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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Egypt, America and Ratification

With the referendum today, it is useful to compare how these two countries (Egypt v. USA) ratified their constitutions. The results may surprise you.

 constitution written in secret
constitution written openly on television 
 Openness allows opponents to know what to organize against
constitution ratified by special convention constitution ratified by all eligible voters
 Referendum means the people decide their fate. And when Rhode Island did this the people rejected the USA!
 constitution ratified by 9 of 13 states (67% of vote)
constitution ratified by majority of voters (`51%)
 If state conventions are presumed to be representative (even if they aren't; just ask the anti-federalists), then a 2/3 vote is more legitimate

Poor, poor Nurse Saldanha

Nurse Saldanha infamously took the prank call that exposed the medical condition of an English Princess. She was found dead a few days later. I knew before they said it that it would be suicide. That nurse was not just a victim of a prank. She was destroyed by the sheer weight of communication of the incident. Blown way out of proportion by a mind too sensitive to the unreal world. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Egypt, Islam, and constitution

Have the Cairo protesters read the new document? It is an improvement over the old one. If anything it is too ambitious, even liberal (in the classical sense of limiting the executive).

Or, is it being implemented wrongly? Morsi is accused of becoming a dictator for the transition period but no new constitution is welcomed by everyone. Even the USA required all kinds of tricks to overcome the anti-federalist opposition (e.g. it was developed entirely in secret while in Egypt it was all done openly on television).

Yes Islam is recognized in the document as it must be Egypt. (It has a broad social basis in Egypt; the demands of the protesters do not).

HOWEVER what Islam means exactly for Egypt and its political system NEED NOT be specified. Why not have a council of religious experts or Al Azhar advise on matters and then have the legislators, PM, and President translate it into policy? No need to foreclose options ahead of time. Taking pride in your heritage is one thing, ensuring prosperity is another. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Master showmen of crisis

Experts are already correcting the mythology of the fiscal cliff. It will not affect investment all that much since most stock ownership is not subject to taxation (401k, pension funds, etc.). Indeed its real effects are likely to be much less than predicted, which is not surprising.

There is an increasing divergence between real and virtual. Example, good news for Main Street does lead to Wall Street gains, and vice versa. (I wonder too whether the big US birth rate drop is related to this phenomenon, more virtual contact on Facebook but less real contact; that is a topic for another post).

What's cute is how the Boehner, Geithner, Obama and the rest go on like there is a major decision over the virtual crisis known as fiscal cliff.

If there is a major decision to come in 2013it  is how can the two parties USE this so-called crisis to get the things they really want; permanent Bush tax cuts and Medicare reform and a slew of other favors for constituents and interest groups.

Interesting too that this crisis had to be manufactured and hyped to get to the point where some policy changes can happen.

That is likely to be the future of Western politics for some time to come. Postmodern political formula: hyped crisis, then policy change (e.g. Euro debt crisis allows for austerity). 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Imaginary problems need imaginary solutions

Not imaginative solutions; imaginary ones.

Baudrillard talked about the coming need for pataphysics or the science of imaginary solutions.

If one considers today's problems they all have an unreal, imaginary quality to them: fiscal cliff, sovereign debt in EU, currency, or Iran's nuclear potential.

Now contrast these problems with a few of days gone-by such as the Dust Bowl, war on poverty or especially the Cuban Missile crisis.

See the difference?

Europe is doing pataphysics well. They make dramatic gestures and timely statements to challenge crises (e.g. 'pivotal' summits). The US will hopefully follow. 

To the chagrin of ratings agencies like Fitch with their repeated, imaginary threats that it is all going to fall apart somehow. And to the chagrin of free marketeers who dream that the market is or ever was purely free without any manipulation of politics or the powerful. Markets are made (e.g. by Goldman-Sachs). Witness the Facebook IPO: one minute there is no Facebook market, then poof, the next minute there is, and then the next minute it is a 'down market.' And don't forget the Facebook market was never equal or free; insiders alone bought in low (and hoped to sell high).

So to all the imaginary problems let there be imaginary solutions. Threats of war not real war, threats of collapse not real collapse. And to these threats, threats of solutions such as diplomacy or deficit reduction.

Whatever you do though, avoid the reality trap. That has been the Greek approach and look where it is getting them. They have tried to solve what could be deemed an imaginary problem with real solutions. And they are no further along than they ever were.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Bargainer Barack

The education of  a President. With the debate over the so-called fiscal cliff looming it would do Obama much good to visit Turkey right now. Why? To get practice in haggling. A few hours in the bazaar over there will hone his skills. Obama has historically proven to be a terrible bargainer and negotiator. It is not advisable to take him to a garage sale with you or you are sure to wind up a chump. Lowball first, always. Then work your way back to 'the center.' Thus far Obama has done it the other way around and it is embarrassing for a politician at his level.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

what's next?

More of the same...more debt drama (and not just in Europe and Japan!). Debt is one of those imaginary problems that politicians today love to solve. Because you can do so much with the 'problem.' Kick it down the road, austerity, or something in-between.

Now let's see Obama's true colors

Second term. No reason not to be authentic.
The education of a president. Today,Obama won. But did his supporters? Classic political maxim is to help friends and hurt enemies. But will we continue to see the middle of the road O and O the terrible bargainer? O's acceptance speech was not a good sign...sounded like talking points from the other side.

Also who will O hire? That's another signal. Since O has no friends of his own to hire (evidence? look who he hired last time), he will pick based upon his priorities.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Treat Debt and Deficit as a lie

It is up to you, believe in debt or not, Greece or not. The elites of Greece are putting the majority through to pay back a lie.

Smart nation-states (I say nation-states purposefully; not many of them left) like Obama's America or Japan just defer the issue.

Proof? Dealers (big private banks or firms like MF Global) take a loan from the central bank but without offering collateral. Then they loan out that money for a huge interest rate profit. But to get that loan, you must put up your home or business as collateral.

Meanwhile smart countries and smart banks take out more loans to pay back old loans. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Iran Sanctions? Prelude to invasion

What are the sanctions really about? Pre-invasion tactic. Evidence? Every comprehensive sanctions campaign has been followed by invasion. They soften up the defenses. Iran may be next, especially if Americans and Europeans start suffering from austerity and need someone to blame.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Obama averted Financial Crash today...

Yes it is a dramatic headline I know; unprovable too. But it is also quite plausible. Weekends have been when Euro leaders, their finance ministers or others, get together and either do or say something that the stock markets hate. It is timed on purpose of course to avert the assured stock market declines. And investors usually had to wait until Monday to sell their shares, usually at a greater loss than they would have liked.

But lately investors have wised up and have sold off on Fridays. They were going to do so again this Friday because there was little clue this week from Central Bankers of offering tons of almost-free money for the banks and primary dealers to plow into the stock markets (i.e. QE4, which was the hoped for policy).   

So today the President of the US steps forward and shows that he is aware of the anxiety before this weekend and after this week and to hint that he is on top of it (i.e. code for I will not let the present financial structure collapse today).

Such 'talking up' or even just 'talking about' should keep the stock markets from selling off today in droves. Great example of how the rules of Rhetoric can prevail over the rules of politics or economics.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

America versus Hamilton

A. Hamilton did not believe in 'free trade' policy. And he did not abide by a 'service economy' nor in 'speculation.' Everything that America does big today in its economy, Hamilton was against it. Why?

The difference is that Mr. H. (who graces the $10 bill) never lost sight of the national interest. If it does not benefit America don't do it he said. America should make things, he said repeatedly.

Hamilton is known for being pro-banks but the antics of Jamie Dimon and co., who speculate on money and credit rather than offering credit for expansion or factories was not Hamilton's vision. 

The point is not nostalgia for Hamilton's age nor even his policies. Rather it shows how America (but not only her) has become unmoored from national interests. It hardly exists anymore except as a collection of interest groups.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Iran sanctions America

As of today, Americans are experiencing blowback with high gasoline prices. Europe and Asia have it a bit worse.

The price hike is due in large part to threats of coercion by the US against Iran, which speculators exacerbate in the futures markets. Perception matters too. US sanctions, while not actual bullets, have been interpreted publicly by Tehran as aggressive acts. 

Arms dealers, bankers and hedge are the winners; average citizens of both countries, the losers. 

What is interesting however is the difference in sanctions technique and expenditure. For the US to sanction Iran is expensive The US must maintain a flotilla nearby (in order to make their threats plausible). It must strive mightily diplomatically to convince others to join and to stick with it. The effects on markets and investments are incalculable.  

For Iran to sanction America it merely says a few things about Hormuz, floats a few boats in its gulf.

Everyone focuses mainly on the sanctions' costs for victims.

But what is forgotten is the differential costs of sanction promotion. The long term metrics do not look good for the US. Oil and gas prices will continue to rise (dont expect Saudi to be able to compensate). And America's raggedy coalition will fray soon enough.

Good news: right now is a great time for a diplomatic deal.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Operation Enduring Freedom

To free Afghanistan was a worthy and achievable goal set by an American President. Right now a stupid mistake over local customs has sent a wave of concern over the workers trying to make that happen.

Millions do not share the singular view of those who stand against that noble goal. America, fight your fight, not someone else's. You are not in the Hindu Kush as crusaders to convert minds. Nor as racists pushing an aryan agenda.

You are there to share the fruits of liberty. It can be done by protecting and tailoring the Afghan police. (See my simple advice in an earlier blog). 

The perpetrators of the scripture desecration must explain themselves publicly and turn themselves in to the

But the main aim cannot be forgotten.

In sum, postmodern theory suggests that there can be 2 afghanistans, one where liberty achieves prominence and another where it struggles against other values. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

High Gasoline Prices due to De-centering processes

McClatchy just had issued a well-researched story about the cause of high gas prices. Their judgment? Speculation, especially by banks and hedge funds who buy gas/oil futures with no plan to take delivery but only to sell on the price hikes they and their cohorts create (along with the help of cynical Western governments rattling sabers at Iran).

Here is a different theory: the price of gas has become unmoored from the supply of oil and is now free to fly into orbit. 

Suspiciously this event happens at a time when gas in the US should be at all time lows. There is a lot of oil around today. Demand is down due to joblessness. A mild winter in the US would also help to keep down the price per barrel.

But none of that has brought down prices, which for gas, are at record prices. Note it is the byproduct, gas, that has reached a peak price not oil.

Clear rupture between signified and signifier or between representation and what is represented  is classic postmodernism.

To blame speculation by banks or hedge funds is to say the same thing. Except it implies that such specultors can be brought to heed in order to bring gas prices 'in line' or 'into correspondence' with oil supply.

Postmodernism says no. 

Why? Because the referent has become unclear. Threats on Persia, less refining capacity, the true spare capacity of Saudi, etc.

The only thing that is clear is that the price can and will rise, without limit. That is the tendency now not correspondence, not supply and demand.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

America = Greece? Don't insult the Greeks!

Like other European countries the Greeks have a great safety net; it's hard to fire workers, great unemployment benefits, generous vacation time, welfare for those in trouble, free health care, early retirement pension, etc.

In the US the working class has already been pacified and trained. They have nothing that the Greeks have and don't ask for it. They barely have the nerve to demand a raise in the minimum wage!

Thus what is happening today on the Greek streets is not chaos nor anarchy. It is the refusal to become Americanized, a refusal to be abandoned to the wolves in accord with the Darwinistic mythology that is so espoused in the USA.

Unemployed? Out on the streets? The American way for you is 'tough'! 'Suck it up.' They will tell you your 'skill set' is old. Worse too, you have pay to get training for jobs at for-profit colleges (no apprenticeships like Germany).

So who is really better off?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Politics as Drama

There was a time when you could say that politics was dramatic: the Cuban Missile crisis comes to mind.

Today there is much ado about requiring the provision of contraceptives by all hospitals that receive Federal dollars. Not too long ago we heard about the huge 'fight' over the payroll tax cut.

Talk about tempest in a teapot!

With their grim looks and wild gestures of the politicos in front of the cameras you would think that the struggles were titanic!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The coming Car Bubble

You heard it here first. Bubbles are all the rage amongst predictors and pundits these days. They say that there are housing, gold, and bond bubbles.

But they missed the next one: the Car Bubble.

No to a housing bubble again because banks will not offer credit to most buyers. Over 1/3 of buyers today are cash.

But credit is available for everyone for vehicles. And used cars have gotten really used at this point in time.

Expect an explosion soon in car 'buying' or 'purchasing' (on credit of course) followed later by the explosion in repossessions and the birth of a citizenry that lacks not only resources but the virtual resources of credit too. Agamben! You did not think hard enough. The outcome is not bare life but hollow life.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why America will miss the Middle East

As the US withdraws from the Near East shaking its head in confusion, it may find a certain nostalgia setting in. As evidence, note how there were no parades (until today) for Iraq War vets. Now some read this celebratory neglect as disrespect but it is also reveals the sadness of leaving a new home. The US became a part of the party over there, engaged in its squabbles and becoming a real player, a local tribe even, with its own peculiar aims. It was not the US of A but the US of the ME. And as with the returning Crusaders of old, the vets may yearn for the recipes and passions of the Near East (but likely not the music).

In the future, the US will return to its traditional isolationism. It always wanted and liked that, although dragged the other way by its elites. Now even they are tired of it. The problem is that America may not be enough for Americans anymore. Before you could oust a native tribe and settle West on new land. Before you could enslave people and reap profits and status. Before you could rampage South and take Arizona. Now there is nowhere to go. Except cyberspace. Outer space is too empty and expensive; the oceans too deep and cold. Hopefully the virtual world will be enough.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Afghan Police not army are key to future

The vaunted Afghan army, pride of American and European trainers, saw one of its trainees attack its trainers today. The NYT says it is the result of deep animosity and disrespect. That may well be a cause but there is frustration too, about the future or the mission. I commented upon this before. All are tired of the grind.

The US wants a central government controlling an army which in turn controls the territory. It is a standard Westphalian model. More than once the US has laughed making a confederation of Afghanistan such as Switzerland. But that would actually work better. A US-supplied, non-Pashtun army is only a recipe for harsh civil war later.


My point today is to forget a national army there. Focus upon a national. professional police. Have the army protect them. Yes there is also jealousy and animosity between them. There are simple ways to solve that. 

But the police are the key to a transformed nation...a strong police and courts that will effectively enforce civil laws. But a revived police is a opportunity for a different outcome.  

The Taliban? Yes they represent a large constituency, clarified all the more by US support for the non-Pashtuns and Kabul.  

Giving out money, toys and other goodies does not change anything long term.

A solid Police. No other long term strategy has a chance.  


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stopping Keystone pipeline stops another war

Obama decided (for now) to stop the pipeline abomination that was to traverse the entire USA. Jim Jones (former Obama advisor) says that the decision is a blow to America's "energy security." He says with tighter supplies of oil globally the US will need the oil expensively blasted from the thick tar sands of Alberta.

But the decision is a bonus for the security of American citizens and the world from warmongers who want to start another profitable fight in the Middle East. With that pipeline they could start another such war and have Americans less affected once oil prices zoom from $100 up to $300/gallon. They could conduct a pain free war without fear of a citizen backlash. Of course everyone else globally would then suffer (although oil producing countries would profit). But when is that ever a first, political calculation. 


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ignoring Ron Paul

Boy the media really has it in for Ron Paul. I know that Ron Paul supporters already think this. And while I think Paul could shake things up, I want to stick with a postmodern view of this event. Or rather, a non-event..Because what we witness is that votes do not matter...Paul has come in a very strong second in the past two primaries/caucuses. Iowa was only lost by a handful of votes.

And yet...the media crows about Romney and everybody else but Paul. Indeed there is a category of media-speech called anybody-else-but-Paul.

All this proves the power not of democracy/voting/the people but of media, press, and transmission of information/communication. 

The point is not to get mad about this phenomenon (unless you support Paul). This phenomenon should be accelerated by adding to the monologue. Let there be more media, more bloggers, more youtubers.

The question is diversity of viewpoints. Perspectives. Egalitarians will want to hear other voices or support other candidates.

But your candidate will only lose. If you join in with the mindless monologue you can win too.