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Archive for Hollow States

Re-Embedding The Greek Crisis

February 5, 2012 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

I am always suspicious of broad generalizations about entire populations or generations. So, I am not entirely sure what to make of this argument by sociologist Sophia Mappa. Something to think about. It is in French, so here is the gist of it in English.

The starting point of her argument is that Angela Merkel’s inflexibility is incomprehensible to ordinary Greeks. The reason is that such inflexibility is rooted in the protestant culture of the 16th century, something well-known thanks to Max Weber’s classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This moral culture is one of individual obedience to divine law, disregarded due to the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a culture of glorification of labor as a means of salvation which led to human dominion over nature (and other humans) in order to generate wealth and where frugality and puritanism are the norms of individual moral conduct. According to Weber, this is what led to the rise of capitalism. For Mappa, this is what explains its persistence in Germany, even as this system is being questioned all over Europe, as part of both the economic crisis and the legitimation crisis. From this perspective, the laborious and strong Germans’s views of the weakening of their European neighbors stems from these protestant roots.

Mappa argues that German culture is both close and very different from European Latin cultures. It has produced grandiosity and misery at the same time, including a certain intolerance to other cultures and a desire to dominate them and force them to accept the German model. Merkel’s policies reflect such an attitude. Her position seems to push for the punishment of the heretic rather getting out of the crisis.

At the same time, Greek history has different roots, linked to the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. After all, according to Mappa, Greece did not directly contribute to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Westphalian order or capitalism (except as historical remembrance but not as active power player, if I may use that expression). The Greek state, set up in the 19th Century, was not a product of its people’s will. As with all colonized countries, the state apparatus, the constitutions, the kings, the polity and their financing, were provided, right off the bat, by the European chanceries.

The spirit of these institutions never took hold in Greek society. There was no adaptation or emergence of alternatives in order to get closer to Europe. The Greek society then invested these foreign institutions with its own culture, and especially with the centrality of the Church. And so, if it accepted Europe-approved kings, it opposed the emergence of central governance mechanisms, typical of the modern nation-state.

For Mappa, Greek political power is rooted, even to this say, in the imaginary of the Ottoman Empire, that of the beys and other clan chiefs, reigning over their clients and kinship networks, trading material welfare for political allegiance. The now-famous refusal to pay taxes, so widespread in this society, stems this imperial past where taxation was domination, and not construction of a central authority, for the common welfare (at least in theory) beyond particularisms. For the past two centuries, this state has been regulated from the outside: the European chanceries, the US after WWII, and since 1981, the European Commission.

For the past two centuries, then, those in charge of the state have submitted to the diktats from the outside, while adapting them to their own benefit and those of their clients and cronies. That is what the lat Prime Minister - Georges Papandréou – did, and that is what his successor, Loukas Papadimos, will do despite his much vaunted technocratic credentials.

Economically speaking, according to Mappa, there was never any collective acceptance of the spirit of capitalism. Economic activity remained tied to Greek history and traditional trade: agriculture, commerce, fishery, banking and tourism, but not industry. It is not that the Greeks are lazy, as Merkel and other might think. But, despite the common – yet false – idea that capitalism is part of human nature and therefore universal, the Greeks, as many others on this planet, do not get its spirit and mechanisms. And Greece’s entrance into the European Union has not changed that.

And quite predictably, European financial flows, allocated by the European Economic Community were used not for production, for clientelism and and consumption of European-made goods, including weaponry from France and Germany. And under neoliberal governance, the liberalization of the markets and competition from Western goods, the traditional gap between production and consumption led to the current disaster. For Mappa, without a doubt, there is a great deal of responsibility from the Greek society and especially its elite.

BUT… (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you)

European leaders are also to blame for their simplistic economic dogma and the illusion of their omnipotence in governing other countries. They are currently ruining their own societies and preventing EU peripheral countries from recovering from the crisis.

At this point, an EU commissioner would bring nothing to Greece. Quite the opposite. This would only be seen as yet another humiliation that would aggravate the despair and rebellion that are already quite widespread.

So, certain ideas need to be questioned: austerity measures, Merkel’s illusion that one can just shape societies at the snap of a finger, with some stern disciplining from the hegemon. It is not just the destruction of Greece that is at stake, but that of the entire European Union.

And if that was not convincing enough, there is this:

“Homelessness has soared by an estimated 25% since 2009 as Greece spirals further into its worst post-war economic crisis.

The country is now in its fifth straight year of recession and the official unemployment rate is nudging 20%, exacerbated by the austerity measures being pushed through in return for more bail-out money.

Greeks now speak of another section of society: the “new homeless”.

“They don’t have the ‘traditional profile’ of homeless people,” says Ms Nousi.

“They are well dressed and well educated. Until last year they had a good flat or a nice car – and now they have nothing.

“So it’s another kind of misery – another kind of poverty. We were not prepared for this poverty, but it exists.”

One of the new regulars at the kitchen is Vicky Kolozi.

A former journalist with the state broadcaster ERT, she lost her job a year ago and now cannot afford to feed herself and her daughter.

“It is hard to feel that I have to depend on this now,” she tells me.

And that reality is particularly harsh at the moment as Greece shivers in freezing temperatures.”

And beyond Greece, Italy:

“With around one in three young Italians now unemployed, many of its younger generation are contemplating emigrating to destinations as far afield as Africa and South America, in the hope of better employment prospects.”

Posted in Culture, Economy, Embeddedness, Hollow States, Ideologies, Poverty, Power, Precarization, Public Policy, Sociology | 1 Comment »

Durkheim Would Have Predicted That One

September 26, 2011 by and tagged , , , ,

Geez, who could have guessed?

Well, let’s see:

“But after two rescue packages worth ¤210bn, and belt-tightening that has seen the income of the average household drop by 50%, the appetite of Greeks for more measures is clearly running out.

Greece’s great economic crisis has been a gradual war of attrition. Massive job losses, tax increases and galloping inflation have sapped the nation’s energy and, increasingly, Greeks no longer believe what their politicians say. With cuts instead being blamed for slashing consumption, deepening recession and missing deficit-reducing goals, austerity is seen as a pointless exercise that far from exiting the country from crisis has exacerbated its plight.

On the street the view is hardening that the medicine prescribed to rescue Greece’s economy is simply not viable.

“The belt is now at the eighth notch, it’s become so tight there are only two more left, but nothing has improved,” said Georgios Valsamis, a young taxi driver who joined a barrage of strikes that brought public transport to a halt last week. “People in power, MPs, they’re like robots, they do whatever those foreigners [the EU, ECB and IMF] say. We are no longer willing to be a laboratory for failed policies. Low-income earners, those who have been really hit, can’t endure much more.”

That ordinary Greeks, among Europe’s lowest wage earners before the crisis erupted, are being stretched to breaking point is too obvious to ignore. When austerity was first introduced, after the newly elected socialist government discovered the budget deficit to be three times higher than the outgoing conservatives claimed, families took the blow by reining in spending and tucking into savings.

But for pensioners forced to survive on less than ¤500 a month and families hit by unemployment that has reached a record 16%, there is no more room for manoeuvre. The death of faith in the future is the biggest fear.

“The worst part is perhaps psychological because there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no source of hope,” said Dr Thanos Dokos who directs Eliamep, a thinktank in Athens. “When you make sacrifices and you know they will come to something you don’t mind. But that is not the case.”

With the economy set to contract for a fourth year in 2012, Greece is not only mired in a recession not seen since the second world war but has become increasingly unhinged by the crisis. Athens, already strained by a mass influx of immigrants and home to half of the country’s 11 million-strong population, has been the worst hit amid soaring crime and lawlessness.

A new underclass has appeared: in the homeless and hungry who roam the streets; in the spiralling number of drug addicts; in the psychiatric patients ejected from institutions that can no longer offer them a place; in the thousands of shop owners forced to close and board up businesses; in those who forage through municipal rubbish bins at night; and in the pensioners who make do with rejects at fruit and vegetable markets. Suicides have also risen, with help lines reporting a deluge of calls – 5,000 in the first eight months of 2011 compared with 2,500 for all of last year. The announcement this month of a flurry of new taxes, including a draconian duty on real estate, has come as a further shock.

With the prospect of austerity for years to come, a growing number of young Greeks are either returning to their rural roots or fleeing to countries that can offer them a job in what is described as the biggest emigration wave since the 1960s.

“The measures are the blood price Greeks have to pay so that countries like Germany can convince their own constituents they are being punished for years of reckless spending,” said Dokos. “The government’s failure to implement reforms has made the situation worse, but the measures are also counter-productive. The negative impact on the economy is higher than the cash-flow the country needs.”

With desperation has come a collective sense of guilt and depression – more dangerous, say analysts, than even the social tensions that threaten to tear the country apart.

And yet, regional and transnational institutions behave like medieval doctors, prescribing yet more bloodletting or more leeches, focused as they are on a few economic indicators and no obvious concern for the real-life effects of their failed policy prescriptions. And as the Greek society collapses, the witch doctors keep on going “more cuts! more cuts!”.

The state, having been hollowed of its policy-making functions by larger institutions, is now simply administering the toxic medicine to the patient even though it is clear that patient is not responding. As Atrios notes almost daily, we are governed by idiots who do not seem to know what they are doing and are therefore just following the familiar script of neoliberal prescription that they have been imposing on the developing countries. The results will be, surprisingly, the same: developing countries had their lost decade in the 1980s, Western countries are getting theirs now.

In addition, and that is a major ideological giveaway, all this is couched in moral terms: failing countries and their people are accused of sloth, and in need of puritan belt-tightening and lesson in humility and frugality.

In the meantime, “more shields!”:

At least Captain Picard had the good sense of trying something different when the usual prescription kept producing worse effects.

Posted in Anomie, Global Governance, Hollow States | No Comments »

This Is The Future

June 26, 2011 by and tagged , , , , , , , , ,

All explained through three items, that have been extensively discussed on this blog.

1. The global casino, ruled by bankers and drug cartels:

” Juarez has imploded into a state of criminal anarchy – the cartels, acting like any corporation, have outsourced violence to gangs affiliated or unaffiliated with them, who compete for tenders with corrupt police officers. The army plays its own mercurial role. “Cartel war” does not explain the story my friend, and Juarez journalist, Sandra Rodriguez told me over dinner last month: about two children who killed their parents “because”, they explained to her, “they could”. The culture of impunity, she said, “goes from boys like that right to the top – the whole city is a criminal enterprise”.

Not by coincidence, Juarez is also a model for the capitalist economy. Recruits for the drug war come from the vast, sprawling maquiladora – bonded assembly plants where, for rock-bottom wages, workers make the goods that fill America’s supermarket shelves or become America’s automobiles, imported duty-free. Now, the corporations can do it cheaper in Asia, casually shedding their Mexican workers, and Juarez has become a teeming recruitment pool for the cartels and killers. It is a city that follows religiously the philosophy of a free market.

“It’s a city based on markets and on trash,” says Julián Cardona, a photographer who has chronicled the implosion. “Killing and drug addiction are activities in the economy, and the economy is based on what happens when you treat people like trash.” Very much, then, a war for the 21st century. Cardona told me how many times he had been asked for his view on the Javier Sicilia peace march: “I replied: ‘How can you march against the market?’”

(…)

Narco-cartels are not pastiches of global corporations, nor are they errant bastards of the global economy – they are pioneers of it. They point, in their business logic and modus operandi, to how the legal economy will arrange itself next. The Mexican cartels epitomised the North American free trade agreement long before it was dreamed up, and they thrive upon it.

Mexico’s carnage is that of the age of effective global government by multinational banks – banks that, according to Antonio Maria Costa, the former head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, have been for years kept afloat by laundering drug and criminal profits. Cartel bosses and street gangbangers cannot go around in trucks full of cash. They have to bank it – and politicians could throttle this river of money, as they have with actions against terrorist funding. But they choose not to, for obvious reasons: the good burgers of capitalism and their political quislings depend on this money, while bleating about the evils of drugs cooked in the ghetto and snorted up the noses of the rich.

So Mexico’s war is how the future will look, because it belongs not in the 19th century with wars of empire, or the 20th with wars of ideology, race and religion – but utterly in a present to which the global economy is committed, and to a zeitgeist of frenzied materialism we adamantly refuse to temper: it is the inevitable war of capitalism gone mad. Twelve years ago Cardona and the writer Charles Bowden curated a book called Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future. They could not have known how prescient their title was. In a recent book, Murder City, Bowden puts it another way: “Juarez is not a breakdown of the social order. Juarez is the new order.”"

Emphases mine.

2. Extensive surveillance from public / private partnerships against people:

“Last February, three of these firms – HBGary Federal, Palantir and Berico, known collectively as Team Themis – were discovered to have conspired to hire out their information war capabilities to corporations which hoped to strike back at perceived enemies, including US activist groups, WikiLeaks and journalist Glenn Greenwald. That such a dangerous new dynamic was now in play was only revealed due to a raid by hackers associated with the Anonymous collective, resulting in the dissemination of more than 70,000 emails to and from executives at HBGary Federal and affiliated company HBGary.

After having spent several months studying those emails and otherwise investigating the industry depicted therein, I have revealed my summary of a classified US intelligence programme known as Romas/COIN, as well as its upcoming replacement, known as Odyssey. The programme appears to allow for the large-scale monitoring of social networks by way of such things as natural language processing, semantic analysis, latent semantic indexing and IT intrusion. At the same time, it also entails the dissemination of some unknown degree of information to a given population through a variety of means – without any hint that the actual source is US intelligence. Scattered discussions of Arab translation services may indicate that the programme targets the Middle East.

Despite the details I have provided in the document – which is also now in the possession of several major news outlets and which may be published in whole or in part by any party that cares to do so – there remains a great deal that is unclear about Romas/COIN and the capabilities it comprises. The information with which I’ve worked consists almost entirely of email correspondence between executives of several firms that together sought to win the contract to provide the programme’s technical requirements, and because many of the discussions occurred in meetings and phone conversations, the information remaining deals largely with prospective partners, the utility of one capability over another, and other clues spread out over hundreds of email exchanges between a large number of participants.

The significance of this programme to the public is not limited to its potential for abuse by facets of the US intelligence community, which has long been proverbial for misusing other of its capabilities. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect is the fact that the partnership of contracting firms and other corporate entities that worked to obtain the contract was put into motion in large part by Aaron Barr, the disgraced former CEO of HBGary Federal who was at the centre of Team Themis’s conspiracy to put high-end intelligence capabilities at the disposal of private institutions. As I explain further in the linked report, this fact alone should prompt increased investigation into the manner in which this industry operates and the threats it represents to democratic institutions.

Altogether, the existence and nature of Romas/COIN should confirm what many had already come to realise over the past few years, in particular: the US and other states have no intention of allowing populations to conduct their affairs without scrutiny. Such states ought not complain when they find themselves subjected to similar scrutiny – as will increasingly become the case over the next several years.”

I should mention that this kind of initiatives is exactly what Evgeny Morozov warns against in his book, The Net Delusion. The naive view that only the cool kids know how to use the tools provided by ICTs and that big and bulky corporations and governments are going to sit by, watch with incomprehension while faxing each other, is more than naive but downright dangerous.

As I have mentioned before, the surveillance society is thoroughly a public / private partnership and we are the data, which is why, really, no government will ever shut down the Internet, no matter what, because, otherwise, where would government agencies and businesses get the information they so desperately need about us.

3. The Cloud-Minders… stimulating the economy through their consumption… or maybe not:

“What is believed to be the only surviving authenticated photograph of Billy the Kid fetched $2.3m (£1.4m) at an auction in Denver, Colorado.

The tintype photograph was sold on Saturday to Florida billionaire and private collector William Koch at Brian Lebel’s 22nd Annual Old and West Show & Auction.

Auction spokeswoman Melissa McCracken said the image of the 19th-century outlaw of the Wild West was the most expensive piece ever sold at the event.

Mr Koch said after the auction that he plans to allow some small museums to display the photograph. “I love the old West,” he said. “This is a part of American history.”"

So, this is why we need to cut taxes for the über-wealthy? So they can “collect” incredibly expensive and exclusive items. Such purely status-related, conspicuous and recreational consumption does nothing for the economy (if you exclude the limited activities related to having the auction itself) but it does contribute to the ever-growing gap in lifestyle between the very top of the social ladder and the rest of us Troglytes.

Posted in Corporatism, Global Governance, Globalization, Hollow States, Organized Crime, Risk Society, Social Change, Social Inequalities, Social Stratification, Surveillance Society | No Comments »

Book Review – Murder City

December 18, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Last book review of the year!

I have been looking for some solid analysis regarding the mass killings of Ciudad Juarez, so, naturally, I downloaded Charles Bowden‘s Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and The Global Economy’s New Killing Fields.

This book is not Juarez 101. It is not a journalistic or analytical account of what happens there. It is more a personal journey, with lots of stream of consciousness writing. The narrative, if there is one, is not linear but disjointed (although there is a “death calendar” appendix, that lists the dead over a one-year period). There is a lot about the writer himself, what he felt, his own reactions, etc. That is the part of the book that I did not like. It made me want to shout “dude, this is not about YOU!”

As much as I understand that extreme violence at that depicted in the book has to take a toll on one’s sanity, he was still in the privileged position of being able to cross the border back in the US and rejoin his comfortable life at any time, as opposed to the people stuck in that non-stop violent world. So, no, I did not care one bit about his feelings.

That being said, the book is far from a complete waste of time. Once you skip through the first-person stuff, you get to the real story and the people I was really interested in: the people of Juarez, those who live and survive in the midst in continuous and increasing violence from all parts.

One thing that the book does well is to show how the mainstream reporting on Juarez violence explains nothing and covers up much. What goes on there is not government versus drug cartels, or drug cartels versus drug cartels. There are many layers of corruption and violence converging on Juarez: the drug cartels, of course,, bu the federal and state military accounts for enormous violence as well, along with the local police.

Often, police and military officers also work for the cartels, and military hotshots benefit from the drug trafficking. And much the conflict is funded by the US, either in the form of training Mexican soldiers (who then also work for the cartels), or direct money to the federal government in the name of the War on Drugs (is there any way in which that idea is not completely bankrupt?). The cartels bribe DEA and Border Patrol so they can ship the drug to the US without problems.

“In 1953, a flying school in Culiacan was closed to placate the United States, and yet by the late 1960s at least six hundred secret airfields flourished in northern Mexico (the beat goes on—in 2007, the Mexican army claimed to close two secret narco-airports a day). More recently, a series of agencies have tackled drugs. Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS), trained by the CIA, was supposed to eliminate drug merchants and radicals in the early 1970s. By the 1980s, its staff either worked for or led cartels, including the one in Juárez. In the mid-1990s, a new force under a Mexican drug czar flourished, until it was discovered that the czar worked for the Juárez cartel and so did many of his agents. It was dissolved. Under President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), a new incorruptible force, Fiscalía Especializada en Atención de Delitos contra la Salud (FEADS), was created. One part deserted, became the Zetas, and functionally took over the Gulf cartel.” (Loc. 1918)

In 1997, an organized crime unit was formed to tackle the cartels, and at the same moment in Mexico City, the agents of yet an earlier squad assigned to fight drugs were found dead in a car trunk. FEADS was finally dissolved in 2003 when it was found to be hopelessly corrupt. Under President Felipe Calderón, yet a new federal mutation emerged—AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigación). Its head was murdered in the spring of 2008. His dying words to his killer were, “Who sent you?” The government later determined the hit was done by the Sinaloa cartel, with the killers led by a former officer in the agency.” (Loc. 1926)

And the US government pretends that the Mexican government is the democratic wonder that fights the bad criminal organizations. That pretense and its maintenance has devastating consequences as the US media never reports the wrongdoings of the Mexican military and its responsibility in much of the killings as well as its involvement in the trafficking.

That attitude ruins lives. Take the case of a Mexican journalist – Emilio – who made the “mistake” of reporting on the wrongdoings of the military:

“The woman and Emilio collect his son. They stop by his house to get some clothes and then flee to a small ranch about six miles west of Ascensión, where he can hide. He is terrified. Later that night, a friend takes him back to his house once again. He wears a big straw hat, slips low in the seat. He sneaks into his house and gets vital documents. A friend delivers a small black car out at the ranch. All day Sunday, he tries to think of a way to save his life. He comes up with only one answer: flight. No matter where he goes in Mexico, he will have to find a job and use his identity cards and the army will track him down. He now knows they will never forget his story from 2005, that he cannot be redeemed.

He tells his boy, “We are not going back to our house. The soldiers may kill me, and I don’t want to leave you alone.” Monday morning, he drives north very fast. He takes all his legal papers so that he can prove who he is. He expects asylum from the government of the United States when he crosses at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. What he gets is this: He is immediately jailed, as is his son. They are separated. It is a common practice to break up families to crush the will—often jailing men and tossing the women and children back over the fence. He is denied bond, and no hearing is scheduled to handle his case. He is taken to El Paso and placed in a private prison. Had he entered the United States illegally and then asked for asylum, he would have been almost immediately bonded out. But since he entered legally by declaring his identity and legal status at a port of entry and applied for asylum, he is placed in prison because Homeland Security declares that Emilio has failed to prove that “he does not represent a threat to the community.”

It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don’t think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the U.S. government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight a war on drugs. But then, the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels.

(…)

This was part of the Bush administration’s ‘Guantanamization’ of the refugee process. By locking people up, especially Mexican asylum applicants, and making them, through a war of attrition, give up their claims there at the camp. I’ve represented ten cops seeking asylum, and not one of them lasted longer than two months. Emilio lasted seven months. On the basis of he had his son and he knew he was going to be killed. There was nowhere that he could go and practice his profession.” There are forty reporters in El Paso—print, radio, and television. Only one or two tiny reports are published by any of them. And the matter of the Mexican army killing innocent Mexicans is not mentioned at all. Like the U.S. government, they apparently believe the Mexican army is some force of light in the darkness of Mexico.” (Loc. 3514 – 86)

And when such journalists try to tell their stories to the US media, they are ignored (as if we needed more evidence of the uselessness of that institution) because no one should destroy the myth of the Mexican government as faithful ally in the War on Drugs. There is so much money at stake in the drug business that everyone wants in, and not just criminal organizations. And Emilio is not allowed to live in the US as a refugee.

And so, the killing continues, more massive than ever. And it’s not just the young women who work in the Maquiladoras (although they are victims). Because the lines are so blurred between Federal / State military, local police and cartel killers, one can never know who killed whom. So, arrests are not made. Actually, it is even lucky if police officers leave their offices to go to killing sites because they are targets. Killings and kidnappings are not reported. And in a kind of collective amnesia, once the bodies are removed, the dead disappear from memory and are no longer mentioned (same goes for the kidnappings).

“The violence has crossed class lines. The violence is everywhere. The violence is greater. And the violence has no apparent and simple source. It is like the dust in the air, part of life itself.” (Loc. 484)

As are drugs, something Bowden calls “narcotecture.”

And yes, this has something to do with NAFTA:

“A recent study found over twenty thousand retail drug outlets in Tijuana, mainly cocaine and heroin. In Juárez, there are at least as many such venues. The peddlers earn three hundred dollars a week, there tend to be three shifts, so let’s posit for Juárez twenty-five thousand outlets (a conservative estimate) and figure a payroll of seventy-five thousand retailers. This amounts to a bigger payroll than that earned by the two hundred thousand factory workers earning on average seventy-five dollars a week. And of course, the real money is not in the retail peddlers but in the organizations that control them and import and package their products. This is the economy of the city. This is supply-side economics flooring the killing ground.

(…)

When Amado Carrillo was running a cartel that hauled in $250 million a week in the mid-1990s, Juárez was barely a speck in the mind of the American government or media. When he used the same private banker at Citigroup in New York as the then-president of Mexico, this, too, was of no interest. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed and went plowing into the lives of millions like a greed-seeking missile in the early 1990s, this city that pioneered using cheap labor to bust unions and steal American jobs continued to be ignored. Only brief flickers of interest in the dead women of Juárez captures any American audience.

(…)

In Juárez, the payroll for the employees in the drug industry exceeds the payroll for all the factories in the city, and Juárez has the most factories and is said to boast the lowest unemployment in Mexico. There is not a family in the city that does not have a family member in the drug industry, nor is there anyone in the city who cannot point out narcos and their fine houses, or who has any difficulty taking you to fine new churches built of narco-dollars. The entire fabric of Juárez society rests on drug money. It is the only possible hope for the poor, the valiant, and the doomed.” (Loc. 884 – 1030)

The drug trafficking cannot be separated from the Maquiladoras economy. So, the mass violence is the story of structural breakdown and hollowing of the state, where the only legal jobs keep one in poverty, barely at survival level or illegal immigration to the US. So, killing and drugs are legitimate career choices for young men. Killing is not deviance. It is where the incentives are.

If Bowden is right and Juarez is the future, it’s not pretty.

Posted in Book Reviews, Corruption, Economy, Failed States, Globalization, Hollow States, Mass Violence, Militarism, Organized Crime, Poverty, Risk Society, Structural Violence, Trafficking | No Comments »

Book Review – Brave New War

October 8, 2010 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BNW John Robb ‘s Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and The End of Globalization (Global Guerrillas Blog) adds a few concepts to the topic of new wars and the changing nature of warfare. At the same time, for those of us who have studied the changing nature of warfare and are familiar with the writings of people like Mary Kaldor or Herfried Munkler, there is a lot that is neither new nor original.

At the same time, John Robb’s perspective is different Kaldor’s or Munkler’s because he has worked in intelligence and counterinsurgency. His first hand experience in this field provides interesting insights as well as some issues.

Let me get out of the way the things I did not really like in the book. I think the author has a tendency to latch on to easily on all the fashionable concepts of the day: black swans, long tails, etc. And the author’s contention regarding resilient communities (the author’s idea of empowered communities able to resist oppression and terrorism) smells a bit too much of the fetishism of the local for my taste. Again, the local is not an automatic equivalent to empowered autonomy and resistance.

Things get a lot more interesting when we delve into the changing nature of terrorism and conflict in the global context. Specifically, Robb argues that one of the strengths of insurgent groups, such as the ones in Iraq is their open-source networked nature that lacks a clear center for greater flexibility. This has allowed for smooth and flexible connections between terrorist groups and organized criminal networks and these connections permeate the global economy.

According to Robb, the Iraq insurgency is the future of insurgency and terrorism with a new method: systems disruption: the disruption of basic services that are essential to smooth societal functioning and whose disruption damages the legitimacy of governments and nation-states. One problem here: this is not new. This used to be the tactic adopted by white African groups (the Executive Outcomes type) again newly independent African nations. To attack power plants and water treatment centers repeatedly would force these new governments to spend enormous resources rebuilding them. And if it led to government failure, then, it would prove that Africans were unable to govern themselves.

However, one can clearly see, as the author argues, the rise of “virtual states” in the sense of “superempowered groups” who can challenge national governments (and, I would say, especially, failed states) and connect to other groups and criminal organizations through ICTs. Which is why many peripheral conflicts are not fought between states but between a mix of sub-national actors dedicated to system disruption.

“This new method of warfare offers clear improvement (for our enemies) over traditional terrorism and military insurgency. It offers guerrillas the means to bring a modern nation’s economy to its knees and thereby undermine the legitimacy of the state sworn to protect it. Furthermore, it can derail the key drivers of economic globalization: the flow of resources, investment, people, and security. The perpetrators of this new form of warfare, however, aren’t really terrorists, because they no longer have terror as their goal or method. A better term might be global guerrillas, because they represent a broad-based threat that far exceeds that offered by terrorists or the guerrillas of our past.” (14-5)

But global guerrillas are not only distinctive because of system disruption. Their organizing structure – the decentralized network – is also a specificity, as opposed to hierarchies. These global guerrillas are main actors in what Robb calls fourth generation warfare (4GW), the first three being

  • Mass warfare: use of massive firepower on clear conflict fields, such as the Napoleonic wars or the US Civil War.
  • Industrial warfare: wearing down of the opposing state through greater mobilization and firepower, such as World War I.
  • Blitzkrieg: taking down of an enemy army and state through maneuvers, deep penetration and disruption, such as World War II (I would argue that WWII was also industrial warfare).

And here, Robb was prescient:

“The use of systems disruption as a method of strategic warfare has the potential to cast the United States in the role that the Soviet Union held during the 1980s – a country driven to bankruptcy by a foe it couldn’t compete with economically. We are staring at a future where defeat isn’t experienced all at once, but through an inevitable withering away of military, economic, and political power and through wasting conflicts with minor foes.” (32)

As an aside, this is something Michael Mann had already written about in Incoherent Empire.

The issue I have then is the supposed big discovery of the changing nature of warfare (decentralization, networks, etc.) as if this were the first book about this. Seriously, Mary Kaldor is not even mentioned or referenced even though she wrote the book (literally) on New Wars. And P.W. Singer and others have also written quite extensively about the de-nationalization of warfare and the emergence of non-state actors and their prevalence in contemporary conflicts. And it has been long known that these global guerrillas and global criminal networks have been pretty savvy with ICTs.

Robb also argues that global guerrillas be distributed according to the long tail model (as opposed to Gaussian distribution).

There are several reasons for this:

(1) War is cheap. The barriers of entry due to costs have declined considerably and one can conduct warfare with AK-47s and child soldiers at really low costs (which create some incentives).

(2) Also, the decentralization of warfare and system disruption mean that small events can create massive costs for the injured party.

(3) Networking technologies allow for a “long shelf life” on ideas driving the guerrillas whose number don’t have to be large. Social networking allows like-minded people to easily find each other. Here, I would add that the strength of weak ties is also relevant as absolute consensus and strong ties are not necessary for a global guerrilla to be operational (and for someone so in love with concepts, I am surprised – disappointed – that Robb did not consider that one).

So, beyond the Iraq insurgency groups, who would count as a global guerrilla? Robb mentions the Chechen guerrilla as well as the Niger Delta movement or the Balochs in Pakistan. How do states fight back against guerrillas that are so adept at asymmetrical warfare? Robb mentions the use of paramilitaries including the US minutemen. And here is another source of annoyance for me:

“Armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weaponry and survival gear, this paramilitary force has formed organically to police the U.S.-Mexican border.

Though many Americans have lamented their existence, few have tried to explain it.” (87)

Really? I guess David Neiwert has not been writing about all this for years now, and showing how such movement has not arisen “organically”. And Robb displays a disturbing respect for these paramilitary groups (including those the US used in Central America) even as he acknowledged their corruption and human rights abuse. It is unconscionable to me to legitimize their use.

Also included in the global guerrillas category are what Robb calls third generation gangs (3GG).

  • First generation: turf protection, unsophisticated leadership, opportunistic petty crime.
  • Second generation: organized around business and financial gain; broader geographical footprint, violence used for intimidation of commercial competition and against government interference.
  • Third generation: global, sophisticated transnational operations, political control in failed government and state areas, high interference in state function.

“Third generation gangs fit the model of global guerrillas perfectly. They operate, coordinate, and expand globally. They communicate worldwide without state restriction, often via the Internet. They engage in transnational crime. They participate in fourth-generation warfare, and their activities disrupt national and international systems. Finally, they coerce, replace, or fail states that stand in their way. In all these categories, they parallel the development of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Like Al-Qaeda, these gangs are rivals of nation-states.” (93)

All these groups engage in system disruption as main tactic, targeting specifically (or trying to) what Robb calls Systempunkt, the crucial point in a system whose disruption can create system collapse. These may be economic or infrastructural. Anything whose disruption will trigger a collapse in global flows (Appadurai’s scapes) is such a Systempunkt. In the current context, one could argue that global guerrillas are not the only ones who can engage in such system disruption. “Legitimate” economic actors seem to do so as well.

For global guerrillas, then the structuring in scale-free, decentralized and flexible networks allows for capillary kinds of disruptions (Foucault’s micro-power) that can trigger cascading failures, as opposed to coordinated yet non-networked attacks of former generation terrorist groups.

Finally, the last characteristic of global guerrillas is open-source warfare (OSW):

“In OSW, the source code of warfare is available for anyone who is interested in both modifying and extending it. This means the tactics, weapons, strategies, target selection, planning, methods, and team dynamics are all open to community improvement. Global guerrillas can hack at the source of warfare to their heart’s content” (116)

As with open-source software, the main characteristics are as follows:

  • Early release and continuous updates
  • Constant problem solving through community sharing
  • Community members as allies and co-developers rather than competitors
  • Simplicity and easy adaptability of solutions

OSW is one big bazaar of warfare solutions.

I have already mentioned above and throughout this pose the issues I had with the book. I would add that there is too much conflation of security = protection of assets and defense of the capitalist system as it is (or whatever is left of it at this point). Too much defense of paramilitary seen as legitimate actors. And not enough recognition of the work done before on this topic. Some of the ideas in the book are useful in terms of conceptualization but there is too much grasping of fashionable concepts from a variety of fields.

That being said, the book is a quick an interesting read and I would recommend also bookmarking the blog (link above). But I would also say: go read Mary Kaldor first.

Posted in Book Reviews, Failed States, Global Guerrillas, Globalization, Hollow States, Mass Violence, Nationalism, Networks, New Wars, Organized Crime, Religious Fundamentalism, Risk Society, Social Change, Technology, Terrorism | No Comments »

Hollow State and The Tyranny of the Local

September 24, 2010 by and tagged , ,

What happens in a situation where the state is hollow and/or corrupt and local rules prevail? One possibility is this (via):

The discussion in the NYT article is interesting as Pakistani columnists debate the question of whether this act is actually nothing out of the ordinary in this culture, whether Westerners should not judge another culture or impose their moral standards, or whether this is a horrific act but the exception more than the rule.

What they all seem to agree on though is the hollowing of the state, incapable of imposing the rule of law, as illustrated by the passive presence of police officers at the lynching. This hollow state leaves the door wide open to local punishment, with horrible results.

Posted in Collective Behavior, Hollow States, Mass Violence | No Comments »

Crisis of Legitimacy and Hollowing of US States

June 24, 2010 by and tagged ,

A while back, I posted on John Robb’s distinction between failed states and hollow states. A reminder:

“A failed state is a complete breakdown in the delivery of political goods (security, law, health, education, infrastructure, etc.), the dissolution of most arms of the government (often what’s left is in absentia), and widespread chaos.  Think Somalia.

In contrast, these states are well on the road to becoming hollow states.  A hollow state is different from a failed state in that it continues to exist on the international stage.  It has all the standard edifices of governance although most are heavily corrupted and in thrall to global corporate/monied elites. It continues to deliver political goods (albeit to a vastly diminished group, usually around the capital) and maintains a military.  Further, in sections of the country, there is an appearance of normal life.

However, despite this facade, the hollow state has abdicated (either explicitly as in Lebanon’s case or de facto as in Mexico’s) vast sections of its territory to networked tribes (global guerrillas). Often, these groups maintain a semblance of order, as in rules of Sao Paulo’s militias or the Taliban’s application of sharia.  Despite the fact that these group control/manipulate explicit economic activity and dominate the use/application of violence at the local level, these groups often grow the local economy.  How?  By directly connecting it to global supply chains of illegal goods — from people smuggling to drugs to arms to copytheft to money laundering.”

In a more recent post, Robb argues that some US states are in effect hollow states based on this Global and Mail illustration:

As the article notes:

“California’s fiscal hole is now so large that the state would have to liberate 168,000 prison inmates and permanently shutter 240 university and community college campuses to balance its budget in the fiscal year that begins July 1.”

Not only that but, according to Robb, hollow states do not simply abdicate their margins of maneuver, they have no choice:

“Fiscal insolvency leads to an endless reduction in services.

The more you cut, the worse it gets.  The worse it gets, the more you cut.  Don’t cut fast enough and the financial oligarchy whacks you with higher rates and onerous dictates.  In the end, there isn’t much left.”

It also means that corporations may get to use state power for their own interest:

“Last week, Drew Wheelan, the conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association, was filming himself across the street from the BP building/Deepwater Horizon response command in Houma, Louisiana. As he explained to me, he was standing in a field that did not belong to the oil company when a police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggest[ed]” that he get lost since “BP doesn’t want people filming”.

(…)

Here’s the key exchange:

Wheelan: ”Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”

Officer: ”Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”

Wheelan: ”Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”

Officer: ”Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

Not really! Shortly thereafter, Wheelan got in his car and drove away but was soon pulled over.

It was the same cop, but this time he had company: Kenneth Thomas, whose badge, Wheelan told me, read “Chief BP Security.” The cop stood by as Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes, asking him who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana. He phoned Wheelan’s information in to someone. Wheelan says Thomas confiscated his Audubon volunteer badge (he’d recently attended an official Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training) and then wouldn’t give it back, which sounds like something only a bully in a bad movie would do. Eventually, Thomas let Wheelan go.”

And that is on top of unlimited funding for elections and a corporate-friendly US Supreme Court and Congress.

Limited capacity of action (sometimes through voluntary relinquishing of state power) due to financial hardship involves declining services and increased crisis of legitimacy and financial hardship brings about further cuts and threats of further major shedding (see: deficit commissions and discussion of “what to do about Social Security”).

So, Somalia may have pirates and militias, Afghanistan has warlords, and the US and some of its states as well as financially-strapped “rich” countries have the transnational capitalist class.

Also,

Posted in Failed States, Hollow States | No Comments »

Book Review – Makers

November 27, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cory Doctorow‘s Makers has a lot in common with the previous books I have read from him and the themes developed throughout the stories are also familiar to many regular Doctorow readers. As in previous novels, Doctorow locates his story in a futuristic United States / Western hemisphere where capitalism as we know it has collapsed in one way or another.

Makers is no exception as the story unfolds in a world of affluence that still has wreaked havoc on the social structure. Indeed, the story starts with the merging and dismantling of big blue-collar companies Kodak and Duracell by entrepreneur Landon Kettlewell to be replaced by a completely precarized workforce working on small-scale projects with profit potential subsidized by grant-type money that the corporation provides.

This is the ultimate result of a fully precarized society / risk society where everybody is a permanent temporary worker: love it or become a slum dweller as many of the characters do in Makers. This is a geek economy for  young skillful and creative engineers who have very little need for regular salaries and benefits, as are main character Perry Gibbons and Lester Banks.

The pair of geek pals is also a recurring theme in Doctorow’s books, with the ulterior addition of a woman (or women) into the mix as the story develops. Such core pairs are present in Little Brother, Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom as well as Eastern Standard Tribe, with one über geek and one more business / rationality oriented, with other characters, including villains that belong to the State or the Corporation as major Surveillance and fun-killing entities.

And in all these novels, the main characters have a hard time growing up and resist it as much as they can, hence the fascination in both Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom and Makers, with Disneyworld. Indeed, in Makers, the Perry / Lester dynamic duo’s main goal in life is to manufacture cool geeky stuff for people to by but making money is not much of a concern of theirs. Throughout the book, “adults” will do that for them. It is actually when they are faced with adult responsibilities that things fall apart. So, it is not surprising that the happy ending has them back shoulder to shoulder in a makeshift lab, many years later, back to doing geeky stuff, under the loving gaze of the journalist (and later wife of one of them) who has followed their careers, noting with a little sadness, that her “little boys” have grown… actually, they have not. They are just older. Throughout the book, they both get angry, sulk, stop talking to each other, act on impulse, etc. In other words, they behave like teenagers, as most main characters in Doctorow’s novels do and all complain when the world does not bend to their adolescent geeky dreams.

As always, when reading futuristic / scifi books, I am interested in the social context that constitutes the background for the story. As mentioned above, Makers’ society is a society that is fully precarized, the educated and skilled in computer creativity are the one who survive or even thrive in the precarized environment. Big corporations are seen as evil forces, enforcing their rule through IP lawsuits. In Makers, there is no government to speak of, and certainly not one that provides a safety net for those who have the misfortune of not being creative AND educated / skilled / enjoying the “freedom” of being precarized. And so, Lester and Perry jump from one creative idea to the next, chafing against corporate pressure, grudgingly agreeing to a business side to their ventures, all for open source and sharing. Whatever they do is inconsequential as there are always a millionaire, a business manager and a journalist to clean up the messes they (inadvertently) create in such anomic environments.

In Makers, the good guys create an open source economy where everyone can share the benefits, contribute ideas and all together generate cool projects for this post-utilitarian society where entertainment seems to be a major goal (again, a theme highly reminiscent of Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom). The introduction of 3D printers manufacturing objects allows for the mass production of fads that are short-lived and easily replaced. In this society, people have to make their own job. It is ultimate precarization and individualization mixed with the loose communautarism of the network society. There is no doubt that such a loose social structure would leave a lot of people behind not just in the US but around the world but the novel celebrates the joining together of individual creative forces combined with high-flying technological skills.

It was for me a source of frustration with the book: the celebration of the cool and geeky precarized labor structure based on making tchotkes for those who can afford them, with the pretense that corporate structures are an impediment to creativity and networked solidarity. Unsurprisingly, as shown in the novel, this is a loose social structure that is attractive to the young and unattached who can connect / disconnect / reconnect in this truly liquid society. At the same time, as much as corporations are loathed, the whole open source society is still backed by financial investors and millionaires (or the Mafia in the small part of the story that takes place in Russia).

But what of those left behind? There is a certain romanticization in the novel as the slum dwellers of Miami also have their condition unleash their creative forces and they create their own social structure and it does not feel that it is a slum at all. Again, who needs state services and support when there is always a high-tech, environmentally-friendly solution to be designed.

Now, I do not fault Doctorow for glaring omission in his depiction of this futuristic society, but as I mentioned, there are major sources of frustration for the sociologist in me because this type of complete societal dismantlement and every man for himself is presented as apolitical. Sure, kids on the Internet fight the big bad corporation that is trying to kill their cool “ride”. But apparently, the general precarization has been embraced by everybody and has not generated any resistance (except for a brief mention of the Kodak and Duracell unionized workforce at the very beginning) or any significant social movement against the inevitable destruction of the livelihood of what must be significant proportion of the population.

Bottom line is as much as I enjoyed the book, it reminded me too much of the endless presentations I have had to endure as to how to deal with the Millenials. It seems this book is written for them and maybe by one of them (even if he is not the right biological age). Perry and Lester, the main characters of Makers, are the ultimate Millenials (as they have been stereotyped in the media and the educational consulting business).  In this fictional society, there is not much room for the elderly, the non-creative or anyone who wishes for stability (and who knows what happens to the societies of the periphery as only Russia and Brazil are mentioned). At the same time, the apolitical outlook erases some of the bitter conflicts that would be bound to happen (extreme nationalism and religious fundamentalism). It seems that everybody has embraced some sort of networked cosmopolitanism revolving around white American geeks.

Again, I enjoyed the book. It is a page-turner and the multiplicity of characters creates a diversity of storylines that keeps one interested, in spite of sociologically frustrating aspects mentioned above. The subtitle of the book is “A Whirlwind of Changes to Come” that seem to add up to a dystopia where only a few can make it and too bad for the global rest.

Posted in Book Reviews, Commodification, Consumerism, Corporatism, Culture, Economy, Hollow States, Labor, Media, Networks, Precarization, Risk Society, Science-fiction, Social Change, social marginality, Technology | No Comments »

The Global Fluidity of Cocaine Trafficking

July 1, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , , ,

A while back, Joseph Kirschke wrote a series of articles on the global reconfiguration of the cocaine trafficking as global flow whose fluidity allows it to reorganize itself when conditions require.

In this three-part series, he depicts a trafficking that is responsive to fluctuations in supply (as the Colombian cartels lost their absolute control over the traffic), distribution (as the US tightened its policies) and demand (which is soaring in Europe). All these conditions created the need for new routes for shipments to now go from Brazil and Venezuela to West African Gold Coast, and then on to Western Europe.

Additionally, the liquidity of this global traffic also adapts to changing economic conditions (for instance, as organized criminal groups switch from the US dollar to the Euro when it becomes more profitable to do so), racial profiling at border points (by switching from African mules – women – to white ones) and adapts to a variety of political realities in West Africa (by using failed states like Guinea-Bissau, recovering states like Sierra Leone or Liberia or mature democracies like Ghana).

The series also underlines the difficulties in establishing global governance in terms of trafficking as national considerations still largely prevail when it comes to law enforcement… and in places like Guinea-Bissau, law enforcement means corruption.

So, without further ado, part 1 lays out a general description of the changing nature of the traffic, focusing largely on the Gold Coast and especially Guinea-Bissau:

Part 2 gets into more specific instances of the impact of drug trafficking on the countries being now dragged into this global flow:

Part 3 focuses on Venezuela’s involvement in the traffic as Colombia’s cartels lost their grip on the business:

The whole thing is worth reading.

Posted in Corruption, Failed States, Global Governance, Globalization, Hollow States, Mass Violence, Organized Crime, Trafficking | No Comments »

The US: Failed or Rogue State?

June 27, 2009 by and tagged , , , , ,

That is the question asked by Josh Harkinson over at the Blue Marble:

It’s an interesting notion indeed, also in light of the massive financial crisis. One could perfectly argue whether corporate money and corporate media played a part in the stimulus package as well as the Geithner plan where a central part of government action involved equating saving the economy with saving the banks and the bankers with limited action designed to significantly support homeowners or the unemployed. In effect, the Obama administration limited its own capacity for action and hollowed itself from significant reform thereby continuing years of economic policies designed to limite state’s actions in the face of global integration on neo-liberal terms.

Posted in Corporatism, Economy, Environment, Failed States, Hollow States, Sustainability | 4 Comments »

When Nation-Building Ends With Failed States

April 15, 2009 by and tagged , , , , ,

Two items out of Afghanistan and Iraq reveal, many years after the fact, the perils of nation-building with no idea that any nation is an imaginary community and that there are layers of identity beneath the often-imposed national veneer that are powerful and hard to control forces once unleashed. These layers can be narrow ethnic membership or they can be religious fundamentalist groups. Either way, the results are not pretty.

First stop, Afghanistan where women decided to demonstrate against the new law, designed to appease the Taliban (as if appeasing religious fundamentalists ever worked) and that basically legalize rape.

By installing a weak government whose capacity is limited to the urban areas and who is seen as a Western puppet before dealing with the Taliban once and for all, the coalition of Western forces guaranteed their comeback especially by not dealing with their bases of support in Pakistan. Ultimately, it is the women who pay the price for this. Incapable of confronting religious fundamentalists that undermine its legitimacy, the government sees no other option but to accommodate and attempt to placate them by passing ultra-patriarchal legislations.

On Iraq, where ethnic divisions were masked by Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and have now made a brutal comeback, we get this:

In the five years that have followed the invasion of Iraq, the number one cause of civilian death has been kidnapping followed by execution according to the Iraq Body Count NGO. According to its data, 19, 706 were kidnapped and subsequently killed, a significant numbers of such murders involved torture. And that is probably a conservative estimate based on the methodology used by IBC.

Both stories reveal problems tied to states with limited capacities, that is, unable to establish their legitimacy with the population through the delivery of services such as infrastructure and security. There is a double movement at work here. Religious fundamentalist or ethnic groups undermine the state and prevent it from providing services, therefore the population does not consider the state a legitimate entity and people turn to religious fundamentalist or ethnic groups for their security and basic necessities. The more people rely on these non-state actors, the less the state has a chance of establishing its legitimacy. The results are either accommodation of non-democratic groups, such as the Taliban, or persistent violence, as in Iraq.

For both countries, the future looks like failing or hollow states with non-democratic communautarian patriarchal rule with much violence involved.

Posted in Failed States, Gender, Hollow States, New Wars, Patriarchy, Sexism | 1 Comment »

“She came out of her house with another guy who was not her husband, so we must punish her. There are boundaries you cannot cross.”

April 3, 2009 by and tagged , , , , , ,

That’s what the Taliban spokesperson said after the public flogging of a young woman in the Swat Valley in Pakistan (with disturbing video at the Guardian link):

This story is the perfect illustration not just of the horrendously misogynistic nature of the Taliban but also of how local community rule does not necessarily means happy local democracy (note the reliance on neighbors’ gossip used as ultimate evidence). For the women in the Swat Valley, it means they live at the hands of the worst forms of religious fundamentalists with no means of escaping such patriarchal and violent governance. In effect, the government of Pakistan has hollowed itself (as in John Robb’s hollow state) for self-preservation purposes. Unsurprisingly, women are the first ones to pay the price.

Posted in Gender, Hollow States, Human Rights, Mass Violence, Patriarchy, Religious Fundamentalism, Sexism | No Comments »

Hollow States or Failed States?

March 24, 2009 by and tagged , ,

I am a big proponent of conceptual rigor and clarity as having the correct conceptual framework to understand social situations and phenomena is crucial to either provide the correct solutions to problems or at least to not make mistakes. Anyway, John Robb clarifies:

It seems to me that the distinction is important in terms of the type of relations (diplomatic, political, economic or military) that are relevant in each case. But this is rather ominous:

Is the US really in danger of becoming a hollow state? Some developments might have been necessary here. Are we talking about the US-Mexico border where minutemen can take potshots at border crossers? Are we talking economically speaking (where segments of the economy have been left up to the market and vast transnational corporations almost entirely) or is the concept purely spatial and based on the nation-state? With its federalist conception, isn’t the US by definition a hollow state where some political responsibilities are left to states counties and local communities.

How does the distinction matter in terms of new wars and potential conflicts? These concepts leave more questions than they answer and I hope Robb will get around to providing more substance to this. This previous post on the topic does not give much to go on either.

Posted in Failed States, Hollow States | No Comments »