Category Archives: Politics

And now for something completely different. . .


It’s a mystery with, as yet, no solution.

There’s an artist somewhere in Europe who’s filling the private and public art galleries of the world with sophisticated fakes, bronze statues — busts primarily — of gods and rulers from ancient Rome and Greece.

The forger is skilled, using ancient metal, presumably from bronze coins, and his work is superficially impeccable, as in this bronze bust of the Roman emperor Augustus exposed [PDF] as a fake by German archaeologist Stephan Lehmann of the Archaeological Museum of the University of Martin Luther, Halle-Wittenberg:

BLOG Spanish master

To expose the fakes, Lehmann has turned to Europe’s most powerful particle accelerators, the only instruments capable of revealing critical details without damaging the sculptures.

The following documentary in English from Deutsche Welle Documentaries looks at the world of forgeries of ancient bronzes, including the complicated egos of the forger’s victims and the collusion of governments and dealers who have little interest in exposing the hazards of a trade that generates hefty revenues for both [and for those of you who came by earlier today and found the video “removed by user,” they changed the link and we have it up again]:

The Mystery Conman

Program note:

For years, a talented fraudster smuggled counterfeit antiques onto the art market. No one knew who the person was but workshops in southern Europe aroused suspicion, especially one in Spain. Experts in Germany have therefore named the fraudster the “Spanische Meister” or “Spanish master.” The documentary follows archeologist Stefan Lehmann from Halle near Leipzig, who’s been on the shark’s tail. Around 40 counterfeits have been discovered so far, but he thinks it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Lehmann hasn’t made himself popular – the subject of counterfeiting tends to get swept under the rug within the art trade and museums. A Swiss collector is the first one to break the silence. He gave Lehmann access to a bronze head of Emperor Augustus, which he bought for several hundred thousand dollars on the New York art market. It’s an exciting case for Lehmann – will his examinations prove that the head is fake? Auction houses and galleries know exactly what they’re selling according to Christoph Leon, an art dealer from Basel who’s working with Lehmann. He says the market is full of fakes because the global financial market invests in antique sculptures so there’s a lot of money at stake. This film follows the trail of the dirty dealings and gives an insight into the unknown world of the antiques trade.

It’s hard not to root for the forger, who is deftly picking the pockets of the one percent by playing on their pretensions.

After all, the forger with the heart of gold has been a staple of film and fiction. But all too often it’s the public’s pockets that are picked, if the form of tax writeoffs given wealthy donors who pass on their fakes to public museums.

And we have to admit that our favorite TV show during our college years was a wonderful series starring A-list stars who profited handsomely from, among other things, peddling forgeries to the wealthy booboisie.

Quote of the day: On Bernie’s missed opportunity


From the redoubtable Jim Kunstler, writing at his blog, Clusterfuck Nation:

Bernie blew his biggest chance yet to harpoon the white whale known as Hillary when he cast some glancing aspersions on Mz It’s-My-Turn’s special side-job as errand girl of the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. Together, Bill and Hillary racked up $7.7 million on 39 speaking gigs to that gang, with Hillary clocking $1.8 million of the total for eight blabs. When Bernie alluded to this raft of grift, MzIMT retorted, “If you’ve got something to say, say it directly.”

There was a lot Bernie could have said, but didn’t. Such as: what did you tell them that was worth over $200,000 a pop? Whatever it was, it must have made them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Did it occur to you that this might look bad sometime in the near future? Is there any way that this might not be construed as bribery? And how is some formerly middle-class out-of-work average voter supposed to feel about you getting paid more for 45 minutes of flapping your gums than he or she has earned in the past five years?

Bernie could have found a gentlemanly way to say that directly, but perhaps he experienced a sickening precognitive vision of his jibes being used against the party establishment’s candidate in the fall general election. Of course, if it looked like Hillary was going to get elected, the remaining sound-of-mind in this country might be falling over each other to apply for citizenship in Uruguay.

Africa’s ‘Green Revolution’ helps only the richest


As for the poor, forget about it.

In reality, the set of practices endorsed by neoliberals in Washington and Europe, is a cover for driving the poorest farmers into debt as they are driven to buy fertilizers, seeds, herbicides, and pesticides from Big Agra companies in the North.

driven into debt and foreclosed when they can’t pay because of crops failures and poor yields, the only beneficiaries are large landholders.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Rather than alleviating poverty, a farming revolution aimed at increasing and modernising agricultural production in Africa could be harming the poorest, according to a new study.

The University of East Anglia research details how changes brought on by modernisation programmes disrupt subsistence practices, deepen poverty, impair local systems of trade and knowledge, and threaten land ownership.

The “green revolution” of the 1960s and 70s – when policies supporting new seeds for marketable crops, sold at guaranteed prices, helped many farmers and transformed economies in Asia – has also become increasingly popular in Africa where up to 90 percent of people in some countries are smallholder farmers.

In Rwanda, government, donors and development institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have hailed the strategy as a success for the economy and in reducing poverty.

But in interviews with villagers in Rwanda’s mountainous west the researchers found only a relatively wealthy minority had been able to keep up with modernisation, while the poorest cannot afford the risk of taking out credit for the seeds and fertilisers required for modernised agriculture.

Here’s the summary from the study from the report, Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications of Imposed Innovation for the Wellbeing of Rural Smallholders, which is available free in its entirety from the journal World Development, under a Creative Commons agreement sponsored by  Natural Environment Research Council:

Green Revolution policies are again being pursued to drive agricultural growth and reduce poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. However conditions have changed since the well-documented successes of the 1960s and 1970s benefitted smallholders in southern Asia and beyond. We argue that under contemporary constraints the mechanisms for achieving improvements in the lives of smallholder farmers through such policies are unclear and that both policy rationale and means of governing agricultural innovation are crucial for pro-poor impacts. To critically analyze Rwanda’s Green Revolution policies and impacts from a local perspective, a mixed methods, multidimensional wellbeing approach is applied in rural areas in mountainous western Rwanda. Here Malthusian policy framing has been used to justify imposed rather than “induced innovation”. The policies involve a substantial transformation for rural farmers from a traditional polyculture system supporting subsistence and local trade to the adoption of modern seed varieties, inputs, and credit in order to specialize in marketable crops and achieve increased production and income. Although policies have been deemed successful in raising yields and conventionally measured poverty rates have fallen over the same period, such trends were found to be quite incongruous with local experiences. Disaggregated results reveal that only a relatively wealthy minority were able to adhere to the enforced modernization and policies appear to be exacerbating landlessness and inequality for poorer rural inhabitants. Negative impacts were evident for the majority of households as subsistence practices were disrupted, poverty exacerbated, local systems of knowledge, trade, and labor were impaired, and land tenure security and autonomy were curtailed. In order to mitigate the effects we recommend that inventive pro-poor forms of tenure and cooperation (none of which preclude improvements to input availability, market linkages, and infrastructure) may provide positive outcomes for rural people, and importantly in Rwanda, for those who have become landless in recent years. We conclude that policies promoting a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa should not all be considered to be pro-poor or even to be of a similar type, but rather should be the subject of rigorous impact assessment. Such assessment should be based not only on consistent, objective indicators but pay attention to localized impacts on land tenure, agricultural practices, and the wellbeing of socially differentiated people.

Google autocomplete vs leading politicians


What happens when you’re sitting at your newsroom desk in Europe and Google the last names of leading politicians in the Europe and the U.S. followed by the verb “is” and wait to see the suggestions offered by the world’s leading search engine?

That’s what folks at New Europe decided to find out, and the results are, shall we say, verrry interesting, as these screencaps show.

From New Europe:

BLOG Autocomplete

Quote of the day Ted Cruz in a nutshell [Nut’s hell?]


From journalist and author Gary Leech, writing for Counterpunch:

Perhaps nothing captures the imperialist arrogance of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz more succinctly than his campaign’s statement declaring, “What is best for America is best for the world.” In addition to the obvious fact that billions of people around the world might disagree with Cruz on this point is the fact that it is not at all clear that the Republican presidential candidate’s proposed policies are even best for most Americans. But given his victory this past week in the Iowa caucus, Cruz’s ultra-conservative views can no longer be ignored while mainstream and progressive pundits busy themselves dissecting the bombastic rhetoric of the far less scary Donald Trump.

In contrast to most candidates that run for president, Ted Cruz has a clear vision for the future of the country. The problem for many Americans is that it is a terrifying vision. It is a vision that is imperialist, racist, sexist, classist and homophobic. For instance, Cruz proposes building a giant wall across the US-Mexico border in addition to using high-tech measures to keep out “illegal” immigrants while allowing corporate labor needs to dictate the flow of “legal” immigrants into the country. In addition to strengthening the military to ensure US hegemony around the globe, he also vows to boost US military support for Israel and to withhold funding from the United Nations if it “continues its anti-Israel bias.”

On the domestic front, Cruz is calling for a flat tax that will benefit the rich and gut government social spending. He has also vowed to curtail women’s rights by stating that he will order the attorney general to investigate Planned Parenthood on his first day as president. And he opposes same-sex marriage, declaring that “marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.” Finally, Cruz would not only fail to address climate change, which he views as a hoax, he would promote expanded oil and gas production. Given that these policy proposals make Cruz one of the most conservative presidential contenders in decades, it would behoove us to take a closer at them.

Headline of the day II: Angry old white man rants


A screencap of the London Daily Mail teaser for this story [and we too are an old white man, though only angry some of the time, and usually at people like Giuliani]:

BLOG Ruby

Psychedelics linked to reduced spousal abuse


Psilocybin [shrooms], LSD, and other psychedelic drugs [previously] have been shown to provide the most effective agents in reducing chronic severe depression and stopping smoking, and may be useful in fighting alcoholism.

Now comes word that they may also play a role in reducing spousal abuse.

Laws banning psychedelic use, even by researchers, were enacted under the Johnson and Nixon administrations, mainly because their use was associated with the antiwar movements of the area, and with young people who were opting out [mostly unsuccessfully over the long run] of the rat race, as negotiating the corporate maze was then known.

But lots of subsequent use has demonstrated that the bans were failure, since the drugs are still readily available in most places. And with research restrictions slowly being eased, dramatic evidence of their therapeutic potential is emerging.

The latest development, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health

Evidence in a study led by researchers at the University of British Columbia along with University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health Associate Professor Peter S. Hendricks, Ph.D., suggests hallucinogens such as psilocybin or LSD may have therapeutic potential for reducing intimate partner violence, or IPV.

Hendricks says the identification of risk and protective factors for IPV is an important goal for public health research.

“A body of evidence suggests that substances such as psilocybin may have a range of clinical indications,” he said. “Although we’re attempting to better understand how or why these substances may be beneficial, one explanation is that they can transform people’s lives by providing profoundly meaningful spiritual experiences that highlight what matters most. Often, people are struck by the realization that behaving with compassion and kindness toward others is high on the list of what matters.”

The study looked at 302 men ages 17-40 in the criminal justice system. Of the 56 percent of participants who reported using hallucinogens, only 27 percent were arrested for later IPV as opposed to 42 percent of the group who reported no hallucinogen use being arrested for IPV within seven years.

From the 1950s through the early 1970s, thousands of studies reported on the medical use of hallucinogens, mostly LSD. Due to the classification of the most prominent hallucinogens as Schedule I controlled substances in 1970, research on health benefits was suspended, causing many of these studies to be forgotten. However, research with hallucinogens has experienced a rebirth.

“Recent studies have shown that psilocybin and related compounds could revolutionize the mental health field,” Hendricks said. “However, additional research is needed. This study suggests that hallucinogens could be a useful avenue for reducing IPV, meaning this topic deserves further attention.”