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I feel like I left a lot of conversations hanging this past couple of weeks, because things at work got hectic. Sorry about that. There are things I want to talk about, but I'm feeling too scattered to gather my thoughts as coherently as I feel I should. So for now, some links that you've probably already seen, but I love these things too much not to mention them:

An alternate timeline of racefail '09.
Verb Noire, a small press for work featuring PoC, and you can comment here if you're interested in volunteering, and here to donate startup costs.
The first Asian Women's Blog Carnival; the call for submissions is here and the deadline is April 3rd.

Also, some time ago [livejournal.com profile] marej asked me what I thought of the stimulus package, and I hadn't thought of it much so I told her I'd get back to her. And, I still haven't thought of it much, and have no real desire to spend time researching just what projects are in it and what the affects would be and why, because, quite honestly, in the worst case scenario that is looking increasingly likely, I don't think it's going to make much of a difference. When you're falling off a cliff a flimsy safety net at the bottom isn't going to do much good, and at times I think that's exactly what's going to happen to this economy.

some ramblings )

On a completely different note - today's the most beautiful day we've had yet this year; the light is amazing and the sun is so bright and warm and soothing. I feel like going for a run, but am still a bit too afraid to. Soon though!

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Race Fail 2009 (This year it seems like we're having the energizer bunny version.)

About two weeks ago, Elizabeth Bear posted about "writing the other without being a dick", which she seemed to find actually pretty simple. Because she had been Other all her life, and she knew that even the people who were not just like her were still people and were still her (so brown people like me would be her with cows and curry and weird-ass notions of karma sprinkled on top? I'm still not clear.)

Some people thought that there might be more to it, that Bear's own work was problematic. But we can ignore them, because they are terrible readers and not so good with the subtext, being oversensitive and paranoid and seeing problematic depictions of race where there is only an intent to illuminate and ~enlighten~. And if they wanted to do something constructive (for a change), [livejournal.com profile] mac_stone was there to lead the way.

But strangely enough, there were all these dumb uneducated abusive nutty PoC with their sycophants allies that just would not let it go and persisted in bringing their own views to the table.

But never fear, to Elizabeth Bear it was all just an *awful* lot of noise, which got tiresome after a while so she moved on (and her book sales were up because of the noise YAY).

Yet people persisted in talking about this, and that was just not on, because hadn't the caravan left?

So Teresa Nielsen Hayden has just stepped in to lay down the law.
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I was talking about the auto-industry bailout with a friend today, and he linked me to a couple of blogposts that I'm still mulling over. I agree with the poster's view that unions were vital to creating an American middle class, that we have a lot to thank them for, and that if the American auto industry was allowed to fail as the Republicans want it to, it would be completely devastating for the workers of this country. But then I reached this part:

So why do crunchy Detroit-hating liberals refuse to acknowledge GM's innovation? Why is it so much easier just to follow these common memes of hatred and loathing rather consider that these companies might be worth saving not just for the jobs and the economy of the Rust Belt, but for the innovation that our American engineers and designers might bring to the table?

- and it was like, where has this guy been for the past twenty years? I don't know specifics about the auto industry, but I do know that the big three have been doing everything they could to stifle competition and innovation and prevent Congress from imposing necessary environmental standards, and for anyone to claim otherwise seems kind of insane. Where was this guy when GM founded the Global Climate Coalition in 1989, which funded denialist think-tanks and spent millions of dollars deriding climate change as unproven science, which is probably the single biggest reason why many Americans think that Climate Change is a controversial theory? Where was he when GM pulled the plug on its electric car over ten years ago because they thought that its gas guzzlers would be more profitable? Where was he when GM was pouring millions of dollars into Washington lobbying against raising the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, threatening massive job losses and bankruptcies if they were passed? Where was he when they were filing lawsuits against states that attempted to limit vehicle carbon emissions? Where was he when they pushed for a legal loophole for SUVs that made them exempt from the fuel efficiency guidelines smaller vehicles had to follow and allowed buyers to deduct their costs, which resulted in thousands of professionals buying those vehicles and a loss to taxpayers of about $1 billion for every 1,000 such SUVs sold? Where was he when they funded the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which launched several misleading ad campaigns stating that increased fuel economy standards would decrease the safety and functionality of automobiles? Where was he when the CEO of GM called global warming a crock of shit and claimed that fuel efficient cars made no economic sense? Where was he when GM was doing everything it could to stop states from adopting stricter environmental standards?

Am I just supposed to forget these things because OH LOOK, GM says that there's a car coming out two years from now that will be completely fuel efficient, we don't need the government to impose harsher restrictions, we're doing everything we can for our consumers and this country and this world trust us we promise??

GM does not stand for innovation; it's a reactionary company that has done everything it could these past twenty years to block it, and it's going to take a lot more than ludicrous attempts at greenwashing or empty promises of fuel efficient cars to make me believe that it has changed, especially when those promises seem to be nothing more than another political ploy, a way to once again stop Congress from passing higher CAFE standards. Because what's at stake here isn't just auto workers from Detroit; what's at stake is the survival of the three billion poor in the world, the ones that live on less than $2 a day, some who can't afford to move from the coasts, and if the current trend isn't reversed, stand lose their homes and possibly their lives to floods or cyclones; some who will lose their livelihoods because of desertification; some who will face water shortages because of retreating glaciers; some who will die of diseases directly attributable to climate change; some who will die, are dying, of hunger because the environment that they depended on is no longer able to provide them with enough food. And to not acknowledge this is just as infuriating and short-sighted as the so-called latte-sipping liberals on the coasts failing to acknowledge the hardships of the auto-workers in Detroit. And, yeah, I find the amount of derision and hate directed towards this demographic, in that post and others, quite amazing, especially considering that the ones who are blocking the auto bailout are the conservatives. There are many cases where progressive liberals have gotten things wrong, but their distrust of the big three, imo, isn't one of them.

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I haven't been too impressed by Obama's cabinet appointments so far, and Vilsack as the head of the USDA is no exception. I mean, what is this? Obama promises to work against corporate interests, and then turns around to select a Monsanto lackey as head of the Department of Agriculture? (And, unsurprisingly enough, the MSM seem to see nothing wrong with this.)

I liked this article from Daily Kos, explaining why GMOs are a bad idea.

excerpt:

So what about GMOs? Well, we tinker with a gene or two, and then we put it out in nature for a test run. Over time, nature will work it out. Nature always does. But it does it on nature's schedule... the resulting chaos in the ecosystem could even take thousands of years to be resolved. Nature and humans work on very different timelines. In other words, we can really screw ourselves with GMOs in the short run, even if nature successfully incorporates our GMOs into the ecosystem in the long run.

The difference between GMOs and pesticides is that GMOs are forever. Some pesticides stay in the environment for a long time. Others can break down in the environment rather quickly. But what's a long time for a pesticide? A century? That's the blink of an eye in the evolutionary process. The amount of risk involved in putting GMOs into the environment WILL NEVER equal the benefit, particularly considering the non-risky options we have at our fingertips for accomplishing the same goals.

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More on the credit crisis:

The Genesis Plan, which imo comes much closer to what Congress should have done. The only reservation I have is that I don't think the author realizes just how undercapitalized and overleveraged banks are right now, and major steps would have to be taken to insure that a few do survive, at least in the short term - there are only so many shocks that the financial system can take at one time without bringing down the entire economy. I'm of the opinion right now that our financial system is completely flawed and must be taken down if we ever want to have a clean recovery, however, it must be dismantled carefully if we don't want the entire economy to crumble. The problem with regulators and lawmakers, however, is that they're going to deny this until its too late, and the author of the Genesis plan goes into why here.

Other than this plan, there is also the option of making banks write down all losses, followed by the complete nationalization of the banking system, which no one seems to have even the guts to contemplate.

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Nothing to lose but our illusions: an interview with David Edwards

It's weird to come across an article whose premise I agree with so much and which also, at the same time, I cannot take seriously at all.

The beginning paragraph - "After climbing the business career ladder for most of his twenties, David Edwards left his management-level marketing job to become a writer. He had no idea how he was going to make a living, but the standard version of success had increasingly felt to him like a terrible, deadening failure. "Three things had become obvious to me," the English author says: "the misery of conventional 'success'; the vast and perhaps terminal havoc this 'success' was wreaking on the world; and the fact that no one was talking about either." - I can totally, totally relate to this. At the same time, though, the author strikes me as very naive, in that he doesn't realize just how few people are going to be able to do what he did, the large amount of privilege he has that allows him to step off the conventional path - to quit his job and move to Thailand and teach there. How is someone who has parents or children or a spouse to support supposed to do this, or someone who has loans to repay, or someone who isn't white and can't get a job as easily as he did, or someone who can't afford to fly to another state let alone another third world country, or someone who didn't have parents that were able to afford the education he received that allowed him to get the management-level job he did, enabling him to have enough initial money to contemplate another path, so on and so forth. It's the blind assumption that everyone can do as he did, and not just that but encouraging them to do so, without realizing that there is a social pyramid and by being who he is, white and male, he has always been on top of it, and that is what affords him the freedom to do as he did without completely wrecking his life and that of others who depend on him.

Also, the fact that it was written in 2000 and portrays Bill Clinton as the antichrist, which um. YEAH. That said, though, I completely agree with his views re: the emptiness of our current consumerist society and the damage it wrecks both on others & to our own psyches. There's this anecdote I once heard - I can't exactly recall where - of a tiger that had been imprisoned in a small cage ever since he was a baby, and then one day the cage was taken away, and yet he still prowled in the same exact area, back and forth and back and forth, caged by now invisible bars. That's what most people - that's what our culture itself - reminds me of.

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In other news, I would like my life to settle down and become a little bit less crazy. I am tired by now of living in interesting times! I WANT MY DAYS OF BOREDOM BACK.

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A post describing racism and its effects.

"Being anti-racist means more than refraining from using racist language. You can scrub every single racial epithet from your vocabulary and still be a racist. If you feel the overwhelming need to cross the street when you see a group of young black men in fear, that is racist behaviour. If you never think to question when you see blacks portrayed in the media as drug addicted criminals, that is racist. If you can mentally picture all of your friends and cannot point to a single one that belongs to a marginalized group, that is racist. If you think that by consuming food from a different culture you are displaying your global ideals, that is racist. If you believe that you can appropriate cultural symbols and wear them for the sake of fashion, that is racist. This list can go on and on because daily people participate in actions that are either directly racist, or have racist undertones, with little or no thought to the bodies that it effects."

*

This reminds me of a video I was linked to recently, a conversation between Whoopi Goldberg and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the neo-conservative blonde on The View, about racism. Hasselbeck was talking about how terrible African-Americans were for using the N-word, how was she supposed to teach her children not to use it if they did, didn't they realize that they all lived in the same world? And Goldberg called her on that, saying that they didn't, her experiences were completely different, and in response Hasselbeck - started crying.

Point goes to Hasselbeck for such effective personification of the "WHY ARE YOU BEING SO MEAN TO ME ME ME" defense.

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Make Believe Maverick, a Rolling Stone article that makes John McCain seem worse than George W. Bush.

*

I think the articles I agree with the most on the financial crisis are these from the UK. I'd never come across the website before, and I'm still not quite sure who they are, but what they say and how they describe the current problem makes sense.

Their view on the bailout.

"SchNEWS never thought that Neo Labour would do so much to boost the welfare state. Over the last six months the government has pumped an unprecedented (and gigantic) amount of cash into the welfare system. The only trouble is that this money is not heading for the needy, but the greedy as we’re talking about the welfare state...for big business.

The country’s wealth is being squandered supporting the very company shareholders that have been arguing for years that, in Maggie Thatcher’s words, “the business of government is not the government of business.” Interfering politicians hell-bent on regulating the market only serve to hamper the competitive spirit, say the profit-hungry capitalists. Unless, that is, the interference comes in the form of hard cash designed to prop up their ailing investments at a time of crisis.

Following ‘Meltdown Monday’ and the ensuing turmoil in the corridors of global capital earlier this week, rampant free-marketeers are now clambering for more government cash to bail out the banking and financial system. And we are talking intergalactic telephone numbers. After years of sucking out huge commissions, profits and bonuses (Krug all round!), recorded losses for the banking and insurance sectors are now running at £275,000,000,000 - and it is estimated that this figure will double over the next twelve months. So far the most ‘market friendly’ governments in the world have pumped enough money into the system to cover 80% of these losses. Some analysts are estimating that Western governments will spend $1 trillion of public money bailing out the financial corporate sector and it’s shareholders. Shareholders who have been only too happy to reap the benefits in recent years, without ever worrying about how their miraculous wealth was actually being created."

Their description of the credit crisis.

"Household debt has increased from 50% of GDP in 1980 to 100% in 2007. Financial sector borrowing has gone from 21% to 116% of assets in the same period. In fact, a chief cheerleader of the brave new financial world was the former boss of now bust Goldman Sachs – one Henry Paulson. He took them from $20 billion in debts in 1999 to $100 billion when he left. Having helped cause the crisis, and getting rich off it, he’s now the man putting forward the bail out plan as US Treasury Secretary. Despite self-imposed limits, Governments have also ramped up their debt levels – achieved by privatising everything in sight and putting all the deals ‘off balance sheet’ (thanks, Gordon!)

So lenders now routinely now lend out more than the total assets of the company. It was all made possible by massive deregulation, the completion of the project started in the Thatcher / Reagan free market era, as big business and their lobbies finally succeeding in getting politicians completely in their pocket, and indeed direct pay. Light touch regulation gave way to feather light.

Read more... )

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According to CNBC, the financial crisis can be summed up as this - people eating too many hamburgers instead of sushi!* (AND YOU THOUGHT IT WAS COMPLICATED, DIDN'T YOU?)

I cannot believe I have to listen to these idiots all day, on top of every-fucking-thing else.

* announcer [trying to describe the reluctance of people to put money in banks]: It is like no one wants to eat sushi, and the Fed is trying to convince them to eat sushi!
announcer [40 minutes later, trying to describe why the bailout should pass]: when someone gets a heart attack from eating too many hamburgers, you treat them first, you don't tell them that they shouldn't have eaten hamburgers!
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Some of you are probably aware of how idiotic I found the arguments in hack-economist Friedman's The World is Flat. Imagine my glee when I found out that there has been a recently published book that says the same, though using nicer words: The World Is Flat? A Critical Analysis of NYT Bestseller by Thomas Friedman. I like the reviews like this:

"However, Thomas Friedman's runaway bestseller, The World is Flat, is dangerous. Friedman makes "arguments by assertion," assertions based not on documented facts, but on stories from friends and elite CEOs he visits --not even one footnote reference. Yet his book influences business and government leaders around the globe. By what it leaves out, it does nothing more than misinform the American people and our leaders.

Aronica and Ramdoo show that the world isn't flat; it's tilted in favor of unfettered global corporations that exploit cheap labor in China, India and beyond. This concise monograph brings clarity to many of Friedman's misconceptions, and explores nine key issues that Friedman largely ignores, including the hollowing out of America's debt-ridden middle class. To create a fair and balanced exploration of globalization, the authors cite the work of experts that Friedman fails to incorporate, including Nobel laureate and former Chief Economist at the World Bank, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz."

And, especially this review by Bharat Raj:

"Thomas Friedman's book was triggered by the CEO of an Indian software company in Bangalore who said the playing field was being leveled. Then, as only a celebrity pundit can do, Friedman spun a sound bite, "The World is Flat," and garnished story after story from his elite contacts, while avoiding contact with the likes of Dr. Vandana Shiva, Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology & Ecology and others who have a different perspective on what's really happening in India.

Here's a snippet from Dr. Shiva in Aronica and Ramdoo's book, "Friedman presents a 0.1% picture and hides 99.9%. And in the 99.9% are Monsanto's seed monopolies and the suicides of thousands of farmers. In the hidden 99.9% economy are thousands of tribal children in Orissa, Maharashtra, Rajasthan who died of hunger because the public distribution system for food has been dismantled to create markets for agribusiness. The world of the 99.9% has grown poorer because of the economic globalisation. Free-trade is about corporate freedom and citizen disenfranchisement. What Friedman is presenting as a new `flatness' is in fact a new caste system, a new Brahminism, locked in hierarchies of exclusion. By presenting open sourcing in the same category as outsourcing and off shore production, Friedman hides corporate greed, corporate monopolies and corporate power, and presents corporate globalisation as human creativity and freedom. This is deliberate dishonesty, not just result of flat vision."

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From [livejournal.com profile] pollanesque, the benefits of buying fair trade coffee. I like how Cafe Direct seems to have as one of its primary objectives the empowerment of farmers through education & other means; will have to look out for the brand the next time I buy coffee.

I also went to the blog of the writer, and found the convo in the comments about the benefits/drawbacks of free trade interesting.

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Guantanamo: Beyond the Law
I wonder when the majority of Republicans are going to realize (if they ever do) that the greatest threat to democracy right now isn't terrorism but the actions that the Bush administration has taken, and that they have endorsed, in the name of combatting it. (And don't even get me started on all the spineless Democrats that just rolled over and let them because they didn't want to appear "soft on terror", which really should be translated as hard on basic human rights. The hypocrisy of it all leaves such a bad taste in my mouth.)

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Beginning with an article I whole-heartedly endorse.

This article talks about the food crisis that we're facing today, the real extent of which I hadn't even realized. One of the things that struck me was when it discussed the migration of farmers to cities. An excerpt:

One of the major factors pushing this mass and continuing migration to the cities—in addition to being landless or forced off land—is the difficulty to make a living as a small farmer. This has been made especially difficult, as countries have implemented the “neoliberal” policies recommended or mandated by the IMF, the World Bank, and even some of the western NGOs working in the poor countries of the third world. The neoliberal ideology holds that the so-called free market should be allowed to work its magic. Through the benign sanctions of the “invisible hand,” it is said, the economy will function most efficiently and will be highly productive. But in order for the market to be “free” governments must stop interfering.

This is just one in a long list of examples that can be cited of how international organizations have messed up when it comes to third-world countries, waving the banner of free-market capitalism to advocate short-sighted and harmful policies. It makes me rather cynical, especially when I read about economists like Jeffrey Sachs (whose advocation of shock-therapy privatization led to such harm in Russia, not to mention prolonging the East Asian crisis). In the case of Sachs, he'd been advocating his flawed policies for decades, and that it took him this long to realize that perhaps there was something wrong with his theory, that most other economists like him still haven't realized this, is rather sobering. What makes the situation unintentionally ironic is that, in this article, (the new! reformed!) Sachs is using Malawi as the support for one of his arguments, when the only way Malawi was able to make such drastic improvements was by ignoring everything that experts like him, from atop their Ivory Towers and their positions in the World Bank and the IMF, were advocating. Not to mention, some of the policies he now advocates are just as, ahem, reality-challenged as those he used to, just in a different Bono-endorsed way. And this seems to be an endemic failing of many economists, how convinced they are of the rightness of their simplistic Friedman-style models, that yes, do work sometimes, but only in limited real-world situations, and failing to acknowledge these limitations can result in wide-scale damage.

Now, to address what Professor Bhagwati says in the same article, about what's required to deal with the food crisis:
"For the long term, the measures to moderate the prices of foodgrains will require attention to at least three policies where we will have to rethink matters: (1) a moderation of the planned reliance on biofuels and turning to nuclear energy instead; (2) the acceptance of genetically modified foods which promise to continue the green revolution in the modern age; and (3) the shift in governmental investment priorities to agriculture."

I don't exactly disagree with (1), in that I do think planned reliance on biofuels is a mistake, but I think he's missing the larger picture here. He's doing what politicians and economists generally do, assuming that the problem is the type of energy we consume, when the real problem is the amount, that what we have to do is find ways to cut back.

As to (2) - ohboy, where to start? The assumption that the "Green Revolution" (I hate this name) was a great thing, which is problematic for some of the reasons I talked about here, but most importantly this. Using synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is probably the linchpin of the green revolution, the reason that it became so successful, for such fertilizers were able to dramatically increase yields. Now, forget for a moment that their use reduces the nutritional value of the foods, results in long-term degradation of the soil, and that their runoff bleeds into rivers and creates dead zones. Even without this, the statement that Bhagwati made would still be tremendously dumb, because synthetic fertilizers require fossil fuels to make. So when someone so unthinkingly promotes the policies of the Green Revolution, what they are promoting is the substitution of fossil fuel energy for solar energy, a renewable resource that we don't have to worry about for at least a few million (billion?) years, and just looking at the sky-high oil prices today reveals the folly of doing so.

And um. Genetically modified foods are going to be the magic bullet that solves everything? Because we all know how safe such foods are and how solid the science underlying them is? Because they're magically going to create farmlands out of desert or ocean or land depleted by Green Revolution farming methods or perhaps yield a beanstalk so high that we can climb it into the land of never-ending Cargill-endorsed fertility?

Also, (3), while I can't speak for India or other countries, the government in the US already invests billions of dollars into agriculture. It's just investing in the wrong things, providing incentives not for sustainable small-scale farms but the chemical-rich pesticide-rich large-scale farms that've brought us to the impasse that we're in today.

Andd, I'm running out of time. More on this issue later.

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Why Bother?
A NYTimes essay by Michael Pollan that asks why, amidst so much conflicting information, we should bother changing our habits to become more enivornmentally-friendly, especially when the problem is so large and individual changes make a marginal at best difference. I really liked his argument on why those changes are worth making, but like I said on the pollaneque comm, I hated the way it was framed, setting up the socially-responsible US citizen against his evil Chinese twin counterpart who's busy buying fuel-inefficient cars, when the evil Chinese twin leaves half the carbon footprint that the average US citizen does. Way to deny national guilt right there.

how we're wrecking our feet with every step we take
A NY Magazine article on why shoes are bad for our feet that I found eye-opening.

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