Mat Zain: Any DPP can charge the Attorney-General with Abuse of Power

September 30, 2011

Mat Zain: Any DPP can charge the Attorney-General with Abuse of Power

By Shannon Teoh

A former senior police officer called today on deputy public prosecutors to show the “courage and will” to charge the Attorney-General with abuse of power.

Datuk Mat Zain Ibrahim dismissed the notion that Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail is the sole Public Prosecutor as section 376(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) allows his subordinates to bring criminal charges against anyone to court.

“Any DPP has the power to prosecute the A-G if they want to, anyone amongst them who has the courage and will. No one can stop them, not even the prime minister,” the retired city criminal investigation chief said.

Mat Zain has repeatedly accused Abdul Gani of abuses of power, beginning with the 1998 Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s black eye. He has also claimed that an independent three-man panel had investigated criminal allegations against the A-G and one of them concluded the A-G had tampered with three expert reports in the black eye RCI.

“After all, it was just a DPP and not the Solicitor-General or the head of the Prosecution Department of the A-G’s Chambers who closed the investigation on the A-G,” Mat Zain said in a statement today.

Section 376(3) of the CPC states that “the Public Prosecutor may appoint fit and proper persons to be Deputy Public Prosecutors who shall be under the general control and direction of the Public Prosecutor and may exercise all or any of the rights or powers vested in or exercisable by the Public Prosecutor by or under this Code or any other written law except any rights or powers express to be exercisable by the Public Prosecutor personally and he may designate any of the Deputy Public Prosecutors as Senior Deputy Public Prosecutors.”

Mat Zain, who headed investigations into Anwar’s black eye, has also called for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to either form an RCI or a tribunal to investigate Abdul Gani’s conduct.

“If for some strange reasons the Cabinet considers that deceiving, misleading and insulting the Agong and government so blatantly is still a non-issue, then we are in serious trouble,” he said today.

Khalid Samad wins defamation suit against Utusan

September 30, 2011

Khalid Samad wins defamation suit against Utusan

by Hafiz
Sep 30, 11

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has found Utusan Malaysia culpable of libel in publishing a statement incriminating of Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad (left). However, Justice Dr Prasad Sandosham Abraham said Khalid was only entitled to a nominal sum as the court is perplexed over why Bandar Baru Kulim MP Zulkifli Nordin is not named as a defendant.

Justice Dr Prasad Sandosham Abraham said the plaintiff (Khalid) has been successful in proving the statement, which was taken from Zulkifli’s blog, was wrong. “The court rejects the defence of qualified privilege as living in Malaysia we have to subscribe to the sensitivity of all races unlike laws in Australia or the United Kingdom,” he said in his oral judgment.

“All the defendants’ are guilty of downloading the article from the blog without checking the contents (on its sensitivity).”

Sandosham has fixed Oct 11 to hear submission on damages. He said the court found calling someone as Abu Jahal and as a kafir (infidel) is the highest defamation in its mind.

In the suit filed last year, Khalid from PAS, named Utusan Malaysia and Mingguan Malaysia group editor-in-chief Aziz Ishak and the publisher of Utusan Malaysia and Mingguan Malaysia as defendants.

The Shah Alam MP claimed that on September 11, 2009, Aziz, as the Group Editor-in-Chief for both newspapers, with malice, had allowed the publication and printing of defamatory words on him on the front page of the newspapers.

He also claimed that the article entitled ‘Zulkifli bidas Pak Janggut‘ (Zulkifli admonishes Bearded Man) directly or indirectly referred to him even though his name was not mentioned.

‘Media must be sensitive’

Justice Prasad in his judgment said the article has to be taken in its full context as Khalid is the MP for Shah Alam. At that time, two years ago, there was a dispute over a relocation of a temple in Shah Alam.

The judge noted a tremendous departure from the principle of “qualified privilege” in the reasoning which had been mostly cited by the media. “The court is mindful of the fact that we cannot use the reasoning of the Western courts especially in the United Kingdom, Australia and also Canada.”

“I have to adopt the judgment made by former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram in that the media should take into consideration the sensitivities of other races and religions in part due to the nature of Malaysia being made up of so many races. We have to take into consideration of the sensitivities of the people and of diverse races,” he said.

Justice Prasad said the article contains defamation as the court finds that the media cannot say they are practising freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the media as there is a limitation to it.

“In this case, there is some degree of culpability of libel on the part of the publisher and the defence of qualified privilege is not tenable,” he said.

‘Why no action on Zulkifli?’

The judge also commented that the court find it perplexing that Zulkifli is not named in the defamation suit. “Why is Zulkifli (right) not sued? Was it because he was in the same party (coalition) before he had left? The plaintiff (Khalid) did not even ask for the removal of the blog posting which should have been done,” he said.

“I do not know whether this is done accidentally,” he said. Justice Prasad informed the parties that he will write a full judgment on the issue and what he is giving today are the broad grounds.

Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd, which is the publisher of the UMNO-owned daily, was represented by lawyer Mohan Kumar while Azhana Mohd Khairudin appeared for Khalid.

Man Is a Cruel Animal

September 30, 2011

Man Is a Cruel Animal

By Chris Hedges ( 12-22-08)

It was Joseph Conrad* I thought of when I read an article in The Nation magazine this month about white vigilante groups that rose up out of the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to terrorize and murder blacks. It was Conrad I thought of when I saw the ominous statements by authorities, such as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warning of potential civil unrest in the United States as we funnel staggering sums of public funds upward to our bankrupt elites and leave our poor and working class destitute, hungry, without health care and locked out of their foreclosed homes. We fool ourselves into believing we are immune to the savagery and chaos of failed states. Take away the rigid social structure, let society continue to break down, and we become, like anyone else, brutes.

Conrad saw enough of the world as a sea captain to know the irredeemable corruption of humanity. The noble virtues that drove characters like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness into the jungle veiled abject self-interest, unchecked greed and murder. Conrad was in the Congo in the late 19th century when the Belgian monarch King Leopold, in the name of Western civilization and anti-slavery, was plundering the country. The Belgian occupation resulted in the death by disease, starvation and murder of some 10 million Congolese. Conrad understood what we did to others in the name of civilization and progress.

And it is Conrad, as our society unravels internally and plows ahead in the costly, morally repugnant and self-defeating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, whom we do well to heed.

This theme of our corruptibility is central to Conrad. In his short story “An Outpost of Progress” he writes of two white traders, Carlier and Kayerts, who are sent to a remote trading station in the Congo. The mission is endowed with a great moral purpose—to export European “civilization” to Africa. But the boredom and lack of constraints swiftly turn the two men, like our mercenaries and soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, into savages. They trade slaves for ivory. They get into a feud over dwindling food supplies and Kayerts shoots and kills his unarmed companion Carlier.

“They were two perfectly insignificant and incapable individuals,” Conrad wrote of Kayerts and Carlier, “whose existence is only rendered possible through high organization of civilized crowds. Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought belongs not to the individual but to the crowd; to the crowd that believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion. But the contact with pure unmitigated savagery, with primitive nature and primitive man, brings sudden and profound trouble into the heart. To the sentiment of being alone of one’s kind, to the clear perception of the loneliness of one’s thoughts, of one’s sensations—to the negation of the habitual, which is safe, there is added the affirmation of the unusual, which is dangerous; a suggestion of things vague, uncontrollable, and repulsive, whose discomposing intrusion excites the imagination and tries the civilized nerves of the foolish and the wise alike.”

The Managing Director of the Great Civilizing Company—for as Conrad notes “civilization” follows trade—arrives by steamer at the end of the story. He is not met at the dock by his two agents. He climbs the steep bank to the trading station with the captain and engine driver behind him. The director finds Kayerts, who, after the murder, committed suicide by hanging himself by a leather strap from a cross that marked the grave of the previous station chief. Kayerts’ toes are a couple of inches above the ground. His arms hang stiffly down “… and, irreverently, he was putting out a swollen tongue at his Managing Director.”

Conrad saw cruelty as an integral part of human nature. This cruelty arrives, however, in different forms. Stable, industrialized societies, awash in wealth and privilege, can construct internal systems that mask this cruelty, although it is nakedly displayed in their imperial outposts. We are lulled into the illusion in these zones of safety that human beings can be rational.

The “war on terror,” the virtuous rhetoric about saving the women in Afghanistan from the Taliban or the Iraqis from tyranny, is another in a series of long and sordid human campaigns of violence carried out in the name of a moral good.

Those who attempt to mend the flaws in the human species through force embrace a perverted idealism. Those who believe that history is a progressive march toward human perfectibility, and that they have the moral right to force this progress on others, no longer know what it is to be human. In the name of the noblest virtues they sink to the depths of criminality and moral depravity. This self-delusion comes to us in many forms. It can be wrapped in the language of Western civilization, democracy, religion, the master race, Liberté, égalité, fraternité, the worker’s paradise, the idyllic agrarian society, the new man or scientific rationalism. The jargon is varied. The dark sentiment is the same.

Conrad understood how Western civilization and technology lend themselves to inhuman exploitation. He had seen in the Congo the barbarity and disdain for human life that resulted from a belief in moral advancement. He knew humankind’s violent, primeval lusts. He knew how easily we can all slip into states of extreme depravity.

“Man is a cruel animal,” he wrote to a friend. “His cruelty must be organized. Society is essentially criminal,—or it wouldn’t exist. It is selfishness that saves everything,—absolutely everything,—everything that we abhor, everything that we love.”

Conrad rejected all formulas or schemes for the moral improvement of the human condition. Political institutions, he said, “whether contrived by the wisdom of the few or the ignorance of the many, are incapable of securing the happiness of mankind.”

He wrote “international fraternity may be an object to strive for … but that illusion imposes by its size alone. Franchement, what would you think of an attempt to promote fraternity amongst people living in the same street, I don’t even mention two neighboring streets.”

He bluntly told the pacifist Bertrand Russell, who saw humankind’s future in the rise of international socialism, that it was “the sort of thing to which I cannot attach any definite meaning. I have never been able to find in any man’s book or any man’s talk anything convincing enough to stand up for a moment against my deep-seated sense of fatality governing this man-inhabited world.”

Russell (left) said of Conrad: “I felt, though I do not know whether he would have accepted such an image, that he thought of civilized and morally tolerable human life as a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any moment might break and let the unwary sink into fiery depths.”

Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” ripped open the callous heart of civilized Europe. The great institutions of European imperial powers and noble ideals of European enlightenment, as Conrad saw in the Congo, were covers for rapacious greed, exploitation and barbarity. Kurtz is the self-deluded megalomaniac ivory trader in “Heart of Darkness” who ends by planting the shriveled heads of murdered Congolese on pikes outside his remote trading station. But Kurtz is also highly educated and refined.

Conrad describes him as an orator, writer, poet, musician and the respected chief agent of the ivory company’s Inner Station. He is “an emissary of pity, and science, and progress.” Kurtz was a universal genius” and “a very remarkable person.” He is a prodigy, at once gifted and multi-talented. He went to Africa fired by noble ideals and virtues. He ended his life as a self-deluded tyrant who thought he was a god.

“His mother was half-English, his father was half-French,” Conrad wrote of Kurtz. “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by-the-by I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had entrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance. … He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, ‘must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might as of a deity,’ and so on, and so on. ‘By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,’ etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence—of words—of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’

*Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski  is regarded as one of the great novelists in English, although he did not speak the language fluently until he was in his twenties (and then always with a marked Polish accent). He wrote stories and novels, predominantly with a nautical setting, that depict trials of the human spirit by the demands of duty and honour. Conrad was a master prose stylist who brought a distinctly non-English tragic sensibility into English literature[ While some of his works have a strain of romanticism, he is viewed as a precursor of modernist literature. His narrative style and anti-heroic characters have influenced many authors.–wikipedia

Iran at a Crossroads

September 30, 2011

Iran at a Crossroads

By Kamran Bokhari (09-27-11)

Geopolitically, a trip to Iran could not come at a better time. Iran is an emerging power seeking to exploit the vacuum created by the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, which is scheduled to conclude in a little more than three months. Tehran also plays a major role along its eastern border, where Washington is seeking a political settlement with the Taliban to facilitate a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Islamic republic simultaneously is trying to steer popular unrest in the Arab world in its favor. That unrest in turn has significant implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue in which Iran has successfully inserted itself over the years. The question of the U.S.-Iranian relationship also looms — does accommodation or confrontation lie ahead? At the same time, the Iranian state — a unique hybrid of Shiite theocracy and Western republicanism — is experiencing intense domestic power struggles.

This is the geopolitical context in which I arrived at Imam Khomeini International airport late September 16. Along with several hundred foreign guests, I had been invited to attend a September 17-18 event dubbed the “Islamic Awakening” conference, organized by the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Given the state of Iranian-Western ties and my position as a senior analyst with a leading U.S.-based private intelligence company, the invitation came as surprise.

With some justification, Tehran views foreign visitors as potential spies working to undermine Iranian national security. The case of the American hikers jailed in Iran (two of whom were released the day of my return to Canada) provided a sobering example of tourism devolving into accusations of espionage.

Fortunately for me, STRATFOR had not been placed on the list of some 60 Western organizations (mostly American and British think tanks and civil society groups) banned as seditious in early 2010 following the failed Green Movement uprising. Still, the Iranian regime is well aware of our views on Iranian geopolitics.

In addition to my concerns about how Iranian authorities would view me, I also worried about how attending a state-sponsored event designed to further Iranian geopolitical interests where many speakers heavily criticized the United States and Israel would look in the West. In the end, I set my trepidations aside and opted for the trip.

Geopolitical Observations in Tehran

STRATFOR CEO and founder George Friedman has written of geopolitical journeys, of how people from diverse national backgrounds visiting other countries see places in very different ways. In my case, my Pakistani heritage, American upbringing, Muslim religious identity and Canadian nationality allowed me to navigate a milieu of both locals and some 700 delegates of various Arab and Muslim backgrounds. But the key was in the way STRATFOR trains its analysts to avoid the pitfall that many succumb to — the blurring of what is really happening with what we may want to see happen.

The foreigner arriving in Iran immediately notices that despite 30 years of increasingly severe sanctions, the infrastructure and systems in the Islamic republic appear fairly solid. As a developing country and an international pariah, one would expect infrastructure along the lines of North Korea or Cuba. But Iran’s construction, transportation and communications infrastructure shares more in common with apartheid-era South Africa, and was largely developed indigenously.

Also notable was the absence of any visible evidence of a police state. Considering the state’s enormous security establishment and the recent unrest surrounding the Green Movement, I expected to see droves of elite security forces. I especially expected this in the northern districts of the capital, where the more Westernized segment of society lives and where I spent a good bit of time walking and sitting in cafes.

Granted, I didn’t stay for long and was only able to see a few areas of the city to be able to tell, but the only public display of opposition to the regime was “Death to Khamenei” graffiti scribbled in small letters on a few phone booths on Vali-e-Asr Avenue in the Saadabad area. I saw no sign of Basij or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel patrolling the streets, only the kind of police presence one will find in many countries.

This normal security arrangement gave support to STRATFOR’s view from the very beginning that the unrest in 2009 was not something the regime couldn’t contain. As we wrote then and I was able to see firsthand last week, Iran has enough people who — contrary to conventional wisdom — support the regime, or at the very least do not seek its downfall even if they disagree with its policies.

I saw another sign of support for the Islamic republic a day after the conference ended, when the organizers arranged a tour of the mausoleum of the republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. We visited the large complex off a main highway on the southern end of town on a weekday; even so, numerous people had come to the shrine to pay their respects — several with tears in their eyes as they prayed at the tomb.

Obviously, the intensity of religious feelings varies in Iran, but a significant stratum of the public remains deeply religious and still believes in the national narrative of the revolutionary republic. This fact does not get enough attention in the Western media and discourse, clouding foreigners’ understanding of Iran and leading to misperceptions of an autocratic clergy clinging to power only by virtue of a massive security apparatus.

In the same vein, I had expected to see stricter enforcement of religious attire on women in public after the suppression of the Green Movement. Instead, I saw a light-handed approach on the issue. Women obeyed the requirement to cover everything but their hands and faces in a variety of ways. Some women wore the traditional black chador. Others wore long shirts and pants and scarves covering their heads. Still others were dressed in Western attire save a scarf over their head, which was covering very little of their hair.

The dress code has become a political issue in Iran, especially in recent months in the context of the struggle between conservative factions. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has encountered growing opposition from both pragmatic and ultraconservative forces, has come under criticism from clerics and others for alleged moral laxity when it comes to female dress codes. Even so, the supreme leader has not moved to challenge Ahmadinejad on this point.

Ahmadinejad and the Clerical-Political Divide

In sharp contrast with his first term, Ahmadinejad — the most ambitious and assertive president since the founding of the Islamic republic in 1979 — has been trying to position himself as the pragmatist in his second term while his opponents come out looking like hard-liners. In recent months his statements have become less religiously informed, though they have retained their nationalist and radical anti-Western tone.

For example, his speech at the conclusion of the second day of the conference on the theme of the event, Islamic Awakening, was articulated in non-religious language. This stood in sharp contrast to almost every other speaker. Ahmadinejad spoke of recent Arab unrest in terms of a struggle for freedom, justice and emancipation for oppressed peoples, while his criticism of the United States and Israel was couched in terms of how the two countries’ policies were detrimental to global peace as opposed to the raw ideological vitriol that we have seen in the not too distant past.

But while Iran’s intra-elite political struggles complicate domestic and foreign policymaking, they are not about to bring down the Islamic republic — at least not anytime soon. In the longer term, the issue at the heart of all disputes — that of shared governance by clerics and politicians — does pose a significant challenge to the regime. This tension has existed throughout the nearly 32-year history of the Islamic republic, and it will continue to be an issue into the foreseeable future as Iran focuses heavily on the foreign policy front.

Iran’s Regional Ambitions

In fact, the conference was all about Iran’s foreign policy ambitions to assume intellectual and geopolitical leadership of the unrest in the Arab world. Iran is well aware that it is in competition with Turkey over leadership for the Middle East and that Ankara is in a far better position than Iran economically, diplomatically and religiously as a Sunni power. Nevertheless, Iran is trying to position itself as the champion of the Arab masses who have risen up in opposition to autocratic regimes. The Iranian view is that Turkey cannot lead the region while remaining aligned with Washington and that Saudi Arabia’s lack of enthusiasm for the uprisings works in Tehran’s favor.

The sheer number of Iranian officials who are bilingual (fluent in Persian and Arabic) highlights the efforts of Tehran to overcome the ethno-linguistic geopolitical constraints it faces as a Persian country trying to operate in a region where most Muslim countries are Arab. While its radical anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli position has allowed it to circumvent the ethnic factor and attract support in the Arab and Muslim worlds, its Shiite sectarian character has allowed its opponents in Riyadh and elsewhere to restrict Iranian regional influence. In fact, Saudi Arabia remains a major bulwark against Iranian attempts expand its influence across the Persian Gulf and into Arabian Peninsula, as has been clear by the success that the Saudis have had in containing the largely Shiite uprising in Bahrain against the country’s Sunni monarchy.

Even so, Iran has developed some close relations across the sectarian divide, something obvious from the foreign participants invited to the conference. Thus in addition to the many Shiite leaders from Lebanon and Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world, the guest list included deputy Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) chief Ramadan Abdullah Shallah; a number of Egyptian religious, political, intellectual and business notables; the chief adviser to Sudanese President Omar al Bashir as well as the leader of the country’s main opposition party, Sadiq al-Mahdi; a number of Sunni Islamist leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan, including former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani whom I had the opportunity of speaking with only two days before he was assassinated in Kabul; and the head of Malaysia’s main Islamist group, PAS, which runs governments in a few states — just to name a few.

Tehran has had much less success in breaching the ideological chasm, something evidenced by the dearth of secular political actors at the conference. Its very name, Islamic Awakening, was hardly welcoming to secularists. It also did not accurately reflect the nature of the popular agitation in the Arab countries, which is not being led by forces that seek revival of religion. The Middle East could be described as experiencing a political awakening, but not a religious awakening given that Islamist forces are latecomers to the cause.

A number of my hosts asked me what I thought of the conference, prompting me to address this conceptual discrepancy. I told them that the name Islamic Awakening only made sense if one was referring the Islamic world, but that even this interpretation was flawed as the current unrest has been limited to Arab countries.

While speaker after speaker pressed for unity among Muslim countries and groups in the cause of revival and the need to support the Arab masses in their struggle against autocracy, one unmistakable tension was clear. This had to do with Syria, the only state in the Arab world allied with Iran. A number of speakers and members of the audience tried to criticize the Syrian regime’s efforts to crush popular dissent, but the discomfort this caused was plain. Syria has proven embarrassing for Iran and even groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and PIJ, which are having a hard time reconciling their support for the Arab unrest on one hand and supporting the Syrian regime against its dissidents on the other.

The Road Ahead

Attending this conference allowed me to meet and observe many top Iranian civil and military officials and the heads of Arab and other Muslim non-state actors with varying degree of relationships with Tehran. Analyzing them from a distance one tends to dismiss their ideology and statements as rhetoric and propaganda. Some of what they say is rhetoric, but beneath the rhetoric are also convictions.

We in the West often expect Iran to succumb to international pressure, seek rehabilitation in the international community and one day become friendly with the West. We often talk of a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, but at a strategic level, the Iranian leadership has other plans.

While Iran would like normalized relations with Washington and the West, it is much more interested in maintaining its independence in foreign policy matters, not unlike China’s experience since establishing relations with the United States. As one Iranian official told me at the conference, when Iran re-establishes ties with the United States, it doesn’t want to behave like Saudi Arabia or to mimic Turkey under the Justice and Development Party.

Whether or not Iran will achieve its goals and to what extent remains unclear. The combination of geography, demography and resources means Iran will remain at the center of an intense geopolitical struggle, and I hope for further opportunities to observe these developments firsthand.

Read more: Geopolitical Journey: Iran at a Crossroads | STRATFOR

A Free Lunch for America

September 29, 2011

A Free Lunch for America

by J. Bradford DeLong


Former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers (left) had a good line at the International Monetary Fund meetings this year: governments, he said, are trying to treat a broken ankle when the patient is facing organ failure. Summers was criticizing Europe’s focus on the second-order issue of Greece while far graver imbalances – between the EU’s north and south, and between reckless banks’ creditors and governments that failed to regulate properly – worsen with each passing day.

But, on the other side of the Atlantic, Americans have no reason to feel smug. Summers could have used the same metaphor to criticize the United States, where the continued focus on the long-run funding dilemmas of social insurance is sucking all of the oxygen out of efforts to deal with America’s macroeconomic and unemployment crisis.

The US government can currently borrow for 30 years at a real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate of 1% per year. Suppose that the US government were to borrow an extra $500 billion over the next two years and spend it on infrastructure – even unproductively, on projects for which the social rate of return is a measly 25% per year. Suppose that – as seems to be the case – the simple Keynesian government-expenditure multiplier on this spending is only two.

In that case, the $500 billion of extra federal infrastructure spending over the next two years would produce $1 trillion of extra output of goods and services, generate approximately seven million person-years of extra employment, and push down the unemployment rate by two percentage points in each of those years. And, with tighter labor-force attachment on the part of those who have jobs, the unemployment rate thereafter would likely be about 0.1 percentage points lower in the indefinite future.

The impressive gains don’t stop there. Better infrastructure would mean an extra $20 billion a year of income and social welfare. A lower unemployment rate into the future would mean another $20 billion a year in higher production. And half of the extra $1 trillion of goods and services would show up as consumption goods and services for American households.

In sum, on the benefits side of the equation: more jobs now, $500 billion of additional consumption of goods and services over the next two years, and then a $40 billion a year flow of higher incomes and production each year thereafter. So, what are the likely costs of an extra $500 billion in infrastructure spending over the next two years?

For starters, the $500 billion of extra government spending would likely be offset by $300 billion of increased tax collections from higher economic activity. So the net result would be a $200 billion increase in the national debt. American taxpayers would then have to pay $2 billion a year in real interest on that extra national debt over the next 30 years, and then pay off or roll over the entire $200 billion.

The $40 billion a year of higher economic activity would, however, generate roughly $10 billion a year in additional tax revenue. Using some of it to pay the real interest on the debt and saving the rest would mean that when the bill comes due, the tax-financed reserves generated by the healthier economy would be more than enough to pay off the additional national debt.

In other words, taxpayers win, because the benefits from the healthier economy would more than compensate for the costs of servicing the higher national debt, enabling the government to provide more services without raising tax rates. Households win, too, because they get to buy more and nicer things with their incomes. Companies win, because goods and workers get to use the improved infrastructure. The unemployed win, because some of them get jobs. And even bond investors win, because they get their money back, with the interest for which they contracted.

So what is not to like? Nothing. How, you might ask, can I say this? I am an economist – a professor of the Dismal Science, in which there are no free lunches, in which benefits are always balanced by costs, and in which stories that sound too good to be true almost inevitably are.

But there are two things different about today. First, the US labor market is failing so badly that expanded government spending carries no resource cost to society as a whole. Second, bond investors are being really stupid. In a world in which the S&P 500 has a 7% annual earnings yield, nobody should be happy holding a US government 30-year inflation-adjusted bond that yields 1% per year. That six-percentage-point difference in anticipated real yield is a measure of bond investors’ extraordinary and irrational panic. They are willing to pay 6% per year for “safety.”

Right now, however, the US government can manufacture “safety” out of thin air merely by printing bonds. The government, too, would then win by pocketing that 6% per year of value – though 30 years from now, bondholders who feel like winners now would most likely look at their portfolios’ extraordinarily poor performance of over 2011-2041 and rue their strategy.

J. Bradford DeLong, a former assistant secretary of the US Treasury, is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau for Economic Research.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe

September 29, 2011

As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe

by Nicholas Kulish

Published: September 27, 2011

MADRID — Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strike. Israel reels before the largest street demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and Greece take over public squares across their countries.

Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.

They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box. “Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless.”

Economics have been one driving force, with growing income inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social spending breeding widespread malaise. Alienation runs especially deep in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens, erupted into violence.

But even in India and Israel, where growth remains robust, protesters say they so distrust their country’s political class and its pandering to established interest groups that they feel only an assault on the system itself can bring about real change.

Young Israeli organizers repeatedly turned out gigantic crowds insisting that their political leaders, regardless of party, had been so thoroughly captured by security concerns, ultra-Orthodox groups and other special interests that they could no longer respond to the country’s middle class.

In the world’s largest democracy, Anna Hazare, an activist, starved himself publicly for 12 days until the Indian Parliament capitulated to some of his central demands on a proposed anti-corruption measure to hold public officials accountable.

“We elect the people’s representatives so they can solve our problems,” said Sarita Singh, 25, among the thousands who gathered each day at Ramlila Maidan, where monsoon rains turned the grounds to mud but protesters waved Indian flags and sang patriotic songs.

“But that is not actually happening. Corruption is ruling our country.” Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.

The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.

“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”

Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain.

There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge. Someone had to step in, Mr. Levi said, because “the political system has abandoned its citizens.”

The rising disillusionment comes 20 years after what was celebrated as democratic capitalism’s final victory over communism and dictatorship. In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, a consensus emerged that liberal economics combined with democratic institutions represented the only path forward.

That consensus, championed by scholars like Francis Fukuyama in his book “The End of History and the Last Man,” has been shaken if not broken by a seemingly endless succession of crises — the Asian financial collapse of 1997, the Internet bubble that burst in 2000, the sub prime crisis of 2007-8 and the continuing European and American debt crisis — and the seeming inability of policy makers to deal with them or cushion their people from the shocks.

Frustrated voters are not agitating for a dictator to take over. But they say they do not know where to turn at a time when political choices of the cold war era seem hollow. “Even when capitalism fell into its worst crisis since the 1920s there was no viable alternative vision,” said the British left-wing author Owen Jones.

Protests in Britain exploded into lawlessness last month. Rampaging youths smashed store windows and set fires in London and beyond, using communication systems like BlackBerry Messenger to evade the Police. They had savvy and technology, Mr. Jones said, but lacked a belief that the political system represented their interests. They also lacked hope.

“The young people who took part in the riots didn’t feel they had a future to risk,” he said. In Spain, walloped by the developed world’s highest official rate of unemployment, at 21 percent, many have lost the confidence that politicians of any party can find a solution. Their demands are vague, but their cry for help is plaintive and determined. Known as indignados or the outraged, they block traffic, occupy squares and gather for teach-ins.

Ms. Solanas, an unemployed online journalist, was part of the core group of protesters who in May occupied the Puerta del Sol, a public square in Madrid, the capital, touching off a nationwide protest. That night she and some friends started the Twitter account @acampadasol, or “Camp Sol,” which now has nearly 70,000 followers.

While the Spanish and Israeli demonstrations were peaceful, critics have raised concerns over the urge to bypass representative institutions. In India, Mr. Hazare’s crusade to “fast unto death” unless Parliament enacted his anti-corruption law struck some supporters as self-sacrifice. Many opponents viewed his tactics as undemocratic blackmail.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out last month in New Delhi to vent a visceral outrage at the state of Indian politics. One banner read, “If your blood is not boiling now, then your blood is not blood!” The campaign by Mr. Hazare, 74, was intended to force Parliament to consider his anti corruption legislation instead of a weaker alternative put forth by the government.

Parliament unanimously passed a resolution endorsing central pieces of his proposal, and lawmakers are expected to approve an anti-corruption measure in the next session. Mr. Hazare’s anti corruption campaign tapped a deep chord with the public precisely because he was not a politician. Many voters feel that Indian democracy, and in particular the major parties, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have become unresponsive and captive to interest groups. For almost a year, India’s news media and government auditors have exposed tawdry government scandals involving billions of dollars in graft.

Many of the protesters following the man in the white Gandhian cap known as a topi were young and middle class, fashionably dressed and carrying the newest smart phones. Ms. Singh was born in a village and is attending a university in New Delhi. Yet she is anxious about her future and wants to know why her parents go days without power. “We don’t get electricity for 18 hours a day,” she said. “This is corruption. Electricity is our basic need. Where is the money going?”

Responding to shifts in voter needs is supposed to be democracy’s strength. These emerging movements, like many in the past, could end up being absorbed by traditional political parties, just as the Republican Party in the United States is seeking to benefit from the anti-establishment sentiment of Tea Party loyalists. Yet purists involved in many of the movements say they intend to avoid the old political channels.

The political left, which might seem the natural destination for the nascent movements now emerging around the globe, is compromised in the eyes of activists by the neo-liberal centrism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. The old left remains wedded to trade unions even as they represent a smaller and smaller share of the work force. More recently, center-left participation in bailouts for financial institutions alienated former supporters who say the money should have gone to people instead of banks.

The entrenched political players of the post-cold-war old guard are struggling. In Japan, six Prime Ministers have stepped down in five years, as political paralysis deepens. The two major parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, have seen tremendous declines in membership as the Greens have made major gains, while Chancellor Angela Merkel has watched her authority erode over unpopular bailouts.

In many European countries the disappointment is twofold: in heavily indebted federal governments pulling back from social spending and in a European Union viewed as distant and undemocratic. Europeans leaders have dictated harsh austerity measures in the name of stability for the euro, the region’s common currency, rubber-stamped by captive and corrupt national politicians, protesters say.

“The biggest crisis is a crisis of legitimacy,” Ms. Solanas said. “We don’t think they are doing anything for us.” Unlike struggling Europe, Israel’s economy is a story of unusual success. It has grown from a sluggish state-dominated system to a market-driven high-tech powerhouse. But with wealth has come inequality. The protest organizers say the same small class of people who profited from government privatizations also dominates the major political parties. The rest of the country has bowed out of politics.

Mr. Levi, born on Degania, Israel’s first kibbutz, said the protests were not acts of anger but of reclamation, of a society hijacked by a class known in Hebrew as “hon veshilton,” meaning a nexus of money and politics. The rise of market forces produced a sense of public disengagement, he said, a feeling that the job of a citizen was limited to occasional trips to the polling places to vote.

“The political system has abandoned its citizens,” Mr. Levi said. “We have lost a sense of responsibility for one another.”

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Tel Aviv, and Jim Yardley from New Delhi.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 28, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe.