Links 2/5/11


  1. rj sigmund

    How did Imbolc become Groundhog Day?

    from a letter from dr. alison snow jones, aka maxine udall, girl economist:

    One of my great uncles (or he might have been a second cousin), Clymer Freas, was editor of the Jefferson County newspaper in Punxsutawney, PA and started Ground Hog Day (which is why we regard it as our family holiday and the whistlepig as our family totem).

  2. DownSouth

    Re: “At hand, an Arab awakening” Financial Times

    Across the region, leaders are finding out that economic liberalisation in political systems that lack accountability cannot protect against popular upheaval.

    “….economic liberalisation in political systems that lack accountability…” What a wonderfully concise definition of neoliberalism: economic liberalisation without political liberalisation; imposing economic freedom at gunpoint.

    Here in Mexico they have several popular sayings that capture the same attitude:

    limosnero y con garrote
    A beggar with a club.

    pelon y con piojos
    A bald man and with fleas.

    pides raid y kieres manejar
    You ask for a ride but want to drive.

    1. Ina Deaver

      Dude, that’s some serious Spanglish going on in that last one. Also we call fleas “pulgas.” You are talking about a very different kind of bug. . . .an insecto exclusivamente del ser humano.

      1. DownSouth

        Yes, I suppose a translation of “pelon y con piojos” that better captures the meaning would be “a man who has no hair but still has lice,” because it conveys the impossibility of having economic freedom in the absence of political freedom.

        1. Ina Deaver

          Actually, I always thought it was a dirty joke. But it could be the quality of people I hung out with. . . .

    2. Richard Kline

      Except that the initial frame of the quote is itself a gross and propagandistic distortion. There was precious little ‘liberalisation’ in the economic transformation in Egypt and many other places opeating the same program. In Egypt it largely involved selling state enterprises to insider apparatchiks for a song, while shaving the pay and raising the price of the results to the surrounding society. What we’ve had tried out eagerly by Third World dictators has been predatory crony capitalism, i.e. American style ‘innovation’ cut down to short-pants for the little beggars. Genuine economic liberalization opens markets, regulates behavior, and breaks up stagnant, often feudal, monopolies, with economic gain spreading around the population. That is exactly NOT the formulat America is pushing or Egypt was trying.

      Much of the headway to this uprising in Egypt follows on several years of _labor activism_. What drove that activism? The gross theft of crony capitalism, that’s what. The whole society is involved there now. No one is leading the uprising but someone started it, just like someone provided much of the experienced hands at these protests: labor groups, who’ve been at this for years under severely repressive conditions. They got neither ‘political liberalisation’ nor ‘economic liberalisation’ and the rock and a hard place closing in on them ignited seemingly spontaneous combustion from years of high-friction grinddown.

  3. Richard Kline

    The Guardian’s leader says it all: “It’s not radical Islam that worries the US–it’s independence.” Radical Islam is a negligible force. Really. There are fewer committed jihadis in the entire world than there are armed survivalists in the US; each group is about equally dangerous. Neither is remotely capable of overturning any society. This is all exhaustively documented. What worries the US is that the jihadis are _open about resistance_. The inhabitants of Muslim predominant countries are well known to be widely _unsympathetic_ to jihadi ideology to put it mildly, but quite sympathetic to jihadi resistance to American injustice and inequity. That is what the US fears, that resistance will be catching. So in that respect, savaging jihadis when (very, very few) they can actually be found somewhere is an object punishment to keep other populations servile, made all the easier because the distaste of those populations for the jihadis means they will do nothing to genuinely come to the aid of the jihadis.

    It’s a sick, twisted game of lies, all really about power. The US has had a single ‘foreign policy’ for three hundred years. Only the recipients of it change. Our conduct in Egypt is carbon copy to conduct generations ago in the Caribbean; our plan for Iraq so like our protectorate in Cuba you could just paste new faces on old pictures without even changing the text. The War of the Week on the Weak has nothing to do with ideology

    1. Charlie

      Thank You Richard Kline. What Americas ruling elite fear most is real democracy, where the unwashed majority have a genuine vote or say or share.

    2. BondsOfSteel

      You could argue it’s about control… or you could argue it’s a reaction to the 444 days after the last popular uprising in the Middle East.

      It shouldn’t be a suprise that Mubarak keeps saying that the Muslim Brotherhood is _the_ alterative to his dictatorship? It would be an easy sell to US dipolmats who watched their peers held captive…

    3. Matt

      Is Hamas capable of overturning or controling a government? How about Hezbolla? Your definition of jihadi and mine may differ along the lines of dangerous but to compare those groups to US “survivalists” is grossly inadequate and perhaps ignorant.

    4. Francois T

      I’m not so sure we can afford to underestimate the jihadists.

      That said, the solution is most certainly not to resist change, but to manage it in such a way that extremists cannot gain resonance in the population.

      Of course, some do want more extremists, so they can justify their existence. But, that is another topic in itself.

  4. Max424

    “[Egypt] has taken not just us, but many people, by surprise,” said Adm. Mike Mullen…

    We spend $80 billion on intelligence on no one in a position of “leadership” knows what’s going on. No one has a clue. Everything is a surprise — to everybody. Unbelievable.

    Egypt subsidizes food. Egypt subsidizes food to a massive extant. Egypt subsidizes food to a massive extent with oil exports.

    Oil exports dry up.

    What happens then? Does chaos ensue, or do the people and government of Egypt calmly enter a rosy transitional phase that eventually leads to a wonderful new paradigm?

    Now let’s look at Mexico. Mexico is in roughly the same position as Egypt was two years ago; they’re a country about to transition from being a net oil exporter to being a net oil importer. True; Mexico doesn’t subsidize food with their oil exports, but they do fund their government — 40% of total revenues come from oil exports.

    So what happens to Mexico in two years when the oil export money dries up?

    I ask: are the state of affairs better in Mexico, now, than they were in Egypt heading in to this recent, ongoing and “unforeseen” Crisis in Cairo? It’s a tough call, isn’t it? Considering no one knew revolution was about to burst out in Egypt, and we do know that Mexico in the midst of a raging civil war that has killed 40,000 Mexican citizens in the last 5 years alone, I’d give the edge to Egypt.

    Note: This intelligence was free. No need to pay me $80 billion. I do it for love of country.

    1. Glenn Condell

      ‘We spend $80 billion on intelligence on no one in a position of “leadership” knows what’s going on’

      I read yesterday where the Mubarak family may be worth $70 billion. He knows what’s going on. Apparently he wants ‘to die in Egypt’ but surely he’d end up drawn and quartered once out of power. Who else would have him? Many of the candidates might also be on their last legs.

      I know, how about the Clintons?

      ‘We look forward to President Mubarak coming as soon as his schedule would permit. I had a wonderful time with him this morning. I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.’

      Hillary, March 2009

      ‘Egypt subsidizes food to a massive extent with oil exports.
      Oil exports dry up. What happens then?’

      If they could claw back that 70 billion they’d at least have some breathing space.

      Re the food/oil link and commodity inflation generally, isn’t it speculation, especially securitised, that accounts for much of it? I can’t find it now but there was something the other day (here, maybe) which debunked, quoting the research of some Indian economist, the idea that spiralling food prices were just shortages. Basically unsecuritised food markets (millet for example) were not affected in the same way as securitised markets such as wheat (a staple in Egypt), which has skyrocketed.

      London Banker – ‘With credit, oil and food markets spiralling out of reach of the poor and straining the middle-class, it is worth exploring whether similar policies underpin similar problems. In each industry, a small handful of global companies control supply and a massive increase in ill-transparent speculation acting on pricing in exchange markets forces prices up regardless of the fundamentals of supply and demand. The risks for famine and political instability are huge’

      I also have a hat tip (I don’t quite know how to do those directly, so here it is)

      Nicole Foss and Gonzalo Lira face off on Feb 10, Foss for deflation, Lira for inflation:

      London Banker again -‘the government and central banks are forcibly appropriating what meagre assets may remain through public debt service which must be paid by either taxation or inflation. Either way, we are all poorer for the folly of excess leverage. Deflation in what you own; inflation in what you need.’

      So maybe Foss and Lira are both right.

  5. Elliot X

    Re: It’s not radical Islam that worries the US, it’s Independce

    In the article, Chomsky writes: “The vibrant democracy movement in Tunisia was directed against “a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems”, ruled by a dictator whose family was hated for their venality. So said US ambassador Robert Godec in a July 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks.”

    “……with Godec’s information in hand, Washington provided $12m in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two Middle East dictatorships Egypt and Jordan; and Colombia, which has long had the worst human-rights record and the most US military aid in the hemisphere.”

    In an article that appeared this weekend on Counterpunch, Alexander Cockburn pursues this line of thought:

    “Here we are in 2011 amid the rubble….three decades into full-bore neoliberalism and “restructuring”…….. The former Soviet satellites are learning the lesson too. You want capitalism. There’s a bill to pay. But there’s a limit to what people will put up with….

    These days, amid the huge inflation in the price of basic commodities, soaring unemployment, zero prospects for young people, plutocratic parasitism at an apex – something has to give, just as it has in Tunisia and Egypt and will elsewhere.

    There is a God that’s failing – at least in its benign pretensions – and it’s called capitalism…..

    The custodians of the American Empire are right to be perturbed. Those crowds in Tunis and in Cairo, facing projectiles “made in America,” know well enough the ultimate sponsor of the tyrannies against which they have risen. “

    Politically outmaneuvered and militarily checked in Iraq, the United States is now in the midst of rapid withdrawal. Iran is now hugely influential in Baghdad.  Just two U.S.-owned oil companies – Exxon and Occidental – now lease concessions on Iraq’ gigantic reserves. Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia are, so to speak, the crown jewels, when it comes to oil reserves. The Empire has effectively lost Iran and Iraq. What of Saudi Arabia? Already Yemen is shaky. Jordan trembles. Suppose, however unlikely, fissures open up in the Kingdom itself?

    I doubt, at such a juncture, that we would hear too much talk from Washington about “democracy” or orderly transitions…..”

  6. LeeAnne

    All wiggle words and a gentler tone, Hillary tries to get ahead of events. On
    Al Jazeera.

    Notice the absence of reporter’s questions and the absence of government spokesperson’s answers; careful that no uncensored word escape.

  7. John Merryman

    The idea that they didn’t know the trigger point was worth a good laugh. Obviously if they knew the trigger point, they would have done everything humanly possible to smother it. It’s the ones that get past them that start the fires.
    Of course, a lot does get past them, as blowing up villages in Afghanistan has acquired its own mindless bureaucratic inertia.
    The whole process is more about physics than actual political calculation, now. We have seen this movie before and the end will be predictable, only the trigger points will be a surprise.

  8. EmilianoZ

    Footage of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe and a call to protect them:

    “Peru’s President Garcia has publicly suggested uncontacted tribes have been ‘invented’ by ‘environmentalists’ opposed to oil exploration in the Amazon, while another spokesperson compared them to the Loch Ness monster.”

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      I am surprised they haven’t thought of connecting the right dots and asked if the tribes were uncontacted, how would one know they weren’t really Martian aliens struggled in through the Nazca landing strips?

  9. Publius

    Egypt’s Revolution
    Creative Destruction For A ‘Greater Middle East’?

    As real as the factors are that are driving millions into the streets across North Africa and the Middle East, what cannot be ignored is the fact that Washington is deciding the timing and as they see it, trying to shape the ultimate outcome of comprehensive regime change destabilizations across the Islamic world. The day of the remarkably well-coordinated popular demonstrations demanding Mubarak step down, key members of the Egyptian military command including Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan were all in Washington as guests of the Pentagon. That conveniently neutralized the decisive force of the Army to stop the anti-Mubarak protests from growing in the critical early days.

    The strategy had been in various State Department and Pentagon files since at least a decade or longer. After George W. Bush declared a War on Terror in 2001 it was called the Greater Middle East Project. Today it is known as the less threatening-sounding “New Middle East” project. It is a strategy to break open the states of the region from Morocco to Afghanistan, the region defined by David Rockefeller’s friend Samuel Huntington in his infamous Clash of Civilizations essay in Foreign Affairs.

  10. Karen

    Re “Clearing Questions” on Index Universe:

    You really have to wonder about the safety of an index ETF that is afraid of central clearing.

    Central clearing, at its most restrictive, would mean the big players who play with OPM (and yes, house funds ARE just another form of OPM if the money at risk is not the personal funds of the employees doing the playing) are subject to the same reasonable margin requirements that are typically applied today to the little guy by his broker.

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