Friday, December 28, 2007

The masters of the universe make drunk sailors seem prudent

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

Always low [wages, long hours]

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

...but at least they aren't military expenditures

Students for Sensible Drug Policy put out this hilarious video in response to the latest federal anti-drug marketing campaign. Which really makes me want to smoke up, since I find it incomprehensible sober. I guess this is targeted marketing?

Monday, December 17, 2007

(Everywhere) the United States has Bombed (Everywhere)

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

The accomplishments of autistic economics

Orthodox economic education, ideology and commercial interests: Relationships that inhibit poverty alleviation by James Angresano

"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

Where there's good, there's always evil

Art in Sarajevo (top), reality in Belgrade (bottom left). Those with the best weaponry are always angels.

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?