Daily Archives: 06/04/2011

( As director of the Havas Media Lab and a regular contributor the Harvard Business Review, author Umair Haque has long been one of GOOD’s favorite scholars. Prompted by his tweets lightly mocking the U.K.’s recent anti-austerity protests, during which people attacked banks for their shockingly low tax expenditures, we reached out to Haque to talk about the demonstrations and how they could have been better. His answers were more revolutionary than any kid throwing a rock through the window of a Barclays.

For instance, says Haque, if they wanted to, a group of concerned citizens could divest from big banks en masse and collapse them (an organization called Move Your Money is already advocating just that). He argues that contrary to what most of us may feel in the wake of the financial crisis, customers are far more powerful than banks. And unless Americans learn that lesson quickly, he says, they can “kiss the future goodbye.”

GOOD: Last month, you caused a bit of a tizzy on Twitter when you pointed out some of the shortcomings of the U.K. anti-austerity protests.

Umair Haque: Well, I certainly didn’t mean to cause a tizzy. My point was simple: In the U.K., people were protesting austerity measures. Yet without fundamental reform of basic institutions—notably banks—austerity is treating the symptom, not the underlying problem. The proximate cause of cuts is deficits, but the ultimate causes of deficits are a banking sector that blew up severely, a government that seems less than capable of managing it (and more than capable of being captured by it), and corporations that are less than willing contributors to the common good. Hence, my point: Protesting budget cuts without understanding the need for deeper reform is a bit like popping a zit when you’ve got a chronic disease.

If I wanted to be cynical, I’d say cuts are just a sideshow, a diversion from the main event. They’ll keep rolling on and on and on, because the simple truth is that wealth is being extracted from society at an ever faster rate. The main event? Deep institutional reform, so our institutions create wealth, instead of merely extracting it. The longer we put it off, fail to do it, or, most vitally, fail to understand that logic, the longer and harder this great stagnation will be.

GOOD: You retweeted someone who said, “People don’t believe their power. They don’t believe they could topple banks in a month. You and I know they could but they don’t.” A former SEIU official recently came under conservative fire after suggesting something similar, that Americans should come together and collapse JP Morgan. What would an effort like this look like, and how would it work?

Haque: Let me be very clear: I’m certainly not calling for “collapsing banks.” Let me put it this way: I find it hard to understand why so many keep their cash in megabanks when the service is poor, the hidden charges are steep, and the risk is great. Banks are highly leveraged institutions. Were a relatively small percentage of deposits to shift to, for example, community banks or credit unions, megabanks would find it very difficult indeed to sustain the profit margins or market power they currently enjoy. In the 20th century, protests were political, focused on reshaping economies. In the 21st, I have a hunch that the most effective protests will be economic, focused on reshaping polities—like, for example, coordinating the flight of capital from a bank that isn’t living up to its end of the bargain that people, communities, and society have struck with it.

GOOD: What impact would it have on the global financial market and our domestic lives if American citizens did come together and topple banks?

Haque: If America can reform its banking sector, it has a fighting chance at a prosperous future. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Though that might sound harsh, the plain truth is that Wall Street’s recent meltdown has cost literally trillions; that Wall Street has drained two generations of top talent from authentically creative, productive work; that Wall Street consistently makes malinvestments that blow up instead of investing in what endures, matters, and multiplies.

Economic history 101 tells us that in the modern context, a financial sector focused on extracting wealth—instead of on creating it—is one of the few sure ways to ensure the swift, steady decline of a nation (the others being war, debt, and sheer indolence). I’d say that without the institutional reinvention of finance, America simply won’t be able to create the future, because it will keep investing in yesterday’s already overleveraged, zero-social-return “ponziconomy.” (When I say zero, I’m being kind. When the final bill’s added up, I suspect that we’ll discover that finance has destroyed significantly more wealth over the last several decades than it has created—the Bank of England has already concluded that over the noughties, banks created zero economic value.)

GOOD: Presumably—and this is from a financial layman—the result of toppling banks would be terrible instability at home and abroad. How is that beneficial to the working class?

Haque: America is watching a great tragedy unfold: The collapse of the middle class. That society needs megabanks is, to put it kindly, a finely tailored piece of marketing. In fact, as I’ve written about a few months back, banks need society a lot more than society needs banks. How do we know? Well, consider the Irish Bankers’ Strikes of the 1970s, when fed-up bankers petulantly decided to go on strike (with the assumption that the economy would collapse, and society would beg to have them back). Instead, the economy kept growing, and a kind of peer-to-peer banking system arose spontaneously. Far from instability, the result was relative stability.

The larger point is that the “instability” that is the heart of Wall Street’s scare tactics is in fact already upon us, savagely so. The global financial system is still being propped up with liquidity injections and implicit guarantees of every kind—and on the flipside, income, wealth, and job creation are stagnating while poverty is growing. That is economic instability—and the solution isn’t subsidizing Wall Street to the hilt, because that only sets the stage for a bigger, nastier, meltdown in the next five years or so. The solution is building fundamentally, radically better financial institutions.

To fear “instability” at this point is a little bit like a man trapped wearing a life preserver in the middle of the ocean afraid of a little bit of rain. We’re already soaked; the challenge is reaching (or perhaps even spotting) the shore.

GOOD: Can you envision a world in which people actually band together to systematically and legally take down banks?

Haque: Sure I can—the Dutch just digitally self-organized to force their parliament to axe bankers’ bonuses. Not just going forward, but retroactively. That’s not a baby step, it’s a giant leap. If the Dutch can do it, using technology invented in the U.S.A.—Twitter and Facebook—it’s awfully ironic that Americans seem to think it’s about as unrealistic as a sci-fi movie called Escape from New York Meets Cloverfield.

GOOD: You also recently tweeted, “My feeling … is that Wall St has the US and UK right where it wants them. Confused, afraid, divided, and addicted.” What do you mean by that?

Haque: As I said, there’s little reason to place your money into a bank that doesn’t have your best interest at heart, that costs society the future, and that doesn’t reinvest in your community. Yet millions still do—and even you’ve raised the illusory specter of “instability.” Hence, Wall Street’s got the U.S. and U.K. right where it wants them: Confused, afraid, and addicted. Unless we can get over our fear, and kick the habit, I’d get ready to kiss the future goodbye.


( Reporters Without Borders is pleased to learn that Murtadha Al-Shahtur, the police spokesman in the governorate Dhi Qar and a contributor to the local newspaper Al-Zaman and other newspapers and websites, was released on the evening of 4 April, a day after being arrested in Dhi Qar’s capital, Nasariyah, by members of the Baghdad government’s special forces. Read More

( On the same day President Barack Obama formally launched his re-election campaign, his attorney general, Eric Holder, announced that key suspects in the 9/11 attacks would be tried not in federal court, but through controversial military commissions at Guantanamo. Holder blamed members of Congress, who he said “have intervened and imposed restrictions blocking the administration from bringing any Guantanamo detainees to trial in the United States.” Nevertheless, one Guantanamo case will be tried in New York. No, not the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or any of his alleged co-conspirators. This week, the New York state Supreme Court will hear the case against John Leso, a psychologist who is accused of participating in torture at the Gitmo prison camp that Obama pledged, and failed, to close.

The case was brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) on behalf of Steven Reisner. Reisner, a New York psychologist and adviser to Physicians for Human Rights, is at the centre of a growing group of psychologists campaigning against the participation of psychologists in the U.S. government’s interrogation programs, which they say amounts to torture. Unlike the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the largest association of psychologists in the world, has refused to implement a resolution passed by its membership barring APA members from participating in interrogations at sites where international law or the Geneva Conventions are being violated. Reisner, a child of Holocaust survivors, is running for president of the APA, in part to force it to comply with the resolution.

John Francis Leso is a U.S. Army major, formerly chief of the clinical psychology service at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. According to CJA, Dr. Leso “led the first Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) at … Guantanamo from June 2002 to January 2003,” where he “co-authored an interrogation policy memorandum that incorporated illegal techniques adapted from methods used by the Chinese and North Korean governments against U.S. prisoners of war.”

Reisner filed a complaint with the New York state agency that governs licenses of psychologists, the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD), asking for an investigation and appropriate disciplinary action. He took this route, Reisner told me, because “health professionals are privy to private information, to weaknesses, to psychological and physical compromises, and they are privy to that information because they take an oath not to abuse that information to cause harm. So when health professionals use that very information … to cause harm, we want to make sure that those people are held accountable and have their licenses revoked, if necessary.”

The OPD declined to investigate, so Reisner is seeking a court order to force the agency to do so.

Maj. Leso recommended three categories of interrogation severity at Guantanamo, depending on the prisoners’ ability to resist. “Category III” included “daily use of 20 hour interrogations; the use of strict isolation without the right of visitation by treating medical professionals or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); the use of food restriction for 24 hours once a week; the use of scenarios designed to convince the detainee he might experience a painful or fatal outcome; non-injurious physical consequences; removal of clothing; and exposure to cold weather or water until such time as the detainee began to shiver.”

Leso is alleged to have participated in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a young man captured in Afghanistan and referred to as the “20th hijacker.” Al-Qahtani’s interrogation was so harsh that his charges were dropped. He is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said in response to Holder’s announcement: “The Obama administration all but admitted political failure today as it announced it would try the 9/11 defendants before the deeply flawed military commission system rather than in Article III civilian courts as originally planned. … In the same breath that the U.S. is calling for the rule of law in the Middle East, it is subverting it at home.”

by Amy Goodman


( Reports that opposition forces in Libya will begin exporting crude oil from areas under their control raise concerns about the transparency of oil revenues, Human Rights Watch said today. Libya’s people have a right to information about a major national resource, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch called on the self-appointed opposition authority, the Interim Transitional National Council, to respect internationally accepted standards of transparency for all sales of crude oil and gas that it arranges. In contrast, oil and gas transactions by the Gaddafi government have been opaque and lacked accountability for many years, Human Rights Watch said.

“Any emerging Libyan authority should break with past practice in Libya and open the books on oil and gas transactions,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Failure to do so could lead to continued mismanagement and corruption. The Libyan people have a right to know what’s happening with a precious national resource.”

In particular, Human Rights Watch called on the Interim Transitional National Council, which has de facto control in eastern Libya, to provide full documentation of all future oil and gas transactions. It should also commit to publish independent auditing reports in the future of any financial transactions associated with oil and gas licensing and sales, Human Rights Watch said.

The Interim Transitional National Council announced on April 1, 2011, that it had reached a deal with Qatar to market Libyan oil. Qatar should also abide by international standards of transparency and support its Libyan interlocutors to do the same, Human Rights Watch said.

An oil tanker with a capacity of 1 million barrels reportedly arrived at the Marsa al-Hariga terminal near the port of Tobruk in eastern Libya on April 5. This would mark the first export of oil from rebel-held areas of Libya since the conflict began six weeks ago.

Prior to the conflict, Libya was Africa’s third largest oil producer, exporting 1.6m barrels a day.

The Interim Transitional National Council has said that it will work for Libya’s economy “to be used for the benefit of the Libyan people.”

“Opposition forces and Qatar should work to respect the best practices of transparency now, before problems develop.” Ganesan said.


( Palestinians, artists and peace activists worldwide are mourning the loss of a leading figure in Palestinian creative nonviolent resistance. Juliano Mer-Khamis, the founder of a theater for Palestinian children, was killed Monday by masked assailants in the West Bank town of Jenin. He had received a number of death threats from extremist Palestinians for his work with the Jenin Freedom Theatre. The theater has helped Palestinian youths deal with the hardships of life under Israeli occupation by expressing themselves through the arts—film, photography, art and theater. We are joined in Jenin by Nabeel Raee, director of the Acting School at the Jenin Freedom Theatre, where he worked closely with Mer-Khamis for many years, and by Constancia “Dinky” Romilly, founder and president of the board of the New York City-based Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, who also worked closely with the program in Jenin.

Watch report, or read transcript here: