Sunday, 10 August 2014

autarky or war of words

It is strange how words become ammunition in reporting:

one would, reading the coverage of Russia's decision to impose strict limits on imports of US and EU goods, think it was something that could be laughed-off and easily dismissed as a bluff or empty-threat, whereas the commensurable response by the West and associates is called by the more macho name of embargo. Sparingly, the term sanctions is sometimes applied. Pretensions aside, I believe that it is a buyers' market, and it is not so easy to find contingency consumers as it is to find alternate suppliers.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

montagsdemo oder wir sind das volk

Though never claiming to be the moral successor to the Montagsdemonstrationen, those peaceful rallies that took place in the late eighties in the public square of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig, spreading to other cities, protesting the ruling party in East Germany and instrumental in making imminent the reunification, the German press is drawing parallels to a movement began this Spring in Hamburg called Vigils for Peace (Mahnwachen fรผr den Frieden).

The fact that these assemblies, propagated to cities all over Germany, also take place on Mondays, apparently makes the organisers an easy target and fuels the disdain of journalists, which in turn forms public-opinion or ignorance thereof. The Vigils were originally called together to discuss Russian overtures in the Crimea and enlighten people to other dangerous potential parallels, but the group soon expanded its focus, given that Germany seems at times a humble understudy in foreign affairs—a second to the US and EU (a role particularly convenient when one's economic relations are jeopardised). Also they shifted their focus, because we cycle faster and faster from one crisis to another and often new developments are suffered (publicised loudly) with a pretext of distraction—attention having become the most scarce commodity. Now the discussion includes integrity in reporting, Germany's relationship with the US and above all the monetary authority of reserve banks—especially the Fed—and how they influence governments nonpareil. Though barely mentioned during the escalation of tensions in Ukraine, now that the vigilantes might want to essay the bigger-picture, they are dismissed by the media as a band of conspiracy-theorists, and labeled with the muting attributes of being right-leaning and anti-Semitic. Though tolerated and ultimately effective, I wonder how the state-controlled press regarded the Montagsdemos.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

duress or just like a boss

Spiegel's International Desk (auf Englisch) features an interview with the one of the Fugitive’s lawyers and another former agency contractor regarding the US intelligence apparatchik's unflagging pursuit of complete, omnipotent surveillance and Germany's relationship as a junior partner. The short but insightful piece equates that drive to a form of state-sanctioned religion, having one self-same loftier aim of population-control, foiled with another much more mundane and human of having the economic upper-hand and influence over government regulation in business and for emerging technologies. Of course I rationally understood these sort of goals, especially being able to poll the mood of mergers and acquisitions or trade agreements before they were put before national assemblies or eked out to a public, with or without any input into the proposal, and adjust language and sciency-sounding reviews accordingly.
I knew that the US government and its branches were basically indentured servants, in peonage, to its corporate masters. I held on to one or two naรฏve beliefs, however, until hearing how the agency had enjoyed an uneasy but privileged spot in its host-nation of Germany since the conclusion of WWII, and all checks and balances and feet-dragging were summarily dismissed in the wake of 9/11, when even despite public renunciation of the aggression, Germany became an unquestioning staging-ground. Privately—at least among politicians—the grief and guilt that Germany had to bear over having allowed the 9/11 hijackers to reside in their country was something graver than the other guilt and shame that Germany already carried and had no choice in this polite world other than to acquiesce. That—for me, instantly dispelled any room for some fretful but ultimately benevolent ideology or unbridled patriotism driving America's businesses' posture and insatiable hunger for control and dominance at any cost. The public face of it, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency (nor of no other country neither), are just costly work-horses and can visit no end of humiliation and intimidation upon individuals—costly as well in terms of political capital and good-will, but that price is dwarfed by what corporations, which know no allegiance nor shame, stand to gain and tithe the government for its services. This exercise is far from one in security, and despite pretensions and campaigns to the contrary, it is solely concerned with maintaining and increasing treasure and comfort for the few.

Friday, 4 July 2014

one percenters or singing for your supper

Although there have been recent developments in the court room that seem to favour hyper-capitalism, I suspect that litigation between the government of Argentina and a hedge-fund manager is far from over. When the South American nation's economy was down-and-out and on the verge of collapse, a band of merry angel investors bought up bonds at a few pennies on the dollar. Now that the Argentine economy is back on its feet and the bonds have matured, from being not worth the paper they were printed on to being worth billions of dollars (on paper) and the hedge-fund team is demanding payment in full. Never mind that making this payment would destroy the Argentine market all over again and the their initial predatory investment did not in anyway help the country to extract itself from the financial mess, which is ostensibly why countries expose themselves to such vultures in the first place. US judges have again ruled that the hedge-fund manager has the right to his claim—though it would be nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory. Though smug and satisfied with this impossible ruling, I think that they would like nothing more than to see the proceedings drag on and only threaten to foreclose on Argentina, since that's what banks do best.  As sad as this tale is, it is not unique.
With historically low interest rates, banks are disinclined still to lend to mere mortals when or conduct the non-swash-buckling daily work of the institutions, being that the banks themselves can afford to borrow money from central banks the world over at say one percent interest and use that loan to purchase government bonds and securities, which pays dividends back to the bank of two to three percent, effectively making the government pay banks for this bit of the banksters' entertainment. Why would the bother with anything else than this safe and secure scheme? Government and the markets conspire to keep this economic theatre going, making cosmetic adjustments here and there when the system looks in danger of collapse.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

comptoir national d'escompte

Already facing bullying by US authorities for violating (US) economic sanctions imposed against certain unfriendly nations during the past decade, France's diplomatic judgment and will is being freshly questioned by America.  It’s a tragic irony that a nation’s banks and military-industrial complex, instead of the crown and sceptre, have become the synecdoche for a government, people and posture.  Told it would be unwise to allow the sale of a new warship to Russia, the French government appears to be the victim of blackmail—by some estimations.  Given that the fines for sanctions, in the billions and far exceeding the bank’s annual profits, were already reduced in exchange for pleading guilty to charges of falsifying records and conspiracy (bad behavior certainly, but unrelated to the indictment of doing business with Iran, Cuba et. al) and the punitive scolding of denying the bank the ability to conduct dollar transactions was dropped, it seems like it can’t be anything else than extortion and backing out of a deal with Russia might bring the judgment down further.

The dollar embargo seems like a secondary punishment but the potential effects are much greater, as the French bank manages a huge basket of American pension funds, which could go into receivership if the bank is suspended, and stopping dollar transactions for any significant period of time could further destablise the Euro-Zone economy, especially in the current environment, when there is pressure on all banks to lend and encourage growth (coerced not just by the rhetoric of politicians but also with negative interest rates) and at the same time to strengthen their assets and reserves in preparation for an upcoming audit of the system’s ability to weather a crisis (stress-test).  There is also the matter of the Trans-Atlantic Trade Agreement between the EU and the States that is entering its final phase of negotiation just now.  What do you think—is it blackmail or enforcement?  Swiss banks were served also a couple months ago, admitting to allegations it tutored US citizens on tax-avoidance and obfuscation.  There seems to be a double-standard (or a higher-standard) to which some are held, in any case, as there have been no judgments for US banking institutions despite their admission of complicity and profit in connection to the price-fixing and manipulation scheme of borrowing and lending among banks—the so-called LIBOR scandal where the interest-rates on those generally short-term loans were falsified. 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

terms-of-trade

America’s chief export, with the hearty support of an endless string of industrialists and fund managers (whose livelihoods are fully vested in keeping up appearances and maintaining the status quo) and legal and political framework of intimidation and opportunism that is in every way constituted to ensure the enduring favourable market conditions, has been war and strife for quite some time.  The trade has not been limited, of course, to proxy fighting but such business is easily over-shadowed by more direct lines of engagement in recent years.

With the situation in Ukraine once again pitching towards chaos after the lifting of a cease-fire, brokered by Russia but terminated by the sovereign government’s frustrations for not being able to defend itself from separatist—reportedly pro-Russian fighters, who were not abiding by the conditions of the stand-down.  This conflict is very opaque and tossing up more filters and lenses is not the most helpful activity, but one wonders if from the vantage point of the future, finding oneself in a bleaker dystopia than the one we are living in already, the context and understanding of American meddling might seem clearer.   Just as Eastern Europe had no voice for foreign policy nor internal affairs contrary to that of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the bloc of the European Union and much of the rest of the world is held ransom by American dictates—with banking regulations, the media, asymmetrical trade treaties and political sympathies kept in check.
Ukraine’s request to lift the cease-fire, with the professed backing of America, was apparently promulgated by a resolution announced by the EU condemning Russian suppression of Ukrainian pro-Western factions.   Explicitly or implicitly, all of this looks to be orchestrated by America—including the sovereign government of Ukraine, whose opposition has just-cause to fear, considering who might have installed it and decrees its loyalties.  America’s vying for compassion is not to promote Democracy (not even, I think, in the face of Communism) but only hegemony, ensuring its interests and markets are protected and that competition is eliminated.  If Russia’s pulled asunder—over this tug-of-war pitch called Old and New Europe, then the US faces one less rival and dissenting voice.  What do you think?  Both sides have convincing spokespeople, I think.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

gold doubloons and pieces of eight

Kottke shares an interesting project to help pull up its boot-straps about the developing phenomenon of alternative currency. Using Bit-Coin as a point of departure, the documentary in the making aims to not just demonstrate how any one with a computer can create a tiny bank in full faith and with credit but also to question what the public deign as fiat and therefore trustworthy and exchangeable.

What is it that makes a government mint any more or less legitimate than any other up-and-comers? It is a funny thing that these producers are soliciting donations in order to finish their project and would probably prefer actually recognised money over a trillion PfRC lira. What do you think? Are imagined curries as good as the real thing so long as one believes in them? Would you want the security that your investments, wealth are redeemable in at least food and shelter?

Saturday, 14 June 2014

al-sham

An organization deemed too violent and radical, by some accounts, for al Qaeda called currently the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (al-Sham) have barnstormed the country, catching many observers in the West completely off guard, capturing major cities and advancing to Baghdad virtually unopposed. The Iraqi armies, trained and equipped by the American occupying forces that mostly left in 2011, have folded and are surrendering en masse as the fully-pledged military force of the militants moves through the land, increasing its strength en route as it acquires materiel for fighting and conquest in the form of installations, vehicles and supplies that the American's left behind for the Iraqi's own peace-keeping mission. The group's wider aims extend to Syria and establishing a caliphate under strict Islamic law and banishing the West from the region. It was not enough to revive the language and rhetoric of Cold Warriors with tensions returned to make their world-view yet relevant; now it seems that all the old lessons not learned and debates surrounding Iraq and Middle East policy are back en vogue as well.

There is an exodus of refugees fleeing ahead of the violence and it is an unqualified crisis—however, even if the US could scramble its military might and again deploy to the region (much of its key infrastructure already lost to rebel control and no reliable native fighting forces to supplement their mission), there is insufficient means to judge the situation and the ramifications of intervention, which could well make the situation much, much worse. I had believed that the all-seeing eyes of the US intelligence communication could have delivered some form of warning—which, even if unheeded, might have made decisions better than reactionary. The situation is, I think, not so simple as the sectarian violence among two different traditions of the faith—which would surely not welcome the arbitration of Christendom or of McWorld, again, in any case, but is complex, what with Kurdish separatists in the north taking advance of the chaos to secure independence, Iranian overtures to help quell the violence and the most likely outcome of air-strikes for a nation weary of being the world-police being protracted commitments and deepening the divide between traditions, whereas the US wants a unity government among all peoples and keep together the lines in the sand drawn as borders for these nations that the West itself demarcated after the end of (traditional) colonialism and the World Wars.

Friday, 13 June 2014

italy week: acheiropoieton or bank on it

We had the chance to visit the ancient city of Lucca and first took a nice stroll atop the medieval walls, really berms, grassy with great inviting shade trees and took in an overall of view of the sites. Lucca was one of the rare places that preserved its fortifications and it certainly gave it a characteristic look and one could image that all the other places we visited were similarly defended.  We headed down into the city to explore and spent some time in the Duomo of San Martino and surrounding piazza.  The storied church houses the acheiropoieton (from the Greek term meaning not made by human hands—usually referring to a holy item that was crafted by angels) called the Volto Santo (Holy Face).
Tradition holds that Nicodemus, the individual who helped Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus, and began carving the massive crucifix shortly after. Nicodemus completed his masterpiece, all but the face, and went to take a nap. When he awoke later, the face was finished and many miracles have been attributed to this relic. The surrounding piazza, during the Middle Ages, hosted a bustling market and currency-exchange. There is an oath written on the Cathedral exterior exhorting merchants and these emergent bankers not to commit any commercial transgression—no trickery, that’s still visible to this day. The adjacent counting house became the Bank of Lucca in the mid-fifteenth century, among the oldest banking institutions in the world.
The concept of a network of banks came about during the Crusades, as it was too risky and impractical to carry too much coin for what could be a long, long mission, and branches were established by crusading knights that could extend credit to their clients. Would that they had kept their oath.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

amnestรญa or the children's crusade

The United States has a penchant for decades of turning a problem into an absolute disaster, although these upgrades seem to be happening at a much quicker pace lately—mass surveillance, Iraq, Afghanistan, the health care system, kleptocracy, gun control, environmental stewardship.   And now America is fomenting a grave humanitarian crisis with immigration policy with an overwhelming (if the medium is to be believed) incursion of children and youth walking great distances, unaccompanied, to cross into States.  It not as if this situation materialised overnight but tens of thousands of young people have been placed in temporary shelters or released to live with friends or family.  As attention turns to this situation, the government has responded by designating military bases as temporary homes, flying the children away from the border region, and providing legal champions to assist the young people with the naturalization process.  Politicians, from all persuasions, are afraid to say anything cross about the situation and broader repercussion it inevitably bring for fear of appearing racist or xenophobic—or simply uncaring for these refugees that have walked, alone, from Central America to Texas.  Parents apparently were willing to abandon their children to such an arduous and dangerous march lured by promises of a better life in America and what’s being interpreted as a lure, an open invitation to come to America, where no one—especially children, is being turned away.

This is unspeakably irresponsible in the short-term and in the long-term, as immigration authorities do not have the means to keep track of all these young people (as they are undocumented and unlikely to have already surrendered their identities to the internet and competent authorities) as they arrive and are sent off to destinations unknown.  There is no process in place to handle this sort of influx, or fairly apportion benefits and support promised which the US cannot or is lacking the political will to provide to its own citizens and no way to follow up on these baptisms by trafficking.  Aside from an already over-burdened delivery system for financial support (backed by script that’s of highly subjective value), what about America’s schools, hospitals and jobs-market?  Those institutions, failing by many estimations already, I think, would completely buckle under the added weight.   More immediately, the conditions under which the children are sheltered are rapidly deteriorating and there is a very serious threat of disease, not to mention the crowding and the heat.  Such a welcoming reception is dangerous and underhanded and most cruel.  America has long gone overboard with its security theatre but these measures run counter to its enshrined institutions of bullying and limitless scrutiny—undignified treatment by deputized goons at the airport, the need for vetting of clearances for any regular person to gain access to military installations (or to be a day-care provider) that’s applied universally yet lifted in this circumstance.  Governments like to poor-mouth when social programmes are mentioned yet there seems to boundless optimism in this situation.  What do you think?  How did the US come to this point and who manufactured the crisis and was the migration really in response to dire conditions in Central America or because of touts?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

arbitagรฉ or rub-a-dub

It could be that the US Central Bank never really introduced a tapering-scheme, meant to ween the economy off of its massive subsidy programme and has actually increased its printing of script, each bill redeemable for less and less.
Perhaps those whom try to project rosy futures to keep the whole rigged system on life-support realised that the American dollar was wholly untenable otherwise when they essentially—it seems—laundered some one hundred forty billion in bonds (debt—ungood) to hide their addiction to quantitative-easing (drawing money out of thin air—double-plus-ungood) to the country of Belgium. Belgium cannot live beyond its means as the European Central Bank and the European Union simply does not allow members to spin straw into gold. Whether such maneuvers actually took place are subject to question but it does seem quite plausible if not an eventuality, but certainly that college-try for tapering ought to be the subject of investigation, like with previous manipulation of the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) exchanges.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

reasonable person or scare quotes

Move along—nothing to see here.  There is an odd instance of disclosure yielding a sort of hybrid-transparency—that’s middling somewhere between rank-hypocrisy and demanding a blessing—with the news of the son of the vice-president of the United States of America being appointed to the board of directors of a Ukrainian natural gas concern.
This whole regime seems pretty keen on this line, gimmick of sophistry which divorces perception from reality and everything is same- otherwise—but of course that’s politics everywhere and immemorial, and there are too many incidents of unfortunate associations to list.  There’s no chance of corruption or conflict-of-interests or skewed negotiations. End of story—and the line of questioning was summarily rebuffed.  Of course, selling back fracking Freedom Gas to Europe and the US (as opposed to evil, commie Russian gas, and exporting the dirty business of doing business to someone else’s backyard) is a sure way to ingratiate democracy and singing eagles to the region, and has absolutely no parallels to former VP’s connections to war-profiteering and firms contracted to rebuild Iraq after the US invasion.  None whatsoever.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

fore and aft

While there is at least a modicum of public discussion and public outrage over the trade-deal, negotiated in secret after a model of corporate supremacy, between the United States and Europe, there is barely a bald mention of the pseudopodia of lobbyists who have no allegiance to any greater good are reaching out in the other direction—eastward.

Journalist Thom Hartman, writing for AlterNet, prefers to call the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) by the fitting abbreviation “SHAFTA” (Southern Hemisphere Asian Free Trade Agreement) as it, from what little can be gathered, is poised to raise the stakes of the race to the bottom and gouge already tenuous environmental and labour safeguards. Not many more details could be limned, what with the media cone-of-silence, which is surely enforced by the business stakeholders.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

europarl oder realpolitik

I had a chance recently to attend a political rally held in a pretty unique venue. German Green Party (Grรผne Partei) head and veteran German parliamentarian in the Europe Union Cem ร–zdemir spoke at an indoor skate park, introducing the nominee that the Hessen faction is championing as their EU representative and talked to the audience about immigration reform, environmental stewardship, lobbyists, Ukraine and trade negotiations.
Rigid cardboard stools were the seating on the level floor between the plywood peaks and valleys of the skate-ramps, and one could pen questions on them for ร–zdemir to address during the rally—though symbolically then giving up ones seat. Between segments there was a DJ and a demonstration by a couple of skateboarders, who did some pretty neat tricks.

I am still not altogether certain what is that the EU assembly does and whether its powers and potential aren’t something redundant or bare—there is certainly an air of apathy or real insouciance over the elections, with only around twenty percent of voters bothering in many jurisdictions—but his words nonetheless got me motivated, not only for the kindred platform but also to learn more about what happens between Berlin and Brussels and Strausbourg.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

unfairhandelbar

Though fears over diluted environmental, finance, labour and consumer safety standards are in the forefront of the highly unsymmetrical and covert bargaining going on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which aims to promote business by removing certain bothersome obstacles, there are subtler concerns that are not being addressed in any public forum, I believe:  many bad things for Europe, without the possibility for reciprocation by making US regulations more stringent according to a continental model, are coming down the sluice and I suspect that the floodgates will be thrown open for the American entertainment cartel with ruinous consequences for local culture.
Neither the airwaves nor the cinema certainly are closed to American productions presently and there are quotas in place to ensure that domestic pieces are given air-time.  There is a different attitude towards film and literature in America, however, as opposed to Europe, where such institutions are enshrined and supported by governments and not treated like any other commodity.  The landscape for publishing houses (though Verlag are not altruistic over here either, exactly), labels and other stakeholders is something smooth-shod, flattened out by sure sales and reflective of the top-twenty and blockbusters and big chain stores—that all sell the same thing—and could also infiltrate the educational system with over-priced pulp-non-fiction.  Opponents have already cried foul that TTIP was a backhanded route to the provisions of ACTA, ultimately rejected by the European Union, and although the same propriety language is not present in the newest incarnation, TTIP is looking like an even more sinister and sneaky delivery system to put culture and colloquy in the hands of a few industry giants and sadly a more effective way to destroy competition and alternatives, since the stress on potential profits might play a bigger role in what gets imagined. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

rรผckstoรŸ oder harmonium

Loans that the European Union thrust upon Ukraine in its moment of crisis were not exactly given without stint, since among the terms and conditions were pledges for austerity, if an any way the loans could counter-balance Russian calling in of debts and payments in arrears that would completely bankrupt the country. These measures have taken the form of closing down mining and factory operations in the eastward-leaning east—in what's being touted as necessary streamlining, which is sure to exacerbate already tenuous sentiment.

And while these economic proxies for actual conflict are happening, there is actual spoiling for battle, which in itself, I believe, is only a cover for economic rather than ideological stakes. Rather than allow a partnership from Lisbon to Vladivostok to come into being, which would certainly rival American chances to regain prowess in market terms and political influence, the US is pushing NATO to adopt a policy of sandbagging rather than one of bridge-building and would like nothing better than to invest in a few skirmishes along this border region, which despite the cost, will yield high dividends by preserving the status quo and giving the military-industrial complex another outlet. It's strange how demurring statecraft and chest-pounding have become, heels dug in without quite appreciating the ground stood.

Monday, 14 April 2014

kleinstaaterei

With the level of public will or involvement remaining unclear and the source of dissent an elusive factor—strange to consider in the first place that regions are careening towards the right to assert their independence with only the ultimate goal being to align themselves with another power in sight, the cities of Ukraine, though under the microscope and garnering much attention, do tend to be overlooked, imagined out of context, scale or compartmentalised.  Much is being said about psyche and exceptionalism, the economic importance of the industrial eastern part of the country, the need for stability and security thereof with also quite a bit of name-calling, like the US styling of counter insurgency efforts by the government in Kyiv as anti-terror operations or pledges to shore up debts, but there is little in terms, I think, in terms of profiles for these metropolitan cities, which have their own character and history.

Donetsk grew out of factory workers’ dormitories built by a steel and coal magnate from Wales named John James Hughes in 1869 (strangely, not long after hostilities ended), while under commission for the Russian Imperial Navy.  The settlement was originally named Hughesovka in honour of the Welch industrialist, who was a genius although functionally illiterate and could not read minuscule letters—ะฎะท, yuz being the closest approximate sound.  Staffed with skilled and well-educated workers, the metalworks soon grew self-sufficient and with the Bolshevik revolution, the city’s name changed several times.  It seems hard for a boom town—especially one that has never gone bust, just like so many in this region, that is relatively young as well, to establish for itself an identity—and I am sure being known, by turns, as Yuzovka, Trotsk, Stalino and then after a tributary of the Don river, may have not helped with cohesion.  Looking on from outside, I am astounded by the vast swaths of land that continue to defy recognition and know there’s much unknown out there, aided and hindered by the tough schooling in geography that conflict teaches—since, although this rust belt (Donetsk incidentally won international recognition as the cleanest factory town in the world, in 1970) is emerging as the focus of attention, having of course existed all along (or at least since its founding, not all that long ago) and having existed as an independent entity even under Soviet auspices but it was easier to understand the map as a bloc, it is also a struggle to follow along with the series of contentions and we become prone to perfunctory judgments.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

saargebiet oder neutral moresnet

Prior to the treaties and terms that were drawn up at the conclusion of the World Wars, the German state of Saarland had no cohesive identity and did not exist as an administrative division, until after WWI, French forces governed the area as a protectorate, the resource-rich region having historic connections to both countries and, like neighbouring Alsace, dominated by each power at different times over the centuries. The goal of long term occupation was that France could recover from the industrial ravages of the Great War and prevent Germany's rearmament through the coal and mineral deposits in this land. With the end of the following war, Saarland once again became a French protectorate with the surrender and when German territory was divided amongst the Allied Forces, which was not reunited with the rest of Western Germany until 1957 with what is referred to as die Kleine Wiedervereinigung. The French also had designs on another region, to the north, the heavily industrial and more resource-rich lands of the Ruhr Valley (Ruhrgebiet) of North-Rhine Westphalia.
French negotiators felt that the Ruhrgebiet should either be managed like the Saar Protectorate or be created as a separate condominium state—like the singular case of Andorra, ruled by two co-princes, the president of France and the Spanish bishop of Urgell, or the strange compromise reached a century earlier in the sliver of land called Neutral Moresnet (Esperanto was also the official language of this tiny country), which was a shared responsibility between the Kingdoms of Prussia and Belgium. A zinc mine, the region's only significant source, was located here and the committee that redrew the map after the last spate of warring wanted to ensure that no one country could monopolise the supply. American and British representatives, however, felt that France's demands went too far and taking away the country's industrial-base would make rebuilding the war-torn land impossible. Concessions were arrived at, however, and in exchange for being able to re-establish itself as an independent federal republic, West Germany agreed to pool its coal and steel resources with the rest of Europe and impose quotas on how much it could use domestically.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

sammelw(m)ut

The European Union High Court ruled yesterday that individual and infra-state mandates for telecommunication companies to retain customer data, in anticipation of—for the eventuality of surrendering that intelligence to authorities to combat the spectre of terrorism or organised crime are illegal.  The court opined that such broad directives, previously installed after the mass-transit bombings in London and Madrid and challenged by freedom groups in Austria and Ireland, infringed disproportionately on individuals’ right to privacy and ownership, integrity of their personal information and kept the populace under the same menacing aegis of dragnet surveillance that needs no competition or shadow.
Acknowledging that such omnipresence and onus has no place within the framework of European law (the public is better protected and served in perception and reality by professional and targeted investigations and not this theatre of pre-crime) is certainly a positive development, raking in some of the expansive and virtually unchecked inkpads of human activity—however, not only governments are possessed with a collecting mania (Sammelwut).  Even if the justices of the High Court are willing to diminish the jurisdiction of the state in such matters and demand that more precise language be in place to govern the retention and release of records, the demographics of marketers and buccaneers are divergently becoming something more and more specific and impugning.  Private individuals may be at the mercy of government agencies when it comes to the disposition of their data—however, someone is ultimately accountable; with industry, on the other hand, though profits and potential customers (or victims) drive research and stockpiling, the information that business has on people—both amalgamated and detailed, is given to those businesses voluntarily.  The authorities may have no claims of custody over such information, and no longer in a position to petition the public, progress may be forthcoming, but seem better custodians than business—retailers and providers alike, which politicians are reluctant to reign in.   In response, governments that tailored individual guidelines for telecommunications companies may want to also shirk their follow-on responsibilities to precisely define what warrants scrutiny and archiving.

Friday, 21 March 2014

satrap

While the US, in its usually cheeky fashion, is dismissive of the counter-sanctions of the Russian government, declaring senior members of the Senate as personae non grata—as EU and US authorities are freezing the bank-accounts of certain Russian nationals and imposing travel-restrictions, canceling debit cards, and believe their ribald attitude has dissuaded Russia from pursuing this tactic. Russia, however, I am certain is more than a few moves ahead of the parties that would boycott and blackball Russia for its posture in the Crimea and other satellites in its orbit, trying in fact to counter perceived or real expansionist's ambitions with appeasement (even though it is never presented openly).

Russia has its own infrastructure, independent of anything that the US delivers and officials can make due without the redundant systems. Western Europe is trying to levy more meaningful commendations by pursuing measures to relieve itself from dependence on Russian fuel delivery, but that will be very difficult to accomplish without much austerity, like Norwegian petroleum, re-routing pipelines to the Middle East or at unacceptably high environmental costs, such as a creeping acceptance of fracking or re-thinking the moth-balling of nuclear reactors. While the stance of the EU is a noble one, it is also untenable since if the valves were to be closed for just one day, which is certainly a possibility and not without precedence, panic would break out—though Germany has worked up some heady sense of security due to the warm Winter. Russia also, I believe, would have little trouble finding other customers. China's voracious appetite would certainly make a good match, I think. It is a dangerous thing to underestimate different cultural-norms, especially when shared among compatriots with an underestimated might.