02.05.11

Commodities, conspiracies, caliphates

Posted in Extremism, Imminent Catastrophe, Stumble and Fail at 9:37 am by George Smith

Earlier in the week I commented on how Ed Schultz on MSNBC has implicitly asked viewers to entertain the idea that Wall Street threatened national and world security. Not in connection with the economic collapse — which is the most obvious conclusion which actually can be drawn.

But currently with speculation in commodities, most notably food, causing spikes in pricing, privation and subsequent popular uprising in Egypt.

It was startling to see the conspiracy laid out in the mainstream. It is not, however, nearly as lunatic as Glenn Beck’s claims that the Egyptian uprising is caused by a socialist Muslim conspiracy.

This conspiracy, Beck explained, was aimed at creating a world ‘caliphate’, employing the tactics from an obscure book, The Coming Insurrection, now made famous by his name-dropping the title as a way of working up his audience over the idea that others are soon coming for them.

Beck’s crazy tirades can also be summed up by an illustration taken from the cover of the old short manual of Afghan jihad.

It’s here — a map of the world with an Islamic dagger through it. The manual contains a reference to establishment of a caliphate and it’s probably no coincidence that this has trickled down over the span of many years, now finding lodgment — far removed from any original source — in Beck’s addled head. [1]

I actually watched a couple of Beck’s episodes and by late Friday night — a rerun — he’d lapsed into a poor man’s Jack D. Ripper/Strangelove mumble, going on about how he was giving his audience facts, facts — and was criticized for it by people covering these facts up.

And here’s where my desktop copy of the Strangelove script always comes in handy:

“The facts are all there, Group Captain … I have studied the facts carefully for over seventeen years and they are here … I have studied the facts, Group Captain, facts, and by projecting the statistics I realized the time had come to act … The absolutely fantastic thing is that the facts are all there for anyone who wants to see them.”

In Strangelove, Ripper’s mania is humorously laid out in many ways, one of them being his repetitive obsession with the facts about fluoride. On Fox, however, the network obviously believes it’s appropriate to send something ad hoc but similar out to millions of easily confused Americans packaged as a show of news and opinion.

When you get down to the nut of it, it’s the work of cynical shitheels.

Back at MSNBC, Dylan Ratigan — like Ed Schultz — was on a similar commodities pricing riff. For Ratigan it wasn’t just Wall Street, but primarily the US government — the Fed, printing money and causing a rush into commodities by Wall Street investors.

Krugman’s blog addressed it today. And it’s always a wonder what a cogent argument from a big scientific mind can do:

What’s behind the surge in food prices? The usual suspects have made the usual claims — it’s all about the Fed, or it’s all about speculators. But I’ve been looking at the USDA World supply and demand estimates, and what stands out from the data is mainly that we’ve had a huge global harvest failure …

Why is production down? Most of the decline in world wheat production, and about half of the total decline in grain production, has taken place in the former Soviet Union — mainly Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. And we know what that’s about: an incredible, unprecedented heat wave.

Obligatory disclaimer: no one event can be definitively assigned to climate change, just as you can’t necessarily claim that any one of the fender-benders taking place right now in central New Jersey was caused by the sheet of black ice currently coating our roads. But it sure looks like climate change is a major culprit. And it’s not just the FSU: extreme weather elsewhere, which again is the sort of thing you should expect from climate change, has played a role in bad harvest around the world.

Back to the economics: if you want to know why we’re having a spike in food prices, the data suggest that the key cause is terrible weather leading to bad harvests, especially in the former Soviet Union.

An ‘ah-ha!’ short essay, so to speak.

Footnote:

[1] The precise reference from the ‘manual’ is: “I [the author] present this humble effort to these young Moslem [sic] men who are pure, believing, and fighting for the cause of Allah. It is my contribution toward paving the road that leads to majestic allah and establishes a caliphate …”

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