The Crash

On May 2, 2011, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner sent his third ultimatum to Congress noting that the US is set to reach its statutory debt limit of $14.3 trillion by May 16, and unless the ceiling was raised by August 2, the country could face default. ‘The economy is still in the early stages of recovery,’ he warned, ‘and financial markets here and around the world are watching the United States closely.  Delaying action risks a loss of confidence and accompanying negative economic effects.’ These will have a ‘catastrophic economic impact’ and ‘broad range of government payments would have to be stopped, limited or delayed, including military salaries, Social Security and Medicare payments, interest on debt, unemployment benefits and tax refunds.’ It will also lead to ‘sharply higher interest rates and borrowing costs, declining home values and reduced retirement savings for Americans.’ Mostly ominously, it will ‘cause a financial crisis potentially more severe than the crisis from which we are only now starting to recover.’

The situation doubtless sounds dire, but there is something mildly ironic about a Treasury Secretary warning the government against losing the trust of an industry which he only recently rescued with an extraordinary cash transfusion of $4.1 trillion in public money. The real costs of the bailout are estimated by Bloomberg at $ 12.8 trillion. But it is easy to overlook the consistency in Geithner’s assessment: the US government was a hostage to the financial industry when it faced collapse, and it is a hostage to it when its own economic future turns increasingly uncertain. The doubling of US national debt between 2004 and 2011 is merely a symptom of the problem—two wars and the bailout have both paid a part—but at its root are the regulatory failures and conflict of interests which are embodied in the person of Timothy Geithner. For over two decades the US Treasury has functioned as a de facto arm of Wall Street, eschewing its regulatory function to act as a passive enabler. Little surprise then that three years after the crisis the institutions that caused the collapse continue to evade responsibility and the price is instead paid by the taxpayer in exorbitant, lost homes and depleting employment opportunities.

How did things go so bad?

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Whatever Happened to AIDS?

Lady Gaga

PULSE readers may not have noticed but Lady Gaga is dead. Justin Timberlake is dead. So are Alicia Keys, Elijah Wood and a host of other celebrities. Well not literally dead – ‘digital death’ is what they call it. This past Wednesday, on World AIDS Day, all of these people have seized communication with the outside world through their Twitter and Facebook accounts. (Some lower-caste people too have joined the invitation to commit digital suicide.) The basic aim is to raise money for Alicia Keys’ Keep a Child Alive charity. Only after fans have donated one million dollars to the cause, will the celebrities revive their digital lives.

It’s a great bargain. For as little as $10 not only will you not have to suffer the void in your everyday life of not “knowing where they are, what they had for dinner, or what interesting things are happening in their lives”, at the same time you buy yourself into a community that saves millions of lives and “give[s] millions of real people the care, love and hope they deserve”.

Do “what you always do”, says Keys, and save a few Africans.

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Manufacturing Consent and Violence: Azadi, Arundhati, Hindutva Terror, and Indian Media

by Huma Dar

At a groundbreaking seminar, ‘Azadi: The Only Way,’ organized by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) in New Delhi, India, on October 21st, 2010, the minutes record that Arundhati Roy, the prize-winning author of The God of Small Things, asserted that

[Kashmir] has never been an integral part of India and the Indian government recognised it as a disputed territory and took it to the UN on its own accord. In 1947 we were told that India became a sovereign democracy. But it became a country as per the imagination of its colonizer, and continued to be a colonizer even after the British left the country. Indian state forcibly or deceitfully annexed the North-East, Goa, Junagarh, Telangana, etc… the Indian state has waged a protracted war against the people which it calls its own. Who are the people it has waged war against? The people of North-East, Kashmir, Punjab, etc. This is an upper caste Hindu state waging a continuing struggle against the people. Continue reading “Manufacturing Consent and Violence: Azadi, Arundhati, Hindutva Terror, and Indian Media”

Mozambique’s Food Riots – the True Face of Global Warming

Thirteen people were killed and hundreds wounded last week in Mozambique when police cracked down on a three-day protest over a 30 percent hike in the price of bread. The UN says the riots in Mozambique should be a wake-up call for governments that have ignored food security problems since the global food crisis of 2008, when countries around the world saw angry protests in the streets over the rising prices of basic food items. In this extremely informative interview on Democracy Now!, Raj Patel connects the dots between climate change, financial speculation, land grabs across Africa, food sovereignity and global hunger.

Also check out Johann Hari’s recent article on the “speculation-starvation-bubble” behind the 2008 global ‘food crisis’, below the fold.

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The Spirit Level


I haven’t read The Spirit Level yet, but in his last book Ill Fares the Land, the late Tony Judt quotes from it extensively. The authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett base their work on what they call ‘evidence-based politics,’ an approach I also favour (as opposed to the theology that generally passes for analysis on the left). That the book has had an impact is confirmed by the fact that recently a host of conservative and neoconservative think-tanks (led by the raving-mad Policy Exchange) have launched a concerted campaign against it. Here is an interview with the authors in which they explain the argument of the book followed by Robert Booth’s report in the Guardian about the right-wing assault on their work.

Bestseller with cross-party support arguing that equality is better for all comes under attack from thinktanks

It was an idea that seemed to unite the political classes. Everyone from David Cameron to Labour leadership candidates Ed and David Miliband have embraced a book by a pair of low-profile North Yorkshire social scientists called The Spirit Level.

Their 274-page book, a mix of “eureka!” insights and statistical analysis, makes the arresting claim that income inequality is the root of pretty much every social ill – murder, obesity, teenage pregnancy, depression. Inequality even limits life expectancy itself, they said.

The killer line for politicians seeking to attract swing voters was that greater equality is not just better for the poor but for the middle classes and the rich too.

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Haiti: The politics of rebuilding

In the latest edition of Fault Lines, Avi Lewis travels to Port-au-Prince and to the Plateau Central to document the politics of rebuilding in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. It seems the complusion of Haiti’s former colonial masters to use the country and its people as a vast economic laboratory remains unceasing.

In the meantime, Isabel MacDonald at Huffington Post has compiled a “partial index of the West’s ‘humanitarian efforts’ in Haiti” to date:

  • Amount pledged for Haiti’s reconstruction over the following 18 months at the March 31 UN conference: $5,300,000,000
  • Percentage of this amount that has been paid: 1.9
  • Amount of pledged U.S. bilateral search and rescue assistance to Haiti that was delivered in the wake of the earthquake: $0

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Rise of the Flexians

By Muhammad Idrees Ahmad


May 26, 2010 (IPS) – In 2005, ahead of the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Irish rock star and philanthropist Bono dedicated a concert to Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs for his services to global poverty alleviation. Time magazine twice named Sachs one of its 100 Most Influential People. His 2005 book “The End of Poverty” was a New York Times bestseller. He has served as a special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals. In 2007 Vanity Fair was moved to declare him the “savior of Bolivia”.

From the fawning sobriquets it would be hard to tell that Sachs was the architect of the “economic shock therapy” which in Russia during the transition years (1991-1994) contributed to a 42 percent rise in male deaths, and 56 percent in unemployment. His Bolivian “reforms” brought inflation under control but unemployment, inequality and the cost of living soared.Following a decade of unrest, Russia was only saved by an authoritarian nationalist leadership and Bolivia by economic populism. The neoliberal experiment was a failure.

If Sachs has today recanted his extreme free-market views, it is only because of a personal epiphany. At the peak of his power, he was constrained by neither public censure nor official accountability.He is an exemplar of a new breed of influencers who operate in the interstices of official and private power and exploit the ambiguity of their multiple overlapping roles to evade both public oversight and market competition. It is this emerging power that is the subject of social-anthropologist Janine Wedel’s indispensable “Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market”.

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“Fair Trade Wants You!” The Neoliberal Politics of Conscious Consumption

By Kara Newhouse

“Fair trade is a hand up, not a handout.” I heard this distinction between charity and an economic exchange many times while doing anthropology research among fair trade advocates. With today marking World Fair Trade Day, it’s a good time to examine what fair trade is, and what it isn’t.

The Premise

The premise of “fair trade” is to create markets in the Global North for goods from the Global South, either through businesses that sell directly from the producers (usually handicrafts) or through third party commodity labeling.

Often when people hear about my research on this phenomenon, they ask, “So is it really fair?” This question assumes that “good/bad” labels can be accurately deployed to understand the world’s problems and remedies. The justness of fair trade on the production end of the exchange should be evaluated based on many factors, including the producers’ involvement in shaping what is considered “fair” trade. Other researchers are attempting such evaluations, and the results differ by region and product. Beyond assessing the “fairness” of this consumer movement, I am interested in the roots of fair trade’s appeal to people of the Global North. To understand that, I analyzed the marketing of fair trade goods and interviewed fair trade advocates.

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Outing the Muslimness, Finally: Some Viewing (and Hearing) Pleasures (The King is Out: Part VI)

The King is out: he is irreversibly a Muslim. His name is Khan: pronounce it correctly please. Long Live the King!

by Huma Dar

[Read Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V]

Rizwan Khan Offering His Namaz

[I]n one scene I wanted to have just a half open door and I wanted to be shown saying namaz once. We couldn’t take that shot. Then we put that bit where I say the prayer: Nasrun minal lahe wah fatahun kareeb (God give me strength to win) [sic] [Victory is Allah’s, and the opening/victory is close] which is my own prayer too. I don’t think we should intellectualise entertainment.  See the fun of it.

This is how Shahrukh Khan describes his experience working in the film Chak De! India (Dir: Shimit Amin, 2007).  With apologies to King Khan for discarding his proposal to not “intellectualize” films, yet taking due “fun” in it, I argue that it is only in My Name is Khan (Dir: Karan Johar, 2010) that the King finally comes “out” as a Muslim.  No “half open door” is needed.  This coming out affords particular visceral pleasures to an audience (or at least a large section of it spread across the globe) long resigned to seeing SRK endlessly and persistently marked by the specifically filmic variety of Hinduness practiced in Bollywood: doing various pujas and aartis at different Hindu temples, or adorning his spouses’ hair-parting with sindhoor and smearing his own forehead with tilaks.  This performative Hinduization of Shahrukh Khan in Urdu-Hindi cinema is unrelenting precisely due to the dogged presumption of SRK’s Muslimness that is not easily obscured.  “In my films I have been going to temples and singing bhajans; no one has questioned that,” (my emphasis) SRK exclaims in the same interview.  No one “questions” the diegetic (filmic) Hinduness of SRK; it is expected and mandatory.  With the increasing and explicit polarization in India since 1990s, the anxiety around Muslimness is such that it requires perpetual masking: an iterative performance of Hinduness, secular or otherwise.  When the mask slips off, the performance is momentarily paused – as when SRK plays a Muslim character in a film and critiqued the anti-Pakistani politics of Indian Premier League (IPL) – Hindutva activists target SRK’s suburban Bombay home, Mannat, with massive demonstrations (See the earlier Part II for more).[1]

Continue reading “Outing the Muslimness, Finally: Some Viewing (and Hearing) Pleasures (The King is Out: Part VI)”

Secretary Gates, Colombia, and Paying Your Client States

Another broken promise: Secretary Gates promotes US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement as a way to "reward" the Uribe government. Photo from Flickr user ZenaShots.

When asked in a Presidential debate why he opposed the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, Barack Obama framed his concerns with Colombia’s deplorable human rights record. Now that he is President and the labor movement is far more inconsequential, these concerns have evidently withered away. Yesterday, Secretary of Defense and Bush Administration carry-over Robert Gates was in Bogota expounding on the need to pay off America’s client state. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

Defense Department officials have favored the pact as a way to reward Colombia for its successful effort at beating back drug trafficking and the country’s insurgency…

“Colombia’s success against terrorists and narco-traffickers does offer a lot of opportunities for them to share their expertise,” Gates said. “We certainly would like to see . . . other countries take advantage of Colombia’s strengths.”

Yes, Colombia has done a smashing job of fighting people like this. Meanwhile, the United States Labor Education in the Americas Project informs us that Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world for union organizers. More trade unionists have been assassinated in Colombia in the last six years than the rest of the world combined. As for those advances in human rights Gates mentions in the Times report, Colombia still has an impunity rate of 96% in the more than 2,700 worker’s-rights related murders that have been perpetrated in the last twenty years. Perhaps Amnesty International put it best when they reported on the threats facing human rights activists in the country: “Such hostility has been fomented by the Government, which appears to perceive human rights and security as mutually exclusive.”