IPS Blog

You Don’t Know Squat

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

TachelesIt was breathtaking. We emerged from the forest on the outskirts of Moscow and saw, looming above the tall grass, an enormous ruined palace.

It was 1985, and I was studying Russian at the Pushkin Institute. We heard a rumor about a grand edifice, the unfinished palace of Catherine the Great, that was moldering not far from where we were staying in Moscow. We took the subway to the end of the line, tramped through a forest and a field until we came upon the ruins of the great hall. The walls were still standing, and we walked the length of the building, avoiding the shrubs and underbrush and hoping to come across a small piece of history in a broken chair or scrap of wallpaper. We didn’t know that the Russian empress capriciously ordered her Tsaritsyno dismantled in 1785, when everything was done except for the interior decorations. The ruins, minus any of the accouterments, lay around for the next 200 years.

Enough of Tsaritsyno remained in the mid-1980s that you could more or less understand the scale and grandeur of the undertaking. But what was truly amazing was to happen upon this complex as if discovering the ruins of a long-forgotten Mayan temple in the jungles of Guatemala. There were no signs, no paths, no kiosks hawking souvenirs. It had simply become part of the landscape.

I experienced this same feeling in March 1990 when I encountered Tacheles in East Berlin. Originally a department store built in 1907-8 in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, the enormous five-story shopping arcade stretched from Friedrichstrasse to Oranienburger Strasse. Its tenure as a commercial space lasted only a few years prior to World War I. After that, it was a showroom for an electrical company, a central office for the Nazi SS, and a prison. During the communist period, the official trade union took over the structure, but the building gradually fell into disrepair.

In 1990, this glorious ruin was a perfect place to squat. There was a culture of squatting in East Berlin even during the communist era. Given the shortage of official university housing, students would frequently take over abandoned flats, mirroring the squat culture on the other side of the Wall in Kreuzberg. The Germans used the word instandbesetzen, a combination of renovating and occupying. When the Wall fell, squat culture expanded exponentially as people from East and West took over abandoned properties in East Berlin. In 1990, for instance, I spent an evening at one of the squat cafés in Prenzlauer Berg where I ate Indian food and listened to the Talking Heads, while cigarette smoke and political conversation swirled around me.

Tacheles — the squatters renamed the old department store after the Yiddish word for “straight talk” — was a much bigger undertaking. When I walked down Oranienberger Strasse and came upon this enormous structure — only a month after the first squatters took up residence to prevent impending demolition — I was amazed at all the activity going on inside. Artists were setting up studios. A movie theater was being restarted. There were cafes, performance spaces, and what seemed like unlimited room to create an alternative society.

Tacheles, February 2013

Tacheles, February 2013

And now in 2013, I returned to Berlin only a few months after the end of Tacheles. For 22 years, the punks and anarchists and hippies and artists and squatters of all types had hung on, sometimes quarreling, often creating art and music, always partying. But the writing — as opposed to the graffiti — was on the wall for squatting culture in Berlin. In 2009, police kicked out the anarcho-punk residents of the last open squat in the city at Brunnenstrasse 183. Tacheles hung on for a few more years before the owner HSH Nordbank finally evicted the remaining artists in September 2012. According to news reports, “before police arrived, two black-clad artists played a funeral march but bailiffs were able to clear the building without resistance.” It was a quiet end for what had been a bold and loud experiment.

Other squats have survived in different forms. In Prenzlauer Berg, I met several former squatters who now had titles to their apartments. In the same area, I happened on Adventure Playground, an innovative playground that started in April 1990. The wild area features an open fire, a forge, and a sand pit where children build their own structures (and destroy them). Through this remarkable oasis in the middle of the city, the spirit of pushing boundaries is being instilled in the next generation.

Then there’s the House of Democracy and Human Rights. In 1989, the East German political opposition demanded and received a piece of prime real estate at Friedrichstrasse 165, a former Party building. After the opposition did so poorly in East Germany’s first and only free elections in March 1990 — which was dominated by the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats — they fell further to the margins and lost control of their iconic location.

I was delighted, however, to visit the new location of the rechristened House of Democracy and Human Rights. In 1990, I could skip from one office to the next, interviewing most of the inhabitants in one day. In 2013, I was astounded by the number of organizations in the three linked buildings, so many that it would take several weeks of interviews to visit them all.

So, one door closes, and another one opens. The creative chaos of Tacheles has departed the shell of its building on Oranienberger Strasse, but its soul lives on in a 3-D version on line.

And that unfinished palace of Catherine the Great? It’s now finally finished, thanks to a controversial renovation project by the city of Moscow. I haven’t been back to Tsaritsyno since 1985. I’m sure that it’s a very beautiful complex of buildings, even if it lacks precise historical fidelity.

But there’s nothing like the feeling of urban discovery, when you stumble upon an awe-inspiring structure that makes you feel, if only for a few moments, as if you just discovered a lost city, a vanished civilization.

Inside-outside Strategy on Wall Street Tax

Cross-Posted with The Huffington Post

The International Monetary Fund is accustomed to rallies outside their Washington, D.C., headquarters during their annual meetings. What was different this past weekend was that the activists on the outside and several high-profile government and financial industry speakers on the inside were calling for the same thing: a financial transaction tax.

Outside, around a thousand activists called on world leaders to adopt a small tax on trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives that could raise massive revenue for jobs, climate, global health, and other public investments.

Inside, in a somber basement auditorium, the IMF hosted a debate on the same topic. The uniform on the outside was a green Robin Hood hat. On the inside, it was a charcoal gray suit. In both spaces, however, there was the sense that the financial transaction tax is gaining momentum and credibility.



The rally, sponsored by the Robin Hood Tax campaign, was not the largest to date, but it appeared to be the most diverse, with strong representation from labor, environmental, and global health groups, including National Nurses United, National Peoples Action, Friends of the Earth, Amalgamated Transit Union, Jobs with Justice, and Health GAP.

Inside the IMF, European Commission official Manfred Bergmann reported on the strong progress on his side of the Atlantic, where 11 EU governments are negotiating the final details of a coordinated financial transaction tax. The proposal on the table would tax stock and bond trades at 0.1 percent and derivatives trades at 0.01 percent. Expected revenues: as much as $45 billion per year. If the United States adopted a similar tax, it would raise an estimated $750 million to $1 billion over 10 years, Bergmann said.

Of course the IMF event was not without opposition voices. The strongest was Luc Frieden, the finance minister of Luxembourg, where a light regulatory and tax regime has boosted the size of the banking sector relative to GDP to a level similar to that of Cyprus. Frieden is particularly upset about the potential cross-border effects of the proposed EU tax.

Residents of non-participating countries will have to pay the tax if they trade with financial institutions in one of the 11 participating countries or if they trade financial instruments issued in one of those countries. The UK government has just launched a legal attack on the plan over this extra-territorial issue, a move Frieden applauded.

Avinash Persaud, a former senior executive of JPMorgan, UBS, and State Street banks, noted the irony of the UK’s complaint. Britain’s own Stamp Duty, introduced hundreds of years ago, is also extra-territorial. Trades of shares in British firms are taxed at 0.5 percent — no matter who’s doing the trading. An estimated 40 percent of the revenue comes from non-UK residents.

In a recent congressional hearing, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew also raised concerns about the extra-territorial impacts of the EU proposal. He failed to mention that U.S. investors have been subjected to the UK Stamp Duty and other countries’ transaction taxes for some time now — without the sky falling.

Nor did Lew acknowledge the many ways in which U.S. laws impose costs on non-U.S. entities. Take, for example, the 2010 Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which requires foreign financial institutions to report information about financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers to the IRS. Foreign banks have also complained about the extra-territorial implications of the Volcker Rule, the provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation which seeks to prevent deposit-taking banks from making bets with their own capital.

At the IMF, Persaud also scoffed at the Luxembourger’s position that any transaction tax should be global: “Samuel Johnson said ‘patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.’ In this case, internationalism is the last refuge of scoundrels.”

Indeed, many countries are already raising significant revenue from national financial transaction taxes. In addition to the UK, Persaud listed South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Switzerland, and Brazil among the countries that already have some form of the tax. He estimated their combined revenues at around $23 billion per year. Beyond the revenue benefits, Persaud argued that the current lack of taxation on trading activities creates “incentives to build edifices of value that are actually mirages” and can cause systemic risk.

The IMF event was the latest example of the Fund playing a constructive role in the debate. It didn’t start out that way. In September 2009, the G20 assigned the IMF to prepare a report on “how the financial sector could make a fair and substantial contribution toward paying for any burdens associated with government interventions to repair the banking system.” Initially, then-IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said financial transaction taxes weren’t even worth studying. In his view, such taxes were a “simplistic idea” that wouldn’t work.

But in response to international public pressure, the Fund agreed not only to include the issue in their analysis but also to engage in civil society consultations. In the IMF report for the G20 leaders, they made clear their preference for other forms of financial sector taxation, particularly a “financial activities tax” on bank profits and compensation. Nevertheless, they also acknowledged that transaction taxes were administratively feasible and could raise significant revenue. And in a follow-up technical paper, they acknowledged that most G-20 countries, including Brazil, India, and South Africa, have already implemented some form of FTT. In October 2012, current IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that the EU progress on a coordinated financial transaction tax was “clearly a good move.”

At the debate, the Director of the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department, Carlo Cottarelli, stressed that the IMF would still be pushing their “beloved” financial activities tax. But he admitted that since the IMF’s 2010 report to the G20, there hasn’t been much progress on that. “The momentum behind FTT was so strong, it was hard to turn in another direction. Sometimes life just isn’t fair,” he said with a laugh.

Follow Sarah Anderson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Anderson_IPS

This Week in OtherWords: April 24, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Jill Richardson looks at the Texas factory explosion in the context of whether we should be using so much nitrogen fertilizer in the first place and William A. Collins and I review recent progress toward ending the prohibition on pot.

Here’s a clickable summary of our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. A Reasonable Food Fight / Ryan Alexander
    President Obama’s efforts to overhaul the nation’s global food aid system are sensible.
  2. Our Biggest Terrorist Threat / Marc Morial
    Senate inaction on guns was inexcusable in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.
  3. Shameless Bipartisanship / Richard Long
    Two once-prominent politicians who disgraced themselves in sex scandals are angling for a return to public life.
  4. Saber-Rattling on the Korean Peninsula / Justin Bresolin
    Aggressive posturing only increases the likelihood of a dangerous miscalculation.
  5. Stopping the Senseless Carnage / Donald Kaul
    Could we just cut back on warfare a little?
  6. Tracking CEO Pay / Sam Pizzigati
    The most important executive compensation indicator is the gap between what CEOs and their workers are paid.
  7. The Price of Our Fertilizer Addiction / Jill Richardson
    Compared to the lifetime of grieving ahead for the people of West, Texas, a few years of reduced crop yields is a small price to pay for converting from “conventional” to organic farming.
  8. Making Poverty a Crime / Jim Hightower
    Jailing indigents for debts costs the courts way more than the fines they owe and violates the Constitution.
  9. The Pot Prohibition Runs Its Course / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    Now that most Americans support the legalization of marijuana, some Republicans back the right of states to stop banning it.
  10. Holy Smokes / Khalil Bendib
    Holy Smokes, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

    Holy Smokes, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

France Down With Same-Sex Marriage and Adoption

In a landmark decision Tuesday the French parliament approved a controversial bill by a vote of 331-225 allowing same-sex couples in France to marry and adopt children.

Opponents and supporters alike filled the streets of Paris in past months with one demonstration bringing upwards of 340,000 people. This particular protest ended in blasts of tear gas fired by soldiers as right-wing extremists incited violence amongst the crowd and charged police in attempts to make a break for the Presidential Palace.

This week saw renewed violence as attacks on gay couples spiked and legislators were threatened. On Monday National Assembly president and avid supporter of the gay marriage bill, Claude Bartelone, was sent an envelope filled with gunpowder.

Protests are only expected to continue as the bill must now go through the constitutional council and finally be signed by President Francois Hollande to become written into law.

France is now the 9th country in Europe and 14th in the world to legalize gay marriage. This once religiously conservative country has set an example for progressive social reform and the struggle for human equality.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Deposed Central African Republic President Bozize’s Loyalists Not Going Quietly

Reverberations from the March 24 coups in the Central African Republic continue to sweep through the small landlocked country. A recent increase in deadly clashes between President Michel Djotodia’s rebel forces and remaining loyalists from the overrun president, Francois Bozize, have alarmed the international community.

Regional leaders are gathered in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena to discuss the progress of a peace plan that was to be implemented by Djotodia’s new government but has obviously failed. The meeting will also determine if additional troops will be sent to the C.A.R. to assist in stabilizing the country and bring an end to the fighting.

Reports say that 13 people died and 52 were wounded in mid-April as fighting was at its worst in the C.A.R. capital of Bangui. Djotodia places the blame on residents and the deposed president. “Bozize prepared a civil war and gave the youth weapons of war and machetes,” he said. “This armed neighborhood has always opposed the presence of our men.” These are the men who have terrorized, tortured, and killed civilians since their rise to power.

International aid groups in the country say that members of the Seleka rebel movement also continue to loot local homes and businesses, instigate violence, and recruit children to their ranks. Angry mobs of Central Africans formed in protest to Seleka’s behavior, leading to the sharp increase in violence between civilians and the new leadership.

Because of the instability, scores of Central Africans have fled to surrounding countries for safety. Over 37,000 have crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, and Chad, hosted by local populations and refugee camps. UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards has called on the Seleka authorities to end the violence against civilians and restore security so that aid can reach those who need it, including the 173,000 internally displaced people in the country.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Chemical Weapon Use in Syria Could Trigger Intervention

The Syrian government has denied permission to a U.N. mission ready to investigate alleged chemical attacks that have occurred in recent months in the country. Both Syria’s government and opposition requested that the U.N. form a mission to investigate the use of chemical weapons after trading blame over a March attack in Khan al-Assal—a village outside Aleppo—which killed at least 31 people.

However, Syria is now denying the team entry into the country over concerns of the U.N. widening the investigation to include other alleged chemical attacks—such as an attack near Damascus on the same day as the Aleppo attack and another from Homs in December, over which the government and opposition have also traded blame—brought to U.N. attention by Syria’s opposition.

Both Britain and France wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after the Aleppo and Damascus attacks, urging the mission to include all three reported instances of chemical weapons use in the country. Britain, France, and the U.S. have also provided Ban with intelligence about the possible use of chemical weapons in Aleppo and Homs.

Western powers have been particularly concerned over any use of chemical or biological weapons in Syria, since the country is believed by Western intelligence agencies to possess one of the largest undeclared stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the world. U.S. President Barack Obama has also already stated that the confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “game changer,” which some have interpreted to indicate U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war.

Syria is amongst eight countries that did not participate in the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use of such weapons internationally and, as of February, has seen to the destruction of 78% of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles.

‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’

Syria’s government, according to the Guardian, argues that the inclusion of the other attacks in the investigation “might allow the U.N. mission to spread all over the Syrian territories,” which it claims “contradicts the Syrian request from the U.N.” and “constitutes a violation of the Syrian sovereignty.” The Syrian government has hinted at a hidden Western agenda in the mission and likened the situation to the investigation for chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, particularly Ban’s submission to Western states “known for their support for the shedding of Syrian blood with the aim of diverting [the probe] from its true content.”

Russia—a steadfast ally of Damascus throughout Syria’s two-year civil war—has echoed this claim, suggesting that “Western countries are using the specter of weapons of mass destruction to justify intervention in Syria, as they did in Iraq,” according to Reuters.

Headed by Ake Sellstrom, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, the U.N. mission is comprised of 15 inspectors, chemists, and medical experts—none of whom are from permanent members on the U.N. Security Council. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—which oversees the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention—has prepared and sent the team to Cyprus, where it currently awaits a decision between Syria and the U.N.

Syria and the U.N., however, are at an impasse: Ban Ki-moon believes there is sufficient evidence to investigate at least the Aleppo and Homs attacks and has said that all implicated sites “should be examined without delay, without conditions and without exceptions.” Syria, however, will not allow the mission into the territory unless it can guarantee that the mandate only covers the Aleppo attack.

A decision needs to be made soon, regardless: Ralf Trapp, an expert on chemical and biological weapons and a former official of OPCW, predicted immediately after the Aleppo and Damascus attacks that the time frame of the U.N. mission, though critical, would likely take weeks. And the longer the investigation is halted also compounds the evidence lost and, therefore, the further testing needed to collect such data: “Each day lost will influence the speed with which the investigation can be concluded,” he said, according to NBC, “because as more time elapses before biological sampling occurs, more sophisticated DNA and other toxicological testing is required.”

The Syrian government is unlikely to budge, especially while being backed by Russia and given preliminary evidence that suggests the chemicals used in the Aleppo attack—but not necessarily those in Damascus or Homs—were rudimentary and likely the product of an Islamists. One would hope that Ban would take into account the fact that the team has unfettered access to at least one site for now, lest Syria deny the investigation altogether.

Leslie Garvey is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus and Focal Points.

Tunisia and the IMF: Ennahda’s Mana From Washington (Part Two)

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Read Part 1.

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”
— Lennon, McCartney

News reports suggest that Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are ‘very close’ to coming to terms over a $1.78 billion loan to the North African country to help navigate it through the current stormy economic seas. In the short term, there is no doubt that an accord of such a large amount to such a small country will help the country get through the next few years, and help stabilize what has been an unstable and increasingly unpopular transitional government. But at what price to the country’s medium and long term future? Rosy IMF projections that, with the loan’s help, the Tunisian economy will grow by 4.5% next year are hardly credible.

Tunis Brique, a l'oeuf maker.

Tunis Brique, a l’oeuf maker.

There seems to be something of a ‘rush to the finish’, an effort on both the IMF’s and Tunisian government’s part to wrap up the negotiations as soon as possible. It is as if they are looking over their shoulders nervous that, as the agreement’s terms get out, opposition could grow among the Tunisian people, thus the mutual effort to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible. There is mounting concern within Tunisian civil society about the agreement, both in terms of the process which has been typically secretive and the “structural adjustment conditions” that the country will be forced to submit to in order to fulfill the Tunisian part of the deal.

In traditional IMF fashion, the negotiations were very much ‘under wraps’ with virtually no input from anyone other than one member of the Tunisian Central Bank and another from the finance ministry. But in this post-Ben Ali age of Tunisian freedom of speech, it turned out to be difficult to impossible to hide the agreement terms, which several talented Tunisian researchers have been able to unearth.

The Political Significance of the IMF Loan

It is easy to get lost in the somewhat complex economic details of such agreements (although we will look at them shortly) At the same time, sometimes lost is the political significance of the agreement. It is nothing less than a ‘green light’, ‘a seal of approval’ – for the current direction of the Tunisian political leadership – most specifically, the Ennahda Party (Islamic Party) which dominates the ruling coalition and the political and economic direction of the country. The two other parties represented in Tunisia’s ruling coalition, the Congress for the Republic (President Moncef Marzouki’s party) and Ettakotal (Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties) are much weaker, and their political will more or less circumscribed by Ennahdha. [i]

News of an impending agreement comes just at the moment when the Ennahda-led coalition government needs it most. In February, a popular opposition leader, Chedli Belaid, was assassinated at his home in Tunis. Belaid has been a critique of Ennahda’s collusion with the country’s Salafist elements, and the drift away from Tunisian democracy which has accelerated under Ennahda. The angry demonstrations that followed, which placed responsibility at the door of Ennahda, charging something between neglect and complicity very nearly brought down the coalition government.

While it survived, former Ennahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, who attempted to broaden the government’s social base, was forced to step down. Jebali was replaced by another Ennahda bureaucrat, Ali Laarayedh, who was moved over from his post as interior minister. Key to forcing Jebali out was Ennahda Party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, who conveniently holds neither formal government nor party post, but is, for all intents and purposes, the gray eminence behind the scenes.

Ennahda survived the crisis, but barely. It managed to scrape by with a little help from its friends…in Washington and Paris. Its popularity tumbling in the polls, the economy stagnant – in worse condition than when Zine Ben Ali fled – Salafist thuggery growing and unimpeded, Ennahda needed something dramatic to reverse or slow its growing unpopularity among the Tunisian populace. Like mana from heaven – or more aptly from Washington – coming just in the nick of time, the IMF delivered the economic and political oxygen Ennahda needed to retain its hold on power.

Ennahda’s Mana From Washington

Whatever their hesitations, both Washington and Paris – which together have considerable influence over IMF decisions – have decided that, when it comes to Tunisia, the horse that they are going to ride is Ennahdha. This is the central political message of the IMF loan. Washington’s support for Ennahda comes in spite of unimpeded storming and partial trashing of the U.S. embassy in Tunis last September in which the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior was unable to stop the riot, despite prior warning of danger, including a warning from U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Jacob Welles that went unheeded.[ii]

Although some may wonder why the Obama Administration would support Ennahda, knowing well its working relationship with the country’s radical Islamic militants of Salafist and Wahhabist persuasion, it is not as strange as it might seem at first. When it comes to working in tandem with U.S. regional strategic and economic goals, the Ennahda Party has never wavered. As we say, they know well on what side their bread is buttered. On economic policy, Ennahda continues, and with this IMF loan, even intensifies, Tunisia’s commitment to neo-liberal economic policies – i.e., keeping the Tunisian economy open to global finance and corporate penetration.

Ennahda: Partner of the Obama Administration, Strategically and Economically

While Tunisia’s strategic role in the region remains modest, still it plays an important role. America’s Tunis embassy is a communications center for the Mediterranean and North Africa – a potential ‘lily pad’ from which U.S. military forces could ‘jump’ into sub-Sahara Africa (or elsewhere) if the situation presented itself. More importantly is the embassy’s role collecting intelligence from throughout the region.

In other ways Ennahdha has made it clear ‘which side it is on’. Much of its foreign policy is geared towards cooperation with U.S. strategic goals. The government’s posture towards the crises in Libya and Syria suggest the kind of role Tunisia plays. Two examples:

• Recently there have been a spate of news stories of Tunisian youth dying fighting with Islamist rebels in Syria. Some reports suggest that it entails hundreds of Tunisian youth; at the very least, Ennahda has turned the other way and not interfered with Salafist recruitment, transfer to other places in the Middle East and training of these youth. There are some allegations that Ennahda’s role is more active. “Three young men from my village (near Sousse) will be buried today,” a Tunisian friend wrote. “They died fighting in Syria,” he went on, noting that a forth villager, a 22-year-old fighting with Islamic rebels, had died a few days prior. “They (the Ennahda-led government) promised us training, work, dignity, – in a word – ‘a future’ but they lied, betrayed us, and trained our youth to become assassins.”

• Under Ennahda pressure, an incident which, among other things, revealed the powerlessness of Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki to protect Khadaffi’s foreign minister, Baghdadi Al Mahmoudi, who had sought political asylum in Tunisia. In a sop to the U.S. and NATO, Ennahda turned Al Mahmoudi over to the Libya’s National Transitional Council. One of Marzouki’s closest advisors, Ayoub Massoudi, resigned over the handover, criticizing the Ennahda government as a ‘theocratic dictatorship.’ As a result, Massoudi was indicted and faces a military trial.

It is true that the new Tunisian government has initiated a new, more hostile posture towards Israel although that seems more for domestic public consumption than a real change in policy, and Israel knows it. Tunisia’s Israel policy parallels that of Turkey, i.e., verbal criticisms but strategic cooperation through U.S. CENTCOM and NATO formations.

If its contribution strategically to Washington is somewhat limited, still, the Ennahda government is falling in line. The same goes for economic policy; actually where it concerns economic integration, Tunisia pre-and post-Ben Ali shows little to no signs of change. The Tunisian economy remains open to foreign corporate and financial penetration. The policies that led to the 2010-11 crisis, the cause of which were, in large measure, economic remain in place and intensify. Tunisia’s continued vulnerability to the labile whims of structural adjustment will continue.

IMF Agreement Ties Tunisia’s Hands Economically to the Neo-Liberal Economic Policies of the Past/La Lutta Continua

The proposed agreement – the details of which I will look at in depth in the third part of this series – essentially commits Tunisia to the neo-liberal economic path it has been on since 1987, when Zine Ben Ali first came to power. Ben Ali might be gone, but a policy of privatization of state resources, open capital markets, de-valued currency, wage repression, lifting of subsidies (already started), and cutting government spending for social programs will continue and with it the continued deepening suffering of the Tunisian people.

The situation I see developing in Tunisia looks something like this: the IMF loan will give Ennahda some ‘living space’ and in the short term they will be able, probably to cling to power. But in the medium and long run, their hold is untenable for their have failed to provide a vision for the country’s future. All the old shortcomings – the economic stagnation, corruption, and not least, repression will once again show their faces and perhaps in an aggravated form.

Unable to deliver economically, but kept in power by the IMF loan in large measure, Ennahda, having all but destroyed the political coalition which came together to drive Ben Ali from power, will find, more and more, that, like Ben Ali, it too will have to resort to heightened repression to keep order; one can see the outlines of their policy – in part they will continues to use their Salafist allies as brownshirts, to break up possible democratic coalition.

Under the veil of religion, there will be increasingly repressive legislation limiting freedom of speech, action. The labor movement, women’s rights movement, the integrity of the country’s higher education systems – all institutions, social movements that are already under fire – will be further reined in one way or another. All this will be done while Washington sings its song about human rights, but supports those in Tunisia who undermine them.

And as the history of structural adjustment almost always shows, the polarization, class and democratic struggles will intensify. Like my friend Jaco, a Tunisian Jew, said last summer when I asked him how he saw the situation in Tunisia playing out, “Before it gets better, it will get worse…but it will get better.”

La lutta continua.

[i] For example, the position of the Tunisian presidency, held by Marzouki, has lost most of its power in the post Ben Ali era. That power has been transferred largely to the Tunisian prime minister – an Ennahdha member.

[ii] Interview with Abdelfattah Mouru, considered ‘the number two’ man behind Rachid Ghannouchi in the Ennahdha Party structure – in Denver, September 2012.

Boston Marathon Bombing: What Do Chechens Have Against the U.S.?

With news that the dead bombing suspect is named Tamerlan Tsarnaev and, along with another suspect, his brother, is believed to be from Chechnya, the question naturally arises: what do Chechen — presumably separatists — have against the United States? Hasn’t their beef always been against Russia?

It’s well documented how brutal Russia’s prosecution of the first and second Chechen wars were. Chechens responded with savagery in kind: the 1999 bombings of a shopping arcade and apartment building in Moscow, the 2002 seizure of Moscow’s Dubrovka Theate, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis.

Chechen militants have fought alongside al-Qaeda and the Taliban and possibly vice-versa. In Chechnya: From Nationalism to Jihad (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), James Hughes sheds some light on possible reasons that Chechen separatists might attack the United States:

U.S. criticism of Russian policy in Chechnya intensified in the first six months of the [George H.W.] Bush presidency. [But the] 9/11 attacks led to a complete reversal of U.S. policy on Chechnya. This was partly a moral revulsion against the associations between some Chechen rebels and al-Qaida, and partly a concession by the U.S. to secure Russian support for its campaign against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2002 and for the war in Iraq in 2003. … After 9/11, Putin’s framing of Chechnya as part of the “global war on terror” has been incorporated into Western policy approaches to Chechnya, and Chechen groups and leaders have been placed on the U.S. and UN lists of terrorist organizations.

An Inside View on the Tricky World of Wall Street-Driven Climate Markets

The World Bank likes to talk a good game on climate change. But when it comes to taking action, its approach can be “too narrowly focused, small scale and uncoordinated,” admits Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Worse still, it often backs entirely the wrong strategies, like carbon markets, while continuing to invest billions every year in new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Climate Finance Markets Site - www.climatefinance.org

VIEW NEW WEBSITE HERE: www.climatemarkets.org.

Since taking the helm, Jim Kim has made repeated promises that addressing climate change – and the devastating impacts it has on development – will be at the center of the Bank’s agenda. Key to this is a new Presidential Task Force on Climate Change, which will examine fossil fuel subsidies, carbon markets, “climate smart” agriculture, and partnerships to build cleaner cities. At the same time, the Bank’s low-income focused International Development Association (IDA), and its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), have both identified climate financing as a priority area.

The World Bank-IMF spring meetings convening in Washington DC provide an opportunity for the Bank to flesh out a new approach. The early signs are not promising, though. Carbon markets remain a central pole of the bank’s strategy, with $110 million pledged to a “Partnership for Market Readiness” that is encouraging the creation of new markets modeled on a European scheme that has already virtually collapsed.

There are indications, too, that much of the Bank’s “bold” new thinking is based on reaching out to the financial sector, using some of the same Wall Street tricks that proved so devastating for the United States and global economy in the 2008 crash. The Bank isn’t alone in this approach: the Green Climate Fund, and many of the other international financial institutions, are looking to encourage (“leverage”) private sector finance to plug the massive holes in climate financing left by industrialized countries failing to meet their obligations.

Dusting down the same old financial approaches isn’t going to work. In climate circles, it’s already possible to hear the familiar refrain that rich-country austerity means that “There Is No Alternative” to courting the private sector. To which we’d respond: the United States is not broke, and neither are the other industrialized (“Annex I”) countries that should be making far larger public financial contributions and developing ambitious domestic plans to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. On the financial side, these could be supplemented by a range of genuinely “innovative” approaches, including financial transaction taxes, or a “Robin Hood tax.”

We’ve set up a new website on Climate Finance and Markets (climatemarkets.org) to explore these new approaches, and to monitor how the World Bank, the Green Climate Fund and others are courting the financial sector.

The site, put together by IPS with the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America, offers a range of materials that could help climate activists and advocates understand the new financial tools that are emerging, the role of key private sector actors (from banks to private equity funds), attempts to “leverage” private investment, and alternatives to this Wall Street-driven approach. Bank staff, public officials and journalists attending the World Bank-IMF spring meetings could even learn a thing or too as well.

Climate Finance Markets Site - www.climatefinance.org

See climatemarkets.org or follow us on Twitter @ClimateMarkets1

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (4/18)

It’s All About the Spin (and I don’t mean centrifuges)

Some of the reformists [in Iran] have indicated that the burden of proof of the peaceful nature of the country’s nuclear program now rests with Iran, due to its past mismanaged policies and reckless statements. Thus, they favor more intrusive and comprehensive inspections. But even advocates of the status quo seem poised to accept more limited stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium and more flexibility in allowing inspections, in return for an end to sanctions. The latter group, led by Khamenei, is really insisting that whatever the nature of a possible agreement, the Islamic regime must be allowed to declare victory.

The Ayatollah in His Labyrinth, Abbas Milani, Foreign Policy

The Alternative Energy That’s Dependent on Conventional Energy

Nuclear power, which we might mistakenly think does not rely on fossil fuels, is actually totally dependent on them. Leaving aside the uranium mining problem, nuclear power requires exacting conditions to operate safely and reliably that include diverse and reliable general and specialized supply chains, a stable electrical grid, near-certain physical security, and many other social, political, and economic conditions that directly or indirectly dependent on thermodynamically-cheap fossil fuels. … there is no indication that a safe, reliable, large-scale nuclear power based energy system would be possible without the heavy use of relatively cheap fossil fuels.

The submerged mind of Empire, Greg Mello, Forget the Rest

Will the Boston Marathon Bombing Only Isolate Us Further?

Terrorism poisons if not destroys our public spaces and the physical and psychic experiences we share with one another while in such spaces. … We must be vigilant about finding and punishing the perpetrators who terrorized Boston. But we must be equally vigilant about refusing to surrender our public places and events, for doing so is … fatal to our collective identities.

Another victim of bombings: public spaces, Thomas Schaller, the Baltimore Sun

An Advanced Degree in Atrocity

The costs of the terrorism inspired by the [Iraq] war include much more than the number, however horrifying, of lives lost. The terrorists who have been drawn to Iraq since 2003 and survived have been battle-hardened after fighting the most sophisticated military in history. … They have developed expertise in counterintelligence, gunrunning, forgery and smuggling. [We have] left behind, after seven bloody years, not only a shattered nation but also an international school for terrorists whose alumni are now spreading throughout the region.

Iraq: Where Terrorists Go to School, Jessica Stern, the New York Times

Sound Familiar?

Without [Tony] Blair’s charismatic thespianry and false hopes, without even the Shakespearean drama of Brown’s blighted leadership, an atmosphere of deathly, affectless decadence has settled over the [British] Labour Party. Populist but not very popular, Labour has become a dead mechanism animated by a blind drive: win elections. It is an election-winning machine which can barely win elections, and which has long ago forgotten why you would want to win an election in the first place. By contrast, the Tories have a feverish sense of purpose. They serve ruling class interests even when not in power by dragging the ‘centre’ ground to the right. Once in government, they impose their policy agenda at high speed, without majority or mandate, retrospectively justifying it, if they bother to justify it at all, with the kind of “debate” we saw last week.

The Happiness of Margaret Thatcher, Mark Fisher, Verso Books Blog

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