Spring Equinox Visions

1. Hugo Chavez: After a Charismatic Leader, What?

Some extracts from a commentary by Immanuel Wallerstein, an American sociologist, historical social scientist, and world-systems analyst. For the entire essay see http://www.binghamton.edu/fbc/commentaries

Hugo Chavez was a charismatic leader.What is a charismatic leader? It is someone who has a very forceful personality, a relatively clear political vision, and capable of great energy and persistence in pursuing this vision…

The death of a charismatic leader always creates a void of uncertainty, in which his supporters try to ensure the continuance of his policies by institutionalizing them. Max Weber called this the “routinization of charisma.”

His achievements seem clear. He used the enormous oil wealth of Venezuela to improve significantly the living conditions of the poorest strata of Venezuela, expanding their access to health facilities and education, and thereby reducing the gap between rich and poor quite remarkably. In addition, he used the enormous oil wealth to subsidize oil exports to a large number of countries…

he contributed substantially to building autonomous Latin American institutions – not only ALBA (the alliance of Bolivarian countries) but UNASUR (the confederation of all states in South America), CELAC (all states in the Americas except the United States and Canada), and Mercosur (the confederal economic structure that included both Brazil and Argentina…

One should note in particular the positive appreciation of Chavez by the conservative president of neighboring Colombia. This was because of the important and very positive role Chavez had been playing as a mediator between the Colombian government and its long-time guerilla movement enemy, the FARC…

Has the regime been authoritarian? Certainly. This is what one gets with a charismatic leader. But again, as authoritarian leaders go, Chavez has been remarkably restrained. There have not been bloody purges or concentration camps. Instead, there have been elections, which most outside observers have considered as good as they come…

What will then happen to “21st-century socialism” – the vision that Chavez had of what needs to be pursued in Venezuela, in Latin America, and throughout the world? There are two words in this vision. One is “socialism.” Chavez sought to rescue this term from the opprobrium into which it had fallen because of the multiple failures both of real-existing Communism and post-Marxian social-democracy…

For me, this effort is part of the larger task we all face during this structural crisis of historical capitalism and the bifurcation of two possible resolutions of the chaos into which our world-system has fallen…

Earth on the edge of a cliff. Hang in there!

2. Is Victory at Hand for the Climate Movement?

Extracts from a commentary by Paul Gilding on The Post Carbon Institute’s website http://www.postcarbon.org/blog-post/1558152-victory-at-hand-for-the-climate

There are signs the climate movement could be on the verge of a remarkable and surprising victory.  It could usher in the fastest and most dramatic economic transformation in history. This would include the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries from the economy in just a few decades and their replacement with new industries

It is more accurately understood as an idea whose tentacles reach into every tier of government, the world’s largest companies and financial institutions, and throughout the academic and science communities.

Far from being at society’s margins it has the support, to various degrees, of virtually all governments, and many of the world’s most powerful political leaders, including the heads of state of the USA, China and other leading economies. It counts the CEO’s of many global companies and many of the world’s wealthiest people as active supporters – who between them direct hundreds of billions of dollars of capital every year towards practical climate action.

It is simply an incredibly big job to turn on its head the global economy’s underpinning energy system. And so it has taken a while. Considering how long other great social movements took to have an impact – such as equality for women or the end of slavery and civil rights movements – then what’s surprising is not that the climate movement hasn’t yet succeeded. What’s surprising is how far its come and how deeply it has become embedded in such a short time.

And now is the moment when it’s greatest success might be about to be realised – and just in time. We are at the most important moment in this movement’s history – in the midst of two simultaneous tipping points that create the opportunity, if we respond correctly, to win – eliminating net CO2 emissions from the economy and securing a stable climate, though still a changed one.

An avalanche of new knowledge and indicators made both tipping points clear. The first and perhaps the best understood is the rapid acceleration in climate impacts, reinforcing the view many hold that the scientific consensus on climate has badly underestimated the timing and scale of climate impacts. This Arctic melting is a symptom of accelerating system change.

…we are currently heading for a global temperature increase of 4°C or more, double the agreed target.

The IMF chief and former conservative French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, said that without strong action “future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled”. The World Bank was similarly blunt about the economic consequences of our current path: “there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

These and other reports laid out the evidence that the only option was transformational economic change because the alternative was simply unmanageable. Action was no longer a preferred outcome but an essential one. As the World Bank said “the projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur”.  Even the IEA, historically a kind of advocate in chief for the fossil fuel industry, came on board, pointing out that a stable climate and economy requires the majority of the global reserves of fossil fuels to never be burnt.

It is an extraordinary turn around when key mainstream economic institutions lay out the case for dismantling what is arguably the world’s most powerful business sector.

What was predominantly an ecological question is now primarily an economic one. This is a profoundly important shift, as economic risk is something society’s elites take very seriously.

The second tipping point in 2012 was the clear evidence that a disruptive economic shift is already underway in the global energy market. There are two indicators of this, with the first being the much noted acceleration in the size of the renewable energy market with dramatic price reductions and the arrival of cost competitive solar and wind.

Of equal importance, and partly triggered by these market shifts, is the awakening of the sleeping giant of carbon risk, with open discussion in mainstream financial circles of the increasing dangers in financial exposure to fossil fuels…The contradiction between what the science says is essential and the growth assumptions made by the fossil fuel industry is so large it represents a systemic global financial risk. This has been well articulated and more deeply explored by groups like Carbon Tracker who have been taking the argument to the mainstream finance sector.

Combined, these two tipping points present the opportunity for the broad climate movement to achieve success, if they are understood and responded to appropriately by the activist, policy and business communities. But first they must be seen for what they are  – indications we are poised on the edge of a truly historic economic transformation – the end of fossil fuels and the building of a huge new industry sector.

…Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase “creative destruction” to describe this process and to explain why it’s the underpinning strength of capitalism, calling it:  ”A process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

…The science is clear, the technology is ready, significant sections of the elite are on side and the financial momentum is with us.

And this time, the economics is playing on the same side as the environment. Just in time.

3. Brazil and the Global Battle to Eliminate Extreme Poverty

Extracted from an article by By Rogerio Studart published by The Globalist, an online magazine

Brazil’s current and former leaders have committed to ending extreme poverty in the country within a generation, if not sooner. So far, argues Rogerio Studart, executive director of the World Bank, the results are promising. In fact, Brazil’s policies provide a model for how governments can alleviate poverty in this era of lean budgets.

Brazil is an unlikely success story in that regard. My home country has long been known for having one of the most unequal levels of income distribution on the planet.

This changed when President Lula da Silva was elected in 2002. He ran on a platform not only to boost social and economic inclusion and to fight poverty and inequality — but also to achieve that goal within a single generation.

Instead, Lula — a man who had experienced long bouts of poverty firsthand — made the fight against poverty and inequality the central organizing principle for his entire presidency.

By the end of Lula’s two-term mandate, the results were already impressive. Income inequality, measured by the Gini coefficient, had declined sharply — from 0.553 in 2002 to 0.500 in 2011. Household per capita income had increased by 27% — from 2003 to 2011. Unemployment rates fell from 9.1% in 2002 to 6.8% in 2011, a record low.

When President Dilma Rousseff, President Lula’s former chief of staff, was elected as his successor, she upped the ante, running on a platform to eliminate extreme poverty not in a generation, but in just five years.

And yet, in Brazil’s case, the target of eliminating extreme poverty is surprisingly close to being achieved. The reform agenda’s cornerstone was a determined expansion of the social protection programs by making sure that all poor households in the country would be reached.

The two key programs are, first, the Bolsa Familia (a conditional cash transfer program that increases the incomes of the poorest families while promoting health and education) and, second, the Brasil sem Miséria (an extension of Bolsa Familia aimed at people living in extreme poverty, with elements for inclusion in the productive sector and access to public services). The per capita transfer is currently 70 reais (or $35) a month.

The two programs now reach 100% of all Brazilians that are listed in the national database used to manage and monitor the social programs of the country. At this moment, there still are 700,000 people that live under the poverty line who do not yet receive payments from either of the support programs because they have not been included in the registry.

Most people, when they look at the challenges of economic development, believe that poverty alleviation is a moral obligation — but that it is also expensive and, even if started successfully, may not be sustainable financially. Brazil’s case shows that this does not need to be so.

The cost of Bolsa Familia has been extremely low. In 2012, the program cost the Brazilian government less than 1% of its budget.

On the social front, the results are solid. While much more needs to be done, Brazil has seen a marked decline in violence and an increase in political activism and cultural movements. In many of the urban areas, ambitious programs were launched to “pacify” areas previously associated with drug trafficking and violence.

A key part of the improved urban environment is that the urban poor now have a sense of destiny and direction. They welcome the government’s focus on investment in families’ futures and especially the smart focus on the young and their education.

There is a quiet confidence in the eyes of young children living in the favelas that has never been there before. Without knowing it, they can sense that their government is giving them a true head start…

4. The wider implications of the Cyprus financial collapse

Ellen Brown in her Web of Debt blog says:

It Can Happen Here: The Confiscation Scheme Planned for US and UK Depositors

Confiscating the customer deposits in Cyprus banks, it seems, was not a one-off, desperate idea of a few Eurozone “troika” officials scrambling to salvage their balance sheets. A joint paper by the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Bank of England dated December 10, 2012, shows that these plans have been long in the making; that they originated with the G20 Financial Stability Board in Basel, Switzerland; and that the result will be to deliver clear title to the banks of depositor funds.  Read more

Written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
 published on The Telegraph and GATA

Cyprus has killed the myth that EMU is benign

The punishment regime imposed on Cyprus is a trick against everybody involved in this squalid saga, against the Cypriot people and the German people, against savers and creditors. All are being deceived.

It is not a bailout. There is no debt relief for the state of Cyprus. The diktat will push the island’s debt ratio to 120 percent in short order, with a high risk of an economic death spiral, a la Grecque.

Capital controls have shattered the monetary unity of European Monetary Union.

The curbs are draconian. There will be a forced rollover of debt. Cheques may not be cashed. Basic cross-border trade is severely curtailed. Credit card use abroad will be limited to E5,000 (L4,200) a month. “We wonder how such capital controls could eventually be lifted with no obvious cure of the underlying problem,” said Credit Suisse.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 20 percent fall in real GDP,” said Nobel economist Paul Krugman. “Cyprus should leave the euro. Staying in means an incredibly severe depression.”

What saved Iceland from mass unemployment after its banks blew up — or saved Sweden and Finland in the early 1990s — was a currency devaluation that brought industries back from the dead. Iceland’s krona has fallen low enough to make it worthwhile growing tomatoes for sale in greenhouses near the Arctic Circle.

The Cyprus debacle has taught us yet again that EMU has gone off the rails, is a danger to stability, and should be dismantled before it destroys Europe’s post-war order. Read more…

5. Is one of the US President’s bodyguards an alien?

The Exopolitics news service has published a video recording from President Obama’s address at the 2012 AIPAC conference at the Washington Convention Center shows a mysterious looking figure among the Secret Service agents protecting him. From one camera angle, the figure looks uncannily like a tall Gray alien; with no noticeable ear, mouth or facial hair. From most other camera angles, the figure appears as a bald Secret Service agent who looks human enough. Not so according to a popular Youtube video that has over 330,000 hits since its March 13, 2013 release. The bald Secret Service agent is a shape shifting humanoid alien, and the video provides detailed analysis supporting its remarkable claim. So was it all just a trick a light, or did the camera capture something we weren’t supposed to see?

Is it possible that the Secret Service employs aliens to protect President Obama, and uses some kind of advanced technology to hide them from the public eye? Read more…

One Response

  1. Thanks for the extraordinarily optimistic piece on climate change, a rare take from someone who seems to know and understand the reality of our predicament. A true test of his thesis will be how Obama decides on the XL pipeline. Obama is one who also knows the right thing, but tends to choose only what the powers that be allow.

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