So the revelations from the Panama Papers are all shocking and whatnot if you didn’t already assume that the world’s oligarchs were greedy pieces of shit. Though I suppose it’s interesting to see how specifically all this tax haven stuff works.
But what really surprised me was this picture from The Guardian:
They still have debutante balls? And the kind where actual wealthy people attend, not athletes or minor celebrities but those whose ungodly riches can destroy nations. There were princesses and future captains of industry at this shindig. I swear, it looks like something out of My Fair Lady.
Jasmine Li, it seems, is a scion of one of China’s Communist Party elites. Well, the party calls itself communist, but really, when your party members’ kids are coming out in a debutante ball then there’s no use pretending there’s anything of the old ideals left.
It just goes to show that the 1% live in a different world from the rest of us, which is especially noteworthy since the pictures date from 2009, during the worst economic crisis in decades. Ordinary people were left destitute and homeless as the masters of the world waltzed the night away. I wonder, is this kind of inequality what we can expect for the rest of this century? One wonders.
From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.
Around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 last year, Duval Arthur, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, got a call from a resident who had just received a disturbing text message. “Toxic fume hazard warning in this area until 1:30 PM,” the message read. “Take Shelter. Check Local Media and columbiachemical.com.”
St. Mary Parish is home to many processing plants for chemicals and natural gas, and keeping track of dangerous accidents at those plants is Arthur’s job. But he hadn’t heard of any chemical release that morning. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of Columbia Chemical. St. Mary Parish had a Columbian Chemicals plant, which made carbon black, a petroleum product used in rubber and plastics. But he’d heard nothing from them that morning, either. Soon, two other residents called and reported the same text message. Arthur was worried: Had one of his employees sent out an alert without telling him?
If Arthur had checked Twitter, he might have become much more worried. Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.
Dozens of journalists, media outlets and politicians, from Louisiana to New York City, found their Twitter accounts inundated with messages about the disaster. “Heather, I’m sure that the explosion at the #ColumbianChemicals is really dangerous. Louisiana is really screwed now,” a user named @EricTraPPP tweeted at the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Heather Nolan. Another posted a screenshot of CNN’s home page, showing that the story had already made national news. ISIS had claimed credit for the attack, according to one YouTube video; in it, a man showed his TV screen, tuned to an Arabic news channel, on which masked ISIS fighters delivered a speech next to looping footage of an explosion. A woman named Anna McClaren (@zpokodon9) tweeted at Karl Rove: “Karl, Is this really ISIS who is responsible for #ColumbianChemicals? Tell @Obama that we should bomb Iraq!” But anyone who took the trouble to check CNN.com would have found no news of a spectacular Sept. 11 attack by ISIS. It was all fake: the screenshot, the videos, the photographs.
Big Marijuana is coming like Big Tobacco did decades before, but it’s taking a detour through the 1920s and the Prohibition Era first. If and when marijuana is legalized in the United States, it will almost definitely join the other legal drugs in being pushed by profit-driven corporations willing to kill as many trees as it takes to be in the black. In the meantime, heavily armed pot growers are destroying the environment well enough on their own.
Although the original Northern California growers saw pot cultivation as an extension of their hippie lifestyles, their environmental values haven’t readily carried over to the next generation. “They are given a free pass to become wealthy at a young age, to get what they want,” Silvaggio explains. “And do you think they are going to give it up when they turn 20, with a kid in the box? They can’t get off that gravy train.” But with prices dropping as domestic supply expands, “you can’t go smaller; you’ve got to go bigger these days to make the amount of money you used to make. So what does that mean? You have to get another generator. You have to take more water. You’ve got to spray something because you may lose 20, 30 grand if you don’t.”
I just read this eye opening piece from Mother Jones about the inhuman working conditions to be found at the logistics firms that run the warehouses which ship the online gewgaws that we swim in. It’s shocking to find out about the hidden costs of being able to order cheap dildos on the Internet.
The annoying thing is that I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. I’ve written about Taylorism and scientific management – I defined it as “a discredited management philosophy organized around getting the most productivity out of workers and damn their health and comfort” – and I know perfectly well about the dire labour conditions to be found in states with right-to-work laws, which severely curtail the power of unions, and I also know about the demand towards timeliness with Just in Time shipping which has companies do their level best to turn their workers into unfeeling cogs who don’t pee or get sick.
I knew all that and yet I didn’t connect those things to the free shipping that Amazon and almost every other large online retailer provides and the guarantees towards getting items fast which are always shouted out in giant letters on a company’s website. Really, though, I’ll pay for the damn shipping and even wait an extra couple of days if it means workers won’t get fired for attending the birth of one of their kids.
Still, the article is about American third-party logistics firms so I wonder if I can still order stuff online in Canada with a clear conscience. I know at least three things different between Ontario and this unnamed state west of the Mississippi:
Minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, well above the $7.25 those poor slobs were getting;
Mandatory overtime is illegal;
All residents would be on the provincial health plan.
Just to be safe, though, I think from now on I’m going to buy stuff in person whenever I absolutely can. All those trucks driving around delivering stuff can’t be good for the environment, anyway.
Somewhat interesting news from New York about the growing popularity of communism in the Big Apple:
“As the economic crisis has gotten steeper in the country, it is not surprising that people are opening their minds to other ideas. Words like socialism and communism have been so stigmatized by the educational system that many people are afraid of those words. However, many studies have shown Americans support the redistribution of wealth but if you mention the socialism word they won’t agree with it anymore.”
The Economist recently published a fairly decent overview of modern Chinese attitudes towards the Boxer Rebellion (judgement on the historical accuracy of the article supplied by Frog in a Well). Overall, there’s nothing surprising about how the Chinese nationalists have lionized the Boxers and how the underground Chinese Catholics have their own counter-narratives about the Rebellion. However, the comments to the article are full of Sinophile apologists making idiotic excuses for the actions of the Chinese, especially that of the Communist government. One commenter looks to be a genuine Chinese nationalist. Eh, whatever, a pox on all their houses.
Is economic history about to change course? Among the chieftains of politics and industry gathering in Davos for the World Economic Forum on Wednesday, a consensus appears to be building that the capitalist system is in for one of those rare and tempestuous mutations that give rise to a new set of economic policies . . .
“The pendulum between market and state is swinging back,” Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, said by telephone before traveling to Davos. “The year 2008 is a crucial year that could end up setting the tone for some time to come. What we need is an ideological mutation without falling into the trap of protectionism.”
One such mutation in mainstream economic policy took place after the Depression of 1929, which led to a protectionist interlude and then gave rise to Keynesian demand-side policies and eventually the welfare state. Another took place following the oil price shocks in the 1970s, which refocused policy makers’ attention to supply-side measures and strengthened those pushing for privatization and free markets as the best way to stimulate growth.
When students of economics open their history books in 2030, they might read about 2008 as the year when the groundwork was laid for a re-regulation of certain markets, a more redistributive tax system and new forms of international policy coordination, economists say.
I don’t know, isn’t this just more of the classic cycles we’re supposed to expect from capitalism? But having said that, it would be unfair to claim that nothing has changed and that we’re stuck in a perpetual circle of death and reincarnation. Perhaps the roller coaster is a more apt metaphor – things go up and down, but they never go backwards. After all, the environment is in a more precarious position today and the emerging economies of China and India are far stronger than they have been in the recent past.
So, while no one can expect the abolition or even the gradual phasing-out of the capitalist nation-state system, perhaps we will see some encouraging moves towards allowing more people around the world the chance not to get gang-raped out of nowhere by economic policies they never agreed to. And perhaps some of these people might be more open-minded to an alternative to the current political-economic system? Hope springs eternal.
By the way, that picture of Davos just makes me even happier that I’m in Costa Rica right now. Man, it looks cold up there (although it’s snowing so it must be relatively warm, like only -5 Celsius).