Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Sometimes it's tough to take the media filter glasses off. We live in a world where all the important information is brought to us thanks to these internets, pity the fools that have to rely on the idiot box. So how is it that the most obvious of patterns are impossible to discern? The collage painted by the press should allow us to see the world how it really is, yet we miss the most obvious. Self-fulfilling prophecies such as last week's BRIC meeting spring to mind as the media simply brushed over the fact that the 4 nations that make up 43% of the world's population met last week to try to chart a mutually beneficial path through the future. The G8 will meet next month and there will be wall to wall reporting yet a group formed by the prediction of a Wall Street analyst gets swept under the carpet.

Reuters declares: Much-Trumpeted BRIC Summit Ends Quietly. "BRIC" is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China, the world's four major developing countries. Jim O'Neill, global head of economic research at Goldman Sachs, first started the idea of BRIC in 2001. While it's obvious today thanks to the economic growth of these countries, which averaged 10.7% from 2006-8, it was only the idle talk of an analyst predicting the economic world of 2050, when the four countries would together pass the G7 in size. Since then we've watched the US economy lead an implosion of western economic power as these four nations have made strategic manoeuvers to position themselves to be exactly what we knew they'd be, the masters of our world. With Brazil and Russia pumping out the raw resources, China and India will consume the world.

The June 16 summit in the Russian Urals city of Yekaterinburg marked a huge step toward BRIC cooperation as a group. The fact that they have now met formally is story enough, but at the same time, the Russian city hosted another meeting, this a more formal grouping, the SCO, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with Iran, India, Mongolia and Pakistan as observer states). Even more interestingly, both India and Iran took part at the most senior level as the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended. Yes, just days after the election in Iran, Mahmoud was there, yet we barely heard a whisper of the meetings as his nation's spiral towards revolution captured our attention along with David Letterman's 14-year old rape inciting. Background buzz as we stumble towards a real new world order.

While BRIC countries account for 15 percent of the $60.7 trillion global economy, China is the world's largest holder of U.S. Treasuries with $767.9 billion while Russia holds around $400 billion in their foreign reserves. More importantly, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has made proposals on giving a greater role to the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Rights that echo ideas from Chinese central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan. China, Russia and Brazil have pledged to help capitalize the IMF as they seek more influence at the fund. Together, the BRIC have a 15-percent share of the world economy and a 42-percent share of global currency reserves. Last week Brazil and Russia joined China in announcing they would shift some $70 billion (50 billion euros) of reserves into multicurrency bonds issued by the International Monetary Fund. Tiring of the inequity of the system, Brazil, for example is the world's 10th largest economy, but has just 1.38 percent of the IMF board's votes, compared to 2.09 percent for Belgium, an economy one-third the size, they are starting to make noise about changing it.

Navel gazing is far more interesting as it seems more important whether or not Obama, and America, are doing enough, or meddling too much in the Iran election quagmire. The future is just the Heisenberg uncertainty principle at work, que sera, sera, plus there's the Jon and some chick thing to worry about, or Letterman. America has put the BRIC on the path to controlling the world, why would they need to worry about where the road goes? Of course looking forward to the year 2050 involves a myriad of uncertainties, it seems forecasts for when the combined BRIC GDP will pass the G7's are being revised with every new report, from 2050 to 2045 to 2032, sure to change again due to the current financial crisis. Of course they'll be potholes on the road to cooperation, not the least of which will be inter-BRIC conflict, particularly between China and Russia as they vie for dominance in Asia. China announced plans at the SCO summit to give $10 billion of loans to Central Asia, upstaging traditional power Russia whose promises of aid have not been fully delivered amid the financial crisis. But India's economy is projected to be 90% of the US while China will have grown to 130% by the year 2050. Not only will the BRIC dwarf the G7 in global importance, but the N11 (harder to make an acronym for an 11 nation group: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey and Vietnam. Maybe BEIIKMNPPTV) will rival the economic size of the present elite 7 nations.

Notice how all these numbers assume unlimited resources to achieve growth. There will be a far more interesting chess game played with a more level economic table. China locks up resources in African nations without any of those human rights strings attached. Russia is circling the arctic, winning the new polar race. Markets are necessary too, and the US is sure to remain an important one, making killing the greenback a double edged sword, especially for China. Comments by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev questioning the dollar's role pushed down the U.S. currency by 0.9 percent against other key units, thereby hurting the value of China's investments. Baby steps towards independence from the west and the dollar will be the key word, but they'll add up quicker than you think.

Monday, June 15, 2009

What's Worse?

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
- Plato

Hmmm. I dunno anymore mister smart guy Plato. Tough one for y'all. Which election is worse?: 80% voter turnout, election fever, but the results were predetermined. 43% turnout, no buzz at all, with results already known. Or 61% turnout, yes we can excitement, results made to appear miraculous. I know, not enough information to go on, but it's enough to do my head in these past few days. Feeling physically ill. Behind door # 1, Iranians made to feel momentarily empowered, however illusory it was, only to have the rug pulled out from under them. The 2nd, Europeans sitting on their hands hoping not to sink the boat by getting off their asses. Door #3 reveals Americans being fed a different flavour of hope. Three different elections, three different ways of making me sick as democracy continues to be pedaled to the masses as the opiate of control.

The election excitement had been overwhelming. The campaigns, creative, the debates hard fought and controversial. An environment where ideas and counterarguments were being shared and disputed among the people, maybe even informing much of the electorate, enabling them to make the decision about who they wanted to lead them for the next four years. An unpredictable battle between Ahmadinejad, Mousavi, Rezaee and Karroubi? Of course it was all a sham from the start, the true power runs through the Ayatollahs in Iran, but most of the electorate were aware that their four choices were handpicked by the theocracy. Any change the president of Iran could bring about would have to be done within the framework of the revolution. Yet, there they were, campaigning in the streets and on the web, dancing and painting themselves green, seemingly willing a change in the powerless executive of their nation. What a difference an election makes from expectations! A huge turnout and a surprise, Ahmedinjijad is still president.

At least it looks like there's some protest going on, a little backlash. Here in Europe just over a week ago you might have missed the fact there was an election if you'd a blinked. Granted I don't have a TV, but the only evidence of an election I had here in Poland were the campaign signs littering the sides of a few roads. Momentary eye candy for the passing motorist now mostly blowing through the streets or packing the landfills. While over 40% voted Europe wide, barely 20% went to the polls here, and even less across the border in Slovakia where 19.6% of those eligible bothered to vote, actually UP from the 17% who voted 5 years ago! Sadly, low voter turnout was at least partially responsible for the results, as right-wing fringe parties made strong showings. Voter apathy combined with economic turmoil resulted in Dutch voters making Geert Wilders' anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) the country's second-largest political force at the EU level. They garnered around 17% of the votes, just slightly behind Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's center-right Christian Democrats who secured around 20%. Yes, THAT Geert Wilders, the one facing prosecution and the possibility of jail for hate speech. Even the UK saw the election of their first right-wing extremists to the European Parliament as the British National Party won four seats; Gordon Brown's Labour Party only managed to win 11! Could be worse I guess, at least the Swedes managed to elect a representative from the Pirate Party, as they took over 7% of the votes cast there.

How does this all compare to the home of democracy? Hope and change has done exactly what was planned, nothing. But you couldn't have set it up any better to look like a choice, were talking about a country with experience at rigging elections. What set up? A black guy running for the banksters/Government Motors and an old white guy for the military industrial complex/Israel. On the surface, it seems you couldn't paint a more stark choice, but besides a couple of nice sounding speeches, the change promised by Obama hasn't materialized. Yes, I know, time, give it time. However, looking outside of Iraq, Af/Pak and Guantanamo, I'd say that if anything, the economic policy choices have guaranteed a continuation and probably an acceleration of the wealth shift trend to the rich in America (h/t PP). The inevitable failure of Obama's save the banks policy will lead to a loss in faith of democracy itself. I can't say it better than Joseph Stiglitz in this month's Vanity Fair: In the developing world, people look at Washington and see a system of government that allowed Wall Street to write self-serving rules which put at risk the entire global economy—and then, when the day of reckoning came, turned to Wall Street to manage the recovery. They see continued re-distributions of wealth to the top of the pyramid, transparently at the expense of ordinary citizens. They see, in short, a fundamental problem of political accountability in the American system of democracy.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Iran. What really pisses me off is that this fix, if it is in fact one, keeping Ahmadinejad in power, will be used as ammunition by the right-wingnuts against Obama's change in tone towards Iran. You remember, the one where he thinks it's better to actually talk to people about disagreements. Or maybe having Mousavi lose is in fact a good thing for the White House making it easier to get sanctions in place. It could represent a pivotal moment that entrenches the power of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or it could be the beginning of his end. Iran may be on the cusp of the next revolution or maybe the stories we're getting are being blown completely out of proportion and things are more on the level of the LA riots. Mousavi may have been the candidate to bring about the green revolution, or perhaps he wasn't. There probably was some vote tampering, the evidence is there, from whether you believe Mousavi's story about being informed of victory, to how Ahmadinejad really won pretty much equally across all provinces, beating the Azeri candidate Mousavi in Azeristan's capital while beating the Lur candidate Karoubi overwhelmingly in Luristan. About the only thing certain about the election chaos out of Iran is that it may have won me over to Twitter as I've become a constant checker of the #iranelection feed, while the traditional media seems to be failing, as in #CNNfail.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Oh, Papi!

Should we judge a nation by its leader? It seems logical in a democracy where leaders represent the elected will of a nation. After all, the world seemed to judge America as world opinion turned against the USA as her leaders terrorized the public, turning them from a quivering mass into a frothing, pre-emptive war seeking mob, while the fourth estate turned cheerleader and lost its bearings. The media's role can't be discounted as many see it as their duty to protect the public by keeping it informed. Dangers arise when the fourth estate becomes a mouthpiece for the government's agenda instead of its watchdog. Anti-Americanism may have passed it's apex, but the damage done will be long lasting to both the nation and the world. But what of other nations with leaders equally vile as Dubya? Robert Mugabe was once loved in Zimbabwe, Stephen Harper has received more votes in Canada than anyone else in the last two elections, or even Super Sarkhozy in France - do they reflect their people? Well, you'll find no uglier combination of evil, sleaze and corruption together with control over the media mind control machine than in today's Italy, personified by it's supreme narcissist, Silvio Berlusconi.

With the European Parliament (EP) elections coming this week, Il Caviliere, or Papi as he is known to 17-year old 'friends' and 'virgins', seems to have tired of simply playing the playboy-clown role that he has perfected over the years; his actions, statements and policies have taken a turn for the surreal, delusional with a little Lolita thrown in for good measure. In case you missed it, the EP is more than just every trans-national government conspiracists' nightmare. Besides providing perhaps the best parliamentary speech of the year, it is also has some real powers mostly revolving around passing, amending or rejecting European Commission legislation. It also exerts a large amount of indirect influence on foreign policy as it must pass all development grants. It's 736 MEPs serve the second largest democratic electorate in the world after India and are directly elected every five years. Well, I say directly, but truth be told, I still can't wrap my head around the whole system. Parties put up lists of candidates from which voters seem to randomly fill in some boxes and voila, magically some people get elected.

Well, in order to add some legitimacy to this arcane system, Berlusconi decided to sex up his party's (Partito della Liberta - PdL, The People of Freedom) ballot by throwing in some starlets and showgirls, including Angela Sozio, a former Big Brother contestant, Barbara Matera, a Miss Italy contestant and model, and TV starlets Camilla Ferranti and Eleonora Gaggiolo. Why not? Apparently the women had attended a crash course in politics ahead of the European elections. Problem is the course was not originally intended for candidates, but parliamentary assistants! Oh, and Papi's going to run as well, however that works?! Some may argue that he's doing all he can to weaken the legislative in order to empower the executive, while others might point out that Papi needs some younger babes to ogle. After all, it's been awhile since 2007, when his wife issued an open letter to a daily newspaper demanding a public apology from her husband for flirting with Mara Carfagna, an Italian topless model turned member of Parliament and currently equal opportunity minister in Berlusconi's cabinet. Ah yes, sex, it still sells, especially if there's a 17-year old involved...

Yes, perhaps it's the image of a 72-year old man and a 17-year old bombshell that will wake Italy from it's slumber. Berlusconi's wife of nearly 20 years, Veronica Lario, came out punching, demanding a divorce after learning that the great seducer had made a now 18-year old aspiring model his pet project, stating, "My marriage is over. I can't stay with someone who cavorts with minors." Well, maybe she was 17, but news didn't break until Berlusconi showed up at her 18th birthday bash bearing a diamond pendant, a little gift from the man whom the girl in question, Noemi Letizia, calls 'Papi'. Predictably, Silvio demanded an apology from his wife, denied any wrong doing and claimed, "I am friends with her father, that's all. I swear." Sure Papi, you happened to notice the girl while visiting a civil servant in Naples, not leafing through a 'fashion book' looking for your next prey.

Oh yes, I'm sure Papi brought Naomi to Rome last November so he could discuss politics with her father, but, maybe... Then, like manna from heaven word leaks of a New Year's Eve party, where as many as 40 girls, including Naomi and others under 18 like her, thrown at Papi's Sardinia island retreat. Topless cavorting, publication bans on pictures, rumours of a naked Czech president, all too good to be true. Hot 17-year old chicks and 18, maybe even 19... with a 72-year old PM $10 billionaire. Berlusconi's wife went ballistic, demanded a divorce, the opposition questioned his parenting skills, the world wonders how he gets away with it, then remembers, it's Italy, a macho image somehow convinces people to vote for you.

It's getting harder and harder to track Papi's transgressions. Having been charged numerous times for corruption, tax fraud and illegal party funding, he has always escaped conviction. Most egregious of all, facing the likelihood of finally being found guilty, last year he simply pushed an immunity bill through parliament. Now he can sleep easily, knowing he can't be charged for bribing lawyers to lie for him, or ordering hits on opponents. If you don't like being in opposition, (this is Silvio's 3rd time as PM) as he was in 2006, just get the church to lean on a swing block led by Clemente Mastella in the parliament, to force a no-confidence vote and the collapse of Italy's 60th government since WWII. Allies have been absorbed, Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the National Alliance, which grew out of the neo-fascist movement, united in a single entity, the People of Freedom. Only Lega Nord, the Northern League, Berlusconi's 'independent' fascist ally has the parliamentary clout to bring the government down. So they can call to segregate the Milan transit system without it really being Papi calling the shots, leaving him free to stir up hatred against more specific groups, like the Roma. His coronation as leader of the new party (there was no election) could make him a kingmaker in the EP if the conservative EPP-ED block gain control as expected. All part of his plan to torpedo the Polish/German hope for leading the European Parliament and to have his own man, Mario Mauro, installed.

So how does he get away with it? Time Magazine dubbed Italy Berlusconistan last week, but it seems they don't even know the half of it. This nation of 58 million is spiraling dangerously out of control. Having fallen 12 spots in the the least corrupt nation rankings of Transparency International, putting them between South Africa and the Seychelles, you'd think someone would start asking questions about whose steering the ship. Then you remember, it's Berlusconi who, along with his family, controls a string of television stations which command half the national viewing audience. He owns Italy's largest publishing company, its most glamorous football club, a booming financial services company, and some lucrative odds and ends in the property sector. As the prime minister of Italy, he has control over the Italian public service broadcaster RAI, as his government can approve allies to the positions of president and board of directors. Essentially, he has influence over 90 per cent of all national television broadcasting. In 2002, NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that Berlusconi's government pressured RAI to drop the political TV show, "Sciuscia" and fire two journalists, Michele Santoro and Enzo Biagi, after they criticized Berlusconi. During the 2006 Italian election, there were complaints of blanket coverage favourable to Berlusconi. He received three hours and 16 minutes of airtime in one 15-day period compared to just eight minutes for Mr. Prodi, his rival, a clear violation of Italian electoral laws, which stated candidates should have equal airtime. He can call up RAI's director and ask him to hire some actresses in exchange for political and financial favors, then get the judges to destroy the wiretaps.

The Financial Times claims that Italy isn't in danger of slipping back into fascism, but where else are they headed? Whatever you think of the man or country, we're talking about a G7 (or is it 8 still?) nation, one that sent troops to Iraq, was at the very least a complicit partner of the US led 'extraodinary rendition' program and was once convinced to throw its support behind Hitler. Berlusconi's three terms as PM have been disasters, the International Monetary Fund thinks Italy will be the only euro zone country to experience three consecutive years of recession, from 2008 to 2010. Italy's public debt is set to soar to 116 per cent of gross domestic product by 2010, according to the European Commission. There are now 24 Italian MPs, senators and European MPs who have received final convictions for crimes. Maybe the psycho dwarf's antics and quips are designed to divert attention from the real problems of the economy and the rise of xenophobia in his nation. A country led by a man who the pope called a racist, a man who said of Obama, "He's young, handsome, and even has a good tan." A man who has simply used the state as a means of securing his own interests and to keep himself out of jail will host the next G8 meeting in earthquake stricken Abruzzo, where according to Papi, the homeless were able to enjoy a "camping weekend" and where he's sure to come up with more comedy gaffes. By that time he could have decided who's running Europe, yippee!