Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Saudi Peak

/ oil / reserves /
"For those oil enthusiasts who believe that petroleum will remain abundant for decades to come—among them, the president, the vice president, and their many friends in the oil industry—any talk of an imminent 'peak' in global oil production and an ensuing decline can be easily countered with a simple mantra: 'Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia.' Not only will the Saudis pump extra oil now to alleviate global shortages, it is claimed, but they will keep pumping more in the years ahead to quench our insatiable thirst for energy. And when the kingdom's existing fields run dry, lo, they will begin pumping from other fields that are just waiting to be exploited. We ordinary folk need have no worries about oil scarcity, because Saudi Arabia can satisfy our current and future needs. This is, in fact, the basis for the administration's contention that we can continue to increase our yearly consumption of oil, rather than conserve what's left and begin the transition to a post-petroleum economy. Hallelujah for Saudi Arabia!

But now, from an unexpected source, comes a devastating challenge to this powerful dogma: In a newly released book, investment banker Matthew R. Simmons convincingly demonstrates that, far from being capable of increasing its output, Saudi Arabia is about to face the exhaustion of its giant fields and, in the relatively near future, will probably experience a sharp decline in output. 'There is only a small probability that Saudi Arabia will ever deliver the quantities of petroleum that are assigned to it in all the major forecasts of world oil production and consumption,' he writes in Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy . 'Saudi Arabian production,' he adds, italicizing his claims to drive home his point, 'is at or very near its peak sustainable volume...and it is likely to go into decline in the very foreseeable future.'

In addition, there is little chance that Saudi Arabia will ever discover new fields that can take up the slack from those now in decline. 'Saudi Arabia's exploration efforts over the last three decades were more intense than most observers have assumed,' Simmons asserts. 'The results of these efforts were modest at best.'"

See also this interview with M.R. Simmons. Excerpt:
The basic assumptions of energy planners at the highest levels have been that the Saudis will continue to increase their output to meet rising demand. But you're saying that they couldn't really produce more oil if they wanted to.

I'm basically asserting, without complete proof, that from a planning-for-risk point of view we should start assuming that it is quite risky for them to keep producing oil at high levels. It is not at all certain that the Saudis could sustain high rates for even as much as a decade, let alone what they claim. They said in Washington recently that they could increase their production to 15 million barrels a day and keep it there for at least 50 years.

Monday, June 27, 2005

America's neo-conservative world supremacists will fail

/ downfalls / predictable /
From the moment the drums of war started beating in preparation of the invasion of Iraq, I was bugged by what seemed to me to be an incomprehensible element about this whole affair: it didn't make sense from the standpoint of what is commonly called "US interests". These interests (which have generally, little to do with the US population - apart from certain elites) include the facilitation of american corporate expansion and domination abroad and domestically, or the imposition of American military authority over some maverick state threatening to become a bad example, or any of the many facets of the dirty work required in order to maintain global hegemony. This war could not achieve anything remotely similar.
The war was for oil (among other things) all right, but not for the large oil companies. The large oil corporations certainly could forsee (or at least fear) the destabilizing influence this sort of intervention would have in the broader region. It would be vastly preferable, one guesses, to arrange a transformation of the Baathist regime from a despicable tyrrany to an unfortunately violent ally, or indeed ensure that some gestures were made in "democratizing" Iraq. This sort of thing has happenned before and there was no reason (if the interests of Big Oil were guiding this invasion) to do it differently this time. This, even if the scale of the Iraqi resistence could not have been predicted, was evident even before the invasion, and was the point of an article by Yahya Sadowski in Le Monde Diplomatique back in April 2003, in which he claims that small American independent oil companies, and not the majors, stand to benefit from the Iraq adventure (which has since gone wrong in more ways than anyone could have dreamt possible in 2003).
Nor is there any obvious way that this war stands to benefit immediate "US interests" in the broader sense, since exporting destabilization, war and terror, over the worlds largest oil reserves, is hardly in the interests of the major financial elites in either side of the Atlantic - and the fact that the generally compliant and servile French and German governments would not let themselves be dragged into this mess, backed in this stance by near unanimous domestic support, suggests that, apart from the obvious political unacceptability of this last war (which was a very hard one to sell and even harder to justify as Tony Blair found out), there was a very large part of the European elites that saw no benefit to be gained at all by this war. Given that there exists a broad section of the Western elites that is internationalized, the European unwillingness to cooperate with the US in the Iraq war, can be seen as an indication that these transatlantic financial/political elites (which were dominant during the Clinton years) were not at all happy with the way things developed in Iraq, in Europe or the US - that the Bush cabal was in fact an abberation rather than a continuation of standard imperialist policy. Indirect evidence for this is the American media's less than wholehearted support for this war (certainly in comparison with previous and recent military adventures which were unwaveringly supported).

Well... I'm, happy to say that the great marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm seems to have a much more coherent version of the same general train of thought, in his latest article in the Guardian, of which I quote the conclusion:

...All the great powers and empires of history knew that they were not the only ones, and none was in a position to aim at genuinely global domination. None believed themselves to be invulnerable.

Nevertheless, this does not quite explain the evident megalomania of US policy since a group of Washington insiders decided that September 11 gave them the ideal opportunity for declaring its single-handed domination of the world. For one thing, it lacked the support of the traditional pillars of the post-1945 US empire, the state department, armed services and intelligence establishment, and of the statesmen and ideologists of cold war supremacy - men like Kissinger and Brzezinski. These were people who were as ruthless as the Rumsfelds and Wolfowitzes... They had devised and managed a policy of imperial hegemony over the greater part of the globe for two generations, and were perfectly ready to extend it to the entire globe. They were and are critical of the Pentagon planners and neo-conservative world supremacists because these patently have had no concrete ideas at all, except imposing their supremacy single-handed by military force, incidentally jettisoning all the accumulated experience of US diplomacy and military planning. No doubt the debacle of Iraq will confirm them in their scepticism.

Even those who do not share the views of the old generals and proconsuls of the US world empire (which were those of Democratic as well as Republican administrations) will agree that there can be no rational justification of current Washington policy in terms of the interests of America's imperial ambitions or, for that matter, the global interests of US capitalism.

It may be that it makes sense only in terms of the calculations, electoral or otherwise, of American domestic policy. It may be a symptom of a more profound crisis within US society. It may be that it represents the - one hopes short-lived - colonisation of Washington power by a group of quasi-revolutionary doctrinaires. (At least one passionate ex-Marxist supporter of Bush has told me, only half in jest: "After all, this is the only chance of supporting world revolution that looks like coming my way.") Such questions cannot yet be answered.

It is reasonably certain that the project will fail. However, while it continues, it will go on making the world an intolerable place for those directly exposed to US armed occupation and an unsafer place for the rest of us...

Friday, June 24, 2005

Greek Quackery

/ conspiratorialism / local /
A wikipedia article presenting (at last) the true glory of modern Greek pseudohistorical quackery, and their contrived mythologies that put to shame anything the Anglosaxon religious and nonreligious conspiracy theorists might have come up with. This is truly funny until you realize that far too great a number of people (if book sales are any measure) actually believe in this sort of nonsense.
To give you an idea of the scope of this (and related national mysticist) lunacy, I heard an author of some of the classics of this pseudohistorical literature claim on his TV show, that "10,000 years ago, America was densely populated by Greeks". That's ten thousand years ago. Densely. This is the absurd end of a spectrum of irrational/ahistorical/antiscientific beliefs that are far too common among the population at large (i.e. the extent of Ancient Greek scientific knowledge and technology, the ultimate indigeneity of the Greeks and the idea that the Greek language is the mother of all languages - or even the idea that Greeks today are somehow the target of some sort of international persecution/conspiracy due to their uniqueness and talent).

The fact that this sort of thing has an (unnervingly large) audience, could be the result of a twisted Zeitgeist, a declining educational system and/or too much bad TV programming eroding the higher brain functions of a significant part of the viewership.

Via Till the blog (in Greek), a skepticist blog, run by Manolis, bullshit-slayer par excellance.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Brief History of the Apocalypse

/ the end / indefinitely / postponed /

"The 21st century has begun in earnest! And despite the cries of doomsayers, psychics and prophets, the world has not come to an end!

Is the idea that the End is near a recent phenomenon? Far from it. Indeed, Chicken Littles have crying doom since ancient times. The aim of this page is to debunk end-time prophecy by listing hundreds of failed doomsday predictions, allay the fears spread by end-time preachers, and demonstrate that doomcrying is nothing new. I also hope you will derive amusement from some of the more bizarre prophecies."

A compedium of Doomsday predictions from antiquity to the future. A real public service.

via Metafilter

Godel and the Nature of Mathematical Truth

/ truth / mathematical /
A discussion with philosopher and novelist Rebecca Goldstein:
"Godel mistrusted our ability to communicate. Natural language, he thought, was imprecise, and we usually don't understand each other. Godel wanted to prove a mathematical theorem that would have all the precision of mathematics—the only language with any claims to precision—but with the sweep of philosophy. He wanted a mathematical theorem that would speak to the issues of meta-mathematics. And two extraordinary things happened. One is that he actually did produce such a theorem. The other is that it was interpreted by the jazzier parts of the intellectual culture as saying, philosophically exactly the opposite of what he had been intending to say with it."

A very interesting interview relating to Godel and his quest for a vindication of his Platonism, as well as the intellectual climate in which he thrived.

Just one gripe... Goldstein, referring to the friendship between Godel and Einstein says:

"... Both of them saw their work in a certain philosophical context. They were both strong realists: —Einstein in physics, and obviously Godel in mathematics. That philosophical perspective put them at odds with many of their scientific peers..."

Well, mathematical realism (aka Platonism) and scientific realism are not quite the same thing. They are not related. Mathematical realism is a species of idealism, whereas scientific realism is strictly a (mutated) nephew of logical positivism, the antithesis of Platonism as explicitly mentioned by Goldstein herself in the linked article when she discusses Godel's differences with the Vienna circle. It's probably true furthermore, that calling Einstein a "realist" oversimplifies his somewhat eclectic and idiosyncratic philosophy of science. So the parallelism fails completely.

PS1: A book to read on Godel and Einstein and how Godel added a twist to Einstein's General Theory of Relativity is Godel Meets Einstein, by Palle Yourgrau.

PS2: Sorry about the missing umlauts (they wouldn't display properly)...

Link via Monochrom

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bards of the Powerful

/ pro / bono / apologetics
George Monbiot is alarmed at Bob Geldof's and Bono's assuming the mantle of debt-relief potentates, for the people and instead of the people.
"...The real danger at the G8 summit is not that the protests will turn violent – the appetite for that pretty well disappeared in September 2001 – but that they will be far too polite.

Let me be more precise. The danger is that we will follow the agenda set by Bono and Bob Geldof.

The two musicians are genuinely committed to the cause of poverty reduction. They have helped secure aid and debt relief packages worth billions of dollars. They have helped to keep the issue of global poverty on the political agenda. They have mobilised people all over the world. These are astonishing achievements, and it would be stupid to disregard them.

The problem is that they have assumed the role of arbiters: of determining on our behalf whether the leaders of the G8 nations should be congratulated or condemned for the decisions they make. They are not qualified to do so, and I fear that they will sell us down the river.

Take their response to the debt relief package for the world’s poorest countries that the G7 finance ministers announced ten days ago. Anyone with a grasp of development politics who had read and understood the ministers’ statement could see that the conditions it contains – enforced liberalisation and privatisation – are as onerous as the debts it relieves... But Bob Geldof praised it as “a victory for the millions of people in the campaigns around the world”,... and Bono pronounced it “a little piece of history”... Like many of those – especially the African campaigners I know – who have been trying to highlight the harm done by such conditions, I feel betrayed by these statements. Bono and Geldof have made our job more difficult..."

Monbiot has written about the G7 debt-relief offer and has decried it as "...little better than an extortion racket". The Committee for the Abolition of the Third World Debt is similarly unimpressed by the gesture...

South African activists Patrick Bond, Dennis Brutus and Virginia Setshedi, are also noticeably furious at U2's lead singer and the NGOs he rode in on.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Debunking the liberalizers [pdf]

/ political / james randis /
The European comission's "Horizontal Evaluation Of The Performance Of Network Industries Providing Services Of General Economic Interest" (EC SEC(2004) 866) [pdf], is effectively revealed to be rather biased, in its market idolatry, so much that it ignores the evidence of its own research... This is a public service announcement brought to you via the (title-linked) report, commissioned by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) and prepared by the PSIRU, Business School at the University of Greenwich.
A summarizing excerpt from the critical report:

"...The report starts with a statement of satisfaction: “the overall performance of services of general interest in the EU is good in terms of prices, employment, productivity, service quality, fulfilment of public service obligations and consumer satisfaction.” (Horizontal Evaluation Report p. 4) This statement is remarkable for a number of reasons, (including its mistake in referring to Services of General Interest rather than Services of General Economic Interest), because almost every item in it contradicts evidence in the report itself.

  • The claim about prices is at odds with the reports own acknowledgement later that all the liberalised industries, with the exception of air transport and telecoms, recorded price rises higher than general inflation in 2003;

  • the claim on employment is at odds with its own data that jobs in these sectors fell by 600,000 (7.5%) between 1991 and 2003;

  • the claim on productivity seems to flatly contradict its own observation that "no significant impact of reforms was identified on the growth of labour productivity" ;

  • the claim on service quality fits poorly with its own assessment, five pages later, which highlights the reliability of supply and environmentally-friendly production as the chosen quality indicators in electricity and declares that "For both, no significant improvements can be reported."

  • the assurance of consumer satisfaction sits uneasily with the results of the qualitative survey of consumer opinion, which shows widespread scepticism that consumers will benefit from liberalisation, and a dominant belief in the need for state responsibility in these sectors, including control of prices.

  • This encapsulates the general problems with the report. It identifies and presents much data of interest and relevance to an evaluation of Services of General Economic Interest, but fails to note some other data of importance and relevance, and often fails to draw reasonable conclusions from the data that it does. One reason for this is that the report is concerned above all to avoid any criticism of liberalisation. The net result is a statement of ideological complacency pasted over an incomplete review of evidence.

    Afghanistan, a primer

    / wastelands / afghanistan /
    This piece is required reading regarding Afghanistan's history of the past three decades. Excerpt:

    "...The Taliban were brought to the scene, two old ‘friends’ were highly instrumental, Pakistan and the USA. The Taliban entered almost every city with flowers thrown at them and thousands of people there to greet them with rapturous cheers. Once in Kabul, and fully in power, the Taliban showed their true colour – Life became hell on earth, literally. Some of the atrocities are well documented and I don’t think we need to dwell on this. This time people could not think what was better for them, many were resigned to the hell unleashed in the form of Taliban, accepting it as a way of life. This time, however, their predecessors were not wished for...

    ...The general public was told that the Taliban and Al Qaeda projects had gone terribly wrong for some reason and they had to be bombed out of power, as if people had any say in the process. The Taliban were indeed bombed out of power and they could certainly not put up any resistance as they had no power base among ordinary people – except in a few places in the South and South West of the country. Yet again, thousands of people were killed in the process of a project going badly wrong, the Empire once again whipped people into ‘enduring’ its designated ‘freedom’ – heavens forbid what could be in store. A taste of what could the Empire’s ‘enduring freedom’ mean are: bombing entire villages, night raids on villages in the middle of nowhere, arbitrary imprisonments in various secret US prisons in the Gulag called Afghanistan, torture, sodomising prisoners and death under extreme torture...

    And a message from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), regarding the recent demonstrations:

    "...People are fed up with many critical social issues and come out on the streets to protest. When people see that Karzai shakes hands with the most dirty enemies of the Afghan people, who first of all should appear in a court of justice; when people see that millions of dollars given in the name of the reconstruction of Afghanistan goes into the pockets of warlords and no one asks about their brutality (on the contrary Mr. Karzai frequently installs them in key posts); they have no other option but to protest and in many cases it takes a violent form.

    The situation in Afghanistan is far more disastrous then what you may imagine. The Karzai administration has done nothing positive but just works hard to gather all the top fundamentalist criminals around himself. Even these days he is trying to portray some key Taliban leaders as “moderates,” and tries to share power with them. A few days ago through Sibghatullah Mojadeddi, the government announced amnesty for Gulbuddin and Mullah Omar if they surrender..."

    Help build Independent World Television!

    / media / noncorporate /
    This is a project that aims to create a "Left CNN", based on individual contributions through the internet. The project's originator, Paul Jay, aims for "No corporate ownership. No corporate underwriting. No government funding. No commercial advertising."

    The basic idea as stated in the project's web page (linked above, from this post's title):

    The Problem

    Serious news and full-spectrum debate—on which democracy depends—are disappearing from television. Across the globe, news media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few entertainment conglomerates whose interests determine news coverage. They promote superficial "infotainment" over tough investigation, context and holding authority accountable. Public broadcasters face shrinking budgets and growing political and commercial pressures.

    The Solution

    We must change the economics of journalism.

    We need a news and current affairs network which defends the public interest and the highest standards of journalism. Independent World Television will be such a network -- a non-profit broadcast service financed by its viewers across the globe, independent of corporate or government funding and commercial advertising.

    Why Hasn't This Happened Before?

    There were no means to directly engage people around the world to raise the funds. Now, the Internet allows millions to band together and raise capital to compete with corporate media outlets. Think of the 15 million people worldwide who demonstrated against war in Iraq on one day in 2003. Think of the Internet fundraising successes of MoveOn.org and the Howard Dean presidential campaign (senior Dean fundraisers are organizing IWTnews' fundraising campaign)...

    More here [pdf file]
    You can contribute here, and I'm planning to do just that soon, even though I'm not certain that I'd be able to view this network in Greece. It's something that's interesting both politically and as a way to finance alternative projects. Plus, the Founding Advisory Committee list is quite impressive and reassuring that my money will be as well spent as possible...

    Monday, June 13, 2005

    Godzilla and the Bravo Shot:

    / monsters / rebellious /
    "...Many other Godzillas have been produced in Japan since 1954, but from the 1960s Godzilla rapidly lost its power of social realism. (An important exception is Godzilla vs. Hedra of 1971, which explores Japan's pollution problems like Minamata Disease.) Godzilla became a good guy who confronts bad monsters and always wins. In other words, it became a pet Godzilla. Yet a pet Godzilla is no longer a monster. A monster is only entitled to be a monster because of an unpredictability that surpasses our imagination. A monster should have a future that includes the possibility that it will rebel against the corrupt and wretched world. Failing that, it should be terminated. For me, a pet Godzilla is the product of the imagination of Japanese parents -- i.e. kyoiku mama and papa (educationally-driven mothers and fathers) -- as well as of the Japanese school system that moulds obedient children, depriving them of imagination. The taming of Godzilla anticipates the loss of imaginative and creative powers by Japanese adults..."

    Blog from Bolivia

    / revolutions / blogged /
    The Democracy Center blogs from Bolivia, providing excellent on-the-ground analysis of the current uprising.
    Narconews provides a timetable of the latest events that led to president Mesa's ouster. Meanwhile there seems to be a truce between the new government an the leadership of the protest movement(/revolt?).

    Note that the Washington Post correctly describes the issues behind the protests:

    The demonstrators were demanding the ruling elite grant more power to the poor majority through a "constitutional assembly," that the country's natural gas fields be nationalized and that the government back away from the free market reforms many impoverished Bolivians blame for compounding chronic poverty in the country.

    This probably seems too improbably impudent a version of events to Forbes which, reporting on the same story, softens the unilaterally softens up the demands:

    Sunday's meeting was a new sign of detente after three weeks of protests as poor Bolivians demanded a larger share of the country's huge natural gas wealth, second in South America only to Venezuela's.

    Speaking of Venezuela, Chavez (who was cleared from any involvement in the uprising by Mesa himself) has no doubt about who's ultimately to blame for the situation in Bolivia...

    Bolivia was among the 18 poor nations that saw their debts cancelled in the G8 meeting. However the leader of the Bolivian opposition, while happy about the announcement, see the issue in broader context.

    (See also: Floridian home of Latin American reaction squirms noticeably)

    Saturday, June 11, 2005

    More on Greeks in Bosnia and Yugoslavia

    / nationalism / murderous /
    I discovered this story in the Athens daily "Eleftherotypia" while looking around the web for more information on Greco-Serb collaboration in Bosnia. I found it through another Greek blog (touki8eblom), and it's a story that was reported in 2003 and then dies quickly and quietly. The gist of it is roughly the following (original story here)

    While trying to bust the trafficking of illegal steroids network, that operated through the internet, the police found itself searching the house of a certain 36 year-old in Athens, for whom there was evidence that he was indeed involved in illegal sales.

    Their search came up with something much more horrific: 80 photos of slaughtered Muslim civilians in Bosnia. Children, women and men, young and old... The atrocities were committed by an army that included Greek volunteers, who ready to do anything to help the Bosnian Serb paramilitaries.

    The pictures include smiling photos of members of the paramilitaries that were active in the former Yugoslavia until 1997.

    The man was charged with selling illegal drugs to bodybuilders (a bodybuilder himself), while a gun and small quantities of hashish were found among his possessions.

    He claimed that he wasn't present during the executions, that he was simply a recipient of the photos - and seemed to be proud of it.

    The man, hailing from Thrace in NE Greece, was recruited by a priest in his area who was a "recruiter" of Greek volunteers for the Serbian paramilitaries. Being "big", muscular and fanatically pro-Serb, he was an easy recruit.

    Apparently, the man was recruited and fought for Arkan's Tigers in 1993. He took part in military operations in B-H as a member of the "Greek Volunteer Guard" based in Vlasenica. [Could he be one of the people mentioned in this excerpt from Takis Michas' book, (about which more later)?].

    Apparently he served for some time as some sort of trainer for the troops of renegade Bosnian Muslim politician/warlord Fikret Abdic, and paraded with his volunteer regiment in Srebrenica after Mladic's "victory" over the Dutch peacekeepers. He then fell off for some unmentioned reason among the other volunteers and seems to have moved on to forge ties with the Greek and Serbian criminal gangs that were collaborating in smuggling oil to (embargoed) Serbia and cigarettes to everywhere - under the directions of a member of Arkan's gang, named in the newspaper as Aleksandar Kulupuvic, Culupuvic or something similar (?) who is apparently currently serving time in the Korydallos prison in Athens, and the Greek mob leader Themistokles Kalapotharakos, who was murdered in 2000. No direct evidence was found between the man arrested and the mobs and thus no charges were filed.

    Bosnia was not end of his fighting career. The man claimed to have fought in 1996-997 as a mercenary in Laurent Kabila's army in Zaire, in the events that lead to the fall of Mobutu and the start of the murderous civil war.

    This would make an interesting if rather disturbing movie. I wonder if the guy is among the fine young lads portrayed here (from this Domovina Srebrenica page)

    The book to read about the Greek involvement in the Yugoslav wars is Takis Michas' "Unholy Alliance". The book is filled with gory and ugly details about the Greek involvement, yet despite everything positive about the book, I find something, somehow, disturbingly partisan about the way the facts (which Michas does a good job of reporting) are fitted into a sort of theory about Greek society - which is predictable since Michas is a highly partisan neoliberal proponent as I have mentioned here before. This excellent review by Peter Pappas in Greekworks summarizes both the books strengths and some of its weaknesses (with which I concur enthusiastically - apart from the rather sympathetic view of the Simitis administration that the author seems to harbour and which could be explained by his absence from Greece during the corruptionfest that was Simitis government, perhaps?)...

    Tuesday, June 7, 2005

    Mob rule

    / mobs / smart / ruthless /
    Misha Glenny, journalist and author of quite a few books about the Balkans and Yugoslavia, of which I found The Fall of Yugoslavia especially informative and balanced, writes in the New Statesman about the rise of Mob rule all over the planet and especially Eastern Europe and those countries "fortunate' enough to taste the benefits of the West's humanitarian interventions. Glenny points out that:

    Recent research into the use of gangsterism in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans suggests that the west contributed significantly, if unwittingly, to the phenomenon [of gangsterism] in the early 1990s. And once organised crime has begun the process known as "state capture", through which it influences policy, it is very difficult to reverse the process.

    The "shadow economy" has always played a critical role in both armed conflict and violent state formation. But since the 1980s shadow activity has increased fourfold as a proportion of the global economy. According to estimates collated from the World Bank, the IMF and academic research, shadow transactions accounted for between $6.5trn (£3.6trn) and $9trn (£6trn) in 2001, which is between 20 and 25 per cent of global GDP...

    He then goes on to highlight Russia and the Balkans as areas where Mobs thrived in the aftermath of the collapse, as a direct result of, among other things, the sort of financial deregulation and capital mobility that has characterised these past couple of decades. Glenny notes that:

    ...All recent military interventions by the west (with the partial exception of East Timor) have proved a real boost for organised crime...

    and makes a point rarely mentioned either in the naive accounts of Balkan turmoil in the West or by the wingnut nationalists in our little corner of the globe:

    ...In public, the criminal bosses from the various republics were denouncing their national enemies as demons bent on genocide and extermination. But in private, the Croatian, Bosnian, Albanian, Macedonian and Serbian money men and mobsters were thick as thieves. They bought, sold and exchanged all manner of commodities, knowing that the high levels of personal trust between them were much stronger than the transitory bonds of hysterical nationalism. They helped foment this latter ideology among ordinary folk to mask their own venality...

    (He also mentions an episode of Greek involvement in a hostage situation in Bosnia, just before Srebrenica, which I've never heard mentioned here, and about which I'll go around checking to see if I can find something more...)

    [The link is non-permanent and is valid only as long as this issue is the current issue]

    Friday, June 3, 2005

    Market fever

    / words /
    Markets, not democracy, liberty or peace.
    [Yes, it is a cheap shot - impressive nonetheless]
    Impressive work from Technologies du Langage.

    European markets shrug off constitution vote - and advocate ignoring its result

    / EU / must / be / kidding /
    The IHT on the consequences of the referenda on the markets, noting that despite the dire predictions, the foretold catastrophe did not occur:

    ..."If we believed the warnings of politicians about the effects of a no vote, then the European Union would be on the verge of a terrible catastrophe," Robert Carnell, an economist at ING, wrote Monday after French voters refused to ratify the EU constitution. "Fortunately, these dire warnings were never a reality, and the European Union is not a rubble-strewn wasteland this morning"...
    ...The French stock market opened lower Monday, but began to rise in late morning and by the end of Paris trading, the CAC-40, the benchmark index, was up a bit for the day. Perhaps of more significance, the index is more than 2 percent above where it was March 17, the day before the first poll indicated that French voters might reject the constitution...

    The article goes on to make these rather fascinating remarks:

    ...If governments are seen to be promoting economic growth and competitiveness, both vis-a-vis each other and the rest of the world, the euro and the stock markets may do better than if it appears that governments read the referendum as a rejection of their efforts to make labor markets more competitive and pension systems less generous.

    "If there are going to be setbacks, it's going to be because of a rise of a very unsavory populism with its protectionist tendencies," said Maria Livanos Cattaui, the secretary general of the International Chamber of Commerce, which is based in Paris...

    This, freely translated, says that everything will be alright if we dismiss the most obvious message that the electorates have sent to the European elites, namely a rejection of the march towards a blairite Europe and endorse exactly what they were voting against. It is, I think, a fair testimony to the cynicism and dismissiveness with which the European elites regard anything resembling democracy and democratic decision making. In a similar vein Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian advocates a pan-european Blairism, through the mediation of the Sarkozy-Merkel duo. (After overdosing on TGA's Blairite triumphalism, head over to Meaders' for a rather bleaker of the UK economy)

    Thwarted by a surge of democracy

    / democracies / emerging / EU /
    An excellent article by Le Monde Diplomatique's Serge Halimi, published in the Guardian, regarding the recent referenda revolts. His concluding remarks:
    But by voting no, many French people have understood that their choice was the truly European one - that, contrary to what they were told, the constitutional treaty was not the tool that could end Europe's free-market drift. In the last 20 years, the project dreamed up by the European commission and most governing coalitions of the member states has appeared obsessed only with economic reform, an ever-expanding free-market zone, the dismantling of the welfare state, lower corporate taxes and business-friendly legislation - such as a proposal to liberalise Europe's market for service industries.

    France's landslide rejection of the treaty is likely to embolden many of the progressive forces of the EU, bringing about the rethinking of a once-worthy ideal that gradually became distorted into a single market and a military junior partner for the US. Such a reappraisal bears no resemblance to the "federation of fear" that European commission president José Manuel Barroso saw unfolding after Sunday's vote.

    All along, "Europe" has been an elite process with shallow roots. In France, a large turnout (70%) has tackled the constitutional project with seriousness and passion. Many politicians in Paris and Brussels probably regret this surge of democracy and will look for ways to pressure the French to hold another vote. But it is unlikely that an informed electorate will change its mind now that it has understood the links between the social devastation at home and the neoliberal policies that spread under the cover of European unification.

    [found via Dead Men Left]

    I haven't been able to find any polls analyzing the "whys" of the Dutch vote, yet I read a lot of (enraged) commentators over here, suggesting that it was a "right-wing" no. Where do they get that from? The closest to some (english language) account of the social aspect of the Dutch "Nee", is from Dear Kitty, which seem to confirm the low income - "No" vote correlation observed in the French Referendum.

    Thursday, June 2, 2005

    Massive "no"’ to the European Constitution: Wake-up call for Brussels and The Hague

    / non / je ne regrette rien /
    The Dutch Socialist Party is celebrating, after a well fought and victorious campaign. There's very little to add about these two referenda, except to point to a few choice commentaries

    - An excellent post on Apostate Windbag: "Nee! to the 'capitalist locusts'",
    - A comprehensive piece on the French result by Diane Johnstone.
    - "A Time of Great Hope" by Pierre Laurent in L'Humanite' - if for no other reason than to note the online English version of the PCF daily.

    ... Meanwhile here in Greece, a new poll suggests that, were a referendum on the Constitutional treaty to be held today, ~40% would be leaning towards "No", ~30% towards "Yes" and ~30 either don't know or wouldn't answer. This should be compared to another poll, taken three months ago, when the Constitution was ratified in Parliament with the votes of the Conservative and the Socialist party, which gave ~45% "Yes", ~18% "no" and ~37% undecided. This recent poll (the link here - in Greek, I'm afraid) shows that the No vote would prevail among a very pro-European electorate:

    - ~68% acknowledge that EU membership has benefited Greece
    - ~61% state the "Strengthening the social character of its policies with the aim of reducing inequalities" should be the EU's top priority, while 34,6% prioritize "turning Europe into a world financial and political power"
    - ~36% of those that would vote against the EuroConstitution say that the aftermath of the Euro's introduction is an important factor for their negative vote, 35,2% say they would vote No for a change of EU policy, 16,3% to curtail freedom of movement for immigrants, while 9% are generally against the EU.
    - ~64% of those polled state that a referendum would be more of an opportunity to express their opinions on the EU, while ~29% would see it as an opportunity to protest the Greek government's policies.

    Unfortunately all this is moot, since the Greek government, in its enlightened terror of any form of direct popular mandate, decided not to consult the electorate.