We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Are Television News Anchors So Irrelevant?

Most people by this point know either subconsciously or consciously the main reasons for why CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox News regulars act like a group of preppy high school girls. Let's briefly list 4 common reasons before moving on to the underlying explanation.

5) The nature of their work as charismatic and believable presenters of information rather than experts. It is key to mention that the separation between 24 hour cable networks and brief "serious" 6 PM broadcasts on basic cable is disappearing. It used to be that the evening news audience demographic was numerically dominated by the group of elderly depression era females. This explained the need for senior citizens like Dan Rather who was ideal marriage material for the widowed viewers and delivered the authority of a small town doctor. To this day a doctor is shown by polls as the most respected wage laborer whose opinion is considered the most truthful (it makes doctors natural lead characters in TV drama series and movies). However this demographic is dying off and being replaced by baby boomer women (greater female life expectancy always tilts corporate marginal profit seeking) who respect Katie Couric's professional achievement and ability to look good at her age.

4) Support by biggest media corporations of Reagan's efforts to reduce funding for department of education (either through cheerleading it or tacit support from silence). 40 year olds watching the news on TV today were directly affected by the across the board reduction in quality of schooling. Television and newspapers thus have to use less big words and their writers are increasingly relying on baby speak, puns, and outright prepackaged talking points (Gretchen Carlson playing dumb to keep her job is one extreme example of this). Shorter attention span is not the cause but the social symptom. This directly feeds into 3)

3) MSM responding to an Australian tabloid oligarch's invasion of United States with headlong rush towards turning news into entertainment. Of course this would have happened even without the accelerating influence of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation conglomerate. The aging of current TV demographic is permanent since mostly those remain who are unable to master the use of internet two way transmission medium. Since the audience is increasingly represented by rural senior citizens who were failed by the education drives in the 50s and 60s, the intensification of circus style hysterical entertainment as seen on the radio is inevitable in the short term. Murdoch's influence must again be mentioned however. Newstartainment ( trademarked =] ) saw a publicly visible deepening split between internationalist media oligarchs (who encourage globalization since USA is not essential to their base of operations) and nationalist media oligarchs who use their media asset influence to help out USA based heavy industry. NBC Universal can be said to be an example of a nationalist oligarch mouthpiece since it is owned by General Electric (which is reliant on selling real tangible items like engine parts to US military and government organs). News Corporation of course is not as reliant on the well being of United States military-industrial complex so its assets like Fox News can be extra irresponsible with their newstartainment. From the financial perspective it is better strategy for GE's bottom line to support nationalist Democratic party wing of the oligarchy (since better educated/healthier peasants allow US based corps to better compete abroad). That is why MSNBC leans towards democratic millionaires and their businesses. The fact that Fox News was emulated points less to its success than to a transition of formerly US tied corporations towards a more global status. For more information on who the top 10 owners of media clusters are, here is a handy chart (warning : This is from 2002 and the industry got more consolidated  and monolithic since then. Use it to get the thrust of the idea).

2) Losing ad revenue to the internet since television news (and TV programming in general) did not live up to its promise of raising human consciousness as envisioned by the first head of the FCC. The internet serves as a type of American glasnost while television serves as a way to sell state propaganda and mass produced TV drama garbage at home and abroad. That is easily recognizable. Getting young people's trust back (to keep going long term as old people die) is now almost impossible and the road of least resistance is to intensify the circus. Some young people watch the news and MTV just to laugh at how terrible it is (that still is a mild boost to ad revenue). News "anchors" themselves do not come into contact with relevant information much since their networks have actively cut recruitment of journalistic investigative talent. Since it is cheaper to analyze second hand information with talking heads than hire sufficient numbers of understimulated human explorers (and pay for their plane tickets, hotel accommodation, security, etc), news anchors come less and less into real contact with knowledgeable experts. Ridiculous cowards like Wolf Blitzer for example, do not get hits to their self esteem as much from interaction with resident stay at home talking heads than with old school journalist data fiends like Michael Ware. To be fair, as Fox News anchors show, there is a lot of self censorship and dumbing down to remain on the job.

***drum roll***

And the underlining explanation is....

1) National news anchors and pundits are members of the wealthiest 1% of the population. Even if they started out poor (which is increasingly becoming unlikely as key people in the conglomerate hierarchy flood these simple job openings with their children) the long cut throat climb to the top irreparably changed them. The laughing playboys on TV are completely insulated from vast majority of the problems that Americans are facing (except of course problems of taxes on income and capital gains and regulations on financial gambling). Whether they work for Fox, CNN, MSNBC, many of them are good friends and are always on the look out to jump ship to another network to bump up their salary. People like Anderson Cooper, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity would never be caught dead riding a piece of third world joyride called the NYC subway. To them life in America is great and getting better all the time. Every day is just an ego bolstering practice of either driving from luxurious suburbs or being driven to a place where people put make up on them, where they see their friends, and where they talk to some senior citizen politicians/celebrities (who are naturally as insulated). They sit down and chit chat about the problems of places like Detroit ( which for all intensive purposes is as foreign and distant as cities in Africa are). They are goofy and full of giggles not just because they are professional entertainers but because the anchors that elderly people get their "news" from are but middle aged preppy high school girls on the equivalent of a fashion show.

Such dramatic disconnect having continued for as long as it has could only have created neurotic social perceptions the ripple effects of which we'll be feeling for years to come.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, December 14, 2009

Looming Escalation Between Venezuela and Colombia

Both countries stand to gain from violent confrontation within F.A.R.C. controlled Colombian territory. The danger of the current escalation calls for direct Brazilian involvement to help resolve it

The recent defeat of Tamil Tigers by Sri Lankan leadership reminded the world of a simple truth. It being that even decades long civil wars can come to an end through the sustained use of violence instead of political settlement or outside mediators. This is good news and inspiration for Colombia's Harvard educated lawyer president Alvaro Uribe. After all, Sri Lanka's government was able to build up its military and political will for a fast paced, decisive, and successful end game (something that eluded Colombia's military for half a century now).

It's much easier for the international community to work with the government responsible for mass war crimes if that government is victorious and not engaged in a neverending quagmire. Uribe's military build up in recent years through Plan Colombia (with devoted, accelerated, financial, and technical support from Bush and Obama administrations) indicates that he is looking to imitate Sri Lanka's example of national unification before Venezuela and her allies make it impossible. Venezuela, with Russia's assistance and financial support, is about to open Western Hemisphere's first factory for production of AK-103 rifles and ammunition for them. Chavez's near future capability to annually produce 50,000 rifles and ammo will allow him to really bolster the capability of FARC allies in Colombia's jungles. If the rumors of various anti-aircraft missiles being provided by the Kremlin are correct, then FARC will also be able to neutralize Uribe's American provided troop transport helicopters and aircraft that periodically terrorize forest villagers with chemical weapons (under the drug war fig leaf pretext of eradicating coca plants).

Uribe seems to be running scared. That is demonstrated by his recent decision to give United States control over a number of Colombia's military bases, to some civilian infrastructure like airports, and to allow US troops immunity from prosecution. No self-respecting imperial puppet deepens his humiliating dependency into Karzai status unless absolutely necessary. Puppets usually try to push for more autonomy from Washington DC. In fact, Fidel Castro's recent article even went as far as to say Colombia was virtually annexed under Obama's watch. Rather than the statement being a rhetorical exaggeration, Castro points out that that at no previous period in time did the Colombian oligarchs allow American military to have as much control over their domain.

Perhaps Uribe is hoping to avoid Saakashvili's fate by having enough American troops on his territory to deter a Venezuelan military response during the end game. Once Colombian government launches an all out attack on FARC controlled zones to consolidate control over the country, it will want to also attack FARC's hiding and refueling safe havens in border parts of Ecuador and Venezuela. Right now those safe havens help FARC out the way parts of Pakistan help out the Taliban. Considering Venezuela's arms purchases, the outcome of an attack by Colombian military that doesn't also extend across the border may prove to be disastrous, humiliating, and inconclusive.

Colombia is not a recently acquired protectorate like Georgia and has been a way for United States to destabilize the region for decades (to prevent South American economic cooperation/integration the way it is occurring now). It makes sense for Uribe to think his country is safer from counterattack attack than Georgia was. However, USA's current weakened economic condition, loss of domestic desire for more imperial adventures, and change in political leadership means time is running out for a military solution. Venezuela's position is getting stronger and it doesn't have rebels to fight like Colombia.

Colombia literally cuts off Venezuela geographically from its ally Ecuador, prevents meaningful cooperation between the two in construction of infrastructure like railroads, and allows United States a springboard (that extends from another puppet Panama) to exert influence on the continent. It is finally in America's interest to end the decades old civil war there before Brazil and Venezuela end it themselves on their terms while gaining prestige in the meantime. Having a loyal puppet inside the South American economic unification schemes would provide an important Trojan horse for Washington (the way England/Poland are used now as Trojan horses to slow down and disrupt EU consolidation as a center of force on the planet).

Time is also running out for Chavez. Even though US economic power is fading in the region (not to be confused with the hard power of military presence), Brazil's is growing. Considering that Brazil is also Colombia's neighbor, Lula Da Silva may soon be seen as more constructive/inspirational in the region than Chavez. Colombia under a government more favorable to Bolivarian style continental unification would physically shut United States out of South America, provide more influence over the strategically key Panama, and give Chavez led center-left Spanish speaking cluster of countries a way to be co-equals with Brazil in deciding continental policy.

Uribe and Chavez thus both have great potential rewards from a military confrontation if each man manages to make it happen on his terms and control the public perception after wards.

That is why Brazil must step in and actively work with other global players with interests in the region (China in resources such as Chilean copper and Russia in infrastructure development such as nuclear power plants) to put pressure on Obama and deter Colombian government from emulating Sri Lanka's military solution. Brazil has shown its willingness to be a strong sovereign power by acting independently from US in providing solutions during the Honduran coup crisis. Although Lula Da Silva has a center-left union organizing history and has more in common with Chavez than Obama, he can be the perfect bridge between the two. Obama for his part needs to break away from the influence of some elites in American military establishment. The leak about Afghanistan troop build up deliberations and McChrystal's impudent behavior shows that there are elements in the American Military-Industrial complex that need to be shown who the boss is. International pressure must also be applied on Chavez since he is a military man and may decide on some sort of violent preemption (either sharp escalation of indirect aid to FARC rebels or even direct limited engagement if Colombian threat seems overwhelming or there is perception of American weakness). If Brazil and other countries agree with Chavez that FARC is a belligerent entity (the way an army is) rather than a terrorist organization, it may begin the process of dialogue towards a non-violent political settlement.

A regional war or Afghanistan style escalation dragging major players is not what the American people on both continents in the Western Hemisphere need right now.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Heavy Industry Requires Direct State Control

Demand for big capital intensive consumer products like hospitals, trains, spacecraft, schools, bridges can only be adequately provided by the state

The sight of former textile and paper factories being turned into overpriced lofts in many Western cities shows how light industry can pick up its belongings and leave the country at a moment's notice. Competition in manufacture of small relatively portable consumer goods (anything smaller than a civilian car) has produced an enormous jump in technological evolution of gadgets. These are the glaring successes of capitalism that cannot be ignored. Thomas Friedman and Karl Marx have spent half of their famous books describing these efficiency victories of the market. The breakneck pace of progress in small consumer goods has made declining economic/social power (of most of the world's population) more tolerable by negating some of the suffering. Although proletariat of the world (99% of world's people who don't purely live off capital investment such as neurosurgeons, 80 grand a year white collar workers, McDonalds staff, etc) have been becoming increasingly impoverished from mechanization, light industry provided some relief. Shiny televisions, increasingly powerful computers, and Wi-Fi cellphones have masked the decline somewhat. After all, a dollar in 2009 buys exponentially more computing power than a dollar in 1999 or 1989 so small electronics are seeing a form of mind blowing deflation.

The capital intensive products of heavy industry have lagged behind pathetically however. A dollar in 2009 doesn't make you travel substantially faster around the world than a dollar in 1989. Neither does it give you a lot more quantitatively and qualitatively better education or health. Space progress is not the only macro technological arena that has stagnated. What happened to the space shuttle is happening in virtually every macro heavy industry reliant area of planetary activity. The major lag in development of HI products versus LI products deserves major international attention.

What are HI products? Let's name some:

1) aircraft, trains, spaceships, bridges, tunnels, mines, deep sea oil platforms, heavy transport ships, submarine habitats, deep space habitats, power plants, large farms

2) machines that create the parts for the value added products above and machines that create these machines, factories where these machines are located and that have the personnel that is employed to run the factories

3) supporting infrastructure to items in 1) and 2) such as transport infrastructure linking the extraction of raw materials to the processing plants to the assembly plants to the distribution plants (vertical downstream and upstream chains)

60 year old bridges are being driven on by 3 year old cars. A person from 1840s would easily recognize the trains of today when it comes to their function and utility. This person would not undergo the same awe as a horse riding mail courier would at the sight of video conferencing from laptops and such.

What people forget is that bridges, spaceships, and factories full of cutting edge robotics are just large value added products. Sure, a factory that makes engines for spaceships may have more moving parts within it than a cellphone but when it comes to the totality of a particular assembly line's singular functioning, it is but a product that is in demand for a buyer. An iron ore extraction plant is also a product with multitudes of customers (large scale consumers). So why is it that the market has consistently failed to produce evolutionary leaps in HI consumer products as breathtaking as the ones in LI consumer products?

Well, the common reply is that because these big consumer products are capital intensive, it's hard to get investment for really exotic large scale experiments in new means of large scale production and extraction. The argument goes on to point out that due to the long term nature of these difficult projects, it's hard to get enough investors with the patience and vision to really stick around.

The problem in a nutshell boils down to insufficient capital, insufficient patience (especially in an era of quarterly results and fast paced financial sector gambling with quick returns), and insufficient appetite for risk as is common in companies controlled by shareholders rather than singular ego driven 19th century style oligarchs. To be fair, often governments put too much restriction on really revolutionary projects such as private space exploration. However, at the end of the day, the global stagnation in high macro technology and infrastructure is the result of capitalism fundamentally failing at meeting peoples demand for complex value added HI consumer products.

Do people want to fly from London to Tokyo in half the time in safe hypersonic craft? Yes they do. Do they want their drinkable water to be cleaner, cheaper, and more available? Of course. Lets not even get into the desire for modes of transport that aren't powered by small explosions of hydrocarbons. Since demand is not being met, the only solution to start meeting it is direct total state control of strategic heavy industry products. Control can include or exclude outright ownership but it has to be total (total control without direct ownership is not a contradiction from the standpoint of state capitalism and there are plenty of examples of it). The state has the patience, the vision, and the capital to really start making the same leaps in progress as are occurring in cellphones for instance.

For example: the next generation airplanes shouldn't just be more bloated whales with tiny wings.
They should be substantially faster (hypersonic or even scram jet), cheaper to fly (or free depending on how far the government subsidizes them or decides if ability for travel is an inalienable right), and of course constantly safer and more comfortable.

The simple demand above that we come to expect from LI consumer products (with every new generation laptop, fridge, or lawnmower) may evoke laughter. This laughter is deserved as the current capitalist mode of delivering improvements in HI goods involves is inefficient by its very nature. Even when state governments work hand in hand with large corporate actors to say, build a new high speed railroad, the profit motive keeps the whole enterprise at a very cautious, very expensive, inefficient snails pace. One has to just look at the empty lot where Freedom Tower should have been a few years ago. The shareholders (citizens) of large capable states deserve better for their involuntary investment.

That is why direct control by the state of key strategic HI sectors of the economy is a must. People would not even notice the change as this action would take some key industry from mid-level state capitalism as practiced now to maximum level state capitalism as was practiced under Lenin's New Economic Policy. Soviet success of industrialization within one generation (replacing horses with tractors, bringing electricity to areas previously without it, large scale construction of colleges and universities, etc.) found a worthy successor in modern China. Chinese leadership has built incredible gleaming infrastructure within a generation while allowing light industry capitalism to provide things that capitalism is good at providing (hats, shoes, tables, flashlights, DVD players). Things like bridges and new airports however were provided by the state corporations after careful planning with long term future in mind. Chinese have avoided disasters like the Big Dig due to more direct control over all the players throughout the entire vertical business chain. One does not even need to mention the success of Singapore in providing ever improving quality housing (most people there live in public housing).

Of course there is the argument that the state may have the same deficiency at raising capital for these megaprojects. Not every country has a billion tax payers and a large land area. This is not a problem at all as it invites real productive international cooperation in tangible improvement in people's lives. European citizens would jump on board immediately if they knew how much cheaper (if not free) their train rides would be if EU owned enough mines, raw material processing centers, and train assembly lines. When 20-50 countries put their capital together they can reap the benefits of mass production in HI sector. Hypersonic 21st century aircraft, spaceships, small nuclear power plants, floating desalination plants can be stamped out cheaply (with excess remainder bartered with other societies in exchange for anything from coffee to sugar to titanium).

The limit of course would be cooperation at international UN level involving vast majority of the world's actors. That will have to wait a while as the world is undergoing consolidation of regional economic blocks.

The regional economic block that will deliver the best HI goods will eventually become the spine of the first global government. Although it would be preferable if humanity immediately jumped towards global cooperation in management and production of HI consumer goods, the regional block formation seems like a safer way of going about it. Nothing would be more productive for the world (in comparison to the current US dominated vampiric free trade blood draining) than gentle competition between European Union, North American Union, China, South American Union, etc  in who can build better tunnels, mines, spacecraft, etc. It is already happening in a way between large multinationals backed from either Washington DC or Brussels but there are still insufficient political controls. It will be interesting to see the business strategy behind HI products emerging from USAN since this block is being driven in part from resentment from Western economics.

(sidenote: this article is not an argument for more state control but more of an analysis of a process already happening and dissection of fundamental reasons for it. As head of the US democratic party, Howard Dean, recently mentioned, the silly ridiculous argument between socialism and capitalism is finished. It never made sense and only served as a pretext to continue the feud between Eastern and Western planetary elites. It makes more sense to have more state control on international level from the perspective of many rich people and it will thus be done. EU's model of regional integration is now copied by entire continents and the process of continental integration will happen a lot more rapidly now. Unfortunately, the profit motive [now bumped to a higher level and driving gaggles of state heads] and the difficulties listed earlier in the article continue in this process until eventual integration of key economic blocks into a system of world governance and more centralized HI decision making. The alternatives to global integration via non-EU models [Anglo-American led corporate globalization] involve too many risks of violence and unimaginable horrors.)

As for today, with 1 in 6 of Americans having had insufficient food in 2008, the least the state can do is take direct control of middlemen distributors (like Wall Mart and Costco) to better negotiate for and coordinate food supplies to the major urban hubs where people have less access to cars. For the price of 1 week in Iraq and Afghanistan, the authorities can operate hundreds of such distribution points in strategic areas to prevent social unrest.

Stumble Upon Toolbar