Defending Privacy In The Surveillance State And Fragmenting Internet

John P. Ruehl – Source: Independent Media Institute

05-20-2024 ~ Governments and private entities have steadily eroded privacy on the internet. The trend toward internet functions centralizing within national borders and fragmenting internationally reinforces the need to safeguard both openness and security in cyberspace.

Following the reapproval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on April 20, 2024, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proudly declared that “bipartisanship has prevailed here in the Senate.” Despite the increasing rarity of bipartisanship in recent years, support for government surveillance continues to unite large majorities across party lines. Established in 1978, FISA allows government surveillance and data collection of individuals suspected of espionage or terrorism within the U.S., marking one of the many mechanisms aiming to ensure total federal oversight of communications.

Governments ranging from democracies to dictatorships, socialist to capitalist have all developed policies and bureaucracies for maximum data collection and mass surveillance as their populations become digitized. The centralized nature of modern communications grids facilitates many forms of surveillance. As internet services centralize domestically and the internet fragments internationally, countering government and private sector abuse of surveillance or developing alternative systems will require steady public pressure and some ingenuity to attain real enforcement.

One of the takeaways that a review of the history of modern surveillance, from the early days of the telephone to so-called privacy apps like Signal, tells us is that efforts to escape, undermine, and subvert the surveillance efforts of governments tend to be counterproductive. They are often originated by states themselves as part of a dialectic process that enables more comprehensive surveillance in a series of stages or just produces greater surveillance infrastructure in response to the attempt to develop alternative communications systems.

In the pre-internet era, authorities would tap into telegraph and later telephone lines to intercept communications, often requiring access to the physical infrastructure of the networks. Mail sent by post could meanwhile be intercepted and opened. As communication systems evolved, so too did government techniques to surveil them. The switch from copper wire phone systems to fiber optic cables and the spread of the internet initially threatened the NSA’s ability to monitor communications, for example, until the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) in 1994. Communications companies were required to build back doors for the NSA to monitor remotely, while the NSA also clandestinely worked on developing technologies to monitor communications.

U.S. domestic surveillance powers have been routinely updated during the 21st Century, including the enactment of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, the 2015 Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), and the 2018 FISA reauthorization. The 2013 Snowden Leaks revealed the NSA asked for funding to “insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems”, and it is constantly pushing for backdoors into encryption software to access communications and devices. Major mobile carriers acknowledge the inclusion of preinstalled surveillance and data mining technology in devices supported by Google, Apple, and Microsoft, while the NSA’s PRISM program extracts data from all major technology companies with or without their consent.

U.S. companies primarily cooperate with the U.S. government under the banner of “surveillance capitalism,” allowing them to capitalize on their data and surveillance capabilities both for government and private endeavors. Similar to other countries, most of the U.S. internet traffic now flows through a handful of large entities rather than numerous smaller ones. Furthermore, U.S. user data is also more available to the private sector compared to that of EU citizens, with companies like Facebook and Google even compiling dossiers on non-users to enhance targeted advertising.

In addition to ad monetization, lax privacy laws also play a role in security. Established in 1976, the third-party doctrine allows U.S. law enforcement to access user data without a warrant. The Ring video system, acquired by Amazon in 2018, created hundreds of partnerships with U.S. police departments to help them gain access to user recordings, while numerous other companies actively provide law enforcement agencies with access to user data. Read more

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PVV Blog 8 ~ The Party For Freedom Really In Power Now: A Black Day

05-19-2024 ~ On May 16, 2024, four political parties in the Netherlands reached an agreement to form a new government. The largest of these four parties is the Party for Freedom, a populist party that has now, for the first time, landed at the center of power in the Netherlands.

In my opinion, this has pushed Dutch democracy to its absolute limits.

For me, May 16, 2024, is a black day.

The new coalition’s government program contravenes Article 1 of the Constitution, which stipulates that every citizen in the country must be treated equally under equal circumstances. There is a significant devaluation of the rights of asylum seekers and status holders. In this blog, I will revisit the roots of the Party for Freedom and examine how it has grown into a tree of substantial proportions and what these developments mean for the future of our country.

The Cradle of the Party for Freedom
In his 2010 book De schijn-elite van de valse munters, founding party member and current parliament speaker Martin Bosma describes his own development within the party and that of the Party for Freedom itself. Party leader Geert Wilders is, of course, also mentioned in a history that Bosma characterizes as a mission requiring struggle and commitment: “We must function like a kind of semi-underground resistance organization.” And about Geert Wilders: “He will never see his house again” (after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004, after which Wilders has been under permanent protection to this day).

Bosma recounts setbacks: “Silently, we look out the window. We still have a long way to go” after a disappointing campaign evening in the Dutch city of Den Bosch.

There is tension: “All your blood, sweat, and tears have been shed in the weeks and months before; now it is a matter of waiting”, on the evening of the November 22, 2010,
parliamentary elections.

There are triumphs: “The looks on the faces of people from the other political parties speak volumes: we are the party crashers, the unwanted intruders. What are we here for?” during the election victory on the same date.

There is a spirit of sacrifice: “I will never forget how Geert says: ‘This is exactly why we are here. Even if we keep one seat in parliament, this is our task’”, during the commotion surrounding the film Fitna, made by Wilders, in which he heavily criticizes Islam and the Quran.

There is relief: “These moments make up for a lot. The Netherlands is beginning to understand our message better and better”, after reactions from people in the Dutch municipalities of Volendam and Drachten who voted for the Party for Freedom.

There is a corporate spirit: “The Party for Freedom has grown into a gathering of cheerful patriots. People who oppose ‘those who call evil good and good evil, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter.’”

And a sense of history: “A hundred years from now, people will remember Geert Wilders as someone who had the moral clarity to tell the truth that needed to be told.”

The Party for Freedom in Power
The semi-underground resistance organization of people who have shed blood, sweat, and tears, the party crashers and unwanted intruders, the cheerful patriots who know what is good and evil, what is sweet and bitter—these people are now at the center of power. After nearly twenty years of opposition, of agitating, maneuvering, stirring, and insulting, the Party for Freedom has managed to become the largest party in the country and is now steering the state.

Scenario
I think the following scenario will unfold. The coalition has plans to reduce migration that cannot be justified legally or positionally and will be challenged and rejected by the Dutch courts or by the European Union in Brussels. The coalition parties are well aware of this, but they still put forward these proposals. They do so for two reasons, I believe. Firstly, they anticipate that Dutch judges and Brussels will torpedo the plans. Then the parties can say they did everything to honor their voters’ wishes and point fingers at the judges and Brussels: “It wasn’t our fault.” Meanwhile, they will try to implement the unjust migration policy as much as possible. Time is on their side. They will apply the same tactic to dossiers on nature and agriculture, the nitrogen policy: “It wasn’t our fault.” They will say: “It’s the judges’ and Brussels’ fault that it didn’t work.”

European Context
Then there is another development that will stimulate the realization of the coalition program, which is the rise of populist parties in the European arena. In the upcoming
European elections in June, it is expected that these parties will make significant gains. They will become more powerful and closer to the center of European power. They will use similar tactics at the national level: they will demand things that are legally untenable while trying to implement their populist policies on the ground as much as possible, stalling the legal scrutiny. Time is on their side. Polls indicate gains for the Rassemblement National in France and the Alternative für Deutschland in Germany.

A Savior in the Coalition?
The Party for Freedom has succeeded in reaching the center of power, and I deeply regret that. The only party in the new coalition and the person who can influence a positive
outcome is party leader Pieter Omtzigt and his party Nieuw Sociaal Contract. It would not surprise me if his sole motivation for joining this unfortunate coalition is inspired by his desire to defend, maintain, and strengthen the rule of law. Will he succeed in implementing this defense against Wilders and ensuring that democracy becomes the democracy it should be? Time will tell, but until then, we must watch as the “cheerful patriots” devour and dismantle democracy.

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Why Corporations Choose Lawlessness To Fight Unions

Sonali Kolhatkar

05-19-2024 ~ Workers at companies like Apple and Starbucks face armies of union-busting lawyers advising employers to repeatedly violate labor laws.

Workers in Towson, Maryland, have earned the distinction of becoming the first Apple retail workers in the nation to vote to strike over failed union negotiations with their employer. The approximately 100 Apple workers were also the first in the nation to successfully form a union. They did so in 2022, as the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees (CORE), joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Two-thirds of the store’s workers voted to join the union, a resounding success at a company that has long staved off union activity.

Apple could have embraced the Towson store union, respecting the legal right of its workers to bargain collectively for their rights. Instead, the company chose a depressingly familiar path of using its economic power to break labor laws and resist the union at all costs.

Among Apple’s earliest tactics, a bold one even by corporate standards, was to offer all but the Towson store workers new educational and medical perks, saying that the nascent union would have to negotiate for those perks while nonunion workers would be able to enjoy them immediately. The IAM CORE members claimed it was a “calculated” move by Apple, timed just ahead of a second retail union vote at a store in Penn Square, Oklahoma, ostensibly as a warning to those workers, and any others considering union drives, that they could lose out. The National Labor Relations Board, which under President Joe Biden has tended to adhere to its mandate by actually protecting workers more often than not, accused the company of violating the workers’ labor rights. Luckily, the bid failed and a majority of Penn Square’s Apple workers chose to unionize.

Apple’s ugly maneuver echoed that of Starbucks corporation a year later. The coffee giant increased hourly pay for all but its union workers. The NLRB also ruled against Starbucks.

Both Apple and Starbucks may have learned such machinations from Littler Mendelson P.C., the notorious union-busting firm that both corporations have retained to counter worker organizing. Starbucks alone has made use of the services of 110 of the law firm’s attorneys to aggressively resist organized labor at their stores. A former National Labor Relations Board attorney Matthew Bodie called the massive army of anti-union lawyers “unprecedented.” On its website, Littler boasts of the work it has done to “shape workplace practices in a direction that is favorable to employers.”

Union busting is lucrative, raking in more than $400 million in revenues a year for anti-union law firms like Littler Mendelson and Morgan Lewis (which is Amazon’s go-to union buster). It’s no wonder that a large part of their work is advising corporate employers on how best to break laws. Starbucks, for example, is a repeat offender. And so are Apple and Amazon.

The practice of labor law violations in countering unionization is so widespread that the Economic Policy Institute found in 2019 that “Employers are charged with violating federal law in 41.5 percent of all union election campaigns.” Given that these are officially deemed violations that have gone through the process of reporting and adjudicating, the number is likely an underestimate.

The reason these major corporations choose lawlessness is that often it works to their benefit. A company like Apple may well see millions of dollars toward union-busting lawyers as money well spent. After all, breaking the law costs very little, with fines for labor law violations capped at meager amounts. There are likely cold, hard calculations behind the cost-benefit analysis of breaking labor laws versus allowing workers to organize for what they want.

Even though workers in two Apple stores have successfully unionized, Apple prevailed in Short Hills, New Jersey where workers organized under the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and failed to win a union vote. Ahead of the vote, CWA accused Apple of illegal anti-union retaliation against one of the Short Hills employees leading the union drive. To Apple, such illegal behavior was likely worth the price. While individual employees have their livelihoods at stake, the company has nothing to lose but a few thousand dollars.

It’s not just about money but also power (which ultimately translates into more money). Workers wanting union representation aren’t just fighting for better pay and benefits but for humane treatment. Corporate profiteering is built on worker insecurity, the ability to hire and fire at will, and offering unpredictable shifts that best serve the company. Indeed, shift scheduling is a key sticking point in IAM CORE’s negotiations with Apple for its Towson store workers who voted to strike.

There are good reasons why corporations fight unions: hundreds of studies point to the negative impact that unions have on corporate profits. Conversely, there is a clear correlation between unions and higher wages, benefits, and worker protections. Even more encouragingly, unions lead to better wages even for non-union employees, putting upward pressure on employers to compete with unionized workers.

Many modern corporate employers who fight unions market themselves as having liberal values and being pro-worker. Apple touts itself as one of the biggest job creators in the U.S., responsible for 2 million jobs in all 50 states, and boasts that “unlike with many companies, both full- and part-time employees are eligible for such benefits as health insurance, matching retirement contributions, and an employee stock purchase plan.”

But, when forced to live up to their stated ideals, such corporations transform into profit-hungry gangsters. “Progressive-branded companies therefore offer free, built-in leverage to worker organizing campaigns,” wrote labor journalist Hamilton Nolan. “There is nothing that will force an employer to live up to all the stuff it said about caring for employees faster than a demand for union recognition.”

Some companies choose to lean into their stated liberal values, most notably Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which refreshingly decided to embrace the newly formed Scoopers United union instead of unleashing union-busting law firms on its workers.

Even Microsoft, a major tech company that has a history of being what the New York Times called a “poster child for corporate ruthlessness,” is seemingly choosing the path of union acceptance. The company’s vice chair and president, Brad Smith announced in 2022 that Microsoft would work collaboratively with unions.

The Times speculated that Microsoft’s decision to embrace unions was an attempt to appease the pro-labor Biden administration ahead of a corporate acquisition of a video game company. Regardless of its reasoning, working with organized labor instead of against it is good for society, even if it’s bad for individual corporate bottom lines.

The good news is that in spite of union membership rates continuing to drop precipitously, the percentage of people who see unions in a favorable light has increased to 71 percent, and among young people a whopping 88 percent. The number of workers petitioning to join unions has jumped, as has strike activity. The only thing standing in the way of converting the union dreams of Apple workers and others into reality is corporate willingness to break labor laws.

By Sonali Kolhatkar

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her most recent book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

Source: Independent Media Institute

Credit Line: This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Procter & Gamble, Mondelēz, And Nestlé Are Among 10 Of The Leading Consumer Brands Driving Global Deforestation

05-19-2024 ~ Despite corporate commitments, deforestation rates remain high, and community land conflicts continue.

Since the turn of the century, there has been a consistent average annual loss of 3 to 4 million hectares (7.4 to 9.9 million acres) of tropical forest globally. This puts us far from reaching the goal of zero deforestation by 2030, a target embraced in 2021 by 145 countries during the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Besides damaging the local environment, deforestation threatens our societies and economies by elevating carbon emissions and exacerbating the climate crisis. Land use change—mainly deforestation—contributes as much as a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. So, solving the climate crisis means ending rampant deforestation. And while national commitments are essential, the climate solution can only come from a collaboration between all stakeholders, and that includes, importantly, the private sector.

“Though countries need to take the lead, solving the climate crisis is not up to them alone. Non-state actors—industry, financial institutions, cities, and regions—play a critical role in getting the world to net zero no later than 2050. They will either help scale the ambition and action we need to ensure a sustainable planet, or else they strongly increase the likelihood of failure. The planet cannot afford delays, excuses, or more greenwashing,” said Catherine McKenna, chair of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, in a 2022 report that explored, in part, the role of business in achieving net zero emissions.

However, big multinational brands pose a major problem. Despite commitments to improve their supply chains, deforestation—as well as violence against those people defending land rights—remains increasingly high worldwide.

Deforestation rose 3.2 percent worldwide in 2023, according to a report published in April 2024 by Global Forest Watch, a forest monitoring project of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit research organization.

In 2020, 227 lethal attacks on land and environmental defenders were recorded by Global Witness, an international NGO that investigates the links between natural resource exploitation and human rights abuses.

Major Consumer Brands Are Failing
Keep Forests Standing,” a 2023 report by my organization, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a nonprofit environmental group, revealed that many companies are still profiting from destructive practices, failing to bridge the gap between their public promises and their harmful actions.

Our report identified ten multinational corporations as significant contributors to deforestation and human rights abuses through their supply chains: Colgate-Palmolive, Ferrero, Kao, Mars, Mondeléz, Nestlé, Nissin Foods, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever. While some progress has been made, particularly with policies like No Deforestation, No Peatlands, No Exploitation (NDPE), implementation remains incomplete, especially in regions like Indonesia and Malaysia.

Producing a ‘scorecard’ for each brand, we urged them to take concrete actions to protect forests and communities. The scorecard uses rigorous criteria to assess policies and transparency in reporting. Unfortunately, in 2023, none of the evaluated brands achieved an ‘A’ grade, with Procter & Gamble, Mondeléz, Ferrero, and Nissin Foods performing the worst.

These brands wield considerable economic power, influencing global markets for ‘forest-risk commodities,’ particularly agricultural products such as palm oil, soy, cocoa, coffee, wood, pulp and paper, and beef.

Effective government regulations certainly help reduce the effects of climate change. However, global brands must move beyond empty promises and take decisive steps to address their role in driving deforestation and human rights violations. We need a genuine commitment and meaningful action from business leaders to protect forests and communities for future generations. Consumers and all of civil society play a crucial role in holding these brands accountable and demanding action to halt deforestation and rights abuses.

Trends and Developments
In the early 2020s, alarming environmental data highlighted the escalating crises facing our planet: 2022 saw forest loss equivalent to the size of Switzerland, and in 2023, record-breaking temperatures occurred, with over a million species teetering on the edge of extinction. Amidst these enormous challenges, some hope has emerged from regulatory developments and corporate claims—albeit with reservations.

The European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) represents a potentially pivotal shift in accountability for forest-risk commodities. Mandating traceability to land plots and imposing fines for deforestation carried out after 2020, the regulation demands robust due diligence from importing companies. Even so, major brands lag in compliance, exposing investors to significant risks. There remains substantial room for improvement when it comes to achieving true transparency and genuine corporate support for the EUDR.

Meanwhile, brands such as Mars, Nestlé, and Ferrero asserted they had achieved or were approaching 100 percent deforestation-free supply chains. Presenting limited evidence and overlooking loopholes, these assertions carry little weight. Their claims lacked independent verification, often relying on consultants with vested interests. Unilever stood out as the only brand demanding independent verification from its suppliers, though it falls short in its non-compliance protocols. Other brands relied on self-reported data or flawed certification systems, raising doubts about the credibility of their claims. This is classic greenwashing. Read more

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Ravaged By Floods: Afghanistan’s Desperate Plight

Map en.wikipedia.org

05-15-2024 ~ Unprecedented flash floods wreak havoc in Afghanistan, leaving devastation in their wake and plunging the nation into crisis.

Nearly 315 people have died, and over 1,600 have suffered injuries in catastrophic flash floods that swept through various provinces in Afghanistan on Friday, May 10. Authorities have declared a state of emergency in response to the situation. Northern Baghlan province bore the brunt of the devastation, with a death toll of over 300 and thousands of houses either destroyed or damaged. Torrential rains have wreaked havoc in several provinces, including Takhar, Badakhshan, Ghor, and Herat.

Flash floods happen when heavy rain overwhelms normal drainage. Climate change, which warms the atmosphere, boosts extreme rainfall, increasing the likelihood of these events. These floods have had a deep impact on the population, as many have lost homes and livelihoods. Rescue teams are working on the ground, but reaching flooded areas has become tough.

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed his solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and extended his condolences to the families of the victims. He added that the UN was collaborating with local authorities to provide assistance.

Afghanistan ranks among the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change and has been experiencing a rise in extreme weather conditions, particularly floods, droughts, and sand and dust storms. These phenomena have led to the loss of lives and livelihoods, as well as significant damage to infrastructure. Yet, despite being one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, Afghanistan was not represented at COP27, the crucial 2022 UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Nations acknowledged the need for finance to tackle climate-related loss and damage, agreeing to establish a fund and funding arrangements.

Drought and Extreme Weather Conditions
In 2022, Afghanistan confronted its most severe drought in 30 years, worsening an already challenging scenario in a nation where drought ranks as the most frequently reported disaster among households. Rising temperatures are swiftly altering precipitation patterns, resulting in reduced water accessibility for the people. This scarcity not only impacts livelihoods but also escalates disease outbreaks and prompts displacement within communities. Over the years, the mean annual temperature has experienced a substantial increase, increasing glacier and snow melt, which serve as crucial water sources for rivers during the summer months. Between 1960 and 2008, the mean annual temperature climbed by 0.6 degrees Celsius, with an additional rise of 1.2 degrees Celsius from 2009 to 2016, amplifying the challenges confronting the country.

A substantial number of Afghanistan’s primary rivers originate in the central highlands, specifically in Bamyan and Daikundi Provinces. Nevertheless, these critical water sources are currently facing significant challenges due to unpredictable rainfall and rapid alterations in the quantity and timing of snowfall at elevated altitudes. Persistent drought conditions are leading to the depletion of surface-water sources such as springs, while also causing a decline in groundwater levels for hand-dug and shallow wells. In Kabul Province, various wells have dried up resulting in an acute water shortage.

Amid the severe droughts and rising temperatures, Afghanistan is experiencing significant fluctuations in extreme weather patterns. In August 2022, neighboring Pakistan received more than three times its typical rainfall, making it the wettest August since 1961. While not to the same degree, Afghanistan also encountered unusually intense heavy rains and flooding during the same month, predominantly impacting the central, eastern, western, and southeastern regions of the country.

This type of weather is making it harder for people to get enough food, leading to more malnutrition and sickness. It’s even worse because the economy is struggling, and the effects of 40 years of war have made things tough. Half of the population doesn’t have enough to eat, and 6 million people are very close to starving.

In Afghanistan, the prevalence of child stunting is alarmingly high, with 41 percent of children under the age of five affected. Additionally, the rate of wasting, which represents severe acute malnutrition, is also remarkably elevated at 9.5 percent. Anemia affects one in three adolescent girls in the country.

Since the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, the Afghan economy has contracted by 27 percent, leading to economic stagnation. Unemployment has doubled, and only 40 percent of the population has access to electricity. Sectors like finance have essentially collapsed, and there are no major sources of economic activity such as exports or public expenditure, leaving small and medium enterprises and farmers as the lifeblood of the faltering economy.

What Has Led to This?
One of the main reasons for Afghanistan’s crisis was the long-lasting war that damaged the country inside and out. To address climate change and the economic crisis, the country requires significant financial resources. However, strict measures from the U.S. and the Taliban’s policies have prevented this from happening. Similar to numerous nations impacted by global warming, Afghanistan has made minimal contributions to the issue and will require substantial international assistance to withstand its effects.

Before August 2021, Afghanistan relied heavily on foreign aid, accounting for 75 percent of its economy. When the Taliban took over on August 15, 2021, donor governments, led by the U.S., told the World Bank to stop providing around $2 billion in international aid. This aid had been used to pay salaries for millions of teachers, health workers, and other essential staff, as well as for various projects funded by organizations like the International Development Association. These funds helped many Afghan families, including those who were very poor, by providing cash-for-work opportunities, cash distributions, and support for their livelihoods.

However, when this aid was cut off, countless Afghan households lost their main source of income. Additionally, budgetary support from organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was also stopped. As a result, the Afghan Central Bank lost its ability to work with international banks and financial institutions like the World Bank, IMF, and ADB.

The bans on female education and Afghan women working in NGOs and the UN have severely harmed Afghanistan’s long-term economic and social progress. They have hastened the departure of educated women and men, leading to a brain drain. Moreover, these restrictions have dampened donors’ willingness to offer ongoing humanitarian aid. Additionally, the Taliban’s successful implementation of a ban on opium poppy cultivation has led to approximately $1 billion in lost annual income for rural Afghan households. Consequently, the nation is increasingly dependent on coal exports, leading to illegal mining in various areas and raising climate concerns.

This series of events in Afghanistan paints a dire picture of struggle and hardship. The devastating flash floods, coupled with the ongoing economic crisis and the long-lasting impacts of war, have left the country reeling.

By Pranjal Pandey

Author Bio: This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Pranjal Pandey, a journalist and editor located in Delhi, has edited seven books covering a range of issues available at LeftWord. You can explore his journalistic contributions on NewsClick.in.

Source: Globetrotter

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Seven Features Of Ancient Enterprise

Michael Hudson

05-15-2024 ~ The changing context for enterprise through the centuries reminds us that business activities are not universal but fluid and alter according to society’s practical priorities and ethics.

There are multiple differences between antiquity’s economic practices and those of the modern world, and these should be borne in mind when considering the changing context for enterprise through the centuries. Whereas modern business largely operates on credit, in archaic and classical times handicraft workshops were located on basically self-sufficient landed estates, including those of the large public institutions. Such industry was self-financed rather than operating on credit, which was extended mainly for long-distance and bulk trade.

Furthermore, entrepreneurs in antiquity either headed wealthy families or sought fortunes by managing other people’s money, which typically was provided subject to a stipulated return. Regardless of the source of their capital, they coordinated a complex set of relationships whose institutional structure evolved throughout the second and first millennia BC.

The Importance of Land
From Babylonian times down through late Republican Rome, commercial income tended to be invested in land. But there was no price speculation on credit until the late first century BC in Rome. Land was the major savings vehicle and sign of status. The largest estate owners shifted subsistence land to growing cash crops, headed by olive oil and wine in the Mediterranean, and dates in the Near East, harvested increasingly by slaves.

Lending Was Mainly for Commercial Trade Ventures
We do not find banking intermediaries lending out people’s savings to entrepreneurial borrowers. Throughout the Near East, what have been called “banking families” such as the Egibi are best thought of as general entrepreneurs. They did hold deposits and make loans, but they paid the same rate of interest to depositors as they charged for their loans (normally 20 percent annually). There was no margin for arbitrage, and no credit superstructure to magnify the supply of monetary metal on hand.[1] Promissory notes circulated only among closely knit groups of tamkaru, so a broad superstructure of credit was only incipient, and did not come to fruition until modern times with the development of fractional-reserve banking from the seventeenth century onward.[2] Most lending was for commercial trade ventures—in which the creditor shared in the risk as well as the gain—or took the form of predatory agrarian loans or claims for arrears on taxes or other fees owed to royal or imperial collectors. Down to modern times, small-scale personal debt was viewed as the first step toward forfeiting one’s property, a danger to be entered into only unwillingly. The dominant ethic was to keep assets free of debt, especially land.

Moneylending in classical Greece was mainly in the hands of outsiders, foreigners such as Pasion in Athens. In Rome the elite left banking to low-status individuals headed by slaves or freedmen, ex-slaves who “confine[d] their activities to bridging loans and the provision of working capital,” operating only “on the margins of trade and industry.”[3]

Ancient Entrepreneurs Were Not Independent SpecialistsThroughout antiquity entrepreneurs pursued a broad range of activities, organizing and managing voyages, fields, workshops, or other productive units. They rarely acted by themselves for just their own account but as part of a system. Traders and “merchants” tended to work via guilds, such as those organized by Assyrian traders early in the second millennium, and in the Syrian and “Phoenician” trade with Aegean and Mediterranean lands from the eighth century BC on. Wealthy “big men” such as Balmunamhe in Old Babylonian times, Assyrian traders in Asia Minor,[4] the Egibi and Marushu in Neo-Babylonia, Cato and other Romans spread their capital over numerous sectors—long-distance and local trade, provisioning the palace or temples with food and raw materials, leasing fields and workshops, moneylending and (often as an outgrowth) real estate.

As late as the second century BC when we begin to pick up reports of the Roman publicani, they had not yet begun to specialize. Despite the fact that collecting taxes and other public revenue must have required a different set of skills from furnishing supplies to the army and other public agencies, most publicani acted opportunistically on an ad hoc basis. “What the companies provided was capital and top management, based on general business experience,” observes Ernst Badian,[5] probably with a small permanent staff of assistants and subordinates. An entrepreneur might run a ceramic workshop, a metal workshop, or the like, as well as dealing in slaves or renting them out. Richard Duncan-Jones[6] concludes: “The term negotiator was widely interpreted, including not only merchants, shopkeepers and craftsmen but moneylenders and prostitutes.”

Market Development and Patent Protection Were Alien Concepts
There was no such thing as patent protection or “intellectual property” rights, and little thought of what today would be called market development. Artistic styles and new techniques were copied freely. Moses Finley[7] cites the story, “repeated by a number of Roman writers, that a man—characteristically unnamed—invented unbreakable glass and demonstrated it to Tiberius in anticipation of a great reward. The emperor asked the inventor whether anyone shared his secret and was assured that there was no one else; whereupon his head was promptly removed, lest, said Tiberius, gold be reduced to the value of mud… neither the elder Pliny nor Petronius nor the historian Dio Cassius was troubled by the point that the inventor turned to the emperor for a reward, instead of turning to an investor for capital with which to put his invention into production.”

Entrepreneurs Worked in a War-Oriented Environment
Even when entrepreneurs played a nominally productive role, they worked in a war-oriented environment. A major source of fortunes was provisioning of the army, mainly with food but also with manufactured goods. Frank[8] notes that during 150-80 BC “we hear of only one man… who gained wealth by manufacturing, and that was in public contracts for weapons during the Social War (Cicero, in Pis. 87-89).” On the retail level, Polanyi’s paradigmatic example of free price-making markets was the small-scale food sellers who followed Greek armies. Provisioning armies with food was indeed the main commercial activity, with the most economically aggressive being the public contractors who supplied Roman armies on the wholesale level. Contracts were set at auctions that became notoriously “fixed” by the first century BC.

Enterprise Was Considered Déclassé
There was a basic conflict between social ambition for high status and the aristocratic antipathy to engaging directly in business ventures. “Although Aristotle asserted that ‘unnatural’ chrematistike (money-making) knew no bounds,” Humphreys concludes, “the general impression given by our sources is that the majority of Athenians were quite ready to give up the effort to make money as soon as they could afford a comfortable rentier existence, and that even the few who continued to expand their operations could not pass on the same spirit to their sons. The result was small-scale, disconnected business ventures, assessed by the security of their returns rather than their potentiality for expansion.”

The same was true in Ancient Rome. Reflecting the disdain in which active participation in money-seeking commerce was held by their aristocratic ethic, most of the shippers engaged in Rome’s maritime trade were foreigners or ex-slaves owning one or two small sailing vessels.

Enterprise Was Tied to Long-Distance Trade
The most typical form of enterprise was long-distance trade. Its organizational pattern changed little from the epoch when Mesopotamia’s temples and palaces provided merchants with commodities or money.

Opportunities for making money evolved as a by-product of this mercantile role. In Old-Sumerian documents, Leemans [9] notes, “damkara are only found as traders. But when private business began to flourish after the beginning of the Third Dynasty of Ur [2112-2004 BC], the tamkarum was the obvious person to assume the function of giver of credit.” By the time of Hammurabi’s Babylonian laws, in many cases “tamkarum cannot denote a traveling trader, but must be a money-lender.” Leemans concludes [10]: “The development from merchant into banker [that is, a moneylender or investor backing voyages and similar partnerships] is a natural one, and there is no essential difference between these two professions—surely not in Babylonia where in principle no distinction was made between silver (money in modern terms) and other marketable stuffs. In a society whose commerce is little developed, trade is only carried on by merchants, who buy and sell. But when commerce increases, the business of a merchant assumes larger proportions.”

Notes:
[1] Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East by Michael Hudson and Marc Van De Mieroop (eds.), 2002, pp. 345-347.
[2] Randall Wray, ed., 2004. Credit and State Theories of Money: The Contributions of A. Mitchell Innes by Randall Wray, 1995. See especially the articles by Ingham and Gardiner.
[3] David Jones. 2006. The Bankers of Puteoli: Finance, Trade, and Industry in the Roman World by David Jones, 2006, p. 245.
[4] Trade and Finance in Ancient Mesopotamia: Proceedings of the First MOS Symposium J. G. Dercksen, ed., 1999, p. 86.
[5] Publicans and Sinners: Private Enterprise in the Service of the Roman Republic by Ernst Badian, 1972, p. 37.
[6] The Economy of the Roman Empire: Quantitative Studies by Richard Duncan-Jones, 1974.
[7] The Ancient Economy by Moses Finlay, 1973, pp. 147: 871.
[8] An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome. Vol. 1, Rome and Italy of the Republic by Tenney Frank, ed., 1933, p. 291.
[9] The Old-Babylonian Merchant: His Business and His Social Position by W.F. Leemans, 1950, p. 11.
[10] The Old-Babylonian Merchant: His Business and His Social Position by W.F. Leemans, 1950, p. 22.

By Michael Hudson

Author Bio: Michael Hudson is an American economist, a professor of economics at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, and a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. He is a former Wall Street analyst, political consultant, commentator, and journalist. You can read more of Hudson’s economic history on the Observatory.

Source: Human Bridges

Credit Line: This article was produced by Human Bridges.

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