Monday Mélange

OK I don’t have any good ideas for posts at the minute so I’m just going to copy and paste some stuff that caught my eye when going through my feed reader. Since I got myself one of these heinous mobile devices, I have been mainly following events through my Twitter feed. When I returned to the site of my Bloglines account this morning, it was as overgrown and full of rubbish as a Fingal County Council-maintained lawn. But there were some gems amid the mess.

Starting with Dublin Dilettante’s photo survey of Ballymun’s ‘regeneration’.

Ballymun in June 2010 « Circumlimina

Take a good look at these pictures; when journalists, politicians and commentators talk, voices plangent with squirely concern, about fiscal consolidation, painful decisions and essential cuts, this is what they have in mind for you and yours, unless you happen to be one of them.

You know the way in Ireland you hear calls for Michael O’Leary to be brought in to sort the government out and put an end to waste? Because Michael O’Leary is the head of a profitable Irish enterprise and therefore knows exactly how to get things moving with a raft of common sense measures? Well, they’re trying that in the UK at the minute. Not, mind you, with the head of an enterprise as unrefined and vulgar as Ryanair, but with the former head of a massive British firm respected the world over.

FT.com / UK / Politics & policy – Lord Browne poised for Whitehall role

Nevertheless, Mr Cameron’s wooing of Lord Browne, a crossbench peer and a former business favourite of Tony Blair, was at an advanced stage as the prime minister looked for business leaders to identify savings across Whitehall.

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, has long advocated the introduction of corporate big hitters into Whitehall, expanding the role of non-executive directors who sit on departmental boards which are charged with producing “business plans”.

A number of senior heads of private-sector companies have been approached by the Conservatives to join the group of directors.

These include Sir Chris Gent, chairman of GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant, John Gildersleeve, chairman of New Look, the clothing retailer, and Anthony Habgood, chairman of Reed Elsevier, the publisher. All declined to comment.

Browne, of course, is the former chief executive of BP. And BP is respected in US military bases the world over, as Nick Turse points out in this fine article for Truthdig.

Tomgram: Nick Turse, BP and the Pentagon’s Dirty Little Secret | TomDispatch

While one exceptionally powerful department of the federal government has been feeding money into BP (and other oil giants) with abandon, BP has consistently run afoul of U.S. government regulators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the Center for Public Integrity, “BP account[ed] for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the [oil] refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years.” Records obtained by the Center demonstrate that between June 2007 and February 2010, BP received a total of 862 citations, mostly for alleged violations of “OSHA’s process safety management standard, a sweeping rule governing everything from storage of flammable liquids to emergency shutdown systems.” Of these citations, 760 were considered “egregious willful,” which OSHA defines as a violation even more severe than those committed due to “plain indifference” or evidencing “intentional disregard for employee health and safety.” As a result, BP faces $90 million in penalties which the company is currently contesting.

Over those same years, BP received around $5.7 billion in federal contracts, according to official government data. In fact, the $2.2 billion the Pentagon paid to the oil giant in 2009 accounted for almost 16% of the company’s nearly $14 billion in annual profits.

This fiscal year, the U.S. military has already awarded the company more than $837 million, inking its latest deal with BP in March.

One can see why Cameron finds Browne such an enticing prospect: what better candidate for strengthening the hand of corporate power over the British population than handing the state spending review to the directorship of an individual whose trail of destruction is second to none?

But let’s not allow the company record to be sullied by the performance of one lavishly-paid individual. It has a long pedigree, as Adam Curtis shows:

BBC – Adam Curtis Blog: BP AND THE AXIS OF EVIL

But one of the films is fascinating in the light of the present BP crisis. It is about how the new intake of BP managers is selected, the kinds of training they get, and how they will progress up the company.

It was filmed in 1980, two years before Tony Hayward joined BP. And it gives a very clear picture of the culture that shaped him and many of the others that today run the company. I particularly like the executive role-playing game – played in an old country mansion – using staplers.

The record playing all weekend on my sound system is Reflection Eternal’s Revolutions Per Minute. Talib Kweli has delivered some stunning work down the years, but none as immediate or as urgent as this one with Hitek. One track that bears listening to in this context is Ballad of The Black Gold:

You can listen to it here:

Reflection Eternal – Ballad Of Black Gold by Sneakattackmedia

An excerpt:

We won’t get it poppin’ till we’re oil-free
If you’re oil-rich then we invade it
They call it occupation but we’re losing jobs across the nation
Drill, baby, drill, while they make our soldiers kill
Baby still, the desert where the blood and oil spill

Relevant to the ‘why can’t we just all vote for Scandinavian-style sfuff?’ question I keep hearing in my head, and the ‘let’s all listen to Keynes’ recommendations:

ladypoverty: Old men in the sea

Naturally, Skidelsky’s hero in all of this is John Maynard Keynes, the economic technocrat who, in my uninformed opinion, was a narrowly intelligent dude who was also a product of his socialist-influenced times. Skidelsky likes him because the combined effect was to produce someone who was a not complete moron, who “stood out against the herd.” Without even reading the remainder, one can conclude that what the world needs now are more John Maynard Keyneses coming out of elite institutions and entering into public life — just like we need more FDRs and a replacement Obama.

Liberalism’s problem is that it attributes past successes to whatever elite personalities attended them, rather than to whatever it was ordinary people were doing to bring those successes about — in fact, the only way liberalism has ever worked, at least to the degree that people still think positive things about it. People were doing shit in the 1930’s that contested the relationship between society and investors, and this led to that period of prosperity which made the American “middle class” a reality. It wasn’t because FDR had a magical personality, so all we have to do is help Obama find his inner FDR and he will summon the moral resolve to take on the people who own the country!

I repeat this complaint so often in response to all that liberalism has to offer, and insofar as the overtures are unending, as if Paul Krugman were life coach to the president. There is no technocratic solution to the fact that investors want limitless returns and society wants progress, just as there will be no “negotiation” between organized investors with concentrated resources and unorganized consumers whose commitments are diffuse: those with power must be appeased, even if they are wrong. If that is a principle worth objecting to, then people, not presidents, will have to register the dissent on their own terms.

All the same, Dean Baker notes the determining impact of politics on who gets clobbered.
 
Peter Peterson’s Fiscal Times Blesses Deficit Reducers as Being Non-Ideological and Washington Post Concurs

Of course, the crisis has hit — the country is facing its worst downturn since the Great Depression. While students, workers, and poor people have paid the price, this is entirely the result of politics. The government quickly moved to rescue the major banks, using vast amounts of public money to save Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America from bankruptcy. At the same time, it has refused to spend enough money to boost the economy back to full employment levels of output or take serious steps to prevent people from being thrown out of their homes.

However, the decision to protect the wealthy rather than students, workers, and poor people was entirely a political decision. The banks were able to use their political power to ensure that they got the resources needed to prevent their collapse. On the other hand, those not interested in helping students, workers, and poor people began to highlight concerns about deficits in order to head off additional spending. It may always be the case that the wealthy will dominate the political process to the extent that they do today, but it is worth pointing out that it is politics, not economics, that determines who suffers in a crisis.

That’ll do for now.

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