Tuesday, 3 February 2015

by special arrangement or jesus and mary chain

As the press and public are starting to have misgivings and doubts concerning the real agenda and who’s to gain and who’s to loose over a trade deal that’s been couched in no real debate, shrouded and perched on high above the law of the land, the Holy See has also made known its stance, sharply criticising this polarizing trend that comes at the expense of the poor, the environment and any hope for mobility. The treaty’s secretive drafters, however, apparently have listened to the outcry and have made concessions—providing heads of state and high officials with special visiting hours to inspect the contents of TTIP, by appointment only, during a given window of time, in US embassy compounds and under the constant watch of consular staff (according to a .PDF leaked to Der Spiegel).

Sunday, 1 February 2015

jubilee

The Washington Post reports that the government of Croatia has spent around twenty-seven million euro to forgive the financial obligations of some sixty thousand of its poorest citizens. Thousands of families caught in an unending cycle of indebtedness—that could well be inherited across generations have been given the chance to start anew, and it does seem a very small price to pay to restore a degree of dignity and independence as well as probably being more of a bargain in the long-term over paying benefits that only enrich the lenders. What do you think about this bold and unique act?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

brekekekรฉx-koรกx-pole-ax

Though German ministers are defiantly now saying that they refuse to hear out the argument of a regime sworn-in only a mere forty-eight hours hence—probably not the most civil or humble reception—the slightest hint of disunity, a chink in the offensive that the US has bumped up (in the membrane of the EU) against Russia, becomes something quite troublesome.
Though this tales has been long in the making and ought to come as no surprise—but not something to dismiss either, like the promises of some prophet of doom or tin-pot dictator, the newly elected Greek government may use this momentum and political capital to depart the European monetary union. It’s a bit of sensationalism that Germany has not already discharged its debts in the economic sense and ought not invoke ethics since that cheapens both, and regardless of whether or not Greece and other less robust economies were brought into the fold under false-pretenses or folly was indulged is really immaterial as the Greeks have been backed into a corner and saddled with insurmountable obligations. And like those other weaker members, Greece at the frontier seriously risks pol-axing (receiving the coup de grรขce) itself by quietly playing along, its exports and shipping opportunities having severely been curtailed as a result of incremental sanctions levied by the West against Russia. Greece is contemplating breaking that embargo and negotiating its own deals with Russia, which I believe is a much more profound break than bucking the fiat currency would be. It is really striking how this conflict has escalated—though there are obviously strategic footholds to be found but would not have been quite so self-fulfilling without that initial, ideological meddling in the first place—is not over resources but rather nationalistic pride that’s also known as vain-glory, cushioned from slight and insult all around. Like the chorus of the Frogs croaks, “Old Ways Good, New Ways Bad.”

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

blockchain or turing-complete

ร†on Magazine poses a pretty arresting question, siphoned through the spelunking machinery and quarrying activities that underpins the integrity and flow of alternative, shadow currencies: are humans ready to jettison the managers and middle-men for autonomous companies that need minimal human supervision?

Already on the market-place, there are sorts of collaborative commons—and there have been for decades, and while both producers and distributors benefit from these exchanges, there are still hefty franchise-fees. Platforms modelled in the same way as those that handle the transactions of crypto-monies (made sufficiently advanced) could facilitate and decentralise all these sought-after connections. Managers and his or her retainers (bankers, pimps, planters, lawyers, bureaucrats, brokers, auditors, real-estate and travel agents) are generally installed to maintain the integrity of their business—however, what usually results is the exact opposite, consumed with greed and the insecurity of competition, but this hierarchy could be easily flattened out—though I suspect that human nature, being what it is (not content to be a miner forty-niner) might quickly ruffle things again. What do you think? Are we ready for this sort of democracy? It’s not that were facing the prospect of sacrificing our CEOs and COOs to appease machines—it is merely a shift in infrastructure and I doubt we’ll get that choice when the time comes, but abandoning vanities whose time may have past. The article is a very thoughtful one and surely worth investigating.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

parity, parody

For more than a decade, the euro has outpaced the US dollar—consistently rising from a worth of under a dollar to this present inverted affair.

Though some may argue that such baited and contentious policy decisions are already figured into the markets and exchanges, others anticipate a precipitous fall in the worth of the euro against the dollar, perhaps settling at 1:1, should the European Union decide—be sold on—unanimously to introduce what’s called a bond-purchase programme. The plan (EN/DE), according to those in the know, provides for around fifty billion € in debt underwritten by reserve banks per month, and is just a dressed-up (or dressed-down) of the quantitative-easing (printing new money in order to cover old obligations) that’s been the standard-practise of America, Japan and the UK for decades. The EU has been philosophically and constitutionally opposed to resorting to such ends—even when things looked their bleakest for the Eurozone, but I suppose now do not want to be seen as kicking the can down the road, merely deferring future crises by not being bold and robust enough with the recovery. I think it is also a path not to trot down, but what do I know? Some of the same sagacious individuals point to the monetary policies of those countries above as having a net positive effect, since it served to keep the value of those currencies artificially low and thus favourable for foreign trade; Germany and Europe’s other industrial producers would benefit from more attractive exports.
Wage stagnation and inflation also seem to accompany this maneuver, no matter how good it is for trade. Though there are certain expectations and cursory discussions that seem to point to foregone conclusions, all nuance may not yet be exhausted or explored. Germany is rather vituperatively opposed to committing to quantitative-easing in its current form, seen as enabler and co-morbid with inflation and irresponsible governance. So that Germans tax-payers are not seen as liable for the weaker economies that can’t repay their debts under this latest scheme, two ideas are under consideration—either managing the whole programme through the ECB in Frankfurt or making national reserve banks accountable to the disbursement and repayment of those loans—essentially monies owed to themselves. What do you think? Does just spinning gold from straw become eventually too tempting?

Sunday, 18 January 2015

currency accords

The occupying powers of Germany after the end of World War II certainly came into that mandate with different perspectives and ideologies, the French, Britons, the Americans and the Soviets all having had unique experiences of the horrors of war and differing native political compositions. While it was very challenging to achieve any sort of consensus on how the caretakers ought to govern the different sectors, there was no real outward animosity or the carving of boundaries until the introduction of the new Deutschmark.
With it out of the question that the old Reichsmark should continue to remain in circulation with its old symbols and associations, each sector minted its own occupation money, and indeed monetary reform was prohibited under treaty terms, the governors not allowed to take steps that might strengthen the German financial system, and reconstruction was hindered by this foreign script, not be conducive to neither trade nor investment, with most of the economy gone underground and people resorting to barter. Frustrated, in June of 1948, the Western Allies decided to act alone and began issuing the Deutschmark without consulting the Soviets, and it was this decision that first sparked the Blockade of Berlin that eventually led, in quick succession, to the physical and sociological partition of Germany, with a defensive wall erected at the frontier.
Of course, in the West, the Bonn Republic, the unilateral decision seemed to work out well—inflation staved off and reemergence of the nation as an industrial and economic world-player. The East struggled in relation to its neighbour but also came to prosper with the foil of the Ostmark and command-economy. Meanwhile, the former German parliament building, the Reichtag (long-form Plenarbereich Reichstagsgebรคude, the Hall of the Plenary Imperial Diet) sat disused just meters on the wrong side of the most heavily guarded borders of the Cold War—having fallen into ruins since the arson of the Nazis in 1933. The capital of the West was in Bonn and the East Germans razed the old Prussia Berliner Stadtschloss to build their capitol, the Palast der Republik, itself razed in 2008 to rebuild the city’s palace. With Reunification solidified in 1990, due in no small part to the controversial and economically punishing gesture to integrate the Ostmark with an exchange rate parity (eins fรผr eins) to the Deutschmark, the capital of the united Germany would be brought back to Berlin. The neglected, crumbling Reichstag did not even register to the citizens of the city as a part of the skyline and the idea to once again use that building as the seat of the government seemed folly—or at least did not garner much interest or excitement. The clever and ambitious work of two artists, however, captured the public’s imagination and made the new Bundestag an object of affection, pride and hope.

First in 1995, the artist Christo and collaborators draped the old building in a shimmering silver fabric, sort of like a cocoon and people started getting interested in that invisible ruin. After the chrysalis was shed, work began on the restoration and transformation, overseen by famed and prolific British architect Baron Norman Foster, who embellished the original class dome copula as an elevated walk-way for visitors to the observe proceedings below. Scars of the building’s past are also preserved as reminders. The Bundestag (the federal diet) convened there for the first time in 1999, the Eurozone single currency having come into effect also that year—virtually at least, with electronic transactions denominated in the euro, while national banknotes and coins of the founding members remaining in circulation for another three years.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

insular culture or gunboat diplomacy

As the culture had periodically done several times during the long history of its civilisation, Japan in the nineteenth century had turned inward and had isolated itself from the affairs of the rest of the world and incubated unique and refined art, literature and social etiquette.

This state (sokoku, a closed state, in the political sense) carried on for over two centuries until Commadore Matthew Perry appeared in Edo Bay, the former capital and close to Tokyo, suddenly in 1853 with his dreadnoughts and menacing missive from the US president Millard Filmore, obliging Japan to open its ports to international trade. There was just a little violence and the threatening language of the message, which promised worst of all to be unrelenting, thrust Japan towards engagement in the markets. A different sort of isolationist policy was taking route in America around this time—with the country healing from its own war against Mexico and earlier conflicts with Britain, and recuperation and military-industrial surplus, a militarised and recovering nation already despairing to expand markets—and America was compelled to trounce on this serene and nearly self-sufficient society to find new buyers and new suppliers of raw material.
While I suppose there’s a certain romancing element to uncontacted Japan, they definitely were not ignorant of the outside world, with a select few, government-vetted Chinese and Danish merchants doing brisk-business in a free-trade zone demarcated in the harbour of Nagasaki; they just didn’t care to be part of it. Maybe they conceded just to be rid of this presence, who lingered a lot in the area. Perry went as far as acquiring Taiwan (then called Formosa) as a base of operations, like America had done with Cuba and the Philippines. Once, however, their insular society was infiltrated, the Japanese did not suffer the fate of many other lands under colonialism, having taken the time to study the world at large, and instead excelled on the international stage and appropriated what was imposed upon them.

Friday, 2 January 2015

pontiac rebellion or sons of liberty

Not to shatter any illusions, but one of the underlying motivations for the American Revolutionary War that cast off the yoke of British colonialism and set up a republic by and for the people in the face of monarchy—sorry San Marino, you apparently don’t count, before all that championing of the unreasonable nature of taxation without representation, was a touch less savoury.
Founding myths are important, obviously.  Proxy guerrilla warfare was staged against the British by competing powers in Europe—notably the French (spiraling debts incurred over these engagements led to France’s own revolution), the Spanish and the Netherlands who stood to gain with the UK tied up in internal conflicts—ensured that the conflict would continue, even after the concession of self-rule for the North American Colonies. Before these high-minded casus belli were discovered, however, it was the Crown’s irksome insistence to keep its word on treaties established with Native American tribes that was a sore point of agitation for settlers looking to expand their holdings. Because of growing tensions and potential exploitation of Indian lands, a series of royal proclamations decreed that there could be no private property deals between the colonists and Indians and that land corporations, like the Ohio and Illinois companies, would arbitrate the transactions—not that these companies were above suspicion themselves. Plantation owners seeing their aspirations mired in more bureaucracy rebelled for deed and title.

iso 4217 or beyond the dniester

The autonomous strip of land between Moldova and Ukraine that hugs the Dniester river known as Transnistria or the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (ะŸั€ะธะดะฝะตัั‚ั€ะพะฒัะบะฐั ะœะพะปะดะฐะฒัะบะฐั ะ ะตัะฟัƒะฑะปะธะบะฐ) represents the region that did not want to disassociate itself from Mother Russia as the Soviet Union was dissolving.
Though independent from the Moldovian government, Transnistria’s political status has gone unresolved for more than a decade, enjoying only severely limited international recognition mostly from states in similar situations that generally go unrecognised themselves. This situation has resulted in high-hurdles to trade and permeated economic isolation, only open to a few select markets—which inevitably produces a gun-running economy. The predicament has also led to a few innovations—such as can be curried in such an environment, including a unique coinage to compliment their native, “token” currency. These Transnistrian rouble coins are made out of composite plastic and look to me, endearingly, like guitar-picks.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

subway special

Down in the underground, Neat-o-Rama features a brilliant gallery from Russian photographer Andrey Kruglikov capturing beautiful images of the metro stations of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. These stops are surely inviting and reminiscence of when no expense was spared for public convenience. Would that all spaces might be so house-proud. It is an interesting time to reflect on this grand artistry when residents are apparently hording subway tokens as a hedge against the declining rouble.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

pot to kettle or the dutch disease

In the face of the precipitous downfall of the Russian rouble (₽) over a constellation of sanctions, perceived weaknesses, an alleged slack in demand for petroleum over weakened industrial demand, which is at the same time being offset by increased American production(which does smack as a bit suspicious, given the overall climate and charged accusations of conspiracy to undermine that seems like burning one’s wick at both ends), some economists are diagnosing Russia with the so-called Dutch Disease—which turns out to be a relatively recent market characterisation, describing the misguided attempts that the Netherlands committed in the 1970s when, after the discovery of off-shore oil reserves, began cultivating that natural resource at the expense of all other export sectors, whereas I would have guessed it to have had much more historic roots, like in the Dutch founding a stock-market based on tulips or an empire based on exotic spices.
By extension, they claim that Russia has no economy per se but rather is an oil company accorded the membership of statehood, but that is more than a little bit dangerous and near-sighted as the same could be said of most national marketplaces that call themselves post-industrial. America is hardly a competitive oil company—more a captive consumer—and is more akin to a name-brand that licenses its economic activity out to franchisees. This collective Schadenfreude over the fate of the rouble is woefully premature, too—I think, considering the range that the single currency has. Though by population and other measures of wealth, the rouble sphere of influence is not as great as the Euroraum, covering a large portion of Eurasia and extending from Norway to Alaska, the long way around and fully one eighth of the habitable land on Earth, I imagine that the internal needs of the country could still be met and indeed thrive without regard for external scalars. Moreover, if hostile voices insist on countering with the same poisonous rhetoric, I imagine that the foreign debt that Russia was formerly welcomed to both finance and borrow could be easily turned to tactical purposes. What do you think? Of course, there is real cause for concern, but there also might be old Cold War fears and prejudices pushing agendas as well—and not just the well-oiled oligarchs.

Friday, 5 December 2014

coolhunting or memetic

Via Kottke, Business Week magazine celebrates its eighty-fifth birthday with an articulated list of the eighty-five most troublesome concepts in the market-place.

The city-state of Singapore, mortgages, the interwebs, a coffee magnate, infant formula, out-sourcing, open-source, and global positioning among many others are included with detailed articles and charts that explain how each of these ideas changed the economy and society. For example, #75 is Jane Fonda’s Workout, which propelled both the VCR and the self-help industry, #84 is the Polaroid instant camera, which was a harbinger of social media and #25 is the decoding of the human genome that launched a mad-dash for Big Pharma and fostered an era of not scientific ignorance but rather scientific apathy as if anything that could be captive and quantified warranted no further curiosity. You ought to check out the entire listing of big ideas and maybe you’ll be the next innovative insurgent yourself.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

energie-wende oder junck bonds

Lately, the press regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty has mostly been lately either smug resignation to the inevitable or nebulous fears that come across a bit feeble and embarrassing for the agreement’s opposition.
Naked Capitalism, however, delivers an accessible and literate summary of the arguments and developments that are coinciding with Germany turning sour on the whole deal with America with its perceptions and understanding of what’s at stake matured and appropriately jaded. Aside from the mutual watering-down of environmental- and labour-regulations and other concerns, there is more over the clear potential for corruption with revolving-door commissars and “judges” to act as the court of last appeal in disputes between member states and businesses. It is this last point that is focusing Germany’s awareness—what with the German government already at the mercy of the trade courts and one foreign energy concern’s self-interests over the country’s resolution to wean itself away from nuclear power. Germany faces reparations for losses the company will incur due to this decision—and the company’s right to seek compensation for its investors is already enshrined in legislation that could override a stand taken by the state. Settlement was eventually reached without invoking arbitration—which is a very Byzantine process by design—but if the legal framework is unraveled and corporate bullying is made easier and pushed out of view, it is not hard to imagine that Germany’s energy-reform could have taken a very different trajectory.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

two-bit, four-bit

The winning design team for the upcoming series of Norway's paper currency features pixelated reflections on the observe of the natural wonders that appear on the face of kroner. It strikes me that the Nordic countries have gone mostly cashless—including a mechanism to donate electronically to the basket as it is passed down the pews at church—and successfully branding each bill with a bar-code (to prevent counterfeiting and to usher in a form of electronic transaction) accessible to any retailer and financial institution without the associated fear of knowing the chain of possession. I do rather like the designs and have no issue with reducing lag-time, however, being old-fashioned, I like to sequester my allowance and have a few coins left over to plonk into savings myself.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

blue light special or lender of last resort

A major American retailer has finally managed to run rings around regulators and public-interest groups and is able to additionally bundle bank-like services for its patrons, many of whom belong to the demographic where they cannot avoid this particular discounter and are not of the means to be courted by other financial institutions.

The infamously miserly business-model of this company already enjoys the reputation of the destroyer of small businesses and Main Street, USA—long before on-line commerce was accused of demolishing brick-and-mortar, patronising suppliers of questionable ilk, and well as—being the employer of a large percentage of the workforce—pays workers so poorly that they could not get by without government assistance, supplemented by tax-payers at the expense of other public-good, and really the tithe and tax on the poor that the government tried to make less painful. The tithe is in the fine-print, as the banking-outreach seems rather harmless and even magnanimous at first, but there are transaction- and maintenance-fees that ensure a steady bleeding with hardly an infusion. The powerful lobbying arm of this corporation has additionally blocked any legislation that might award the same sort of bank-like powers to a lumbering US Postal Service, despite the system's obviously good geographical spread and the fact that post offices did exactly that until its charter was not renewed in the mid 1960s. What do you think? I have to ask, as I do not have the privilege of ever shopping there.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: semper fideles or republican guard

Just as they say, Rome was not built in a day, neither was its downfall something sudden and decisive: a long, steady decline that lasted centuries characterised the collapse of the Western Empire after a turbulent succession of emperors. No single factor precipitated this erosion become avalanche, though there were certainly pivotal moments, but before indulging, to the point of obsessing over the next episode’s surprises, the History of Rome series from Mike Duncan, I had not considered military-coup as a cause.

It is not that the brilliant arc of story, with over a hundred installments, was in defense of some thesis to lay blame on the Roman soldier—quite otherwise though there is a coherent element of foreshadowing, through the lens of retrospection and to a degree allegory, but I suppose I believed that Rome imploded under the weight of bad leadership, religious uprisings, popular revolts, invasion or by some sort of divine disfavour, and had not considered that first surfeiting and then placating greed was among the chief the constituents. The turmoil began to well with the political and practical disdain that Domitian held for senatorial authority—rather, protocol already at this point, replaced and redoubled by the fawning and appeasement of the military—a calculus that all this emperor’s, no matter how long or short their tenure, successors would follow. First, the elite Prรฆtorian Guard, the body-guards of the imperial family, sort of like the US secret-service, realised that they could demand a high price for their loyalty and protection, which rapidly spread to the ordinary ranks of Legionnaires, both on the frontiers and closer to home. There are several instances of regicide by the Prรฆtorians, whose membership and influence grew after overturning the safeguards that were instituted by Tiberius, realising the potential dangers of maintaining a standing-army in times of peace and involved regular rotation in place of duty that separated the troops in order to deter the fomenting of separate allegiances. The first shoe fell during what is known infamously as the Year of the Three Emperors—to be bested later—not for poor governance but by the army openly prostituting its fidelity: in the end, the Guard auctioned off imperator to the highest bidder (Didius Julianus, who reigned for all of nine weeks) who could pay them the largest donative, a pledge of personal wealth that was not always delivered, in exchange for their support. During this time, the relevance of the Senate occasionally returned with some measure of deference but the army remained the object of pandering, with their wages being increased exponentially, and there was no abating this expectation once precedence had been established. Of course, this custom put the economy in quite a pinch—especially with a paucity of new conquests and plunder. Seeking a solution, after citizens of the city of Rome were subject to taxation after centuries of being exempt and relying on outside revenue, Emperor Caracalla decided to naturalise every person (though not the female- or the slave-types) of the provinces, in order to increase tax-revenue. The tax-man was also deployed in full force—supplementing the personal collection that the emperors undertook with purging potential subversives and confiscating their estates so as to pay for this support-bubble. Once coveted by all, Roman citizenship was looking more and more like a liability. Caracalla was an absolutely horrid person and leader but did not live long enough to place him within the pantheon of truly vile emperors.
Caracalla took his legacy in another direction by commissioning monumental baths to be built to the south of Rome, luxurious even by spa-crazed Roman estimations, which stand as one the eternal city’s last great construction projects, as later emperors even abandoned Rome for Naples and Milan as unsullied capitals before ultimately transporting it eastward. What do you think? It isn’t as if the politicians and polity at the time caught wind of these events and right away recognised social upheaval beyond. There are contemporary analogues, of course, but do you think the that the Romans were aware of poisoning their own wells or understood the consequences of the way their Empire was defended?

Friday, 5 September 2014

superfecta or theatre-in-the-round

NATO representatives have gathered in Wales in order to reassert the relevance of their club and address a depressing array of threats to broader peace. Such short workshops rarely result in any lasting resiliency or reflection, and instead in greater polarisation for fear of admitting to motivations that lie beneath hidden by the beards of รฉminence gris—but that's the trident of institutional problems. Nationally endemic problems can happily be ignored in such an ideological environment, and provocation buffets attention from all corners: Western powers are making a calculated (even unto failure) to punish Russia's stance in the Crimea with economic sanctions that are curiously—if not backfiring—only punishing to the sanction-givers, as Russia has independent means and no shortage of other buyers—and oddly chosen rhetoric, like attributing the false hubris that it might take Russia as much as two weeks to take Ukraine, when in fact it would be much quicker.

What version of history will bear the laurels of authority is a mystery in this complicated situation, but I am sure that no one comes out innocent, since after apparently winning the the imperium of non-interference in the Middle East, the organisation was directed to pick a fight with a tried and true paradigm and eagerly take up some Cold War housekeeping. And while patriotic aims fall away in this framework, the American general who has two roles that shuttle him between Stuttgart, Germany and Mons, Belgium as the European Commander and Supreme NATO Commander respectively, is prudently or brazenly arranging war-games in Russia's front yard and threatening to violate a gentlemans' agreement between Reagan and Gorbachev to not advance the bounds of NATO. Meanwhile, this posturing is being matched by more provocative sabre-rattling that is even harder to say whether it was factored in from the Caliphate. It has made overtures for overturning not only the United States, but also the royal house of Saud, and lately Russia with aims of expansion into Chechnya and the Balkans and reprisal for support of the Syrian government. Seemingly beyond the good and evil of media portrayals already (and seeing alibis as superfluous), I would wager Russia has few qualms in countering any attack by any means needed. The growing arsenal of the Caliphate and indelicate threats, however, are a source of concern not to be dismissed, what with some eleven commercial jet-liners procured from the captured airport in Tripoli ready to be deployed. All parties have a vision of the world better than the present state of things, but said aims are seen to wither in the face of real suffering and reckoning.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

who's who oder them

Not only does Austria get to host the EuroVision Song Contest next summer, the Interalpen Hotel, the venue of the secretive summit already in 1988, near the western Tyrolean village of Telfs will again accommodate the Bilderberg Conference.

Shielded from media coverage and the raw feelings of constituents, this steering-committee—according to many—are the deciding transatlantic oligarchy of bankers, politicians and military commanders that dream-up the agenda as it will be presented for the coming year—with matters and outcomes already settled. Future debate and pitches are only done for show, it is argued. Whether or not this is the case—and I am not sure if its more shameful for the bad marks of poor performance or for the conspiratorial airs—there have always been such gatherings and influence is never non grata. What is more bothersome, in my opinion—unless of course democracy and dialogue is really only shadow-boxing—is that the culture coming together is strictly uniform and meant to promote Anglo-Saxon values (among its applicants and supplicants) on tour on the Continent.

Monday, 18 August 2014

it happened on the way to the forum: proletariat or body-politic

As no reliable, direct records of Roman history are extant prior to the sacking of the city by the Gauls in 390 BC, politicians and historians had considerable license in constructing the mythology, building prophetic parallels and claim firsts that may or may not have happened exactly in the Romans’ favour.
One example was in the creation of the Republic, which preceded the institution of democracy in Athens by a bald year—with the ousting of the city’s final monarch and the pledge of the populace never again to embrace monarch—and pain of death for any usurper. The democracy practiced among both great civilizations is quite different—with citizenship not a birthright, slavery and suffrage vested in only land-owning males—than contemporary democracies and were quite different in terms of leadership from each other. The composition of the consul evolved many times over the centuries, but in general, candidates were elected by their peers to a term of office of one year—no reelection could be sought for consecutive years and often there was the counter-balance of co-magistrates—each with the power to veto (I forbid) any decision of the other. Because the annual election to select new leaders was also subject to veto and considerable delay, usually a compromise was brokered—lest any politician be accused of hording too much power. No duly selected consul could claim emergency powers or institute martial-law, but such situations of course arose quite often. In order to manage the ship of state during war and invasions, a separate individual was selected—no campaigning—as dictator, given absolute power to prosecute the task he was elected for, and then expected to graciously retire. All dictators of Rome kept good to this oath—until Julius Caesar. Even with this new form of government, a large demographic, the majority of the population, were not free from tyranny, however, as the patrician class excluded the plebeians, the artisans and soldiers, from high office, both secular and religious.

Disenfranchised, the plebeians saw little benefit from the wars they fought and had little influence over defensive policy. Insurmountable debt was also a common problem—the common people having become inescapably indentured to the usury of the elite, with a lot of debts piling up while away at war and households bought on credit. The plebeians pushed for social reform in stages, mostly through their most powerful weapon—withdrawal (secession plebis) or a sort of a general strike that left the city defenseless. More than once, the city was invaded and the senate lured them back with rhetoric—saying it was no good for the hands and mouth to begrudge the lazy stomach. Some changes were forth-coming: though not outright land re-distribution or debt-forgiveness but a limit on how much land the wealthy could own, not eligibility to stand for consul but the creation of office of tribune chosen by and for the plebs (also with crucial veto-powers), and perhaps, most importantly the Twelve Tables (Leges Duodecim Tabularum) that listed the laws of Rome on display in the commons for all to read and memorise to protect from capricious justice—which mostly sided with the rich and powerful. There was, however, at least one insult in the codex, committing one unwritten law, a social more, to the bronze tablets forbidding the marriage between a patrician and a plebeian citizen.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

meanwhile, back at the ranch

Isn't it a enjoy how everything is delivered just in time and in a neat little package to assuage the capitalists?

Mexico, which has a staunch reputation for protecting its native resources and treasures—even going so far as to forbid the import or shedding of American genetically-altered foodstuffs (but who would know, since Mexico only makes the news for its trespasses), has agreed after seven decades to relax the state monopoly on the petroleum industry and allow American and European concerns, chomping at the bit access to vast, untapped reserves. That such an announcement comes unheralded at the moment when American influence in the Middle East is collapsing and Russia threatens to cut-off the EU is quite a marvelous coincidence that bears no further investigation, as providence takes care of its own, even when the reporting is magical-thinking.