Pictured here is a Harry Ferguson tractor, made in Detroit in 1950. It still runs. Okay, so the brakes don’t work, which my brother-in-law discovered when he fired it up and ended up crashing into and over turning his pick up. But what a beast! And still going strong 62 years later.
Hmmmmmm, sounds like………..
Had this tractor been made today, it would probably have a shelf life of about 5 years, thanks to Planned Obsolescence, which became all the rage shortly after this marvel of machinery was born in Detroit’s now quiet forge. What a brilliant innovation! Deliberately make junk that breaks and needs to be replaced a few years down the road, forcing your customers to fork over another big capital investment.
This idea worked fine until people began to think “Well, if I’m going to be forced to buy junk anyway, I may as well pay less for it.”
Hence the rise of China and the decline of Industrial America.
Okay, so it’s more complicated than that, but not much.
Meanwhile, as we look to the East — and the Middle East — it’s pretty much trouble as far as the eye can see. In Europe, it’s still who will blink first: Italian tax cheats or German and French bond holders. In South Yemen, a deal was struck which resulted in Saleh stepping down. But guess what? The Mob says “Not enough”. The Mob wants Saleh to be held accountable for his crimes and the murder of his countrymen. The Mob wants justice, in other words.
Take heed, Assad. Take heed, Egyptian military.
Meanwhile, our own Congress behaves as if it had all the time in the world to sort out our mess.
I’m liking Obama Reloaded who is much more decisive and not afraid to make decisions like to withdraw from Iraq, despite a unanimous chorus of nay-saying from the GOP candidates. In fact, it’s a pretty good bet that if the Republicans are against it, it will be the right thing to do for the country.
I read an interview with Clinton in the Guardian where he came out with a good summation of why it’s pointless to argue with the GOP on just about any topic. Clinton made a distinction between philosophical vs. ideological differences, arguing that, in the latter case, facts don’t matter because the person has already made up his mind and nothing is going to change it. I think he’s right on: if a fact — say, on global warming — were a bullet, you would need to coat it with teflon and run it through that Super Collider in Geneva to get it up to a speed where it could penetrate Rush Limbaugh’s skull.
Speaking of Rush, I turned myself into an oxycodone pill and sneaked into an emergency meeting Rush held with the GOP field where they discussed how to deal with this latest crisis.
“Did you see how little Obama spent to get rid of Ghadaffi?” Gingrich exclaimed. “I mean, did any of the Defense Contractors who stuff money in your pockets make anything out of it?”
Shaking heads. Only one hand went up. “I mean, one of our contributors made some chump change on jet fuel and a few Hellfire Missiles, but other than that……”
“Damn, where is “Blank Check Ronnie” and “Yellow Cake Dick” when we need them?” Bachmann lamented. “I mean, if you needed an excuse to go to war and there was no evidence, he would make it up.”
Heads nodded. A collective sigh filled the room. You could almost hear everyone thinking:
“Justification No. One: Weaponsamassdestruction.”
“Justification No. Two: Sadaam plotted Nine Eleven.”
“Justification No. Three: Al Queda was in Iraq.”
“Justification No. Four: Sadaam is a Brutal Dictator.”
Only Rush was smiling. Perry asked him what was so funny.
“You guys. Don’t you get it? The real money is in Climate Change. Look at the destruction these floods and powerful storms are causing. Are you telling me you guys can’t figure out how to profit from that? I mean, I’m doing my job, denying it, ensuring that no one will act until it’s too late — but you guys gotta step up!”
The mood in the room did a 180 then. You could almost hear everyone thinking: “Make money off Climate Change. Why didn’t I think of that?”
It’s Day Three of Opportunity Collaboration, and I can already say it’s working for me. I’ve met a lot of people doing fascinating, creative, good things, and you would be forgiven for thinking that maybe we are on the verge of a major restructuring of the Global Economy, but this time not something crafted by an elite group of economists and politicians from the upper strata of society meeting in their redoubts in Bretton Woods or Davos, but from the people who have been working at the very bottom. Couple this with CNN’s scenes from the streets of Athens, where half the work force is on strike this morning against the austerity measures imposed by the ‘troika’ of creditor nations, and there is a distinct feeling that, this time, the poor and middle class aren’t going to pick up the tab for the transgressions of the sharpies and speculators who periodically puff wind into financial bubbles and then gleefully pop them, laughing all the way to the bank.
I know, it’s not that simple. But neither is change. When vast numbers of people who used to live pretty well suddenly do not, and when others who never lived well live even worse, then it becomes less tenable for those who benefit from the existing World Order to defend it on any other grounds than a flippant ‘Works for me’.
One of my favorite British authors, Malcolm Lowry, a dipsomaniac who wrote the brilliant ‘Under the Volcano’ to describe his struggles with his demons in Cuernavaca, a city not far from here, described the Mexican Revolution as ‘The Unbandaging of Giants in Agony’.
One gets the feeling that we are just at the beginning of our Global Unbandaging. It will take a lot of right moves to avoid a lot of agony.
I took a stroll through the Old City section of Baku this morning, braving the insane traffic of Neftciler Boulevard which most people cross by basically daring the speeding Petro-brats in their Beamers and Mercedes to run them over. It’s best to attempt such a crossing in a group, as in ‘they can’t kill all of us’.
I visited the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, built around 1400 by a Sufi Muslim ruling clan, which has a replica of a catapult on the parapet which I assume they used to hail big rocks down on the invaders who visited regularly from what is today Russia and Turkey. Today the cool, narrow streets surrounding the palace are quiet except for the domestic sounds emanating from the windows of the houses and the occasional appeal of a rug merchant.
Ruins have a way of casting you back over the course of your own short life and I was reminded that in 28 days I will be standing before a celebrant at the Lansdowne Club in London and will “give away” my second daughter. I know I must be — and am — happy about this, but there is at the same time a massive sense that after looking forward to the day when she would take this further step towards her independence it also means she will never again need me in quite the same way.
It’s Okay. I’m sure I’ll manage. Somehow.
When FINCA first came to Azerbaijan in the late 90s, it was a poor country with more than half of the country living in poverty. Leaving the airport, which looked like a dilapidated potato warehouse, one took a grim drive through a classic post Soviet landscape bereft of commerce and littered with high rise apartment buildings of the studied ugliness that Russian architects were going for in those days.
Thirteen years and a zillion barrels of oil later, everything has changed. Poverty is below 10%, the economy has grown by 300% in the past seven years, and buildings like those shown above — looking like an augur piloted by blind mole creatures from the earth’s core — testify to Azerbaijan’s transformative wealth.
Which is, of course, very unevenly distributed. But who are we — with America’s middle class in free fall, even as the wealthiest one percent’s net worth skyrockets, as if propelled upwards by the weight of the Newly Poor crashing down on the other side of the teeter totter — to cast stones?
What a contrast to Afghanistan. What a little oil can do.
Damn, I hate it when I’m prescient. Close on the heels of my “burning fuse” post I wake up to headlines that a plot to assassinate Karzai, involving one of his bodyguard, was uncovered. Jeez, man, you really need to learn the art of “behavioral interviewing”:
Karzai: So, what interests you about this job?
Bodyguard Candidate: I really want to get close to you.
K: I see. And do you have any references?
BC: They’re all dead.
I visited two of our branches yesterday, which are located in the markets, and got to talk to some of our employees and clients. Morale on our team is high: our client list is growing, and our portfolio at risk over 30 days is an amazing 0.25%. “It’s just one client who died,” one of the branch managers explained to me.
Our visits to our potential funders have gone less well, so far. The expats are confined to a few heavily fortified acres of downtown Kabul. Their compounds, warrens of cobbled together trailors, some dressed up (the Italians) with wall paintings of happier times on the “outside”, have the feel of Minimum Security Penitentaries. Indeed, the sorry souls who inhabit them carry the mien of non-violent, white collar criminals in for tax evasion or having cheated their business partners. They are rarely allowed to go out, especially in the wake of the recent terrorist attack.
I feel fortunate, by contrast, being here just for a few days, during which I would have to be very unlucky to be caught up in any violence. The city outside the compounds is chaotic and cacaphonic, to be sure, but it boils with life. The markets are splendid. Pyramids of colorful fruits and vegetables speak of a rich land beyond the dusty squalor of Kabul. Inside a cramped stall a man fuses wheel barrows together from pieces of scrap metal, the sparks from his welding iron showering the pedestrians passing by. Elsewhere on the sidewalk a crowd pulls two men apart from an altercation. We visit a FINCA group of six women in the home of their President, and they proudly show us samples of their knitted blankets and garments. With their FINCA loans of $100 and $200 they have been able to buy their own raw materials, eliminating the middle man and tripling their profits.
The President tells me how when the Taliban was in power she was unable to work, educate her female children, or even leave the house. “Now we are free,” she tells me. “We just need peace.”