Lost opportunities: G-20 summit and Obama-Putin Meeting and Our Common Predicament by Harry C Blaney III

Heads of state and diplomats have packed their bags. Their minions are putting a positive spin on the results of the G-20 and Obama-Putin meetings. But the reality is that the G-8 countries reached no consensus on how to deal with the many global crises of today. Obama and Putin simply seemed to agree to continue their dialogue amidst some rancor.  More meetings are taking place or have taken place in Moscow, Rio, Brussels, etc. to address pressing issues but with low expectations of worthwhile or definitive results.

Even sadder is the fact that this failure comes in the face of a worldwide economic meltdown, growing havoc of a climate change catastrophe, a Syrian civil war, and a rebalancing and destabilization of the world’s power relationships.

Constructive and bold actions out of Mexico City at both the G-20 and Obama-Putin summit were trumped by parochial interests and petty quarrels of the past and present.

If not now then when will world leaders act?  That is the question people everywhere should be asking. Obama tried to point to paths forward.  He is just about the only major figure who has coherently articulated the globe’s challenges and formed a truly coordinated approach to solving them.

The “austerity-cabal” of Merkel, Cameron and others remain steadfast.  These leaders appear oblivious to a second recession in Britain.  They ignore continued massive drops in GDP in European countries that either have been forced to accept austerity imposed from the outside or have taken austerity measures in the vain hope that good economic theory and historical experience are wrong.

Not surprisingly, these myopic and destructive ideological stances continue to be supported by the world’s one percent. Their disproportionate power over political parties and governments ensures that enlightened and rational policies that benefit the many–on a national or global scale–will not be pursued.

The necessary question is what might change this destructive trajectory? The answer lies at two levels. The first is the question of leadership. The second is the existence of a kind of prejudice and ignorance within our mass culture, our mind set, our politics, and our religious communities that is corrupting our civic society.  Influenced by a coarse mass media and sometimes wakened and misdirected educational institutions, citizens and governments are failing.

The result is that too many government leaders are controlled by vested and narrow interests or by authoritarian governments with little care for the common good. In too many countries ignorant and greedy financial and business titans support the most hateful, greedy, and vulgar sentiments and policies of our day.

The remedy at the leadership level is the need for exceptional individuals with both vision and courage and the ability to articulate to their citizens and to the global community a common destiny, a common interest, specific remedies, as well as provide hope. Yet often countries are led or congresses are dominated by the worst elements least willing to take corrective action.

But citizens also need to be more engaged and aware of the challenges they face and of the wrongheadedness of their conservative or authoritarian leaders that stand in the way of progressive policies and programs. They need to demand corrective action rather than dithering and simply looking after the moneyed interests of the few.

For the moment, unfortunately, the most likely path is half measures that muddle through but do not fully solve the challenges we face – effectively and systematically. But each day the global and national multi-crises like Syria, Egypt, the spread of nuclear weapons, the Euro/European economic debacle, and climate change become more dangerous and the capacity of nations  to act becomes weaker and weaker. 

Will Europe Finally Save Itself? The G-20 role, and Greeks Baring Gifts: We Still Await Merkel’s Answer by Harry Blaney III

There is fresh news out of Europe with the Greek election and there are hints of a trend towards reassessment of the half-witted mantra that “Austerity and unemployment are good for you.” The cumulating evidence on both sides of the Atlantic is that the policies of cutting budgets, cutting workers and letting your GDP shrink to alarming levels may not be the best antidote to the economic and financial crisis we are facing.

First, the Greek elections only proved that while a pro-EURO party came out on top, the broad consensus including the New Democracy party, wants a renegotiation of the austerity terms forced on it and supports a real “growth” agenda.  Second, the G-20 meeting in Mexico is still in progress, but the Financial Times  today notes the group remains in a condition of policy “paralysis”.

But the trend is growing in recognition of the absurdity of the slash and burn policies of the conservative-led governments and their allies who control legislative bodies similar to the Republicans in the United States. There is an intellectual blind leap in conservative thinking that despite the facts on the ground, one must stick to a failed agenda and defend it even more strongly even as the ship goes down. To them suffering of the average citizen or of the most vulnerable is of little consequence.

Earlier there were hints, that at last, the German government, seeing the critical and dangerous crisis of its policies, would finally have brought upon Europe, the “project” that is a united Europe. Yet indications are coming from the CDU leaders that it will stick to its failed stance. Germany has gained the most from the EU, the Euro zone, and from European integration.  Past German leaders took a principal hand in bringing the EU institutions into existence.  It has the most to lose if European unity unwinds.

It is fair to characterize Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German Central Bank solutions as either “too little and too late” or “kicking the can down the road” or more truly as the worst policy possible. That is a benevolent description of the mayhem wrought by the constricted perspective of the conservatives in Europe who seem, like our own of that tribe here in America, to show total disregard for the human and social costs of recession, unemployment, and the decimation of both private enterprises and social infrastructure.

The price already paid is in the trillions of dollars of missed opportunities, productivity, loss of securities and housing values since the crisis took off.  It would have been comparably a pittance of that cost if Europe had undertaken a strong intervention at the start.

Merkel is not alone in this folly.  British Prime Minister Cameron is one of the biggest offenders as seen by the on-going British recession. The ToryLibDem government is an example of this mindless austerity, with its ideological aim to cut government’s role along with human welfare services. One can’t help but believe that they are mainly about cutting the poor and middle class from any support, while making sure the bankers of the City (from who the Tories get their money) are amply rewarded and protected.

Yet as noted, Merkel may not yet be ready to “bell the cat” of awaiting catastrophe. Each day that goes by the crisis or as the Europeans call it the “contagion” spreads. The ongoing crisis has spread from Ireland, then to Greece, to Spain, and to Malta most recently, Portugal, and now to Italy, the fourth largest economy in the Euro zone. Flavored.

If this coming EU summit does not take a comprehensive and conclusive act of unity and provide sufficient resources, then the cost later will just be that much greater. At some point the cost of undoing the harm will be just too great as economies spiral downward and the social and political unrest will bring to the fore the extremes of the right and left and faith in democracy will be lost to those left behind.

America, under Obama, led the way in arguing for a global stimulus and coordinated action to grow all our economies.  It was the strong support of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the new G-20 context that held out a promise of a better global strategy. But the voice of Germany and others prevailed and when the Labour Party lost the election, the stage was set for policies which were clearly going to lower growth and create even larger burdens of debt as a percentage of GDP.

It did not take any genius to know what the results would be. Europe and our own Congress here in the US became captive of rigid ideology that refused to face the facts, and that favored obsolete economic theories.  Here in the US, Senator Mitch McConnell leader of the Senate GOP said that their major objective was to defeat Obama.

In Europe, the acknowledgment by the conservative parties that their right-wing prescription was wrong from the start would have exposed their political and social agendas which were really to cut the underpinning of the social contract and safety net that their opponents had put in place. They saw the crisis as an opportunity to lower taxes and regulations for the rich.  So the price of rigidity and greed won the day and the question is will we have to live with it’s consequences for decades.  Or is there in the end some “light”?

The Crisis of Governance in America and in Europe

Posted from London – Having watched the imbecilities taking place in both America and Europe, it seems we are experiencing a kind of fundamental flaw in governance on both sides of the Atlantic. And the price to be paid is going to be horrific.

In America we have developed an immobilized government due to the absurdness, irresponsibility, and stubbornness of the “crazy” Republicans. The proof of this is a look at the crop of GOP presidential candidates — not a single rational, creditable statesman in the whole lot. Their proposal for “change,” taken as a whole, would be a disaster from an economic, political, and strategic viewpoint. When Americans need the best, the Republicans are scraping the bottom of the barrel.

The Democrats remain defensive and cowered by the assault of the “Tea Party” types, while the right-wing dominated Supreme Court has made sure the rich corporations with their dollars will trump individual hopes and average American citizens on election day. We see a dysfunctional and indeed an absurd second party plus a far right ideological court system willing to hollow out both our constitution and our democracy. The Europeans are looking on in disbelief!

I simply ask anyone: would the framers of our constitution have ever contemplated this absurd concept? Is there a word in our constitution that gives corporations the right of a citizen along with unlimited, anonymous funds to control our politics, including elections?  All this for an inanimate construct whose only purpose is to make money for a few.

Here in Europe, there is almost equal disarray and an unneeded economic and financial crisis, which has reached debacle proportions. The recent crop of European leaders seems now incapable or unwilling of either putting their own national houses in order or growing their economies. Nor do they seem yet able to build a European construct which can collectively save the EU/EURO Zone from financial collapse. Worse they are collectively pushing a disastrous policy of deflation and austerity which will not only bring them down but will also impact most other developed countries outside the region.

The disarray of European leadership is exemplified by the likes of Italy’s Berlusconi.  His recent departure, after bringing his nation to its knees, has necessitated the turning over of governance to a highly qualified “technocrat.”  In France, President Sarkozy is both unpopular and facing a despairing economic outlook and labor unrest with cuts to spending and jobs. In Germany they are seeing a downturn in their growth rate, continued national deficit, and yet they are unwilling under Merkel to agree to a “grand scheme” to empower the European Central Bank and other institutions with sufficient authority and resources to meet any attack on their bonds or credit rating. Yet she still wants some unclear “strengthening” of the Euro Zone and EU. It rests largely in German hands to make the deal that will create stability in the Euro Zone.

Sadly in Britain Prime Minister Cameron has been making contradictory statements, as we noted earlier, about UK relations within the EU. In effect at the same time saying the UK will remain a member of the EU, while also trying to take away its authority and give it back to member states. He even calls himself a European “skeptic” while trying to assert an EU leadership role. The reaction to these statements in Europe by Cameron and his right-wing Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne was disbelief and anger, which did UK interests no good.

Here in London more and more information is leaking out on how Cameron is cutting social security for the poor, the young and the old, and the unemployed. Quietly he is dismantling environmental protections. According to the Nurses Society his policies are cutting or threatening some 50,000 nurses’ positions.  The ToryLibDerms are changing the ground rules for family assistance, which is being condemned by the Lords Bishops as cruel and unchristian. They are also doing what the Republicans in the U.S. are pushing for, namely a devolution of social support funding in such a way as to cut massively funding for the poor and programs carried out by regional bodies but now paid for by the central government. In short, the Tories and their LibDem coalition partners (a better word would be co-conspirators), are carrying out, in a stealthy way, efforts that will make life worse for the most vulnerable at a time when people are already deeply hurting in Britain.

In keeping with their defense of the rich bankers in The City, the Tories will sell the nationalized bank of Northern Rock at a loss to taxpayers of some 600 million pounds.  It will go to Virgin’s Group controlled by Richard Branson who is a big backer of the right-wing Tories.  Labour MPs have criticized the sale as a loss for taxpayers.

As a result of actions aimed at public servant’s wages, salaries and pensions, the public sector unions are going on strike on November 30th.  The government is now threatening to take their last offer to the unions off the table if they do so, and threatening even more dire actions than they have already announced. While bankers enrich themselves at government expense for their misdeeds the Tory leaders think the middle class and poor should pay.

So as America is facing a new political and economic crisis with the “Super Committee” unable to come to an agreement, the likelihood of a closing down of much of government, a showdown over the 2012 appropriations, and a lack of any significant action on a stimulus package, Europe seems in equal disarray.

The national security implications for each side are clear. A nation or a region that is in decline, where political stalemate is the norm, narrow greedy interests prevail, and the average citizen can only contemplate economic decline or ruin, is not a society that can secure its vital interests nor effectively shape a global community that is safe and dealing with its global challenges. Europe and America together either will fall or grow and time is indeed short to sort out the many problems and act before even more calamity befalls the two regions with much of the world’s resources and global reach.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

More Sad News from Europe is Sad News for America and a Wake Up Call

Posted from London–Continuing our perspective on Europe and especially Britain, on November 16th both the Bank of England and the UK government announced figures for growth, inflation, and unemployment.  It was not, as noted earlier, an attractive picture for any of these key economic indicators.

Unemployment in the UK rose to 2.62 million and stood at 8.3%. Unemployment was at a 17 year high in the UK. Growth projections were cut from 1.5% to 1% for both 2011 and now 2012, but with inflation at 5%. In short, the outlook is a disaster and due entirely to the austerity policies of the Tory led government determined still to fire hundreds of thousands of public servants, impose higher taxes on the poor, and cut back the social safety net.  Some people are predicting a double dip recession in the coming months.

But the Tory and Lib Dems will likely be going forward with billions of pounds of bonuses and other payments to the rich City banks barons who with their greed helped to cause the economic debacle.  Another example of the ToryLibDem defense of the rich bankers is their opposition to the “Tobin Tax” on financial transactions, which the Germans and French are pushing in order to obtain needed funding for governments in a time of heavy debt.  George Osborne, the right-wing Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer said such a tax would be “a bullet aimed at the heart if London” —read: their rich backers in The City.  At the same time they are cutting welfare for the poor and unemployed.

Should sound familiar to those in the U.S.watching the GOP votes in the Congress on stimulus bills and the announced policies of their presidential candidates.

It was announced that a new government was formed in Italy under Mario Monti and the Greek government was completing its formation, but the papers were filled with news that the Euro bond yields were soaring as the prices fell across the board in a vote of no-confidence in regards to the Euro zone’s ability to put their house in order. Every day here seems like a day of bad news and unabated crisis.

These are all warning signs for America.  A defacto “austerity” approach forced by the Republicans with their “veto” over all legislation will bring down our own economy. With no real growth in America likely due to Republican intransigence in permitting any stimulus along with the outlook in Europe, bleak is as they say “a British understatement.” It will harm greatly our ability to shape a safe and prosperous world.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

Europe Still in Distress, Disarray Despite Changes in Governments

Posted from London – Coming to Europe one gets the impression that for all the reshuffling of heads of government and promises from other key heads of governments to solve the economic crisis, Europe remains in disarray and the future remains uncertain.  Markets plunged, Italian and Spanish bonds’ interest rates rose to historic levels, and there is no consensus amongst the Euro zone governments on a long-term systemic solution. Indeed their policies seem designed to depress their economies and exacerbate recovery.

Among the many uncertainties is whether the new Greek and Italiangovernments will be permitted to carry out the needed reforms in such a way that they do not lead to further depression of their economies. Things do not look good at the moment. Our TV screen was showing a pompous Berlusconi after his fall indicating that he would stay in politics, implying he may come back.  Just what Europe needs at this moment of deep crisis for his nation. At the heart of the European economic crisis is the total inability of the governments to recognize that austerity policies are counterproductive to solving both the debt problem and fixing the ever higher unemployment and stagnant growth.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s odd stance has been to both stand against giving the power to the European Central Bank to act as a lender of last resort to governments in distress, while at the same time she called for Europe to build a stronger “political union” to support the Euro. Confusion over German intentions thus remains.  In the end, much of the blame or much of the praise will rest with Merkel and Germany depending on whether the crisis is solved or Europe falls into even greater disarray as it continues its policies of austerity.

Likewise for France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose poll standing has plummeted.  Like other nations, France faces serious debt and growth problems itself and seems for the moment immobilized by the political forces within the French society and government and anger both from the right and the left.  The French economy just grew in the third quarter at the annual rate of 0.4%, while Germany the so-called “strong economy” grew at just 0.5% and the whole Euro zone grew at just 0.2%.  So much for the results of “slash and cut” as a conservative policy for growth.

Prime Minister Cameron in his speech at the City of London’s Lord Mayor’s Banquet, focused on foreign policy especially the economic/financial crisis including the EURO Zone debt issue. The problem with the speech is the lack of acknowledgment of how disastrous his own austerity policy has been for Great Britain and especially for the middle class and the poor. The background of his speech was not pretty, either at home or in Europe.

Cameron tried to separate himself from the generation of UK leaders before him of the post WWII generation; his youth influence was in the post 1989 fall of the Iron Curtain.  His focus seemed narrow, with self-serving generalizations, and it showed no recognition of the crisis being experienced by his people. He made disparaging remarks about the EU while saying the UK would not withdraw from the EU and wanted to influence it by withdrawing some of its powers.  Confusing and unconstructive would be a fair assessment.

As noted, coincidently, at about the time of his speech in the City (London’s “Wall Street”) two government leaders, Cameron and Bloomberg of New York representing the rich, used police force to remove protesters of the “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy the City” (outside of St. Paul’s), showing again that the 1% are having their way, and that free speech and the protests of the 99% are being trampled on. None of this will solve the fundamental problems of either side of the Atlantic. As economic conditions get worse one wonders what the impact will be and whether people will feel even stronger that their voice is not being heard.

The resulting instability, loss of productivity, and ever higher unemployment will undermine the capacity of Europe and America to act effectively to deal with the host of challenges we jointly face in an increasingly dangerous and risky world.

More on these events and trends and their implications in the coming days. We welcome your comments.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

National Security and Crazy Economics: Our Downfall Without Firing a Shot

There are many dimensions to “national security” as well as military security.  Increasingly I am feeling that we are more and more threatened by what can only be described as “crazy economics” which seem to be motivated more by greed than by intellectual honesty or sound economics.  It is certainly not motivated by a concern for the unemployed or for the average citizen’s well being. Nor is it motivated by concern for America’s leadership abroad.

I don’t mean just the normal domestic-type absurdity as in “Tea Party” economics and not even what can be described as Milton Friedman-type “supply side” failed economics. What we are dealing with is not real “economics” but rather deliberate class warfare (a term often used by the wealthy, far right to describe any effort at fairer taxes) directed at further weakening America’s vast middle class that has fallen behind the very rich for decades.  It is the “economics” that has decimated the so-called “rust belt” and engineered high unemployment and low worker wages. It is the “economics” that has shifted America’s productivity and capital from building things to pushing financial paper around to generate wealth for a very few.  Now they also want to degrade our schools and educational institutions.

Even now, especially during this economic crisis that has been initiated by the very, very rich in our society, our average citizens are experiencing an extraordinary degradation of their dignity and their political and social voice.  And not least, it has deprived them of their effective participation in a meaningful right to the value of their labor.

Whether it is the taking away of the right to bargain by civil servants in Wisconsin and other states, or punitive anti-Union laws, or efforts at “redistricting” by states to take away the effective votes of minorities like blacks, Latinos, and the poor, it has made America a truly weaker nation.

Continue reading

Full Transcript of President Obama’s May 25 Speech to the UK Parliament

Last Wednesday President Obama addressed the UK Parliament at Westminster Hall. Obama reinforced the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom while emphasizing common values and strategic interests. Obama stressed the importance of NATO, describing it as “the most successful alliance in human history.” The speech received a standing ovation from Parliament and was greeted warmly throughout Britain.

The full text of President Obama’s speech is below. As always, we welcome your comments!

Continue reading