“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, November 17, 2001

Remora

Another article about Bush's ties with the bin Ladens, this time in In These Times (which is going to be publishing a review of mine in the next week. Okay, Limited Inc is biased towards these guys. In these Times? Hey, greatest little lefty mag in American, if you ask us).



The story would be uninteresting if it claimed, as others have claimed, that the Bushes have financial interests in common with the bin Laden family's interests. This, to my mind, is a rather sleazy guilt by association technique. Rosalyn Carter was once photographed with the Reverand Jim Jones, but that doesn't mean she was privy to the Guyana Punch Bowl massacre. I don't think the left should make semi-racist background noises about Saudi financiers. If you are an Arab with money, you aren't necessarily dirty. I am rather shocked at how easily the progressive mind can embrace that stereotype.

More interesting is the description of Bushypoo's ties with BCCI, the notorious suckers bank international that came apart, along with Clark Clifford's reputation, in the early nineties. Ah, Children, you don't remember Clark Clifford? Once a D.C. giant, laid low by the BCCI scandal. Like most D.C. giants, his reputation depended on his context -- that D.C. sterility, that D.C. second handedness, which even in Henry Adams' day was the outstanding quality of the town:

"Every hope or thought which had brought Adams to Washington proved to be absurd. No one wanted him; no one wanted any of his friends in reform; the blackmailer alone was the normal product of politics as of business."

But lets not be harsh -- our D.C. giants exude the morals of the blackmailer, without necessarily practicing his arts.

Well, to continue: the BCCI connection would make sense as a channel for money to and from various political "action" groups, like Osama bin Laden's. Most interesting part of the In these Times article is the last two grafs:

'Worst of all, bin Mahfouz [a BCCI 'principal', whatever that means]allegedly has been financing the bin Laden terrorist network�making Bush a U.S. citizen who has done business with those who finance and support terrorists. According to USA Today, bin Mahfouz and other Saudis attempted to transfer $3 million to various bin Laden front operations in Saudi Arabia in 1999. ABC News reported the same year that Saudi officials stopped bin Mahfouz from contributing money directly to bin Laden. (Bin Mahfouz�s sister is also a wife of Osama bin Laden, a fact that former CIA Director James Woolsey revealed in 1998 Senate testimony.)


When President Bush announced he is hot on the trail of the money used over the years to finance terrorism, he must realize that trail ultimately leads not only to Saudi Arabia, but to some of the same financiers who originally helped propel him into the oil business and later the White House. The ties between bin Laden and the White House may be much closer than he is willing to acknowledge."

What those connections are actually about is the impossibility of being rich and being unplugged into this world where everyone plugs in. And if you are rich and buying flight training simulators for your on the leash apprentices, you are still, as a wealthy man, doing business with the men and companies your apprentices, unleashed, are going to attack. The point here isn't that Bush was secretly financing bin Laden, but that the bin Ladens of the world are battling against the network in which they are as stuck as Brer Rabbit was in the tarbaby. It is this that made the 9/11 attack not only criminal, but vain in the deepest sense. The world isn't going back there.


Friday, November 16, 2001

Remora

Carol Morehead at Index has a must read or not read or don't know if one should read article on the Taliban propensity to torture (limited inc has a definite limit, not inc., on how much torture in a text we can stomach). We were feeling a little guilty about celebrating the victory of the Northern Alliance. James Ridgeway, who we certainly respect, at the Village Voice had some scoriating things to say about the thuggishness of said Good Witch of the North Alliance, and the American responsibility vis a vis Afghanistan:

"Shielding the refugees from the marauding Taliban and tribal fighting led by the U.S.-backed thugs of the Northern Alliance will almost surely necessitate a long-term commitment of American ground forces in Central Asia."


But as one reads through Ridgeway's article, one gets an uncomfortable sense that Ridgeway considers everything that happens in Afghanistan somehow the fault of the USA. In actuality, the threat of mass starvation in Afghanistan preceded the War. In fact, it is one of the great crimes of the Taliban regime. Although they were undoubtedly on the spot when it came to such central public policy issues as destroying pagan images, ie art, the systematic persecution of women in Afghanistan, the Taliban's one great contribution to political discourse, wasn't just a human rights disaster, it also targeted the most educated part of the population. Now, my readers can surely connect the dots: the blame, if we are looking for blame, for the starvation that is even now sending out its tentacles in camps of Afghan refugees, can't be fixed to the US. Blame, hmm. Of course, in one overriding sense it can be, but that sense has less to do with our cruel bombing campaign then our previous interventions and our macro-managing of the world economy, etc. etc. The ironically positive side of this war is that the US will be more inclined, now, to feed the hungry. Four months ago, I don't think that was the case.

Well, here's an excerpt from one of Morehead's interviews. It is with a man who the Taleban (as Morehead spells it) suspected of some kind of subversive activity:

"I was constantly questioned. Sometimes I would be hit with chains or a cable. Most of the time it was with a chain on my stomach. I was given very little food, perhaps half a piece of bread twice a day. I was moved to another prison, where they left me in a hole full of rubbish and stagnant water. Sometimes they poured boiling water down my back.

"They put me into a cage with dogs. I was moved again, to the Department of Intelligence. Here they put pieces of wood between my fingers, and then squeezed my hands. Then they put heavy stones on my eyes and tied a cloth around my head very tightly. I screamed all the time. They also hung weights from my testicles."

A.H. was certain that he would be executed. He managed to escape down the open toilet and through the sewer. Many of the injuries suffered during torture at the hands of the Taleban have been aggravated by wounds received during fighting and attacks by opposition forces.

Dope
'Hunger reduces one to an utterly spineless, brainless condition, more like the after-effects of influenza than anything else," Orwell claimed in Down and Out in Paris and London.

Well, Limited Inc is on that downward spiral too, at the moment, although for less highminded reasons than Orwell. We have discovered that we are living anachronistically, ie the old habit of advancing freelancers money when they don't have it has, we've found in the last two weeks, simply died. It has been replaced by a new habit: you simply don't pay your writers until they have no money whatsoever. Then you see if they can get back on track. There has to be a scientific interest in this, the way there is in, say, cutting the olfactory nerves of a rat and seeing if it makes a difference in his cage life. By treating the intelligentsia to the bottomless pit of poverty (and lets face it, people like Limited Inc are despised anyway for their snobbishness and sniping), surely insights into animal ethology will abound.

So yesterday was day zero for us. The last dollar was taken from the bank. With seven dollars left in our pocket, we looked about the world and realized, we were dead meat.

However, not to fear. We will try the milk and bread routine, see if it works. And until the phone company cuts us off, we are going to continue giving you the fine products of our imagination here at this site.

Hey ho, Silver and away!

Thursday, November 15, 2001

Remora

Limited inc thought that Bushy's hunting metaphors about Afghanistan were way too Big Daddy -- going hunting for those otherskinned coons, it just conjures up the images, n'est-ce pas? And lately the Big Daddy side has been putting its foot down. The booted black foot. Since it looks like we might capture some jihadists, yesterday an emergency decree came down that should be rejected with revulsion by the right thinking. Oh, not that it is going to be. Not when people want blood on their tongue, want to taste it. Here's the WP headline: Military May Try Terrorism Cases: Bush Cites 'Emergency'
By George Lardner Jr. and Peter Slevin
And here are the last grafs:

"Some legal scholars such as John Norton Moore, director of the Center for National Security Law, had favored the creation of an international tribunal by the United Nations Security Council to deal with the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, but others said such tribunals typically drag on for years and lose impact.

"This was an armed attack on the United States, not just a mass murder or a serial killing," said Philip A. Lacovara, a former deputy solicitor general. "It is appropriate to deal with it as a crime against humanity." He also noted that international tribunals created by the United Nations do not authorize the death penalty."

Ah, without the death penalty what good is a court? You can't eat your vittles if you don't kill em first. Who, by the way, is this Lacovara character? Here's his resume.
.htm. A quick computer search reveals that Lacovara has had the fortune to be persecuted as too liberal by certain conservative Republicans in the Reagan years, and the even greater fortune of having argued in the Supreme Court against Nixon's special privileges argument in re his tapes during the golden Watergate years. Such gestures towards a certain inner decency have made him a much quoted man; mostly, his quotes are standard right-wing boilerplate. Never say that dissent, when used cleverly, is a bar to advancement.

Michael Ryan at Tom Paine writes a short protesting note about, well, the injustice of the executive order.

Here are two grafs:
"... now, thanks to an executive order, those of us who don't hold American citizenship -- visitors, green card holders, legal aliens, illegal aliens -- can forget all about the civil liberties that go with due process in the American justice system.

"People of my generation shuddered at Costa Gavras' film Z, which depicted what can happen in a civilized society like Greece when the military takes over the so-called "justice" system. All of us were outraged when Alberto Fujimori's Peru introduced trial by anonymous military judges. We rail against the Chinese system of dragging dissenters before rigged courts before packing them off for decades of imprisonment. Now we seem to be ready to go down the same road."

We are going down that road with this order. No doubt. The unjustifiable detentions, the signs from the margins that marginal political belief is being harried -- it is back to nightside. And, really, it is so tiresome to write about -- Limited Inc can't even find anything clever to say in defense of the obvious, which is that Bush's emergency order is odious, repulsive to decency, and a blot on his already very much blotted reign.


Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Elias Norbert, in his The Civilizing Process, took one of Erasmus' minor works, a book on manners written for boys, as a measure of the civilizing process, such as it was, in the 15th century. Manners, of course, in Erasmus' time were not simply an adjunct to behavior, but the emblem of status and the mark of one's subtlety. Subtlety is power, in the Renaissance. Elias was fortunate to discover Erasmus' text, for it turns out that the humanist had a school teacher's ineradicable impulse to correct the slouching, wayward boy:

"If you pass by any ancient Person, a Magistrate, a Minister, or Doctor, or any Person of Figure, be sure to pull off your Hat, and make your Reverence: Do the same when you pass by any sacred Place, or the Image of the Cross. When you are at a Feast, behave yourself chearfully, but always so as to remember what becomes your Age: Serve yourself last; and if any nice Bit be offer'd you, refuse it modestly; but if they press it upon you, take it, and thank the Person, and cutting off a bit of it, offer the rest either to him that gave it to you, or to him that sits next to you. If any Body drinks to you merrily, thank him, and drink moderately. If you don't care to drink, however, kiss the Cup. Look pleasantly upon him that speaks to you; and be sure not to speak till you are spoken to. If any Thing that is obscene be said, don't laugh at it, but keep your Countenance, as though you did not understand it; don't reflect on any Body, nor take place of any Body, nor boast of any Thing of your own, nor undervalue any Thing of another Bodies. Be courteous to your Companions that are your Inferiors; traduce no Body; don't be a Blab with your Tongue, and by this Means you'll get a good Character, and gain Friends without Envy."

Still good advice, although impossible for Limited Inc to take: we guffaw at obscenities like regular jackasses when we aren't making them ourselves. But we were reminded of Erasmus because a friend invited us today to dine in the cafeteria of the place that she works. That place shall be nameless. Suffice it to say that in the cafeteria, there were numerous, numerous men of around my own age -- middle age, that is -- sitting at tables that looked exactly like the cafeteria tables we once sat at in high school. You have to see this room: a big open space, an atrium space, and it is lunch time, and these men have come out with their selections of the rye bread with the ham and american cheese with the mustard and the fixings on it, the bit of salad or fruit, the coffee or soft drink, the pie. And here Limited Inc was, sitting among this crew of middle managers who, even as they ate, exuded a certain sad achievement, a certain niche of income and marriage and children that can not be, if God is in his heaven, taken away from them, but that they have a nasty, sneaking suspicion in every dream and failed erection is actually being, by forces unseen, taken away from them -- you have to see this. My companion to my left, to whom I directed the sparkles of my wit, barely looked at me. A handsome guy, I thought, but he was obviously wondering who let in the lunatic as he stuffed the forkfuls in his maw and talked about Thanksgiving. The man sitting across from him was a more favored, as in old time, table talk companion, and so his was the Thanksgiving being speculated about. There's another guy sitting to the left of the man sitting across from us, a short guy with white hair and a snub nose, whose eyes would sometimes iridesce with a certain balefulness, although not at anything said in particular, but at some interior vicissitude of memory in which he was either bested or in some obscure way, insulted. The conversation was mainly about the politics of the day, and mainly bloodily ferocious - standard conservative prattle. But what impressed yours truly was not the conversation so much but the end of the meal. One guy after another would finish, then slightly shift his tray away from him, sit back, and cross his arms over his chest. I checked, and it was like choreographed: the sit-back-cross-arms rippling across the room. Think, this happens every day. Still, it was impressive -- the testosterone of a hundred guys with a hundred families putting their arms up like that, as though these arms were tools -- the pipe wrench, the garden shears -- they were hanging in the garage. They'd used em, and now it was time to hang them up.
And I thought, how odd. I live, or lived, among a more boho set of male bodies, and hands and arms do these things at the table: support heads; tear napkins slowly into shreds; make gestures illustrating some conversational point; or lie on the table to give support and even rhythm to the fingers drumming. It took me back to my father's world, where arms did go up to the chest. I found this fascinating and slightly archaic, and it impressed me, once again, with my dizzy disconnect from a good part of white America -- like the old Talking Head's song that ends with David Byrne's squirrely voice singing: I couldn't do the things the/way those people do/I couldn't live there/if you paid me to.
Remora

We should supplement yesterday's rattled post. Although it is good news that the Taliban is collapsing, it is good news with the smell of a corpse. In today's NYT,
David Rohde has written a grim account of the victory over the Taliban.

lede grafs:

"Near an abandoned Taliban bunker, Northern Alliance soldiers dragged a wounded Taliban soldier out of a ditch today. As the terrified man begged for his life, the alliance soldiers pulled him to his feet.

They searched him and emptied his pockets. Then, one soldier fired two bursts from his rifle into the man's chest. A second soldier beat the lifeless body with his rifle butt. A third repeatedly smashed a rocket- propelled-grenade launcher into the man's head."

Later on, Rohde goes for that small but telling little foreign correspondant flourish: in the abandoned Taliban encampment, there's a cooked goat's head on a wooden plate that's been hastily left behind. Shades of Scoop, E. Waugh's scathing novel about journalists on exotic binges.

So -- is the N.A. going to be as brutal as the Taliban? They are certainly going to be less organized. It would be easy to forecast, from the squabbling of their commanders right now, that civil broils loom. Still, the Taliban was a malign force, and we are happy they are dissolving.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Remora

Last night, Limited Inc was planning on writing that there is, at last, good news: if the Taliban has suffered a major defeat by the Northern Alliance yesterday, and if the reports today that the defeat is having a broad, knock down effect, then it is good news all the way around. Here's the graf from the AP story, in the LAT:

"Opposition fighters punched through Taliban defenses about noon today after a punishing attack by U.S. B-52 bombers. Taliban positions began to fall one by one along the main road into Kabul.

A senior opposition commander, Bismillah Khan, said his troops had halted their advance at Mir Bacha Kot, about 12 miles north of Kabul, and were awaiting orders."

The bombing has got to stop. We don't believe the guff about the bombers. But now, with a traditional victory at hand, we have another reason to pull the plug on the bomb squad. Now, mind you, we haven't lost our minds here: this good news is not absolutely good. It would even be very bad, sicne the warlord ridden Northern Alliance isn't anybody's dream of a liberating force. What Afghanistan needs, right now, is massive amounts of food and an organization that can manage distributing it. It needs, in the future, secular humanism of a type -- that is, it needs a system that doesn't penalize women, allows basic human rights, and is allergic to rape, looting, and other ills Afghani governments have been heir to. Well, I don't think Afghanistan is going to get that with the peculiar piratical coalition that has been bringing the fight to the Taliban. If this is good news, it is a comparative good: like being told your house is infested with termites, instead of in flames.

Well, this good news turned sour this morning, for us, when we were awakened by a friend who said, another plane is down. Since one of our favorite people, indeed, a friend of the heart, was flying out of NYC today, this was sickening news. Luckily, Miruna, our friend, is alright, and at this moment headed, via train, to New Orleans. But we are still whirling.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Dope

Gretchen the light of my eyes -- as a biz journalist you have no peer, but... but I must confess that my heart is straying. Yes, Limited Inc just became acquainted with the Guardian's Gregory Palast. We were looking for earlier articles on Argentina, once hailed, in the carefree days when The Lexis and The Olive Tree was supposedly the law and the prophets, as this amazing success story. The South American way (sing it to a Carmen Miranda beat) went via Chile on to the wondrous policies of the USA, where free enterprise made everything (the water, the roads, the women) so much better. That mythical USA, which today is heading resolutely towards budget deficits, still lives in the advice proferred by American officials like Condoleeza Rice, who had the affrontery to suggest that Argentina repair its budget the other day. Condoleeza doesn't seem to have noticed that, with the American economy taking a serious dive, nobody is so silly as to worry about deficits in the Heimat. But in Argentina, where the economy hasn't taken a dive -- it is the unconscious victim sitting in a burning automobile that just skidded off the road and plummeted down a cliff -- in Argentina, the IMF, in its glorious wisdom, advised a major cut in government spending. The advice came with dope, of course, some 15 billion bailout that went not to the wretched of the earth or the unemployed truckdrivers but to such argentinian stalwarts as Emerging Markets man Steve Hanke:
As Palast points out:
"Now do the arithmetic. On Argentina's $128bn of debt, normal interest plus the 16 per cent surcharge by lenders comes to about $27bn a year. In other words, Argentina's people probably won't net one penny from the $26bn loan package. Little of the bail-out money escapes New York, where it lingers to pay interest to US creditors holding the debt, big fish such as Citibank and little biters such as Steve Hanke. Hanke is president of Toronto Trust Argentina, an 'emerging market fund' that loaded up 100 per cent on Argentine bonds during the last currency panic, in 1995.

Cry not for Steve, Argentina. His annual return that year of 79.25 per cent put the Toronto trust at the top of the speculation league table. This year he'll do it again."

Turn the page with me, children, for the next episode of our exciting story! Oh, I forgot to tell you the title of the book? Let's see, let me get my glasses. Here it is! "How to impoverish a country and influence people!" Recommended, it says, for MBAs. What's that? You want a fairy tale? !! This is a fairy tale, a tale of how an enchanting American prince helped screw up a whole kingdom, and feels like maximum macho unapologetic about it! Like any good capitalist. For here he is, Steve with his 79.25 per cent, in the pages of Forbes magazine, which is always generously opening its double column to the true friends of working people.

Read this enchanting piece, where Steve claims credit for having started Argentina on the road to recovery:

"When I first met Carlos Menem in 1989, he had just been elected president of Argentina and was promoting a program to liberalize its sick economy. Menem's problem was hyperinflation. Until it was killed, his reforms would remain on hold.

What to do? Argentina had already tried almost every hyperinflation antidote in the book, and all had failed. By mid-1990, Kurt Schuler and I had produced a sound money blueprint, Banco Central o Caja de Conversi�n. It called for an orthodox currency board regime that would put Argentina's central bank in a straitjacket."

The straitjacket is, you will remember, one of Tom Friedman's favorite metaphors too. Hanke wasn't totally wrong in his prescriptions, even if the intersection between Menem's reforms and Hanke's currency board strongly favored the investment class. Also (time and time again we have to say this at Limited Inc because monetarists are strangely averse to thinking of capitalism as a creative system) there are other influences on inflation, including the competition that comes with imports. And if inflation goes down, as it did in Argentina, it is a mistake to attribute it to any one cause. But that said, the restraint inherent in pegging the peso to the dollar made sense in that context. It makes no sense now. Instead of a straitjacket, it has become a noose. But Steve can't let go of his creation. His latest column on Argentina is a pathetic defense of a policy that has pretty much ruined the country. We won't take our scissors to this seriously screwed up article, but we must quote one marvelous bit. Steve, like some quack doctor, touts his one size fits all currency solution like this:

"Countries that exited from flawed soft regimes and adopted currency boards or "dollarized" in the 1990s have all seen dramatic improvements in their macroeconomic indicators. Examples include Argentina, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Ecuador. Indeed, a shift from a soft regime to a hard one has always ended a currency crisis." Wow, get on board that train, boys. The prosperity of Bosnia awaits you!

There is a more general lesson to be learned from the Argentine crisis, though it won't be. When the class that profits from speculation makes the public policy of a country, the country will eventually suffer. In an essay on Adam Smith, Walter Bagehot explained why nations in the 18th century made a mistake in chosing merchants and factory owners as their favored advisors on economic policy: "Seemingly the most obvious person to consult on matters of trade is the trader; the person who, on first sight, seems likely to know most about a thing, is the person who makes it; and accordingly, the European governments had taken counsel with the producer. But, unhappily, the producer was just the wrong person to consult. What he wanted was a high price for his article, and a monopoly of the market in which to sell it; and the laws he recommended were inevitably framed, more or less, to obtain his wishes; whereas, the interest of the nations which the governments were trustees for, and which they were sincerely desirous to serve, was a "low price", unrestricted commerce from abroad, and a freedom for every one to buy or sell everything at home."

Self interest dictates, to the 79.25 percenter, an economic policy in which the debt the government owes the garbageman for picking up the garbage is secondary to the debt the government owes the emerging markets man for picking up the government's bonds. In reality, a government, unlike a retail store, benefits more from the garbageman. In fact, the bonds are only useful insofar as the garbageman is paid. The world is turned upside down by the New Economy. As always when it is a question of some doubtful utopia, we are told that upside down is its natural disposition. This is the immemorial prejudice of the ideologue; the ultimate critique of the Hanke's of the world is in Gullivers Travels -- book three, the island of Laputa.

And for a more personal side of the Argentine crisis, see this article in the Miami Herald



Dope

We at Limited Inc don't usually read ourselves. We simply go forward to the next topic, with a certain contempt for lingering over the dead and the wounded -- the solecisms, logical gaps, and misspellings of previous posts. But we forced ourselves to read ourselves this morning -- or at least read two week's worth of posts. So many opportunities squandered! So many sensible things dissipated in vain stylistic preening! It is appalling. On the bright side, we are doing a better job of editing, lately. Or so we hope. And the mistakes we make are, after all, dinner table mistakes -- for the whole point of this log is to produce the same effect of spontaneity as is produced by conversation. Our point here is to reassure our readers that we are trying to get better and better. Of course, since our readers are silent, never using the comment tool we took such pains to install on this site, our correctives are still one-sided -- too dependent on our own erratic p.o.v. So it goes.