Sunday, March 29, 2009

An ancient basis for tomorrow's financial regulations: Rethinking usury law

From a blog post by Jay Michaelson in The Huffington Post :

 On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced sweeping changes in the nation's finance rules, specifically targeting the derivative financial products that led to the credit crisis, mortgage crisis, banking crisis, and the crisis in the American automobile industry.. Predictably, some conservatives have responded that such policies would lead to "socialism," or a similar compromise of the free-enterprise American dream.

In fact, such regulations are as old as the Ten Commandments, and as American as apple pie: they are nothing more than an update of the ancient prohibitions on usury, or the unfair charging of interest. And while today, "usury" has a whiff of the antiquarian about it (or worse, one of antisemitism), if we look closely at what usury laws were meant to do, I think we'll discover that they are much more relevant, and worthy, than we might suppose.

Western civilization's original usury laws are found in the Bible: the Torah contains several prohibitions against lending money at interest, and the New Testament several condemnations of it. Deuteronomy 23:20-21 is representative: "Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother: interest of money, interest of victuals, interest of any thing that is lent upon interest. Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou puttest thy hand unto, in the land whither thou goest in to possess it."

I will return to the distinction between Israelite and foreigner below, but first, however, I want to explore rationales for the usury prohibition in the first place. In the Deuteronomy passage above, the reason is somewhat generic: interest is forbidden, like many other ritual and ethical acts, "so that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou puttest thy hand unto."

In Leviticus 25:35-37, however, a more specific reason is given: "And if thy brother be waxen poor, and his means fail with thee; then thou shalt uphold him: as a stranger and a settler shall he live with thee. Take thou no interest of him or increase; but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon interest, nor give him thy victuals for increase."

Here, at least two reasons are given: first, the ethical value of caring for the poor, an second, "that thy brother may live with thee." If one were to charge interest, the text suggests, the bonds of society would collapse; rich and poor could not live together. Leviticus goes no further than this, but later commentators in Jewish and Christian traditions developed these dual rationales. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, said that usury is both morally wrong and an improper form of "double-charging," because money is a means of commerce, not a thing in itself.

~ more... ~

Judges deal blow to CIA 'kidnap' trial

John Hooper reported from Rome for The Guardian :

A trial in which 25 CIA agents are accused of kidnapping a terrorism suspect ran into serious difficulties last night when Italy's constitutional court upheld key objections raised by the Italian government.

Prosecutors say the suspect - Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar - was snatched off the streets of Milan six years ago and flown to Egypt. There, he has claimed, he was tortured under interrogation.

The constitutional court decided that in building up their case against the US intelligence operatives and another eight defendants the prosecutors violated state secrecy. In particular, the judges upheld objections to the use of material gathered in a raid in 2006 on an unofficial outpost of the intelligence service in Rome.

The court revoked several passages in the indictment. But it was not immediately clear if their ruling would mean the trial had to be called off.

The case represents the most comprehensive effort anywhere to apply the law to an alleged extraordinary rendition, in which a terrorist suspect is seized by US officials in a foreign country. In several renditions since the Bush administration launched its "war on terror" the suspects are alleged to have been transferred to third nations where torture was used.

Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, headed a previous government at the time of Omar's disappearance. He and the head of Italy's last, centre-left administration, Romano Prodi, both endorsed challenges to the trial's legality.

The court did not uphold all the state's arguments. In its one-page ruling, it said the prosecutors were entitled to order wiretaps to be put on the telephones of Italian intelligence officers.

Mainstream media focus on violence in Greece...

...rather than on the marvelous, beautiful movement that is the uprising.

For instance:

From The Times : Athens wracked by violence

...Greece has been plagued by daily bombings and arson attacks on banks and multinational businesses since the police shooting of a teenager in December, which sparked the worst riots the country has seen in decades...

From Easy Bourse : Youths Attack Stores In Greek City Of Thessaloniki

Unknown assailants attacked a car dealership in Athens using petrol bombs and gas cannisters today, causing serious damage but no injuries in the latest spree of violence to rock the Greek capital...

This may be part of the strategy of containment that is unfolding. When the police or places of business are attacked, the news reaches an international audience. When squatters defending a public park from the Athens mayor's bulldozers because they don't want to see it turned into a parking garage are viciously attacked by hoodlums and barely manage to survive, the issue is buried.

The truth is that politicians are so frightened by the prospect of people actually taking charge of their lives, their futures and the common property that is rightfully their inheritance, that they have imposed a media blackout on all the peaceful -- and effective -- actions taking place all over the country. The large passive majority who depend on mainstream media for their news have no clue that actions are unfolding all the time. Many think the uprising is something that ended in December.

Nothing could be further from the truth. New squats are being announced daily. Groups ranging from artists to the gay/lesbian community are presenting and outlining new models of behavior and tolerance, and are challenging the monolithic control of all life that seems to be the purpose and understanding of what we otherwise call the marketplace. New paradigms are being presented to the public psyche.

The system prefers a passive populace who lack the resources to actively protest the rape of all that is, by reason, their rightful legacy and just provenance: civil and human liberties, property, the right to determine and enjoy the fruits of their labor, the right to voice their opinions and to actively give shape to their future, etc. It would appear that the 'free world' is challenged by those who would deign to be free.

And so, while the Greek state is preparing for a possible state of siege -- besieged itself by its true master, the moneylenders who keep downrating its borrowing status until they are satisfied that compliance with their order of things is back on track -- and while police state tactics continue to unfold, and while there is an uncanny silence about the rising body count of unknowns since the uprising began -- fished from Piraeus harbor or found in deserted fields -- Greek lawmakers are busy studying the tactics of the rebels in order to legislate against them.

They have much to legislate against, and squatters appear to be first on their list. Squatting has become the latest vogue. People are squatting on public property. Entire communities are reclaiming the commons from municipal authorities for whom public lands are nothing more than cash cows. Not only is the Greek state entering another privatization frenzy in its effort to appease the moneylenders but memories are raw from the forest lands that were ravaged by fire in recent years and turned into plots for sale. People are squatting in their workplaces to protest labor conditions. People are occupying union buildings, university campuses and even the national music hall in Athens was 'liberated' for nine days.

The latest squat, 'inaugurated' yesterday in the Alsos of Pangrati, was a beautiful display of community solidarity. The community is trying to prevent the mayor's plan to resurrect an old theater with a new concession stand. The community responded by bringing their children to the park's playground, where they played and painted and were entertained by music and even a radical version of the classic shadow puppet theater. Squatters of public lands in the Athens area will be marching en masse to City Hall in a couple of days.

The truth is the state apparatus has its work cut out for it. Its greatest fear is that its irrelevance, and perhaps even the danger it poses, to the population it theoretically serves, will become evident. And that the people will discover they are more capable of defending all the things that the politicians have been pilfering and selling by stealth to the money people for so long that they now consider this to be the natural order of the universe.

The ruse of Israel's new government

From Tikkun :

Uri Avnery analyzes the strategy to avoid peace and reconciliaition that will be the center of the Israeli government's approach to manipulating Barack Obama.

Uri Avnery
28.3.09

[Former Member of Knesset Uri Avnery is the most respected leader of Israel's peace movement. He is chair of Gush Shalom and lives in Tel Aviv.]



Biberman & Co.

IS THIS the government of Biberman (Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman) or perhaps of Bibarak (Bibi and Ehud Barak)?

Neither. It is the government of Bibiyahu.

Binyamin Netanyahu has proven that he is a consummate politician. He has realized the dream of every politician (and theatergoer): a good place in the middle. In his new government he can play off the fascists on the right against the socialists on the left, Liberman's secularists against the orthodox of Shas. An ideal situation.

The coalition is large enough to be immune from blackmail by any of its component parties. If some Labor members break coalition discipline, Netanyahu will still command a majority. Or if the rightists make trouble. Or if the orthodox try to stick a knife in his back.

This government is committed to nothing. Its written “Basic Guidelines” – a document signed by all partners of a new Israeli government – are completely nebulous. (And anyhow, Basic Guidelines are worthless. All Israeli governments have broken their agreed Basic Guidelines without batting an eyelid. They always prove to be rubber checks.)

All this was acquired by Netanyahu on the cheap – a few billions of economic promises that he would not dream of fulfilling. The treasury is empty. As one of his predecessors in the Prime Minister's office, Levy Eshkol, famously said: “I promised, but I did not promise to keep my promises.”

He also bestowed ministries on all and sundry. This little country will have 27 ministers and six deputy ministers. So what? If necessary, Netanyahu would have given a ministerial chair to each of the 74 members of the coalition.


THE PINNACLE of his achievement was the acquisition of the Labor party for his government.

In one stroke he turned a government of lepers, which would have been viewed by the whole world as a crazy bunch of ultra-nationalists, racists and fascists, into a sane and balanced government of the center. All this without changing its character in the least.

The most ardent supporter of this feat was Liberman, the new Foreign Minister of Israel. This extreme racist, this spiritual brother of the French Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Austrian Joerg Haider (I hope both, the living and the dead, will not feel insulted), was very anxious about what was awaiting him. In his imagination he saw himself extending his hand to Hillary Clinton and being left with his arm dangling in the air. Leaning forward to kiss Angela Merkel only to see her draw back in horror. Unpleasant.

The addition of the Labor Party solves everybody's problem. If the social democrats are joining the government, all this talk of fascism must be nonsense. Obviously, Liberman has been misunderstood. He has been misrepresented. He is not a fascist at all, God forbid. He is not a racist. He is just a traditional right-wing demagogue who exploits the primitive emotions of the masses to garner votes. Which elected politician could object to that?

Indeed, the whole government has been given a kosher certificate by Ehud Barak. He continues the glorious Labor Party tradition of political prostitution. In 1977, Moshe Dayan entered the new government of Menachem Begin and gave it a kosher certificate, when the entire world considered Begin a dangerous nationalist adventurer. In 2001, Shimon Peres entered the new government of Ariel Sharon and gave him a kosher certificate, when the entire world saw in Sharon the man responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre.


WHY DID Barak do this? And why did the majority of the Labor Party support him?

Labor is a government party. It has never been anything else. As early as 1933 it took over the Zionist movement, and since than it ruled the Yishuv (the pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine) and the state without interruption until Begin's ascent to power in 1977. For 44 consecutive years it held unchallenged power over the economy, the army, the police, the security services, the education system, the health system and the Histadrut, the then all-powerful labor federation.

Power is encoded in the party's DNA. It's much more than a political matter – it's its whole character, its mentality, its world view. The party is unable to be an opposition. It does not know what that is, and even less what to do with it.

I observed the Labor members in the Knesset, during the short periods they were stuck in opposition. They were downcast and mournful. Dozens of them were wandering forlornly around the corridors, like phantoms, lost souls. When they went up to the rostrum, they sounded like government spokesmen.

The Likud suffers from the opposite syndrome. Their predecessors were in opposition throughout the days of the Yishuv and during the first 29 years of the state. Opposition is in the blood of Likudniks. Even now, after many years (with interruptions) in government, they behave like an opposition. They are the eternal discriminated-against, miserable and bitter, people from the outside looking in, full of hate and envy.

Ehud Barak personifies the syndrome of his party. Everything is owed to him. Power is owed to him, the Ministry of Defense is owed to him. I would not have been surprised if he had insisted on a clause in the coalition agreement appointing him Minister of Defense for life (and his yeoman, Shalom Simchon, Minister of Agriculture for life). Governments come and governments go, but Ehud Barak must be the Minister of Defense – be the government rightist or leftist, fascist or communist, atheist or theocratic. It does not matter how he functions in his job – his appraisal can be nothing less than perfect.


SO WHAT will this government do? What can it do?

As far as the most important matter is concerned, there is complete unanimity. Liberman, Netanyahu, Barak, Ellie Yishai of Shas and Danny Hershkovitz of the “Jewish Home” party are in total agreement about the Palestinians. All of them agree on the need to prevent the establishment of a real Palestinian state. All of them agree not to talk with Hamas. All of them support the settlement enterprise. During Barak's stint as Prime Minister, the settlements grew even faster than during Netanyahu's tenure. Liberman is himself a settler, Hershkovitz's party represents the settlers. All of them believe that there is no need for peace, that peace is bad for us. (After all, it was Barak, not Netanyahu or Liberman, who coined the phrase “We Have No Partner for Peace”.)

So what will be the real platform of this government?

In four words: Deception for the fatherland.


ON THIS government's chosen path there lies a huge rock: the United States of America.

While Israel made a big leap to the right, the US has made a big leap to the left. One can hardly imagine a greater contrast than that between Binyamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama. Or between the two Bara(c)ks – Barack Obama and Ehud Barak

Netanyahu is conscious of this problem, perhaps more than any other Israeli leader. He grew up in the US, after his father, a history professor in Jerusalem, felt himself deprived of his rightful place in academia because of his extreme right-wing views and went to America. There Binyamin attended high-school and university. He speaks the fluent American English of a traveling salesman.

If there is one thing that unites practically all Israelis, from right to left, it is the conviction that the relationship between Israel and the US is critical for the security of the state. Netanyahu's main concern is, therefore, to prevent a serious break between the two countries.

Barak was admitted to the government precisely in order to avoid such a clash. Netanyahu wants to visit the White House with Barak, not Liberman, at his side.

The clash seems inevitable. Obama wants to create a new order in the Middle East. He knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict poisons the atmosphere against America in the Arab, and indeed in the entire Muslim world. He wants a solution to the conflict – exactly what Netanyahu and his partners want to prevent at any price, except the price of a breach with the US.

How to do this?

The solution is written in the Bible (Proverbs 24:6): “For by ruses thou shalt make thy war.”

(In the King James version, the Hebrew word Takhbulot is translated as “wise counsel”. In Modern Hebrew it means ruses, tricks, ploys – and that is the way it is understood by all Hebrew-speakers today.)


FROM THE beginnings of Zionism, its leaders have known that their vision necessitates a large measure of make-belief. It is impossible to take over a country inhabited by another people without disguising the aim, diverting attention, hiding the acts on the ground behind a screen of flowery words.

All states lie, of course. 400 years ago, a British diplomat, Sir Henry Wotton, observed: “An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Because of the special circumstances of their enterprise, the Zionists have had to use deceit perhaps a bit more than usual.

Now the task is to present to the world, and especially the US and Europe, a false picture, pretending that our new government is yearning for peace, acting for peace, indeed turning every stone in search of peace - while doing the exact opposite. The world will be submerged by a deluge of declarations and promises, accompanied by lots of meaningless gestures, conferences and meetings.

People with good ears are already hearing Netanyahu, Liberman and Barak starting to play around with the “Arab Peace Initiative”. They will talk about it, interpret it, accept it ostensibly while attaching conditions that empty it of all content.

The great advantage of this initiative is that it does not come from the Palestinians, and therefore does not require negotiations with the Palestinians. Like the deceased “Jordanian Option” and others of its kind, it serves as a substitute for a dialogue with the Palestinians. The Arab League includes 22 governments, some of which cooperate on the sly with the Israeli leadership. They can be relied on not to agree among themselves on anything practical.


BUT DECEIVING, like dancing the tango, takes two: one who deceives and one who wants to be deceived.

Netanyahu believes that Obama will want to be deceived. Why would he want to quarrel with Israel, confront the mighty pro-Israel lobby and the US Congress, when he can settle for soothing words from Netanyahu? Not to mention Europe, divided and ridden by Holocaust guilt, and the pathetic Tony Blair moving around like a restless ghost.

Is Obama ready to play, like most of his predecessors, the role of the deceived lover?

The Biberman/Bibarak/Bibiyahu government believes that the answer is a resounding yes. I hope that it will be a resounding No.

Copyright regime vs. civil liberties




Google Tech Talks
July 31, 2007

ABSTRACT

Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party and the international politicized pirate movement, talks about the rise and success of pirates, and why pirates are necessary in today's politics. He'll also outline the next steps in the pirates' strategy to change global copyright laws.

The fight against copyright aggression tends to focus on economic aspects of the shift to a networked economy. Rick explains how this conflict is much more important than that: the fight against the copyright regime is about the right to fundamental civil liberties - down to the postal secret, whistleblower protection, freedom of the press, and the very right to...

[ via 'peace-in-mind' ]

'Australia' Baz Luhrmann trailer spoof



'Australia' movie trailer parody.
Featuring clips from:
-Vegemite ad 'Happy Little Vegemites' 1956
-Jonah, Summer Heights High 2007
-QANTAS ad 'I Still Call Australia Home' 1998
-Men At Work 'Down Under' 1981
-The Melbourne Cup 2005
-Yellow Pages ad 'Not Happy Jan' 2001
-Rolf Harris 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport' 1963
-Strictly Ballroom 1992
-CityRail voiceover
-Chopper, Ronnie Johns Half Hour 2006
-Trent From Punchy, 2008
-Pauline Hanson, 1997
-Lara Bingle ad 'Where The Bloody Hell Are You' 2006
-Paul Hogan ad 'Shrimp On The Barbie' 1984

13


From The View From Here magazine

"Well it seems a long time ago that we started off the magazine with a team of 4 - almost a year now.

Now we are all grown up with a team of 13."

A great site to visit, btw.

"The View From Here is a print and on-line literary magazine with author interviews, book reviews, Exclusively Independent News, original fiction, cartoons, articles and behind the scenes features.

We exist to provide an environment for authors and poets to feel connected and inspired and to showcase new talent.
"

Charlie Frost - ThisIsTheEnd.com

'The end is nigh! Or not'

From Epochalypse soon :

This coming November, 2012 a big-budget popcorn flick directed by master of disaster Roland Emmerich — will open in theaters. Watch the trailer, in which those awesome tidal waves lay waste to a Buddhist monastery high on a Himalayan peak, at whowillsurvive2012.com. Or lose yourself in the film's spin-off promo sites: home page for the bogus Institute for Human Continuity or thisistheend.com, at which Woody Harrelson's crackpot survivalist character posts videos proffering his theories on pole reversal, Kukulcan, and the "Doomsday Vault" seed bank.

[ ... ]

Lyin' Mayans?

Comedian Patton Oswalt has a great bit about witnessing the apocalypse firsthand. The downside is obvious: a fiery, white-hot death. The upside? A table reserved in the "VIP section of eternity."

Everyone up there is like, "Hey, how'd you die?" And they're like, "Bus accident," and "How'd you die?" And they're like, "Fire ants." Then they go, "How'd you die, man?" "How'd I die? In the fucking apocalypse! Oh my God, it was awesome!"

Fun times! And, hey, it still could happen. But if so it's more likely to come about thanks to policy hangovers from the Bush administration than because of any Mayan prophecy.

"We have reams of things the Maya wrote about their calendar and considered significant," says Zender. "They don't talk about the 2012 date. It's not surprising, because it was so far off that it wouldn't have meant anything to them, really. There's no indication whatsoever, on any of the stone monuments or any of the texts, that 2012 was a matter of concern for them."

[ ... ]

One of the appeals of apocalyptic thought is that, one way or another, it offers an ending. "There is an interesting psychology at work here," says Landes. "I know people who, because they're uncertain about the future, would rather have failure than live in uncertainty."

The hairier things get, the "more we seek a sense of closure," Landes argues. "Psychologically, many people adopt the language of apocalypticism to sort of go cosmic with [their] own personal anxieties."

And, he says, Oswalt's apocalypse routine is spot-on. "The attraction people have to apocalyptic beliefs is megalomaniacal. When you believe that the apocalypse is going to happen in your day, essentially what you're saying is that 'I am one of the people that is privileged to live at the climax of history.' If you take one more step and say 'I have an active part in this,' then you step up on stage. You're on stage in the greatest drama in the history of the human race. That's pretty heady stuff."

So just imagine how many people will be sorely disappointed when the paroxysms of 2012 — like those of 2000 and of every projected date before that — fail to materialize.

But fear not! The end may be coming soon enough. If Weiss doesn't lay awake at night dreading the intrusion of Planet Nibiru in 2012, he does fret over another potential deep-impact event.


~ more... ~

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