Saturday, 20 June 2009
The small, wiry and intense man who discovered his luck had run out on Black Friday is happy to be known by his internet handle, Havock21. Hundreds of people know him by that name, on Twitter, Xbox Live and the numerous blogs he visits, including mine. On his own blog, too, of course. There he has written about what happens when the life of an average bloke gets caught up in the machinery of an infernal engine.
That engine, built by criminally incompetent bankers and fuelled by a bonfire of junk bonds and toxic mortgages, is known by the even more infernal name of the Global Financial Crisis, but let's agree to call it simply the Great Recession.
Havock finally came to understand that he was being fed into the machine towards the end of that evil heatwave that helped set Victoria ablaze earlier this year. To understand Havock, however, and what recession means to him and millions of others, we must first place him in context, lest all of this blogging and Twittering and online gaming create the impression of some weird digital-age man-child, which he most assuredly is not.
Havock is Mr Australia. He is 40 years old. He lives in a brick house, in a small town about 45 minutes' drive from Melbourne along the Avenue of Honour, a road lined with aged elms, planted in memory of fallen diggers from the Great War. The township was founded on an old river bed, the source of over 20 metres of rich, fertile topsoil in places, and the explanation for there being so many market gardeners and small farms in the district. In this bucolic scene, near the tail end of the Great Dividing Range, he keeps a wife he adores, but whom he calls ‘the boss', or sometimes ‘the cook' - possibly when she is out of earshot. Our man Havock has two boys, whom he dotes upon. He drives a ute he rebuilt himself, once served proudly in the 5th/6th Battalion of the Royal Victoria Regiment, loves his sport, his mates, Australia and a beer.
He is unemployed.
When last he had work, not so long ago, he was a facilities manager overseeing two large industrial sites for a well-known multinational company. In the modern way of these things, he wasn't actually employed by the multinat, but rather by a second company, which had been contracted to provide a suite of fixed and ‘reactive' services.
The former included site security, grounds maintenance, cleaning and catering, while the latter could run from repairing storm damage to filling potholes and managing asbestos in some of the older, heritage-listed buildings on site. It was challenging work. The main site was extensive, and the grounds were old and massively contaminated by the sins of industries past. The discovery of ancient, unexploded ordnance was just one of many excitements with which a diligent facilities manager might have to contend on any given day.
On this given day, however, bright and scorching as it was, he had a mid-morning conference with his supervisor, who had just come from his own meeting with the local managers of The Giant Multinational. His boss, a good man, seemed very tense and uncomfortable, but that was not necessarily significant. As the state burned around them, and hundreds of lives were lost just over the horizon, the two companies were involved in negotiating a new contract; some tension was inevitable, especially given the death-spiral into which the world economy had recently plunged.
After a few moments of strained conversation, the senior man finally said, "Look, I'm not going to beat around the bush or blow wind up your arse. They have another person they want to start on Monday."
Havock's stomach turned inside out. His pulse raced away. But he did his best to keep a poker face. There had been intimations that the client might decide to try and cut costs by taking facilities management back in-house. They talked options, including whether their company might have somewhere else they could place him in the short term. But Havock himself had already had to lay off another employee, a young woman, as they sought to slash costs, and he knew where this was headed.
"I did the calculations," he said. "Six weeks' sick leave owing, seven weeks' annual leave and my contract gave me four weeks for every year of service from four years onwards, plus two weeks for the first four years."
He had five years on the job. Nineteen weeks' pay, they owed him, if the axe fell. There is an impishness about Havock21 when he is at play, but that can turn into a stern, thin-lipped severity when he is displeased. And he quickly had good reason to be displeased, as his employers made it clear they would prefer it if he resigned and saved them the dreadful inconvenience of funding those entitlements.
"Not fucking likely," he said. "I cracked the shits, telephoned a solicitor and got some legal advice. I knew my ground. So I rang the boss, told him I wasn't going to resign, told him what was owing me, what my performance reviews had been like."
They had been excellent. More importantly, he also knew where the bodies were buried on the huge and problematic site, and pronounced himself more than happy to dig them up for public viewing if he did not have satisfaction. The company soon admitted that perhaps it had been a touch presumptuous in expecting him to quietly take it in the neck and a compromise was forthcoming. More acceptable arrangements were offered. A leaving date settled upon. He drafted a resignation letter, nominating 20 March as his last day.
On that day, a grey drizzling morning as he recalls, he surfaced as normal around six o'clock and pottered about the house, watched the kids go off to school, made himself some breakfast. "I remember thinking that I really couldn't give a fuck about going to work," he said. "But there were some last-minute items I needed to finish off. I guess it was around 9.30 before I walked out the front door. It was a pleasant trip, driving in, quiet."
Those marked for death carry the weight of it with them. It hovers like a gothic shade, scaring others off lest they be cut down by the sickle too. Havock found that in his final hours he had become an unperson, avoided by all who had known him for five years, except a single mate who joined him for lunch, after which he handed in his keys and strolled over to the new site manager's office.
"I told him I was going home. I really couldn't be fucked staying any longer." He exchanged a few meaningless pleasantries with the man who had replaced him, climbed into his ute and drove off through a fine mist of cold rain.
"I guess it wasn't until I got up the driveway and hit the beer fridge in the garage that I started to think about it all, you know, being at an end. It's one of them things, I suspect, depending on how busy you are, just what the final death throes of the job are like. I won't say I was all fired up, but I wouldn't have pissed on any of them had they been on fire in my front yard."
Castle Havock was quiet that night. His wife was watchful, but she kept her distance. He spent some time online, catching up with friends, letting them know what had happened. He had a few more beers and went to bed.
He was not alone. Nearly 54,000 workers had also left their offices, mines, factories or shops for the last time in the previous month. Up to a million are expected to join the dole queue before the economy begins growing enough new jobs to start employing them again.
Havock was lucky, in a way. He had sensed the hammer might fall as early as January, when his boss quietly suggested he might want to start looking for other work, "just in case". For others, the end came as a shock. In Sydney, a graphic designer working in-house with a large, well-known firm in the health industry suddenly found his open-ended contract squeezed off. The company restructured, divesting itself of the little design studio that had run up its brochures and posters and marketing bumf. The designer, in his late twenties - we'll call him Jack - who had been living large after clearing $1200 a week, suddenly found himself making do with welfare payments of $236.50. Or not making do. His rent and other living expenses ran to just under $700 a week.
I found him on Twitter, the neighbourhood bar of Generation Y, and he agreed to talk, anonymously, about the shock of the new.
"I'm still living in the same place, with the same expenses," he said. "And at the moment, my girlfriend's job appears safe, so apart from rent, she is supporting me.
"But, obviously, any sort of entertainment and so on has totally gone out the window. Anything I need to spend money on now, it comes straight out of my savings, and my savings are down to about $1000."
He looks at a job market in which he could recently name his own price and sees nothing. "Marketing budgets are always the first to be cut," he says, "which means there will be more graphic designers out of work competing for less jobs. And for the jobs that are there, companies are offering less money and expecting people to be jacks-of-all-trades - print designer, web developer, whatever. I specialise in print design, and there aren't many companies out there looking for people who just do print. Needless to say, I'm shitting myself. I'm going to have to find any work I can."
The shock, the fear, the abject disbelief that things can go so bad, so quickly is not the exclusive preserve of pseudonymous designers or facilities managers. There's plenty o' good times to be shared around. They're shared by surviving co-workers, who feel their own financial mortality all the more keenly. By friends, who find the hungry ghost of their newly destitute companion an unwanted apparition. But most of all by family. By people like ‘Dusty'. She liked the idea of being called Dusty, or maybe ‘Candy', because they sound like cool names, way cooler than the reality of her sudden impoverishment.
So this woman we will call Dusty - and if you need a mental image, you can imagine her flitting about Balmain, a happy raven-haired woman but one whose good humour has lately been tested to breaking point. I found her on Facebook, which was once upon a time what Twitter is now, the hottest social-networking site in the world - or ‘notworking', to steal an increasingly prescient neologism from urbandictionary.com.
I posted a query on my Facebook page that read: "Ghoulish I know, but does anyone have any personal tales of the Great Recession they care to share for a cover story?"
Dusty wrote back privately, unable and unwilling to share her grief with those of my "oh-so-employed" Facebook friends - a technical term Facebook uses instead of the more traditional ‘strangers' - who were busy questioning whether there even was a recession, because it hadn't yet come for them. Dusty's husband had been laid off in March, a forced redundancy she described as "shocking and unexpected, handled with no sensitivity and very badly timed". The company involved she would describe only as "the fuckers".
"We went from earning 200k+ between us to noppes, nothing, nada coming in," she wrote. Their rapid descent from AAA to busted-arse status was hastened by her decision in early 2008 to leave her job to stay home with their daughter. In giving up her very well-paid position as an executive PA, Dusty was not alone; she joined the many others who made pre-crash decisions to change or drop jobs, to renovate the family home, to buy a beach pad or investment property, to pick up some shares, or blow a wad on an overseas trip back when such indulgences were not indulgences at all, but entirely justified rewards for anyone smart enough to be drawing breath in our lost lamented Belle Époque.
"I've always worked pretty much full-time," she wrote in a second note, late one night. "So I thought it would just be nice to be home with her. We could afford to, see? The old man was on a packet - we'd struggle through ... I am now undertaking postgraduate study to qualify as a teacher next year. Found out today how much beginning teachers earn ..." The note ended with a short blast of profanity.
Recessions, like everything measured by economists, are calibrated, weighed and judged to be mild, deep, Great or otherwise by numbers, but not the numbers mere punters use. Those numbers - not so much favoured by normal people, as thrust rudely upon them - are more prosaic. They are the sort of numbers that once bedevilled the under-classes, not mainstream Australia. Not the aspirationals.
Numbers like $30. The amount of working capital Dusty can no longer afford to invest in having her eyebrows waxed, leaving her to contemplate the intimate effects of a global downturn in the lines of her own face. "Since I'm too gutless to do it myself, when I look in the mirror I see a cross between Robert Menzies and Mrs Grunty."
Or $13.50. The new average weekly grocery spend for Jack, our unemployed and now quite hungry graphic designer.
Or $79.99. The asking price at Rebel Sport for the cheapest, most embarrassing running shoes in stock, a figure for Havock21 to contemplate when his youngest son mentioned that his toes were starting to hurt, because his runners were too small. "It's not a real big deal," the boy said. "I think they could last another month or more yet."
"That's what just about breaks your heart," said Havock. "I avoid using the phrase ‘We can't afford that'. I try to explain to them that we need to be careful and when I'm back at work, we'll have a look then."
The former facilities manager, who had enjoyed his life on a six-figure salary, and still had a small amount of savings left, told his youngest that it would be all right. They'd get him some shoes.
"He was prepared to debate it, would you believe! But with some gentle pushing and reassurance, he accepted we could afford it and it wasn't a burden."
There are no metrics to measure the pain and fear that ride in on the heels of bloodless numbers, but anyone with rent to pay or debts hanging over them, especially if they have children, will know the hollow, shaky feeling of wondering if and when their turn will come. Should it come, a whole new emotional universe opens up to them; the fear of ruin ceases to be an abstract concept and morphs with frightening speed into something more concrete.
"The inability to make plans," wrote Dusty, "the godawful FEAR is fairly gruesome. The strain it places on your family, these are all bad, but I reckon the very WORST thing about being sacked is when you were used to being amply remunerated and for the first time in your life you need to make do. I realise worse things happen at sea, but actually ‘shopping around for bargains at the supermarket' makes me want to cry bitter tears of self-pity, or when my daughter tells me she's sick of only eating apples and asks why she doesn't get raspberries in her lunchbox anymore. We had NO idea."
The CAPITALS are hers, and I leave them in lest editing dilute her anguish.
It might seem odd that a small box of raspberries should distress an adult woman so, but it is their very insignificance that loads the inability to have them with so much meaning. Seven dollars will get you a small plastic punnet of raspberries at my local grocery. Less change than I lose out of my pockets every time I sit down. And yet there have been times in my life when a few coins were all that stood between me and hunger. The real hunger of not having eaten in a day or two. But I was lucky then. Time was on my side. As a young writer, having chosen the life of the garret, there was at least some romance and existential cred to be had in going without. But for a successful, professional, grown-up individual, there is no upside to the raspberry question. If you cannot afford for your child to eat them, you cannot but ask yourself where you have gone wrong.
Possibly nowhere. Dusty did not invent the diabolically complicated financial products known as collateralised debt obligations which detonated like a small, dirty nuclear device in the world's banking system last year. Havock21 did not cynically put the federal budget into structural deficit during the height of the mining boom, leaving Canberra with nothing to spare for a rainy day, which turned into a howling, apocalyptic shitstorm. Jack the graphic artist was hardly responsible for the failure of the international credit-ratings agencies to factor in risk properly when assessing the worth of opaque assets such as derivatives. But Jack, Havock and Dusty are now living with the consequences of those things, as well as the failure of regulators to address the problems and contradictions in the financial markets well before they reached critical mass.
They would also be galled, although perhaps not surprised, to know that Australia has not yet been struck by the full force of the storm that is raging throughout the rest of the world. The British economy has all but imploded. The US shrank by an annualised 6.2% in the fourth quarter of last year. It is a massive contraction in a super-massive entity like America. At the other end of the scale, poor little Iceland has suffered the world's most spectacular meltdown of its banking sector, with the bad debts of its three largest lenders amounting to nearly six times the country's gross domestic product. A comparable collapse here would wipe out a shade over $6 trillion.
Perhaps that explains why the catastrophe, which has emptied shopping malls and destroyed governments elsewhere, has yet to genuinely sink its fangs into our imagination. As questionable a policy measure as the government's cash handouts might be, there's no questioning their popularity among those thus stimulated, and there is something to be said for keeping up morale, even if it costs nearly $13 billion to do so for only a short amount of time. (Although whose morale is being kept up is a legitimate question. The newly impoverished Dusty didn't get a Rudd cheque, because her previous taxable income made her ineligible; likewise her husband. And that $13 billion would have come in mighty useful when this year's grotesquely bloated welfare bill comes due.)
Despite the prime minister's stirring defence of deficit spending as a return to traditional Labor values - Graham Richardson's personal motto of ‘Whatever it takes' comes to mind - the debt does add up. Twelve point seven billion here. Forty-two billion there. Before long you're talking about real money. Money that didn't come from under the mattress at the Lodge, but rather from the generous and helpful mandarins of the Chinese Communist Party - because despite 17 years of uninterrupted economic growth, we find ourselves at the start of the Great Recession in an awkward fiscal position best described as ‘skint'. It's not entirely the fault of Wayne Swan dancing through the thoroughfares and shopping malls of suburban Australia tossing $900 cheques high into the air. His predecessors had something to do with it, writing plenty of their own that they knew future governments could not possibly honour.
Under Howard, during the boom, company tax as a percentage of GDP grew from 4% to 5%. That doesn't sound like much, but it inflated the government's tax-take by $20 billion a year. Capital-gains tax, meanwhile, grew from 0.5% of GDP to 1.5%, or from $4 billion to $20 billion a year. Over the life of the boom this accounted for a windfall of tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars in extra revenue.
The growth in revenue was like a balloon, however, because it was entirely dependent on the boom to keep blowing in the hot air. There were only two ways for it to end. When the boom was at its height, the balloon might pop as the economy overheated catastrophically, a fear that drove the Reserve Bank to begin jacking up interest rates way back in 2002. Or, when the boom was over, the balloon might deflate in a slightly less dangerous fashion, but still rapidly, with an offensive farting noise.
Either way, the river of money gushing into Treasury was always going to dry up one day. Costello knew it. Howard knew it. Rudd and Swan, too. But the commitments Howard made to lower personal tax rates, to family tax benefits and to increased services were permanent. Under his direction, the budget was structured so that it did enjoy a healthy cash surplus while the boom rolled on; but as soon as that extra income disappeared, the underlying shortfall was exposed. Howard created what is known as a ‘structural deficit'. Kevin Rudd decided to chance his luck with it, and lost.
Had Australia enjoyed something like Norway's commodities-based sovereign-wealth fund, the treasures of the mining boom would have been stored away as savings with the aim of distributing national wealth "in an equitable manner across generations", to quote the former deputy governor of Norway's central bank, Jarle Bergo. A hundred billion dollars or more would have been available to pump into the economy. (The Future Fund, announced in the 2005-06 budget, could have provided a model, but was established at least five years too late and did not specifically siphon commodities income out of current government expenditure.)
And so we face the storm that is upon us with our sails shredded and the waves already crashing over the gunwale. Perhaps she'll be right. Perhaps the Chinese will save us. Perhaps by the time you read this, Havock's relentless job-search schedule will have delivered him into full-time work again. After all, there are a few green shoots about, to borrow a favoured, if slightly desperate metaphor.
At a Brisbane advertising firm, BCM, 16 new staffers have taken up jobs, as the quick-witted and nimble company adjusted to the apocalyptic fortunes of the ad industry by retooling some of its business to focus on new media and social networking. One of those new hires, Anthony Dever, is the pop-culture guru behind the much-loved Fugly Awards. Well, much loved except by those wretched TV shows and personalities gonged with a Fugly for outstanding achievement in the field of wretchedness. Dever, until recently the digital freelancers' digital freelancer, recently decided to sign on with BCM, a mid-sized firm, in a second-tier city, in an industry at the rapidly crumbling edge of the global recession. Why?
Because they got it.
BCM saw what was coming, at least as far as the lingering death of old-media business models were concerned, if not the econopocalypse which would hasten their demise. When they advertised for a Social Media Manager (yes, it's all about the Twittering and Facebooking) he was intrigued. Here was a company that wasn't going to be smashed flat by the tsunami of destructive change. They were going to ride it.
That is the one upside of all this down. Recessions do clear away the old and rusty, the inefficient and incapable, clearing space for newer, better-adapted companies to thrive. But they do so at enormous cost. In lost wealth, and broken lives. Havock, Jack and Dusty do not deserve this. They were none of them slackers. Of the 50,000 who joined them out in the cold in March this year, perhaps a small percentage were. It is no secret that many companies are using the current crisis to rid themselves of less than ideal staff whom they hired in desperation at the height of the boom. But our new ghosts of the fiscal dead are largely innocent bystanders. The 3000 employees of BHP marked for termination in January, the 1800 clothing workers at Bonds and King Gee who joined them in February, they were not dead wood. Until this year their labour generated the extraordinary profits that fattened the wallets of those men and women who would eventually cut them loose, often while voting themselves extortionate pay rises.
What will become of them? If the recession swells their ranks to a mere 10% of the workforce, they can probably look forward to being pitied for a while, then scorned, and even used as whipping boys and girls for the inevitable jihad, somewhere down the track, over mollycoddling the work-shy and incentivating the lazy before they drag us all down. If the recession becomes a truly Great Recession, however, and hundreds of thousands of jobless become millions, then their experience and our handling of it will define a generation and mould our future in ways that Australians will still talk of when we are all long gone.
Jack, Havock and Dusty, welcome to a changed world. You have become our future history.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
The long-standing Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Robert Fisk, is defying the government crackdown on foreign media reporting in Iran.
As he explains, he has been travelling around the streets of Tehran all day and most of the night and things are far from quiet:
I've just been witnessing a confrontation, in dusk and into the night, between about 15,000 supporters of Ahmadinejad - supposedly the president of Iran - who are desperate to down the supporters of Mr Mousavi, who thinks he should be the president of Iran.
There were about 10,000 Mousavi men and women on the streets, with approximately 500 Iranian special forces, trying to keep them apart.
It was interesting that the special forces - who normally take the side of Ahmadinejad's Basij militia - were there with clubs and sticks in their camouflage trousers and their purity white shirts and on this occasion the Iranian military kept them away from Mousavi's men and women.
In fact at one point, Mousavi's supporters were shouting 'thank you, thank you' to the soldiers.
One woman went up to the special forces men, who normally are very brutal with Mr Mousavi's supporters, and said 'can you protect us from the Basij?' He said 'with God's help'.
It was quite extraordinary because it looked as if the military authorities in Tehran have either taken a decision not to go on supporting the very brutal militia - which is always associated with the presidency here - or individual soldiers have made up their own mind that they're tired of being associated with the kind of brutality that left seven dead yesterday - buried, by the way secretly by the police - and indeed the seven or eight students who were killed on the university campus 24 hours earlier.
Quite a lot of policeman are beginning to smile towards the demonstrators of Mr Mousavi, who are insisting there must be a new election because Mr Ahmadinejad wasn't really elected. Quite an extraordinary scene.
There were a lot of stones thrown and quite a lot of bitter fighting, hand-to-hand but at the end of the day the special forces did keep them apart.
I haven't ever seen the Iranian security authorities behaving fairly before and it's quite impressive.Protests
Certainly the authorities were very struck by the enormous number of people who turned out for Sunday's march ... from the Square of Revolution to the Square of Freedom.
I walked alongside that march the whole way and was stunned to find one million people at the end, it must have been one million at least.
There were seven killed after that instant alone so we're having a lot of deaths, much more than we realise, in fact some people say there are more deaths than have been recorded.
There was 100 metres of no man's land between these thousands of people and I actually walked up and listened to a Basij guy urging his people on to attack the forces of the opposition, saying 'we fought and defended our country in the Iran-Iraq war and now we have to defend it again and we have to move forward'. You could actually just walk a few metres and talk to Mousavi's people.
Some of them came down and tried to embrace the Basij and indeed the leaders who support the man who indeed thinks he is the president. One man, in the Muslim tradition, tried to kiss him on both cheeks and the Basij man moved back irritably and angry, he didn't want to be touched by this man.
There was a great deal of anger on the part of Ahmadinejad's supporters.Safe to report
No-one's told me not to drive around so I go and see wounded people and go and watch these confrontations and no-one seems to bother me.
I rather think an awful lot of journalists take it too seriously. If you get in a car and go out and see things, no-one's going to stop you, frankly.
I went to the earlier demonstration in the centre of the city, which was solely by Ahmadinejad's people, immensely boring, although I did notice one or two points where they were shouting 'death to the traitor'. They meant Mousavi.
You've got to realise that what's happening at the moment is that the actual authorities are losing control of what's happening on the streets and that's very dangerous and damaging to them.
It's interesting that the actual government newspapers reported at one point that Sunday's march was not provocative by the marchers. They carried a very powerful statement by the Chancellor of the Tehran University, condemning the police and Basij, who broke into university dormitories on Sunday night and killed seven students.
They've even carried reports of the seven dead after the march on Sunday ... almost as if, not to compromise but they're trying to get a little bit closer to the other side.Election result
My suspicion is that [Ahmadinejad] might have actually won the election but more like 52 or 53 per cent. It's possible that Mousavi got closer to 38 per cent.
But I think the Islamic republic's regime here wanted to humiliate the opponent and so fiddle the figures, even if Ahmadinejad had won.
The problem with that is they're now going to claim they're going to need a recount. If the recount is to actually give Mousavi the presidency, someone is going to have to pay the price for such an extraordinary fraud of claiming Ahmadinejad won 30, 40, 50 per cent more than he should have done.
You've got to remember as well, on the election night, if the count was correct it meant that they would have had to have counted five million votes in two hours.Next few days
Someone, presumably the supreme leader, who is constitutionally the leader of all Iran and the clerical leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, he's going to have to work out a way of stopping these constant street confrontations.
We've got another great demonstration by the opposition tomorrow evening in the centre of the city. I suspect what they're going to have to do is think whether they can have a system where they reintroduce a prime ministership, so the president has someone underneath him.
Maybe we'd have President Ahmadinejad and a Prime Minister Mousavi or maybe a joint presidency.
All this is what people talk about but it means changing the constitution, it means having a referendum. They didn't believe that the opposition could be so strong and would keep on going.
[The protest] is absolutely not against the Islamic republic or the Islamic revolution.
It's clearly an Islamic protest against specifically the personality, the manner, the language of Ahmadinejad. They absolutely despise him but they do not hate or dislike the Islamic republic that they live in.
Based on an interview with Radio National's Fran Kelly
For the photocopy appeared to be a genuine but confidential letter from the Iranian minister of interior, Sadeq Mahsuli, to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, written on Saturday 13 June, the day after the elections, and giving both Mr Mousavi and his ally, Mehdi Karroubi, big majorities in the final results. In a highly sophisticated society like Iran, forgery is as efficient as anywhere in the West and there are reasons for both distrusting and believing this document. But it divides the final vote between Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi in such a way that it would have forced a second run-off vote – scarcely something Mousavi's camp would have wanted.
Headed "For the Attention of the Supreme Leader" it notes "your concerns for the 10th presidential elections" and "and your orders for Mr Ahmadinejad to be elected president", and continues "for your information only, I am telling you the actual results". Mr Mousavi has 19,075,623, Mr Karroubi 13,387,104, and Mr Ahmadinejad a mere 5,698,417.
Could this letter be a fake? Even if Mr Mousavi won so many votes, could the colourless Mr Karroubi have followed only six million votes behind him? And however incredible Mr Ahmadinejad's officially declared 63 per cent of the vote may have been, could he really – as a man who has immense support among the poor of Iran – have picked up only five-and-a-half million votes? And would a letter of such immense importance be signed only "on behalf of the minister"?
The letter may well join the thousands of documents, real and forged, that have shaped Iran's recent history, the most memorable of which were the Irish passports upon which Messers Robert McFarlane and Oliver North travelled to Iran on behalf of the US government in 1986 to offer missiles for hostages. The passports were real – and stolen – but the identities written onto the document were fake. Mr Ahmadinejad's loyalists will undoubtedly blame "foreigners" for the "letter" to Ayatollah Khamenei. But its electrifying effect on the Mousavi camp will only help to transform suspicion into the absolute conviction that their leader was quite deliberately deprived of the presidency. Marjane Satrapi, the acclaimed author and the Oscar-winning director of the black and white cartoon Persepolis, was in Brussels brandishing the same document.
In Tehran, there must have been five or six thousand Iranians wearing black, many of them carrying this toxic document in their hands, although they were far fewer than Monday's million-strong march and scarcely a fifth of their number reached Azadi Square from the centre of Tehran. Their enthusiasm to maintain their protest – led yesterday by a cavalry of a hundred or more motorbike riders – was cruelly treated by the organisers, who clearly had little idea whether they were supposed to direct them to a central venue or all the way out to Azadi. At times, they stood in the heat for more than a quarter of an hour while organisers argued about the route. This was no way to overthrow a government.
What was significant, however, was that once more the security authorities chose not to confront the Mousavi demonstrators. Military conscripts wearing bright yellow jackets and standing with their hands clasped behind their back – rather than holding batons – lined the first mile of the road but then abandoned the marchers to their own devices. This followed less than 24 hours after the frightening confrontation between up to 20,000 Mousavi and Ahmadinejad supporters at Vanak Square on Tuesday night when Iranian special forces paramilitary police protected Mr Mousavi's men and women from the government "Basiji" militia. Although some civilians were later hurt in fist-fights on the street, the government cops brought in reinforcements and prevented the Basiji and thousands of other Ahmadinejad supporters from entering north Tehran.
Mousavi was clearly behind yesterday's half-hearted march, for he issued a statement to the participants, condemning those who killed seven men in the dormitories at Tehran University on Sunday night "and beat boy and girl students and killed people in Azadi Square". He sympathised, he said, with these "martyrs" and urged all Iranians to send their condolences to the families of those who had been killed.
The highly dubious election results, however, are arousing concern far outside Mr Mousavi's millions of voters. Fifty-two MPs have asked the interior minister why he could not prevent the post-election intimidation and violence. Parliament has asked for a fact-finding investigation into the vandalisation of Tehran University property. Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi, a member of the Combatant Clerics Assembly – an important figure who founded the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and sent them to Lebanon when he was Iran's ambassador to Damascus – has demanded a committee to investigate the election results, made up of senior clerics, MPs, members of the judiciary, the Council of Guardians and an official of the interior ministry.
But suppression of the free speech which Mr Mousavi's loyalists demand so insistently continues. Yesterday morning, a 26-year-old student doing his doctorate at Oxford, Mohamed Reza Jaleopour, son of a professor at Tehran University, was arrested without charge at Tehran airport. The pro-Mousavi paper Green Word was again closed down.
As for Mr Mousavi, it seems that, once broken, the "mind-forged manacles of fear" are difficult to re-attach. But revolutionary governments are tough, steely creatures with sharp claws, and the Ahmadinejad regime is not about to collapse.
Interior Ministry's letter to the Supreme Leader
Regarding your concerns for the 10th presidential elections and due to your orders for Mr Ahmedinejad to be elected President, in this sensitive time, all matters have been organised in such a way that the results of the election will be in line with the revolution and the Islamic system. The following result will be declared to the people and all planning should be put in force to prevent any possible action from the opposition, and all party leaders and election candidates are under intense surveillance. Therefore, for your information only, I am telling you the actual results as follows:
Mirhossein Mousavi: 19,075,623
Mehdi Karroubi: 13,387,104
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 5,698,417
Mohsen Rezai: 38,716
(signed on behalf of the minister)
Day 5 of Iran crisis
Iran's World Cup qualifier against South Korea in Seoul yesterday took on a decidedly political flavour. At least five of the Iranian team sported green bands around their arms or wrists – the signature accessory of Mousavi supporters back on the streets of Tehran – in an apparent protest against the disputed election back home.
But after half-time, some had removed the impromptu additions to their kit, prompting speculation they had been ordered to do so by their coach. The captain Mehdi Mahdavikia seemed to defy the team edict, much to the delight of fans waving banners with the plea "Free Iran" and chanting "Go to Hell Dictator". The game ended 1-1.
Diplomatic relations frayed as the government summoned an ensemble of Western ambassadors to complain about interference. According to Iranian state TV, Tehran accused Washington of "intolerable" meddling in its internal affairs, the first time it has blamed the US for playing a role in the post-election turmoil. Barack Obama took pains to note there was little difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. "Either way we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States," he said. Britain's ambassador was berated for the recent comments of Gordon Brown and David Miliband, as well as the BBC's news coverage of the crisis. France, Germany and Italy were also given a talking to.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that scores of notable figures had been arrested and their whereabouts unknown. These included Saeed Hajarian – a one-time adviser to the reformist president Mohammed Khatami – who sustained brain and spinal injuries in a failed assassination attempt nine years ago, and as such needs constant medical attention. Also arrested was Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a senior adviser to Mehdi Karroubi who came in third in Friday's presidential election, according to the official results. Mohamed Reza Jaleopour, the son of a reformist university professor, was also detained at Tehran airport as he prepared to fly to England where he is studying for a PhD at Oxford University.
It emerged that the daughter of Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the influential Assembly of Experts that has the right to dismiss the Supreme Leader, had attended Tuesday's opposition rally. Faezeh Rafsanjani's public display of support for Mousavi, in defiance of a ban on unauthorised marches from the interior ministry, was widely interpreted as another sign of high-level rifts in the Islamic Republic. Meanwhile Mousavi has declared today a day of mourning, urging Iranians to come together in mosques or congregate peacefully on the streets. "A number of our countrymen were wounded or martyred," he said on his website. "I ask the people to express their solidarity with the families."
Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the country's most powerful military force, made its first pronouncement on the post-election crisis, warning that the country's bloggers must remove any materials that "create tension" or face legal action. It marked another escalation of the information crackdown. But graphic images and detailed updates continued to leak out over sites such as Twitter, although the traffic directly from Iran appeared fractionally lighter than in previous days.
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
The following is a transcript from the June 12 edition of PBS' Bill Moyers Journal.
BILL MOYERS: He was the master wordsmith of the American Revolution. His ideas are embedded deep in our DNA. "These are the times that try men's souls," he wrote, and patriots of every rank responded — farmers, blacksmiths, merchants and aristocrats. Thomas Paine lived a life of adventure, stirred radical sentiments on two continents, knew Washington and Jefferson, Lafayette and Napoleon. But he died broke, scorned and alone, here in New York City two hundred years ago this week.
So unsung is this hero, a foundling father one historian calls him, that only a handful of his most ardent fans showed up at the ceremonies marking the bicentennial of his death.
REVOLUTIONARY WAR RE-ENACTORS: Fire!
JOYCE CHUMBLEY: Read Tom Paine, read about Thomas Paine, he will inspire you!
The reason Thomas Paine is not more celebrated, recognized is because he's still too dangerous. If we really adopted his principles, his ideas, it would be a very different world.
JOHN NICHOLS: All men, all women shall be free. Tyranny shall be thrust from this earth and a new age of liberty shall be born. This is the age of Paine!
BILL MOYERS: Thomas Paine came to America from Great Britain in 1774 when he was 37 years old. He burned with righteous indignation at the cruel tyranny of kings. Half a million copies of "Common Sense," his plainspoken call for rebellion, flooded this fledgling nation of three million people. His rhetoric so moved and persuaded George Washington that he read Paine's words to the troops at Valley Forge.
After America won its independence, Paine found himself in another fight, the French Revolution, and wrote another best-seller, "The Rights of Man." But he got into trouble in France and was thrown into prison, narrowly avoiding execution. He returned to America in 1802, a prophet without honor in the nation he helped to create.
Why has history forgotten him? With me are two scholars who actually know Thomas Paine's story well. The historian Harvey Kaye directs the Center for History and Social Change at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay. His many books include two biographies of Paine, one for young adults and this one, "Thomas Paine and the Promise of America."
Journalist and historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of the "National Review," one of America's most influential conservative publications. He has written seven books about the leaders of the American Revolution, including "What Would the Founders Do? Our Questions, Their Answers." This is his latest volume, brand new in fact, published just this week, "Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement."
Gentlemen, welcome to you both.
BILL MOYERS: What's the most important thing to know about Thomas Paine, and why does he fascinate you?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: He fascinates me because I'm a journalist, and I think he may have been the greatest journalist to have ever lived. Certainly the greatest one in America. The pieces and the pamphlets that he wrote, especially in the early days of the Revolution, were so urgent, they were so on point. I think the first "American Crisis" that he wrote, when Washington was being driven across New Jersey by the British, that is comparable to the speech in Shakespeare when the Henry V is rallying his troops for Agincourt. But that's fiction. And that was written, you know, two hundred years after the real battle. This was real time. It was happening.
HARVEY KAYE: Here's this guy, you know, essentially off the boat. Somehow he picks up on the spirit of America quickly. And he takes that pen of his, and he figures out how he's going to sort of grab hold of that American spirit and turned it in this radical, democratic direction, to make a new nation.
BILL MOYERS: What was the Paine idea? What was his singular contribution to the Revolution?
HARVEY KAYE: The singular idea, people immediately think independence. But I think it goes far beyond independence. I think it has to do with the idea that he took what he recognized in American life, and he inscribes it into the meaning of America-- and that is, the democratic impulse. And that democratic impulse would be a model to the world. I think that's what's fundamental to Paine.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: He certainly is a world thinker, because we're only the first revolution he involves himself in. He is the man who conveys the key to the Bastille, after it has fallen, to George Washington.
BILL MOYERS: Literally?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Yes. Lafayette--
BILL MOYERS: He brought it back?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Lafayette gave it to Paine, said "Please give this to George Washington." And Paine knew both men. And he happened to be in France at the time, building a bridge.
HARVEY KAYE: Right.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: But so, he's the one who brings it over to Washington. And he says, "A share in two revolutions is living to some purpose."
HARVEY KAYE: I also would add, "In two revolutions and a great social movement"-- the British labor movement. As E.P. Thompson said, there were two Bibles in the English democratic and labor movement, "Pilgrim's Progress and The Rights of Man." And I think, you know, we shouldn't leave that dimension out as well.
BILL MOYERS: In one way, he was a visionary of democracy. He wanted to end slavery. He wanted to grant women equality. He wanted to abolish all property requirements for citizenship. He wanted a complete separation of church and state. He wanted to establish public schools and old age pensions. I mean, he did see the promise of America unfolding through the years.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, he saw a lot of things that came to be, and he also saw some things that didn't come to be, and maybe never could come to be.
BILL MOYERS: What was behind that long dispute he had with John Adams? Was it because Adams felt Paine's desire for a full-blown democratic revolution was unrealistic and even harmful, and Paine thought Adams wanted to unfold it too slowly?
HARVEY KAYE: Adams welcomed the call for independence. But Adams disliked aristocrats and he didn't trust the people. And when he read Paine's arguments-- he's a brilliant guy, Adams-- he recognized pretty quickly that this was a call for a far more democratic kind of struggle and nation-building than he imagined. And as I tell my students, it's fascinating to consider that when Abigail Adams reads "Common Sense," she sends the letter to John Adams and says, don't forget. Remember the ladies. We can't trust you men.
And Adams writes back, knowing full-- and with a touch of affection, there's no doubt about it. He says, "Not you too." You know, the black slaves are rising in North Carolina, the students are rising in these Ivy colleges, Indians on the frontier, artisans in New York, something to that effect. Now, the biggest tribe of all is demanding this kind of democratic revolution. So, I mean, Adams knew that Paine could be extremely valuable to the revolution, but very dangerous in the sense that working people would respond to that call.
I'll just add, there's that moment where Adams is in the barber's chair in Philadelphia, and the barber has his blade in hand and is shaving him and says, "Have you read "Common Sense?"" And Adams must have been wondering, "Uh-oh, you know, the blade is at my throat."
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, but to do Adams justice, he was a very skeptical man. He was always looking for things that might and could go wrong, and he was often right to look for those things. Not always. So, when Paine-- whose visionary quality is so both intoxicating and, Paine hopes, transformative-- Adams is saying, "Well, no, look it's just-- it's not going to be that easy. It can't happen this way. What are we thinking here?"
HARVEY KAYE: But in terms of the democratic impulse, which never ceased in America, in every generation, progressive movements, radical to liberal, reached back to the American Revolution. And who did they rediscover? Oh, yes, they honored Washington, they honored Jefferson, but the words that they reprint-- sorry, I'm shouting. The words they reclaimed were Thomas Paine's.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: That's true. But as we see in Paine's own life, there are possible problems on this path. And Paine, the second revolution he's involved in, I think he misunderstands what's going on, on the ground.
BILL MOYERS: In France?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: In France.
BILL MOYERS: What did he do wrong?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, he comes to France, he's highly honored in France. They make him a member of the National Assembly. He's elected from the district on the Channel, Calais. Now the one problem is, he speaks very little French. So, the people--
BILL MOYERS: That is a handicap.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: The people he associates with are the people who also speak English. And this is the Girondins faction. Well, as the Girondins start duking it with the Jacobins, the ones who go to the guillotine first are Paine's faction. And the only reason he's not guillotined is that a guard, by accident, passes his cell in the night.
BILL MOYERS: That's for real? That really happened?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: That is for real.
BILL MOYERS: The guard passes by--
RICHARD BROOKHISER: He was on the list and he just passes past the cell.
HARVEY KAYE: That is-- that is true.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: And, you know, the Girondins were as bloodthirsty as bad as the Jacobins. They're sort of romanticized by later historians of the Revolution, but it's like Trotskyites versus Stalinists. These were two bloody, totalitarian gangs. And Paine did not see that quality.
HARVEY KAYE: Paine's problem, and I think of this as a wonderful problem, is that America had turned him into a revolutionary. This is a man who creates this Atlantic revolution of these radical democratic artisans. And all of it based on his having come to America and drunk -- having had-- you know, taken in the waters of this democratic spirit, and then explained it all to Americans
BILL MOYERS: But his colleagues back here disliked him. I mean, they thought he really made a serious mistake in underestimating the bloodiness of that French Revolution.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, Jefferson stuck with the Revolution until Napoleon appeared. But then Paine stuck with it after Napoleon appeared.
BILL MOYERS: I read that Napoleon kept Paine's words under his pillow. I mean, this little despot--
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Isn't that sick? I mean, that sort of tells you something about Napoleon's, I think preening and-- and hypocrisy. Because he's the man who buttoned the revolution up and ended up.
HARVEY KAYE: But you know what? There is something important that came out of that relationship. Paine, by the way, did not trust Napoleon. Let's make that clear. But what is important is that Paine played-- and this is something historians have never quite resolved-- he played a role in Jefferson's acquisition of the Louisiana territories. And so, if you think about Paine in that sense, throughout, from that time he comes to America, calls for an end to slavery, calls for an American Revolution, all the way through his life, you can't refer to anything that took place in the late-- and I'm sure you would agree-- in the late-18th century that Paine himself hasn't inspired or enabled. I mean, it's-- I mean, he-- in some ways, he's both the product of his times, and he defines his times.
BILL MOYERS: So what's kept him from receiving the honor that both of you think he deserves? I mean, he's rarely mentioned in the text books. There have been numerous efforts to try to erect a statue of him in Capital Hill. And all of them have failed. How come he can't get no respect?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, he attacked two people in late-18th century America that it was fatal to attack: George Washington and Jesus Christ. And that's not a good reputation-builder.
HARVEY KAYE: Right.
BILL MOYERS: Just last weekend I read a letter that he had written George Washington. I hadn't seen it before. Scathing. Calling Washington names and all.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: He was bitter, because he felt Washington had not exerted--
HARVEY KAYE: Had abandoned him in the--
RICHARD BROOKHISER: --to get him out of prison, in France.
HARVEY KAYE: Right. We don't actually know if Washington even knew that he was remaining in prison in France.
BILL MOYERS: But you don't call the founder of your country a bastard. And win the Gallup poll, right?
HARVEY KAYE: Well, consider this — no, undeniably-- But it was not unpopular, in many circles, to do that. Let's keep in mind, the United States, how ever much Washington was revered, was at that time divided between these Republicans and Federalists. And the Fed-- and the Republicans, they're the ones who published the letter. And it's the kind of thing where it had a resonance in America.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: But I think the big sort of turn in his reputation and in his career had to do with the "Age of Reason," his great work after the "Rights of Man." And this is his full frontal assault on organized religion and particularly on Christianity. He's not an atheist. Teddy Roosevelt called him a "filthy atheist." He wasn't an atheist. But he was a deist, and he thought organized religions were frauds and impositions and lies and all the rest of this. And he lays this out at devastating length.
BILL MOYERS: Well, just as he loathed the power of medieval kings, he loathed the influence of priests, right?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: But he also he loathed the Bible. And he knew the Bible very well. But he quotes its inconsistencies. And, you know, what he thinks are its follies and its mistakes and its obvious errors. And it's-- I mean, it's rather entertaining, but it's just a full-fledge assault on Christianity. And that's certainly--
HARVEY KAYE: Well, on all organized religions. No one could feel comfortable-- none of the faithful of any faith would feel comfortable with it.
BILL MOYERS: That's where he says that all books are written by men, not God.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Right.
BILL MOYERS: And books are sensible, he said, or not sensible. They certainly aren't sacred or divinely inspired.
HARVEY KAYE: If I could just say, in Paine's defense, as a believer, that Paine believed that the creation was God's presence. I mean, he was absolute about that and repeatedly pushed the idea. If we want to worship God, then we should study the creation.
BILL MOYERS: So, would Paine cringe to hear President Obama refer to the Holy Koran and the Holy Bible?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Oh, sure. He'd be out there burning them. I mean, you know, he was-- he was-- well, he was--
HARVEY KAYE: Burning them, I think may be-- might be pushing it.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, he wouldn't want to oppress believers.
HARVEY KAYE: Paine would never burn books. I think that's --
RICHARD BROOKHISER: But he would-- he would mock their scriptures.
HARVEY KAYE: Undeniably.
BILL MOYERS: So, is this where he fell from grace? No pun intended. I mean, is this where he really fell out of favor with the burgeoning population of this country? Because he seemed to be anti-religion?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: I would say so. And I think one reason Jefferson was such a successful politician is that even though Jefferson shared a lot of these views, he didn't run around proclaiming them. Because he knew what Americans were, he knew what the electorate was. And he wasn't going to stick his chin out there in that fashion.
HARVEY KAYE: I think the key here is that undeniably Paine became the antichrist to many people. But I also want to say that that doesn't explain two hundred years of conservative efforts to either denigrate his reputation or deny he even existed.
BILL MOYERS: Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. I mean, the last thirty years, the people who most reached out to claim him are the Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, circles in this country.
HARVEY KAYE: It's fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.
BILL MOYERS: Is that right?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, Ronald Reagan used the sentence, "We have the power to begin the world again." He loved that sentence, so it was very Reaganesque.
BILL MOYERS: Let me show you the video we have of that 1980 speech when Reagan accepted the Republican nomination. Take a look.
RONALD REAGAN: There are no words to express the extraordinary strength and character of this breed of people we call American. [...] They are the kind of men and women Tom Paine had in mind when he wrote during the darkest days of the American Revolution, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again."
HARVEY KAYE: Reagan was a New Deal Democrat, okay? And the other thing about Reagan is this-- I mean, you know, people are shocked when I say this on the left. Reagan, though not my kind of politician at all, he understood the American spirit far better than the liberals of the 1970s and perhaps even most of the 1960s. And what he knew is that Americans did not forget Thomas Paine. Any more than they had forgotten Roosevelt.
Who were the two people he keynotes? FDR and Thomas Paine? Now, why would he do that? Because he wanted to speak to American working people.
BILL MOYERS: Richard, as a long time conservative, do you agree with Harvey that Ronald Reagan was speaking to the working people of America, when he invoked Thomas Paine?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, he was certainly speaking to a vein in America that responds to rhetoric about liberty. And Paine is one of the great wordsmiths of such speech. And so, I think Reagan was not poaching or stealing somebody else's heirloom. I think it was a legitimate for him to invoke that.
BILL MOYERS: Libertarians have claimed him, because of his long time opposition to any consolidation of power. And they take him as one of them, right?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Yes. Yes, they do.
HARVEY KAYE: But it's the same line, curiously enough. "Government is a necessary evil."
BILL MOYERS: The Libertarians?
HARVEY KAYE: That's Paine. Libertarians love him. And the anarchists love him. For that very reason. And--
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but you take from Paine what you want and give to him what you need to give him, right?
HARVEY KAYE: Well, I guess we all do. But I like to think of, you know, the image that I don't dwell on the "Government is a necessary evil" because I think of that as his diatribe against aristocratic government at the time. The image I like is a little-- four or five paragraphs later, when he's talking about gathering under this big oak tree, to deliberate. Now, he admits that this is not possible. Okay? Any longer.
But imagine this fundamental democratic moment. And this is also what distinguishes him from Locke, where Locke doesn't take that next step and imagine that democratic possibility. And I think that that's my Paine, I have to admit. I mean, you have your journalist Paine. And I love you for having that Paine. And I have the democratic Paine, right there in that moment. And that's the Paine that grabs me.
BILL MOYERS: He wrote "Common Sense," "The Crisis Papers," you just mentioned the "Age of Reason," which is the one that really got him into trouble with believers. What about his third book, "The Rights of Man?" What kind of impact did that have?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, it had a huge impact. And in a way, Paine is at the founding of modern dispute about revolutionary movements, because he's responding to Edmund Burke's reflections on the revolution in France. And Burke was a liberal politician in many ways. But when he saw the revolution beginning in France he was appalled by the direction that it was taking, even very early on. And wrote an eloquent attack on it. And Paine responds with "The Rights of Man." This was like a split in sort of liberal English sentiment, going in two different directions. And two eloquent men, you know, taking each other on.
HARVEY KAYE: Yeah. You know, I'm glad you said that. Because, you know, when people are teaching political theory, it's Hobbes, Locke and so on. But the real grounding of modern political theory, I think is in the Burke/Paine exchange. Because the Hobbes/Locke always does is social contract and liberalism. But if you really want to get to the fundamental American question, it's probably the debate between Paine and Burke, having to do with liberalism versus conservatism. And at that moment, it's radicalism, reaction, but it's liberalism and conservatism. But in the United States, we have that same kind of interaction between Paine and Adams.
These are the two currents in American thinking. Adams, the tempered Republican, and Paine, the radical Democrat. And I think that's very, very fundamental.
BILL MOYERS: Toward the end of his life, Paine urged American citizens to renew their patriotism in reference to, he said first principles. Today, 2009, what are the first principles you think Paine, if he were blogging today, would be espousing?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Well, I think he would say liberty. I think he would say opportunity. And economic opportunity. I think those are the things that he would hammer at.
HARVEY KAYE: I agree. But I think I would take it a step further. And I go back to what I said at the beginning. Paine was a small "d" democrat. He was a political democrat. He became a political democrat by what he recognized in American life. And later, when he did come out of prison, he wrote "Agrarian Justice." And there he lays out a social democratic vision. That's where he says, "Let us create real opportunity for young people. And not give them a life of poverty. Let us tax the landed wealth, and use that money in some kind of community chest, a national treasury, to provide stakes, S-T-A-K-E-S."
You know, grants to young people, so when they reach twenty-one, and he said that of men and women, which was a very progressive thing to do at the time. And that way, they'll have a chance to, you know, buy land, gain an education, set up a small business. And we can also then afford pensions to the elderly. So, he did very much sort of look ahead to the idea, absolutely, of economic opportunity, but in a social democratic way, I think.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Yes, if he had thought that there were people who were permanently stuck in a, you know, servile or lower economic class, he would not have liked that. And he would have--
HARVEY KAYE: Right. And he did say--
RICHARD BROOKHISER: --he looked for means to--
HARVEY KAYE: He did say--
RICHARD BROOKHISER: --move them outside of it.
HARVEY KAYE: --everyone had to accept the payment, whether you needed it or not. You could give it back afterwards. But he didn't want it to be a charity.
BILL MOYERS: Richard Nixon came up with something like that. Remember that? Is that part of Paine's genius, part of his greatness? That we, each of us, no matter what end of the political spectrum we're on, find a real American there, a true American there?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Isn't that a problem that writers always face with their words? I mean, once you let those words out there, then they're not yours anymore. And especially if they're words as well written as Paine's. And then people grab them for bumper stickers and off they go.
HARVEY KAYE: Very true. But I agree with you, I really do. 'Cause I cannot deny the beauty of the words and the wonder of the pen. But I think the real question is, "Why do Americans seek to recover Thomas Paine?" And I think it's because they feel the impulse that he imbued in American life. And they go looking for the source of that impulse, when crisis occurs. And I think that's why I think Paine's great legacy is this American democratic impulse.
BILL MOYERS: Why aren't liberals quoting him more? I mean, you don't find any liberals in the last thirty years--
HARVEY KAYE: That's the most-- that frustrates me to no end. I find it-- I think it will actually haunt liberals, ultimately. Because it's Thomas Paine who can renew the democratic spirit that liberals need to rediscover. They don't need to rediscover themselves in government. They need to rediscover their connection with American working people.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: And maybe liberals are not so keen on the democratic spirit.
HARVEY KAYE: Maybe they're not.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Maybe they feel their agenda is not popular.
BILL MOYERS: Corporate liberalism is all about a regulated economy.
HARVEY KAYE: Maybe they're not. Maybe they're not.
RICHARD BROOKHISER: Maybe social liberalism that, you know, "We the enlightened know what should be done. But, you know, we have to bring the boobs along slowly."
HARVEY KAYE: Well, my friend Norman Lear says, "With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?"
BILL MOYERS: Richard Brookhiser and Harvey Kaye, thank you for a very interesting discussion.
HARVEY KAYE: Thank you.
WADI QADOUM, East Jerusalem, Jun 13 (IPS) - "What are you doing here?" The motorist in the battered white Volvo stops to ask us alongside an overflowing rubbish cart. Residents of this poor Palestinian neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem have been burning garbage in a bid to clear the uncollected mounds.
"Reporting on the dire conditions here," we tell him. "About time somebody took notice - I've written so many complaints to the municipality about the neglect from which we suffer. After all, don't we pay all our taxes just like the Israelis in Jerusalem. Yet, they do nothing for us," he says, switching his engine on again.
The ignition fails. "I must be out of gas," says Salim - he doesn't want to give his surname. "No, it's the battery," he adds, a little embarrassed. "My car seems to be part of the sorry situation." He calls over a friend to give him a push, but first opens the bonnet, tugs a few wires and, miraculously, the engine coughs to life.
The accidental encounter on the bumpy roads of Wadi Qadoum takes place beneath the higgledy-piggledy buildings that line the two sides of the valley in this segment of what's called the Holy Basin. The area stretches away from Jerusalem's walled Old City down to the Judean Desert to the south-east, and contains most of the sites holy to the world's three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It's part of East Jerusalem, home to a quarter of a million Palestinians, the area which Israel annexed after conquering it in the 1967 Arab-Israel war.
Salim may have extricated himself from his predicament fairly easily. But this morning there's no relief on the horizon for Palestinians hoping to ease their desperate housing shortage. Only a day earlier, employees of Jerusalem's Israeli-run municipality handed house demolition orders to three more families in the Al-Bustan area of Silwan, which lies alongside Wadi Qadoum and abuts the walls of the Old City. All of the homes in Al-Bustan - 90 in total - are slated for demolition, despite ongoing negotiations between residents and City Hall.
There is even more cause for Palestinian alarm at Israeli intentions. Eli Yishai, the interior minister in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right- wing government, has reportedly instructed ministry employees to nix a new master plan for the city on the ground that it allocates too much land for the construction of Palestinian homes.
The master plan, on which dozens of Israeli architects and town planners worked for several years, was intended to outline the city's development over the next few decades and to remedy a situation in which, since 1959, Jerusalem has not been developed according to a comprehensive agenda.
Palestinians have long had difficulty getting permits to build even on their own property. The plan, if implemented, would allow increased building in the eastern part of the city, including 13,500 more housing units for the city's Palestinians.
The outline of the plan was recently submitted to the interior ministry for approval, but city officials discovered this week that Yishai had ordered the plan shelved. Instead, he threw his support behind another programme, drafted in 2000, which set aside considerably less area for new Palestinian building.
Palestinian planners say that even the relatively more generous building policy recommended in the frozen master plan is highly problematic. Sami Arshid, a Palestinian attorney, told reporters, "The Israelis are trying to disconnect completely Palestinians from the Old City and its holy places by reducing their number in the centre of Jerusalem. The only Palestinian building they would have authorised under this plan is on the northern and southern fringes of the occupied part of the city."
Earlier this week Yishai had instructed his ministry to assist the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank by funnelling more funds into the settlements. He is also said to be seeking to calculate Jerusalem city limits as liberally as possible in order to argue that that building is in East Jerusalem rather than in the West Bank. That, he hopes, will not fall under the blanket ban being called by the U.S. on settlement building.
The U.S. has taken an emphatic position on the need for a total settlement freeze, including in the settlement blocs surrounding Jerusalem in the West Bank. The United States has also censured Israel in no uncertain terms over its house demolition policy in East Jerusalem. In addition, the U.S. has cautioned Israel not to go ahead with a new hotel project in the Wadi Joz area close to the old city. The municipality has authorised destruction of a Palestinian wholesale market which was recently opened on the site.
What is not clear, however, is whether the Obama Administration's demand for a settlement freeze extends also to the Jewish-Israeli neighbourhoods established in East Jerusalem after the 1967 war. Home to around 200,000 Israelis, Palestinians define them as "settlements" while Israelis regard them as regular neighbourhoods that are an integral part of their "united capital".
Meanwhile, in the Silwan neighbourhood, a shadowy organisation known as Elad, and a front for the settler movement that aims to settle as many Jews as possible in East Jerusalem, boasts that it has quietly purchased scores of Palestinian properties to augment the Jewish presence in the Holy Basin. The number settled there is already estimated to be as many as 2,000 or more.
And, reliable Israeli news reports say that Elad made a major contribution to the financing of the drafting of the master plan, clearly in the hope that this will lead to more Palestinians leaving the coveted area.
After meetings this week with the visiting U.S. special presidential envoy, Senator George Mitchell, the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told reporters that "for the first time in our history Palestinians are in position of strength vis-à-vis Israel." The Palestinians are hopeful that the tough stance adopted by President Barack Obama on settlements will finally enable a peace process to move forward on terms favourable to them.
The future of Jerusalem will be one of the core issues on the negotiating table that Mitchell is trying to set up. But it's not only sovereignty over the city which preoccupies the city's Palestinian population - it's also a question of simply having somewhere to live, for a community which has been left in limbo for over 40 years.
By Chris Hedges
This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.
Barack Obama, and the criminal class on Wall Street, aided by a corporate media that continues to peddle fatuous gossip and trash talk as news while we endure the greatest economic crisis in our history, may have fooled us, but the rest of the world knows we are bankrupt. And these nations are damned if they are going to continue to prop up an inflated dollar and sustain the massive federal budget deficits, swollen to over $2 trillion, which fund America’s imperial expansion in Eurasia and our system of casino capitalism. They have us by the throat. They are about to squeeze.
There are meetings being held Monday and Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia, (formerly Sverdlovsk) among Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States, which asked to attend, was denied admittance. Watch what happens there carefully. The gathering is, in the words of economist Michael Hudson, “the most important meeting of the 21st century so far.”
It is the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe. Obama, endowed by many with the qualities of a savior, will suddenly look pitiful, inept and weak. And the rage that has kindled a handful of shootings and hate crimes in the past few weeks will engulf vast segments of a disenfranchised and bewildered working and middle class. The people of this class will demand vengeance, radical change, order and moral renewal, which an array of proto-fascists, from the Christian right to the goons who disseminate hate talk on Fox News, will assure the country they will impose.
I called Hudson, who has an article in Monday’s Financial Times called “The Yekaterinburg Turning Point: De-Dollarization and the Ending of America’s Financial-Military Hegemony.” “Yekaterinburg,” Hudson writes, “may become known not only as the death place of the czars but of the American empire as well.” His article is worth reading, along with John Lanchester’s disturbing exposé of the world’s banking system, titled “It’s Finished,” which appeared in the May 28 issue of the London Review of Books.
“This means the end of the dollar,” Hudson told me. “It means China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran are forming an official financial and military area to get America out of Eurasia. The balance-of-payments deficit is mainly military in nature. Half of America’s discretionary spending is military. The deficit ends up in the hands of foreign banks, central banks. They don’t have any choice but to recycle the money to buy U.S. government debt. The Asian countries have been financing their own military encirclement. They have been forced to accept dollars that have no chance of being repaid. They are paying for America’s military aggression against them. They want to get rid of this.”
China, as Hudson points out, has already struck bilateral trade deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan rather than the dollar, pound or euro. Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies. The governor of China’s central bank has openly called for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, suggesting in its place the use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. What the new system will be remains unclear, but the flight from the dollar has clearly begun. The goal, in the words of the Russian president, is to build a “multipolar world order” which will break the economic and, by extension, military domination by the United States. China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency. This is why Aluminum Corp. of China made so many major concessions in the failed attempt to salvage its $19.5 billion alliance with the Rio Tinto mining concern in Australia. It desperately needs to shed its dollars.
“China is trying to get rid of all the dollars they can in a trash-for-resource deal,” Hudson said. “They will give the dollars to countries willing to sell off their resources since America refuses to sell any of its high-tech industries, even Unocal, to the yellow peril. It realizes these dollars are going to be worthless pretty quickly.”
The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. Our military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion, before we add on things like nuclear research. The next closest national military budget is China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.
There are three categories of the balance-of-payment deficits. America imports more than it exports. This is trade. Wall Street and American corporations buy up foreign companies. This is capital movement. The third and most important balance-of-payment deficit for the past 50 years has been Pentagon spending abroad. It is primarily military spending that has been responsible for the balance-of-payments deficit for the last five decades. Look at table five in the Balance of Payments Report, published in the Survey of Current Business quarterly, and check under military spending. There you can see the deficit.
To fund our permanent war economy, we have been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States then the exchange rate against the dollar will go up. This will penalize exporters. This has allowed America to print money without restraint to buy imports and foreign companies, fund our military expansion and ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy our treasury bonds. This cycle appears now to be over. Once the dollar cannot flood central banks and no one buys our treasury bonds, our empire collapses. The profligate spending on the military, some $1 trillion when everything is counted, will be unsustainable.
“We will have to finance our own military spending,” Hudson warned, “and the only way to do this will be to sharply cut back wage rates. The class war is back in business. Wall Street understands that. This is why it had Bush and Obama give it $10 trillion in a huge rip-off so it can have enough money to survive.”
The desperate effort to borrow our way out of financial collapse has promoted a level of state intervention unseen since World War II. It has also led us into uncharted territory.
“We have in effect had to declare war to get us out of the hole created by our economic system,” Lanchester wrote in the London Review of Books. “There is no model or precedent for this, and no way to argue that it’s all right really, because under such-and-such a model of capitalism ... there is no such model. It isn’t supposed to work like this, and there is no road-map for what’s happened.”
The cost of daily living, from buying food to getting medical care, will become difficult for all but a few as the dollar plunges. States and cities will see their pension funds drained and finally shut down. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities—think Enron—for what was once regulated and subsidized. Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless. Our corporate-controlled media, already banal and trivial, will work overtime to anesthetize us with useless gossip, spectacles, sex, gratuitous violence, fear and tawdry junk politics. America will be composed of a large dispossessed underclass and a tiny empowered oligarchy that will run a ruthless and brutal system of neo-feudalism from secure compounds. Those who resist will be silenced, many by force. We will pay a terrible price, and we will pay this price soon, for the gross malfeasance of our power elite.
On June 15th and 16th the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will hold its ninth annual heads of state summit in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
It will be attended by the presidents of its six full members - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - and by representatives of various ranks from its four observer states - India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan - and from several aspiring partner nations yet to be announced.
The SCO as an institution and as a concept represents the world's greatest potential and in ways is its major paradox as its capacities and their realization to date are so far apart.
Its six full members account for 60% of the land mass of Eurasia and its population is a third of the world's. With observer states included, its affiliates account for half of the human race.
At its fifth and watershed summit in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, in June of 2005, when representatives of India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan attended an SCO summit for the first time, the president of the country hosting the summit, Nursultan Nazarbayev, greeted the guests in words that had never before been used in any context: "The leaders of the states sitting at this negotiation table are representatives of half of humanity.” 
Former Joint Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and political analyst Leonid Ivashov later described the significance and unique nature of the SCO in asserting that, "Contrary to Samuel Huntington's concept of the allegedly inevitable clash of civilizations, the conclusion drawn in the SCO framework was that harmonized interactions between civilizations and their mutual assistance were possible.
"The contours of an alliance of five non-Western civilizations – Russian, Chinese, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist – began to materialize." 
To emphasize the world-historical prospects of the organization, he added: "The SCO is supposed to be a special world without a clearly defined boundary, a world spanning the entire global space.
"The quadrangle of the new global entity – Brazil, Russia, China, and India – is already taking shape....The above and certain other formations are related to the SCO." 
The quartet Ivashov mentions above - Brazil, Russia, China, and India - has since 2001 been known by the acronym formed by the first letters of the nations' names, BRIC, the world's fastest and most consistently growing economies with the largest foreign currency and gold reserves.
BRIC held its first summit last May in the same city as this year's SCO summit will occur, Yekaterinburg, and will be holding the next in June.
Three of the four members of BRIC are also members or observers of the SCO, as are four of the world's seven official nuclear states.
As a Russian daily said in 2006, "The SCO is a momentous organisation which occupies territory from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean and from Kaliningrad to Shanghai.
"It may become the second political pole of the world." 
SCO members and observers also take in a stretch of Eurasia from the South China Sea to the Baltic Sea and from the Persian Gulf to the Bay of Bengal.
At the 2006 heads of states summit in Shanghai the presidents of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan - Hamid Karzai, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Pervez Musharraf - attended as observers. Photographs of the three standing side by side appeared on numerous websites at the time and abounded in importance, both symbolic and substantive. The Afghan and Pakistani presidents had been hurling mutual accusations for years over the other's nation being the base of destabilization of his own and there even had been loss of life in military exchanges between the two states' armed forces.
Iran was the intended victim of thinly veiled threats of US military strikes. In fact the granting of observer status to the nation in 2005 and Ahmadinejad's attendance at three successive heads of state summits - China in 2006, Kyrgyzstan in 2007 and Tajikistan in 2008 - played no small role in thwarting whatever plans the United States and Israel have nurtured for attacking Iran.
To see the three above-mentioned leaders in the founding city of the SCO under the auspices of a multinational security alliance headed by Russia and China, as all three of their nations were at war or could soon be, revealed the regional and global prospects for the SCO as a new model for conflict resolution and cooperation.
During the 2007 summit the SCO discussed establishing a "unified energy market" and then Russian president Vladimir Putin stated, "I am convinced that energy dialogue, integration of our national energy concepts, and the creation of an energy club will set out the priorities for further cooperation." [5)
The following year Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov speaking in reference to an impending meeting of SCO energy ministers and in affirming that "the existing system of pipelines on the SCO space connecting Russia, Central Asian states and China is a serious basis for the establishment of an SCO unified energy space," said:
“The projects on the establishment of a unified energy market and the SCO common transport corridor could become bright examples of the global approach to defining the forms and mechanisms of cooperation.” 
By 2007 the SCO had initiated over twenty large-scale projects related to transportation, energy and telecommunications and held regular meetings of security, military, defense, foreign affairs, economic, cultural, banking and other officials from its member states. No multinational organization with such far-ranging and comprehensive mutual interests and activities has ever existed on this scale before.
America's First Afghan War And Its Aftermath In Central Asia
Leaders of SCO member states routinely deny that the organization is a military alliance or one in the process of formation or that it entertains plans to model itself after or to directly challenge NATO. The first half of the claim is perfectly true, the second may be an obligation forced on it.
A penetrating Iranian analysis of late last year, "Iraq Smoke Screen" by Hamid Golpira, had this to say on the topic:
"According to Brzezinski’s theory, control of the Eurasian landmass is the key to global domination and control of Central Asia is the key to control of the Eurasian landmass....Russia and China have been paying attention to Brzezinski’s theory, since they formed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2001, ostensibly to curb extremism in the region and enhance border security, but most probably with the real objective of counterbalancing the activities of the United States and NATO in Central Asia." 
The SCO grew out of the Shanghai Five alliance of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan formed in 1996 on the basis of the Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions to insure border demarcation and security in an area of the world thrown into turmoil by the precipitate break-up of the Soviet Union five years earlier.
Mutual concerns of the five nations also included cross-border armed extremism based in the Ferghana Valley that takes in parts of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and the threat of violent secessionist movements often connected to it.
What Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were in fact contending with was the aftermath of the American Afghan proxy war of 1978-1992 which had spread, as its architect Zbigniew Brzezinski intended it to, into the Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union during that period and continued to expand in the region after 1991.
When Uzbekistan joined the Shanghai Five in June of 2001 the group was formalized as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and commenced annual heads of state and heads of government (prime ministers) summits.
Less than three months later the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. occurred and in October the US and its NATO allies invaded Afghanistan and began establishing military bases in that nation and in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
It was at that point which, whatever the SCO's original purpose and goals envisioned, it was brought face-to-face with the US and NATO deploying troops, warplanes and military installations on SCO territory and in adjoining nations.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, SCO members like the rest of the world seemed inclined to give the US the benefit of the doubt and take it at its word: That it would launch a - limited - military operation in Afghanistan to avenge the attacks and perhaps along the way address the situation in the country and its environs that its own actions had in large part brought about.
These included the destruction of Afghanistan as a nation state after Washington's mujahedin clients took the capital of Kabul in 1992 and soon reduced much of it to rubble with mortar attacks and other acts of factional fighting.
The resultant collapse of the nation's economy and infrastructure.
The second-generation invasion of the shattered country by Taliban and their capture of Kabul in 1996 with the support of American favorite Benazir Bhutto and the active connivance of the US. Earlier this month current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told NBC News, concerning Taliban, that it is a "part of our past and your past, and the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] and CIA created them together." 
By the time of the fifth SCO heads of state summit in Kazakhstan in 2005, with few of the claimed objectives of the US - and NATO which joined the fray by invoking its Article 5 mutual military assistance clause - accomplished and no sign of the Pentagon and NATO ever preparing to remove their military forces from Afghanistan and four neighboring nations, patience had worn thin among SCO member states.
The United States and its NATO allies had launched three unprovoked wars in four years - Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 - as well as waging counterinsurgency and proxy conflicts and subversion campaigns in Colombia, Macedonia, Ivory Coast, Yemen, the Philippines, Liberia and elsewhere.
What alarmed SCO members as much as the preceding was the so-called Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in March of 2005 and what government authorities in Tashkent saw as a variation on the theme of regime change in Uzbekistan in May of that year, a month before the SCO summit.
The uprising in Kyrgyzstan and the overthrow of its president Askar Akayev was the fourth in a series of Western-backed "color revolutions" in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union following those in Yugoslavia in 2000, Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in December of 2004, only three months before that in Kyrgyzstan. The dominoes were falling with an increasing rapidity and now were occurring on the Chinese as well as Russian borders. And in the very heart of the SCO community.
The newspaper of the Chinese ruling party, People's Daily, wrote a month after the summit:
"The recent SCO Summit was held against a background featuring major changes taken place in the regional political situation. After the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other direct military actions, the United States and other Western powers have basically completed integration of the world security pattern, launched offensives of 'democratic reform' and 'elimination of tyrannical outposts' in former Soviet states and the Greater Middle East region and started 'color revolutions' one after another." 
At the summit in Kazakhstan the SCI issued a Declaration of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which addressed a broad panoply of concerns and which contained a general statement on the situation obtaining in the world at the time and an elaboration of the organization's principles. It included:
"The heads of the member states point out that, against the backdrop of a contradictory process of globalisation, multilateral cooperation, which is
based on the principles of equal right and mutual respect, non-intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states, non-confrontational way of thinking and consecutive movement towards democratisation of international relations, contributes to overall peace and security, and call upon the international community, irrespective of its differences in ideology and social structure, to form a new concept of security based on mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and interaction.
"Diversity of cultures and civilisations in the world is a common human value. At a time of fast developing information technologies and communications it must stimulate mutual interest, tolerance, abandonment of extreme approaches and assessments, development of dialogue. Every people must be properly guaranteed to have the right to choose its own way of development.
"The heads of the member states are convinced that a rational and just world order must be based upon consolidation of mutual trust and good-neighborly relations, upon the establishment of true partnership with no pretence to monopoly and domination in international affairs. Such order will become more stable and secure, if it comes to consider the supremacy of principles and standards of international law, before all, the UN Charter. In the area of human rights it is necessary to respect strictly and consecutively historical traditions and national features of every people, the sovereign equality of all states." 
As an earlier quote mentioned, the SCO is composed of six member states and four observers representing a true diversity of cultures, civilizations, histories and political systems, from many of the world's oldest and most venerable traditions to some of its newest nations, from the world's two most populous states to Kyrgyzstan with slightly over five million citizens, and political structures ranging from secular to religious and multi-party to single-party. The internal demographic composition of the ten members and observers, excluding Mongolia, is also a rich tapestry of ethnic, national, linguistic and confessional pluralism and variety.
In additional to calling for a just, rational and peaceful world in a global situation that was little enough of any of the three, the Declaration contained both an appeal and blueprint for the sort of international order required as an antidote to the current one of unipolarity, unilateralism, cutthroat competition, cynical complacency, brute force and war.
The summit declaration was the opening salvo in a long-overdue campaign for a multipolar international system, one not dominated by a self-appointed sole superpower or by several powers with presumptions to global domination or respective spheres of influence, but a democracy between nations that would augment the development of democracy within nations.
In November of 2005 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that the "Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is working to establish a rational and just world order" and that "The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation provides us with a unique opportunity to take part in the process of forming a fundamentally new model of geopolitical integration." 
It also recognized that no single, standardized model of political, economic, social, cultural and ethical development and practices could be forced on the 88% of humanity that lives outside the Euro-Atlantic world, not a parliamentary system devised in the British Isles centuries ago nor a consumerist culture and pseudo-civilization designed on Madison Avenue and in Hollywood.
That genuine structural problems exist in the political systems of SCO member states is indisputable. Five of the six were thrust into sudden independence in 1991 with the near instantaneous break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the USSR's former Central Asian republics were among the most adversely affected by that catastrophic occurrence. Social dislocation, economic destitution, cross-border armed incursions and general destabilization are not conducive to the optimal development of electoral and other political institutions.
The SCO Declaration evinced a recognition that even if trends in all nations and societies should evolve in the direction of government that is equitable, accountable, accessible and humane, each nation and culture will arrive at that destination by its own path as well as that of universal principles.
The West that presumes to dictate, often to the point of blackmail and bombs, that its increasingly constricted and impracticable model of governance must be enforced always and everywhere, even where the native soil rejects such transplantation, would be better advised to examine its own deficiencies.
The standard bearer of Western values, the United States, held federal elections last year in which two billion dollars of private funds were expended in an effort to buy influence. And that in a system where only two established political parties are given automatic ballot status and thus have a monopoly on fielding candidates broadly and surely in winning posts.
Time For US And NATO To Leave Central Asia
The Declaration adopted at the 2005 SCO summit also contained this provision:
"Considering the completion of the active military stage of antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation consider it necessary that respective members of the
antiterrorist coalition set a final timeline for their temporary use of the above-mentioned objects of infrastructure and stay of their military contingent on the territories of the SCO member states." 
Which is to say that the US and NATO had outlived whatever usefulness their presence in South and Central Asia had served and it was now time for them to leave.
A Chinese daily expressed the matter in these terms:
"The Declaration points out that the SCO member countries have the ability and responsibility to safeguard the security of the Central Asian region, and calls on Western countries to leave Central Asia. That is the most noticeable signal given by the Summit to the world." 
On July 7 of 2006 Uzbekistan issued an eviction notice to the 800 US military personnel housed in its base at Karshi-Khanabad, stating that the use of the base had been allowed "for the sole purpose of ousting Taliban rulers from Afghanistan" which had been achieved almost four years earlier.
The government demarche said "Any other prospects for a U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan were not considered by the Uzbek side." 
On the 17th Kyrgyzstan's newly elected President Kurmanbek Bakiyev "stressed ...that with the appeasement of the situation in Afghanistan, it is the time for the United States to schedule its pullout of forces from the base in his country," where an estimated 1,500 US and NATO military personnel were stationed.
On July 20 Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said "it is time for the United States and its allies to set a date to pull their conventional troops out of Central Asia as the situation in Afghanistan has stabilized," with local reference to the use of the former Soviet Kulyab airbase and the use of Tajikistan's airspace. 
"Nazarov reiterated the call made jointly by the six member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) earlier this month that the US-led anti-terror coalition should set a deadline for the withdrawal of their troops and the temporary use of infrastructure in Central Asian countries." 
Later in the month Russia signed an agreement with the government of Tajikistan for the use of a military base in the country.
The US Secretary of State at the time, Condoleezza Rice, denounced the SCO Declaration's call for the removal of US and NATO bases in Central Asia with the pat response that "there is still a lot of terrorist activity in Afghanistan and US troops were needed to train the Afghan army to counter it," , a state of affairs that from the Western perspective persists to this day, four years later, and into the indefinite future with the war now fully extended into Pakistan.
So concerned was Washington that its plans for permanent military deployments in Central and South Asia under the guise of the so-called Global War on Terror were in jeopardy that it deployed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on a hastily scheduled tour to the region, visiting Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
At the time the US had "1,000 planes in the Ganci military base" in Kyrgyzstan and "about 1,500 military staff and planes in the Khanabad base in Uzbekistan." 
"Rumsfeld planned his trip after the Shanghai Cooperation Organization called for a timetable for US withdrawal in an early June summit in Astana.
"During his talks in Bishkek, Rumsfeld will demand the lease of Ganci military base, in the vicinity of Bishkek's Manas Airport, to be extended." 
Washington had leverage with the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in two respects: The ever-looming threat of another "color revolution" could be activated against any government that defied US diktat and America could offer economic incentives to the two Central Asian nations that had no substantial oil and natural gas resources, unlike Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
In August what were described as anti-terrorist exercises (most any military deployment or exercise since September 11, 2001 has been characterized as such) were conducted in the Caspian Sea with the participation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization (comprised of Russia, Armenia, Belarus and the four Central Asian nations in the SCO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States anti-aircraft defense allied command.
Participants included the chiefs of anti-terrorist units and secret services from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and officials from the Iranian Security Ministry attended the exercise in the capacity of observers for the first time. 
This was while US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was conniving to establish a Western-dominated Caspian Guard in the region.
Days later Russia and China launched their first-ever joint military exercises, the eight-day Peace Mission 2005, in Eastern Russia and in China's Shandong Province, consisting of land, sea and air components and 10,000 troops.
In December the Chief of the Russian General Staff at the time, Yuri Baluyevsky, announced "Our goal is to organise such multi-country military
exercises [with both India and China] within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation." 
A Pakistani commentary in the same period drew attention to the purpose of such exercises:
"NATO was often regarded as the hidden fist behind a peaceful US-led drive for equal access to the vast energy resources of the successor states of the Soviet Union." 
SCO Appeal Resonated Throughout Eurasia
But the most significant aspect of the period following the SCO June summit was the eagerness with which nations outside the organization welcomed its new enhanced role and the underlying call for global multipolarity.
Indian External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh, who had represented his nation at the summit, announced a month afterward "To deepen engagement with the region, India plans to apply for full membership of the SCO," , a position he repeated in November when stating that India planned to expand its engagement with the SCO and "declared India's intention for a greater role in the organisation." 
At the same time the Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz "stressed that the SCO...represents 3 billion population of the world"  and said his country "wanted to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization," adding, "This organization is of immense strategic importance" and "that if the SCO conducted military exercises like those performed by Russia, China, and India recently, Pakistan would consider participating." 
New observer state Iran also expressed its desire to become a full member and stated that it would offer the SCO access to the Middle East and, according to Iran's First Vice-President Mohammad-Reza Aref, "Iran would play a key role in linking the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to Persian Gulf states and even Europe." 
Malaysian Ambassador to Russia Mohamad Khalis, who had attended the Astana summit, said "Malaysia completely supports the goals set by the SCO
and is ready to cooperate with the organisation and its members for common interests." 
In the ensuing months similar interest was expressed by nations as diverse as Bangladesh, Belarus, Nepal, Turkey and Azerbaijan.
On November 4, 2005 a ceremony was held at the SCO Secretariat to sign a protocol on the establishment of a Contact Group between the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Afghanistan. 
The SCO has also established relations with the United Nations, where it is an observer in the General Assembly, the European Union, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The response to the prospects of an expanded SCO was such that a Pakistani commentator considered "The new contenders for admission are Afghanistan,
North Korea and South Korea. If the SCO continues its southward expansion, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia may join in the
US Strikes Back: India
The US counteroffensive was not long in coming nor was it limited to attempts at maintaining airbases in Central Asia.
It targeted the most populous new SCO observer state and that nation which can tilt not only the region but the world either toward Western dominance or a new multipolar international order: India. July 18, 2005 American President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a joint statement on the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement that came into effect three years later and that permitted a waiver to be granted to India to commence civilian nuclear trade.
This was the economic enticement to lure India away from the SCO and closer security arrangements with Russia and China and begin the process of its orientation toward strategic military ties with Washington and its serving as the fourth pillar of an emerging Asian NATO along with Japan, Australia and South Korea. India as a full member of the SCO would insure the demise of global unipolarity, of bloc and power politics on the world stage and of Western domination on not only the military but the diplomatic and economic fronts.
India as a US military ally will perpetuate divisions in the world and hostilities in Eurasia.
An Indian analyst warned two years ago that "Washington is not interested in New Delhi’s official admission to the nuclear power club because that would enhance the latter’s influence in international affairs. An important objective of the Americans in the region is to turn India into a major factor capable of counterbalancing a rapidly growing China.
"In order to reduce the SCO’s role and influence in the region and to promote realisation of the American concept of a 'Greater Central Asia,' Tokyo and Washington are trying to drag New Delhi into a so-called Quadrilateral of Democracies aimed at building an alliance-like relationship between the US, Japan, Australia and India." 
Another Indian writer at the time echoed the same concern in stating, "It is indeed sad that New Delhi should continue to underestimate the importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
"So enamoured are our foreign policy mandarins of the new found friendship with Washington that they have found no time to evaluate the SCO’s great potential strategic importance to India.
"The US has sought to undermine the SCO and given an opportunity, it would have loved to throttle it in its infancy.
"India is the most important 'swing state' in the international system. It has the potential to emerge as a strong, independent centre of power. Must India allow the US to play midwife to the birth of a new great power?" (32)
India is, as a member of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, China, India) and RIC (Russia, India, China; the Strategic Triangle that former Russian foreign minister and prime minister Yevgeny Primakov spoke of in 1998) group of nations, as a major economic power in its own right and as a nation of over one billion citizens, that country in the world which can decide whether efforts by the SCO and complementary ones in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East toward securing a democratic, peaceful, prosperous and safe world system are successfully expedited or are made more laborious, painful and costly by artificially prolonging the disproportionate and by now manifestly unjust and disastrous power of the major Western states in and over the world.
West Contained And In Decline
Yet the 2005 SCO summit has not been without effects. Since that time the cycle of wars waged by the US and its NATO allies from 1999-2003 has been halted. There have been no more successful "color" coups in the former Soviet Union, notwithstanding apparent attempts in that direction in Belarus, Armenia and most recently Moldova.
The current president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, attended the 2007 heads of state summit as did Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the second for two years in a row.
In early October of 2007 the SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization signed a memorandum of mutual understanding to integrate regional and international security cooperation and the following month agreed on a collaborative approach to Afghanistan.
This May 15th Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov informed the news media that the SCO had recommended what is described as dialogue partner status to Belarus and Sri Lanka, which would extend the geographical range of the SCO to a nation entirely in Europe and to another not part of the Eurasian landmass.
And not only has the post-World War II global domination of the West, given an extended and virtually unbridled license after the end of the Cold War, been curtailed by the new assertiveness of a revived Russia, a democratized and progressively more integrated Latin America and new formations like the SCO, but its power to dictate economic, financial, trade, copyright, political and energy terms to the rest of the world - and its ability to reserve the exclusive prerogative of using military force outside its own borders - has begun to collapse under its own weight.
Not that the military, including strategic, threats have abated. A Turkish analyst reminded readers last September that "the SCO has seen the unipolar mentality of the US as a source of conflict rather than a cure for the world’s common challenges.
"Stressing the necessity of a multipolar world for the sake of international security, the SCO has supported the maintenance of a strategic balance of power.
"The SCO has thus warned that the US endeavor to create a global missile defense system, as in Poland and the Czech Republic, is a futile attempt, as such efforts will neither help uphold the strategic balance nor prevent the spread of weapons of every kind, including nuclear." 
In the same month the head of Russia's Center for Contemporary Studies on Iran, Rajab Safarev, indicated the outlines of an alternative: "If Iran would become a SCO member, the SCO would become the third most influential, most powerful international body after the United Nations and the European Union."
"I even believe the SCO would rank second, next to the UN, from the competence point of the view, after Iran's membership."
"The SCO would also get stronger following Iran's membership, because its member states would be the owners of two thirds of the world's energy sources which gives them a great financial power." 
Caucasus War As Turning Point
On August 1st of last year Georgian armed forces launched artillery barrages against the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, killing several people including a Russian peacekeeper. Only the preceding day a US-led NATO military exercise had been completed in Georgia and American troops and hardware remained in the country. Six days later Georgia, hours after its US-educated leader Mikheil Saakashvili announced a unilateral ceasefire, unleashed a full scale invasion of South Ossetia.
Russian forces beat back the Georgian offensive and decisively defeated an army that for years had been armed and trained by the Pentagon and NATO.
The Caucasus war was a double precedent. It marked the first time that a US and NATO proxy army had come into direct armed conflict with Russia and its defeat put the first dent in the West's post-Cold War image of invincibility.
After the war last August and in response to it Iranian President Ahmadinejad affirmed his country's intention of joining the SCO and added, "The thing is that every organization has its own functions. We have our own expectations related to the SCO. The world does not consist only of NATO and the United States." 
Addressing the Georgia-Russia war also, the head of Russian Center of Political Information Alexei Mukhin took the above point to the next level: "If we are talking about SCO's move from an economic organization to a military one, then this has already happened....All the member states were willing to respond to the strengthening of NATO." 
The director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ center for SCO and regional problems, Anatoly Bolyatko, added:
"[T]he recent conflict in the Caucasus underscored the need for a multipolar world order. If NATO and even the UN are unable to settle this conflict, the SCO could well become a viable platform for resolving such problems....
"The SCO should eventually start playing a new role both in and outside the Caucasus. What we see now is a real crisis of the idea of a unipolar world now that the US and its NATO allies pretend they are unable to get to the core of what’s been happening in the Caucasus.
"I believe that organizations like the SCO and BRIC, that brings Russia together with Brazil, India and China, should play an important role here." 
Russian political analyst Andrei Areshev also noted on this score that "Following the August crisis in the Caucasus, political
consultations within the SCO have intensified....The SCO's transformation into an organisation capable of effective resolution, inter alia, of joint defense issues will become ever more relevant as the tension on the Eurasian continent, which is provoked from without, increases further." 
An even more forceful assessment is that which follows:
"Changes in world politics that took place after 'the awakening of the Russian bear' could open the SCO’s doors for Tehran, which remains one of the key oil suppliers for China.
"If this should be the case, it may be possible to speak of an unprecedented consolidation of the countries of the Eurasian continent around Beijing and Moscow.
"This will render the US’s attack on Iran impossible and put an end to America’s plans of redrawing the lines in the Middle East and Central Asia.
"Such developments...change the entire world order formed after the collapse of the USSR." 
Prospects: World Crisis And Emerging International Alternative
In late October of 2008 the prime ministers of the SCO member states met in Kazakhstan against the backdrop of the worst world financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
At the summit Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that "Amid the global financial turmoil the SCO function acquires new meaning.” 
He specified that each member of the organization "offers its competitive advantages to be added to the common asset of interaction on
"In this sense, the organization's role doubles today, since we are going through a complicated process in the international financial system and in the world economy. God has blessed the countries of our region to make use of their competitive geographical and historical advantages." 
What Putin was alluding to was a central hallmark, indeed the very foundation, of the SCO and its model of horizontal rather than vertical integration. What provides the organization the vast potential it has both as the major multifaceted alliance and structure in Eurasia and also as microcosm and prototype alike for an international transformation in all realms is not only the individual or even collective resources of its members, but its principle and practice of complementarity, of avoiding inefficient and costly repetition and redundancy and what in the West is uncritically celebrated as "competition."
It is that precise variant of myopic and avaricious, ruthless and asocial policy practiced over the past twenty years - when the US and its allies held practically uncontested sway over the world and were free to fashion it just as they chose to - that has led to the people of the West and the world staring into an economic and social abyss. The last mechanisms left available to power-obsessed Western political elites is to rob their own citizens and those of the world to subsidize the institutions and individuals that created the crisis and to maintain war as their ultimate trump card.
At last October's SCO summit Iranian Vice President Parviz Davudi addressed an initiative that has been garnering greater interest and assuming a heightened sense of urgency when he said, "The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a good venue for designing a new banking system which is independent from international banking systems.” 
The address by Russia's Putin also included these comments:
“We now clearly see the defectiveness of the monopoly in world finance and the policy of economic selfishness. To solve the current problem Russia will to take part in changing the global financial structure so that it will be able to guarantee stability and prosperity in the world and to ensure progress.”
"The world is seeing the emergence of a qualitatively different geo-political situation, with the emergence of new centers of economic growth and political influence.
"We will witness and take part in the transformation of the global and regional security and development architectures adapted to new realities of the 21st century, when stability and prosperity are becoming inseparable notions." 
The world is at a historical crossroad with the security and even survival of humanity at stake. One path continues along the way that has been pursued to date, of the right of might and every person for himself regardless of the consequences.
The other is one of a more rational, just, peaceful and multipolar alternative.
1) Kazinform, July 5, 2005
2) Strategic Culture Foundation, January 8, 2008
4) From Pravda as quoted in Daily Jang (Pakistan), June 14, 2006
5) Eurasia.net, August 16, 2007
6) New Europe (Belgium), November 4, 2008
7) Tehran Times, November 20, 2008
8) Press Trust of India, May 11, 2009
9) People's Daily, July 6, 2005
10) The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, July 13, 2005
11) UzReport, November 28, 2005
13) People's Daily, July 8, 2005
14) New York Times, July 8, 2005
15) Xinhua News Agency, July 21, 2005
17) Xinhua News Agency, July 21, 2005
18) Cihan News Agency (Turkey), July 26, 2005
20) Itar-Tass, August 17, 2005
21) The Hindu, December 4, 2005
22) Daily Times, December 2, 2005
23) Indo-Asian News Service, July 6, 2005
24) Indo-Asian News Service, October 27, 2005
25) Pakistan Tribune, October 27, 2005
26) Russian Information Agency Novosti, October 27, 2005
27) Islamic Republic News Agency, July 5, 2005
28) Vietnam News Agency, December 9, 2005
29) Shanghai Cooperation Organization, November 4, 2005
30) Daily Jang, June 14, 2006
31) Mansoor Ali, Choice between Quadrilateral of Democracies and SCO
Mainstream, October 9, 2007
32) Ash Narain Roy, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation - Towards New
Mainstream, September 18, 2007
33) Guner Ozkan, Russia and the remaking of the ‘near abroad’ part 2
Zaman, September 23, 2008
34) Islamic Republic News Agency, September 15, 2008
35) Interfax, August 29, 2008
36) Deutsche Presse-Agentur, August 27, 2008
37) Voice of Russia, September 7, 2008
38) Strategic Culture Foundation, December 24, 2008
39) RosBusinessConsulting, August 30, 2008
40) Voice of Russia, October 31, 2008
41) Interfax, October 30, 2008
42) Mehr News Agency, October 31, 2008
43) Russia Today, October 30, 2008
Rick Rozoff is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Rick Rozoff