“It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar.”

― Edward W. Said

"A developing country that wants to develop its economy must first of all keep natural resources in its own hands."
- Deng Xiaoping

Friday, January 31, 2014

Hungary's World War II memorial under fire

Critics say the project minimises the role the Hungarian government played in the Holocaust during German occupation.

By Kristina Jovanovski

Al-Jazeera -  30 Jan 2014

Budapest, Hungary - As the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday, Hungary's government faced increased pressure over accusations it was trying to absolve the country of its role in the Holocaust.
Hungary plans to build a memorial marking the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the German occupation, during which hundreds of thousands of Jews were deported to death camps. But many say the memorial fails to acknowledge Hungary's actions during the Holocaust.
On Monday, a protester interrupted a ceremony at the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest, demanding the Hungarian prime minister back down from the controversial plans. Marton Gulyas told Al Jazeera that he felt compelled to speak up at the event, even though he is not Jewish.
"This is not a Jewish issue, it is an issue for all citizens here in Hungary," he said, adding that he has seen an increase in controversies over the Holocaust in Hungary. "This is the time the Hungarian government has to make clear… which side [it] is on."

Read more.....

How Israel Is Losing the Propaganda War


The New York Times - JAN. 31, 2014

JERUSALEM — On Feb. 4, 1965, as a teenager, I left South Africa, the country of my birth, for a new home in a place I’d never been — Israel.
I loved South Africa, but I loathed the apartheid system. In Israel, I saw a fresh start for a people rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, a place of light and justice, as opposed to the darkness and oppression of apartheid South Africa.
Now, almost 50 years later, after decades of arguing that Israel is not an apartheid state and that it’s a calumny and a lie to say so, I sense that we may be well down the road to being seen as one. That’s because, in this day and age, brands are more powerful than truth and, inexplicably, blindly, Israel is letting itself be branded an apartheid state — and even encouraging it.

Read more....

Marx Was Right: Five Surprising Ways Karl Marx Predicted 2014


Roling Stone | Jan 30, 2014  

There's a lot of talk of Karl Marx in the air these days – from Rush Limbaugh accusing Pope Francis of promoting "pure Marxism" to a Washington Times writer claiming that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is an "unrepentant Marxist." But few people actually understand Marx's trenchant critique of capitalism. Most people are vaguely aware of the radical economist's prediction that capitalism would inevitably be replaced by communism, but they often misunderstand why he believed this to be true. And while Marx was wrong about some things, his writings (many of which pre-date the American Civil War) accurately predicted several aspects of contemporary capitalism, from the Great Recession to the iPhone 5S in your pocket.
Here are five facts of life in 2014 that Marx's analysis of capitalism correctly predicted more than a century ago:

Read more....

Political Islam and Arab Spring: O Brothers, where art thou?

By Musa Khalil

Theafricareport - Friday, 31 January 2014 

The Arab Spring in 2011 ended with once-marginalised Islamist parties in governments in Egypt and Tunisia. It was not long before they stumbled.

In one fell swoop on 3 July, the venerable Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood lost 85 years of patient labour and squandered the chance – at least in the foreseeable future – for political Islam in Egypt.
To the very last, even after the military announced it was taking over, President Mohamed Morsi and his aides remained defiant, hoping they could still face down the army.
It was this same hubris and naivety that had allowed hostility to accumulate to the point where the military could act against Morsi, just one year after his election in the country's first democratic vote.
Now hounded, jailed and killed en masse in protests amid the widespread applause of many of their compatriots, the Muslim Brotherhood is in tatters but convinced that there can be no turning back.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who's the most significant historical figure?

From Leonardo da Vinci to Einstein, and Shakespeare to Stephen King, two data analysts have ranked the most significant people in history – do the results seem right?    

BY Steven Skiena and Charles B Ward    

The Guardian, Thursday 30 January 2014

People love lists, and are perhaps even more fascinated by rankings – lists organised according to some measure of value or merit. Who were the most important women in history? The best writers or most influential artists? Our least illustrious political leaders? Who's bigger: Hitler or Napoleon? Picasso or Michelangelo? Charles Dickens or Jane Austen? John, Paul, George or Ringo?
We work in the fields of data and computer science and do not answer these questions as historians might, through a principled assessment of a person's achievements. Instead, we aggregate millions of opinions. We rank historical figures just as Google ranks web pages, by integrating a diverse set of measurements of reputation into a single consensus value.

Read more.....

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A New Documentray: Wounds of Waziristan

 Wounds of Waziristan | Trailer

American Muslim consumer market worth billions

Clothing, food entrepreneurs are moving to fill gap.

By: Mariam Sobh

WBEZ 91.5 - January 28, 2014

Melanie El-Turk launched a modest fashion clothing line a few years ago out of her apartment in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood—joining the populous ranks of business entrepreneurs.
What makes El-Turk stand out is that she is in the vanguard of a movement to better reach a growing but not yet widely recognized market niche: consumers who, like El-Turk, are American Muslims.
She started Haute Hijab because she did not feel that mainstream fashion catered to the modern young American Muslim.
Haute Hijab is what you might characterize as a mix of haute couture and the hijab, the religious dress code to which many Muslim women adhere.

Read more....

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Philippine Documentary - The Definitions of Lower, Middle, and Upper Classes

Philippine Documentary - The Definitions of Lower, Middle, and Upper Classes

Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes

 Hans Rosling's 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes

We face being buried under an avalanche of Chinese science

China is investing unprecedented amounts in research and development while changing the way science is practised


The Guardian - Jan. 24, 2014

I was chatting with a friend and collaborator based in Germany recently about the completion of a new building that his university was constructing, dedicated to biomedical imaging sciences. I was sharing my own exhilaration about the serious investment that our government, regional agencies and the EU were making in graphene research at the University of Manchester. At some point in our conversation it became apparent that as extraordinary as the investments in our institutions were, they did not even come close to what we had both experienced from recent trips in China.
Our conclusion was that "for each floor refurbishment in Europe, a new building is built is China, and for each new building in Europe, a new campus is built in China …"
The magnitude of R&D investment in China is unprecedented and well-documented. Nanoscience is a strategically important field in the eyes of Chinese policymakers: a poster-child of new-age, high-tech China. The volume of scientific data generated and published by Chinese laboratories in all areas of nanotechnology has been increasing exponentially.

Read more....

China reveals its cards for investing $20 billion in Pakistan

By Khalid Mustafa  

The News - Monday, January 20, 2014

ISLAMABAD: China is demanding that all mega power projects, including the Bhasha Dam, Gaddani and Lakhra coal plants, the Tarbela Extension project and many transmission lines, be handed over to China without any international bidding process, and Beijing will directly invest $22 billion in Pakistan.

The Nawaz Sharif government is eager to accept this huge Chinese offe, and a loophole in the PPRA rules is being used to hand over all these mega projects to China.

“Beijing will extend the preferential and medium term soft loans of $22 billion to Pakistan against the guarantees of the government of Pakistan”, a senior official who was part of the recent meeting of the Pak-China Joint Working Group (JWG) held on January 7-8 in Beijing told The News.

“We have carved out a plan to capitalise on the opportunity that Beijing has extended to Pakistan. Under the plan, Chinese companies will be offered the coal and hydropower and huge transmission line projects under a direct contracting regime which is not against the PPRA rules,” the official said.

Read more....

‘Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race’

By Steve Locke 

The Good Man Project - January 8, 2011

Tom Matlack asked his friend Steve Locke to write for us about race. He declined. Here’s why.

Dear Tom,
Thanks so much for asking me to contribute something to GMP. It has been exciting to see how this project has gone from an idea to a reality.
As much as I enjoy reading GMP and as much as I’d love to be a part of it, I don’t think I am able to write about race.
It’s not that I don’t know anything about it. I was on a social media site and I was looking at the post one of my friends shared. He was lamenting the fact that PSYCHOLOGY TODAY had printed an article saying that black women are “objectively” less attractive than other women. Others of his friends posted on his “wall,” saying that attractiveness was relative and that it was based on symmetry of features and the like. I posted a “sigh” and said that it was sickmaking, in 2011, that someone would even create a study to investigate humans in such a way, that the creation of the study was evidence of a bias, and the notion that peoples’ “tastes” and “preferences” are not affected by 300+ years of racialized bias was ignorant. Also, I have been told that black people are somehow deficient for most of my 48 years and that PSYCHOLOGY TODAY was passing this crap off as research was sad.
A poster responded that he didn’t see any racism in the research and that it was like comparing apples and oranges. He also told me that too many people say things are about race when they aren’t, and that maybe I was upset to be on the “losing” side of the article. He wanted me to explain why I thought the article was racist.

Read more.....

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why There’s No Outcry for a Revolution in America

By Robert Reich

Truthdig.com - Jan 27, 2014 

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.
Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?
The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.
First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.
In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.
No longer. Working people don’t dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to paycheck.

Read more....

Two Faces of Empire

By Greg Grandin

 TomDispatch.com - January 26, 2014.

A captain ready to drive himself and all around him to ruin in the hunt for a white whale. It’s a well-known story, and over the years, mad Ahab in Herman Melville’s most famous novel, Moby-Dick, has been used as an exemplar of unhinged American power, most recently of George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq.
But what’s really frightening isn't our Ahabs, the hawks who periodically want to bomb some poor country, be it Vietnam or Afghanistan, back to the Stone Age.  The respectable types are the true “terror of our age,” as Noam Chomsky called them collectively nearly 50 years ago.  The really scary characters are our soberest politiciansscholarsjournalistsprofessionals, and managers, men and women (though mostly men) who imagine themselves as morally serious, and then enable the wars, devastate the planet, and rationalize the atrocities.  They are a type that has been with us for a long time.  More than a century and a half ago, Melville, who had a captain for every face of empire, found their perfect expression -- for his moment and ours.

Read more....

The Master - Official Trailer

 The Master - Official Trailer

The Franz Kafka Videogame

 The Franz Kafka Videogame

Stalinism and Bolshevism

By Leon Trotsky

Socialist Review (August 1937)

Reactionary epochs like ours not only disintegrate and weaken the working class and isolate its vanguard but also lower the general ideological level of the movement and throw political thinking back to stages long since passed through. In these conditions the task of the vanguard is, above all, not to let itself be carried along by the backward flow: it must swim against the current. If an unfavorable relation of forces prevents it from holding political positions it has won, it must at least retain its ideological positions, because in them is expressed the dearly paid experience of the past. Fools will consider this policy “sectarian.” Actually it is the only means of preparing for a new tremendous surge forward with the coming historical tide.

The reaction against Marxism and Bolshevism

Great political defeats provoke a reconsideration of values, generally occurring in two directions. On the one hand the true vanguard, enriched by the experience of defeat, defends with tooth and nail the heritage of revolutionary thought and on this basis strives to educate new cadres for the mass struggle to come. On the other hand the routinists, centrists and dilettantes, frightened by defeat, do their best to destroy the authority of the revolutionary tradition and go backwards in their search for a “New World.”

Read more......

Our Dangerous Budget and What to Do About It

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

The New York Review of Books - February 6, 2014

The December budget deal, worked out between Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray, has been widely greeted with relief. Since the first days of the Obama Administration in 2009, Washington has been in a pitched battle over the budget, with endless fights over stimulus packages, temporary tax cuts, spending limits and sequestration, fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, and government shutdowns. Who would not welcome a moment of bipartisan calm, especially when the economy still needs to break out of its prolonged torpor?
Yet the budget battles have never been quite what they’ve seemed, and the new bipartisan agreement is not a victory of bipartisan reason. Despite all of the budget turmoil over the past five years, the long-term trajectory of the US budget has remained remarkably and dangerously unaltered. With this new agreement, the US takes another step toward a diminished future.

Read more....

The death of humility is nothing to boast about

Modesty is not prized highly in this age of the selfie, Simon Cowell, the celebrity memoir, the first-person blog and industry awards

I have been writing a series of essays for Radio 3 about national characteristics that have, for better or worse (usually worse), been dispensed with in the past 30 years. These include respect for manual labour, regarding Sunday as special, not being greedy about food, gentility… and the regarding of modesty or humility as significant virtues.
Of all of them, I now realise, the last is the most striking change. It is self-evident that modesty is not prized highly in this age of the selfie, Simon Cowell, the celebrity memoir, the first-person blog, and industry awards. (For reasons too strange to go into, I used to be a regular attender of what were called “The Oscars of the Bus Industry”, until the organisers received a legal letter from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.)
I do not claim to be very humble myself. In fact, part of my animus about these changes is that they have occurred, so to speak, without anyone asking me, and in defiance of injunctions drummed into me as a child, such as – in the case of modesty: “Keep your voice down”, “Don’t draw attention to yourself”; or, if I’d already drawn attention to myself and it was too late to do anything about it, “You’re a right bighead, aren’t you?”. What was the source of these injunctions? Perhaps the New Testament and “the meek shall inherit the earth”. (The American humorist Kin Hubbard once wrote, “It’s going to be fun to watch and see how long the meek can keep the earth after they inherit it.”)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Harnessing the power of think tanks: AK Party builds its own parallel structure

Having removed thousands of people from their positions in the bureaucracy as a part of what it termed a struggle against a widespread “parallel structure,” the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is now occupied with implementing a structure under its own control in a variety of arenas.
This new structure covers everything from the business world to education ("imam hatip" high schools in particular), the bureaucracy to the justice system and the police department to religious communities that receive support from the government.
Certain media institutions supported by the government are laying down the foundations for this new structure in the public eye. Leading the way on this are think tanks the Foundation for Political, Economic, and Societal Research (SETA) and the Strategic Thought Institute (SDE).
Both SETA and SDE -- which have enormous budgets as a result of being funded by business interests close to the government -- are even seen by some as the “parallel structure” of the AK Party government.

Read more....

How Student Activists at Duke Transformed a $6 Billion Endowment

By Casey Williams, Charlie Molthrop, Jacob Tobia and StudentNation

The Nation - January 25, 2014

Last October 4, a group of students clutching more than 2,000 petitions knocked on the door of the Duke University Board of Trustees meeting and requested an audience. Burly security guards barred the door on the order of vexed University President Richard Brodhead. Brodhead, visibly nervous, tried to usher the students out, calling their presence an “interruption.” Undeterred, the group resisted, asking for a chance to present the proposal they had spent almost a year crafting. The president, adamant in his refusal, returned to the meeting and shut the door.
Despite the hostile reception, a modified version of the students’ proposal—which called for the overhaul of the university’s guidelines on investment responsibility—had already found its way onto the board’s agenda. On October 4, 2013, the trustees voted to adopt the new guidelines, expanding the university’s investment oversight committee and establishing a special fund within the endowment—a Social Choice Fund—which will be invested only in prescreened, socially responsible funds.

Read more....

The New Neocons Are "Socialist" (They Say)

By Pierre Guerlain

Truthout | Op-Ed  - Saturday, 25 January 2014

Recently, French President François Hollande visited Saudi Arabia, and commentators noted that France was trying to take advantage of a cooling of relations between the United States and that country to, among other things, sell weapons to the not very democratic kingdom. France also is set to benefit from Lebanese arms purchases funded by Saudi Arabia. In the Geneva negotiations between Iran and six countries, the foreign minister of France, Laurent Fabius, proved the toughest negotiator and claimed that Iran would violate the agreement. During a visit to Israel, supposedly socialist Hollande was effusive in the expression of his friendship for far-rightist Benjamin Netanyahu - although the latter had publicly humiliated Hollande during a state visit to France in fall 2012. All the signs are there that French foreign policy not only follows in the footsteps of the one chosen by pro-Bush Nicolas Sarkozy - but has moved even farther to the right than US foreign policy.


How 'ping pong diplomacy' brought Nixon to China

BBC -  23 January 2014

In April 1971, at the height of the Cold War, a group of ping pong players became the first Americans to visit Communist China.
Their successful trip is often credited for reviving diplomatic relations between the two countries, who hadn't been in contact for 22 years.
Less than a year after the outbreak of so-called "ping pong diplomacy", Richard Nixon travelled to Beijing as the first US president to visit the People's Republic of China.
Author Nicholas Griffin tells the BBC why this sport was the perfect intermediary.
The interview was conducted at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus in Miami, Florida.


Map: Social Mobility in America, City By City

By Erika Eichelberger

Mother Jones | Mon Jul. 22, 2013

Income inequality in America is has spiked in the past three decades, and has only worsened since the recession. But that's not the only factor contributing to the deepening divide between the rich and poor. Recent research has shown that Americans enjoy less social mobility than people in other industrialized countries—in other words, American kids are less likely than foreign kids to grow up to make more money than their parents. A new study by a team of economists at Harvard and University of California–Berkeley provides the most detailed look yet at patterns of upward mobility in the US, shedding light on why it's not so easy to pull yourself up by your bootstraps in the US of A.
The study's findings, which were first reported in the New York Times on Monday, are based on millions of earnings records. Researchers found that children born into the poorest 20 percent of households are least likely to end up in the top 20 percent of income earners (more than $70,000 by age 30) in the Southeast and the industrial Midwest. Upward mobility is particularly lacking in Memphis, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Columbus. Poor children are most likely to be able to work their way to an upper-income life in the Northeast, Great Plains and the West, including in cites such as New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and Seattle. Here's what that looks like, via the Times:

Read more..

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why Are American Colleges Obsessed With 'Leadership'?

What's wrong with being a follower? Or a lone wolf?

By Tara Isabella Burton

The Atlantic - Jan 22 2014

Earlier this month, more than 700,000 students submitted the Common Application for college admissions. They sent along academic transcripts and SAT scores, along with attestations of athletic or artistic success and—largely uniform—bodies of evidence speaking to more nebulously-defined characteristics: qualities like—to quote the Harvard admissions website—“maturity, character, leadership, self-confidence, warmth of personality, sense of humor, energy, concern for others and grace under pressure.”
Why are American colleges so interested in leadership? On the Harvard admissions website quoted above, leadership is listed third: just after two more self-evident qualities. So too the Yale website, which quotes former Yale president Kingman Brewster's assessment that “We have to make the hunchy judgment as to whether or not with Yale’s help the candidate is likely to be a leader in whatever he [or she] ends up doing.” Our goals remain the same today” before going on to stress that “We are looking for students we can help to become the leaders of their generation in whatever they wish to pursue.”

Read more....

Friday, January 24, 2014

Contagion Spreads in Emerging Markets as Crises Grow

By Ye Xie and John Detrixhe

Bloomberg - Jan 24, 2014

The worst selloff in emerging-market currencies in five years is beginning to reveal the extent of the fallout from the Federal Reserve’s tapering of monetary stimulus, compounded by political and financial instability.
The Turkish lira plunged to a record and South Africa’s rand fell yesterday to a level weaker than 11 per dollar for the first time since 2008. Argentine policy makers devalued the peso by reducing support in the foreign-exchange market, allowing the currency to drop the most in 12 years to an unprecedented low.
Investors are losing confidence in some of the biggest developing nations, extending the currency-market rout triggered last year when the Fed first signaled it would scale back stimulus. While Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa were the engines of global growth following the financial crisis in 2008, emerging markets now pose a threat to world financial stability.

Read more.....

Marx Is Back

The global working class is starting to unite -- and that's a good thing.     

BY Charles Kenny   

Foreign Policy - JANUARY 21, 2014

The inscription on Karl Marx's tombstone in London's Highgate Cemetery reads, "Workers of all lands, unite." Of course, it hasn't quite ended up that way. As much buzz as the global Occupy movement managed to produce in a few short months, the silence is deafening now. And it's not often that you hear of shop workers in Detroit making common cause with their Chinese brethren in Dalian to stick it to the boss man. Indeed, as global multinational companies have eaten away at labor's bargaining power, the factory workers of the rich world have become some of the least keen on helping out their fellow wage laborers in poor countries. But there's a school of thought -- and no, it's not just from the few remaining Trotskyite professors at the New School -- that envisions a type of global class politics making a comeback. If so, it might be time for global elites to start trembling. Sure, it doesn't sound quite as threatening as the original call to arms, but a new specter may soon be haunting the world's 1 percent: middle-class activism.
Karl Marx saw an apocalyptic logic to the class struggle. The battle of the vast mass against a small plutocracy had an inevitable conclusion: Workers 1, Rich Guys 0. Marx argued that the revolutionary proletarian impulse was also a fundamentally global one -- that working classes would be united across countries and oceans by their shared experience of crushing poverty and the soullessness of factory life. At the time Marx was writing, the idea that poor people were pretty similar across countries -- or at least would be soon -- was eminently reasonable. According to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic, when The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, most income inequality at the global level was driven by class differences within countries. Although some countries were clearly richer than others, what counted as an income to make a man rich or condemn him to poverty in England would have translated pretty neatly to France, the United States, even Argentina.

Read more....

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink

By Maria Shriver

The Center for American Progress | January 12, 2014

The most common shared story in our country today is the financial insecurity of American families. Today, more than one in three Americans—more than 100 million people—live in poverty or on the edge of it. Half of all Americans will spend at least a few months churning into and out of poverty during their lifetimes. This economic immobility and inequality is a systemic and pervasive problem that President Barack Obama recently described as “the defining challenge of our time.”
The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink reveals this national crisis through the eyes of women. In an era when women have solidified their position as half of the U.S. workforce and a whopping two-thirds of the primary or co-breadwinners in American families, the reality is that a third of all American women are living at or near a space we call “the brink of poverty.”  We define this as less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $47,000 per year for a family of four.

Read more....

Now You See Me: A Glimpse Into the Zapatista Movement, Two Decades Later

By Laura Gottesdiener, 

TomDispatch | News Analysis Thursday, 23 January 2014

Growing up in a well-heeled suburban community, I absorbed our society’s distaste for dissent long before I was old enough to grasp just what was being dismissed. My understanding of so many people and concepts was tainted by this environment and the education that went with it: Che Guevara and the Black Panthers and Oscar Wilde and Noam Chomsky and Venezuela and Malcolm X and the Service Employees International Union and so, so many more. All of this is why, until recently, I knew almost nothing about the Mexican Zapatista movement except that the excessive number of “a”s looked vaguely suspicious to me. It’s also why I felt compelled to travel thousands of miles to a Zapatista “organizing school” in the heart of the Lacandon jungle in southeastern Mexico to try to sort out just what I’d been missing all these years.

Read more....

Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite

By Marina Walker Guevara, Gerard Ryle, Alexa Olesen, Mar Cabra, Michael Hudson and Christoph Giesen

International Consortium of Investigative Journalism - January 21, 2014

Close relatives of China’s top leaders have held secretive offshore companies in tax havens that helped shroud the Communist elite’s wealth, a leaked cache of documents reveals.
The confidential files include details of a real estate company co-owned by current President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law and British Virgin Islands companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and also by his son-in-law.
Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in the files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  Among them are some of China’s most powerful men and women — including at least 15 of China’s richest, members of the National People’s Congress and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals.

Read more....

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Robert Gates, former defense secretary, offers harsh critique of Obama’s leadership in ‘Duty’

By Bob Woodward

The Washington Post - January 7, 2014 

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”

Obama, after months of contentious discussion with Gates and other top advisers, deployed 30,000 more troops in a final push to stabilize Afghanistan before a phased withdrawal beginning in mid-2011. “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission,” Gates writes.

As a candidate, Obama had made plain his opposition to the 2003 Iraq invasion while embracing the Afghanistan war as a necessary response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, requiring even more military resources to succeed. In Gates’s highly emotional account, Obama remains uncomfortable with the inherited wars and distrustful of the military that is providing him options. Their different worldviews produced a rift that, at least for Gates, became personally wounding and impossible to repair.

Read more....

We need to talk about TED

Science, philosophy and technology run on the model of American Idol – as embodied by TED talks – is a recipe for civilisational disaster     

By Benjamin Bratton            

theguardian.com, Monday 30 December 2013

In our culture, talking about the future is sometimes a polite way of saying things about the present that would otherwise be rude or risky.
But have you ever wondered why so little of the future promised in TED talks actually happens? So much potential and enthusiasm, and so little actual change. Are the ideas wrong? Or is the idea about what ideas can do all by themselves wrong?
I write about entanglements of technology and culture, how technologies enable the making of certain worlds, and at the same time how culture structures how those technologies will evolve, this way or that. It's where philosophy and design intersect.
Read more....

The middle class on top of the rest of us

The Guardian, Sunday 22 December 2013

n deciding who are the middle class (Letters, 18 December), one crucial source of information is the Office for National Statistics data on household incomes. This shows that in 2011-12, the top 10th of households with the highest incomes received 27% of all income both gross and after tax. (The UK has for households what amounts to a flat tax system other than for the poorest tenth of households who pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than any other decile.) This was far more than the next 10th down, who received about 16% of all gross and net income. The decile below that, the eighth highest, received about 13% of gross and net income. From the lowest 10th to the ninth decile, the difference in income levels rises in a smooth line, but between the ninth and 10th deciles incomes rise by nearly 70%. It is precisely these very much higher incomes, post-tax as well as pre-tax, which fund most private education in the UK, the main route by which the privileged pass on privileges to their offspring.
So if we think about household incomes, then we have an upper class of plutocrats who do not really appear in the relevant data set and who by the way pay very little tax because of their systematic use of the tax avoidance industry, a middle class of those in the top decile of households we know about, although they also often legally avoid tax, and the rest of us below them.

Read more....

Animated Video on Bangalore's rickshaw

A rickshaw ride is a unique Indian experience. Riding in a rickshaw is so common for us that it has become mundane.  But not to a European visitor. This awesome animation is by Xaver Xylophon, who visited Bangalore and was immediately fascinated by the cute little three-wheeled vehicles and their drivers.  The film beautifully captures the tough workday life of a rickshaw driver in Bangalore, or in any other Indian city for that matter.

New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheid

Nigeria's Eko Atlantic augurs how the super-rich will exploit the crisis of climate change to increase inequality and seal themselves off from its impacts

theguardian.com - Tuesday 21 January 2014  

It's a sight to behold. Just off Lagos, Nigeria's coast, an artificial island is emerging from the sea. A foundation, built of sand dredged from the ocean floor, stretches over ten kilometres. Promotional videos depict what is to come: a city of soaring buildings, housing for 250,000 people, and a central boulevard to match Paris' Champs-Élysées and New York's Fifth Avenue. Privately constructed, it will also be privately administered and supplied with electricity, water, mass transit, sewage and security. It is the "future Hong Kong of Africa," anticipates Nigeria's World Bank director.
Welcome to Eko Atlantic, a city whose "whole purpose", its developers say, is to "arrest the ocean's encroachment." Like many low-lying coastal African countries, Nigeria has been hit hard by a rising sea-level, which has regularly washed away thousands of peoples' homes. To defend against the coastal erosion and flooding, the city is being surrounded by the "Great Wall of Lagos", a sea defence barrier made of 100,000 five-ton concrete blocks. Eko Atlantic will be a "sustainable city, clean and energy efficient with minimal carbon emissions," offer jobs, prosperity and new land for Nigerians, and serve as a bulwark in the fight against the impacts of climate change.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

College Rankings Really Do Influence Which Schools Students Apply To

A new study shows that being on the U.S. News & World Report top 25 list can significantly boost a college's applicant numbers.

By Eleanor Barkhorn

The Atlantic - Jan 17 2014

"Ignore the U.S. News & World Report college rankings," we admonished when the latest edition of the list came out last fall. The rankings encourage colleges to game the system! They drive up tuition! They exacerbate status anxiety!
A new report from the American Educational Research Association shows that (sigh) no one is listening to us. Rankings published by U.S. News and the Princeton Review have a significant effect on where students apply to college.
The study found that both quality-of-life and academic rankings affected students' application decisions. The number of applications and the academic competitiveness of a school’s freshman class went up the year after the school made the Princeton Review's list for Happy Students (a 2.9 percent increase) or Most Beautiful Campus (a 2.3 percent increase). Applications and competitiveness went down when the school was on the Least Happy Students (about a 5 percent decrease) or Unsightly, Tiny Campus lists (a 5.2 percent decrease).

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From His Refuge in the Poconos, Reclusive Imam Fethullah Gulen Roils Turkey

Religious Leader Lashes Out at Prime Minister Erdogan, a One-Time Ally

By Joe Parkinson and Ayla Albayrak

The Wall Street Journal - Jan. 20, 2014

The reclusive imam whose crumbling political marriage of convenience with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened the stability of the West's biggest ally in a turbulent region lashed out Monday at his one-time partner, the strongest sign yet of an irreparable split.
In comments he made to The Wall Street Journal, Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic cleric who preaches a message of tolerance to his millions of followers from his self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, accused Mr. Erdogan of abandoning the path of reform after more than a decade in power.

"Turkish people…are upset that in the last two years democratic progress is now being reversed," Mr. Gulen said in emailed answers to questions—his first such exchange since a corruption probe plunged Mr. Erdogan's government into crisis last month.

"Purges based on ideology, sympathy or world views was a practice of the past that the present ruling party promised to stop," he wrote.

Mr. Gulen hinted that his movement—known internally as Hizmet, which means service, and externally as Cemaat, which means congregation—would like to see a challenge to Mr. Erdogan's Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

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King, Obama and Surveillance Today

By Deji Olukotun

The Huffington Post - 01/19/2014

Would MLK approve of Obama's proposed surveillance reforms?
As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it's worth remembering not only King's activism, but also the actions by our own government to suppress his vision. His achievements despite abuses by American state power become all the more remarkable and implore us to prevent such repression from happening once more.
King attracted millions to his human rights campaigns -- and invited the watchful gaze of the FBI as a result. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover spent significant resources monitoring King's movements and eavesdropping on his communications. In one especially lurid episode, agents sent King an anonymous note castigating him for his extramarital affairs and implying that he should commit suicide. Journalist and author Betty Medsger chronicles Hoover's obsession in her gripping new book The Burglary: the Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI: "Hoover's attitude toward King can be described as a nearly savage hatred... The plot involved office break-ins, use of informers, mail opening, wiretapping, and bugging of King's office, home, and hotel rooms."

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Techno-militarization of America: is it worth spending?

Voice of Russia - 20 January 2014

Over the last decade, almost all American authorities presented “homeland security” as an excuse to acquire boatloads of new technology, and used it to help expand their power and capabilities to unprecedented levels. There is nothing at all exceptional about the NSA’s massive overreach. It was only keeping up with the Joneses — FBI, DEA, Border Patrol, police forces everywhere — who have all been busy doing exactly the same thing.

The impoverished city of Oakland, for example, is spending more than $10 million on a “Domain Awareness Center” surveillance hub for its cops. Drones are just the tip of the hardware iceberg.
 We produce so much military equipment that inventories of military robots, M-16 assault rifles, helicopters, armored vehicles, and grenade launchers eventually start to pile up and it turns out a lot of these weapons are going straight to American police forces to be used against US citizens.
Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_01_20/Techno-militarization-of-America-is-it-worth-spending-4325/

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Who are the new middle classes around the world?

You'd be surprised how poor some are The International Labour Organisation has identified a rapid growth of 'the developing middle class' – a group earning between $4 and $13 a day       

By Paul Mason            

The Guardian, Monday 20 January 2014

When a million people swarmed on to the streets of Brazil last June there was consensus that the protest was a phenomenon of the "new middle class" – squeezed by corruption and failing infrastructure. As the Thai protests continue, these too are labelled middle class: office workers staging flashmobs in their neat, pressed shirts.
But what does middle class mean in the developing world? About 3 billion people earn less than two dollars a day, but figures for the rest are hazy. Now, fresh research by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) economists shows in detail what's been happening to the workforce of the global south during 25 years of globalisation: it is becoming more stratified – with the rapid growth of what they term "the developing middle class" – a group on between $4 and $13 a day. This group has grown from 600 million to 1.4 billion; if you include around 300 million on above $13 a day, that's now 41% of the workforce, and on target to be over 50% by 2017. But in world terms they're not really middle class at all. That $13 a day upper limit corresponds roughly to the poverty line in the US in 2005. So what's going on?

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Monday, January 20, 2014

What Keynes Can Teach Middle Class Investors

By John Wasik

PBS - January 16, 2014

The decline of upward mobility and increased inequality in America has been a frequent refrain on this page. But what if the middle class could boost their mobility in the 21st century with a little investment advice from an investor who didn't even survive to the second half of the 20th century? Like the eponymous adjective that describes much of his contribution to economics, John Maynard Keynes is often thought of as an economic theorist who invested on the side. Here to bring out of the shadows Keynes as an avid investor and die-hard capitalist is John Wasik, author of the new book "Keynes's Way to Wealth: Timeless Investment Lessons from the Great Economist," recently reviewed in The New York Times. Wasik is a columnist for Reuters and has written 14 other books.
John Wasik: As America contemplates with mixed feelings the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty and the proposed extension of jobless insurance, there's been much hand-wringing on what could buoy the middle class and create more economic mobility.
Are Keynesian remedies to boost the economy still viable or will market forces eventually be the tide that lifts all boats? While Keynes's legacy is steeped in this passionate debate, I wanted to examine another, much lesser-known side of the Keynesian legacy: Keynesian investing.

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Davos: The world's most exclusive gathering

By Susannah Culliane

CNN - January 19, 2014

Business leaders, heads of government, entrepreneurs and even the odd celebrity will be rubbing fur and down-quilted shoulders at Europe's highest altitude town, Davos, for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting this week.
The high-powered talk-fest, founded by German economist Klaus Schwab in 1971, has become a vital part of the business calendar -- for the intensity of its networking as much as declarations of action from the speakers' podiums.
WEF describes itself as "an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas."


Davos and its dictionary diplomacy

By Richard Quest

CNN January 17, 2014

I learned a new word today: Heterarchy. I came across it buried in this year's Davos theme. Apparently it means multiple structures, overlapping, interacting, connecting and networking. Good grief, am I really climbing a Swiss mountain to learn about an arcane corner of the English dictionary?
The theme is set each year by the World Economic Forum. It is invariably a wordy bit of pretentious nonsense, designed to sum up what they hope we will focus upon in our meetings in the Swiss Alps. This year its headline is "The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business."
Often the theme is overtaken by crises, pressing issues and economic fires, and everyone long forgets all about it before the first marshmallows have melted into the first hot chocolates.

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Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as half of the world's population

As World Economic Forum starts in Davos, development charity claims that growing inequality has been driven by a 'power grab' by wealthy elites      

By Graeme Wearden       

theguardian.com, Monday 20 January 2014

The world's wealthiest people aren't known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.
The extent to which so much global wealth has become corralled by a virtual handful of the so-called 'global elite' is exposed in a new report from Oxfam on Monday. It warned that those richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world's population.
The wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world, added the development charity, which fears this concentration of economic resources is threatening political stability and driving up social tensions.
It's a chilling reminder of the depths of wealth inequality as political leaders and top business people head to the snowy peaks of Davos for this week's World Economic Forum. Few, if any, will be arriving on anything as common as a bus, with private jets and helicoptors pressed into service as many of the world's most powerful people convene to discuss the state of the global economy over four hectic days of meetings, seminars and parties in the exclusive ski resort.

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On Translating Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”

By Susan Bernofsky

The New Yorker - January 15, 2014

This essay is adapted from the afterword to the author’s new translation of “The Metamorphosis,” by Franz Kafka.
Kafka’s celebrated novella The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) was written a century ago, in late 1912, during a period in which he was having difficulty making progress on his first novel. On November 17, 1912, Kafka wrote to his fiancée Felice Bauer that he was working on a story that “came to me in my misery lying in bed” and now was haunting him. He hoped to get it written down quickly—he hadn’t yet realized how long it would be—as he felt it would turn out best if he could write it in just one or two long sittings. But there were many interruptions, and he complained to Felice several times that the delays were damaging the story. Three weeks later, on December 7, it was finished, though it would be another three years before the story saw print.


US Army testing precision guided ‘smart’ rifles

Russia Today - January 17, 2014

The US military is investing in an advanced firearm that comes equipped with an internal computer system as well as sensors that gauge environmental factors to help a soldier aim, according to a technology startup known as Tracking Point.
Tracking Point has announced that the military has purchased six of its so-called “smart” rifles, which are priced at between $10,000 and $27,000 each. That’s a hefty fee compared to the hundreds of dollars the Army pays to fit soldiers with the usual M-16 A2 rifle or M-4 Carbine, but the Tracking Point model reportedly comes fitted with aiming technology so advanced that the military may hope a $10,000 investment will help save money on ammunition.
A shooter using a smart sniper rifle would merely need to tag a target viewable on a screen that’s visible when they are looking through the gun’s scope. The internal computer system will then tell the shooter exactly how to hold the gun and when to press the trigger.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Workers of the World, Faint!


The New York Times - JAN. 17, 2014

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Just over two years ago, at the Anful Garments Factory in Kompong Speu Province, a young worker named Chanthul and 250 of her colleagues collapsed in a collective spell of fainting. They had to be hospitalized; the production line shut down.
Two days later, the factory was back up, and the mass faintings struck again. A worker started barking commands in a language that sounded like Chinese and, claiming to speak in the name of an ancestral spirit, demanded offerings of raw chicken. None were forthcoming, and more workers fell down. Peace, and production, resumed only after factory owners staged an elaborate ceremony, offering up copious amounts of food, cigarettes and Coca-Cola to the spirit.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Rich Chinese cool it on luxury as Beijing battles lavish lifestyles

Russia Today - January 17, 2014

Luxury spending by wealthy Chinese is down 15 percent on last year, while spending on gift-giving is in a dramatic 25 percent decline, as Beijing’s anti-corruption campaign raises fears over exchanging expensive gifts, says a 2014 Hurun Report.
Chinese people say they'll cut down on gift giving at the traditional New Year celebrations, “possibly due to the impact of anti-corruption initiatives and a slowdown in the economy”, Hurun said. According to a luxury consumer survey a quarter of people say they will not spend more than $826 (Rmb 5,000).
The average luxury spending was down from $280,000 (Rmb 1.77 million) last year to $240,000 (Rmb 1.5 million).
“For the first time, Louis Vuitton has lost its crown as the preferred brand for gifting by men, losing out to Hermès,” said the luxury report.


‘FOOD’ Documentary: A Revealing Look at the Sourcing of Our Modern Food Supply

Food: A Project Envision Documentary

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Youth in Iran: Inside and Out


The New York Times - January 16, 2014  

If Iranian youth culture was portrayed in a BBC drama, it might be called “Inside, Outside,” or even “Righteous, Raucous.” That is the duality present in Hossein Fatemi’s “An Iranian Journey,” a series that shows young people’s public modesty and piety vanishing once they escape the wary gaze of authority. These youths play music, drink, smoke, commingle and enjoy other intemperate — i.e., regular — Western activities. They are online, on Facebook, and are politically engaged and simmering, craving freer speech but stifled by the ayatollah’s rules.
“Naturally, whatever you prevent a human being from doing, it makes them want to do it more,” said Mr. Fatemi, who is represented by Panos Pictures.
He sees his task as putting in the open what is shrouded in the dark. Whether it is alcohol consumption by Muslims or patronizing prostitutes, he seeks to photograph what is forbidden. When postelection protests in 2009 made it nearly impossible to be outside, Mr. Fatemi eagerly took to the streets and photographed as much as he could. Once the world got a sense of what was happening in the streets, Mr. Fatemi turned to photographing interiors.

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Borderline Ignorance

Why have efforts to internationalize the curriculum stalled?

By Stanley N. Katz

The Chronicle of Higher Education - January 13, 2014 

Today we are sending a growing number of students to study abroad. We are setting up branch campuses in other countries. We are seeking foreign students to fill our seats (and budgets). So why am I worried that the internationalization of our curricula has stalled?
We often use the terms "international" and "global" interchangeably, but they should not be confused. Crudely, "global" means "concerning the whole world." Global phenomena are those not limited to particular places. Most important, they affect the entire world—climate change is probably the most obvious example. "International" means just what the compound word implies—something that transcends the nation-state, existing or occurring across borders. Trade, for example.

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Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism?

By Richard Smith

Truthout | News Analysis - Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Given the relentless growth of global GHG emissions (currently growing at 2 percent per year, up 70 percent from 1990) and ever-higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere (currently at 400 parts per million, up 30 percent from 1990), climate scientist Kevin Anderson at the Radical Emissions Reduction Conference (December 10-11, 2013, at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom) concluded that "Today, in 2013, we face an unavoidably radical future." The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that "the current state of affairs is unacceptable. ... Energy-related CO2 emissions are at historic highs" and emission trends are "perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius, which would have devastating consequences for the planet." In similar vein, PricewaterhouseCooper, the UK government chief scientist, and a growing body of academics and researchers are allying current emission trends with 4-degree Celsius to 6-degree Celsius futures.1 Tyndall scientists drew the only possible conclusion:

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The History of Popular Music

According to Google Google Play provides a dataset for interrogating the rise and fall of musical artists and genres.

By Alexis C. Madrigal

The Atlantic - Jan 16 2014

Drawing on the songs that reside in the collections of millions of Google Play users, the company created a visualization of the popularity of various artists and genres from 1950 to today.
That time period captures the explosion of guitar-based music in the form of country and rock, and all their variants. It charts the rise of hip hop and the various resurgences of R&B. It even tries to parse the many sub-genres of rock with the kind of are-you-serious precision employed by teenage aficionados everywhere. Here, in bright green, you can see the brief, glorious ascendance of psychedelic rock.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Retracing Mao Zedong's Long March —by Motorcycle

Drunk officials, texting teens, and the decline of China’s creation myth

By Adam Century

The Atlantic - Jan 10 2014

BEIJING — At the Luding Bridge, the site of the single most celebrated event on China’s Long March, I was the lone foreigner in a group of boisterous, chain-smoking government officials. They reeked of baijiu, a fiery grain alcohol, and hollered to each other so loudly that I couldn’t hear the private tour guide. One of the cadres reached into a battle display to wrest a rifle out of the hands of an inanimate Red Army soldier. “It won’t budge!” he yelled. When I revealed that I was retracing the Long March by motorcycle, the men, who carried designer money pouches, shouted drunken reactions: “Are you sure you’re not Chinese?” cried a burly cadre in a sleek leather jacket. “You must really love Chairman Mao! We should make you a Party member!”
In 1934, an estimated 86,000 soldiers in the Communist Red Army decamped from their Soviet-style base in Jiangxi province in an attempt to escape from Chiang Kai-shek and his encircling Nationalist Army. The desperate retreat, which Mao Zedong later ingeniously labeled the “Long March,” lasted four trying seasons and crossed 11 provinces. Along the way, the marchers traversed snow-capped peaks in their bare feet and used dilapidated wooden rifles—if they were armed at all—to defend themselves against the Nationalists’ machine guns and foreign-supplied arsenal.

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Europe's left has seen how capitalism can bite back

Social democrats wrongly thought the reforms they won were won for good. In Greece, the lesson has been learned by Syriza  
By    Leo Panitch            

The Guardian, Sunday 12 January 2014

For most of the 20th century, the word "reform" was commonly associated with securing state protections against the chaotic effects of capitalist market competition. Today, it is most commonly used to refer to the undoing of those protections.
This is not merely a matter of the appropriation of the term by those in the EU and international lending agencies who are using it as code for demands that Greece, for instance, make further cuts in public sector jobs and services. It is also the way the word has become increasingly used by the parties of the centre left. Thus, the newly elected leader of Italy's Democratic party (the successor to what was western Europe's largest communist party), Matteo Renzi, has called for the government to be even more determined in implementing its economic reform package. The package involves reducing public expenditure and changing regulations to make labour markets more flexible and attract foreign investment.

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Ten Examples of Welfare for the Rich and Corporations



Here are the top ten examples of corporate welfare and welfare for the rich. There are actually thousands of tax breaks and subsidies for the rich and corporations provided by federal, state and local governments but these ten will give a taste.
One: State and Local Subsidies to Corporations. An excellent New York Times study by Louise Story calculated that state and local government provide at least $80 billion in subsidies to corporations. Over 48 big corporations received over $100 million each. GM was the biggest at a total of $1.7 billion extracted from 16 different states but Shell, Ford and Chrysler all received over a billion dollars each. Amazon, Microsoft, Prudential, Boeing and casino companies in Colorado and New Jersey received well over $200 million each.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Reclaiming the Radical Imagination: Challenging Casino Capitalism's Punishing Factories

By Henry A. Giroux

Truthout | Op-Ed - Monday, 13 January 2014

A society consisting of the sum of its vanity and greed is not a society at all but a state of war. - 
Lewis Lapham

The Gilded Age is back, with huge profits for the ultrarich, hedge fund managers and the major players in the financial service industries. In the new landscapes of wealth, exclusion and fraud, the commanding institutions of a savage and fanatical capitalism promote a winner-take-all ethos and aggressively undermine the welfare state and wage a counter revolution against the principles of social citizenship and democracy. The geographies of moral and political decadence have become the organizing standard of the dreamworlds of consumption, privatization, surveillance and deregulation. For instance, banks such as JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and other investment companies including Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and UBS prosper from subterfuge and corruption. They also have been transformed into punishing factories that erode the welfare state while pushing millions into hardship and misery and relegating an entire generation of young people into a state of massive unemployment, debt, and repression.  The profits seem endless and the lack of moral responsibility unchecked as the rich go on buying sprees soaking up luxury goods in record numbers. The New York Times reports that dealers of high-end luxury cars cannot keep up with the demand. Indulging in luxury items is no longer a dirty word for the ultrarich in spite of living in a society wracked by massive unemployment, inequality and poverty. One example provided by the Times, without either irony or criticism, points to "Matt Hlavin, an entrepreneur in Cleveland who owns seven businesses, mostly in manufacturing, bought three Mercedes last year: a $237,000 SLS AMG and a $165,000 S63 AMG for himself, and a $97,000 GL550 sport utility vehicle for his wife."[1]  This example of shameless consumption reads like a scene out of Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street, which portrays the financial elite as infantilized frat boys out of control in their unquenchable craving for greed, sex, power, and every other debauchery imaginable.[2] At a time when the United States has descended into forms of political and moral amnesia, massive inequity and high levels of poverty, coupled with narratives of excess and over-the-top material indulgence, have become normalized and barely receive any critical commentary in the mainstream media.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014


Sharon realized the limits of military power

This brave leader killed, destroyed and annihilated. Only later came the sobering realization that a defensive wall won’t protect Israel forever.

By Gideon Levy

Hareetz | Jan. 11, 2014

He was certainly Israel’s most courageous politician. He was also its cruelest. He was the leader who used brute force more than anyone to achieve his policies. But he was also one of the few to recognize the limits of force. This only happened at the twilight of his career, but it happened on a large scale, as did everything else with Arik Sharon.
His entire career, both military and political, was based on his courage and unrestrained lust for power. But it was him of all leaders, the bravest of the lot, who understood that the military power underpinning Israel could no longer guarantee its future. Israel couldn’t live by the sword forever. He realized this, though tragically and belatedly. He realized that Israel’s military superiority couldn’t be preserved forever.
Both before and after Sharon, Israel had supposedly courageous politicians like Yitzhak Rabin, basking in the aura of 1948. Rabin’s stomach quivered before he signed the Oslo Accords. Then there’s Shimon Peres, for whom courage is the main quality lacking to be considered a great statesman.

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Blood and Oil: The Middle East in World War I

Blood and Oil: The Middle East in World War I

What Thomas Friedman and Niall Ferguson don’t understand about the rest of the world

Big growth in the developing world is not a threat. It's time to talk about the advantages of a multipolar world

By Charles Kenny

Salon - Sunday, Jan 12, 2014   

The historian Robert Kagan has complained that pundits recently went from America boosting to America bashing in awfully short order. In 2004, he notes, Fareed Zakaria was arguing that the United States enjoyed a “comprehensive unipolarity,” and yet only four years later the Newsweek editor and CNN host was talking about the “post-American world.”
But it isn’t just the chattering classes. According to Pew survey evidence across fourteen nations, the percentage of respondents who said that the United States was the leading power in 2010 was still 40 percent—compared to 36 percent who said China. In 2012, China led the United States 42 percent to 36 percent. And while the Chinese themselves don’t believe it, American respondents are even more convinced than the global average that their days at the top are over.
As a result, self-flagellation is in the air in America. More specifically, the flagellation of Washington is in the air. Why is the country on the skids, falling behind, destined to be a second-rate power? Blame Congress. And the president. And (always) the East Coast Media Elite.

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Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla

By David Kilcullen 
Reviewed by Lawrence D. Freedman 
Foreign Affairs - January and February 2014
Kilcullen has a rare ability to combine serious theory with the insight of an experienced practitioner. He argues that most future conflicts will occur in cities, thanks to the extraordinary growth in urban populations and the interconnectedness wrought by new technologies, which will create novel opportunities for crime and political violence. Kilcullen brings his narrative to life by using contemporary examples, including the recent revolts in Libya and Syria and the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The density of contemporary cities makes it easier for gangsters and warlords to assert control and renders civilian populations highly vulnerable. Security forces can address such threats, but as Kilcullen notes, a lack of popular support can make intensive search-and-destroy measures counterproductive. Kilcullen’s book would have benefited from more historical perspective. States have long coped with the particular challenges of urban security. Modern Paris was designed, in part, to help the authorities maintain order, and in Warsaw during World War II, anti-Nazi Polish resisters learned that states or armies can suppress a popular urban uprising so long as they care little about preserving life or property.
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