Sunshine Recorder

Link: Save Us from the Saviours: Slavoj Žižek on Europe and the Greeks

Imagine a scene from a dystopian movie that depicts our society in the near future. Uniformed guards patrol half-empty downtown streets at night, on the prowl for immigrants, criminals and vagrants. Those they find are brutalised. What seems like a fanciful Hollywood image is a reality in today’s Greece. At night, black-shirted vigilantes from the Holocaust-denying ne0-fascist Golden Dawn movement – which won 7 per cent of the vote in the last round of elections, and had the support, it’s said, of 50 per cent of the Athenian police – have been patrolling the street and beating up all the immigrants they can find: Afghans, Pakistanis, Algerians. So this is how Europe is defended in the spring of 2012.

The trouble with defending European civilisation against the immigrant threat is that the ferocity of the defence is more of a threat to ‘civilisation’ than any number of Muslims. With friendly defenders like this, Europe needs no enemies. A hundred years ago, G.K. Chesterton articulated the deadlock in which critics of religion find themselves: ‘Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church … The secularists have not wrecked divine things; but the secularists have wrecked secular things, if that is any comfort to them.’ Many liberal warriors are so eager to fight anti-democratic fundamentalism that they end up dispensing with freedom and democracy if only they may fight terror. If the ‘terrorists’ are ready to wreck this world for love of another, our warriors against terror are ready to wreck democracy out of hatred for the Muslim other. Some of them love human dignity so much that they are ready to legalise torture to defend it. It’s an inversion of the process by which fanatical defenders of religion start out by attacking contemporary secular culture and end up sacrificing their own religious credentials in their eagerness to eradicate the aspects of secularism they hate.

But Greece’s anti-immigrant defenders aren’t the principal danger: they are just a by-product of the true threat, the politics of austerity that have caused Greece’s predicament. The next round of Greek elections will be held on 17 June. The European establishment warns us that these elections are crucial: not only the fate of Greece, but maybe the fate of the whole of Europe is in the balance. One outcome – the right one, they argue – would allow the painful but necessary process of recovery through austerity to continue. The alternative – if the ‘extreme leftist’ Syriza party wins – would be a vote for chaos, the end of the (European) world as we know it.

The prophets of doom are right, but not in the way they intend. Critics of our current democratic arrangements complain that elections don’t offer a true choice: what we get instead is the choice between a centre-right and a centre-left party whose programmes are almost indistinguishable. On 17 June, there will be a real choice: the establishment (New Democracy and Pasok) on one side, Syriza on the other. And, as is usually the case when a real choice is on offer, the establishment is in a panic: chaos, poverty and violence will follow, they say, if the wrong choice is made. The mere possibility of a Syriza victory is said to have sent ripples of fear through global markets. Ideological prosopopoeia has its day: markets talk as if they were persons, expressing their ‘worry’ at what will happen if the elections fail to produce a government with a mandate to persist with the EU-IMF programme of fiscal austerity and structural reform. The citizens of Greece have no time to worry about these prospects: they have enough to worry about in their everyday lives, which are becoming miserable to a degree unseen in Europe for decades.

(Source: ziriamundane, via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity-deacti)

Link: If No One Wants Them, Where Do We Resettle The World’s Refugees?

In the case of Somalia, neighboring Kenya doesn’t want the refugees. “Personally, I’ve done what I could,” Kenya’s immigration minister Gerald Otieno Kajwang told The New York Times in July, before the U.N. had even officially declared a famine. “But the numbers coming in are too large that they threaten our security.”

Somalia was one of the world’s largest sources of refugees last year, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. It is a given that many Somalis in Kenya will never return home, but where will they go? The number of formal asylum seekers in industrialized countries has fallen in half over the past decade, most likely because of tightening policies. Even as the number of refugees grows, wealthy nations are trying to deny them access. Arrival City author Doug Saunders describes the conflict between sovereignty and human rights as “the central paradox of asylum”:

What right does a non-citizen have to enter a foreign country without permission, especially when the very act of entering a country without papers means that person is ostensibly guilty of a crime? On the other hand, what is the genuine refugee to do: if your government is attempting to kill you or make your life unlivable, you are effectively a citizen of nowhere, and you have no human rights.

Meanwhile, European and American citizens are convinced their countries are being overrun by refugees. A recent study in the United Kingdom asked voters how many refugees they believe Britain adopts each year. The average guess was 100,000; the actual number, 4,700. How do you convince paranoid nations to take in refugees (at least the ones who have made it that far)?

Link: Adam Curtis on Think Tanks

The guiding idea at the heart of today’s political system is freedom of choice. The belief that if you apply the ideals of the free market to all sorts of areas in society, people will be liberated from the dead hand of government. The wants and desires of individuals then become the primary motor of society.

But this has led to a very peculiar paradox. In politics today we have no choice at all. Quite simply There Is No Alternative.

That was fine when the system was working well. But since 2008 there has been a rolling economic crisis, and the system increasingly seems unable to rescue itself. You would expect that in response to such a crisis new, alternative ideas would emerge. But this hasn’t happened.

Nobody - not just from the left, but from anywhere - has come forward and tried to grab the public imagination with a vision of a different way to organise and manage society.

It’s a bit odd - and I thought I would tell a number of stories about why we find it impossible to imagine any alternative. Why we have become so possessed by the ideology of our age that we cannot think outside it.

The first story is called: CARRY ON THINKING

It is about the rise of the modern Think Tank and how in a very strange way they have made thinking impossible.

Think Tanks surround politics today and are the very things that are supposed to generate new ideas. But if you go back and look at how they rose up - at who invented them and why  - you discover they are not quite what they seem. That in reality they may have nothing to do with genuinely developing new ideas, but have  become a branch of the PR industry whose aim is to do the very opposite - to endlessly prop up and reinforce today’s accepted political wisdom.

So successful have they been in this task that many Think Tanks have actually become serious obstacles to really thinking about new and inspiring visions of how to change society for the better.

Link: The Way Greeks Live Now

By many indicators, Greece is devolving into something unprecedented in modern Western experience. A quarter of all Greek companies have gone out of business since 2009, and half of all small businesses in the country say they are unable to meet payroll. The suicide rate increased by 40 percent in the first half of 2011. A barter economy has sprung up, as people try to work around a broken financial system. Nearly half the population under 25 is unemployed. Last September, organizers of a government-sponsored seminar on emigrating to Australia, an event that drew 42 people a year earlier, were overwhelmed when 12,000 people signed up. Greek bankers told me that people had taken about one-third of their money out of their accounts; many, it seems, were keeping what savings they had under their beds or buried in their backyards. One banker, part of whose job these days is persuading people to keep their money in the bank, said to me, “Who would trust a Greek bank?”

The situation at the macro level is, if anything, even more transformational. The Chinese have largely taken over Piraeus, Greece’s main port, with an eye to make it a conduit for shipping goods into Europe. Qatar is looking to invest $5 billion in various projects in Greece, including tourism infrastructure. Other, relatively flush Europeans are trying to make “Greece the Florida of Europe,” Theodore Pelagidis, a Greek economist at the University of Piraeus, told me, referring in particular to plans to turn islands into expensive retirement homes for wealthy people from other parts of the continent. Whether or not the country pays its debts, he went on, other nations and foreign companies “now understand the Greek government is powerless, so in the future they will take over viable assets and run parts of the country by themselves.”

For months, Greece has sat at the epicenter of an economic crisis that is threatening the foundations of Europe and that has the potential to bring new waves of economic upset to America. The latest austerity plan meant to satisfy Greece’s creditors and allow for new infusions of financial aid may have averted involuntary default — and a global economic downturn — but will nonetheless make life for ordinary Greeks even more difficult. The plan reduces the minimum wage by more than 20 percent, mandates thousands of layoffs and reduces some pensions, probably ensuring that strikes and demonstrations will continue to be a feature of the Greek landscape.

Link: Greece: The History Behind the Collapse

Historically positioning themselves between an unruly, oriental population and the western powers, since 1981 Greek elites have siphoned off EU funds into a bloated public sector favouring corruption, patronage and social climbing. The threat posed to Europe by the breakdown is less contagion to the centre than a wave of anti-western feeling that could exacerbate geopolitical instabilities in the region.

It all started two years ago, in the autumn of 2009. Having won a convincing victory at the head of the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in the parliamentary elections, the new Greek prime minister, George Papandreou suddenly opened a real Pandora’s box. Forced to admit to his electors that he would not be in a position to keep his manifesto promises, he accused his New Democracy opponents and predecessors of having concealed the extent of the deficits and debt. To explain the contradiction between his resounding declaration prior to the election (“There’s plenty of money!”) and the inevitable austerity policy that would follow, he deliberately exaggerated the position and compared Greece to the Titanic.

In the West, the Greek tragedy has caused surprise. The illusion of a Greece that was more familiar and predictable than many other European countries has been shattered to reveal a deep-seated failure to understand. The Greek crisis – today economic but tomorrow perhaps political or even a crisis of stability – exposes the weaknesses of the European project. 

It would be wrong to read this crisis by focusing only on the institutional and political aspects of the eurozone. Important though these may be, such a reading remains Eurocentric. The European Union of today, unlike the EEC of yesteryear, no longer restricts itself to established boundaries but nurtures the ambition of spreading to the entire continent. In the past, Europe has, of course, fulfilled geo-economic, geopolitical and geo-strategic ambitions; nevertheless, this new objective involves problems that have more to do with cultural geography than with economics or institutions.


Athens in Flames
Over the weekend, more than 45 buildings across Athens were set ablaze  by violent protesters. The fires began as the Greek Parliament passed a  strict package of austerity measures, in an effort to meet demands by  the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The measures,  which were prerequisites for a $170 billion bailout, included steep  public-sector job cuts and a 20 percent reduction in the minimum wage.  More than 80,000 Greeks reportedly demonstrated in the streets of Athens  — among them, a small, violent group that hurled firebombs at riot  police and set dozens of fires. More than 120 police and protesters were  injured. The next step for the new austerity measures is  implementation, and that may face strong opposition as well. Collected  here are scenes from a weekend of unrest in Athens. [36 photos]

Athens in Flames

Over the weekend, more than 45 buildings across Athens were set ablaze by violent protesters. The fires began as the Greek Parliament passed a strict package of austerity measures, in an effort to meet demands by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The measures, which were prerequisites for a $170 billion bailout, included steep public-sector job cuts and a 20 percent reduction in the minimum wage. More than 80,000 Greeks reportedly demonstrated in the streets of Athens — among them, a small, violent group that hurled firebombs at riot police and set dozens of fires. More than 120 police and protesters were injured. The next step for the new austerity measures is implementation, and that may face strong opposition as well. Collected here are scenes from a weekend of unrest in Athens. [36 photos]

Link: The Biodiversity Crisis: Worse than Climate Change

Biodiversity is declining rapidly throughout the world. The challenges of conserving the world’s species are perhaps even larger than mitigating the negative effects of global climate change. Dealing with the biodiversity crisis requires political will and needs to be based on a solid scientific knowledge if we are to ensure a safe future for the planet. This is the main conclusion from scientists from University of Copenhagen, after 100 researchers and policy experts from EU countries were gathered this week at the University of Copenhagen to discuss how to organise the future UN Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES - an equivalent to the UN panel on climate change (IPCC).

Species extinction and the degradation of ecosystems are proceeding rapidly and the pace is accelerating. The world is losing species at a rate that is 100 to 1000 times faster than the natural extinction rate.

Mass extinctions of species have occurred five times previously in the history of the world – last time was 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs and many other species disappeared. Previous periods of mass extinction and ecosystem change were driven by global changes in climate and in atmospheric chemistry, impacts by asteroids and volcanism. Now we are in the 6th mass extinction event, which is a result of a competition for resources between one species on the planet – humans – and all others. The process towards extinction is mainly caused by habitat degradation, whose effect on biodiversity is worsened by the ongoing human-induced climate change. 

"The biodiversity crisis – i.e. the rapid loss of species and the rapid degradation of ecosystems – is probably a greater threat than global climate change to the stability and prosperous future of mankind on Earth. There is a need for scientists, politicians and government authorities to closely collaborate if we are to solve this crisis. This makes the need to establish IPBES very urgent, which may happen at a UN meeting in Panama City in April," says professor Carsten Rahbek, Director for the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen.


Marginal revolutionaries
The crisis and the blogosphere have opened mainstream economics up to new attack.

These three schools of macroeconomic thought differ in their pedigree, in their beliefs, in their persuasiveness and in their prospects. Yet they also have a lot in common. They have thrived on the back of massive disillusion with mainstream economics, which held that the economy would grow steadily if central banks kept inflation low and stable, and that there were no great gains in the offing from fiscal expansion, nor any great cause for concern over financial instability. And they have benefited hugely from blogging.
Economics, perhaps more than any other discipline, has taken to blogs with gusto. Mainstream figures such as Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw have commanded large online audiences for years, audiences which include many of their peers. But the crisis has made the academic establishment fractious and vulnerable. Highly credentialed economists now publicly mock each other’s ignorance and foolishness. That has created an opening for the less decorated members of the guild, and the truly peripheral. In the blogosphere anywhere can be, as the title of Mr Mosler’s blog has it, “The Center of the Universe”.
In a world beset by doubt, there are great opportunities for those happy to pursue their beliefs to their logical conclusions and thrillingly thoroughgoing in the way they do so. Is fiscal stimulus not working? Then do more of it, say the neo-chartalists. Are monopolies and price controls a problem? Then get rid of the central bank’s monopoly in setting the price of credit and the supply of government money, say the Austrians. Damn the torpedoes and never mind the naysayers—acolytes in the comments section will sort them out.
What’s more, put into the context of a pathetic response to the current crisis, the ideas offered by these very different schools all take on a similar form: that policymakers are overly worried about something that should concern them less. The Austrians see the bogeyman as deflation, the fear of which inflates bubbles. The market monetarists, diametrically opposed, see exaggerated fear of inflation. And the economy is getting too little help from fiscal stimulus, according to neo-chartalists, because of the government’s superstitious fear of insolvency.

Read more.

Marginal revolutionaries

The crisis and the blogosphere have opened mainstream economics up to new attack.

These three schools of macroeconomic thought differ in their pedigree, in their beliefs, in their persuasiveness and in their prospects. Yet they also have a lot in common. They have thrived on the back of massive disillusion with mainstream economics, which held that the economy would grow steadily if central banks kept inflation low and stable, and that there were no great gains in the offing from fiscal expansion, nor any great cause for concern over financial instability. And they have benefited hugely from blogging.

Economics, perhaps more than any other discipline, has taken to blogs with gusto. Mainstream figures such as Paul Krugman and Greg Mankiw have commanded large online audiences for years, audiences which include many of their peers. But the crisis has made the academic establishment fractious and vulnerable. Highly credentialed economists now publicly mock each other’s ignorance and foolishness. That has created an opening for the less decorated members of the guild, and the truly peripheral. In the blogosphere anywhere can be, as the title of Mr Mosler’s blog has it, “The Center of the Universe”.

In a world beset by doubt, there are great opportunities for those happy to pursue their beliefs to their logical conclusions and thrillingly thoroughgoing in the way they do so. Is fiscal stimulus not working? Then do more of it, say the neo-chartalists. Are monopolies and price controls a problem? Then get rid of the central bank’s monopoly in setting the price of credit and the supply of government money, say the Austrians. Damn the torpedoes and never mind the naysayers—acolytes in the comments section will sort them out.

What’s more, put into the context of a pathetic response to the current crisis, the ideas offered by these very different schools all take on a similar form: that policymakers are overly worried about something that should concern them less. The Austrians see the bogeyman as deflation, the fear of which inflates bubbles. The market monetarists, diametrically opposed, see exaggerated fear of inflation. And the economy is getting too little help from fiscal stimulus, according to neo-chartalists, because of the government’s superstitious fear of insolvency.

Read more.

Armaments, universal debt, and planned obsolescence—those are the three pillars of Western prosperity. If war, waste, and moneylenders were abolished, you’d collapse. And while you people are overconsuming the rest of the world sinks more and more deeply into chronic disaster.
— Aldous Huxley, Island

Link: Eastern Europe Swings Right

Hungary is almost broke and has lurched to the right so sharply that the EU has launched legal action in defense of democracy. But the problem is far more widespread: Nationalists and populists are gaining ground across Eastern Europe.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán only needed a few years. In that short time he managed to turn his country inside out. Civil liberties and press freedoms were reined in, the democratic separation of powers annulled, and a constitution passed in the spirit of the country’s former authoritarian-nationalistic leader MiklósHorthy.

Hungary is politically isolated in the European Union, and on the verge of national insolvency. And now the European Commission has launched legal actionagainst the country. Brussels sees Orbán’s constitutional reform as a violation of EU law, and is threatening to deny economic aid to the heavily indebted country. It’s a remarkable development for a country once seen as a model for reform to be emulated by other countries in the region.

Orbán himself, formerly a much-admired politician, now seems like a dubious mix of Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chávez. But the diminutive politician from the tiny northwestern Hungarian village of Alcsútdoboz is by no means a special case. Orbán and his Hungary represent a political movement that is sweeping across central and southern Europe.

A dangerous storm is brewing in the shadow of the euro crisis. The devastating consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis were never fully overcome in Eastern Europe, and more countries in the region are falling into financial and economic imbalance, battling sprawling debt, high budget deficits, recessions and unemployment.

"In many respects, it’s a process similar to the disillusionment in Eastern Europe with socialism in the 1970s and 1980s," says Hungarian economic scholar and publicist László Lengyel. "The danger of this is that entire social classes or regions like those in eastern Poland, Slovakia and Hungary fall victim to hopelessness and extremism."

Polls reveal a climate of hate spawned by the right-wing nationalist and extremist discourse of the last few years. For example, nearly two-thirds of Hungarians believe that the influence of Jews is too great in their economy, and that the Roma have a genetic predisposition towards criminality.

Link: The Myth of the Fourth Reich

The spectre of history looms over the eurozone crisis and Germany’s role in it, but it has less to do with Nazism than with the traumas and economic woes of the 1920s.

As the eurozone staggers from one crisis to the next, a growing consensus of opinion blames the Germans for the impasse. Europe’s most powerful economy, Germany stubbornly refuses to sanction what seems to many the obvious way out, which would involve the European Central Bank (ECB) printing money to lend to countries such as Italy that have accumulated more sovereign debt than they can cope with. The new cash flow would enable bondholders of government debt to be paid. Quantitative easing would stimulate demand as people and businesses spend the extra currency, kick-starting national economies and helping them to get over the crisis. Yet Angela Merkel’s conservative-led coalition in Berlin refuses to sanction this obvious step and the crisis continues. […] Eurosceptics in Britain are delighted. “What we are witnessing,” wrote Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail, “is the economic colonisation of Europe by stealth by the Germans. Once, it would have taken an invading military force to topple the leadership of a European nation. Today, it can be done through sheer economic pressure.” This is, he says, the “rise of the Fourth Reich”, in which Germany is “using the financial crisis to conquer Europe”. Fiscal union, favoured by some as the long-term solution, “would make Europe effectively a German empire” and lead to “a loss of sovereignty not seen… since many were under the jackboot of the Third Reich”.


Images of America in Crisis in the 1970s: As the 1960s came to an end, the rapid development of the American postwar decades had begun to take a noticeable toll on the environment, and the public began calling for action. In November 1971, the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a massive photo documentary project, called DOCUMERICA, to record these changes. More than 100 photographers were hired not only to document specific environmental issues, but to capture images of everyday life, showing how we interacted with the environment and capturing the way parts of America looked at that moment in history. By 1974, more than 80,000 photographs had been produced. The National Archives has made 15,000 of these images available, and I’ve spent much of the past week combing through those to bring you these 46 glimpses of America in the early 1970s, with an eye toward our then-ailing environment. [46 photos]

Images of America in Crisis in the 1970s: As the 1960s came to an end, the rapid development of the American postwar decades had begun to take a noticeable toll on the environment, and the public began calling for action. In November 1971, the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a massive photo documentary project, called DOCUMERICA, to record these changes. More than 100 photographers were hired not only to document specific environmental issues, but to capture images of everyday life, showing how we interacted with the environment and capturing the way parts of America looked at that moment in history. By 1974, more than 80,000 photographs had been produced. The National Archives has made 15,000 of these images available, and I’ve spent much of the past week combing through those to bring you these 46 glimpses of America in the early 1970s, with an eye toward our then-ailing environment. [46 photos]

Link: Did a Harvard Economics Class Cause the Financial Crisis?

Harvard grads frequently go on to highly influential jobs on Wall Street, at think tanks, and in government. Did the principles they learned in their alma mater’s most popular class cause America’s financial crisis and growing wealth gap? That’s the view of a group of approximately 70 students who walked out of professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s Economics 10 class this week in solidarity with the Occupy protests happening coast-to-coast. The students say the conservative slant of the economic theories taught by the prominent professor are driving policies that create inequality. According to their open letter to Mankiw—who advised President George W. Bush and now Mitt Romney—the free market, laissez faire capitalism he teaches to nearly 700 students every semester deprives students of “an analytic understanding of economics as part of a quality liberal arts education.”Mankiw’s academic influence also extends well beyond Harvard. His textbook, Principles of Economics, is widely used in introduction to economics classes nationwide.

In this RSA Animate, renowned academic David Harvey asks if it is time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that really could be responsible, just, and humane?

Great video.