Category Archives: business/econ

The World Bank & Wolfowitz

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Steve Bell's cartoon

With all the recent scandal surrounding Wolfowitz and the World Bank, the mainstream media is still so far away from having an actual discussion about the organization and its counterpart, the IMF.

In a nutshell, what happened is Wolfowitz gave his girlfriend a few financial perks, in the form of pay raise. This was unethical given that he is the president of the organization. The World Bank deals exclusively with funds, and there has been major criticism since its inception that its accounting practices are not clear. For the president of the organization to do this reflects, in my opinion, horribly on the institution in general.

One Fox News blogger makes the point that there is a certain level of hypocrisy in the members of the World Bank (which includes 184 countries/members) all of a sudden turning around and pointing the finger at Paul Wolfowitz:

I don’t know whether his efforts to secure a job for a girlfriend meet the resignation test. I do know that it’s more than a little amusing who’s judging him: an organization that’s been playing financial shell games for years and whose members have some curious conflicts of their own.


Point taken; there is an amount of hypocrisy. However, Wolfowitz was a controversial pick in the first place given his total financial inexperience and moreover the controversial Wolfowitz doctrine. Take into account the fact that he was vowing to fix these problems in the first place (here’s a link for you conspiracy theorists) and that makes for a big mess.


So now that Wolfowitz is resigning, the White House is going to appoint a new head of the organization again, instead of installing a transparent and democratic process. Not that the members of the World Bank board are to be trusted anyway, but we’ve been appointing the president of the organization for half a century since its inception and it hasn’t really worked out yet.

My whole thing is that while this scandal “spotlights” the problems behind U.S. control of the bank, we can’t just let Wolfowitz resign and let the issue die. The problem, obviously goes deeper than Wolfowitz.

The World Bank was started in the aftermath of World War II with the goal of helping these war-ravaged nations (namely France) rebuild. Like I said before, the U.S. has always appointed the president informally. The conference where the World Bank was established was called Bretton Woods, which went down in NH.

World Bank Group

So countries like France were devastated and the basic idea became “let’s lend them some dough so they can get together.” Inclusive in this was the idea of ridding the world of all the problems that hindered markets previously. To accomplish this they had to outlaw many of the economic practices of Europe which included unfair devaluation of currency and excessive fining. What would happen was say France was stealing your business with a cheap import, they would devalue French currency so as to give them less buying power, etc.

The idea also carried an idea of free market capitalism, in essence the idea that businesses would be able to flow freely over borders and that there would be so-called “equal access to natural resources.” That really means that anybody with the capitalistic power can enter your country and suck you dry. This kind of happy-go-lucky capitalism would be all well and dandy if some of the poorer nations were able to stack as much green as the richer nations and therefore actually have free access to these resources. Unfortunately, they are not able to do so, and furthermore have no access to the higher up positions in the bank. In this article, Joseph Stiglitz, former World Bank Aide speaks out.

Another criticism is that many nations were forced into compliance with the World Bank because of their ties to colonial powers or their capitalist domination by these selfsame powers, against their wills.

For critical views on the World bank, check out the Bretton Woods Project.
These are the Wikipedia lists of criticisms for the World Bank & IMF

Images from: Steve Bell, Chapatte, Soapbox,

Alberto Gonzales and Thought Crime

Well, as you all know, for a short while politricks.mnp died of pure apathy, but luckily for you out there in the general population, we’re back. At issue today, the totally Minority Report-ish articles that have been going around the net about the Attorney General’s new plan to neutralize internet piracy. Some of the points under his proposal include:

* Criminalize “attempting” to infringe copyright. Federal law currently punishes not-for-profit copyright infringement with between 1 and 10 years in prison, but there has to be actual infringement that takes place. The IPPA would eliminate that requirement. (The Justice Department’s summary of the legislation says: “It is a general tenet of the criminal law that those who attempt to commit a crime but do not complete it are as morally culpable as those who succeed in doing so.”)

* Create a new crime of life imprisonment for using pirated software. Anyone using counterfeit products who “recklessly causes or attempts to cause death” can be imprisoned for life. During a conference call, Justice Department officials gave the example of a hospital using pirated software instead of paying for it.

* Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations. Wiretaps would be authorized for investigations of Americans who are “attempting” to infringe copyrights.

* Allow computers to be seized more readily. Specifically, property such as a PC “intended to be used in any manner” to commit a copyright crime would be subject to forfeiture, including civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture has become popular among police agencies in drug cases as a way to gain additional revenue, and it is problematic and controversial.

* Increase penalties for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anticircumvention regulations. Criminal violations are currently punished by jail times of up to 10 years and fines of up to $1 million. The IPPA would add forfeiture penalties.

* Add penalties for “intended” copyright crimes. Certain copyright crimes currently require someone to commit the “distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period of at least 10 copies” valued at more than $2,500. The IPPA would insert a new prohibition: actions that were “intended to consist of” distribution.

* Require Homeland Security to alert the Recording Industry Association of America. That would happen when CDs with “unauthorized fixations of the sounds, or sounds and images, of a live musical performance” are attempted to be imported. Neither the Motion Picture Association of America nor the Business Software Alliance (nor any other copyright holder, such as photographers, playwrights or news organizations, for that matter) would qualify for this kind of special treatment.

From CNET (News.Com) [Check out their podcast on the issue]


The referenced article also highlights that, in terms of Hollywood, the Democrats seem to be more closely allied to Hollywood than the Republicans. It would be interesting to see how such a bill would be handled in congress.

I, for one, am not comfortable with all that “attempted” language. Furthermore it seems like this may be just some type of diversion on the part of Gonzales to take attention away from his recent lawyer firing scandals. Since the mainstream media drops any scandal that doesn’t payout in 2 weeks like a horse at a glue factory it seems like only the bloggers are all over it. The administration seems to be pointing its big hairy finger right back at the internet.

While it’s common sense that a democracy (er.. of capitalistic nature) needs intellectual property protections, I’m still not sure how far our government should go to be protecting and industry with antiquated business models. For a bunch of old fogeys who still can’t make money off the internet for some unbeknownst reason (Apple seems to be doing well despite the stock scare) the RIAA cats still seem to be doing well for themselves. By “how far” I mean why should homeland security be involved in fighting piracy? I thought they were supposed to be securing the homeland against a perceived threat.

Go Read and Form Your Own Opinion

Bush’s Shadow Army

The Bush Administration is increasingly dependent on private security forces to do its dirty work, Jeremy Scahill reveals in his new book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. 

The often overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is their unprecedented scale of outsourcing and privatization. From the moment the US troop buildup began in advance of the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the government gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, Halliburton was prepping for a massive operation. When US tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in modern war. By the end of Rumsfeld’s tenure in late 2006, there were an estimated 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq — an almost one-to-one ratio with active-duty American soldiers.

To the great satisfaction of the war industry, before Rumsfeld resigned he took the extraordinary step of classifying private contractors as an official part of the US war machine. In the Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial Review, Rumsfeld outlined what he called a “road map for change” at the DoD, which he said had begun to be implemented in 2001. It defined the “Department’s Total Force” as “its active and reserve military components, its civil servants, and its contractors — constitut[ing] its warfighting capability and capacity. Members of the Total Force serve in thousands of locations around the world, performing a vast array of duties to accomplish critical missions.” This formal designation represented a major triumph for war contractors — conferring on them a legitimacy they had never before enjoyed.

Contractors have provided the Bush Administration with political cover, allowing the government to deploy private forces in a war zone free of public scrutiny, with the deaths, injuries and crimes of those forces shrouded in secrecy. The Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress in turn have shielded the contractors from accountability, oversight and legal constraints. Despite the presence of more than 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq, only one has been indicted for crimes or violations. “We have over 200,000 troops in Iraq and half of them aren’t being counted, and the danger is that there’s zero accountability,” says Democrat Dennis Kucinich, one of the leading Congressional critics of war contracting.


Rocker David Byrne Making Sense at SXSW Fest

Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne wants record labels to focus more on marketing than on manufacturing and distribution in the face of increasing digital album sales.

Byrne gave a presentation entitled “Record Companies: Who Needs Them?” at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, Thursday. He offered a slide show that predicated digital sales would outstrip CD sales by 2012.

That year will be the “tipping point,” much like the mid-to-late ’80s when CDs overtook cassette sales. Once download sales became the norm, Byrne said, it will allow manufacturing and distribution costs to approach zero. “That is a fact,” he said.

He said at that point, record labels will be faced with a sort of choice — to ramp up marketing services to use music as a loss leader for tours and merchandise revenue, or aim only for international stars of the ilk of Britney Spears.


‘Yahoo Betrayed My Husband’

Five years later, Yu, 55, sits in the dining room of a small house in Fairfax and weeps softly. She is a slight woman — 100 pounds and barely 5 feet tall in slippers. Her eyes betray her exhaustion; but she is determined, too. She carries a thick stack of notes with her, and she has scrawled more on her left hand.

“Yahoo betrayed my husband and deprived him of freedom,” Yu says through a translator, her voice trembling. “Yahoo must learn its lesson.”

Yu’s husband is now in Beijing Prison No. 2, serving a 10-year sentence for inciting subversion with his pro-democracy internet writings. According to the written court verdict, the Chinese government convicted Wang, in part, on evidence provided by Yahoo.

After a year of preparation, Yu flew into Washington, D.C., last week for one purpose: to find a lawyer and sue the internet giant. She told her story to Wired News in the Virginia headquarters of The China Information Center, a nonprofit advocacy group headed by former dissident Harry Wu, who helped arrange Yu’s travel to the United States.

Now that she’s here, Yu says she’s not leaving until she has held Yahoo accountable.


Chiquita to Pay $25M Fine in Terror Case

Banana company Chiquita Brands International said Wednesday it has agreed to a $25 million fine after admitting it paid terrorists for protection in a volatile farming region of Colombia.

The settlement resolves a lengthy Justice Department investigation into the company’s financial dealings with right-wing paramilitaries and leftist rebels the U.S. government deems terrorist groups.

In court documents filed Wednesday, federal prosecutors said the Cincinnati-based company and several unnamed high-ranking corporate officers paid about $1.7 million between 1997 and 2004 to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known as AUC for its Spanish initials.

The AUC has been responsible for some of the worst massacres in Colombia’s civil conflict and for a sizable percentage of the country’s cocaine exports. The U.S. government designated the right-wing militia a terrorist organization in September 2001.

Prosecutors said the company made the payments in exchange for protection for its workers. In addition to paying the AUC, prosecutors said, Chiquita made payments to the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as control of the company’s banana-growing area shifted.

[The Guardian]

Google To Anonymize Data

Google is reversing a long-standing policy to retain all the data on its users indefinitely, and by the end of the year will begin removing identifying data from its search logs after 18 months to two years, depending on the country the servers are located in.

Currently, Google indefinitely retains detailed server logs on its search engine users, including user’s IP addresses – which can identify a user’s computer, the query, any result that is clicked on, their browser and operating system, among other details. Even if a user never signs up for a Google account, those searches are all tied together through a cookie placed on the user’s computer, which currently expires in 2038.

The new policy will be global, but there will be variances by country, especially in Europe where a data retention rule passed in 2005 requires ISPs and phone companies to keep data from six months to two years. After that time period, Google will “anonymize” the search data from web and image searches by dropping either the second half or last quarter of I.P. addresses, thus turning an address such as into 127.0 or 127.0.34. The goal is to make it technically impossible to retroactively tie a query back to a computer, unless the query included identifying information.


Two Perspectives on the Iraqi Draft Oil Law

“Whose Oil Is It, Anyway?” [NYTimes]:

A new oil law set to go before the Iraqi Parliament this month would, if passed, go a long way toward helping the oil companies achieve their goal. The Iraq hydrocarbon law would take the majority of Iraq’s oil out of the exclusive hands of the Iraqi government and open it to international oil companies for a generation or more.

In March 2001, the National Energy Policy Development Group (better known as Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force), which included executives of America’s largest energy companies, recommended that the United States government support initiatives by Middle Eastern countries “to open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.” One invasion and a great deal of political engineering by the Bush administration later, this is exactly what the proposed Iraq oil law would achieve. It does so to the benefit of the companies, but to the great detriment of Iraq’s economy, democracy and sovereignty.

“Three cheers for Iraq’s new hydrocarbon law” []:

The recent hydrocarbon law, approved after much wrangling by Iraq’s council of ministers, deserves a great deal more praise than it has been receiving. For one thing, it abolishes the economic rationale for dictatorship in Iraq. For another, it was arrived at by a process of parley and bargain that, while still in its infancy, demonstrates the possibility of a cooperative future. For still another, it shames the oil policy of Iraq’s neighbors and reinforces the idea that a democracy in Baghdad could still teach a few regional lessons.

To illustrate my point by contrast: Can you easily imagine the Saudi government allocating oil revenues so as to give a fair share to the ground-down and despised Shiite workers who toil, for the most part, in the oil fields of the eastern region of the country?

US Rep Defends Mixtapes and Mashups on Floor of Congress

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Representative Mike Doyle made a moving statement on the congressional floor last week in defense of music mashups and mix tapes.  Doyle discussed remix artist Girl Talk, arrested mix tape maker DJ Drama and even Paul McCartney’s admission that he used a bass line right out of a Chuck Berry song.  The statement was made as part of the very important (and frightening) congressional debates about the future of radio. 

Video and more at the link below:

Spying Too Secret For Your Court: AT&T, Gov Tell Ninth

AT&T told an appeals court in a written brief Monday that the case against it for allegedly helping the government spy on its customers should be thrown out, because it cannot defend itself — even by showing a signed order from the government — without endangering national security.

A government brief filed simultaneously backed AT&T’s claims and said a lower court judge had exceeded his authority by not dismissing the suit outright.

Because plaintiffs’ entire action rests upon alleged secret espionage activities, including an alleged secret espionage relationship between AT&T and the Government concerning the alleged activities, this suit must be dismissed now as a matter of law,” the government argued in its brief (.pdf).

The telecom giant and the government are appealing a June ruling in a federal district court that allowed the suit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against the telecom to proceed, despite the government’s invocation of a powerful tool called the “states secrets privilege,” which allows it to have civil cases dismissed when national secrets are involved.

California Northern District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled, however, that since the government had admitted it was wiretapping Americans without a warrant and that AT&T had to be involved, the case could go forward tentatively. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the government and AT&Ts’ appeal in the coming months.


Viacom Sues YouTube for $1 Billion

Big Media took its first big swing at YouTube Tuesday as Viacom Inc., the owner of MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and other cable networks filed a $1 billion copyright lawsuit against the video-sharing site and corporate owner Google Inc.

The lawsuit marks a sharp escalation of long-simmering tensions between Viacom and YouTube and represents the biggest confrontation to date between a major media company and the hugely popular site, which Google bought in November for $1.76 billion.

Last month Viacom demanded that YouTube remove more than 100,000 unauthorized clips from its site, and since that time the company has uncovered more than 50,000 additional unauthorized clips, Viacom spokesman Jeremy Zweig said.


Russians: Iran nuke plant to be delayed

MOSCOW – The state-run Russian company building Iran’s first nuclear power plant said Monday that the reactor’s launch will be postponed because of Iranian payment delays.

Russian media reports, meanwhile, indicated that the Kremlin was growing tired of Iran’s nuclear defiance in the face of U.N. Security Council sanctions, with three agencies citing an unidentified official warning Iran to cooperate and stop playing “anti-American games.”

Russia, which has remained close to Iran even as the Islamic republic defied international demands to stop enriching uranium and answer  questions about its nuclear program, has accused Iran of paying only a fraction of the $25 million monthly payments for construction work at the Bushehr reactor in recent months. Officials have warned that the funding delays would push back both the launch — originally planned for September — and the delivery of the uranium fuel needed to power the reactor.



Meet BLACKWATER USA, the world’s most secretive and powerful mercenary firm. Based in the wilderness of North Carolina, it is the fastest-growing private army on the planet with forces capable of carrying out regime change throughout the world. Blackwater protects the top US officials in Iraq and yet we know almost nothing about the firm’s quasi-military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and inside the US. Blackwater was founded by an extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian mega-millionaire ex- Navy Seal named Erik Prince, the scion of a wealthy conservative family that bankrolls far-right-wing causes.

Drones vs. Missiles

Government scientists and military contractors have proposed all kinds of tricks to protect passenger planes from shoulder-fired missiles since 2002, when an Israeli 757 was attacked in Kenya. Laser dazzlers, microwave blasters, even chemical-powered ray guns have all made the list. According to the DD story (sorry folks, subscription only), Homeland Security’s plan involves placing a drone is a perpetual orbit over airports. It’s part of a broader science and technology effort called “Project Chloe.”

Under Chloe, the UAS [unammned aerial system] would loiter for a day at around 65,000 feet above an airport. At that altitude an unmanned aircraft would be above the National Airspace and not conflict with routine aircraft traffic managed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The system would be equipped with a missile warning system and a DIRCM ["Directional InfraRed Counter-Measures," which use missile-confusing laser beams] to detect and defeat shoulder-fired missile threats, Cohen said. A higher powered laser would likely be needed than what is envisioned for commercial aircraft because of the high altitude, he said. Cohen also suggested that instead of blinding the missile’s seeker, a laser could be used to decoy it to a higher altitude where it would eventually run out of fuel.


Obama’s Investment Problem.

Less than two months after ascending to the United States Senate, Barack Obama bought more than $50,000 worth of stock in two speculative companies whose major investors included some of his biggest political donors.

One of the companies was a biotech concern that was starting to develop a drug to treat avian flu. In March 2005, two weeks after buying about $5,000 of its shares, Mr. Obama took the lead in a legislative push for more federal spending to battle the disease.

The most recent financial disclosure form for Mr. Obama, an Illinois Democrat, also shows that he bought more than $50,000 in stock in a satellite communications business whose principal backers include four friends and donors who had raised more than $150,000 for his political committees.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama, who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination in 2008, said yesterday that the senator did not know that he had invested in either company until fall 2005, when he learned of it and decided to sell the stocks. He sold them at a net loss of $13,000.

The spokesman, Bill Burton, said Mr. Obama’s broker bought the stocks without consulting the senator, under the terms of a blind trust that was being set up for the senator at that time but was not finalized until several months after the investments were made.