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Posts Tagged ‘Egypt

John Kerry and the what me worry doctrine

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It is difficult to apply the title of ‘a new low’ to the dizzyingly long epic of lies that has emerged from the United States Department of State in the life of a generation. Nonetheless, the statement made recently in Cairo by the current incumbent to the position of US Secretary of State, John Kerry, now ranks as the most recent contender.

Kerry said that the government of the USA is “not responsible” for either the crisis in Libya, or violence in Iraq, where militants of the Al-Qaeda offshoot group ISIS are capturing cities one by one. “The United States of America is not responsible for what happened in Libya, nor is it responsible for what is happening in Iraq today,” said Kerry at a press conference.

Just over a generation ago, the CIA is credited with the coining of the term ‘plausible deniability’, which was apparently designed to protect the executive from revealing what they did (or didn’t) know by simply limiting what they did in fact know. What Kerry and his comrades in the topmost echelons of the government of the USA have done is to prove to the rest of the world that they practice a rare form of implausible undeniability.

Kerry – like Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher before him; like Lawrence Eagleburger James Baker, George Schultz, and Alexander Haig before them; and like Cyrus Vance and Henry Kissinger even earlier – has been schooled in obscuring the truth at home, and inventing noxious unrealities before the rest of the world in the endless American attempt to explain away its warmongering.

The mechanica of the British establishment appear to follow this doctrine, with which Kerry has now proven his mastery, but in fact the British government’s sophistry pre-dates that of the American ruling circles. Lord Palmerston, a nineteenth century politician in that country, advised his peers that Britain had no lasting enemies or allies, only permanent interests. And so for Tony Blair, prime minister of that island when George Bush the younger (assisted by Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney) began their ‘war on terror’, the bloody wave of extremism gripping Iraq is an internal occurrence and was in no way – oh not at all – facilitated by the Western invasion.

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Libya, the USA and blowback

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In early July 2012, an article titled ‘Libya’s Militia Menace’ attempted to explain some of the instability in Libya, from an American point of view and which, in my view, is the result of the oil-driven aggression that was a ‘regime change’ (coined for Iraq under Saddam Hussein) which ended in the lynching of Muammar Gaddafi and the further immiseration of the Libyan people, in whose name so much violence and rapine was done.

The Foreign Affairs article said: “The strategy of trying to dismantle the regional militias while simultaneously making use of them as hired guns might be sowing the seeds for the country’s descent into warlordism. It has also given local brigades and their political patrons leverage over the central government.”

An interview in the Council on Foreign Relations sounds as confused about the realities of the region – in this case concerning the anti-USA action is Egypt. It is a worrying sign that this specialist think-tank sounds as confused as the welter of USA-based media outlets attempting to drum up outrage over the latest bloody retort, in Benghazi, to American ambitions in North Africa. Here is an example: “It’s really hard to understand why the Egyptian government is not acting in a more responsible manner right now. The United States has condemned efforts to offend Muslims’ sensibilities. The U.S. flag was taken down and destroyed. The embassy compound, which is considered American territory, was violated. This is a serious breach of diplomatic practice.”

The sequence of events in Benghazi remains murky, undoubtedly because of the difficulty in ascertaining the real puppet-masters behind these maniacal militia. Initial reports attributed the attack to a militia known as the Ansar al-Sharia brigade, but the group has denied involvement. Libya’s deputy interior minister, Wanis al-Sharif, tried to pin the blame on supporters of Gaddafi, but also suggested that the Americans were responsible for their own fate for not heeding previous warnings of attacks by Al Qaeda. “It was necessary that they take precautions,” he told AFP. “It was their fault that they did not take the necessary precautions.”

The killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens is the first such killing of a US envoy since the death of Washington’s ambassador to Afghanistan in 1979. See the full briefing from the US Department of State here.

Written by makanaka

September 13, 2012 at 11:06

World agri estimates 2012 February – 692 mt of wheat, 462 mt of rice

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The World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) for 2012 February have been released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA, through its Economic Research Service of the Foreign Agricultural Service).

Here are the important numbers: total wheat production 692.88 mt, total wheat exports 140.25 mt (of which 26.54 mt is US, the former Soviet Union countries (12) is 35.21 mt); total coarse grains production 1,142.19 mt (coarse grains include corn, sorghum, barley, oats, rye, millet, and mixed grains), total coarse grains exports is 119.81 mt; total world corn production is 864.11 mt; total world rice production is 462.75 mt.

Families queue for food at a feeding point in BadBado IDP camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: IRIN / Kate Holt

Here is what WASDE has said about global wheat, coarse grains and rice:

Wheat – Global wheat supplies for 2011-12 are projected 2.1 million tons higher with larger beginning stocks in Kazakhstan and increased production for India, Kazakhstan, and Morocco. Kazakhstan beginning stocks are raised 0.6 million tons with reduced domestic consumption for 2010-11. India production for 2011-12 is increased 0.9 million tons reflecting the latest government revisions, which increased yields for the crop that was harvested last spring. Kazakhstan production is raised 0.2 million tons based on the recent official estimate. Production for Morocco is raised 0.2 million tons also on official revisions to estimated yields in a crop that was harvested several months ago.

Global trade is raised slightly for 2011-12 with world imports increased 0.7 million tons. Small increases in imports are made for Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Chile, and Ethiopia. Export reductions for Ukraine, Canada, and India are more than offset by increases for Russia, the United States, Argentina, and Brazil. Global wheat consumption is reduced 1.0 million tons mostly reflecting a 1.6-million-ton reduction in India food use. Partly offsetting are small increases in food use for Australia, Chile, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan. Global wheat feeding is nearly unchanged with a 1.0-million-ton reduction for Kazakhstan offset by increases for Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Mexico. Global ending stocks for 2011-12 are raised 3.1 million tons to a record 213.1 million. As projected, 2011-12 global wheat stocks would be 2.4 million tons higher than the previous record in 1999-2000.

A woman peels cassava in a village close to the northern Zambian town of Mpulungu. Photo: IRIN / Guy Oliver

Coarse grain – Global coarse grain supplies for 2011-12 are projected 3.1 million tons lower mostly reflecting reduced corn production prospects in Argentina and, to a lesser extent, Paraguay. Argentina corn production is lowered 4.0 million tons to 22 million as field reports confirm that high temperatures and extensive dryness during pollination in late December and early January resulted in irreversible damage to early corn in the central growing region. Late planted corn, which has been on the increase in recent years, will help offset some of the earlier losses, but additional rainfall is needed to stabilize production prospects. Corn production is lowered 0.4 million tons for adjacent Paraguay where hot, dry weather also reduced area and yields. Partly offsetting are small corn production increases for EU-27 and the Philippines. Global barley production is raised with Argentina production up 0.7 million tons on higher reported area and yields for the crop that was harvested during late 2011.

[You can get the data file here, and the pdf report here.]

Global coarse grain trade for 2011-12 is raised with higher corn imports for EU-27 and higher barley imports for Saudi Arabia, EU-27, and Jordan. Partly offsetting is a reduction in corn imports for Canada. Higher corn exports for a number of countries offset a 4.5-million-ton reduction for Argentina. Along with the projected increase for the United States, corn exports are raised 2.0 million tons for Ukraine, 0.5 million tons each for Brazil and EU-27, and 0.2 million tons for Russia. Barley exports are lowered 1.0 million tons for Ukraine, but raised 0.7 million tons for Russia, 0.5 million tons for Argentina, and 0.3 million tons each for Canada, EU-27, and Kazakhstan.

Global coarse grain consumption for 2011-12 is raised slightly with higher barley feeding in Ukraine and Jordan and higher corn feeding in Argentina and Ukraine. Corn feeding, however, is lowered for Canada and barley feeding is lowered for Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is expected to rebuild stocks as world barley production has rebounded from a 40-year low in 2010-11. Global coarse grain ending stocks for 2011-12 are lowered, with a 2.8-million-ton reduction in corn stocks and a 0.6-million-ton reduction in barley stocks. At the projected 125.4 million tons, global corn ending stocks would be the lowest since 2006-07.

A woman tends to her goods while at a morning market in Kathmandu. Agriculture accounts for about 75 percent of the nation's workforce. Photo: IRIN / David Longstreath

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Rice – Global 2011-12 projections of rice production, consumption, trade and ending stocks are raised from last month. The increase in the global rice production forecast is due mostly to increases for India and the Philippines, which are partially offset by reductions for Brazil, Egypt, Argentina, and the United States. The U.S. rice crop (milled equivalent basis) is lowered slightly resulting entirely from the decrease in the average milling yield. India’s rice crop is forecast at a record 102 million tons, up 2 million from last month due to an increase in both harvested area and yield. According to the U.S. agricultural counselor in New Delhi, favorable 2011 monsoon rains coupled with overall good weather conditions in the major rice producing areas supported higher kharif rice acreage and productivity.

The Brazil rice crop is lowered 340,000 tons due to the effects of drought in Rio Grande do Sul, an important rice producing State. Global exports are raised by 1.4 million tons, primarily due to an increase for India and Egypt, which are partially offset by reductions for Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States. Forecast India exports are raised 2 million tons to a record 6.5 million tons, while exports for Thailand and Vietnam are lowered 500,000 and 200,000 tons, respectively. Forecast imports are sharply raised for Egypt based on information from the agricultural counselor in Cairo. Global ending stocks are up slightly from last month to 100.1 million tons mainly due to an increase for the Philippines.

The Damascus fork in the Middle East road

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The much abused label of a “humanitarian” intervention has been brought out again, for Syria, by the USA and its allies in western Europe. After the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the UN Security Council vote (meaning the vetoes by China and Russia) as a “travesty” and having said “we will work with the friends of a democratic Syria around the world to support the opposition’s peaceful political plans for change”, the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé called the vetoes a “stain” on the UN, adding that French President Nicolas Sarkozy would soon present further initiatives against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

These clumsy but belligerent posturings are aimed at lending some kind of moral legitimacy to a violent intervention in Syria and ignoring the profound opposition these policies provoke amongst the working class in USA and in Europe, and opposition in the Middle East and Asia to a new zone of war. Even in the Western media it has been widely reported that pro-US powers, including Turkey and France, are providing arms and aid to Syrian opposition forces – methods that have become typical of the topplings pursued in the Middle East and North Africa regions during the decade of 2000-2010.

[See ‘When China and Russia use the veto’ posted a few days earlier.] Here is a selection of recent developments, statements and responses:

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) issued a communiqué on 2012 February 05 from Caracas. This said: “The heads of state and government of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) reiterate their condemnation of the systematic policy of interference in and destabilization of the brother Syrian Arab Republic, the aim of which is to impose, by force, regime change on the Syrian people.”

“The ALBA member states condemn the acts of armed violence that irregular groups supported by foreign powers have unleashed against the Syrian people.  The member states hope that the Syrian society will return to calm and develop in peace. The ALBA countries reiterate their support for the policy of reforms and national dialogue promoted by the government of President Bashar al Assad, seeking to find a political solution to the current crisis, respecting the sovereignty of the Syrian people and the territorial integrity of that brother Arab country.”

The original communiqué “Alba ratifica su apoyo a Siria” can be read at the website of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry (translation by Yoshie Furuhashi).

An editorial in the People’s Daily, China has said: “The US and Europe are likely to move against Syria without UN backing. China and Russia are acting within the UN framework, but the US and Europe are trying to set their own rules. In the 2003 Iraq war, France and Germany shared the same stance as China and Russia. During the Bosnia-Herzegovina war in the 1990s, the UK and France sided with Russia.”

“It is far different now. Shared values are bonding Europe and the US again diplomatically. They both adopt this value diplomacy as a powerful tool in the current global competition. With their declining technologic advantage, values are being applied to widen the gap between the West and the developing countries. The US still enjoys dominant military power, which helped it win the Cold War and smash the Milosevic and Saddam regimes. But now it faces economic competition from emerging countries, where military power cannot help directly.”

The Voice of Russia has reported that Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and foreign intelligence chief Mikhail Fradkov arrived in Damascus on Tuesday  (2012 February 07) to have talks with the country’s leader Bashar Assad and give him a letter from President Dmitry Medvedev. The VoR`s Olga Denisova reports from Damascus. On their arrival at Damascus airport, Sergei Lavrov and Mikhail Fradkov were greeted by a top-ranking delegation. When the Russian officials were taken to the center of the city, they could see crowds of pro-Assad supporters, some of them holding Russian flags. People were chanting ‘thank you, Russia!’ At some moment, police officers found it hard to keep people at a necessary distance from the Russian car procession as too many of them wanted to welcome the envoys.

Speaking during a press-briefing after the talks, Mr. Lavrov said that the Russian message was accepted in Syria: “We confirmed our readiness to help Syria overcome the ongoing political crisis relying on three principles outlined in the Arab League`s initiative on November 2, 2011. The Syrian leader, on his part, confirmed his adherence to the policy of non-violence.”

According to Voice of Russia, Bashar Assad said that Syria is interested in the Arab League`s mission to be resumed and even expanded. He believes that the Arab League monitors should watch the situation in all restive districts of the country and report all violations, no matter on which of the opposing sides. Mr. Lavrov told journalists that Mr. Assad confirmed his government`s readiness to start an interethnic dialogue as suggested by the League. Mr. Assad is also expected to have talks with a commission that deals with preparing a draft constitution for Syria. After the draft is ready, a national referendum on the new constitution will be held, to be followed by parliamentary elections, which Assad described as “not offering any privileges to the ruling Ba`ath party”.

Reuters has reported that Russia has won a promise from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to bring an end to bloodshed in Syria, but Western and Arab states acted to isolate Assad further after activists and rebels said his forces killed over 100 in the city of Homs. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, representing a rare ally on a trip to the Syrian capital that other states are shunning, said both countries wanted revive a monitoring effort by the Arab League, whose plan to resolve Syria’s crisis Moscow and Beijing vetoed in the U.N. Security Council.

According to the Reuters report, there was an indication from Lavrov’s comments that the issue of Assad eventually giving up power – a central element of the Arab proposal that failed in the Council – had been raised. Assad said he would cooperate with any plan that stabilised Syria, but made clear that only included an earlier Arab League proposal that called for dialogue, release of prisoners and withdrawing the army from protest centres. Russia’s mediation failed to slow a rush by countries that denounced the Russian-Chinese veto three days ago to corner Syria diplomatically and cripple Assad with sanctions in hopes of toppling him.

A perspective from the World Socialist Web Site has said that the supposed “principles” underlying the US initiative – that the major imperialist powers have the right to intervene and depose the governments of former colonial countries they deem guilty of violating human rights – stand in complete contradiction to international law. As in everything else, the American financial aristocracy makes up the rules as it goes along.

The reasoning of the Russian and the Chinese governments is fairly straight-forward. They see the US posturing once again as the champion of democracy and human rights as it carries out a relentless campaign of aggression aimed at transforming Iran and Syria – both key trading and strategic partners with Moscow and Beijing – into neo-colonial puppet states of American imperialism. The modus operandi in pursuing these imperialist aims is now all too familiar. A targeted regime is denounced with hypocritical invocations of human rights violations after the US and its allies promote civil war in the country and then utilize the inevitable repression as the pretext for intervention.

This was the formula employed successfully in Libya, after Russia and China abstained, failing to exercise their veto, on a resolution authorizing a “no-fly zone,” supposedly to protect the civilian population. This resolution was then exploited as a pseudo-legal fig leaf for a US-NATO war of colonial aggression involving non-stop bombardment of Libya. Special forces and intelligence assets led the so-called rebels in the toppling and ultimate assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.

Jorge Insunza, a leader of the Communist Party of Chile and a member of its Central Committee and Political Commission, has in an interview said: “The Communist Party of Syria, which is a great, serious, and responsible Communist Party and which is not part of the Syrian government, says that it is necessary for Syria to make progress in the deepening of the real exercise of democratic rights. That there have been flaws and errors is an objective fact. However, North American intervention would not solve any democratic problem. On the contrary, it would result in the establishment of a power that would be much more repressive than the current government which allows the existence of parties that are not part of it and have a critical perspective as in the case of the Communist Party of Syria.” This interview was released by TeleSur on 2012 February 03.

The Doomsday Clock moves to 5 minutes to midnight

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From six minutes to five. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock, a simple graphic which reminds us how close human civilisation is to extinguishing itself through its own inaction over its own violent means.

“It is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007,” said the statement.

The last time the Doomsday Clock minute hand moved was in January 2010, when the Clock’s minute hand was pushed back one minute from five to six minutes before midnight.

The January 10, 2012 Doomsday Clock followed an international symposium held on 09 January 2012. The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reviewed the implications of recent events and trends for the future of humanity with input from other experts on nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, climate change, and biosecurity.

Questions addressed on January 9th included: What is the future of nuclear power after Fukushima?; How are nuclear weapons to be managed in a world of increasing economic, political, and environmental volatility?; What are the links among climate change, resource scarcity, conflict, and nuclear weapons?; and, What is required for robust implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention?

President of the United States Barrack Obama delivers a press brief along with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon on January 5, 2012. President Obama and Secretary Panetta delivered remarks on the Defense Strategic Guidance for the Defense Department going forward. They were joined by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and the members of the Joint Chiefs and Service Secretaries(DOD Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)(RELEASED)

Despite the promise of a new spirit of international cooperation, and reductions in tensions between the United States and Russia, the Science and Security Board believes that the path toward a world free of nuclear weapons is not at all clear, and leadership is failing, according to the participants of the symposium.  The ratification in December 2010 of the New START treaty between Russia and the United States reversed the previous drift in US-Russia nuclear relations.

However, failure to act on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by leaders in the United States, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea and on a treaty to cut off production of nuclear weapons material continues to leave the world at risk from continued development of nuclear weapons.  The world still has approximately 19,500 nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the Earth’s inhabitants several times over.   The Nuclear Security Summit of 2010 shone a spotlight on securing all nuclear fissile material, but few actions have been taken.  The result is that it is still possible for radical groups to acquire and use highly enriched uranium and plutonium to wreak havoc in nuclear attacks.

Obstacles to a world free of nuclear weapons remain.  Among these are disagreements between the United States and Russia about the utility and purposes of missile defense, as well as insufficient transparency, planning, and cooperation among the nine nuclear weapons states to support a continuing drawdown.  The resulting distrust leads nearly all nuclear weapons states to hedge their bets by modernizing their nuclear arsenals.  While governments claim they are only ensuring the safety of their warheads through replacement of bomb components and launch systems, as the deliberate process of arms reduction proceeds, such developments appear to other states to be signs of substantial military build-ups.

The movement of the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock will be of no concern to the US Department of Defense and the current government of the United States of America. On 05 January 2012 US President Barack Obama presented at the Pentagon the document entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”. Obama insisted that the US military budget would remain higher than those of the next 10 military powers combined.

The past decade, dominated by the “global war on terror” and the simultaneous wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, saw military spending in the US soar by more than 80%. The plan being implemented by Obama will maintain military spending at this unprecedentedly high level, even as the White House and the US Congress prepare to slash core social programs and benefits, including Medicare and Social Security.

See Defense.gov News Article: ‘Obama: Defense Strategy Will Maintain U.S. Military Pre-eminence’
See ‘You Can’t Have It All’ in Foreign Policy
See ‘New US defense policy challenges trust’ in People’s Daily Online
See ‘Pentagon plan changes game in Asia’ in People’s Daily Online

Powerful corporate interests are pleased with the new document, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense”, and its promise of continued spending on a new stealth bomber, submarines, star wars technology and other air and sea weapons systems that are seen as the most efficient means of aggressively projecting US military might. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directly addressed these interests, declaring the Pentagon’s commitment to “preserving the health and viability of the nation’s defense industrial base.”

In his appearance at the Pentagon, Obama repeated his assertion that, based on the withdrawal from Iraq and the minimal troop reductions in Afghanistan, “the tides of war are receding”. On the contrary, the defense strategic guidance demonstrates that US imperialism remains committed to the use of armed force to assert its hegemony over the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia, even as it gears up its war machine for an armed confrontation with China.

Commenting on the Doomsday Clock announcement, Lawrence Krauss, co-chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board of Sponsors said: “Unfortunately, Einstein’s statement in 1946 that ‘everything has changed, save the way we think,’ remains true. The provisional developments of 2 years ago have not been sustained, and it makes sense to move the clock closer to midnight, back to the value it had in 2007. Faced with clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, world leads are failing to change business as usual. Inaction on key issues including climate change, and rising international tensions motivate the movement of the clock. As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons, and in fact setting the stage for global reductions.”

Two films on social struggle: Egypt’s unfinished revolution, Kenya’s ‘unga’ revolution

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Although Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down in February 2011, the uprisings in Egypt continue. While the uniting rallying cry may have been against dictatorship, the struggle in Egypt that took headlines across the world in early 2011 reflected deeper social, political, and economic problems. The key demands of the revolution have still not been met. The continuation of military rule and the promise of more neoliberal economic policies lead many to believe it will be a long battle.

Protesters in Egypt are hopeful, however, as people all over the world revolt against an economic system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. This short documentary looks at the economic factors that led to the revolution, the reality of living under military rule, and brings up questions over the legitimacy of the current elections.

Rising prices and inflation in Kenya prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurise the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour. IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution’, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans.

Throughout 2011, Kenyans have faced the strain of rising food and fuel prices. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, late and erratic rainfall led to an estimated 3.75 million people across the country becoming food-insecure. The World Bank’s Food Price Watch report states that the price of maize rose by 43 percent globally between September 2010 and September 2011.

IRIN’s latest film, ‘Kenya’s Unga Revolution‘, follows one of Bunge la Mwananchi’s activists, Emily Kwamboka, as she takes to the streets to demand change in the lives of ordinary Kenyans. “It’s high time people wake up. We need masses in this struggle. This is a fight that can’t be fought by just one or two people,” she told IRIN. Particularly affected were those living in Kenya’s urban areas, especially slum-dwellers. “Things have become so expensive, people are not even able to buy vegetables,” said Joash Otieno, a resident of Mathare, one of Nairobi’s slums. “Those who live in Mathare and other slums earn very low incomes,” he added.

The rising prices and inflation prompted the creation of a movement led by a grassroots civil society group, Bunge la Mwananchi, or The People’s Parliament. It staged demonstrations throughout the year to pressurize the Kenyan government to bring down the price of unga, or maize flour, from Ksh120 (US$1.40) a kilo, to KSh30 ($0.34).

FAO 2011 October Food Index down, food prices still up, what’s going on?

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FAO has released its Food Price Index for October 2011, saying the index has dropped dropped to an 11-month low, declining 4 percent, or nine points, to 216 points from September. Indeed the index has dropped, declined and has certainly not risen. But does this mean food prices for the poor in many countries, for labour, for informal workers, for cultivators too – has the cost of food dropped for any of them?

The answer is a flat and unequivocal ‘No’. FAO has said so too: “Nonetheless prices still remain generally higher than last year and very volatile.” At the same time, the Rome-based food agency has said that the “drop was triggered by sharp declines in international prices of cereals, oils, sugar and dairy products”.

The FAO has said that an “improved supply outlook for a number of commodities and uncertainty about global economic prospects is putting downward pressure on international prices, although to some extent this has been offset by strong underlying demand in emerging countries where economic growth remains robust”.

Once again, the FAO is speaking in two or more voices. It should stop doing so. A very small drop in its food price index does not – repeat, does not – indicate that prices for food staples in the world’s towns and cities has dropped and people can afford to buy and cook a square meal a day for themselves and their children. Not so at all.

I am going to contrast what FAO has said about its October food price index with very recent reportage about food and food price conditions in various parts of the world.

FAO: “In the case of cereals, where a record harvest is expected in 2011, the general picture points to prices staying relatively firm, although at reduced levels, well into 2012. International cereal prices have declined in recent months, with the FAO Cereal Price Index registering an eleven month-low of 232 points in October. But nonetheless cereal prices, on average, remain 5 percent higher than last year’s already high level.”

Business Week reported that rising food prices in Djibouti have left 88 percent of the nation’s rural population dependent on food aid, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said. A ban on charcoal and firewood production, which provides about half of the income of poor people in the country’s southeast region, may further increase hunger, the Washington- based agency, known as Fewsnet, said in an e-mailed statement today. Average monthly food costs for a poor urban family are about 33,907 Djibouti francs ($191), about 12,550 francs more than the average household income, Fewsnet said. Urban residents in the Horn of Africa nation don’t receive food aid, it said.

FAO: “According to [FAO’s November 2011] Food Outlook prices generally remain ‘extremely volatile’, moving in tandem with unstable financial and equity markets. ‘Fluctuations in exchange rates and uncertainties in energy markets are also contributing to sharp price swings in agricultural markets,’ FAO Grains Analyst Abdolreza Abbassian noted.”

A Reuters AlertNet report quoted Brendan Cox, Save the Children’s policy and advocacy director, having said that rising food prices are making it impossible for some families to put a decent meal on the table, and that the G20 meeting [currently under way in Cannes, France] must use this summit to agree an action plan to address the food crisis. Malnutrition contributes to nearly a third of child deaths. One in three children in the developing world are stunted, leaving them weak and less likely to do well at school or find a job. Prices of staples like rice and wheat have increased by a quarter globally and maize by three quarters, Save the Children says. Some countries have been particularly hard hit. In Bangladesh the price of wheat increased by 45 percent in the second half of 2010. In new research, Save the Children analysed the relationship between rising food prices and child deaths. It concluded that a rise in cereal prices – up 40 percent between 2009 and 2011 – could put 400,000 children’s lives at risk.

FAO: “Most agricultural commodity prices could thus remain below their recent highs in the months ahead, according to FAO’s biannual Food Outlook report also published today.  The publication reports on and analyzes developments in global food and feed markets. In the case of cereals, where a record harvest is expected in 2011, the general picture points to prices staying relatively firm, although at reduced levels, well into 2012.”

IRIN News reported that food production is expected to be lower than usual in parts of western Niger, Chad’s Sahelian zone, southern Mauritania, western Mali, eastern Burkina Faso, northern Senegal and Nigeria, according to a report by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and a separate assessment by USAID’s food security monitor Fews Net. “We are worried because these irregular rainfalls have occurred in very vulnerable areas where people’s resilience is already very weakened,” said livelihoods specialist at WFP Jean-Martin Bauer. Many Sahelian households live in a state of chronic food insecurity, he said. “They are the ones with no access to land, lost livestock, without able-bodied men who can find work in cities – they are particularly affected by a decrease in production.” A government-NGO April 2011 study in 14 agro-pastoral departments of Niger noted that pastoralists with small herds lost on average 90 percent of their livestock in the 2009-2010 drought, while those with large herds lost one quarter. Those who had lost the bulk of their assets have already reduced the quality and quantity of food they are consuming.

FAO: “Food Outlook forecast 2011 cereal production at a record 2 325 million tonnes,  3.7 percent above the previous year. The overall increase comprises a 6.0 percent rise in wheat production, and increases of 2.6 percent for coarse grains and 3.4 percent for rice. Globally, annual cereal food consumption is expected to keep pace with population growth, remaining steady at about 153 kg per person.”

The Business Line reported that in India, food inflation inched up to 11.43 per cent in mid-October, sharply higher than the previous week’s annual rise of 10.6 per cent, mainly on account of the statistical base effect of the previous year. Inflation in the case of non-food items and the fuels group, however, eased during the latest reported week. According to data released by the Government on Thursday, an increase in the year-on-year price levels of vegetables and pulses contributed to the surge in the annual WPI-based food inflation for the week ended October 15, apart from the base effect. Sequentially food inflation was up 0.25 per cent.

FAO: “The continuing decline in the monthly value of the FAO Cereal Price Index reflects this year’s prospect for a strong production recovery and slow economic growth in many developed countries weighing on overall demand, particularly from the feed and biofuels sectors.”

Al Ahram reported that Egyptian household budgets had mixed news in September with prices for some basic foods tumbling month-on-month and others showing small climbs, according to state statistics agency CAPMAS. Figures released this week show the price of local unpacked rice fell 15.6 per cent to LE4.96 per kilo between August and September 2011. It was the commodity’s first decline in nearly a year, although the per kilo price remains 68 per cent higher than the LE2.95 that rice cost in October 2010. Chicken also fell 5.8 per cent to LE16.26 per kilo between August and September. Other staples, however, continued to rise; the price of potatoes climbed 14 per cent to LE4.89 per kilo, while a kilo of tomatoes gained a monthly 14.8 per cent to cost LE4.65.

Occupying Wall Street

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The immediate area around the New York Stock Exchange, “Wall Street,” has been closed to the public and protestors who are encamped at a nearby park, chanting, singing and dancing along with marching and bugling on surrounding streets accompanied by phalanxes of cops and motor scooters, to cheers and thumbs-up from tour buses and hand shakes from passersby and street workers.

There has been no sign of the commercial media. Mainstream media in the Asia-Pacific region have ignored the historic occupation entirely, not because of their failure to see the beginning of an American democratic awakening, but because the channels of cross-holding and control are now well-established.

These mercantile cables are tightly wound around the “emerging economies” and their growing middle class populations whose consumption patterns are seen as replacing those to be lost by social movements such as this in the West.

“On the 17th of September, we want to see 20,000 people to flood into lower Manhattan, set up beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Like our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland, we plan to use the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America. We also encourage the use of nonviolence to achieve our ends and maximize the safety of all participants.”

According to their website, the mission of the leaderless resistance movement is to flood thousands of people into lower Manhattan, set up beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months in order to persuade President Barack Obama to establish a commission to end “the influence money has over representatives in Washington.” Demonstrators gathered to call for the occupation of Wall Street, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in New York.

Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. The original call for this occupation was published by Adbusters in July; since then, many individuals across the country have stepped up to organize this event, such as the people of the NYC General Assembly and US Day of Rage. There’ll also be similar occupations in the near future such as October2011 in Freedom Plaza, Washington D.C.

This is from their statement:
“We agree that we need to see election reform. However, the election reform proposed ignores the causes which allowed such a system to happen. Some will readily blame the federal reserve, but the political system has been beholden to political machinations of the wealthy well before its founding. We need to address the core facts: these corporations, even if they were unable to compete in the electoral arena, would still remain control of society. They would retain economic control, which would allow them to retain political control. Term limits would, again, not solve this, as many in the political class already leave politics to find themselves as part of the corporate elites. We need to retake the freedom that has been stolen from the people, altogether.”

World crop estimates in June – lower wheat, corn and coarse grain, rice mixed

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Here it is, just released. The World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) of the USDA, 09 June 2011. Highlights and key points for the major crop groups follow:

Global wheat supplies for 2011-12 are projected slightly lower this month as an increase in beginning stocks is more than offset by lower production. Global beginning stocks are projected 4.9 million tons higher mostly reflecting increased stocks in Russia as feeding is reduced 2.0 million tons and 5.0 million tons, respectively, for 2009-10 and 2010-11. Beginning stocks for 2011-12 are also raised 0.5 million tons each for Argentina and Canada with the same size reductions in 2010-11 exports for each country. Partly offsetting is a 1.5-million-ton decrease for 2011-12 beginning stocks for Australia with higher 2010-11 exports.

World wheat production is projected 5.2 million tons lower for 2011-12. At 664.3 million tons, production would be the third highest on record and up 16.1 million from 2010-11. This month’s reduction for 2011-12 mostly reflects a 7.1-million-ton decrease for EU-27 wheat output. Persistent dryness, particularly in France, but also in Germany, the United Kingdom, and western Poland, has reduced yield prospects for EU-27. Production is also reduced 1.0 million tons for Canada as flooding and excessive rainfall, particularly in southeastern Saskatchewan and adjoining areas of Manitoba, are expected to reduce spring wheat seeding. Production is increased 1.5 million tons for Argentina and 0.5 million tons for Australia, both reflecting favorable planting conditions and strong producer price incentives to expand area. Production is also raised 0.5 million tons for Pakistan as increased use of higher quality seed and adequate water supplies resulted in higher-than-expected yields.

Global wheat trade for 2011-12 is projected slightly higher reflecting a 0.5-million-ton increase in expected imports by EU-27. Exports are lowered 3.0 million tons for EU-27. Export increases of 2.0 million tons and 1.0 million tons, respectively, for Australia and Argentina offset the EU-27 reduction. Exports are raised 0.3 million tons for Pakistan with the larger crop. Global wheat consumption is projected down 3.3 million tons, mostly reflecting a 2.5-million-ton reduction in EU-27 domestic use.

Global coarse grain supplies for 2011-12 are projected down 7.8 million tons this month with lower beginning stocks and production. Reduced U.S. corn production, lower EU-27 barley production, and reduced corn beginning stocks in China, more than offset increases in China corn production. EU-27 barley production is lowered 2.2 million tons as prolonged dryness across western and northern Europe has sharply reduced yield prospects in the major producing countries. China corn area is raised for 2010-11 in line with the most recent official government area estimates with the year-to-year percentage increase for 2011-12 largely maintained.

China corn production increases 5.0 million and 6.0 million tons, respectively, for 2010-11 and 2011-12 with yields unchanged month-to-month. More than offsetting the higher production levels is higher estimated corn consumption for both feeding and industrial use. China corn consumption is raised 8.0 million tons and 13.0 million tons, respectively, for 2010-11 and 2011-12. Together these changes leave projected 2011-12 corn ending stocks down 12.0 million tons for China. At the projected 51.0 million tons, China’s stocks would be down 2.7 million tons from 2010-11 and just below the levels of the preceding 2 years, better reflecting the continuing rise in domestic corn prices as production struggles to keep pace with rising usage. Although China’s stocks represent 46 percent of the world total for 2011-12, China is not expected to be a significant exporter.

Global 2011-12 corn trade is raised slightly this month with higher imports for EU-27 and higher exports for Ukraine. Ukraine exports are raised 1.0 million tons with higher production and stronger expected demand from EU-27. Russia exports are lowered 0.5 million tons with lower production. Other important trade changes this month include a 0.2-million-ton increase in sorghum imports by Mexico, driving the U.S. export increase, and a 1.5-million-ton reduction in EU-27 barley exports with lower production and tighter supplies. Barley imports are lowered for Saudi Arabia and China. Global corn ending stocks for 2011-12 are projected down sharply this month, falling 17.3 million tons mostly reflecting the usage revisions in China. The projected 5.2-million-ton drop in U.S. ending stocks accounts for most of the rest of the decline. Global corn stocks are projected at 111.9 million tons, the lowest since 2006-07.

Global 2011-12 rice supply and use are lowered from a month ago. Global production is projected at a record 456.4 million tons, down 1.5 million from last month’s forecast, primarily due to a decrease for China. Additionally, production projections are raised for Egypt and Guyana, but lowered for the United States and Cuba. China’s 2011-12 rice crop is projected at 138.0 million tons, down 2.0 million from a month ago; primarily due to the impact of prolonged drier-than-normal weather in the Yangtze River Valley affecting mostly early rice. Egypt’s crop is increased 0.9 million tons to 4.0 million due to a 33 percent increase in area—based on a recent report from the Agricultural Counselor in Cairo. The global import and export forecasts for 2011-12 are little changed from last month. Global consumption for 2011-12 is lowered 0.8 million tons, primarily due to lower consumption expected in China, but partially offset by increases for Egypt, EU-27, and Vietnam. Global ending stocks for 2011-12 are projected at 94.9 million tons, down 1.3 million from last month, due primarily to reductions for China and the United States which are partially offset by increases for Egypt, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

Global oilseed production for 2011-12 is projected at 456.9 million tons, down 2.3 million from last month, mainly due to lower rapeseed production. EU-27 rapeseed production is reduced 1.2 million tons to 18.8 million mainly due to lower yields resulting from dry conditions in April and May in major producing areas of France and Germany. Rapeseed production for Canada is lowered 0.5 million tons to 13.0 million due to reduced area planted resulting from excessive moisture this spring. China soybean production is reduced 0.5 million tons to 14.3 million reflecting lower area as producers shifted to corn. Other changes include increased sunflowerseed production for Russia, and reduced cottonseed production for Australia, Pakistan, and the United States. Brazil’s 2010-11 soybean production is increased 1.5 million tons to a record 74.5 million, reflecting yield and production increases reported in the most recent government survey. [Get the full WASDE report here.]

Libya, the economic reasons for invasion

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Libyan artists work on revolutionary posters at press center for the new interim government on February 28, 2011 in Benghazi, Libya. Officials have set up a transitional council to run day to day affairs in the eastern half of the country controlled by the opposition to the Gaddafi regime. Photo: Al Jazeera/John Moore/Getty Images

Two hard-hitting analyses from Pambazuka help refute the lies pouring out of the corporate-military-oligopolist western mainstream news media about Libya. In ‘Five Principles Of War Propaganda’ the Pambazuka comment has pointed out that calling Libya a ‘failed state’ is like the kettle calling the pot black. Libya has the highest standard of living in Africa and unlike the US or UK, it has a high standard of healthcare, education and social infrastructure. As Noam Chomsky comments, the US is fast becoming a failed state – a danger to its own people – as the 45 million Americans living in poverty will attest to. Even in those countries where the US and its allies have claimed to support the uprisings such as Egypt and Tunisia, it is notable that to date, although the dictators have gone, the regimes remain in charge – so for the US little has changed. In a recent interview, Michel Collon of InvestigAction discusses US strategies in Africa. One of those strategies is the military occupation of Africa through AFRICOM. From this position it is clear that the propaganda of the ‘theatre of Libya’ has huge significance, as it offers access to a country that intersects with Europe [NATO], the Middle East and Africa – and one that has oil.

There is evidence of the use of depleted uranium by the neo-colonial forces attempting to invade Libya, according to this Pambazuka analysis. “Disturbingly, depleted uranium weapons have been used in Libya, both by the USA and subsequently by NATO upon assuming command and control of the NFZ responsibilities. The United States Pentagon’s denial of use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons has been met with scepticism, especially considering USAF A-10 warthog tank-buster aircraft deployed over Libya and given that the United States has a long history of only admitting to deploying DU radioactive material months or years after it has been used.” Based on news video footage, it is more than likely that depleted uranium has been used more widely than originally thought since the USA has launched shells, bombs and cruise missiles containing depleted uranium in the past in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement that the Libyan armed forces had used cluster bombs in Misrata. The Libyan government has denied these charges and challenged HRW to prove them; most interestingly no casualties from cluster bombs have been confirmed in Misrata.

A wounded Libyan rebel flashes the victory sign as he is carried into a hospital in Misurata. Photo: Al Jazeera/AFP

The bodies of sub-Saharan refugees who tried to escape Libya by boat have been found in the sea with gunshot wounds according to an Eritrean priest who tracks migrants as they make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Father Mussie Zerai, a Catholic cleric based in Rome, told The Independent that his contacts in Tripoli have seen five bodies in a hospital that were recently washed back onto the Libyan coast. Human rights groups have called on the international community to investigate the killings and have blamed Nato for not doing more to try and locate boats that have gone missing in a corner of the Mediterranean that is now bristling with international vessels.

Despite widespread opposition, France’s Parliament has approved a law which seeks to ensure that refugees from the unrest in North Africa stay outside of the republic. Under EU laws, the country of arrival is responsible for dealing with any asylum seekers, but nearly all of the migrants are Tunisians who wish to join the 600,000-strong Tunisian community in France. France has responded by unveiling plans for barely-legal border checks and new sea patrols, which have already turned back more than 1,000 exiles.

In the centre of Benghazi, the main square has sprouted new flags and new martyr memorials. The bloody combat in western Misurata has provided ample fodder for the latter. Photo: Evan Hill/Al Jazeera

Calls for democracy, economic reforms, employment opportunities and greater accountability require us to question the development model pursued in the region by institutions like the World Bank and the underlying assumptions that may have led to the failure of this model, says this article from the Bank Information Centre. In ‘North Africa: Economic Failures, Revolutions And The Role Of The World Bank’ Bicusa has said that the recent uprisings that have affected almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa region are indicative of deep structural issues that are facing societies in these countries.

IPS news has reported that the exodus out of Libya has reduced the flow of remittances to poorer countries in the region. “The exodus of migrants streaming out of Libya due to ongoing unrest has highlighted the heavy dependence of some countries on remittances from their citizens working abroad,” said the IPS report. In several countries this flow has now become choked. ‘With thousands returning home the economic impact of the unrest in Libya is that remittances will be reduced,’ Dr Mizanur Rahman, economist and research fellow at the National University of Singapore told IPS. Recent World Bank statistics indicate that developing countries got more than 325 billion dollars last year from migrant worker remittances, outstripping foreign direct investment and development assistance combined.

Written by makanaka

April 24, 2011 at 13:19