Taking sides…once again

It is frankly disgusting how the same shitty playbook plays out again: the current “official” government of Yemen came into power when protests in 2011 turned into something approaching a civil war, with shelling of the presidential palace and fighting in the streets.

Saudi Arabia and a bunch of other actors took sides with the opposition against the government then in power. (and of course the US gave their agreement)
This is the same approach that those actors chose in Libya, btw, taking sides in a civil war against the government, just with more active involvement of European powers. And that they were too nervous to fully follow in Syria even though they want that government gone.

The resulting agreement was not exactly to the liking of all protesters and most importantly the Houthi minority in North Yemen, in part because the structure of the state itself didn’t really change much. Those Houthis had been opposed to the prior government and had been bombed by Saudi Arabia for it because the Saudis are nervous about Shiite rebels at their southern border. That same Saudi Arabia which eventually pushed out the government the Houthis were opposed to.

Over the last half year or so the Houthi have been winning a new civil war in Yemen. A few days ago, Sunni suicide bombers blew themselves up in Shiite mosques. The same kind of Sunni radicals that the US (and its “allies”) is currently supposedly so worried about in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia etc. – opposed to the Shiite militia winning the civil war in Yemen.
And yesterday Saudi Arabia and a bunch of other North African states (and apparently Pakistan) decided to intervene in the civil war in Yemen – on the side of the government (with logistical and intelligence support from the US). One of those states is Egypt, which pushed their own democratically elected government out by military force not too long ago without having been sanctioned for it in any way. Others include states that have flown air strikes against Sunni militias in Libya – not during the civil war against Gaddafi but during the current civil war, the one that followed Gaddafi’s ouster and death.

So armed rebellions against existing governments are wrong, unless they aren’t – as so often before. Or in the words of the US state department

Posted in civil war, geostrategy, military interventions | Leave a comment

That’s what you get when you hollow out the middle class

So, the supermarket chain Target closes down its Canada operation.

CBC News discusses this further in an article titled “Middle class retailers dying a slow death: Don Pittis“. And, of course, in a move nobody should be surprised by, their initial diagnosis has nothing to do with the stagnating or declining wages or some such, and everything with personal choice:

Aldwin Era is convinced that retailing is dividing in two, one for the rich and one for the poor. He has a simple theory about why: People no longer want to be seen as middle-class shoppers.

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Posted in developed countries, private debt, standards of living, wealth distribution | Leave a comment

From faulty premises

I assume that Vinod Khosla is a smart man. According to the byline under his recent Forbes piece titled “The Next Technology Revolution Will Drive Abundance And Income Disparity” notes that

Vinod Khosla co-founded Sun Microsystems and is the founder of Khosla Ventures, which focuses on sustainable energy and IT investments.

but the first couple of paragraphs get things so spectacularly wrong that his following “analysis” is effectively meaningless.
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Posted in belief systems, economic policy, standards of living, techno utopianism, technology assessment, wealth distribution | Leave a comment

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race

writes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yes, that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And he simply nails it, by calling out how the racism discussion is/will be a smoke-screen:

[U]nless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

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Posted in democracy, gender, media, Modes of control, oligarchy, Racism, Sexism | Leave a comment

“Sharing economy” is a euphemism for exploitation

CBS has a post up titled 5 ways the “sharing” economy works against workers. For those who don’t know, “sharing economy” refers to companies like AirBnB and Uber that have non-employees rent out private property like appartments or cars, and services and successfully skim off the top. The AirBnB-founder tries to coopt the terminology of Couch Surfing and use it as a shield. Yet, as CBS points out, this is just a great way of exploiting people:

Stability. One key difference between traditional employers and the Internet companies pioneering the sharing economy is that the latter can’t promise their employees steady income.
[…]
Income.[…]But such numbers can be deceiving. Companies may mention top-end pay or a gross amount for all workers. In fact, the pay for gigs appears not only far more modest, but often nowhere near a living wage.

Meanwhile, even when the cash seems good, much of the cost of running the business falls on workers.
[…]
Benefits. Most employers in the sharing economy don’t offer benefits because the drivers, maids and other workers in these industries aren’t employees.
[…]
Control. The companies that provide such services often emphasize the control people have over their time, and for some workers that flexibility can be a major plus. Yet unpredictable hours and unstable income can undermine that autonomy.
[…]
Protection. A key advantage for companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb is that they are largely, if not entirely, unregulated. Yet that is starting to change. Municipalities and states around the U.S. are now weighing whether and how to level the playing field. The legal and regulatory repercussions could end up falling more heavily on the drivers, renters and other individuals who participate in a given sector than on the tech companies providing the online framework for business.

So if you have the choice, spurn those companies’ offers – especially so if you try and shop exploitation-aware in other contexts, for instance trying to buy Fairtrade or organic.

Posted in exploitation, health benefits, Modes of control, workers' rights | Leave a comment

Of the idiocy of turning algorithms into law

Lambert is writing at Naked Capitalism about Algorithmic Regulation, “Code is Law,” and the Case of Ferguson. It’s a good deconstruction and should definitely be read but I had my facepalm-moment at the start of the piece when he quotes Tim O’Reilly:

Laws should specify goals, rights, outcomes, authorities, and limits. If specified broadly, those laws can stand the test of time.

Regulations, which specify how to execute those laws in much more detail, should be regarded in much the same way that programmers regard their code and algorithms, that is, as a constantly updated toolset to achieve the outcomes specified in the laws….

Increasingly, our interactions with businesses, government, and the built environment are becoming digital, and thus amenable to creative forms of measurement [one hopes not “creative” in the way creative accounting is creative], and ultimately algorithmic regulation….

There are many good examples of data collection, measurement, analysis, and decision-making taking hold in government. In New York City, data mining was used to identify correlations between illegal apartment conversions and increased risk of fires, leading to a unique cooperation between building and fire inspectors.

It’s important to understand that these manual interventions are only an essential first step. Once you understand that you have actionable data being systematically collected, and that your interventions based on that data are effective, it’s time to begin automating those interventions.

[A] successful algorithmic regulation system has the following characteristics:

  1. A deep understanding[2] of the desired outcome
  2. Real-time measurement to determine if that outcome is being achieved
  3. Algorithms (i.e. a set of rules) that make adjustments based on new data
  4. Periodic, deeper analysis of whether the algorithms themselves are correct and performing as expected.

This is absolutely mind-boggling! Any data mining researcher who has ever given this some thought agrees that such algorithms are only the tools and that the ways they can be employed (or are forbidden from being employed) have to be laid down in a political process.

And here is someone from outside who believes it should be the other way around…

Posted in belief systems, machine learning and data mining, techno utopianism | Leave a comment

Taxing consumers reduces growth – still!

So, the Japanese prime minister Abe proposed a bastard-Keynesian program for getting Japan out of its stagflation, nick-named Abenomics. But because he still effectively thinks neo-liberally, the program included a consumption tax increase to “balance the budget” (while at the same time reducing corporate taxes, of course).

Bill Mitchell has predicted for past such actions that they would reduce economic growth and was right.

And, as was to be expected by anybody in touch with reality, this has happened again:

  1. GDP contracted by 1.7pc between April and June, after a revised 1.5pc expansion in the first quarter after a consumer buying binge ahead of the increase.
  2. This translates to an annualised contraction of 6.8pc, but was less than the 7.1pc economists were expecting following the VAT rise in April, so the Nikkei edged up 0.2pc.
  3. With the exception of flat growth in the last quarter of 2013, this is the first quarterly contraction in nearly two years.
  4. Household or private consumption, which accounts for about 60pc of the economy, fell 5pc.
  5. Household investment shrank by 10.3pc, business investment fell only 2.5pc.

This happens so reliably, and we have had so many “natural experiments” since 2007/2008 that one would think that this is accepted wisdom by now. Well, one would be wrong:

9. Abe wants to raise taxes again to 10pc next year but he faces criticism over the pace of his efforts to shake up the highly regulated and protected economy.

Posted in austerity, belief systems, economic policy, macroeconomics, MMT, neo-liberalism | Leave a comment