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The Pros and Cons of Google Adwords PPC

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10 Most Common PPC Mistakes Web Marketers Make

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Sharp increase in global negative views of US, especially among allies ‒ poll

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US Hegemony and Puerto Rico’s Economic Crisis

Timothy Alexander Guzman, Silent Crow News – A major economic crisis is looming in the Caribbean.  Puerto Rico, a US Commonwealth will be the center of attention in the world of finance in the coming months ahead.  Puerto Rico’s economy has been in a recession since 2006 and its bonds are close to junk status.  Puerto Rico is facing an alarming economic downturn that is clearly unsustainable.  The economy is headed for a major collapse, one not seen since the great depression, this time it could be far worse.  Puerto Rico has $70 billion in debt and an underfunded government pension system that will be eventually face cuts which only adds to more economic uncertainties for the population.  Unemployment levels are at 14.7 percent and a mass migration of the Puerto Rican people to the United States in search of better opportunities has taking hold.  Puerto Rico’s economy is dependent upon the United States government and its corporations, which many are pharmaceutical conglomerates.  It is politically and socially a “Colonial Possession” of the United States since the Spanish-American war of 1898.  However, Puerto Rico is not alone.  The United States has other colonial possessions namely Guam, American Samoa in the Pacific and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  France and Great Britain also has “Colonial Possessions” or “Overseas Territories” in a number of regions throughout the world.  Puerto Rico is no exception to the rule; it is a colony that has been exploited politically and economically for more than a century under US rule.

Puerto Rico’s economy is in a dire situation. As of October 2013, the official number of people who are unemployed is at 14.7 percent, perhaps a lot higher if you count those that have dropped out of the labor force because they are no longer looking for employment opportunities.  The Public debt is currently at $70 Billion and increasing daily. Early this month an article written by Justin Velez-Hagan who is executive director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce for Forbes magazine titled ‘Default: Puerto Rico’s Inevitable Option’ describes what lead to Puerto Rico’s debt crises:

With triple tax exemption (federal, state, and local), combined with higher-than-average yields, Puerto Rican bonds became so popular in recent years that it was able to rack up $70 billion of debt now held by institutional investors and mutual funds alike. The debt-to-GDP ratio is now nearly 70% and growing, not including pension obligations, which raises the ratio to over 90%. With a per capita debt load of $19,000 and growing, Puerto Ricans shoulder almost 4 times the burden of U.S. leader Massachusetts which carries a deficit of $5,077 per citizen

Puerto Rico’s debt is 4 times larger than Massachusetts who Velez-Hagan acknowledges as the most indebted state per citizen with $19,000. The Washington Post also sounded alarm bells concerning Puerto Rico’s economic crises. In ‘Puerto Rico, with at least $70 billion in debt, confronts a rising economic misery’ Michael A. Fletcher describes what the commonwealth faces with cuts to pensions and government jobs and a rise in taxes all across the board including small and big businesses causing a migration of Puerto Ricans to major US cities:

The economy here has been in recession for nearly eight years, crimping tax revenue and pushing the jobless rate to nearly 15 percent. Meanwhile, the government is burdened by staggering debt, spawning comparisons to bankrupt Detroit and forcing lawmakers to severely slash pensions, cut government jobs and raise taxes in a furious effort to avert default.

The implications are serious for Americans outside Puerto Rico both because a taxpayer bailout would be expensive and a default would be far more disruptive than Detroit’s record bankruptcy filing in July. Officials in San Juan and Washington are adamant that a federal bailout is not on the table, but the situation is being closely monitored by the White House, which recently named an advisory team to help Puerto Rican officials navigate the crisis.

The island’s problems have ignited an exodus not seen here since the 1950s, when 500,000 people left for jobs on the mainland. Now Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, are again leaving in droves.  They are choosing the uncertainty of the job market in Orlando or New York City or Philadelphia over what they view as the certainty that their dreams would be crushed by the U.S. territory’s grinding economic problems.

Bloomberg Businessweek also published an article with concerns affecting the “Muni-Bond Market” that can rattle Wall Street’s Mutual Fund companies. ‘Puerto Rico’s Borrowing Binge Could Rock the Muni-Bond Market’ stated the facts:

The island’s plight affects almost anyone with a mutual fund invested in the municipal-bond market. Exempt from local, state, and federal taxes in the U.S., Puerto Rican bonds are held by 77 percent of muni funds, according to research firm Morningstar (MORN). About 180 funds, including ones run by OppenheimerFunds, Franklin Templeton Investments (BEN), and Dreyfus (BK), have 5 percent of their assets or more in Puerto Rican bonds.

General-obligation bonds, or GOs, which account for about 15 percent of the commonwealth’s public debt, carry the lowest investment-grade rating from Moody’s Investors Service (MCO) and S&P. A downgrade could force many mutual funds to sell part of their Puerto Rican holdings, flooding the market. “Puerto Rico could represent a systemic issue for the municipal-bond market,” says Carlos Colón de Armas, an economist and former official of the Government Development Bank, which conducts the island’s capital-markets transactions. “We are now in a situation where the bonds are trading like junk. I think the ratings agencies have been careful not to lower the GOs further, to avoid creating havoc in the muni-bond market.”

The Obama administration is sending a team of economic advisors according to Bloomberg News last month “With a $70 billion debt load and a substantially underfunded government pension system, the island has fueled market speculation it may need a bailout from Washington.” The report also stated what was on the agenda:

Most of the group’s work will focus on improving Puerto Rico’s management of federal funds to ensure officials are getting the amounts they are entitled to and putting them to effective use, according to the officials.  “There is less here than some people think,” said Jeffrey Farrow, who served as the Clinton White House’s liaison on Puerto Rican affairs. “This is pretty straightforward and an extension of what they have been doing in the past, but more intense, formalized and public.”

The first team of officials was scheduled to be from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Health, Education and Housing and Urban Development departments, officials said.  Puerto Rico’s education, health and housing departments are among of the biggest recipients of federal funding and have also been responsible for past Puerto Rico budget shortfalls.

The EPA’s intervention may stem from concerns regarding the ability of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to comply with new federal air quality regulations that take effect in 2015.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of the agencies participating under Washington’s request. Washington has required that the Puerto Rico government and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) comply with new federal air quality regulations by 2015. The online news source Caribbean Business reported back on July 11th, 2013 ‘PREPA falling behind on 2015 EPA Deadline’ that Puerto Rico is in a race to meet Washington’s air-quality standards by 2015:

A high-ranking regulatory official is concerned that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) isn’t moving fast enough to comply with strict federal air-quality standards taking effect in two years, as industry sources told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS that key decisions on the compliance process won’t be taken until next spring.  Prepa plans to either close or convert most of its oil-firing units to natural gas to comply with the new air-quality standards, but it won’t select a liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplier and decide on a method to deliver the gas to north-coast plants until March 2014, according to industry sources. That means the final contracts would probably not be enacted and finalized until the fourth quarter of 2014, they added.

Meanwhile, Prepa has an agreement with Texas-based Excelerate Energy to construct an offshore LNG terminal to feed the massive Aguirre powerplant in Guayama. A formal application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was filed in April and the project remains in the permitting phase. Excelerate officials have said they expect the facility to be in service in early 2015, but that outlook depends on getting timely federal approval on its environmental impact statement and several permits.

Puerto Rico’s plan to convert most of its oil-firing units to natural gas will have an impact on its economy. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) does not have the economic capacity to invest in the construction of new plants that would supply natural gas. “While the cash-strapped public utility can’t afford to build its own plants, there is interest from large energy companies to construct new generation units through public-private partnerships (P3s)” the report stated. “That is especially the case because the move to natural gas isn’t just about compliance, but about bringing down power costs.” Caribbean Business said that Edgardo Fábregas, a former member of PREPA’s board confirmed that the public utility is considering a plan to construct a gas-fired plant “The former Prepa board member said the public utility was considering a longer-term plan to construct, through a P3 initiative, a massive natural gas-fired plant, probably on the site of Arecibo’s Cambalache plant, which is rarely used.” The report also said that Fábregas admitted to the costs associated with the project:

To do a project right, building a plant that could “flex up or down” rapidly and would have the capacity to power the entire north coast, would cost $7 billion, and take six years to build. The project would allow for the elimination of the Palo Seco and San Juan plants, Fábregas said. “We have to move to natural gas as soon as we can, but at the end of the day, you have to renew your system. I understand the cost and time implications involved, but if we don’t start, we will never finish,” he added.

According to Robert Bryce, a senior fellow with the Center for Energy Policy and the Environment at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank based in New York City produced a report called ‘The High Cost of Renewable-Electricity Mandates’. He wrote about the effects of Washington’s new air-quality proposal:

Motivated by a desire to reduce carbon emissions, and in the absence of federal action to do so, 29 states (and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have required utility companies to deliver specified minimum amounts of electricity from “renewable” sources, including wind and solar power. California recently adopted the most stringent of these so-called renewable portfolio standards (RPS), requiring 33 percent of its electricity to be renewable by 2020.  Proponents of the RPS plans say that the mandated restrictions will reduce harmful emissions and spur job growth, by stimulating investment in green technologies.

But this patchwork of state rules—which now affects the electricity bills of about two-thirds of the U.S. population as well as countless businesses and industrial users—has sprung up in recent years without the benefit of the states fully calculating their costs.  There is growing evidence that the costs may be too high—that the price tag for purchasing renewable energy, and for building new transmission lines to deliver it, may not only outweigh any environmental benefits but may also be detrimental to the economy, costing jobs rather than adding them.  The mandates amount to a “back-end way to put a price on carbon,” says one former federal regulator. Put another way, the higher cost of electricity is essentially a de facto carbon-reduction tax, one that is putting a strain on a struggling economy and is falling most heavily, in the way that regressive taxes do, on the least well-off among residential users.

To be sure, the mandates aren’t the only reason that electricity costs are rising—increased regulation of coal-fired power plants is also a major factor—and it is difficult to isolate the cost of the renewable mandates without rigorous cost-benefit analysis by the states.

The new mandate is called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that automatically “require electricity providers to supply a specified minimum amount of power to their customers from sources that qualify as “renewable,” a category that includes wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal.” The report clarified what the results of the new energy plan would bring:

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is similarly bullish on the state programs. The RPS rules are designed “to stimulate market and technology development,” the agency says, “so that, ultimately renewable energy will be economically competitive with conventional forms of electric power. States create RPS programs because of the energy, environmental, and economic benefits of renewable energy.”[4]

Although supporters of renewable energy claim that the RPS mandates will bring benefits, their contribution to the economy is problematic because they also impose costs that must be incorporated into the utility bills paid by homeowners, commercial businesses, and industrial users. And those costs are or will be substantial. Electricity generated from renewable sources generally costs more—often much more—than that produced by conventional fuels such as coal and natural gas. In addition, large-scale renewable energy projects often require the construction of many miles of high-voltage transmission lines. The cost of those lines must also be incorporated into the bills paid by consumers.

What Edgardo Fábregas forgets to mention is that Bryce’s analysis on the price of producing electricity through renewable energy sources can be astronomical. It is an amazing prediction given by the EPA under the Obama administration’s directives. It is important to note that the major players in the RPS programs are connected to Wall Street and major banks that includes Goldman Sachs who is one of President Obama’s major campaign contributors. Author and journalist Matt Taibbi wrote an article on the history of Goldman Sachs and the US government’s relationship for Rolling Stone magazine called ‘The Great American Bubble Machine’. Taibbi explains how Goldman Sachs would benefit from Washington’s air-quality mandates:

The new carbon credit market is a virtual repeat of the commodities-market casino that’s been kind to Goldman, except it has one delicious new wrinkle: If the plan goes forward as expected, the rise in prices will be government-mandated. Goldman won’t even have to rig the game. It will be rigged in advance.

Here’s how it works: If the bill passes, there will be limits for coal plants, utilities, natural-gas distributors and numerous other industries on the amount of carbon emissions (a.k.a. greenhouse gases) they can produce per year. If the companies go over their allotment, they will be able to buy “allocations” or credits from other companies that have managed to produce fewer emissions. President Obama conservatively estimates that about $646 billion worth of carbon credits will be auctioned in the first seven years; one of his top economic aides speculates that the real number might be twice or even three times that amount.

The feature of this plan that has special appeal to speculators is that the “cap” on carbon will be continually lowered by the government, which means that carbon credits will become more and more scarce with each passing year. Which means that this is a brand new commodities market where the main commodity to be traded is guaranteed to rise in price over time. The volume of this new market will be upwards of a trillion dollars annually; for comparison’s sake, the annual combined revenues of all electricity suppliers in the U.S. total $320 billion.

One other important factor to consider regarding Puerto Rico’s energy demands in the future is the supply of natural gas. Puerto Rico is hoping to secure a steady supply of natural gas from the United States for the next 100 years. “A key part of the plan is to secure a long-term LNG contract with the U.S., which has the most economical prices in the world, the result of a boon in U.S. natural gas exploration, which has unearthed a supply that experts say will last a century” according to the Caribbean Business report.  In the 2012 State of the Union Address, US President Barack Obama said “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years, and my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.” F. William Endahl, a research associate at Global Research wrote a ground breaking report, ‘The Fracked-up USA Shale Gas Bubble’ wrote that the 100 year supply of natural gas is in fact an inaccurate prediction:

In a sobering report, Arthur Berman, a veteran petroleum geologist specialized in well assessment, using existing well extraction data for major shale gas regions in the US since the boom started, reached sobering conclusions. His findings point to a new Ponzi scheme which well might play out in a colossal gas bust over the next months or at best, the next two or three years. Shale gas is anything but the “energy revolution” that will give US consumers or the world gas for 100 years as President Obama was told.

Berman wrote already in 2011, “Facts indicate that most wells are not commercial at current gas prices and require prices at least in the range of $8.00 to $9.00/mcf to break even on full-cycle prices, and $5.00 to $6.00/mcf on point-forward prices. Our price forecasts ($4.00-4.55/mcf average through 2012) are below $8.00/mcf for the next 18 months. It is, therefore, possible that some producers will be unable to maintain present drilling levels from cash flow, joint ventures, asset sales and stock offerings.” [16]

Berman continued, “Decline rates indicate that a decrease in drilling by any of the major producers in the shale gas plays would reveal the insecurity of supply. This is especially true in the case of the Haynesville Shale play where initial rates are about three times higher than in the Barnett or Fayetteville. Already, rig rates are dropping in the Haynesville as operators shift emphasis to more liquid-prone objectives that have even lower gas rates. This might create doubt about the paradigm of cheap and abundant shale gas supply and have a cascading effect on confidence and capital availability.” [17]

What Berman and others have also concluded is that the gas industry key players and their Wall Street bankers backing the shale boom have grossly inflated the volumes of recoverable shale gas reserves and hence its expected supply duration. He notes, “Reserves and economics depend on estimated ultimate recoveries (EUR) based on hyperbolic, or increasingly flattening, decline profiles that predict decades of commercial production. With only a few years of production history in most of these plays, this model has not been shown to be correct, and may be overly optimistic….Our analysis of shale gas well decline trends indicates that the Estimated Ultimate Recovery per well is approximately one-half the values commonly presented by operators.” [18] In brief, the gas producers have built the illusion that their unconventional and increasingly costly shale gas will last for decades.

However, Caribbean Business says that “Prepa has invited several suppliers to bid on a project to supply the north-coast plants with natural gas. It is spelling out its gas needs at its Palo Seco and San Juan plants, letting the energy companies decide the best way to supply the natural gas” and that “Prepa has made some progress on its natural gas conversion plan, which energy experts say is the only way to bring down the high cost of electricity.” Allowing energy companies decide how to supply gas would add to the price in the long run. Russia Today recently reported that “fracking technology” is causing major environmental problems within the United States. Since 2008, the state of Texas has been experiencing more earthquakes than ever before:

Between 1970 and 2007, the area around the Texas town of Azle (pop. 10,000) experienced just two earthquakes. The peace and quiet began to change, however, at the start of 2008, when 74 minor quakes were reported in the region. Now an increasing number of people, including scientists, are speculating that natural gas production by fracking – a process that forces high pressure water and chemicals into rock in order to extract natural gas reserves – is the culprit. The problem, however, is proving the claims.

Cliff Frolich, earthquake researcher at the University of Texas, said waste water injection wells from fracking could be responsible for the recent spate of earthquake activity. “I’d say it certainly looks very possible that the earthquakes are related to injection wells,” he said in an interview with KHOU television.

Frolich left room for doubt when he said thousands of such wells have operated in Texas for decades with no quakes anywhere near them. Frolich co-authored a 2009 study on earthquake activity near Cleburne, just south of Azle, which concluded: “The possibility exists that earthquakes may be related to fluid injection.” A recent government study lent credence to Frolich’s findings.

There have been Anti-fracking protests around the world. Fracking or “hydraulic fracturing” is a water-intensive process where millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals combined are injected underground with intensive pressure to fracture rocks that surround an oil or gas well. This process then releases extra oil and gas from the rock which flows into the well. “Fracking Technology” is proving to be environmentally dangerous for the health and safety of communities located in close proximity to these well sites. It causes many problems for the air we breathe and long-term environmental damage. For example, water can become contaminated from the toxins fracking has caused. It is an environmental hazard.

EPA rules and regulations also have the potential to impose a “carbon tax option” for states according to The Hill, A Washington D.C. based daily newspaper reported last month that Brookings Institution economist Adele Morris said that a carbon excise tax can be imposed on states:

Morris, a carbon tax supporter, argues that a carbon excise tax could be part of the “menu of specific approaches” that the agency gives states that will craft plans to meet the federal guidelines. Morris suggests that the EPA could “allow states to adopt a specific state-level excise tax or fee on the carbon content of fuels combusted by the power plants regulated under this rule.”

In other words, an excise tax associated with renewable energy supplies can be added only leading to higher energy costs for households, businesses and major industries. It would also allow Puerto Rico to contribute to the environmental degradation because of its future demands of natural gas which has no guarantee of supplies for the next 100 years. It is a recipe for disaster for both the economy and the environment.

 Will new EPA rules bankrupt farmers?

It is estimated that Puerto Rico imports at least 85% of the food supply from the United States according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. ‘Puerto Rico Imports 85 Percent of Its Food’ stated that “Puerto Rico imports 85 percent of the food its residents consume due to the lack of competitiveness among companies in this U.S. commonwealth, Agriculture Secretary Javier Rivera told Efe.” Agriculture Secretary Rivera admits that the majority of food is imported from the United States even though Puerto Rico has the capability to produce its own food, but cannot compete with US food suppliers. Rivera continued “Although we have the technical capacity, we’re not able to produce competitively” Why? “The secretary attributed the drop in production to the high operating costs of growing food on the island, which are, in turn, a result of high labor costs, as well as rising energy and fertilizer prices. Rivera acknowledged that therefore many farmers – of which there are fewer than 2,000 on the island, according to recent statistics – have come to depend on government subsidies to stay in business.” With new EPA regulations, remaining farmers will bear higher-energy costs because of the EPA’s new federal air quality regulations that will start in 2015. Agriculture on the island would be affected and farmers would be economically bankrupt when energy prices begin to rise.

From the 1929 Great Depression to the Recession of 2014

Looking back to the 1930’s, Puerto Rico was in economic despair due to the effects of the Great Depression. In 1940, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) under the leadership of Washington’s puppet governor Luis Munoz Marin came to power with 37.9% of the vote compared to 39.2% of the Republican-Socialist coalition. The PPD also won the 1944 elections with 64.8% of the vote. The PPD was determined to transform Puerto Rico’s economy from an Agricultural farm-based to an export-driven modern industrial economy.

The US and Puerto Rico governments wanted to fast track the urbanization in many areas from a rural society to a modern, industrial urban center that would resemble New York City’s economy. For a short period of time, the project did increase living wages, improved housing conditions, health care and education. It also led to equitable land reforms,. At the same time the plan increased unemployment rates because many Puerto Ricans were unqualified for the types of jobs the new Industrial economy provided. It increased the migration levels to the United States, namely New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Puerto Rico became more dependent on U.S. markets and created more public and private debts. The most important aspect of US economic and political control of Puerto Rico was the cultural transformation of the population. It became what sociologist call “Americanization”. They were subjected to American culture, media, laws, and even its foods under Washington’s economic and social plan. In ‘Economic History of Puerto Rico: Institutional Change and Capitalist Development’ by James L. Dietz, professor of economics and Latin American studies at California State University wrote:

Industrialization and the accompanying decline of agriculture after the late 1940s did nothing to expand and make permanent the relative autonomy of the early 1940s. Instead, the PPD program had just the opposite result: it laid the foundation for increased dominance by U.S. capital from the 1950s to the present. The PPD’s goal of eventual political independence, after the attainment of social justice and a solution to the island’s economic problems, faded further into the future and eventually disappeared altogether. It may be that Munoz and the PPD never really were committed to independence, as many have suggested, but it is more likely that, as the PPD’s redirection of the economy under Munoz’s leadership tied its destiny ever closer to that of the United States, what they had became what they wanted as what they had wanted slipped further and further from their grasp

In ‘How an Economy Grows and why it Crashes’ author and economist Peter Schiff stated that “The evidence supporting these claims is largely emotional. What is far more certain is that the government’s monopoly control of public projects and services almost always leads to inefficiency, corruption, graft, and decay.” Puerto Rico’s economy was under US control then as it is now. Dietz says that “From 1941 to 1949, the government followed a program of land reform, control over and development of infrastructure and institutions, administrative organization, and limited industrialization through factories owned and operated by the government.” Comparing to what Peter Schiff said the Puerto Rican government’s control of certain economic sectors led to numerous “inefficiencies” and “Decay.” The bleak economic growth of Puerto Rico did not improve through a program called ‘Operacion Manos a la Obra’ or ‘Operation Bootstrap’ in English. It was known as “Industrialization by Invitation” to attract foreign investment. It failed in the long-run. Dietz further wrote:

“Yet Operation Bootstrap made it difficult for Puerto Ricans to improve their standard of living through their own efforts, since it put control over that process in the hands of U.S. firms, whose interests did not necessarily coincide with those of the majority on the island. It is likely that no one consciously intended such results from a development program that seemed so promising, but Puerto Rico’s colonial relation with the United States prevented, or at a minimum made more difficult, a more independent existence for the economy and society”

Puerto Rico’s dependence on the US mainland became evident as the years went by, but right from the beginning of World War II, Puerto Rico’s economy suffered.  “The war shut Puerto Rico off from its primary export market and source of imported goods, and meanwhile, there were no war industries to absorb surplus labor; consequently, unemployment increased” according to Dietz.  Today, Puerto Rico is suffering from a recession that started in 2006. In another report by Caribbean Business ‘PR reverses growth forecast, now predicts another year of recession’ and stated the dire predictions by the government of Puerto Rico, “The Puerto Rico government has dropped expectations for economic growth this fiscal year as the island struggles to pull out of a marathon downturn dating back to 2006. The Planning Board said Friday it is now projecting that the economy will shrink by 0.8 percent in fiscal 2014, dropping its previous forecast for razor-thin growth of 0.2 percent.” Puerto Rico’s economy will continue to decline as the US economy continues with its own economic problems. It will become more difficult as time progresses for Puerto Rico.

The Collapsing US Dollar and the Fall of Rome   

The US Dollar as a the world’s reserve currency is in its last stages because the US owes trillions of dollars in household, corporate and financial debt and future underfunded welfare liabilities.  The demand for U.S. dollars kept prices and interest rates low. It allowed the U.S. government to acquire the economic power it needed to dominate the world economically. It allowed the Federal Reserve Bank to print dollars unconditionally. Although the US dollar is still dominate with more the 50% of foreign currency reserves in the world, a gradual transition for other currencies is coming in the near future. The dollar will eventually lose its value. Interest rates on every loan and credit card will rise.

This is a recipe for disaster, because if a country such as Puerto Rico cannot produce its own food and is dependent on a foreign source that is the most indebted nation in world history with more than $17 trillion dollars in debt which continues to increase each passing day is a serious problem for Puerto Rico’s future. Tyler Durden of zerohedge.com provided a chart in 2012 to show the fiscal danger the United States faces in the near future. Durden explains:

We present the following chart showing total US Federal debt/GDP as well as Deficit/(Surplus)/GDP since inception, or in this case as close as feasible, or 1792, which appears to be the first recorded year of historical fiscal data. We can see why readers have been so eager to see the “real big picture” – the chart is nothing short of stunning.

The Election of Matteo Renzi and the Future of Italian Trade Unions

Matteo Renzi, mayor of Florence, was recently elected leader of the Italian Partito Democratico(Democratic Party). All Italians could vote in the contest. Between two and three million Italians (depending on your sources) turned out to cast a vote in the leadership contest with Renzi amassing almost 70% of the vote. With this clear mandate Renzi, at 38, becomes the youngest general secretary of the PD. His criticism of the political class has been scathing and the venom was not reserved for rival political parties. Instead of sparing his left-wing cohorts Renzi built his campaign around the idea that the PD needed a root-and-branch renewal. In this guest post, Darragh Golden assesses the implications of Renzi’s appointment for Italy’s largest left-wing party. Moreover, how will the relationship between political party and trade unions evolve? And what will the implications be for Italian parliamentary democracy in the immediate future?


Italy’s Left-Wing Movement

Photo by framino
Since the political earthquake of the early 1990s the Italian Left has undergone a number of evolutions (and leaders). For starters social democracy was chosen over communism with the Partito Comunista Italiana becoming the Partito Democratico di Sinistra. Absorbing a number of smaller parties the latter then became the Democratici di Sinistra(DS). Again further steps were taken to distance the party from its communist past with the removal of the hammer and sickle as the official party emblem. In 2007 the DS morphed once again and dropped the sinistra from the party name to become the currently named Partito Democratico. The colours of the national flag were adopted as the party logo.
     
Renzi has been recognized as a proponent of Third Way politics. Stylistically, he has the charismatic attributes that were associated with Blair in the mid-1990s. His speeches are delivered with gusto and often accompanied with visuals in the background. His energy and enthusiasm is reminiscent of Berlusconi twenty-years ago and Renzi will undoubtedly appeal to disaffected voters of the centre-right which too is undergoing its own identity crisis. He has become popular by declaring war on the ‘old guard’ of the political party. In his sights are the likes of D’Alema. Dismay with the current PD prime minister, Enrico Letta, has also been expressed. There is, however, another twist in the Italian saga.

Upon the election of Renzi, the likelihood of snap elections being called was not entirely implausible. Whatever hopes of an early election might have been dashed by a finding by the Constitutional Court which declared the Italian electoral law unconstitutional. This means that parliament needs to pass a new electoral law before elections can take place. Given the political nature of such a law, its formulation might take some time. Meanwhile the impatience of Italians is starting to show (see below).   

I am, however, more concerned with the substance rather than style of Matteo Renzi. Amongst other things Renzi has mentioned re-writing the Italian constitution. He has mooted pension and public sector reform as well as tax reductions. According to Renzi, labour policy needs to be ‘emancipated’ from the grip of the trade unions. On the bigger economic questions Renzi remains ambiguous. He has, however, mentioned that he will take the European Commission to task on its policy of competitive austerity.


Renzi and the Unions

The election of Renzi over the CGIL-backed candidate, Cuperlo, as general secretary of the PD does not bode well for the relationship between the party and the Italian unions, especially the CGIL. The CGIL leadership has been critical of Renzi since his first failed attempt at becoming party leader over a year ago. This is down primarily to Renzi’s proposals which include the need for greater labour market flexibility. He has also stated that labour market policy needs to be ‘emancipated’ from the grip of the trade unions. “The trade union is dead, if it doesn’t change”, Renzi exclaimed. 


Matteo Renzi, Photo by Il Fatto Quotidiano

Leader of the CGIL, Susanna Camusso, too has recently spoken of the need for change. Nevertheless, the change she has in mind is more likely to set the CGIL and Renzi on a collision course rather than ameliorate relations. At a recent conference in Bologna, Camusso declared that general strikes are no longer effective, which might be interpreted as saying that more radical actions are required. Should this prove to be the case then the leadership of the PD and the CGIL are on an inevitably confrontational course. The latter, however, are not without their woes. Internally the Camusso leadership has been criticised by the leader of the metalworkers’ federation (FIOM), Maurizio Landini.

Writing in the pages of La Repubblica Landini has slated the CGIL leadership for signing social pacts with the employers’ association Confindustria. “A pact with Confindustria”, he writes, “would be a choice dictated by fear, an escape from reality. We should have the courage not to sign pacts with no sense but look for innovative agreements based on mediation and exchange.” Perhaps Camusso’s recent statement is one of intent more along the lines of Landini? Another alternative, albeit an ambitious and complicated one, is an agreed agenda between the three trade union confederations on questions of political economy.

Although the CGIL and the PD are not formally affiliated there are strong historical links between the two. Upon Renzi’s election, Camusso commented on the “need for dialogue, but in the spirit of mutual autonomy.”  The term ‘autonomy’ has been a much (ab)used term in trade union circles. With Renzi’s appointment the term might regain some of its authenticity again more along the lines of FIOM and Landini. Such approaches, however, raise an important question: How much can a trade union achieve without political support? Again there are similarities with Blair’s strategy in the UK to put clear water between the Labour Party and the unions. What lessons can we learn from this?


The Future of Italian Democracy

Italian democracy and politics are in crisis. The centre-right party has split. Supporters of Berlusconi exited from the governing coalition. Nevertheless, the coalition, led by Enrico Letta, survived as thirty senators refused to follow Berlusconi’s order. One of the thirty included Berlusconi’s protégé Alfano, who was being primed to replace Berlusconi as leader. Currently, the leaders of the main Italian political parties are not members of parliament. Renzi (PD), Berlusconi (neo-Forza Italia), Grillo (Movimento 5 Stelle) and Salvini of Lega Nord are all extra-parliamentary leaders. What implications does this have for parliamentary democracy? Renzi aside, the other leaders are vociferously critical of the European Union.

Currently, waves of protests are taking place in numerous cities up and down the Italian peninsula. Spearheaded by transporters and farmers against the increasing price of petrol the composition of the protest groups is becoming increasingly varied. Dubbed the Forconi or pitchfork movement the protests have brought together students, the unemployed, farmers, truckers, neo-fascists, ‘ultra’ football fans and alter-globalists.  

Photo by mtmsphoto
While these protests might not come as any great surprise, given Italy’s anaemic economic performance and a paucity of political leadership to introduce political reforms, there remain a number of unanswered questions. It seems clear that the various groups are united when it comes to the Italian political class and political system. Nevertheless, questions regarding the origins, true agenda and leadership remain unanswered. Despite these open questions, some politicians, such as Beppe Grillo (M5S) and Lega Nord, have been quick to piggyback on the unrest. The former has constructed his 5-Star Movement against political patronage and the political class writ large. Neither Matteo Renzi nor the trade unions are exempt from Grillo’s critique.

Contextual conditions are important and it is in times of crisis that alliances are formed or divisions are crystallised. Should an anti-EU right-wing mobilization emerge as a powerful force, the new leadership of the PD might be more reluctant to distance itself from the trade union movement. This remains to be seen, but what seems clear is that the Italian peninsula is in turmoil.


Darragh Golden is a Ph.D. student at University College Dublin (UCD) and currently a member of the Transnational Labour Project at the Centre for Advanced Study in Oslo. His research is focused on the assessment of the positions of Italian and Irish unions on European integration since the mid-1980s.

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On 24 and 25 June, I participated in the first meeting of the Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights’ (SIGTUR) Futures Commission. The meeting was hosted by Eddie Webster in the Chris Hani Institute in Johannesburg/South Africa and supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. A group of left-wing intellectuals and trade union representatives was entrusted with the task to undertake the first steps towards developing concrete alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation. In this post, I will reflect on some of the key discussions during the two days.


Colonialism and the question of capitalism

It became clear early on that the location of the workshop and the background of the participants mattered. SIGTUR is an initiative of trade unions in the Global South including Australian, South Korean, Indian, Brazilian and Argentinian trade unions in addition to COSATU from South Africa. One of the key aspects they have in common, with the exception of Australian unions, is their joint history of colonialism and liberation struggles. Unsurprisingly, neo-liberal globalisation is not simply regarded as the latest epoch of capitalism. It is viewed as a continuation of colonial policies, characterised by the extraction of minerals and agricultural goods for the industries of developed countries as well as the destruction of home grown industries. These policies continued in the 1950s and 1960s as part of national development projects, devised by the core for countries in the periphery of the global economy, and have been further intensified since the 1970s with the onset of globalisation and the related general deregulation and liberalisation of national policy space. Inevitably, in contrast to similar workshops organised in industrialised countries, frequent demands were made for proposals, which do not only reform capitalism, but provide a transformative path towards socialism in the 21st century.

Photo by Egui_
Second, the fact that the workshop took place in South Africa influenced the debates. Almost twenty years after the first democratic elections in post-Apartheid South Africa, the country is characterised by high level unemployment and enormous economic inequality between the rich and poor. These tensions exploded in the so-called Marikana massacre, when policy killed 34 striking miners within three minutes on 16 August 2012 (see  The Marikana Massacre and The South African State's Low Intensity War Against The People; and The Dance of the Undead - Not only at Marikana, Not only in South Africa ...). In order to overcome South Africa’s triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, Zwlinizima Vavi, General Secretary of COSATU, demanded at the workshop a second phase of transformation in South Africa. With the political transformation accomplished since 1994, it was now time to tackle rising economic inequality. Counter neo-liberal policies were to include a shift towards state ownership and nationalisation of some parts of the economy, the stop of South African capital exports through capital controls and the punishment of capital speculation, as well as the provision of comprehensive welfare services. What South Africa needed, he concluded, was its own Lula moment, a reference to Brazil’s former President, who had presided over policies of wealth re-distribution towards the poor.

Of course, Marikana is a key example of how the capitalist crisis also fragments workers and induces disunity within the labour movement. While Marikana is specific to South Africa, similar tensions can be noted elsewhere and mass mobilisation against neo-liberal economics was identified as the only possible way forward towards overcoming economic and social inequality as well as fragmentation.


Collective bargaining as a way of transformation?

Collective bargaining is currently under attack in Europe (see How European pressure is destroying national collective bargaining systems). Unsurprisingly, when European trade unionists and labour academics discuss collective bargaining, it is a defensive move. Generally, I am sceptical about this as it fails to recognise that collective bargaining is covering fewer and fewer workers and has already become less relevant as a result. More importantly, in Europe too we should focus on how to organise the increasing informal sector of the economy.

The Global South including South Africa has always been characterised by a large informal sector. Hence my surprise, when Neil Coleman from COSATU introduced a revived system of sectoral collective bargaining as a transformative way forward. He outlined the Brazilian experience, where the state had been successful at boosting domestic demand levels through an emphasis on collective bargaining combined with a national minimum wage policy. Undoubtedly, millions of Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty as a result of state policies. Whether these policies including collective bargaining are, however, transformative or simply reform based was left open. In my view, it is difficult to see how collective bargaining would improve the livelihood of mostly black people living in the sprawling townships around Johannesburg and working in the informal economy.

Photo by RachelIF2SEA


‘Embedded free trade’ or ‘fair trade’?

Against the background of capitalism’s uneven and combined development, it is not surprising that there are tensions over ‘free trade’ policy in the international labour movement. While unions in the North often support free trade agreements (FTAs), as they consider them to secure the jobs of their members, labour movements in the Global South are critical as it leads to deindustrialisation and the loss of jobs (see Trade unions, free trade and the problem of transnational solidarity).

An interesting discussion ensued over how to label an alternative trade regime. While I argued in favour of ‘embedded free trade’ in order to facilitate an engagement with Northern trade unions, which generally view ‘free trade’ positively, colleagues from Southern trade unions opted for ‘fair trade’ in order to indicate a more radical break from current trade policies.

Photo by Alejandra H. Covarrubias
The re-establishment of national policy space is clearly an essential element of an alternative trade regime. It would allow governments to protect infant industries until they are competitive, provide space for capital controls and the regulation of transnational corporations, as well as provide the possibility to emphasise food sovereignty over free trade by agribusinesses. And yet, it is also clear that while this would help to reform the current ‘disembedded free trade’ regime, where the WTO not only furthers the trade in goods, but also pushes trade in services and agriculture, as well as expands regulations into investment rules and intellectual property rights, it would not be enough to move beyond capitalism towards socialism. Ultimately, capitalist exploitation is rooted in the way production is organised around wage labour and the private ownership of the means of production and, as a result, capital maximises profits in the exploitation of workers. Only if the way of how production is organised is changed, can there be a transformation of the current system.


Climate Change and the future of Green Capitalism

Jacklyn Cock from the SWOP Institute made clear that the current focus by capital on the green economy was ‘the wolf in sheep clothing’. The trading in carbon emissions will simply lead to a financialisation and further commodification of the environment. The expansion of the market into all aspects of nature would not protect, but further destroy the environment. On the other hand, the change to a low carbon economy could be change towards a real alternative to neo-liberalism. Here, the immediate task would be the formation of alliances with other movements including especially environmental groups. The immediate request should be for food and energy sovereignty, linking justice to sustainability by empowering people to decide for themselves what to grow and what type of energy to use.

Photo by GovernmentZA
Dinga Sikwebu from the South African metalworkers’ union Numsaoutlined how capital was increasingly focusing on extreme energy generation including fracking, tar sands and further extensive use of coal. Renewable energy was clearly the way forward from a labour perspective. In contrast to Northern campaigns around jobs related to the green economy, however, he pointed out there are actually not that many jobs, which will be created as a result of a shift towards renewable energy. Hence, other arguments for an alternative energy policy, which resonate with workers, are needed. Considering that in South Africa many manufacturing workers still owned a piece of land, which they cultivate when not at work, a possible way forward would be to point out that all citizens will be negatively affected by climate change. In their role as farmers, manufacturing workers too notice the changing climate with different rain seasons than in the past. Unsurprisingly, Numsa, together with the agricultural workers’ trade union, is currently involved in a campaign for land reform linking up different trade unions and social movements. Nevertheless, Dinga Sikwebu also made clear that a shift to renewable energy in itself was not enough. For a real shift towards eco-socialism, it was necessary to move away from market-based incentives towards social ownership and democratic control of all types of energy generation, echoing Jacklyn Cock’s request for food and energy sovereignty.

The key challenge of moving into this direction was, according to Rob Lambert, the co-ordinator of SIGTUR, to find a solution to the question of how to connect trade unions in the workplace with movements of the dispossessed. He identified the limits to liberal representative democracy and demanded that trade unions urgently needed to restructure themselves from hierarchical, bureaucratic organisations into agents, which welcome diversity, direct democracy and independent initiatives by its members. If this is combined with a focus on issues beyond the workplace, as in the case of Numsa and its participation in a campaign for land reform, then the kind of forces may be available, which are needed to push successfully for transformation.


The development of alternatives through experiments in concrete struggles

Clearly, conceptual and strategic discussions are necessary in the search for alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation; alternatives, which are focused on human well-being and development in contrast to capital’s maximisation of profits. Nonetheless, concrete alternatives to capitalist social relations of production can only be developed on the ground in concrete struggles and the interplay between ideas and action. Moreover, alternatives which work in one part of the world may be unsuitable for other parts. No blueprint can be prescribed.

Hence, perhaps the next step in the search for alternatives could be a focus on concrete experiments of establishing a non-capitalist economy? In the area of ‘free trade’, for example, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) is already one practical example in this respect. At its beginning in 2004 was a treaty between Venezuela and Cuba with the former providing petroleum to the latter at very favourable prices in exchange for doctors and teachers from Cuba, working in some of Venezuela’s poorest states. Direct negotiations between the two countries had replaced a reliance on prices set by the market. A more in-depth analysis of this and other alternative economy examples may be the way forward in the search for alternatives by the Futures Commission. 



Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website: http://andreasbieler.net

2 July 2013

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Watkins Glen, New York made Yahoo! Travel’s top 10 list of America’s coolest small towns. This Finger Lake village is described as having “Award-winning wineries, awe-inspiring gorges and waterfalls, and a racetrack that draws visitors to auto-racing events.” The story mentions hiking, NASCAR and “crisp Rieslings.”

Here’s what it doesn’t say about this dream town: it’s at the heart of the battle over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for unconventional shale gas in the Marcellus. 

Companies aren’t drilling for gas here, but they’re drilling into the land in order to store fracked gas. Sandra Steingraber was among a group of individuals willing to put her body between drilling rig trucks and their destination on shores of Seneca Lake on Monday. Steingraber was arrested for her bravery, which is but one step in her evolving journey as a scientist, writer, and now activist.

Steingraber is a renowned scientist, currently a scholar in residence in Ithaca College. She’s also a lyrical writer, author of four books: Post-Diagnosis (written after being diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 20); Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (later optioned as a film); Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood; and most recently Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.

On World Water Day, this is a good time to reflect on the threats of drought and water contamination, in which fracking plays a key role. Steingraber talked with AlterNet about the health effects of fracking, her own personal connection to the issue, and what keeps her up at night. (Spoiler: it’s cement, but more on that soon.)

Tara Lohan: If I’m reading the news correctly, it looks like you were arrested earlier this week.

Sandra Steingraber: Yes, I was.

TL: How did you get involved in that action?

SS: It has an odd trajectory. I was writing about three other people who were arrested for civil disobedience at that same facility last September. One of them, the night before, showed up on my front porch and asked me if I would come the next morning to bear witness to what he was about to do and be available to talk to the press about compressor stations, which was something I was researching. I was happy to talk about the kinds of chemicals that compressor stations put into the atmosphere and what the problem is with this whole project. The whole project being a storage facility for fracked gases that a company called Inergy from Kansas City is trying to build. The plan they have for this part of the world is to use depleted salt caverns where salt mining has been done for probably a century at least, and use it as a storage facility for gas from the fracking fields in Pennsylvania. The idea is that the gas would be pressurized to the point of liquidification, then injected into salt caverns.

So I went last September and served as a sort of science writer/interpreter and witness and what impressed me was that the three people who chained themselves to this fence were not young people. The youngest was my age and I’m 53, she was a nurse. And then there was Rev. Gary Judson who is a retired Methodist minister who is 72 and he spoke eloquently about the underground geology of these caverns, about the history of salt caverns being used to store liquified petroleum products and their terrible track record with catastrophic accidents in other states. And then there was also the moral and ethical issue of using these caverns to store something toxic and explosive knowing that they have cracks and fissures and that this is a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. He, himself was an avid fisherman and he felt strongly that this was a treasure and we are called to defend creation.

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Tips for Improving Your Paid Search Campaign

by Amanda T
Any online business owner knows how powerful search engine marketing can be for their Web site’s traffic, leads, customers, and revenues. Most online businesses love PPC (Pay-Per-Click)

eCommerce Apps For Mobile Technology

Guest Post by Mark Clayson from Phone Application Development
Are you an ecommerce merchant looking for iPhone or iTouch apps to make your life easier, especially on the move? Look no further. There is a wealth of electronic evolution

What can Search Engine Marketing do for my Business?

Guest Post by Pete Handley from Vertical Leap | Search engine marketing is now one of the most widely used internet marketing methods among...

SEO Experts Examine Early Findings on Google Instant

Guest Post by Josh Braaten from Big Picture Web | Recently, I had the luxury of attending a webinar featuring the latest data...

A Review Of 8 Top Social Media Monitoring Tools

Guest Post by Lauren Horn from ProspectMX | The most obvious reasons businesses are involved in social media outlets are to reap the benefits...

Building an email list was never easier

by Kat Bader Email list building was never as easy, now because of mobile advertising. Mobile or cell phone advertising is an untapped and cheap...

A Thousand Hits Per Day – New Traffic Tricks?

In today's ever evolving world there are always new and quick ways to generate amazing website traffic. Many people believe that A LOT of...

Organic SEO – Search Engine Optimization – Organic

When it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) there's really only two options available. Pay Per Click (PPC) or Organic SEO. The first option means...

Benedict to Confront Skeptics, Scandal in U.S. Trip

By Nadine Elsibai Pope Benedict XVI has a lot of catching up to do with the U.S. and its 69 million Roman Catholics as he...

SOCIAL SCIENCE FOR A NON-FREE SOCIETY

Erica Carle Social Science was created to destroy human freedom The French philosopher/mathematician, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) devoted his entire intellectual life to perfecting plans for...