Monday, December 31, 2007
Happy New Cataclysm! posted by Richard Seymour
"Listen, Cordelia. If a god had made the world, might would always be right, that would be so wise, we'd be spared so much suffering. But we made the world - out of our smallness and weakness. Our lives are awkward and fragile and we have only one thing to keep us sane: pity, and the man without pity is mad." - Edward Bond, Lear.
Of course, Bond rewrote Shakespeare's play, itself concerned with the violence of enclosure and the accompanying riots, for an age in which species-death forms the horizon of human possibilities. The age of racially organised extinction has given way to the age of wholesale planetary obliteration. Apocalypse is the norm. The best news of last year, apparently, was that after an estimated 1.2 million deaths in Iraq, and a massive spike in aerial attacks, the rate of resistance attacks on US troops fell in the last four months of the year. This was, by the corrupted logic and morality of the 'war on terror', a feel-good story.
About Afghanistan we are told little. No surveys keep track of war-related deaths there, and it is almost impossible to do so. The rate of air assaults there was even greater, but journalists don't run around among the mud huts if they want to live, and the military only has to listen to the feedback when a local notable turns out to be not entirely in the occupiers' pockets. Somalia has been devastated, turned into a humanitarian crisis to rival Darfur by a US proxy war. Gaza was attacked again and again over Christmas, and the population there continues to starve, for the sake of what Professor Dugard, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, rightly labels as racial supremacism. War with Iran drew close, and was then blown out of the water for the time being by the NIE - although insane calculations like this continue to be made. I can't tell if it's better or worse than the previous year's cost-benefit analysis: "Half of Lebanon is destroyed; is that a loss?" In Britain, the government re-committed itself to the possession of a nuclear arsenal, on the terms elaborated by the Bush administration - new mobile fleets of nukes and mini-nukes, capable of destroying population centres almost anywhere in the world, expanding their potential range to cover the whole planet.
The evolution of violence is telescopic: each step in its refinement and escalation takes less and less time. Structured by grievous social injustice, animated by irrationalist ideologies (Manifest Destiny, Clash of Civilizations, War on Terror etc), wielded by power structures that are impervious to the humanitarian lectures they themselves willingly dispense and insanely content with the colossal human cost of their policies, global violence reaches and breaches new threshholds in the space of months, not years. The potential for new peaks of depravity is almost as limitless as the capacity for allowing each new ongoing atrocity to slip tactfully into the background. Soon it becomes normal. 100,000 deaths is shocking until it becomes 650,000, which is in turn stunning until that again almost doubles. So, allow me to remind you of the exponential function: if the rate of death in Iraq doubles each year, as it has been doing consistently, then about 1.3m will have died between June 2007 and June 2008. Then a further 2.6m the next year, and so on. If the occupation were to end in the middle of 2010, which is extremely unlikely, total deaths on current trends would reach ten million. And if it did come to that, it would soon be forgotten about.
So, there's all that and the looming recession, which is certain to usher in further 'pay restraint'. Have a good one.
The next Washington Consensus posted by Richard Seymour
Pakistan is axiomatically central to Washington's expansionist 'war on terror'. Musharraf, the military despot in charge of Islamabad's portion of that expansion, has disappointed his handlers. While his security services were good enough to instruct the bulk of Taliban fighters to withdraw from Afghanistan, thus giving Washington an easy early victory, he has not since been able to crackdown sufficiently on the various Islamist groups that support the insurgency in Afghanistan. Further, his policies - both his support for the 'war on terror' and those that have increased the immiseration of the people of Pakistan - seem to have galvanised precisely the sort of unrest that Washington doesn't need. The old hands spotted an opportunity. Nawaz Sharif, the crooked Prime Minister overthrown by Musharraf, attempted a glorious return and was ingloriously deported (although he now looks to be re-staging his glorious return). Benazir Bhutto, chairwoman of the Pakistan People's Party, daughter of the murdered former President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, daughter of the West and flawed and feudal princess had more luck. She had worked out a deal in advance to save Musharraf's regime and allow her re-admittance to Pakistani politics after a long self-imposed exile. Some of her frozen funds were released and Musharraf issued a pardon on 5th October last year, removing the possibility of Bhutto being prosecuted on outstanding corruption charges. In return, her Pakistan People's Party agreed not to boycott the parliamentary election for president, which Musharraf went on to win. On 18th October, therefore, Benazir Bhutto returned in triumph. Though publicly critical of Musharraf's party, the PMLQ, she continued to negotiate with them behind the scenes for a power-sharing arrangement. Favoured by Washington because of her vocal support for the 'war on terror' and her right-wing policies, she enjoyed considerable leverage, but was an immediate target of right-wing Islamist groups opposed to Washington's policies - and probably elements of the Pakistani secret police. Today, Bhutto's supporters largely attribute her murder to the Pakistani government, and insist that she was shot in the neck and chest before the suicide attacker struck.
All US presidential candidates are making much hay in this heat. Hillary Clinton refers to Musharraf's failure to tackle 'Al Qaeda', while Mitt Romney wonders if the general is capable of keeping a lid on the unrest in his country. Rudi Giuliani, the favoured horse of the neocons, demands more military funding, while Mike Huckabee simply reminds voters that American democracy may be flawed, but it stands as a shining beacon to the rest of the world etc.
So, what's new? Well, they're moving up and moving on, taking it to the next level: it's time for Special Forces to drop in and say hello. Moving troops to Pakistan and Afghanistan is a strategy particularly favoured by the Democrats. Such a move would be extremely risky - unlike, say, bombing Pakistani targets from afar and killing dozens of civilians - and would contain an inherent "quagmire" dynamic, catalysing the famous law of entropy. But, then, perhaps the alternative of waiting for this spoilt brat to finish his studies at Oxford and take over the dynasty is not too appealling either.
The current US relationship to Pakistan is, obviously, the culmination of some murky history. The Pakistani state was, after all, practically an auxiliary to the US government since 1951 until the election of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party in the 1970 elections, following the wave of revolt against the Ayub regime. When Bhutto pursued a classical nationalist set of policies, opting for non-alignment, nationalising many industries and - most importantly - developing his own nuclear capacity, the US helped destroy his government. Henry Kissinger had warned Bhutto that "we can destabilise your government and make a horrible example out of you" - a typical Kissingerian threat, and one that was carried to fruition. General Zia ul-Haq's coup, one effected in alliance with right-wing religious groups such as the Jamaat e-Islaami in 1978, saw a decade of the most brutal rule, with the military increasingly dominating civilian life. Under his rule, the Pakistani secret police (ISI) nurtured the most fanatical reactionary zealots whom we now refer to as the Taliban as part of the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and as a counterweight against the appeal of socialism in Pakistan. Negotiating with Brzezinski, Zia insisted that all aid, finance, training and so on would be channelled through Pakistan, thus turning the country into a throughfare for all of the intelligence bandits, reactionary warriors and mercenaries that are now operating across Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the Soviet Union effectively defeated, Zia was killed in an airplane crash in 1988 that was probably a professional assassination. Successive Prime Ministers tried to ram home Pakistan's successful war on behalf of the US in Afghanistan, and Benazir Bhutto would oversee the successful march of the Taliban across Afghanistan - the bleatings of the avaricious, upper crust Bhutto dynasty about democracy and terrorism are so much fodder for gullible Western liberals. The Pakistan People's Party has long since become the private property of a bourgeois Anglocentric dynasty, and any leadership it produces will hop in and out of bed with the military and the mullahs depending on what the US requires.
Times change, priorities change, but interests don't. Russia has extricated itself from the West's deadly embrace and is pursuing its own local hegemonic project with some limited success (notably, the embarrassment of the US in Uzbekistan). China is a potentially enormous power whose current friendly disposition toward Washington doesn't preclude competing for a cut of the action in Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, or any number of other geopolitically sensitive points for Washington. The Central Asian energy republics, held for a long while under pro-US dictatorships, are increasingly exposed to instability, rival wooing, and potential rebellion. As Iraq goes under and the US foreign policy establishment splits over the prospect of expanding the war to Iran, controlling Afghanistan and Pakistan become increasingly important. The American empire's overreach now demands new, more flexible tactics. Do more to win over rivals, bring allies further into the fold, induce greater troop commitments with financial bribery and threats, reduce any seriously draining commitments and turn the war over to proxies (as in the 'Sunni Triangle'). And while the Taliban are no longer 'our' friends, they are no longer quite 'our' enemies. Unable to hold Afghanistan, the occupying powers are negotiating vigorously with the Taliban fighters, hoping to break of a section of them to co-govern with the warlord kleptocracy. Soon, a war that was initially sold as a war to hunt down Al Qaeda, and then became a humanitarian deliverance from the Taliban, will be an expanding regional war against something as nebulous as "extremism". And then, if local Islamist insurgents can be coopted, they will become part of a war against 'Al Qaeda'. When neither Bhutto junior or Nawaz Sharif can deliver, they'll be back to relying on General Musharraf as one of 'our' guys, moving in the right direction and so on. The empire can shift between narratives with such dexterity that no one in the press corps notices or cares when it happens. The next Washington Consensus is emerging from the flux even as you read.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
No One Is Illegal posted by Richard SeymourEven the libertarian Ron Paulista, Justin Raimondo, is disturbed by Ron Paul openly pandering to the racist vote. The usual spiel about immigrants having diminished in quality is inter-mingled with a licit appeal to commonplace Islamophobia. But Paul is only behaving as he might: he is a pro-gun, anti-abortion, Christian conservative who opposes stem cell research and he's one of the few who takes the John Birch Society seriously. The only source of slight amazement is the internet buzz around the kooky little reactionary, almost entirely borne out of his opposition to the war. The trouble is, as I noted, practically every other serious presidential candidate is talking about working for the clampdown. And in Iowa, the centre of attention for the time being, the arrival of Hispanic immigrants is seen as increasing crime and - so says the reporter - diluting the "Nordic" heritage of local towns. Of course, few would put the Aryanism as bluntly as that. Among the excuses one hears for this position is that "it's not racism, we simply want people to respect the law". Why, they wonder aloud, would any country accept people who break the law? Would you accept a burglar as a guest in your house?
But the laws are unjust, and a country ain't a fucking house. Immigration controls are unjust because they constitute a limitation on the right to work; because they penalise the poorest workers in the world; because they intensify the advantage that (increasingly mobile) capital already has over the labour it exploits; because they rely on the construction of tyrannical powers for the state (the only remaining state with truly effective border controls being North Korea); and because they rely on racist discursive practises with characteristically deadly effects. Immigration controls are not always good for specific sectors of capital - sometimes they face labour shortages because of specific caps on seasonal workers - but as a rule they maintain a flow of labour while keeping it under some level of control, keeping it domesticated and timid with the threat of imminent exposure and expulsion.
Mexican workers have catalysed economic growth in the US economy since 1848, and have been the targets of Jim Crow-style segregation for as long, particularly in California. After all, the annexation of Texas was in part an attempt by the southern states to expand the the scope of slavery and thus buttress their own power. Texan secession from Mexico had followed the ethnic cleansing of the area's Indian population, and the place was governed according to the principles of white supremacy. Despite the racist hysteria against them, Mexican workers have often been sufficiently useful to capitalists in the south-west to stymy long-term pogroms against them, even while Chinese workers were being subjected to terrorist purges across the West, and Asian workers in general falling foul of stern anti-immigration laws (esp. from 1924 to 1965). Yet, even their acceptance by US agricultural interests involved scientific claims for their docility, lack of intelligence and willingness to accept hard work. And when the shit hit the fan in the Great Depression, Mexicans were to feel the forceful brunt of a nativist reaction, when Congress approved driving Mexican workers out of the country, particularly out of Texas, with more than half a million people expelled. This kind of repression didn't have to be long-term: by enshrining the right to expel labour en masse, by organising repression along racial lines, such laws enabled employers enormous leverage over the labour market and worker mobility. And when you can simply cast a huge portion of the workforce out of the human race, declare them unfit for the considerations afforded everyone else, one has less work to do with welfare and employment programmes. Historically, such laws have been used to monitor the most militant, union-focused workers, and weed them out. Similarly, after the 2006 immigrant uprising in the US, the laws were used to intimidate and round up thousands of the most precariously placed workers in the country.
The drama in Ron Paul's latest advertisement revolves around people scrambling across borders, eluding the law and the militias, possibly bringing jihad to American towns and cities. This depiction of immigration with the thrill of border chases, brown-eyed elopers, cursing smugglers, vigilant lawmen and vigilante citizens, is the usual American schtick. However, the bulk of migrants classified as "illegals" are people who arrived in the country by lawful means and happen to have overstayed or are awaiting renewed visas. Incidentally, this is also true in Fortress Europe: many of those presently serving coffees or painting interiors across London are "illegal" by virtue of having outstayed permits. Their rights are therefore precarious and, though they frequently pay taxes, their access to social protection and welfare is severely curtailed. Let us not dwell on those who, though they are perfectly legal in seeking asylum in this country, are separated from their families and locked up in prisons that politicians call 'detention centres'. The conversion of labour segregation and repression into a form of entertainment, however, serves to awaken the fantasy of invasion. Well, what of 'invasion'? In the US, about 12.5% of the population (37.5m people) is foreign born. About half of these are classified as white, and that isn't the half that is getting the heat. A third of the total were born in Mexico, and in turn half of those arrived before 1990. The bulk of those who arrived recently are there for short-term employment contracts, and that is particularly true of those classified as "illegals". Far from "taking our jobs", one of the effects of "illegals" is to increase overall employment and sustain flagging businesses that provide work and services to nonimmigrants. The econometric evidence overwhelmingly sustains this argument (and, incidentally, it is equally true of Eastern European migration to the UK). So, the free movement of labour is not only a right that workers should claim - and one that could increasingly be fulfilled well given the reducing costs of transport - it is a positive boost to the strength of the working class. The criminalisation and segregation of workers is, by contrast, in no part of our interest.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Bhutto's assassination posted by bat020Here's Socialist Worker on Benazir Bhutto's assassination:
Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, was murdered today in a brutal suicide bomb attack that also claimed the lives of at least 20 of her supporters.
Her death is certain to further destabilise a country that is already being torn apart by the forces unleashed by George Bush's "war on terror".
Bhutto had recently returned to Pakistan as part of a US-sponsored plan to shore up the rule of Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president and former army chief – and a key regional ally of Bush.
Bush was swift to condemn Bhutto's assassination, but many in Pakistan are already pointing the finger of blame at him.
"The military and their American masters have to take some of the blame for this," said Munib Anwar from the Pakistan Lawyers Action Committee. "They brought these terrorists into Pakistan."
Benazir Bhutto is not the first in her family to die a violent death. Her father, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by a previous US-supported military dictatorship. Two of her brothers also died in mysterious circumstances.
But imperialism lies at the heart of the brutality of Pakistan's politics. The country has been bathed in blood ever since it was founded by the British partition of India in 1947.
And the tragic circumstances of Benazir Bhutto's death should not detract from the fact that she had made her peace with imperialism and was a loud supporter of Bush's murderous "war on terror".
Her radical days were long behind her and many ordinary people in Pakistan rightly saw her as corrupt and reliant on the support of Western powers.
As yet no organisation has claimed responsibility for Bhutto's murder. But suspicions are bound to fall on Islamist elements of Musharraf's administration who are sympathetic to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
These elements, clustered around Pakistan's military and security services, were once allies of the US but fell out with the White House during the prolonged occupation of Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001.
The state of emergency declared at the beginning of November was a desperate attempt to head off opposition to Musharraf's rule. It was a move that embarrassed the US government – which had hoped for a compromise deal between Musharraf and Bhutto – without managing to pacify the elements sympathetic to the Taliban within the military's own ranks.
Whatever develops now, no political solution based on compromise with US imperialism and its regional allies can offer anything other than more bloodshed and misery.
The real opposition to Musharraf's dictatorship and Bush's war does not lie in these quarters. It is the civil rights movement that rose up across the country this year that offers the best political hope for the people of Pakistan.
That movement has been organised independently of all the corrupt and discredited political parties of Pakistan.
Also worth reading: Chris Harman on the crisis in Pakistan from back in September - and pretty prescient today.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Everyone ought to keep in mind that, "at the moment, the one stable state in the Middle East is Iran," as Immanuel Wallerstein correctly observes.
The basic fact that we should always keep in mind is that the present U.S. administration has a full plate -- maintaining its presence in Iraq, maintaining its presence in Afghanistan, and worrying about the very real possibility of the breakdown of order in Pakistan. Even George W. Bush can appreciate that Iran's possible development of nuclear weapons a decade from now cannot displace these other concerns as a priority.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In the meantime, every one else around the world is thinking of what they should be doing in the Middle East after 2009, with most probably a Democratic president in office in the United States. It should seem obvious to them all that, at the moment, the one stable state in the Middle East is Iran. Iran to be sure has its internal conflicts and the Ahmadinejad faction may well lose the next elections. But Iran -- an oil power, a Shia power, a military and demographic power in the region -- is a major actor that has to be taken into account. Countries will prefer to have Iran on their side than against them. Iran is not going to go away. (Immanuel Wallerstein, "A Major Reversal? The NIE Report on Iran," MRZine, 25 December 2007)
Among all the factors mentioned above, as well as the unwillingness of Russia, China, Germany, and others to go along with the USA, whose subprime state of economy has finally become exposed, it is "the very real possibility of the breakdown of order in Pakistan" that has most effectively put the brake on Washington's Iran campaign.
The stars are finally aligned all right for a détente with Iran . . . if liberals and leftists in the North push hard for it.
Can we give a détente with America to the Iranian people before contradictions of resource populism in Iran (as well as Venezuela -- watch the governments' responses to inflation in both) become more acute, exacerbate its internal conflicts, and once again raise the eternal hope of the American power elite?
The Russians keep delivering -- the Caspian Summit, nuclear fuels, and now an anti-aircraft system "far superior to . . . the US Patriot system."
Russia is to supply Iran with a new and lethal anti-aircraft system capable of shooting down American or Israeli fighter jets in the event of any strike on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Iran yesterday confirmed that Russia had agreed to deliver the S-300 air defence system, a move that is likely to irk the Bush administration and gives further proof of Russia and Iran's deepening strategic partnership.
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The S-300 had a range far superior to that of the US Patriot system, experts said. It could also shoot down cruise and ballistic missiles, they added.
"It's a formidable system. It really gives a new dimension to Iran's anti-aircraft defences," said one Russian defence expert, who declined to be named.
"It's purely a defensive system. But it's very effective. It's much better than the US system. It has good radar. It can shoot down low-flying cruise missiles, though with some difficulty." (Luke Harding, "Russia Will Supply New Anti-Aircraft Missiles for Iran," Guardian, 27 December 2007)
Oh well, now "Russia Denies Talks with Iran on S-300 Deliveries" (RIA Novosti, 28 December 2007).
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Maradona Loves Iran posted by YoshieA gift of love from the god of football to the people of Iran: Diego Maradona says, "Estoy con los iraníes de todo corazón, de verdad lo digo, lo digo porque lo siento y estoy con el pueblo de Irán [I'm with the Iranians, with all my heart. I mean it. I say it because I feel it. I stand with the people of Iran]," presenting Iran's charge d'affaires in Argentina Mohsen Baharvand with his token of love for Iran, a shirt that he autographed "Con todo mi cariño para el pueblo de Irán [With all my love for the people of Iran]" ("Con todo cariño," Olé, 24 December 2007).
Maradona's Message to the People of Iran
Eduardo Galeano said of Maradona: for many years he committed "el pecado de ser el mejor, el delito de denunciar a viva voz las cosas que el poder manda callar y el crimen de jugar con la zurda, lo cual, según el Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado, significa 'con la izquierda' y también significa 'al contrario de cómo se debe hacer' [the sin of being the best, the offense of loudly condemning the things that the powerful ordered silenced, and the crime of playing left-handed, which, according to The Little Illustrated Larousse, means being 'with the Left' and also means being 'contrary to what we are supposed to do']" (El Fútbol a sol y sombra, 1995). The man-child is still playing left-handed, after all these years.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Evil Paradises posted by Richard Seymour
Around 1998, I was living in dismal North Woolwich on a student's lack of income. An impoverished, amenity-free colony on the north bank of the Thames, it is connected to its southern metropole by a foot tunnel and a free ferry, in whose freezing, windy chambers you can sit for fifteen minutes as more important (commercial) traffic is conveyed across the water. To the rest of East London, it is connected by an unreliable and dirty Silverlink railway line (recently closed to make way for new development) or, if you're prepared for a walk through a short stretch of desolation, you can take the DLR from Gallion's Reach. For entertainment, there is a sort of 'beach' that you can walk along - actually a pebbly mount that gradually becomes dark, toxic sludge. There, on the grey concrete wall facing the river, you will find out what lonely fascists are capable of doing with a spraycan and a bladder in the dead of night - they mark out their territory, one way or another, stealing tiny, subterranean dirt plots here and there, lurking and waiting. There is an ugly little park, some pubs promising raunch or sports, a sugar factory, and two newsagents, which seemed madly extravagant at the time - what to do with such choice?
The evil pole star of that East End was, and probably still is, the blinking light on top of One Canada Square, former residency of Lord Black. I worked in the 19th floor for about three months while Andrew Marr tried to turn The Independent into a Blairite fan magazine. Commuting daily from dirt cheap to filthy rich territory, I also had a clear view of work from my bedroom window. The utopian element to the construction of Canary Wharf, with its intricate system of waterways and chic shops, the buildings carefully calibrated to control not only the flows of people in and out (rent-a-cops by the thousands in that small area alone), but also every particle of air and moisture, the fountains, broad avenues and cultivated atmosphere of opulece, is in one respect a complete failure. It fails because of the wind. The whole place is an elaborate wind tunnel. Perhaps that is part of the point, however - nothing about the place is hospitable to anyone without cash or access. It's a thought that occurs if you're waiting in Richard Rogers' railway station for the next ride back to whereverthefuck - was this freezing, exposed, glacial structure really designed with people in mind? In fact, the hypertrophic architectural scale, the ludicrous gigantism of everything in the place, has the effect of reinforcing the comparative unimportance of anyone who happens to be passing through. The contrast with those who live within the gated luxury zones could not be more obvious. The plethora of high rise buildings and towers, concrete vertebrates, corporate dinosauria, Tyrannodomus Rex, suggests that the place has been mis-named. Not so much Canary Wharf as Jurassic fucking Park. It is a place, moreover, replete not only with idolatry, but also with the enlarged runic symbols of corporate presence: symbols that are opaque to ordinary interpretation, but which nevertheless mutually corroborate one another, sustaining the hyperstition of capital. And, far from interacting with local economies to generate employment, it seems to have insulated itself successfully, creating a sickly, enchanted working environment that is as psychically distant from the Millwall housing estates as Poplar is from Silicon Valley. Expanding perpetually into the formerly residential areas of the local working class, the parasitical alien compound now relies chiefly on suited labour imported from outlying suburbs, (as well as a few underpaid migrant workers who clean and dispense teas to the offices in absolute silence). This high-profile effort at reshaping the East End social space, coterminous with Thatcher's pitch battles to reform the ideological space, has produced something that is finally almost as surreal and exclusive and intrusive as the Green Zone.
About Green Zones, and their global proliferation, there is an excellent new volume edited by Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism. Through a series of focused essays by people like Patrick Bond and China Mieville, it details both the devastation of vast global spaces - the 'Slum World' of Davis' previous book - and the bathetic utopias of the rich. In Afghanistan, the tiny allotments of paradise amid the devastation are given over to both the occupiers and their now massively wealthy warlord allies, who control territories on Nato's behalf, tax on their own behalf, exact punishments and blandishments as they see fit, accumulate mountains of cash from unofficial streams of US dollars and illicit flows of opium. Squatters living in mud huts are evicted so that the most powerful warlords and businessmen can construct fairytale havens on the expropriated plots. This "architectural Babylon", with its "sinister real-estate economy" flaunts the wealth of the new elite as crudely as it drives the poor into the margins. Military strategy, corruption, drug-money, laundering, land piracy and patrimony interact in the new geography of occupied Kabul to produce these little enclaves for the rich, for Western aid workers, for the occupiers. Surreal contrast with a country at large immiserated and strafed with hundreds of bombing raids, not to mention now under techno-toxin assault from Dyncorp. As refugees are forced back into cities and towns ill-equipped to meet their needs, the strategies of exclusion originating from Afghanistan's current, heteromorphic status, ossify into permanent structures of the social and geographic landscape.
Beyond this Babylon is Johannesburg, a city made rich by the trade of gold and diamonds, first under colonial rule, then under apartheid, and now under the neoliberal post-apartheid settlement. Of course, to describe a city as rich in itself is an abstraction - a gold-bricking white capitalist class was made rich, a class that today reluctantly accomodates a small layer of black South Africans. The ANC's rapid ditching of its reformist agenda has confirmed that the city's function is to have an appropriate image, a "world-class" image, rather than to support the livelihoods of its inhabitants. The ANC and their white capitalist allies have been busily encouraging a landscape of conspicuous consumption in order to attract investors, largely without success, cutting corporation taxes, selling off public properties, privatizing electricity so that millions of low-income workers are forced off the grid. The rich hide behind three metre high walls and razor-wire, as some of the dispossessed poor turn to entrepreneurial criminality. Horrified at the prospect of a DIY redistribution of their durables, they hire a low-waged class of security guards from the townships. Between and beyond this centre of financial skyscrapers and that gated suburb are the expanding slums, the urban corridors with diminishing employment prospects and conditions. Patrick Bond insists on the capacity for pressure from below to disrupt these processes. Tenacious traditions of social activism seek to counteract the worst of this and hold up the possibility of a militant resurgence, while working class movements resourcefully mobilise in their own defense.
In the rebooted, secured homeland of consumption, the mall is regnant. In the land of the indebted, subprimed, sold-out and disenfranchised, the man with the super-trolley and SUV is king. Marco d'Eramo writes of an "age of bourgeois consumption", inaugurated with the 19th Century Parisian arcades that so fascinated Walter Benjamin, culminating in the giga-marts, the mother-of-malls that today - under inauspicious grey canopies - offer commuting consumers low-cost goods to fill their car boots with. The modern French hypermarché simply isn't a patch on its American counterpart. Take the Mall of America, with its 525 shops, four department stores, a fourteen-screen multiplex, eighteen restaurants, a seven-acre centrepiece under a glass canopy with an aquarium, a legoland... a visit to such a place could last for weeks. No wonder the larger malls contain a few hotels. If the mall has well-documented deleterious effects on local towns, its principles - of destruction and artificial reconstruction; of infantilism; of the privatization of social life, in which most intercourse is through consumer response to signs and price tags - are operative in American life, particularly in suburbia, the terminus of the white flight. 'Private towns' are emerging, heavily controlled by the homeowners, in which the protections of political life do not apply: forget the First Amendment in rosy little 'Leisure World' of Arizona, whose board of directors censors material at will, precisely as one might in one's own household, or one's own company. In these zones, Mexicans and other people of colour may work, but in total silence. If they say anything to the whites who live there, they're out. The triumph of property rights over human rights is close enough to being complete that it permits forms of segregation and repression that would ordinarily be outlawed. And don't imagine these places are merely small communities of privileged white people living the dream as they see fit. There are 43 million Americans living in common-interest housing developments of this kind, with the main aim apparently being to secure property-holders against crime - a word whose raciological dimensions are apparent in its application. The satisfaction of individual needs, including the market-tested need to be free of the poor, especially the darker-skinned poor, or the need to be able to strongly regulate sexual habits, or whatever other 'need' might enter into one's dim-witted head, is the sustaining ideology here. The free market in the service of serfdom and the family values of Louis Quatorze.
And so on and on, the rich everywhere accumulating massively at the expense of the working class majority, and everywhere secreting themselves in surreal environments - bunkered but luxurious, deliberately attuned to satisfying every possible urge, the mall and the luxury pad converging into one. And the most absurd example of this is the Freedom Ship. More of an ideal than a ship - since construction hasn't even begun since it was first announced almost a decade ago - this voyager promises to deliver the world's wealthy to a life of carefree exuberance, travelling in luxury and style from location to location. The interesting thing about the Freedom Ship is that it is ugly even in conception. An ocean-bound city is the ideal, but it will look more like a multi-storey car park with a helicopter landing range on top. But it will also be, apparently, a floating tax haven. Imagine finally getting the government off your back by going on an extended cruise. As China Mieville writes, it is "banal avarice" offered as "a principled blow for political freedom". For the sake of contrast, one can think here of pirate utopias, the kind described by Marcus Rediker. As Rediker has written, these multiracial, multinational ships were surprisingly egalitarian sodalities, not at all the kinds of violent authoritarian enterprises that we have been accustomed to imagining. Men and women used to the despotic conditions of life on legal trading ships (and slave ships for that matter) found meaningful forms of social solidarity, escape from state control and the emerging forms of capitalist domination. It seems a bit paltry, in comparison, to launch yourself on a three-yearly cycle of seclusion from the rest of the world to escape paying one's taxes. Further, as Mieville rightly emphasises, the history of ship-bound escapes is typically a tragic tale: the "boat people" of Vietnam and Haiti, for example.
I would point out that Iain Sinclair's two brilliant psychogeographic accounts, Lights Out for The Territory and London Orbital are compulsory supplementary reading here, for they extend some of this analysis to this particular heart of neoliberal darkness: London, in which nostalgia is taken to the absurd length of allowing TB to flourish once again in the East End. Soon, rickets too. Sinclair doesn't deal in statistics, or policies as such, and nor does he footnote. Instead, he traverses (or circumnavigates) the city with a photographer and an eye for the substrata, the fossilised remnants of unofficial communications (from "hit and run calligraphers", as Sinclair dubs the graffiti artists), and a wearily satirical eye for bombast. Yet, his books are somehow about the same processes, the same dreamworlds and their inherent sordidness. In London Orbital, in particular, he sniffs out the dystopian reinvention of London's margins and suburbs, the studious re-branding of postindustrial dreck and waste, and the secrets behind the public facades of municipal neoliberalism. However, this new wave of literature in particular, including from David Harvey, Derek Gregory and Mike Davis - and especially the excellent study by Neil Smith, American Empire: Roosevelt's Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization - is bringing new emphasis to the spatial dimensions of capital accumulation. In an era in which our space is colonised by, say, Starbucks, and sold back to us so we can consume an over-priced coffee for half an hour; when public space is increasingly privatized; when housing is increasingly a problem in so-called rich cities; when whole swathes of territory are effectively sealed off to the public; when the empire applies its extraordinarily broad geographical mastery to frustrate resistance to its rule; and when even left-wing theorists collude in the neoliberal utopian fantasy of a borderless world... Well, given all this, nothing could be more welcome than the attempt to understand the way power produces space, politically (absolute space, as per the idealised borders of the nation-state), economically (relational space, as per real-time transactions), and ideologically (utopian space, political economy haunted by fantasy).
Sunday, December 23, 2007
George Carlin posted by Richard SeymourYou have to love this guy:
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Latest Iraqi Resistance Stats posted by Richard SeymourThe December 2007 report to Congress is here [pdf]. I keep wondering when we'll see the same for Afghanistan, because the information is - however biased by selection and interpretation - a useful antidote to the corporate media. The emphasis is, unsurprisingly, on the (temporary) success of the vicious counterinsurgency strategy over the last year. I daresay the strategy will have produced even bloodier results than in previous years, particularly given the dramatic escalation in the air war over the last year that I discuss below. There has, according to these figures, been a dramatic reduction in all kinds of attack, whether sectarian or resistance, against civilians or troops.
This is the culmination of a number of factors, and these should be a cause for some pain and some triumph. The first is clearly the successful strategy of coopting tribal elements in the 'Sunni triangle', which would once have been the main source of resistance attacks - they are attacking 'Al Qaeda' more and the troops less. The second is the successful strategy of bombing the place to smithereens - it is a weakness of the antiwar movement that we couldn't see this coming and stop it, and we bear some responsibility for it. The defiling of Iraqi cities has undoubtedly destroyed the base and core of several resistance outfits. The geographical mastery of the US, emphasised in news reports during the early months of the occupation, has borne fruit. They have regained a certain intelligence footing and a measure of the enemy that has enabled them to hit hard against the resistance. There should be no euphemism about this: while it isn't a story of long-term defeat, it is a set-back for the resistance. However. The third factor, and very important, is the culmination of success on the part of the southern resistance: it is widely acknowledged that the withdrawal of the British troops dramatically reduced violence in the areas it controlled. Recent surveys from the south of Iraq show that its residents deeply regret the occupation, despite it having been one of the less violent areas of the occupation, and one of the areas least likely to have benefited in any sense by the rule of the Ba'ath party. The occupation could be, and proved to be, much worse than Saddam (how about that, by the way?). The final factor is the success of the strategy of disintegrating Iraq along ethnic lines. People feel far more secure in their own neighbourhood than in anywhere else in the country - what would once have been their own country, from top to bottom. Balkanisation is a disgusting strategy, but isn't always an unsuccessful one. I'm afraid that the reduction in 'ethno-sectarian' violence is actually a result of succesful ethnic cleansig (although, who knows, perhaps the occupiers' death squads have been asked to tone it down a bit). At any rate, here are the relevant tables (click to enlarge as always):
Some reports refer to the resistance holding back and bunkering down during America's recent infliction of airborne death on Iraqi cities, and so one would expect an upturn shortly. But never forget that, as with Vietnam, they can always win if we don't tie one hand behind their backs. They can always inflict genocide, destroy the country, turn Iraqi communities to pink mist and brick dust, disperse chemicals that burn their flesh and lungs and sizzle their bones, send death squads in to drill holes in bodies, shred working class housing blocks with bullets and shrapnel - oh wait... well, let's say they can do much, much more of that.
One 1995 survey showed that the top quintile of wealth holders owned almost 85% of total household wealth, and Gini co-efficients tend to demonstrate much greater gaps in ownership than in income. Another set of statistics produces the following results for wealth distribution from 1962-1995 (click to enlarge):
Aside from the very broad continuity of these patterns, what is striking is that the long-term changes that have been effected have not merely been at the expense of the almost propertyless majority, but also the 2nd 20%, who I suppose in American parlance would be 'upper-middle-class'. The bottom 80% saw a 2% reduction in wealth from 1983 to 1989. Take another look at the chart - suppose a roughly socialist egalitarian society persisted in the United States. Each 20th percent would have roughly 20% of the wealth, with minor fluctuations here and there. On this criterion alone, a very crude one I admit, the so-called 'upper-middle-class' is ripped off along with everyone else. The vast majority of Americans, in short are close to propertyless, possessing only a few insecure items such as cars and houses (especially those on dodgy loans or subprime mortgages). Now, even that massive accumulation of wealth at the top 1% contains massive internal differentiation, as:
the share of the top 0.5% of wealth owners rose 5% during this period, from 26.2% of total household sector wealth in 1983 to 31.4% in 1989. The wealth of the next half percent remained relatively constant at about 7.5% of total household wealth, but the share of the next 9% decreased from 34.4% in 1983 to 33.4% in 1989.
Of course, even these statistics occlude much. The super-rich stay well out of sight, unlike the ostentatious celebs and public personalities - you don't see these guys queuing up to appear on The Simple Life; they successfully conceal much of their wealth and use loopholes to avoid paying taxes - especially the estate tax, records of which provide much of the source data for studies; they don't respond very well to surveys inquiring about their wealth; and they certainly tend not to participate in long-term studies of their social movements. That is, they are an extremely secretive bunch, and sociologists have been obliged to devise statistical innovations to compensate for this and produce adequate data, with only partial success. This is something of a problem, because the bulk of research that has been conducted on this matter find that inheritance (whether at death or, as in most cases, 'inter-vivo') accounts for between 50% and 80% of the net worth of US families. It is clearly an area that is crying out for further study and enlightenment, yet it is shrouded in a heart of darkess. "We know very little about how much wealth is actually inherited," Keister and Moller point out, "because data on inheritance is virtually nonexistent." I suspect that if the US government, for all of its informational prowess and its willingness to spy on your phone calls and e-mails, were to initiate any attempt to discover the full extent of concealed wealth, the hysterical cry of 'communism' would shortly be raised. The irony is that you might well have to raise the banner of communist revolution merely to find out exactly how much accumulated wealth there is.
*I'm relying on fairly old statistics for the purposes of making a broader point about the structure of wealth distribution and transmission. For what it's worth, the latest statistics on wealth, produced in the latest edition of a standard text-book on the matter by Charles Hurst in 2007, suggest that the top 10% of US possess 80% of all financial assets, while the bottom 90% hold 73% of all debt. And debt, as any fool knows, is negative net worth for everyone but the propertied minority.
Mutiny posted by Richard SeymourDemocracy Now has the remarkable story of how a group of US troops in Iraq, having ust emerged from a powerful IED attack, rebelled agaist their military commanders and refused to go out on patrols on the grounds that their rage might end up producing a massacre. The unit in question is apparently that which has been hardest hit by the Iraqi resistance. The Army Times reporter interviewed by DN is full of sanctimonious crap about this sort of mutiny being encouraged by mental health professionals and the new ethical disposition of the US army, but it seems far more likely that these guys are sick to death of being put in dangerous and morally repugnant positions. It's happening with increasing frequency. There are two main factors bringing this about: the antiwar movement, and the Iraqi resistance. A stronger antiwar movement would weaken troop morale further, and strengthen the resistance. So there are no excuses: you know where to be.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Secret Air War Confirmed posted by Richard SeymourA recent (typically apologetic) study by the CSIS of US bombing raids in Iraq and Afghanistan has produced figures that confirm what many of us have been arguing - that the US has drastically escalated its aerial assault on Iraq and Afghanistan, below the radar of the corporate media. You may not have realised by how much, though. These are the figures (click to enlarge):
Which statistics, fed into Excel, produce this (click to enlarge):
As you can see, both countries have taken a hammering, but Afghanistan in particular has taken the brunt of a massive series of air attacks in part due to the 'risk-transfer' conception of war, in which civilians are to bear the brunt of death and destruction rather than US combatants. The hostile terrain of Afghanistan, and the fact that few are actually covering it very extensively, makes it an ideal target for this kind of ferocious assault - with, as we saw last year, a rolling wave of massacres in the country. Inevitably, since the air war hasn't been covered much by the media, and given its insensitivity to 'enemy' casualties, those massacres reported are a tiny sample of the true total. Without a Lancet-style survey, we will remain very much in the dark about the true nature of this assault and its effects.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
BNP Split posted by Keith ShilsonSo it seems there is a split in the British National Party after "senior members" have attacked Griffin's "leadership". Perhaps the pressure of being hounded at every step by Unite Against Fascism is taking its toll on the fascists. The following is from the BBC. The best bit is where Griffin is described by BNP dissidents as "behaving like a dictator". Clearly these admirers of Hitler and Mussolini have a pretty tenuous grasp on history.
Shouting at the television posted by Richard SeymourIt's a hobby, isn't it? Via the excellent This Space, I found Charlie Brooker yelling them amusing swear-words at the television. As televisual autocritique goes, it's actually one of the more refined efforts. What do you usually get? Harry Hill's unfunny impersonations of Eastenders characters, at best. Clearly, this sort of rant only works if you've got some sort of emotional investment in the telly, and equally clearly it works to solidify that investment, to shore it up, to make sure you keep supplying eye-to-ad co-ordination. Even if you're yelling, "you fucking massive cock", you're still watching. In fact, it's worse, you're treating it as if it's real, you're expecting it to live up to your conception of how human beings should behave, you are participating. Like much of humanity, I do waste a lot of time on the idiot box, and it isn't always completely pointless. For example, if I really want to get motivated, I sit and watch one of those bear-baiting talk shows, each with a carefully arranged diorama of the emotionally incontinent, feckless and violent (all of them, needless to say, obviously broke), and I watch the manicured presenter patronise these people for about ten minutes. And then if I really need to get moving, or if I have an unusually combative day ahead, I sit through the advertisements for debt consolidation, car loans unsecured to mortgages, and so on. Then, supposing I have someone to kill that day, I'll kick it up a notch and watch Jeremy Kyle. I have, I am happy to brag, reduced this activity over the years, but imagine if all that time was replaced by was ranting at the various provocateurs on Comment is Free or in the blogosphere.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Revolt in the ANC posted by Richard SeymourFollowing on from the massive strikes in South Africa earlier this year and last week's miners' strike, the ANC is rocked by a political struggle which looks like it will result in the neoliberal wing of the party being defeated by the left. I feel like raising it, and putting it that way, because from news stories like this, you wouldn't have a clue what was going on. You would not, for example, gather that Jacob Zuma is leading the left-wing in the ANC and that Thabo Mbeki's embattled position has something to do with his reactionary pro-business policies. Hardening criticism from COSATU and the South African Communist Party membership has compounded a growing dissatisfaction in the Congress. Zuma is far from the ideal man to lead such a fight, burdened as he is with corruption charges over bribes from a French arms company, and he is actually doing his best to present his policies as pro-business. He is in all probability an opportunist who has harnessed a unique chance based on the unrest. However, the fact that he has successfully channelled the energy of this revolt into a leadership bid which may lead to him taking power in the ANC (but not the country) is itself significant. And however disappointing Zuma is likely to be (Chavez, he ain't - even Chavez isn't always Chavez), the very fact of ousting the wretched Mbeki may give further confidence to the already insurgent working class.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The cracker asshole vote is probably not as large as many people outside America take it to be. For example, these cracker asshole minutemen seem to consist of a small number of Aryan supremacists and classic Western vigilantes - certainly of the variety that launched pogroms against the Irish, the Chinese, the poor from Oklahoma, labourers, communists, trade unionists etc, but much smaller than their forebears. They are capable of spotting a potential meat factory labourer or gardener with binoculars directed across cactus-strewn borderland, and such an unfortunately witnessed interloper might well end up being beaten or murdered. And the superpatriots have spread geographically from a base in conservative regions of California into Arizona and Texas, and have branches in several other states. Yet, as a movement they remain a narrow sect, eminently ignorable by national politicians. Yet, despite this, they have acquired some striking support not only from local radio 'hell-in-a-handbasket' hate programmes, but also from California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger back in 2005, when his attacks on public spending caused his poll numbers to slump. With characteristic McBain-like eloquence, he has showered praise on the efficacy of the Minutemen, depicting them as conscientious citizens looking out for fellow whiteys. They have made an impact on GOP politics as well. While Pat Robertson has offered a sizeable portion of the religious right vote to Rudi Giuliani, Jim Gilchrist, the former Marine and co-founder of the Minutemen movement, is wooing the racist right for Mick Huckabee. Huckabee was supposedly a centrist on immigration and had attacked racism and nativism during the migration debate in 2006, but he has now discovered the virtues of the Minutemen, and produced an authoritarian set of policies to woo this unpleasant substrate. Gilchrist's one-time colleague, Chris Simcox, has attacked him for this nomination, and it may be that the already schismatic movement splits over this as well. However, the vendetta merchants have an audience among comparatively privileged people, at least among a layer of middle class white Americans, whose intense boredom and alienation in an increasingly bizarre society seeks redress in resentful and violent attacks on the usual targets.
GOP candidates, such as Mitt Romney and Tom Tancredo preparing attacks on immigrants as key to their electoral strategy. However, alongside them are some opportunistic Democrats, who must vigilantly hold forth against the misunderstanding that they are soft on the dark-skinned. Democratic candidate John Edwards, who likes to present a left face, is promising a crack-down. Perhaps Edwards, addressing a mainly white audience in Iowa, is trying to appeal to a working population that has been destroyed by neoliberalism and by 'free trade' deals such as Nafta, which has cost 1 million American jobs according to the Economic Policy Institute (although Iowa was not one of the main states affected by Nafta). Since Edwards supports that particular agreement, planning merely to renegotiate it, and since he is one of those who supported giving Bush fast-track powers to negotiate further such trade agreements, it wouldn't be his style to point out that the problems for working class communities in Iowa do not originate with immigration. Barack Obama is cracking down on border controls as well, lest those illegal immigrants turn out to be terrorists - the Latino Catholic division of Al Qaeda is apparently sending shock troops across a poorly manned border day and night. Bill Richardson, the conservative Hispanic-American Democrat with 8% of the vote, also favours tougher border controls. The Democrats are not the aggressive attack dogs on immigration, but none of the main candidates appears all that interested in defending the communities who have suffered a wave of state repression and accompanying vilification since their mass protests in 2006. Groups like ANSWER and the ISO have done well to harrass the Minutemen and have also done what they can to support the immigrant labourers, but the order of the day among the political class is for a more intense crackdown (with tacit approval for heightened exploitation by employers, who have most to lose with a politically self-confident immigrant movement).
Much of the anti-immigrant racism currently informing presidential bids is regulated and sustained by the 'war on terror', which has cast an automatic pall of unacceptability and disloyalty on even legal migrants. Yet, lest we forget that bashing the poorest and most exploited is part of an American tradition that precedes even the conquest of the Philippines (a model for today's occupation of Iraq in so many ways), I suppose it's worth mentioning that the antiwar Republican candidate, Ron Paul (very much favoured by the libertarians at Antiwar.com) supports massive state investment in attacking immigrants. So much so that the far right Federation for American Immigration Reform gives the candidate a 100% score in supporting immigration restrictions. He blames the welfare state for having created immigration, on the grounds that you get more of what you 'subsidize'. Well, it seems to me that if you subsidize state repression, you get more of it, and have no business calling yourself a libertarian. It is a point usually ignored by the soi disant anti-statists of the American right - the history of immigration controls in the US shows that measures initially contrived to attack and restrict migration become the basis of domestic surveillance and repression. Worse, however: one or two liberals and even radicals who ought to know better are rocking to the Ron Paul Revolution, because of his stance on the war, on civil liberties, and his general aura of incorruptibility. The fact that his stance on practically everything else is indefensible and disgusting has passed by in silence from these people. A petty reactionary with a good stance on the war is still a petty reactionary.
Despite the appalling performance of the Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, the decisive issue at the 2008 presidential election will, I suspect, still be the 'war on terror' and the general disaffection with it. The GOP candidates are swinging to the hard right, partially in response to the growing right-ward lurch of Democrats, but mainly because they are desperate. Faced with insurmountable hostility to the Bush administration and the Republican Party, they are unwilling to abandon the 'war on terror', which adventurist strategy still broadly retains the support of their corporate sponsors. Hobbled by the NIE, to some extent (not, noticeably, by any Democratic attack), they have to stimulate the basest of bases, the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth who despise the wretched of the earth. The nativist reactionaries do not constitute most Americans, but then they don't have to. Their role is to prise apart the natural alliance between the disenfranchised white working class, African Americans whose ethnic cleansing from New Orleans is an accomplished fact, and hyper-exploited immigrants - all of whom lose out from the 'war on terror' and the current neoliberal orthodoxy. If, against the constant, oppressive reality of growing class domination, the culture warriors and rabid nationalists can harness the directionless, pre-political anger of many Americans, the ruling class may weather the oncoming recession without having to combat or accomodate any sustained movement for reforms and social change.
Breakthroughs in brain science have revealed that people are primarily emotional decision-makers. . . . Emotions are central, not peripheral, to both marketplace and workplace behavior. As a result, companies able to identify, quantify, and thereby act on achieving emotional buy-in or acceptance from consumers and employees alike will enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Contradictions of Resource Populism posted by YoshieVenezuela's Interior Minister Pedro Carreño got caught criticizing capitalism while sporting Gucci shoes and a Louis Vuitton tie:
Asked if it wasn't contradictory to criticize capitalism while personally preferring imported luxuries, the minister stammered a bit and finally said: "No es contradictorio, porque yo quisiera que Venezuela produjera todo eso y entonces yo comprar todo lo que se produzca aquí y no tener que importar el 95 por ciento de los rubros que consumimos [It's not contradictory, for I would prefer Venezuela to be producing all this, and then I could buy what's produced here instead of having to import 95% of what we consume]" (Enrique Andrés Pretel, "Ministro venezolano en apuros para defender socialismo de Chávez," Reuters, 13 December 2007).
Unlike right-wingers, who are having a field day with this video, the charge of hypocrisy does not interest me.1 Who can blame the minister for wishing to wear nice clothes?
But a question may be still asked: does the minister know that his European brand fashion items may not have been made by high-wage European craftsmen but low-wage East Asian workers, the only thing "European" about them being their prices?
In fact, many luxury-brand items today are made on assembly lines in developing nations, where labor is vastly cheaper. I saw this firsthand when I visited a leather-goods factory in China, where women 18 to 26 years old earn $120 a month sewing and gluing together luxury-brand leather handbags, knapsacks, wallets and toiletry cases. One bag I watched them put together -- for a brand whose owners insist is manufactured only in Italy -- cost $120 apiece to produce. That evening, I saw the same bag at a Hong Kong department store with a price tag of $1,200 -- a typical markup. (Dana Thomas, "Made in China on the Sly," New York Times, 23 November 2007)
Then, there remains another question, suggested by the minister's reply itself: is Venezuela making progress in overcoming the Dutch disease (higher oil prices overvaluing the currency, making imports comparatively cheaper and underdeveloping the domestic non-oil production)? The import trends charted by Venezuela's National Statistics Institute are not exactly encouraging.
"El PIB aumentó 8,7% durante el tercer trimestre de 2007," 15 November 2007):
The fastest growth was in communications at 24.3% followed by commerce at 18.4% and then transportation at 15.5%. The lagging sectors were manufacturing at 7.7% and construction at 4%. Note that both manufacturing and contruction were both slower than growth in the economy as a whole. Clearly the increasing overvaluation of the Venezuelan economy is stunting manufacturing growth and keeping it below what it should be.
Interstingly the bank noted that agricultural production as been increasing at an average of 15% since 2005. So what shortages there are clearly result from increased demand not falling output.
In more general numbers imports were up 30.9% (is this good or bad?), consumption by consumers is up 20.4% (I guess this makes for happy voters), and fixed capital investment is up 17.3% which the government attributes to increased imports of machinery. However, for some time now we have seen investment go way up while production seems to be increasing but at a much slower rate. ("Yawn," Oil Wars, 15 November 2007)
It looks like the day when the minister can buy at home everything he can possibly want is far from close, and he is not personally setting a great example of swadeshi for the rest of the nation to follow.
The unfortunate spectacle of Louis Vuitton socialism came at about the same time as the news of removal of the price controls on long-life milk and shortly after the defeat of the Constitutional Reform. The beginning of December 2007 may be remembered as the time when contradictions of resource populism in Venezuela became more visible than before. Chavistas will have to overcome them to stay in power and further transform the nation. But how?
1 Some Venezuelan leftists, however, may not let the minister off the hook so easily on the hypocrisy question:
Y con una corbata Louis Vuitton y unos zapatos Gucci tú no puedes venir a decirme que estás poniendo los intereses colectivos por encima de los individuales, mucho menos si tu respuesta a las críticas es que en Venezuela "no se fabrican" corbatas ni zapatos. . . no me jodas, que en estos momentos tengo puestos unos zapatos venezolanos Vic Matic bien bonitos, que cuestan 120 mil bolívares y me han durado 2 años ya. [And with a Louis Vuitton tie and Gucci shoes on, you can't come to tell me that you are putting collective interests above individual ones, much less if you respond to your critics by saying that ties and shoes are "not being manufactured" in Venezuela. . . . Don't kid me. At this very moment I am wearing very pretty Vic Matic Venezuelan shoes, which cost me 120,000 bolivars and have lasted for the last two years] (Luigino Bracci Roa, "Pedro Carreño y la corbata Louis Vuitton, o cuando la oposición tiene toda la razón. . . ," El espacio de Lubrio, 13 December 2007)
Is it time for Venezuelan officials to begin to emulate the sartorial rectitude of their Iranian counterparts who still frown upon the kravati?
But news from the department of government procurement is worse than news from the fashion department: the Venezuelan government just gave KBR a $57 million dollar contract to build an ammonia plant ("When Will They Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are?" Oil Wars, 14 December 2007).
Read it in Spanish: Yoshie Furuhashi, "¿Socialismo Louis Vuitton en Venezuela?" Traducción de Julio Fernández Baraibar, Critical Montages, 19 December 2007.
Gaia Capitalism in Bali posted by Richard Seymour
Guest post by Gareth Dale:
The "fervent hope" of the Financial Times
The Bali conference is ongoing. But Bali documents are being churned out thick and fast. One such is the Bali Communiqué, prepared by The Prince of Wales’s UK and EU Corporate Leaders Groups on Climate Change, and signed by the leaders of 150 global companies, including Shell, Virgin, British Airways, BAA, Pacific Gas and Electric, Anglo-American, Ferrovial, Rolls Royce, Volkswagen and News Corporation. The Communiqué – which was sent to the 130 Environment Ministers who are attending the Bali conference, and was handed personally to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon -- calls upon the negotiators to produce a “comprehensive, legally binding United Nations framework to tackle climate change.” In an article published in the Financial Times, The Prince of Wales congratulates the companies for showing “remarkable leadership” and expresses his “fervent hope” that the communiqué “will strengthen the resolve of those gathered in Bali to make the tough decisions the world so urgently needs”. Most significantly, the Communiqué argues that “the overall targets for emissions reduction must be guided primarily by science”. Its website boasts that “This is in contrast to the argument that has previously been made by some parts of the business community that it is concerns over competitiveness and cost that should set the limit of emission cuts.” One signatory, James Smith, Chair of Shell UK, gave voice to the sense of urgency, commenting: "The message from the international business community couldn't be clearer. A comprehensive, legally-binding United Nations agreement to tackle climate change will provide business with the certainty it needs to scale up global investment in low carbon technologies. The cost of inaction far out weighs the cost of taking action now. It is crucial that, at the Bali conference, countries agree a work plan of comprehensive negotiations to ensure a robust policy framework is in place, to guide us forward over the coming decades."
How encouraging that global business leaders have come to see that targets for emissions reduction should be guided by science. With this in mind they may care to consult another Bali document, the Bali Declaration. Prepared under the auspices of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, it has been signed by some 150 scientists. What targets do the scientists identify? The first is that global warming must be kept “to no more than 2 ºC above the pre-industrial temperature,” that this “requires that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced by at least 50% below their 1990 levels by the year 2050,” and that, in the long run,”greenhouse gas concentrations need to be stabilised at a level well below 450 ppm (parts per million; measured in CO²-equivalent concentration).” In order to meet those targets, the Bali Declaration concludes, “global emissions must peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, so there is no time to lose.”
No Money in Solar
How encouraging, too, that the Chair of Shell singles out the need to scale up investment in low carbon technologies. Together with BP, Shell accounts for an astounding 40 per cent of the CO2 emissions of all FTSE100 companies. Mercifully, in recent years it has been investing an average of $200m per year in renewables – admittedly, that represents just one per cent of total capital investment -- in contrast to the 69 per cent it devotes to scouring the planet for new sources of fossil fuels – but a step in the right direction nonetheless. So it is with disbelief that we learn, from The Guardian’s Terry Macalister, that Shell “has quietly sold off most of its solar business.” This is poor timing; the news will hardly make the 130 Environment Ministers and Ban Ki-Moon believe that the signatories of the Communiqué they have just received mean business, so to speak. Shell’s move, writes Macalister, together with BP’s recent decision to invest in Canadian tar sands – as Shell has been doing for years, “indicates that Big Oil might be giving up its flirtation with renewables and going back to its roots.” Shell has pulled out of its solar energy operations in India and Sri Lanka, a sell-off that follows the hiving off of its solar module production business, and which is to be followed by sell-offs in the Philippines and Indonesia. Confirming its pull-out from solar, the Anglo-Dutch oil group said it was not making enough money. "It was not bringing in any profit for us there so we transferred it to another operator.” The pull-out, the same Guardian article continues, has annoyed business leaders with interests in solar energy, who fear the impact of a high-profile company selling off solar business. Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of Solar Century and a leading voice in renewable energy circles, said Shell was undermining the credibility of the business world in its fight against global warming: “Shell and Solar Century were among the 150 companies that recently signed up to the Bali Communiqué. It is vital that companies act consistently with the rhetoric in such declarations, and as I have told Shell senior management on several occasions, an all-out assault on the Canadian tar sands and extracting oil from coal is completely inconsistent with climate protection."
Green Revolution in the Blue-Chips
The Virgin Tycoon was given personal tuition on the matter of climate change by none other than Al Gore, the former Vice President of the United States and one-time shareholder in Occidental. Branson has reported: "Looking directly at me, he said, 'Richard, you and Virgin are icons of originality and innovation. You can help to lead the way in dealing with climate change. It has to be done from the top down, instead of from the bottom up on a grassroots level.'" Branson's proposed solution is technology rather than social or economic change. To lead the way toward what he has called "Gaia Capitalism", he offered a $25 million reward to anyone who devised a device capable of absorbing and storing CO2 (there are billions of such devices already on the planet, even if the supply is diminishing, which is why one of the proposed solutions is a "synthetic tree"). No one has as yet been considered for the prize for proposing any alteration to Branson's airline business. Soon, Virgin was joined by Barclaycard, BSkyB, even the CBI. Green capitalism was quick to spread - even Exxon reportedly found itself on the end of a drive by investors worth $700bn to oust a particular executive blamed for its aggressive policies. A profusion of institutions now seeks capital-friendly solutions to climate change, based on technology. However, whatever technological solutions make it to production will use an enormous amount of energy in their production, which alone may make them unviable according to MIT engineer Howard Herzog. The chances of a suitable technology being developed is minimal.
An 'u-turn' by the United States, apparently based on the watering down of already inadequate targets, has produced "extraordinary scenes" of high emotion at the Bali conference. Little is to change, in fact. One concrete proposal accepted is for a more entrenched global carbon market, which tripled in value last year to reach $30bn. The proposals are backed by pro-market groups such as the Global Canopy Programme, as well as by oil and gas corporations. According to Gordon Brown, it is "the best way to protect the endangered environment while spurring economic growth". The market is a "business bonanza", potentially overtaking oil in the future. Though riddled with extortion and dodgy accounting, while fuelling new forms of exploitation of the Third World, the market has proven a complete failure in reducing pollution. The ideal capitalist solution - turning disaster into profit - has proved to be no solution at all. Allowing for a massive regressive transformation in global property rights (vast oil companies get to own the right to engage in polluting activity while depriving poorer countries of those rights), it does nothing to stymy the disaster. So, while reactionaries and paid-off commentators continue to deny the science behind 'climate change', far-sighted capitalists seek to adapt to and coopt the movements for change.