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Thursday, December 22, 2011

What MF Global means.

How hilarious. Seeing MF Global chief Corzine testify before Congress (perhaps the most connected man on earth) and say that he knew nothing about the money and gold missing from his customers' accounts.

Imagine that you have a checking or savings account with some bank and brokerage and then it just disappears one day? Only ignorance and dread of what might happen keeps us from all closing down our accounts right now.

This incident is a signal of the ambivalence of property rights, the bedrock of Anglo-American political thinking. Yes we have them (said John Locke). But against Locke it seems we don't have them equally (We don't possess equal amounts of property either, but that is another story, read J.J. Rousseau's 2nd Discourse for more on that).

The point: Somebody with MORE property RIGHTS than MF Global's customers got paid off first as the firm collapsed. Even if that meant 'stealing' from them (but is it stealing if someone has more rights than you?)

That is a signal of oligarchy which is defined a rule by the richest. No, it is not rule by the rich as erroneously taught to political science undergrads. She who has more money has more say. Russia often gets accused of having such a system but one need not look so far away for it.

Now Congress and the regulators, both ostensibly democratic institutions, must sort out this spat between the rich and the richer. Oh how rich!!!!

Towards a Protean Europe

Europe is super engrossing right now. The headlines are all about their faltering currency and banks, which some think will affect us in the States (it won't).

But they are doing something interesting. They are meeting frequently. Their political leaders are stepping outside of the moribund EU bureaucracy in Brussels and making decisions 'on the fly.'

Could this be the future of power politics? Speed? Surprise?

The EU is attacked constantly today by the Market, by investors, and so on for being too slow.

That may have been true initially but politics has now caught up with economics and surpassed them (take that Marx!). Surprise fixes coming out every month or so from Europe's Central banks (their Federal reserve). New treaties or treaty proposals often too. Arriving so fast now that the markets have been stunned into submission (Yields have been falling lately on the bonds of the PIIGS).

Sometimes Europe even provokes the Markets into falling and complaining by later reneging on their deals or agreements. Merkel loves to douse their high expectations. What a game!

This sort of protean politics is a new historical phenomenon. Yes, it has no substance. There is no institutional arrangement for it; no super Council of EU Presidents. And no final agreement has actually been penned. It is mostly just monthly statements made to a slavish press corps. But it works.

And they are getting better at it.

Such a continual 'politics of surprise' will be more nimble and agile than anything yet seen on political earth.  

The enigma that is N. Korea

Normally the death of the leader of a half-starved country with few natural resources would not garner much attention. But that major leaders like Hilary C. had something to say on it is a signal of importance.

N. Korea has nuclear expertise. They have mastered the whole nuke cycle, all the way up to ballistic missiles. And that gets the attention of all the big boys from USA and China to Russia and Japan.

What is also interesting is how one sided their power is. It is all 'hard power' military, missiles, intel., border patrol, the works.

There was a debate in the last decade about hard versus soft power. Soft power is the influence of culture to achieve your goals instead of bullets. War is not unfortunately out of style yet but it is costly and no longer contributes to the national interest. Lots of smart folks know that and started praising soft power. I have said to my students that the old show Baywatch killed more so-called terrorists than did fighter jets.

N. Korea offers insight into the opposite extreme. Lots of hard power. Then all they have to do talk scary and everyone worldwide perks up their ears.

You would think that a combi-nation of hard and soft power would be ideal. But the US has not shown that to be the case lately. That is because the best strategy is smart power, which means something like knowing when to hold them and when to fold them. Unfortunately too many interest groups and politicos get invested in current circumstances and refuse to let failures end.

Right now everyone is criticizing Europe for failure but watch out! They have hard, soft, and smart power! I will explain what I mean next time.   

Friday, December 2, 2011

The rise of New Europe

There may or may not be a crisis in the Eurozone. My take is that at worse it is a crisis for the financial sector, but that society's other sectors would muddle through should that be allowed to fail (examples: Iceland, Sweden).

What the political sector does is another mater however. For them, this crisis is a godsend. They are in the drvier's seat again, which is always exciting. I think that Europe's politicos will come around to an arrangement that stabilizes the financial sector, allows them to continue in office, and offers them more benefits from staying in the EU than out of it.

We are long past the point when nationalism matters in W. Europe. National interests will not drive the future of the EU. It will not be France, Germany or Italy that makes the difference. Those referents will be modified into a new amalgam called Europe.

You see, the EU government has become more and more detached from the nations of the Europe, i.e. the will of its peoples. Witness their numerous rejections of Europe in referendums. That detached condition had to change.

Postmodernism is nothing if not a lesson in ambivalent politics. Europe will end its purely fictional existence (which was still Modernist) and trade it for ambivalence. The referent will become less clearly defined as France, Netherlands, etc. Only then can Brussels represent Europe.   

Monday, November 21, 2011

Supercommittee fails so America wins

Most analysts that predicted the failure of the much vaunted US congressional super-committee on deficit reduction predicted failure because 'nothing gets done' in DC anymore.

But what is the postmodern view? That tells us that nothing political happens by accident or mistake. (Why? check out Foucault's concept of 'productive power).

Ergo, this recent political 'failure' could be read as a success. How? Well one problem it helps solve is the overly strong dollar, which will hurt exports and what few decent jobs are left in the USA. US Treasuries have just been too hot lately. (Frankly EU and the US trade back on forth on this in a game of chicken over who has the least valued major currency).

This failure also brings back attention to DC and the drama of feuding parties and a President seeking a path to success. Nothing is worse than seeming irrelevant. It's good for the national media too which lacked good stories for pundits to chat up.

Sounds like a win to me. Might even be good for Main Street too. Economists say deep cuts will throw USA into a depression.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Greek referendum in a Post-TARP World

There may come a point when historians talk about times before and after TARP. That policy by Bush and co. was the equivalent of ancient Rome's Sulla, who upset the longstanding balance between the society's estates or classes with in-your-face policies that promoted one group over another. Recall that bailout did not make it past the House of Representatives when it was first voted upon, sending Wall Street into a tizzy.

Now the Greek PM has set the stage for round two of this great drama. Wall Street tumbled again today at the prospect that 'the people' (of Greece) will vote down the latest TARP plan (for Europe this time). They are right to fear for the European voters have always voted against Europe, the EU, and its plans.

A referendum is worrisome to world elites for it leaves no room for maneuver. The banking crisis of Europe cannot be dragged out as it has been this far. It is a showdown at the OK corral, which is a relatively unfamiliar scene today.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Obama ends Iraq war

The last time Obama ended the Iraq war he said that all 'combat troops' would return home. That was a signal to observers that the Yanks were in to stay, 50000 strong, as 'trainers' or what not.

Today was a different story. Most of the information I have heard lately is that Iraq is to be cut loose. Effective  sovereignty for Iraq: defined in political science as the monopoly over the use of violence. US troops will remain nearby but in Kuwait.

And so now begins a new cold war as Saudis and Iranians support proxies inside Iraq. They will stalemate, for now. But civilians there will continue to die suddenly

A world without Gadhafi

World leaders today are a boring bunch...technocrats often, or worse, ideologues. Gadhafi cannot be classified as either a technocrat or as an ideologue (that is for sure).

Gadhafi was the first postmodern leader. He altered his look and temper often, no doubt purposely, as part of his ruling style. These changes prevented enemies from grabbing hold of his image, fixing it as evil, mad, brilliant, stupid, or anything else in particular, thereby making it more difficult to target him. That's what will be missed...the lengths he went through to play with power and to dominate it (watch Berlusconi for some of the same moves).

What arises as a  serious question today is whether his pomo style was necessary to govern a place like Libya in modern times, whether it was a function of his own personality, or both? This is an important question because it is the question that Libya faces now.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Fair play

What's it mean? I have not met them and cannot speak for them. But my take is that they saw Wall Street get a bailout and so, quite rightfully, they want a bailout too. They are 99% after all.

Wall Street banks not only got TARP from Congress/Presidents but the Fed Reserve secretly coughed up $3 Trillion for them. Don't believe me? Just check out the recent audit that Ron Paul forced from Bernanke and the Fed.

It's that simple.

So, since Wall Street has been such a great location for handouts why not wait there too for a big handout?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Palestine at the UN means.

Well it means a lot of course. How do we know? Because it is being taken so seriously. The powers that be say that it will change nothing. But then why worry about it so much? It is because the Palestinians are about to win a great victory. It will not happen in the space of the real. That misery will continue unfortunately.

But the Palestinians have taken charge of the space of the symbolic. They own it and can do as they like. Israel and the US cannot do one believes their gestures anymore. They can only fight and win (maybe) in the space of the real (which is why they say/hope that a new inttifadah will soon follow; that is the space of the real. They understand that and can work it. But the Palestinians have learned). But the other, symbolic space is out of their reach now, even for Obama, who is solid student of symbols.

The best play that the Palestinians can make now would be a purely symbolic one: go only to the UNSC and dare a veto. It is a game that they can win. (What effect that will have on the space of the real is another question but it may be substantial; what happens in the symbolic is more flexible than what can happen in the fixed space of the real. Think Virilio here: speedy politics wins).

There is no European crisis!

In keeping with the political axiom that nothing happens for long without someone making it or letting it happen, what is to be made of Europe today? For years Brussels has frankly been out of touch with the population. Now the EU leaders will use this (quite manageable) crisis to centralize their power further. The question is whether the people of Europe will take their politicians even less seriously than they already do, letting them spin off into orbit. That would be a wise citizenry indeed. Italy is the best example where the antics of the political class are pure theater for the Italian citizenry.

(Increasing power through crises is part of an obsolete trend discussed in political theory which centers on the outrageous work of Carl Schmitt and the state of exception).  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Obama's first campaign stump speech

The American Jobs Act proposed by Obama will not happen. It is DOA because the US House will never play along nor will McConnell unless it gets so watered down with Republican amendments as to be unrecognizable.

Obama knows this. Too wily not to. He has delivered a speech that has just enough meat in it for progressives and with enough pragmatics for independents. Welcome everyone to Campaign 2012.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Freedom must Endure

Fight on America! Is there any other choice for this land of liberty? Recent US military setbacks are difficult. The opportunity to free the Afghan people remains. There are problems with the execution of the strategy (which I could share with you) but the ideal is perfectly in keeping with US tradition. Senator Feinstein said the freedom of many Afghan citizens is at risk otherwise. So stride on and along the way find glory in the Hindu Kush.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The rich joined the rest of us today

Today is how the rich experience a recession/depression. The panic in stocks is the realization that profit growth and revenue growth is over and so too is return on capital. The rush for the exits this week is the signal of the big boys desperately seeking to preserve their capital. I read somewhere that the world's richest, Slim, is down $8-$12 billion this week. Gold cannot help...there is not enough to absorb all of the cash. Boon for the US Treasury however....a conspiracy theorist might wonder if this was not all a clever plan.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Anders Breivik: A derivative mind should be wasted

Dear Anders:
If you are so Islamophobic then why don't you really try something? Contact me so I can fly you first class to Gaza. Have you no Viking pride? What does killing your own Lutheran tribe do, fool?

There are followers and there are followers. Breivik is incapable of an original thought. Not deranged but derivative. Even his bombing strategy was unoriginal and clearly an effort to frame Bin Laden. But hello, Bin Laden is dead. You acted too late, A.B.

You are a nihilist, a death believer because what you constantly think of and worry about never existed, except in the railings of media pundits, bloggers, generals, and politicians. Necrophiliac. So desperate to find your nemesis called the 'Muslim terrorist' that you were compelled to mimic what you thought he was and would do. The only true question is why didn't you follow through with a self-suicide? 

With no regards,

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Focus on deficit talk not deficit problem


has nothing been learned since the 1980's? There are now 2 ways to analyze politics. One looks at the politics of the object of discourse (modern). The other addresses the politics of the discourse (pomo).

Take the current deficit talks in DC. You could think all day about how to solve the deficit, count up the numbers, decide who to tax or what to cut.

Or you could think about the politics of the talk. Thus, who gains from the fear such talk create? Like the Prez. saying yesterday that he cannot guarantee Social security checks will be sent  if the deficit issue is not resolved. In one swoop, the other party got deflated, no doubt as phone calls came in from scared seniors  (who do vote by the way). That is just one example.

Overall, what this deficit talk does is reinvigorate official politics. The Prez., Congress, The Fed. all become important players again. You see, citizens' attention is less and less on them given Facebook or sheer survival needs today. So to get their attention back, the politicians scream ever louder. (The press loves it of course; more ad sales for their product).

So expect more drama, more kibuki dances, because the one thing that the official political world cannot stand is to be ignored as irrelevant to your life.    

Friday, July 1, 2011

Towards a post-Gates Afghanistan

Bob Gates has left the US Department of Defense. Many would say that he has been something of a sure hand there. But on Afghanistan he has been mistaken. He is famous for the statement that the US is 'not trying to create a new Switzerland in Afghanistan.' To him it seems like a perfectly obvious and pragmatic view. We all chuckle at the thought of Afghans crafting Rolex watches or munching on chocolates.

But the policy that Gates has pursued is even more idealistic than that. For him and his boss presumably to not pursue such a transformational project would be costly. Curiously however massive transformation is exactly their project, with all the forces of history and politics against them. A new Switzerland would be easier.

Here's why. The Gates' view is to make Afghanistan a unitary state, like France run from Paris, only in this case Kabul would run the place  After all, it is the capital city, no? Switzerland also has a capital city but it does not run the country...the provinces or cantons do. The national government is a creature of the cantons. Switzerland is a confederal state. So is Afghanistan historically. And with Gates gone maybe there is a chance that the US could now implement a confederation policy. 

What has been worse about Gates' policy is that it not only counters Afghan history and politics but it goes against global trends. The centrality of Westphalian-style states is fading worldwide. Not completely mind you. But there is more competition in the global space. There are now strong IO's and NGO's and MNC's and stateless peoples and stateless insurgencies, etc. etc.

Sometimes the definition of a hero is one who triumphs against all the odds. Indeed Gates has said he does not care how much it all costs monetarily and his Defense budget never ever declined during his tenure. But today's heroes simply need to win not win bullheadedly.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Circumcision debate

Has anyone kept with this movement or with the referendum in Frisco? The idea is to ban the mutilation of infants at least until they are ready to choose for themselves. One side is claiming freedom of religion.

All I will say for now is that this raises an interesting question of gendered voting since only the men of Frisco should vote. They alone have the experience on this matter. 

The Challenge of Debt or Debt Challenges

Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Portugal (Italy, Spain, USA)...

One of the nice things about political science is that you don't believe that things just happen...the good ones do not believe in randomness. What we do believe in is sovereignty which basically means somebody with power makes what is happening happen. That is what distinguishes us from the economists. They work with models and trends to understand events...pretty and tidy but always one step behind.

Regarding all of the debt talk the smart observers does not ask what will happen to the Debt (crisis, default, Euro-collapse). No one asks who does such talk serve? In the short term it puts fear into a lot of people which is an emotion that can certainly be manipulated.

Be wise: distinguish between effects of the reality of debt and the politics of debt. Economists worry about the former. Not us. We worry about how the debt crisis is used by the powerful. 

The big game is what I call DEBT BRINKMANSHIP. Europe versus USA. All of these odd deadlines! Soon the Greek parliament votes on whether to pay back debts. In August the USA says it cannot charge anymore to its credit card. Who would have thought anyone would take deadlines seriously in politics!?

What you see is two giant blocs, Eu and US, threatening to implode (with Fitch and Moodys chiming in) in a duel of implosion. They play on the game or ruse of failure. 'We are about to fail.' 'No we are.' 'No us' and so on. It gets everyone's attention and outsiders rush to invest their export earnings into the bonds/debt of the other bloc, either the US (so-called safe haven) or EU (China says it will invest more) depending upon who looks like they will NOT implode worse than the other. Back and forth.

The question is what's next? Every game gets old...just ask your kids. Could it be a Greece scenario? That is when the citizens get involved in a spectacular way. Could we then see brinkmanship over power rather than debt? The two blocs, citizens and elites, would attack each other but then always back down at the last minute, always unwilling or unable to take charge fully?? Have we entered the Age of Stunted or even Farcical Revolutions? 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Give (some peace a chance in Libya

With so many wars underway it is understandable that its opposite has been forgotten. Take Libya, one of the topics at the meeting of the G8 'the fancy countries.' Libya presents a clear case for peacemaking. Neither Tripoli nor Benghazi can win. So settle up, make nice, and everybody wins. Not pretty and 'no mission accomplished' banners. No doubt there would be grumbling. But postmodern politics are those of the in-between of the liminal. The era of total war is over when entire populations were recruited into the fight. The choices now are not victory versus defeat nor war versus peace nor even life versus death. They are more or less war versus more or less peace. Right now Libya is in the midst of the former. The interesting future would be to see some half-assed peace come out of this. Same in Yemen: today impure war...tomorrow impure peace.      

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On debt ratings companies...

Were it not for a craven press that simply repeats their 'assessments' would anyone listen to the likes of Fitch or S&P who go around pronouncing that Greece and even the USA is a bad credit risk? An old conspriacy movie, Enemy of the state, had a great line: who's monitoring the monitors? Well today let us be the first...we are. And we say, after their oversights in 2008-2009, that they are full of it.

The world ended; we're dead; we're zombies

According to some rapturian, the world ended yesterday. Now most people are laughing at him and his followers. But suppose we agree that it did end. Today then we are zombies or somnambulists sleepwalking through life. Agreed, most zombie movies show beings thoughtlessly lusting for blood and admittedly that is not the case today. But Hollywood moviemakers have it wrong. The dead are a fairly peaceful bunch and so we may be in such a low energy state ourselves. Alternatively the dead do not just rest in peace but instead assume the forms of ghosts and phantoms.For example, so-called primitive cultures see their ancestors as always with them, needing reassurance and appeasement. If so, they and we have also become wispy beings who can only repeat themselves and haunt others with their issues. Hardly seems like rapture. What is worrisome is if our politics are just as dead and ghostly and lacking in new solutions.   

Monday, May 16, 2011

USA credit maxed out?

$14 Tr. or so in debt is the official or legal credit limit. But that is not the end of the story. What happens when you max out your credit? You can pay it off, bargain it down, go bankrupt, renegotiate terms for more time to pay it back etc.

In a prior post I dismissed the reality of the debt/deficit (not just for the US but for EU too).

Smart politicians will never let the debt become a real problem, i.e. where living standards of plummet as a result. Look at Greece! In Greece the games of politics and economics can hardly be played anymore. Politicians and journalists there can't scare citizens to vote for them against their opponents. They're not listening; just non-stop rioting against the starvation and privation. And economists can't convince anyone that suffering is in the national economic interest (whether it truly is or not is another question).

Point: US politicians won't let the debt reach the crisis point. Yes they will scare citizens to help them in the next election (the media will happily oblige). But to have it actually hurt! No. Put it off. Plenty of ways to do that (see above).

Some bright spots: Tunisia and Egypt

There is already talk among pundits that what is called the Arab Spring is turning wintry. But in Egypt and Tunisia there are some good signs.

Egypt is evidently prosecuting Mubarak and his wife as corrupt. Perhaps they will also prosecute them criminally for their long term threat to the freedom of the people. Yes it is an old fashioned, modern, political concept to mention in 2011. Still criminal charges beyond corruption would start the ball rolling towards grounding a free society. Add some new museums emphasizing the Tahrir square fight, some new school textbooks for the kids and it could be developed, no doubt uneasily alongside other cultural values in the country.

Tunisia is electing a national assembly to write a new constitution (the US never did that!). But here one must be more careful in prediction. Laws can be circumvented by clever and/or powerful people. So a new pretty constitution may not be enough. Identifying anti-freedom is more palpable for people. Unfortunately Ben Ali and his Marie Antoinette wife got away. Trials in effigy then?   

Monday, May 9, 2011

Bin laden 'killing'

Odd term in the media and elsewhere for what happened to bin Laden. Not an assassination but a killing. Sometimes in the passive voice: his death.

But a 'killing.' Not something you hear too much outside of business. 

The killing term in this context is no holds barred, in your face you might say. 

Which suggests no shame in the act. A justified 'kill' is the implication.

What else is to be made of the national ebullience over this action in Pakistan? 

Interpretation: It feels good to be good. The action was right so nothing to be ashamed of. I am no philosopher but that is a different sort of goodness from the idea of being good because one does good, e.g. charity or volunteerism. Is this the Nietzschean mode of goodness from the early section of his Genealogy? 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bin Laden dead already

No the point is not that he died from renal failure years ago to be buried secretly by his supporters. Rather he had already become a pure image, for some of evil for others not. The actual or physical bin Laden became of much less importance than the image of him.

The recent US raid then, in which bin Laden was killed plays (or prays) upon Osama as image. One kills the image with a even more perfected, over-the-top image. Commandos rappelling onto a suburban mansion, a spirited firefight, even a feminine touch with the report of a human shield. Then the body hoisted away and eventually dumped with religious dignity into the sea.

What really happened is wholly irrelevant.

The image of bin Laden and now the new image or model of his death is what matters for politicians, reporters, and for the celebrants in Lafayette park.

Some years ago the USA contracted with Hollywood screenwriters to come up with the most twisted scenarios they could imagine  The recent killing has the same hallmarks. Imagine this: a new call from the US to screenwriters to imagine how bin Laden would be found. In a cave. No, too boring. How about a suburban mansion. Living an almost idyllic family life. Then a sudden raid by professionals. A touch of romance when the wife throws herself between them or was used as a human shield (either image brings in the necessary element). A body snatched. Then a CSI exam followed by burial at sea (expect those images any minute now).

Like a Hitchcock horror movie that is not too graphic, our imaginations fill in any gaps in this scenario (and gaps there are for the story is already changing; Osama was armed now it is said he was not0.   

What's next? I would not be surprised to see a counter-image arise soon. If not bin Laden himself then a lookalike will soon release a new threatening video or photo with audio message. Stay tuned. This is over and out

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Deficits are not real!

That's right, it's not! Baudrillard once noted that debt would spiral out into orbit suggesting that it will build beyond earthly, reasonable limits. But it would not result in catastrophe would not be allowed to become real. So if we consider US indebtedness to China, Greece to the EU/Germany or some other such scenario in this way, the only point at which such debt would really come crashing down on heads would be if the creditors called in their markers.

THEN reality would step in. Then the carefully contrived kabuki dance that we are witnessing with the Eurozone or the Tea party versus Obama would be over. Then anything could happen: currencies collapsing, trade halting, war, and so forth. But that would not serve the interests of the political classes which use/manufacture these various crises to their benefit in order to show that they still have control. And they do. But only so long as they can keep the debt from ever becoming real.

I guarantee you Merkel is not losing sleep over Greece or Ireland. The key is not ever to tip manageable crises into unmanagable in-your-face-reality, e.g. Ireland saying it will not pay. Witness the punishments that Iceland is receiving from the IMF, EU and the bond market for not playing nice, for trying to force the crisis to a head, instead of kicking the can down the road like everyone else. Keep it real? Higher taxes or lower spending to bring down the deficit? No way. Keep debt all unreal. Force it higher and farther into orbit! That is the secret.

p.s. all of you fiat currency enthusiasts, you are inconsistent if you do not also believe in fiat debt!    

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What's the Libyan game? The domination of time

'Permanent war for permanent peace,' Gore Vidal. No, nothing so purely contradictory; simply permanent war (Derrida gaps here; he imagined permanent revolution in his Spectres of M).

War is turning out to be too valuable a commodity (Marx gasps here!) to ignore for politicians, for the military to justify its largesse, for contractors, and perhaps even for Western society. It's perhaps not only war but the comfort of knowing that your leaders are rooting out the bad guys, pre-emptively, before they can harm 'freedom, babies, and justice.' A great show of power in which Nato governments show their domination of the entire temporal dimension, past (Lockerbie), present (Benghazi) and future (vengeful Tripoli).

Every avenue for escape is now apparently blocked: no history, no critique, and no futures studies can help now. Only if time itself is wiped out can the West keep from repeating itself over and over. Bring on the event!   

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Spectacle of Libya or Fasci-nation

Cyrenaica (the region of Benghazi today) was once known for producing philosophers espousing pleasure. Today it has tempted NATO to try Iraq version. 2.

Is it about oil? Sure After all, an account will be set up by the UN in which Libya's revenues will be held for safekeeping, perhaps at a French or British bank.

Is it about humanitarianism? Sure, that too. What would a postmodern world be without multiplicity after all, including a multiplicty of rationalizations? Which means....why not add one more to the mix?

What is underway in Libya now is a desperate attempt to reassert the primacy of the political, especially the importance of government. For awhile it almost disappeared, what with all the worry over the economy, jobs, Japan, popular revolutions. Not to mention that many are involved in the other, virtual, world of Facebook and Twitter.

Now though, governments are back in the spotlight; back in the driver's seat. They can turn up the bombing campaign when they need more attention on themselves and on their relevance. Or they can tune it down. It is all up to them. They are snake charmers. Dramatists on a stage stretching from Washington to Beijing. Observers now watch governments and leaders in suspense again (what else does Sarkozy need?). All captivated, me too...

Immigrant bashing in...Europe?!

To be sure. European countries do not have a great historical track record with a heterogeneous citizenry or what is called today, diversity.

Still the increasing immigrant bashing by politicians and passage of tough immigration legislation lately is worth consideration especially once the phenomenon hit Sweden or the Netherlands (!) and considering that the new policy amounts to demographic suicide for the Continent.
Postmodern theory, and especially post-structuralism has something to say about it though, namely, what would politics be without a dog to kick around? Politicians, perhaps even whole populations, find Others (in the post-structuralist sense) useful. Tough economic times? They did it. The immigrants did it. Blah blah. Scapegoating. Until relatively recently, Swedish politicians could not avail themselves of this tool. After all they only had 5% Lapps way up North. So they got the brilliant idea to import their Others from overseas into the towns so that they have someone they can blame for whatever happens. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The End of Power

You heard it here first…well, sort of. A thinker named Baudrillard once wrote of another thinker called Foucault and accused of him being obsolete. That Foucault could speak in such detail of power, extending so deeply into the social fabric as to be ‘capillary,’ only proves that power no longer matters, to ‘forget’ it, that it is dead.

What has been witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt and perhaps shortly, in Wisconsin all suggest that the standard locus of modern political power, the state or government, elected or not, is weakening. By this I mean that if power means getting another to do what they would otherwise not do, sustainably, then such power is surely dead. If there is power or influence today it is only the result of inertia, of nothing else ‘better’ for the moment until, of course, something else comes along (and it will come along, guaranteed, just ask Mubarak). 

My prediction therefore is for increased opportunism, smash and grab. Where power can no longer achieve its aims sustainably (i.e. without resort to force, or advertising, which are both expensive tools and which therefore detract from power) it shall settle for small, sudden windfalls instead. Case in point: Libya’s foreign assets totaling from 30-60 billion dollars. No sooner does one power node find itself unable to be sustained, does another then step in. It took very little time for western governments to freeze those massive assets, for the sake of the people of course…

Thursday, February 24, 2011

WikiLeaks effect: The truth makes Arabs free

It has not gotten much mainstream play...they like to focus on cute sociological explanations like the 'youth bulge' to explain the revolutions of 2011. But it is notable to recall what Wikileaks revealed about Tunisia and Libya. It was said that the ruling family of Tunisia was a pure kleptocracy. And mention was made of some noticeable Bulgarian nurse constantly at Kaddafi's side.

Machiavelli's rule number 2 is for a successful ruler never to be seen as contemptible. No doubt the Wikileaks revelations about these rulers were known to many if not most citizens. Yet to know that the rest of the world now knew about it too must have made the idea of continuing to obey such personages overly humiliating.

If so, this Wikileaks effect confirms Machiavelli's rule number 1: Lie without anyone knowing it is a lie.          

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spontaneity is the new Real

Musing now as to whether we are entering a phase in politics in which that which is not spontaneous is not strongly believed. What shocks or surprises is more substantial than what follows old or predictable rules. The latter are open to doubt. That the President cobbled together a coalition, which included back room haggling no doubt, in order to produce health care law is dismissed or questioned or challenged in court (but however else could such big legislation have happened than without old fashioned deal-making?)

On the other hand, union demonstrations in WI shock (did not U.S. unions die long ago?) and Arab revolutions (in places long said to lack civil society) garner strong consideration and interest as real events with major future impacts. 

The role of the media is crucial however. If these recent spontaneous, big, political acts had not occurred the media can range the globe for the shocking to bring to our screens everyday. It is not the scale of the political act then that matters but the rapid media attention. Expect more and more media sensationalism...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cocoa, Ivory Coast, and the Kenyafication of governments

Cocoa reached a record high today. It was already trending upward due to commodity speculators and  because those who pluck the fruits associate the activity with the old colonial planter society, i.e. not a job the next generation looks forward to.  The trees are aging too. And global warming may be having an effect (just as on tea).

Cote d'Ivorie produces over 30% of coca but the ongoing presidential standoff raises doubts about the ability to produce and deliver the crop.

The country needs to take a page from the Kenya playbook: make both candidates the winner by giving both the offices and potential for patronage. Kenya actually created new offices and ministries for the new winners to control. For example, there had never been a prime minister position before the disputed election.

Expect more Kenyafication worldwide. It is classic political compromise: expands patronage to new groups and players while reducing societal and ethnic tensions...

Live experiment underway: Illinois versus Texas

Two powerful states, IL and TX, with different strategies for a balanced budget are squaring off in 2011, with fruitful potential for political learning. One state, IL, is raising taxes about 66%. The other state TX, not as deep in the hole to be sure, is currently planning deep cuts. For political observers this sets up a scenario to test ideologies and see which one works. If in 3 to 5 years IL steps ahead economically and in PQLI terms then a strategy that emphasizes raising taxes will be proven successful. If Texas flies high again in 3-5 years then cutting the budget drastically becomes a validated strategy. No ideology involved here, just a live experiment. Of course, these states and others should do both but that may be too intelligent for the pundits. And yes TX and IL are not the same and they do not have quite the same future potential either but as a rough comparison it is a face-off worth watching...

Middle East revolutions: Everything good Now!

Typically political theories of modern revolution emphasize the aim of freedom (even the communists claimed someday that the state would whither away leaving utopia behind). 

The new revolutions we are seeing today in Tunisia, Egypt, and hopefully Bahrain leapfrog beyond that narrow modernist aim straight into postmodernism

They want a bit of everything but not too much of any one thing (which is why the current rise in islamophobia among Western elites is unwarranted). The new revolutionaries want some liberty but not too much (otherwise you wind up like Iraq), some equality but not too much (otherwise you get Britney, Lindsey, and Paris), some religion but not too much (otherwise you get Iran), etc. etc.

They don't just want, as some from Washington DC say, freedom of the press or freedom of assembly (as if they must wait for their leaders to give that to them). Besides no one can eat freedom of the press for dinner. You can't pay rent with freedom of assembly.     

Is the Wisconsin governor a misogynist?

Regarding the protests in Madison over a law to cut collective bargaining rights...

Politics is always about helping some and hurting others, not sound budgets nor even liberty. In this case, the Wisconsin governor wants to hurt teachers (mostly women) but not police workers (mostly men). The proposed bill exempts the police unions. If the Wisconsin Governor were serious about a balanced budget he would make EVERYONE in WI share in the pain. He would also raise income taxes on the wealthy. But that kind of unifying leadership is sorely lacking these days...