04 November 2010

The Group 'Interview'

Well, first off, it was not an interview.  The waiting room already contained 15 or so young people.  A couple of them nervously chatted, between uncomfortable silences - I work for Tescos, I work for Sainsburys, I just graduated…

We then file up to a large meeting/ lecture room; there are about 50 seats. After a further wait of 10 minutes 30 are occupied. Mostly young people; 2 of Indian extraction - male & female, 2 black guys (1 of whom shortly reveals he has 3 years exp at Sainsbury’s and an MBA from Napier), 80% are 20 – 25 years old, I’m probably the oldest there (cough41). Gent’s dress varies from suited and booted to black jeans, brown shoes and a jumper. The ladies similarly vary from sloppy coats, boots and scarves to power suits and stilettos.

A very tall guy, shirt and tie, sans jacket, strides confidently to the front of the room, he is followed by a younger man, shorter and wearing spectacles.  The tall man has a stripy tie, the shorter fellow sports a pale lilac one, and after introductions the tall chap outlines the nature of the presentation. Both are in their mid thirties.

There will be no assessments today, no questions or tests, numerical, keyboard or psychometric, this lecture is for information purposes, to let you see, and hopefully understand that we do things differently, I’m not saying my colleague or my self are better people than anyone who doesn’t fit with our organisation, just that we are different. We think that you must be a certain sort of person to work for us, but also that we can teach anyone to be that sort of person.

First we are all asked to say our names, where we have come from and what our current jobs are.   Everyone has supermarket/retail experience from 6 months part time as a student to 3- 5 years managerial. Many are recent graduates, business management, IT, information’s systems, retail management, BA’s and masters.

Tallman asks us what we know about the org. Many facts and figures are proffered.  All out off date we are assured, many more stores, a whole extra country, growth is our strength. A, b, c keep it simple, x, y, z, “..and something we call Productivity…” said with loving capital letter and the air of an intimated sexual suggestion by the seated shorter man. In fact,  Tallman moves along, we have a short film that explains many of the unique facets of our glorious firms modus operandi. 

It was about here my eyes started to glaze over.  A film with budget advert production values and a cast of ‘volunteered’ employees explaining the basics of bulk discounting and centralised decision making/planning/systems follows. I miss a lot of this as I’m boggling that they are blatantly using the theme tune from a major TV series as the inspirational music, the sample is less than 20 seconds, perhaps this is how they get away with it?

So, different, efficient, flexible (you need to be, we aren’t at all) lets get down to a typical day.  Starting at 7am, you, perhaps with up to two teammates, but mostly you will stock the shop.  Two pallets of veg, freezer cabinets, ambient, food, drink, household and special promotional lines, all must be transferred from their cages in the warehouse to the store.  In less than an hour you must charge the tills, and have the doors open to receive your first customers, where other operations have a cash manager, a produce supervisor, a personnel officer, here you take on each of those roles as necessary, in the same way that within half an hour you may take on the mantle of complaints tsar, till jockey, shelf stacker and toilet cleaner. The seated, lilac tie one tells how he regularly cleaned the toilet at his store, a fact, he assures us, that rocks other supermarket managers, wide eyed, in their seats.

After providing cover for lunches, monitoring stock levels on the floor and compiling orders it’s time to replenish the shelves and begin checking for short dated produce, of which there will be very little, thanks to our automated stock system, this wonder of the 1980s achieves such a level of refinement in a Europe wide offering, the same baked beans or smoked squid from Portugal to Greece, the same store layout, and themed week, from  Italy to Norway.

Tallman admits that sometimes his words tumble over themselves, such is the speed with which he seizes each second as an opportunity to serve the organisation that took him under it’s wing a mere decade and a half ago, although the time passes so quickly it barely seems like six months.

Has anyone heard negative reports of working with us? The seated one manages to interject, Tallman echoes the question.  Someone mentions a story they have seen in Wikipedia. Tallman smirks and acknowledges the story and others, ‘Plenty to read on the Internet.’ is accompanied by what in a mortal could almost be interpreted as a genuine smile, and it lasts perhaps 0.02 seconds.

All long in the past. Tallman admits that it used to be about the most willing to work 100 hour weeks becoming the shining stars, with many falling along the way, that staff turnover was way over 100%, but that has been addressed by head office and now everyone works a set 47 hour week, although the vaunted flexibility expected from all members of the team, means that you might have to cover sickness and holidays, hours over 53 a week will be offset with time in lieu. I think that was the deal, Tallman’s spiel was now tumbling from his lips with the starry eyed zeal of a true fanatic, and accelerating towards unintelligibility.

The questions peter out, it seems the bases have been covered, the 47 hour week is implemented in five 11 hour shifts, with unpaid breaks (subject to availability and team cohesion, and productivity).  Potentially plus six hours unpaid overtime - flexibility, productivity. It is hard physical labour, less manager, more gang master, running a cash rich business for a German trust fund, all the profits are reinvested, mostly to fuel the organisation’s expansion.  There were hints that the company makes considerable profits from interest on cash holdings.  And it was blatantly underlined that the speed of the distribution system and the muscle of the massive buying power meant that a cabbage, say, that was in a field yesterday could be sold tomorrow, money in the bank, but the farmer won’t be paid for 90 days…

Tallman’s final words return to his first statements, this is a hard physical job, it is five 11 hour days, days off are 2 out of seven, could be Mon & Wed more likely than Sat & Sun, it is not for everyone, and 25% he predicts will not take up the offer of a second interview.  I’ll be in that quarter.

27 September 2010

Debunking the Islamisation Myth - Edmund Standing

Am putting up a link to this paper as it's well worth a read. Preface to the paper below.

I am an atheist, a secularist, and an anti-fascist. I have no interest in defending Islamic religious

beliefs, nor the Qur’an (quite the opposite, in fact). I also have no time for those who seek to

understand’ Islamism or downplay the abhorrent nature of religious fascism. That said, I am also

committed to a rational and just approach to my fellow human beings, seeking to treat them in the

same way, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and so on. To think Islam as a set

of beliefs is false and potentially dangerous is not the same thing at all as thinking that all Muslims

are inherently dangerous or that I should view them as qualitatively different to other human

beings.

In the post-9/11 West, we have seen the worrying growth of a paranoid, bigoted approach to

Muslims which increasingly views them as an undifferentiated mass, as an inherent Other, and as a

powerful fifth column conspiring to destroy the West and enslave it to Sharia law. This approach to

Muslims shares much in common with the approach to Jews found amongst those who believe the

Protocols of Zion is an authentic document, and the ‘Islamisation’ myth is increasingly looking like

a Muslim-themed variant of Protocols belief.

In Britain, militant anti-Muslim bigotry has now reared its head in the form of the English Defence

League, an organisation founded with the explicit aim of combating ‘Islamisation’. The EDL is an

organisation that has been set up to fight a mythical enemy and, in failing to find this enemy, it

seems inevitable that the next phase of the campaign will be to target Muslims as a whole, and

there are strong indications that this is already happening. The ‘Islamisation’ myth, then, urgently

needs debunking, and this report is my contribution to that effort.

25 September 2010

Something new is happening in Palestine - International peace day at An Nabi Salih

I just had this missive from I/P

An-Nabi Salih, September 25, 2010
Something new is happening in Palestine. I saw and heard things today that are relatively rare in my experience. I saw conflict erupt in the village between those who wanted to throw stones at the Israeli soldiers, as in the past, and the cooler but no less passionate people who intervened fiercely to prevent this from happening. I heard tough words of peace and hope. I saw the most gentle and dignified and brave demonstration I’ve ever seen. I also saw the army react with its usual foolishness, which I’ll describe, and I also saw the soldiers hold back when they could easily have started shooting. It wasn’t an easy day by any means, but it was good.

An-Nabi Salih is a hard place. When Ezra heard me say yesterday, in Sheikh Jarrah, that I was going to the village, he said, “Take a helmet. They’re violent there, all of them” (he meant: settlers, soldiers, and villagers). Yesterday, at the usual Friday demonstration in the village, the soldiers fired rounds of live ammunition along with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas and stun grenades. I was expecting more of the same today.

The village, north and west of Ramallah, has the great misfortune of having the hard-core settlement of Halamish as its unwanted neighbor. An-Nabi Salih lost some of its lands to the settlement along with access to a fresh-water spring, a precious thing in this arid landscape of dusty rocks and thorns; the settlers stole the spring, but the villagers were not prepared to surrender it, so there have been many violent clashes, spread over years. The settlers do whatever they can to make the villagers’ life miserable, with much success, and the soldiers, as always, back them up. All this is standard practice. Yet that is no longer the whole story.

Today is International Peace Day, and the Palestinian Movement of Non-Violent Resistance, run by Ali Abu ‘Awad from Beit Jala, has planned a celebration-cum-workday in An-Nabi Salih. Hundreds of Palestinian activists were supposed to arrive from all over the West Bank—but the army has turned all the buses away and closed the roads. We run into the same roadblocks at the main turn-off from Highway 60 running north through the West Bank. The soldiers laugh at us when we tell them we’re going to An-Nabi Salih. No chance of getting through. But this is the West Bank, and there is always a way, maybe not an easy way, but some back road or goat track or dirt path that will get you where you’re going; so we wind our way for close to two hours, through Jiljiliya and other villages close to Ramallah until we fetch up at Qarawat Beit Zeid, quite close to our goal. But there is, we know from Ali and Alison, a set of further army roadblocks at the entrance to the village. The Tel Aviv contingent tried to get past them by running over the hills, and several of the activists were caught and arrested. Do we want to attempt the same tactic?

At least some of us may get through, but we hesitate: is it worth the hassle of the arrests and the violence? On the other hand, having come so far, how can we simply turn back? There are seven of us prepared to run the gauntlet. Finally, at high noon, Ali leads us down into the rocky terraces and olive groves underneath An-Nabi Salih. We descend to a level that is hopefully beyond the soldiers’ range of vision, and for twenty minutes or so we creep stealthily from tree to tree and rock to rock, in near-total silence, playing hide-and-seek, outflanking them, crouching, holding our breath, hoping to emerge far enough past the roadblock to elude capture. It’s very hot, and I’m thirsty and, by the end, physically depleted; it’s been 33 years, I calculate, since I last engaged in such games, in my Basic Training in the army. So absorbed am I in the play that I hardly take in the splendor of the hills rolling dizzily toward the horizon, but at one point I do see, just above my head, an olive branch laden with green fruit almost exploding with ripeness. Soon autumn will come; on the way in the minibus, bouncing over the back roads, there was even a sweet moment of rain, with the sharp smell, unlike all others, of wet dust settling to the ground.

There are eleven of us: six Ta’ayush volunteers, four Palestinian women in modern dress, head covered, from Beit Jala, and Ali himself, tall, graceful, careful, prescient. At one point we almost make a bad mistake, start climbing up too soon, too close to the soldiers; but Ali catches this in time and leads us back down through the trees and brambles. When we do emerge onto the road, we are very much inside the village, welcomed warmly by two elderly gentlemen, who come to shake my hand, and then by a contingent of teenagers. The first thing I see is a huge sign, in Arabic and English: “The children of this land deserve our struggle and sacrifices for peace.” Fifteen yards down the road, another one: “We believe in non-violence, do you? We are making social change, are you?” A few yards further along: “La salam ma’a wujud al-ihtilal, “Making peace means ending the occupation.” Biggest of all, draped over the entrance to the town meeting place: “Keeping our political prisoners behind the bars of tyranny and injustice is inexcusable on International Peace Day.”

Do I believe in non-violent struggle? Yes, with all my heart. And I see that I’m not alone—indeed, far from it. We sit at first, re-hydrating, under the enormous tree in the village square, just like in India. Our hosts serve us Turkish coffee and mineral water. We make some friends. One of the village elders says to me: “Welcome to Eden.” Actually, he just might be right. The heat intensifies. Eventually, inevitably, it is time for the speeches. Popular Arabic music is blaring at deafening volume from the loudspeakers as we take our seats under a wide canvas. It goes on and on, until, mercifully, a young poet takes the microphone and recites a poem. He introduces the speakers one by one. A passage from the Qur’an is sung. I’m weary and, at first, a bit bored.

Normally, I have no patience with political speeches in the villages (how many hours of rhetorical Arabic have I sat through?), but today’s surprise me again and again, shake me awake: we are against violence, we want to be free, the occupation with its hatred is destroying hope but we persevere for the sake of our children and we will win. More poems, dramatically sung or recited, punctuate these orations. Now Ali rises to speak—in English, so that all the Israelis and the foreign volunteers can understand: “I bow my head to all the volunteers who came to An-Nabi Salih today, who struggled past the soldiers and the roadblocks and didn’t turn back. Our struggle is complicated and hard, a struggle that we share—local leaders of the villages, women, children, families—the first Palestinian non-violent movement on the ground, aimed a building a just peace with Israel. When I see Israeli activists coming here to the village, my heart weeps with happiness; I am honored to have these people with us. To all the Jews I say: you are not my enemy. The occupation is your enemy, as it is ours. The Israeli state is a state that eats its children by sending them with weapons to kill and be killed. When you hurt us to the point where we lose our fear of dying, all of us together lose our love of living. They closed off An-Nabi Salih today to keep us out; they know how to put up checkpoints, but they do not know how to fight the feeling of freedom we hold in our hearts. We say to you today, on the Day of Peace: Peace itself is the way to peace, and there is no peace without freedom. I am proud to be in An-Nabi Salih, and I can tell you: we’re gonna make it.”

As if on cue, soldiers roll into the village in their jeeps; they do what soldiers do, that is, they make arrests, they make threats, they bully, they take their hostages to an olive grove on the other side of the houses, facing Halamish. Our hosts ask us if we would be prepared to take water to the new arrestees (they don’t want to approach the soldiers themselves), so of course we set off through the village streets and down the hill until we find them. Some ten to fifteen soldiers, weighed down by what looks like tons of equipment, green camouflage netting on their helmets, are guarding a group of twenty-some students from Bir Zeit university who came to join today’s festivities. We bring them water, we chat with them, and suddenly it transpires that we’ve been added to the list of hostages; the soldiers won’t allow us back into the village. They don’t want outsiders in there. After a few minutes, we tire of this and strike out uphill, dodging the soldiers, who are clumsy, weighed down by their guns and all the rest, as they join hands to create a wall and hold us back, and skirmishes develop, and then the first stun grenade, and it ends with four Jerusalem activists caught, handcuffed and forced to the ground. I am too quick for them, as often, and escape their clutches by darting further into the trees.

By the time I regain the village, the main procession is already forming. I hear mothers telling their young boys to go home, to stay out of it, watch them pushing them away. Originally the idea was to reach the stolen spring, but the soldiers, waiting for us in force at the turn in the road, put an end to this dream. The tear-gas canisters and the cartridges of rubber-coated bullets are loaded on to the rifles pointed at the crowd of women, children, men, young and old, many carrying in their arms green saplings that we wanted to plant around the spring. We sit on the pavement with the soldiers almost close enough to touch, they’re aiming at us, and I’m a little afraid they might open fire like yesterday, and even more afraid that one of the kids will throw a rock and all hell will break loose, but there’s also suddenly no end to the happiness that is washing over me in this crazy late-afternoon moment that I am lucky enough to witness as the light softens into gold and purple and a light wind rises through the trees. People are singing: freedom songs. They swell to a sweet and strident chorus.

If the Israeli army had a brain, which it apparently doesn’t; if the government of Israel had even a modicum of generosity of spirit, which it doesn’t; if the people of Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world could open their ears and hear the voices I heard today, in Arabic and English, but they can’t; if the world weren’t all upside down and crooked and often cruel, but it is—if all these ifs could only stop being ifs, then they, whoever gave the orders, wouldn’t have tried to stop us from coming to An-Nabi Salih today, in fact they would have welcomed the arrival of this new generation of proud peace activists from Hebron and Ramallah and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Movement of Non-Violence wouldn’t be pushing the heavy rock uphill, day after day. I guess it’s in the nature of such movements to struggle with the rock. Human hearts are heavy as stone.

Something new is happening in Palestine.

03 August 2010

Le dispatch #2 – CRS: La Courneuve Recoit Sarkozy

It was in La Courneuve in 2005 that Sarkozy referred to the need to « nettoyer les cités au Kärcher »*[i] (« clean the cities with a power hose ») and to protestors as « bande de racailles » (« bunch of scum »).

Now we have a comeback from Segolene Royal: «Il faudrait sans doute plusieurs Kärcher pour nettoyer le système Sarkozy » (« It would need a lot of power hoses to clean up Sarkozy’s system ») in response to the recent events at La Courneuve.
Liberation’s coverage may give an idea of how this panned out.

8 July[ii] – Reporting on the first eviction on 7 July, of some 120 squatters in the Balzac block, which is known for drug-dealing, and is scheduled for demolition. The eviction passed off quietly, with the prefecture rehoming people in hotels / hostels – some refused, asking for permanent accommodation. This phrase may become more important later :
L’évacuation s’est déroulée dans le calme, selon la préfecture...

21 July[iii] – Reporting the second eviction on 21 July, of c. 150 people who had returned to the Balzac. Let’s look at the language :
Elle s’est déroulée «plutôt dans le calme», selon la préfecture...
Sound familiar ? But...
mais l’association Droit au logement (DAL) a dénoncé une expulsion «brutale» et des «violences policières».
Of the 126 people evicted (57 women, 19 children, 50 men), 70 accepted hotel accommodation. DAL says that not enough rooms were provided to house them all.

28 July[iv] - Posting the video of the third eviction on 27 July, with little comment on it.

30 July[v] - The backlash starts – «Expulsion : une vidéo indigne» (« eviction – a disgraceful video »), which has been seen 300.000 times.

DAL again denounces the «brutalités» and «une expulsion particulièrement violente» - they say that the pregnant woman seen being dragged off as she held her baby a «reçu cinq jours d’incapacité totale de travail» (basically « was signed off for five days by a doctor ») «alors que la préfecture affirme elle qu’il n’y a pas eu de blessés» (« although the authorities said there were no people injured »)

The Prefecture has given up claiming things were ‘calme’ -
Selon la préfecture, l’évacuation «s’est faite selon la procédure légale et les règles d’usage», et «dans de relatives bonnes conditions».

2 August[vi] - the reports move from being factual towards comment. The language is getting more condemnatory – the video symbole de la dérive sécuritairedérive » being defined in my dictionary as ‘drift’ in the sense of ‘regrettable evolution’), and is ‘scandalous’. Viewings of the video now at 480.000, internationally.


Like Nabila Ramdani[vii], this piece puts the blame for the attitude of the security services squarely at Sarko’s door:
La vidéo dont il s’agit est en quelque sorte l’application sur le terrain des solutions musclées préconisées tous azimuts par Nicolas Sarkozy (« the application on the ground of the sort of all-out physical response recommended by Nicolas Sarkozy »)

Their conclusion :
Une solution de sortie négociée était possible. Mais, là comme ailleurs, l’Etat a choisi l’esbroufe sécuritaire. (« a negotiated departure was possible. But, here as elsewhere, the state chose militarist swagger »).

(Le Monde – articles behind the paywall so have only read the subhead – is less condemnatory, and more along the lines of the first reports from Lib ; the video was filmed « par un militant » etc)

My conclusion – for what it’s worth.

First, the CRS ‘armadillos’ have a reputation for being disproportionately physical, particularly when the people they are dealing with are not white, which pre-exists le système Sarkozy – but it does seem that they are now being ‘enabled’ in this by the government.

Second, it may not be clear from the UK coverage that the video came from the third eviction, so one could argue that the response became understandably more robust as things progressed – but the observations of DAL relating to the second eviction suggest that the violence had already started. One does not need to be too paranoid, I think, to surmise that the CRS were waiting for an excuse to ratchet up the violence, particularly if, as it seems from the reports of insufficient capacity for relocation, it was inevitable that many people would return as they had nowhere else to go.

Third, that the stress on how many people have viewed the video, and references to this being available internationally, implies that it is international rather than national opinion that counts.

_________________________________
[i]Kärcher’ is defined in my dictionary as a trademark, and meaning a ‘pressurised water gun’ – not a water cannon then (as I originally thought) but the sort of high-powered hose used to clean buildings or wash shit off the streets. It has now become a verb – ‘karcheriser’ – which has also been used by Languedoc-Roussillon’s own Georges Frêche (see my previous for his previous).
[ii] http://www.liberation.fr/societe/0101645938-a-la-courneuve-la-barre-balzac-evacuee-avant-demolition
[iii] http://www.liberation.fr/societe/0101648179-les-expulses-de-la-courneuve-ont-ete-evacues-de-leur-squatt
[iv] http://www.liberation.fr/brut-de-net/06012211-trois-minutes-et-quarante-sept-secondes-d-une-expulsion
[v] http://www.liberation.fr/societe/0101649743-expulsion-a-la-courneuve-polemique-sur-des-violences-policieres
[vi] http://www.liberation.fr/societe/0101650050-expulsion-a-la-courneuve-la-video-symbole-de-la-derive-securitaire
[vii] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/02/france-racial-intolerance-sarkozy

02 August 2010

An Experiment with commenting

I've wanted to experiment with the commenting ability since I found out about the IntenseDebate commenting widget.  I didn't want to do this on the main site, because I'm not sure about the logging in business.  The drawback to switching over is that you have to have an OpenID, Wordpress or IntenseDebate ID.  According to the OpenID website, anyone with a Google account can use that to log in on OpenID, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how.

The Intense Debate commenting function allows for things like smileys, spell-checking and embedding YouTube videos in the comments.

Let's use this thread for people to play around with it.  If most people don't like it, we can always remove it.  If it's popular, I'll add it to the other blogs.

Have fun.

19 July 2010

And if we shut the Stock Exchange...

Following Frog2's posting of this earlier, have had a crack at putting it into English. The writer is Frédéric Lordon, and I must stress that this is in no way meant as an accurate translation but a reasonable (I hope) approximation of his ideas - and it is only the first third (up to D’autres promesses, d’autres menaces) of the article - in case peeps are interested. Will attempt to get more up in a bit...

Et si on fermait la Bourse...

It was a little over a year ago : governments shored up the banks using taxpayer money. Mission accomplished. But at what price ? The OECD estimates that the amount involved in that rescue at $11.4 trillion ($1676 for ever human on earth)... but finance is not only the affair of bankers, but also shareholders . One proposition would not please them – close the stock market.

The chaos of the last two years nearly made us forget : the speculative finance market (working in a closed universe, far away from the rest of the economy) was dumped on the back of businesses – and, as ever, in the final analysis, the workers.

It took this ‘suicide’ to remind us of the daily damage done by the share market, in which the injunction to make money is converted by businesses into crazed cutbacks on salaries, the systematic destruction of collective bargaining, intense increases in productivity combined with a continual decline of working conditions.
Against these degenerative attacks it is necessary to restate the cause and effect that drives ‘share power’, in which none of the structures presented by capitalism can rein in the reduction of salarues. And if the distinctions between the two ends of the ‘chain’ often cause us to lose sight of the whole picture, and that the suffering at one end is caused by pressures at the other, if the distance between them allows the denial or distinction of the two in the media debate, nothing can completely cover up the existence of one systemic causality.

If the game of the speculative market has been reset, with bullish vehemence by governments, and has taken over the public debate, it is important not to forget that the share market is also trying to return to its previous position.

Few alternatives are coming from the left (OK, Liberation and the Socialist Party, but we still call it ‘the left’) – you might think there are no alternatives. But SLAM (Shareholder Limited Authorized Margin) is one, and the abolition of continuous quotation and its replacement by a monthly (or longer) ‘fix’ is another. And sometimes one considers if we can pose a different question : what if we closed the Stock Market ?

In the debonair coverage of the late Jean-Pierre Gaillard, longstanding financial journalist at France Info, the appearance of ‘rolling’ share market information, with its incessant repeptition of « CAC 40 – Dow Jones – Nikkei », means that the market has already ceased to be a social institution and become almost a fact of nature, the suppression of which is simply unthinable. It is true that two and a half decades of this continuous bludgeoning has lead to this sort of normalisation, notably to express the ‘modern’ economy which cannot be conceived otherwise than by the share market.

To continue this [normalisation ?], necessitates ignoring the manifold destructive correlations resulting from this share power – viewing its supposed economic advantages and actual social costs as something entirely separate from the institution of ‘the market’. It would also be necessary to question the division between these economic advantages and social costs because the trend towards the ongoing compression of salaries which follows the reduction of dividend revenue are not macroeconomic effects. The chronic under-consumption which results has pushed the nice strategists of finance to propose that households pay using credit, becoming a permany crutch supporting missing demand. It is obvious that an assessment is easier if there is one column of figures rather than two, particularly if you ignore the worst one. But if the ‘good’ then shows itself also to be breaking down, how to keep it together ?

And yet it is not enough to say that the positive claims of the market are doubtful. Without it, it seems, there would be no financing in the economy, no funds for businesses to call on when up against insolvency, and less support for start-ups.

But Investers Pump in Money !

On paper, the system doesn’t lack allure. Agents (savers) have excess financial resources and seek to use these, and businesses are on the search for capital – the market is the institutional form that brings these two together to mutual advantage matching the capacity of the former to finance and the needs of the latter for financing. And even better – by providing permanent resources (capital funding based on shares), it stabilises financing and minimises cost. But crash – and nothing at all can keep it on track.

Does the market finance business ? At the point we are now at, it is more that business finances the market ! To understand this unexpected reversal, we must not lose sight that the financial flows between business and investers go in two directions – when the latter subscribe to the share issues of the former, dividends flow back symetrically and there is the ‘buy back’, a characteristic ‘innovation’ of share capitalism by which business are driven to buy shares in themselves to articifially increase the profit per share, pushing the share market (and thus the gains of investors) to the highest point.

As a result of this incoherent system, some attain the peaks, but the exorbitant dividends expected mean that a large number of industrial projects are abandoned as unable to provide them, leaving these businesses with unused resources – ‘idle capital’ which is then supposed to be returned immediately to its ‘proper owners’, the shareholders. Thus, capital leaves the businesses to go to the investors, a ‘backwards motion’...and gives legitimacy to the share market. But the capital raised by the business is actually less than the volume of cash pumped in by investors, and the net contribution of the share market to the economy has become negative (nil effect in France, but colossally negative in the US, the model for all.)

There are those who, at the same time, do not cease to accumulate wealth. The paradox is in fact pretty simple to unwind – failing new share issues to mop up the new available capital, the investors moved to the secondary market (resale of existing securities). Also, the constant development of these [secondary securities] as the effect of taking financing away from new industrial projects, and only inflating the value of securities already in circulation. Value increases and the share market does very well, thank you, but the actual financing of the real economy becomes something more and more unusual : a game restricted only to the speculators and very good for them, as, in fact, the volume of activity in the secondary market crushes that of the primary market.

While the share market as an instrument of financing, rather than speculation, has become useless, there are businesses who still speak well of it. The problem simply doesn’t arise for the small or medum-sized businesses – while not prestigious, we must remember that they represent the vast majority of production and employment – and more surprisingly, the big fish have litle recourse to it, except when they indulge their desire to play the merger game or a public offer. When they have to find financing, the paradox is that they tend to look elsewhere than the flows of the CAC 440 or the Dow Jones, to the bond market or, in a strange archaic approach, to the bank ! By juicy irony this results less from an issue of principle than a self-imposed restraint, not wanting to dilute their ownership. Thus, the triumph of hare power has included dissuading those business that could actually finance the economy from joining in !

15 July 2010

Le Dispatch – 1) Because he’s Woerth it

Liliane Bettencourt, one of the richest women in France, is the bewildered centre of a court case launched by her daughter against a friend to whom the L’Oréal heiress has given large quantities of money, daughter claiming that mother’s generosity has been abused.

So far, so lives of the rich and famous.

But now the focus has shifted away from Mme. Bettencourt to the French Labour Minister Eric Woerth and his boss / current de facto head of the French Football Federation, Nicolas Sarkozy. The first revelations touching on politics involved tax evasion and a butler, so we can all feel very familiar with that, but now they are coming so thick and fast it can be hard to keep up.

Roughly:

  • Woerth’s wife worked for Bettencourt as an investment adviser until resigning on 25 June 2010 – an investigation is under way into alleged tax evasion relating to Bettencourt’s fortune, but the French are having some difficulties reaching an accord with the Switzerland-based Clymene to find out what is going on – she denies any conflict of interest;
  • Bettencourt’s former accountant claims she made payments in cash to the UMP, including a donation of €150.000 to Sarko’s presidential election campaign – she may have a slight ulterior motive, given revelations about additional payments received from her employer including a €400.000 redundancy pay-off and intimations of blackmail – she is now moderating her tone, but MediaPart, which broke the story, stands by the basic facts about the donations story;
  • The law on party financing sets a limit of €7.500 per person per year to a political party, plus a limit on presidential campaign donations of €4.600 – even ignoring the brown envelope bungs alleged by the accountant, there are queries about previous donations made by the Bettencourts, multiple cheques of the maximum amount having been sent to various sections of the UMP to support various ‘friends’ within it – a memo from Bettencourt’s financial adviser Patrice de Maistre suggesting that it was Woerth himself who suggested how this could best be achieved;
  • Woerth has resigned as Treasurer of the UMP (but as of today’s date is still clinging onto his post as Labour Minister – he was Budget Minister before being reshuffled in March) to ‘concentrate exclusively on [the issue of] retirement’ (plans to raise the retirement age are behind the current wave of strikes) – whether he keeps his main job (he has several others – see below) is a bit of a toss-up at present;
  • Woerth was behind the sale of a parcel of woodland (plus racecourse and golf course) earlier this year in the region where he is also mayor, to a racing organisation, who are alleged to be friends of his. Previously tenant of the site under a long lease paying €45.000 per annum (such that the total paid under the lease would be over €5 million without rent uplift), the racing organisation paid €2.5 million to buy the site (which was never held out publicly for sale) outright, despite suggestions that the freehold was actually worth €20 million. Satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé (and, they claim, the Agriculture Minister) say this was an illegal sale.

So – everyone (in politics) is denying everything, but I seriously doubt that this is the end of the revelations, and it certainly won’t be the end of the Affair.

16 July update

Arrested:

  • de Maistre (the financial adviser)
  • Goguel (former legal adviser)
  • Banier (the young photographer friend)
  • Vejerano (manager of the island Bettencourt apparently didn't declare to the taxpeeps - no, really)

New question:

  • the ex-accountant (Thibout) who claimed she gave envelopes of cash to various high-ups in the UMP, including the alleged €150.000 donation to Sarko's fighting fund, apparently took out another €100.000 in cash just four months before the election - where did that go? (She has also been interviewed by the police)

Good round-up (for francophiles amongst us) here

28 June 2010

The Neo-Beveridge Report.

The Neo-Beveridge report- creating Feudalism 2.0

This report is the result of 30 years of research into the benefits of reversing the original Beveridge report and reverting the country back to the five Virtues of Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.

Using utterly spurious evidence and anecdotal observations about seeing blokes in wheelchairs standing up to sign their benefit cheque, this report will categorically prove that not nearly enough wealth has been filtered out of the country into offshore tax havens and despite vigorous efforts, millions of British People are still being paid an unsustainable living wage and civil society still functions. To the detriment of us.

History and background

In 1940, Sir William Beveridge, a well known Communist and member of the Cambridge Six (along with Blunt, Burgess, Philby, Maclean and Cairncross) was briefed by his handler, Oleg Madeupbullshitovich, to infiltrate the very heart of the War cabinet and to diffuse Bolshevism within the heart of Government.

The success of this propaganda campaign was clearly seen even in Churchill’s actions with his decision to ally Britain with the USSR in the light of Operation Barbarossa. As a result, millions of innocent tommies were brainwashed by ‘Uncle Joe’ into believing that the 1930’s were anything but a delightful cornucopia of Brideshead Revisitedism in which the entire population of Britain laid luxuriantly on estate lawns eating strawberries and quaffing Mouthon Rothschild under the benevolent eye of landed aristocracy, bankers and the establishment.

Brainwashed by communist propaganda, (“Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” is now seen as a Documentary on what happened to Britain in 1945) Millions voted for the Trotskyite Clement Atlee who by and large implemented the ruinous hard leftist policies of the national institute of Women:

A planned economy which will eliminate mass unemployment. The re-organisation of industry is properly outside the scope of this inquiry, but it is a sine qua non of social and economic security. It is felt that this point cannot be over emphasised; any social securityplans for the future must, if they are to succeed at all, be based on a state of society in which there is possibility of work for all, and at an adequate wage.

At the same time, Beveridge published his report advocating the destruction of the five virtues of Want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. The results were disastrous- full employment, living wages, social security payments, free healthcare at point of use, personal dignity, a sense of worth and equality at record scales.

This direct rule from Moscow only saw the Aristocracy, Bankers and establishment only moderately increase their wealth. It was clear by 1979 that Britain was ripe for revolution.

Ian Duncan Smith’s findings

Mr Duncan Smith visited Glasgow once, which makes him the ideal choice to investigate the effects of Blessed Margaret Thatcher’s programme to de-Communise Britain.

”I was appalled at what I saw. Walking around seeing people living in houses, going to their work and eating I instantly realized why the Midland Industrial Council, Lord Ashcroft and the thousands of other dodgy fuckers that fund the Conservative Party haven’t made as much money as they should. Further investigation uncovered that those that don’t work, are disabled or mentally incapable receive benefits from the state.”

“I knew at that stage that despite the work of our Blessed Margaret (crosses himself), there was still an immense amount of work to do to burn the tentacles of Beveridgist Bolshevism and re-instill Want, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Idleness for the good of all (not just the few) of our donors, the bankers and the establishment.”

The Plan- Feudalism 2.0

Armed with Duncan Smith’s findings and with the City’s fist deep inside his anus, George Osborne made a groundbreaking speech to either DEMOS, the Adam Smith Institute, Policy Research or some other god awful swivel eyed think tank, we don’t know, just choose one, they’re all the fucking same….with his fiscal plans entitled:

"It’s poor and Median income families fault the rich didn’t make more money"

In an impassioned speech, Mr Osborne set out Conservative plans to get the economy back up and running for the benefit of he and his mates:

''Despite burgeoning short term non-union contracts, despite chopping benefits to subsistence levels, despite vilifying the sick and ill, despite bending over backwards for Big Business, New Labour have simply failed to ensure me and my Banking Friends earn even more money than usual.''

Mr Osborne then made it crystal clear who was at fault for the recession:

''It is quite clear that the blame must lie at the feet of median and low income families. They have lacked the moral rectitude and will power to resist the easy lending, borrowing and ill advised mortgages relentlessly promoted by my friends the Bankers through aggressive advertising and crap aspirational programmes such as relocation, relocation, relocation.''
''Poor people have led Britain to this sorry pass. We are simply not making enough money. My fiscal plans will address the root cause of the economic disaster.''

Gurning like a gimp as his anal city fisting gripped his appendix, he proclaimed

''As it was clearly poor and median income families which got us into this mess it is wholly and fiscally responsible that they should be the ones to suffer. We Conservatives know our History and by studying past fiscal policies we can move forward.''

''I plan to implement pre-revolutionary French Tax laws. The ancien regime knew what they were doing burdening the poor with 99.98% of the State tax burden. This will have a threefold effect- 1. Keep the poor in their place 2. Make sure I don't have to pay any tax. 3. Make Britain great again!''

”For too long Britain has rejected Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness- the results have been devastating- yacht and ferrari sales have been sluggish and Cristal champage filled baths are no longer de rigeur for many"

''Tough on the poor, tough on the consequences of the poor will make us rich again. Time put the 'Great' back into 'Great Britain'!''

Conclusion

We at the Conservatives will do everything in our power to ensure that we and those we represent will get richer. The entrenched prevalence of Communism since 1945 has been disastrous for us. The State bailout of the banks shows just how insidious State Socialism is.

By introducing Feudalism 2.0 and reintroducing Want, Squalor, Disease, Ignorance and Idleness, the Society Rupert Murdoch could only dream about will become a reality.
Join us, join us today as we do everything to make your life miserable, join the big society. Look into my eyes, you are feeling very sleepy, say after me, ”feckless scum have caused our disaster, fuck welfare and fuck you mate, feckless scum have caused our disaster, fuck welfare and fuck you mate, feckless scum have caused our disaster, fuck welfare and fuck you mate……………………….”

11 June 2010

Dutch Politics and the Social Model

(**Disclaimer.** I can only claim to be reasonably proficient in Dutch. About 95% of the sources and media I have used have been in Dutch, so therefore I may have missed key points or the spirit of the source. This article is in no way definitive and is just written as a guide to the Dutch Political and Social model for those who have no previous knowledge. It has also been filmed before a live studio audience.)

As expected and is custom, the Dutch General Election of June 9th 2010 has produced a result with no clear majority for any party. As is also the custom, the closed doors horse trading and protracted negotiations begin in earnest. The processes involved in forming a new Dutch Government are notable for the length of time it takes. On average 79.8 days are needed to form a new cabinet from election day. The longest took place in 1977 with 208 days and the shortest 10 days in 1956.

This article will highlight 4 areas:
1. A little History and Geography
2. The Dutch Political System
3. The Dutch Social Model (Polder Model)
4. A brief analysis of the 2010 results

God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands (Dutch proverb)

The Netherlands is an estuary and delta just over half the size in square kilometers of Scotland where the Rivers Rhine and Maas (Meuse in French and English) empty into the North Sea. With 27% of the landmass and 60% of the population under sea level, the History and Geography of the Netherlands has been one constant struggle against nature, a struggle which has shaped the Dutch psyche as well as the social and political model of the country. In the words of Professor Herman Pleij in his book Hollands Welbehagen (The wellbeing of Holland):

''The Netherlands owes its existence to the democracy of dry feet. We need each other literally in order not to drown and subsequently have to rely on co-operation for the means to stay alive.''

In addition, since the Industrial Revolution, the importance of water purification has been at the very heart of the Dutch social and economic base. The pollution of the Rhine and Maas from the 19th Century onwards combined with the exceptionally low non-salinated water table and high population density, have historically been the Geographical factors behind the Dutch practice of consensus and co-operation. It is of no coincidence that the earliest recorded civil organizations in the Netherlands is Water Boards. 800 year old Water Boards meetings and minutes are on display in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Historically, the strict class distinctions at the heart of British of politics and society have been all but absent in the Netherlands. After decades long struggle, the Dutch Republic was declared independent of Spain in 1648. The struggle against the Spanish created and cemented common cause between the classes. The established religion of the new Dutch Republic, Calvinism, was an egalitarian doctrine which emphasized the personal relationship between man and God and taught thriftiness, hard work and tolerance, qualities which the Dutch are still thought to possess today.

The tolerance of the authorities to religion was the key to the flourishing of commerce, trade, arts and culture otherwise known as the Dutch ‘Golden Age’. Huguenots from France and Jews from all corners of Europe fled to the Dutch Republic in the face of persecution. Jewish and Huguenot renown in commerce and finance allied with the traditional Dutch skills in seafaring and mapmaking saw Amsterdam become the international capital of finance. The Dutch East India company (the first transnational corporation) had already been founded in 1602 controlled the flow of spices and gold into Europe and had a trade monopoly in the East.

The unprecedented wealth which now flowed into the Dutch Republic saw the flourishing of arts and culture. Although class was an issue, in general terms, all classes mixed freely with each other for the common good in terms of commerce, protection against the elements and religion.
The Socio-economic and Political model of the Netherlands (the Polder model) is a direct result of these Geographical, Topographical, Historical and Religious causes.

The Dutch Political System

The Netherlands is a Constitutional Monarchy with universal suffrage based on proportional representation established in 1919. The organization of the Dutch State is based on the principles of Montesquieu’s trias politica or ‘separation’ of powers. The legislature consists of two chambers, the Eerste Kamer and Tweede Kamer (first and second chambers).
The Eerste Kamer is elected by the States Provincial (the Regions) and meets part time. It has the right to accept or reject legislation but cannot amend or initiate legislation. In layman’s terms it is a political watchdog consisting of veteran politicians elected by the regions of the Netherlands to work on their behalf. It has 75 Senators.

The Tweede Kamer is the most significant chamber in the Dutch Government and is elected by the electorate using the d’Hondt method of PR. There are no electoral constituencies, the Netherlands itself is one large constituency when voting for the Tweede Kamer. In effect, this means every single vote has equal weighting. There are 150 seats in the Tweede Kamer, if a political party gains 20% of the popular vote, they gain 20% of the seats or 30 seats in this instance. Each party publishes a list of candidates for election with the leader at the top. The voter can ‘preferentially vote’ for a candidate on the list if the candidate is well known in a region but for all intents and purposes, the further the up the list the candidate is, the more likely they are to gain a seat.

The quota - that is the number of votes that entitles a party to one seat depends on how many votes have been cast. If 9 million votes are cast, this is divided by 150 meaning each party has to gain 60,000 votes to gain one seat.

Every advantage has its disadvantage (Johan Cruyff)

As representative as the Dutch system is in terms of voter preference and power, the permanent result of Dutch Elections and the subsequent criticism is that it leads to weeks or months of discussions and meetings behind closed doors. Or in other words, anti-democratic horse trading which does not reflect voter preference.

An example of this occurred yesterday. One of Geert Wilders PVV policies was staunch opposition to the raising of the retirement age to 67. As a result, he gained many votes from the 45 and upwards age group. In initial coalition talks with the largest party, the VVD who want the retirement age rise, Wilders immediately announced he had dropped opposition to this measure.
If the election creates only permanent coalitions where all parties drop core ideological beliefs to be in power, how then does the governance of the Netherlands avoid accusations of anti-democratic practices by a small party political elite? The answer is in the Polder Model.

The Polder Model

A ‘polder’ is a dyke. The loaded significance of this word is not hard to fathom and immediately harks back to the earliest struggles against the elements. The Polder model is a system of negotiation, consensus and representation between all ranks in society, between Government, Employers and Trade Unions.

In practice since 1945, Government, Industrial and Political policy has only been formed and implemented after series of negotiations which take place at the SER De Sociaal-Economische Raad or Social Economic Council. The SER which is a federation of employers and Trade Unions advises the government on fiscal, economic and employment policies. Employees and Trade Unions are represented by the FNV, the Dutch equivalent of the TUC.

The SER’s core principles are:

• balanced economic growth and sustainable development
• the highest possible level of employment
• a fair distribution of income.

Since 1995, the Government by law does not have to consult with the SER before passing legislation but in practice and tradition it still does.

At the heart of the Polder Model is the Works Council Ondernemingsraad. This Act makes all employers responsible in setting up a works council if they employ 100 or more people. The Works Council is involved in all major decision making processes made by the employer and by law must be consulted by the lawyer. The average Dutch worker is protected both by the Works Council which mainly deals with labour related, technical and organizational issues whilst the Unions deal with representing the employee as part of the FNV at the forum of the SER.
In companies with fewer than 100 employees, Works Councils are not a legal requirement, however 60% of all companies with fewer than 100 employees have done so. This gives lie to the Union and worker bashing policies within the UK that giving power to a worker means Industrial strife. For those smaller companies without a Works Council, they are legally obliged to consult workers twice a year and on exceptionally important matters.

If, like me, you believe that Democracy in the workplace and representation of your interests to Government are integral to being an active citizen, the Polder Model is a shining beacon of how this can work. The works council in my place of employment can be time consuming and slow, but there is a harmony between employers and staff which is unheard of in my experiences in the UK. There is disagreements and arguments and the system is not perfect, but the Polder Model shows that Industrial Relations within a Western capitalist society can be structured for the benefit of all.

The 2010 General Election

Even for Dutch standards, the result of the 2010 election is exceptionally fractured. Since 1919, the leading party has never had as small a margin of victory as the VVD has now. This will make the process of coalition forming even more difficult and time consuming than has been in the past. And of course the elephant in the room is Geert Wilders PVV.

From reading the newspapers, watching television and speaking to colleagues and friends, the general consensus (there’s that word again) is that Wilders PVV will fall apart from the weight of its own contradictions and the amateurish nature of the organization. However, the question on everyone’s lips is why 1/6th of the population voted for an avowed racist who campaigned virtually on one anti-Islamic policy. Organisations which represent Moroccans and Muslims have expressed shock at the support for the PVV and the suspicions the following morning after the elections that colleagues, friends etc may have voted for Wilders.

Exacerbating the coalition building situation is the economic crisis. An administration has to be implemented as soon as possible and the only alternative the VVD has to building a coalition with Wilders is to build one with the PvDA (Labour Party). Two ideologically opposed parties may join together to nullify Wilders and it would be in the PvDA’s interests to try to stem the hard right economic manifesto of the VVD.

What makes the VVD’s coalition problem worse is that although the VVD has not ruled out joining a coalition with the PVV, every other party has. Also preventing a coalition with Wilders is International image. Between 60- 70% of the Dutch economy is export based. Having an Islamophobe and Europhobe as a Minister of Government is not conducive to promoting Dutch exports abroad.

For the first time, every newspaper has a different opinion on what is going to happen, no one is sure in the short term. The one outcome of this election that everyone is concerned with is the popular vote for Geert Wilders and what this means firstly for the future of race relations and the Dutch culture of openness and discussion as the exit polls showed much less support for the PVV than they subsequently gained.

For the first time in its history, Dutch Politics may be entering ‘interesting times’.

28 May 2010

Perception, taste and people's priorities

Hope people don't think this is too trite - I thought it was interesting and exemplifies much about the way we live today.


THE SITUATION

In Washington DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception - forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $200 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?
*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . .

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life

26 May 2010

25 May 2010

The Greeks Get It

This was sent to me this morning - am posting up as I think it's interesting and worth a discussion if anyone's up for it.



We are facing the collapse of the world’s financial system. It is the end of globalization. And in these final moments the rich are trying to get all they can while there is still time. The fusion of corporatism, militarism and internal and external intelligence agencies—much of their work done by private contractors—has given these corporations terrifying mechanisms of control. Think of it, as the Greeks do, as a species of foreign occupation. Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.

OR this

The Progressive starts off from what is actually happening; the Radical starts off from what he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is ‘on his side.’ The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased; but he is quite stubborn about following ‘what ought to be’ rather than ‘what is.’



Truthdig
The Greeks Get It

Posted on May 24, 2010

By Chris Hedges

Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

The former right-wing government of Greece lied about the size of the country’s budget deficit. It was not 3.7 percent of gross domestic product but 13.6 percent. And it now looks like the economies of Spain, Ireland, Italy and Portugal are as bad as Greece’s, which is why the euro has lost 20 percent of its value in the last few months. The few hundred billion in bailouts for other faltering European states, like our own bailouts, have only forestalled disaster. This is why the U.S. stock exchange is in free fall and gold is rocketing upward. American banks do not have heavy exposure in Greece, but Greece, as most economists concede, is only the start. Wall Street is deeply invested in other European states, and when the unraveling begins the foundations of our own economy will rumble and crack as loudly as the collapse in Athens. The corporate overlords will demand that we too impose draconian controls and cuts or see credit evaporate. They have the money and the power to hurt us. There will be more unemployment, more personal and commercial bankruptcies, more foreclosures and more human misery. And the corporate state, despite this suffering, will continue to plunge us deeper into debt to make war. It will use fear to keep us passive. We are being consumed from the inside out. Our economy is as rotten as the economy in Greece. We too borrow billions a day to stay afloat. We too have staggering deficits, which can never be repaid. Heed the dire rhetoric of European leaders.

“The euro is in danger,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel
told lawmakers last week as she called on them to approve Germany’s portion of the bailout plan. “If we do not avert this danger, then the consequences for Europe are incalculable, and then the consequences beyond Europe are incalculable.”

Beyond Europe means us. The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the current government of George Papandreou, did what the Republicans did under George W. Bush. They looted taxpayer funds to enrich their corporate masters and bankrupt the country. They stole hundreds of millions of dollars from individual retirement and pension accounts slowly built up over years by citizens who had been honest and industrious. They used mass propaganda to make the population afraid of terrorists and surrender civil liberties, including habeas corpus. And while Bush and Karamanlis, along with the corporate criminal class they abetted, live in unparalleled luxury, ordinary working men and women are told they must endure even more pain and suffering to make amends. It is feudal rape. And there has to be a point when even the American public—which still believes the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to success—will realize it has been had.

We have seen these austerity measures before. Latin Americans, like the Russians, were forced by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to gut social services, end subsidies on basic goods and food, and decimate the income levels of the middle class—the foundation of democracy—in the name of fiscal responsibility. Small entrepreneurs, especially farmers, were wiped out. State industries were sold off by corrupt government officials to capitalists for a fraction of their value. Utilities and state services were privatized.

What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will defy them. It is up to us. Barack Obama is simply the latest face that masks the corporate state. His administration serves corporate interests, not ours. Obama, like Goldman Sachs or Citibank, does not want the public to see how the Federal Reserve Bank acts as a private account and ATM machine for Wall Street at our expense. He, too, has helped orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. He serves our imperial wars, refuses to restore civil liberties, and has not tamed our crippling deficits. His administration gutted regulatory agencies that permitted BP to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic swamp. The refusal of Obama to intervene in a meaningful way to save the gulf’s ecosystem and curtail the abuses of the natural gas and oil corporations is not an accident. He knows where power lies. BP and its employees handed more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

We are facing the collapse of the world’s financial system. It is the end of globalization. And in these final moments the rich are trying to get all they can while there is still time. The fusion of corporatism, militarism and internal and external intelligence agencies—much of their work done by private contractors—has given these corporations terrifying mechanisms of control. Think of it, as the Greeks do, as a species of foreign occupation. Think of the Greek riots as a struggle for liberation.

Dwight Macdonald laid out the consequences of a culture such as ours, where the waging of war was “the normal mode of existence.” The concept of perpetual war, which eluded the theorists behind the 19th and early 20th century reform and social movements, including Karl Marx, has left social reformers unable to deal with this effective mechanism of mass control. The old reformists had limited their focus to internal class struggle and, as Macdonald noted, never worked out “an adequate theory of the political significance of war.” Until that gap is filled, Macdonald warned, “modern socialism will continue to have a somewhat academic flavor.”
Macdonald detailed in his 1946 essay “The Root Is Man” the marriage between capitalism and permanent war. He despaired of an effective resistance until the permanent war economy, and the mentality that went with it, was defeated. Macdonald, who was an anarchist, saw that the Marxists and the liberal class in Western democracies had both mistakenly placed their faith for human progress in the goodness of the state. This faith, he noted, was a huge error. The state, whether in the capitalist United States or the communist Soviet Union, eventually devoured its children. And it did this by using the organs of mass propaganda to keep its populations afraid and in a state of endless war. It did this by insisting that human beings be sacrificed before the sacred idol of the market or the utopian worker’s paradise. The war state provides a constant stream of enemies, whether the German Hun, the Bolshevik, the Nazi, the Soviet agent or the Islamic terrorist. Fear and war, Macdonald understood, was the mechanism that let oligarchs pillage in the name of national security.

“Modern totalitarianism can integrate the masses so completely into the political structure, through terror and propaganda, that they become the architects of their own enslavement,” he wrote. “This does not make the slavery less, but on the contrary more— a paradox there is no space to unravel here. Bureaucratic collectivism, not capitalism, is the most dangerous future enemy of socialism.”

Macdonald argued that democratic states had to dismantle the permanent war economy and the propaganda that came with it. They had to act and govern according to the non-historical and more esoteric values of truth, justice, equality and empathy. Our liberal class, from the church and the university to the press and the Democratic Party, by paying homage to the practical dictates required by hollow statecraft and legislation, has lost its moral voice. Liberals serve false gods. The belief in progress through war, science, technology and consumption has been used to justify the trampling of these non-historical values. And the blind acceptance of the dictates of globalization, the tragic and false belief that globalization is a form of inevitable progress, is perhaps the quintessential illustration of Macdonald’s point. The choice is not between the needs of the market and human beings. There should be no choice. And until we break free from serving the fiction of human progress, whether that comes in the form of corporate capitalism or any other utopian vision, we will continue to emasculate ourselves and perpetuate needless human misery. As the crowds of strikers in Athens understand, it is not the banks that are important but the people who raise children, build communities and sustain life. And when a government forgets whom it serves and why it exists, it must be replaced.

“The Progressive makes History the center of his ideology,” Macdonald wrote in “The Root Is Man.” “The Radical puts Man there. The Progressive’s attitude is optimistic both about human nature (which he thinks is good, hence all that is needed is to change institutions so as to give this goodness a chance to work) and about the possibility of understanding history through scientific method. The Radical is, if not exactly pessimistic, at least more sensitive to the dual nature; he is skeptical about the ability of science to explain things beyond a certain point; he is aware of the tragic element in man’s fate not only today but in any collective terms (the interests of Society or the Working Class); the Radical stresses the individual conscience and sensibility. The Progressive starts off from what is actually happening; the Radical starts off from what he wants to happen. The former must have the feeling that History is ‘on his side.’ The latter goes along the road pointed out by his own individual conscience; if History is going his way, too, he is pleased; but he is quite stubborn about following ‘what ought to be’ rather than ‘what is.’