No matter how the World Bank likes to wrap itself up in gentle talk about helping the poor, their agenda remains quite clear: to support the rich.

Here they go again.

The World Bank Group pushes privatization as a key solution to the water crisis. It is the largest funder of water management in the developing world, with loans and financing channeled through the group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC). Since the 1980s, the IFC has been promoting these water projects as part of a broader set of privatization policies, with loans and financing tied to enacting austerity measures designed to shrink the state, from the telecom industry to water utilities.

But international advocacy and civil society groups point to the pockmarked record of private-sector water projects and are calling on the World Bank Group to end support for private water.

In the decades since the IFC’s initial push, we have seen the results of water privatization: It doesn’t work. Water is not like telecommunications or transportation. You could tolerate crappy phone service, but have faulty pipes connecting to your municipal water and you’re in real trouble. Water is exceptional.

….

Even as the World Bank Group continues to promote water privatization, its own data reveal that a high percentage of its private water projects are in distress. Its project database for private participation in infrastructure documents a 34 percent failure rate for all private water and sewerage contracts entered into between 2000 and 2010, compared with a failure rate of just 6 percent for energy, 3 percent for telecommunications and 7 percent for transportation, during the same period.”

To read the article in full, go herehttp://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/4/water-managementprivatizationworldbankgroupifc.html

Posted by: r.m. | April 23, 2014

Presidential elections in Lebanon

So, today, this very minute, the Lebanese Parliament is voting on who will be the next President of Lebanon.

A few points of context:

- These Members of Parliament extended their own terms without any public approval.  Do they still have legitimacy? Can they still claim to represent us? (If they could claim it from the start, that is, given the problematic nature of their own election.)

- The official nominee of the largest bloc (but not large enough to carry the votes) is a convicted murderer in Lebanese courts. Is his nomination legitimate? (And many folks respond to his nomination by saying, well, he’s not the only warlord. How about that for a vote of confidence? Criminals are accepted so long as they are not alone, eh?) He also had (has?) known ties with an enemy-state to Lebanon. Is that legitimate? (And, yes, regardless what some Lebanese may want, we are officially at war with Israel and Israel is officially regarded as an enemy state.)

- The French Ambassador walked in – as a head of an entourage – into the Parliament to oversee the elections for the next President? Is that legitimate?  Could the Lebanese Ambassador do the same in France?

All the while, the vast majority of Lebanese (minus a sliver protesting Samir Geagea’s nomination) go on with our days, awaiting news of the next leader who will join the ranks of those who do not represent us.

===

And no surprise: no president elected.

The votes, as reported by the Speaker of the House Nabih Berri:

Blank votes: 52

Samir Geagea: 48

Henri el Helou: 16

Amin Gemayel: 1

Cancelled votes: 7 - (These are among the many killed by Samir Geagea). The breakdown below was reported by tayyar.org

- Rashid Karami – 1

- Tareq Dany Chamoun  - 2

- Dany Chamoun – 1

- Jihan Tony Frangieh – 1

- Elias el Zayek – 1

Notes: Tracy Chamoun was nominated but received no votes.

 

 

Posted by: r.m. | April 23, 2014

Climate Change: obstacles we face are also internal

The eloquent Naomi Klein:

“Climate change is a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.”

 

An excellent piece, to be read in full.

Here’s a teasing excerpt:

“Scientists are studying cases of climate-related mistiming among dozens of species, from Arctic terns to pied flycatchers. But there is one important species they are missing—us. Homo sapiens. We too are suffering from a terrible case of climate-related mistiming, albeit in a cultural-historical, rather than a biological, sense. Our problem is that the climate crisis hatched in our laps at a moment in history when political and social conditions were uniquely hostile to a problem of this nature and magnitude—that moment being the tail end of the go-go ’80s, the blastoff point for the crusade to spread deregulated capitalism around the world. Climate change is a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.

Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know.

Climate change is slow, and we are fast.

Climate change is place-based, and we are everywhere at once.

Climate pollutants are invisible, and we have stopped believing in what we cannot see.

Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These time frames are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

Read the full article here

Posted by: r.m. | April 23, 2014

more on protecting Lebanon’s water

Say no to the privatization of Lebanon’s water by going to this link: http://notobluegoldlebanon.org

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.44.05 AM

Sign this petition to stop the privatization of water in Lebanon

 

!المياه حق وليست ذهباً! اوقفوا خصخصة المياه في لبنان: اوقفوا بلوغولد

تعرض منذ فترة كمية كبيرة من الاعلانات لمشروع “الذهب الأزرق” او “بلوغولد” الذي يروّج له “ملتقى التأثير المدني”، ويدعو المواطنين للتصويت عليه من خلال موقعه على الانترنت. ويدّعي ملتقى التأثير المدني في كتيّبه الترويجي أنّ مشكلة المياه في لبنان ستحلّ من خلال مشروعه هذا، كما يدعو جميع المواطنين الى التفاعل معه عبر شبكات التواصل الاجتماعي والنقاش المباشر، وتقديم الاقتراحات لتطوير المشروع  والتصويت عليه. ويقترح مشروع “بلوغولد” تكوين شراكة بين “المواطن والدولة” لإدارة قطاع المياه خارج تأثير السياسة، ومن خلال إنشاء “المجلس الوطني للمياه”، متغافلاً عن أشياء أخرى ذات مدلولات خطيرة جداً.

للوهلة الاولى، يبدو هذا المشروع جذاباً ومقنعاً. ولكن دعونا نتروى قليلاً وننظر الى المسألة بشكل هادئ، ونبحث في المفاهيم المطروحة في هذا المشروع: يبدأ كتيّب “بلوغولد” مقدمته بالقول إنّ “المشكلة هي أنّنا لا نعي أهميّة الثروة التي لدينا. نرى المياه كسلعة رخيصة، متناسين أنّ قيمة قنينة واحدة من المياه توازي قيمة قنينة من النفط الخام.”

وهنا تقع المشكلة الجوهريّة في هذا المشروع الذي يسعى الى تحويل المياه من كونها حقاً تصونه  الدولة  وخدمةً تؤمّنها لجميع المواطنين/ات، الى سلعة متداولة في السوق، تخضع للمنافسة والاحتكار والمضاربات. ممَا يجعل  بلو غولد مشروعاً آخر من مشاريع الخصخصة المتخفّية تحت شعار “الشراكة مع القطاع الخاص”.

بالطبع هناك من سيبرَر الحاجة لهكذا مشروع من خلال  إتّهام الدولة بالفساد والعجز، ويرى من الأفضل اللجوء إلى القطاع الخاص ومشاركته أو تسليمه إدارة الخدمات العامة. ولكن لنرى إلى ماذا أدّت مشاريع الخصخصة والشراكة مع القطاع الخاص  حتى اليوم:

هذه الشراكة أنتجت في السابق سوليدير، ونهبت أملاك وحقوق المواطنين؛ وهي نفسها  أنتجت عقود شركات الخليوي، بحيث أنّ فاتورة الاتصالات في لبنان هي من الأغلى في العالم؛ وهي نفس الشراكة التي أدارت تحويل  سندات الخزينة الى المصارف بأعلى الفوائد والتي أدّت الى تضّخم الدين العام الى أعلى مستوياته؛ وهي نفس الشراكة التي بسببها يتمّ رفض تثبيت آلاف المياومين والمياومات في القطاع العام (كما حصل مع عمّال وعاملات مؤسسة كهرباء لبنان، حيث تم تجيير عقودهم/ن الى شركات خاصة لا تضمن لهم أيّة حقوق او ضمانات) وبالاضافة الى ذلك رفض السلطة إقرار سلسلة الرتب والرواتب التي كان القطاع الخاص من اشدّ الرافضين لها وما يزال؛ وهي نفس الشراكة التي أتت بسوكلين و منحتها احتكار إدارة النفايات، مستنزفةً موازنات البلديات وصحة المواطنين.

ما يُراد من مشروع بلوغود، لا يختلف في جوهره عن كل تلك المشاريع السابقة والحالية، من محاولات  اصحاب الرساميل والمستثمرين اللبنانيين والاقليميين والعالميين، الى العمل مع أصدقائهم في الدولة اللبنانية، من أجل التشارك في تحصيل الثروات من خلال ادارة وبيع الخدمات الاساسية والحيويّة الى المواطنين كسلع باهظة الثمن، بدلاً من ابعادها عن المضاربات والتنافس الربحي في السوق.. هذا ما يخطط له اليوم في قطاع المياه.

وهنا علينا ان نسأل: هل فعلاً تحلّ  أزمة المياه في لبنان من خلال تسليم هذا القطاع الحيوي لشركات خاصة، محمية سياسياً من خلال شراكتها مع من هم في السلطة، وبهذا تسيطر على المياه في لبنان، وعلى وتأمين وصولها الى المنازل؟ فماذا يحصل مثلاً إذا قررت هذه الشركات بيع المياه الى الخارج لأنها اكثر ربحاً، أو حتّى عدم إيصالها للمناطق النائية أو الضواحي أو المزارعين لأنه ليس هناك مردود ربحي كافٍ  لهم؟

إن كانت الرؤيا التي يقترحها ملتقى التأثير المدني هي حقاً دعم القطاع العام من خلال التشارك معه، فلماذا لا يعمل على تحسين الجهاز الإداري والبشري والفنّي لمؤسسات المياه من دون مقابل؟ الا يُعتبر هذا مساهمةً من القطاع الخاص؟ أو أنّ أي مساهمة منه مشروطة اولاً بتحصيل الأرباح، فيما شراكة المواطنين/ات معه عبر الدولة هي مشروطة بدفع المواطنين/ات تعريفات وفواتير عالية من أجل ضمان أرباحه وذلك دون تأمين الخدمة بالشكل المطلوب؟ فما يُراد من هذا المشروع هو محاولة اخرى لجعلنا جميعاً ندفع من جيوبنا فاتورتين من فواتير الفساد والاستغلال، الأولى للقطاع الخاص، والثانية للسلطة السياسية!

لهذه الاسباب جميعها، تداعينا كمواطنين ومواطنات، الى العمل سوياً من أجل أن تبقى  المياه حقاً يضمنه الدستور اللبناني، وأن تكون المياه مصلحةً وطنيةً وخدمةً عامةً  تحصل عليها جميع فئات المجتمع بشكل عادل وديمقراطي، وتؤمّن لمؤسسات المياه العامة المردود الكافي لتغطية كلفة الإستثمار والصيانة والمعالجة والتوزيع.

بناءً على كل ما ذكرنا، نرفض أن تتحوّل مياه لبنان الى مجرد سلعة للبيع، والى وسيلة لتحصيل الارباح الخاصة؛ وندعو الجميع الى تبنّي مفهوم المياه كحقّ من حقوق الانسان وضمانة لحياته ولسائر الكائنات الحية. ولا يحقّ للسلطة أو غيرها التصرف بها على كونها سلعة أو أنّها “نفط خام أو ذهب” وتسليمها لحيتان القطاع الخاص.

المياه حق وليست ذهباً! شاركونا في ضمان هذا الحق أوقفوا خصخصة المياه في لبنان: أوقفوا بلوغولد!

Sign the petition by clicking here

 

To: Lebanese Government

تداعينا كمواطنين ومواطنات، الى العمل سوياً من أجل أن تبقى المياه حقاً يضمنه الدستور اللبناني، وأن تكون المياه مصلحةً وطنيةً وخدمةً عامةً تحصل عليها جميع فئات المجتمع بشكل عادل وديمقراطي، وتؤمّن لمؤسسات المياه العامة المردود الكافي لتغطية كلفة الإستثمار والصيانة والمعالجة والتوزيع.بناءً على ذلك نرفض أن تتحوّل مياه لبنان الى مجرد سلعة للبيع، والى وسيلة لتحصيل الارباح الخاصة؛ وندعو الجميع الى تبنّي مفهوم المياه كحقّ من حقوق الانسان وضمانة لحياته ولسائر الكائنات الحية. ولا يحقّ للسلطة أو غيرها التصرف بها على كونها سلعة أو أنّها “نفط خام أو ذهب” وتسليمها لحيتان القطاع الخاص.

المياه حق وليست ذهباً! شاركونا في ضمان هذا الحق أوقفوا خصخصة المياه في لبنان: أوقفوا بلوغولد!

Sincerely,
[Your name]

 

Posted by: r.m. | April 9, 2014

Charbel Nahas: Thinking critically about violence

Yesterday, Charbel Nahas spoke at an AUB event entitled ‘A Rupture of Amnesia’ about the Lebanese civil war.  He was his typical self: pushing the audience to think critically.

He did not simply present rote information about the war – numbers of people killed, money lost, etc.  He took us deeper and raised essential contextual points.

What follows are my own notes from Charbel Nahas’ talk. His presentation and his answers to the questions posed in the discussion alone can become a full university semester course.

Speaking from his experience within the Minister (reminder: he was both Minister of Telecommunications and Minister of Labor) and his experience of the Parliament, he said that Parliament (and to a lesser extent, the Ministries) is (are) empty of decisions.  They come to speak loyalties to their own communities. When they declare that they now “want to talk politics,” that is when the public intimidations begin.

He reminded the audience that, contrary to current popular perception, the war in Lebanon did begin with enthusiasm.  People volunteered to fight; it was only a few years later that people were receiving salaries to participate.

While the public memory of the civil war is missing, the private (selective) memories of the war are strong and known.

1. We need to recognize that threats of violence and poverty are used together.  Note. This government threatens us with additional poverty.  And it is all too often that we hear people say that it is good that all the warlords are together in Parliament now; that means they won’t drag us back into war.  Violence and Poverty — two main pillars of intimidation in today’s politics.

2. Violence is not an exception to human life.  It is new that societies have a problem with violence.  Note the extent: we don’t want to see animals killed; we would rather get our meat (those of us who eat meat) from packages presented in such a way as not to resemble the animal itself.  Note the use of drones.

3. Why is there violence in politics? Note that when the weak and the strong fight, this needs to be examined relatively and not with absolute terms.  Violence can arise from many things, including an incorrect assessment of one’s strengths (or the strengths of another) and from bluffing.  Violence can also be presented as the only alternative.

4. Violence negates the daily life, and therefore, by pushing the necessary daily activities aside, violence itself becomes empowered.

5. Violence constructs its players. It is not the players that construct the violence.  Just as stories of wars arise after the wars themselves, the identities of the warring factions arise as a consequence of the violence; they are not the cause of the violence.  Stop: think about this.

6. The warring factions cooperate with their warring opposing parties to remove their own competitors.  (Example: people believing in “x” and fighting “y” will cooperate with “y” to weaken those standing closer to “x” so that “x” and “y” will be left alone in the battlefield. Neither “x” nor “y” want competition on the battlefield.)

7. Neither the losing nor the winning parties arise out of war like they entered into it. The social make up of winning parties is transformed, nationally and internationally.  Without WWI, the Bolshevik revolution would have been harder.  Without WWII, the USSR would have been harder.

8.  Lebanon: When the political parties discovered that the State was disintegrating (post-Chehab), they took part in its disintegration by dismantling state security apparatus and building their own militias.  They instituted a violence of the perception of hegemony.

9. Every war is a civil war.

10.  We in Lebanon have been impacted by the civil war in more ways than numbers of killed, wounded, missing, etc.  Our relationships to each other and ourselves have changed.  Our rush to consumption is indicative of our fatalism.  Our acceptance of fortune tellers is indicative of our sense of impotence, arising from our sense of “defeat” from the war.  Our language is poisoned; the words we use to identify geographical areas in Lebanon has been poisoned.  What does it mean when we say “Jabal” for example?  Think about it.  Our economy has changed, becoming a rentier economy that exports degrees.  Our expectations and ambitions are lowered.

During the Q and A, Charbel Nahas shared other critical elements

* The right to strike is similar to the unequal confrontations between the weak and the strong. A capitalist system is, by nature, undemocratic. The owners dictate to the workers.  There is a small space left open – a space for the unions and workers to strike.  The workers lose when they strike (they don’t get paid) and they cause a loss to the capitalists, and thus force them to the table. Nahas raised the issue of Spinneys. He asked the audience: Would you go to support the workers who were fired when they insisted on the enforcement of the labor law?

* The question of ‘what is the solution’ implies that there is a problem.  There isn’t a problem.  There is a whole system.  So the correct question is: What is to be done?  What is to be done to change the system? First, develop critical thinking.  Be critical thinkers!  Nahas spoke about how disappointed he is with the academic nature of the AUB – and other universities (AUB is not the exception) and their reliance on Multiple Choice questions, on students’ not taking notes in class but merely asking for a textbook to memorize.  Think!  Second, deal with the past and its consequences.  Note the perspectives that are haunting our society.  People are too afraid to demand their rights, scared to lose the ill they know and now have.  Note how people now insist on showing their identities – whether through long beards, large crosses, or wearing the kuffiyes.  To whom are they displaying this identity, either religious or political? Not to others. Rather, it is a display of loyalty to themselves, and it aids to deny the thinking-ability of the other.

* In response to a question about the consequences of the law of amnesty, Nahas spoke about the need to contextualize the responsibility of violence.  The historic, political and societal responsibilities of violence, a responsibility arising from decision – and the absence of decisions – that allowed violence to be accepted, normalized, develop.  These responsibilities are still missing. They need to be created.

* In response to a question about the minimum wage debate (see: http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/204170), Nahas reminded us that from 1995 to 2012, the authorities — all of them, by consensus — abstained from re-examining the minimum wage in relation to inflation, as the law clearly demands.  During all that time, the unions were silent also.  Meanwhile, the concentration of wealth intensified; more people emigrated.  Now, there is is a confrontation between salaried people and those controlling the rentier economy. This confrontation took 2.5 years in the making. And no, a rise in minimum wage will not cause a rise in prices.

* In response to a question about the possibility of nonviolence between the Palestinians and Lebanese during the war, Nahas reminded the audience that the Palestinians cannot be lumped into one group.  Are Yasser Arafat and George Habash one thing?

* In response to a question about the Orthodox Election Proposal (which calls for each religious sect to vote for its own sect, Lebanon one voting district, and proportional representation), he said that the Parliament is currently a farce. No discussions are held in Parliament.  So any attempt to shake it is welcome.

I would love a transcript of his presentation.  Charbel Nahas gave more than I was able to transcribe.  He presented details and details to strengthen the points that he made.  Still the take home message? Be critical thinkers.

Hmm… So, Ziad Sayegh, the CEO of the Civic Influence Hub which is launching the Blue Gold Project, estimates that the project will cost US $5 billion – and that the majority of this money will come from the private sector – but – although the “Lebanon’s private sector will invest, [he] insists the plan does not amount to privatization of the water network.”

Uh… so, the logic is that the private sector will spend billions of dollars into a project, and then allow the public sector – the government – to control the source, distribution, and billing of this network?Really?

Sayegh continues to claim that Blue Gold does not amount to privatization – although in their own Blue Gold booklet, they speak quite clearly that the “private sector must” have control of the distribution, billing, and source of water.  Isn’t that privatization?

What does he want to do?

the vision requires a complete legal and regulatory overhaul of the water sector, including anti-monopoly laws and specific public-private partnership laws, with political top cover to implement. Sayegh hopes to replace the current water authorities, run by the Ministry of Energy and Water, with a National Water Council, a Water Regulatory Authority, a National Monitoring Center and a users’ association, as well as an independent watchdog.

“It’s time to lobby. There is no time to lose. We are working in parallel with the decision-makers and should be ready to submit to the parliament a serious, comprehensive and consultative law for the national water council in three months.”

The devil is in the details.  This “independent watchdog” is already a part of the Civic Influence Hub (as their own booklet indicates), so, not quite ‘independent.”  And this new oversight that Sayegh and company are planning lack transparency and accountability.

No to further privatization!

Yes to cleaning our government from its corruption and mismanagement.

Yes to enabling our government to provide what is our RIGHT: access to clean water to all.

 

 

Those of us who organize and struggle for justice are typically criticized for knowing only what we don’t want and not discussing what we actually do want; no to this, no to that, yes to what?

In many of the classes I teach in environmental sciences at the university, I ask my students to envision the Lebanon they want – with no challenges (except the physical limitations) and no obstacles in their way. We people created these laws and this economy – and we people can change them. So what do you want? All too often, the students have difficulty dreaming big, dreaming wide, dreaming free.

Be realistic, demand the impossible.

Here is one vision of what I do want in Lebanon – and elsewhere, from Al-Akhbar.

An excerpt:

I’ll be in Beirut just in time for the Erasure Festival, held every year to officially inaugurate all the public spaces that were opened the year prior. The festival started after the Council for Urban Development decided to prohibit the flattening of historic buildings, and demolish new buildings instead – buildings that don’t comply with formal and functional qualities that contribute to a good life in a good city. If you’ve been in Beirut in the early 2000s, you would know which buildings I’m talking about.

In place of every demolished building, a new garden, park, or public facility is erected to cater to our cherished communal well-being. Somewhere along the line of a series of tragic urban development strategies, we realized that a nation with a tree on its flag couldn’t neglect its environmental strategy. Better yet, we decided that a green strategy should be our guiding light, a template for our different development plans. It’s been great for us ever since.

Check it out in full here

Let’s keep on our eyes on the prize, as was said in the civil rights struggle in the US. Let’s keep organizing to build a society that is what we want, and not just make do co-existing with what we have.

Dream the impossible. The only dreams worth having.

From Al-Akhbar

ماذا لو قرر أحدهم قطع أنفاسك، وعدم السماح لك بالتنفس إلا بقدر المبلغ الذي يمكنك أن تدفعه؟ فلو جرى ابتكار طريقة ما لاحتكار الهواء والتحكم في مصدره وتوزيعه لما كان هذا المشهد بعيداً جداً عن لبنان. فأمر مشابه يحصل اليوم في المياه، في مشروع يجري التسويق له على أنه «ذهب» أزرق، علماً أنه حقٌّ لا بديل عنه.

وبرغم أن أصحاب مشروع «بلوغولد» يحاولون قدر الإمكان الابتعاد عن استخدام كلمة «خصخصة» في سياق حملات الترويج له، إلا أن «هذا ما يريدون الوصول إليه: خصخصة مصدر المياه وتوزيعها وتسعيرتها، وهذا واضح في كتيبهم»، وفق ما تؤكد رئيسة قسم العلوم البيئية في جامعة البلمند الدكتورة رانية المصري.

Posted by: r.m. | April 3, 2014

Democracy – governments for sale

In the US, the rich buy the government…

 

Yesterday’s devastating Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, aka Citizens United Round 2, further cements our plutocracy, thus “opening the floodgates for the nation’s wealthiest few to drown out the voices of the rest of us.”

In a boon to the role of big money in politics, the U.S. Supreme Court  struck down overall limits on the amount of money individuals can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees during the federal two-year election cycle.

The decision left the cap of $2,600 per election that an individual can give to any single federal candidate but removed the limit on the grand total that can be contributed to all federal candidates.

The ruling means that a single person can write a $5.9 million check for expenditure by candidates, political parties and political committees, according to Public Citizen.

“This is truly a decision establishing plutocrat rights,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, slamming the ruling as a “devastating blow at the very foundation of our democracy.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Freedom of speech, in my view, does not mean the freedom to buy the United States government…What world are the five conservative Supreme Court justices living in? To equate the ability of billionaires to buy elections with ‘freedom of speech’ is totally absurd. The Supreme Court is paving the way toward an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will control our political process.”

Then this government-by-the-rich-and-for-the-rich in the US topples other governments around the world, all, of course, in the name of democracy and freedom and international law.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, governments (local and foreign) buy votes (spending hundreds of millions of dollars).

So – democracy smells like cash, eh?

 

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