Monday, March 30, 2009

Voices of Madmen in Authority Distilling Their Frenzy

“When policy-makers have already witnessed a significant move in asset values, and are confident in what that move means for the outlook, it should be prepared to adjust policy accordingly. The central bank must be responding to its assessment of what an already observed movement in asset prices will mean for output and inflation.”

- Timothy Geithner, at the NY Association for Business and Economics.

“Monetary policy itself cannot sensibly be directed at reducing imbalances.”

- Timothy Geithner, at the Global Financial Imbalances Conference in London.

“To do otherwise would run the risk that monetary policy would be too accommodative, pulling resources from the future in a way that would alter the trajectory for the growth of the capital stock, perhaps amplifying the imbalances, and compromising the price stability.”

- Timothy Geithner, at the Japan Society Corporate Luncheon in New York City.

" the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest. But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."

- John Maynard Keynes, General Theory

Images of the Recession

Thousands of people at job fairs, construction cranes, closed factories, cul de sacs with no houses, foreclosed home-buying tours, unused freight containers, etc. What does this all mean? - that we are in a recession. Take a look at the photographs.

What kind of capitalism is this that images from times of down and out look identical to images from times of up and coming? These photographs look like they could have been taken at any point in the business cycle. Creative destruction? Accelerating change? The law of uneven development?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Understanding Media...

"Obama sets new standard for managing the news". - McClatchy Newspaper.

In the past week, Obama has done the following.

  1. Spoke with Iranians through video conferencing.
  2. Spoke to viewers of a Latin American music awards ceremony through video conferencing.
  3. Appeared on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show".
  4. Appeared on "60 Minutes".
  5. Wrote an opinion column that appeared in newspapers around the world.
  6. Held a prime-time news conference aired on television.
  7. Held an online town hall meeting.

A former Google manager is Obama's new director of "citizen participation". Obama has directors of new media, directors of online programs, broadcast media, regional media,
African-American media, Hispanic media, research, and "message events". All of this has created - in the words of McClatchy - a "symbiotic government-media relationship".

The gift of Television

"I call a cat a cat."
- Boileau

Because of the Treaty of Lausanne, the Turkish Republic only officially recognizes two special ethnic groups: Jews and Greeks, because of a long-standing animosity between Jews, Greeks and ethnic Turks. These ethnic groups are protected under special provisions that give them the same rights as Turks.

The question remains what Turkey has to say about Kurds, Nogais, Zazas, Ossetians, Laz, Arabs, Georgians, and Armenians who officially are not recognized by the treaties. Minorities in Turkey are discriminated against not just in practice, but also in legal writing. Did you know that speaking Kurdish was still an illegal practice in Turkey until 2003? The Turkish penal code has many other problems, which is why Turkey cannot enter the EU. But what to make of the new 24-hour Kurdish-speaking television news station?

It may seem like Kemal is smiling upon the Kurds at last, but the Turkish Republic is full of secrets and many disguises. This is probably the most salient feature of the country I realized when I visited in July of 2007: the country is rife with conspiracy theories. For every Turk I talked to, I heard at least three conspiracy theories. The generals did not trust the politicians, the politicians did not trust the intellectuals or the military, and the intellectuals did not trust anybody. Everybody else is caught in the crossfire of propaganda.

The ruling political party, AKP, chose to use wicked brute force to invade the Eastern region settled by the Kurdish separatists about a year ago. Now they want to give Kurds a television station, just before an election cycle. Is it not the case that this television station is merely a way to create divisive feelings amongst those Kurds who see it as an act of kindness and Kurds who see it as an act of appeasement? Those who see it as an act of appeasement truly believe that Kurds must be separate from Turks politically. Those who see it as an act of kindness can be bought by the government into the Turkish political system.

You cannot look at the situation and say, "Either way, Kurds win", because even though they have a television station, it comes at the expense of many Kurds turning to the statist and corrupt Turkish government. It comes at the expence of political capital. The AKP party is set to win these elections again, which means the Eastern Kurds will have to endure more bombings. The TV channel, since its state-owned, might then become just another mouthpiece for the government. And that, my friends, is why the government is kicking your asses.

Separatists will never get anywhere if the people they defend are constantly giving into to concessions.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Supply Chain disruption

On any given day, millions of containers carrying up to 32 tons of goods each are moving on trucks, trains and ships in and out of ports. This movement has become remarkably affordable and economically expedient for global supply chains of manufacturers, retailers, and until now, the US military.

The possibility that "foreign terrorists" would seize control of a public port, or bring in a dirty bomb to explode it inside a port facility near a large city, would haunt Homeland Security ever since 9/11. In the past port security compromised port efficiency by constantly packing and repacking at checkpoints. This proved very costly. As a practical matter, some considered that process a non-tariff barrier to trade.

Today only about 5% of containers entering the US are inspected like this, and the Department of Homeland Security is suggesting upgrading its ports to operate much like Hong Kong's port where every container passes through a gamma-ray machine and a radiation portal to detect nuclear weapons. Just one bomb that sneaks in through a port could prove disastrous - not just for the city affected, but for the entire economy afterward. In the words of author and policy analyst Stephen Flynn, "The entire intermodal container system will grind to a halt."

In effect, every guerilla warfare operation has realized that one of the most effective ways to cripple an empire is to disrupt its supply chain security, and make every movement of goods and commodities extremely risky.

It is for this reason that protesters, playing on the government's fear of 'homegrown terrorists', would find that supply chain disruption in their own backyards could prove costly for the occupying forces as well. In the past just a group of about 40 people has proven very costly, up to $500,000 for just sitting and blocking traffic. These are, in effect, non-tariff barriers to trade. So much so that the Army will not use the sea-port system for the future shipment of military vehicles. Instead, it will fly all of the military vehicles to Afghanistan for the upcoming surge.

But is this because of activists in the US? And if so, is it a victory or an acknowledgment of Port Militarization Resistance (PMR)? Difficult to say.

Guerrillas are busy disrupting the military supply chain in Pakistan as well, and the US and NATO forces may be using air travel as a way to get supplies deep into the land instead of driving them through port cities.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A pensioner's capitalism

Peter Drucker argued in Post-Capitalist Society (1993) that Western economies are no longer capitalist because ownership of the means of production is largely in pension funds, and the pension funds are owned by the workers, not the capitalists.

However, capitalism does not necessarily involve two mutually exclusive social classes, where each individual can be unambiguously assigned to one social class or another. For example, some theorists in the 'agorist' tradition like Samuel Konkin argue that each person is a worker-capitalist-entreprenuer. But in Konkin's conception, there are in fact three mutually exclusive social classes - statist capitalists, non-statist capitalists, and entrepreneurs. Workers simply do not exist in this theoretical framework are considered a "relic from a previous Age". As for the 'non-statist capitalists' Konkin considers them as "relatively neutral drone-like non-innovators." This is partly how Konkin distinguishes the "new libertarian left" from the "Marxoid" theories.

However, whether capitalism can unambiguously assign individuals to one of two (or three, or four, or possibly zero) social classes or not, it is evident that capitalism is an economic structure with two important sources of income: one from the ownership of the means of production, and the other from employment for a wage salary. These two categories can be conflated, and this leads theorists like Drucker to say that capitalism is now in the hands of "the people", a kind of utopian Thatcherite vision that has long existed in the US and UK.

But it has always been possible in principle for individuals to receive income from both of these sources. I can grow my own vegetables and sell them, whilst taking a wage salary from a grocery store to supplement my income. I am suddenly a capitalist, a worker, and an entrepreneur all at once. This does not mean I live in a post-capitalist society, and does not imply that the contradictions of capitalism have been supplanted. Still, if I receive a substantial income from both selling vegetables and working at the grocery store, then this may put difficulties in the way of attaching the single label "capitalist" or "worker" or "entrepreneur" to me, although these difficulties are only misunderstandings.

But even still, if I am a pensioner this does not even qualify me as a capitalist. Typically, pension funds are not even under the direct control of their owners, nor subject to their free disposal. The argument that pension funds have "democratized" the stock market is completely false, by disallowing worker control or decision making. Besides that, most people derive the majority of their income from wages and not from stock options or pensions, and the rich minorities still derive substantial income and power from property outside of pension funds altogether. A pension is just like any other investment in the stock market, only most of them are held in the tight hands of fund managers.

Saving income has always been a necessary tool for surviving under capitalist conditions. There is nothing particularly revolutionary about this, only that it allows skilled workers to be further divided from unskilled workers, and younger workers from older ones. But if the stock market crashes, pensioners find their futures at risk, just like the capitalists who own the production, thus intertwining their interests and upending the potential for radical change.

FBI informant guilty

The Star Tribune:

Andrew Darst, 30, who is said to have played an important role in an undercover investigation of anarchist protesters at the Republican National Convention, was found guilty of third-degree damage to property, a gross misdemeanor, and two counts of assault in the fifth degree, which are misdemeanors. He was found not guilty of two counts of first- and second-degree burglary, both felonies.

You don't hear very often that FBI informants are being tried for the same activities they're informing the FBI about. What's interesting also is the case Darst's defense attorneys came up with to prevent Mr. Darst from going to jail like many of the protesters he and the institution he worked for incarcerated.

Michael Colich, a prominent Minneapolis criminal defense attorney, said Darst would be labeled a "snitch" if he goes to jail and might be potentially at risk, so his attorney will likely strongly argue for an alternative to jail such as home detention and community service.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Historical Legacies of the IWW and Workers Control

Howard Kimeldorf, Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, speaking in Seattle on the 90th anniversary of the Seattle General Strike. The audience cheers when Kimeldorf talks about the legacy of the IWW in the Pacific Northwest, and boos when he talks about the AFL leader, Samuel Gompers, who believed in "pure and simple unionism". Gompers described capitalism as the best economic system that ever existed.

The Seattle AFL was clearly out-of-step, however, since the only votes cast against Gompers were from the Seattle chapter. When the IWW came under attack from local employers, the AFL came to its aid. This was "unthinkable" anywhere else in the US.

Kimeldorf gives three reasons as to why the General Strike happened in Seattle - (1) the post-war strike wave, (2) the unified and radical character of the Seattle labor movement, and (3) and the international influence of the Bolshevik revolution. The Seattle AFL sent a delegation to the Soviet Union to investigate the new conditions and to offer assistance. There was so much "dry tinder" in the Pacific Northwest, and all they neeed was a spark.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter?

Tacoma will never be a destination

Why Tacoma will never be a destination, TAKE ONE.

The City of Tacoma wants more than anything to get white upper-class residents from Seattle to move into its newly-renovated apartments and gentrified condominiums. In so doing, it realized that there is a vast hole in the city's culture and none of their traditional methods of beautification work. Or more accurately, the artists realize this. On a big wall in Portland I saw a large mural which said, "Art fills the void" with a big banana next to it. Art clean-up, homeless person eradication, racial profiling, and building pointless highways have gotten the City of Tacoma nowhere. No one wants to put their feet on the street, if that was ever the goal, and the city is even shittier because now there's more condos and cops and very few small business districts.

Even though they hire professionals from Community Development Corporations and consultants to tell them where they got it wrong, the city cannot do a damn thing to get its house in order. They should have listened to the consultant Lars Gemzoe who came all the way from Copenhagen to say that pedestrians (not to mention bicyclists) in Tacoma are obviously "invisible in the planning process" and that "people, life, and vitality are the biggest attractions of a city." But instead of hearing out the wisdom from that successful public art architect, the city council and mayor seem to take their advice from successful fascist mayors like Rudy Guliani and bankers who think they can be like the Medici family - moneymen of the Italian Renaissance - by only funding "high art" for the rich and famous.

"People, life, and vitality" are the biggest reasons why most people even want to travel at all, or get out of the house, or explore new cities. I was excited to go to San Francisco again last week because of the people, life, and vitality there. Nobody complains that the weeds are overgrown in Golden Gate Park. In fact, the vegetation is half the charm. My friend and I ooed & awed at the overgrown brushes and trees and envied their verdant walkabouts. The ganjaweed dealers deal out in the open and the cops don't seem to be needed at all. Adults must be "accompanied by children" in order to step foot on the kids' playground. The kids know best. People from all over the city come to the park to enjoy the day.

Tacoma's parks, sadly, are like golf courses. If that's the case who would want to come out of their offices for their lunch break? This weekend for our antiwar march, the city would not allow the Food Not Bombs group to cook food in the park. We either had to have a business license or $1,000,000 in insurance to do this. Yet another reason to stay home. The City thinks art means building more art museums for stagnating, glass-enshrined exhibitions you'll need to pay to see. Art has a department. It's someone's responsibility. It must not interfere with commerce, unless it is commerce.

The recession is causing an exodus in the Tacoma art community. Artists say want to live in cities like Portland where their work is appreciated. In Tacoma city henchmen claim to "work with the community" to solve problems, but I have never seen any of these people, and I work with the community too. They don't advertise these community groups because they want to autonomously take action to eradicate art and sterilize the city when no one is looking. So the message to everybody in the community is: this is simply not a good time to venture into new and uncertain territory, like art. In the words of artist Chip Van Gilder in the Tacoma Volcano:

“I‘ve pretty much dropped out of the artist community. I found a minimum-wage day job... I put a few years effort into getting my work out there and helping others, but the foundation didn’t produce any long lasting results. My personal feeling is that the good ole boy society of the Tacoma business has done everything it can to eradicate art as a culture in Tacoma.”

Eradicated art as a culture. That's what Tacoma did. That's why it will never be the great city it imagines itself, in its wildest dreams, as "the city of destiny".

Economic Draft

From the Tacoma News Tribune:

“When we first deployed (last fall), a lot of them didn’t want to re-enlist,” he said. “They’d tell me, ‘Oh, Sergeant Frazier, don’t come talk to me about that. Don’t even bring it up. I’m done with the Guard after this.’

“But a few months later, a lot of those same guys came back up to me and said they were worried about the economy, about paying the bills. They catch me going to my hooch, to chow, to the gym. They tell me they’re looking for more work because there’s not much back home.”

In the army, there is no recession, because the war machine keeps churning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Iraq and Afghanistan are ...

Over the years people have come up with lots of analogies just for Iraq. For example, I have heard that Iraq is like... "a quagmire," "a deep hole," "a descent into hell," "an oil fire," "embers in the night," "a cancer patient," "Vietnam," "South Korea," "a teenage pregnancy," "a variable-rate mortgage," and the list goes on.

Guantanamo also have a variety of analogies too. People have said it's like a Soviet gulag, which actually originated with London Amnesty International, and plenty of people have chimed in on that. Turks call Guantanamo "Silivri," after the largest prison in Europe located in Turkey.

But what's the use comparing something to something else when the original is just as bad or worse? I'm not sure if any one thing can capture all aspects of the war on terror. But this weekend two of my friends and I decided the war on terror is like a game, a board game, the goal of which is total global domination. Like a game of Risk.

We used that concept to create a commercial for television to advertise a protest in Tacoma on March 21st. We used the concept of playing a game of Risk to frame the expanding war on terror under Obama's administration, so that it more closely resembles imperialism. As Obama announced on February 27th, the war in Iraq is as of now - "over" - but 30,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in order to "advise," "equip," "support," and
"train" Iraqi security forces. He said "all" combat missions in Iraq will end in 2011, but there will still be American "counter-terrorism missions" which will most likely happen under the radar. So the occupation will not end, it's only getting bigger.

He also said there will be a combat troop surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the next few months, and according to budget research group, the National Priorities Project, Obama will actually spend more on military defense expenditures than George W. Bush. There are not a lot of details on how the new military budget will be spent, but he asked for a 75 billion dollar war "supplemental" budget, making 2009's military budget a new spending record.

John Stewart breaks down Obama's foreign policy here.

Our friend who works for a Tacoma-based cable provider, Click!, helped us get access to cheap ad space, so that our 15 second and 30 second ads can be seen on CNN, the Discovery Channel, MTV and USA. Here is the ad. Go to for more information about the march.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Fuckin thieves

Came home Sunday morning to find that my house had been robbed the night before.

It's such a bad feeling, to know that you have been punked by a band of high school boys roaming the street. Around 11 o'clock Saturday night I left the house to stay the night at a friend's house and watch a movie. When we walked got outside, we saw a group of boys skulking around aimlessly by our mailbox. One asked if we were having a party at the house. They must have heard my housemates' band playing downstairs, I thought.

But he asked the question like a bratty teenager would ask his mom for the car keys, as if he was entitled to a party if there was one. I said it was just band practice. This was supposed to sound like it was nothing exciting, friendly but parsimonious at the same time. Instead it probably came off sounding too generous. He said, "Oh, ok," and they all left. I noticed one of them was carrying a big case of golf clubs, but I did not think anything of it. Four people were downstairs, and another person upstairs. The house should be safe.

When I came back home the next day my housemates asked me if I knew where all their stuff was. I said no, and went to my room to discover that a $4,000 video camera I had been using for the past two years was stolen. I knew right away what happened. I said to myself, "Those fuckin thieves."

Looking back, it was so obvious! I should have caught on to their suspicious behavior. But who ever does until it's too late? I figured the boys might have stopped at our house to check out the anarchist newspaper/zine box we have sitting outside, which was intended to attract pedestrian attention. I figured they might have been looking for college parties, which happen nearby every weekend. I figured they could have been playing night-golf, because I have seen frat boys play golf at night before. And I figured the music downstairs attracted them to our house. I guess I was proud to live in an "interesting" house, and so it seemed not worth paying attention to.

"Well, at least you learned your lesson," some friends told me. But what lesson? Maybe people who read this blog can help me out.

One obvious lesson is that you should be vigilant and lock your doors even when people are home. Maybe that is inconvenient and maybe you'll seem paranoid. If you have expensive stuff then your friends will understand. But how friendly should you be to your extended neighbors? Should you be friendly and invite Oliver fucking Twist into your house? Or should you tell him to get the fuck away from your mailbox and if you see him again you're getting out the shotguns? Should you ask him where he lives and what he's doing? Or would that only make friendly people suspicious, instead of making suspicious people fearful? Should you lay booby traps? How many? And if you catch the fucking bastards red-handed, how much (if any) mercy should you give?

As I told my housemate, so long as these thieves steal from us and thereby stop us from being effective community organizers or activists etc., they are no better than the police. Are we supposed to think of this crime as driven by class oppression - as if they're the proletariat stealing from the bourgeoisie? Yes, we have "wealth" in terms of computers, lap tops and cameras. Yes, we are college-educated and make food with quality herbs and spices. Yes, we have a painting by Jean Honoré Fragonard in our living room. Does that make us petite bourgeoisie?

In one analysis, we own the means of production because we make propaganda. We have our own means of production. But this analysis is incoherent. Since the thieves have the means now - it would make them the bourgeoisie and now our roles are switched. Anyone who ever published or created intellectual content is the bourgeoisie. No, we should have a better class analysis than that. If we think of ourselves as petite bourgeois consumers with surplus wealth for the taking, then we must really be confused.

And is it true what Machiavelli says, that it is better to be feared than loved? Some people are simply not interested in what they can gain mutually from friends in a relationship and would rather take from you, no matter who you are, no matter which side you are on. How do you scare the shit out of those people, while making new friends and maintaining your mutual respect for others? How can you tell friends from enemies and what do you tell your enemies?


Monday, March 02, 2009

Afghanistan opium

According to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2007 opium survey in Afghanistan, the region produced 8,200 metric tons of opium - twice the annual estimate of global opium consumption. Afghanistan produces more opium than anywhere else in the world. But the price of opium is not being driven down by overproduction. Antonia Costa for the Washington Post writes,

"The (unweighted) national average price of dry opium at the farm gate in Afghanistan is dropping, but not significantly -- it was $125 per kilo in December 2006 compared with $150 per kilo a year earlier. Prices differ across the country, not surprisingly, since Afghanistan is not a unified territory or market, even for opium. But overall, the drop in prices is modest when compared with the massive increase in opium production, 50 percent, in 2006."

Opium also has a longer shelf-life than cocaine, and can be used as a store of value. It is considered a source of liquidity and is used as collateral for credit. But if this is so, why aren't Afghan farmers using their collateral to build up capital? Why isn't Afghanistan more prosperous? Something is not adding up. An alternative explanation is that the estimated annual global demand, thought to be 4,500 metric tons, is not actual demand. The real demand for opium could be much higher, or could be growing as fast as the production, as the illicit market spreads to new places.

But if new markets were absorbing the surplus, Costa writes, "we would expect an increase in seizures of the drug and overdoses in these countries. That hasn't been happening." She offers another alternate explanation.

"Drug traffickers have a symbiotic relationship with insurgents and terrorist groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Instability makes opium cultivation possible; opium buys protection and pays for weapons and foot soldiers, and these in turn create an environment in which drug lords, insurgents and terrorists can operate with impunity."

"I suspect," she concludes, "that the big traffickers are hoarding surplus opium as a hedge against future price shocks and as a source of funding for future terrorist attacks, in Afghanistan or elsewhere." She warns that Afghanistan's neighbors are "either accomplices or victims in the opium trade, so they need to be part of the solution."

Her last statement echoes a longtime NATO accusation. NATO, with 55,000 troops in Afghanistan, accuses Iran of allowing weapons and drugs to be smuggled into and out of the region, and giving money to 'insurgent' farmers and fighters. The UN International Narcotics Control Board says Pakistan is also a popular trade route.

If the supply of opium does not affect the price, then buyers are willing to pay a lot for it. But while the price of opium has not significantly dropped (even though production is twice the expected demand) farmers are entering the cannabis market instead. The UN's International Narcotics Control Board said in its annual report that because of overproduction in opium there has been a rise in the production of cannabis in Afghanistan. Many provinces which had been declared by the post-9/11 Afghan government and NATO to be free of poppy cultivation have switched to cannabis. The report went on:

"The lack of security in Afghanistan has severely hampered government efforts to eradicate illicit opium poppy; a total of 78 persons involved in the eradication efforts lost their lives in 2008, a six-fold increase over the previous year. The increase in illicit cultivation of cannabis in Afghanistan is also a worrying development."

Another law of economics commonly touted is "comparative advantage", which says that countries should produce in whichever products they have a comparative cost advantage over other countries. Afghanistan has comparative as well as an absolute cost advantage over other countries in drug production. And while Afghanistan is considered one of the least-developed countries in the world, with the lowest standard of living, their most traditional and cost-effective ways of industrial organization is outlawed, which leads to prohibition-style murder. The UNINCB does not see it this way. They say,

"The large-scale smuggling of Afghan opiates has resulted in a wide range of social ills, including organized crime, corruption and high illicit demand for opiates. For example, the Islamic Republic of Iran has, for a number of years, the highest rate of abuse of opiates in the world."

The same could be said about US energy firms, whose large-scale operations result in a wide range of social ills. The United States has, for a number of years, the highest rate of abuse of oil in the world; oil money leads to massive corruption, and the propping up of imperialist regimes; world government leaders have been trying for years to switch oil producers to more legitimate ways of life, but the oil drilling persists. In addition, many of the legalized US agricultural commodities harm other countries in the same way the US claims opium harms it, through policies like dumping. What if the overproduction of these crops were banned by the international community? Oh wait, they are.

As occupying Western armies have learned, from Winston Churchill to the Soviet Empire, controlling Afghanistan is much harder than invading it. Alternative solutions to Afghanistan's illicit drug "problem" should include the legalization of its drug trade.