Alamut


Why isn’t Adam Curtis on my blogroll yet?
February 25, 2010, 3:51 am
Filed under: Economic Crisis, Linguistic Framing, Technocracy

Because he should be.  See what our shiny technocratic elites hath wrought:

Whether it is straight journalism, or columnists’ rants, or even imaginative responses like the play Enron, the problem is described either as a technical system that went wrong or as a set of strange inventions that were then corruptly used by bad and greedy people. And in doing this all the journalists, and the critics, and the playwrights earnestly try and explain to us the system in the terms, and the framework of “market-speak” created by the economists and the financiers.

The high point of this came last week when lead items on TV news were devoted to the letters written  by two opposing groups of economists. It was the height of absurdity as economists from the opposing camps came on News-24 to announce pompously that “this is far more important than politics”. As David Blanchflower (ex-member of the Monetary Policy Committee) pointed out in a really good piece in the New Statesman – HERE – they have absolutely no basis for any of their claims. The reason is that they have no idea what is going to happen to the economy in the next 12 months.

But more than that – perhaps the economists are the problem? That they themselves cannot see the full dimensions of the project of which they have been a part.

But still we listen to them, and still our journalists use their language and assumptions.

Which means that despite the disasters we are still trapped in the economists’ world.

But the moment you pull back and look at that world from a wider perspective strange things start to emerge.

Having spent the last two months reading more than a few delightful essays about the cult of the expert and failings of technical management, this is of course relevant to my interests.  And yours too, most likely, if you are reading it here.

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The case against Obama
January 19, 2010, 6:19 pm
Filed under: Economic Crisis, Factsheet, Mercenaries, Obama, Surveillance, War

A short list

  • The bailout and (lack of) reform (link)
  • Refusing to investigate any of the Bush era crimes, including the Iraq War falsification of intelligence, torture or the surveillance state (link, link, link)
  • Backing the renewal of PATRIOT Act provisions (link)
  • Asserting the power to order extraordinary rendition, ie; kidnapping (link)
  • Asserting the power to hold detainees indefinitely, without charge, as well as seeking to hold people indefinitely on the basis they may commit acts of terrorism in the future (link)
  • Military show trials will continue in cases where civilian trials would lose (due to the lower threshold for proof) (link)
  • Detainees at Bagram Air Base and Balad Air Base are still being denied any and all basic rights (link)
  • Failure to close Guantamo (though, given the above abuses, it would make little difference) and worsening of abuse there (link)
  • Private mercenaries have been deployed to Somalia, and US Special Forces to Yemen, meaning the USA is now seen by many Muslims as waging war in five Islamic countries (link, link, link)
  • Failure to withdraw in any meaningful sense from Iraq (50-60,000 troops are intended to continue serving in the country until 2011, when they are legally required to withdraw) (link)
  • Pointless surge in Afghanistan (link, link)
  • Increased use of Predator airstrikes in Pakistan, weapons with a 95% chance of killing a civilian instead of a terrorist (link)
  • Blackwater are now an integral part of “special operations” taking place in Pakistan (link)
  • Complete inability to put real pressure on Israel to stop building in the occupied territories (link)
  • Massively expanding the drug war in Colombia, much to the excitement of President Uribe (link)
  • Obama has cosied up with Islam Karimov’s regime in Uzbekistan, the one that drops dissidents into vats of boiling water and uses child slave labour (link)
  • Private contractors in Afghanistan have increased 40% under Obama, despite the obviousness of their flaws being exposed in Iraq (link)
  • The hideous agreement pushed by Obama at Copehagen (link)


Banksters and Gangsters: Japan’s Yakuza recession
January 3, 2010, 5:58 pm
Filed under: Drugs, Economic Crisis, Organised Crime, Social Engineering

A while ago, I was reading Government of the Shadows: Parapolitics and Criminal Sovereignty, when I came across this curious passage within it:

The role that the yakuza played in the speculative bubble of the 1980s is now known. Through their control of drug trafficking, prostitution and employment in the building sector and public works, as well as their interests in the very lucrative business of pachinko – electric billiard games which generate one and a half times the turnover of the Japanese automobile sector, some 6 per cent of the GDP – organised crime has invaded the real estate co-operatives (jusen), the leading brokerages and the shareholders’ meetings of certain large companies.

Their access to credit enables them to launder their illicit profits in speculative businesses, where they tend to prefer high-risk operations. When the speculative bubble burst at the beginning of the 1990s, stock and real estate prices dropped, and bad debts swamped the banks and other financial institutions. The former director of Japan’s National Police Agency, Raisuke Miyawaki, estimates that 10 per cent of these debts are yakuza-related and an additional 30 per cent have probable links with other organised crime, which would put non-recoverable debt attributable to gangsters at somewhere between $75 billion and $300 billion, that is, 6.5 per cent of GDP.

After having speculated on the upside, the yakuza then speculated on the downside, trying to buy up real estate assets at fire sale prices and by blocking, through targeted operations, the liquidation of the liabilities of certain firms that resort to their illegal services in order to escape their obligations.

However, this doesn’t explain exactly how central the Yakuza role in fuelling the speculation was, and I was unaware of this myself until I got a copy of Misha Glenny’s fantastic McMafia this Christmas:

“The corporations wanted to buy land in clusters, big plots,” continued Miyawaki [the Anti-Organised Crime Tsar], “but things didin’t always go that smoothly.  A lot of people didn’t want to sell, and so the companies and banks turned to muscle – the yakuza.

First, the yakuza would offer financial incentives for tenants to leave their apartments, while negotiating with the owner to buy the land.  And if either the tenant or the owner refused to budge, then the yakuza would issue verbal threats or a physical warning.  (One of the most common and tasteless entailed spreading human faeces in and around the desired property).  Those who remained stubborn then ran the gauntlet of yakuza intimidation.  In its mild form, this might involve the notorious sound trucks (audible to this day in Tokyo), which would park outside a property and blast frentic political rhetoric from the huge loudspeakers, rendering life impossible for the targets.  The final stage of intimidation was of course physical assault and murder.

[…]

The banks, the corporations, the politicians (who were soon in the thick of it) were making tens of billions in speculative deals.  At first, the jamboree seemed to confirm that a superior form of capitalism had evolved from Japan’s perculiar culture.  With the price of land doubling each month, nobody seemed to notice the wholesale removal of thousands of unwilling, disenfranchised residents from their apartments and houses.  This could only happen because the core institutions of the Japanese state and economy were content to work hand-in-glove with organised crime at the expense of ordinary citizens.

And yet, in spite of this, people were still surprised when organised crime, in the form of drug cartels, helped keep financial institutions afloat during the worst of the current economic crisis.