A. Loewenstein Online Newsletter


Reality and rhetoric in Afghanistan


Posted: 04 Apr 2012


Charles Glass in Harpers nails it:

The week of March 20 was supposed to have been Afghanistan’s first without private-security companies on its soil since the American invasion of 2001. However, a few months ago, the Afghan government delayed for a second time its implementation of Presidential Decree 62, promulgated in August 2010, which called for armed men not under government control to leave by the end of that year. The decree—which covers such notorious foreign contractors as Academi (formerly Xe Services and Blackwater), as well as Afghan ones that are often warlord-run militias branded as businesses—promised an end to the free-for-all that had characterized Afghan security for more than a decade. Lobbying by the American government and its allies persuaded President Hamid Karzai to extend the ostensibly non-negotiable deadline to March 20, however. This date has now passed, and nothing has changed.

The Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), which consists of government policemen paid by private clients, is still waiting to assume responsibility for the security of development projects, military bases, supply convoys, and VIPs. BBC reports that the APPF has only 6,000 armed Afghans ready to take over these duties from the estimated 40,000 private-security men now in the country. Last September, senior Afghan official Ashraf Ghani told me that “the objective of establishing full Afghan control of security” was the government’s top priority. The state, he insisted, should have a monopoly on force in the country in order for it to be considered independent. His confidence that Decree 62 would be implemented was strong enough for him to tell me that, by this April, either APPF paramilitary police would be guarding all American bases or “the American soldiers themselves will not be there.” Instead, the American forces are still there, and the APPF isn’t. Nor is the APPF providing security for UN or USAID field projects.

With the deadline blown, the Afghan government is now granting extensions to Afghan and foreign security firms to remain in the country for up to ninety days. These extensions are renewable. Presidential Decree 62 is already riddled with more holes than a house blasted by a predator drone, with exceptions that allow for private embassy security and for military firms to rebrand themselves as “risk management” companies. The APPF itself has institutionalized these exceptions, by signing at least sixteen contracts with “risk management” businesses for the oversight of APPF guards. This sleight-of-hand does little more than subcontract the work of the APPF to private-security companies.

The Afghan state, already so weak that it cannot enforce building codes and property ownership rights in Kabul, is competing with NATO troops (whose actions it has condemned), the Taliban (which controls large parts of the country), warlords of the former Northern Alliance, and armed security guards from scores of companies that are unlikely to disappear soon. Decree 62, initiated to prove the government’s determination to provide national security, is instead demonstrating its impotence.

If India is the future, worry about its 1%


Posted: 04 Apr 2012


India is often heralded as the great hope of the democratic state in the 21st century.

Let the wonderful Arundhati Roy, writing in Outlookshow you otherwise:

Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”

Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked.

But Gush-Up certainly has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.

The word on the street (and in the New York Times) is, or at least was, that after all that effort and gardening, the Ambanis don’t live in Antilla. No one knows for sure. People still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.

In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty rupees a day.

Mukesh Ambani is personally worth $20 billion. He holds a majority controlling share in Reliance Industries Limited (RIL), a company with a market capitalisation of $47 billion and global business interests that include petrochemicals, oil, natural gas, polyester fibre, Special Economic Zones, fresh food retail, high schools, life sciences research and stem cell storage services. RIL recently bought 95 per cent shares in Infotel, a TV consortium that controls 27 TV news and entertainment channels, including CNN-IBN, IBN Live, CNBC, IBN Lokmat, and ETV in almost every regional language. Infotel owns the only nationwide licence for 4G Broadband, a high-speed “information pipeline” which, if the technology works, could be the future of information exchange. Mr Ambani also owns a cricket team.

RIL is one of a handful of corporations that run India. Some of the others are the Tatas, Jindals, Vedanta, Mittals, Infosys, Essar and the other Reliance (ADAG), owned by Mukesh’s brother Anil. Their race for growth has spilled across Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their nets are cast wide; they are visible and invisible, over-ground as well as underground. The Tatas, for example, run more than 100 companies in 80 countries. They are one of India’s oldest and largest private sector power companies. They own mines, gas fields, steel plants, telephone, cable TV and broadband networks, and run whole townships. They manufacture cars and trucks, own the Taj Hotel chain, Jaguar, Land Rover, Daewoo, Tetley Tea, a publishing company, a chain of bookstores, a major brand of iodised salt and the cosmetics giant Lakme. Their advertising tagline could easily be: You Can’t Live Without Us.

According to the rules of the Gush-Up Gospel, the more you have, the more you can have.

The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—Tatas, Jindals, Essar, Reliance, Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.

What’s the next capitalist car? Hamas?


Posted: 04 Apr 2012


Fascinating example of the corporate world trying to appropriate a political position (via Foreign Policy):

In 2003, Volkswagen launched its first ever SUV, the Touareg. ‘”Touareg” literally means “free folk” and is the name of a nomadic tribe from the Sahara,’” they wrote in a press release, explaining their decision to borrow the name of the nomadic North African ethnic group. “A proud people of the desert, the Touareg embody the ideal of man’s ability to triumph over the obstacles of a harsh land. To this day, they have maintained their strong character and self-reliance.”

The “strong character” of the Tuareg — as it’s more typically spelled — has been in the news lately. Tuareg rebels, formerly brought to Libya to be mercenaries for Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime, have been steadily advancing though Northern Mali, capturing several military bases as well as the ancient city of Timbuktu. Believing themselves inadequately equipped to take on the heavily armed Tuareg fighters, a rogue group of Malian army officers overthrew the country’s president last week.

The nominally Muslim Tuareg are reportedly working with local Islamists who have instituted Sharia law on some of the captured towns. Oxfam says that in some parts of the country as much as 70 percent of the population is facing “acute food insecurity.”

I was curious as to whether, with the Tuareg in global headlines, Volkswagen was reconsidering its, in retrospect, odd, decision to name an SUV after an ethnic group that has been involved off-and-on in a low-level insurgency against the government of Mali and Niger since the 1960s. 

“I cannot comment on whether we would consider changing the name of the car. We are not politically involved with this tribe.  We don’t have an opinion on this yet,” said Christian Buhlmann, a spokesman for Volkswagen AG. “I wasn’t even aware of that situation until you told me about it,” he added.


My lecture at Sydney’s Israeli Apartheid Week 2012


Posted: 04 Apr 2012


I gave the following talk at the University of Sydney on 15 March:

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