Tag Archives: capitalism

capitalism is a virus

Have you ever seen the Moscow International Business Center?

It’s a $12b project built on top of shuttered factories and quarries. Still under construction, the darling brain child of the government in the year of our Lord 1992. Capitalism is like a  virus, and out of the ashes of those it’s mindlessly slaughtered it blossoms hundreds of hollow, glass-windowed stories. You see it on Wall Street and Canary Wharf, with their locked-down graveyard howls – now we see it in Moscow, too. Should have been where they were going to build the Palace of the Soviets, so as to get extra psychic energy from Stalin’s seven skyscrapers.

east flatbush

Sixteen year-old Kimani Gray was murdered last Sunday, shot 11 times by two undercover police officers. The police claimed that Gray was armed and threatening them with deadly force. Neighbors say they heard him plead for his life. Eleven times is a lot of times to shoot somebody.

Accordingly, East Flatbush has exploded with anger. There might be plenty who just hang from their windows, or wave from the doorways, but the idea that a group of vulnerable young people – the most targeted members of this neighborhood – would go through the streets articulating some serious rage means that it’s already boiled over. There have been nearly 50 arrests so far, and the protests continue.

Despite the majority of the media coverage and spin to this is that it’s the case of a bunch of outsiders there to do damage, there are people from all walks of life at this protest. True, many travel from different parts of New York, but they travel from the Bronx. They travel from Harlem. They travel over an hour by train or longer by bus to get there and hold solidarity with East Flatbush. There are white people and there are Hispanics, students and the unemployed, the formerly incarcerated and those who have never been touched by a cop. There are still more from the neighborhood. Everyone is furious.

The NYPD killed 21 people last year. They have dragged unarmed young women into the streets by their hair and killed them. Even if there are a million excuses and reasons, dismissed hearings and slaps on the wrist, these children gunned down in East Flatbush were murdered. They were murdered from the moment they were born. By chance of birth they were born into a system that condemned them to death or jail – sometimes both. The young men of East Flatbush are regularly stopped on the street and frisked by the NYPD. The parents are tired of losing their children – either to death or to lost opportunity.

For sure, I spoke with a man on the subway tonight who told me he was without power for a month after the hurricane. His life was swept away from him on the Far Rockaways by Sandy. Bloomberg showed his face there and was heckled away by the crowd. It was sort of a joke when Manhattan was without power – people moved uptown and checked into hotels or went to stay with friends. It was an inconvienance at best. But in the Far Rockaways people’s whole lives were wrecked by a Category 1 hurricane, which is not a very powerful hurricane. The foundations their lives were built on were those of poverty.

It is the same in East Flatbush. I’ve had people tell me that you need at least $40,000 to live a year in this city, but there are those in places like these that live off of $9,000 a year. The disconnect is remarkable.

So for the time being, rage builds in East Flatbush. The police presence is overwhelming. They won’t let the crowd to within a block of the police precinct and have cops on horseback. They have arrested nearly 50 people thus far and they are serious about cracking down. Kimani Gray’s sister was arrested for crossing the street. In response, the cops are going to the hospital with wounds from thrown bricks and bottles. The stakes are rising.

Kimani Gray’s family asked for there to be no protesting two days after they lost their son. The protesters proceeded. To the organizers, this was not just about Kimani Gray. It was about the structures that brutally oppress them. It is and isn’t about the cops – for sure, they are responsible for the shooting more directly, but they representative of what protects the system that keeps people in Red Hook and the Far Rockaways without power a month after the storm has passed. The system that creates teen mothers and the system that kills and imprisons their children. The system that has 1.8 million New Yorkers on food stamps and 21,000 children homeless. People came from all over New York because they are tired of it. They are calling for the end of it in the streets of East Flatbush. They are protesting against racism, brutality, capitalism, poverty and the senseless killing of children.

who has a dream?

for Harpers, 17 January

change you can believe in

Barack Obama on regulation:

Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs. At other times, we have failed to meet our basic responsibility to protect the public interest, leading to disastrous consequences. Such was the case in the run-up to the financial crisis from which we are still recovering. There, a lack of proper oversight and transparency nearly led to the collapse of the financial markets and a full-scale Depression.

Over the past two years, the goal of my administration has been to strike the right balance. And today, I am signing an executive order that makes clear that this is the operating principle of our government….

Despite a lot of heated rhetoric, our efforts over the past two years to modernize our regulations have led to smarter—and in some cases tougher—rules to protect our health, safety and environment. Yet according to current estimates of their economic impact, the benefits of these regulations exceed their costs by billions of dollars.

WSJ Op-Ed Yesterday

Executive orders? Including more business interests in economic policy? I’m looking forward to new American economic prosperity from slashing business regulation!

the almighty dollar, part 2: global islamist strategy

Part I of this series on the American Dollar can be found here.

Turkish water, Arab Gulf capital, Egyptian labor, and Israeli know-how will join hands in a sheer material enterprise with no identity or sense of direction. Consequently, there will be no feeling of pain caused by loss of dignity.

from The Imperialist Epistemological Vision” by Abdulwahab al Masseri

The Muslim world is a giant untapped well of power. Geo-strategically, the Middle East has always been important – straddling important trade routes and acting as a bridge between several continents. Even the Muslim minorities of the world, that is where Muslims make up a minority stake in a society, contain roughly 40% of the global ummah. Acting as a unified actor, the Muslim world is over a billion strong and contains much of the world’s capital and resources.

The issue is a splintering of the ummah that followed the rightly guided caliphs and the Golden Age of Islam. At one point, the Muslim world was one unified empire stretching from the Himalayas to the Straits of Gibraltar. Societies kept their identities and ways of life provided they were not against basic principles of Islamic governance. Identities were forged within the Muslim world – indeed, Egyptians in particular have always been fiercely nationalistic – but the kind of nationalism imported since the end of direct colonialism in the area is new and unfamiliar to many Muslims who still see themselves as Muslim first – Indian, Pakistani, Iraqi, Filipino second.

At the top of this Islamic world sits some of the greatest concentration of capital in the Gulf countries. Glimmering skyscrapers towering over empty streets, air-conditioned stadiums, and the sheikhas gliding through malls covered in black and gold, their filipino servants trailing behind buckling under the weight of shopping bags. It’s no wonder this Islamic elite has come under attack in recent decades by AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) as both an attempt at capital accumulation and an ancient drive from sects from the Sufis to the Khajarites who sought to deliver divine justice to the corrupt heads of the Caliphate. These today being those who control the capital and the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.

Yet the strategy has shifted in recent years and rage has grown considerably in these offshoot groups. Instead of seeing the House of Saud as solely responsible for their predicament of addictive shopping and rampant tastes of luxury, the global Islamic resistance movement have lifted their eyes to the very top – America and Europe. By smashing at the dollar they are forcing the rich and corrupt among them to either reconsider their lifestyles or run for the hills, as seen recently in Tunisia.

What part does Israel play in such a strategy? Abdullah Azzam, famous mujahid in Afghanistan, became somewhat disillusioned as he was told to keep his desire for jihad against Israel on the back-burner and continue his focus against the Soviets. Is it any surprise that he and others who shared his view suddenly turned up dead in Peshawar – their suspected killers being Iranian Intelligence, Mossad, or even Osama bin Laden himself? Why is Israel so protected from the brunt of Islamic militarism? The simple answer may be that it represents a strategic interest to foreign colonial powers. Considering that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military equipment is kept in storage in Israel and their physical presence as a thorn in the side of the Middle East, this could be true. Yet they are becoming more and more brave, unafraid of keeping their American masters pleased with their progress. Why is this? I’ve come to understand that Israel poses little threat and possesses no real strength in its current position – it’s very presence in the Middle East is part of the strategy.

The decaying, autocratic Middle East and the Muslim world in general is propped up by a wilting dollar. Israel is the gun held to the heads of the Arab capitals, ensuring that they will not jump ship. Imagine an intricate game of mouse-trap, with the final string of yarn tied around the trigger of a Tavor held by the Israeli government. It is in their interest as well that the dollar sustains, considering much of their foreign capital is held abroad and – if one is to imagine (as Israelis themselves do) that Jews worldwide are simply expat Israelis, a large portion of their population and subsequent charitable income and moral support depends on it as well. The methods Israel uses for colonial advancement are dollar-heavy and follow traditional, if not sloppy, methods of free-trade strategy.

Like the housing bubble, nearly anything will be done to keep the system afloat in the Middle East, to keep the money from the Gulf tied up in luxury yachts and the rest of it tied up in weapons. In such a high pressure situation – that is to keep this attempt to keep the bubble inflated – nearly everyone’s interests will be to sustain the status quo, especially when it comes to the dollar. The Saudis want to stay in power, the Assads want to stay in power, the Hashemites want to stay in power, Mubarak wants to stay in power, and the Israelis want to continue making money and building settlements. Everything about Middle East diplomacy is about keeping thirty cats from scratching each other to death while someone else keeps stealing all the cheese. So where do those who want to change the status quo hit the hardest?

Maybe it takes years for the seeds to sprout, but as unrest begins to ripple across the Maghreb from Algeria to Tunisia to Libya to Egypt, we can see the house of cards start to tremble something terrible.

the almighty dollar – part 1

There is nothing quite like the smell and feel of American money. It’s soft in your hand because it’s mixed with cotton and natural materials. It can be crisp and sharp or soft and crumpled, almost mushy. The smell is something you can recall in memory, a sour earthy smell, but very real and almost alive. I was four years old when I first had a dollar. My great-grandfather gave it to me for my birthday. It slid out when I opened the card and fell in my lap, light as a feather. Suddenly it felt as though I was a human being, something that was able to handle money – almost an adult.

I learned math as many did – through currency denominations. My teachers would ask me: what does it mean when you have two quarters, two dimes, and a nickel? Well, that was one quarter short of a dollar – seventy five cents. Ten dimes equaled a dollar, five nickels equaled a quarter and a penny was worthless. My parents, encouraging me to be an entrepreneurial child, helped me build a lemonade stand. I stuffed the nickles and dimes away in a cigar box until I could cash them in for the soft green bills that could buy whatever I wanted.

Nostalgia goes hand in hand with cash. We remember the jobs we made cash in. Cash makes a difference. Who can forget when we lost some? I can almost relieve the physical sensation of despair as I sat in the bathroom stall of a restaurant, sobbing into a tissue because a fifty had slipped out of my waitress billfold and set me back eight hours of work. From the fancy thing we covet in our early years, cash becomes a cold reality in adulthood. Without it, food is bland and nights are cold, clothes have holes in them and cars must be pushed to the gas station.

An Israeli told me something so correct: money is the most violent and dangerous religion in the world. Nobody will kill anybody faster than for money. Whole civilizations are laid waste for it. We cling to it and try and please its priest class to escape its wrath, rather, the absence of money is to some the absence of the divine life-giver-comforter-sleep-at-night-provider.

Yet it is a false god, sustained by the fear-mongering of the priest class. It is possible that once, the American dollar meant something. Now it is something we can speculate about. The speculation makes it dangerous. Suddenly, money grows for no reason and it can expand and contract without warning. Lines on a chart will assure the continued existence of the dollar, but if a priest steps out of line and claims it is a lie, the line plummets to the dismay of millions who have that child-like attachment to something that isn’t real past its smell and feel in your hands.

To remake the world, this false god must be brought down. So many sell books on the foolishness of believing in a monotheistic God, or to even believe in the supernatural, and yet nobody is being invited to speak in front of universities about the greatest delusion of all. What is a dollar but a vestige of a society that is untouched by globalization? The dollar is interchangeable and expendable. The priest class is learning this and playing the most fantastic games at the end, telling me my glass of lemonade I’m hawking on the corner is suddenly worth 500 billion dollars and that everyone should rush to invest likewise. I’m pocketing the 5% share they just bought in my business because it seems like a good idea, but what does this say about reality?

It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m not an economist. All I can do is stand by while the priest class shuffles their cards and makes a new game. It used to be that the American dollar bought a day’s work or a pound of meat, but now it is used to buy other, much more ephemeral things. The inbred priest class holed up in Connecticut has started to fancy they live outside of the real world. Keep playing the game with food prices, housing values, war machines… all the things that keep us enthrall and all the most powerful things that can make us kill. Yet when bread riots and desert dust start to clog up the gears, how will they flush the human blood out of the system? It’s time to keep telling each other how much it’s worth, start to make the bubble bigger and yet bigger still lest we see how foolish it really is.

Part II of this series on the American Dollar can be found here.

the rich feast on the dead flesh of americans, how long will we stand by?

“It’s going to a cause a lot of panic on Wall Street,” said Richard Stein of Global Sage, an executive search firm. “Everybody is talking about it, but they’re actually concerned about it becoming public. I would not want to be head of compensation at a Wall Street firm right now.”

In some ways, a zero bonus should not come as a surprise to many bankers. As a result of the 2008 financial crisis, Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and banks like Citigroup raised base pay substantially in 2009 and 2010. They were seeking to placate regulators who had argued that bonuses based on performance encouraged excessive risk.

At Goldman, for instance, the base salary for managing directors rose to $500,000 from $300,000, while at Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse it jumped to $400,000 from $200,000.

Even though employees will receive roughly the same amount of money, the psychological blow of not getting a bonus is substantial, especially in a Wall Street culture that has long equated success and prestige with bonus size. So there are sure to be plenty of long faces on employees across the financial sector who have come to expect a bonus on top of their base pay. Wall Streeters typically find out what their bonuses will be in January, with the payout coming in February.

From NYTimes

Senator Bernie Sanders (I) from Vermont stood on the floor of the Senate two Fridays ago and spoke for nine hours on the situation in America. He spoke frankly and convincingly, using charts, graphs, and real-life examples. He was joined by other senators who also brought their perspectives. The message was simple: The rich are feasting on us. The economic and social policies ushered in by war criminal Ronald Reagan have boosted the rich to a position of power unprecedented in American society since the end of slavery.  They’ve grown so large that they’ve sprouted wings and flown away to places like Bangladesh, where workers earn .23 cents an hour. When things falter in their search to expand, as capital always must, they return to America to suck more blood from the heartland and then redouble their efforts in smashing up the rest of the world. Capital flies on the wings of the American military and in the hallways of world banking institutions. What wings do the poor fly on?

Despite the situation worsening in America, the poor stay mainly silent. Drug use is rife, the prisons are packed, and more and more young people are graduating with debt with college degrees that mean close to nothing. Senator Sanders pointed out that we have little to inherit from our parents. Indeed, some of them are moving abroad – those who can afford it.

SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, Mexico — The new Starbucks on the corner of the main plaza is bustling. The local library has an impressive selection of English-language romance titles. The bulletin board at the arts center touts ads for tai chi, West African dance, textile instruction and more.

And hey! Isn’t that Martha Stewart strolling through the plaza? It is indeed. She’s here for the star-studded unveiling of an American-owned hotel.

Despite its gringo trappings, this lovely 17th-century city appears quintessentially Mexican, fromits jardín (or garden, as the plaza is called) to the rosy luminescence of La Parroquia, its iconic neo-gothic church.

But it’s also home to a large community of North Americans, many of whom have come to stretch their retirement nest eggs in a tranquil setting that boasts most of the comforts of home—and then some.

“San Miguel is summer camp for Baby Boomers,” declares Marjorie Pope, 64, who arrived here from Atlanta with her husband, Mike, five years ago.

As the first wave of 79 million Baby Boomers turns 65 in 2011, many will be spending their Social Security checks in far-flung locales, from Boquete, Panama, to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Though numbers are mere conjecture, some estimates say 1 million American retirees already live abroad.

From USAToday

Is it too painful for the baby boomers to watch their children struggle in the world they created for them? Or is it simply too difficult to live in the United States on the amount of money they’ve set aside for retirement? Outsourcing retirement also means tax money such as social security will be spent outside of the United States.

The question is really how long the next generation will stand for such distractions at the expense of their livelihood. Will we continue to be sucked into two-party politics and reality television, or can we stand up and fight against the system that brought us into being? We are the product of a time when things seemed plentiful and peaceful, but as we come to understand at what cost, we must be wary of falling into the same traps as the previous generations.

What is needed is a ground-up effort to rebuild our country on real wealth and capital. As Senator Sanders said, there was a time when a man working a factory job in Detroit could afford to support a family of three and send a child or two to college. This framework has not evaporated. It is not forgotten. The question is, does a generation raised on instant gratification have the guts to roll up our sleeves and do real work for a change? Raised on promises that “You can do anything”, are we prepared to settle for decent before we slide into a lifetime of denial?

conspiracies no. 2

“Just watch, now that you have more advertising in the West Bank, you’re going to see this message creeping in: ‘You deserve it.’ It’s not about community, it’s about you. That’s the death knell for the society. That will finally drive the wedge between the Palestinians and their community. When people are out for “me, me, me”, it’s over. The community is the only thing holding them together. What the Israelis may not understand -or maybe they do and what’s happening is intentional- is that the biggest barrier they face is the tie that binds the Palestinians together, the glue that solidifies their protest. The fact that the neighbors bring over food. The men sitting out back singing old Palestinian folk songs late into the night. Once they destroy that sense of community the population is finally anesthetized, an anesthetized population doesn’t have the energy or the desire to resist the occupation. They buy into it, pun intended.”

Ramallah Syndrome

– Munir:
I wrote an article about Ramallah and Gaza. I said: Gaza is being destroyed form outside and the main tool is the Israeli army, Ramallah is being destroyed from the inside, and the main tool is the World Bank – which is the consumption. The consumption pattern is really getting inside of us, our thinking and our perceptions; and our relationships etc. are decided totally by this pattern.

All the talk about Gaza is about how can we ruin it from the inside. The idea of ‘help’ and paying money and reconstruction and so on, is actually to finish Gaza from the inside. As long as the destruction is only from the outside, Gaza is safe. Ramallah is not safe. Because on the outside it looks like everything is fine and everything is flourishing, so I feel… development projects change the city in ways that are much worse than sometimes destroying a few buildings here and there.

I want to say something about the word resistance. When an army invades you resist the army. When consumption invades you resist consumption. Ramallah is not resisting consumption.

– Manal:
What do you mean by consumption?

– Munir:
The number of workshops in Ramallah is consumption beyond belief, for example. Another one is the rise of the banks – Ramallah it is becoming the hub…

– Manal:
This is happening everywhere…!

– Munir:
We have to resist the pattern of living is being imposed on us but very sweetly … but this is how the world has been conquered.

– Manal:
I see consumption everywhere, not only in Ramallah. It’s the mentality of societies everywhere. In Damascus – an unoccupied place – consumption is everywhere. It is a world plan. I want you not to just collect the issues and see them in Ramallah…don’t just condense everything in Ramallah.

– Nasser:
But what’s interesting in Ramallah, what’s specific about it, is that the creation of a regime of consumption is precisely linked to the occupation by army Munir was talking about. Actually there is not such a split between occupation through consumption and occupation through army, they are two intertwined and interlinked things. It is about the creation of new subjectivities, people think differently, you are reconstituting subjects, reconfiguring people…the radicality of the situation here positions this in a much wider process of fragmentation and bantustanization; it means that here consumption cannot be separated from the colonial regime.

[Extracts from conversation No. 5]

I saw the first sign at Snobar and the second one today at Prontos. “Who is Celebrating Ramallah?” today’s sign asks. The signs are only in English and seem to be geared towards the audience of expats or those blessed to know today’s global lingua franca. I met with a friend in Jerusalem yesterday who is going north to watch checkpoints with EAPPI for a while. She just couldn’t believe what I was telling her about Ramallah. Wait’ll you see, I told her. Wait’ll you see. I tried to find out more about “Ramallah Syndrome”, and though the signs are new, their website hasn’t been updated in nearly a year. It’s delightfully surreal because I feel like I’ve been talking to a brick wall the whole time I’ve been in this city. These signs sit on walls like angels on my shoulders. If anyone knows where I can find them, please let me know.

Ramallah Majnoona: “a mirror city of Tel Aviv”

First, you should know that I’m a Debbie Downer. I get strange looks wherever I go in life because no matter how happy any one group of people wants to be for any reason, I’m always there to hoist a wet blanket over everyone’s shoulders and tell them why they should be miserable instead. That said: there’s a lot of reason to be depressed in the West Bank. This is the land of refugee camps and suicide bombs, of weekly protest marches against the wall being violently dispersed by tear gas canisters and live ammunition. And yet Ramallah is no place for a Debbie Downer like myself.

Reading the recent articles in the BBC and New York Times about nightlife in Ramallah, you might assume Ramallah is the new Beirut of the Middle East or something, described in the NYT article as a “a mirror city of Tel Aviv.” Go to a place like Orjwan on a Thursday night and you can see the who’s-who of East Jerusalem high society home from school abroad for the summer and mingling with attractive international aid workers. I can tell you I’d never be let into a place like this in the states, but by virtue of my international stature will be ushered to the front of the line at Orjwan and allowed in before a whole throng of locals who scraped together enough shekels to make it out. The fact of the matter is that if you’re an international you can go wherever you want in Ramallah. You’re VIP royalty. Ignore your college buddies in West Jerusalem who say you’ll get stabbed or whatever. Look around you at Sangria’s or Orjwan and tell me this is the development trajectory the refugees in Balata are happy with.

After all, the truth of the matter is that because of this kind of New York Times write up, Palestinians can hardly afford rent in Ramallah nowadays. Foreigners with a 5k per month job here think $500 per month for an apartment is a real steal, but this is practically impossible for most people. Great amenities, All within walking distance of a refugee camp.  Jobs and apartments are offered to “Internationals only”. I wonder if any of these internationals driving BMWs around Ramallah have ever read Wretched of the Earth, if they realize they’re just a new class of missionaries selling beautification to a place that still has to pay with shekels.

Sorry, there I go being a Debbie Downer again. These guys just want to have a fun time and here I go raining on their parade. Who am I to tell Palestinians how to live or what kind of businesses to run? Unlike Thomas Friedman who comes in the dead of night to meet with the top crooks in the PA or BBC reporters at Snobar, I’ve talked to Palestinians who don’t particularly care for this cosmopolitan vibe emerging in Ramallah. It ends up drawing newspaper ink away from the issues that Palestinians really care about: land, justice, and peace. Pushing all the international money and offices and values into Ramallah makes people pretty suspicious that they’ll never see a capitol in Jerusalem. Plus, the importation of westerners imports western tastes, something Palestinians aren’t all particularly happy about. After all, a culture of removal from reality like one in the West results in overwhelming political apathy, like we have in the West.

Like a Palestinian told me, “these Palestinians, how are they fighting for their land?” Sure, we can write travel pieces about clubs, pizza, and women, but the New York Times has forgotten to examine other new cultural values being imported into Ramallah like drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Mothers tearfully wring their hands when their boys say they want to move to Ramallah, and with good reason. Ramallah is the tube being shoved down the throat of the Palestinians, funneling Western tastes and interests into their stomachs. Ramallah would be what some experts on colonization would call a “port city”, creating a safe haven for foreigners and fostering an elite Palestinian class that will be much more inspired to guard their comfortable lifestyles than support a popular resistance movement that may result in undue hardship from the Israelis. After all, isn’t the globalization mantra “why do it yourself when you can pay someone to do it for you for less money”?