five banks made “record profits” in 2011. So naturally, with record profits for banks, and record debt for Canadians, the banks have decided to increase their fees on you! And then their profits continued to increase! Naturally, the executives have been giving themselves bigger bonuses than ever.
This is called an “economic recovery.”
And remember, it’s the students in Québec who are “entitled.” People call the students “spoiled” and “entitled” because they pay less than $2,500 for tuition every year, and are trying to prevent a situation in which they will be paying roughly $4,000 per year. But the big banks, making record profits, got the equivalent of $3,400 from every single man, woman, and child in Canada. But that’s not called “entitlement,” that’s called Capitalism.
So, the banks are doing better than ever, and this means we are in a “recovery.” According to our governments and media, it doesn’t matter what situation you are in, only what situation RBC, CIBC, BMO, Scotiabank and TD are in. Starting in the year 2000, Canada’s corporations and banks started having their taxes cut significantly by the government, whether Liberal or Conservative. In 2000, corporate taxes were at 28%, and by 2006 it was at 21%. In the beginning of 2012, corporate taxes in Canada were at 15%. This was all, of course, done to create “jobs.” That is, after all, what we were told by our politicians who insisted it was the right thing to do. At the moment, Canada has a rather significant unemployment rate, and a much higher youth unemployment rate. In 2006, the unemployment rate for Canadians was 4.6%, and today it is at 7.3%. In 2006, the unemployment rate for Canadian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 was at 8.4%, but by 2012, that has increased to 13.8%. In the same period of time, corporate taxes were cut from 22% to 15%, with the stated purpose of creating “jobs.” Now, the unemployment numbers are themselves misleading, because they only actually refer to those who are on some form of government assistance, such as welfare or employment insurance. The rest of the unemployed are not counted. While the corporate tax cuts did not lead to more jobs, but rather, less… they did lead to more money for the corporations and banks. By 2011, Canadian corporations and banks had hoarded $477 billion in cash reserves as money that was saved from taxation. For every percentage decrease in corporate taxes, the government loses $2 billion in potential revenue. In response, the government turns to austerity measures, which means that you have to suffer and pay for everything, especially your own poverty. Poverty is, after all, very expensive.
In 2012, these record profit-making corporations are getting an extra $2.85 billion in additional income tax savings. Even as Stephen Harper cut the taxes further, he acknowledged that the corporations weren’t actually investing their saved money in “jobs” but that it was just “money sitting on the sidelines.” Since 2007, the cash reserves of Canada’s corporations have grown by 27.3%, reaching $583 billion in Canadian currency, and $276 billion in foreign currencies. So what can we conclude from this? Well, when politicians and corporations and banks say that they are pursuing a particular policy to create “jobs,” what they really mean is to create “profits.” So when a politician says, “We need to cut corporate taxes so that they can invest in jobs,” what is really being said is that, “We need to cut corporate taxes so that they can make profits.” This makes more sense, because this is what actually happens. So it’s not so much that politicians lie, but rather that they just speak a different language. So take note, and I guarantee this is a very accurate method, in political-speak: “jobs” = “profits.” So now when you listen to your [s]elected officials blather on, you’ll actually be able to understand what they are saying.
Oh, and in case you forgot, remember: it’s Québec students who are “entitled” and “spoiled brats.” Just making sure you remember that.
In Canada, we have a situation in which total national student debt is at $20 billion, and with tuition increases, this too will increase dramatically. But don’t worry, increased tuition costs and increased student debt is good for the banks, because they provide a lot of the loans and own the debt, and collect the interest and keep you in their pockets for the rest of your life. And remember, if the banks are doing well, the economy is doing well. You don’t matter… at all. Okay, so total student debt in Canada is at $20 billion, with the average student graduating with $27,000 in debt, few job prospects, high unemployment rates, and in a major social and economic crisis, but the Canadian government is buying 65 F-35 fighter jets from the U.S. military contractor, Lockheed Martin, worth a total of $25 billion. So, we can bail out our banks to the tune of $114 billion, and we can spend $25 billion buying military machines to go bomb and kill poor people around the world, but students shackled with $20 billion in debt must be shackled with more. And if they try to do anything about the increases in tuition, and thus, the increases in their debt, Canadian politicians and the media refer to them as “entitled,” “spoiled brats.”
Here are a few numbers to show the current divide between the rich and everyone else in Canada, what we are told is a hallmark of a flourishing democracy and recovering economy:
– the 100 best paid CEOs made an average of $6.6 million, which is 155 times the average wage for Canadians at $42,988
– the tax rate for the richest Canadians dropped from 43% in 1981 to 29% in 2010
– in Quebec, the richest 10% made 24% more in 2006 than in 1976, while the poorest made 10% less
– with average student debt in Québec at $13,000 and $27,000 in the rest of Canada, the cost of “free education” in Québec would be less than 1% of the government’s budget
– for every $1,000 fee hike in tuition, the proportion of poor students drops by 19%, thus making education inaccessible for poor people
– with youth unemployment in Canada between 14-20%, and total student debt amounting to $20 billion, the percentage of students defaulting on government loans is at 14%
– the percentage of Canadians between 20 and 24 living with their parents is 73%
– the percentage of Canadians 25 to 29 living with their parents is 33%
This is called “democracy.”
With Jean Charest as Québec’s premier, attempting to nearly double student tuition from an average of over $2,000 to nearly $4,000, it might be interesting to look at what Charest paid for his education. Charest studied in Sherbrooke in the late 1970s, where he would have paid $500 for tuition, less than $2,000 in today’s dollars. In 1978, the minimum wage (for those students who needed to work to pay their tuition) in Québec was $3.50/hour. In today’s dollars, that would equal $12/hour, while the actual minimum wage in Québec today is $10/hour. Therefore, wrote McGill University professor Michael Hilke, “it was easier for students to pay for college back then.” But Charest calls us “entitled.”
In point 7 of my article, “Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement,” I provided sources and information regarding the deeply interconnected relationship between the government of Québec, especially with Charest’s Liberal Party in power, the corrupt construction industry, and the Mafia. Politicians, especially the Liberal Charest government currently in power, provide over-estimated public funds to the construction industry to do what costs significantly less in other provinces, and to build bridges and roads that fall apart, and it just so happens that the construction industry is owned by the Mafia. While public contracts are not the main source of revenue for the Mafia (who can compete with illicit drugs? … well, except for the oil and arms industries), getting massively over-estimated public funds allows the Mafia-connected construction businesses to throw fundraisers for the politicians and keep them in power. Thus, the interaction between the Mafia and the government is a mutually beneficial relationship, where money flows back and forth, designed to keep each party in power. But it’s unfair to blame Charest and the Liberal Party for collusion with the Mafia; they are simply carrying on a long political tradition of governments working with organized crime. So, the government supports organized crime and opposes organized students. Ultimately, both organized crime and organized polities serve the same interests. Can you guess whose? I’ll save you the effort, it’s really quite simple, and it’s not exclusive to Canada, this is a global phenomenon: follow the money.
Canada is a market leader in many aspects of the global trade in illegal drugs. In a 2009 report form the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Canada was revealed to be the leading supplier of ecstasy to North America, and one of the world’s major producers and shippers of methamphetamine for various markets around the world, which is so significant that it was revealed that 83% of all the meth seized in Australia came from Canada, whereas in Japan it was 62%. In 2006, only 5% of the meth produced in Canada was exported. In 2007, it was at 20%. That’s pretty impressive! In 2007, 50% of the ecstasy produced in Canada was exported, primarily to the United States, Australia, and Japan. In 2007, Canada was identified by Japan as the largest single source for seized ecstasy tablets, followed by the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. But it’s not Canada’s fault, we are simply partaking in an already well-established global drug trade, the most profitable trade in the world following oil and arms.
This of course is a result of our governments having undertaken prohibition against illicit drugs, just as the United States had done with alcohol, which history shows, didn’t work very well. Alcohol prohibition gave an incredible boost to the Mafia and organized crime in the United States and elsewhere, and of course, included in its silky spider web were corrupt cops, politicians, and financiers. When something is “illegal” it becomes far more expensive, and thus, far more profitable. So our governments have decided to continue their policies of prohibition for illicit drugs: to keep profits up, to support organized crime, to participate in organized crime, to keep the money flowing, keep the prisons full, and to declare a mythical “war on drugs” which accomplishes nothing but further militarization designed to wipe out the competition. So Latin American countries must suffer under our increased military and repressive presence. A few months prior to the NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban had eradicated the opium trade in one year, wiping out the world’s largest opium crop. Following the invasion in October of 2001, and the installation of a puppet president Hamid Karzai in December of 2001, the new Afghan government began colluding with drug lords and opium production began to accelerate. In fact, the drug trade in Afghanistan reaches record highs nearly every year since the invasion. Between 2011 and 2012, opium production in Afghanistan increased by another 61%. In 2009, the New York Times reported that one of Afghanistan’s most powerful drug lords was the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and that he also happened to be working for the CIA at the same time. The CIA has a sordid history with the drug trade, from Indochina in the 1960s, to Afghanistan and the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. More recently, in 2007 there was an under-reported incident in which a CIA plane which had been used for rendition flights (i.e., kidnapping and torture) had crashed in Mexico with 3.3. tones of cocaine on board, carrying Colombian cocaine for the major Mexican drug cartel, the Sinaloa cartel.
Since 2006, the government of Mexico has been waging a massive “drug war” against several of the large drug cartels in the country. This war has been financially and materially supported by the U.S., which has been providing arms, equipment, and intelligence assistance to the Mexican army. The war has been incredibly violent, and widely under-reported in our media north of Mexico. From 2006 to 2011, there were between 45-60,000 deaths related to the drug war. In 2009, the Mexican drug lord – Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera – who heads the largest drug cartel, the Sinaloa cartel, made Forbes’ billionaires list. Journalists in Mexico who cover the war repeatedly get tortured and murdered. Within a six-month period in 2010, more than 11,000 migrants were abducted by drug cartels, either to extort money or to be used as forced labour. An investigative report by NPR in 2010 revealed a deeper and darker side of the story: the war is “rigged.” As the United States gives billions of dollars to Mexico in military and judicial aid, the Mexican government works to support the Sinaloa cartel by destroying the competition. Testimony of top Sinaloa cartel traffickers in court revealed further links between the cartel and the Mexican army. Whether through bribes or other means, including the major participants themselves passing from high-ranking police and military positions directly into the cartels, the relationship between the Mexican government and the cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel, runs deep. The drug trade through Mexico, which is heavily implicated in bringing cocaine from Colombia to the United States, produces profits of tens of billions every year. Even a top Mexican army general and a former deputy minister of defense have now been implicated in ties to drug cartels, something which is not new in Mexico.
A small scandal emerged for the United States government in 2011 when it was revealed that a U.S. operation “allowed weapons from the U.S. to pass into the hands of suspected gun smugglers.” Codenamed Operation Fast and Furious, it was run by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which admitted “that 1,765 guns were sold to suspected smugglers during a 15-month period of the investigation.” A gun dealer in Arizona reported that he was concerned that his guns were being sold to drug cartels, fuelling the violence that has now killed over 55,000 people, and when he expressed these fears, he “was encouraged by federal agents to continue the sales.” Internal emails released from the ATF revealed that the bureau’s top officials were regularly briefed on the gun-running operation. It was later revealed that many Mexican drug cartel figures who were being targeted by the ATF also happened to be “informants” for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who kept the ATF “in the dark” about their relationship with the cartels. At least six Mexican drug cartel figures were also on the payroll of the FBI. Some ATF agents have blown the whistle on the operation, stating that it went back as far as 2008, and that they were “ordered to let U.S. guns go to Mexico.” Memos from 2010 revealed that several top U.S. officials in the Department of Justice, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr, regularly received updates about the operation. Three National Security officials in the White House also received updates. One of Mexico’s top drug traffickers, the right-hand man of the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, claimed in court testimony that he “was working all along as a confidential informant for U.S. agents,” specifically for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). U.S. weapons smuggling to Mexico is no small operation, as roughly 70% of the weapons seized in Mexico came from the United States.
In Congressional testimony, an ATF agent reported that the ATF was working on Operation Fast and Furious in cooperation with the DEA and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). To add to that, an insider at the CIA revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency (aka: the Cocaine Import Agency), “had a strong hand in creating, orchestrating and exploiting Operation Fast and Furious.” Over fears that the Zetas cartel could totally usurp control of the Mexican government, the CIA reportedly intervened in support of the Sinaloa cartel, with its close ties to the Mexican military. In a report with the Washington Times, it was revealed that the CIA would allow the Sinaloa cartel to smuggle cocaine into the United States on a 747 cargo plane, and in turn, the CIA approached the ATF to create Operation Fast and Furious, ensuring that the trade “wasn’t one-way,” so that arms were funneled into Mexico from the U.S. as drugs were funneled into the U.S. from Mexico, all with CIA support. Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, undercover DEA agents were laundering millions of dollars in drug money for the Mexican cartels in the United States.
Within Mexico, the drug money spreads all across the economy, into skyscrapers, casinos, beach resorts, restaurants, the construction industry, and of course, political campaigns. But the 55,000 deaths in Mexico in the past six years have been good for the United States, particularly for gun sales and big banks. In fact, internal investigations revealed that Wachovia Bank, now a part of Wells Fargo, one of the largest banks in the United States, laundered billions of dollars in drug money for Mexican cartels, even as they were receiving bailout money from the United States government. It was not only Wachovia, but also Bank of America that has been implicated in laundering Mexican drug money, worth up to $378.4 billion. Other banks have been implicated as well, in both the United States and Europe. The UN revealed in 2009 that drug money actually saved the major banks, as roughly $352 billion in drug money was absorbed into the financial system during the worst of the economic crisis in 2008.
So what do we make of all this?
We are told that this is called “democracy” and a “strong economy.” We are told that this is the “best system in the world,” which benefits everyone… just not you.
I prefer to use another word to describe it: Mafiocracy.
Now, I did not come up with this word, but it applies, and I can think of no better word to describe the relationship between big business, big banks, government and organized crime. So we are faced with a Mafiocracy, whether in Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico, the United States, or even in Québec. With collusion so deep and embedded between organized crime, state agencies, politicians, and financiers, it’s almost problematic to refer to organized crime as somehow separate, since it isn’t. So let’s call it what it is: a Mafiocracy. A local Mafiocracy, such as the one which exists in Québec between the local Mafia, the local government, and the local economic elite, is inter-related with the global Mafiocracy, atop of which sit the Kings of Capital and the High Priests of Globalization. We are in the age of Globalization, and the Mafiocracy has been significantly globalized and energized. As the Mafiocracy gets stronger, democracy gets weaker, until it is altogether gone and dead, without even a memory remaining.
The first time I heard the term “Mafiocracy” was in an incredible documentary about Argentina, entitled, “Social Genocide,” covering the country’s recent history of military dictatorships supported by the U.S., followed by the age of neoliberalism with liberal democratic governments more corrupt than the dictatorships that preceded them, with an elite so extravagant it would be almost comically-absurd if it wasn’t so disturbing. The film documents the relationship between democratically-elected leaders, narco-trafficking, organized crime, international terrorism, Western banking institutions, the IMF and World Bank, corruption feeding off of the national debt, the privatization of public wealth, and all the while demanding the population pay for the Mafiocracy through austerity and “structural adjustment,” what is translated in real terms into “Social Genocide.” When the people stood up in December of 2001, Argentina’s president declared a state of siege, which was responded to by the population who took their pots and pans out into the streets across the country and to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, and they banged their pots and pans in the midst of police confrontations that killed 26 people, eventually forcing the president to flee from the city by helicopter. The Mafiocracy demanded the people suffer for its own excesses, for its wealth and power, and imposed a rigid, organized, structured and systematic program of “Social Genocide”: what economists, politicians and pundits refer to as “fiscal austerity” and “structural adjustment.” The people took their pots and pans into the streets and said ‘No More!”
For more than 100 days, hundreds and thousands of students in Québec have been on strike against a plan to increase tuition by roughly 75%. The Mafiocracy government, after two months of refusing to speak to the students and instead used state violence and repression against them, finally agreed to sit down and talk in April. They then cancelled the negotiations and threw out a new “proposal” which would actually increase the tuition hike. Obviously, this insulting gesture was rejected. Then there were other negotiations in early May, while the riot police were outside nearly killing a few students by shooting them in the face and head with rubber bullets, the government pressured the student leaders to sign a sham of an agreement, with extra pressure coming from the major union leaders, who only exist today because of their willingness to engage and collude with the Mafiocracy – particularly the government and big business – and so they told the students it was the best deal they would get. The deal did not include a decrease in the tuition increases. This entire process has taken place in the midst of a national media campaign against the student movement, which increased and evolved into a social movement, an anti-austerity movement, and at times, even a small rebellion against the Mafiocracy. The media framed the striking students as “spoiled brats” who were “whining and crying” about a loss of “entitlements.” The latest negotiations broke down last week. Why? Because after four days of negotiations, the only “compromise” the government engaged in, was to agree to reduce the overall tuition increases by $1. Yes, you read correctly: ONE DOLLAR.
This is what it means to negotiate with a Mafiocracy.
But the students continue to march, continue to inspire, and the movement – the Maple Spring – continues to expand beyond the students, far beyond the issue of tuition, and far beyond Québec. People walk through the streets, every day and every night, in defiance of a law passed by the Mafiocracy government which criminalized spontaneous protests. People step outside and bang their pots and pans, walk through the streets, through rain storms and sun shine, hot or cold. People are aware that they could again be pepper sprayed, tear gassed, smoke bombed, beaten with batons, trampled with horses, driven into with cars, shot with rubber bullets, or arrested en masse. But still, they go. And across Canada, and in fact, far beyond, people are taking their pots and pans and stepping out into their streets in solidarity.
Remember that description we once heard for the system of government we were supposed to be living under: “of, by, and for the people”? Is that the Mafiocracy? We were a generation reviled for our trivial technological obsessions, entertainment enslavement, and absolute apathy. So we defy those stereotypes and step out into the streets, day after day. We are no longer apathetic, and now we are called “spoiled” and “entitled.” But that’s okay; people – especially those in power, who speak through the media – always fear what they do not understand. Now the social gatherings of youth are not necessarily at bars and clubs, but in protests and casseroles (marching with pots and pans). Regardless of the outcome, we have come to realize that we are a powerful force when united, that we have to physically, intellectually, and emotionally put ourselves on the line to struggle for what is right. We realized that when our options are to either suffer or struggle, the choice is easy. We have a long way ahead of us, we struggle, we persevere, we protest, we push, we persist, we have not yet prevailed, but we are linking up with people – especially youth – across Canada and around the world. We are using the technology which in one sense had enslaved us to obscurity and apathy, and are now using it to mobilize and organize more than ever before.
We have taken the first steps which are required in a global struggle of people against a global Mafiocracy. We follow in the footsteps of those who have walked before us, whether they are in Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, Spain, Iceland, or Chile. They cannot fight our fight for us, but we can all fight together. Our struggle is global, though we may experience it in the local. With every step forward, we realize the global implications of what we are starting to do, and the world is starting to watch. The people are waking up, walking out, and trying to reshape society so that it does not simply benefit the few at the expense of the many.
This is called Democracy.
For more information on the ‘Maple Spring’, see:
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.