Archive for the 'Merrily We Globalise' Category


Here at the Central Ombudsman’s Board of Accession (COBA), we like to celebrate the achievements of our beloved ombudsmen the world over. So a hearty congratulations to Elisabeth Beikirch, the newly anointed “Ombudsfrau” of the German Underwear Ministry for Sneezes. We were present at the, ahem, later ceremony, ritual, and sacrifice, and we can report that the omens were appropriately neutral.

While at COBA, we normally refer to all our members and provisional members as Ombudsmen regardless of sex, the unique institution of the Ombudsfrau has special significance in German culture, in particular the production of the Ombudsbrau, the neutrality inducing drink used since ancient times in Teutonic cultures to ensure even-handedness in judgement.

So congratulations, Ms. Beikirch! May all your ministerial sneezes be unbiased.

No one could have predicted…

[The] crisis struck, in the form of an international economic failure. […] We have … become so accustomed to our political and business leaders addressing themselves only to limited manifestations of the crisis and always in a positive way — stimulating what they call a temporary recession or managing a Third World debt problem or waging a localized war against inflation or concentrating upon that portion of an economy which they superficially stimulated to the point of explosion while the rest remains in profound decline — that we are never quite certain whether the depression is still with us or is on the point of disappearing. Nightly, it seems, we drop off to sleep with the vague expectation that all will be clear in the morning. Mysteriously, there is always a new explosion in the night and when we awake , the problem has been transformed into yet another limited manifestation.

This depression, of proportions as great if not greater than that of the 1930s, still engulfs us. None of our governments appear to have any idea of how to end it. How could they? The essence of rational leadership is control justified by expertise. To admit failure is to admit loss of control. Officially, therefore, we haven’t had a depression since the 1930s. And since most experts — the economists, for example — are part of the system, instead of being commentators in any real, independent sense , they contribute to the denial of reality. In other words, there is a constant need in our civilization to prefer illusions over reality, a need to deny our perceptions.

[…] After the economic crisis of the 1930s, we created a multitude of control valves and safety nets in order to avoid any future general collapse — strict banking regulations, for example, social security programs and in some places national health care systems. These valves and nets have been remarkably successful, in spite of the strains and the mismanagement of the last two decades. However, because the rational system prevents anyone who accepts legal responsibility from taking enough distance to get a general view, many of our governments, desperate and misguided, have begun dismantling those valves and nets as a theoretical solution to the crisis.

Worse still, tinkering with these instruments has become a substitute for addressing the problem itself. Thus financial deregulation is used to stimulate growth through paper speculation. When this produces inflation, controls are applied to the real economy, producing unemployment. When this job problem becomes so bad that it must be attacked, the result is the lowering of employment standards. When this unstable job creation leads to new inflation, the result is high interest rates. And on around again, guided by the professional economists, who are in effect pursuing, step by step, an internal argument without any reference to historic reality. For example, in a single decade the idea of using public debt as an economic tool has moved from the heroic to the villainous. In the same period private debt went in the opposite direction, from the villainous to the heroic. This was possible only because economists kept their noses as close to each specific argument as possible and thus avoided invoking any serious comparisons and any reference to the real lessons of the preceding period.

In general terms all this means that management methods are being mistaken for solutions and … [a]s a result we are perpetually either on the edge of a recession (never in it, let alone in a depression, whatever the indicators say) or we are artificially flush and then manage to convince ourselves that we are flying high.


Our societies turn upon democratic principles, yet the quasi totality of our leading citizens refuse to take part in that process and, instead, leave the exercise of political power to those for whom they have contempt. Our business leaders hector us in the name of capitalism, when most them are no more than corporate employees, isolated from personal risk. […] Never has there been such a sea of available information, and yet all organizations — public and private — work on the principle that information is secret unless specifically declared not to be. There is a conviction that governments have never been so strong and at the same time a sense that they are virtually powerless to effect change unless some superhuman effort is made. Or … after a century of carefully building both self-respect among employees and job stability for them, our first reaction when faced by a depression is to move out of manufacturing and into service industries.

— John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards (1992), pp 10-2.

Depress freedom

On the occasion of the Convention on Modern Liberty currently taking place in the UK, Times Online published a column by novelist Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass) on the surveillance state and the erosion of civil liberties in Britain.

Or rather, it briefly published this column and then, apparently, withdrew it. At the time of writing, the original link led to an error page — though the column was still listed in search results for the Times Online site. The Google cache of the page was scrubbed.

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The winter of our disco tent

Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former US diplomat under Nixon, BushDaddy, and Clinton, recently gave a speech on Diplomacy and Empire (via) to a meeting of retired foreign service personnel. It’s a fairly stark indictment of BushBaby/neocon “diplomacy is for girly-men” tantrum-based foreign policyOh alright, I’ll say it (but I’ll put it in this footnote and I don’t have to like it): read the whole thing.:

Our humbling on the battlegrounds of the Middle East does not reflect military inadequacy; it is rather the result of the absence of strategy and its political handmaiden – diplomacy. We are learning the hard way that old allies will not aid us and new allies will not stick with us if we ignore their interests, deride their advice, impugn their motives, and denigrate their capabilities. Friends will not walk with us into either danger or opportunity if we injure their interests and brush aside their objections to our doing so. Those with whom we have professed friendship in the past cannot sustain their receptivity to our counsel if we demand that they adopt secular norms of the European Enlightenment that we no longer exemplify, while loudly disparaging their religious beliefs and traditions. Diplomacy-free foreign policy does not work any better than strategy-free warfare.

When war is not the extension of policy but the entrenchment of policy failure by other means, it easily degenerates into mindless belligerence and death without meaning. Appealing as explosions and the havoc of war may be to those who have experienced them only vicariously rather than in person, military success is not measured in battle damage but in political results. These must be secured by diplomacy.

The common view in our country that diplomacy halts when war begins is thus worse than wrong; it is catastrophically misguided. Diplomacy and war are not alternatives; they are essential partners. Diplomacy unbacked by force can be ineffectual, but force unassisted by diplomacy is almost invariably unproductive.

Continue reading ‘The winter of our disco tent’