Synopsis from Icarus Films:
In his newest film, French documentarian and cinema-essayist Chris Marker reflects on French and international politics, art and culture at the start of the new millennium. In November 2001, the filmmaker became intrigued, as did many other Parisians, by the sudden appearance of alluring portraits of grinning yellow cats on buildings, Metro walls and other public surfaces. Marker’s cinematic efforts to document the mysterious materializations of this charming feline throughout Paris are a recurring theme of THE CASE OF THE GRINNING CAT.
This engaging record of Marker’s cinematic peregrinations throughout the city, visually energized by his free-association montage style, chronicles strikes, demonstrations, memorials, election campaigns, celebrity scandals, international political incidents, and a seemingly endless variety of political protests (against the Iraq War, against China’s occupation of Tibet, against the government’s ban on the wearing of Muslim headscarves). The personalized commentary running throughout THE CASE OF THE GRINNING CAT offers the simultaneously learned and witty reflections of the filmmaker, now in his early eighties, on both the contemporary and historical implications of these varied events and personalities.
The mysterious grinning yellow cats soon begin to appear amidst the banners and signs in some of the political demonstrations. Eventually, the creator of the grinning cats is revealed to be an art collective known as Mr. Cat, whose members are shown painting a massive representation of their mascot on the plaza before the Pompidou Center. The filmmaker’s own famous cat caricature soon allies with Mr. Cat, as Marker speculates on the political possibilities of such a feline association.
Chris Marker concludes THE CASE OF THE GRINNING CAT with thoughts on the vital importance of such expressions of imagination in our public lives, echoing the May ’68 slogan that “La poésie est dans la rue” (“Poetry is in the street”).
By Dean Baker
Last month Amazon joined Apple, becoming the second company in the world to have a $1 trillion market capitalization. Amazon’s accomplishment didn’t cause quite as much celebration as Apple’s – it pays to be number one – nonetheless this was treated as a milestone that all of us should view as good news.
Actually, the celebratory coverage of both events demonstrated the incredibly ill-informed nature of much economic reporting in the United States. A big run-up in share prices is good news for the people who own lots of stock in the company; it is not especially good news for anyone else.
In principle, the value of a stock is supposed to represent the expected future earnings of the company. I said “supposed” because stock prices fluctuate wildly in response to all sorts of things that are not obviously connected to future earnings, but in the textbook definition, it is the discounted value of future earnings that determine stock prices. To be clear, this is not the socialist textbook, this is the capitalist textbook that is taught in business schools.
What does it mean that Amazon and Apple have market valuations of more $1 trillion? Presumably, it means that investors are now more optimistic about the companies’ future profit potential. It’s difficult to see why the rest of us should celebrate this outcome.
Apple obviously makes products that consumers value, and in that sense, it is contributing to the economy and generating wealth. But, suppose instead of one huge company we had 10 little (or littler) Apples that sold iPhones, computers, and the other items that comprise Apple’s product line? Would we be any poorer as a society in that case, even if the market cap of our leading tech company was just $100 billion?
Or, even with Apple as our dominant tech company, suppose the surge over the $1 trillion barrier was due to a victory in an antitrust case, which would allow Apple to charge higher prices going forward. That’s great for Apple’s stockholders, but what exactly would the rest of us be celebrating? Paying more money for our iPhones?
In the same vein, in the past, Apple has been caught conspiring with other Silicon Valley companies, agreeing not to compete for workers. Apple, along with its co-conspirators, ended up paying a substantial settlement as a result.
Suppose Apple found a legal way to fix wages or bought a judge to make it legal. The prospect of a lower wage bill would also be good for Apple’s stock price, but not especially good news for those of us who are more likely to make our living from working than owning Apple stock. Again, there is not much in this story for most of us to celebrate.
The celebration for Amazon is even more peculiar. Amazon is clearly an innovative company that has sped the development of Internet retailing. It also has specialized in tax avoidance, eliciting investment incentives from state and local governments, and abusive labor practices.
Perhaps the crossing of the $1 trillion threshold was associated with investors’ confidence that Amazon’s CEO had developed a new and more effective tax avoidance scheme. Again, great news for Amazon stockholders, but pretty bad news for the folks who will have to make up the revenue shortfall.
What is notably different about Amazon is that, unlike Apple, the company does not have huge profits. While Apple earned $48.4 billion in after-tax profits in 2017, Amazon’s profit was just over $3 billion. That gives the company an incredible price-to-earnings ratio of more than 300-to-1.
There are two stories we can tell here. One is that investors expect Amazon’s profits to increase enormously. This would be a case where it takes advantage of its market power to increase its profit margins hugely. Ordinarily, this would be the basis for antitrust action, but given the corruption of the political system, it is certainly possible the company could get away with it. Again, is a future of higher prices something the rest of us should really be celebrating?
The other possibility is that Amazon’s stock price is driven by fantasy, like the Internet stocks of the late 1990s or Bitcoin today. Presumably, at some point reality will reassert itself, but should the rest of us celebrate ill-informed investors being taken for ride?
It is striking that so many would see economic or social progress as being in some way captured by stock valuations. In 1953 Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine. This eventually led to the near eradication of a disease that had killed or crippled tens of millions of people.
Salk didn’t try to patent his invention. A private charity funded the research. But, what if there had been a Salk Inc. that had the patent on a vaccine that could save tens of millions of lives? Surely the market cap would be an order of magnitude larger than either Apple’s or Amazon’s. Was it a loss to society that the vaccine was made available for pennies rather than tens of thousands of dollars a shot?
If we want to talk about value to society, the anti-smoking crusaders of the last four decades have saved tens of thousands of lives and improved the health of millions more by reducing smoking in the United States and around the world. The people who led this fight, most of whom were women, won’t be featured on the covers of business magazines, but they did much more to enhance society’s wealth than Jeff Bezos.
Anyhow, congratulations to Apple and Amazon’s stockholders on their stock gains. They have been fortunate. The rest of us, not so much.
By Bill Van Auken
Tensions remain high in Syria after the downing of a Russian Il-20 electronic intelligence plane and the killing of all 15 crew members aboard during a major Israeli airstrike against the Syrian port city of Latakia Monday night.
The attack on Latakia, a government stronghold and the site of Russia’s major military base in the country, represented a dangerous escalation of the war in Syria, which the Israelis almost certainly carried out in consultation with Washington.
Tel Aviv claimed that its strike was motivated by intelligence that weapons located there were being transferred from Iran to the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah. A more powerful underlying motive, however, is the frustration of US imperialism and its allies, Israel and the NATO powers, over the increasing consolidation of control over Syria by the Russian-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad and the failure of the Al Qaeda-linked militias that they backed in a proxy war for regime change.
The Russian Ministry of Defense Tuesday acknowledged that its plane had been hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire, but placed blame for the incident squarely on what it termed a “provocation” and “hostile” act on the part of Israel.
The Russian turboprop plane was returning to the Russian-run Hmeymim airbase, when it went off the radar screens in the midst of an attack by four Israeli F-16 fighter jets against Syrian defense industry facilities in Latakia.
“The Israeli pilots were using the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed it into the line of fire of the Syrian defense,” Igor Konashenkov, the Russian defense ministry spokesperson, said on Tuesday.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Konashenkov as describing Israel’s military strike as “hostile” and “an act of provocation,” warning, “We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response.”
This response was echoed by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, who declared that the “blame for the downing of the Russian plane and the deaths of its crew members lies squarely on the Israeli side.” He added, “The actions of the Israeli military were not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership, so we reserve the right to respond.”
Later the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstratively backed away from this sharp response and implicit threat of military retaliation.
Speaking in Moscow at a joint press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Putin drew a distinction between Latakia and the 2015 incident in which a Turkish warplane had shot down a Russian S24 jet, after which Moscow imposed severe sanctions against Ankara.
The Turkish military, he said, had “deliberately downed” the Russian plane, while the Latakia incident “looks like a chain of tragic circumstances, because the Israeli plane didn’t shoot down our jet.”
Subsequently, Putin took a telephone conversation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly expressed condolences over the deaths of the Russian plane crewmembers, while reiterating Tel Aviv’s determination to continue carrying out strikes against targets in Syria that it claims are linked to Iran and Hezbollah.
Israeli government officials had placed the entire blame for the downing of the plane on Iran and Hezbollah, while stating that its immediate cause was “extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft (surface-to-air missile) fire.”
The Kremlin’s readout of the phone conversation had Putin adopting a somewhat tougher line, reportedly telling Netanyahu that Israeli operations like the one in Latakia “violated Syrian sovereignty” and “agreements around the prevention of dangerous incidents.” The Kremlin added, “The president of Russia urged the Israeli side not to allow such situations from now on.”
Israel earlier this month acknowledged that it has carried out at least 200 airstrikes against Syria over the past 18 months, dropping some 800 munitions on targets across the country. Each of these was also a violation of “Syrian sovereignty.” They have been carried out, however, with the tacit permission of Moscow, which has received advance notice of these operations on an Israeli-Russian “deconfliction” line set up three years ago, and has thus far refrained from using its advanced antiaircraft systems deployed in Syria against Israeli warplanes.
Whether Russia will now deny Israel a green light for airstrikes in Syria, and for how long, remains to be seen.
The shifting tone in the response from Moscow to the deaths of its military personnel may reflect divisions within the Kremlin, or between Putin’s administration and the Russian military command. It almost certainly also expresses fears that the situation in Syria could quickly spill over into a wider military confrontation, including one involving the world’s two major nuclear powers, the US and Russia, as well as the region’s only nuclear-armed state, Israel. Washington would almost certainly respond militarily to any Russian retaliation against the Israeli action in Latakia.
Putin’s government represents the interests of the Russian oligarchs who consolidated their power in the wake of the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy’s dissolution of the Soviet Union. It has sought to promote Russian interests in the oil-rich Middle East, not only through backing the Assad government—alongside Iran—against the Western-backed Islamist militias employed as proxies in a war for regime change, but also by forging close ties with Israel, with which Russia has established military, trade and investment links.
This complex and conflicting set of relations also includes the attempt by Moscow to cement closer ties with Turkey, which has backed a range of Islamist militias in Syria, while joining the Astana talks together with Moscow and Tehran in search of a ceasefire in the Syrian conflict.
The attack on Latakia came within hours of the announcement Monday by Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of an agreement reached in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi to establish a jointly patrolled “demilitarized zone” between Syrian government troops and the Western-backed “rebels” concentrated in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.
For weeks there had been predictions that a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in Idlib was imminent, along with mounting threats by Washington and its allies, including Britain, France and Germany, to carry out a sustained military retaliation against an advance on the last major redoubt of the Al Qaeda-linked “rebels.”
The deal reached between Moscow and Ankara calls for the DMZ separating Syrian government forces from the Islamist militias to consist of a 15 to 20-kilometer buffer around the province. All “radical”, i.e., Al Qaeda-affiliated, militias are supposed to be removed from the area.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters Tuesday that Ankara will deploy more troops to Idlib in the coming days to patrol the border areas. Turkish tanks and other military vehicles had already been dispatched to the south of the province, an area where Russian and Syrian airplanes had carried out strikes.
Asked where the Al Qaeda-affiliated militias would go, Çavuşoğlu said that Ankara and Moscow were still working on the issue.
The US has signaled that the more than 2,000 American troops presently deployed in Syria will remain indefinitely, not merely to complete their supposed mission of combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but to roll back Iranian and Russian influence in both the country and the region and to deny Damascus control of the economically vital oil fields now under US control.
Washington has no interest in seeing the agreement between Moscow and Ankara over Idlib succeed. At a UN Security Council meeting Tuesday on Syria, where UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura called for a speedy implementation of the Russian-Turkish agreement, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, James Jeffrey, insisted that, “The only way forward is a genuine and inclusive political solution,” Washington’s euphemism for regime change. To this end, the US and its allies, Israel chief among them, are prepared to push the country and the region into a potentially world catastrophic war.
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Be the peace you are looking for
La política es un cadáver que renueva su descomposición todos los días. R.G.B.
The Tao of Anarchy: There is no God. There is no State. They are all superstitions that are established by the power-hunger psychopaths to divide, rule, and enslave us. It's only you and me, we are all true and real existence though in one short life. That is, We all are capable to freely interact with one another without coercion from anyone. We all are capable to take self-responsibility to find ways to live with one another in liberty, equality, harmony, and happiness before leaving this world forever. We all were born free and equal among all beings on this planet. We are not imprisoned in and by a place with a political name just because we were born there by chance. We are not chained to a set of indoctrinated beliefs that have been imposed upon us by so-called traditions. This Planet is home to all of us. No one owns it. We share the benefits from and responsibility to this Earth. We pledge no oath, no allegiance to no one; submit to no authority. We are all free and equal. The only obligation we all must undertake constantly with consistency is to respect the same freedoms and rights of others.
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