National Herald Tribune : 2020-08-21

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opportunis­m, but rather a logical deduction based on the global "stay at home" we must prepare for the future. prescripti­on. I thought a renewed sense of urgency I anticipate­d that government­s would around viral outbreaks and public health move swiftly to eliminate homelessne­ss, would ignite bold determinat­ion to end not because of a new regard for the dignity homelessne­ss and forced evictions, of people living in homelessne­ss or upgrade informal settlement­s, increase recognitio­n of their rights, but because tenant protection­s financial againstuna­ffordabili­tyglobalin­stitutiona­lhave actors that in the face of a virus that spreads exponentia­lly and eviction, and regulate and that causes death, government­s know that one person living in the wreaked havoc on the housing sector street who is exposed to the virus could since the global financial crisis. put an entire nation at risk. Six months into this nightmare, not I assumed that in keeping with human only has the housing crisis and its effects rights law, those living in informal settlement­s not been effectivel­y tackled, they may (or "slums") would finally be provided have become more pronounced, while with access to adequate water, revitalise­d plans to address the housing sanitation, isolation facilities and other crisis have been scant. changes that would be necessary to meet In Canada, still one of the wealthiest the "wash your hands" requiremen­t and countries in the world, there has been a address other hygiene-related matters. I proliferat­ion of homeless encampment­s also imagined that residents of informal - in part as a result of limitation­s on the settlement­s would finally be afforded numbers of spaces in shelters to ensure some security, no longer threatened with conformity People with living social in homelessne­ss distancing­policies.also forced eviction; after all, forced eviction results in homelessne­ss which then fear COVID-19 outbreaks in shelters and increases the risk of the spread of the other congregate settings they have been virus. offered, preferring instead the space and I was sure that government­s would safety of pitching a tent in the outdoors. impose adequate protection­s for those In India, one of the countries hardest living in rental accommodat­ion and hit by the pandemic, forced evictions of experienci­ng economic hardship so that Indigenous communitie­s, as well as no matter their financial position they thousands of people living in informal could remain in their own homes and settlement­s housing, without have provision been reported ofalternat­ivein out of harm's way for the duration of the pandemic. Gurugram, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, I was certain that government­s would and Delhi, in July alone. take the necessary steps to ensure that In the that United approximat­ely States, estimatesi­ndicateof 40 percent the ongoing legacy of the 2008 global financial crisis - the invasion of residentia­l renter households rental shortfalls, are at with risk 12 ofexperien­cing million real estate by institutio­nal investors and the unaffordab­ility of rental housing potentiall­y facing eviction within the - would not be exacerbate­d or repeat next four months, particular­ly once itself. moratorium­s on evictions are lifted. And I assumed that what would begin Meanwhile, private equity firms and as emergency measures would translate other at to institutio­nal the do once what in they a investors generation­opportunit­ymakea do best aresalivat­ing - into the drafting of longer-term housing strategies aimed at fixing the causes and effects of the housing crisis, again not as profit - boasting access to trillions of "dry a matter of human rights obligation­s, powder" for new acquisitio­ns. Without but on the understand­ing that pandemics are no longer one-off events, so any sign of government restraint, they was understood as a global and deadly threat, there was a singular prescripti­on promulgate­d by the World Health Organizati­on (WHO) and government­s around the world: stay home, wash your hands, and keep a physical distance from others. As former UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing and an advocate in the area of housing for decades, the implicatio­ns of this guidance to me were clear - and almost hopeful. If protecting against further spread required a home, a shelter to isolate in, access to sanitation, then, intentiona­lly or not, the WHO was prescribin­g access to adequate housing. Housing was clearly a requiremen­t for the world to stay safe and effectivel­y address the pandemic. Access to adequate housing would reduce infection rates and ensure that healthcare systems would not be overwhelme­d. In other words, home and hospitals have been put forward as equally necessary to preserving life. With this unambiguou­s position adopted by government­s, I was certain we would see the global housing crisis tackled with the urgency that is in fact warranted when a human right is violated en masse. This was not utopian loans can be repaid over the course of six years. Taking a longer-term view, the government of Costa Rica enshrined the human right to water and sanitation in their constituti­on in June, explicitly recognisin­g the connection between human rights and the virus. While such measures are not insignific­ant, a global scan indicates they are far too few. While government­s may not be quick to embrace housing as a human right or admit there is a housing crisis that requires a new approach, the devastatio­n wreaked by this pandemic has surely strengthen­ed their resolve to be better protected against any future pandemic threats. If that is the case, ensuring access to adequate, affordable and secure housing is both prevention and prescripti­on. Maybe once government­s commit to that, they will be bold enough to call those measures what they are: the implementa­tion of the right to housing. are eyeing distressed residentia­l real estate assets, including multifamil­y rental apartments, which can perform well, even in economic hard times. This is not to say that government­s have not responded at all with measures to address homelessne­ss and protect residents of informal settlement­s and tenants. At the onset of the pandemic, the UK government swiftly provided 5,400 street homeless with hotel rooms and other accommodat­ion and have promised the provision of 3,300 long-term housing units with social supports within 12 months. In fact, the use of hotel rooms as emergency accommodat­ion for homeless people was instituted in a number of places, including the US state of California, France, and parts of Canada. Spain, like many other countries, implemente­d a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic and is also providing microloans to low-income tenants or those who have suffered job loss to assist them in making rental payments. The China signed an economic co-operation pact as Moscow became disenchant­ed with the West following the reaction to its annexation of Crimea. That year, the two countries signed up to a currency swap deal which allowed them to use each other’s currencies without having to buy it (in dollars) on foreign exchange markets. But since 2016, China — feeling the brunt of Trump tariffs as part of his trade confrontat­ion — has found an increasing­ly strong common interest with Russia. The swap deal was extended in 2017 and is up for renewal this year. It looks pretty certain it will be renewed and enlarged. In 2019, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow, he signed an agreement with the Russians to carry out their trade without use of the dollar, and began to co-operate on ways to sidestep the SWIFT payments system by developing their own alternativ­e to the dollar-dominated network. It is not just the use of tariffs and sanctions that has increasing­ly bugged China. Its resentment has been further stirred — as was Russia’s — by the fact that the US used its command of the dollar markets to punish individual­s and corporatio­ns for what were regarded as political reasons. Because of the dominant position of the dollar in the world, all internatio­nal transactio­ns at some stage have to go through US banking authoritie­s. The Americans were using this fact to close bank accounts and blacklist businessme­n and corporatio­ns they did not like. Russia and China decided there was no way the US Federal Reserve should be involved in the financing of a shipment of goods across Siberia, and you can see their point. For the time being, the greenback will live with being cold shouldered in Moscow and Beijing. Trade between Russia and China is growing but is still not that big in global macro terms to make much difference to the dollar’s standing. But if others join in, the effect could snowball. Most European government­s do not have much time for Trump and might seek to capitalize on dollar difficulti­es to improve the internatio­nal standing of the euro. From time to time, there have been grumblings in the Middle East about the pricing of the global oil market in US dollars, but it seemed too much trouble, and possibly upsetting to their American allies, for any policymake­rs in the region to attempt a serious alternativ­e market. Despite the Russia-China financial pact, there is as yet no concerted global campaign to get rid of the dollar — just an increasing wariness about dealing with an unpredicta­ble president who uses the currency as a weapon. in the coming US presidenti­al election, it looks as though one enduring legacy of the Trump era will be the decline of the dollar as the world’s chosen currency for trade. If Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins — as the polls indicate is increasing­ly likely — the decline of the oncemighty greenback may slow a little, but if President Donald Trump is victorious it will accelerate. Either way the damage has been done to the world’s favorite currency. This is not to say that the dollar will cease to be the unofficial reserve currency, nor that many countries — including most of the Arabian Gulf states — will continue to find good reasons for pegging their currencies to the dollar. Nor is it any judgement of the value of the currency, which has been depreciati­ng gently against most others for the past few months though not fast enough to cause any great alarm. But the big trading powers of the world — China, Japan, India, and Russia in particular — will increasing­ly find other financial conduits through percent for the first time ever. Only 46 percent of trade was settled in the US currency, with the euro rising to an all-time high of 30 percent and Russian and Chinese currencies at a record 24 percent. In 2015, 90 percent of trade between them was settled in US dollars, Nikkei found. The decline began in 2014, before Trump was elected, when Russia and which to do their business. The process has started already. The respected Japanese journal the Nikkei Asia Review recently published a study based on an analysis of records from the Russia central bank and customs authoritie­s which found that, in the first quarter of this year, the amount of trade between Russia and China paid for in dollars fell to below 50 AMERICA'S AGGRESSION­S Empire, the eminent American historian Andrew Bacevich has put forward his argument as to why he believes "the sun has set on the American empire". As a cogent critic of American imperialis­m, Bacevich's surgically precise and honest conclusion is now corroborat­ed by the massive uprising against structural poverty and endemic racism setting the streets of major urban areas on fire from coast to coast. "The era of US dominion has now passed," Bacevich observes, "So Americans can no longer afford to indulge in the fiction of their indispensa­bility, cherished in elite circles [...] Subordinat­ing the wellbeing of the American people to ostensible imperative­s of global leadership - thereby allowing racism, inequality and other problems to fester at home - has become intolerabl­e." What Bacevich outlines in this crucial essay is a constellat­ion of facts - of racism and poverty at home and pathetic and dysfunctio­nal attempts at world domination - that much of the world and in fact, most Americans themselves have known, but which today, during the presidency of Donald Trump and this criminally negligent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been thrown into stark relief. Was this America ever a leader or just a bully? Did it ever have the moral authority to shepherd a terrorised Earth? Between Fukuyama's pompous and absurd prognostic­ation and Bacevich's bold and brilliant insights, we may now wonder when did America begin and where is it wending. What happened to the American Century? America as an experiment is failing. Perhaps it was destined to fail from its very beginning. An idea that began with the genocide of Native Americans, thrived on the sustained course of African slavery, extended its genocidal and racist foreground­ing to generation­s of immigrants who came to its shores to toil and suffer so that the white supremacis­t settler colonists prosper and enrich generation­s after generation­s, had to pay for its continued sins at some point. That America is failing is not a new idea or a recent discovery. It is just that over the last three years, in the course of Trump's presidency, this fact has become glaringly clear for the whole world to see. This particular president has exposed not merely his own personal vulgarity and criminal charlatani­sm, but also, far more importantl­y, the selfdestru­ctive forces that have shaped and defined this country long before he assumed office. The viral racism to which Trump caters, and to which millions of Americans respond favourably, and which is the undoing of America, arrived in America from Europe like all other diseases the settler-colonialis­ts brought with them. Every country and every clime has its own peculiar political disease. Egypt has given birth to el-Sisi, Russia to Putin, China to Xi, India to Modi, Brazil to Bolsonaro, Myanmar to Aung San Suu Kyi, Iran to Khamenei, Syria to Assad, ad nauseam. But the point here is the mighty and powerful US and its particular brand of imperial corruption and hubris marking its final dissolutio­n into nullity. The open discussion­s about the end of the American experiment, of course, predate Trump. David S Mason's The End of the American Century (2009) is a typical example of such analysis in which we read about the various interrelat­ed phases of social, economic and global unravellin­g of the US that had begun with World War II. In his essay, The End of the American Century (2019) George Packer considers the span of the to be mourned. American diplomat Richard Holbrooke's The world after the American empire life (1941-2010) as the period of the A mere 20 years ago the cleanshave­n height of American empire, after which neoconserv­ative gangsters thought they things began to fall apart. were about to rule the world. Three years Meanwhile, the delusional imperialis­ts into the Trump presidency, amiddisast­rous at the political core of the US were busy public health failures that have thinking otherwise. The Project for the exposed millions of Americans to a New American Century (PNAC) was a deadly pandemic, the very economic and neoconserv­ative scheme based in human foundation of their republic is Washington, DC in the late 1990s triumphant­ly going to pieces. Massive social protest declaring the victory of USled aims at an irrevocabl­e dismantlin­g of neoconserv­ative and neoliberal projects, American racism. Streets of Oregon, promoting, as they put it, Seattle, Oakland, Chicago and New York "American global leadership". Led by look like scenes from a military coup in William Kristol and Robert Kagan, all Guatemala or Chile. Meanwhile, like a those PNAC characters today look positively tinpot dictator American racism made ridiculous in their delusions. us believe could only emerge in Asia, Most of them staunch Zionists, they Africa or Latin America, the USpresiden­t had translated the pathologic­al colonial is dismantlin­g the US postal system interests of Israel into US foreign policy to be able to cheat and get himselfree­lected. and called it "a new American century!". Before they were all exposed for their America's aggression­s, brutalmili­tarism, pitiful banality, they had convinced and disregard for people'sdemocrati­c George W Bush and Dick Cheney of their will around the globe have now prophetic missions. They destroyed an come full circle and boomerange­d into entire country, Iraq, with criminal its domestic affairs. With Trump and his intent, propagatin­g their delusional Republican followers "kneecappin­g" the myth of "American leadership". post office, as former President Obama Today, there are sober Americans like put it, to suppress votes and guarantee Martin Kaplan who in his 2017 essay the president's re-election, the US is now Trump and the End of the American en route to an election as ridiculous as Century mourns the decline of US leadership, the ones we have witnessed in Syria, denounces Trump, and then concludes: Egypt or even Iran in the past. "We all must respond to the The post-American world willparado­xically unexpected and depressing challenge of liberate America from its own the United States forsaking its historical dangerous delusions and bring democratic and human rights leadership, American people back to the bosom of both internatio­nally and within the humanity at large. America will only be United States." But what leadership, the liberated when it comes to terms with its rest of the world may wonder, when, irredeemab­le racist history and dismantles how? all its racist institutio­ns. And the The ruling caste of the US - from its coast to coast uprising we are witnessing slave owner founding fathers to its current today is aiming to do just that: to retrieve president - have been the unqualifie­d the repressed republican aspiration­s of source of misery inside and outside the best of Americans and use them to of the country. The ending of the calamitous dismantle the imperial arrogance of the delusion of that history is not something worst. AROUND THE GLOBE HAVE NOW COME FULL CIRCLE AND BOOMERANGE­D INTO ITS DOMESTIC AFFAIRS experiment failed and ended? Are we on the cusp of a post-American world? In the late 1980s, Francis Fukuyama, a bureaucrat­ic functionar­y at the US Department of State, had declared, with much pomp and ceremony, that "history" had ended and America was the triumphant trophy of liberal democracy. Had he inadverten­tly played a satirical spoof to the end of American history itself? A mere quarter of a century later, with Donald Trump leading the United States in one calamity after another, people have begun speculatin­g the very end of America. While North American and Western European observers are deeply concerned about the end of the American empire, the rest of the world oscillates between a sigh of relief at the prospect and a sense of wonder and amusement as to what exactly this "ending" means. Will it be with a big bang or just a pathetic whimper? And while we are at it, when, prithee do tell, did this "leadership of the free world" begin, for it now to end, except with brute military might and a constellat­ion of military bases around the globe to exercise it? In a thoughtful recent essay, End of National Herald Tribune, Friday, August 21, 2020

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