Category Archives: Global Tectonics

The Crimean problem: Obama’s relativism comes home to roost

It was clear enough during the 2008 campaign but many ignored it. It became more clear as Obama took office and attempted to “engage” with authoritarian regimes all around the world. Even then the commentariat, particularly on the left, did not understand what was going on. One by one the left ignored the implications of Obama’s approach – in Tibet (snubbing the Dalai Lama, in Iran (snubbing the Green Revolution), in Venezuela (cozying up to Chavez), in Cuba (cozying up to Raul Castro), in Egypt (standing by the military), in Syria (erasing his own red line).

But now with the invasion of Ukraine by Putin the results of five years of Obama foreign policy are undeniably clear.

Obama has thought all along he could appease authoritarian regimes and lure them into a fantasy world of global trade and governance. The fact is that despite the end of the cold war more than 20 years ago authoritarian regimes persist and have shown incredible resiliency. China’s neo-stalinist model is working, for the party and its allies in the new entrepreneurial class. And in Iran, Syria and elsewhere, authoritarianism continues to draw widespread support. These authoritarians have no interest in neo-liberal fantasies about free trade and free markets. The volatility and instability of those markets, brought home to hundreds of millions when the western financial system collapsed in 2008, is fuel for the fires of the authoritarian alternative.

To this alternative Obama has no answer. He rode the wave of naive liberal left distaste for global war and politics to office and now that political capital has exhausted itself.

This is a huge problem for the American national security apparatus and for American global economic power as well. The country is led by someone who does not understand what is going on in the world and cannot craft a coherent response to it. He is wedded to a relativist outlook born in the pro-third world neo-stalinist rhetoric of the late 1960s that helped shape his early world view. He will not be able to shed that history or outlook and it is extremely difficult for the institutional apparatus of US power to act coherently when the White House is led by a team that is so intellectually and politically stunted.

But it is an equally large problem for the global left. This global left emerged in the late 1990s, a product too of the end of the Cold War. There was hope in the protests against the WTO and globalization that a new democratic alternative could emerge from below, linking the workers movements of Poland with those of Brazil, the environmental movements of the first world with the movements for agrarian reform in the third world. But since 9/11 that nascent left has spun this way and that completely disoriented by the continued health of authoritarian regimes. Thus the left has become largely only an anti-war left and sometimes worse, offering apologies for the behavior of regimes like those of Syria and Iran and no doubt now in defense of Putin. So much for the defenders of Pussy Riot.

The left must firmly declare its opposition to authoritarianism wherever it appears. To do so is not to give comfort to the war mongers on the right. Instead it will help establish the left as a credible alternative to US unilateralism. From that position the left must then begin to articulate a new foreign policy for the US based in our own deeply held democratic instincts and institutions. I began one such approach with the call for a new “Solidarity Doctrine” here.

The risks of the new era are now clear to all – the statist authoritarianism is in a clash to the death with western market fundamentalism. Neither can win but they can both destroy.

As I said in 2012:

“We have the technological and economic resources to solve these problems and build healthier alternatives. We know the institutional framework – democracy and freedom – that must be in place for those resources to be effective. Instead of developing a foreign policy that matches our resources with that institutional framework, we have instead used the crude tools of neo-conservative intervention or the dangerously naive relativism of spent late-60s ideology. A “Solidarity Doctrine” offers a new approach.”

Drug violence in Mexico linked to neo-liberal reforms and NAFTA in new research

I heard a very interesting paper presented yesterday at the Comparative Politics Workshop at Stanford by Oendrila Dube who is visiting there from NYU. It is a thorough empirical analysis of the correlation between reform of Mexico’s agricultural sector over the last two decades and drug-related violence. The authors suggest a link between the passage of NAFTA as well as domestic policy reform to the price decline of corn in Mexico which in turn forced poor farmers to cultivate marijuana and even poppies for opium production. As cartels moved in violence escalated. This continues Professor Dube’s very interesting work connecting violence, economics and policy reform in places like Colombia and Sierra Leone.

The paper can be found here.

Law and Labor in the Fields: Social Justice Workshop – Spring 2014 Semester

cesartributeMy spring seminar, Law and Labor in the Fields, is underway.

Our first guest speaker will be here this coming week, Thursday, January 30. He is Frank Bardacke, the author of a magisterial and award winning new history of the United Farm Workers called Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers published by Verso.

The event is open to the public and will take place in Room 333 in Bannan Hall on the Santa Clara University campus, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95053. It starts at 4:05 and runs until 5:45. The talk and discussion will be followed by a reception to which all who attend the talk are invited.

There will be several other public talks during the semester. The schedule for the entire semester can be found here: Seminar Schedule.

The seminar is dedicated to the memories of both Cesar Chavez, who passed away 20 years ago last year and the late Herman Levy, our Santa Clara Law School colleague who played a key role in drafting the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, who passed away ten years ago.

Workers play a big role in these global ‘middle-class’ revolutions

Workers play a big role in these global ‘middle-class’ revolutions | Richard Seymour The Guardian.

Wall Street Journal panics in face of Egyptian revolution

No_(2012_film)As the ordinary Egyptian population stood up and said it was no longer willing to follow Iran and other middle eastern countries into the abyss of authoritarian and fundamentalist Islamist politics, the mouthpiece of western arch-conservatism, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, was thrown into a panic. In an editorial published, sadly, on our Independence Day, the paper called for the installation of a Pinochet-like General in Egypt.

Either the Journal has been struck by some kind of severe cognitive disorder that allows it to paint over the history of one of the most brutal regimes to have ever ruled or they really mean it. If the former, they owe their readers and the Chilean and Egyptian people an apology and should retract the statement. If the latter, then they are in fact the leading edge of a new fascism emerging here in America. Since I am not a medical professional, I will simply comment on what it means to suggest that fascism is the right outcome in Egypt.

220px-Missing_1982_filmFirst, for any of my younger readers, if you want a taste of what it means to be for a Pinochet then go to iTunes and download this week’s Editors Choice – the film “NO” which recounts the very final stages of the Pinochet regime, after the blood had been washed off the streets. If you have a stronger stomach, then find a copy of the magnificent Battle of Chile, an important long documentary film that includes amazing and disturbing footage of the Allende era and the imposition of the U.S.-backed brutal Pinochet dictatorship, now viewed as a political model for the middle east by such august figures at the Journal as Paul Gigot, Daniel Henninger and the recent Pulitzer winner Bret Stephens. (Stephens, the recent recipient of a Pulitzer, we have encountered before on these pages – it seems he looks for his ideas all over the place and is not always willing to give proper credit.) The Battle is hard to find but you can also look at Missing the fictional account of an American, Charles Horman, who was kidnapped and tortured to death by Pinochet’s thugs.

PinochetHere is a capsule summary of the Pinochet period, though, just so we are all on the same page: 3,000 murdered; 30,000 tortured; political parties outlawed; trade unions smashed; nearly two decades of brutal repression and fear. Two of those killed were blown up by Pinochet’s secret DINA police force on the streets of Washington D.C. The regime was installed with the not very covert support of Henry Kissinger and the Nixon Administration. Pinochet was feted by “Lady” Margaret Thatcher and other right wing thugs in order to burnish their own domestic reactionary politics. Pinochet’s regime was advised by economists trained in the shock therapy politics developed by Milton Friedman at  the University of Chicago.

For brevity’s sake I will spare readers an account of the book burnings carried out by the regime.

Unknown-1Now that we are all up to speed on what one is talking about when one invokes the name of Pinochet, what does it mean that the Journal would react to the unfolding events in Egypt like this? It means, most likely, that American conservatives are in a full blown panic over the popular uprising we have witnessed there in recent days but not only there. It signals broader panic among the Wall Street and D.C. elite over what is known as the Arab Spring, the region wide unfolding of a new democratic era in a part of the world that has for many decades found itself in the grip of what ever great power rivalries were taking hold in Europe, first, and later, in the cold war, between the great US and Russian blocs. For the first time, the region’s own populations are speaking up independently and saying, as the Chileans did to Pinochet, No.

This kind of democratic uprising is, inevitably, messy and volatile. There is, undeniably, also the presence of opportunistic forces that are not democratic, most clearly the Islamists. That makes the situation particularly complex but does not mean that the overall direction is one we should fear or condemn. Chile was able to make a more peaceful transition but only because a pre-existing political culture that had thrived in a long period of relative stability and democracy prior to the Pinochet period was able to survive underground and re-emerge when the regime finally was pushed aside. Egypt, Syria and Libya do not have that luxury, as they have been either under the direct colonial thumb of imperial powers such as Britain or held down by the local thugs representing post-imperial powers for generations.

Since the great powers have invested billions and many decades in creating the authoritarian regimes now being challenged, it appears to the mouthpieces of those same forces, like the Wall Street Journal, that all is chaos. Even “liberal intellectuals” like Harvard’s Noah Feldman are frightened by the disorderly nature of the popular effort to recreate these long repressed societies. He condemned the Egyptian millions as a “mob” as I explained here.

No doubt, when one is threatened with the loss of a significant investment panic is a reasonable enough reaction. But should they really be surprised that the “order” they imposed on the backs of the middle east is now under challenge?

It is a sign of how the world is turning on its axis now that the Journal would go this far. The Egyptian people are to be congratulated for being among the first to put their shoulder to the wheels of history and pushing.

Let’s hope the American people will find the courage to join them. Then the Journal’s editorial writers can join their fascist comrade in arms Pinochet in the ash can of history.

Review & Outlook: After the Coup in Cairo – WSJ.com.

Legal Geography: Expanding spaces of law

New book from Stanford Press:

    Legal geography is a stream of scholarship that takes the interconnections between law and spatiality, and especially their reciprocal construction, as core objects of inquiry. Legal geographers contend that in the world of lived social relations and experience, aspects of the social that are analytically identified as either legal or spatial are conjoined and co-constituted. The legal geography scholarship highlights that nearly every aspect of law is either located, takes place, is in motion, or has some spatial frame of reference. In other words, law is always “worlded” in some way. Likewise, every bit of social space, lived places, and landscapes are inscribed with legal significance. Distinctively legal forms of meaning are projected onto every segment of the physical world. These meanings are open to interpretation and may become involved in a range of legal practices. Such fragments of a socially segmented world — the where of law — are not simply the inert sites of law, but are inextricably implicated in how law happens.

Braverman, Blomley, Delaney, & Kedar on Legal Geography.

Urban World: A new iPad app for exploring an unprecedented wave of urbanization | McKinsey Global Institute | McKinsey & Company

Urban World: A new iPad app for exploring an unprecedented wave of urbanization | McKinsey Global Institute | McKinsey & Company.

A Geo-spatial look at African conflict

Determinants of Territorial Conflict in Africa

hotspotsThis paper, by Ken Schultz at Stanford, was the final stimulus that pushed me to set up this new category so it is appropriate that it is the basis of my first post.

Here is how Ken describes his work:

“This paper explores the determinants of territorial conflicts among African states using a novel geospatial data set that maps disputed and undisputed borders. The geospatial approach helps eliminate problems of aggregation and selection on the dependent variable in studies of territorial conflict, as well as permitting fine-grained analysis of the local determinants of disputes. The data are used to test several hypotheses pertaining to the partitioning of ethnic groups, the presence of natural resources, natural vs. artificial borders, and state power. We find that border segments that partition ethnic groups are at higher risk of conflict only when the ethnic group is dominant, politically and demographically, within the state or has a high level of political centralization and that these effects are most pronounced early in the life of the state. The presence of oil or mineral deposits does not systematically increase the risk of a dispute, while river borders are less likely to be contested. The results suggest that territorial claims were, in large part, a tool for governments in newly-independent states to build support among politically important groups and to build ethnically-based national identities in relatively homogeneous states.”