Links 3/12/10

Giant meat-eating plants prefer to eat tree shrew poo BBC

Your Chilean Sea Bass Dinner Deprives Killer Whales Wired

Mutated genetic supertrout developed in lab The Register (hat tip reader John M)

Fighting Deficit Hawks Squeezeplay. Our Marshall Auerback, a designated “troublemaker”, on tap.

The Price of Admission Columbia Journalism Review

If Democrats ignore health-care polls, midterms will be costly Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen, Washington Post

AIG Said to Query Bonus Holdouts on Pay in Push for Concessions Bloomberg

Rapid Rise in Seed Prices Draws U.S. Scrutiny New York Times.

The Washington Post Is STILL Missing the Housing Bubble Dean Baker

On Asymmetry, Reflexivity and Sovereign Default Rajiv Sethi

Financial Establishment Disinformation Campaign Reaches Yahoo DoctoRx

Caterpillar Joins ‘Onshoring’ Trend Wall Street Journal

Webb, Sanders Pressure Obama On Fed Huffington Post

Yves Smith for Dummies Outside the Cardboard Box (hat tip reader KM). Today’s must read :-).

Actually, “must reads” are supposed to be serious, so this is more fitting, and compelling too:

Calling All Rebels Chris Hedges (hat tip reader Frank A)

Antidote du jour:

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  1. dearieme

    “the giant montane pitcher plant”: which banksters would that be a good analogy for?

  2. attempter

    The Yves for Dummies is amusing, but also kind of silly.

    Everything Yves says there is clear, and often goes much deeper than just “bullshit”. I especially like the comment about the Orwellian “efficiency” scam. That’s one of my favorite ideas, as I’ll touch on below regarding Monsanto’s rent-seeking.

    As for Monsanto:

    The NYT gives a passable overview, though with far too much phony “objectivity”.

    They let this kind of thing pass unchallenged:

    Lee Quarles, a Monsanto spokesman, said the price increases were justified because the quality of the seeds had been going up, and new biotech traits kept being added. For example, he said, many corn varieties now include multiple genes to battle insect pests, raising their value.

    Mr. Quarles said higher prices were justified because the traits saved farmers money and made their operations more efficient.

    Um, no. That’s not how your “capitalism” is supposed to work, according to your own textbooks. Is your cost of production going up as quality increases? No? Your cost is coming down? Then your price is supposed to be coming down, even as the quality improves. That’s how your textbooks say the market is supposed to work.

    (Of course the “quality” isn’t really improving either; GMOs have tremendous negative effects, and don’t even do the “beneficial” things they’re claimed to do. They don’t really increase yield or permanently stave off pests. Planned obsolescence and a profitable arms race were never more pronounced than with these “products”.)

    I love how he says that if a Monsanto product can save the farmer a penny elsewhere, then that means Monsanto’s entitled to that penny. Again, no. According to the good capitalist civics textbooks, that penny is supposed to be saved by the system as a whole. It’s supposed to constitute embedded “efficiency”. That’s purported to be the virtue of capitalism.

    But as we see yet again from this example, no one actually wants to be the capitalist of the propaganda. No one wants to really compete or be that “capitalist” for one day longer than he has to.

    They all want to be rentier parasites, and will behave as such from the moment they have the market muscle to do so.

    Monsanto is just a particularly ruthless example, but the basic behavior is universal.

    1. ChrisPacific

      Re: Yves for Dummies, I agree (although it was entertaining).

      What makes Yves worth reading is that her comments always have informational content. Diatribes can be very satisfying to read if you agree with the point of view presented, but they don’t leave you any wiser after reading them.

  3. RPB

    The Patagonian Toothfish – ugly as sin, renamed only to appeal to mass consumers as more palatable fish, like Cod, are overfished.


  4. fluffy

    Re: “If Democrats ignore health-care polls, midterms will be costly”

    And another fine corporatist propaganda piece from our friends at the WaPo.

    Re: Giant meat-eating plants …

    Let’s hope no tree shrews leave the seat up on that thing.

  5. DownSouth

    ► “Calling All Rebels” Chris Hedges

    Chris Hedges comes pretty close to articulating my own philosophy.

    I finished reading Michael Allen Gillespie’s The Theological Origins of Modernity last night. However, he doesn’t let guys like Hedges and me off the hook without a bit of roughing up.

    During the Renaissance, Gillespie explains, humanist thought split into two camps.

    One school was led by Luther. Hobbes, Adam Smith, Marx, Hayek and Richard Dawkins fall within this tradition. They hold that man has no free will, that he is captive to the dictates of either a divinity, nature or some historical process, all of which are omnipotent. Man is helpless before these forces. He is not captain of his own ship, and human will is trumped by either divine will, the will of nature or the will of history.

    The other school believes that all is not predetermined and that man does have some control over his own destiny. Erasmus led this school, and Descartes, Niebuhr, Keynes and Hannah Arendt, as well as Hedges and me, fall within this tradition.

    Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the philosophies of those in the Luther school came to predominate. As Gillespie explains:

    The initial image of globalization that came to predominate in the period after the fall of the Berlin Wall rested on a liberal view of history and society that saw human beings connected by free trade and almost instantaneous communications. This was a liberal vision of a process that many believed would produce global peace, freedom, and prosperity. This extraordinarily positive view of globalization rested on a faith in the hidden hand of the free market and a sense that the dialectic of history had finally reached the end that Hegel had predicted. Those who held this view imagined worldwide economic development, a growing tolerance for all kinds of differences, an end to oppression and the realization of human rights, the spread of democratic government, and peaceful and fruitful cultural interchange.

    The Erasmus school was the dissident school, as Gillespie goes on to explain:

    Opponents of globalization, by contrast, saw this process as motivated not by free choices of individual human beings but by the logic of global capitalism, or the demands of world technology, or the needs of American imperialism. In this Manichean vision, globalization—-typically understood as the triumph of global capital—-leads not to peace, freedom, and prosperity but to war, enslavement, and immiseration. Globalization institutionalizes inequality, promotes wage slavery, props up authoritarian regimes, undermines traditional social structures, crushes indigenous cultures, and despoils the environment.

    Gillespie points out, however, that both schools fall very much within the humanist-modernist tradition:

    While these two views of globalization are deeply at odds with one another, they share a set of common values. Their disagreement reflects the opposing views that we have noted throughout our discussion, and it betrays in this way the concealed metaphysical/theological commitments within which we think and act.

    As deeply at odds as these proponents and opponents of globalization are, they generally remain within the horizon of Western civilization. For example, they generally share a belief in the value of tolerance, peace, freedom, equality, rights, self-government, and prosperity. They disagree only about whether globalization will bring these goods about and if so whether they will be equally divided.

    Both schools are thus equally committed to these ideals, and furthermore to the belief that it is possible to “bring these goods about.”

    But is that a realistic assumption?

    The Great Financial Crisis and 9/11 challenge this assumption. But, as Gillespie points out, this is not the first time the humanist-modernist project has fallen under a cloud:

    The series of catastrophes that befell humanity in the twentieth century called this positive or progressive notion of history into question. From this perspective, the hidden hand looked more like the hand of Satan than of God, the cunning of reason more like the diabolic shrewdness of an evil deceiver than the will of a beneficent deity, and dialectical necessity more like the iron chains of tyranny than a path to freedom.

    And since 9/11, both the Luther/globalization and Erasmus/anti-globalization schools of modernism have failed to provide coherent explanations or workable solutions. As Gillespie concludes:

    The attacks of 9/11 drew varying responses from supporters and opponents of globalization. For those who took a more liberal view of globalization, these attacks were the acts of a few benighted religious fanatics who were anxious to derail modernization and the spread of liberalism in their traditional societies. The solution seemed equally clear to them—-eliminate or neutralize these fanatics so that the great mass of people in the Islamic world could pursue their desire for a better life by participating in the global economy and joining the march to modernity. Those who opposed globalization, on the contrary, saw 9/11 as a legitimate or at least understandable form of resistance to global injustice, the response of those who had been exploited by the system of global capitalism and American hegemony. From this perspective the solution to the problem of terrorism was to end American imperialism and American support for authoritarian governments in the developing world. Both sides in this debate, however, found it difficult to sustain their explanations in the face of succeeding developments. It has become clear that the preference for Islamic beliefs and practices is much deeper and more broadly shared than the liberal defenders of globalization believed. It has also become obvious that the values of many of the Islamic fundamentalists—-intolerance of different religious sects and lifestyles, the denial of the rights of women, and a marked preference for theocracy—-are deeply at odds with core beliefs of the opponents of globalization.

    1. Kevin de Bruxelles

      I just ordered it! I should be able to finish it before Yves’ book comes out over here.

      I have to say my tendency is to prefer Hobbes over Descartes but besides that I prefer the people in your group. In any case I am looking forward to hearing his arguments.

      And thanks for all your thoughtful comments.

    2. Anonymous Jones

      I appreciate your thoughtful comments as well! I think it is even more complicated than the two paradigms you pose (the value divide and then the globalization divide within the shared values of tolerance, freedom…), but we have to start somewhere!

      Also, as a former tax policy person, I’ve always respected David Cay Johnston’s efforts. His quotes in the Hedges piece seem to reflect my thoughts, as it really has gone to hell in a handbasket since Johnston and I started.

  6. EmilianoZ

    Yves Smith for dummies is really brilliant! I believe the translations are fairly accurate.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, particularly since I make liberal use of the word “bullshit” in private.

  7. psh

    ► Chris Hedges
    People can get preoccupied with recourse to rebellion. That’s a depressing prospect because it’s unpleasant, and deep down everybody knows it just feeds the police state with more lame threats. It means more armored cars for cops sucking government tit. Whereas there’s lots of scope for the fun and easy part, parallel government.

    This government has zero legitimacy. It has to devote all its energy to coercion and propaganda. It’s paralyzed by faction because faction underpins its existence. People hate it. Rightly so, it’s crap.

    So just displace it. Not all at once – the trick is to start out at that empyrean level of generality where everyone can agree. All the work has been done for you. Failed states pick it up in kit form now: for constitutive principles you have the International Bill of Rights, which is in fact the supreme law of the land, however much your regime may try to deny it. Stick with the ICCPR and your legitimate authority supersedes that of the federal government. The ICESCR gives you a ready-made policy framework. Don’t waste your time with electoral politics. Do nothing more than harvest participation. Let a thousand flowers bloom, but confine sponsorship of programmatic stuff to easy things that the regime can’t do, like allocating surplus (housing, frinstance) or organizing borrowers and savers and the unemployed (general strikes are fun for the whole family!)

    I know what you’re thinking, this is just one more latenight dormroom beerbong flight of fancy. But such things exist, they’re here. Ever hear of the World Social Forum? You could hop onto that, or let a snootier version coalesce around like-minded subversives. Maybe you’re doing it now and you don’t even know it. If things are as bad as we think, sooner or later some worn-out drone says ich liebe euch doch alle, and you’re in.

  8. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    I hope they can develop mutated dismal-scientists, instead of wasting time on mutated genetic supertrout.

  9. susan

    Chris Hedges, channeling Camus and others, is right of course. And thanks for the Gillespie insights, Down South.

    My personal hero Dorothy Day walked the talk that Hedges refers to throughout his essay. I am beginning to understand that it is time for me to do the same.

  10. craazyman

    OK Chris what are we supposed to do when we answer the call — stop shopping! Bowaha ahahah ahahahah ahahahahah!

    I appreciate Mr. Hedges and enjoy has apocalyptic rantings — which would have been equally spot, and even more so, at almost any time in American history. Boooa aha ahahahaha hahahah!

    A few years back the Christian Right was going to take over the army and Bush/Cheney was going to become a dictatorship. Then we got the Big-Zero. Not sure which is worse. Bowa hahah ahahahahah!

    It’s quite a trick to get a paycheck for writing this stuff like he does. He must just let it all puke out like a waterfall of scorn.

    Camus is a good trick. Nothing like the Nazis to clear up your moral compass. Loved the part when he returns to Oran to his childhood stomping grounds. But he was a poet, not a political philosopher. So is Chris Hedges.

    If I were a painter, I’d go to town illustrating the caverns of Mr. Hedge’s perception. It would be like Hieronynmous Bosch, but without the lyrical dance of figurines. It would be a thick impasto, dark with cadmium reds and oranges and violet vermillion skys, huge ocean waves and thin cold beaches, struggling staggering masses displayed in miniature against a brutal landscape of barbed wire, shopping malls and distant artillery, warped and telescopic perspective, and a thin, tiny emaciated sun, like what you’d see from Pluto. And the Angels in the spinning sky would be angrier than Michaelangelo’s Christ, damning the very foundations of existence with pointed and demonic wings. The only redemption would be pain and death. Boooawhahahahoah ahaha hahahaha hahaahahahahah! Holy Shit, I’m kind of freaking myself out here!

  11. sam hampster

    Chris Hedges story hinges on a monolithic movement of the right wing, imposing its fascist structure over the entire American population. This is possible in small South American countries and in Europe, but I don’t see it happening in the U.S.

    His analysis is correct for certain local communities and woe to those that live there, but that is it.

    Hedges offers good social commentary (and should be read), but he fails when he tries to turn it into a crescendo of apocalypse.

    1. sam hampster

      I add, Hedges believes that..”We can refuse to be either a victim or an executioner. We have the moral capacity to say no, to refuse to cooperate..” which sounds much like the ideological persuasion of a few homeless men that I’ve spoken with.

      I agree that liberal politicians need to grow a spine, but being moral and a citizen of the most dominate nation on the planet is in itself a contradiction that philosophy can easily expose.

  12. EmilianoZ

    I read Camus a long time ago in my youth. For a long time I didn’t understand him. I disliked his essays. I think I’m starting to understand now.

    There’s a scene in the 3rd Matrix movie. Neo has been beaten to a pulp by thousands of agent Smiths. But he’s still coming back for more. An exasperated agent Smith ask him why he’s still getting up. Neo’s only answer is: “Because I choose to.”

    That’s the Rebel.

  13. Peripheral Visionary

    I would say Chris Hedges is nuts, but of course, he’s not nuts; his rant is just a routine New Left propaganda piece in an updated format, and is thoroughly logical in its own way. He does not come out and say it, but the natural response to the “fascist” threat he rants about would, of course, be a totalitarian state. Has any revolution, aside from the American Revolution, ever ended in anything else?

    The simple fact that Hedges and countless others seem to be loathe to confront is that the democratic state is, in fact working: that the leaders of the country are those that the people have selected, and that the condition of the country is therefore the responsibility of the people. Hedges’ problem would therefore not be that the will of the people has been overridden–because the evidence, such as that from opinion polls, is mixed at best on that point–but rather that the will of himself and his fellow travelers has been overridden by that of the general public.

    The answer, of course, is what it so often has been from those who see their own views as being superior to those of the general public: revolution. Or, for those who lack the courage to rebel, the answer is angry, tiresome, recycled 60’s-era closet Stalinist rants that are too long by half.

  14. justaperson

    Peripheral Visionary: Nothing visionary about your response here. Same old recycled ramblings about the New Left that lead nowhere and certainly to no understanding based in facts from that era. And whatever makes you think that Chris Hedges or “countless others,” in your words, think their view is automatically superior to that of the general public? Do you think it is easy for Hedges to believe that our nation might self-destruct? Do you think that thought makes him happy? Since I happen to know this incredibly bright, well-traveled and well-read man, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. He is, however, more educated than most Americans by far. I guess that means it’s best that we totally ignore his words, right? What could he possibly know that you do not?

  15. walt

    I want to alert the electronic engineers here to “On Asymmetry…”: awful example of the dangers of positive feedback.

  16. michel

    Well, the ‘must read’ is another incoherent rant about something called ‘the right’ as opposed to something, presumably called ‘the left’ which is not clearly distinguishable from it at least by anything in the article. Yet again we see how people can get very excited and bothered by something, while having no ability to explain what it is that they are bothered about.

    The US is living dangerously. That is for sure. But what the author proposes to do about it is completely unclear.

  17. kevinearick

    the Fed is going to lead to the cartels; the cartels are going to lead to the contol of oil distribution.

    the pertinent contract to look at is the one between Canada & China, up in the sands, to see the structural supply-side problem.

    when labor is passive, the positive feedback signal to capital is unmistakable. nip problems in the bud, or let them consume themselves to death.

  18. Ghilmes

    Re chris hedges

    His construction of a Right which fashions itself as a group that will not negotiate in government, is actually the construction of the same view, but about the Left. If the Right choose to not negotiate, the Left is right to toss negotiation. This is a rhetorical dynamic with a downward spiral.

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