Cronyism In The 21st Century

Courtesy of Mark E Jeftovic @ The Dollar Vigilante

Ghandi was once asked, “What do you think about Western Civilization?” to which he famously replied “I think it’s a good idea.” He may as well have been talking about free market capitalism.

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Capital in the 21st Century has hit the world like a new teen idol sensation. Everybody is drinking the Kool-Aid and it’s being held up as the most important book ever written on the subject of how runaway capitalism leads to wealth inequality. Paul Krugman of course, loves it. As does every head of state and political hack in the (formerly) free world. A text-book sized brick that can be condensed down to a couple bullet points:

  • that unchecked capitalism leads to increasing wealth inequality, and
  • this can be fixed through government management, most notably more taxes and higher minimum wages.

What’s not to love?

There are many other refutations of Capital circulating, most of which address the numerous factual errors and flawed research methodologies in the book, and countering the income equality assertions with observations around how the standard of living generally increases across the board during periods of free(er) market capitalism (such as England during the industrial revolution under the classical gold standard or wider Europe during the High Middle Ages).

The age we live in today is not an example of this. I submit that the modern run of standard of living increases, say from end of WWII to present is not an example of “free markets given room to run”, but rather a crack-up boom fuelled by credit expansion (cheap money) and cheap energy. This era is now drawing to a close, as the cost of energy inexorably rises and the global debt super-cycle finally hits a wall. After decades of government targeted inflation, after the better part of a decade of ZIRP, after increased regulations in every aspect of our lives, after civil liberties being for the most part abolished (after all, the government is allowed to assassinate any one of us and we are all under continuous pervasive surveillance) what is difficult to fathom is that political economists can still make hay in the world by blaming its problems on capitalism gone wild and runaway free markets. Put simply, true capitalism requires free markets, free markets require a free society and we do not live in a free society. Continue reading

Scholar Behind Viral ‘Oligarchy’ Study Tells You What It Means

Courtesy of Sahil Kapur @ Talking Points Memo:

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A new political science study that’s gone viral finds that majority-rule democracy exists only in theory in the United States — not so much in practice. The government caters to the affluent few and organized interest groups, the researchers find, while the average citizen’s influence on policy is “near zero.”

“[T]he preferences of economic elites,” conclude Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin I. Page, who work with the nonprofit Scholars Strategy Network, “have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.”

TPM spoke to Gilens about the study, its main findings and its lessons.

You published an advance copy of your study on April 9th, and in just the last few days there’s been an explosion of coverage and interest. Are you pleased, shocked, overwhelmed, all of the above?

I’m delighted to be able to contribute to a terribly important public discussion. And I’m thrilled that there’s so much interest and concern about the issues. It takes on a life of its own. I’m sure you’ve noticed, this notion of America being an oligarchy seems to be a dominant meme in the discussion of our work. It’s not a term that we used in the paper. It’s just a dramatic sort of overstatement of our findings. So it’s been interesting for me. Typically my work is read by a few dozen political scientists and I don’t get this kind of response.

Let’s talk about the study. If you had 30 seconds to sum up the main conclusion of your study for the average person, how would you do so?

I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests.

You say the United States is more like a system of “Economic Elite Domination” and “Biased Pluralism” as opposed to a majoritarian democracy. What do those terms mean? Is that not just a scholarly way of saying it’s closer to oligarchy than democracy if not literally an oligarchy?

Continue reading

Wind Turbine Makes 1,000 Liters of Clean Water a Day in the Desert

Courtesy of the amusingly named Treehugger.com:

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A cool new concept being tested in the Abu Dhabi desert uses a wind turbine to condense water from the air and pump it into storage tanks for filtration and purification. The technology was created by Eole Water after its founder, Marc Parent, was inspired by the water he could collect from his air conditioner unit while living in the Caribbean. He began thinking of ways that water could be condensed from air in areas without access to grid power and the wind turbine concept was born.

The 30-kW wind turbine houses and powers the whole system. Air is taken in through vents in the nose cone of the turbine and then heated by a generator to make steam. The steam goes through a cooling compressor that creates moisture which is then condensed and collected. The water produced is sent through pipes down to stainless steel storage tanks where it’s filtered and purified.

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Is Open-Ended Chaos the Desired US-Israeli Aim in the Middle East?

Courtesy of Counterpunch:

During the last week we have seen Sunni militias take control of ever-greater swathes of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In the mainstream media, the analysis of this emerging reality has been predictably idiotic, basically centering on whether:

a) Obama is to blame for this for having removed US troops in compliance with the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated and signed by Bush.

b) Obama is “man enough” to putatively resolve the problem by going back into the country and killing more people and destroying whatever remains of the country’s infrastructure.

This cynically manufactured discussion has generated a number of intelligent rejoinders on the margins of the mainstream media system. These essays, written by people such as Juan Cole, Robert Parry, Robert Fisk and Gary Leupp, do a fine job of explaining the US decisions that led to the present crisis, while simultaneously reminding us how everything occurring today was readily foreseeable as far back as 2002.

What none of them do, however, is consider whether the chaos now enveloping the region might, in fact, be the desired aim of policy planners in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Rather, each of these analysts presumes that the events unfolding in Syria and Iraq are undesired outcomes engendered by short-sighted decision-making at the highest levels of the US government over the last 12 years.

Looking at the Bush and Obama foreign policy teams—no doubt the most shallow and intellectually lazy members of that guild to occupy White House in the years since World War II—it is easy to see how they might arrive at this conclusion.

But perhaps an even more compelling reason for adopting this analytical posture is that it allows these men of clear progressive tendencies to maintain one of the more hallowed, if oft-unstated, beliefs of the Anglo-Saxon world view.

What is that? Continue reading

What is TTIP and why should we fight it?

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Courtesy of Young Greens:

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated in the US and EU between governments and corporations presents an unprecedented threat not only to food, labour and environmental standards but to democracy itself.

TTIP is a proposed ‘free trade’ agreement between the US and the EU. The negotiations around it are shrouded in secrecy, but the information that has been forced out shows that if successful, the agreement would lead to deregulation of what we eat, how we work, and increase the power that large corporations hold over national governments. TTIP is designed to benefit these corporations: the removal of tariffs and regulatory ‘barriers’ to trade and labour would allow them to maximise their profits, at the cost of workers and consumers. All reasons why Greens in both the UK and across Europe oppose this bosses’ charter.

The Center for Food Safety has already raised concerns about the potential for TTIP to establish a Regulatory Cooperation Council, which could result in ‘harmonisation’ of safety standards, meaning that food not meeting EU standards could be sold here anyway. Such products include chemically washed poultry, livestock treated with growth hormones, and genetically modified crops. These are allowed in the US, which adopts a ‘cost-benefit’ approach to food safety, balancing the interests of corporations against the safety of consumers, as opposed to the ‘precautionary principle’ used in the EU. A lobbyist for the US Council for International Business has admitted that ‘getting rid of the precautionary principle’ is a key aim of TTIP negotiations. Furthermore, such deregulation would apply not only to goods but to labour, allowing business to relocate to places – such as the US – where working standards are lower. This would result in huge job losses in Europe. Continue reading

“Cluster Of Central Banks” Have Secretly Invested $29 Trillion In The Market

Courtesy of The Hedge:

Another conspiracy “theory” becomes conspiracy “fact” as The FT reports “a cluster of central banking investors has become major players on world equity markets.” The report, to be published this week by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF), confirms $29.1tn in market investments, held by 400 public sector institutions in 162 countries, which “could potentially contribute to overheated asset prices.” China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange has become “the world’s largest public sector holder of equities”, according to officials, and we suspect the Fed is close behind (courtesy of more levered positions at Citadel), as the world’s banks try to diversify themselves and “counters the monopoly power of the dollar.” Which leaves us wondering where are the central bank 13Fs?

While most have assumed that this is likely, the recent exuberance in stocks has largely been laid at the foot of another irrational un-economic actor – the corporate buyback machine. However, as The FT reports, what we have speculated as fact for many years now (given the death cross of irrationality, plunging volumes, lack of engagement, and of course dwindling credibility of central planners)… is now fact…

Central banks around the world, including China’s, have shifted decisively into investing in equities as low interest rates have hit their revenues, according to a global study of 400 public sector institutions.

“A cluster of central banking investors has become major players on world equity markets,” says a report to be published this week by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (Omfif), a central bank research and advisory group. The trend “could potentially contribute to overheated asset prices”, it warns.

The report, seen by the Financial Times, identifies $29.1tn in market investments, including gold, held by 400 public sector institutions in 162 countries.

Continue reading

How The US Is Arming Both Sides Of The Iraqi Conflict

It looks like Iranian forces are going to have to enter the foray and what better way to stretch the Iranians, who are also involved in Syria against the same set of US backed and trained heart eating jihadists. It’s also a good way to test the Iranians with their war machines, provided to help create a destabilised region where millions have and will be slaughtered, impoverished and displaced. It’s all an agenda and it’s all going to plan, truly abhorrent behaviour. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Waziristan, , Ukraine and coming to a town or country near you. Courtesy of Zerohedge:

Recall a week ago we wrote “US Begins Delivering F-16s To Iraq This Week, A Decade After It Wiped Out Iraq’s Air Force” in which we said:

… the US will deliver the first of 36 F-16 fighter jets to Iraq in what Baghdad’s envoy to the United States called a “new chapter” in his country’s ability to defend its vast borders with Iran and other neighbors.

….the US earlier in March provided Iraq with some 100 Hellfire missiles as well as assault rifles and other ammunition. Then in April the US sent more arms, providing Iraq with 11 million rounds of ammunition and other supplies.

It is unknown how many of these have fallen into Al Qaeda/ISIS hands (we do know that at least one Iraqi Black Hawk chopper was captured during the rush for Mosul). What is known is that as PBS Frontline reported two weeks ago, while the administration has denied arming Syrian “rebels”, i.e. the same ISIS militants that have crossed the border and are now fighting in Iraq…

… the reality is that it has. From: “Obama Says Not Arming Syrian Rebels, Syrian Rebels Say He Is”

… the Syrian rebels themselves say they are already armed and trained by US in the use of sophisticated weapons and fighting techniques, including, one rebel said, “how to finish off soldiers still alive after an ambush.” The interviews are the latest evidence that after more than three years of warfare, the United States has stepped up the provision of lethal aid to the rebels, as PBS notes “it appears the Obama administration is allowing select groups of rebels to receive US-made anti-tank missiles.”

The commander of the unit also told Ali that their American contacts had asked him to bring 80 to 90 members of his unit to Ankara for training.

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One of the fighters said they received three weeks of training in how to conduct ambushes, conduct raids and use their weapons. They also said they received new uniforms and boots.

“They trained us to ambush regime or enemy vehicles and cut off the road,” said the fighter, who is identified only as “Hussein.” “They also trained us on how to attack a vehicle, raid it, retrieve information or weapons and munitions, and how to finish off soldiers still alive after an ambush.”

To summarize: the US was arming and training the same Al Qaeda/ISIS groups of Jihadists, that it concurrently gave Iraq weapons to fight. And since the Iraq army has so far proven utterly incapable of any resistance, it is now up to US drones to “fight” the same “rebels” that the US itself was collaborating with until a month or so ago.

The clear winner here? The US military-industrial complex, of course, as well as the banks who lend money to the governments to fight wars provoked by various “developed nation” spy agencies.

Collateral damage? Millions of innocent people on the ground in Syria and Iraq, and everywhere else too.