Monthly Archives: January 2009

01-11-2009 Is the U.S. a giant Madoff – a giant Ponzi scheme?

charles-ponzi-1910Charles Ponzi

Is the US a giant Ponzi scheme?
Frauds, according to one reporter, always end up in the orient, because that’s where the money is.
Well, where have we ended up.

Why do people buy our bonds. Not because we have value. Only because people think we have value.

And

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A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors out of the money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit. The term, “Ponzi scheme,” is used primarily in the United States, while other English-speaking countries do not distinguish colloquially between this scheme and other pyramid schemes.[1]

The Ponzi scheme usually offers abnormally high short-term returns in order to entice new investors. The perpetuation of the high returns that a Ponzi scheme advertises and pays requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in

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1-10-2009 BUT “the world” does not have a ‘table of contents”

The New York Times says, “It’s like having a ‘table of contents’ for the World.”

BUT The whole point is that “THE WORLD” does NOT have a “table of contents” – you have to discover the world on your own – if you care.

1-08-2009 Peace Justice Power

Some paradoxes

Peggy Noonan finally said something that didn’t make me vomit. She said she had lived long enough for her to realize that violence never solved anything and that she was always for PEACE. Yes

Someone I don’t know, next to her on Morning Joe, said that you couldn’t be just for Peace, unless there was also Justice.

This lovely exchange made me start thinking.
It is clear to me – looking at the Israeli Palestinian conflict among others – that Justice based on agreement of the parties is a most unlikely process. People with grievances see the world too differently (Freud on rationalization) and with such different ideas of how one arrives at truth and the nature of evidence and even ways of seeing what is happening in front of them for agreement to be likely on what is Justice in any case of real conflict.

This would argue that Justice is something created by powers above that of the parties to conflict.

Now if the “powerless” have no way to make their interests felt
(which may involve many different political traditions of control over the powerful) then the powerful will simply have freedom to plunder the powerless.

So the paradox is that Justice requires both a higher power and a way for the powerless to resist that power.

So how is Justice possible? And how is Peace possible?

    


CHOMSKY FOUCAULT
One might also want to look at a 1971 debate on “human nature” between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault (here)

from which let me show you this excerpt:

ELDERS:
Do you believe, Mr. Foucault, that we can call our societies in anyway democratic, after listening to this statement from Mr. Chomsky?

FOUCAULT:
No, I don’t have the least belief that one could consider our society democratic. [Laughs.]
If one understands by democracy the effective exercise of power by a population which is neither divided nor hierarchically ordered in classes, it is quite clear that we are very far from democracy. It is
only too clear that we are living under a regime of a dictatorship of class, of a power of class which imposes itself by violence, even when the instruments of this violence are institutional and constitutional; and to that degree, there isn’t any question of democracy for us.
Well. When you asked me why I was interested in politics, I refused to answer because it seemed evident to me, but perhaps your question was: How am I interested in it?
And had you asked me that question, and in a certain sense I could say you have, I would say to you that I am much less advanced in my way; I go much less far than Mr. Chomsky. That is to say that I admit to not being able to define, nor for even stronger reasons to propose,an ideal social model for the functioning of our scientific or technological society.
On the other hand, one of the tasks that seems immediate and urgent to me, over and above anything else, is this: that we should indicate and show up, even where they are hidden, all the relationships of political power which actually control the social body and oppress or repress it.
What I want to say is this: it is the custom, at least in European society, to consider that power is localised in the hands of the government and that it is exercised through a certain number of particular institutions, such as the administration, the police, the army, and the apparatus of the state. One knows that all these institutions are made to elaborate and to transmit a certain number of decisions, in the name of the nation or of the state, to have them applied and to punish those who don’t obey. But I believe that
political power also exercises itself through the mediation of a certain number of institutions which look as if they have nothing in common with the political power, and as if they are independent of it, while they are not.
One knows this in relation to the family; and one knows that the university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class.
Institutions of knowledge, of foresight and care, such as medicine, also help to support the political power. It’s also obvious, even to the point of scandal, in certain cases related to psychiatry.
It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.
This critique and this fight seem essential to me for different reasons: firstly, because political power goes much deeper than one suspects; there are centres and invisible, little-known points of support; its true resistance, its true solidity is perhaps where one doesn’t expect it. Probably it’s insufficient to say that behind the governments, behind the apparatus of the State, there is the dominant class; one must locate the point of activity, the places and forms in which its domination is exercised. And because this domination is not simply the expression in political terms of economic exploitation, it is its instrument and, to a large extent, the condition which makes it possible; the suppression of the one is achieved through the exhaustive discernment of the other. Well, if one fails to recognise these points of support of class power, one risks allowing them to continue to exist; and to see this class power reconstitute itself even after an apparent revolutionary process.

CHOMSKY:
Yes, I would certainly agree with that, not only in theory but also in action. That is, there are two intellectual tasks: one, and the one that I was discussing, is to try to create the vision of a future just society; that is to create, if you like, a humanistic social theory that is based, if possible, on some firm and humane concept of the human essence or human nature. That’s one task.
Another task is to understand very clearly the nature of power and oppression and terror and destruction in our own society. And that certainly includes the institutions you mentioned, as well as the central institutions of any industrial society, namely the economic, commercial and financial institutions and in particular, in the coming period, the great multi-national corporations, which are not very far from us physically tonight [i.e. Philips at Eindhoven].
Those are the basic institutions of oppression and coercion and autocratic rule that appear to be neutral despite everything they say:well, we’re subject to the democracy of the market place, and that must be understood precisely in terms of their autocratic power, including the particular form of autocratic control that comes from the domination of market forces in an inegalitarian society.
Surely we must understand these facts, and not only understand them but combat them. And in fact, as far as one’s own political involvements are concerned, in which one spends the majority of one’s energy and effort, it seems to me that they must certainly be in that area. I don’t want to get personal about it, but my own certainly are in that area, and I assume everyone’s are.
Still, I think it would be a great shame to put aside entirely the somewhat more abstract and philosophical task of trying to draw the connections between a concept of human nature that gives full scope to freedom and dignity and creativity and other fundamental human characteristics, and to relate that to some notion of social structure in which those properties could be realised and in which meaningful human life could take place.
And in fact, if we are thinking of social transformation or social revolution, though it would be absurd, of course, to try to sketch out in detail the goal that we are hoping to reach, still we should know something about where we think we are going, and such a theory may tell it to us.

FOUCAULT:
Yes, but then isn’t there a danger here? If you say that a certain human nature exists, that this human nature has not been given in actual society the rights and the possibilities which allow it to realise itself…that’s really what you have said, I believe.

CHOMSKY:
Yes.

FOUCAULT:
And if one admits that, doesn’t one risk defining this human nature which is at the same time ideal and real, and has been hidden and repressed until now – in terms borrowed from our society, from our civilisation, from our culture?
I will take an example by greatly simplifying it. The socialism of a certain period, at the end of the nineteenth century, and the beginning of the twentieth century, admitted in effect that in capitalist societies man hadn’t realised the full potential for his development and self-realisation; that human nature was effectively alienated in the capitalist system. And it dreamed of an ultimately liberated human nature.
What model did it use to conceive, project, and eventually realise that human nature? It was in fact the bourgeois model.
It considered that an alienated society was a society which, for example, gave pride of place to the benefit of all, to a sexuality of a bourgeois type, to a family of a bourgeois type, to an aesthetic of a bourgeois type. And it is moreover very true that this has happened in the Soviet Union and in the popular democracies: a kind of society has been reconstituted which has been transposed from the bourgeois society of the nineteenth century. The universalisation of the model of the bourgeois has been the utopia which has animated the constitution of Soviet society.
The result is that you too realised, I think, that it is difficult to say exactly what human nature is.
Isn’t there a risk that we will be led into error? Mao Tse-Tung spoke of bourgeois human nature and proletarian human nature, and he considers that they are not the same thing.

1-07-2009 Chicago racism

Years ago I was in Chicago and stopped in a car lot to ask directions. The manager was a friendly fellow and engaged us in conversation, and to be really friendly he called over a Black man who was sweeping the lot and told him to dance – to show off his “native talent”.
Today I saw something similar in the Illinois House of Representatives.
White members treated Roland Burris like some kind of idiot, full of nasty inuendos that were not influenced by issues in front of the House –
because Burris clearly had nothing to contribute to the question of impeaching the Governor. The ‘White’ people were insulting while the ‘Black’ members were doing their best to rescue ‘Senator’ Burris’ dignity.
White and Black polarization about nothing other than race in spite of shows of unity at the end. It seemed like 30 years ago. And was a shameful show.

1-09-09 One in seven can’t read the words. How many know what the words say?

I’m told that USA Today has a story today that 1 in 7 people in this supposedly advanced country can’t read a newspaper story-including the one that tells them thay can’t read (a point made in other ways by Stephen Colbert).

What does this mean, aside from presenting a problem for President Obama’s education initiative?
It means that one in seven people can’t read the actual words on the page. But there is a further problem. How many paeple who can read the words know what the newspaper story is saying?
This is serious. The last class I ever tought had 25 people, most of them in their 20’s. I admit it was in Florida. But these were mostly middle class, mostly white students. And I investigated one on one, and only three people in that class could tell me what a story in Time magazine was about and what it had to say about what it was talking about. These were the people who passed USA Today’s reading test. They knew the words., But they didn’t have a clue as to what the words were saying.
I don’t know what kind of a sample of the country’s population this was.
But it suggests to me that more than 50% (you see I make a large allowance for a margin of error) of the people in the country don’t know what a newspaper story is saying. Add to this that only 2 people in that class would admit to watching television news, and you see the problem.

Good luck.