Reading Žižek, Reading Deleuze: The Cruelties (?) of Psychoanalysis and Philosophy


Very nice. This thought about ‘oneness’ and ‘emptiness’ being something the Lacanian constantly must fill up vs. a Deleuzian fictional accompaniment with the one is a thought that I carry around with me. The full-empty, or true awakening – dreamland, polarity retains a fixation on subjectivity while proclaiming to surpass it. Once people see through the Cogito (and really, who is a Cartesian today?) do we end up in the land of the unconscious that our self representations cover over, mysteriously requiring The Other to unveil it for us? The Spinozist-Deleuzian world of capabilities, actualities, multiple force fields, and singular intensities gives us a much richer array of terms to describe our experiences with an ever-expanding access to new observations (largely via science). So much comes down to the conceptual terms we have at our disposal.

Originally posted on Sketching a Present:
In his short book, How to Read Lacan (2007), Slavoj Žižek writes, as I’m sure he does in several other places, According to the standard view, the dimension that is constitutive of subjectivity is that of phenomenal…

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It’s a word that gets tossed around fairly frequently, but does anyone care to take a look at this word and the phenomenon it supposedly signifies?  Or is this thought to scary?  In the world of activism, people get frustrated or disgruntled or tired-out or otherwise find themselves not willing to participate in their political project anymore.  When people leave (”the struggle”, “the community”, or, perhaps, “the party”, or whatever) we often call it by this blanket term and assume someone simply ran out of energy, like a machine that simply wasn’t given enough fuel.  This lack of enthusiasm could indeed be the cause, but burnout is a rather mechanistic word that covers over a long range of causes and motives for leaving this ’something’.
The vitality and excitement brought with a single body to do what they can to promote and activate broad political change by starting at the “grassroots” level doesn’t just diminish because of entropy or some other such law of physics.  Here very well could be something wrong structurally wrong with how these activist network-machines are operated that by-and-large tends to repel people away.  This could be happening right under people’s noses, without those who stay or those who leave ever articulating why and elaborating with anyone their changing moods and critical thoughts.  Those thoughts might not get heared out of respect for the project and worry that these criticisms or lack of enthusiasm on the agent’s part would de-rail an otherwise worthy endevour.  Some, I would bet, would rather not tarnish their reputation in voicing core ideological criticisms and ease-off without a clear break.  Others might find themselves lacking in belief in those core commitments that hold the group/project together – a loss of faith that is a clear break but doesn’t get the closure of a break-up event.  And then people might just feel the weight of inter-personal conflicts and clashes of incompatible characters, simply refusing to see another person anymore.
All of this, and more, could pass for this little word: burnout.  In a less-structured, more loose organization the boundaries are less visible and one can pass between them more easily.  Any one of these schisms mentioned above could send someone ’outside’ and take away from the greater body.  The party machines have drawn much harder lines with membership, roles, and a hierarchy – entrenching mechanisms that help the organization endure over long periods of time, despite being stricter in discipline and more compromising to the shifting in the political force field.  They are adaptable machines responding to the ebb and flow of political sentiments and brokering tentative alliances.  Far left democratic activism and anarcho-style direct action rely on milieus and the general pool of swarming, excited bodies.  Decision-making is and must be laid down, codified, but the activity level depends on the rifts opened up in high governmental politics and moments of crisis.  The rules in assemblies and organizer/facilitator meetings are called “the process” and often devolve into a general “it looks like everyone agrees, so let’s move on” form of consensus.  In full, 100%, consensus processes, dissent and argument are often discouraged for the bad vibes they bring along to the cloud of people drawn together.  Bad vibes must constantly be warded off and positive vibes of joy are promoted (and the connection between vibrations and milieus is fascinating to observe), but the pressure to be happy and emit affects of joy turns against critique and can feel oppressive.  These principles suddenly begin to look like vengeful dogma when criticism is unwelcome.
People often call activists “busy-bodies” in a negative, put-down way to discount their effects.  The over-worked urgency with which bodies are set to work as organizers often reflects religious or moralistic distress, and that panicked commitment fizzles out.  In the face of so much injustice, death, poverty, and repression people get riled up.  And they burn-out.  Without the power of an organization and an ability to get work done in a way that satisfies (or coerces) people to continue to do so, giving them hope, it is all so much moral outrage and friend-circles.  Works of goodness, charity, and other mini-victories aren’t enough in the face of such monumental problems on Earth.
Power is always already there.  To have an effective machine, power must be reckoned with within as well as outside of “the system”.  After all, what exactly is the alternative to the system if the model you are organizing with is not even working for a dozen or few dozen people?  Obvious scaling issues aside, it is a question worth asking.  Well-run commoning, assembling in councils and reaching collective decisions, is imperative for direct action.  People have to believe that what they are doing could be extrapolated and performed under different circumstances to prevent a vaguely-felt disillusionment that often masquerades as burnout.
Principles for direct action I have come across that amount to a high-threshold majority for decisions (75-90%), stack taking (a list of who will speak in sequence), go-arounds (give everyone the floor whether that speak or pass), and adequate time for debating proposals before they are voted on are the most important practices that must be utilized for effective ground-up organizing.  Adherence to them helps prolong a project and ward-off the chaos (mythico-cosmically thinking) of milieus, vibrations, and inter-personal tensions from poisoning the collective push for a goal.  A hierarchical machine has its own codifications, which may become necessary as those political force-fields transform, but in ground-up organizing these principles work.  The term given to these practices during Occupy Oakland was “modified consensus”, an outgrowth of the consensus process, but there could be a better one…
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What Is at Stake in the Ukraine: Global Financial Dominance

With the latest round of American and European news media outlets loudly announcing that President Obama is considering arming the neo-fascist Ukrainians to fight Eastern Ukrainian separatists, risking an escalating proxy war with Russia, it’s time we gained some broad perspective on this conflict.  Each side is pointing fingers at the other, with few facts being spoken that both sides can really agree on.  The US media-war-machine is vamping up the aggression of words as seen here: Fox[Obama Confirms Arming Ukraine on the Table if Diplomacy with Russia Fails ], USA Today[Obama Team Considers Arming Ukraine], NY Times[US Taking a Fresh Look at Arming Ukraine Forces] (no, going to all of those mainstream media websites was not a pleasant experience).
A tentative peace deal has been signed with leaders of Europe in attendance, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel leading the way in promoting a peaceful resolution to the conflict.  Whether this truce will hold is uncertain, but with major national interests at stake and their strategy plays already set in motion, we are entering a phase in which the drivers behind the conflict must be payed bare.  With all of this hate in the air, and pathetically little debate about the intricacies of the conflict, a number of questions need to be asked:
Why would the US risk setting off a proxy war with Russia and a potential nuke-firing, ’unthinkable’ World War III?  Where is the intense demonization of Putin in Washington and its long arm in the media coming from?  What is the US doing right on Russia’s doorstep using strong-arm tactics like sanctions and pursuing NATO expansion, including a new “rapid response force” [] ready to be deployed along the boarder of Russia at a moment’s notice?  We could flip the questions around for the sake of objectivity and ask: “why did Putin annex Crimea during the Maiden episode?” and also, “why would Putin arm and supply the East Ukrainians to fight the new Kiev government?”.   The two powers are squaring off alright, but if we turn off the highly charged rhetoric that is being flung around in the narrative and look at the situation in terms of geopolitical power and national interests, we find a set of dominant forces that span the globe are being challenged right now, ones that American global hegemony just might be willing to risk World War III to protect.
I will eventually offer some links and facts about the current crisis, but first the scope of this conflict needs to be elaborated.  Only then can we feel the weight of the conflict and answer those questions above.  So, why are these powers willing to risk so much?
When Putin and other Russian politicos speak about their motives and relay messages to their US and NATO counterparts, they have repeatedly been saying that they no longer accept the US dominated world order as it is.  [Putin Accuses United States of Damaging World Order].  They demand that the US stop interfering with affairs far away from their land and basically stop playing global policeman.  America has been the overwhelming superpower ever since WWII (despite the Cold War) but it was with debt, money, and currency manipulations that the US achieved a imperial superiority over the rest of the world unparalleled in history.  Few know how these mechanism work (and this was most likely intentionally obscured with the help of ideologically driven economist-speak), but it seems that Russia feels like it has regained enough of a footing in global politics to challenge US super-imperialism with its alliances and trade deals.  The US in turn ratchets up the pressure with a series of sanctions and foments unrest right on Russia’s doorstep.  If we take the longview on the Ukrainian conflict and tune-out the heated rhetoric we can see a major stand-off between the clear world hegemon desperately holding to its power and another large imperial nation who is refusing to bow down anymore.
This is what the Russians are talking about when they speak of the US-led world order whose rules they no longer want to play by:
America projects power thanks to its fortunately located continent away from other world powers in Europe and Asia (who have other competitive nations very close to them).  They have control over much of the Earth’s maritime shipping routes with strategically placed Naval bases and keep the close nations located in the Americas from retaining the wealth of their natural resources, thereby keeping them more impoverished and, consequently, weaker.  See this brief Caspian Report video on how the US geologically projects power:[Foundation of American Dominance].  While Cuba and Venezuela remain thorns in their side, much work is surely being done (as it has been accomplished already in its numerous interventions in its own backyard [7 Fascist Regimes Enthusiastically Supported by America]) to wrest away the profits of Venezuelan oil for American multi-nationals.  Venezuela’s ability to keep the wealth generated from its vast oil reserves within its own national government has made it a target for regime change. [Venezuela, Regime Change, and the Hidden Hands of US Capitalism].  The Venezuelan government headed by Maduro is now claiming to have foiled a coup attempt by military officials on the anniversary of the student protests [Opposition Leaders Issued a Statement to Signal the Launch of the Foiled Coup].
But the real crux of American global dominance is performed via money and debt.  In the system of global trade and finance, there is no standardized unit of account that levels-off the panoply of currencies engaging in importing and exporting with each other like the gold standard once did.  Nixon took the US off of the gold standard in 1971, when Vietnam War expenditures rose so high that its gold reserves were rapidly being depleted.  Currencies were left to float against each other or be pegged to one another, but US dollars were still needed by-and-large because America was by far the most productive economy and a trading partner to many nations.  The US dollar gained the status of ‘reserve currency‘.  Countries would still need dollars in reserve to buy oil and to cover losses from speculative raids, seeing as it is that the foreign exchange market (ForEx) allows currency holders to trade currencies at will and for speculative profit.  The phenomenon of ’short selling’ is a major weapon that speculators use to devalue an entire nations economies by conspiring to lower the value of its national currency.  Countries can peg their currency’s value to the dollar, but can still see capital flight and their doliar reserves depleted if they don’t set the peg exactly right.  Basically everybody needs dollars to buy oil (thanks to the US/Saudi “Petrodollar” deal: [Confessions of an Economic Hitman]) and make sure their foreign and economic policy won’t lead to those dollars fleeing their own central banks, which usually means they must export more to the US than they import.  The imperative for economies to “grow” by producing consumer goods and exporting them is largely an effect of debt payments they must meet and dollar reserves they must hold onto.  For a more detailed analysis, read Ellen Brown’s Web of Debt, chapter 21, ’Goodbye Yellow Brick Road: From Gold Reserves to Petrodollars’.  [Web of Debt]
The excess of imports into America means that US balance of payments is always negative, hence the US national debt perpetually rising at an astronomical rate.  But the large US national debt is not a hindrance;  since countries are required to hold dollars for oil purchases, other countries must export their goods to the US and usually import oil.  With all of these dollars in circulation, central banks end up buying US treasury bills to get a return on those dollar reserves.  This ensures that dollars are continually “recycled” back to America, with the US Treasury making its minimum debt payments on those bills and bonds as the total debt climbs ever higher.  Thanks to the Federal Reserve system, the US Treasury must borrow from this private central bank in order to print its own national money.  All of this ensures that demands of debt (as well as oil) are met at almost every step of the way: whether by countries who must accept onerous loans from the IMF to protect their own currency/dollar reserves to buy oil, or a US government that turns the global need for dollars into more debt of its own.  Though, all together, the system is drastically beneficial for the US (that is, until people realize that its debt will never be completely payed off): it gets excessive imports and situates itself as a middle-man (via the dollar) between nations and their energy needs.
This video from Storm Clouds Gathering explains the Petrodollar system well: [The Geopolitics of World War III]
Now, this nefarious system is not accepted happily by those who understand it and feel the pressure it exerts upon them.  The BRICS Bank enters as a challenger to Dollar Hegemony for its ability to offer development loans similar to the IMF but in currency besides the US dollar.  Here is a Cursory overview of the BRICS Development Bank: [BRICS Set Up Bank to Counter Western Hold on Global Finance], and an Al Jazeera segment about the goals and motives of the BRICS alliance[Empire: BRICS: The New World Order] .  With such a massive tool at their disposal, countries could break the need for dollars in purchasing oil, as Russia has tried to do with its currency swap deal with China: [Russia and China: The Dawning of a New Currency System].  Russia stopped trading their oil for dollars over a year ago and, if using dollars is absolutely necessary, they will immediately take those dollars and exchange them for gold – the value of gold being pushed down at a low price thanks to central bank policy.  A more detailed look at Putin’s scheme to get around the petrodollar, by using artificially devalued gold and rubles: [Grandmaster Putin’s Trap: Russia Is Selling Oil and Gas in Exchange for Physical Gold].
I also highly recommend watching this debate between Michael Hudson and Leo Panitch about the significance of the BRICS Bank, where geopolitical and international banking dynamics are contrasted with a downer, “you’re either a Capitalist or a Socialist economy”, analysis: [Is The New BRICS Bank a Challenge to US Global Financial Power] and here is my take on the debate: [The BRICS Bank and Dollar Hegemony: The Importance of Geopolitics].
“Neoliberalism is not simply an economic philosophy. It’s interwoven with American foreign policy.” -Hudson.
According to Ellen Brown, Russia and other BRICS countries have a greater diversity in banking methods that would put them fundamentally at odds with Western private banking elite.  She cites this article that glosses how the Russian banking system has changed its ways towards public financing following the 2008 financial crisis:[Financial Crisis Alters Russia Banks].  A vast network of smaller, state controlled banks offering low-interest rates puts Russia and the BRICS at odds with private banks of the west, who lend primarily for profit and operate at the behest of maximizing the returns to their shareholders.  According to Brown, the unsung hero of China’s rapid growth in industry is its banking system that operates as a public service rather than as a parasite.  The entire first section of her book, The Public Banking Solution is devoted to juxtaposing private and public banking models and how the BRICS nations exemplify the necessary measures that need to be taken to ward off the wealth siphoning machine of onerous debt and interest.
Speaking of financial tensions, there is also the lingering memory in Russia of the American intervention during the transition form communism to capitalism.  Aid, support, and advice were continually given to Yeltsin, who in turn attacked the Russian parliament building, rammed through neoliberal shock therapy, and made sure a potential democracy became an oligarchy instead.  I encourage everyone to read or reread Naomi Klein’s chapter 11 in The Shock Doctrine titled ’Bonfire of a Young Democracy: Russia Chooses the Pinochet Option’ in light of current events.  Just a few excerpts:
“To provide ideological backup for Yeltsin’s Chicago Boys, the U.S. Government funded its own transitions experts whose jobs ranged from writing privatization decrees, to launching a New York-style stock exchange, to designing a Russian mutual fund market.  In the fall of 1992, USAID awarded a $2.1 million contract to the Harvard Institute for International Development, which sent teams of young lawyers and economists to shadow the Gaidar [the head of Yeltsin’s economic reform team] team.  In May 1995, Harvard named [Jefferey] Sachs director of the Harvard Institute for International Development, which meant that he played two roles in Russia’s reform period: he began as a freelance adviser to Yelstin, then moved on to overseeing Harvard’s large Russia outpost, funded by the U.S, government.” (p.281)
“Despite the fact that Russia’s Constitutional Court once again ruled Yeltsin’s behavior unconstitutional, Clinton continued to back him, and Congress voted to give Yeltsin $2.5 billion in aid.  Emboldened, Yeltsin sent troops to surround the parliament and got the city to cut off power, heat and phone lines to the White House parliament building.” (p.294)
He would eventually order Russian troops to burn down the parliament building, their own White House.
“… several of Yeltsin’s ministers transferred large sums of public money, which should have gone into the national bank or treasury, into private banks that had been hastily incorporated by oligarchies.  The state then contracted with the same banks to run the privatization auctions for the oil fields and mines.  The banks ran the auctions, but they also bid on them – and sure enough, the oligarch-owned banks decided to make themselves the proud new owners of the previously public assets.  …the Russian people fronted the money for the looting of their own country.” (p.294)
“…he [Sachs] now sees that there was something else at work: many of Washington’s power brokers were still fighting the Cold War.  They saw Russia’s economic collapse as a *geopolitical victory*, the decisive one that ensured U.S. supremacy.” (p.315)
Putin has echoed this sentiment, proclaiming that the fall of the Soviet Union “was the greatest *geopolitical catastrophe* of the century.”.  Seen from this geopolitical perspective and not the ideological one in which it is usually viewed, one major national power was crippled with the help of another major national power through military force and disastrous economic reforms.  The oligarchy reigning in Russia (similar to the one reigning in America, as this scientific study found [US Is an Oligarchy not a Democracy, Says Scientific Study]) was fostered and supported by American neoliberals and is not simply the product of its own vague tendency for corruption.
Then there’s the New York Times running an article by Thomas Friedman openly questioning if the recent plummet of oil prices was not a ploy between US and Saudi Arabia to cripple Russia’s oil and gas economy [A Pump War?].  This would line up perfectly with the US tactic of weaponized financial mixed with control over oil markets.
During the Maidan protests as well, evidence has been accumulated that the US has been directly involved with putting known fascist party members into power.  This video from Storm Clouds Gathering goes into this in detail: [The Ukraine Crisis: What You’re Not Being Told].  The hard evidence of leaked phone calls between US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland laying out the exact people she wants to see in power for the new post-coup Ukrainian government is tough to deny.  The right sector leader in Kiev has been documented as rejecting the recently signed peace-deal: [Neo-Nazi Leader of the Right Sector Rejects Ukraine Peace Deal].  To top things off, fake pictures of Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine were brought before US congress as war propaganda last year by a US Senator: [US Senator Used Old Photos to Push Ukraine War Propaganda].  They have since been debunked.
On the financial hegemony side, we don’t have to go very far to see the negative effects of IMF’s monetary policy, it is apparent right there in the Ukraine.  To finance Ukraine’s war with the separatists, the IMF has granted it loans that demand it privatize public sector industries and undergo austerity, even though the IMF is not allowed to give loans to countries at war. Here is Michael Hudson talking about Ukraine’s coming financial crisis: [Has the IMF Annexed Ukraine?].  Now Joe Biden’s son has even been appointed to the board of a Ukrainian oil and gas company with tremendous power in Ukraine.  The $17 billion IMF loan to Ukraine is alleged by Hudson to be a New Cold War Loan meant to wrest away debt payments owed to Russia by Ukraine [Losing Credibility: The IMF’s New Cold War Loan to Ukraine].
So, facing all of this evidence that US power is in trouble and has been stirring up aggression right on Russia’s border, how can we go along with the narrative of Putin the aggressor, the demon?  Russia invaded the formerly Ukrainian territory of Crimea and annexed it, which has been denounced ad nauseum as an act of aggression.  Right after the event, a referendum was conducted in which the Crimeans voted overwhelmingly for annexation by Russia, with over 90% in favor.  Recently, another poll was held by the Ukrainians themselves in which this sentiment was upheld, with ~93% in favor of Russia [Annexation of Crimea to Russia. Opinion Poll].  But the inflammation of this great geopolitical chess game is the consequence of no mere diplomatic misunderstanding or idle hands in the military-industrial complex, Russia is the greatest threat to the interest of the US because it is leading the way in establishing an alternative to the debt-based monetary policies that cripple nations and bolster US power around the Earth.  An alliance of BRICS countries with a new development bank not under control of the IMF/World Bank/Bank of International Settlements is a threat to the hierarchy of order that has settled internationally, with the US on top.  But we not simply side with the BRICS be their cheerleaders, there is a public banking movement going on in the US which is spreading the model at home.
In America, public consent is required (for the most part) before war is waged and the battleground of public opinion is crucial in determining how the military decisions will be made by the president.  It is important that these fact of the US’s involvement in Eastern Europe be distributed and understood before we head into what would be a horrifying and devastating war to protect an order that already impoverishes so many people and nations as a whole.  The private banking cartel that rules Washington with its revolving door of financiers and politicians keeps the vast majority of people from wealth, while ensuring that a few (the 1%, if you will) continue to profit off of assets that are already held like stocks, shares, property, and large businesses.  Public banking models threaten the stability of the wealth generating machines that wealthy elites will fight tooth and nail to keep in motion, with the BRICS alliance raising the biggest alarm.  There is no guarantee that the BRICS Bank will operate on a more benign model than the IMF does now, but the history and composition of public banks in those countries suggests they would be far more likely to restructure and cancel debts, make cheaper loans, and not apply harsh conditionalities that lead to austerity policies and privatization.  Although, to be quite honest, we need a shake up of the dominant forces of the Earth in any case, and detaching the most important element from an economy (money: what we need to have and earn in order to survive more than any other thing in the present day) from oil (the thing most threatening to a flourishing planet when burned) would be a good start.  Simply put, without the Petrodollar system, there is a whole lot more that countries could do.
I highly recommend looking into the idea of public financing and dig into the way monetary policy shapes the international composition of forces.  Since you’ve made it this far, please check out all of the links I have provided in this essay to get the bigger picture.  With an informed public, war and ecological devastation can be prevented and our present situation need not continue indefinitely.  A new development bank headed by large capitalist nations isn’t exactly as glamorous as the notion of a global grassroots revolution, but these developments signify that the greatest powers at work on the surface of the Earth are facing an uncertain future.  Understanding how these forces are deployed, who benefits, and who loses will allow us to more effectively withstand the on-coming media shocks.
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Strike Debt from Money

Since Positive Money UK instigated a debate at the UK Parliament over the creation of money [UK Parliament Debated Money Creation for the First Time in 170 Years], here is a round of links touching on the idea of debt-free money and/or reforming the monetary system in such a way that debt could not drain away money from cities, nations, and people:

Here is the full video of Steven Baker’s time on the floor beginning the debate:

Bill Still gives his commentary on the parliamentary debate in his five-part series from his YouTube channel:

Number 1: Intro. Number 2: “Store of Value”. Number 3: QE. Number 4. Number 5: “Tested to Destruction”

The main takeaway from Still is a mantra that he often repeats:

“It matters not what backs money but who controls the quantity.”

What is behind money, as if money were a mere appearance that needed a substantial thing to back its value before it became real, is irrelevant if the amount in circulation can be controlled by other means. As long as the supply of money relative to market activity is stable, whether money is explained as gold, or state credit, or a “store of value”, or a debt token or anything else will not make a difference. Keeping the supply of money stable means taking steps to ensure that money is introduced into the economy in sound, healthy ways (vs. letting banks do so by issuing loans).

When bank loans are payed back, money is destroyed and the supply shrinks. When too many loans are issued, more money is in circulation and therefore people are more indebted. Indebted people are expecting that their incomes and investments will continue to grow with the economy, but when interest rates are constantly lowered at the source of money (in central banks like the Federal Reserve), banks have access to “cheap money” (i.e. they pay very little interest on what money they borrow) and they inflate value of money with excessive loans through fractional reserve banking. When all signs are pointing up and the illusion of constant growth keeps people thinking they can make money simply by riding the flow of time, it is hard to put a stop to the fountain of easy money and contract the supply.

This video from the Caspian Report explains the 2008 financial collapse and how the cheap money created by banks for the housing market was inflationary. The way banks are able to issue credit at will during booms distorts the value of money, further inflating it and leading to a greater bust.

Ellen Brown’s latest piece on Cypress style bail-ins that could come to the US in order to cover the banker’s massively over-leveraged derivatives market. This could be the outrageous spark that will push people to reign in the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. The question is: how many people will tolerate having their deposits seized to keep already maligned mega-banks solvent?

Her solution is for states, cities, and the federal government (really any public body) to own their own banks and stop borrowing money from private banks that must turn a profit for their shareholders and employees.
[The Public Banking Institute]

The big message about money is that the mechanisms in place to control the total quantity of money are obsolete. Money must be created without borrowing and without going into debt at the personal and governmental level to prevent banks from sucking money out of the circular economy. Striking debt from the process of creating money would be a simple fix to help turn the tide against systemic domination by rentiers and financiers.

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Geopolitics of War

From Storm Clouds Gathering, this video is solid research on what drives American Empire, mainly Oil and the Dollar.

Geopolitics of World War III

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The Boy the Earth Talks to: Gold and Progress in Deadwood

I gave a show called Deadwood a chance a few weeks ago and was swiftly plunged into television series binge-mode. The addicting nature of Deadwood comes from the carefully worded script illustrating the political forces acting on and inside a town that suddenly emerged and rapidly expanded its commerce on the borders of the American federation. The show depicts a camp out in what will soon become a part of South Dakota where people flock to mine gold during America’s westward expansion era. The economic-political dynamics of a not-yet-town in a “lawless” region are interesting enough, but what lit my curiosity up was the end of season 2 when a major capitalist finally came to Deadwood in order to establish scaled-up mining production with an imported labor force. Until then, men had mostly paned for gold and spent the plentiful bounty in the camp on food, alcohol, tools, clothing, property, and whores. But with the coming of the gold-mogul George Hearst, the times of freedom from the law and riches for all (European men) would come to a close.

What gives these people the drive to set off on a journey across the continent is the prospect of riches: the officially recognized currency is just waiting to be plucked from the earth. People say “money doesn’t grow on trees,” but it was once freely gathered from rivers, streams, mountains, and the ground. Gold is advantageous to be used as money for many reasons, and American expansionists lucked out when a commodity that would spur commerce appeared in its desired territories. Take away the convertibility of American and European money into gold and the movement westward, with its instantly flourishing commerce and activity, would never had been accomplished so rapidly and with such excitement. The people of Deadwood find money so easily that exchanging goods and services is intensified, simultaneously spreading the American population throughout the continent and increasing the money supply for fortunes to be made. The possibilities for furthering both Capitalists’ interests and American imperial ambitions in their bordering territories were overwhelming and after the first wave of entrepreneurial miners and military battles against Indians, the next phase of large scale production and low-waged labor now seems all but destined to spread across the continent.

George Hearst first sends his close advisor and chief geologist Wolcott to oversee the purchasing of other’s claims, drawing the land under his ownership and away from the less sophisticated miners. One character remarks, “Pretty soon, this’ll be a company town,” and that’s the design: one town owned by one company owned by one man. Wolcott sees this coming and repeatedly speaks about “inevitable change”, which he helps move along by working for Hearst. In challenging the current manager of the largest gold producing comstock in the camp on its site, he says “the noise is terrible isn’t it… like fate.” Wolcott is the agent of the transformation in America that the viewer already knows will happen: the frontier adventure in the edge of civilization will give eventually way to streamlined production and tightly managed labor.

As the character representing this transformation, Wolcott must be a truly horrible man. He speaks not as a common, “low-born” man with the usual outpouring of obscenities and the ease of transition from casual encounter to a heated confrontation. He holds back his expression without a hint of his inner feelings, but not with the aristocratic elegance of the other characters who fit the sophisticated model. When other well-schooled, upper class characters speak they speak in an excess of coded language to make conversation a game and an art. The dizzying flurry of pretty words with an accompanying sensitivity to inflection conceals the simple meaning of the sentence and forces the interlocutor to carefully decipher it. This is a major marker of class difference between those who can follow the train of thought in the conversation and those left dumbfounded by all of those long and confusing-sounding words. The tensions that so easily boil over with the lower classes and their readiness to project their emotions onto the other party is channeled by the upper class into word-play and a kind of conversational poetics. This dynamic is handled beautifully in Deadwood, with the rapidly spoken obscure words contrasting with the angry crude words, a distinction that signals who is capable of planning ahead and likely scheming in one direction or another.

Wolcott fits in an odd place in this dynamic: he speaks much more like a sophisticate, but also directly and without the radiance of the others. He gives simple commands that speak exactly to his interests without any of the masks that must have made conversation so enjoyable. He does not visibly express himself and offers very little bodily gestures to hint at his meaning. He prefers to speak only to other individuals and not in crowds or groups, giving instructions or listening to new information. He only wants to work with a selection of individuals with major stakes in the camp on a singular basis as he does with his employer. He is merely an officer sent to perform a task for his extremely wealthy employer.

The worst instance of Wolcott character comes in the violence he unleashes upon women. It seems all of the reserve he maintains in his affairs becomes concentrated, and when he becomes frustrated or disadvantaged he takes it out on whores by slitting their throats. It is one of the more gruesome scenes in Deadwood when he takes out three women without any cause other than his own pent up rage. It has happened before in Mexico, so we know this is a character flaw that recurs: he is overcome by an urge to inflict death and dominance over those he can without conflict. His cold and unflinching disposition is suddenly reversed in an explosion of violence.

Might this dangerous flaw be connected to his occupation under the capitalist Hearst? Or perhaps his knowledge and foresight of the direction of the macro-level of the economy brought him to a resigned despair? His murderous actions themselves where predictable – a matron of a high-end brothel knows of his propensity to kill women, but cannot stop him from accessing his favorite whore. He eventually kills her along with the matron and another woman, suggesting that the fate of Wolcott’s favorite whore was already sealed. But is the doom of the young and beautiful whore connected with the foreseeable expansion of mechanical production and proletarianization of the population?

I’ll leave that question unanswered and point to a conversation that Wolcott has with Hearst when Hearst arrives to Deadwood to take control of it. Hearst proclaims an interesting relationship with the earth: he believes the earth speaks to him and that “she tells me where to dig into her.” Spending his life mining for gold has made Hearst extremely wealthy, and his fame is enhanced with such sayings like this. He believe he is listening to the earth and that this intimate relationship with it allows him to find “the color.” When Hearst learns of Wolcott’s murderous tendencies he confronts him:

Wolcott: “As when the Earth talks to you particularly, you never ask its reasons?”
Hearst: “I don’t need to know why I’m lucky!”
W: “What if the Earth talks to us to get us to arrange its amusements?”
H: “Sounds like god-damned non-sense to me.”
W: “Suppose to you it whispers: “You are king over me. I exist to flesh your will.””
H: “Nonsense.”
W: “And to me, there is no sin.”

[Hearst then severs their relationship]

Hearst: “Does some spirit overtake you, is that what you mean by the talk?”
Wolcott: “No.”
H: “Tells me where the color is, that’s all it tells me.”

There is a great confusion about the Earth and God in this conversation. Hearst has personified the Earth in his labors as a miner, propagating the myth that it speaks to him and tells him where to find gold. Wolcott observes Hearst’s relationship with the Earth as one of subjection. In the absence of The Lord God in heaven above, the Earth below becomes for Wolcott the replacement God, yet one that is vulnerable. A wealthy man like Hearst can listen to the Earth and digs into it, extracting its precious metals and in effect becoming lord of the Earth by freely picking at it.

The relationship between a single great God with all power and knowledge and creation in it and the individual human worshiper is a relationship that could only be one of dominance. The voice of the Earth is taken by Wolcott to be like the voice of God, yet also the voice of a slave-body to be drilled into and harvested for its valuables. In the absence of a master-God (which in the later 19th century was becoming a greater cause for concern in European culture than it had been before) the great voice in the cosmic sky above fell mute with but only the Earth beneath our feet to remain attached to. The relationship of power, however, remains only reversed: the great Capitalist owner of the land and producer of goods becomes The Lord of the Earth. The Voice can no longer speak of correcting wayward souls or offering guidance, instead the security of God is replaced with the subdued body of the Earth. He will not talk to the sinners and provide assurance of the moral value of actions, instead, She will be dissected and exploited for what is universally valued in commerce: gold/money.

So is nihilism and the disgust at the sight of a subdued Earth the cause for Wolcott’s horrifying murders? The unstoppable force of Capitalist progress? His inability to take pleasure in the conversational habits and games of the well-to-do? One is about a great loss of meaning both personally and culturally, the next is about the sweep of history and the material conditions that seemed inalterable, the last is about the simple enjoyment of other’s company – the little twists and turns of the conversation that could either enflamed our body into passionate action or create lasting bonds in the face of another’s skill and grace. In understanding the death of God, the subjugation of the Earth, and the coming age of mechanical production, Wolcott finds no comfort in the company of others. He repeatedly tells people not to touch him. These issues are connected in Deadwood as a show and as a artwork; stepping outside of it, we can say that keeping up the pleasures of our bodies in the company of friends (verbally and with proximal remove as well) can have an effect on the other issues that would drive a man to death and despair.

Fittingly to his character, Wolcott hangs himself at the end of season 2 after being fired and during a wedding. Nobody seemed to notice.

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Understanding the Monetary System in America

Matt Taibbi has a good description of the monetary system under the Federal Reserve tucked away in a chapter from his book Griftopia on the gigantic folly of Alan Greenspan. He writes:

“A person can go crazy trying to understand everything the Fed does, so in the interest of sanity it’s probably best to skip the long version and focus on its magical money-creating powers, the key to the whole bubble scam. The bank has a great many functions – among other things, it enforces banking regulations and maintains and standardizes the currency – but its most important job has to do with regulating the money supply.
The basic idea behind the Fed’s regulation of the money supply is to keep the economy as healthy as possible by limiting inflation on the one hand and preventing recession on the other. It achieves this by continually expanding and contracting the amount of money in the economy, theoretically tightening when there is too much buying and inflation and loosening when credit goes slack and the lack of lending and business stimulation threatens recession.
The Fed gets its pseudo-religious aura from its magical ability to create money out of nothing, or to contract the money supply as it sees fit. As a former Boston Fed chief named Richard Syron has pointed out, the banks has even fashioned its personnel structure to resemble that of the Catholic Church, with a pope (the chairman), cardinals (the regional governors), and a curia (the senior staff).
One way that money is created is through new issuance of private credit; when private banks issue new loans, they essentially create money out of thin air. The Fed supervises this process and theoretically monitors the amount of new loans issued by the banks. It can raise or lower the amount of new loans by raising or lowering margin requirements, i.e., the number of hard dollars each bank has to keep on hand every time it makes a loan. If the margin requirement is 10 percent, banks have to keep one dollar parked at the Fed for every ten they lend out. If the Fed feels like increasing the amount of money in circulation, it can lower the margin rate to, say, 9 percent, allowing banks to lend out about eleven dollars for every one kept in reserve at the Fed.”

Having a small reserve requirement from which banks can lend out many times more money that it actually is also called fractional-reserve lending. This supposedly allows money to flow more freely where it is needed, although it is done specifically by private bank loans.

“The bank can also inject money into the system directly, mainly through two avenues. One is by lending money directly to banks at a thing called the discount window, which allows commercial banks to borrow from the Fed at relatively low rates to cover short term-financial problems.
The other avenue is for the Fed to buy Treasury bills or bonds from banks or brokers. It works like this: The government, i.e., the Treasury, decides to borrow money. One of a small group of private banks called primary dealers is contracted to raise that money for the Treasury by selling T-bills or bonds or notes on the open market. Those primary dealers (as of writing there are eighteen of them, all major institutions, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Deutche Bank) on occasion selling those T-bills to the Fed, which simply credits that dealer’s account when it buys the securities. Through this circular process the government prints money to lend to itself, adding to the overall money supply in the process.”

The Fed’s primary and most often used tools for regulating the money supply is through manipulating interest rates:

“When a bank falls short of the cash it needs to meet its reserve requirement, it can borrow cash either from the Fed or from the reserve accounts of other banks. The interest rate that the bank has to pay to borrow that money is called the federal funds rate, and the Fed can manipulate it. When rates go up, borrowers are discouraged from taking out loans, and banks end up rolling back their lending. But when the Fed cuts the funds rate, banks are suddenly easily able to borrow the cash they need to meet their reserve requirements, which in turn dramatically impacts the amount of new loans they can issue, vastly increasing the money in the system.
The upshot of all of this is that the Fed has enormous power to create money by injecting it directly into the system and by allowing private banks to create their own new loans.. If you have a productive economy and an efficient financial services industry that rapidly marries money to solid, job-creating business opportunities, that stimulative power of a central bank can be a great thing. But if the national economy is a casino and the financial services industry is turning one market after another into a Ponzi scheme, then frantically pumping money new money into such a destructive system is madness, no different from lending money to wild-eyed gambling addicts on the Vegas strip-and that’s exactly what Alan Greenspan did, over and over again.”

The power that the Fed has to manipulate the amount of money coursing through the economy at any given time is enormous. The function of such an institution is stability and easing financial hardship, but when factions and class interests are factored in, the misused of the power to control how much money gets pumped into the people’s pockets (all by loans with attached interest from banks and, therefore, an increasing debt burden) is epic. Remember: private banks create new money when they issue loans. This means that when the Fed lowers interest rates: the federal funds rate (meaning the banks can now borrow from each other or the Fed to meet its reserve requirements), the freedom of banks to lend is increased dramatically. More money is extended to people (often referred to as households – it is the economy remember) but as loans or as credit. This loan will theoretically be paid off eventually, but until then, people remain holding a debt that will gradually increase due to interest rates the bank sets on its own (besides the rates the Fed sets).

The U.S. government itself (in the form of the Treasury) also must borrow money from the Fed to finance its expenditures and pay out its dollars. Recall from above that the Treasury must contract out to banks the selling of its Treasury bonds and bills, then receives its (the Treasury’s) own money that it printed after the sale. Since these are bond and bill purchases that must take place before the money is allowed to enter existence as currency, the government must go into debt and pay back the investors who bought those bonds and bills eventually and with interest. Hence the skyrocketing U.S. national debt.

From both the perspective of the people and the government, debt is built into money from the start. But it doesn’t have to be.

Some will point to the Federal Reserve and say: “there is the problem. End the Fed or nationalize it, we can create money debt-free and end the national debt.” A number of people have wised up to this parasite on the money supply and have a similar idea: a national currency of “Greenbacks” the likes of which were seen in Lincoln’s Civil War era and Benjamin Franklin’s colonial Pennsylvannia. The currency would then be be created by publicly and not by private banks siphoning off interest right from the start. Here is a list of people who have more-or-less come to the same conclusion:

Ellen Brown

Stephen Zarlenga:

Bill Still:

The UK’s Positive Money:

A good blog post was put out on Washington’s Blog about the prospects of a nationalized, public central bank and public banking in general as a panacea:

Be sure to read this whole post. They bring on Steve Keen at the end to say that Public Banks are not enough because of the speculative gambling that takes place on Wall Street and the financial trickery that allows money to be multiplied many times over will not be stopped by the public issuance of money. Getting at the source is important, but not sufficient in creating lasting solutions to fictional bubble economies. Regulation of finance is crucial: as long as bankers and financiers are allowed to bid-up asset prices like land, housing, and commodities, the bubbles and an unstable currency will continue despite a tighter control of the money supply. Keen’s key is to stop the debt-leveraging of asset prices.

Very heavy financial reform and regulation is required to stop gigantic crises that spread misery throughout the Earth. These financial technologies like derivatives, mortgage-backed securities, and naked short selling were cooked up by the smartest people the academies produced (many of the brightest minds in physics left the field to work on Wall Street in the past few decades) and are difficult for regulators to stay on top of. Class interests prevent legislation from being passed on Capitol Hill due to banker capture and unlimited campaign financing. The way out of this mess is hard to see.

The decision makers in politics and finance will move when their power is threatened however. A few quick outlets:

People have been pointing to a far-left/far-right alliance of end-the-Fed Libertarians and progressive Socialists. If they stay away from falling in with the large Corporate backers and Banker class of ultra-wealthy and become popular, they could make radical legislative changes. See Ralph Nader here

The specter of a very unpopular war with Russia and perhaps China (which would mainly be caused by currency and oil control around the globe) could propel a mass movement to change what is in essence an imperial financial system. See here

A debt strike or jubilee would immediately make banks insolvent and provide the open space for alternative solutions formerly considered “too radical.” See Andrew Ross here

Revolution (early reports are unclear about how this would happen).

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