Posts Tagged ‘us’

Quite nicely put by Jackson Lears:

“Since 9/11, a cult of the warrior has settled over America like morning fog over the Mekong Delta.” (Jackson Lears, 2010, “Mad Monkey”, London Review of Books, vol. 32 n. 18, 23 September)

A scrutiny of the mentality behind a recent bestselling war novel — with reference to the foundational, thrilling “I do not know the meaning of the universe” Holmes quote — leads alas to the sad objection:

“The political questions remains: why are these men in that place? Who is responsible? Is this what we want? Until we learn how to ask them more insistently, we will be stuck with the demons of Vietnam, which won’t be exorcised any time soon, and more imperial misadventures are on the way. There it is.” (Jackson Lears, 2010, “Mad Monkey”, London Review of Books, vol. 32 n. 18, 23 September)


Is financial innovation the ultimate unintended path towards socialism?

“Some banks are just going to explode if we do not nationalize them. Or if the Government does not buy their bad credit. This of course would translate into massive costs for the State. But we do have a problem anyway. There is nothing to do but a major intervention.

– And that’s the solution?

What? To nationalize all banks? Well, not really. But there is no other option. If the State buys all the junk credit, this is just like a huge subsidy. It can buy all banks instead and then make money.

– Does the State have money enough to do that?

Well if we trust the figures, the value of distressed banks is only 7% of the GDP. This is a lot, but only a part of the total value creation. At worst 20%. Other countries already did that.”

(from “Amerika muss seine Banken verstaatlichen”, Frankfurter Allgemeine, March 17 2008, available also in Spanish here)

That’s from an interview with NYU Stern School of Business economist Nouriel Roubini on the current credit crunch and financial debacle. In the light of other scholarly sources, this may also be described as the natural development of the internal contradictions of financial capitalism towards the achievement of socialist revolution. No?

No kidding. Maybe the social-scientific avant-garde of the socialization of finance would soon be called to the glorious task of thinking through the “how” of this unmissable opportunity for economic experimentation.

The Guardian mentioned recently the effective existence of an FBI program called “Server in the Sky” that seeks to foster police exchange of biometric data (“FBI Wants Instant Access to British Identity Data”, The Guardian, January 15 2008). Some readers may have thought “oh, this sounds familiar, probably connected to this other Total Information Awareness program that the US Department of Defense established in January 2002”. They err. If they check the website of the IAO (the Information Awareness Office, not to be confused with other same-name diabolic tunes), they will be able to verify that the “Total Information Awareness” program does not exist anymore in the visible world. That is the fate of US security programs with godly names.

The Test Society blog officially supports total political monster Barack Obama. Happy new era.

Jim Holt says, in a quite nice piece published in the London Review of Books (the title seems to suggest that the ultimate rationale for the war in Iraq may be oil), that the use of the word ‘fiasco’ should be revised here:

“On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centred, the tactics — dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final “surge” that has hastened internal migration — could scarcely have been more effective. The costs — a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws) — are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.” (from Jim Holt, “It’s the Oil”, London Review of Books, October 18 2007)

Well, just after saying that, the author puts forward a skeptical note which is reasonable sharing: such kind of secret, ambitious plans are generally expected to go wrong. Oh, but the Hunt Oil Company deal in Kurdistan seems to go steady — only with just a bit of trouble, though (the provincial government in Kurdistan skipped the Iraqi oil law negotiations and signed directly a separate contract with the Dallas-based company). Meanwhile, the Kurdish second front (Iran) might get some nice help. In return, perhaps.

(Err… and meanwhile Jack Miles wrote a piece titled “Endgame for Iraqi Oil?”.)

Tom Engelhardt’s counting lesson (also available from Mother Jones) is very instructive. It is about counting in public or not. He quotes for instance General Tommy Franks:

“We don’t do body counts.” (from “How Many Iraqis Died? We May Never Know”, San Francisco Chronicle, May 3 2003)

And then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

“We have a room here [in the Pentagon], the Iraq Room where we track a whole series of metrics. Some of them are inputs and some of them are outputs, results, and obviously the inputs are easier to do and less important, and the outputs are vastly more important and more difficult to do. We track, for example, the numbers of attacks by area. We track the types of attacks by area […]. [W]e track a number of reports of intimidation, attempts at intimidation or assassination of government officials, for example. We track the extent to which people are supplying intelligence to our people so that they can go in and actually track down and capture or kill insurgents. We try to desegregate the people we’ve captured and look at what they are. Are they foreign fighters, Jihadist types? Are they criminals who were paid money to go do something like that? Are they former regime elements, Ba’athists? And we try to keep track of what those numbers are in terms of detainees and people that are processed in that way […]. We probably look at 50, 60, 70 different types of metrics, and come away with them with an impression.” (from Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep for ‘Morning Edition'”, DefenseLink News Transcript, March 29 2005)

Well, Tom Engelhardt’s piece is titled “We Count, They Don’t”, and it includes other hints about how “they” count or not (in public) all sorts of war-related things.

In a video report titled “Toxic Toothpaste: A Consumer Alerts the World” (October 1 2007), reporters from the New York Times portray markets as strangely unmediated: toothpaste directly from (not producers, not distributors, not retailers but a whole distant supply apparatus called “a country”, here unsurprisingly) China to the hands of the sovereign consumer (a consumer-hero that happened to read the list of ingredients, spot diethylene glycol and debunk the faulty product). But China is not a manufacturer, nor a seller, nor a merchant. It is at best a country. It contains of course such things as manufacturers and merchants — who, by the way, are rather unable to do any business abroad without what specialists knowingly call a “counterpart” ( i.e. a collaborator in trade, a partner, a socio). Export markets are not things in which products just pop up from a box in a harbor and wait until a consumer bumps into them. The Mattel recallings seem to keep on haunting the media all over the world (see this opinion after France 2 scared its public with “fabriqué en Chine”), even after a quite telling press release in which the firm emphatically supports a rather acknowledged sociological fact: that markets are mediated, organized chains of shared responsibilities. Getting stuff into a country from free-market paradises such as the Zona Libre de Colón or having the Food and Drug Administration telling people to throw Chinese stuff away instead of having a proper ex-ante health control of all the products that enter the consumer market would be part of these.

It seems that BNP Paribas (“la banque d’un monde qui change”) is joining the exclusive group of banks that are experiencing sad pricing problems, suffering from their own efforts at taking advantage from asset-deprived, mortgage-bootstrapped North-American workers:

“BNP Paribas added its name to a growing list of investment houses that have frozen funds exposed to asset-backed credit. […] Its explanation is becoming all too familiar – the panic over subprime mortgages has made the pricing of these, and related securities, next to impossible.” ( from “Subprime hits BNP Parisbas”,, August 9 2007)

And here is the press release:

“The complete evaporation of liquidity in certain market segments of the US securitisation market has made it impossible to value certain assets fairly regardless of their quality or credit rating. The situation is such that it is no longer possible to value fairly the underlying US ABS assets in the three above-mentioned funds. We are therefore unable to calculate a reliable net asset value (NAV) for the funds.” (from Press Release, BNP Paribas, August 9 2007).

Compare to this other one on consumer credit here:

“BNP Paribas, through its Cetelem subsidiary, acquires JetFinance International, Bulgaria’s leading consumer credit specialist, consolidating its pole position in this sector in continental Europe.” (from Press Release, BNP Paribas, August 3 2007).

Consumer credit rating (a great specialty, with the mortgages industry, to train consumers into risk) looked like good business a week ago. Now, how much do 3,000 high-risk subprime mortgages in Iowa worth, though? Difficult calculation, indeed. But apparently these bankers considered it was an “interesting” question to ask in the first place. Poor little banks, torn by calculative abdication.