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Tomgram: Juan Cole, The Asian Century?

November 15, 2010 

Source: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175319/tomgram%3A_juan_cole%2C_the_asian_century/

Tomgram: Juan Cole, The Asian Century?

Posted by Juan Cole at 9:15am, November 11, 2010.

For Barack Obama, midterm 2010 has already been written off as a crushing Republican triumph, but that’s hardly the full story.  After all, approximately 29 million Americans who voted for him in 2008 didn’t bother to stir for him or the Democrats in 2010.  Think of it this way: he’s less a man who lost to the opposition than a man who lost his own dispirited base, much of which is by now thoroughly disappointed, if not mad as hell, and evidently not particularly interested in supporting him anymore.

Like many presidents in defeat, he promptly left town (or “the bubble,” as he’s taken to calling it) for places as far east as possible, in this case all in Asia.  In the wake of an electoral blowout, this previously planned diplomatic journey of goodwill was quickly recast as a search for American jobs.  A little late to launch that search, of course, and India may not be the perfect fit either.   After all, any American who has ever made that desperate call for computer or other technical assistance and found him or herself on the phone with some young person not in Bangor, Maine, but Bangalore, India, probably won’t be overwhelmed by the allure of India’s ability to deliver jobs to the U.S.

Nonetheless, the president gamely arrived in India touting one of two industries which make things that go boom in the dark, where the U.S. still can’t be beat.   No, I’m not talking about Hollywood.  You wouldn’t take Hollywood to Bollywood, after all.  I’m talking about that other American boom-time business under bust-time conditions: the making of high-tech weaponry.  India was once a Russian bailiwick when it came to arms sales, but no longer.  So the president arrived with a Boeing deal to sell C-17 transport planes to the Indian military for up to $5.8 billion (and so, supposedly, create 22,000 new American jobs).  A “preliminary agreement” was inked on this trip, while the two countries agreed on a counterterrorism security initiative, and the U.S. lifted certain export controls on dual-use technology as well.

If weapons sales abroad could pull the U.S. out of its present job doldrums, however, they would have done so long ago.  In the post-Cold War era the U.S. practically cornered the global arms market.  If you want to count on anything, however, count on this: we’d be perfectly happy to arm to the teeth the two great regional rivals in South Asia, India and Pakistan, if they’ll let us.  After all, we arm the world (and worry about it later).  Think of today’s piece by Juan Cole, who runs the invaluable Informed Comment website and whose latest book is Engaging the Muslim World, as a preview presidential tour of the coming ruins of the American empire.  Tom

Obama in Asia
Meeting American Decline Face to Face
By Juan Cole

Blocked from major new domestic initiatives by a Republican victory in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama promptly lit out for Asia, a far more promising arena.  That continent, after all, is rising, and Obama is eager to grasp the golden ring of Asian success.

Beyond being a goodwill ambassador for ten days, Obama is seeking sales of American-made durable and consumer goods, weapons deals, an expansion of trade, green energy cooperation, and the maintenance of a geopolitical balance in the region favorable to the United States.  Just as the decline of the American economy hobbled him at home, however, the weakness of the United States on the world stage in the aftermath of Bush-era excesses has made real breakthroughs abroad unlikely.

Add to this the peculiar obsessions of the Washington power elite, with regard to Iran for instance, and you have an unpalatable mix.  These all-American fixations are viewed as an inconvenience or worse in Asia, where powerful regional hegemons are increasingly determined to chart their own courses, even if in public they continue to humor a somewhat addled and infirm Uncle Sam.

Although the United States is still the world’s largest economy, it is shackled by enormous public and private debt as well as fundamental weaknesses.  Rivaled by an increasingly integrated European Union, it is projected to be overtaken economically by China in just over a decade.  While the president’s first stop, India, now has a nominal gross domestic product of only a little over a trillion dollars a year, it, too, is growing rapidly, even spectacularly, and its GDP may well quadruple by the early 2020s.  The era of American dominance, in other words, is passing, and the time (just after World War II) when the U.S. accounted for half the world economy, a dim memory.

The odd American urge to invest heavily in perpetual war abroad, including “defense-related” spending of around a trillion dollars a year, has been a significant factor further weakening the country on the global stage.  Most of the conventional weapons on which the U.S. continues to splurge could not even be deployed against nuclear powers like Russia, China, and India, emerging as key competitors when it comes to global markets, resources, and regional force projection.  Those same conventional weapons have proved hardly more useful (in the sense of achieving quick and decisive victory, or even victory at all) in the unconventional wars the U.S. has repeatedly plunged into — a sad fact that Bush’s reckless attempt to occupy entire West Asian nations only demonstrated even more clearly to Washington’s bemused rivals.

American weapons stockpiles (and copious plans for ever more high-tech versions of the same into the distant future) are therefore remarkably irrelevant to its situation, and known to be so.  Meanwhile, its economy, burdened by debts incurred through wars and military spending sprees, and hollowed out by Wall Street shell games, is becoming a B-minus one in global terms.

A Superpower With Feet of Clay

Just how weakened the United States has been in Asia is easily demonstrated by the series of rebuffs its overtures have suffered from regional powers.  When, for instance, a tiff broke out this fall between China and Japan over a collision at sea near the disputed Senkaku Islands, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered to mediate.  The offer was rejected out of hand by the Chinese, who appear to have deliberately halted exports of strategic rare-earth metals to Japan and the United States as a hard-nosed bargaining ploy.  In response, the Obama administration quickly turned mealy-mouthed, affirming that while the islands come under American commitments to defend Japan for the time being, it would take no position on the question of who ultimately owned them.

Likewise, Pakistani politicians and pundits were virtually unanimous in demanding that President Obama raise the issue of disputed Kashmir with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his Indian sojourn.  The Indians, however, had already firmly rejected any internationalization of the controversy, which centers on the future of the Muslim-majority state, a majority of whose inhabitants say they want independence.  Although Obama had expressed an interest in helping resolve the Kashmir dispute during his presidential campaign, by last March his administration was already backing away from any mediation role unless both sides asked for Washington’s help.  In other words, Obama and Clinton promptly caved in to India’s insistence that it was the regional power in South Asia and would brook no external interference.

This kind of regional near impotence is only reinforced by America’s perpetual (yet ever faltering) war machine.  Nor, as Obama moves through Asia, can he completely sidestep controversies provoked by the Afghan War, his multiple-personality approach to Pakistan, and his administration’s obsessive attempt to isolate and punish Iran.  As Obama arrives in Seoul, for instance, Iran will be on the agenda.  This fall, South Korea, a close American ally, managed to play a game of one step forward, two steps back with regard to Washington-supported sanctions against that energy-rich country.

The government did close the Seoul branch of Iran’s Bank Milli, sanctioning it and other Iranian firms.  Then, the South Koreans turned around and, according to the Financial Times, appointed two banks to handle payments involving trade between the two countries via the (unsanctioned) Tehran Central Bank.  In doing so, the government insulated other South Korean banks from possible American sanctions, while finding a way for Iran to continue to purchase South Korean autos and other goods.

Before the latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions South Korea was doing $10 billion a year in trade with Iran, involving some 2,142 Korean companies.  Iran’s half of this trade — it provides nearly 10% of South Korea’s petroleum imports — has been largely unaffected.  South Korea’s exports to Iran, on the other hand, have fallen precipitously under the pressure of the sanctions regime.  Sanctions that hold Iran harmless but punish a key American ally by hurting its trade and creating a balance of payments problem are obviously foolish.

The Iranian press claims that South Korean firms are now planning to invest money in Iranian industrial towns.  Given that Obama has expended political capital persuading South Korea to join a U.S.-organized free trade zone and change its tariffs to avoid harming the American auto industry, it is unlikely that he could now seek to punish South Korea for its quiet defiance on the issue of Iran.

China is the last major country with a robust energy industry still actively investing in Iran, and Washington entertains dark suspicions that some of its firms are even transferring technology that might help the Iranians in their nuclear energy research projects.  This bone of contention is likely to form part of the conversation between Obama and President Hu Jintao before Thursday’s G20 meeting of the world’s wealthiest 20 countries.

Given tensions between Washington and Beijing over the massive balance of trade deficit the U.S. is running with China (which the Obama administration attributes, in part, to an overvalued Chinese currency), not to speak of other contentious issues, Iran may not loom large in their discussions. One reason for this may be that, frustrating as Chinese stonewalling on its currency may seem, they are likely to give even less ground on relations with Iran — especially since they know that Washington can’t do much about it.  Another fraught issue is China’s plan to build a nuclear reactor for Pakistan, something that also alarms Islamabad’s nuclear rival, India.

Rising Asia

If you want to measure the scope of American decline since the height of the Cold War era, remember that back then Iran and Pakistan were American spheres of influence from which other great powers were excluded.  Now, the best the U.S. can manage in Pakistan is the political (and military) equivalent of a condominium or perhaps a time-share — and in Iran, nothing at all.

Despite his feel-good trip to India last weekend, during which he announced some important business deals for U.S. goods, Obama has remarkably little to offer the Indians.  That undoubtedly is why the president unexpectedly announced Washington’s largely symbolic support for a coveted seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a ringing confirmation of India’s status as a rising power.

Some Indian politicians and policy-makers, however, are insisting that their country’s increasing demographic, military, and economic hegemony over South Asia be recognized by Washington, and that the U.S. cease its support of, and massive arms sales to, Pakistan.  In addition, New Delhi is eager to expand its geopolitical position in Afghanistan, where it is a major funder of civilian reconstruction projects, and is apprehensive about any plans for a U.S. withdrawal from that country.  An Indian-dominated Afghanistan is, of course, Pakistan’s worst fear.

In addition, India’s need for petroleum is expected to grow by 40% during the next decade and a half.  Energy-hungry, like neighboring Pakistan, it can’t help glancing longingly at Iran’s natural gas and petroleum fields, despite Washington’s threats to slap third-party sanctions on any firm that helps develop them.  American attempts to push India toward dirty energy sources, including nuclear power (the waste product of which is long-lived and problematic) and shale gas, as a way of reducing its interest in Iranian and Persian Gulf oil and gas, are another Washington “solution” for the region likely to be largely ignored, given how close at hand inexpensive Gulf hydrocarbons are.

It is alarming to consider what exactly New Delhi imagines the planet’s former “sole superpower” has to offer at this juncture — mostly U.S. troops fighting a perceived threat in Afghanistan and the removal of Congressional restrictions on sales of advanced weaponry to India.  The U.S. military in Afghanistan is seen as a proxy for Indian interests in putting down the Taliban and preventing the reestablishment of Pakistani hegemony over Kabul.  For purely self-interested reasons Prime Minister Singh has long taken the same position as the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, urging Obama to postpone any plans to begin a drawdown in Afghanistan in the summer of 2011.

The most significant of the Indian purchases trumpeted by the president last weekend were military in character.  Obama proclaimed that the $10 billion in deals he was inking would create 54,000 new American jobs.  Right now, it’s hard to argue with job creation or multi-billion-dollar sales of U.S.-made goods abroad.  As former secretary of labor Robert Reich has pointed out, however, jobs in the defense industry are expensive to create, while offering a form of artificial corporate welfare that distorts the American economy and diverts resources from far more crucial priorities.

To think of this another way, President Obama is in danger of losing control of his South Asian foreign policy agenda to India, its Republican supporters in the House, and the military-industrial complex.

As the most dynamic region in the world, Asia is the place where rapid change can create new dynamics.  American trade with the European Union has grown over the past decade (as has the EU itself), but is unlikely to be capable of doubling in just a few years.  After all, the populations of some European countries, like powerhouse Germany, will probably shrink in coming decades.

India, by contrast, is projected to overtake China in population around 2030 and hit the billion-and-a-half-inhabitants mark by mid-century (up from 1.15 billion today).  Its economy, like China’s, has been growing 8% to 9% a year, creating powerful new demand in the world market.  President Obama is hoping to see U.S. exports to India double by 2015.  Likewise, with its economy similarly booming, China is making its own ever more obvious bid to stride like a global colossus through the twenty-first century.

The Hessians of a Future Asia?

Unsurprisingly, beneath the pomp and splendor of Obama’s journey through Asia has lurked a far tawdrier vision — of a much weakened president presiding over a much weakened superpower, both looking somewhat desperately for succor abroad. If the United States is to remain a global power, it is important that Washington offer something to the world besides arms and soldiers.

Obama has been on the money when he’s promoted green-energy technology as a key field where the United States could make its mark (and possibly its fortune) globally.  Unfortunately, as elsewhere, here too the United States is falling behind, and a Republican House as well as a bevy of new Republican governors and state legislatures are highly unlikely to effectively promote the greening of American technology.

In the end, Obama’s trip has proven a less than effective symbolic transition from George W. Bush’s muscular unilateralism to a new American-led multilateralism in Asia.  Rather, at each stop, Obama has bumped up against the limits of American economic and diplomatic clout in the new Asian world order.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney thought in terms of expanding American conventional military weapons stockpiles and bases, occupying countries when necessary, and so ensuring that the U.S. would dominate key planetary resources for decades to come.  Their worldview, however, was mired in mid-twentieth-century power politics.

If they thought they were placing a marker down on another American century, they were actually gambling away the very houses we live in and reducing us to a debtor nation struggling to retain its once commanding superiority in the world economy.  In the meantime, the multi-millionaires and billionaires created by neoliberal policies and tax cuts in the West will be as happy to invest in (and perhaps live in) Asia as in the United States.

In the capitals of a rising Asia, Washington’s incessant campaign to strengthen sanctions against Iran, and in some quarters its eagerness for war with that country, is viewed as another piece of lunatic adventurism.  The leaders of India, China, and South Korea, among other countries, are determined to do their best to sidestep this American obsession and integrate Iran into their energy and trading futures.

In some ways, the darkest vision of an American future arrived in 1991 thanks to President George H. W. Bush.  At that time, he launched a war in the Persian Gulf to protect local oil producers from an aggressive Iraq.  That war was largely paid for by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, rendering the U.S. military for the first time a sort of global mercenary force.  Just as the poor in any society often join the military as a way of moving up in the world, so in the century of Asia, the U.S. could find itself in danger of being reduced to the role of impoverished foot soldier fighting for others’ interests, or of being the glorified ironsmiths making arsenals of weaponry for the great powers of the future.

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan.  His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Comment website.

Copyright 2010 Juan Cole

Hawaii foreclosures soar – military homebuyers a key factor

May 13, 2010 

The following article in the Honolulu Star Bulletin reports that foreclosures are soaring in Hawai’i.  Although military housing allowances have historically tended to inflate the cost of housing in Hawai’i, with disruptions due to multiple deployments, military families who invested their housing allowances in buying homes seem to be getting hit hard by the downturn in the housing market.   Here’s an instance where the military economy is more volatile due to unpredictability of military plans and movements.

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http://www.starbulletin.com/business/20100513_hawaii_foreclosures_soar.html

Hawaii foreclosures soar

The rate surges 115 percent, with Maui and the Big Island seeing huge increases and Oahu faring much better

By Gene Park

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 13, 2010

Oahu remained well below the national rate of foreclosures in April, but the Big Island and Maui markets took large hits.

There were 1,474 Hawaii properties that received foreclosure notices last month, according to RealtyTrac, an online foreclosure marketplace.

That was a 115.5 percent increase over April 2009 foreclosure numbers.

Hawaii’s April foreclosures, which equated to one in every 348 households, added up to a higher rate than the national rate of foreclosures, which was one in every 387.

Oahu fared the best, with one in every 580 homes. But Maui and the Big Island saw a high rate, with one in every 187 and one in every 179 homes, respectively. There was one foreclosure in every 313 homes on Kauai.

“I think we’re just gonna see more inventory hitting every day,” said Big Island and Maui Realtor Howard Dinits. “The foreclosure process takes a long time in Hawaii.”

Nationwide the number of homes facing foreclosure fell 2.4 percent from a year ago in April. James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said the April national numbers indicate a plateau in foreclosures, but “at a very high level that will not drop off in the near future.”

The number of borrowers losing their homes is still rising. Banks seized a record 92,000 homes last month.

And there are millions more potential foreclosures ahead. Nearly 7.4 million borrowers, or 12 percent of all households with a mortgage, had missed at least one month of payments or were in foreclosure as of March, according to Lender Processing Services Inc., a mortgage data research firm.

As the economy turns around, “you will see an improvement in housing markets and in foreclosure activity,” said Rick Sharga, a RealtyTrac senior vice president. “The problem is that there’s such a backlog right now.”

Among states, Nevada posted the highest foreclosure rate in April, with one in every 69 households receiving a foreclosure notice.

Foreclosures there were up 10 percent from March, but virtually unchanged from a year earlier. Next on the list were Arizona, Florida, California and Michigan.

Hawaii landed in 11th place. The top five neighborhoods in the state with the most foreclosures were Kailua-Kona, Kihei, Ewa Beach, Lahaina and Waikoloa.

Dinits said Waikoloa and Kihei foreclosures are due to a large number of owners who own second homes.

“It’s an investment for them,” Dinits said. “That’s the real reason for the high numbers in those areas.

“If you gotta make a choice between your house or your vacation house, you’re gonna keep your house.”

Dinits said he is currently working on a foreclosure at an Ewa Beach home. He said the military community there might be experiencing transfers, routine changes in duty stations.

But David Kucic, a Realtor who specializes in Ewa Beach sales, said many of the Ewa Beach homes might be short sales, where sale prices are lower than the balance owed on the property’s loan, being counted as foreclosures.

“It’s not like you have 89 foreclosures,” Kucic said, referring to RealtyTrac’s statistics on Ewa Beach. “A property would actively be trying to sell as a short sale, but it will get reported as a foreclosure.”

Kucic said he is seeing a lot of activity in Ewa Beach, a sharp contrast to last year’s slow market.

“Last year, you could find a property no problem,” Kucic said. “But the competition is stiff right now.

“Even though the first-time homebuyer’s tax credit is gone, there are still a lot of buyers looking for properties.”

OUT OF THE HOUSE

Kailua-Kona had the most foreclosures in April, according to RealtyTrac, an online foreclosure marketplace. Below are the state’s foreclosure hot spots last month:
ZIP code Neighborhood Foreclosures No. per household
1. 96740 Kailua-Kona 193 83
2. 96753 Kihei 122 138
3. 96706 Ewa Beach 89 155
4. 96761 Lahaina 75 167
5. 96738 Waikoloa 73 41

Source: RealtyTrac

NO PLACE TO CALL HOME

Hawaii’s monthly foreclosures over the past year, including the year-over-year percentage gain:

2010
Month Total Change
April 1,474 +115.5%
March 1,097 +51.5%
February 972 +81.0%
January 1,302 +286.4%
2009
Month Total Change
December 1,534 +207.4%
November 872 +121.9%
October 925 +134.2%
September 969 +63.1%
August 869 +158.6%
July 990 +332.3%
June 706 +426.9%
May 816 +397.6%
April 684 +216.7%
March 724 +503.3%
February 537 +275.5%
January 337 +174.0%

Source: RealtyTrac

Isle Army recruitment trend mirrors nationwide upswing

March 13, 2010 

http://www.starbulletin.com/news/20100314_Isle_Army_recruitment_trend_mirrors_nationwide_upswing.html

Isle Army recruitment trend mirrors nationwide upswing

The poor economy is downplayed as a factor for enlistment gains

By Gregg K. Kakesako

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Mar 14, 2010

For Army recruiters the numbers are up.

“Last year was a banner year for us,” says Maj. Gen. Donald Campbell, head of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, headquartered at Fort Knox, Ky.

In signing up 93,729 soldiers, Army recruiters recorded 107.1 percent of their goal of 87,500.

In Hawaii the numbers were equally high.

Maj. Brian Blitch, who commands the Honolulu recruiting company, said the 51 active Army and Army Reserve recruiters working out of the federal building surpassed their goal of 658 soldiers by enlisting 675.

Of that number, 481 were signed up for the active Army, while 194 chose the Army Reserve.

So far this year, Army recruiters here are 133 percent ahead of their assigned mission of enlisting 237 new soldiers this quarter.

Campbell, who is completing a two-week tour of the Asia-Pacific area after assuming command 10 months ago, told reporters last week while high unemployment contributes to recruiting, he would rather credit his soldiers and their families for exceeding recruitment goals.

“I don’t like to give the economy a lot of the credit like some of the experts do,” Campbell added. “I give the credit to the noncommissioned officers who are recruiters for us, our Army civilians, contractors and families who tell the Army story and help us recruit.”

Blitch’s company of recruiters in Hawaii ranks sixth out of 244 companies in the Army’s recruiting system.

Besides the economy and the efforts of the recruiters here, Campbell said the “large military presence” in the islands contributes to the success.

“Service to country resonates with young men and women today, and that’s what we are seeing,” he said.

Lt. Col. Rodney Laszlo, professor of military science at the University of Hawaii’s Army ROTC program, said that for the first time in a decade, this year’s commissioning ceremony of 30 new second lieutenants will take place at the Waikiki Shell because the graduating class is so large. The ceremony is May 17. There are actually 40 senior Army ROTC cadets, but some have already been commissioned, he added.

America, the fragile empire

March 9, 2010 

Coming from a conservative historian who has written about the U.S. Empire as a necessary force for good in the world, Niall Ferguson’s bleak assessment of the U.S. Empire is noteworthy.    His analysis suggests that a sudden collapse of the U.S. Empire is possible.  Will  peace and justice movements be able to capitalize on this?   Or will it create a long nightmare of reaction?

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http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-ferguson28-2010feb28,0,7706980.story

Opinion

America, the fragile empire

Here today, gone tomorrow — could the United States fall that fast?

By Niall Ferguson

February 28, 2010

For centuries, historians, political theorists, anthropologists and the public have tended to think about the political process in seasonal, cyclical terms. From Polybius to Paul Kennedy, from ancient Rome to imperial Britain, we discern a rhythm to history. Great powers, like great men, are born, rise, reign and then gradually wane. No matter whether civilizations decline culturally, economically or ecologically, their downfalls are protracted.

In the same way, the challenges that face the United States are often represented as slow-burning. It is the steady march of demographics — which is driving up the ratio of retirees to workers — not bad policy that condemns the public finances of the United States to sink deeper into the red. It is the inexorable growth of China’s economy, not American stagnation, that will make the gross domestic product of the People’s Republic larger than that of the United States by 2027.

As for climate change, the day of reckoning could be as much as a century away. These threats seem very remote compared with the time frame for the deployment of U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan, in which the unit of account is months, not years, much less decades.

But what if history is not cyclical and slow-moving but arrhythmic — at times almost stationary but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?

Great powers are complex systems, made up of a very large number of interacting components that are asymmetrically organized, which means their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder. Such systems can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when complex systems “go critical.” A very small trigger can set off a “phase transition” from a benign equilibrium to a crisis — a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse.

Not long after such crises happen, historians arrive on the scene. They are the scholars who specialize in the study of “fat tail” events — the low-frequency, high-impact historical moments, the ones that are by definition outside the norm and that therefore inhabit the “tails” of probability distributions — such as wars, revolutions, financial crashes and imperial collapses. But historians often misunderstand complexity in decoding these events. They are trained to explain calamity in terms of long-term causes, often dating back decades. This is what Nassim Taleb rightly condemned in “The Black Swan” as “the narrative fallacy.”

In reality, most of the fat-tail phenomena that historians study are not the climaxes of prolonged and deterministic story lines; instead, they represent perturbations, and sometimes the complete breakdowns, of complex systems.

To understand complexity, it is helpful to examine how natural scientists use the concept. Think of the spontaneous organization of termites, which allows them to construct complex hills and nests, or the fractal geometry of water molecules as they form intricate snowflakes. Human intelligence itself is a complex system, a product of the interaction of billions of neurons in the central nervous system.

All these complex systems share certain characteristics. A small input to such a system can produce huge, often unanticipated changes — what scientists call “the amplifier effect.” Causal relationships are often nonlinear, which means that traditional methods of generalizing through observation are of little use. Thus, when things go wrong in a complex system, the scale of disruption is nearly impossible to anticipate.

There is no such thing as a typical or average forest fire, for example. To use the jargon of modern physics, a forest before a fire is in a state of “self-organized criticality”: It is teetering on the verge of a breakdown, but the size of the breakdown is unknown. Will there be a small fire or a huge one? It is nearly impossible to predict. The key point is that in such systems, a relatively minor shock can cause a disproportionate disruption.

Any large-scale political unit is a complex system. Most great empires have a nominal central authority — either a hereditary emperor or an elected president — but in practice the power of any individual ruler is a function of the network of economic, social and political relations over which he or she presides. As such, empires exhibit many of the characteristics of other complex adaptive systems — including the tendency to move from stability to instability quite suddenly.

The most recent and familiar example of precipitous decline is the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the benefit of hindsight, historians have traced all kinds of rot within the Soviet system back to the Brezhnev era and beyond. Perhaps, as the historian and political scientist Stephen Kotkin has argued, it was only the high oil prices of the 1970s that “averted Armageddon.” But this did not seem to be the case at the time. The Soviet nuclear arsenal was larger than the U.S. stockpile. And governments in what was then called the Third World, from Vietnam to Nicaragua, had been tilting in the Soviets’ favor for most of the previous 20 years.

Yet, less than five years after Mikhail Gorbachev took power, the Soviet imperium in central and Eastern Europe had fallen apart, followed by the Soviet Union itself in 1991. If ever an empire fell off a cliff, rather than gently declining, it was the one founded by Lenin.

If empires are complex systems that sooner or later succumb to sudden and catastrophic malfunctions, what are the implications for the United States today? First, debating the stages of decline may be a waste of time — it is a precipitous and unexpected fall that should most concern policymakers and citizens. Second, most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises. Alarm bells should therefore be ringing very loudly indeed as the United States contemplates a deficit for 2010 of more than $1.5 trillion — about 11% of GDP, the biggest since World War II.

These numbers are bad, but in the realm of political entities, the role of perception is just as crucial. In imperial crises, it is not the material underpinnings of power that really matter but expectations about future power. The fiscal numbers cited above cannot erode U.S. strength on their own, but they can work to weaken a long-assumed faith in the United States’ ability to weather any crisis.

One day, a seemingly random piece of bad news — perhaps a negative report by a rating agency — will make the headlines during an otherwise quiet news cycle. Suddenly, it will be not just a few policy wonks who worry about the sustainability of U.S. fiscal policy but the public at large, not to mention investors abroad. It is this shift that is crucial: A complex adaptive system is in big trouble when its component parts lose faith in its viability.

Over the last three years, the complex system of the global economy flipped from boom to bust — all because a bunch of Americans started to default on their subprime mortgages, thereby blowing huge holes in the business models of thousands of highly leveraged financial institutions. The next phase of the current crisis may begin when the public begins to reassess the credibility of the radical monetary and fiscal steps that were taken in response.

Neither interest rates at zero nor fiscal stimulus can achieve a sustainable recovery if people in the United States and abroad collectively decide, overnight, that such measures will ultimately lead to much higher inflation rates or outright default. Bond yields can shoot up if expectations change about future government solvency, intensifying an already bad fiscal crisis by driving up the cost of interest payments on new debt. Just ask Greece.

Ask Russia too. Fighting a losing battle in the mountains of the Hindu Kush has long been a harbinger of imperial fall. What happened 20 years ago is a reminder that empires do not in fact appear, rise, reign, decline and fall according to some recurrent and predictable life cycle. It is historians who retrospectively portray the process of imperial dissolution as slow-acting. Rather, empires behave like all complex adaptive systems. They function in apparent equilibrium for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly, they collapse.

Washington, you have been warned.

Niall Ferguson is a professor at Harvard University and Harvard Business School, and a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. His latest book is “The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World.” A longer version of this essay appears in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

With jobs harder to find, work gets easier for Army recruiters

August 15, 2009 

August 12th, 2009 6:36 pm

With jobs harder to find, work gets easier for Army recruiters

Traditionally the Army has attracted the young. But as the number of jobs dwindles across the country, more Americans are enlisting later in life, drawn by the promise of steady work and benefits.

By Alexandra Zavis / Los Angeles Times

If you’re looking for Michael March, he’s probably in the basement, slogging on the treadmill. Or he may be doing push-ups in front of the TV.

At 38, he wants to be prepared when he begins Army basic training later this week.

“I know I’m going to get picked on as the old guy in boot camp,” he said. “I don’t want to be last.”

Traditionally the Army has attracted the young, many of them fresh out of high school. They join for the promise of adventure, the chance to be part of something bigger, and a free college education. But as the number of jobs dwindles across the country, more Americans are enlisting later in life, drawn by the promise of steady work and generous benefits.

Although March may not be as fit as he was in his teens, his recruiters in Torrance say he brings to the Army experience and maturity that younger soldiers lack.

Not long ago, the Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion struggled to find applicants who met the minimum education requirements: a high school diploma or equivalent. Now, says the station commander, Staff Sgt. A.J. Calderon, he has people turning up with master’s degrees.

“I’ve been a recruiter for four years, and I’ve never seen that before,” Calderon said. “This is definitely a good thing for the Army.”

More than 1,800 recruits who were 30 or older signed up for the Army in the first half of the 2009 fiscal year that began last October, a 59% increase over the same period last year. The Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion enlisted 63 of them, a 50% increase. An additional 713 people 30 or older joined the Army Reserve, including 22 in Los Angeles.

Although the pace slowed over the summer, recruiters say they continue to get inquiries from people well over 30, many of them facing financial hardship because of the loss of a job or reduced work hours.

March, who is from Torrance, signed up in April. If he was feeling anxious about the decision, he did not show it when he walked into the busy office in a Torrance strip mall two weeks ago to meet with his recruiter before shipping out to Ft. Sill in Oklahoma. He had already shaved his head, and he smiled broadly when he was asked to stand in front of an American flag for a commemorative snapshot.

March had drifted between jobs for years as he tried to raise the money to complete a computer science degree. In 2007, he was offered a position managing the bars at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds in Oklahoma and thought he might make a career in the food and beverage business. But last November, he was laid off. Already deep into debt, he returned to California and moved in with his father.

“I figured I would get a job in a hotel, but there was nothing out there,” he said. “I had resumes out on every job search engine. I was interviewing three, four times a week. No one would offer me anything that I can support myself on.”

It took him three months to land a job making pizzas for $10 an hour, about what he was earning when he graduated from high school.

“That’s when I decided I could either rack up more loans while I complete my degree, or I can have the military pay for it,” March said.

March thinks it’s likely he will be sent to Afghanistan, where U.S. casualties are mounting. He’s decided the benefits outweigh the risks. In addition to a free education, the job comes with attractive health, retirement and housing options. March had also accumulated sufficient college credit to enlist as a private first class, which means more pay.

Four years ago, the Army would not have been an option for a man his age. The cutoff for new recruits without previous military experience was 35. But in June 2006, the Army, then barely meeting recruiting goals, raised the age to 42, the highest among the branches.

The Army has the military’s largest quota to fill, and along with the Marine Corps, its members have borne the brunt of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although the Army has met its annual recruitment goals every year since 2006, officers say it was difficult until recently — especially in large cities like Los Angeles, where there are many other options for young people.

But rising unemployment and recent cuts to the state welfare system have helped make the Army more attractive to people of all ages, recruiters say. They also credit security gains in Iraq and the expanded education benefits contained in the new GI Bill, which took effect this month.

With more applicants, the Army can be more choosy. In March, it stopped issuing waivers for recruits who committed serious crimes as adults or who tested positive for drugs or alcohol use.

The decision to raise the cutoff age brought in 1,329 additional active-duty soldiers in 2007 and 1,243 in 2008. But they remained a relatively small portion of the 80,517 men and women who enlisted last year.

Recruiters in Torrance said they have been receiving more inquiries since the fall, when major financial institutions collapsed and unemployment spread rapidly. As March went over a pre-boot camp checklist with his recruiter, two other people over the age of 30 dropped by.

Laurel Smith, 33, a divorced mother of two from Lomita, wanted to know if she could earn some money in the Army Reserve while searching for full-time work. Smith was laid off from two administrative posts this year. Then she learned the state was reducing her medical coverage to help close a massive budget deficit.

“It looks good on the resume to have the military experience,” said Smith, whose father was in the Air Force.

Brian Bolte, 40, served as a tank gunner in the Army Reserve after high school but left in 1990 to start his own printing company. He got married, had a daughter and bought a home in Redondo Beach. Last year, the bottom fell out of the printing business and he lost half his income.

Bolte had already weathered three economic downturns and decided it was time for a career change. So he went back to the Army to see if he could enlist as a military policeman and pursue a degree in criminology.

“I have faith the economy will turn around,” he said, “and hopefully I will be in a good position in five years when I come out.” Like March, he worries about keeping up with younger soldiers and has started training twice a day. But that is less of a concern to the Army.

“Today’s older adults are probably in better physical shape than previous generations,” said S. Douglas Smith, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Command at Ft. Knox, Ky. At the same time, he said, “these older recruits would bring a wide variety of life experience and maturity that our more youthful recruits might not have.”

For Calderon, who runs the Torrance station, the only drawback is that older recruits tend not to stay in the Army as long.

“The young ones tend to . . . make it more of a career,” he said. “The older ones go in, get the benefits and leave.”

March is planning to stay only long enough to clear his debts, pick up some new skills and finish his degree.

“A piece of paper means a lot, believe me,” he said. “It only took me 20 years to figure it out.”

Source: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-older-recruits11-2009aug11,0,4342762.story

Capitalism’s Demise? interview with Immanuel Wallerstein

January 14, 2009 

Capitalism’s Demise?

Immanuel Wallerstein interviewed by Jae-Jung Suh
2009/01/12

The financial crisis sweeping the world has led many to reconsider the neoliberal premises of the U.S. government. Jae-Jung Suh sits down with sociologist and world systems theorist Immanuel Wallerstein to consider the paradigm shift in global thinking on economic policy and the future of capitalism.

Crisis? What Crisis?

Suh: These days, everybody is talking about a crisis. But everyone has a different definition of crisis. Some talk about a financial crisis, others about a more general economic crisis, including production. Still others talk about a crisis of neoliberalism, a crisis of American hegemony, and, of course, some talk about a crisis of capitalism. I would like to start by asking how you define the current crisis.

Wallerstein: First, I think the word crisis is used very loosely. As most people use it, it simply means a situation in which some curve is going down that had been going up. And they call that a crisis. I don’t use the term that way. But, in fact, I think we are in a crisis and a crisis is a very rare thing.

We have to separate a number of elements here. If you take the world since 1945, we had a situation for about 25 years in which the United States was the unquestioned hegemonic power in the world system and it was also true that it was a period of enormous economic expansion. It was, in fact, the single biggest economic expansion in the history of the world economy. The French like to call it the “Thirty Glorious Years.”

Kondratieff Cycles

Both came to an end roughly at about the same time, circa 1970, although it’s very hard to date these things. I think U.S. hegemony has been in decline ever since that time. I analyze these things in terms of what are called Kondratieff (Kondratiev) phases, and we entered a Kondratieff B phase at about that time. The world economy has been in relative stagnation for 30 years. Typical characteristics of a stagnation include the fact that what were largely monopolized industries that have earned enormous profits no longer do so because others have entered the markets efficiently at that point, and so the profit levels of the most profitable industries basically collapse.

There are two things that can be done about that. One is to move the industries to areas of historically lower wages. Why you don’t do that earlier is that doing so involves a loss — a loss in transaction costs. I have this crisis of profits. Korea develops as so many other countries develop. They take up the less profitable industries and become the locus of them.

The second thing that happens when you have a Kondratieff B phase is that people who want to make a lot of money shift to the financial sphere; basically, speculation through debt mechanisms of various kinds. I see this from the point of view of the powerful economic players circa the 1970s, the United States, Western Europe and Japan. I call it exporting unemployment. Since there is a relative amount of unemployment in the world system as a result of the decline of industrial production, the question is: Who is going to suffer? So each tries to export the unemployment to the other. And my analysis is that in the 1970s Europe did well, and in the 1980s Japan did well, and in the beginning of the 1990s the United States did well. Basically, by various mechanisms — I don’t want to go into the details of the analysis of how they did it — but financial speculation always leads to a bust. It’s been doing that for 500 years, why should it stop now? It comes at the end of a Kondratieff B phase. Here we are. So what the people are calling a financial crisis is simply the bust. This recent business of Bernard Madoff and his incredible Ponzi scheme is just the most perfect example of the impossibility of continuing to make profits off financial speculation. At some point, it goes. If you want to call it a financial crisis, be my guest. That’s not important.

Suh: What is particularly interesting about the current phase of the Kondratieff cycle, to use your preferred term, is that the world economy is reaching the bottom of the cycle just as U.S. hegemony is being questioned more seriously than before. It has been declining for some time, perhaps for about 30 years since its defeat in Vietnam. Various U.S. administrations have tried to reverse the process by various means. Some tried human rights diplomacy or some version of liberal measures. Others attempted more realist policies by expanding military capability or turning to high-tech military power such as “Star Wars.” None were able to reverse the process, but everyone sought to find the most efficient way to manage the world with less power. What happened in recent years is that George W. Bush came along with the neocons who thought they were going to reverse this by policy of militarism and unilateralism. But instead of reversing the process and restoring U.S. hegemony, they accelerated the process of decline.

Financial Crisis/Geopolitical Crisis

Wallerstein: Here we are, about to be 2009, and we are in a multi-polar situation, which is irreversible from the point of view of the United States and a very complicated messy one. And we are in a so-called financial collapse. We are in a depression. I think that all this pussy-footing about language is nonsense. We are in a depression. There will be serious deflation. The deflation, conceivably might take the form of runaway inflation but that’s just another form of deflation, as far as I’m concerned. We might not come out of that for four or five years.

It takes awhile. Now all of that is what I think of as normal occurrences within the framework of the capitalist-run system. That’s how it operates. That’s how it always has operated. There’s nothing new in the decline of hegemony. There’s nothing new in the Kondratieff B phase and so forth. That’s normal.

Suh: The long economic stagnation, combined with the decline of hegemony, may just be part of a normal operation of the historic world system. But how is the capitalist world economy itself doing? Is it possible that the whole system is in such deep trouble this time that it may find it impossible to get out of the current trouble? In other words, the capitalist world system has had several crises before and succeeded in getting out of them. The current trouble is a definite downturn. But is it another turn in the normal cycle? Or is there anything that makes this time different from previous periods of trouble?

Wallerstein: That’s the other question, which is crisis. There is a crisis of the capitalist system, that is to say we have the conjuncture of normal downturn processes. What I think of as the fundamental crisis of the system is such that I don’t think the system will be here 20 or 30 years from now. It will have disappeared and been completely replaced by some other kind of world system. The explanation of that I have given a number of times in a number of my writings in the last 30 years is that there are three basic costs of capital which are personnel costs, input costs and taxation costs. Every capitalist has to pay for these three things, which have been rising steadily as a percentage of the price at which you can sell products. They have gotten to a point where they’re too large and the amount of surplus value that you can obtain from production has gotten so squeezed that it isn’t worth it to sensible capitalists. The risks are too great and profits too small. They are looking for alternatives. Other people are looking for other alternatives. For this I use a Prigogine kind of analyses where the system has deviated so far from equilibrium that it cannot be restored to any kind of equilibrium, even temporarily. Therefore, we are in a chaotic situation. Therefore, there is a bifurcation. Therefore, there is a fundamental conflict between which of the two possible alternative outcomes the system will take, inherently unpredictable but very much the issue. We can have a system better than capitalism or we can have a system that is worse than capitalism. The only thing we can’t have is a capitalist system. Now, I have given you a short version of the whole argument.

Suh: So, even if the world system as a whole has been on the decline, has been in the B phase, there were also many “dangerous moments,” let’s say, so as not to use the word “crisis,” in the early 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. And each time there were pundits who forecast the end of the system or the end of the capitalist world. But each time the world system found a way out of the difficulties. In the 70s, for example, the capitalist world economy found a way to survive the oil crisis. It found a way out of the difficulties of the 80s and 90s also. From a longer term perspective, the capitalist world economy managed to get out of more serious troubles like the Great Depression or earlier ones in the 19th century. So what is that makes this time different?

Longue Durée Perspective

Wallerstein: You see, this time is a tricky phrase. You’re assuming a collapse is a matter of a year or even a decade, whereas a collapse of a system takes 50, 70, 80 years. That’s the first thing to be said. The second thing to be said is that all of what you’re pointing at are exactly the mechanisms by which you exported unemployment. Basically, the OPEC oil crisis was a mechanism which was very much supported by the United States. Indeed, one could even argue that it was instigated by the United States. We have to remember that the two key governments that pushed for the 1973 oil rise were Saudi Arabia and Iran, then under the Shah of Iran, the most pro-American government in the whole of OPEC. The major consequence of that oil rise and price rise, the first one, was in fact to shift money to the oil-producing countries, which was immediately placed in U.S. banks. It was harder for Europe and for Japan to deal with this than it was for the United States. At which point, I don’t know if you are aware of this, but there were people from the banks, who in the 70s, went on missions to countries all around the world and spoke to the finance ministers and said: “Wouldn’t you like to have a loan, because, after all, you have balance of payment problems that give you political difficulties and we’re very happy to give you a loan. And that will solve your balance of payment problems in the meantime.” Of course, you make some money on the loan. But quite aside from anything else, you create this indebtedness which bursts because loans always have to be paid back.

Chronic US Debt

There was the so-called debt crisis, which is often dated at ’82 because of Mexico. I date it at ’80 because, I think, Poland started it. And if you analyze the Polish situation, it was a loan problem of the same kind, and they tried to handle it same way by squeezing the workers who rebelled and so forth. As a result of that, all of these countries got into trouble. So we had to find some other loans. The eighties was the period of the junk bonds. You’re getting this mechanism by which companies are buying up other companies and creating junk bonds and making loads of money. Of course, when that explodes, you have to look for new mechanisms.

The new mechanism is the U.S. government and the U.S. consumer. That is the ’90s and 2000s. That is to say, we get the U.S. government under Bush becoming indebted. You get the consumer becoming highly indebted, which then gives way to a symbiotic relationship with China and a number of other countries, including Korea, who invest their money in treasury bonds. That creates this incredible situation where the U.S. is totally dependent on the loans, but loans have to be repaid at some point. We’re at that point right now. Countries like China — of course, not only China, it’s just the one most talked about, it’s true of Norway, it’s true of Qatar — are in this delicate situation where on the one hand they want to sustain the United States so they continue to buy their products and on the other hand the money that they’ve invested is losing value all the time because it’s in dollars. And the dollar is going down. So, it’s two curves that cross. You’ve got to lose more one way or the other.

Basically, they’re moving slowly out of the dollar and the dollar is collapsing. And that adds more to the collapse of U.S. hegemony because the last two pillars of U.S. hegemony in the first decade of the 21st century have been the dollar, which is now kaput as far as I can tell, and the military is useless.

It’s useless because you have all this magnificent machinery, 10 times more than I don’t know who else and so forth: all these planes, all these bombs and everything that is up to date, but you don‘t have soldiers. Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else have proved you’ve got to send in soldiers. You don’t have soldiers because politically it’s impossible in the United States. The last time we used actual American soldiers we got a rebellion called the Vietnam crisis. So, we don’t use soldiers, we use mercenaries. So you buy the services of the poor: blacks, Latinos and rural white youth. That’s what makes up the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. They’re being a little bit overused at the moment, so even they don’t find it good enough to re-enlist. Then there’s the National Guard and those are more middle class types. They never expected to be spending years and years in Iraq, so they don’t re-enlist. So, we have no soldiers. Basically, the U.S. has no soldiers it can send anywhere. All the talk about North Korea, all the talk about Iraq, all the talk about Somalia is nonsense. There are no soldiers and you can’t just bomb them. It doesn’t work. So, we don’t have armed power, suddenly everybody realizes this and everybody is saying we’re not afraid of you because you don’t have any power. You don’t have military power. You’re spending your money on a big machine, but it doesn’t work. You can’t win a war with it. Now that people have suddenly really realized that, the U.S. has nothing to play with.

There it is. It’s got a big financial crisis, the U.S., worst of all, I suppose. The dollar is just one currency among several and one power among others. From the U.S. point of view, we are in a bad situation, which is why we elected Obama. But he’s not going to do any magic. The most he can do is a little bit of social democracy within the United States, which is very nice and I’m all for it. It reduces the pain, but he cannot restore U.S. hegemony in the world and he cannot get us out of the world depression by some magic policy of his own. He doesn’t have that power, but nobody else does. There we are. This is why it’s a chaotic situation that fluctuates wildly. Nobody knows where to put their money. Literally nobody knows where to put their money. It may go up and it may go down. It changes almost daily. It is truly a chaotic situation and it will continue to be that for some time. So, it’s a very unpleasant situation in terms of an ordinary life. A very dangerous one on the individual level and, I suppose, on a collective level. I have a friend who said despite Mumbai, he is going off to India on this trip. I said, “OK.” It is dangerous, every place is dangerous now. What is a non-dangerous place? It used to be that those nice hotels were the non-dangerous places.

Suh: Now, they’re the targets.

Wallerstein: They’re the targets. There’s no way. I mean, so-called terrorists have all the advantage when they can pick the place. There’s no way to defend everything. There’s just no way. You can choose a limited number of places and put up enormous concrete barriers. That’s what the U.S. has done in Baghdad with the green zone. So, you can be relatively safe, but it’s not perfectly safe. People do manage to get even in there. It’s just one unit, if you’re outside that unit then. . .

Suh: What’s different about this time, you suggest, is that we are entering not only a particularly turbulent Kondratieff B phase but we have also entered the terminal crisis of the world economy. If we have been in this terminal stage for some time, what does the current economic crisis do? What does it mean?

A Terminal Crisis of Capitalism?

Wallerstein: It means that the normal mechanisms of getting out of it won’t work any longer. We’ve had this kind of depression before; one in ’29. We’ve had many such depressions: 1873-96 was our Kondratieff B phase, 1873-96 was like this period. There have been many over the last four, five hundred years. The way you get out of it, there are standard modes of getting out of it. The modes of getting out of it aren’t working this time because it’s too hard. The standard modes of getting out of it; one of them is you create a new, productive leading industry, which you monopolize and get high profits and protect it very well, and so forth. You do a little bit of redistribution so that there are markets for these things. So, we’ve gotten out of it before, but it’s not going to be so easy this time. That is to say, there may be an upturn. It’s not impossible that there will be a relative upturn five years from now. It accentuates the problem because the upturn itself is raising the three basic curves, making them higher and higher and higher. There was an analysis done in the physical sciences a long time ago, which showed if a curve moves up towards an asymptote and gets to about 70, 80 percent of the way, at that point what happens is it begins to shake enormously. That’s the analogy. We’re at the 70, 80 percent point on these three essential curves and it is shaking enormously. There are great fluctuations and is very unstable; that is why we talk about being chaotic. But it can’t move up another 10 percent because it’s just too near. We haven’t had that problem before because when the curve was way down here at 20 percent, it worked very well. And you go from 30 to 40 percent, it worked very well. When you get all the way up there, there’s nowhere to go. That’s what the concept of asymptote is. I want to analyze this in terms of percentages of possible sales prices. The whole point is you can’t just expand the amount of money which you demand indefinitely for selling because people don’t want to buy at a certain point, because it’s just too much. And they don‘t.

Does the Obama Administration Offer an Alternative?

Suh: How would you then characterize the Obama administration? It is at least conceivable, theoretically, that he would try to address the three problems that you argue are at the core of the current crisis of the capitalist system: the rising wage cost, the rising input cost and taxation. One of the main reasons for high wage costs in the U.S. is the incredibly expensive health care cost, which significantly increased over the past few decades as the health care industry rode the high tide of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism has reached a point where the unrestrained market is starting to hurt the economy. So Obama is trying to bring in some kind of universal health care, which can potentially contribute to reducing wage costs overall. Also, his ambitious domestic expenditure programs can be seen as an effort to rein in the rising input cost by investing in infrastructure and new technologies. A state-led drive to invest in “green technologies” may be designed not only to reduce environmental externalities that add to the rising input cost, but also to create a new industry that generates a higher profit rate at a lower input cost. The problem of taxation will be evaded by deficit spending. So Obama seems to be trying not only to cure the excesses of neoliberalism but also to address the deeper problems of the world capitalist economy. The question is how successful he can be in accomplishing these goals.

Wallerstein: I don’t think he can attack any of those because I don’t think he has much power on the world scene. It isn’t that the U.S. is a non-entity, but it’s in a situation in which there are eight or ten foci of power and the U.S. options are limited. Look at the meeting of the Rio Group in Brazil. Here we have the first meeting in 200 years, 200 years, of all the Latin American and Caribbean countries, in which the U.S., Canada and the European powers were not invited. Every single head of state came, with two exceptions. Who were the two exceptions? Columbia and Peru — two, currently, mostly pro-American countries. But also, they didn’t boycott it. They sent a number two or number three. Even Mexico came. Of course, Raul Castro was there, who was the hero of this meeting. They took very strong positions and the U.S. was absolutely out in the cold.

Latin American and East Asian Challenges to US Hegemony

Now the U.S. has a plan and there’s another structure called the Summit of the Americas. And that’s met a couple of times and that gets all the heads of state of the Western Hemisphere, except for Cuba. They’re supposed to meet in April in Trinidad and Tobago. I wonder how many heads of state are actually going to show up.

But what Brazilian President Lula da Silva did was he undercut that meeting completely by this other meeting. This was absolutely inconceivable five years ago. Then what’s Obama going to do? He can’t change that. He can’t change the fact that the European Union hailed his victory and said in a unanimously passed resolution “we want to renew our friendship with the United States, but this time not as junior partners.” The picture is very clear. It’s very clear.

Just a couple days ago you had a China, Japan, South Korea meeting asserting what I’ve been arguing for sometime would come, which is a kind of political collaboration of some kind among these three countries — none of which the U.S. wants and none of which Obama can change. He can bless it. He can talk a much more palatable language to the rest of the world, but that doesn’t make the U.S. the leader. He’s still thinking that the U.S. is the leader. He has to be disabused of this idea. Nobody wants the U.S. as the leader; people want the U.S. as a possible collaborator on many things that have to be done like climate change, but not as a leader. I think his hands are tied there in terms of the world economy. What he can do is what everybody else can do, which is use the state machinery at home to do social democratic things to keep from having an uprising nationally.

Everybody is worried about that in the United States, in China, in South Africa, in Germany. Everybody is worried that they’re going to have something like what happened recently in Greece — a spontaneous uprising of angry people. That’s very hard for governments to deal with. When people are a little bit angry, which is what is basically happening now, they get even angrier. All the governments are trying to appease them. OK, fine. That’s what he can do. He will do things domestically. He will spend money on building bridges, which gives jobs. He will try to get a new health program through that will cover people. All good things, but they’re national things, they’re local things. They’re the same kind of good things that other leaders are trying to do in their countries. If he recognizes his limitations, he could be a great success. If he doesn’t recognize his limitations, he could be dragged into something.

I just wrote a piece on Pakistan; I called it “Pakistan: Obama’s Nightmare.” There ain’t nothing he can do about Pakistan. We’ve done enough damage already and if he tries to do any more… but he’s been very reckless. Part of his business of getting elected is to show “I’m a tough guy, too.” So he made statements about Afghanistan, which he can’t carry through on. He made statements about Pakistan he can’t carry through on. He made statements on Israel-Palestine he can’t carry through on. He should stop making statements. He should start, how shall I say, lowering the rhetoric. There’ll be all sorts of people who tell him that’s not what he should do, but I’m telling him that is what he should do.

Suh: We are now witnessing a very different world. The dollar, which has served as the world’s currency since the Bretton Woods system and survived the 1970s crisis, is significantly weak. It is facing the challenges of other currencies, particularly the Euro and the Japanese yen, that are vying to become the next global currency. The financial crisis fundamentally shook faith in the dollar, and some even suggest that it has already collapsed as the world currency. On the other hand, the U.S. maintains unchallenged military power and spends a disproportionate amount on keeping up its military dominance. Washington spends on its military as much as the rest of the world combined. And yet, U.S. military power, however technically sophisticated it may be, has proven to be rather ineffective, even useless, in theaters like Iraq and Afghanistan. All in all, the two main pillars of U.S. hegemony have been shaken to the core. How do these changes affect the geopolitical cleavages?

Regional Alternaives

Wallerstein: Ah, well, yes. That’s a reasonable question. As I see it now, there are maybe eight or ten foci of geopolitical power in the world. And that’s too many. All of them will start trying to make deals with each other and see what kind of arrangements are optimal because with 10, none of them have enough power. So, we’re in for a juggling period. People will try out possibilities and see what they can do. For example, I see the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as one possible combination, but Russia is not sure how it feels about it, India is not sure how it feels about it, and maybe even China is not sure how it feels about it. OK, maybe Russia and China both are playing footsie with Brazil and Latin America to see if they can arrange things. The United States can play that game too. We are in a period of, how shall I say, without clarity. I have long argued that the likely combination, I argued this as early as the article I wrote in 1980, is an East Asian combo with the United States, Europe with Russia, with India not sure where it wants to go.

Suh: One of the cleavages you talked about in your writing is the divide between the Davos Forum and the World Social Forum. Of course, these are not cleavages in geographical terms.

Wallerstein: That’s right. It’s a political cleavage.

Suh: Political cleavages and cleavages in terms of differing political visions.

Davos and Porto Alegre: the shape of the future?

Wallerstein: This has to do with the real crisis. If, as I say, we’re in a period of bifurcation, which means two possible solutions, then Davos represents one possible solution and Porto Alegre the other possible solution, with total uncertainty as to who will win out, but obviously, very different visions. The important thing, which I insist on, is that the people in Davos not try to restore capitalism. They’re trying to find an alternative, that is, how shall I say, which maintains the principles, the inequality, hierarchy, and so forth. We can have another system other than capitalism that does that. The Porto Alegre thrust is for a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian system. Neither side has a clear image in its own mind what kind of structure this would require. Neither side is totally unified. That is to say, I see the Davos camp split between those who have a slightly longer range vision and those who are only worried about the next three years, and they go in different directions. Porto Alegre is totally unsure of what kind of system this other world that they’re talking about would be. And they are particularly unsure of what kind of strategy they would use to get there. Basically, the next five or 10 years, there’s something going on in the camp of Davos; I call it “the spirit of Davos,” although I don’t mean literally “Davos.” There’s something going on in the camp of “the spirit of Porto Alegre.” At this point I don’t know how it’s going to come out. That is, who is going to have the clearer strategy and what it is, and so forth. So in that sense, we’re in a period of great uncertainty as to what will happen. And that may determine, if one side or the other has a better strategy or clear vision that may win out.

Suh: You’ve suggested that we’re in the terminal stages of the world capitalist economy. Then, those who talk about how to save the current financial crisis or how to institute an oversight mechanism for financial transactions across the border are, in a way, trying to hold on to a system that’s dying out. They are trying to lengthen the life of the dying system with some kind of life support. Their debate is about what the best life support system is, for example whether a bailout of $5 billion or $10 billion is more efficient. But the real competition is about a new historical world system that will eventually replace the current world capitalist economy. Here you have two camps envisioning different worlds, competing to articulate their visions, and struggling to chart new possibilities. One of them wants to create a world system that would more or less replicate the current uneven distribution of power and production in a different way. This world could be based on a developmental role and regulative function of the state and an oversight management role of international institutions that will help to more effectively address the systemic problems of today’s world. The other camp, however, envisions a different world that is more democratic and egalitarian. This is a collection of divergent ideas and visions, but there seems to be a growing convergence on the importance of empowering the local in a way that frees it from the commodification of life. There are many experiments that seek to find a way to free the people and nature from the chains of commodification, and yet free them from the tyranny of parochialism by networking local communities in a mutually reinforcing and mutually nourishing way.

Wallerstein: Well, you know, that’s what people are debating. They’re debating very much what an egalitarian world means. For example, one of the things that is under much debate in the world left for the last 200 years has been Jacobinism. Therefore, it has been basically not only for a state oriented policy but for a homogenizing outcome, like everybody should be the same. We should transform people into the same kind of person. That’s what they’ve been trying to do. That’s what the French Revolution was trying to do. That’s what the Russian Revolution was trying to do. That’s what the Chinese Revolution was trying to do. Now, that Jacobin vision has been called into severe question. There are people who say, I don’t know, we want to allow the flourishing of multiple cultures. Exactly what does that mean?

I’ve argued what makes sense is a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, always struggle for the lesser evil in the very, very short run because people live in the very short run and they don’t want to postpone to 10 years from now or 20 years from now what needs to be done today. And there’s always a lesser evil. You have to, at the same time, keep your eye on the larger ball of the new kind of world you want to construct, and that’s a matter of constant discussion, negotiation, integration of visions.

Suh: Thank you so much.
———–
Immanuel Wallerstein is a sociologist known for his work as a historical social scientist and world-systems analyst. He is currently a senior research scholar with Yale’s Sociology department. He received the Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association in 2003. He is the author of the three volume series The Modern World-System, his most well-known work, and Historical Capitalism (Verso 1995); The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World (New Press 2003) and European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power (New Press 2006).
———–
Jae-Jung Suh is a professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins and an expert on the international relations of the Korean Peninsula. He is the author of Power, Interest and Identity in Military Alliances.
————
The Hankyoreh is publishing a series of interviews with foreign scholars examining issues of economic growth and social welfare, international trade and monetary order, the environment and social development, income distribution, and production and consumption.

This interview appeared at The Hankyoreh on January 8, 2009.

This slightly edited version of the interview, one of a series of reports on the economic crisis in the Asia Pacific, is published at Japan Focus on January 8, 2009.

Recommended Citation: Immanuel Wallerstein and Jae-Jung Suh, “Capitalism’s Demise?” The Asia-Pacific Journal, 2-1-09, January 8, 2009.

Source:  http://peacemaking.kr/english/news/print.php?papercode=ENGLISH&newsno=1352

Bad economy good for Army re-enlistment

January 7, 2009 

When the working class and poor are deprived of educational and economic opportunities, the military is seen as the only alternative.  This is called the “Poverty Draft”.  As described in the article below from the Honolulu Advertiser, this pressure for the poor to join the military has become worse with the current economic crisis.   Meanwhile, this other article about a Hawai’i based soldier killed in Iraq appeared on the same day.

January 6, 2009

Army re-enlistments high

With tough economy, many soldiers are coming back for more

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Repeat deployments and a healthier economy made it more difficult in recent years for the Army to retain quality soldiers. The recession may be changing that.

Hawai’i's Stryker brigade of about 4,300 soldiers is at almost 100 percent re-enlistment for two of its battalions in Iraq, with the other four at between 70 percent and 75 percent, said spokesman Maj. Al Hing.

Hing said re-enlistments are at record rates.

The brigade commander’s goal was 80 percent before the unit returns to Hawai’i in February and March. Hing said there is a “very strong retention rate for the young company grade officers” at 94 percent.

Even as the huge re-enlistment bonuses of years past dwindle, soldiers and officers are finding reason to stay in – or return.

Lindsey Rowland made a deal with her parents: They would approve of her going into the Army – which she wanted to do – if she went to college first.

Rowland went to Hawai’i Pacific University on an ROTC scholarship, was commissioned a second lieutenant in 2005, received an assignment to Germany, and in October returned from 15 months in Kuwait and Iraq.

Now a first lieutenant, Rowland, who is not exactly warriorlike at 5 feet 2 and 120 pounds, has experienced the rigors of combat. But like an increasing number of enlisted soldiers and officers who see what shape the economy is in, she’s pretty much made the decision to re-up for at least three more years after her first four.

The truth is, she doesn’t want to get out – at least not yet.

It doesn’t matter that Rowland probably won’t receive the $35,000 bonus that was offered for her specialty in each of the last two years, but may be gone now.

The huge re-enlistment bonuses that the Army needed to dole out to keep up its numbers now are dropping as the economy worsens and more soldiers are staying in with fewer bonuses.

A reduction of the violence in Iraq and a drawdown of the mission there also have led to optimism that soldiers can spend more time at home between deployments.

Although the 27-year-old Rowland was based in Kuwait, she spent more time in Iraq, providing security escort for convoys in a Humvee gun truck with a transportation company.

The more soldiers are on the road, the more danger they face.

But as a single soldier without kids to worry about back home, she didn’t mind being deployed, misses being in command of four Humvees and 11 other soldiers, and expects to be back in Iraq or Afghanistan in the future.

“We had a really cool mission,” Rowland said by phone from Germany. “For females and for transportation, doing gun truck missions on the road was really cool.”

personal benefits

For reasons that are different for each soldier, Rowland may be representative of a bit of a reversal of fortune for the Army and its retention of soldiers.

Eventually, she said she’d like to be a journalist outside the Army, “but I’m not quite ready to do that yet – especially with the economy.”

The Army has seen the return of nearly 500 Army officers who left the service during the past year, Army Times reported.

Not all were eligible for retention incentives, so career security and military benefits are seen as possible factors.

Recruiting also is up. The Army for fiscal 2008 exceeded its recruiting goal, signing up more than 169,500 men and women, and the Army and the Marines – which do the bulk of the ground fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan – surpassed recruitment goals early in fiscal 2009, which began in October.

The Army has in the past worried about the quality of its recruits and an exodus of midlevel officers.

“I have a really optimistic look about it. I think the Army is changing for real this time, and I think a lot of the officers are staying in and I think leadership is improving,” Rowland said. “The Army has adapted to the idea that they can offer the people that work in the Army the things they want – as in duty locations, money, schools.”

bonuses dropping

However, Army Times said re-enlistment bonuses are dropping sharply in 2009 as retention programs enjoy unprecedented success and fewer specialties are being targeted with the extra payments.

Rowland doesn’t think the $35,000 bonus will be available to her that had been offered in the past to transportation officers being promoted to captain, a rank she soon expects to make.

Rowland figures she spent more time in Iraq than in Kuwait where she was based because of the convoy security missions – the same mission that many Hawai’i National Guard soldiers have now.

A soldier in her unit was killed when a shaped charge hit his Humvee, and Rowland separately experienced a small roadside bomb that went off near her Humvee. “It really wasn’t that exciting,” she said. “Blew up smoke. That was it.”

Mostly, the security missions did not encounter enemy fire, she said, and the only time the turret gunner’s .50-caliber machine gun was fired was when an oncoming bus wouldn’t stop. Warning shots were fired near the bus.

Rowland, who is from Ohio, wants to go to an Army language school to learn Turkish. She expects she’ll be deployed several more times to a combat zone if she stays in.

That’s OK with her.

“I would hope I’d get to go to Afghanistan,” she said, “just because I spent 15 months in Iraq, and I already know that.”

Source: http://www.honoluluadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090106/NEWS01/901060345&template=printart

Foreign Occupations

February 28, 2008 

Here’s an article from Foreign Policy in Focus with many links to other articles covering different aspects of the U.S. Empire including military bases and missile defenses, economic crises and interventions in the affairs of other countries.

Source: www.fpif.org

World Beat
by JOHN FEFFER | Monday, February 25, 2008
Vol. 3, No. 8

Foreign Occupation

Imagine a foreign military base in the United States.

The European Union has developed an independent army. It maintains a strategic interest in its former colonies in the Caribbean. The dollar is weak, and the euro is strong. In exchange for canceling some of the U.S. debt owed to European countries, the EU says, “Hey, how about a spot of land on your southern coast where we can help ensure the security of the region?” The United States gives a Henny Youngman response: “Take Miami. Please.”

The U.S. public is concerned. Foreign soldiers on U.S. soil? That hasn’t happened since 1812, when the Brits burned down the White House. The U.S. government, desperate for a little debt relief, reassures the population: “They’re allies. You don’t have to worry about them. There’s been a spike of terrorist activity down there in the islands, and our European friends will be helping us defend you against the bad guys.” So the Europeans buy some cheap real estate in
downtown Miami and set up shop.

The problems with this little debt-for-bases swap emerge rather quickly. Our “allies” begin behaving badly. First it’s just a couple fistfights with the locals. Then one of the EU soldiers is accused of raping a young woman. Shortly after that, an EU armored personnel carrier, on a narrow road at dusk, strikes and kills a University of Miami sophomore on his bike. The controversy over these crimes escalates when, as per the status of forces agreement, the Miami authorities hand over the suspects to the EU, which is concerned about the rather barbaric U.S. habit of executing people whether they’re guilty or innocent. Meanwhile, Miami civic groups begin accusing the EU military officials of burying toxic chemicals on base property and releasing noxious fumes into the atmosphere. People living near the compound complain about the noise from the artillery range. Then there’s the grower whose entire crop of oranges is destroyed when an EU jet fighter drops a bomb that completely misses the testing ground.

Sound implausible? That kind of stuff couldn’t happen between allies. Except that it does. And you could get a bushel of similar stories from the people of South Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, Diego Garcia, Guam, Cuba, Djibouti, and all the other places where the United States maintains one of its 700-plus military bases around the world. Until recently, South Korea hosted a huge military base in downtown Seoul. Over the course of its military presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa, U.S. service personnel have attacked, kidnapped, abused, gang-raped or murdered over 400 women (just this month a staff sergeant was arrested and charged with raping a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa). Back in the 1990s, the U.S. Army estimated that it would cost $3 billion to clean up just the soil and groundwater pollution that the bases have caused abroad. And the United States has argued that these bases are necessary to protect not only U.S. interests but also the local people.

This week at FPIF, we debut our new strategic focus on the global U.S. military footprint – and how to shrink it. We start with Iraq, where the footprint is off the charts. As FPIF contributor Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.com explains in The Million Year War, the Bush administration has put down roots in the country. “This administration has already built its state-of-the-art mega-bases in Iraq as well as a mega-embassy, the largest on the planet,”
Engelhardt writes. “Yet in April 2003, the month Baghdad fell to American forces, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld first denied that the United States was seeking ‘permanent’ bases in Iraq. Ever since then, administration officials have consistently denied that those increasingly permanent-looking mega-bases were ‘permanent.’” The Bush administration is temporary but alas, the Iraq bases are looking very suspiciously permanent.

FPIF contributor Adil Shamoo provides two explanations for Bush’s strategy of an “enduring presence” in Iraq. “One is to intimidate future Iraqi governments from daring to break the relationship with the only superpower that can threaten their very existence,” he writes in The Enduring Trap in Iraq. “The second is to intimidate anyone who wins the U.S. presidential election with the accusation of ‘cutting and running’ in Iraq.”

In some parts of the world, the United States is reducing, retrenching, repositioning. But not Africa. With the new Africa Command – AFRICOM – the United States is aiming for full continental dominance. “The Pentagon claims that AFRICOM is all about integrating coordination and ‘building partner capacity,’” write FPIF contributors Daniel Volman and Beth Tuckey in Militarizing Africa (Again). “But the new structure is really about securing oil resources, countering terrorism, and rolling back Chinese influence. Given AFRICOM’s emphasis on defense over diplomacy, resistance to the initiative is possible not only from civic movements but even the U.S. State Department.”

The expansion of U.S. basing extends to Europe as well. The United States has been twisting arms in the “new” Europe – in Rummyspeak – to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar military base in the Czech Republic. But according to FPIF contributors Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison, it’s far from a done deal. Sixty percent of Poles and 70% of Czechs are opposed to the bases. “Resistance in Europe and elsewhere has received reinforcement from the U.S. Congress, which has hesitated to move forward with the bases,” they write in Pushing Missile Defense in Europe. “In May 2007, the Senate Armed Services Committee cut $85 million from the 2008 Defense Authorization act intended for site activation and construction work on the missile installation in Poland and radar site in the Czech Republic. The Senate committee action followed a House vote earlier in May to cut the president’s request for the anti-missile system by $160 million.”

This Wednesday, February 27, if you’re in the Washington, DC area, please join us for a protest we’re cosponsoring with the Campaign for Peace and Democracy against the proposed U.S. base in the Czech Republic. We’ll be meeting at 12:30 in front of the White House, just across from Lafayette Park. Bring your lunch, your signs, and your friends.

Welcome President Bush!

FPIF continued its coverage of President George W. Bush’s visit to Africa last week. In his sardonic contribution Welcome President Bush!, FPIF contributor Tajudeen Abdulraheem explains the difficulties of rolling out the red carpet. “The hassles of hosting a U.S. president are bad enough,” he writes. “His people take over your whole country and make our normally inefficient states go into overdrive and our egregious first ladies and their husbands go into overkill to show their hospitality.”

But the carpet is red for other reasons. As FPIF contributors Bahati Ntama Jacques and Beth Tuckey explain, the legacy that the U.S. president is leaving in Africa is a bloody one. “Bush knows that Rwanda’s involvement in the armed conflict in the DRC delays peace in eastern Congo, but he continues to authorize military aid to Rwanda,” they write in Rwanda and the War on Terror. “In 2007, the United States armed and trained Rwandan soldiers with $7.2 million from the U.S. defense program Africa Contingent Operations Training Assistance
(ACOTA) and $260,000 from the International Military and Education (IMET) program.”

The last stop on the trip was Liberia. As FPIF contributor Tim Newman points out in Rejecting Paternalism in Africa?, the Liberian case undercuts the president’s claim that he has boosted development on the continent. “Bush will end his trip by spending a few hours in Liberia,” Newman writes. “There he will try to cast himself in the role of the compassionate conservative who successfully intervened in Liberia’s long civil war, thus heralding in a shining new democracy led by Africa’s first democratically elected female president. In his
February 14 press conference, Bush celebrated increasing private capital flows to sub-Saharan Africa. But the workers supposedly benefiting from foreign private investment in Liberia might have a different perspective.”

A New State?

Kosovo, the predominantly Albanian enclave of Serbia, declared its formal independence last week. FPIF’s Ian Williams and Stephen Zunes both support the right of the Kosovars to self-determination. But they don’t see exactly eye to eye on the issue of recognizing the new state.

In our latest strategic dialogue, Ian Williams observes in A New Kosovo that “recognition of Kosovar independence has started with the United States and most of the European Union. Most Islamic countries
will probably follow suit, along with many non-aligned states. So far Belgrade has blustered and threatened to downgrade relations with the dozens of very important neighbors who will recognize Kosovo. But after the multiple defeats that Miloševic caused for Serbs,fortunately there is little appetite for military action.”

Stephen Zunes, in Kosovo and the Politics of Recognition, argues that the U.S. decision to recognize Kosovo, which President Bush announced during his Africa trip, was perhaps a bit hasty. He points to the potential for pushing Serbian toward right-wing extremism, the prospect of the Albanian minority in Macedonia pushing to join a greater Kosovo, and the encouraging of secessionist movements in the Caucasus. Finally, he notes, “the impact of Kosovo’s independence and recognition by the United States and other Western nations could also seriously worsen U.S.-Russian relations, exacerbating differences that hawks on both sides are warning could evolve into a ‘new Cold War.’”

After its recent elections, Pakistan almost qualifies as a new state. The victory of the opposition in the parliamentary elections may well herald the return of democracy to the ill-fated land. Alas, General Pervez Musharraf shows no signs of stepping aside, not when he still has America on his side. FPIF contributor Najum Mushtaq urges the United States to reconsider. “Washington should have reviewed its ill-directed, one-dimensional Pakistan policy long ago,” he writes in Letting Go of Musharraf. “Instead of persisting with the failed Musharraf option, Washington should put all its weight behind the new parliament, which represents the voice of the Pakistani people.

Breaking the Bank

The financial big boys are freaking out, reports FPIF columnist Walden Bello. George Soros and World Economic Forum host Klaus Schwab are suddenly sounding like the gravediggers of capitalism. “Skyrocketing oil prices, a falling dollar, and collapsing financial markets are the key ingredients in an economic brew that could end up
in more than just an ordinary recession,” Bello writes in Capitalism in an Apocalyptic Mood. “The falling dollar and rising oil prices have been rattling the global economy for some time. But it is the dramatic implosion of financial markets that is driving the financial elite to panic.”

You might think that U.S. politicians, when confronted with an escalating economic crisis, would reach into the biggest pot of money around to help get us out of the pickle. Not so.

President Bush’s treatment of the military budget as a sacred cow is at least consistent with his conduct over the last seven years. But what about the Democrats? As FPIF contributor William Hartung explains in Dems: What about the Military Budget?, “Not only have the major presidential candidates been largely silent on these record expenditures, but they want to increase them. Barack Obama has said we will probably need to ‘bump up’ the military budget in a new administration, and both he and Hillary Clinton have committed themselves to increasing the size of the armed forces by tens of thousands of troops.”

And Now for Something Completely Different

In our second installment of poetry to celebrate the upcoming Split This Rock poetry festival, FPIF contributor Susan Tichy reflects on what we think about when we think about war. Her American Ghazals, named after the Persian poetic form, describe a landscape of pain and fear, and yet in there too is beauty and compassion.

Finally, in the Russian tradition of “laughter through tears,” we present to you the job description for a great new opening: the head of Cuba.

FPIF’s humorist Alec Dubro provides the details: “The nation of Cuba is planning a massive restructuring that may or may not actually happen. Possible outcomes: become Chinese-model, free-market police state; acquire banana republic status; enter United States as a county of Florida; limp along without direction; or make the
transition to social democracy and prosperity. We want you to be part of this momentous change, or possibly stifle it.
Links

John Lindsay-Poland and Nick Morgan, “Overseas Military Bases and the Environment,” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/briefs/vol3/v3n15mil.html).

Tom Engelhardt, “The Million Year War,” Foreign Policy In Focus(http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4977); There’s a risk that the United States will never withdraw from Iraq.

Adil Shamoo, “The Enduring Trap in Iraq,” Foreign Policy In Focus(http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5000); The Bush administration wants to place U.S. military troops and bases permanently on Iraqi soil despite strong objections from many Democrats.

Daniel Volman and Beth Tuckey, “Militarizing Africa (Again),” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4997); With the new Africa Command, the United States is increasing its military presence on an energy-rich continent.

Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison, “Pushing Missile Defense in Europe,” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5005); The United States wants to establish bases in Poland and the Czech
Republic – over the objections of the citizens of those countries.

Tajudeen Abdulraheem, “Welcome President Bush!” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5002); Not only examines President Bush’s Africa trip itinerary, country by country, but also why he is visiting the continent in the first place.

Bahati Ntama Jacques and Beth Tuckey, “Rwanda and the War on Terror,” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4999); U.S. administrations allow narrowly defined “national interests” – instead
of needs, priorities, and realities in a given country – to dictate foreign assistance. And Rwanda happens to be a perfect example.

Tim Newman, “Rejecting Paternalism in Africa?” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4973); Does President Bush’s view of trade and investment on workers in Africa truly end paternalism?

Ian Williams, “A New Kosovo,” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4992); Kosovo has declared its independence from Serbia. But there are still a few obstacles in the path of statehood.

Stephen Zunes, “Kosovo and the Politics of Recognition,” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5006); The United States should have thought twice about rushing to recognize the new state of Kosovo.

Najum Mushtaq, “Letting Go of Musharraf,” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5004); It’s time for Washington to wake up and smell the elections.

Walden Bello, “Capitalism in an Apocalyptic Mood,” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4996); Even the world’s top financiers are beginning to panic.

William Hartung, “Dems: What about the Military Budget?” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5009); The Democratic candidates will debate each other, but not the metastasizing military budget.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: http://www.splitthisrock.org/

Susan Tichy, “American Ghazals,” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5008); What we think about when we think about war.

Alec Dubro, “Job Opening (Cuba),” Foreign Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5007); Tired of your current job? Want more executive responsibility, good health care benefits, warmer weather? Cuba may want you.