Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Thursday, January 05, 2012
It is perhaps a cliché to say history repeats itself, yet this saying seems to have held true over the past year in the Middle East, particularly in Bahrain. Uprisings have happened before, and been successful or crushed through counter-revolutionary forces. But it is in behind-the-scenes developments that there really is a flashback to the past.
Last month, Bahrain appointed two men — a former Miami police chief and John Yates, the former assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police — to oversee the reformation of the state’s police force, which was found in an independent inquiry to have committed systematic human rights abuses and used torture to crush the 2011 pro-democracy uprising. (See the following info - http://original.antiwar.com/
By virtue of their nationalities and their countries’ strategic involvement with Bahrain, both former “top cops” are dubious choices. Yet Yates in particular stands out, as he was forced to resign from the Metropolitan Police in the summer over a newspaper phone-hacking scandal. Moreover, his appointment reeks of the colonial past. Britain set up Bahrain’s security force prior to independence in 1971, and the General Directorate of State Security was run from the mid-1970s until 1998 by former British policeman Ian Henderson.
Amnesty International documented widespread torture under Henderson’s leadership, and he forcefully put down protests in the 1970s and early 1990s, earning him the sobriquet “the butcher of Bahrain”. It is the second such nickname for Henderson, who was a senior policeman in British-occupied Kenya in the 1950s, playing a role in the brutal suppression of uprisings and becoming labeled “the butcher of the Mau Mau”. In 1986 he was awarded the title of ‘Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ for his services.
(Watch a 2002 British TV documentary, "Blind Eye to the Butcher" -http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8071454558391784977)
Although a Jordanian has headed Bahrain’s security force since Henderson retired, the modus operandi has remained the same, as last year’s events document. Furthermore, Henderson, who still lives in Manama, is believed to have provided advice to the authorities during the crackdown.
While Yates may not be cut from the same colonial cloth as Henderson, his mindset is not radically different. “Bahrain’s police have some big challenges ahead, not dissimilar to those the United Kingdom itself faced only a couple of decades ago,” Yates was quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph newspaper. But what exactly is Yates referring to? When were there “pro-democracy” uprisings in Britain in the past 20 years? Or any protests suppressed by putting tanks and soldiers on the streets? Perhaps he is referring to the Brixton riots in London in 1980 and 1995, which, in any case, were widely attributed to racist policing methods and high unemployment. Yates appears to have fallen for the official Bahraini line that Iran is primarily to blame for inciting the uprising and the demonstrations had nothing to do with political repression or a minority Sunni monarchy ruling a Shia majority country.
The appointment is also curious when one considers the role of the Metropolitan Police in the riots in London and other English cities last August. A joint study by The Guardian newspaper and the London School of Economics into the causes of the riots published in December, identified “distrust and antipathy toward police as a key driving force.”(See - http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2011/12/riots.aspx)
Such findings do not brook a great amount of confidence in appointing a senior London cop to overhaul Bahrain’s police force. Neither is there any mention of reforming the police by including more Shia, who currently account for just 2 percent of the force. But then, reforming a police force without reforming Bahrain’s political system, by giving the opposition seats in government and addressing the root causes of the uprising, will not change much either. As Saeed Shahabi, a campaigner with the Bahrain Freedom Movement, said of the appointments: “This is not the first time that foreigners have come from the West to upgrade the security services… The government cannot survive without suppressing freedom of expression; only a democracy can tolerate protest.”
The appointments are therefore just a veneer of reform, with Bahrain too strategically important to the West — especially with rising tensions over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program and Bahrain’s accommodation of the American Navy’s Fifth Fleet — to allow for substantive democratic change or dissent. By appointing one cop from the former colonial power and another from the current global hegemon, it seems that history really does repeat itself.
Reviews of four books that challenge and elucidate the most pertinent economic topics of our times
In the years since the credit crisis erupted in 2007 there has been a steady flurry of economic and financial books published claiming to tackle the root causes of what some have dubbed ‘The New Great Depression’, offer alternatives to the current financial system or provide warnings of the inherent dangers still facing the world economy. With the beginning of a new year that has dark storm clouds still crackling with lightning and thunder over the global economy, Executive has selected four of the most thought-provoking economic books printed in the past year to prime the reader for the challenges ahead.
Revised and Expanded Edition: The Naked Emperor Dethroned?
A book by Steve Keen
‘Debunking Economics’ has been a critical and commercial success since it was published in 2001, largely due to Australian economist Steve Keen’s withering critique of the neo-classical economic theories that have dominated policy since the 1970s. His claims are also given more weight by the fact that he predicted the 2008 financial crisis well in advance.
In a newly revised edition, Keen hammers the point home that mainstream economists, as well as central bankers, deserve no credit for the boom years prior to the crash but should shoulder the blame for the crisis and its aftermath. Through a pioneering explanatory statistical model, Keen argues that classical economic thought has little to contribute to what is known as Reality Economics, which is more cause-and-effect than assumption based. He argues that the near hegemonic adoption of a narrow-minded approach to economics in academia, which is then carried into professional life, is at the core of the problem, with those supposed to be implementing a cure still theoretically blinkered, evident in counterproductive solutions such as bailing out the banks and quantitative easing.
Keen’s historical and economic analysis of what went wrong are worth delving into, yet it is his alternatives that will interest the reader mulling options to get us out of the current maelstrom. He proposes radical changes, such as reducing or wiping out private debt through a widespread amnesty and, heretical though it may sound, the temporary nationalization of the American financial system.
It is doubtful whether Keen’s voice will be heard amid the hullabaloo, particularly as the United States enters an election year; as John Maynard Keynes pertinently remarked in 1935: “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.”
Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World
A book by Daniel Yergin
Daniel Yergin is renowned for his Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘The Prize’, which charted the rise of the world’s insatiable thirst for black gold as far as the first Gulf War in 1990. ‘The Quest’ picks up where he left off and ventures into the “Great Game” for energy following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the emergence of national oil companies from emerging markets like India and China and the dirty world of oil politics in the twenty-first century. He tackles the effects of the United States’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq on energy security and assesses the twisted reasons for the oil price spike between 2004 and 2008. As in ‘The Prize’, ‘The Quest’ shows why understanding the geopolitics of energy is essential to comprehending the world today, and where we may be going next. He discusses how new technologies and high oil prices are making previously untappable oil reserves accessible, although at significant environmental cost. Such ramped up output in the US, Canada and Brazil — each to some 3 million barrels per day by 2020 — could well change the ‘oil world order,’ particularly the West’s problematic reliance on the Middle East, he argues. And while Yergin is no believer in the ‘peak oil’ theory — arguably a flaw in his analysis — this does not stop him discussing at length the need for alternative energy sources, and how potentially disruptive technologies could be game changers in global politics and security.
A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty
A book by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
‘Poor Economics’ focuses not on Wall Street and the problems of the financial markets — the “1 percent” as the Occupy Wall Street protesters have labeled them — but rather the poorest of the world’s poor; not the three billion people that live on less than $2.50 a day but the billion surviving on less than a buck.
The focus is on how the poor respond to aid strategies, based on empirical research in 49 countries carried out over 15 years. What is radical about their work is that Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo draw their findings from actually listening to and understanding the needs and behavior of the poor. Why, for instance, do people buy a TV and go hungry, or prioritize the education of one child over the rest of their offspring?
Moreover, their research is into what has worked in development economics and what has not: micro-finance is not the cure-all it is championed to be and higher rates of literacy and schooling do not necessarily equate to economic development and prosperity. As the inequality gap widens, addressing global poverty is a pressing issue for governments, development agencies and businesses. Banerjee and Duflo tell us where our attention needs to be, and it is no wonder their book won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award for “the most compelling insight… into modern business issues.”
The Making of the Next Global Crisis
A book by James Rickards
We are in the early stages of Currency War III, according to veteran financier James Rickards. The first currency war (CW) was between 1921-1936, and CW II took place from 1967, beginning in the lead up to the end of the gold standard in 1970 and culminating in the 1987 stock market crash.
Rickards argues that the United States has instigated CW III through the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy — printing dollars to boost base money supply to get the economy out of recession. But by doing so, “the Fed has effectively declared currency war on the world” and the result is stagflation — stagnant growth and high inflation — and the world going deeper into financial crisis.
According to estimates, the US dollar comprises 61 percent of identified official foreign currency reserves, while the euro represents 26 percent. What happens to the dollar is of prime importance and the trends are worrying. The dollar’s position has declined from 71 percent in 2000, and stands to fall further as American power is challenged, confidence in the greenback weakens and more countries change their reserve currencies, as Russia and others have threatened to do.
Rickards uses possible scenarios — as played out at a Pentagon-organized financial war game — to highlight what a currency war entails and it is eyebrow-raising reading. The end result could be the dollar joining a crowd of multiple reserve currencies (MRCs), although all major currencies have recently devalued in parallel against gold, and in fact MRCs could exacerbate rather than alleviate the currency war. The other alternative is the International Monetary Fund pushes for greater adoption of its “world money”, Special Drawing Rights. The final possibility is the dollar will be “rejuvenated by gold or descend into chaos with both redemptive and terminal possibilities.”
Rickards suggests a return to the gold standard to retain stability, of money backed by something tangible, not paper or digits on a screen. Yet, however this currency war plays out Rickards warns that it “is the most meaningful struggle in the world today — the one struggle that determines the outcome of all others.”