Archive for March 23, 2009

The current financial crisis has been running riot on global markets now for more than a year. After many bank collapses, desperate central bank attempts to save the financial market and seemingly forever dropping stock prices, it’s so bad now that we don’t even hear anymore that the worst might be over (even though just today Obama spun some light at the end of the tunnel) – we actually are getting softened up by governments and economic pundits for worse to come. This crisis is the worst capitalism has experienced since the Great Depression in the 1930s. And it is not just a financial crisis – we actually moved towards the centre of a deep social and environmental crisis, which again shows that the capitalist system is not just unrulable but also impotent to cater for our welfare and survival needs.

demoThis disaster is not a natural catastrophe. Ostensibly it seems the result of the bursting of the US housing bubble and the collapse of the credit pyramid built by the shadow banking system in recent years. But in reality this crisis is systemic, the product of a system in which capital as a form of a society’s wealth circulates around the world on the hunt for huge financial returns for a few individuals. It is the result of global imbalances that have been increasingly exacerbated over the last few years, and it is rooted in policies that deliberately expedited deregulation and liberalisation of financial markets and in the process eliminated the industrial production capacities of countries like the UK and the US. This crisis is also the result of a bottom-to-top wealth redistribution, which primarily made the concentration of fortunes possible in the hands of such few and dramatically widened the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Banks worldwide so far had to write off trillions of dollars, investment banks have basically disappeared, and the rest of the banking system has been deeply shaken. Stock prices have more than halved and despite a recent respite might decline further. But the really afflicted aren’t the financial managers and stockholders; they are for example those millions of Americans who have lost their homes and pensions. They and millions more worldwide who will lose their jobs over the next year or two are the ones who are bearing the brunt of capitalism’s systemic failure. Let’s also not forget the people in the so-called developing world who have been and will be particularly hard hit by the expanding world economic crisis; they had very little to begin with and will sink even deeper into poverty or simply die. And what about the general populations in societies all over the world who have to bankroll the gigantic bank bailouts with their taxes while sacrificing public service deliveries such as in health, education and social welfare in the process?

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I know nothing about haute-couture but I do like the worlds of the darkish surreal with its oddly dreamlike sequences parading the bizarre and the fantastic. Just looking at Inhabitat’s borrowed (from the NYT) images of those weird and unreal yet startling looking models in Alexander McQueen‘s “trashy production” for Paris Fashion Week, I immediately wanted to know more. So here is the wonderfully bewildering, as presented by Yuka Yoneda’s .Inhabitat fashion post.

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Wake up and smell the rubbish, people!

That’s what king of couture, Alexander McQueen’s tantalizingly “trashy” production for Paris Fashion Week seemed to roar, leaving the audience with eyes wide and mouths aflutter. The show — which featured models that resembled creepy crossbreeds between a blow-up doll, Pinhead from Hellraiser, and Blythe (incidentally the postergirl for McQueen’s line with Target, but more on that later) sauntering among black heaps of junky old props from the designer’s past shows — sent uneasy waves through the crowd. Are the dead-on silhouettes of Dior’s New Look and Givenchy’s little black dress meant to poke fun at us? Why are the models wearing umbrellas and aluminum cans on their heads? What does it all mean?!!!

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One thing is pretty certain: if the current economic disaster unfolds further, hitting Americans harder, the chances for social unrest are increasing. We already had large scale demonstrations and uprisings in many countries all over the world, including the still ongoing conflict in Greece and last week’s demonstrations and a general strike in France in which up to 4 million people participated – and will continue to give support to. Small demonstrations in the US are currently directed and channelled by the media against AIG senior staff, but that anger can multiply when people realise the Obama government is in cohorts with the banking industry and big business and is doing nothing to alleviate the plight of the average person.

But even if the economic situation improves miraculously and the government and the large corporations escape unscathed, there’s still another upheaval looming: global warming and its social consequences. And there has been ample evidence of government representatives expressing concern about future social unrest and the need to be prepared to curb it. Clandestine operations to gather early evidence of protest movements dangerous to the ‘authorities’ (meaning spying), the employment of combat troops against the American civilian population and internment camps are not far fetched in this context. Chossudovsky’s following reflections therefore should at least make us a bit more sensitive to and investigative of what’s going on the home front in the US. Guys, beware!

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The earth’s surface is covered to 70% by water of which only 3% are drinkable. No wonder large multi-nationals are muscling in on controlling this resource, which will become economically even more valuable as the climate disaster will make it more scarce in many parts of the world. With oil production having moved moved past its peak, water will become the new ‘oil’ in terms of profiteering and vandalising the environment.

ISTANBUL – A global ministerial meeting was putting the final touches here Saturday to resolutions for tackling the world’s water crisis but activists attacked the process as a corporate-driven fraud.

h2oistanbulThe communique to be issued by more than 100 countries on World Water Day on Sunday climaxes a seven-day gathering on how to provide clean water and sanitation for billions and resolve worsening water stress and pollution.

“The world is facing rapid and unprecedented global changes, including population growth, migration, urbanization, climate change, desertification, drought, degradation and land use, economic and diet changes,” according to a draft seen by AFP.

The document, which is non-binding, spells out a consensus for boosting cooperation to ease trans-boundary disputes over water, preventing pollution and tackling drought and floods. It also describes access to safe drinking water and sanitation as “a basic human need.” France, Spain and several Latin American countries were striving to beef up this reference, from “need” to “right,” a change that could have legal ramifications.

But campaigners representing the rural poor, the environment and organized labor blasted the communique as a sideshow, stage-managed for corporations who are major contributors to the World Water Council, which organizes the Forum.

Maude Barlow, senior adviser to the president of the UN General Assembly, said the Forum promoted privatization of resources by “the lords of water” and excluded dissident voices. She called for the meeting to be placed under the UN flag. “We demand that the allocation of water be decided in an open, transparent and democratic forum rather than in a trade show for the world’s large corporations,” Barlow told a press conference.

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What will the world be like a year from now? Left-wing activist group Attac publicized their ideas by printing realistic-looking copies of a prominent German newspaper — dated May 1, 2010.

14042080Attac activists distributed 150,000 copies of their faked, eight-page version of the German weekly Die Zeit in over 90 cities across the country.

With the top headline “At the end of the tunnel,” the paper presented reports the group said it thinks can become reality within 13 months.

Today’s news about the global financial crisis, world hunger and climate change leave a lot of people feeling helpless, said Attac member Jutta Sundermann.

“We fast forwarded time and wrote about the news we want to read about tomorrow — not about some distant paradise, but about concrete changes that are conceivable and attainable,” she added.

Articles describe the beginning of a “new era,” where banks have been nationalized, factories taken over by workers, the influence of lobbyists replaced with more democracy, the Group of 20 industrialized and emerging countries made seeing eye to eye, and the big polluters taken to task.

Detailed print and online imitations

Attac mimicked the weekly newspaper’s format down to the last detail, though the final version was a bit smaller. They also recreated an equally detailed online version.

Die Zeit said it would not take legal action against the group.

“Naturally, we can never endorse an imitation of Die Zeit in print or online, particularly not in quality as good as this,” said the paper’s editor-in-chief, Giovanni di Lorenzo. “But it’s not surprising that Attac chose Die Zeit for this campaign, as it’s the largest national newspaper of quality.”

The paper has a circulation of over half a million.

In a similar campaign, the American activist group Yes-Men published a false version of The New York Times.

Slightly edited version

Senator Stephen Conroy

Image by neeravbhatt via Flickr

… and it is starting, as this Age article reports, with those critical of Conroy, known for his useless and invasive Web and Bit Torrent filtering scheme. Feels a bit like a lighter shade of China descending upon the Australian blogosphere:

The Federal Government will begin trawling blog sites as part of a new media monitoring strategy, with official documents singling out a website critical of the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy.

Tender documents issued by the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy reveal it is looking for a “monitoring service for print and electronic media”. The department later attached a clarification confirming this included “blogs such as Whirlpool“.

Whirlpool has strongly criticised Senator Conroy’s plan to filter internet content and his handling of the Government’s $15 billion national broadband network. It is a community-run forum devoted to discussing broadband internet access.

Senator Conroy’s spokesman said: “Whirlpool … covers a wide range of topics across the telecommunications sector. It and other web sites provide valuable insight into the industries in which we work.”

Seems like the Australian government is becoming more and more obsessed with controlling activities on the Net. Sure, they won’t censor blogs critical of them (at least not right now), but what will those bureaucrats and pollies do with data they collect? Making the tax-payer funded marketing of their schemes more effective is one thing, which is bad enough. But what will they do with the information they gather about individuals? How will their spying for example affect certain job prospects they might have? And what will the Rudd government ‘monitor’ next?

If the government would really be interested in what the community thinks and feel, it would engage, using forums like Whirlpool to begin a dialogue. Snooping on them instead says a lot about governments in general and the arrogant, self-righteous, autocratic and control-freak attitude of Rudd and Co in particular.

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Kevin Purdy at Lifehacker posted yet another top 10 Windows utilities, and again some of them seem to be quite useful. They’re the little things that (in this case) make a Windows system so much better, especially when use less than 10MB of memory to make your life easier. Go to Lifehacker to check out those 10 apps that pack a lot of greatness into very little space.