The Bush Legacy in Iraq – $100 for An Honor Killing

Remember how the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were really wars that liberated women from oppression? Well, I have already posted on the Taliban throwing acid in school girls’ faces in Afghanistan, and now this:

Totally unsurprisingly, the police is not to eager to arrest the perpetrators and the courts can’t be bothered to convict them even when faced with definitive evidence. After all, women are property and if the sluts would stop shaming their families and accept their chattel status, everything would be fine.

Of course, if there had been any Post-war plans to make sure that there’d be no power vacuum and if religious militias had not been accepted as de facto regional governments, these things might not have happened. And if the reconstruction focus had been more on institutions like education, rather the market and oil production… you get the drift.

The creation of yet another theocracy in the Middle East at our expenses… that was all worth it. And then, we’ll leave, of course, and the women of Iraq will be left to fend for themselves.

Mumbai – Global City in The World Risk Society

[Update: Mark Bahnisch, over at Larvatus Prodeo, as an interesting post on this topic as well on the conjunction of globalization, urban centers, states and violence.]

Are world-cities more likely to become targets of terrorist groups? One would be forgiven to think so considering the attacks on New York City, London, Madrid, Bali and now Mumbai. Indeed, it seems that the Mumbai attacks (terrorist attacks are not unknown to Mumbai, but they are usually of domestic nature) were targeted at "places of globalization", that is, where the local, the national and the global meet.

I want to focus on the concept of global cities for a moment. In sociology, the concept can be traced back to Saskia Sassen. The emergence of the global cities has to do with the reconfiguration of space through globalization. A global city is not just a large city but a city that is a power-center of globalization through its embedding into the global structures. At the same time, one can still discern national and local aspects present in global cities, such as the Mumbai slums.

And as part of global cities, luxury hotels, patronized by wealthy Western tourists and businessmen, the Transnational Capitalist Class in general, and employing the locals, can be seen as particular targets (comparable to the touristic resorts in Bali):

"Firstly, they are accessible. Few of the major hotels in city centres were built with security in mind. Many date from the 1970s and were intentionally built to be prominent and accessible social spaces – often in traditional, family-based societies where such locations were few and far between – in the centre of major cities. The aim, at least in part, was to offer new local elites a portal into a global, jet-setting luxury world. Even more recent constructions such as the two Serena hotels in Kabul and Islamabad are now being hastily retro-fitted with more protection. Hotels are now becoming as protected as embassies. Ringed by blast walls, security men, sometimes barbed wire, they too are becoming fortified outposts of a foreign culture in what is at least perceived to be a dangerous land. The two hotels in Mumbai were soft targets. No doubt now they too will be "secured".

Secondly, the big hotels in the centre of cities are representative of power, wealth and, in some instances, the "westernisation" and accompanying decadence or "moral corruption" against which Islamic militants see themselves as fighting. Old-fashioned economic factors should not necessarily be discounted here. Indian Muslims have lower life expectancies, literacy levels and incomes than the Hindu majority. A luxury hotel that is the symbol of the growing economic success of the country dominated by the majority is always likely to be a focus for resentment.

Thirdly, such hotels are often full of foreigners. This allows all militant groups to avoid, should they want to, the "collateral damage" of local compatriots or co-religionists. In Mumbai, this does not seem to have been the case. There were big American-owned or built hotels in Mumbai that could have been targeted so Indians or India was directly targeted, not just members of the so-called Crusader-Zionist alliance. The attackers amply showed their contempt for the lives of their fellow Indians in their attacks on the railway station or in the street. But elsewhere this has been a concern. When Jordanian-born Iraqi militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi sent bombers into hotels in his homeland in 2005, he immediately alienated 90% of his local support. A vigorous debate among jihadi thinkers was one consequence."

[Emphasis mine] So, are global cities urban nightmares as the BBC Analysis program states?

The full transcript of the program is here. As Sassen states in the program:

"In the Nineties, you saw a proliferation of cities that built this global city space. We have about seventy major and minor global cities. It’s a platform that contains the resources, the talent markets, the infrastructures to service, to manage, to organize, to coordinate the global operations of firms and financial markets. (…)

Left alone, this cluster of powerful actors and functions can be extremely destructive of vast stretches of modest profit-making firms, modest income households, and certain forms of urbanity that we love in cities. (…)

“Destructive” in the sense that global capital has an urban footprint. And, in the case of global cities, that urban footprint means a massive insertion in the built environment of existing cities, and that inevitably means displacement. And so it not only inserts itself; it keeps needing more space. That then generates and we see that in all cities. actually a second political thing, which is a politics that is about space In Shanghai, every day there are revolts, I mean dozens of revolts, and it all is about land."

[Emphasis mine again] According to Saskia Sassen, global cities are part of the process of denationalization that nation-states have engaged in as part of their embedding into the global economic and political system. In this sense, the nation-state does not disappear as relevant actor in global times. Rather, it is a main actor in the stripping of its own capabilities to be shifted "upwards" to the global level (for instance, when states agree to subject themselves to WTO rulings).

"The process of denationalization I am seeking to specify here cannot be reduced to a geographic conception as was the notion in the heads of the generals who fought the wars for nationalizing territory in earlier centuries. This is a highly specialized and strategic de-nationalizing of specific institutional arenas: Manhattan and the City of London are the equivalent of free trade zones when it comes to finance. But it is not Manhattan as a geographic entity, with all its layers of activity, and functions and regulations, that is a free trade zone. It is a highly specialized functional or institutional realm that becomes de-nationalized. However, this set of institutions has distinct locational patterns —a disproportionate concentration in global cities. And this has the effect of re-territorializing even the most globalized, digitalized and partly dematerialized industries and markets.

But this re-territorializing has its own conditionality —a complex and dynamic interaction with national state authority. The strategic spaces where many global processes are embedded are often national; the mechanisms through which new legal forms, necessary for globalization, are implemented are often part of state institutions; the infrastructure that makes possible the hypermobility of financial capital at the global scale is embedded in various national territories. Thus one way of conceiving of the inevitable negotiations with the national is in terms of this partial and strategic dynamic of de-nationalization.

From this perspective, understanding the spatiality of economic globalization only in terms of hypermobility and space/time compression –the dominant markers in today’s conceptualization– is inadequate. Hypermobility and space/time compression need to be produced, and this requires vast concentrations of very material and not so mobile facilities and infrastructures. And they need to be managed and serviced, and this requires mostly place-bound labor markets for talent and for low-wage workers. The global city is emblematic here, with its vast concentrations of hypermobile dematerialized financial instruments and the enormous concentrations of material and place-bound resources that it takes to have the former circulating around the globe in a second."

What is important about Sassen’s perspective is that it is much more nuanced and complex than simple deterritorializing views. For Sassen, globalization, as illustrated by global cities, involve denationalization but also territorial re-embedding of global spaces that exist alongside national and local spaces and it is the frictions between these different dimensions that make global cities explosive places.

"First, global cities structure a zone that can span the globe but it is a zone embedded / juxtaposed with older temporalities and spatialities. (…)

Secondly, although it spans the globe, the new zone that is being structured spatially and temporally is inhabited/constituted by multiple units or locals –it is not only a flow of transactions or one large encompassing system. The global city is a function of a global network–there is no such thing as a single global city as you might have had with the empires of old, each with its capital. This network is constituted in terms of nodes of hyperconcentration of activities and resources. What connects the nodes is dematerialized digital capacity; but the nodes incorporate enormous amounts and types of materialities, sited materialities."

The multiplicity of territorial units and global networks and flows make global cities certainly places where the central dynamics of globalization become brutally visible in cases such as the Mumbai attacks.

In the world risk society, global cities are places of mass, structural and symbolic violence.

One More Reason to Go Vegan – Avoid Alzheimer

More burgers, more salt, more fat and generally more fast food = higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later.

So, on the vegan side, we have better health, better environment, better animal welfare. On the meat side, we have higher risk of a cohort of disease (especially in high levels of consumption of bad meat, as in the US), factory farming with its disastrous environmental effects. Is there really a debate in our countries on this?

Global Sociology Blogroll Update

I just discovered this group of criminologists, psychologists, sociologists and jounalists, specialized on criminal issues and the criminal underworld… oh, it’s in Portuguese (this is my second discovery in Portuguese, after Mozambican sociologist Carlos Serra , I hope to find more:

Movie Review – Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle‘s latest film, Slumdog Millionaire, was an eerily appropriate choice of a film after the attacks in Mumbai. The movie itself was very an interesting mix of City of God and Born Into Brothels with a bit more romance (too much romance in my view, but then, there is ALWAYS too much romance from my perspective).

The movie opens as Jamal, a young man born in the slums, is being brutally interrogated by the police (meaning, tortured) as they suspect that his current success at the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire is due to his cheating. Jamal’s response to the policemen’s inquiry as to how he explains his success is simply "I knew the answers."

As the interrogation continues, each question of the game reveals an aspect of Jamal’s life, like pieces of a puzzle progressively put together and revealed through flashbacks. How does he know whose famous actor acted in a particular Bollywood film (the answer us quite… well… interesting)? How does he know which US president is on a $100 bill? How does he know the poet author / composer of a famous song? Etc. Each is answer is revealed in the texture of his life, from the death of his mother in an anti-Muslim riot (Jamal is Muslim), to the tourists at the Taj Mahal all the way to the transformation of the Indian Bombay to the global city of Mumbai.

And then, there are the three Musketeers.

At the same time, of course, the background of life in the slums is omnipresent and significant as the answer to each question is incorporated (literally) in Jamal through his very being as slumdog, as a structurally violent condition.

The movie is a wild ride, as Boyle’s films often are, with great music and incredible views of the slums both from the inside and from above. Some passages are difficult to watch while others are actually humorous (as little Jamal plays guide to clueless European tourists at the Taj Mahal, or as he plays location scouts for film producers).

The narrative structure (something to which I always pay close attention, hence my amazement at the movie Memento) is very tight and does not leave any moment of rest to the viewer as we go back and forth from the gameshow stage to the different flashbacks, rhythmed by the questions.

Oh, and be sure to stay all the way to the end of the credit. You won’t regret it. Don’t be one of these idiots who gets up and leaves as soon as the movie is over.

The Shame of The World – Modern SLavery

December 2nd is the International Day Against Slavery at the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade (website ). As the date nears, the UN reminds us that there are still roughly 27 million slaves around the world:

The Not For Sale Campaign has created a very neat tool: an interactive map of modern slavery around the world where incidents of slavery are reported and classified:

Happy 100th Birthday, Claude Levi-Strauss

And Le Nouvel Observateur marks the occasion with a great special issue on Levi-Strauss.

There is no disputing the fact that Levi-Strauss is the last of the great post-War public intellectuals that France has produced and an enormous influence on the social sciences. His structuralism revolutionized anthropology and sociology and is still considered a foundation for the social sciences. Structuralism is the first course I taught at the University of Nice in 1997 along with structural linguistics as part of a course on language and society. His analysis of myths was truly a revelation of the power of structural analysis that definitely made all other approaches seem childish. And of course, his influence on the rest of the French intellectual scene, from Foucault to Bourdieu is undeniable even as both men criticized structuralism for its underestimation of power (something that will be at the heart of the post-structuralist movement.

How Norms Change

Jay Livinston has a great post (based on an initial post over at Scatterplot, itself based on a post by Neil Buchanan). Livingston exposes the flaws in the law professor’s assumptions in norm change (although I think Livingston missed the fact that the post was authored by Buchanan at Dorf’s place, and not Dorf himself).

Social Benefits Reduce Inequalities More Than Taxes

Via Le Monde, this is what comes out of a study by the French National Institute Statistics and Economic Studies (link to the English site of INSEE). This study shows that redistribution occurs mostly through social benefits rather than fiscal policy. According to INSEE, the richest categories have most benefited from the 2005 fiscal reform (yeah, I know, big surprise coming from a conservative government). This supposed simplification of the tax code should have resulted in lower tax rates. Overall, income tax contributes 26% of the decline in inequalities, that is 2% less than before the reform.

On the other hand, social benefits have a greater equalizing impact. The standard of living of the poorest 20% families is improved by 47% through the various benefits added to their income. At the other end of the social ladder, the system of wealth-based benefits decreases by 19% the standard of living of the richest 20%. In a separate study, INSEE reports that the richest 10% received 73% of the fiscal benefits. The effect seems to be neutral on the middle classes.

This has important implications for public policy. Although the current government prioritized the reduction of government spending, INSEE studies show that access to public services, especially education, health care and social housing, contributes twice as much to reducing inequalities than monetary transfers.

In other words, a government dedicated to the reduction of inequalities should focus more on the delivery of social benefits and access to quality public services, rather than tax cuts which tend to benefit the wealthy.

Another Case of Pathological Patriarchy

This time in England:

And yes, there is no doubt that patriarchal dominance is at the heart of this crime:

I love it when doctors play moral agents and engage in slut-shaming rather than raise the obvious questions as to how these girls could have gotten pregnant in such a fashion, but then, having read Foucault‘s Madness and Civilization and The Birth of the Clinic among other things, I am not surprised.

Also note that the children targeted for sequestration and incest are always girls as part of the patriarchal dominance resides in the ability to make them pregnant.

BBC video here.

The Cloud Minders

David Korten opens his book, When Corporations Rule The World, with a reference to an episode of Star Trek – The Original Series, titled The Cloud Minders as a metaphor for the gross inequalities generated by the global capitalist system and the inability of the transnational capitalist class to understand the plight of the poorest:

This article in Le Nouvel Observateur reminded me of that:

The Globalization of Crime

The Futurist has a very interesting overview of the links between globalization and criminal networks (sorry, no link, but you can cough up $3 for a PDF version of the article, $5 for the whole issue… or you can go to your closest library and grab a paper copy) by Stephen Aguilar-Millan, Joan E. Foltz, John Jackson and Amy Oberg in their November-December 2008 issue.

There is no doubt that criminal organizations have entered the information age as much as businesses have done and that they are an integral part and users of the network society.

"Just as it has happened in the business world, the vertical and horizontal hierarchies or organized crime dissolved into a large number of loosely connected networks. Each node within the network would be involved in any number of licit and illicit operations. Networked systems spanned the globe. An event in one place might have a significant impact on the other side of the world. In short, crime became globalized. (…) Just as the business world has benefited from globalization, so has organized crime." (42)

As such, the globalization of criminal networks and activities is a direct product of the processes and mechanisms of global capitalism, especially the transportation revolution and the information revolution. In this sense, global criminality is just business dealing with illegal products and services and they are affected by the same processes such as outsourcing and offshoring. As much as any other activities, global criminality is an integral part of the network society.

And just as the global financial crisis has raised awareness of the need for global governance, so has global criminality. Defining and dealing with criminal behavior is still largely the purview of the nation-state but global processes and flows of people, illegal goods and merchandise as well as the deterritorialization and relocation of criminal activities over the Internet have raised the issue of jurisdiction. Virtual banking services have made money laundering easier than ever along with other shady transactions.

For the authors, this has revolutionized the nature and extent of white-collar crime, in which they include not just the usual financial transactions (embezzlement, insider trading and fraud) but also counterfeiting, intellectual property crimes, credit card fraud, cybercrimes and cyberterrorism.

"The spread of capitalism promotes open markets and aims to maximize opportunity but blurs the line between what is considered creative money management and what is considered criminal behavior. The increasing opportunities for white-collar crimes and their potential pay-off is extremely enticing to individuals who do not fit the typical criminal profile." (44)

Translation: upper-class, richer white guys. And the amounts of money involved are staggering. What the authors emphasize is the lack of clear line between creative and criminal but also the fact that getting into the criminal is not a bug but a feature of the lack of regulation and global governance of financial matters.

"Without guidelines and a definitive identification of what constitutes punishable criminal activity, new business models will be created that stretch the systems and threaten economic stability, such as the subprime lending debacle." (49)

For the authors, an era of stricter global regulation is inevitable as criminal and non-criminal behavior have become more disconnected from individual states and jurisdiction. Global cooperation is inevitable and in its infancy.

Where I disagree with the authors is where they state that there is a lag between the opportunities opened by the double revolution (transportation and information) and a proper regulation regime. I would argue that, again, this is a feature, not a bug. State deliberately denationalized entire segments of their regulatory regimes to accommodate global liberalization under the auspices and the edicts of the Washington Consensus.

The main global institutions (IMF, WB and WTO) actively promoted such lack of regulations in the name of "free trade" and rammed structural adjustment programs down the throats of developing countries, with devastating results. It is not a matter of lag, but a matter of which social class wielded its power to obtain a global economic system to its liking.

The article also includes several case studies illustrative of the globalizing and globalized nature of global criminality:

  • Drugs and US-Mexico border

  • The modern slave trade

  • Cybercrime and counterfeiting

  • Gangs

  • Heroin