I will always remember my encounter with the writer and cultural icon Susan Sontag, largely because it was on the same day that I met the great Benoit Mandelbrot. I took place in 2001, two months after the terrorist event, in a radio station in New York. Sontag who was being interviewed, was pricked by the idea of a fellow who “studies randomness” and came to engage me. When she discovered that I was a trader, she blurted out that she was “against the market system” and turned her back to me as I was in mid-sentence, just to humiliate me (note here that courtesy is an application of the Silver rule), while her female assistant gave me the look, as if I had been convicted of child killing. I sort of justified her behavior in order to forget the incident, imagining that she lived in some rural commune, grew her own vegetables, wrote on pencil and paper, engaged in barter transactions, that type of stuff.
No, she did not grow her own vegetables, it turned out. Two years later, I accidentally found her obituary (I waited a decade and a half before writing about the incident to avoid speaking ill of the departed). People in publishing were complaining about her rapacity; she had to squeeze her publisher, Farrar Strauss and Giroud of what would be several million dollars today for a book advance. She shared, with a girlfriend, a mansion in New York City, one that was later sold for $28 million dollars. Sontag probably felt that insulting people with money inducted her into some unimpeachable sainthood, exempting her from having skin in the game.
It is immoral to be in opposition of the market system and not live (like the Unabomber) in a hut isolated from it
But there is worse:
It is even more, much more immoral to claim virtue without fully living with its direct consequences
and this will be the main topic of the chapter: exploiting virtue for image, personal gain, careers, social status, these kind of things –and personal gain is anything that does not share the downside of a negative action.
By contrast with Sontag, I have met a few people who live their public ideas. Ralph Nader, for instance, leads the life of a monk, identical to the member of a monastery in the sixteenth century.
“There’s been a coup in Venezuela! Maduro has carried out a power-grab!” Just a few days before the 15th anniversary of the short lived coup against the democratically elected president Chavez (11-13 April, 2002), those who carried out that coup (the Venezuelan oligarchy, their masters in Washington and its lapdogs in Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Santiago de Chile and Lima, cheered on by the media wolf pack in Madrid and the US) are now shouting and screaming like hyenas against an alleged “self coup” by president Maduro.
What are the facts? The immediate cause of this hypocritical outcry is the ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) on March 29 which said that since the National Assembly is in contempt of court, the TSJ will henceforth take over its powers for itself or another power it determines. Immediately, the president of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, declared this as a “coup d’Etat” and Organisation of American States general secretary Luis Almagro described it as a “self coup” and called for the urgent convening of the OAS Permanent Council in order to activate its Democratic Charter against Venezuela. The Peruvian government decided to withdraw its ambassador from Venezuela.
What are the roots of this ruling? Since the victory of the right wing opposition in the National Assembly elections in December 2015, there has been a sharp conflict between the different powers of the state. Already at the end of December 2015, the TSJ ruled that there had been irregularities in the election of deputies in the Amazonas state and declared the election null and void and ordered it to be re-run. Proof was presented that opposition politicians had been involved in vote-buying. This affected four deputies, two from the opposition, one from the PSUV and another one elected in the indigenous list (also a supporter of the opposition). However, these three opposition deputies were key as they would have given the opposition a two thirds majority and therefore much wider powers. The National Assembly refuse to obey the order of the TSJ and swore in the three opposition deputies for Amazonas in January 2016. Again the TSJ declared the act as null and void and in contravention of its earlier ruling. The National Assembly retreated. Then, in July, the National Assembly swore in the three deputies again. In August 2016, the TSJ declared that the National Assembly Presiding Council and the opposition deputies were in contempt of court for having broken two of its rulings.
In a further escalation of the institutional conflict, in October 2016, the National Assembly voted to initiate proceedings for a “political trial” of president Maduro and also proceedings to declare that Maduro had “abandoned his office”. Amongst the reasons given for these actions was the allegation that Maduro is not a Venezuelan citizen and therefore unable to be president (!!). Finally in January 2017, the National Assembly declared that president Maduro had indeed “abandoned his office”. How can he be accused of “abandoning his office” and of “carrying out a power grabbing coup” at the same time is anybody’s guess. The National Assembly furthermore called on the Organisation of American States to invoke its Democratic Charter against Venezuela, in effect calling on foreign powers to violate Venezuelan sovereignty, something which reveals clearly the character of the Venezuelan oligarchy. The attempt to use the Democratic Charter was defeated at the OAS, despite direct threats from Washington against a number of member countries.
Finally, the government enquired from the TSJ whether it needed to send its decision to create joint venture companies in the oil sector to be ratified by the National Assembly. The TSJ replied with its ruling on March 29, that, since the National Assembly was in contempt of court and had not taken any actions to rectify that, the government did not have to send its decisions to it and that the TSJ was taking over National Assembly legislative powers to exercise them directly or through any other organ of power it would determine. That ruling had been preceded by one a day earlier in which the TSJ ruled that since the National Assembly was in contempt of court, its members could not enjoy parliamentary immunity.
If the opposition National Assembly wanted to actually use its powers, it would be easy to abide by the TSJ ruling on the three Amazonas deputies and then start legislating. However, the opposition is not really interested in that, but rather wants to create an incident as big as possible, to justify the removal of Maduro from the presidency.
We must oppose the hypocritical campaign of those who actually did carry out a coup in Venezuela in 2002, who now want to remove Maduro from power and to invoke foreign intervention against Venezuela. If they were to achieve their aims, we know clearly what would be the consequences: all of the gains of the Bolivarian revolution would be destroyed, the social missions abolished, nationalised companies and landed estates returned to their former owners, the labour law would be abolished allowing for mass layoffs in state and private enterprises, old age pensions massively cut, health care and education slashed and a regime of assault on basic democratic rights instituted. If anyone doubts this, you just need to see the initial measures taken by right wing governments as they have come to power in Argentina and Brazil. In Venezuela it would be ten times worse.
“Thus now I have come to recognize the recently implemented sanctions against North Korea as an ‘injustice’.”
Above is a short excerpt from the letter that I received in May 2016, a letter from one of my readers, Mr. Kim Dol, a young South Korean professional based in Seoul.
Mr. Kim Dol, it seems, has been lately suffering from a gradual but irreversible loss of faith in the official dogmas that have been shaping his worldviews for most of his life – dogmas manufactured by his own country, South Korea (ROK), as well as those that have been imported from the West. He discovered countless contradictions between simple logic and what he was told, and expected to believe. He began questioning things, and searching for alternative sources.
That is how he found me. Online, he began reading my essays, as well as the essays of other comrades.
His letter arrived when I had been living for a month in Buenos Aires, Argentina, working on my new political novel while literally confronting the neo-liberal and neo-fascist government of the Argentinean President, Mauricio Macri.
Argentinian people had been fooled and they were now quickly waking up to a social, economic and political nightmare. The US was going to build military bases in at least two territories of this proud and essentially socialist nation. Prices were going up, privatization was in full-swing, and social benefits melting away. Protests erupted all over the capital. The fight for Argentina was on!
Simultaneously, in neighboring Brazil, a clique of cynical, corrupt, white and mostly evangelical members of the pro-Western ‘elites’ managed to overthrow the socialist government of Dilma Rousseff.
Mr. Kim Dol’s letter was timely. The Empire was on the offensive, destroying Latin America, while provoking Russia, China and the DPRK (North Korea).
An enormous military conflict, even a Third World War did not appear as some improbable and phantasmagoric scenario, anymore.
Mr. Kim Dol solicited several questions. His letter and queries were simple, honest and essential. Obviously, they were addressing some of the philosophical and political concerns of South Korean people. I decided to reply, but on one condition: that this exchange would be in the form of an interview, and made public. He agreed. I asked whether he’d mind using his real name? He responded, bravely, that he’d have no problem with that whatsoever.
“Contrary to the rising-tide hypothesis, the rising tide has only lifted the large yachts, while many of the smaller boats have been dashed on the rocks.” Joseph Stiglitz, economist
American plutocrats and their political lackeys in congress have implemented a plan that’s putting pressure on wages and further decimating the already-battered middle class. By sustaining high levels of unemployment over a long period of time, US elites have “restructured the labor force”, which is a pretentious-sounding expression that means they’ve created a permanent underclass that’s willing to slave-away at demeaning, part-time jobs for mere peanuts without uttering a peep of protest. This metamorphosis of the workforce has taken place mostly in the shadows, concealed behind a thick fog of state propaganda touting the fictitious “recovery”, a recovery in which long-term jobless workers have abandoned all hope of finding gainful full-time employment and resigned themselves to a lifetime of scrambling from one odious task to the next just keep a roof over their heads and the wolves away from the door.
After eight years of applying this coercive ‘starvation strategy’, the plutocrat’s ‘grand plan’ is finally coming into focus. According to economists Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger’s new paper titled “The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015″:
“All of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements.”
“Alternative work arrangements”? You mean there’s been zero growth in ordinary 9 to 5, 40-hour-per-week jobs in the last 10 freaking years???
Indeed, that’s exactly what it means. It also means that Obama’s relentless crowing about the phantom “recovery” is mostly bunkum. There is no recovery. It’s an invention built on the ruined lives of people who have been forced to take all-manner of servile, low-paying, part-time, service-sector jobs just to keep food on the table. That’s Obama’s glorious recovery in a nutshell. Here’s more from the World Socialist web Site:
“All US job growth for the last decade came in “alternative work arrangements”—people working as independent contractors, temps, through contract agencies or on-call—according to a study published Tuesday by Princeton University and the RAND Corporation…
The actual number of contingent full-time workers rose from 14.2 million in February 2005 to 23.6 million in November 2015, an increase of 9.4 million. Since total US employment rose by 9.1 million during this period, the number of workers in conventional, full-time positions actually dropped by nearly 400,000.” (Temps and contractors accounted for all US job growth since 2005, World Socialist Web Site)
Repeat: “The number of workers in conventional, full-time positions actually dropped by nearly 400,000.”
Great. So we’re actually going backwards, is that what they’re trying to say?
I’ll try and keep this gracefully short: Mario Draghi ‘unleashed’ a bazooka full of desperate tools on the financial markets yesterday and they blew up in his face faster than you could say blowback or backdraft (and that’s just the start of the alphabet). This must and will mean that Draghi’s stint as ECB head is for all intents and purposes done. But…
But there are two questions: 1) who has the power to fire him (not an easy one), and 2) who can replace him. Difficult issues because the only candidates that would even be considered for the job by the same people who hired -no, not elected- Mario -and who will still be in power after he’s gone-, under present conditions, are carbon copies of Draghi. They all went to the same schools, worked for the same banks etc.
So maybe they’ll let him sit a bit longer. Then again, the damage has been done, and Mario has done a lot of destruction, is what the markets said yesterday. But to replace him with someone who’s also already lost all credibility, because they supported Mario every step of the way, carries a very evident risk: that nobody will believe in the entire ECB itself anymore. If you ask me, it’s crazy that anyone still would, but that’s another chapter altogether.
Not that Janet Yellen and Japan’s Kuroda and China’s Zhou Xiaochuan should not also be put out by the curb. While they may -seem to- vary in approaches today, they all started from the same untested, purely theoretical and entirely clueless origins. Just saying. None of them have any idea what negative rates etc will lead to. They’re all in the same rabbit hole. And that’s not a joke, it’s deeply sad.
Ultra-low interest -even negative- rates and bond purchases to the tune of $1 trillion a year, Mario’s schtick, exist all across the formerly rich world. And they all do for the same purpose: to make the people think that they, and their economies, are still rich. Just so bankers can take from them whatever it is they still do have. Think pension funds, investment funds.
Why did this pandemonium of ZIPR and QE ever get started? Because central banks, and the economists that work within them, edged along by bankers who risked behemoth losses, said the most important thing to do was to ‘save’ the banking system, and they can always find some theory to confirm that preference.
But the banking system is where the losses are, and it’s where the risks are. Which are then both transferred to Joe and Jane Blow, who subsequently have less to spend, which defeats the alleged central bank purpose of ‘stimulating’ the economy.
Draghi’s argument for the new (water-)bazooka measures is that without them, Europe would face ‘awful’ deflation. But it’s his very measures that create and encourage deflation. So who still knows how to count beyond 101? Good question.
But anyway, I just wanted to say that Draghi’s gone in all but physical presence. And if they keep him on for a while longer, that means that what happened today will happen again, just faster. Big risk.
No Super Mario no more.
What happened with Draghi yesterday is eerily reminiscent of the ‘glorious’ Bernanke days, when ‘poor’ Ben would make one of his weighty announcements and the effects he was looking for would fizzle out within hours. In full accordance with the law of diminishing returns, Draghi’s new and far more desperate measures lost their very meaning even within the space of barely more than half an hour. This EURUSD graph says it all:
That is ugly. That has meaning. Much more than Mario -the former Goldman Sachs executive- himself and his paymasters will be willing to acknowledge. It means the financial world is now ready to bet against Draghi. Like they bet against China.
Europe’s best hope, somewhat ironically, is German resistance against Draghi, which yesterday reached a point of no return. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard gave a perfect example overnight of why that is:
Professor Richard Werner from Southampton University, the man who invented the term QE, said the ECB’s policies are likely to destroy half of Germany’s 1,500 savings and cooperative banks over the next five years. They cannot pass on the negative rates to savers so their own margins are suffering. “They are under enormous pressure from regulatory burdens already, and now they are reaching a tipping point,” he said.
These banks make up 70pc of German deposits and provide 90pc of loans to small and medium firms, the Mittelstand companies that form the backbone of German industry. Prof Werner said these lenders are beingpunished in favour of banks that make their money from asset bubbles and speculation.
“We have learned nothing from the financial crisis. The sooner there is a revolt in Germany, the better,” he said.
Draghi’s done. This hole is too deep for him to climb out of.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.
Andre Vltchek is by far one of the most engaging truth tellers out there, tirelessly working for the greater good. He captures the sentiment of the vast majority of thinking people with his piece below on US Elections, that pitiful farce repeated every four years.
I am consecutively stuffing my ears with various airline earplugs, in order not to hear the news blasted on the radio.
I am closing my eyes when the topic appears on TV, even on RT or Press TV.
I skip newspaper headlines.
I beg my friends, comrades and relatives not to bring up the subject in front of me.
I don’t want to know anything about the US Presidential elections!
It is not some sort of pose or “rebellion”; it is just an honest, powerful fear of having my brain damaged, my thoughts derailed from searching for alternative humanistic and political concepts.
I see no need to know who, from all those already pre-approved by the Regime and therefore allowed to “compete”, is going to get nominated by his or her political gang, and who will be finally mounting the saddle of that static wooden horse which is as a rule galloping nowhere, inspires no one and only jumps around crushing with its heavy murderous horseshoes everything and everyone who dares to demand true freedom.
Go and follow elections; even participate in them! If you believe in Western multi-party “democracy”, good for you! Or bad!
Decades, in fact centuries, of the terrible stagnant political scene in North America and Europe has taught you nothing? Then go for it and stick those pieces of marked paper into a carton box!
It was done for ages, that paper insertion. The same thing, when slaves were being chained and shifted from Africa to that “New World”, when hundreds of millions were exterminated by Western colonialism, when the Chinese people were brought to North America for horrible labor, and treated like animals. It was done when the first and the second generation of Europeans were annihilating almost the entire native population of North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean.
The West created elections. So that the elites from within the white race, as well as the white race in general, could justify the brutality with which they have been ruling the world. They need to feel that they are fulfilling the wishes of the world, or at least of their own citizens.
The moneyed and bellicose clans always get elected; there are ways to assure it.
Several Greek philosophers protested: they were defending direct democracy, the direct “rule of the people”. They were sidelined, or silenced altogether.
During the previous US Presidential elections I was in Nairobi, Kenya, where my good friend, an Indian bookseller at Yaya Center, was pushing on me several Greek classics.