January 27, 2008 § Leave a comment
Most important article. United States – International Diplomacy – Economic Trends – World Economy – Politics – New York
Waving Goodbye to Hegemony
By PARAG KHANNA
Turn on the TV today, and you could be forgiven for thinking it’s 1999. Democrats and Republicans are bickering about where and how to intervene, whether to do it alone or with allies and what kind of world America should lead. Democrats believe they can hit a reset button, and Republicans believe muscular moralism is the way to go. It’s as if the first decade of the 21st century didn’t happen — and almost as if history itself doesn’t happen. But the distribution of power in the world has fundamentally altered over the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, both because of his policies and, more significant, despite them. Maybe the best way to understand how quickly history happens is to look just a bit ahead.
It is 2016, and the Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama administration is nearing the end of its second term. America has pulled out of Iraq but has about 20,000 troops in the independent state of Kurdistan, as well as warships anchored at Bahrain and an Air Force presence in Qatar. Afghanistan is stable; Iran is nuclear. China has absorbed Taiwan and is steadily increasing its naval presence around the Pacific Rim and, from the Pakistani port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea. The European Union has expanded to well over 30 members and has secure oil and gas flows from North Africa, Russia and the Caspian Sea, as well as substantial nuclear energy. America’s standing in the world remains in steady decline.
The details that follow are important, including the recipe for what to do.
January 26, 2008 § Leave a comment
Freedom of Information Think Progress
On New Years Eve, facing “congressional pushback against the Bush administration’s movement to greater secrecy,” President Bush signed the OPEN Government Act, toughening the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The legislation — unanimously passed by the House and Senate — would push agencies to respond more quickly to records requests.
But now, the White House is doing everything it can to neuter the law. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) said yesterday that Bush’s FY2009 “funds for the Office of Government Information Services authorized under the newly enacted OPEN Government Act will be shifted to the Department of Justice” from the National Archives.
Is it not obvious that the Israelis turned the pressure on Gaza just after Bush left the region? But tearing down the wall to Egypt may also be part of a large revolt against food prices and unavailability in much of the world.
January 24, 2008 § Leave a comment
Giuliani has grown in this campaign. He is more restrained than he used to be. But I would never vote for him because of Sept. 26, 2001.
On that day, two weeks after 9/11, Giuliani, who could not run for re-election because of term limits, began a private campaign of intimidation and egomania to continue as mayor after his second term ended on Dec. 31, 2001. His popularity was at a peak. He called in the candidates already running to succeed him and told them he now had the power to persuade the governor and the state legislature to change the laws to allow him to run for a new term or to stay on for several months as the “emergency” mayor. And, he added, if those candidates, including Michael Bloomberg, now Mayor Bloomberg, did not agree to back him, he would run against them as the candidate of the Conservative Party.
This is what he said on Sept. 26, first in private, then in public:
“It’s my obligation to try to maintain the unity that exists in the city. … I mean I’ve invested seven and three-quarter years into trying to make it the best city in the world. And then it got devastated by this horrible attack. … It’s going to need politicians who think outside the box, who think outside the old way in which we used to practice politics. So that all came to me last night that I should start thinking that way also.”
“The box” Giuliani was trying to get out of was the law. And tradition. George Washington, who was a hell of a lot more important to national unity than Rudy Giuliani, went home after two terms, saying he had no desire to be a king or president-for-life. I, for one, can never forget (or forgive) what Giuliani tried to do that day. His astounding coup attempt failed in 2001, but I don’t think he can be trusted not to try the same thing again.
Chalmers Johnson on Military keynsianism. at
and Gates on Capitalism
Mr. Gates isn’t abandoning his belief in capitalism as the best economic system. But in an interview with the Journal last week at his Microsoft office in Redmond, Wash., Mr. Gates said that he has grown impatient with the shortcomings of capitalism. He said he has seen those failings first-hand on trips for Microsoft to places like the South African slum of Soweto, and discussed them with dozens of experts on disease and poverty. He has voraciously read about those failings in books that propose new approaches to narrowing the gap between rich and poor.
January 21, 2008 § Leave a comment
Juan Cole has a long article on King and American history.
And Scott Horton on King an Civil Rights.
And lots of thoughts about agriculture, and the turning of southern hemisphere lands to ethanol production, an the re-plantation economizing of the south (Africa, Latin America..).
And reading papers from the Schumcher Society. A very good list.
January 20, 2008 § Leave a comment
Two article to follow up on.
Weak on what the Fed IS, able tt create money that earns interest – form -instead of the US government printing the money, which the Constitution allows.
and Analog VLSI Systems Lab, ISL, Stanford see “this copy”on the illegitimacy of arithmetic rigor in economics, since it can’t be done.
Crooked Timber » » Robust Action in the Topkapi Palace, good discussion of the “intent” of the Bush administration.
The concept of “emergence” and associated ideas about autonomous agents, complex adaptive systems, artificial life and complexity theory are important underpinnings in two discrete academic projects, work on “artificial societies” on one hand and the study of “virtual worlds” on the other. The two research programs seemingly share a good deal in common but presently have almost no contact or overlap with each other. This is partly because the coalescing of both groups of researchers is relatively recent, partly because the two groups are coming out of radically different disciplinary histories and contexts, but also partly because the two groups have so far have different experiences of research and the place of concepts like emergence within it. In this paper, I argue that both groups potentially have a great deal to learn from one another.
These, artificial worlds and emergence, will be important in GardenWorld, provided energy remains to run computer networks. I was in a discussion yesterday that raised good questions about the future of computing under very high energy costs and pollution problems.
And in track of an idea (you need to follow the links to get at the originals. I am interested just in the idea that organizational communication is not very good.)
Easily Distracted » Blog Archive » One-A-Day: John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History: [I]n Zimbabwe… there is first a disconnect between what imperial leaders did and what actors on the colonial periphery did, and that the actions of the latter sometimes drove the former, and that decisions made at either (or both) levels often were internally contradictory, improvisational as well as pre-determined, based on fragmentary or patchwork kinds of knowledge, and frequently opaque to the actors themselves….
(Brad) When Lloyd Bentsen became Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, he scattered his–loyal–senate staff throughout the Treasury Department at all levels, and used them as a second, separate, parallel web of communication in order to gauge the distortions that were being introduced into the paper that crossed his desk by the game of bureaucratic telephone. When Kangxi became Emperor of China, he scattered the–loyal–hereditary bondsmen of his Manchu clan throughout the imperial Chinese bureaucracy at all levels, with instructions to write to him regularly through secret channels to tell him what was really going on, as a second, separate, parallel web of communication so that he could gauge who was telling him what he needed to know and who was telling him what they thought he wanted to hear.
Progressive Democrats instead favored a reserve system owned and operated by the government and out of control of the “money trust”, ending Wall Street’s control of American currency supply. Conservative Democrats fought for a privately owned, yet decentralized, reserve system, which would still be free of Wall Street’s control
Seen as a “Money Trust” plan, the Aldrich Plan was opposed by the Democratic Party as was stated in its 1912 campaign platform, but the platform also supported a revision of banking laws that would protect the public from financial panics and “the domination of what is known as the “Money Trust.” During the 1912 election the Democractic Party took control of the Presidency and both chambers of Congress. The newly elected President, Woodrow Wilson, was committed to banking and currency reform, but it took a great deal of his political influence to get an acceptable plan passed as the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.  Wilson thought the Aldrich plan was perhaps “60-70% correct”. When Virginia Rep. Carter Glass, chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency, presented his bill to President-elect Wilson, Wilson said that the plan must be amended to contain a Federal Reserve Board appointed by the executive branch to maintain control over the bankers.
However, the former point was also made by Rep. Charles Lindbergh Sr., the most vocal opponent of the bill and a member of the House Banking and Currency Committee, who on the day before the Federal Reserve Act was passed told Congress:
“This is the Aldrich bill in disguise…The worst legislative crime of the ages is perpetrated by this banking bill…The banks have been granted the special privilege of distributing the money, and they charge as much as they wish…This is the strangest, most dangerous advantage ever placed in the hands of a special privilege class by any Government that ever existed. The system is private…There should be no legal tender other than that issued by the government…The People are the Government. Therefore the Government should, as the Constitution provides, regulate the value of money.” (Congressional Record, 1913-12-22)
Bryan and the agrarians wanted a government-owned central bank which could print paper money whenever Congress wanted, and thought the plan gave bankers too much power to print the government’s currency.Critics of the time (later joined by economist Milton Friedman) suggested that Glass’s legislation was almost entirely based on the Aldrich Plan that had been derided as giving too much power to elite bankers.
The other main tool available to the Open Market Desk is the outright transaction. In an outright purchase, the Fed buys Treasury securities from primary dealers and finances the purchases by depositing newly created money in the dealer’s reserve account at the Fed. Since this operation does not unwind at the end of a set period, the resulting growth in the monetary supply is permanent. That is to say that the principal growth is permanent but a yield on maturity of the security is still charged—this is usually at 12 – 18 months on outright transaction
But, this is obscure, though it sounds clear and clean. To investigate.
Total capital represents the profit the Fed has earned which comes mostly from the assets they purchase with the deposit and note liabilities they create. Excess capital is then turned over to the Treasury Department and Congress to be included into the Federal Budget as “Miscellaneous Revenue”.
Friedman also believed that, ideally, the issuing power of money should rest with the Government instead of private banks issuing money through fractional reserve lending.
Congressman Ron Paul (ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy), for example, argues that: “The United States Constitution grants to Congress the authority to coin money and regulate the value of the currency. The Constitution does not give Congress the authority to delegate control over monetary policy to a central bank. Furthermore, the Constitution certainly does not empower the federal government to erode the American standard of living via an inflationary monetary policy.”
One major area of criticism focuses on the failure of the Federal Reserve System to stop inflation; this is seen as a failure of the Fed’s legislatively mandated duty to maintain stable prices. These critics focus particularly on inflation’s effects on wages, since workers are hurt if their wages do not keep up with inflation. They point out that wages, as adjusted for inflation, or real wages, have dropped in the past.  But other economists argue that the Fed is too much focused on inflation, which is effectively a contractionary policy that keeps the unemployment rate too high and suppresses wages, as a result.
And, on bureucracy JSTOR American Journal of Sociology Vol. 98, No. 6, p. 1259
This concept of robust action is one in which the actors at the center of the network never want to disclose their absolute interests and desires, because this would limit their options. Instead, they prefer to make others disclose their desires. Crucial for maintaining discretion is not to pursue specific goals, for:
“in nasty strategic games like Florence or chess, positional play is the maneuvering of opponents into the forced clarification of their (but not your) tactical lines of action. Locked-in commitment to lines of action, and thence to goals, is the product not of individual choice but at least as much of others’ successful “ecological control” over you.” (Padgett and Ansell, p. 1264)
About US casualties. Given this, think of brain injuries among Iraq civilians.
On the Chris Matthews Show this morning, Time magazine Managing Editor Richard Stengel discussed a new Pentagon report that says “1 in 5 American servicemen and women who have been in Iraq are coming back with brain injuries.” Stengel called it the “real toll” of the war, adding that “the legacy of that will last all of our lifetimes and it’s incalculable.”
In total, according to Stengel, “more than 250,000 people” are affected by “mild traumatic brain injuries” sustained in Iraq.
Iraq from Juan Cole
Andrew Bacevich eviscerates the Iraq War party with this passionate and clear-sighted essay on ‘the Surge to Nowhere’ in WaPo. He points out that the real motivation behind last year’s troop escalation was to avoid popular outrage building in the US electorate to the point where the troops were pulled out. He observes that the argument for the ‘success’ of the ‘surge’ is purely a tactical one. When viewed from the vantage point of grand strategy, the Iraq War is as much a failure as it has always been.
Poem: “The Jumblies” by Edward Lear, Public Domain.
They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, “You’ll all be drowned!”
They called aloud, “Our Sieve ain’t big,
But we don’t care a button! we don’t care a fig!
In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!”
Sounds like Bushco.
On situational learning
Situated cognition is a movement in cognitive psychology which derives from pragmatism, Gibsonian ecological psychology, ethnomethodology, the theories of Vygotsky (activity theory) and the writings of Heidegger. However, the key impetus of its development was work done in the late 1980s in educational psychology. Empirical work on how children and young people learned showed that traditional cognitivist ‘rule bound’ approaches were inadequate to describe how learning actually took place in the real world. Instead, it was suggested that learning was “situated”: that is, it always took place in a specific context (cf contextualism). This is similar to the view of “situated activity” proposed by Lucy Suchman, “social context” proposed by Giuseppe Mantovani, and “Situated Learning” proposed by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger.
Situated cognition emphasises studies of human behaviour that have ‘ecological validity’: that is, which take place in real situations (i.e. outside the laboratory). In more traditional laboratory studies of (for example) how people behave in the workplace, real-world complications such as personal interruptions, office politics, scheduling constraints, private agendas and so forth, are generally ignored, even though these necessarily change the nature of the activity. Situated cognition attempts to integrate these complexities into its analytic framework.
Recently, situated cognition theorists have been pushing for more authentic research. They argue that situating their students and research participants in authentic situations will help them achieve better research results and ultimately enhance their understanding of educational theories.
January 19, 2008 § Leave a comment
From Informed Comment
Tom Engelhardt examines the rhetoric of “progress” and “hope” that are now being deploying against the Iraqis by the Washington press corps.
What can we do about the fact that when government officials repeat the same wrong idea, and the press merely reports it, add up to an uneducated public?
We know this but it is good to see NYT on it.
NYT – Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.
This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.
The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, climbed 37 percent last year. That was on top of a 14 percent increase in 2006, and the trend has accelerated this winter.
Talking to some people last night, the depth of crisis around prices IN THE US is causing widespread but mostly unseen pain. Their question was, how log can this continue without major violence? Like boiling water, it simmers till destabilizing events lead to columns of bubbles seeking the surface.
Scott Horton reports, Blackwater and the Administration of Justice by Scott Horton (Harper’s Magazine)
I spent the better part of the last year looking in some detail into a series of legal policy issues surrounding private security contractors, a process that culminated in the issuance of a report last week entitled Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity.(4 MB PDF)
Blackwater is anything but a “normal” security contractor. Its relationship with the Bush Administration is truly extraordinary in many respects. Blackwater is an unabashedly political entity, which aligns itself fully, and ideologically with the Republican Party. Its founder and owner, Erik Prince, who has been profiled very effectively by Jeremy Scahill in his comprehensive book, Blackwater, was born to wealth and privilege in the family of an automobile parts magnate with a long track record of involvement in Republican and Religious Right politics.
Prince steered the family’s fortune away from the automobile parts business and towards a new genre of business. It may be a bit simplistic to call Blackwater a mercenary outfit, because its functions are more diverse, but its self-understanding is close to the plain English understanding of that term. That is, they sell their services to governments for money. Blackwater is an outfit of contract soldiers. And it has achieved something which would at earlier points in our history been unthinkable: it has assembled an enormous private army with modernized mechanized support, attack helicopters, aircraft and even the beginnings of a navy. And until very recently, all of this was occurring under the surface, with the full collaboration of the Bush Administration, and without the sort of Congressional oversight which occurs routinely with respect to the United States military.
The focus of Blackwater’s current business lies in a contract relationship with the United States, but perhaps sensing the limited potential of that market, Blackwater has developed a very substantial international clientele. I recently examined their relationships with two governments—Azerbaijan and Jordan. What struck me most about these relationships was how they were secured and developed. In both cases, local government officials described to me extensive marketing efforts on Blackwater’s behalf by seniormost officials of the Bush Administration, who pressured and cajoled the local officials to use Blackwater and offered substantial incentives in the process.
Read the whole article and the report at Blackwater and the Administration of Justice by Scott Horton (Harper’s Magazine)
January 18, 2008 § Leave a comment
Not only was torture morally terrible, it was also stupid in that it creates more enemies than just about anything else one can do, and it shows the ignorance of history and the lack of imagination about public perception. But the worst might be that it didn’t even yield much in the way of results. Part of this story is hidden from the “pubic”, but all we know about is false arrests and inconclusive incarcerations. The number of deaths from this practice – dead prisoners – is unmatched by any gain in intelligence.
A year from now, the presidency of George W. Bush will end, but the consequences of Mr. Bush’s policies and the arguments about them are likely to be with us for a long time. As next Jan. 20 draws near, there is an evident temptation, among many journalists as well as politicians seeking to replace Mr. Bush, to close the book and move ahead, an impulse that makes the existence of documentaries like Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side” all the more vital. If recent American history is ever going to be discussed with the necessary clarity and ethical rigor, this film will be essential.
GardenWorld is certainly in part about vision and tone. It is concerned with intent and the goal. As I said earlier “Nearly everybody wants to live in a blend of civilization and nature. Why don’t we use our wealth to go there?” In that context public education and public health really count because they are the empowerment of everyone for participation in a revitalized local and regional economy.
It is late in the game. My thinking is that the greatest points of resistance to garden world are the corporations which control a flow of money (and I include the financial institutions) and the problems of private property in land which are working so as to limit the possibilities of experimentation. Why should a very small number of people be able to arrange of the zoning on their land to a minimum of 25 acres per house? I have friends who are part of the effort and I do not wish them ill. The problems are going to be very difficult in a crowded world and narrow ownership.
I think I am clear that there is a problem to be solved, that a solution set is at hand, and resistance will be strong.