“It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar.”

― Edward W. Said

"A developing country that wants to develop its economy must first of all keep natural resources in its own hands."
- Deng Xiaoping

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Popular Representations of Development: Insights from novels, films, television and social media

The London School of Economics and Political Science - June 30, 2014

This collection sees development as something that can be understood through studying literature, films, and other non-conventional forms of representation. Chapters focus on development issues on blogs and social media, Band Aid and populist humanitarianism, and teaching international studies with novels. Eleftheria Lekakis finds this a great read for scholars of development studies, media and communications, sociology, anthropology and geography at all levels.

Popular Representations of Development: Insights from novels, films, television and social media. David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers, and Michael Woolcock (eds.). Routledge. 2014.

Popular Representations of Development: Insights from novels, films, television and social media is an engaging and accessible read which aims to give readers an enhanced understanding of the relationship between media, development and social change. It does so by opening up an inquiry of representation in relation to democracy and development.
According to the editors, David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers, and Michael Woolcock, our very understandings of development have tended to indulge in official and institutional communications. Addressing this, with this work they contribute many insights into the process of representation through popular culture, thus furthering our understanding of the public perceptions of development.
This book is a crucial read for anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of international development. There are at least two reasons for this: firstly, the problematisation of global North/global South relations is interrogated through analysis of representations of development; and secondly, the question of power is brought to the fore through an analysis of tropes and strategies for articulations of development.

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The secret to America’s most “disruptive” supermarket—fruits and vegetables

By Max Nisen

Quartz - June 30, 2014

Since supermarkets came of age in the 1950s, the American grocery store layout has largely been frozen in time. +  And for good reason. Every inch of the traditional track around US supermarkets—from the beautifully lit piles of produce and bounteous bakery section to the inviting prepared foods—has been honed to maximize the grocery industry’s tried-and-true business strategy: Promote the national brands and packaged goods that drive customers in the door, but steer them toward the more-profitable, perishable goods—such as fresh produce—where the supermarket really makes money. +  “The outside of the store, the produce, the meat, and seafood, it has much higher margins,” says Euromonitor International analyst David McGoldrick. +  And that’s why grocery store layouts almost always steer shoppers through those hillocks of lettuce and tomatoes immediately upon entering, before they wander off to the “center store” where less-profitable packaged foods are found. That tried-and-true approach been the unchallenged model of the grocery store business for decades. Here’s a typical “planogram”, in which customers enter but are forced to turn right at the checkout counters, ending up in the produce section:

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5 Links Between Higher Education and the Prison Industry

The worlds of academia and incarceration are closer than you may think

By Hannah K. Gold

Rolling Stone - June 18, 2014

American universities do a fine job of selling themselves as pathways to opportunity and knowledge. But follow the traffic of money and policies through these academic institutions and you'll often wind up at the barbed wire gates of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the two largest private prison operators in the United States. In the last two decades the private prison industry has exploded, growing 784 percent at the federal level, and helping the United States to achieve the highest incarceration rate in the world. CCA operates 69 facilities throughout the United States, GEO operates 55; both typically mandate that 90 percent of their beds be filled at all times. In the last two years alone CCA has defended itself against charges of fraudulent understaffing of its facilities, medical neglect and abuse of inmates.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Europe, the Holocaust & Today’s Anti-Semitism

It is not surprising to see an increase in Jew-hatred in western Europe.

By Alan M. Dershowitz

AISH.COM - JUNE 29, 2014

Why are so many of the grandchildren of Nazis and Nazi collaborators who brought us the Holocaust once again declaring war on the Jews? Why have we seen such an increase in anti-Semitism and irrationally virulent anti-Zionism in western Europe?
To answer these questions, a myth must first be exposed. That myth is the one perpetrated by the French, the Dutch, the Norwegians, the Swiss, the Belgians, the Austrians, and many other western Europeans: namely that the Holocaust was solely the work of German Nazis aided perhaps by some Polish, Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian collaborators.
False.
The Holocaust was perpetrated by Europeans: by Nazi sympathizers and collaborators among the French, Dutch, Norwegians, Swiss, Belgians, Austrians and other Europeans, both Western and Eastern.
If the French government had not deported to the death camps more Jews than their German occupiers asked for; if so many Dutch and Belgian citizens and government officials had not cooperated in the roundup of Jews; if so many Norwegians had not supported Quisling; if Swiss government officials and bankers had not exploited Jews; if Austria had not been more Nazi than the Nazis, the Holocaust would not have had so many Jewish victims.

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I Don’t Want to Be Right Posted by Maria Konnikova

By Maria Konnikova

The New Yorker - May 19, 2014

Last month, Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth, published the results of a study that he and a team of pediatricians and political scientists had been working on for three years. They had followed a group of almost two thousand parents, all of whom had at least one child under the age of seventeen, to test a simple relationship: Could various pro-vaccination campaigns change parental attitudes toward vaccines? Each household received one of four messages: a leaflet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that there had been no evidence linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine and autism; a leaflet from the Vaccine Information Statement on the dangers of the diseases that the M.M.R. vaccine prevents; photographs of children who had suffered from the diseases; and a dramatic story from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about an infant who almost died of measles. A control group did not receive any information at all. The goal was to test whether facts, science, emotions, or stories could make people change their minds.
The result was dramatic: a whole lot of nothing. None of the interventions worked. The first leaflet—focussed on a lack of evidence connecting vaccines and autism—seemed to reduce misperceptions about the link, but it did nothing to affect intentions to vaccinate. It even decreased intent among parents who held the most negative attitudes toward vaccines, a phenomenon known as the backfire effect. The other two interventions fared even worse: the images of sick children increased the belief that vaccines cause autism, while the dramatic narrative somehow managed to increase beliefs about the dangers of vaccines. “It’s depressing,” Nyhan said. “We were definitely depressed,” he repeated, after a pause.

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What We Can Learn From Lawrence of Arabia

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

TRUTHOUT AND Moyers & Company | Video Report - Saturday, 28 June 2014

As fears grow of a widening war across the Middle East, fed by reports that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) envisions a region-wide, all controlling theocracy, we found ourselves talking about another war. The Great War – or World War I, as it would come to be called — was triggered one hundred years ago this month when an assassin shot and killed Austria's Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Through a series of tangled alliances and a cascade of misunderstandings and blunders, that single act of violence brought on a bloody catastrophe. More than 37 million people were killed or wounded.
In America, if we reflect on World War I at all, we think mostly about the battlefields and trenches of Europe and tend to forget another front in that war — against the Ottoman Empire of the Turks that dominated the Middle East. A British Army officer named T.E. Lawrence became a hero in the Arab world when he led nomadic Bedouin tribes in battle against Turkish rule. Peter O'Toole immortalized him in the epic movie, "Lawrence of Arabia."

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FCC Internet Proposal: The Contemporary Pillage of the Commons

By Rivera Sun

Truthout | Op-Ed - Sunday, 29 June 2014

Seething below the surface of citizens' outrage at the FCC proposal to create a tiered, pay-to-play internet structure lays a story people know so well, it could be encoded in our DNA.
The rich and powerful are stealing the commons of the people.
Comcast, Verizon and other telecom giants are the new Lairds of the Highlands, the Marie Antoinettes, the Robber Barons of the 1890s. The Commons are no longer large tracks of land or public grazing grounds or local self-governance - those have already been stolen. The Commons under assault is the internet.
As with every achievement of humanity, individual sectors of the populace try to take credit and ownership of the internet, saying, "I created this" or "I provide the infrastructure for your access." This is akin to saying, "I built the Empire State Building" instead of "thousands of hardworking, impoverished Americans poured the concrete and scaled the steel trusses; countless educators and inventors passed the knowledge of engineering to the designers; and the banks financed the construction with funds from war profiteering that was made on the bloodshed of millions."

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With Teacher Tenure Threatened, Trouble in Every Direction for Public Education

By Bill Ayers

Truthout | News Analysis- Sunday, 29 June 2014

Analogy Test:
High-stakes, standardized testing is to learning as:
a). memorizing a flight manual is to flying
b). watching Hawaii Five-O is to doing detective work
c). exchanging marriage vows is to a successful marriage
d). reading Grey's Anatomy is to practicing surgery
e). singing the national anthem is to good citizenship
f). all of the above
Answer: F
On June 10, 2014, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that current teacher tenure laws deprive students of their right to an education under California's constitution.Vergara v. California was cast as a group of poor kids suing the state to get rid of bad teachers under the banner of an advocacy group called Students Matter, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch in order to employ the most aggressive hired guns from the white shoes law firms and bankroll this multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
Vergara was immediately hailed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as an opportunity and "a mandate to fix these problems." Give Arne Duncan credit for consistency: he called Hurricane Katrina "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans" because it swept the slate clean and folks could just start over (never mind those black bodies piled in the corner), and in 2010 he applauded the school board in Central Falls, Rhode Island, the most densely populated and one of the poorest cities in the state, for firing everyteacher, guidance counselor and the principal at the high school because of "poor performance." "This is hard work and these are tough decisions," Duncan said at the time. "But students only have one chance for an education, and when schools continue to struggle we have a collective obligation to take action."

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What Was Democracy?

Democracy was once a comforting fiction. Has it become an uninhabitable one?

By Thomas Meaney and Yascha Mounk

The Nation - May 13, 2014

If information technology turns out to have world-historical significance, it is not because of its economic promise, still less because it may facilitate the toppling of dictators. It is because information technology makes plain that the story democracies have told about themselves for more than two centuries has been a bluff.
Democracy, as we know it in the modern world, is based on a peculiar compromise. The word to which we pay such homage means the “rule of the people.” But insofar as we can claim to govern ourselves at all, we do so in a remarkably indirect way. Every few years, the citizens of modern democracies make their way to the polls to cast their votes for a limited set of candidates. Once they have acquitted themselves of this duty, their elected representatives take over. In the daily functioning of democracy, the public is marginal.

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Rhetorical Foundations of Society by Ernesto Laclau

 
Coauthor of Hegemony and Socialist Strategy shows how rhetoric constitutes the social order
The essays collected in this volume develop the theoretical perspective initiated in Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's classic Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.
Central to the argument of The Rhetorical Foundations of Society is the establishment of rhetorical tropes—such as metaphor, metonymy and catachresis—as the 'non-foundational' grounds of society. From this basis, Laclau explores the state of social relations in today's heterogeneous society. Employing analytical philosophy from both phenomenological and structuralist traditions, he seeks to locate an ontological terrain for interpersonal relationships. Further, he investigates the definition of social antagonism in an increasingly globalized world, where the proliferation of conflicts and points of rupture erodes crucial links between the social subjects postulated by classical social analysis.
 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The New American Man Doesn't Look Like His Father

National Public Radio - June 23, 2014

This summer, All Things Considered is exploring what it means to be a man in America today. In some ways, the picture for men has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. More women than men are going to college, and the economy is moving away from jobs that traditionally favored men, like manufacturing and mining. Attitudes have also changed on the social front, with young men having more egalitarian attitudes toward women and expectations of being involved fathers.  Pedro Noguera, a professor at New York University and head of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, says the biggest shakeup has been in education. In 1962, men made up about 65 percent of college enrollees; today they make up about 43 percent.  The other side of that figure is the dropout rate for men. Noguera tells NPR's Audie Cornish that in some states, it's twice as high as the female dropout rate.

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It's not just Islam – a global religious revival is changing politics for ever

By Damian Thompson

Spectator - 28 June 2014

Increasingly, not to understand faith is not to understand the world    

Aren’t Buddhist monks adorable?  They meditate for days without needing to go to the toilet. They talk to each other in ‘grasshopper’ haikus. Their pot bellies are full of wholesome vegetarian fare. Your package tour to Southeast Asia isn’t complete without a sprinkling of them begging politely in the markets. Hollywood stars hire them for beachfront weddings because they’re so cute.
Apart from the ones who are terrorists.
In Burma, Buddhism has turned nasty, thanks to a gang of monks who call themselves the ‘969’, after the nine virtues of Buddha, the six elements of his teachings, and the nine attributes of the clergy. The 969 are consumed with hatred for Burma’s Muslims, who make up 4 per cent of the population. Nearly 200,000 have been driven from their homes. For Burmese Muslims, the numbers 969 — which jump out at them from gaily coloured stickers in shops and taxis — are as menacing as the swastika for Jews. In March, Buddhists set fire to an Islamic boarding school in central Burma. Twenty-four students and teachers were killed; a boy was decapitated; police stood by while onlookers applauded.

READ MORE.....

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fragile States: Rankings and Map

Foreign Policy - June 2014

Its overall security and governance? And did the Arab Spring make any lasting progress toward genuine democracy? 

The very structure of a country, even a healthy one, can be challenged by overwhelming events during the course of a year -- and the consequences inform not only the legitimacy of the state, but also the experiences of its citizens, often for decades to come. For 10 years now, the Fragile States Index, created by The Fund for Peace and published by Foreign Policy, has put countries into perspective by providing an annual snapshot of their vitality and stability (or lack thereof) and ranking them accordingly. (This year, the name of the project has been changed from the Failed States Index to the Fragile States Index. While the methodology remains the same, the new title is an acknowledgment that all states, to different degrees, face conditions that threaten the livelihoods of their citizens.)  What these metrics often show is that rarely, if ever, do states change fundamentally from year to year: Nine of the index’s 10 most fragile states in 2013, for instance, held the same distinction the prior year. Look a little closer, however, and there are significant, even surprising, developments and trends -- in single countries, across regions, and even within the index’s 12 political, economic, and social indicators.

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Pepper-spray drone offered to South African mines for strike control

Desert Wolf, maker of Skunk Riot Control Copter, says aim is to 'prevent another Marikana' – the strike when 34 workers killed        

David Smith in Johannesburg    

The Guardian, Friday 20 June 2014

A South African company has built a drone designed to shower pepper spray on unruly crowds and says it has begun supplying units to an international mining company.
Desert Wolf claims it wants to help in "preventing another Marikana" – a reference to a protest in August 2012 at which 34 striking mineworkers were shot and killed during clashes with the police.
But the "Skunk Riot Control Copter" was condemned by labour activists as "absolutely outrageous" and compared with deadly US military drones in Pakistan.
Desert Wolf is marketing the 500,000 rand (£27,400) machine, unveiled at a recent trade show, as "designed to control unruly crowds without endangering the lives of the protesters or the security staff".
It says the Skunk boastscan eight electric motors with 16-inch propellors, lifting 45kg and carrying 4,000 pepper-spray paintballs, plastic balls or other "non-lethal" ammunition. The device is equipped with four barrels firing up to 20 balls per second each, which could equate to 80 pepper balls per second "stopping any crowd in its tracks".

READ MORE......

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tony Blair should be sacked as Middle East envoy, say former ambassadors

Former UK prime minister is tainted by Iraq war and his achievements for quartet are negligible, signatories of letter say     

BY Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent    

The Guardian, Monday 23 June 2014

A group of former British ambassadors have joined a campaign calling for Tony Blair to be removed from his role as Middle East envoy after his recent attempt to "absolve himself" of responsibility for the crisis in Iraq.
The letter, organised by the makers of George Galloway's film The Killing of Tony Blair, says the 2003 invasion of Iraq was to blame for the rise of "fundamentalist terrorism in a land where none existed previously".
The signatories, led by Blair's former ambassador to Iran Sir Richard Dalton, describe the former prime minister's achievements as Middle East envoy as "negligible".
Other former diplomats to sign the letter are Oliver Miles, who was ambassador to Libya when diplomatic relations were severed in 1984 after the killing of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, and Christopher Long, ambassador to Egypt between 1992-95.

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Starbucks turns focus to community stores in China

Want China Times - 2014-06-24

Coffee chain Starbucks is expanding in China through its successful strategy of opening outlets in close proximity to each other and by moving into local communities, reports the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Review magazine.
In Beijing's bar area of Sanlitun, two Starbucks stores with completely different styles can be found just 500 meters apart — one on the ground floor of an office building, where many people talk business, while fashionable people lounge in the other.
Opening outlets close to each other has long been a strategy adopted by Starbucks in its the US market. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is planning to replicate that success in China.

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The Rich and Their Robots Are About to Make Half the World's Jobs Disappear Written

by Brian Merchant

MOTHERBOARD - January 21, 2014

Two hugely important statistics concerning the future of employment as we know it made waves recently:
1. 85 people alone command as much wealth as the poorest half of the world.
2. 47 percent of the world's currently existing jobs are likely to be automated over the next two decades.
Combined, those two stats portend a quickly-exacerbating dystopia. As more and more automated machinery (robots, if you like) are brought in to generate efficiency gains for companies, more and more jobs will be displaced, and more and more income will accumulate higher up the corporate ladder. The inequality gulf will widen as jobs grow permanently scarce—there are only so many service sector jobs to replace manufacturing ones as it is—and the latest wave of automation will hijack not just factory workers but accountants, telemarketers, and real estate agents.
That's according to a 2013 Oxford study, which was highlighted in this week's Economist cover story. That study attempted to tally up the number of jobs that were susceptible to automization, and, surprise, a huge number were. Creative and skilled jobs done by humans were the most secure—think pastors, editors, and dentists—but just about any rote task at all is now up for automation. Machinists, typists, even retail jobs, are predicted to disappear.

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Bourdieu interview: The politics of protest

SOCIALIST REVIEW INDEX

Pierre Bourdieu has become a leading figure in the radical movements that have swept France in the last few years. He talked to Kevin Ovenden about anti-capitalism and resistance


The Weight of the World was recently published in Britain. It describes through interviews in the early 1990s the 'social suffering of contemporary society'. Why is life getting harder for most people?
There are similarities between what has happened to people's lives in France and in Britain. The main issue, of course, is neo-liberalism and what I call the retreat of the state. The state has abandoned a lot of areas that it was involved in, such as healthcare, education, and social provision.

When we conducted this study it was only beginning. Now it is far worse. So for example, in France neo-liberal philosophy has become embedded in all the social practices and policies of the state. It has become internalised in the minds of the political establishment. The minister of education who was recently forced out of office, Claude Allègre, was very similar to the one you have in Britain. He introduced into education so called 'tough policies'--a drive for efficiency and productivity.
Instead of looking very carefully at how education works, the neo-liberals opt for a very simple solution. They create competition between schools and between the directors of schools, who have to compete for budgets and for students. This competition is fake--it is artificially constructed. It does not arise spontaneously from the way the education system works. The education system was not perfect. I was very critical of it. But instead of correcting it and providing the means to better it, they destroy it by introducing this capitalistic vision of education.

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The Jihad Next Door The Syrian roots of Iraq's newest civil war

By RANIA ABOUZEID

Politico -  June 23, 2014

The eight men, beards trimmed, explosive belts fastened, pistols and grenades concealed in their clothing, waited until nightfall before stealing across the flat, porous Iraqi border. They navigated the berms and trenches along the frontier, traversing two-way smuggling routes used to ferry cigarettes, livestock, weapons — and jihadis to enter the northeastern Syrian province of Hasaka. It was August 2011, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and Syria was five months into a still largely peaceful uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Their leader was a Syrian emissary from the al Qaeda affiliate forged in the bloody conflict next door. He called himself Abu Mohammad al-Golani, and the young fighter, about whom little is known for sure except that he is a veteran of that war against the Americans in Iraq, had been authorized by his boss, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and al Qaeda’s central command to set up a Syrian offshoot of the notorious group. His mission, made clear in subsequent public statements, was nothing less than to bring down the Assad regime and establish an Islamic state in its place. No one knew it at the time, but that trip across the border would turn out to be a crucial turning point in the Syrian civil war, a key factor in the metastasizing of an internal conflict into a regional conflagration that now threatens the regime in Iraq as well as Syria.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators

New England Center for Investigative Reporting 

By Jon Marcus

Huffington Post - 02/06/2014

The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty, according to an analysis of federal figures.
The disproportionate increase in the number of university staffers who neither teach nor conduct research has continued unabated in more recent years, and slowed only slightly since the start of the economic downturn, during which time colleges and universities have contended that a dearth of resources forced them to sharply raise tuition.
In all, from 1987 until 2011-12—the most recent academic year for which comparable figures are available—universities and colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, or an average of 87 every working day, according to the analysis of federal figures, by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the nonprofit, nonpartisan social-science research group the American Institutes for Research.

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This Map Shows The Largest Company By Revenue In Every State

By Christina Sterbenz

Business Insider Jun. 19, 2014

The graphic above shows the largest company by revenue in every state.  Created by Mike Simmons in collaboration with Broadview Networks, the map drew information from Hoover's — a Dun & Bradstreet company — database of company profiles. The site updates information based on figures available from the most recent fiscal year.  Simmons based decisions for each state off company headquarters and excluded any subsidiaries or government agencies as well as companies with foreign offices.  Some of the top companies make perfect sense, like Exxon in Texas, with $438.3 billion in revenue; General Motors in Michigan, $155.4 billion; and Wal-Mart in Arkansas, $476.3 billion.  Others, however, deliver a shock. You might think Microsoft or Boeing reigns in Washington, but a look at the data reveals that Costco, with $105.1 billion in revenue, actually comes out on top.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Leviathan as capitalist State capitalism continues to defy expectations of its demise

The Economist - Jun 21st 2014

IT IS now 25 years since Francis Fukuyama published “The End of History?” and ignited a firestorm of debate. Today there are many reasons for thinking that he was wrong about the universal triumph of liberalism and markets, from democracy’s failure in the Middle East to the revival of religious fundamentalism. But one of the most surprising reasons is the continuing power of the state as an economic actor: far from retiring from the business battlefield in 1989, the state merely regrouped for another advance.
Survey the battlefield today and you can see state capitalism almost everywhere. In China companies in which the state is a majority shareholder account for 60% of stockmarket capitalisation. In Russia and Brazil companies in which the state has either a majority or a significant minority stake account for 30-40% of capitalisation. Even in such bastions of economic orthodoxy as Sweden and the Netherlands state-owned enterprises (SOEs) account for 5% of market capitalisation. The Chinese and Russian governments show little sign of wanting to surrender control of the commanding heights of the economy. Privatisation seems to have ground to a halt in Brazil and in India (though its new government may revive it). There has been talk of the French government taking a stake in Alstom or part of its business—adding to the stakes it and Germany hold in Airbus and the one France recently took in Peugeot.

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Where are we 25 years after 'the end of history'?

Does Francis Fukuyama's idea that 'liberal democracy' has triumphed still hold true?

BY  Srecko Horvat

Al-Jazeera - 19 Jun 2014

At a recent conference on the future of "liberal democracy" in Skopje, almost everyone was mentioning Thomas Piketty and his latest book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
The book's focus on the growth of inequality in relation to "liberal democracy" was a particularly interesting point in the conference discussions. When it was released this year, the volume provoked quite a lot of controversy and produced a great number of discussions in media and academia.
If there is any other book that had such a remarkable impact on the global economic, political and even philosophical debates on democracy and capitalism during the last two decades, it is Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. Actually, it was the essay "The End of History" published in 1989. The book probably had the same fate as Piketty's: Everyone was talking about it, but no one really read it.
As we all know by now, "the end of history" was not meant to be the real end of history, but the end of competing ideologies. For Fukuyama, liberal democracy triumphed as the only player in town. Many have criticised this hypothesis, but in recent years even his fiercest enemies admit that today we have all become Fukuyamists. As Fredric Jameson put it succinctly, "today it is easier to imagine the end of the world, than to imagine the end of capitalism".

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The death of the American mall

David Uberti 

The Guardian - Thursday 19 June 2014

It is hard to believe there has ever been any life in this place. Shattered glass crunches under Seph Lawless’s feet as he strides through its dreary corridors. Overhead lights attached to ripped-out electrical wires hang suspended in the stale air and fading wallpaper peels off the walls like dead skin.
Lawless sidesteps debris as he passes from plot to plot in this retail graveyard called Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio. The shopping centre closed in 2008, and its largest retailers, which had tried to make it as standalone stores, emptied out by the end of last year. When Lawless stops to overlook a two-storey opening near the mall’s once-bustling core, only an occasional drop of water, dribbling through missing ceiling tiles, breaks the silence.

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How Corrupt Is the U.S.? Just Watch ‘House of Cards,’ China Party Arm Says

The Wall Street Journal - June 17, 2014

The inspection arm of China’s Communist Party this week took a break from its historic investigation into the country’s corruption problems to highlight abuse of power from a fresh angle: the fictionalized depiction of crooked Washington shown in the television program “House of Cards.”
The Party’s Discipline Inspection Commission on Tuesday published a lengthy article that appeared to argue fiction is fact when it comes to Western television and film dramatizations of corruption. Many Chinese Internet users shot back that, for a TV show about abuse of power Beijing might be a better setting than Washington.
The article, authored by a person named Zhao Lin at an academic group linked to party’s anticorruption body, ponders whether abuse of power as depicted in shows like “House of Cards” and the film “American Gangster” is for real. Such dramas surprise Chinese audiences, the author wrote, because the story line contrasts with crowing from Western nations that their systems of government represent integrity.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

China's Retiring Migrant Workers Find They Have No Place to Call Home

The group that moved to the cities for work in 1980s finds their pension accounts are largely empty and they have nothing back on the farm

By Lan Fang

CAIXIN Online - June 13, 2014

A generation of Chinese people from rural areas who moved to the big cities to find work is reaching retirement age, but many are finding they have been left outside the country's urban pension system despite extensive reforms in recent years.
Zhang Shumin and her husband, Liu Yuchen, spent over 20 years working as sanitation workers in Beijing and live in a tiny room next to a public restroom they clean. The natives of the northern province of Hebei are nearing retirement, but have learned their employer never properly paid their pensions.
The problem Zhang and her husband face is common among the county's first generation of migrant workers, the people who left their rural homes to look for jobs in big cities in the 1980s. These people mainly worked as temporary contract workers, and have been left out of the basic pension plan that started covering urban employees in the 1990s.
The country adopted its first Social Security Law in 2011, but many migrant workers have fallen between the cracks of local and national regulations and face constant discrimination.

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A New Book: The State: Past, Present, Future By Bob Jessop

The State: Past, Present, Future
By Bob Jessop 
Polity Press, 2014

Debates about the role and nature of the state are at the heart of modern politics. However, the state itself remains notoriously difficult to define, and the term is subject to a range of different interpretations.  In this book, distinguished state theorist Bob Jessop provides a critical introduction to the state as both a concept and a reality. He lucidly guides readers through all the major accounts of the state, and examines competing efforts to relate the state to other features of social organization. Essential themes in the analysis of the state are explored in full, including state formation, periodization, the re-scaling of the state and the state's future. Throughout, Jessop clearly defines key terms, from hegemony and coercion to government and governance. He also analyses what we mean when we speak about 'normal' and 'exceptional' states, and states that are 'failed' or 'rogue'.  Combining an accessible style with expert sensitivity to the complexities of the state, this short introduction will be core reading for students and scholars of politics and sociology, as well as anyone interested in the changing role of the state in contemporary societies.

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American Socrates

By Chris Hedges

Truthdig - June 15, 2014

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Noam Chomsky, whom I interviewed last Thursday at his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has influenced intellectuals in the United States and abroad in incalculable ways. His explications of empire, mass propaganda, the hypocrisy and pliability of the liberal class and the failings of academics, as well as the way language is used as a mask by the power elite to prevent us from seeing reality, make him the most important intellectual in the country. The force of his intellect, which is combined with a ferocious independence, terrifies the corporate state—which is why the commercial media and much of the academic establishment treat him as a pariah. He is the Socrates of our time.
We live in a bleak moment in human history. And Chomsky begins from this reality. He quoted the late Ernst Mayr, a leading evolutionary biologist of the 20th century who argued that we probably will never encounter intelligent extraterrestrials because higher life forms render themselves extinct in a relatively short time.
“Mayr argued that the adaptive value of what is called ‘higher intelligence’ is very low,” Chomsky said. “Beetles and bacteria are much more adaptive than humans. We will find out if it is better to be smart than stupid. We may be a biological error, using the 100,000 years which Mayr gives [as] the life expectancy of a species to destroy ourselves and many other life forms on the planet.” 

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Obama's Destructive War on the Media

By Albert R. Hunt

Bloomberg News - Jun 8, 2014

 The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from New York Times reporter James Risen.  Photographer: Marvi Lacar/Getty Images Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Media Obama's Destructive War on the Media 175 Jun 8, 2014 11:03 AM EDT By Albert R. Hunt  Few presidential candidates enjoyed better press than Barack Obama in 2008. He reciprocated by promising unprecedented "openness in government" and a new era of transparency.  He has fallen far short of the promise. This administration has prosecuted more whistle-blowers for leaks and gone after more journalists than any of its predecessors.  In a report last year, Leonard Downie, the former executive editor of the Washington Post, said the administration's efforts to crack down on information seeping to journalists is "the most aggressive" since President Richard Nixon was in office.  The issue was crystallized anew last week when the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from New York Times reporter James Risen, who has been ordered to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency official. Sterling is charged with giving Risen classified information about an attempt to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. The Justice Department has relentlessly pursued Risen, and he could face jail time for failing to comply with the subpoena.

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The CIA’s Poisonous Tree

By David Cole

The New York Times - Match 15, 2014

The old Washington adage that the cover-up is worse than the crime may not apply when it comes to the revelations this week that the Central Intelligence Agency interfered with a Senate torture investigation. It’s not that the cover-up isn’t serious. It is extremely serious—as Senator Dianne Feinstein said, the CIA may have violated the separation of powers, the Fourth Amendment, and a prohibition on spying inside the United States. It’s just that in this case, the underlying crimes are still worse: the dispute arises because the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Feinstein chairs, has written an as-yet-secret 6,300 page report on the CIA’s use of torture and disappearance—among the gravest crimes the world recognizes—against al-Qaeda suspects in the “war on terror.”
By Senator Feinstein’s account, the CIA has directly and repeatedly interfered with the committee’s investigation: it conducted covert unauthorized searches of the computers assigned to the Senate committee for its review of CIA files, and it secretly removed potentially incriminating documents from the computers the committee was using. That’s the stuff that often leads to resignations, independent counsels, and criminal charges; indeed, the CIA’s own Inspector General has referred the CIA’s conduct to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation.

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A New Book: The Power of Market Fundamentalism Karl Polanyi's Critique

By Fred Block Margaret R. Somers

Harvard University Press, 2014

What is it about free-market ideas that give them tenacious staying power in the face of such manifest failures as persistent unemployment, widening inequality, and the severe financial crises that have stressed Western economies over the past forty years? Fred Block and Margaret Somers extend the work of the great political economist Karl Polanyi to explain why these ideas have revived from disrepute in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II, to become the dominant economic ideology of our time.  Polanyi contends that the free market championed by market liberals never actually existed. While markets are essential to enable individual choice, they cannot be self-regulating because they require ongoing state action. Furthermore, they cannot by themselves provide such necessities of social existence as education, health care, social and personal security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods are subjected to market principles, social life is threatened and major crises ensue.  Despite these theoretical flaws, market principles are powerfully seductive because they promise to diminish the role of politics in civic and social life. Because politics entails coercion and unsatisfying compromises among groups with deep conflicts, the wish to narrow its scope is understandable. But like Marx’s theory that communism will lead to a “withering away of the State,” the ideology that free markets can replace government is just as utopian and dangerous.

CONTENTS:
  • 1. Karl Polanyi and the Power of Ideas
  • 2. Beyond the Economistic Fallacy
  • 3. Karl Polanyi and the Writing of The Great Transformation
  • 4. Turning the Tables: Polanyi’s Critique of Free Market Utopianism
  • 5. In the Shadow of Speenhamland: Social Policy and the Old Poor Law
  • 6. From Poverty to Perversity: Ideational Embeddedness and Market Fundamentalism Over Two Centuries of Welfare Debate
  • 7. The Enduring Strength of Free Market Conservatism in the United States
  • 8. The Reality of Society
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Book Review: What Use is Sociology?

Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman, Michael-Hviid Jacobsen and Keith Tester

The London School of Economics and Political Science - May 26, 2014

This conversational book with Zygmunt Bauman looks at the usefulness of sociology with an aim to inspire future conversations about the discipline. Olivia Mena found this book to be a sounding board of the timeless but central questions which social theorists and practitioners must revisit regularly in the everyday practice of the ‘scientific sorcery’ that is sociology. 

What Use is Sociology? Zygmunt Bauman, Michael-Hviid Jacobsen and Keith Tester. Polity Press. March 2014.

Sociology is a part of the social world that it seeks to explore and explain. It is constantly evolving inside its duty to provide orientation in a changing world, and as such, it is usually in a perpetual state of crisis, as it must defend and legitimate its ongoing existence at every turn. It is a quality of thinking that can be used for different ends, but when used at its best, like Zygmunt Bauman does, it is when it is taken up as a tool to where people can make sense of their lives and the world around them and aspire to better possibilities and futurities (p. 6).
Bauman has authored many different works on the subject during his long and illustrious career, from introductory classroom texts like Thinking Sociologically (1990) to insightful histories and insights into the discipline in Towards a Critical Sociology: An Essay on Commonsense and Emancipation (1976) and Collateral Damage (2011), and this latest collaboration is a timely follow-up on his earlier book of conversations with Keith Tester, Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman (2001).
What Use is Sociology? is a series of intimate conversations, which mine Bauman’s more than half a century of experience in the disciple—discussions which revisit truisms of the “sociological imagination” and which are littered with interesting anecdotes and asides particular to Bauman’s own intellectual journey. Its chapters are loosely structured around four core questions: What is sociology? Why do sociology? How to do sociology? What does sociology achieve?

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom

By Dan Rockmore

The New York Times - June 6, 2014

A colleague of mine in the department of computer science at Dartmouth recently sent an e-mail to all of us on the faculty. The subject line read: “Ban computers in the classroom?” The note that followed was one sentence long: “I finally saw the light today and propose we ban the use of laptops in class.”
While the sentiment in my colleague’s e-mail was familiar, the source was surprising: it came from someone teaching a programming class, where computers are absolutely integral to learning and teaching. Surprise turned to something approaching shock when, in successive e-mails, I saw that his opinion was shared by many others in the department.
My friend’s epiphany came after he looked up from his lectern and saw, yet again, an audience of laptop covers, the flip sides of which were engaged in online shopping or social-media obligations rather than in the working out of programming examples. In a “Network”-inspired Peter Finch moment, he quickly changed the screen of his lecture presentation to a Reddit feed and watched some soccer highlights. That got everyone’s attention.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Review – Expulsions

The Cranky Sociologists - June 2, 2015

Every new book by Saskia Sassen is always a small event for me, since she is one of my favorite contemporary sociologist. This one is no exception. Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy is a bit shorter than Sassen’s usual length but it has the usual “big picture” and dense writing that are characteristic of her style. Sassen is both an empirical and theoretical sociologist, so, every book of hers, marshalls a deep conceptual apparatus to explain disparate occurrences (or thick realities, as she calls them in this book). She sees these distinct and not-entirely similar trends are subterranean expressions of larger assemblages driven by a dual logic of inclusion / expulsion within the global context. However, this is ground-level work.
That’s a mouthful but that is the general idea and throughout the book, Sassen uses a variety of datasets and case studies to make her points, exploring in greater details four visual expressions of this inclusion / expulsion logic:
 
  1. shrinking of the economic spaces,
  2. the new rush for African land,
  3. financialization of everything,
  4. environmental destruction.
In all these four domains, we found the same logic of inclusion (something brought onto the global capitalist system) / expulsion (the exclusion and marginalization of the “losers” of the inclusion logic). Since the point of the book is to make the logic of expulsions visible, the focus is on extreme cases. However, because expulsion is the flip side of inclusion, it can occur in a context of economic growth, and therefore, remain deceptively out of sight. In addition, the inclusion / expulsion duality is often overlaid with a complexity / elementarity (yes, that’s a word, I checked) duality where complex mechanisms (such as financial instruments concocted by high-level mathematicians, and comprehensible by only a few) led to the elementary logic of expulsion (mass foreclosures).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The return of the left in Europe?

The rise of the far right in Europe is undeniable, but is the left really dead?

By Srecko Horvat

Al-Jazeera - 31 May 2014

When Tariq Ali went to Vietnam to collect evidence and testimony on the US military intervention in the mid-1960s, the Vietnamese soldiers in Hanoi told him the following anecdote.

Just a few months earlier, a delegation of the Italian Communist Party arrived to see Ho Chi Minh. After a long meeting, the Italians asked the Vietnamese leader, "How can we help you?" Ho Chi Minh replied: "The best way to help us is to start a revolution in Italy."

Although it seems that everyone agrees that the recent European elections showed a dramatic rise of the radical right, let us risk the following hypothesis: The European left is back in game.

And it happened precisely because the European left acknowledged and implemented the old Ho Chi Minh motto. It is not enough to admire and congratulate the incredible success of the Greek radical left party SYRIZA, such new organisations have to be formed all around Europe.

The situation is definitely far from optimistic. From the National Front in France to UKIP in the United Kingdom, from Jobbik in Hungary to the Freedom Party in Austria, from the True Finns in Finland to National Democratic Party in Germany, the extreme right-wing parties have successfully exploited an overwhelming unease all around the European continent.

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