Joanne Knight

January 30, 2014

What does Bill Gates Know about Poverty?

Published by Countercurrents Jan 29 2014

The Gates Foundation 2014 Annual Letter confidently declared the end of poverty by 2035. It criticized all the nay-sayers in poverty reduction and spelled out the good news to all the terrible sceptics in the world. With some personal wisdom thrown in, Mr. Gates proudly expounded on the achievements in poverty reduction around the world.

“The global picture of poverty has been completely redrawn in my lifetime. Per-person incomes in Turkey and Chile are where the United States level was in 1960. Malaysia is nearly there, as is Gabon. And that no-man’s-land between rich and poor countries has been filled in by China, India, Brazil, and others.”

Institutions like the UN Development Project and the World Bank have similar reports on poverty reduction: 650 million people lifted out of extreme poverty (living on $1.25 per day) in the last three decades. These organizations approach poverty reduction within a framework of increasing economic growth and trade liberalization. However, too many poverty reduction projects rely on the ‘generosity’ of the global elite, like the Gateses, scattering a few crumbs of their obscene wealth. It seems after three decades more should have been achieved.



November 8, 2013

Image Warfare and the Civilian Drone Deaths in Pakistan

Former Air Force pilot, Brandon Bryant, has now added his name to the growing list of whistle blowers on US government overreach. His story highlights the ways that the “society of the spectacle” interacts with the media and the image escapes the control of the government. Bryant humanizes the victims of drone bombings when the military would rather they remain distant inhuman enemies. Similarly Amnesty International’s report brings the area of northwest Pakistan from the realm of image into reality and provides a picture of people caught in the middle of warring forces Taliban, war lords, the armies of Pakistan and US attempting to scratch a living from the earth and avoid running afoul of these powers.

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March 25, 2013

Captain, my Captain

The failure of the US economy in 2008 led to its fall as the dominant power. So is there potential for a more even distribution of power globally or will it simply lead to a Hobbesian war of all against all? People talk about ‘leadership’ but what do they mean. The US no longer leads the world. The President no longer leads the country. We have a crisis of ‘leadership’.

Joseph Stiglitz warns of the dangers of a leaderless world:

“In the last 25 years, we have moved from a world dominated by two superpowers to one dominated by one, and now to a leaderless, multi-polar world. While we may talk about the G-7, or G-8, or G-20, the more apt description is G-0. We will have to learn how to live, and thrive, in this new world.”

When we talk about leadership, we seem to mean whoever has the power to make others fall into line with their interests. After WWII the US situated itself to dominate the globe, politically and economically. The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 ushered in a new era of increased US dominance which led to the current World Recession. The behavior of our leaders leaves little hope for the future.

Corporate leaders are so autistically-focused on short term profits, they cannot begin to imagine a world working towards a common goal. Their rhetoric of ‘vision’ and ‘leadership’ do not match their actions based in greed and ruthless competition.

Leaders of the financial world (or Masters of the Universe as they used to be known) like hedge fund billionaires, William A. Ackman, Daniel S. Loeb and Carl C. Icahn, have indulged in some dubious practices (to say the least) in regard to Herbalife. Hedge funds, in the course of normal behavior, try to stack the deck in their favour through manipulative media behavior in order to influence the stock price of a company up or down. Their standard business practice demonstrates the worst excesses of corporations.

These hedge fund managers acquired large interests in Herbalife. In December last year, William Ackman made a presentation at an investor conference, claiming that Herbalife was a pyramid scheme, even though no one appears to be doing an actual investigation. In February, Mr. Icahn and Mr. Ackman appeared on CNBC. Mr. Icahn noted that if someone tried to acquire Herbalife, it would spell trouble for Mr. Ackman because “if that happens, that stock could rush to $100.” Daniel Loeb then sold a portion of his 8.9 million shares.

William D. Cohan, in Bloomberg, speculated whether Loeb’s action, while perfectly legal under current law, could be characterized as “pump and dump”, whereby an investor publicly announces a large stake in a company, the market moves up on the announcement, and then the investor sells the position, or a portion of it after the market moves. None of these people give a damn about the company or its employees. If the company crashes and they make a profit, well that’s just market forces at work. In 2008, hedge funds were also responsible for crashing Northern Rock, a major British bank.

World leaders flounder around in the trough. The world is governed by an elite so profoundly cut off from the experiences of most people’s everyday lives that they are too complacent to deal with the real problems facing us. We’ve just watched as Congress and the White House allowed billions of dollars be removed from federally-funded government programs. Nobody really seemed to care that this would be detrimental for many people.

A member of the US elite, Mary Jo White, has just been appointed the head of the US Securities and Exchange Commission. White has alternated between Debevoise & Plimpton and the federal government for three decades. At Debevoise, she has defended nearly every big bank on Wall Street. Her clients included JP Morgan Chase, UBS and Michael Geoghegan, the former head of HSBC.

White defended the fraudulent lending practices of JP Morgan Chase. After the 2008 subprime loan meltdown, a free-for-all of foreclosures occurred where banks frenziedly tried to recover their losses by foreclosing on as many homes as possible. In August 2010 alone, lenders took possession of a record 95,364 U.S. homes and issued foreclosure filings to 338,836 homeowners, or one of every 381 U.S. households.

An investigation by all 50 state attorneys general and state banking regulators of foreclosure practices found widespread fraudulent activity, such as using falsified documents to foreclose on homes, foreclosing on properties on which banks did not hold titles, use of false affidavits, and deceptive practices in the loan modification process (such as telling borrowers that a loan modification was imminent while simultaneously foreclosing).

Mary Jo White now heads up the major securities regulator. This is more than a revolving door, there is no door between Wall Street and the government regulator. The regulator is just providing cover for corporate criminals. My prediction is that White will be dismissed or it will be revealed at the end of her tenure that there was a major cover up of illegal corporate practices. Things can only get worse. This is the sort of leadership we are investing in. People with no moral compass.

Barack Obama is closely implicated in the facilitation, at least, of this type of rampant corruption. The self-style ‘community activist’ has simply revealed himself to be the leader of the corporate mafia.

So what does this behavior tell us about the leaders of today. Their values seem to revolve around actions which will serve their personal short term material interest, regardless of the damage it does, not only to other people’s lives, but to the operation of the system itself.

July 28, 2009

Western Sauce may spoil Peking Duck

This is my latest article in The Age.

PREDICTIONS of economic tsunamis always accompany downturns in Asia. Yet these economies remained resilient through the major economic meltdown of 1997 (with the possible exception of Indonesia) and subsequent reductions in growth. Does the Asian economic model have something to teach the West?

June 9, 2009

Australian Demons

In the 1990s I was introduced to postcolonial Indian literature at university. The extraordinary characters in R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi series appealed to my own sense of youthful disorientation in the world. In ‘The Maneater of Malgudi’, the bewildered Nataraj attempts to produce business cards for the mythical stranger, Vasu. Mistakes over colours and paper quality bedevil Nataraj producing an oddly Austenesque quality. The bullying tone of Vasu, who turns out be a demon, intimidates Nataraj but, unlike Indian students in Australia, we never get the sense that he is in any real danger. This is the charming country of India I carry around in my head.

As Mark Twain so eloquently wrote, ‘The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions…’

It is hard to reconcile this world with that of the neverending dispute with Pakistan, intercommunal violence, nuclear posturing, and cacophonous call centres. When I pick up the phone and an Indian accent responds at the end of the line, I want to ask them what is your life like, what did you have for lunch, what can you see out of your window? The world of call centres suddenly seems so much more romantic. The efforts of Indian students in particular seem heroic to me. They have a reputation for studying hard, for practicality, they dominate the business and economics courses. You see them late at night in the library and at Coles stocking shelves. This is the new generation of Indians, successfully taking their place in the world and tilting at the mighty US.

However, in Australia, the spectre of past racist policies will continue to haunt us, if we fail to respond to these attacks. The support of racism in this country is now reaping its rewards in the bashing of people who represent a lucrative industry to this country, that is overseas students.

A growing number of overseas students are studying in Australia. Australian Education International (AEI) data show that in the year to October 2007, enrolments of full-fee paying overseas students in Australia increased by 19% to 437,065. Today the education industry generates substantial income for the Australian economy. ABS data show that in 2006-07 education-related spending by overseas students was valued at more than $11 billion. While students from China made up the largest proportion of overseas students in 2006, accounting for 22%, the second largest proportion was from India (11%).The number of enrolments of students from India more than tripled from 11,370 in 2002 to 39,166 in 2006, and has continued to grow.

Australians have a racist history. People of all ethnic groups were treated badly but Australia presented an opportunity to them, a new start. As Farouk says in ‘The Castle’: ‘He say plane fly overhead, drop value. I don’t care. In Beirut, plane fly over, drop bomb. I like these planes.’ Australia has, while not always embraced, at least tolerated refugees from Europe, Vietnam and Africa. We learned to live with their strange food and customs. When we hear the stories of those in their forties and fifties, of being vilified at school for their food and language, we can hardly credit it. But this era was followed by a time where we attempted to put our racist roots to bed, to smooth the dying pillow of racism: reconciliation, Mabo, the Native Title Act; it seems like a golden age, a far flung time of prosperity and generosity. Where different was not a dirty word.

But after twenty years of rampant globalisation, security issues and terrorism have made us all more afraid, more suspicious of the guy wearing the turban on the train, of the woman in the Hijab. The threat they present in our minds was heightened as a deliberate government policy for seven years. Our fear of the different increases, as the world shrinks. But now it is time to learn to live together again. We need a new government ad campaign to make us proud of the quality of our education system which attracts students from the region and all around the world.

This is a cynical call to practicality. As the world continues to descend into economic turmoil, Australia cannot afford to cut off any sources of revenue. Let’s welcome these students, embrace them. They are members of a growing global middle class. These students are the future managers and entrepreneurs, alienating them now will only present difficulties for our trade and business relations later. Let’s not forget that India is one of the economic powerhouses of the future. The US is in decline, economically, they should be declared a disaster area. We need to turn our trading eyes to other places.

The time has come for Rudd to shuck off that grey flannel suit, and show us some flair. The man who wooed the Chinese with his knowledge of Mandarin needs to find a way into the Indian psyche. If Rudd wants to be seen as the great internationalist and Australia as at least a safe, if not actually welcoming, destination for overseas students, then we need to improve our image. Just as Nataraj’s demon eventually destroys himself, so we will be destroyed (and repeatedly injure our international reputation) if we fail to exorcise the demons of racism in this country.

January 26, 2009

Guantanamo to close

President Obama signed executive orders to close Guantanamo Bay and end the use of torture. This means an end to CIA secret detention centres around the world, an end to torture such as waterboarding, and an end to human rights abuse in the name of the “war on terror”.

The first 100 days of Mr Obama’s term in office is a unique opportunity for America to reclaim its role as a leader for human rights. In February Amnesty International will present a global petition to President Obama. It will urge the US Administration to establish an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the US Government in its “war on terror”.

Your name will stand alongside thousands of others from around the globe. Please sign your name to the petition now – and call on the President to achieve positive and lasting change.

From Amnesty International

January 14, 2009

The Globalised President

Filed under: international relations — joanneknight @ 10:51 pm
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In a globalised world the United States has enormous influence through international agencies. The United States has used and abused its power at the expense of other countries, particularly developing countries, and a change of President will do little to alter that without the political will. Born in Hawaii to Kenyan/ American parents, and educated in Indonesia, Hawaii and the United States, President-elect Barack Obama is being called an internationalist. The unprecedented attention this election has attracted reinforces the idea of a globalised world. Despite the global reach of this Presidential power, this position is chosen by less than 5% of the world’s population.

Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, believes that the Obama will cooperate with international institutions in contrast to the Bush regime, but there are influences within the United States which will still assert that the interests of the United States takes primacy over all others. For example Obama must deliver new markets to United States businesses if he wants Republican support in Congress.

In developing countries like those in Africa there is hope of a change of policy. ‘The current administration has had a high level of aggression and resistance to fundamental concerns from developing countries,’ said South African deputy Trade Minister Rob Davies.

With the growing influence of international organizations, like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organisation, countries and transnational organisations (including corporations) compete with each other under increasingly complex regulatory regimes. Winton Higgins, Research Fellow at University of Technology Sydney, argues that the United States so overshadows this new system that, to a large extent, the new regulation amounts to Americanisation. ‘The institutional forces, the fundamental rules of the game of the rulemaking process in our world also reflect undeniably the power of American actors, groups, networks, and cultural blueprints,’ he argues.

The United States has misused its power on various international bodies such as the IMF to forward its own trade agenda at the expense of other countries, particularly developing countries. The United States has effective veto power on the IMF and World Bank. Voting rights on the IMF are apportioned according to the size of each country’s economy and contribution to the fund’s capital stock. The United States has the largest vote on the board of 17%. Fifteen percent of the vote is needed to block any proposal. In the 1990s, under pressure from United States and other major shareholders, the IMF aggressively pushed developing countries to eliminate capital controls and de-regulate their financial sectors.

While the United States has recently abrogated its right to choose the President of the World Bank, it effectively has a veto on some decisions with just over 16% of the shares in the bank; moreover, decisions can only be passed with votes from countries whose shares total more than 85% of the bank’s shares. The United States is the only country which requires Congressional approval of the three-yearly pledges to International Development Association which gives powerful interest groups, such as cotton farmers and baby formula manufacturers, ample opportunities to impose conditions on the United State’s contribution to IDA and thereby on the Bank as a whole. The large majority of Bank economists have a post-graduate qualification from a North American university, whatever their nationality.

With the spread of democracy around the world from Southern Europe to South Asia since the mid-1970s, most countries have the institutional facilities to participate in a world election. The other option is for countries to take advantage of the current United States weakness to force it to relinquish some of its power on international bodies. China may in fact be taking such a line, pressuring the United States to give up its control over the IMF in return for help in the economic crisis. The Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Wen Jiabao, said that developing countries should have a stronger say in the financial system.

Globalisation has placed us in the position where the activities of one nation can affect intentionally or unintentionally every other nation on earth. The decisions of one powerful man can have a global impact. It seems we all have a stake in who controls this power. Let us hope that Obama’s dream of equality extends to the whole world.

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