Tag Archives: the future

drowning in the bathtub

Why does a fiscal cliff sound so much better than austerity? There is something so terribly final about a cliff. Once you fall, it’s over. According to definition, austerity is nothing final, nothing so tragic. Yet a more apt metaphor for the current situation is that of a parent abandoning their children. Drawn thin by difficult tribulations, momdad decides to move along.  The state has been realigning its purposes for years, and soon we will see it close the door in the face of the public good.

Privatization is de rigueur in the United States. Prisons, highways, trash collection, utilities, parking meters, schools, police, medical care, armies, disaster relief – nearly everything the federal government can do can seemingly be done by a private company for profit. Journalists like Matt Taibbi have done good work on exploring the corrupt relationships between private business and the government in recent years. The City of Chicago sold its parking meters for a paltry $1.16b and caused a stir. Interest groups and Katrina spurred the charter school movement, even getting a movie made for the purpose of spreading the idea that kids are better educated for profit. Courts all over the country stand accused of “selling” prisoners to private prisons. The scramble to profit off America’s crumbling is sad and pathetic, if not just desserts. The American public, cowed into submission by terrorist attacks, plummeting stocks, disappearing assets and widespread unemployment can only sit by and pull out their hair while watching congress bicker its way into the meat grinder.

The round of austerity rapidly approaching is popularly painted as a Spielberg movie gone bad, something that could be avoided if only everyone could come to the right compromise. When it comes to austerity, the compromise is supposed to be struck between two positions: will we lose both arms, or both legs? Will the fox eat us, or the wolf? Hard decisions.

At the end of the day, while agonizing over the method of demise for our state, it seems we no longer have a choice about whether this will happen.
The matter really to be decided, rather, is when and how it will happen, and who will profit? The double-whammy of raising taxes (disproportionately on the poor, of course) and cutting social spending will tenderize even greater numbers of the American public into a desperate workforce begging hat-in-hand for even a part time job. The reserve army of labor will swell in rank. Unions are being shut down in their last strongholds, the average consumer is still swimming in debt, and the last bastion of America’s spending power – the consumer/retail economy – is poised to collapse.

This is a slow process, though. The cuts and tax hikes will come gradually, so as to lessen the shock of it all. Even the slow pace of the folding-up of Greece caused massive civil unrest, and with 360 million Americans facing a dour future, care needs to be taken to ease us all into our final resting place. Meanwhile, the private sector, still flush with taxpayer money and record profits earnings, will gallantly step in and rescue us all from total societal collapse by gobbling up more state functions and turning them into for-profit ventures. The state will still exist, no doubt, but will continue its warp into a giant police truncheon that is used to collect taxes and squeeze labor. A drip-line of “entitlement” will still come through, just enough to keep everyone alive and functioning, but things will get much worse.

Herein we can see the contradictions intensify. While the Spectator says we can continue to grow our economies with little concern as to when we will all be tapped out and dead, I do not believe this to be the case. There is a breaking point. The “industries of the mind” that employ so many marketers, Apple Store programmers and social media experts will dry up when consumer demand plummets. We were never pulling money out of thin air – it was coming from somewhere, and that somewhere is running out.

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 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?

the american legal system has been rotted out from the inside

How rotten is rotten?

Issue: Whether 18 U.S.C. 2339B(a)(1), which prohibits the knowing provision of “any *** service, *** training, [or] expert advice or assistance,” to a designated foreign terrorist organization, is unconstitutionally vague; Whether the criminal prohibitions in 18 U.S.C. § 2339B(a)(1) on the provision of “expert advice or assistance” “derived from scientific [or] technical … knowledge” and “personnel” are unconstitutional with respect to speech that furthers only lawful, nonviolent activities of proscribed organizations.

And now we have:

Washington (CNN) — A bipartisan group of legislators on Thursday introduced legislation in Congress to strip citizenship from any American found to be involved in terrorism.

If the Terrorist Expatriation Act passes, an American would lose citizenship if found to have provided material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization — as designated by the secretary of state — or participated in actions against the United States.

Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, and Scott Brown, R-Massachusetts, co-sponsored the bill. An identical bill is being introduced in the House by Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Pennsylvania, and Charlie Dent, R-Pennsylvania.

….

Under the new proposed bill, the Department of State would have the ability to revoke an American’s citizenship based on a person renouncing their citizenship. The individual, Lieberman stressed, would still have the right to appeal the determination at the State Department — or take it to federal court.

When asked how the State Department would make their decision, Lieberman said a person would have declare the intent to renounce their citizenship — but added that information from other sources could also “lead the state department to make that conclusion.”

Anders said the government often makes mistakes in determining a person’s involvement in terrorism. In that case, an American citizen could be rendered stateless if they do not have dual citizenship.

Stephen Vladeck, a professor of law at American University Washington College of Law, said the government defines “providing material support to terrorism” so broadly, “that really the most benign, innocent activity could subject the most harmless Americans to this extreme sanction.”

More on Remote Warfare

Harpers has an excellent article this month on remote warfare.

In it, I find a distinction I haven’t previously considered: the proliferation of remote warfare into nearly all conflicts. Even if not now, in forty years every nation on Earth could own a fleet of drones while the top dogs move to even more “civilized” forms of war.

My second major concern goes to the power of example that the United States is now setting with respect to the use of drones away from an acknowledged battlefield, especially in connection with targeted killings. No weapons system remains indefinitely the province of a single power. Drone technology is particularly striking in this regard, because it is not really all that sophisticated. It seems clear that other powers have this technology–Israel and Iran have each been reported to be working with it, Russia and China could obviously do so easily if they desired, and the same is probably true for Britain, France, and Germany, not to mention Japan and Taiwan, where many of the cutting-edge breakthroughs in robotics actually occur. The way America uses this technology is therefore effectively setting the rules for others. Put another way, if it’s lawful for America to employ a drone to take out an enemy in the desert of Yemen, on the coast of Somalia, in a village in Sudan or Mauretania, then it would be just as lawful for Russia, or China–or, for that matter, for Israel or Iran. What kind of world is this choice then creating? Doesn’t it invariably lead us closer to the situation in which a targeted killing will be carried out in a major metropolis of Europe or East Asia, or even the United States? And doesn’t that move us in the direction of a dark and increasingly lawless world?

After all, we do remain the world’s largest arms dealer! I strongly encourage you to read it.

Related:

Why America Will Stop Winning, part 1: Weapons