Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Naomi Klein on Iraq's oil, the Obama's "Chicago Boys" and the Beijing Olympics

The always brilliant Naomi Klein was interviewed on Democracy Now last week, and provided truly fascinating insights on quite a few topics. I can't recommend the entire interview enough, but here are a few excerpts of some of the more interesting points.

First, on the Iraq oil law, nationalizing oil as an anti-colonial symbol, and the role of Iraqi unions in the process:
OK. Well, at the moment, Iraq does not have an oil law, so Iraq can’t sign long-term exploration agreements, although they are doing it in Iraqi Kurdistan, and we’ve heard about this with Hunt Oil. But that’s—those are illegal contracts. They’re very precarious. There could be future expropriations. It’s really risky to go that route, because there isn’t a law. And we know it’s been a major push of this administration to get the Iraqi parliament to accept a US-backed oil law. This has been sold as a symbol of Iraqi unity. That’s not the way it’s seen in Iraq.

In Iraq, the reason why it has been years in resisting this oil law is because nationalizing the oil in Iraq was the centerpiece of the anti-colonial struggle, as it was in neighboring nations throughout the Arab world. And it is not just a pro-Saddam idea. It is not just a Baathist idea. It’s the core of Arab nationalism. And that victory is being protected by many political forces in Iraq, and most notably by the oil workers’ unions in Iraq, who said, “We don’t need these foreign multinationals to get the oil out of the ground. We can do it ourselves. We can bring in technical support without giving away management control, without giving away ownership control.”
. . .
And not only have companies like BP and Texaco been offered these no-bid contracts, but what’s strange about it is that they’re service contracts, and these are not oil service companies. So what’s significant about these contracts is that they appear to be giving these oil companies the right of first refusal on future, more significant contracts. So, one week after these smaller service agreements were announced, the Iraqi Oil Ministry announced that they also will be handing out longer-term management agreements, which will give oil companies the ability to manage existing fields in Iraq and hold onto 75 percent of the worth of those contracts and leave only 25 percent for Iraqis, which is absolutely unheard of in the region, where 51 percent for the country is the baseline for new exploration, for new fields. These are existing fields. They’re already working. The technology is already there. And these foreign companies are going to be taking 75 percent of the worth of those existing fields in Iraq. So it’s daylight robbery. It’s armed robbery, actually, Amy.
For the record, this also applies whenever you hear someone (republicans and democrats) talk about the Iraqi government passing the "carbon law".

Next on Obama's economic team, or his own "Chicago Boys":

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, Obama’s Chicago Boys, who are they?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, one of them is Obama. Obama spent ten years teaching at the University of Chicago Law School, which is a very conservative law school. You know, I wrote a column recently talking about how conservative Obama’s economic roots are, with his ties to the University of Chicago.

His first response to the mortgage crisis, let’s remember, was he was worried about the government taking action to keep people from being evicted from their homes, because that would create moral hazard. And he was not talking about the big companies, the big mortgage lenders; he was talking about individual low-income people being thrown out of their homes. He was worried about moral hazard. That’s a very University of Chicago take on the situation.

And yeah, one of his—his chief economic adviser was Austin Goolsbee, this University of Chicago economist. And, you know, now his chief economic adviser is Jason Furman, who is not a University of Chicago-affiliated economist, but is certainly on the right of the economic—Democratic economic spectrum, has defended Wal-Mart, has attacked critics of Wal-Mart, saying that they’re doing more harm than good, that actually Wal-Mart is a progressive institution that is helping low-income people with their low prices, and that living wage campaigns, for instance, are actually hurting low-income people. So these are pretty conservative ideas, and I think it is important for people to understand that this is who Obama has chosen to take his advice from.
. . .
And I think the fear is that some of the same people, like Rubin, responsible for, you know, Rubinomics, which turned into Clintonomics, which was, you know, the Democratic full-scale embrace of the ideology of privatization and so-called free trade, that this same sort of group of people are following—are now surrounding Obama. And Jason Furman is a Rubin protégé and worked with him at the Hamilton Project, which is a sort of sub-think tank of the Brookings Institution, which emerged a few years ago to prevent the Democratic Party from embracing what they saw as populist economic policies, the centerpiece of which would have been a reexamine of the ideology of free trade, which is being discredited around the world.
. . .
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, just to be clear on economics, I mean, I think what we actually saw with Obama is that he started pretty much at a conservative point on economic policy, and Clinton—and the campaign with Clinton, because she was moving so far to a populist position, he then moved. And as soon as she dropped out of the race, he moved back. So I think there are some real points of disagreement, and I think that there are some places to point to much more progressive outlook in Obama’s roots, particularly on foreign policy, but I don’t think economic policy is one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: He had called the free trade agreement, in the debates with Hillary Clinton and with John Edwards, “a mistake.” He called it “an enormous problem,” but now, with Fortune, said, “Sometimes during campaigns rhetoric gets overheated and amplified. My core position has never changed. I’ve always been a proponent of free trade,” which you say actually is true.

NAOMI KLEIN: And he appointed Jason Furman the day after Hillary dropped out of the race. Yeah. So, it was—as I said, I really think he’s moving back to actually where he started, with his first reaction, as I said, to the subprime mortgage crisis being, well, we can’t keep low-income people from being evicted, because we have the moral hazard of encouraging them to make bad loans, essentially blaming them for having been—having accepted these mortgages in the first place.
Granted a lot of this stuff isn't new information, and to toot our own horns, these are all things that you have heard before on this blog. That being said I quoted this part extensively because it means a hell of a lot more being said by one of the top progressive minds of our time than some clod who writes a blog. After all, blogs are stupid and anyone can write one.

Next she tackles her reporting on the Olympics, especially on what this means for China post after the games are over:
Well, yeah, I was in China a couple months ago, and the piece came out recently, and you can read it still on the Rolling Stone website. And I concentrated on the Pearl River Delta, on the city of Shenzhen. And, you know, this is the part of China that is really the—I guess the sweatshop to the world, their workshop to the world. This is where probably half of everything most us own is made. Hundreds of thousands of factories, a lot of technology, a lot of garments. It is now a new kind—it’s always been a laboratory for this manufacturing model, for the globalization manufacturing model, and it was born as a laboratory. The city of Shenzhen didn’t exist in 1980. It was a collection of fishing villages. And now it’s a city of more than 12 million people.

And there’s a new experiment happening in Shenzhen, where a high-tech police state is being built. And there are hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras, of surveillance cameras, in the city. There are plans to have two million cameras in the city of Shenzhen and to network them, which is the key, so that they’re all part of the same network. They can be monitored from a centralized police location. And it isn’t just the cameras on the streets. It’s cameras in internet cafes, cameras in private restaurants, so a total convergence between the private and the public when it comes to putting the people under surveillance.

And the money for building this high-tech police state—and it includes also biometric IDs, facial recognition software. It’s sort of the future that has already been imagined in multiple sort of science fiction films, but that we actually don’t yet have in North America yet, because there are still some civil liberties and privacy protections that prevent all of the technologies from being networked together to create this all-seeing eye. In China, you have the perfect situation, because you have a government that actually makes no claims for the rights to privacy of its citizens.
. . .
Just to put this in context, the estimate is that China is spending $13 billion in the name of security for the Olympics. And let’s remember, all of these toys that are being sold to the Chinese government by companies like General Electric are staying after the Olympics and to be used against the domestic population. So it gets installed in the name of protecting the athletes, protecting the foreign dignitaries, but it stays and is able to be used against the local population, and I think in violation of the sanctions policies that were passed after the Tiananmen Square massacre, which actually made it illegal for American companies to sell police equipment to the Chinese government, precisely because it can be used to repress the population. But now, because it’s being packaged as antiterrorism security in the context of an international event, they’ve sort of found a backdoor way into it. But, yeah, once again, to put it in context, Amy—and I know we’re running out of time—$13 billion for Olympic security in Beijing this summer. The first Olympics after 9/11 were in Athens, and they spent $1.5 billion. So, since Athens, the increase in security spending has gone from $1.5 billion to $13 billion.
Scary stuff. Sorry for the massive quoting, but there were just too many interesting points in there. The lesson here is that Naomi Klein is awesome, and when she speaks on anything, we should listen.

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