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Is a Policy a Law? Is Murder Murder? Washington’s Blog

Is a Policy a Law? Is Murder Murder? Washington’s Blog.

From the Associated Press:

“An American citizen who is a member of al-Qaida is actively planning attacks against Americans overseas, U.S. officials say, and the Obama administration is wrestling with whether to kill him with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy issued last year.”

Notice those words: “legally” and “policy.”  No longer does U.S. media make a distinction between the two.  Under George W. Bush, detention without trial, torture, murder, warrantless spying, and secret missile strikes were illegal.  Under Obama they are policy.  And policy makes them “legal” under the modified Nixonian understanding that if the President does it as a policy then it is legal.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the nations in which drone murders take place, treaties to which the U.S. is party, international law, and U.S. statutory law, murdering people remains illegal, despite being policy, just as it was illegal under the less strict policy of some months back.  The policy was made stricter in order to bring it into closer compliance with the law, of course — though it comes nowhere close — and yet the previous policy remains somehow “legal,” too, despite having not been strict enough.

Under that previous policy, thousands of people, including at least four U.S. citizens, have been blown to bits with missiles. President Obama gave a speech last year in which he attempted to justify one of those four U.S. deaths on the basis of evidence he claimed to have but would not reveal. He made no attempt to justify the other three.

The new policy remains that the president can murder anyone, anywhere, along with whoever is near them, but must express angst if the person targeted is a U.S. citizen.

The idea that such lunacy can have anything to do with law is facilitated by human rights groups’ and the United Nations’ and international lawyers’ deference to the White House, which has been carried to the extreme of establishing a consensus that we cannot know whether a drone murder was legal or not unless the president reveals his reasoning, intention, motivation, and the details of the particular murder.

No other possible criminal receives this treatment. When the police read you your rights, you are not entitled to object: “Put those handcuffs away, sir! I have a written policy justifying everything I did, and I refuse to show it to you. Therefore you have no grounds to know for certain that my justification is as insane and twisted as you might imagine it to be based merely on what I’ve done! Away with you, sir!”

The loss of a coherent conception of law is a grievous one, but that’s not all that’s at stake here.

Numerous top U.S. officials routinely admit that our drone wars in the Middle East and Africa are creating more enemies than they kill.  General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said in June 2010 that “for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” Veterans of U.S. kill teams in Iraq and Afghanistan interviewed in Jeremy Scahill’s book and film Dirty Wars said that whenever they worked their way through a list of people to kill, they were handed a larger list; the list grew as a result of working their way through it.  The wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the abuses of prisoners during them, became major recruiting tools for anti-U.S. terrorism. In 2006, U.S. intelligence agencies produced a National Intelligence Estimate that reached just that conclusion.

We are shredding the very concept of the rule of law in order to pursue a policy that endangers us, even as it helps to justify the erosion of our civil liberties, to damage the natural environment, and toimpoverish us, as it kills many innocent people.  Maybe they’ve secretly got drones doing the thinking as well as the killing.

Joseph E. Stiglitz argues that bad policies in rich countries, not economic inevitability, have caused most people’s standard of living to decline. – Project Syndicate

Joseph E. Stiglitz argues that bad policies in rich countries, not economic inevitability, have caused most people’s standard of living to decline. – Project Syndicate.

FEB 6, 2014 6

Stagnation by Design

NEW YORK – Soon after the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, I warned that unless the right policies were adopted, Japanese-style malaise – slow growth and near-stagnant incomes for years to come – could set in. While leaders on both sides of the Atlantic claimed that they had learned the lessons of Japan, they promptly proceeded to repeat some of the same mistakes. Now, even a key former United States official, the economist Larry Summers, is warning of secular stagnation.

The basic point that I raised a half-decade ago was that, in a fundamental sense, the US economy was sick even before the crisis: it was only an asset-price bubble, created through lax regulation and low interest rates, that had made the economy seem robust. Beneath the surface, numerous problems were festering: growing inequality; an unmet need for structural reform (moving from a manufacturing-based economy to services and adapting to changing global comparative advantages); persistent global imbalances; and a financial system more attuned to speculating than to making investments that would create jobs, increase productivity, and redeploy surpluses to maximize social returns.

Policymakers’ response to the crisis failed to address these issues; worse, it exacerbated some of them and created new ones – and not just in the US. The result has been increased indebtedness in many countries, as the collapse of GDP undermined government revenues. Moreover, underinvestment in both the public and private sector has created a generation of young people who have spent years idle and increasingly alienated at a point in their lives when they should have been honing their skills and increasing their productivity.

On both sides of the Atlantic, GDP is likely to grow considerably faster this year than in 2013. But, before leaders who embraced austerity policies open the champagne and toast themselves, they should examine where we are and consider the near-irreparable damage that these policies have caused.

Every downturn eventually comes to an end. The mark of a good policy is that it succeeds in making the downturn shallower and shorter than it otherwise would have been. The mark of the austerity policies that many governments embraced is that they made the downturn far deeper and longer than was necessary, with long-lasting consequences.

Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP per capita is lower in most of the North Atlantic than it was in 2007; in Greece, the economy has shrunk by an estimated 23%. Germany, the top-performing European country, has recorded miserly 0.7% average annual growth over the last six years. The US economy is still roughly 15% smaller than it would have been had growth continued even on the moderate pre-crisis trajectory.

But even these numbers do not tell the full story of how bad things are, because GDP is not a good measure of success. Far more relevant is what is happening to household incomes. Median real income in the US is below its level in 1989, a quarter-century ago; median income for full-time male workers is lower now than it was more than 40 years ago.

Some, like the economist Robert Gordon, have suggested that we should adjust to a new reality in which long-term productivity growth will be significantly below what it has been over the past century. Given economists’ miserable record – reflected in the run-up to the crisis – for even three-year predictions, no one should have much confidence in a crystal ball that forecasts decades into the future. But this much seems clear: unless government policies change, we are in for a long period of disappointment.

Markets are not self-correcting. The underlying fundamental problems that I outlined earlier could get worse – and many are. Inequality leads to weak demand; widening inequality weakens demand even more; and, in most countries, including the US, the crisis has only worsened inequality.

The trade surpluses of northern Europe have increased, even as China’s have moderated. Most important, markets have never been very good at achieving structural transformations quickly on their own; the transition from agriculture to manufacturing, for example, was anything but smooth; on the contrary, it was accompanied by significant social dislocation and the Great Depression.

This time is no different, but in some ways it could be worse: the sectors that should be growing, reflecting the needs and desires of citizens, are services like education and health, which traditionally have been publicly financed, and for good reason. But, rather than government facilitating the transition, austerity is inhibiting it.

Malaise is better than a recession, and a recession is better than a depression. But the difficulties that we are facing now are not the result of the inexorable laws of economics, to which we simply must adjust, as we would to a natural disaster, like an earthquake or tsunami. They are not even a kind of penance that we have to pay for past sins – though, to be sure, the neoliberal policies that have prevailed for the past three decades have much to do with our current predicament.

Instead, our current difficulties are the result of flawed policies. There are alternatives. But we will not find them in the self-satisfied complacency of the elites, whose incomes and stock portfolios are once again soaring. Only some people, it seems, must adjust to a permanently lower standard of living. Unfortunately, those people happen to be most people.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/joseph-e–stiglitz-argues-that-bad-policies-in-rich-countries–not-economic-inevitability–have-caused-most-people-s-standard-of-living-to-decline#huJ4BlicZg9e2A6X.99

Are we trading away our rights and environment? | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation

Are we trading away our rights and environment? | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation.

Photo: Are we trading away our rights and environment?

(Credit: Gord McKenna via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

Global trade has advantages. For starters, it allows those of us who live through winter to eat fresh produce year-round. And it provides economic benefits to farmers who grow that food. That could change as oil, the world’s main transport fuel, becomes increasingly scarce, hard to obtain and costly, but we’ll be trading with other nations for the foreseeable future.

Because countries often have differing political and economic systems, agreements are needed to protect those invested in trade. Canada has signed numerous deals, from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to several Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (FIPA), and is subject to the rules of global trade bodies, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Treaties, agreements and organizations to help settle disputes may be necessary, but they often favour the interests of business over citizens. With Canada set to sign a 31-year trade deal with China, a repressive and undemocratic country with state-owned corporations, we need to be cautious.

Should we sign agreements if they subject our workers to unfair competition from lower-paid employees from investor nations, hinder our ability to protect the environment or give foreign companies and governments excessive control over local policies and valuable resources? Under some agreements, basics like protecting the air, water and land we all need for survival can become difficult and expensive.

One recent case could put Canada on the hook for $250 million. Quebec has put a hold on fracking pending a study into the environmental impacts of blasting massive amounts of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to fracture rock and release gas deposits. A U.S. resource company plans to sue Canada under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, claiming compensation for the moratorium’s damage to its drilling interests. Similar disputes have already cost Canada millions of dollars.

Ontario also wants assurances that fracking is safe before it allows the practice. That province is facing costs and hurdles because of another conflict between trade and environment. Japan and the European Union filed a complaint with theWTO, claiming a requirement under the Ontario Green Energy Act that wind and solar projects must use a set percentage of local materials is unfair.

Many of the problems arise because of an investor-state arbitration mechanism, which is included in NAFTA, as well as the proposed Canada-China FIPA, Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership. It allows foreign investors to bring claims before outside arbitrators if they believe their economic interests are being harmed by a nation’s actions or policies. So economics trump national interests.

This has caused many countries, including Australia, South Africa, India and several in Latin America, to avoid signing deals that include the investor-state arbitration mechanism. In Australia’s case, the country recognized the pitfalls when tobacco companies, including Philip Morris, attempted to claim damages under a bilateral investment treaty after the federal government introduced a science-based law requiring cigarettes to be sold in plain, unappealing packages.

According to Australian National University law professor Thomas Faunce, Philip Morris then lobbied the U.S. government to include a similar mechanism in a new trade agreement it was negotiating with Australia. In an article for Troy Media, Faunce wrote that, with such a mechanism, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes “would, in effect, become the final arbitrators on major Australian public policy questions concerning mineral royalties, fossil fuel and renewable energy, water, telecommunications, banking, agriculture and power.”

The 31-year trade agreement between Canada and China is worrisome, with its 15-year opt-out clause (compared to just six months for NAFTA), but the inclusion of the mechanism in other agreements is also cause for concern. At the very least, we could be on the hook for millions or billions of dollars if our environmental, health, labour or other policies were deemed to harm the interests of those investing in or trading with Canada.

The government’s desire to expand global trade may be understandable, but we mustn’t give away too much. We must tell our elected representatives to at least delay the Canada-China FIPA until it has been examined more thoroughly, and to reconsider the inclusion of investor-state arbitration mechanisms in all trade deals.

Rapid urbanization threatens sustainable development – OurWorld 2.0 | OurWorld 2.0

Rapid urbanization threatens sustainable development – OurWorld 2.0 | OurWorld 2.0.

Population growth and climate change explained by Hans Rosling – video | Global development | guardian.co.uk

Population growth and climate change explained by Hans Rosling – video | Global development | guardian.co.uk.

 

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