Archive for May 2011
By Charles Davis May 19, 2011 false dichotomy
Taxes entail coercion; this is why they’re not called donations. Accordingly, one might think self-styled advocates of free markets and smaller government, Ayn Rand aficionados especially, would be cognizant of the fact that, when it comes to a moral claim over the things that said taxes go to — from telecommunications to transit systems — the coerced taxpayer would have the strongest case for ownership.
You’d be wrong, of course. When it comes to downsizing the state, most conservatives and libertarians have a raging hard-on for privatization, by which they mean the government auctioning off taxpayer property to the highest private bidder. The problem with this approach, from a Freedom! and individual rights perspective, is that those who were forced to invest in the state entity to be auctioned off are left with next to nothing to show for it, usually some multinational corporation instead swooping in to pick it up at pennies on the dollar.
Take the example of Guatemalan state telecommunications firm GUATEL. In the late 1990s the Guatemalan government, instead of handing the firm over to the workers and taxpayers who had supported it over the previous two decades, sold 95 percent of its stake to a private company called Telgua, which — thanks in no small part to its being handed a monopoly share of the market — continues to be the country’s largest telecommunications provider.
At Reason magazine, the move is this week being commemorated as a clear victory against statism. “In Guatemala,” former head of GUATEL Alfredo Guzmán tells the magazine, “we have a clear example that freedom works.”
Yeah, I’m not so sure about that. While Reason argues the move is responsible for the widespread availability of phone services in Guatemala today, one can look elsewhere in Central America and see a similar story of proliferation. Even in behind-the-times Nicaragua — and I say that endearingly — I can get 3G Internet access pretty much anywhere I need (and unlike in the “free market” U.S., I can do so affordably using a prepaid modem).
But if we’re going to call what happened in Guatemala the result of “freedom,” more pertinent to me than the number of sexting Guatemalan teens there are today is how the transition from state to “private” telecom monopoly actually came about. And if you actually look at it, it begins to look less like a story of free minds and free markets and a bit more like the standard, time-old tale of one economic class, international capitalists, using the power of the state to exploit another economic class, in this case Guatemalan workers.
As former GUATEL head Guzmán himself boasts in the interview with Reason, the decision to privatize the firm was so politically unpopular (read: courageous! ) in his country that the Guatemalan government actually had to threaten its own citizens with jail time should they protest the proposed sale by striking. Rather than respect the right of its people to freely organize and voice their discontent as they saw fit, in this case by merely not going to work, the government of Guatemala threatened those forced to live under its rule with the prospect of time behind bars should they exercise those rights. Moves like that may make life easier for multinational corporations, but it ain’t exactly “freedom.”
Rather than hand the state’s telecom monopoly to the highest bidder, the Guatemalan government could have — and to my warped syndicalist mind, should have — turned it over to the Guatemalan people. Each citizen of the country could have been given a share in the company and a say in how it was run; perhaps they’d vote to delegate that authority to an elected board. Or the state could have divided its telecom monopoly amongst its workers, who could run as a cooperative. Either option, or a combination of both, would have better protected the rights and, indeed, property of those poor Guatemalans who put their time and money into GUATEL than merely auctioning it to the multinational corporation with the most money.
Putting aside the financial and political reasons as to why that didn’t happen — maybe, I dunno, it’s because rich capitalists have more a say over government decisions than poor workers? — there’s a cultural reason why actual liberty-and-freedom preserving options aren’t given much consideration by the folks at Reason and other privatization zealots: it reeks of socialism. Sure, cooperatives are entirely compatible with voluntarism and even modern capitalism, but unless there’s a CEO with an insane salary and a private jet involved, right-wing libertarians don’t want to hear it — after all, who would pay them to defend those insane salaries and corporate jets?
While they preach their love of freedom, it’s clear that for many on the right the love of markets — or specifically, corporations — trumps all other concerns about force and state power. All human needs must be met by a corporation in a quasi-competitive marketplace (the second part’s optional), in their view, lest we all become limp-wristed socialists prattling on about “sharing” and “community.” That there are alternatives to such strictly defined systems of economics that are not based on state coercion — and who do you think grants corporations personhood and limited liability? — is not so much as acknowledged. The light at the end of the freedom tunnel is a McDonald’s arch. Corporate ledgers are the gospel.
If minimizing the use of coercion in human affairs is your goal, however, as opposed to maximizing corporate profits, than faux-privatization schemes like the one Guatemalans were subjected to should be described for what they are: manifestations of corporatism, not liberty and free markets. Again, it bears repeating: Transferring a state monopoly funded by taxpayers to the control of international investors is not a win for freedom. The only thing that changes in that scenario is who profits from state coercion, politicians or capitalists — if it even does that, given the ties between the two.
Instead of fawning over big business and demanding state power be given to state-created corporations, libertarians and other self-styled proponents of freedom on the right ought to be demanding that power be given to the people. That they’re not suggests they should be described not as proponents of liberty, but of corporate capitalism. And no, Virginia (Postrel), they’re not the same thing.
According to news reports, the Charles G. Koch Foundation has bought “the right to interfere in faculty hiring at a publicly funded university.” Kris Hundley of the St. Petersburg Times reports that the elder Koch brother’s foundation “pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University’s economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting ‘political economy and free enterprise.’”
Unlike most university donors, who retain little control over chairs they’ve funded lest universities be seen to lose academic freedom, the Times reports that the Charles G. Koch Foundation’s “contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet ‘objectives’ set by Koch during annual evaluations.”
Apparently, the deal was signed in 2008 with little public controversy. However, on May 1 two FSU professors — Ray Bellamy and Kent S. Miller — revived the issue in a letter to the Tallahassee Democrat. In their letter, Bellamy and Miller point out that “George Mason University received over $23 million from Koch brothers foundations to hire seven libertarian professors, subjecting the college to the charge that the university had been ‘bought’”.
David W. Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences, responded to the letter on May 10 by saying, “I’m sure some faculty will say this is not exactly consistent with their view of academic freedom…. But it seems to me it would have been irresponsible not to do it.”
But FSU is not the only school where the Charles G. Koch Foundation has made such arrangements. The Times article adds that, “In addition to FSU, Koch has made similar arrangements at two other state schools, Clemson University in South Carolina and West Virginia University.”
One wonders how many Koch economists there are in the world.
By Barry Levine
May 13, 2011 Newsfactor.com
Electromagnetic radiation from nearby cell phones disrupts honeybee behavior, a new study says. It warns that calls from nearby devices can cause “colony losses due to unexpected swarming,” and may be a factor in colony collapses. Other studies have also found deleterious effects on honeybees from cell-phone use.
One group that appears to be unhappy with the rapidly exploding population of cell phones is honeybees. According to a new study, wireless phone signals are confusing the insects to the point of death — and could be a major factor in colony collapse disorder.
The study, by researcher and biologist Daniel Favre of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is the result of 83 experiments that looked at honeybees’ reactions to nearby cell phones in off and standby modes, and when making phone calls.
Worker Piping Signal
The result is the discovery that mobile phones produce what the study called “a dramatic impact on the behavior of bees, namely by inducing the worker piping signal.” A worker piping signal tells a bee that it’s time to swarm — or that the colony has been disturbed.
Worker piping is noise made by the honeybee, and the study found that it increases 10 times when there is a phone call on a nearby device. Favre wrote that worker piping “is not frequent” naturally in a colony, and, when it happens, it could have “dramatic consequences in terms of colony losses due to unexpected swarming.”
He also said his study is the first on the potential effects of electromagnetic radiation from cell phones on honeybee behavior. A previous study in 2008 found that bees will abandon their hives if a cell phone is nearby.
Another study, from India’s Punjab University, found other kinds of deleterious effects a cell phone can have on bee populations. In that study, published last summer, researchers discovered that a cell phone near a hive resulted in a decrease in the number of eggs produced by the queen bee.
The news media is into one-story-at-a-time mode these days with 24/7 speculation and mindless blather until all are sick and tired of the story du jour. Then it’s on to the next one!
While this is happening all other news is submerged or omitted (neo-censorship). And after they have moved on, there is little demand for updates or follow-up, even when the events are of major significance.
Here’s one example of news we need to know- but probably don’t: (you may have your own examples- send them in and I’ll add them on)
May 12, 2011 by Mike Adams (NaturalNews)
TEPCO has now publicly admitted it wasn’t telling the truth about the severity of the damage to Fukushima reactor No. 1. We’re now being told what we’ve suspected all along — that nuclear fuel rods in that reactor are totally exposed and have suffered a nuclear meltdown, releasing vast amounts of radiation comparable to Chernobyl. As Bloomberg now reports, the water level in reactor No. 4 is one meter below the fuel assembly itself. This means, of course, that the water isn’t high enough to cover the fuel rods, which is why those fuel rods have suffered a nuclear meltdown.
The Associated Press is also reporting that “other fuel has slumped to the bottom of the pressure vessel and is thought to be covered in water.” This statement is astonishing all by itself because it means the fuel rods were in a total meltdown hot enough to cause their metal containment cylinders to “slump” and melt their way down to the lower levels of the coolant pools. Notably, AP carefully avoids using the term “melt” and instead says the fuel rods “slumped.” This is all part of the AP’s determined downplaying of the Fukushima catastrophe (see below).
Not surprisingly, as AP now reports, “The findings also indicate a greater-than-expected leak in that vessel.” But the laws of nuclear physics don’t care what you “expect,” you see. They don’t care about media spin or power company B.S. The laws of physics simply follow their natural course, regardless of what you hope they do.
And in the case of Fukushima, the laws of physics led directly to a core fuel meltdown that now even the mainstream media cannot deny (although they still aren’t calling it a “nuclear meltdown”). As AP reports:
Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency officials said the new data indicates that it is likely that partially melted fuel had fallen to the bottom of the pressurized vessel that holds the reactor core together and possibly leached down into the drywell soon after the March 11 quake and tsunami that struck Japan’s northeastern coast.
What AP is describing, of course, is a nuclear meltdown. It doesn’t get any more obvious than this: The fuel reached melting temperature and melted down. Along with this, there would have had to be a massive release of radiation into the containment vessel, which just happens to have numerous holes in it that allow highly radioactive water to leak directly into the environment. No wonder TEPCO discovered its radiation detectors had all maxed out there and become non-functional. No wonder TEPCO had to selectively stop reporting radiation releases — it was in the middle of a Chernobyl-like core fuel meltdown!
The Telegraph in the UK is refreshingly printing the truth on this story: “One of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant did suffer a nuclear meltdown, Japanese officials admitted for the first time today, describing a pool of molten fuel at the bottom of the reactor’s containment vessel.”
But the mainstream media in the U.S. has obviously been instructed by the White House to avoid using the term “nuclear meltdown” in describing what happened at Fukushima. There is a rather blatant downplaying of the facts going on behind the scenes at the media giants.
Some of this spin can only be called blatant lies, by the way. In the same story linked above, AP claims “Unit 4 contained no fuel rods at the time of the earthquake…”
Huh? No fuel rods in reactor No. 4? What on Earth is this video showing?
I love how the media admits it has been misreporting the truth of the situation all along, and then it comes up with new fairytale spin stories in practically the same sentence. They might as well just report, “There was no nuclear fuel in Fukushima at the time of the tsunami, and that’s why governments have stopped monitoring radiation levels.”
TEPCO once again meets Murphy’s Law
In any case, this sudden revelation that reactor No. 4 has already experienced a nuclear fuel meltdown is, not surprisingly, causing considerable setbacks to TEPCO’s plan to have the whole facility deactivated by Christmas. Just as NaturalNews publicly predicted, the Christmas shutdown plan was little more than a combination of fantasyland thinking and industry spin.
Updated: new links below
By Chris Arsenault *
DOHA, May 10, 2011 (IPS/Al Jazeera) – The rapid rise in prices for food, fuel and commodities has been disastrous for the world’s poor, including Indonesian market vendor Lia Romi. But it’s a bonanza for multinational trading firms such as Glencore.
While Romi has trouble feeding her family, Glencore – the world’s largest diversified commodities trader – is planning a $11 billion dollar share sale, likely the largest market debut ever seen on the London Stock Exchange.
“The price for our daily food has at least doubled in the past two years,” Lia Romi told Al Jazeera through a translator. “Food costs 100 per cent of my family’s daily income [of about $3]. I have nothing saved and I owe [money] from my [market stall] business.”
While Romi, and millions like her, worry about feeding their families, the initial public offering from the commodity speculating giant will create at least four billionaires, dozens worth more than 100 million dollars and several hundred old fashioned millionaires. Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg is set to make more than nine billion from the share sale. And speculating on food prices is an important part of his wealth.
Valued at about 60 billion dollars, Glencore controls 50 percent of the global copper market, 60 per cent of zinc, 38 per cent in alumina, 28 per cent of thermal coal, 45 per cent of lead and almost 10 per cent of the world’s wheat – according to information the firm disclosed prior to its share sale. It also controls about one quarter of the world market in barley, sunflower and rape seed.
“They are possibly one of very few mining companies that are price makers, rather than price takers,” said Chris Hinde, editorial director of Mining Journal magazine. “They are the stockbrokers of the commodities business [operating] in a fairly secretive world. They are effectively setting the price for some very important commodities,” he told Al Jazeera.
The firm employs about 57,000 people, generated a turnover of 145 billion dollars in the past year and has assets worth more than 79 billion. Glencore’s media department refused interview requests from Al Jazeera.
Based in Baar, Switzerland, where regulation is minimal, the company’s sprawling interests span Bolivian tin mines, Angolan oil, zinc producers in Kazakhstan, Zambian copper mines and Russian wheat operations.
“Glencore’s vertical integration really is unprecedented,” said Devlin Kuyek, a researcher with GRAIN, a non-profit international organisation working on food security.
“Glencore owns almost 300,000 hectares of farm land and it is one of the largest farm operators in the world. They are engaging in speculation on the grain trade and have immense market power,” he told Al Jazeera.
Global food prices have climbed recently, returning close to their 2008 peak, when bread riots swept parts of the Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean.
“A disturbing amount of price increases, I fear, is being driven by speculative activity,” Marcus Miller, a professor of international economics at the University of Warwick, told Al Jazeera. “Bets [on future price rises or declines] can become self-fulfilling if you are big enough to affect the market.”
What’s the new growth industry for the military-industrial complex and Homeland Security?
Repackaging military weapons to use at home against American citizens. And no one is saying a word about it.
It was meant to be a party celebrating the upcoming end of the school year but Saturday the annual Wheeler street block party near Western Illinois University got out of hand. Now, the mother of a Western student who was at that party wants answers.
Amateur video taken by students shows them tearing down and burning a stop sign as the block party came to an end. That fire is what Macomb police say started the entire riot. Shortly after the fire began swat teams arrived.
“It was like a military response to these kids, I don’t know how anyone can watch those tapes and think that’s okay,” said Annie Boyd.