Archive for International

Sep
25

Germany’s creeping satisfactionism

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Germans are much happier with their lot than Americans, writes Harold Meyerson. Satisfaction tracks more closely with a country’s economy than its style of government, according to a recent Pew survey of the world’s economies. Nine out of ten people in countries with “advanced” economies were dissatisfied with theirs, and eight felt their economies were “bad.” Except Germany.

A strong, manufacturing-driven export economy (with the Euro a factor) and a weaker financial sector sets Germany apart from the United States. Whereas 58 percent in the U.S. feel the economy is bad, 85 percent of Germans felt things in Germany were going well. Why?

Many of Germany’s most successful companies are privately owned and not subject to investor pressure to reward large shareholders through practices prevalent in the United States, such as slashing wages, cutting back on worker training and research and development and buying back stock. Publicly traded German companies still retain their earnings to invest in expansions, a practice that was the U.S. norm until the doctrine of rewarding shareholders with nearly all of a company’s profits took hold during the past quarter-century.

In the United States, major shareholders and the top executives whose pay increasingly is linked to stock price control the corporate boards that approve these kinds of distributions of their companies’ earnings. In Germany, however, the profits that companies rack up are shared more broadly because shareholders don’t dominate corporate boards. By law, any sizable German company must divide the seats on its board equally between management- and worker-selected representatives. Any company with more than 50 employees must have managers meet regularly with workers’ councils to discuss and negotiate issues of working conditions (but not pay). These arrangements have largely ensured that the funding is there for the world’s best worker-training programs and that the most highly skilled and compensated jobs of such globalized German firms as Daimler and Siemens remain in Germany. They have ensured that prosperity is widely shared in Germany — not concentrated at the top, as it is in the United States.

Damned socialists. No … wait.

Some friends observed that tax and economic policy changes in this country over the last thirty years have shifted the business model from one that encouraged, long, slow growth sustained by good schools, sound infrastructure, and reinvestment — more like the German model — to one that encourages financialization and get-rich-quick schemes. Make your money fast and cash out. If that’s not your business model, said one from experience, American venture capitalists are uninterested in your better mousetrap.

Says Meyerson, since the 1980s U.S. business and government leaned on Germany “to get with the Wall Street program.” The Germans declined. Their economy did not. Overall, Germans seem rather satisfied with the results.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Sep
24

War will keep us together

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The WaPo front page headline “Airstrikes bring together
Arab nations often at odds” started that old Captain and Tennile song playing in my head. (I know. Sorry.) It seems we’ve been thinking about it wrong all these years. Lasting war is the only hope for peace in the Middle East.

The four Persian Gulf nations whose warplanes flew in concert with U.S. jets over Syria this week have spent the past few years acting with far less harmony, riven by divergent approaches to address the growth of Islamist political movements in the Arab world.

The differences among the countries have grown so stark and acrimonious that earlier this year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar, which has funded Islamists across the region to the consternation of the other three nations. In the months that followed, they have continued to wage a proxy war of sorts in Egypt and Libya, where the UAE recently conducted airstrikes against rebels backed by Qatar.

But then along comes ISIS (ISIL, the Islamic State, etc.). Theodore Karasik, the director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, says the group considered the threat “to be greater than what was happening among them.” The United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. believes that this new and improved radical Islam is such an existential threat to the region that, “We need to confront it as a team.”

Now, combining their roguish ways with old-fashioned American firepower, this undisciplined band of miscreants and misfits must somehow work together to save the galaxy from ISIS — to a 1970s soundtrack.

Uh-huh.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Sep
21

But not a drop to drink?

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As the People’s Climate March begins in New York later today, California struggles with record drought. It’s not just the hippies worried about climate change, and not just here.

The UK must prepare for “the worst droughts in modern times” experts will warn this week at a major international conference to discuss the growing global water crisis.

Britain is looking at ways of reconfiguring its water infrastructure — expanding reservoirs, imposing tougher water extraction licenses, considering more desalination plants. “In the past we have planned for our water resources to cope with the worst situation on record but records are only 100 years long,” explains Trevor Bishop, the Environment Agency’s deputy director. “We may get a situation that is worse than that – with climate change that is perfectly possible.”

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Sep
18

Changing everything

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Naomi Klein appeared last night on All In with Chris Hayes to discuss her new book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate.” The logical extension of her earlier work, Klein called last night for a reevaluation of “the values that govern our society.” She writes, “our economic system and our planetary system are now at war … there are policies that can lower emissions quickly, and successful models all over the world for doing so. The biggest problem is that we have governments that don’t believe in governing.”
I haven’t read it yet, but I wanted to comment on the backlash we are sure to see.

Klein believes trying to address climate alone — as the environmental movement has — gets the issue wrong. As the Guardian put it, “[I]t’s about capitalism – not carbon – the extreme anti-regulatory version that has seized global economies since the 1980s and has set us on a course of destruction and deepening inequality.” Klein told Chris Hayes, “It’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of that highly individualistic, zero-sum game kind of thinking.”

This, of course, will set lots of hair on fire on the right. In fact, Hayes led off the segment with a few choice quotes from some spokesmen on the right who believe climate change is a left-wing conspiracy. Then there is Rush Limbaugh: “That’s what global warming is. It’s merely a platform to advance communism.”

Please. I was born during the second Red Scare. I was a tot when they launched Sputnik. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. That was half a century ago.

A quarter of a century after that, the Berlin Wall fell and American conservatives declared that Saint Ronald of Reagan had slain the Evil Empire and won the Cold War. And a quarter of a century after that, they’re still looking for commies in woodpiles and for Reds under their beds before they cower beneath the sheets.

Last year, even Forbes gave communism all the relevance of a Renaissance festival.

Not even the Chinese are communists anymore. Have you seen Shanghai lately? China has about cornered the free market in glass-and-steel skyscrapers and the cranes and concrete to build them. They sure as hell cornered a chunk of investment by Republican donors.

It took most of the 1990s, but with the former Soviet Pacific fleet rusting away at the docks in Vladivostok, even the Pentagon figured out communism wasn’t the Red Menace anymore. It took Russia less than a decade after the Wall fell to revert to the oligarchy it was before the Bolshevik Revolution – peasants and plutocrats. Which is where we’re headed, if you haven’t noticed.

If conservatives’ would-be leaders are so worried about the U.S. emulating the Roosskies, they might want to stop licking the boots of our domestic plutocrats. They might want to get their heads out of their anti-communism and join the rest of us in addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Sep
17

Old warhorses

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Buster Keaton in “The General.” Public domain.

Hear that melody? Sen. Lindsay Graham is conducting the Village Symphony Orchestra in one of Republicans’ favorite warhorses. You’ve heard it before. You’ll hear it again.

“Republicans mount their warhorses” sits atop the WaPo’s online Opinion section this morning. (If you arrived late, music lovers, the VSO just began the ISIS movement.)

The sudden desire for a ground war is a bit suspect, both because many Republicans adopted this view only after Obama came around to their previous view and because many Republicans oppose even the modest funding Obama has requested to train Syrian fighters. (Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she opposed “giving even more money to the so-called vetted moderates who aren’t moderate at all.”)

It may be that Republicans embraced the boots-on-the-ground position because Obama rejected it. Whatever the cause, the militancy is spreading — even though polls indicate that while Americans favor military action against the Islamic State, they aren’t keen on ground troops.

Of course, whatever the Kenyan Pretender wants is not enough for Graham and the VSO. Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) wants “all-out-war.” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) doesn’t want another “half-pregnant war.” As Dana Milbank observes, the rest of the VSO (or is it the Very Serious Orchestra?) oppose anything less than a new ground war in the Middle East. And soon, because they want to hurry back to their districts to campaign for reelection wearing new campaign ribbons. And hoping war hysteria might distract voters from quizzing them on what they haven’t done in Washington to earn their paychecks.

Maybe I missed the act of war ISIS committed against the United States of America that justifies the war into which (with their new trailer) ISIS wants to goad us. Or has America just gone so far down the rabbit hole that we’ll launch another war because — when in doubt — it’s the one thing this aging empire does by default? Like the clueless civilian Buster Keaton plays in “The General,” who, finding himself in the middle of a Civil War battle, brandishes a discarded saber to rally troops whenever he doesn’t know what else to do?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Sep
15

Peek-a-boo, we spy you

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Why don’t the spy agencies just give their next eavesdropping program a name like “Big Brother” and be done with it? Der Spiegel began its weekend report on the hacking of Deutsche Telekom with the cutsey names British and American spooks give to various Internet snooping programs: “Evil Olive” or “Egoistic Giraffe.” Or the Johnny Depp-ish “Treasure Map,” with a logo featuring a skull with glowing eye holes. [Emphasis mine.]

Treasure Map is anything but harmless entertainment. Rather, it is the mandate for a massive raid on the digital world. It aims to map the Internet, and not just the large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. It also seeks to identify the devices across which our data flows, so-called routers.

Furthermore, every single end device that is connected to the Internet somewhere in the world — every smartphone, tablet and computer — is to be made visible. Such a map doesn’t just reveal one treasure. There are millions of them.

Soon, they’ll teach your smartphone to bark out commands and lead you in morning calisthenics:

“Smith! 6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please! That’s better, comrade.”

But before getting to that, according documents from Britain’s GCHQ leaked by Edward Snowden, the plan is to map out the entire geography of the worldwide Internet. And not just the hardware.

Treasure Map allows for the creation of an “interactive map of the global Internet” in “near real-time,” the document notes. Employees of the so-called “FiveEyes” intelligence agencies from Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which cooperate closely with the American agency NSA, can install and use the program on their own computers. One can imagine it as a kind of Google Earth for global data traffic, a bird’s eye view of the planet’s digital arteries.

Unless your are Angela Merkel, the spying revealed by Snowden has, for the most part, always seemed abstract, theoretical. Here, it gets personal. Der Spiegel reviewed some of the Snowden documents with staff from a German telecom, Stellar. In Der Spiegel’s video (watch it here), we see the engineers “visibly shocked” as they realize not only have their systems been hacked and client passwords compromised, but key engineers sitting in the room have been “tasked” for surveillance because of their level of access to the network. Pointing to a name in one of the Treasure Map documents, the reporter says, “That’s you,” to the stunned guy sitting across the table. The security breach, the engineer explains, would allow the spy agency to remotely see “the exact point on the globe that a customer is located.”

Don’t you feel safer knowing you’re paying the salaries of the Americans doing the same? That they work for you?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : International, Privacy
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Sep
14

Piece of crap

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In a lead Sunday op-ed, I once slammed local planners for wanting to develop a former factory site into yet another strip mall anchored by big-box stores. Low prices, low wages. Just what the unemployed factory workers need, right? I couldn’t believe the editors allowed it to run with the line about stores selling “cheap, plastic crap from China.”

Now this from the WaPo: The Postal Service is losing millions a year to help you buy cheap stuff from China

Via an arcane treaty mechanism, the U.S. Postal Service delivers small packages from Chinese merchants to destinations in the U.S. at below its cost. The inspector general’s office estimated that foreign “ePacket” treaty mail cost the USPS $79 million in 2013 and another $5 billion last year.

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Naomi Klein contemplates the struggle between climate change and the globalization juggernaut. It is a struggle she once left to environmentalists. But having struggled with infertility and having covered the Gulf oil spill, her perspective changed. “It’s not that I got in touch with my inner Earth Mother,” Klein writes, “it’s that I started to notice that if the Earth is indeed our mother, then she is a mother facing a great many fertility challenges of her own.”

That climate change is linked to our lifestyle and our economy – and our attempts to deal with planetary warming without changing either – is the crux of Klein’s long piece in the Guardian:

“What is wrong with us? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and benefit the vast majority – are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media.”

Read: Billionaires with good intentions, flashy pronouncements, and market-driven solutions have failed to curb emissions. Much of the piece focuses on Richard Branson’s failed, but much ballyhooed efforts to apply a the same business savvy that made him rich to save the planet.

The idea that only capitalism can save the world from a crisis it created is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested in the real world. We can now take a hard look at the results: at the green products shunted to the back of the supermarket shelves at the first signs of recession; at the venture capitalists who were meant to bankroll a parade of innovation but have come up far short; at the fraud-infested, boom-and-bust carbon market that has failed to cut emissions. And, most of all, at the billionaires who were going to invent a new form of enlightened capitalism but decided, on second thoughts, that the old one was just too profitable to surrender.

Post-Reagan, deregulated capitalism has long looked like something out of Mary Shelley or science-fiction films, a creature we created, but no longer control. Billionaires and their acolytes see only its benefits, but as Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm says in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running, and then screaming.” Where once We the People held capitalism’s leash, now we wear the collar.

Whether it’s turning your child’s education from a shared public cost into a corporate profit center; or turning the principle of one-man, one-vote into one-dollar, one-vote; or carbon tax credits and accounting tricks for addressing rising sea levels; questioning the universal application of a business approach to any human need or problem often prompts the challenge, “Do you have something against making a profit?” A more subtle form of red-baiting, this ploy is supposed to be a conversation stopper. Yes? You’re a commie. Game over.

Maybe it’s time our billionaire problem-solvers got over themselves.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Sep
06

Not Your Average Tourist Video

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The eruption of Mount Tavurvur volcano on August 29th, 2014. Captured by Phil McNamara.

Categories : Breather, International
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Jul
19

People At Risk, Water A Weapon

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Michigan has Rick Snyder. North Carolina has Pat McCrory. Here in Detroit for Netroots Nation, it is clear that Michigan is facing some of the same issues with GOP governance as North Carolina. The Koch brothers’ influence is palpable to these people. And where North Carolina has Art Pope, Michigan has the DeVos family.

With twenty percent of the world’s fresh water in the Great Lakes and flowing past our hotel, Detroit faces water privatization. It was not lost on those in Asheville that when Michigan’s governor appointed an emergency manager for Detroit — superseding local democracy and local governance — about the first public asset that went on the auction block was its water and sewer.

Sound familiar?

Over and over again this weekend, stories being told at Netroots echo what we are experiencing in North Carolina. The same destructive agenda is being acted out across the country. Other states are worse off, having enacted budgets like Gov. Sam Brownback’s in Kansas ahead of Pat McCrory’s in North Carolina. But the results will be the same in the Old North State. We are only now seeing the leading edge.

As we sit here, a panel of local activists is discussing the privatization of Detroit’s water system and Michigan’s public schools. In actions described by activist Maureen Taylor as “beyond demonic,” thousands of poor residents are having their water cut off in Detroit. Some going without running water for over a year. Mothers with children. The United Nations

It is not encouraging to see how widespread the assault is on public institutions, but it is good to know we are not alone in the fight.