"The end of a cycle”... The beginning of what?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Today "El País" published a “special” editorial indicating that we have reached the “end of a cycle”, and affirming that early elections must be held immediately. They believe that even November will be too late. What’s the rush? How can this urgency be justified at home and abroad? With the present economic crises in both the U.S. and Europe, with the markets dictating political policy, with media powers that have fallen into discredit, with G-8 or G-20 plutocrats’ total incapacity for world governance, and with such serious problems in Libya, Syria,...

But above all, what is the forecast for Spain at this “end of cycle”? The same as for Portugal, the United Kingdom, Greece or Italy... that is, additional budget cuts, more privatization, total obedience to the “great domain” (military, economic, energy, media)? What are Spain’s alternatives? Are there really programmes of possible solutions? Because the “evidence” provided by the governments of several Autonomous Communities are hardly promising, given their excessive spending, prevalent corruption, etc.

I sincerely believe that the time has come to sit down and seriously analyze our great challenges together, to decide what can really be done at the local national, European and global levels, free from haste and disinformation from so many biased communications media, and with the responsibility of statesmen representing the citizens of Spain who are likewise citizens of the world, compelled to restore the democratic principles that globalizers replaced with the rules of the marketplace, while for the moment ignoring our differences and ambitions, as with a patient who requires intensive care.

Let us consider with all due objectivity how Spain can contribute to resolving the colossal (social, environmental, food) problems posed at the “end of cycle” of a system that sought to take the reins of humanity common destiny with so much tragic “collateral damage”! And now, as in 1989 with the Soviet regime, it is all coming to a resounding end, without our having seriously agreed on the formulas to apply in building a future to reflect the dignity of all human beings, which the coming generations demand and deserve.

When it’s time to take important, clear and collectively relevant decisions, it is neither wise nor advisable to allow individual grudges to blur our vision of the future.

A global “end of cycle”… And then what?

A local “end of cycle”... And the beginning of what?

To be or not to be. That is the question...

More market and less State, the “vicious cycle”…

The “globalizers” not only intend to achieve dominance but hegemony: the markets, aided by the masses hypnotized by the colossal power of the media, have progressively weakened the capacity for political decision-making. Governments have not only transferred huge quantities of all types of resources to large supranational consortia, but with the complicity and urgency of the “bubbles” and delocalized production they have also ceded, at the national and global levels, executive responsibilities that should be exercised by democratic institutions.

The G-6, G-7, G-8 or G-20 groups of rich countries have usurped worldwide powers and authority that only the United Nations can and should assume, with the support of all of its member states.

And thus, this total lack of governance, completely deregulated economy, irresponsible financial institutions (hedge funds) and overflowing tax havens prompted a systemic crisis in 2008.

Although President Obama had already been elected, in November of that year Europe turned instead to President Bush, rather that finally taking the reins of its own governance. And the result was more of the same –“free market, free trade, free economy”, said Bush on that occasion- proceeding to “rescue” the financial institutions that were to a great extent responsible for that serious situation.

The impoverished “rescuers”… were soon thereafter subjected to the hounding of the ungrateful “rescued” who imposed upon them national, regional and global “adjustment” mechanisms. A genuine “vicious cycle”, since government spending cuts and privatization –leading to less State- decreases prospects of creating employment and economic recovery, while the rating agencies, working in favor of the “great domain”(military, energy, media…), warn that forecasts are (logically) negative… So the cycle starts again: additional adjustments, increased privatization, more budget cuts…

We must immediately break this vicious cycle. It is essential to once again endow State with the capacity for action and the economic strength to enable them to urgently commence the “new era” that the world so justly demands. If democratic governments don’t soon take this step, the people certainly will, since they now have means for mass mobilization.

The time for manipulation, blackmail and fear has come to an end. The last stubborn representatives of this faltering system should be reminded of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the markets should peacefully give way to State and to the values that should never have been traded for a price.

We’re being classified, rated, standardized… This has gone too far!

Financial ratings, academic rankings, educational qualifications, scientific quantification… partial reports, biased evaluations that are immediately released and often exaggerated in the communications media, and we can’t contrast them with our own evaluation criteria or with results from truly impartial observatories at the local, national or EU level…

As examples, the following recently appeared in the press:

-“Acropolis Now”, is the title of an article published in The Economist on May 1, 2010: “The Greek debt crisis is spreading. Europe needs a bolder, broader solution—and quickly… Germans need to understand the risks to their banking system and their prosperity… Stemming Greece’s debt crisis is less an act of charity than of self-interest... Thanks to extraordinary incompetence, Europe’s leaders have almost ensured that the Greek rescue failed before it began.”

-“Salgado and Ordóñez defend the banking system vis-à-vis market debt. Moody’s believes the sector may need 100 billion Euros in the event of recession. The Bank of Spain explains that and European politicians ‘contribute’ to the markets’ attack on sovereign debt…” (El País, 14 December 2010)

-“Moody’s thinks Spain is vulnerable and threatens to lower its rating” (ABC, 16 December de 2010)

-“In permanent crisis. Moody’s threat to lower the debt rating punishes the delay in reaching an agreement on financial reform” (editorial from El País, 16 December 2010)

--Last year in December it was already being said that “Europe is reacting: positive messages to protect the Euro with additional capital for the ECB and a rescue fund…” “This time is different: it is irresponsible to leave the future of the European Union in the hands of the markets” (José Ignacio Torreblanca, both articles in El País, 17 December de 2010)

-“S&P torments Portugal by lowering its debt to just one step above junk bonds” (ABC, 30 March 2011).

-“S&P puts the U.S. on notice and extends the sovereign debt crisis to the other side of the Atlantic… The agency lowered the country’s outlook to “negative” and threatens to cut its rating if it does not reach an agreement to reduce budget deficits soon” (ABC, 19 April 2011) In its response the U.S. Treasury underscored that S&P underestimates the ability of America’s leaders to come together to address the difficult fiscal challenges facing the nation.

-“Doubts concerning Greece punish Spanish debt and bring downturns in the stock markets” (El País, 19 April 2011)

--It doesn’t matter whether citizens trust their political leaders if the markets don’t: “The markets still don’t trust the Spanish financial system… They don’t trust the figures... They doubt that financial institutions are sufficiently capitalized in view of the weak real estate market and the poor perspectives in that sector” (IDEAL, 20 April 2011)

-“Upheaval in the markets… The markets punish Greece and Portugal” (El País, 22 April 2011)

-“For Greece there’s no other way than to apply strict austerity measures,” declared Jean Paul Trichet. “Greece must privatize 50 billion Euros and cut over 150,000 public-sector jobs”. (El País, 15 May 2011).

-“The Social Democrats have been forced to implement conservative policies” (Manuel Cruz in El País, 15 May 2011)

-“The insatiable greed of speculative markets and rating agencies” (Mario Soares in Diario de Noticias, 17 May 2011). “The EU must urgently amend its development model: if it doesn’t it could face an irreversible downward spiral and even disintegration”.

-“S&P cuts Catalonia’s rating again, due to its high tax debt" (El País, 20 May 2011)

-On 21 May 2011, El País quantitatively expressed “the risk of ‘countries on the periphery’ as the percentage of 10-year bond yields with regard to PIGS: the worst, Greece (16.2%), then Ireland (until recently cited as a “model” in MBA programs) with 10.1%; Portugal with 8.9%; and Spain with 5.5%.

-“Moody’s deals Greece a further three-notch downgrade, given its risk of default” (El País, 2 June 2011)

-“The EU and the IMF will provide a second rescue to save Greece from bankruptcy” (ABC, June 2011)

-“The European Parliament proposes ending the rating agencies’ oligopoly” (Público, 7 June 2011)

-“Moody’s affirms that Catalonia puts Spain’s deficit target at risk. The agency believes that the central government lacks the ability to enforce discipline on the regions” (El País, 7 June 2011)

-Yesterday, July 7, on the front page of El País: “Europe raps rating agencies after Portugal downgrade. The EU accused them of fueling speculation and anti-European bias; the debt premium has soared to highs in the weaker euro-zone states”.

-Also in yesterday’s El País, there was an article entitled “Confidence Betrayed: Moody’s unfair downgrading of Portugal renders the creation of a European rating agency imperative”.

-Yesterday Público underscored: “Brussels alleges that the rating agencies are fueling speculation. The German Finance Minister calls for limiting the agencies’ oligopoly; UGT accuses these institutions of “revenge” and CCOO affirms that they represent very important interests in the financial sector”.

-And today, 8 July 2011, Público published the following: “Suspicious ratings… To regain institutional confidence, strong measures must be taken against these agencies” (B. Boye) In the same newspaper, “Montoro defends the rating agencies”…

-In El País, “The ECB supports Portugal against the rating agencies. The markets appear to be the greatest enemy of popular sovereignty, which is the foundation of democracy”…

Who is the “rater” behind these agencies, who issues these ratings as he pleases?

--The foundation of democracy! We’ve even included the “markets” in our constitutions (Article 38 of the Spanish Constitution)… and now we’re complaining. And not even the EU dares to reject the rating agencies because the “markets” won’t tolerate such insubordination…

This has gone too far! As I like to repeat, the European Union must urgently apply the “creative efforts” extolled by Robert Schumann in 1950 when establishing the foundations for the Treaty of Rome. Creative efforts in economics, in labor, in autonomy, defense and security, in the creation of our own rating and monitoring institutions, as warranted, in order to strengthen democracy… which is founded on the voice of the people. And the voice of the people is now being heard…

“Adrift, like the Titanic….”

Friday, July 15, 2011

We are living in turbulent times, because there appears to be no alternative to our present course, no other way, no way out. “We don’t have a contingency plan”… And we are progressively approaching the worst stage, of inflexibility, of fatalism. We have to reduce deficits; we have to obey the dictates of the “markets” (and, in that regard, who is actually “the market”?). And we must do so within fixed deadlines (why can’t these deadlines be postponed until the economy recovers, since the present government leaders aren’t usually those responsible for this situation?).

Everything has to be privatized, weakening countries even further and it’s already been demonstrated (and with so much social upheaval!) that this isn’t always the best solution. And the number of government employees must be cut back (but hadn’t we agreed that more jobs should be created?).

It doesn’t matter that some countries have come close to revolution, including a country that until just recently was cited as an “example to follow” in university MBA programs. It doesn’t matter at all. Government leaders can’t see anything other than rating agencies, nor do they listen to initiatives other than those proposed by the markets.

I’ll never tire of repeating that Amin Maalouf has warned us that “unprecedented situations require unprecedented solutions”. But never mind, we are still bent on punctually offering yesterday’s answer to today’s problems, because if we don’t we’ll be punished by the markets.

The “globalizers” –market economy, plutocratic oligarchy, delocalization of production, arms, supranational trafficking, oil…- continue to rale, dominating the scenarios of power. And plans for a knowledge-based economy of sustainable global development; the re-founding of a strong United Nations with Economic and Environmental Security Councils… and renewable energies, now!… are being postponed indefinitely.

We need to “make an about face”. Some world leaders must certainly do so in view of the resounding failure and total ineffectiveness of the G8 and G20, with conflicts –Libya, Syria, Yemen…- that are completely out of control….

Yes, especially in Europe, we have collided with the remains of huge iceberg (the “great domain”) and the Titanic is beginning to sink while, just as in real life, the orchestra continues to play “Fascination” with its persistent and determined dancers… while the ship capsizes.

But we’re still in time. As long as democratic principles prevail, serenely, firmly, over the markets.

Stop the war in Libya and procure a truce in Yemen and Syria, while unanimously endorsing the United Nations as sole negotiator

Syria, Yemen… are now beyond the reach of the groups of plutocrats that decided to attack Libya for reasons that no longer seem to matter.

Neither is the present United Nations efficient, being used sporadically to their convenience by the same States that for years have alienated and weakened the UN.

On many occasions I have written that it is urgent to “re-found” a united United Nations, with weighted representation in the General Assembly (50% States; 25% institutions; 25% civil society), as well as in the Security Council (for Conflicts and Catastrophes); a Health and Environmental Security Council; and a Socio-Economic Security Council...

But until an Extraordinary General Constituent Assembly is decisively convened, it is now extremely urgent to convene all countries to grant the United Nations the role of sole negotiator, to duly resolve the present conflicts that will not be resolved by force.

Thus we must proceed to:

-Stop the war.

-Reach the urgent agreement of all countries to endow the United Nations with the authority to act as sole negotiator in Libya, as well as in Syria and Yemen.

-Facilitate with the utmost urgency the call for the abovementioned meeting of the General Assembly.

Before coups d’état were a threat. Now the threat is from “coups de marché”

(Leonel Fernández, President of the Dominican Republic)

Although frequently enjoying foreign support, those traditionally participating in coups d’état were local people, well-known or at least identifiable. It was thus possible to adopt preventive and corrective measures against them, no matter how well they were entrenched.

In contrast, the “market” is a faceless power. It is the fruit of a great relinquishment of attributes –not only economic- in processes of privatization so highly considered by the spokesmen and beneficiaries of globalization as a remedy for all ills, and which when excessive in magnitude and competences have, to the contrary, produced almost irremediable diseases. Faceless and rootless power with its far-reaching tentacles, represented in the "great domain" (financial, military, energy and media) alliance that hounds democracy and obstructs social policies, using inadmissible speculative maneuvers, without any of the intended regulation or closing of tax havens, alienating the United Nations (in favor of groups of plutocrats, G8, … G20, placing the World Trade Organization outside of the scope of the UN) and acting with complete impunity at the supranational level (tolerating all types of trafficking, mafias, flags of convenience on merchant ships, uncontrolled destruction of the environment…).

In summary, weak states and strong “markets”.

If a re-founding of the United Nations System is not decisively undertaken to endow it with the representation and authority that is now more essential than ever; if rapid action toward emancipation in the European Union is not taken and the “creative efforts” to which Robert Schumann alluded in 1950 remain unleashed; if strong states and compact and committed regional associations are not quickly and efficiently achieved… the world’s drift off course will be unstoppable.

The values of social justice cannot be replaced with impunity by the interests of the marketplace; there can be no good governance from a position of submission to the insatiable voracity of the “markets”.

Let no one be deceived: if these worldwide trends are not radically reversed, the promises to create employment and promote welfare for today’s beleaguered citizens will be pure demagoguery, used to keep the present forces in powers… and the next day to continue to subject citizens to the “whims of the markets”.

To "create employment", but how? By making even further budget cuts, as the European Union is once again demanding of Greece, which is on the verge of bankruptcy and revolution? By also further cutting public employment and the construction of major infrastructures? By further privatizing the last state-owned enterprises that are still economically viable? By selling off territories in Africa or in the Aegean?

Either the states react once and for all, establishing an order and deadlines for what must be changed; eliminating money laundering; setting up their own rating agencies and regional observatories; and endowing the United Nations System with moral authority and real power… or the states will all succumb to the “coups de marché” as President Leonel Fernandez has so lucidly predicted.

From “adjusters” to “adjusted”

For decades the world’s most prosperous countries replaced aid with loans granted in draconian conditions, known as “structural adjustments”.

In effect, to receive those loans the recipient countries had to fulfill three requisites: privatization, reduction of staff, and the building of infrastructures (which in these “developing” nations were built by the lending countries).

On several occasions I expressed to UNESCO members States my total disagreement with such demands that benefited the donors more than the borrowers.

The “reduction” in public employees was applied above all to teachers and professors!

In 1969 when I was rector of the University of Granada and Spain was still an “underdeveloped” country, I was requested to receive a significant World Bank loan for vocational training in eastern Andalusia.

Knowing all of the demands that the loan recipients had to meet at the onset of negotiations, and without entering into details, I must say that after two years I decided to expel from my office a numerous delegation from the World Bank that had come for a third time to Granada from Washington to continue to “work on” the different stages in the process. The humiliation to which we were constantly subjected by the Bank’s bureaucracy was totally inadmissible. Given the reasons I expressed, the minister at that time –Mr. José Luis Villar Palasí- supported my decision.

But now the tables have turned and the countries that just a few years ago imposed “adjustments” upon developing countries are now being “adjusted” and must make multiple budget cuts, privatize, and reduce the number and salaries of their public staff…

And if we look closely we can see that the powers behind the structural adjustments are the same ones that are now imposing adjustments on formerly rich countries and are manipulating the rating agencies to their liking.

From “adjusters” to “adjusted”. We have to better learn our lesson quickly. And take action.

Peaceful action for the triumph of citizen participation

Yesterday was the 34th anniversary of the first democratic elections in Spain after a long period in which ballot boxes were few and far between. It is a day to remember and to render a special tribute to those who to achieve that transition gave great bits of themselves voluntarily, lucidly and with much solidarity. For the first time in many years we experienced the joy of seeing that the will of citizens could be freely expressed. And yesterday, in Barcelona 34 years later, thousands of people demonstrated in front of the gates of the Catalan Parliament.

The strength of the peoples is in their numbers, in the calm but firm proclamation of their desires, of their protests and their proposals. The peaceful demonstrations that have extended since May 15 from the Puerta del Sol to the plazas and streets of so many Spanish and foreign cities is a source of satisfaction, because it was time to cease being passive spectators, manipulated witnesses and distracted recipients to become actors, protagonists and participants. From subjects to citizens.

In the early 1990s when modern communications technology and especially internet and mobile phones first provided citizens with distance participation capabilities, it became clear that these are fascinating times and that the 21st century could finally be the peoples’ century, the century of genuine democracy, which constantly hears and acts upon the voices of the peoples.

Real democracy isn’t necessarily the one that exists, but rather the one that accurately reflects the will of the people. I have frequently repeated that in elections (and I always vote because this is one of the pillars of popular representation) our votes are counted but often we don’t really count, we’re not taken into account. Especially when, as is presently the case, both the written and audiovisual communications media transmit severely deformed versions of reality and of what actually transpires.

There is undoubtedly much room for improvement of democracy at the local, national and global levels. But it was previously very difficult to participate. Now it no longer is. Thus it is quite logical that, very soon, hundreds of thousands, even millions of citizens from all countries will express their agreement and disagreement, their projects and proposals through internet, using its huge capacity to convene and mobilize. This will benefit democracy because the will of the people will limit the markets’ and the rating agencies’ current hounding of government leaders; it will reform electoral laws where needed and will close down tax havens; it will transform our present economy of speculation and war (4,000 million dollars a day in military spending) to an economy of global sustainable development; and it will promote the education that will enable us to give a sense of direction to our lives and to act based on personal reflection.

But all of this will come with peaceful action, never with violence or conflict. In Madrid and in many other parts of Spain the behavior of both participants and observers has in general been exemplary. I truly hope that from now on the same can be said of Barcelona. Let’s hope that after 34 years democracy in Spain can be renewed. Let’s hope that the initial image of the 15-M movement prevails to guarantee the triumph of citizen participation, a contribution that will be made without the use of force.

The 15-M movement may mark the turning point in an evolution away from the inertia of applying yesterday’s formulas to resolving the problems of today. Evolution enables us to change what should be changed and to preserve what should be preserved. The alternative is revolution and (as I enjoy repeating) the difference between the two is the “r” of “responsibility”.

The future has yet to be written. Let’s be capable of inventing it.