Thursday, 30 June 2011


Modern Western education systems owe their existence to the Age of Reason (Enlightenment) that was the last intellectual revolution the western world has experienced. Living the legacy of the Enlightenment era means that we have inherited not only its grand bourgeois ideals but epoch-linked and class-based pitfalls as well. Predicated on 18th-century middle class principles of meritocracy, liberalism, and egalitarianism, educational systems have always been elitist in practice in so far as they have served to perpetuate the socioeconomic and political hegemony by the dominant class.

The Age of Reason in the 18th century brought an end to "utilitarian education through imitation," but not the end of elitism despite the fact that it coincided with the dawning of the age of mass politics ushered in by the French and American Revolutions. Without demeaning the Enlightenment's enormous and far reaching contributions to science, technology, and liberal education in general, the question is whether the intellectual elites have best served society - all classes and not just the middle class - with their education model, one we have inherited with modifications to reflect the national character.

While professional teachers 'train,' more accurately acclimatize, pupils to secure a place in private and public institutions established to further elites' interests, by definition the educator's constrictive classroom role entails stifling creativity and fostering institutional conformity. This was especially the case in the 19th century and bitterly criticized in popular novels by many including Charles Dickens who depicted mass education as an extension of factory system of mass production.

For example, in HARD TIMES Dickens is bitterly critical of dehumanizing conditions as much in the factory as in schools that serve as a microcosm of the the industrial city. Students are no different than inter changeable factory parts subsisting in order to serve the larger purpose of enriching the factory owner's profits and move the industrial economy forward. How are things any different today in most of the western countries that have a surplus educated population unable to find employment in the field of their college training and with a salary commensurate to their education. How is the modern college graduate any different than a mere interchangeable factory part that Dickens described of elementary school students in the early 19th century?

Mass education from the Industrial Revolution to the present resembles ailing private enterprises that try to increase productivity and cut costs to survive, while producing a product, the student, ready for the marketplace. The question is not that schools around the world are deteriorating along with polarized pyramid-style socioeconomic structures that they intended to serve, but that they are actually able to graduate students, at least a good percentage, that can function as free thinking, creative, and productive members of modern society; and a small percentage that have energetic creative minds transcending the mediocrity of the system. If private enterprise has problems of incompetence and corruption, why should schools--elementary through college --be any different: could they be any different as they they are operating outside the larger institutional milieu?

Has the Enlightenment ideal of continuous linear progress based on optimistic rationalist assumptions, almost Hegelian in the sense that life and history are endless roads of upward progress, based on a mechanical or mathematical model solved all institutional and social problems?  Or has this model created other problems such as alienation of the individual and class and geographic inequality on a world scale? Has the Enlightenment model of education resulted in more creative and more content people, or has it exacerbated the human condition?

While the Age of Reason coincided with the socioeconomic ascendancy of the bourgeoisie that fostered an education system to mirror middle class interests and values, in that respect no different than medieval religious education that reflected secular and spiritual nobility's interests and values, the bourgeois model with all its modifications is anachronistic and fails to best serve humanity's needs. Unfolding social discontinuity in the age of globalization will eventually entail that a new revolution would incorporate workers' interests and values that the bourgeois intellectual revolution of the 18th century hardly took into account even in theory.

Capitalist managerialism, the exploitation of humans for profit, as Erich Fromm argued in The Sane Society, prevails over humanistic communitarianism, thereby contributing to the alienation of modern humans.  People yield to capitalist managerialism, in fact most feel that it is perfectly natural and many take pride to be a part of it, because they have been indoctrinated by mass education, the media, and mainstream institutions, especially government that seeks mass conformity.

Modern man has been conditioned by society to fear alienation from the community, which translates into submission to institutional conformity, and to accept the security and rewards of institutional conformity at the expense of actualizing the creative potential that falls outside institutional perimeters. Instead of education serving to liberate the human spirit and unleash its creative potential, it has been and remains a tool for conformity, and therein rests the poverty of the system.


Has the westernization of popular culture resulted in the decline of creativity? Are the masses distracted from systemic social problems owing to the homogenized western model of popular culture? Culture is largely a byproduct and a function of the political economy, thus it is inevitable that if the political economy of capitalism is global what follows is global (universal) culture that mirrors the values of the dominant class that shapes the political economy.

The traditional protestant ethic behind American capitalism has been replaced by predatory commercial conquest of markets on a global scale and aggressive marketing to impose consumption values on people based not on need but greed. The more closely integrated world economy necessarily entails contradictions emerging from the values of consumption as catalyst to happiness, on the one hand, and the system that creates uneven income distribution, inequitable geographic and social conditions, and alienating individuals who become detached from community and humanitarian values.

While the underlying assumption of criticizing popular culture of any society at any time in history may on the surface appear elitist, the sweeping Americanization of popular commercial culture in the world is an undeniable reality that encourages creativity within commercial culture's rewarding confines but limits it otherwise. Creativity in philosophy, poetry, and art for its aesthetic value and/or as social criticism lacks cash-value, thus it is marginalized. Creativity in the absence of commercial application in any endeavor is non-creative because it clashes with the cash-value culture.

Not only does homogenized Americanized commercial culture marginalizes creativity with aesthetic and/or social conscience intent, but it also supersedes and replaces local cultures. The only way that local or indigenous cultures can survive is in some distorted commodity-packaged version that fit into the political economy's universal cash-value system. Consumer products and services, motion pictures, TV, radio, magazines, popular books, and newspapers, even religion, emulate the American homogeneous model, to the exclusion of local or indigenous cultures.

Cash-value culture rooted in Western consumerism promotes fulfillment through commercial ideals that reinforce egocentricity, while discouraging personal creativity and collective or community ideals. Not just commercial advertising, but everything from the educational system to mass media reinforce cash-value ephemeral sense of fulfillment to the detriment of humanitarianism by reducing cultural values to commodities. Given that the worth of a human being is invariably linked to nothing  more than material criteria reinforced by values of greed, individual identity is an extension of products and services, at least of the ability to afford and own them. Moreover, human relationships, from casual friendships to marriages, are extensions of the dominant cash-value culture that largely determines them.

Rather than fighting for issues of vital importance to improve humanity collectively, people under the hypnotic hedonistic impact of popular culture value superficial issues unrelated to their own lives at best, and are generally immune to global catastrophes from wars to famine. As capitalism constantly reconfigures popular culture for maximum exploitation, it promotes adolescent atomism along with alienation and collective indifference reflected in and reinforced by the 'cash-based' popular culture.

What of the future of children growing up in the world of video games representing westernized popular culture, what of the future of societies accepting westernized popular culture as the last and most realistic monotheistic religion? Is it any wonder that in the last half century there has been a sharp increase in psychological and psycho-somatic illnesses accompanied by a sharp rise in medications to cure such problems that the inhuman cash-value culture creates?


Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street and the sequel this year made the term greed a part of popular culture and subject to ongoing debate amid a global recession. The term “greed” indicates “desire for excess” and implies abuse of material accumulation. However, the Freudian definition of greed differs from that of a modern economist who follows Adam Smith’s free-market theory, and that definition differs from the one of a Lutheran theologian, and so on with each field having its own definition and nuances of the term.

It is also significant to consider that in some cultures like the US “greed” may be an integral part of how to achieve the American Dream, while in others like India before British colonial rule greed (individual or institutional) is identified as the primary source of evil (The Bhagavadgita). Historically, greed does not have the same value in Eastern cultures, especially in China and India, as it does in the West.

This is partly because western societies are more individualistic and less collectivist, especially Protestant northwest Europe and the US that emphasize individual achievement more than collective welfare and harmony. In the Orient social status rooted in noble birth, education, the arts, spirituality as well as political power designed to maintain harmony transcended the sheer accumulation of individual wealth associated with merchants and money lenders whose role was not elevated until the Europeans imposed colonial or semi-colonial rule in Asia.

In Western Civilization, greed has a long history that in terms of legal measures to contain it goes back to the era of Solon the lawgiver, who accused the Athenian landowners of undermining social harmony and destroying the city-state:
The man whose riches satisfy his greed
Is not more rich for all those heaps and hoards
Than some poor man who has enough to feed
And clothe his corpse with such as God affords.
I have no use for men who steal and cheat;
The fruit of evil poisons those who eat.
(Solon Poems)

Athenian greed for wealth, power, and prestige in the fifth century led to the demise of the city-state with the Peloponesian Wars marking beginning of decline for classical Greece. Virgil and Seneca attributed greed (avarice) to the deterioration of Roman society, decay in morals and civil harmony. Drawing largely from the Apostle Paul, the early church fathers (”Primitive Christianity”) recognized greed as one of the seven deadly sins (all of them predating Christianity) and deemed this vice a catalyst to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

As a transitional figure between the Medieval World and Renaissance, Dante condemned greed not only on the part of the temporal (secular) world but of the spiritual realm as well. In the name of God, the Catholic Church was selling indulgences and becoming the richest institution and largest landowner in Europe.
The Enlightenment’s emphasis on the individual’s intellectual awakening, a process achieved through merit, and the Industrial Revolution held the promise of machine holding humanity’s answers for all its material problems.

Enlightenment and Industrial Capitalism provided a further impetus to the bourgeois value system and ultimate goal of creating a material world that would replace the Kingdom of Heaven. Hence, greed, an irrational impulse that ran counter to the Enlightenment’s focus on reason, must be at the center of the new society’s practice. Enlightenment thinker Adam Smith’s contended that self-interest promotes the greater social good because the market’s “invisible hand” determines what has value for the consumer and thus profit for the producer necessarily benefits society.

From Industrial capitalism to financial capitalism and the emergence of robber barons of the 19th century, greed worked to polarize society socioeconomically, ethnically, racially, religiously, and in terms of gender. During the Progressive Era, politicians tried moderating the runaway culture of greed. In reality, capitalists prospered more under Progressive presidents from Roosevelt to Wilson than they had before, a fact that resulted in massive capital accumulation during the 1920s and led to the Great Depression.

The 1930s convinced many Americans that the culture of rugged individualism and greed of capital concentration during the previous decade had caused economic dislocation and social catastrophe. The era of the “Big Bands” and coming together as a nation, implicit collectivism (Socialism to FDR/New Deal critics) moderated the culture of greed as did the war that followed. However, the Cold War meant a necessary ideological return to the culture of greed as the implicit essence of capitalism in a struggle for dominance against Communism.

The value system of greed as an unspoken but practice integral part of the American way of life, a value system and way of life to be exported to the rest of the world, was well on its way. Not that war-ravaged Europe was not anxious to emulate its NATO leader and capture some of the prewar glory associated with the greed of imperialism. In spite of the Civil Rights movement and the cultural revolution of the 1960s that spread beyond urban America to much of the Western World, despite the humbling effect the Vietnam war had on America, greed would remain at the center of the cultural milieu.

“You can call it greed, selfishness or enlightened self-interest, but the bottom line is that it’s these human motivations that get wonderful things done. Unfortunately, many people are naive enough to believe that it’s compassion, concern and ‘feeling another’s pain’ that’s the superior human motivation.” This from Walter Williams, African-American academic who became the darling of the white establishment in the 1980s when Reagan-Thatcher neo-liberalism was triumphant and the Communist bloc was about to fall.

Yes, free at last to say publicly what was on the minds of most about the virtues of greed, the greed that makes the solipsist feel good, the kind of greed that means life. Greed works because it has defeated the Communist bloc and integrated those countries into “our economic system,” greed is great because it means accumulation of more regardless of endemic poverty for about one-third of the world’s population. Greed never took a rest as globalization was responsible for its diffusion and acceleration during the Clinton decade that laid the foundations for the economic crisis of 2008-2010.

And then came Bush to make individual and national greed a revered patriotic duty. Yoshi Tsurumi, former professor at Harvard University wrote on 04/07/05 in the Harvard Crimson: “Thirty years ago, President Bush was my student at Harvard Business School… In those days, Bush belonged to a minority of MBA students who were seriously disconnected from taking the moral and social responsibility for their actions. Today, he would fit in comfortably with an overwhelming majority of business students and teachers whose role models are celebrated captains of piracy.”

Since the 1980s, as neo-conservatives have captured the Republican Party, America’s business education has also increasingly become contaminated by the robber baron culture of the pre-Great Depression era. Yes indeed, the institutional structure which includes colleges and universities have helped to disseminate the value system of greed that Wall Street practices during business hours and always with 100% transparency!

The roots of the culture of greed are very deep and complex, and cannot be moderated in a short period or by the political establishment that sees no alternative to acting opportunistically. Cultural revolutions take years if not decades to have an impact, and unless accompanied by events in society that force people to alter their habits and value system, the status quo remains unchanged because it means survival.

The failure to begin addressing change in the culture of greed, individual and institutional (public and private), the failure of institutions to teach that greed is not a virtue, will result in the decay of society as it did in the case of societies built on individual and institutional greed.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


To what degree is Europe responsible for the underdevelopment of Africa, and do Arabs have any role in that process? Some have advanced the following arguments to blur the lines between the role of Arabs and Europeans in Africa in the past centuries. These apologists of European exploitation of Africa and the attempt to argue that Arabs were the first slave traders is partly political, arising from the US-EU war on terror, which is a war against Muslim fanatics using unconventional military means to secure their political goals.

Parts of sub-Sahara Africa traded with the Arabs, long before the Europeans arrived. Arab trade relationships were not based on unequal and exploitative terms as were European trade relationships with Africa. There was limited economic integration between the continent and the outside world before the 15th century, but for the most part Africa enjoyed relative economic self-sufficiency and autonomy, both gone once the Europeans began colonizing and enslaving Africans. Europeans were after gold and trade routes that Arabs controlled.

Moreover, hegemony over the Indian Ocean that was the key to commercial success. Africa was an incidental arena, but one that proved very profitable for Europe that enjoyed the military tools to colonize Africa. The process of Africa's integration with Europe started the process of underdevelopment which means that the development of the Iberian peninsula was taking place as a result of the colonial empire that Portugal and Spain established in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The ports of Lisbon and Cadiz were the key to overseas colonies, but those ports were also the link with northwest Europe where much of the Iberian gold and silver eventually ended up. Just for the record, scholarship in this field owes a great deal of gratitude to Fernand Braudel, especially his monumental work La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen a l'époque de Philippe II (3 vols).

While people commonly mistake the concept of underdevelopment with the concept of 'undeveloped', let us clarify that Africa was "undeveloped" before European colonization, but became underdeveloped afterward and remains so to this day. What does it mean to go from 'undeveloped' to underdeveloped? 1. slavery-based labor system; 2. native land appropriation by colonizers; 3. transition from self-sufficiency to monocultural economic process that the colonizers impose a division of labor intended to serve the metropolis.

Whereas sub-Sahara Africa was organized into tribes and lacked the military means to defeat the invading Europeans, it was very difficult for any country in the world to subject Communist China to 'underdevelopment', because it had nuclear weapons, the world's largest standing army, the world's strongest state structure, and a highly organized managed economic structure and supporting institutions. All of this was lacking in China from the First Opium War until Mao too over in 1949. The idea that China in the recent past proves that dependency theory, despite all its limitations, is outmoded is indeed simplistic and absurd.

It is true that slavery is slavery no matter what the particular circumstances, but is there a difference between slavery under Muslims and Christians, is it all the same, and who has responsibility for Africa's exploitation in the past 500 years - Muslims or Christians? Early Egyptians (estimated as early as 3,500 BC) engaged in slave raids in Africa. Muslims continued in the 7th or more likely 8th century the trans-Saharan slave trade, especially promoted by Ghana, Mali, Songhai, and Kanem-Bornu. Europeans added the following in the African trans-Atlantic slave trade that makes it different than what the Arabs were doing.
The uniqueness of European slave trade is a. racism and ethnocentrism were at the core of the European slave trade; and b. Extreme violence was associated with European slave trade that became a basic component of European and American civilization. The 'African Holocaust' is invariably a European affair, not a Muslim one, especially given that the Europeans have been exploiting Africa for five centuries and continue to do so to this day. 

But let us consider the arguments of those that try to equate Arab and European roles in Africa.
a. Arabs conducted slave trade in African before white Europeans. European Christians simply continued what Arab Muslims had started;
b. Slave trade is slave trade. Therefore there is equivalence at all levels (moral, economic, social, cultural, etc. in terms of destruction to the land and people subjugated);
c. If Europeans are responsible for under developing Africa and/or undermining society, so are the Arabs who were there before the Europeans.
Conclusion: Europeans have no more responsibility for Africa's condition in the past five centuries than Arabs. In short, Europeans did not do anything that Arabs did not do in Africa, so why conclude that Europeans are any more responsible for exploiting the continent for five centuries than Arabs?

First, I wonder if this argument can stand on scholarly grounds, given that the military, economic and political power that Europe exercised over Africa cannot possibly be compared with the minimal role of Arabs who themselves became victims of European colonization.
Second, I wonder if such arguments are not intended to lessen the monumental responsibility that Europe had in the last five centuries and continues to have to this day, and will have throughout this century in exploiting Africa. Third, where is the scholarship that makes such claims?
Fourth, if one were to conduct a public opinion poll among college-educated Africans, African-Americans, and Africans in the diaspora, what would they say about the role of Europeans vs. Arabs in the past five centuries?

One last point on statistics. It is impossible to know numbers of the slave trade and not a single source is accurate. There are African-American who claim that the trans-Atlantic slave trade involved as many as 30-36 million people, and that one-third perished on the way or shortly after arriving in the Western Hemisphere. Throwing out statistics on how many slaves the Muslims trade vs. how many Christians traded is futile, and it makes more sense to look at the forest and not the trees. The tragedy is that Europe continues to exploit Africa (see my postings on agriculture and fishing), and it will continue to so in the 21st century.

Monday, 27 June 2011


Arising from the ashes of the feudal/manorial structure, nationalism as a societal and political structure–a form of political, economic and social life–arose concurrently with capitalism and became identified with the emerging commercial/banking class that looked to the state (invariably absolutism until the Glorious Revolution) for support. Nationalism spread globally with the spread of capitalism during the nascent stage of the Commercial Revolution when Portugal, Spain, Holland, England, France pursued overseas markets and began the race for colonies that culminated with the wars of imperialism in the late 19th-early 20th century.

Throughout history nationalism has undergone many phases from that defined by Absolutism where the Monarch was the nation-state, the entire population identified with the nation-state, a certain class–workers or peasants–are identified with the nation-state, a certain ethnicity or race identified with the nation-state. Nationalism, therefore, is an umbrella under which variety of ideologies have found shelter and it remains so to the present.

Resistance movements against foreign domination in the 19th and 20th centuries invariably assumed the form of nationalism, which transcends political labels and appeals to peoples’ sense of patriotism. The catalyst to the success of all mass revolutions–Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba, etc.–was not Marxism but nationalism. Moreover, the leaders who led such movements, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, were well aware of the appeal of nationalism to the masses and used it to secure popular support that brought them to power and allowed them to retain it. If Marxist-influenced rebel leaders used national identity, not class struggle, as the driving force behind their movements, then what followed as regimes was an even greater commitment to nationalism as a useful tool to maintaining popularity.

Many scholars of 20th century revolutions have debated whether Marxism as an ideology was opportunistically subordinated to nationalism as a practical and unavoidable route to mobilizing popular support in order to achieve the goal of removing the colonial presence and securing power. As committed as V. I. Lenin was to internationalism, did he not succumb to the practical reality of national interest after the Civil War and wound up supporting not the Chinese Communist Party, but the Kuomintang (KMT) led by nationalist Dr. Sun Yat-sen, succeeded by Chiang Kai-shek in 1925? And did he not do the same with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, whom Lenin did not consider a Socialist but a nationalist struggling against western imperialism? Lenin’s foreign policy was designed to serve Russian national interests, much to the dismay of Leon Trotsky, who pushed for world revolution.

Once the uprisings failed in Germany, Poland, and other Eastern European countries, Lenin turned to a foreign policy of backing anti-colonial struggles, that is supporting nationalists in India, China, Africa. While USSR economic and trade policy were also modified to meet the realities of the situation at home and the global market economy, USSR foreign policy was also modified to reflect a nationalist character. By the time Stalin took over, Soviet Communism, itself an expression of nationalist aspirations against foreign dependence and exploitation, and a promise that a strong state structure would better manage the economy and uplift society to realize its potential, had sharply deviated from Marxism-Leninism.

Stalin, Russia’s 20th-century Ivan the Terrible, was more nationalistic than the Czars, especially in foreign affairs, despite the crude propagandist anti-Western rhetoric. Stalin-style Communism was immersed in extreme nationalism, demanding sacrifice of Marxists and Communist parties around the world for “Mother Russia,” a policy that filtered through international labor and political organizations that only hurt the cause of revolutionary movements in other countries.

Nationalism was the driving force behind Stalin’s strategy to help Chiang’s nationalists as part of a deal with the US, instead of helping Mao’s revolution. After all, a strong China was not in USSR geopolitical interest and Mao knew it–one reason he requested rapprochement with the US during the Revolution, one reason Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, one reason Mao supported non-aligned nations. But was Mao any less nationalist than Stalin, given that nationalism helped bring him to power during the war and Civil War, given that he remained lukewarm at best about Ho Chi Minh, who was trying to create a strong sovereign nation-state free of foreign dependence and exploitation?

Did Mao want a powerful Vietnam, any more than Russia want a powerful China? The nationalist bug also influenced Castro, who realized during the Cuban Missile Crisis that Moscow used Cuba in a reckless foreign policy game with Washington. Nationalism behind Marxist revolutions in the 20th century was much more powerful than the non-expert realizes, and nationalism remains far more powerful today regardless of political ideology.

Amid the lingering global recession, nationalism is the driving force behind opposition to domestic and foreign obstacles to economic growth an upward social mobility. Nationalism is an integral part of protests against lower wages and benefits, job losses, lack of opportunities for the future. Pessimism, fear, frustration and anger that pervades among workers and the middle class are all assuaged by the individual’s identity with the nation-state as well as with the expectations of the nation-state as part of social contract that has gone unfulfilled for the masses.

Because nationalism finds expression among right, center and left elements, it is difficult for those focused solely on the ideological and political aspects to miss the strong nationalist tendency that all have in common and that may be driving them into action. This is the case in the weaker EU members (Ireland, Portugal, Greece, and Spain), where millions of people identify the strong G-7 economies, the IMF, and foreign and domestic banks as the enemy of the nation with which they equate the people.

This is indeed a concept of nationalism rooted in Abbe Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes’s What is the Third Estate? which identified all people except the privileged estates (nobility and clergy) as the nation-state. Although the economy is driving the social dynamics, nationalism remains the constant force behind assumptions many people entertain on “what is best for the nation”–and how one defines “nation” is based on ideology.


Mexico is a war zone as a result of a chronic drug trade, especially as a transit from Colombia. Is the solution to drugs the demand side of the equation, is it production, trade and distribution, or is it both, OTHER?

In 1949, Mao inherited a nation with a serious drug addiction, prostitution, and gambling problems that had been used by the West as a way to make immense profits in China (Opium Wars) for more than a century. Mao was fairly effective in dealing with these problems using various means, including the Red Army. Today, China has returned to the pre-Mao era with the problem of drugs making an enormous impact as part of the illegal economy. The price of “market economics in an open society!”

Unlike Mao, Mexico does not link drug trade to imperialism. Would the US allow Mexico to adopt Maoist methods? Why doesn’t the US do the same for itself to rid the illegal drug trade and all the crime along with multi-billion dollar business that it carries with it?

It is very difficult to find a regime in Mexico’s history that has not been corrupt and that it has not also corrupted other institutions. The military may be better equipped to handle the drug lords than the police–actually anything would be better. But what assurances are there that the military will not become as corrupt as the police? There have been a number of published reports that drug money has in fact penetrated Mexico’s military more than any other in Latin America.

Drug money corrupts all sectors that stand in its way to make sure the flow of the trade continues, and that is part of the business. An integral part of the trade is laundering drug money. There are many reports that banks–US banks included–have been laundering drug money for decades!

The problem with illegal drugs is not primarily the producer as the US insists, but the consumer. The US which is roughly 4% of the world’s population, but consumes an estimated 25% of the world’s illegal drugs, and the domestic illegal drug industry has been rising rapidly. Americans’ increased their prescription narcotic use by 300% between 1998 and 2008.

The “drug culture” is one for which pharmaceutical companies and the entire medical profession are responsible. Should people take a pill for shyness and boosting self-confidence? Has common sense abandoned the medical professionals more so than vulnerable and desperate patients seeking quick fixes in a pill?

Let us assume that Mexico is no longer Colombia’s transit nation, and completely drug-free after the military has “won the War on Drugs.” Would this mean the end of the drug trade, and that no country will take Mexico’s place? Just look at the CIA Factbook on countries involved in drug production and trade. Can we overlook the fact that after the US invaded Afghanistan the narcotics export trade skyrocketed?
The world drug production and trade (from wholesale all the way down to the street dealer) with all its consequences on the black market economy that finds its way into mainstream financial institutions, has a corrupting influence on governments and private institutions, and above all on the health of people.

The illegal drug trade is one that revolves around hundreds of billions of dollars and that means influence can be bought in all sectors from banks to public officials, and it also means that the poor in Latin America, Africa and Asia will take part in the drug trade in order to survive. The solution to the problem is to curb consumption, and consumption seems to be associated with the more affluent consumerist societies that promote a hedonistic lifestyle. How does a country curb consumption? That is a complex topic for another conversation.


What is Philosophy by Jose Ortega y Gasset is one of the very few studies that describes the field of study, a task with which professional philosophers hardly bother. Like other academicians who do not describe their field but delve into it, philosophers immerse in the various branches of the discipline (13 total, according to some) such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, logic, language. etc. Other than sharpening and fulfilling the mind, what “cash value” does philosophy have in a modern technological society that has reduced human beings into commodities and consumers of commodities?

If philosophy has no “cash value,” is that the fault of philosophers who write for each other instead of addressing the entire population like a best-selling novelist? Recognizing that philosophy must be rooted in experience and in the masses instead of reserving for itself an elite and esoteric place among a few scholars, Ortega y Gasset argued that philosophy deals with the essence of life and allows people to gain a better understanding of life and society. Uncovering the multiple layers of one’s self and the environment that shapes those layers is philosophy’s goal, to return to the Socratic goal of the field.

A number of philosophers from Kant, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Heidegger influenced Ortega y Gasset, who lived during the interwar era when great thinkers breathed life into Existentialism from different perspectives–Sartre and Heidegger among the most influential and best exponents of the particular branch. Understanding Heidegger’s (Being and Time) and Sartre’s (Being and Nothingness), influenced by the former, is extraordinarily difficult and not very pleasant reading for the average person.

Even an elaborate glossary does not help, especially for Heidegger, unless the reader has substantial background in philosophy. This raises the question that John Eipper poignantly asked WAISers on 15 November: “why are modern philosophers incomprehensible? Is it because every profession needs its proprietary language, to keep out the amateurs? Have all the basic concepts been explored, à la Plato, leaving only the complex ones for philosophical reflection?”

With the exception of history, every other academic discipline has its own technical or proprietary language. In the case of philosophy, the difficulty emanates from the fact that the student cannot fully understand for example John Locke’s Treatises on Government without first having studied Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, and in addition having a fairly good command of the historical context in which both Hobbes and Locke wrote.

The reader of Locke or any other philosopher needs a broader sense not only of societal developments but understanding of the contemporary theories of science on which philosophy often relies. For example, the nexus between Locke’s epistemology based on empiricism and Newtonian physics provided the foundation for Enlightenment thought. Unless one studies the precursors to the Enlightenment (Locke, Newton and Descartes) it is more difficult to appreciate the Enlightenment.

Although a background in “Liberal Arts” education helps to understand philosophy, philosophers cannot resist writing for each other and to a large degree they have marginalized themselves, just as Ortega y Gasset warned more than eighty years ago. A very successful and influential philosopher, Bertrand Russell wrote in a very clear and simple style for which his works earned many distinctions and honors. This does not mean that to appreciate his works one need not study the historical context and the thinkers that influenced him.

In all cases, the manner that a person grasps philosophy or any other discipline for that matter, depends not merely on the writer but on the reader’s level of education, background, experience, social and cultural background,as well as the specific field of academic training. A banker understands the issue of wealth and poverty, for example, very differently than a theologian. Although both Protestant reformers, John Calvin with his legal background and political experience in Geneva (hieropolis) had a legalistic concept of Christianity that he imposed on the city, while Martin Luther with his background as monk and university professor did not have “puritanical legalism” as part of his doctrines.

From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, philosophy, profoundly influenced by the classical Greeks as well as Christianity, was an integral part of a general “Liberal Arts” education. Undergraduates studying philosophy were proud of the field instead of apologizing for “wasting their time” as today’s undergraduate majoring in chemistry may complain about “having to take a philosophy course.”

The advent of the Industrial Revolution accounting for advances in science and technology, and the practical application of the findings of these fields in the realm of business regimented educational training to the degree that philosophy became less relevant to daily life, associated increasingly with the aristocracy and the affluent who had “the leisure to engage in speculative thought.” The Industrial Revolution that accounted for changes in the social structure and institutions also brought changes in the value system of the Western World where philosophy’s place was gradually diminished.

As an ancient discipline rooted in religion and cosmology, philosophy from Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” to Erwin Laszlo’s “Introduction to Systems Philosophy” and Ernest Nagel’s “Scientific Method” rely on advancements in science to explain the human condition in a holistic manner, although science within its framework of an institutional structure that influences peoples’ perceptions of it role.

Clearly Einstein influenced many philosophers, including Wittgenstein and Popper among many others, and philosophy in the 20th century would not be the same in the absence of Einstein. While it is understandable that the language and style of scientists must be technical and esoteric, the question is why must the same hold true for philosophers whose purpose as Ortega y Gasset argued is to enlighten the public about the essence of life, self-discovery and appreciation of the nature and the world.

The style, language, and method of philosophy, especially ever since Kant, is so out of reach for the general public that it has had less relevance to society and unfortunately less demand even in college curriculum designed to prepare students for a career by loading them with courses in their major field. While philosophers are partly to blame for making themselves less relevant, modern bourgeois society seeks out the “cash value” of knowledge and it does not have much use for philosophy any more than it does for creativity in the Fine Arts, unless of course it it has been reduced into a commodity like gold or pork bellies.

When William James wrote Pragmatism in 1907, philosophy still had some value for society. James was swept up by the Anglo-Saxon concept of “action-based, and results-oriented” value system that was popular during the era of Progressivism, an era based on the notion of improving self and society, mainly in the material sense of the word. John Dewey was also part of the era and he had a far reaching influence on American education. Material civilization immersed in pragmatism and a hedonistic value system has increasingly obviated the institutional need and individual intellectual quest for philosophy.

While I do not think that the time will ever come in human history that there will be no philosophy as a field of study, I also do not believe that there should be a Dummy’s Guide to Philosophy, (unfortunately, there is) as there is such guide for other fields, like accounting that people identify as “useful.” Today when society is confronting institutional structures that the political economy shapes and along with them the human mind, there is definitely a need for philosophers and academia to make philosophy relevant to society and to the individual no matter how the broader anti-intellectual culture militates against it.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


The popular protests that erupted in spring 2011 in Spain and then spread to dozens of cities throughout Europe have not managed to discourage any government from pursuing neo-liberal, anti-social, anti-labor policies intended to transfer massive income from the bottom and middle sectors of society to the upper income groups.

The situation is the same in Italy and France, in Spain and Portugal as it is in Greece that is in the eye of the austerity storm. Not that anything has changed in Portugal where masses of protesters have been occupying city squares any more than it has in Greece which is on the verge of a social revolution. In all cases, the protests are mostly peaceful to the degree that bourgeois journalists and politicians admiringly refer to them as Gandhian. They represent a broad spectrum of the population, and the catalyst is the indignation with the institutional structures that parade as democratic but are in essence authoritarian and serve a small percentage of people.

With each passing day, conditions deteriorate for the majority in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, and Italy, and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe. Given that the political parties (center, center-left and conservative) have not heeded the cries of the indignant across the periphery and core of Europe, what does this say about the effectiveness of the mass protest movement and its prospects in the next months to a year?

First, it is impossible for any mass movement to succeed in the absence of a coherent ideology. Ideological identity is lacking in the European indignant mass movement. When everyone from right wing to left wing elements expresses an 'anti-parliamentary system' position, the question is whether such a movement will become progressive to serve the majority of the population that cries out for true social, economic, and political democracy, or whether some right wing populist demagogue will use the movement to swing it toward supporting a 'Fascist-type' movement.

Second, what the mass protesters agree on?
1. They agree that the existing 'liberal democracy' and its institutions no longer serve the majority and it is not democracy. On the contrary, institutions work to the detriment of the majority and the word 'democracy' has become a farce.
2. They agree that the political parties that alternate in government - from conservative to center or center-left - serve the exact same institutional interests, to the detriment of the people.
3. They agree that their lives and those of their children are reverting back a few decades, instead of moving forward.
4. They agree that while the economic crisis was created by finance capital, the government is asking them to pay the price by lowering their living standards.
5. They agree that the government is staying in power by using police methods against protesters, but what happens when the police have their salaries cut and they identify with the indignant; and what happens when the armed forces follow the police? Without the police and armed forces behind it, the state will collapse.

Third, the indignant protesters enjoy at least two-thirds of popular support. However, that is not a measure of anything concrete.
1. The 'indignant movements' lack political identity as much as they lack an ideology.
2. They lack a road map for going the next step in proposing an alternative to the existing institutions.
3. They lack a road map of how they will arrive at their goal.
4. On the one hand, the European indignant mass protests are grass roots movements and may reflect true democracy. On the other hand, the danger that they dissolve is very high because they are heterogeneous. The only catalyst so far is what the protesters oppose, but what happens if/when they announce what they propose as an alternative? The grass roots nature of the movement has allowed right wing populist elements to take advantage of it, but is that the goal of the indignant masses?

The dangers to EU by the 'Indignant Movements':
1. The indignant movements will grow, but in what direction and what form, and what splinter groups may arise from them is an unknown at this juncture. They may hold together in Spain, but not in Greece, they may unite into a single movement in Portugal but split into two polar opposing factions in Spain. They may become part of a larger mass movement that includes trade unions in France, but erupt into spontaneous violent revolt in Greece once the new stabilization measures are announced as part of the second round of IMF-EU borrowing. The unknown poses a threat to EU economic stability, therefore a real possibility of a new recession in 2012.
2. Contrary to Marx and Engels who believed that revolution must necessarily come in the most advance countries, history has demonstrated that revolution comes from dependent economies with weak state structures. Therefore, EU periphery seems likely to experience social turbulence more likely than northwest Europe.  
3. It is entirely possible that it will not be the indignant movements of Spain, Portugal or Greece that will lead Europe into massive changes owing to pressures from below, but Italy whose public debt and banking system will require well over one trillion euros to stabilize.
4. The success of the indignant movements across Europe, especially in southern Europe, have already eroded the sense of legitimacy that people associate with government and mainstream institutions. The continued erosion of public confidence, and sense of legitimacy that people attribute to their governments and institutions poses a serious threat to a number of European nations. The result may be that political leaders and media in each country try to use nationalism as a means to regain legitimacy and point to 'foreign enemies'.

 5. If indeed the world economy lapses into a double-dip recession in 2012, and if in that cycle China is unable to soften the blow of contraction that the world economy will suffer, the prospect of revolution and perhaps a reaction from ultra-right wing elements in establishing authoritarian/police state regimes is very real.

6. Unconventional form of warfare - terrorism -  is one other danger that is very likely arising from the ashes of the 'indignant movement' if it fails to have a progressive impact on the political arena.  We may very well see a rise of 1970s-style organizations in Europe if society continues along a road to polarization owing to downward social mobility.

Friday, 24 June 2011


There is a 21st-century version of "the scramble for Africa," a continuation of what started in the 19th century (1880-1914) by the Europeans who pillaged the continent's resources, systematically exploited its people, caused tribal and regional wars, destroying its culture; and all of it by invoking social Darwinism and other Eurocentric theories, including ethnocentrism and "Exceptionalism," to justify white hegemony.

Is there a new round of neo-colonial race to carve up Africa's lucrative agricultural lands, or is it all radical rhetoric by hyper-enthusiastic NGOs, irresponsible activists who probably hate themselves and in need of psychotherapy, misguided liberal and leftist Western intellectuals looking for a "politically correct" causes and who feel guilty about sins that their white ancestors committed in the Dark Continent, the 19th-century expression to describe sub-Saharan Africa?

According to the World Bank (September 2010), more than 110 million acres of farmland (the size of California and West Virginia combined) were sold during the first 11 months of 2009. This was all in a mad rush of foreign private and government investors to secure cheap land (and labor to work the land), and all during the most serious economic recession in the postwar period. Between 1998 and 2008, the World Bank provided $23.7 billion for agribusiness around the world, much of it in Africa, promoting what it calls "efficient and sustainable" agriculture.

In 2010 the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has invested an estimated $100 million for agribusiness in Sub-Saharan Africa, compared with merely $18 million a year in the last decade. Naturally, (IFC) and World Bank investment which runs into the billions also focuses on corporate agriculture that displaces the small farmer. This despite the advice from experts in sub-Saharan countries, who argued that the best use of farmland is to distribute it to villagers (about 12 hectares per family) and give them the means to cultivate it to end hunger, and begin to generate a surplus for trade. Foreign-owned agribusiness produce commercial crops for export, while the native population remains poverty-stricken. It should be noted that foreign aid for Africa's agriculture dropped by 75% since 1980, thus creating the need for private foreign investment in the sector.

In the last one hundred years, agriculture in the industrialized countries has undergone a revolution that has resulted in just a small segment of the labor force earning its living from farming and animal husbandry. Technology and science applied to the sector has raised production and made agriculture less labor intensive, just as specialization and concentration has resulted in higher productivity. Modernization of the primary sector of production entails that large commercial operations, backed by favorable government policies, have taken over the sector that requires expensive agrochemicals and machinery, and a distribution network to secure steady profits.

With each recessionary cycle, more small farmers around the world are squeezed out of the business. If they remain, they merely subsist and make more money on side-jobs than in farming or animal husbandry. The transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture, first in Western Europe and then in US, freed the surplus labor force for the manufacturing and service sectors of production. In the case of Africa, however, there is no manufacturing or service sector large enough to absorb the surplus labor force that is uprooted from subsistence farming and animal husbandry.

The assumption by governments, banks, and mainstream economists is that commercial agriculture in the form of agribusiness is a necessary development of modernization. Another assumption is that only large-scale agribusiness, which is subsidized by government and international organizations like the World Bank and IFFC among others, can meet the rising demand the world's rising food demand while keeping costs low.

Given the trend toward corporate agriculture, in the last ten years, governments and private firms from around the world have been investing in sub-Sahara Africa. Besides agribusinesses acquiring more land in Africa, banks, hedge and pension funds, commodity traders, foundations and individual investors have been buying land as part of portfolio investments for an average of $1 per hectare. This is in an attempt to cash in on low-cost land and labor amid a growing demand for raw food products and bio-fuels.

The EU is hoping to reduce carbon emissions by using at least 10% bio-fuel of all fuel products by 2020. The US is aiming to reduce its foreign dependence on oil by 70% in the next 15 years. With the help of the World Bank and IFC, both EU and US have been looking to Africa--more than 700 million hectares appropriated for agribusiness--as the continent to invest in bio-fuels. Latin America is also a target for bio-fuel and other agrarian investment.

In the past decade, India, China, Japan, and Arab countries have joined the "new scramble for Africa," in some cases because governments are concerned about soil, water, and natural resources conservation in their own countries. Private investors and governments are aggressively seeking to partition Africa's rich agricultural land as the costs of agricultural commodities is expected to rise once the current recession ends. Saudi Arabia has set aside $5 billion in low-interest loans to Saudi agribusinesses to invest in agriculturally attractive countries.

Another reason for the new scramble for Africa is because of what the UN Food and Agricultural Organization calls "spare land," areas not under cultivation, or underutilized. On 22 September 2010, I wrote a brief piece on UN and Global Poverty, focusing on the Millennium Development Goals, noting that the political and business establishment of most countries is behind this effort because there are immense profits to be made in corporate farming in Africa.

Africa has been used by the developed countries for its raw materials and as a consumer of imported manufactured products and foreign business services. In short, Africa remains semi-colonial, and continues to become increasingly dependent on developed countries for manufactured products and services while exporting raw materials. The EU and US quest for bio-fuel development in Africa, and for that matter in Latin America, has nothing to do with "sustainable development" or engendering greater "self-sufficiency" or helping to "develop" Africa--rhetoric that the UN, World Bank, western governments and multinational corporations are using to make "the new scramble for Africa" more palatable to the world.

Will the people of Africa solve the chronic problems of poverty and disease as a result of the exploitation of land and labor to satisfy the demand for food and bio-fuels in Western nations? Africa's food requirements will double in the next two to three decades, a point that foreign agribusinesses, governments and IFC and World Bank are using to justify the commercialization of agriculture under foreign ownership.

In the process of the neo-colonial land-grab, evictions of peasants and small farmers, entire villages uprooted, civil unrest, and citizens' complaints of "land grabbing" have been common. Nevertheless, protests owing to social injustice do not stop governments from approving agribusiness deals backed by powerful forces. One common justification used for the new scramble for Africa is that the acquired territories are not utilized or "wasteland."

Governments often do not charge agribusiness for the water they use. Just a single agribusiness belonging to an Arab investor in Ethiopia uses as much water as 100,000 people--water of course is the most precious commodity in many parts of Africa. All of it is justified by various arguments including "no country has developed with two-thirds of its labor force living off the land," foreign investment is needed for "development."

It is an interesting coincidence that just as sub-Sahara Africa has been targeted by drug lords in the last few years, it is also targeted by corporate farm investors whose mode of operation is to use the low-valued land and labor and corrupt public officials in order to serve foreign market demands. Rural poverty will rise as a result of foreign corporate investment in African agriculture.

As Richard Hancock recently pointed out, between 1960 to the present, Africa experienced the highest population growth in the world, an astonishing 200%, while it suffered the lowest living standards on the planet. Will the "new scramble for Africa" by corporate investors result in the elimination of famine and disease, will it result in higher rising living standards for the native population, or will it be another form of neo-colonialism in the name of progress?

In January 2009 and again in October 2010, I wrote about Africa's structural problems that have contributed to a thriving narcotics trade. Given that in sub-Saharan countries the percentage of labor force involved in agriculture and animal husbandry ranges from 50 to 75, the result of agribusiness will be to create a larger percentage of poor people, some of who will choose to make a living in illegal activities like gun and narcotics trade, others in piracy, still others in the thriving human trafficking and teenage prostitution business that has a ready market around the world.

The social fabric disrupted yet again by "the new scramble for Africa," continued political instability is a guarantee as much as a rise in crime and social unrest. Amazingly, the same institutions that contribute to Africa's devastation claim that they are acting in the name of "progress, sustainable development and efficiency, helping to raise productivity and exports, to create jobs by bringing foreign investment," etc.; the modern versions of "The White Man's Burden."

The politically palatable rhetoric of "efficiency and sustainability" has resulted in an outward-oriented agrarian sector catering to foreign markets instead of inward-oriented economy designed to meet the rapidly rising population's food needs. In 16th-century England, farmers switched to animal husbandry owing to rising demand for wool textiles. Peasants starved as the cost of grain increased, thus "sheep ate people." In this century, "agribusinesses will be eating Africans."


Has human nature undergone a radical transformation in the past 10,000 years? Have people in “civilized society” created institutions that reflect an egalitarian/hierarchic dichotomy in their nature? Watching a documentary, I was amazed at one of the 9/11 survivors who claimed that when families came together to form a support network, hierarchies developed naturally because some believed “their suffering” was greater than the others.

What accounts for the propensity to reject a communitarian/egalitarian spirit and to act accordingly in social groups, especially in the Western World? Strongly influenced by Marx whose dialectical materialism he rejected, Weber developed conflict theory, and social stratification theory on the basis of property, power, prestige, age and gender–all in a white European context of the 19th century. Besides class, status, gender, ethnicity, race, and prestige, the immediate and extended family structure, the ego and desire to affirm/validate the self by claiming separateness from the other may be contributing factors to the hierarchical mindset and practice. But the irony remains that in society and in hierarchies the ideal aspiration is egalitarianism.

Food gathering communities operated under egalitarian/communitarian conditions that reflected their needs and no doubt considered it “natural.” Today such conditions appear antithetical to humans that respond to hierarchical models in daily life. If universally immersed in hierarchical models, why do human beings pay homage to egalitarianism (spiritual or humanist) and seek it as an ideal? Before Judaism, Christianity and Islam, paganism which was based on nature and female deity worship evolved toward patriarchal and hierarchical structures with the stratification of society owing to private property and military conquest.

Initially rooted in hierarchy of nature and then reflecting patriarchal social stratification, paganism reflects the convergence of the real and the ideal. By contrast, Christianity, once it separates people into “good and evil” dichotomy, judges all who are “good” (saved) as equal in the Kingdom of God, while the eschatological model of Hell certainly makes liberal use of hierarchies as Dante dramatized in his ingenious novel intended to criticize secular and spiritual hierarchies in the Italian city states.

Of the Eastern religions, Confucianism of course is hierarchical. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism are closer to paganism in spirit and structure, while they embrace a holistic oneness de-emphasized in the hierarchical mindset. The basic hierarchic model has remained in tact throughout history partly because it reflects the stratification of “civilized society.” Today hierarchies are not only present in military, government, business, hospitals, academic institutions, NGOs, but even in community groups that begin with some kind of egalitarian structure but quickly abandon it.

Communist countries never managed to put into practice an egalitarian structure as their followers hoped. After taking power, they tried to address the larger issue of social justice within the context of the regime’s political perimeters. By adopting a rigid hierarchical structure to enforce “social justice,” Communist regimes lost the PR war to Liberal-bourgeois regimes that idealized the individual within the hierarchic social structure. Even to their own popular base, Communist regimes appeared to undercut Marxist ideology, thus allowing critics and their Cold War nemesis to claim moral superiority on the issue of “equality.”

All along, hierarchies at all levels of society East and West prevailed and the question was who is better off materially–Communist East or capitalist West? The thin layer of Communist regimes resting on top of a multi-layered hierarchical society was hardly sufficient to alter peoples’ hierarchical values and envy of Western materialistic culture.

Since the French Revolution the proclaimed ideal of governments as often reflected in their written constitutions is egalitarianism in some form. Invariably this is translated into equality of opportunity in Western bourgeois regimes, a model exported to most of the world with globalization and the downfall of Communism. The (hierarchical) reality of course is far from the unreachable (egalitarian) ideal. While merit-based system is the aspired ideal of businesses, an ideal that business often projects as “equality of opportunity,” the reality is one of rigid hierarchy often unrelated to merit-based models.

Given that educational and non-profit institutions have followed the business model, hierarchies prevail in those sectors despite the ideal of egalitarianism. Hierarchies may not only be the result of social conditioning, or inherent societal conflict where each individual struggles to maximize his benefit as Weber postulated, but they may have a psychosomatic basis as well. If we accept Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and Carl Jung’s “stages of life” theory, then hierarchies are a reflection of human nature.

Shaped by society’s institutions invariably dominated primarily by social and political elites, human nature is conditioned to accept hierarchies as “natural.” In the Middle Ages the Divine Chain of Being (the ultimate hierarchy) was reality throughout Christendom. Human beings thirst for affirmation of self and the desire to transcend self, they struggle to maximize their individual benefits oblivious to the welfare of the community. Therefore, they live in hierarchical structures because hierarchies are an expression of neurosis to use a Freudian interpretation. However, at the ethical and socio-political levels, the elites and most people in Western societies acknowledge that some basic rights–human rights–must be conceded because we live in communities, share a common fate, and aspire to harmony that yields safety and security.

At the existential level, death as the great equalizer representing the inevitability of eternal oblivion, the realization that the individual is indeed an organic part of nature’s whole forces human beings to feel empathy in order to feel human and overcome fear of death, as in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyitch. Given that equality cannot exist in the absence of integration with the whole and given the individual resists integration into an amorphous mass where will and ambition are surrendered to the benefit of the “whole,” hierarchies which are externally imposed will remain for eternity.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


The process of appropriation is how the market economy works, but there is a vast difference in trade relationships between advanced nations - US and Japan, or France and Germany - than there is between advanced nations and underdeveloped ones - US and Guatemala, or France the Cameroons. The unequal terms of trade are a historical fact, as is the illegal activity that has been taking place by the developed nations at the expense of Africa.

The process of underdevelopment in Africa started with Portugal's colonization in the 15th century and it has continued in the last five centuries. The only difference in the political economy and socioeconomic conditions in colonial Africa versus conditions today is the fact that Africans on the surface appear to be in charge of their own destiny and enjoy national sovereignty. Beneath the surface, however, the neo-colonial machinery continues to thrive based on legal and illegal appropriation in the continent that has the world's lowest living standards.

Not only have non-continental corporations (European, Chinese, Japanese, US, and others) invaded Africa to exploit its natural resources, everything from oil to precious metals and rich agricultural land, but it is now apparent that Europeans are literally stealing the fish stock from African waters. Considering that Africa has historically survived on subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry and subsistence fishing, any external intrusion to deprive Africa of its land and sea natural resources entails forcing the people into even lower living standards.

Overfishing in the Mediterranean Sea and tight enforcement has forced large corporate fishing companies using trawlers to invade Africa's waters from the Ivory Coast to Guinea. In what amounts to a multi-billion dollar business, large European and Chinese vessels are capable of catching as much fish in a single day (15 million meals) as the small coastal African fishing boats in a year, thus depleting the fish stock and doing so illegally. African countries do not have the money to patrol the seas,  but the US is the one that has blown the whistle on EU and China stealing Africa's fish stock.

The gross losses owing to illegal fishing in the world are estimated at $24 billion, which entails 11-26 million tons of fish, or 10-20% of the world's stock.  The majority of illegal fishing takes place in waters of Third World countries, especially in West Africa where fish catches are 40 percent higher than reported.

Besides stealing fish, there are reports that the EU has been using African waters to dump various toxic substances. And the situation is not much better in East Africa, and it is also the case that besides EU and China, Russia, Japan and other countries have been involved in illegal fishing in Africa that is deemed the worst maritime violation in the world.

The irony of illegal fishing in Africa, is that the EU subsidizes the corporations, mostly French ans Spanish, carrying out.The additional irony of all this is that European Parliament has decided that fishing in Western Saharan waters by vessels flying European flags is illegal. Not only does EU and Chinese illegal fishing violate international agreements, but it is detrimental to the natural balance of seas and oceans. Environmental groups have brought this issue to world headlines, but mainstream media will not give it the attention it merits. Moreover, many of the vessels use cheap labor from Third World countries, including child labor.

The ultimate irony in the chronic stealing of Africa's natural resources is that the EU and US are constantly exercised about piracy in East Africa, while the EU and China subsidize fishing companies to engage in fishing piracy in African waters. This is not to excuse piracy, but illegal fishing is a far more serious threat to the people of Africa and the ecosystem than Somali pirates. After all, piracy started because legal activities such as fishing were undercut by foreign illegal activities that advanced countries carried out in Africa.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011


In the great Danish produced motion picture ZENTROPA, the audience is left with a sense that the crimes of Nazi Germany are like an endless river that will continue to run through the German psyche in the future without end. The 'Zentropa Syndrome', the profound sense of national (collective) guilt that Germans are carrying 70 years after the Nazi era and war against Europe has an impact on policy in so far as it places limitations that other countries like France do not have because they have no such syndrome.

The de-Nazification process that the Allies imposed on Germany (Stuttgart Declaration of 1945) has helped to reinforce the collective guilt. The hunt for Nazis hiding out in US and Latin America in the years following the war, the war reparations by government and corporations, and Germany's military dependence on the US/NATO alliance have also kept the 'Zentropa Syndrome' alive and the sense that collective guilt will not be erased any time soon.

Because of Zentropa Syndrome, Germany cannot have a policy that is straightforward and openly critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the same manner as Norway or Spain. Germany has to be cautious how it is perceived by the rest of the world. Germany cannot afford to do anything to cause harm to the European Union because the underlying implication is that its policies are another form of Nazi hegemony concealed under layers of 'bourgeois capitalist' institutions.

If Germany dares to deviate from what the US demands, namely EU speaking with one voice on monetary policy and bailouts of periphery debtor members like Greece, the entire world will blame Germany for harboring economic and political hegemony ambitions; of destabilizing Europe once again as it did when it invaded Poland. In short, no matter what happens in Greece's future, Germany will be blamed and forced to pay part of the cost for stabilization/recovery. Although it is a world capitalist system responsible for the public credit crisis, in the case of EU debtor nations, German collective guilt will be in the forefront.

Germany's policies are operating under constrictive conditions not only because of US and world pressure, but because the Germans are still swimming inside the turbulent collective guilty waters of Nazism; at least in their subconscious. Resentment is closely associated with externally-imposed constrictive conditions on Germany's potential as an economic and political power operating as an independent sovereign nation instead of an interdependent EU member.

German political conduct in the last sixty years has been fine-tuned to meet the conditions of its Western allies. Unlike defiant France, Germany has played the subservient role to the US and forced to act in concert with the rest of Europe on integration issues for the past six decades. The pre-WWI and pre-WWII German ambition of rising world power status could only be achieved within a larger union. German  publications reflect the sense of frustration that Germany's potential is hampered by the world - just as it was in 1914 when Germany demanded 'breathing space' because it felt encircled by France, Russia, and England.

What a tragedy it must be to be carrying the burden of the Zentropa Syndrome, of trying to kill the past but the very efforts to do so continue to keep it alive with each new policy measure that the government adopts. Clearly, it is absurd that there should be a legacy of collective guilt on today's Germany. As a sovereign nation, Germany today deserves the right to have its policies judged on their merits and not attach linkage to the Nazi past. The issue of unsettled war reparations is legitimate, but it is opportunistic for countries like Greece that need German bailout support to use the issue and reinforce 'Zentropa Syndrome' that has a great deal of political weight inside Germany and around the world. All things being equal, do the EU periphery countries deserve to have their sovereignty respected by the creditor nations that essentially own the economies in the periphery?

While many politicians and political analysts continue to believe that Germany needs to be contained because it has a history of going out of control with ambitions for hegemony, the world political, military and economic power structure is such that it would be very difficult for Germany to repeat the mistake of WWI and WWII. The reality is that Germany in the 21st century is more encircled and more dependent than it was in 1914. Thus, a move for unilateral hegemony would be unthinkable and impossible in its execution and especially in achieving its goal.

What can Germany do to rid itself of its guilty past, other than crack down on neo-Nazis and proclaim its support for Israel? Germany could abide collectively by EU treaties and obligations and join the EU in speaking with one voice as the US has strongly suggested. More importantly, Germany can look at the EU integration model not in the short-term for it looks very bad right now, but longer term in the same manner as Japan approaches economic planning.

Germany needs to reexamine its identity and determine if it wants to be integrated with the EU or if it best serves its society's needs to go at it alone, forging a new identity for itself separate and distinct from the EU. The only way to change the Zentropa past is by forging future constructive policies designed to make a lasting contribution to the world community instead of exploiting it.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


The Internet Revolution may not represent as great an impact as the Industrial Revolution that started in northwest Europe in the mid-18th century, but it does mean far reaching effects for the duration in everything from communications to human values. Just as the Industrial Revolution changed the social structure and political and economic institutions, just as it changed culture and human relationships, so is the web having a similar impact on society in the 21st century. The question is to what degree does this revolution contribute to the greater good of humanity and to what degree to its detriment; a question also asked of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.

Just as it is unimaginable to live without all the techno-advancements of the Industrial Revolution, it is equally unimaginable to most people, governments, business, and all institutions from schools to churches in most countries to live and work without the internet as life's central tool. As many benefits as cyber-technology has brought to the world, it has also created serious problems, everything from child pornography to facilitating human trafficking and the drug trade. The internet has also made possible the lack of privacy in peoples' lives and the web addiction to which many succumb.

There are estimates that as many as one-third of all teens and pre-teens are addicted to video games and the internet, while at least 10% of adults are addicted. Although the internet accounts for problems in the lives of 20% of users in their lives, they are compulsive users that cannot break the habit. Subconsciously, many use the internet as a form of therapy, whether that is in the form of entertainment that ranges from gambling to sex talk or owing to a sense of alienation from the world and fear of facing real people as opposed to virtual ones on the web.

Some psychologists call it 'Internet Addiction Disorder', but the label deals narrowly with the emotional pathology and its consequences is meaningless and does not address the many complex problems associated with web addiction and its underlying causes and costs to individuals and to society. Web addition has been rising rapidly in the last decade, especially among the young. It has moved into the mainstream of society and it is omnipresent. Everywhere a person goes, from home to the airport, from the office to the local library, from the cafe to the hotel the web is there to entice, and if it is not, you can have it on your cell phone. Android phone is indeed the correct terminology, for a device replacing the human brain.

The overwhelming majority of people in the US and in other advanced capitalist countries organize their lives around the internet. The majority meet people, from casual friends to potential partners, via the web. The process is made easier by massive sites promoting online dating and marriage services. Besides the well-know name brands that connect people, there are free and paid services that have replaced the traditional face-to-face of meeting people, even if they work down in the next office from you.

This impersonal method of communicating changes everything about human interactions and way of thinking about relationships as well as personal identity. Women and men go online, partly because it is convenient but also because they feel safe owing to the indirect manner of communication and the ease with which they can construct an image based on manufactured-truths about their identity. There are marketing firms that use what psychologists call "Internet Dependency Relations" (IDR) to predict online consumer activity and trends. In short, the ailment of a segment of the population has marketable value.

The Internet Revolution has redefined friendship. People may list several thousand 'internet friends' that they have never met or know anything about. These same people may have no friends with which to associate in person, but they live with the illusion of having 'group support' owing to their web following. More significant, the cyberspace virtual world in which people live has replaced the empirical world of daily life as the former has become the cause for all sorts of problems that includes everything from increase in web-shopping and gambling to rise in divorce rates.

Despite its detrimental impact on society to which it contributes alienation, the web is an excellent source of information. Internet has democratized the process of analyzing news stories that were once the domain of government and official political opposition. However, the web also contains a great deal of useless and dangerous information along with precious information and analysis about various topics from hard science to politics. Many people are often unable to distinguish what is credible and what is unadulterated trash that someone lacking in knowledge, emotional stability and/or the values that contribute to society's edification has placed on the web. Amazingly, many people believe that if something appears on the web, it must be so.

While the internet revolution has benefited businesses, society has experienced downward socioeconomic mobility during the internet revolution. Just as the Industrial Revolution created massive wealth and sharp rise in poverty, internet technology accounts for faster and more efficient way of doing business, some of which includes old practices that are now communicated via cyberspace. At the same time, this latest revolution has not delivered on the promise of economic democracy, as the trend in the past two decades has been downward social mobility.

The internet revolution has made possible mass social movements against authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa. The internet revolution has made possible the mass protests in Europe; communication of information by 'indignant' masses from Madrid to Athens and the rest of the world. The internet has made it possible for a college student in Beijing to be watching TV news casts about the Communist Government's economic accomplishments, while reading a web article questioning the social costs of such economic progress.

As a tool like any other, the internet has the potential for improving society, although the benefits are few to the masses and many to businesses. The same technology used to defraud investors in the stock market, the same technology used for guiding drone planes that kill indiscriminately is also used in hospitals to cure patients. The internet shapes identity and society, it shapes institutions and promotes antagonistic competition and cooperation; it provides instant knowledge about everything from quantum mechanics to Christian mysticism. Just as with the first Industrial Revolution, the Internet Revolution will be judged on its usefulness to society and the cost/benefit ratio.


The US economy is valued at approximately $15 trillion dollars. The population is estimated at 310 million, of which an estimated 14% (45 million) lives below poverty (about one-third of Hispanics and Blacks live below poverty). Although the US was the world's richest country in the late 1940s, the income distribution was not much different that it has been in the past 60 years.

The bottom 25% of the population earned just 4% of all income, while the top 25% of people earned 47% of income, and approximately half of all families did not earn what the Labor Department considered 'adequate income'. From the late 1950s when poverty was around 22% until the early 1990s, US poverty levels were decreasing and the expansion of the middle class in the 1960s was a significant factor to the country's prosperity. Paradoxically, America's prosperity in GDP terms has continued since the 1960s, but income inequality and lack of progress in upward social mobility also set in after the end of Vietnam.

One of the key statistic in rising poverty is that there has been a corresponding rise in income inequality between the top 20% of the population and the bottom 80%, as the chart below indicates with figures before the 2008 recession.

US income pyramid:
Percent of US Population         Percent of Total US Income
0.1%                                           10%
1 %                                             20%
19 %                                           50.5%
79.9 %                                        19.5%                        

The mainstream media, government and institutions have always tried to convince people that if they are not living the 'American Dream' - having a nice house in the suburbs, receiving a decent salary, enjoying an annual vacation and having enough money for a comfortable retirement - it is their fault because the system offers opportunities to achieve the dream. This is an argument as old as the first industrial revolution in England when the businessmen and politicians faulted the rest of population for suffering low living standards. If the system works for the top ten percent of the population, than the bottom 90 percent have the problem not the system.

The problem with those at the bottom of America's income pyramid is that they lack necessary education, the right skills for the current marketplace, the right personal traits and attitude, the right location where the jobs are currently available. In essence, the slackers on the bottom of the pyramid need a personality makeover, everything from the dress that a woman wears or the necktie a man wears to how to smile and when during a job interview. The tragedy here is that psychologists contribute to this institutional mythology and inculcate into society the idea that it is the fault of the individual for failing to be a part of the top 20% income earners instead of the bottom 20%.

Other than too much education or the 'wrong kind', a soiled necktie on a man or too much aftershave lotion, the wrong lipstick on a woman or lack of appropriate smiling, what structural factors accounts for economic inequality? Research indicates that the American Dream is becoming as likely as winning the lottery. The growing income gap between business executives on the one hand, middle class and workers that make up the bottom 80% of the income earning population.

One catalytic factor is fiscal policy. The fact is that government tax policy is designed to make the rich richer, while taxing the bottom 80% of the population inordinately, despite the fact that this is the segment that own just 20% of the wealth. Another factor is social policy that had its run from the New Deal under FDR to the Great Society under LBJ, but has been drifting into oblivion in the last 40 years. Health and education have become very expensive and underfunded, partly because the state is transferring funds from social welfare to corporate welfare.

The income pyramid is no accident in the US any more than it is in Germany, or Russia. It is not the fault of individuals that they have fallen to the bottom of the pyramid, for there is something wrong with institutions when people in 21st century America have more education, more skills, more mobility, yet, there is one job  opening for every 100 applicants, and in some cases thousands of applicants. Government policy created it, and under the neo-liberal model, that pyramid is becoming narrower at the top where only a small percentage is enjoying the American Dream (the German or Russian equivalent to the American Dream), thinner in the middle, and much broader at the very bottom. What needs to change is not the individual, but the system that keeps pushing more and more people to the bottom of the pyramid.

Monday, 20 June 2011


On 27 October 2008, I posted a piece on WAIS regarding the role of former FED chairman Alan Greenspan who decided to offer testimony criticizing the housing bubble and the runaway debt economy on which growth had been based in the years leading up to the recession. Greenspan offered congressional testimony that revealed he had a memory lapse about his own role as FED chair and policies he pursued that led to the recession.

"What can the public make of former FED chairman Greenspan's testimony  that he no longer believes that the free enterprise system left to its own devices can function properly without causing structural distortions? In response to Waxman's questions about the assumptions the FED made regarding free markets, Greenspan admitted that he is partly to blame. He stated that for more than forty years he had always believed markets left to their own devices best serve the system and society of course. Are we now to assume that the former FED chairman is a born-again Socialist that suddenly "got religion" after capitalism is proving dysfunctional on a daily basis?

Greenspan along with others like-minded people throughout the world may finally be convinced that capitalism left to its own devices may not self-destruct as Marx believed and Keynes agreed, but it does contain within it the seeds of massive distortions that can only be fixed by the state. Of course there are still people in this world who see a solution to the current crisis other than state-directed capitalism. But the world economy is protesting to the tune of massive losses that causes fear and panic, to say nothing of 20 million people expected to lose their jobs as the so-called "recession" begins to unfold.

During the last Bush-Sarkozy meeting it was clear that the EU wants a much more interventionist role for the state to be discussed at the international conference of 15 November 2008, a position China supports as do most governments. Ironically, the US President, after throwing hundreds of billions into the financial system in bailout money, tried to calm the private sector and die-hard advocates of laissez-faire that markets must retain the role they have enjoyed historically.

Not Greenspan's testimony, not any 18th-century free-market ideology, nor any government regardless of how powerful it is, but the daily reports by major corporations that have sent world markets into a downward spiral will result in an institutionalized international structure of state-directed capitalism designed to stabilize markets and the economy. Heads of government, heads of corporations, investors, and former FED chairmen are the ones asking for state-directed capitalism because they see no alternative; certainly not because they are born-again Socialists who have found the light of the Lord amid the darkness of stock market losses.

There will be more high-profile former advocates of the laissez-faire (those believing in the illusion of laissez-faire) who will eventually become "born-again" advocates of state-directed capitalism, not because they will have any ideological commitment, but because the course of capitalism in its current historical phase is so debilitated that it cannot function without government as its partner and welfare safety net. In this respect, China is well ahead of the game, as in some respects are other Asian countries and even EU to a degree. It now remains to institutionalize the current phase of de facto state-directed capitalism so that international organizations like the World Trade Organization, IMF, World Bank, European Investment Bank, etc. adjust their policies accordingly." 


In the service of Wall Street, Greenspan very subtly criticized the market in 2008, but during his tenure as chair he was pursuing monetary policy intended to further its interests short term. Does this man have a responsibility for the downward social mobility that America has been experiencing in the last five years? Does this man have any responsibility for the structural economic problems the country will be facing in the decade? Does this man have any responsibility for China overtaking the US in less than five years as the world's number one economy?
After Lehman Brothers, Greenspan should have issued a public apology to the American people for helping to strengthen the neo-liberal climate that ruined the lives of millions pursuing policies resting on mountains of public and private debt - an estimated $100 trillion combined debt, according to Bill Gross, Bill Walker and others. Instead of growing the economy, 'Greenspan-style debt' is what America will be paying off in the 21st century.


The Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the fall of the military junta in summer 1974 was the last time that Greece was the subject of world headline news to the extent that it is in 2011. Mainstream political and financial news as well as blogs have Greece as a main subject, largely because it is as the US fears a potential Lehman Brothers-type of disaster waiting to explode and take down the world economy. Although Greece's economy is just a bit over 2% of the Eurozone GDP, that it is integrated with the EU, that its economy is in essence an extension of the EU economy, rather than a national one, that it represents a possible domino-effect makes everyone nervous except those betting to make money betting on default.
Those betting money on Credit Default Swaps (CDS) are 80% convinced that Greece will default eventually, and that will mean a large payday. A similar sentiment prevails among many economists and journalist-analysts who believe that Greece is a huge burden on the European Monetary Union (EMU). But how certain is a Greek default, or debt restructuring, given that there are so many different players in this global game of political economy. I have stated categorically that absolutely no one knows what will happen with Greece and everyone is making assumptions about the situation as it currently stands. Here are two scenarios; one of why default could take place and a second why default is out of the question.

a. unsustainable debt that cannot be serviced in the absence of a substantial 'haircut'; if a haircut or other form of restructuring (prolonged service payments, lower yields, etc.) takes place the markets would treat government bonds just as skeptically initially, thus more EU bailout money would be needed.  

b. immense domestic and foreign business and political pressure to stick austerity measures that will eventually derail the entire economy and force massive debt restructuring or default, or EMU withdrawal;

c. immense domestic public pressure to end austerity and establish national economic sovereignty after unemployment rises above 25% and consumer spending is reduced by more than 35%, as could be the case in 2012. Such a scenario would have destabilizing impact on Europe's political economy and it could be more costly than pouring money down the Greek public debt-service drain.

d. inability to borrow from the private bond markets even after the new EU loan of an estimated 120 billion euros. such a scenario could mean EU bailouts could continue for the next five to ten years and drag down the euro's value.

e. Germany and France cut their losses and focus on strengthening the euro, once Greece is out of the EMU. this scenario would in essence entail the end of the EMU and EU as we knew it so far. Der Spiegel is correct in this respect that the old euro is dead and buried with the Greek flag on top of the coffin and inside the coffin all the other periphery members resting in eternal public debt.

f. EU negotiates a new economic integration arrangement with Greece and other periphery debtor nations and treats them as it does associate members that use national currency. this scenario has been around for some time, but the argument is that the economies of Greece and the peripheries are really not national but northern European in any case, so the scenario is more or less one of severing limbs at best and suicide at worst.

Dilemma upon dilemma is the end result of all five scenarios in favor of debt restructuring, default, and/or Greece's withdrawal from EMU.

a. European Central Bank (ECB) president Jean-Claude Trichet, and Mario Draghi, candidate for ECB leadership role, are adamantly against debt restructuring, to say nothing of default that spells disaster for the ECB. But can they prevent restructuring or a default, considering that the ECB is just as adamant about austerity measures that are rapidly impoverishing a large percentage of the population?

b. Two large French banks operating in Greece would take serious losses in case of debt restructuring or default or the country's EMU withdrawal S and P has already put both French banks on watch for a downgrade and it is watching all businesses with large exposure in Greece. The French position of maintaining the status quo in  Greece arises from an immense exposure of French firms, while the German position of possibly cutting Greece off is one of preventing further losses down the road. As far as the Germans are concerned, Greece must still rely on northwest Europe to buy just about everything, so stopping the bailout bleeding would not be such a great loss. However, Germany reluctantly goes along with France owing to pressures from the US and IMF and out of fear that it will be blamed for a new global recession in case Greece defaults.

c. Ireland and Portugal would follow Greece in a default situation, and that would mean that Spain will have to take some measures to appease its own rebellious population. Can EU withstand the pressure of the entire periphery in turmoil? The euro would stand relatively if the defaulting nations withdraw from the EMU, but the EU economy would take at least two years, possibly five, to recover from the mess of re-configured disintegrated European economy. Germany does not want to have that kind of burden on its shoulders.

d. Fortune 500 companies listed on Wall Street do more than 20% of their business with Europe and they stand to take a bath in case of a default by Greece that would have a snowball effect globally. The US is leaning very heavily on Germany to make sure that at this juncture at least bailout continues for Greece. This does not mean that down the road there cannot be a 'transitioning phase' for Greece. However, every EU associate member is watching how the EU is behaving toward Greece and is not anxious to become a full member. Turkey is certainly content to keep the status quo, instead of joining the tumultuous EU economy amid a recessionary climate. 

There are no easy choices for Greece, the EU periphery, the EU creditors. No matter what happens, the losers will be the workers and middle class across all of Europe and not just in the periphery, because German taxpayers are providing tax money to bailout Greece that pays German banks interest on bonds. The time has come for EU to decide what kind of integration model it wants to pursue, what countries it wants in  and out of the EMU, what kind of monetary, fiscal, trade, investment policies it wants. Day-by-day policies only postpone and prolong the pain for everyone. Europe needs visionary leadership for the long-term, not just how much money can be paid in the next quarter to bondholders.