Some Advice to Evo Morales

Most informed Americans do not have a high opinion of Bolivian president Evo Morales. They think that Mr. Morales is an anti-American leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez and former President Fidel Castro.

None of these facts is strictly wrong. President Evo Morales is a leftist; he is an ally of Venezuela and Cuba; and he certainly hates the United States.

Yet Mr. Morales is not just this. To many people in Bolivia, Mr. Morales is the Barack Obama of their country. He is the first democratically elected indigenous president, much like Mr. Obama is America’s first black president, in a country where two-thirds of the people are indigenous.

“…imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever,” British author George Orwell once wrote. For six centuries, ever since the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that boot has been stamping on the faces of the indigenas in Bolivia and other Latin American countries. Mr. Morales represents, to many Bolivians, the end of this subjugation.

Many Americans are unaware of this other side to Mr. Morales because the American media does not report it. Partly this is because many journalists do not fully understand the history of Latin America.

Mostly, however, the American media is hostile to Mr. Morales because he takes every opportunity possible to spit in America’s face. Mr. Morales delights in making his anti-Americanism as public as possible – whether he is expelling America’s ambassador, or accusing the United States of assassination attempts against him, or talking about the evils of neoliberal economic policy.

To be fair, there is certainly a reason for Mr. Morales to hate the United States. In general, American policy has been more friendly to the right-wing (i.e. non-indigenous) elements in Bolivia, mainly because  left-wing Latin American movements often slip into communism. The United States policy against coca planting also goes against the interests of the people Mr. Morales represents.

Yet for all this, spitting in the face of the world’s superpower (as Mr. Morales loves to do) is not a wise policy. Whatever its recent troubles, the United States still holds an enormous amount of influence and power – influence that will be directed against Bolivia as long as Mr. Morales continues his current anti-American policies.

This is not hard power – the United States will not intervene militarily in Bolivia anytime soon (indeed, under Mr. Obama it would probably condemn a right-wing coup against Mr. Morales). This may not even be action taken by the U.S. government.

Rather, it may look something like this: American businesswoman Ms. Smith, director of corporate operations in Latin America, picks up her morning Wall Street Journal. On the front page is an article about Bolivian nationalizations and its increasingly hostile environment to foreign investment. Ms. Smith is in the middle of deciding where to locate the company’s new factory; reading this article, and thinking about that crazy leftist Evo Morales, she crosses Bolivia off the list and instead decides to build in Brazil, where the climate is much friendlier to business. Bolivia thus loses several million dollars in possible foreign investment, and several thousand potential jobs.

The funny thing about this hypothetical is that Brazil’s President Lula de Silva probably hates the United States just as much as Evo Morales does. Mr. de Silva, however, is smart enough to keep his anti-Americanism quiet and pursue good relations with the world’s superpower. A belligerent America would only be a distraction to Brazil’s continuing and successful efforts in reducing income inequality.

This is true for Bolivia as well – a hostile America would probably hurt Bolivia and therefore hurt Mr. Morales’s attempts to raise the status of Bolivia’s poor indigenas. Being friendly with the United States would probably be a bitter pill for Mr. Morales to swallow. In the end, however, it would be better for the people he is trying to help.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Some Advice to Evo Morales

Most informed Americans do not have a high opinion of Bolivian president Evo Morales. They think that Mr. Morales is an anti-American leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez and former President Fidel Castro.

None of these facts is strictly wrong. President Evo Morales is a leftist; he is an ally of Venezuela and Cuba; and he certainly hates the United States.

Yet Mr. Morales is not just this. To many people in Bolivia, Mr. Morales is the Barack Obama of their country. He is the first democratically elected indigenous president, much like Mr. Obama is America’s first black president, in a country where two-thirds of the people are indigenous.

“…imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever,” British author George Orwell once wrote. For six centuries, ever since the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that boot has been stamping on the faces of the indigenas in Bolivia and other Latin American countries. Mr. Morales represents, to many Bolivians, the end of this subjugation.

Many Americans are unaware of this other side to Mr. Morales because the American media does not report it. Partly this is because many journalists do not fully understand the history of Latin America.

Mostly, however, the American media is hostile to Mr. Morales because he takes every opportunity possible to spit in America’s face. Mr. Morales delights in making his anti-Americanism as public as possible – whether he is expelling America’s ambassador, or accusing the United States of assassination attempts against him, or talking about the evils of neoliberal economic policy.

To be fair, there is certainly a reason for Mr. Morales to hate the United States. In general, American policy has been more friendly to the right-wing (i.e. non-indigenous) elements in Bolivia, mainly because  left-wing Latin American movements often slip into communism. The United States policy against coca planting also goes against the interests of the people Mr. Morales represents.

Yet for all this, spitting in the face of the world’s superpower (as Mr. Morales loves to do) is not a wise policy. Whatever its recent troubles, the United States still holds an enormous amount of influence and power – influence that will be directed against Bolivia as long as Mr. Morales continues his current anti-American policies.

This is not hard power – the United States will not intervene militarily in Bolivia anytime soon (indeed, under Mr. Obama it would probably condemn a right-wing coup against Mr. Morales). This may not even be action taken by the U.S. government.

Rather, it may look something like this: American businesswoman Ms. Smith, director of corporate operations in Latin America, picks up her morning Wall Street Journal. On the front page is an article about Bolivian nationalizations and its increasingly hostile environment to foreign investment. Ms. Smith is in the middle of deciding where to locate the company’s new factory; reading this article, and thinking about that crazy leftist Evo Morales, she crosses Bolivia off the list and instead decides to build in Brazil, where the climate is much friendlier to business. Bolivia thus loses several million dollars in possible foreign investment, and several thousand potential jobs.

The funny thing about this hypothetical is that Brazil’s President Lula de Silva probably hates the United States just as much as Evo Morales does. Mr. de Silva, however, is smart enough to keep his anti-Americanism quiet and pursue good relations with the world’s superpower. A belligerent America would only be a distraction to Brazil’s continuing and successful efforts in reducing income inequality.

This is true for Bolivia as well – a hostile America would probably hurt Bolivia and therefore hurt Mr. Morales’s attempts to raise the status of Bolivia’s poor indigenas. Being friendly with the United States would probably be a bitter pill for Mr. Morales to swallow. In the end, however, it would be better for the people he is trying to help.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Observing the White House’s Improving Diplomacy

When Senator Barack Obama ran for president of the United States, a major critique of him was his relative inexperience. The argument went that Mr. Obama just didn’t have enough time under his belt to govern the country, and it was used against him throughout the campaign.

This attack was not just political posturing. Many Mr. Obama’s political opponents – from former president Bill Clinton to Senator John McCain – genuinely believed that he did not have what it took to run the world’s most powerful country.

It has therefore been interesting to observe the affair of Mr. Obama actually running the world’s most powerful country.

In the beginning, the Obama administration did make several amateurish mistakes. These blunders were not of the strategic sort, but rather relatively small-fry things. They generally involved diplomatic protocol, or unintended embarrassment to important countries.

These were also things that tended to be out of Mr. Obama’s control. Most mistakes were made by new staffers green to the job, who should have taken care of obvious things but did not.

In March 2009, for instance, Mr. Brown visited the White House and gave the president a priceless gift: a “pen holder made from the wood of a warship that helped stamp out the slave trade – a sister ship of the vessel from which timbers were taken to build Mr Obama’s Oval Office desk.” Mr. Obama and his staff, new to the job and overwhelmed by the sudden work load, returned the favor by giving the Prime Minister a box set of Hollywood DVDs. For weeks after this gaffe, Great Britain’s infamously opinionated newspapers lamented the snub (see the linked article for one example).

There are other examples of diplomatic gaffes made as the Obama administration was still getting its bearings straight. These were mistakes like announcing plans to scrap a missile defense plan in Eastern Europe on September 17, 2009 – a date which happened to be the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. Or, in an attempt to improve diplomatic relations, handing the Russian Foreign Minister a red “restart” button – with the Russian word “restart” misspelled.

Now, these blunders were not things countries go to war over. Most people – even the most politically engaged – have forgotten them, and conservative critics have generally been silent on the subject. Nevertheless, they were still sources of considerable diplomatic embarrassment.

The good news is that all these blunders came in 2009. As the Obama administration has settled in to the job, diplomatic gaffes have generally disappeared. Those blunders that were made after two months on the job would not be made today. There have been no Gordon Brown-type incidents since at least the end of 2009. After one and a half years as president, the administration now knows what gifts to give to important visitors (i.e. not DVDs), what dates to avoid announcing certain things on, how to spell in Russian, and so on.

More fortunately, these diplomatic gaffes have not led to anything seriously damaging to the United States. Despite the “restart” mess, relations with Russia have still improved markedly. Great Britain still remains a firm and committed ally to the United States, as does most of Eastern Europe. And for all his greenness, at least Mr. Obama is doing better than former president George W. Bush. At this point in Mr. Bush’s presidency, after all, Mr. Bush had just began a prolonged public relations campaign to invade Iraq.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Climate Change On Obama’s Back Burner

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touched on climate issues only briefly. He called on the Senate to pass a climate bill, but did not give Congress a deadline or promise to veto weak legislation. Nor did he mention the Copenhagen climate conference, where international negotiators struggled to produce an agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s attitude towards climate change still represents a remarkable shift from the Bush years, when global warming was treated as little more than a fairy tale. But in the past year, Congressional squabbling has stalled climate legislation, and international negotiators nearly gridlocked in talks over carbon admissions at the multinational Copenhagen conference. Without strong leadership from the president, work to prevent this looming environmental crisis will stall.

Obama did address global warming skeptics, saying that they should support investment in clean energy, “because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

“And America must be that nation,” Obama said.

No push for climate bill

Despite his combative language,  the president did not challenge Congress to push for real solutions to ballooning carbon emissions and energy consumption. As Forrest Wilder of The Texas Observer notes, Obama “uttered the phrase ‘climate change’ precisely once.”

The Senate has already wait-listed the climate bill: Health care came first. With health care reform now in line behind work on jobs and bank regulation, climate legislation has little chance of passing the Senate in the coming months, let alone making it to the president’s desk.

If Congress lets this work wait until after the midterm elections, the United States will show up at international negotiations in December 2010 as a leader in carbon emissions yet again, but with little in hand to show a way forward.

Clean energy, not renewable energy

When the president did bring up climate issues, he focused on their connection between climate reform and potential job creation. Obama highlighted areas for growth, not in renewable energy fields like wind or solar power, but in nuclear power, natural gas, and clean coal.

Yes, these fuel sources could decrease the country’s carbon emissions. But they are not solutions that will revolutionize energy production. Grist’s David Roberts was floored that the speech omitted renewable energy entirely and kowtowed to a more conservative litany of energy projects. “I suppose it was done to flatter conservative Senators that will have to vote for the bill Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham are working on,” he writes. (The three Senators are working on a version of the climate bill designed to appeal to Republicans.)

“But the SOTU is not a policy negotiation,” Roberts says. “It’s a bully pulpit, a chance to shape rather than respond to existing narratives.”

Roberts argues that progressive supporters would benefit from a stronger message. If activists knew that the White House stands behind a real shift in America’s energy policy, they could use that prompt to drive action on climate change.

What was missing

While touting the virtues of off-shore drilling, Obama overlooked other policies that could broker real change. Although he admonished Congress to pass a climate bill, he did not pressure the legislature on what he’d like that bill to include. He did not mention cap-and-trade, the mechanism the House bill relies on to tamp down emissions and dirty energy use.

President Obama did touch on transportation reforms that could decrease the country’s use of fossil fuels.

“There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains,”  Obama said. He cited a high-speed rail project that broke ground on Tuesday in Tampa, FL, as evidence that America could best the rest of the world in creating new energy-efficient technology.

But one or two high-profile projects won’t be enough to challenge Europe’s network of high-speed trains or China’s investments in solar power. The White House could put the country at the forefront of sustainable technologies, but it’ll take more money than the president has committed. In AlterNet’s ideal state of the union, projects like the railway would merit sustained attention and funding. Funding for the high-speed train came from this year’s stimulus bill, and there’s no guarantee that similar projects will find federal funding in the future.

“Continued support is still needed” for green jobs and clean energy, Alternet’s editorial staff argues. “It’s unclear yet how Obama’s new proposal for a three-year spending freeze will apply to this sector, but a boost is what is needed, not cuts.”

Green jobs

Michelle Chen argues for In These Times that the president is right to subordinate climate issues to economic policy. “The jobs angle is more than sugar-coating,” she says. A recent Pew Research Center poll put climate change at the end of Americans’ long list of cares, and a Brookings Institution study found that they’re no longer willing to pay as much for greener products.

Jobless workers need green in their pockets most of all, and so far politicians’ promises haven’t made up for the slack economy.

“No matter how slick the marketing, confidence in green jobs may wilt even further absent real investments in the beleaguered blue-collar workforce,” Chen writes.

Copenhagen accord losing momentum

The small role that climate change played in the state of the union address only emphasized the downward momentum of the issue since the United Nations conference on global warming in Copenhagen. Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes talked to six leaders in climate change activism, and none of them offered a different strategy than they had last year.

That same stasis is showing up in Europe, as well. Spain, which currently leads the European Union, proposed that the European Union’s negotiating position should remain the same as its position before the Copenhagen conference, according to Inter Press Service.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who’s working on climate change legislation in the Senate, offered advice to climate activists at a clean energy forum in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Mother JonesKate Sheppard reports that Sen. Kerry encouraged his audience to get angrier, louder, and more active, in the mode of the conservative Tea Partiers, who have earned plenty of attention. After his speech, he also recalled the tactics that pushed landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act through Congress.

If climate change is going to play a larger role in the next state of the union, the citizens and groups concerned about this issue need to do something to put it on the agenda. Otherwise, next year, the president may find it just as easy to skim over it again.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Climate Deal Reached at Copenhagen

No details yet, but President Obama says a "meaningful" climate deal has been reached between the US, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. The deal has no emissions cap but sets a goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius. On the one hand, this is great news given the deadlock that gripped these countries over the past few days. On the other hand, it sounds like the deal is pretty weak and may not do nearly enough to combat climate change. I take heart in the fact that this is merely "politically" binding. After US legislation passes, we'll see if the "legally" binding treaty that comes out of Mexico City next year is any tougher.

It was Obama's arrival, speech, and personal diplomacy that led to the deal, which while weak is better than no deal at all. You can argue that no Senate bill would be fine since the EPA would step into the void, but there is no global EPA to take COP15's place. I have to wonder, however, how much stronger the deal would have been if the president's deal-making presence had been there all along. Opportunity lost? Probably not, since Mexico City still looms. Anyway, from Politico:

"[A] meaningful agreement was reached," the official said. "It's not sufficient to combat the threat of climate change but it's an important first step... No country is entirely satisfied with each element, but this is a meaningful and historic step forward and a foundation from which to make further progress."

The official added: "We entered this negotiation at a time when there were significant differences between countries. Developed and developing countries have now agreed to listing their national actions and commitments, a finance mechanism, to set a mitigation target of 2 degrees Celsius and to provide information on the implementation of their actions through national communications, with provisions for international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines."

It's not clear how many nations -- particularly poorer nations who felt shut out of the process -- were included in the final deal or how they will react to the announcement.

Earlier Friday, a visibly angry Barack Obama threw down the gauntlet at China and other developing nations Friday, declaring that the time has come "not to talk but to act" on climate change.

Obama's public ultimatum kicked off a furious round of bilateral negotiations between the world's two largest pollution emitters as the conference entered its final hours, with Obama plunging into a pair of bargaining sessions involving Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who had earlier boycotted a larger, multi-nation meeting with Obama.

No reaction yet from the expert-written climate blogs I regularly check.

Update 5:50 EST by Nathan Empsall: Obama has already left Copenhagen due to the immense snowstorm heading DC's way. Sounds fun; wish I was there (in Copenhagen or the DC snow, either one.) More importantly, though, reactions to the climate deal are slowly beginning to trickle in. 350.org tweets, "A tweet cannot express the level of frustration & disappointment I feel w/Obama right now. So much for change." Still waiting to hear from Real Climate and Climate Progress, or from an environmental group on a platform of more heft than Twitter.

Update 6:09 EST by Nathan Empsall: The Sierra Club has a decidedly more positive take than 350. Their headline is "President Obama Leads World to Historic, If Incomplete Climate Deal." I am inclined to agree with Executive Director Carl Pope's statement:

"The world's nations have come together and concluded a historic--if incomplete--agreement to begin tackling global warming. Tonight's announcement is but a first step and much work remains to be done in the days and months ahead in order to seal a final international climate deal that is fair, binding, and ambitious. It is imperative that negotiations resume as soon as possible.

President Obama and the rest of the world paid a steep price here in Copenhagen because of obstructionism in the United States Senate. That a deal was reached at all is testament to President Obama's leadership--all the more remarkable because of the very weak hand he was dealt because of the Senate's failure to pass domestic clean energy and climate legislation. Now that the rest of the world--including countries like China and India--has made clear that it is willing to take action, the Senate must pass domestic legislation as soon as possible. America and the world can no longer be held hostage to petty politics and obstructionism...

"The agreement reached here has all the ingredients necessary to construct a final treaty--a mitigation target of 2 degrees Celsius, nationally appropriate action plans, a mechanism for international climate finance, and transparency with regard to national commitments. President Obama has made much progress in past 11 months and it now appears that the U.S.--and the world--is ready to do the hard work necessary to finish what was started here in Copenhagen.

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