Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The blimp... Cpt. Beefheart: genius

Don Van Vliet January 15, 1941 – December 17, 2010

The blimp

Master master
This is recorded thru uh flies ear
'n you have t' have uh flies eye t' see it
It's the thing that's gonna make Captain Beefheart
And his magic band fat
Frank it's the big hit
It's the blimp
It's the blimp Frank
It's the blimp

When I see you floatin' down the gutter
I'll give you uh bottle uh wine
Put me on the white hook
Back in the fat rack
Shad rack ee shack
The sumptin' hoop the sumptin' hoop
The blimp the blimp
The drazy hoops the drazy hoops
They're camp they're camp
Tits tits the blimp the blimp
The mother ship the mother ship
The brothers hid under their hood
From the blimp the blimp
Children stop yer nursin' unless yer renderin' fun
The mother ship the mother ship
The mother ship's the one
The blimp the blimp
The tapes uh trip it's uh trailin' tail
It's traipse'n along behind the blimp the blimp
The nose has uh crimp
The nose is the blimp the blimp
It blows the air the snoot isn't fair
Look up in the sky there's uh dirigible there
The drazy hoops whir
You can see them just as they were
All the people stir
'n the girls knees trembles
'n run 'n wave their hands
'n run their hands over the blimp the blimp
Daughter don't yuh dare
Oh momma who cares
It's the blimp it's the blimp.

Plus something more "conventional":


Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Greek Economy on a Crucifix: IMF lies and misrepresents yet again

This much I have learned from watching the output of various IMF mouthpieces on Greece these past months: Even high level spokespersons lie, are ignorant of and misrepresent the facts, even easily available facts, ideoleptically making the case for the disaster they are imposing not on actual shortcomings or economic problems but, rather, on what the IMF would expect these measures to be in order to implement its (highly ideological and scantily backed by any sort of empirical evidence anyway) shock therapy on the country. This is a "therapy" that was imposed at the behest of the ECB and the Central Wankers in the process (and I'm not sure yet if it was a conscious decision or just massive ineptitude) of creating a Peripheral "Latin" Europe: the EU as a relatively wealthy (but more unequal) core, surrounded by pauperized banana cheap-service republics destroyed by policies that can only be described as "a Versailles treaty without the war".
The other thing that I've learned from our IMF experience, is that the docility of Greek Media Magnates / Public Contractors and their petty little shops towards our new Overlords and our post-quisling government that is assisting them in the most slavish manner, knows no bounds. Only the dissident media actually take the trouble of pointing out these sorts of inconsistencies. But this is a different issue, for a different post... Let us return to the IMF's latest communique...

I will eschew commenting on all of the BS that Thomsen spouts in his latest interview on IMF Survey magazine. I will specifically focus on one of his statements that is so obviously and transparently bogus (and repeated in every IMF communication), that in an ideal world it would automatically disqualify him and the organization he represents from managing having anything to do with the Greek economy:

IMF Survey online: Why is legislation to allow firm-level wage agreements so important? Will this lead to massive wage cuts?
Thomsen: The way the Greek labor market was operating contributed to a disproportionate increase in wages over the last decade and a loss of competitiveness. So wages need to be brought more in line with productivity. Over the medium term, wage developments in Greece will be governed by productivity improvements. A more open and dynamic labor market will offer more and better employment opportunities as the business environment improves, investment increases, and the economy expands.

False premises

The IMF, an organization that has been promoting such sociopathic policies around the world for a third of a century now at least, have indeed forced pretty much a complete dismantling of the collective bargaining system in Greece, in order to make it much more like those of the third world countries that were, until recently, their main victims. This is a deregulation so drastic that, in the real world, it is expected to diminish wages in the private sector by 20% - nominal wages that is, in a country which has been running up a 6% inflation rate this year on top of chronic high prices, and thus combines Swiss prices with Portugese (going on Bulgarian) wages. On top of this, in a previous obscenity the IMF/ECB demanded that lay-off compensation be drastically reduced. On top of all of this, Greek unemployment is at 12,4% this month – the highest in decades, but in reality what people actually call un- or under- employed are close to 20 to 25%.
Already we have seen unilateral action by employers who have no or few profitability problems, reducing their workers salaries by arbitrary amounts. And these “firm-level” wage agreements that the IMF and the WB has had two decades worth of experience imposing on Latin American countries, have been a failure everywhere, as has been this idea that labor flexibility will bring more and better employment. In 2001 the Multinational Monitor noted that:

The theory behind labor flexibility is that, if labor is treated as a commodity like any other, with companies able to hire and fire workers just as they might a piece of machinery, then markets will function efficiently. Efficient functioning markets will then facilitate economic growth.
Critics say the theory does not hold up. Former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz described the problem to Multinational Monitor: “As part of the doctrine of liberalization, the Washington Consensus said, ‘make labor markets more flexible.’ That greater flexibility was supposed to lead to lower unemployment. A side effect that people didn’t want to talk about was that it would lead to lower wages. But the lower wages would generate more investment, more demand for labor. So there would be two beneficial effects: the unemployment rate would go down and job creation would go up because wages were lower.”
“The evidence in Latin America is not supportive of those conclusions,” Stiglitz told Multinational Monitor. “Wage flexibility has not been associated with lower unemployment. Nor has there been more job creation in general.” Where “labor market flexibility was designed to move people from low productivity jobs to high productivity jobs,” according to Stiglitz, “too often it moved people from low productivity jobs to unemployment, which is even lower productivity.”

Meanwhile in 2004 Eckhard Hein & Thorsten Schulten noted in “Unemployment, wages and collective bargaining in the European Union”:

Analysing the developments in the EU during the last four decades, no strictly inverse relationship between real wage growth and unemployment can be found. On the contrary, persistently high unemployment has had strong adverse effects on nominal wage growth and on the labour income share. Weakened labour union bargaining power and changing collective bargaining strategies have contributed to this result. It is therefore concluded that the current EU economic and employment policies aiming at further wage restraint, wage differentiation and decentralisation of collective bargaining are deeply misguided and have to be replaced by an alternative wage policy in Europe as part of a growth and employment oriented coordination of macro-economic policies

I should add that Greece already had a very flexible job market: between unreported and semi-reported labor, pseudo-apprenticeships and "illegal" immigrant labor, as well as the high proportion of the self-employed in Greece, well over 80% of the workforce had no employee payroll taxes, no job security, no benefits - nothing. Greece's was probably the most flexible job market in the EU, unofficially "liberalized" up till now. And this did not have much of a beneficial effect on anything...

A disproportionate increase in wages?

The first lie is included in the first line of text: the "disproportionate increase in wages over the last decade" is patent nonsense, Greek wages were very much in line with productivity and in purchasing power terms were pretty much stagnant for most of the past decade. I have discussed this in previous posts so I'll just copy & paste here the relevant parts:

@Eurotrib:...Debunking IMF propaganda
It is far from obvious how the IMF measures competitiveness, the FAQ section is not referenced at all, and it's not clear how this quantification arises or what does it mean. Erik Jones, writing in Euro Intelligence, was already debunking part of the competitiveness mythology, as pertains to labor costs, in March:

...What matters in terms of a head-to-head competition is how Greece and Germany compare in the cost of labor per unit of output and not the real compensation of employees.  Moreover, we should look at their performance across the European marketplace as a whole.  By that measure, if we set the year 2000 equal to 100, then by 2009 Greece was at 98 while Germany was at 95.  Germany is still doing better than Greece, but only by a little and both have improved against the rest of Europe.

...Using national accounts data for relative real unit labor costs in manufacturing, Greece goes from 100 in the year 2000 to 87 in 2008.  Over the same period, Germany goes from 100 to 90.  It is hard to see how Germany comes off better in the comparison.

...Even if Greece is not suffering in terms of manufacturing, the high real incomes that Greek employers are doling out must surely be hitting the bottom line in the service sector, shouldn't they?  Again, that's hard to see in the data. Total compensation per employee was 53.8 percent in Greece and 57 per cent in Germany...
Furthermore the "since Euro adoption" part is misleading. Greek productivity was surging until 2007, after that year, influenced of course by the global crisis, and affected by real fiscal imbalances (about which more later) productivity (and competitiveness, however defined) fell faster than the Dow Jones average after a computer glitch, but that was surely not a uniquely Greek phenomenon.
In fact Greece was receiving praise by the IMF itself for its improved competitiveness, singled out as the most successful economy in Southern Europe.

Source: IMF

While in a recent post here a few days ago I mentioned:

Let's kill the meme that somehow in Greece workers were benefiting from unreasonable pay-hikes this past decade:
Here we are: real wages have been growing faster than productivity perhaps between 2007-2009 in Greece. Before they were not:
Based on real wage increases during 2007 (3.9%), pay increases in Greece were the highest of the countries of the EU15. Prior to the 2007 increase, there had been four years during which the average annual increase in Greece was around 3%. These big increases, by international standards, in the average real wage in Greece were fully offset by increases in labour productivity, leaving unit labour costs stable in real terms at 2000 levels.

In the private sector during the 2000-2007 period, there was a cumulative decrease of 1.2% in real unit labour costs. Average real wages increased more slowly than average labour productivity, which left companies with leeway to benefit from higher labour productivity. The effect of this development was that at the end of 2007 real wages in the private sector had increased by 27% over the 2000-2007 period, while productivity increased by 36.5%. Thus, there was a benefit to companies of around 7% in unit labour costs in real terms.

For the year 2007, Greece was in second to last place as regards the level of gross wages in € (net wages plus employee contributions). In Greece, average monthly earnings in 2006 amounted to €1,668 for full-time employees, compared to an average of €2,366 in the other countries of the EU15...

... Whereas monthly labour costs in Greece were 83% of the comparable mean costs in the EU15 (in purchasing power parities), labour productivity in Greece stood at 91% of the European average.

In recent years unit labour cost in Greece has become the lowest in the EU15. This development relates to the fact that in Greece labour productivity increased substantially in 1996-2004 and increased in the range of 1.7%-2.7% a year during the four years from 2005 to 2008.

To make things even clearer, here's a chart that shows the profit per employee in the EU market economy in 2005
[source EU KLEMS, shown here]:

The 2006 numbers for Greece are even higher (~44k, >51k in the banking sector) and these sorts of numbers were typical for the past decade up to the crisis.

Greek wages in the private sector were underperforming compared to profits during the same period. The loss of competitiveness has an insignificant labor cost component, a huge inflation component and a large profit component. Yet wage earners are asked to accept massive cuts de facto, and a general return to the 1950s in terms of worker rights and protections...

Over the medium term

...Over the medium term wages will not follow productivity. Or perhaps they will, if more and more young and skilled younger workers leave the country for abroad, leaving manual and semi-skilled labor to man the sweatshops of a new euromaquilladora economy that seems to be the only visible goal of this exercise in thirdworldization. Over the medium term, farmers' markets garbage heaps will be turned increasingly more into senior-citizen mosh pits, as pauperized pensioners fight over pieces of half-rotten tomatoes. Others, less spritely grampas and granmas, will be heading for their neighbourhood garbage cans - and it ain't just the elderly. One in five children under 17 were in poverty last year, there is no telling what the numbers will be this year...


Finally, about those reforms that the IMF will be imposing and are supposed to take us out of the slump and into the promised land of growth, sometime, somehow... Where exactly have they been succesful in doing so Mr. Thomsen? What about the Greek government selling off pretty much everything under public control today - including public parks and water companies it seems? Where was that a success? And in doing what?

I wonder if there is somewhere *one* instance of an IMF bureaucrat daring to give an interview against a team of journalists / economists playing hardball and not acting as de facto cheerleaders for the neoliberal voodoo remedies they are peddling?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Greek general strike today: anger and violence

Riots erupt as anger colors the 7th general strike this year in Greece:

The strike comes at the heels of a new law that dismantles the system of collective bargaining in the Greek private sector, and sets up a large number of Greek public companies for privatization. Working people are expected to lose around 20-30% of their (already contracting) nominal wage, with an inflation rate that is expected to reach close to 6% this year. Last night the "socialists", losing (and expelling from the party) one more MP, voted by themselves the new measures (mandated by the ECB and the IMF as part of the deal that will allow Greece to receive the 3d installment of the "stabilization" package).

There were close to 100.000 protesters I reckon that took part in the Athens demo from early morning to late afternoon, and tens of thousands more in other major Greek cities... The mood of the crowd and society at large is murderous. A Conservative MP and former development minister Costis Hadjidakis was near-lynched by a group of demonstrators as he left the Parliament building amidst the demo:

While clashes with the police were extensive (and we still don't know how many were hospitalized)

You can follow some of the on the spot coverage and the discussion it generates at twitter at the hashtag gstrike...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The 11th thesis on wikileaks

The highly sage, practical bureaucrats who secretly and unjustifiably think of themselves in the way that Pericles openly and rightly boasted of himself: "I am a man who is the equal of anyone both in knowing the needs of the state and in the art of expounding them" — these hereditary leaseholders of political intelligence will shrug their shoulders and remark with oracular good breeding that the defenders of freedom of the press are wasting their efforts, for a mild censorship is better than a harsh freedom of the press. We reply to them with the words of the Spartans Sperthias and Bulis to the Persian satrap Hydarnes:

"Hydames, you have not equally weighed each side in your advice to us. For you have tried the one which you advise, the other has remained untried by you. You know what it means to be a slave, but you have never yet tried freedom, to know whether it is sweet or not. For if you had tried it, you would have advised us to fight for it, not merely with spears, but also with axes."

Karl Marx: On freedom of the Press

1. What is in the long run more important than the content of the leaked cables, and the revelations of atrocities uncovered and admitted in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the reflexive response of what is practically a system of internet control. From Amazon to Pay Pal, from DDOS attacks to credit cards and data visualization companies, and then outside the web to banks, the Swedish and British court systems, Interpol, the whole world it seems - everybody fell on wikileaks with a vengeance that was meant I figure, less to silence this particular story (something that I imagine even the most deluded of state and corporate technocrats knew was pointless) but rather to inflict damage against the organization at a time when it was growing stronger and, more importantly I imagine, to discourage any further groups or networks from joining the game. This is not I feel mainly an attempt to shut down, but rather to intimidate and contain...

2. This comes at a time when the basic liberties of the Internet as we have hitherto known it, are under attack, and attempts are made to tame the worldwide web wilderness it into a commercialized and controlled greenhouse: See the developments on ACTA, Google's apparent decision to censor torrent searches, apparently illegal domain seizures in the US among other developments. These have to be seen in the context of the unprecedented attack in much of the first world against democracy, social welfare and worker incomes, a final push for the Neoliberalization of Everything. It is an integral part of this ongoing attempt at a neofeudal counter-reformation.
3. The resilience of wikileaks and the broad and widespread support it has garnered is a cause for jubilation. Not only has the whole operation proved that it can survive under the most profound threats and attacks, it has created a world-wide movement of support. The speed at which the whole web was mobilized to preserve and keep track of the wikileaks site , as well as the campaigns and solidarity moves in support is impressive.
In recent developments the nebulous collective of web commando/trolls working under the name Anonymous, a swarm of magnificent/annoying vigilantes, has been active today wreaking revenge on Wikileaks' adversaries and frightened twitter to reinstate their briefly banned account, showed that a loosely organized bunch of LOIC-wielding guerilla nerds can survive on the friendly cyber-terrains of the Internets and cause as much trouble to (what I cannot help but call) The Man, as a bunch of AK-47-toting Iraqi goat-herders caused the US occupation forces. Make no mistake this is an unfolding war... (Facebook is as I'm writing this, in trouble)
4. In an age of generalized state and corporate surveillance it offers some consolation that there exist ways to reverse the tables and give citizens an opportunity to spy on their governments for a change.
5. Wikileaks is bound to grow stronger from these events. It has extra street cred now, a hero's status for many, and it is bound to attract more, not fewer, leakers of all sorts in the future. Assange has stated that a big bank is next in line. This too will not hurt wikileaks status. But it will gain them some really powerful enemies. This doesn't mean that Julian Assange personally is safe yet. However I do think that if he survives this first round of charges and legal clashes he will live to become a legend in his own time. But Wikileaks is not Assange anyway. I have no doubt that the organization will continue regardless of what happens to Assange himself.
6. The wikileaks affair is bound to change the way classified information is circulated and increase the vigilance of state and corporate actors regarding the safety of their communications.
7. In the process wikileaks is inventing a new form and process of muckraking journalism for the 21st century. The synergy between wikileaks and major world newspapers, is something that will be repeated, tinkered with and copied, I'd wager, around the world. Especially in a world with a growing deficit of incisive and reporting it might lead to a quantum jump to an emerging world-wide citizen supported network of really free journalism.
8. The wikileaks saga will also serve as a model for alternative web survival strategies. In fact, it raises the issue of inventing even more fall-back routes and methods for projects that run afoul of state and corporate rules. This is something that should be developing from the ground up I reckon over the next few years. I believe that at the end what is needed is an emergent shadow infrastructure that will be able to "hide" and support alternative ventures, as much as possible, outside of the control of government or supranational bodies.
9. In order to do this, some sort of alliance needs to be built to protect Internet freedom and independence, around the world and across ideological lines. From universities and research centers to labor unions, from hacker teams to NGOs and from political parties to newspapers and content commons, at least some sort of unspoken understanding needs to emerge that will allow implicit collaboration in such a project.
10. Thus wikileaks can and should serve as an example that needs imitators on all fronts. It isn't just a fixed organization, it's an idea, an open proposal, a template. It offers more than a particular batch of information that reveals government crimes and hypocrisy: it offers proof that such an organization can exist and have an effect.

Thus one arrives finally at the 11th thesis:

11. Philosophers and pundits have only interpreted wikileaks in various ways - the point however is to emulate it...

[Based on some thoughts and reactions after reading Geert Lovink's ten theses on wikileaks, where he raises some very valid and important points...]

[An edited an improved version is now up on Eurotrib]