Friday, December 28, 2007
Cityphilia by John Lanchester
This piece on London (also applicable to New York), banking and the current credit crunch contains the best description of the current economic situation I've read so far. The author is conversing with a banker friend of his, who just purchased a £1.4 million house in Ibiza:
"‘So we’ll have to stop running around spending money like drunken sailors,’ I said.
‘Well, drunk sailors tend to be spending their own money,’ Tony said. ‘By contemporary standards they’re quite prudent.’"
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Another Wal-Mart Bargain Made In China
"You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women." - Osama bin Laden
(First, my apologies for being so redundant by posting this excerpt from one of bin Laden's letters to the United Statesian people. I know the United Statesian media covers them ad nauseam, since the savants in charge of shaping public opinion have taken Sun Tzu's advice to know one's enemy so close to heart.) As you can probably tell, bin Laden - being the medieval, anti-communist reactionary prude that he is, ignorant of the fact that Islamic civilization was at its height when it was most liberal - is most peeved at the exploitation of women's sexuality for advertising and service industry purposes. For instance, Mexican domestic workers who have to ignore their own families to care for the pampered kids of wealthy United Statesians slip under his radar - maybe if they were required to wear those sexy French maid costumes, that would raise his ire?
But it is quite the pinnacle of hypocrisy for United Statesian politicians to croon about how their country stands for the liberation of women, while its consumption-based economy demands Chinese women to work as slaves. Oops, sorry, slavery is inapposite. In slavery, workers are human capital equipment, and must be well-fed and rested if only to slow the depreciation of the asset.
"Since there is not proper place to eat lunch, the women must sit along the side of the road. Most of the workers are so exhausted that after finishing their small meal, they will sleep sitting up on the roadside, resting their heads on their knees and hands.
Even [the] most minimal expenses—for basic food and tiny, one-room apartments—still cost the workers $86.23 a month, absorbing 93 percent of the monthly base wage of just $92.84. This is why workers must guard every cent they spend, while also being completely dependent upon long overtime hours to survive and hopefully save some money to send home to their families.
The routine shift is 12 ½ to 13 ½ hours a day, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, with nine-hour shifts on Saturday and Sunday. Actual working hours are 68 to 73 hours a week, including 28 to 33 hours of overtime, which exceeds China’s legal limit of permissible overtime by 237 to 297 percent!"
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Protesting Cartography or Places the United States has Bombed by elin o’Hara slavick, 1998 - 2005
"These drawings are manifestations of self-education on the subjects of U.S. military interventions, geography, politics, history, cartography, and the language of war. The drawings are also a means to educate others. I make them beautiful to seduce the viewer so that she will take a closer look, read the accompanying information that explains the horror beneath the surface. I wish for the viewer to be captured by the colors and lost in the patterns—as one would be if viewing an Impressionist painting—and then have the optical pleasure interrupted by the very real dots, or bombs, that make up the drawing. Unlike an Impressionist painting, there is no sense of light in these drawings. And unlike typical landscape paintings, these drawings are based on surveillance, military, and aerial photography and maps.
As Miles Harvey writes in The Island of Lost Maps, 'In the seventeenth and eighteenth century mapmakers were referred to as ‘world describers.’ In geometry, describe means to draw or trace the outline of something; in poetry, it means to get at the essence of something, to bring it to life in a way that’s both startling and beautiful. You’ve got to do both kinds of description – and do it in a medium that’s partially visual, partially mathematical, partially textual, a complicated miscellany of scale, orientation, projection, grids, signs, symbols, lines, colors, words.'
I draw inspiration and information from many sources, but especially from William Blum’s book, Killing Hope – U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since W.W.II. Blum writes, 'What might be the effect upon the American psyche if we were compelled to witness the consequences of U.S. foreign policy close up? What if the Americans who dropped an infinite tonnage of bombs, on a dozen different countries, on people they knew nothing about, had to come down to earth and look upon and smell the burning flesh?' I believe Americans have begun to smell the 'burning flesh' since September 11. Do bombing campaigns make the world safer or free from terrorism? Or do they just increase the death toll, the already high levels of fear and anger, the rage and endless grieving in this world? Can any deadly bombs distinguish between an innocent civilian and a terrorist, a child or a soldier, a wedding party or an ammunition facility?
Miles Harvey continues, 'For early humans, mapping may have served to achieve what in modern behavioral therapy is known as desensitization: lessening fear by the repeated representation of what is feared. Representing supposedly dangerous terrae incognitae in map form as an extension of familiar territory may well have served to lessen fear of the peripheral world.' I suppose I want to instill fear back in to us, but not fear of the peripheral world. We should be afraid of ourselves. Maps are preeminently a language of power, not protest. I offer these maps as protests against each and every bombing."
Friday, December 14, 2007
"Since the mid 1940s the vast majority of people in most poor countries have experienced no improvement in their material and social wellbeing. Virtually all these countries, however, have received extensive financial aid and a plethora of development advice, particularly from the Word Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Former World Bank senior economist William Easterly notes that the 'West has spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades' without appreciably improving the wellbeing of a majority of the poor (Easterly 2006, 4). According to the World Development Report 2006, not only have poverty conditions in these countries failed to improve appreciably, but the global inequality gap has been 'widening for the slow-growing poorest countries' (Ferreira and Walton, 34). Meanwhile, in China (Angresano 2005), India, and other countries in East Asia that have not followed the World Bank and IMF development 'recipes' substantial proportions of the lower income groups have been lifted out of poverty.
There is a strong free market ideological bias in the orthodox economic graduate program. The systematized body of orthodox theory validates a particular institutional structure (a 'free market economy'), and the corresponding values inherent in this structure. 'Economics remains caught in a set of assumptions which not only serve enormously important ideological purposes, but also offers little help in understanding the modern world.' This ideology is 'neo-liberalism.' (Mancias, 39). Further, when graduates of orthodox economics programs join one of the international agencies, particularly the World Bank, what they learned in graduate school is reinforced through Bank training programs (Goldman 2005, 231-232). World Bank and IMF economists tend to become ideologically committed to defending the free market economy, and this commitment represents the singular most defining and important form of their self-identification. They become locked into defending an idealized economy that they presume exists in a pure and undiluted state and is superior to any alternative type of economy.
A growing body of literature (Ellerman; Easterly 2006; Goldman 2005, Juhasz ; Kinzer; Stiglitz, 2) has identified aspects of the combined and iterative impact of the 'set of elite power networks' (Goldman 2006, 12) - that is, the narrow, ideological graduate economic education, the ideological foreign policy interests of the USA and UK, and the commercial interests of multinational corporations and international banking firms - in shaping the orthodox development perspective and corresponding policies held by the international agencies.
Mounting evidence indicates that in poor countries '[o]rthodox policies (based on neoclassical assumptions) have almost invariably resulted in no growth advantage, higher volatility, increased inequality, little social progress, higher unemployment and financial crises' (Mehrotra, Santosh & Delamonica, 21). In the typical poor country there is no positive correlation between their having received an increase in such "aid" (defined as a combination of financial aid and the standard World Bank and IMF package [the 'Washington Consensus'] and an improvement in either their GDP growth rates or poverty reduction. One study argues 'that a higher IMF loan-participation rate reduces economic growth' (Barro and Lee, 1). A high ranking United Nations official points out that empirical evidence indicates the World Bank or IMF 'cannot point to any region in the world as having succeeded by adopting the policies that they promote or require in borrowing countries' (Jomo). Easterly reaches similar conclusions. He argues that '[o]ver 1959-2001, countries with below-average aid had the same growth rate as countries with above-average foreign aid. Poor countries without aid had no trouble having positive growth' (Easterly 2006, 39). Some IMF economists reached a similar conclusion, as they 'found no evidence that either 'short-impact aid' or any other type of aid had a positive effect on growth' (Easterly 2006, 49). In fact, there are numerous cases (e.g., Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Zaire) where an increase in IMF involvement can be associated with subsequent economic collapse (Easterly 2006, 218). In the case of Africa, most poor countries subject to the international agencies' 'structural adjustment' experienced negative or zero growth' (Easterly 2006, 68)."
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The Dismantling of Yugoslavia: A Study in Inhumanitarian Intervention (and a Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse — Part I by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson
Part II, III, IV, Notes, Glossary & Chronology
Two months ago, Monthly Review ran this piece challenging the narrative virtually the entire Western media told about the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. At the very least, one should be skeptical of a powerful military whose violence is cloaked in protestations of morality, justice and protecting the weak. After all, it wasn't long ago when Japan's depredations in Asia were undertaken for the purpose of protecting and liberating Asia from the evil of Western colonialism... will NATO's justifications someday meet the same fate as Japan's?
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
"On November 26, 2007 the Venezuelan government broadcast and circulated a confidential memo from the US embassy to the CIA which is devastatingly revealing of US clandestine operations ... The memo sent by an embassy official, Michael Middleton Steere, was addressed to the Director of Central Intelligence, Michael Hayden. The memo was entitled 'Advancing to the Last Phase of Operation Pincer' and updates the activity by a CIA unit with the acronym 'HUMINT' (Human Intelligence) which is engaged in clandestine action to destabilize the forth-coming referendum and coordinate the civil military overthrow of the elected Chavez government. The Embassy-CIA's polls concede that 57 per cent of the voters approved of the constitutional amendments proposed by Chavez..."
Looks like the CIA is not so busy with carrying on its murderous incompetence in Iraq and Iran that it cannot focus on what it calls "democracy promotion" in Venezuela as well. The CIA has always had strange bedfellows, but a tryst with a formerly Maoist group is new, as far as I know. And I love all the idealistic leftists in Venezuela who fight against the "authoritarian" Chavez; do they love fighting so much that they look forward to the day when they can fight against a pro-capitalist successor government, this time without the CIA's eager assistance?
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Have DU Will Travel - Iconoclast Interview With Leuren Moret by W. Leon Smith
"By firing radioactive ammunition, the U.S., U.K., and Israel may have triggered a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East that, over time, will prove deadlier than the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan.
So much ammunition containing depleted uranium(DU) has been fired, asserts nuclear authority Leuren Moret, 'The genetic future of the Iraqi people for the most part, is destroyed.'
'More than ten times the amount of radiation released during atmospheric testing (of nuclear bombs) has been released from depleted uranium weaponry since 1991,' Moret writes, including radioactive ammunition fired by Israeli troops in Palestine.
Moret is an independent U.S. scientist formerly employed for five years at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and also at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, both of California.
Adds Arthur Bernklau, of Veterans For Constitutional Law, 'The long-term effect of DU is a virtual death sentence. Iraq is a toxic wasteland. Anyone who is there stands a good chance of coming down with cancer and leukemia. In Iraq, the birth rate of mutations is totally out of control.'
Uranium is a heavy metal that enters the body via inhalation into the lung or via ingestion into the GI tract. It is excreted by the kidney, where, if the dose is high enough, it can induce renal failure or kidney cancer. It also lodges in the bones where it causes bone cancer and leukemia, and it is excreted in the semen, where it mutates genes in the sperm, leading to birth deformities.
Nuclear contamination is spreading around the world, [Dr. Helen] Caldicott adds, with heaviest concentrations in regions within a 1,000-mile radius of Baghdad and Afghanistan.
These are, notably, northern India, southern Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tibet, Pakistan, Kuwait, the Gulf emirates, and Jordan.
'Downwind from the radioactive devastation in Iraq, Israel is also suffering from large increases in breast cancer, leukemia and childhood diabetes,' Moret asserts."
"'...the military['s] job is to kill people and to destroy things. Depleted uranium is a very effective weapon. They are not responsible for anything that happens after that point. So they’re going to cover it up so that they can continue to use weapons that kill lots of people and destroy things. The U.S. government, the British government, the Australian government and countries that have used DU are violating international treaties. They are violating the Geneva and the Hague conventions. They’re violating the Geneva 1925 gas protocol that prohibits gas weapons that kill indiscriminately. We are violating our own federal laws. It meets the definition under U.S. federal code in two of three categories. It’s a weapon of mass destruction under our own federal law. It violates U.S. military law. What they’re really worried about is that they would be financially responsible for these terrible weapons and it would totally bankrupt any country. We can never clean up the Middle East or Central Asia. We can’t clean up the atmosphere. They poisoned our world.
Iraq, the former Yugoslovia, and Afghanastan are completely uninhabitable now. No one should be living there.'"
Israel, the hope of the Muslim world by Spengler*
In this editorial - you can get the gist from its name - someone writing under the pseudonym of Spengler wrote: "Buddhism in many forms teaches divine [sic] humility, but the Zen variety prevalent in Japan adapted itself well to the requirements of the samurai caste, which knew loyalty and submission, but not humility." This is a worthy perspective to take - this lens directs one's gaze past the religion as propounded by its theologians or apologists, and examines religion as practiced. Shame Spengler only used it to examine Japanese Zen Buddhism. Had he looked this way at Western Christianity, he may have realized that despite the humility propounded by its apologists to be at the core of Christianity, Western Christianity as practiced could hardly be said to be an instantiation of humility, or the protection of "the weakest and most despised" that he supposes emanates from humility. Ask an African slave, an American Indian, or even the masses of poor United Statesians throughout the centuries how their rulers, in their Christian humility, protected and cared for them.
"I am so terrified, America,
Of the iron click of your human contact.
And after this
The winding-sheet of your selfless ideal love.
Like a poison gas.”
- DH Lawrence, “The Evening Land”
In building his case that Islam does not have a positive view of humility, and therefore does not protect "the weakest and most despised", Spengler's gaze - so sharp when examining Japanese Zen Buddhism - is so blurry that he overlooks the third pillar of Islam, the zakat or tithe: 2.5% of one's savings or business revenue, and 5-10% of one's harvest, to be given to the destitute, the working poor, stranded travelers and others in need. This is a legal obligation peculiar to Islam.
* From what I've read of him, I think it is safe to say that Asia Times Online's Spengler is most likely a Catholic - a believer in Catholicism. Which is, in James Joyce's words, "an absurdity that is logical and coherent." Sometimes the logic and coherence in a Catholic's mind overcome the abundant absurdity, if only briefly. Check out Spengler on female sexuality:
"According to tradition across all cultures, the female sex drive vastly exceeds that of men. The Greek seer Tiresias, who had been both male and female, told the Roman gods (in Ovid's Metamorphoses) that women enjoy sex far more than men. In The Arabian Nights, the Persian Shah Shahryar observes his new bride comporting with a whole troop of slaves. Giovanni Boccaccio famously stated in The Decameron, 'While farmers generally allow one rooster for 10 hens, 10 men are scarcely sufficient to service one woman.' The matriarch Sarah's first reaction to the angelic annunciation of the birth of Isaac was, 'After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'
Across ages and cultures, women universally are said to be more libidinous than men. I can find no report to the contrary. Women get most of the pain in the propagation of the species, so they should get most of the pleasure."
Sunday, November 18, 2007
"A single change Sunday to the text of the final communique at an OPEC heads of state summit [in Riyadh] appears to have met pressure from Iran, Venezuela and their allies in the oil-producer group to focus attention on the anemic dollar.
Coinciding with calls by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries should start to flex its political muscles, ministers have agreed to create a committee to study how a currency basket for crude, currently priced in dollars, might work....
'The U.S. dollar has no economic value,' Mr. Ahmadinejad said at a news conference, claiming that Mr. Bush's policies are resulting in inflation in other countries.
His oil minister, Gholam Hussein Nozari, told Dow Jones Newswires: 'We have agreed to set up a committee consisting of oil and finance ministers from OPEC countries to study the impact of the dollar on oil prices.'
Iraq's Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told reporters: 'The committee is to submit to OPEC its recommendation on a basket of currencies that OPEC members will deal with.'
Iran had teamed up with Venezuela to push for a debate on the dollar and to insert a paragraph on it into the final communique.
The communique doesn't contain an explicit mention of the dollar, but, reading from it, Secretary General Abdalla Salem el-Badri said OPEC sought to 'study ways and means of enhancing financial cooperation among OPEC ... including proposals by some of the heads of state and governments in their statements to the summit.'
This is a change from the original draft of the communique, reviewed by Dow Jones Newswires Friday, which read that the group sought to 'encourage great economic and financial cooperation among member countries.'
Friday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal Friday advised ministers from OPEC not to mention the dollar in their final communique, saying it could further weaken the already-battered currency.
In comments broadcast by mistake on a live television feed from a closed-session meeting of foreign, oil and finance ministers from OPEC member countries, Prince Faisal said: 'We shouldn't mention the dollar because that would only endanger it more and aid its collapse.'
Prince Faisal changed his tune Sunday, saying at a press conference that OPEC wants to maximize its oil revenues and study the implications of 'the economic developments in the global economy today'.
The dollar further weakened Friday on slowing U.S. industrial production. The dollar, which recently hit a 26-year low versus sterling and an all-time low against the euro, has declined in recent months as the U.S. economy has gotten hit by housing and subprime woes.
Ecuador's President Correa said of OPEC's crude: 'We have to trade in a strong currency,' arguing that to stick with the dollar means oil-producing countries are handing off value to richer countries....
[Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that] OPEC is 'stronger than it's ever been in its history' and it must 'become a stronger player in the geopolitical domains' and play a role in battling poverty and assisting development.
Mr. Correa said; 'I agree completely ... OPEC needs a political vision to manage a strategic resource.
With its near-9 million barrels a day of production, the organization's linchpin, Saudi Arabia, holds enormous sway in the group, but King Abdullah may have sensed a shift in the group's center of gravity....
[Voicing his disagreement with Messrs. Correa and Chavez, and without any apparent sense of irony, U.S.-ally Abdullah said] 'Oil shouldn't be a tool for conflict; it should be a tool for development.'
...is that this guy, and others, haven't been overthrown in CIA-sponsored coups. (Not for lack of trying, you could say.) Chavez warns US at Opec summit
"Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, told the session: 'My fear is that any mention that Opec makes of studying the issue of the dollar will in itself have an impact.'
A microphone mistakenly left on meant that the comments of al-Faisal were accidentally broadcast to journalists on Saturday.
He rejected the proposal by Iran and Venezuela who wanted the meeting to discuss the weak dollar, saying: 'There are media people outside waiting to catch this point and they will add to it [exaggerate] and we may find that the dollar collapses.'"
Bill Hicks said about drugs: "George Bush says 'we are losing the war on drugs'. Well you know what that implies? There's a war going on, and people on drugs are winning it! Well what does that tell you about drugs? Some smart, creative motherfuckers on that side."
Support the Writers' Guild strike.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Ignore the dates in this one, just focus on the sound advice: the best way to weather the current market storm is to start off incredibly rich. After all, the pie may be shrinking, but the wealthiest 2% of the country still own over half of it.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Leading Democrats: “Expropriate the Expropriators” by Paul Street
"Wearing a red bandana and a Che Guevera T-Shirt autographed by Hugo Chavez, Clinton introduced her 'fellow-travelers on the road to American and world socialism.' Her new “comrades” and fellow Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama (sporting a new black beret and dashiki), John Edwards (wearing a vintage Soviet Red Army jacket purchased from a Russian clothier), Bill Richardson (dressed as Fidel Castro and sporting a Cuban cigar), Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd joined her on the stage of a high school auditorium to unveil a new 10-point plan 'to overthrow private ownership in the means of production and distribution' and to establish 'workers’ control.'
'I’m a realist,' Obama said. 'Let’s get real about solving poverty, inequality, and environmental collapse and putting meaning back into democracy at home and abroad. Let’s admit a basic truth: none of these problems are going to be fixed – none of these things are going to happen under capitalism.'
'I’m not opposed to all social systems,' Obama added. 'What I do oppose are dumb, destructive, oppressive, and exploitive social systems based on class, race, and gender hierarchy and the rule of the privileged few.'”
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Democracy and climate change: a story of failure by David Shearman
"If governments can recognise a cyclical financial emergency and in an instant move heaven and earth (and billions of dollars, pounds sterling and euros) to contain it, why can they not do the same in response to a global environmental emergency? [The answer comprises] institutional, ideological, and interest-laden factors together with the issue of who controls the public argument. [emphasis added]
It can be argued that all these factors have a common denominator: the fundamental flaws in liberal democracy. The market economy, now the linchpin of western culture, is fused with liberal democracy, such that each is dependent upon the other for survival. Together they have developed a liberty for the individual that has environmentally destructive consequences. The liberty to negate these consequences is constrained.
This article discusses some of the psychological aspects of this situation and introduces the idea of authoritarian action led by experts to address the ecological emergency."
The idea of democracy as the most desirable form of government has been remarkably successful throughout the world (at least until recently, when "democracy" began to be associated by some with what the U.S. did to Iraq). It is a compelling argument indeed that a government's legitimacy derives from the consent and approval it receives from the governed. Of course, every government is legitimate, since "legitimacy" means lawfulness and governments create the law; but the essential idea of democracy is that regardless of any particular government's claim to legitimacy, the only proper, ultimately "legitimate" source of law is the people themselves.
Democracy is rule by the people - the people, meaning by all of the people equally, not by some people disproportionally - and requires that the people create law, or at least that they choose a few people to create law for them. This latter form of democracy, representative democracy, is thought to be untroublesome in that it does not betray the essence of the concept; in fact, democracy is thought to be unwieldy and incapable of implementation without it. The problem with this form of democracy - actually-existing democracy - is that it requires perfect information, meaning that the people know perfectly well what laws their representatives are creating. Furthermore, they must know what their interests are, and have an informed opinion on what means are best to attain the fulfillment of their interests.
Ghandi once said that "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." One could also say that "I like your idea of democracy, but I do not like your democracies. Your democracies are so unlike your idea of democracy." The work that economist Joseph Stiglitz is best known for is his Information Economics, which overturned the traditional neoclassical assumption that free market systems feature perfect information, and demonstrated that due to the highly imperfect access market participants have to information, free markets are actually highly inefficient. This shortcoming of neoclassical economics is shared by democratic theory, and this is why our democracies are so unlike our idea of democracy. The people in a democracy do not have perfect access to information about the people campaigning to represent them or even about the various policy choices theoretically at their disposal. No serious analyst of the U.S. media, for instance, can argue that it actually provides the essential public service of informing the public about politicians, their country, the world around them or the various policies that the people might choose to implement.
"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" is a phrase ascribed to Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, abolitionist Wendell Phillips and others. Vigilance is not merely a state of mind; it requires information. Without an informed populace, democracy is an utter sham and liberty is unattainable. There is no liberty and no rule by the people where the people are un- or mis-informed; there is only rule by whichever group of people can best fool the people into voting them into power. This is illustrated in graphic detail in the United States today, where the people are ruled by the people who best use the vast propaganda apparatus of the media. The best campaigners truly serve only those upon whom they depend for their political success - those who pay for their multi-million dollar use of the media. The people do not rule, because they are not well-informed, and consequently cannot be vigilant. They cannot pay the price for liberty, and so do not enjoy it.
Because most Unitedstatesians are perfectly ignorant of socialist thought, they have not the slightest idea why someone like Che Guevara would be against "freedom of speech" or "freedom of the press" - other than that he must have been a despotic, power-hungry madman. (Actually, his experience in Guatemala, where an elected democratic socialist leader was overthrown by the CIA's use of force and propaganda, was formative.) A painting by Cuban avant-garde artist Carlos Enríquez Gómez, entitled "Campesinos Felices" (Happy Peasants) brilliantly explains why. In the foreground one sees a skeletal family, the embodiment of poverty and living death. In the background (along with a skeletal dog you can't see in this tiny pic) one sees a flier on a post holding up the pathetic family's hovel. The flier features a pig in a fancy suit and top hat, with one word below - "Vote".
Only a fool could suggest that Cuban peasants would be better off today if they had endured fifty more years of representative democracy and capitalism, and would not be, economically and socially, on par with their neighbors in Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. This is because economic elites can use their wealth to control the public argument. By putting up insurmountable roadblocks to perfect information, economic elites prevent actually-existing, representative democracies from embodying the essence of democracy: rule by the people.
Hence the reason why our democracies are proving incapable of effectively dealing with climate change - and have proven incapable of addressing poverty - is that the people do not have the information that is a prerequisite to self-rule.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Supermodel Spurns the Dollar - Dollar's Fall Collapses the American Empire; Bring Those 737 Overseas Military Bases Home! by Paul Craig Roberts
This from an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, and former Associate Editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review:
"The US dollar is still officially the world's reserve currency, but it cannot purchase the services of Brazilian super model Gisele Bundchen. Gisele required the $30 million she earned during the first half of this year to be paid in euros.
The macho super patriots who support the Bush regime still haven't caught on that US superpower status rests on the dollar being the reserve currency, not on a military unable to occupy Baghdad. If the dollar were not the world currency, the US would have to earn enough foreign currencies to pay for its 737 oversees bases [for starters; there are many other components of the military-industrial complex, which accounts for over half of discretionary spending by the U.S. government - J.F.], an impossibility considering America's $800 billion trade deficit.
When the dollar ceases to be the reserve currency, foreigners will cease to finance the US trade and budget deficits, and the American Empire along with its wars will disappear overnight. Perhaps Bush will be able to get a World Bank loan, or maybe one from the 'Chavez bank,' to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Foreign leaders, observing that offshoring and war are accelerating America's relative economic decline, no longer treat the US with the deference to which Washington is accustomed. Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, recently refused Washington's demand to renew the lease on the Manta air base in Ecuador. He told Washington that the US could have a base in Ecuador if Ecuador could have a military base in the US.
In his state of the nation message last year, Russian president Vladimir Putin said that Bush's blathering about democracy was nothing but a cloak for the pursuit of American self-interests at the expense of other peoples. 'We are aware what is going on in the world. Comrade wolf knows whom to eat, and he eats without listening, and he's clearly not going to listen to anyone.' In May 2007, Putin criticized the neocon regime in Washington for 'disrespect for human life' and 'claims to global exclusiveness, just as it was in the time of the Third Reich.'
Even America's British allies regard President Bush as a threat to world peace and the second most dangerous man alive. Bush is edged out in polls by Osama bin Laden, but is regarded as more dangerous than Iran's demonized president and North Korea's Kim Jong-il.
President Bush has achieved his dismal world standing despite spending $1.6 billion of hard-pressed Americans' tax money on public relations between 2003 and 2006.
Even as Gisele throws off the dollar's hegemony, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Columbia are declaring independence of the IMF and World Bank, instruments of US financial hegemony, by creating their own development bank, thus bringing to an end US suzerainty over South America.
An empire that has lost its backyard is finished."
The Enemy Within: Finding American Backs to Stab by William J. Astore
"The world's finest military launches a highly coordinated shock-and-awe attack that shows enormous initial progress. There's talk of the victorious troops being home for Christmas. But the war unexpectedly drags on. As fighting persists into a third, and then a fourth year, voices are heard calling for negotiations, even "peace without victory." Dismissing such peaceniks and critics as defeatists, a conservative and expansionist regime -- led by a figurehead who often resorts to simplistic slogans and his Machiavellian sidekick who is considered the brains behind the throne -- calls for one last surge to victory. Unbeknownst to the people on the home front, however, this duo has already prepared a seductive and self-exculpatory myth in case the surge fails.
The United States in 2007? No[*], Wilhelmine Germany in 1917 and 1918, as its military dictators, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his loyal second, General Erich Ludendorff, pushed Germany toward defeat and revolution in a relentless pursuit of victory in World War I. Having failed with their surge strategy on the Western Front in 1918, they nevertheless succeeded in deploying a stab-in-the-back myth, or Dolchstoßlegende, that shifted blame for defeat from themselves and Rightist politicians to Social Democrats and others allegedly responsible for losing the war by their failure to support the troops at home."
*...but of course it is also the United States in 2007.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
A moral audit of the British empire by Piers Brendon
"The history of the Raj was punctuated by further famines, which caused tens of millions of deaths. These were not, as Mike Davis claims, colonial 'holocausts'. But the British failed lamentably in India, as they did in Ireland, in their duty of care."
I don't know Piers, but if one defines a holocaust as a great destruction of human life, it is hard for me to understand why the Indian famines Mike Davis describes in his "Late Victorian Holocausts" do not so qualify. By forcibly drawing Indian agriculture into world markets under British dominion and thereby eviscerating traditional safeguards against drought-induced famine, the Raj "caused tens of millions of deaths". In India as in Ireland, food was shipped by rail away from famine-ravaged regions for sale on world markets (and British soldiers used lethal force to keep stores of grain from being eaten by starving Indians). Tens of millions of deaths resulted. How is this not a great destruction of human life, caused of course by drought but also by the crucial intervention of human agency - the British imperial system - and therefore, unequivocally, a "colonial holocaust"?
What's bad for the U.S. economy is not necessarily bad for the rest of the world. The current international economic structure is so unjust as to be absurd. Working people throughout the world slaving away to produce throwaway products for United Statesians, who produce little in return, while their central banks bankroll United Statesian deficits largely comprising military spending on wars and an international network of bases that the rest of the world hates and resents? The invisible hand, and its lesser known counterpart the visible hand of powerful governments, must surely be attached to an imbecile. If only it were time for the few who profit from this state of affairs to open the window and hop over the ledge.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Next came the fall of several hundred points in the Sensex. That is, barely a couple of days later. It took minutes for the top guns to swing into action. Fingers were in every dyke... What stood out, of course, was the swiftness of both government and media response to each twitch in the index.
No Minister came forward to calm the nation when India hit the 94th rank in the Global Hunger Index. That's out of 118 countries."
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Feeling the Effects of a Housing Bust (in NYC) by Andrew Beveridge
Also, if financial firms keep getting hammered, there could be a repeat of 1987, when the NYC housing market fell along with the stock market, but took eight years longer to recover. The 1929 crash is unlikely to happen again, since the ideology of believing in the perfection of free market capitalism died a few years after; and although it largely resurrected itself in the 80s, it is now understood by all but the most zealous that socialism has to be used to rescue capitalists whenever they stumble into one of their inevitable bouts of financial self-destruction.
Friday, November 02, 2007
"Take the current Republican party candidates for their party’s presidential nomination. The level of intelligence, emotional and intellectual maturity, and simple information about the subjects on which they discourse, would disqualify them from mainstream political rank in any other major democracy.
This is seriously distressing – although in principle a soluble problem, since there are plenty of intelligent people in the United States, as well as great universities and a rich culture. But elected U.S. government has been so debased by the national willingness to submit elections to the values and habits of a medium of entertainment, television, and to the corruptions of money, that it is hard to see that such a nation can indefinitely maintain representative government."
Worst EU Lobbying Awards 2007
Vote for the worst EU Lobbies! Celebrate freedom! As our wise Supreme Court says, propaganda is constitutionally-protected
Thursday, November 01, 2007
How Argentina Jump-Started Its Economy by Mark Weisbrot
I'm posting this in response to Monday's op-ed by The Wall Street Journal's Resident Latin America Hack, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, in which she wrote "the Kirchner government has made a mess of the economy." As opposed to the prior administration, which made a catastrophe ending in default and riots that we are to suppose was... well-organized?
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The High Stakes in Iraqi Kurdistan by Patrick Cockburn
"Turkish artillery is already firing shells across the border in the high mountains around Kani Masi, a well-watered border village in western Kurdistan, famous for its apple orchards. The shelling is persistent and is evidently designed as warning to the Iraqi Kurds. 'We are afraid but we have nowhere else to go,' said Mohammed Mustafa, an elderly farmer.
For the moment, the villagers are staying put. Many of them in this area are Syriac Christians whose parents or grandparents emigrated to Baghdad but had returned recently because of fear of sectarian killing in the capital. Omar Mai, the local head of Mr Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party in Kani Masi, said that seven villages in the area had recently been shelled.
He said that there were no PKK in the villages and that they stayed permanently in the high mountains. Another reason for the PKK guerrillas making themselves scarce in this area is that there are Turkish outposts and garrisons already inside Iraq, set up during previous incursions. At one point near the village of Begova the snouts of Turkish tanks point menacingly down the road."
Pilfered Scholarship Devastates Gen. Petraeus's Counterinsurgency Manual by David Price
On top of participating in an illegal war of aggression that has caused the loss of around a million lives and the exile of millions of Iraqis, Gen. Petraeus and others writing the new Counterinsurgency Field Manual are guilty of... plagiarism!
(is the idea to commit a bunch of small sins to cover the big ones up?)
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
"Give you the chills, yeah?
Developers don't build here
Property values low 'cause we still here
better believe most of us wanna leave
furthest we went was out of our minds, but we still here
from the cradle to the cage,
we bring our sons up to get gunned down,
our daughters to have more, it's war
we just a reflection of the world at large"
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Implications of Plutonomy by Girish Mishra
Friday, October 26, 2007
"Let one just question the premise: what is race and what is intelligence? Neither idea is physical, fixed, nor cross-cultural. Certainly, race and intelligence are real-but only as a social construction."
'Race' of course means whatever arbitrary skin color-based grouping happens to exist in your country; 'intelligence' means how well one does on some form of the IQ test or the SAT. Even if you buy into the social constructions of 'race' and 'intelligence', then according to IQ testing 'Asians' would be the most 'intelligent' 'race'. 'Asians' of course means Indians/Pakistanis in Britain and east/southeast Asians in the U.S. Russians, Persians, Kazaks etc. aren't 'Asian' notwithstanding the continent they live on.
In my world, the least intelligent race on earth is whatever bunch of idiots doesn't see the absurdity in this.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
This reminds me of the one thing I like that Winston Churchill said - sure wasn't the bit comparing Palestinians to dogs - "The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter." Looks like he was off by about 4 and 3/4 minutes.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Women Now Empowered By Everything A Woman Does
I think only the "Hoochie/Slut" t-shirts bit doesn't pass the satire bar, since that would actually be attacking sexual double standards by reclaiming erstwhile sexist expletives... maybe... but the rest is right on.
Mr. Fish - If I only had an uncompromised vote
...can't be had, so long as the voting public can be swayed by 30-second political advertisements, and each day in the U.S., people spend 4 hours watching TV, 3 hours listening to the radio and 14 minutes reading magazines.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I remember this as an interesting application of evolutionary psychology and memetic theory to archeology, written by an archaeologist. The writing style isn't very engaging though - it's a very slow slog at times.
Shennan does, however, have one of the best approaches to the debate about memetic theory:
"It seems that we still do not understand the psychological mechanisms involved in cultural inheritance, which remain the object of ongoing debate and investigation. However, rather than worry too much about this and assume that we cannot make any progress until the mechanism is fully understood, the way forward for archaeologists and anthropologists, if not for psychologists, seems to be to ignore the psychological mechanisms and accept that, whatever they may be, they lead to culture having the characteristics of an inheritance system with adaptive consequences. Even if the meme concept in the strict sense is problematical, the word meme has been such a successful meme itself that it represents a useful shorthand way of referring to the idea that culture is an evolutionary system involving inheritance. Archeology is particularly interested in those cases where the information passed on concerns ways of making and using artifacts. ... We can ask what are the population level processes characteristic of this inheritance system. This is what biologists did before they understood genetics. They could still measure the heritability of particular traits from one generation to the next without knowing the mechanisms involved. Indeed, it is well known that Darwin came up with his theory of natural selection while holding a completely erroneous view about how genetic transmission worked. "
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Attempts to compress a continent's history in 370-odd pages, and so it gets bogged down in the first half with a hard-to-follow succession of names and places (without enough maps). For a primer on African history, it's good, living up to its name and all, and on how Africa got to be in its current state, it's pretty enlightening.
Basically, like a lot of the rest of the world, there were a number of regions in Africa that were more advanced than Europe up till at least the fifteenth century. The northern half of Africa got integrated into the very advanced Islamic world through trade back when Europeans were digging potatoes out of the ground with six-toed feet, and at first contact European traders were actually importing West African cloth, for example. But not having Europe's geography meant not having as much pressure to develop ships (except Eastern Africa, which was trading as far as China before Portuguese barbarians sacked its main cities) and weapons. The killer for African development was the slave trade, which beyond depopulating the continent by some tens of millions was destructive by hamstringing its manufacturing base. First, trading human raw material for manufactured goods - aka comparative advantage - worked as it always has in history. It had a negative effect (contrary to the current orthodoxy in economics) by forestalling any further development in metalwork and handicrafts. Plus, the people shipped off to Europe and the Americas were the most able-bodied men and women, skilled in metalworking and tropical agriculture. Not to mention the devastation that constant slave raids would wreak all around Africa's coasts and into its interior. (Even the east coast, which was for a long time under Arab Muslim control after they kicked out the Portuguese and reestablished the trade routes that the more barbaric foreigners had ruined.)
Funnily enough, once Europe was strong enough to actually invade Africa it did so with the best of intentions - to stop the slave trade. Gee, aren't humans great? Whenever any bunch of them engages in some extremely evil enterprise, they do so with the most laudable of intentions, like the Japanese freeing Asia from the bondage of European imperialism, or the U.S. bringing freedom and democracy to the oppressed like the British before them brought civilization and progress to the savages.
The Human Rights - Economics Connection by Michael Leung
But hey, why care what a bunch of commie foreigners think? Now if we could only make United Statesians (entirely) ignorant of themselves too, then we'd ensure that the U.S. succumbs in every battle - right, Sun Tsu?
Friday, October 19, 2007
Country Music Stars Challenge Al-Qaeda With Patriotic New Song ‘Bomb New York’
A group of country music's biggest stars have a message for terrorists: you can't hurt America by blowing up New York City.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Poll reveals that bullshit is most important issue for 2008 voters
For a majority of likely voters, meaningless bullshit will be the most important factor in deciding who they will vote for in 2008.
Meeting Resistance - Trailer
Despite being wrong about everything they predicted prior to the Iraq invasion, people still believe the predictions of sundry Washington insiders, intelligence analysts and think tank apparatchiks, that Iraq will become engulfed in chaos if United Statesian troops were to be pulled out prematurely. (I've always been an unequivocal supporter of pulling out prematurely, but then I don't have a religious, pro-procreation worldview.) To these people, I'd say "put down the magic 8-ball, Nostradamus, we've had it up to here with your soothsaying," and pull the troops the fuck out with all due haste. Check out this trailer for an upcoming documentary that asks Iraqi insurgents what they think...
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
With a name like Oral, it's surprising the kind of conclusions he comes to regarding sex. "And if in your sexuality, you're outside of marriage with it, and you do anything with marriage outside of the male organ penetrating the vagina, you're outside of creation!" (Good, right!? But for him that's bad.) He discusses the possibility of using the orifices of the nose or ear for sex, so he's got a creative mind, but he dismisses those as impractical and comes to the conclusion that only penis-vagina sex is OK. But he finishes by boasting that he "can make your senses vaaah-brate," and saying, "Folks that tastes good and feels good, and I can't tell ya how good that feels and how good that tastes..."
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
Religions and their practices evolve over time. Contemporary Christianity is not that of St. Paul's or Luther's time, and Islam today is not that of the Prophet's day or of the time of the Caliphate... I don't assume the average Christian takes the Bible literally, feels obliged to defend every passage, or wants society to be governed by the Laws of Moses or the instructions found in the epistles of St. Paul. Nor does the average Muslim want to live by the Sharia law..."
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Reaganomics Finally Trickles Down To Area Man
'When the tax burden on the upper income brackets is lifted, the rich and not-rich alike all benefit," said Arthur Laffer, who was a former member of Reagan's Economic Policy Advisory Board. 'Eventually.'
Prior to joining Marlin Car Wash in 2005, Kellener worked for nearly two decades at a local Ford assembly plant that is now defunct. Before that, he was employed by the FAA as an air traffic controller until his union went on strike and Reagan fired him, along with nearly 13,000 others. This is the largest tip he has received in his professional life.
Kellener, who has cared for his schizophrenic sister ever since her federally funded mental institution was closed in 1984, said that he plans to donate the full $10 to the Republican presidential candidate who best embodies Reagan's legacy."
Friday, October 12, 2007
I remember reading Stirner as a sort of radical libertarian (back in his time considered something of an anarchist), much more intelligent and interesting than libertarians of today, and as a result, he makes the flaws of libertarianism all the more clear. He's dismissive of ideologies, even of concepts like 'the people' or 'the working class,' calling them spooks. Shades of Maggie Thatcher saying that society doesn't exist, only individuals and maybe families (though Stirner wouldn't have liked the bitch any more than I).
But as much as Stirner rails against ideas and ideologies that rule the person rather than the other way around, and are non-existent abstractions (spooks) anyway, his ideas can be fall prey to his own criticism. For instance: "The labourers have the most enormous power in their hands, and, if they once became thoroughly conscious of it and used it, nothing would withstand them; they would only have to stop labour, regard the product of labour as theirs, and enjoy it." That's all well and good, and ironically a perfect example of a spook, a meaningless idea (when combined with Stirner's forceful individualism) with little relevance in the world. Being that humans are generally averse to a painful death, how except through organization around a unifying ideology will laborers realize their power? As individuals, they are nothing, and their labor has next to no value. Only as laborers, plural and organized, does the individual worker have any hope of emancipation.
That's not to say that there's nothing good or worthwhile here, quite the opposite. Check this out: "What is it, then, that is called a 'fixed idea'? An idea that has subjected the man to itself. When you recognize, with regard to such a fixed idea, that it is a folly, you shut its slave up in an asylum. ... Is not all the stupid chatter of most of our newspapers the babble of fools who suffer from the fixed idea of morality, legality, Christianity, and so forth, and only seem to go about free because the madhouse in which they walk takes in so broad a space? Touch the fixed idea of such a fool, and you will at once have to guard your back against the lunatic's stealthy malice. For these great lunatics ... assail by stealth him who touches their fixed idea. They first steal his weapon, steal free speech from him, and then they fall upon him with their nails."
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.
Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?"
Sure Bertrand! How bout, of the half of the workers who were sacked, some of them were employed in devising still more efficient means of making pins, a few more were employed in marketing to convince the population that without owning hundreds if not thousands more pins, they'll be lonely sexless losers for the rest of their miserable lives. The rest of the unemployed workers are left with nothing but to go on welfare to attempt to stay alive, then get demonized by the media for being lazy, have the government eliminate welfare benefits and instead give them low-wage jobs (yet subsidized by the government, because the market wouldn't allow for even minimum wage) making more useless shit no one needs who hasn't been convinced by advertising that this or that gewgaw will determine their future happiness and life satisfaction.
By the way, Russell is the mf-ing man: "... only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists." Hahaha... usually vicarious...
Economists of the school that has gradually become dominant over the past 30 years never fail to amuse me. I love it: the most popular view among economists is to educate United Statesians more so that they'll be qualified for the jobs that are in greatest demand today (not the brow-wiping, drawing water and hewing wood types). If I may quote from a rap song that is more intelligent than this, the most popular view among economists:
"If everybody in the 'hood had a PhD
You'd say 'that doctor flipped that burger hella good for me'"
So the solution to the problem of a middle class in the process of being gutted is to prepare scores more highly-skilled workers. Because there is currently a high level of demand for highly-skilled workers. ... But what kind of headcount are we talking about here? Just how many jobs requiring "interpersonal or abstract skills" are out there? Even if we United Statesians do a gangbusters job at educating a new generation of highly-skilled workers - and given our record on education, I wouldn't give us good odds - at best we create more highly skilled workers than there are jobs, diluting demand and lowering wages, even at the top of the value-added food chain.
But what the hell, let's do it. Let's keep our faith in a school of economics that uses mathematical models, by necessity simplified with built-in assumptions that plainly do not obtain in the real world, that purport to make out the contours of immutable economic laws.
Wouldn't want to change horses in midstream, certainly not. How exciting that the implementation of currently favored economic theories is, by ending redistributive policies and liquidating public wealth, unveiling so awesomely the inherent gravity of wealth. It's like, thanks to our real-world experiments, we've found a beautiful truth in economics, like they often do in physics: that unrestricted capitalism moves societies towards a perfect Gini coefficient of 1. Perfection is beautiful. Oh but of course we won't achieve it: humans are imperfect and through implementation always mar the beauty of systems like capitalism (and, oh what was the name of that other one?). We'll never get to a point where one person receives all income, and the rest none. The king - or whatever they'll call him - will need to share the wealth to some extent to save his life, by allowing a small aristocracy.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Americans for Free Trade! (With Iran)
But besides according to these two ex-spooks, Chris and Jennifer, seems like I missed the mark. Yo, it's (attempted) satire people. I'm not actually serious, and I sure as hell am not a born-again fundamentalist neoliberal free market-fellator. K? Just wanted to set the record straight, and head off anybody who's planning on getting together and setting up an 'intervention' for me...