29 July 2015

Origins of the Taliban

Seeds of Terror by Gretchen Peters, 2009, Excerpts

The origins of the Taliban are steeped in legend, elevating the group’s barely literate, one-eyed leader to semi-divine status. The story begins in mid-1994 when rival warlords were ravaging the Afghan countryside and terrorizing the public. Neighbors came to Mullah Omar, then a teacher in a small religious school, or madrassa, outside Kandahar, to tell him two young girls in their village had been abducted by a local warlord and repeatedly raped. Horrified, Omar raised a force of thirty madrassa students [Talibs], armed with half as many rifles, and attacked the commander’s base. They freed the girls and hanged the commander from his tank barrel.

A few months later, Omar’s force intervened again when two rival commanders fought over a young boy both men wanted to take as a lover. Commanders were looting people, raping women and boys for days, and then killing them. Mullah Omar raised his voice against these people. As Omar’s reputation as a local Robin Hood grew, Afghanistan’s war-weary public embraced the Taliban, which swept across the country, capturing many towns without firing a shot. His supporters believed Omar was possessed with a profound, God-given wisdom.

The Taliban initially made commitments to stamp out the poppy trade – but only acted on them a handful of times. These commitments were swiftly dropped as political realities and need for funds overcame their original objectives. As the Taliban conquered district after district in Kandahar, they attracted the attention of other warlords with ties to the opium trade.

Fueled by drug money and joined at the hip by al Qaeda, the Taliban turned Afghanistan into the world’s first fully fledged narco-terror state. In the remote areas where it was grown, opium had literally become a form of currency. Local shopkeepers kept scales in their shops, as opposed to cash boxes or registers. You’d pay for your groceries with a golf ball-sized chunk of opium.

The Taliban built a fighting force of four thousand and was able to pay its troops three times what other Afghan commanders could. After taking control of Kandahar – just eleven months after their initial emergence – the Taliban claimed to have eleven tanks, nine transport helicopters, several MiG fighter jets, and stacks of heavy weaponry and ammunition. They set up a police training school and educated bureaucrats.

By September 1996, just two years after they emerged, they would roll victorious into Kabul. By 1997, Afghanistan became the world’s leading opium producer, having outpaced Burma.

Mullah Omar: Taliban leader 'died in Pakistan in 2013'
29 Jul 2015
Taliban leader Mullah Omar died two years ago in Pakistan, a spokesman for Afghanistan's security services says. The Taliban is expected to issue a statement soon. Sources at the Taliban's two main councils in Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan told the BBC they were in intensive talks to agree on a replacement for Mullah Omar. Pakistan's government and security services have not commented on the claims so far. They have always denied that Mullah Omar was in their country. The Afghan government, elected last year, has embarked on a peace process with the Taliban.
Mullah Omar has not been seen in public since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. Despite his long absence from the public view, the mystique of the man has been overwhelming. He had become a symbol and a unifying figure within the Taliban. While the day-to-day affairs have been managed by his deputies, everything else revolved around his name. Mullah Omar led the Taliban to victory over rival Afghan militias in the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops. His alliance with al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden prompted the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Mullah Mohammed Omar
- Taliban say he was born in 1960 in the village of Chah-i-Himmat, in Kandahar province
- Fought in resistance against Soviet occupation in 1980s, suffering a shrapnel injury to his right eye
- Forged close ties to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden
- Became "Supreme Leader" of Taliban movement in 1996
- US-led forces overthrew his government in 2001

08 July 2015

Greece Shaking Off of Burdens

The innovation of Legal Tender in seventh century BC was adopted by the greater part of the Greek world. Towards the end of the seventh century BC, wealth and debt went extreme with complications.

Money and Man by Elgin Groseclose, 1961
The introduction of coined money [Legal Tender] produced what might be called in today’s parlance "boom times" in the Mediterranean. It was an era of expansion, of the development of frontiers, of the exploitation of natural resources. Cities flourished, trade was active, debtors and creditors appeared, banks were organized, and in the end there grew up a host of attendant evils resulting from an unbalanced economy based too largely on money.

Toward the end of the seventh century B.C., the Greek civilization, which had been riding the crest of a sudden prosperity, was being carried, irretrievably, it seemed, toward the dark headlands of disaster. The inexorable culmination to the era grew out of the growth of debt. In Attica, as in modern America, the incubus of debt had thrust its tentacles into the very vitals of society. The greater part of the peasants’ holdings had come under mortgage, the evidences of which were stone pillars erected on the land, inscribed with the name of the lender, the amount, the rate, and the maturity of the loan. A still more insidious form of debt was the chattel mortgage in which the farmer could pledge his own person or that of his wife or his children, for the repayment of a loan. These chattels, under Athenian law, could be sold off into slavery, and such was the extent of the existing credit structure that the greater part of the agricultural population was in danger of being converted into bondage.

A state of affairs developed in Greece toward the end of the seventh century B.C. similar to that in the Middle West in the nineteen twenties. Revolution was being talked, with mutterings about "redistribution of the land," and armed insurrection was imminent.

A History of Interest Rates by Sidney Homer, Rutgers University Press, 1963
In Attica, at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. the tenant farmers were under severe economic pressure and threatened rebellion. They were sometimes able to keep only the sixth part of their produce. Personal slavery of whole families for debt was permitted and became common. Freeman had to compete with slaves. In spite of the relief provided by extensive colonization, discontent grew. Pawn credit was widespread. Debt had become an insupportable burden. At this crucial point (594 B.C.) the poet and wiseman Solon was called upon by Athens to assume supreme legislative power for a limited period and revise her laws.

Money and Man by Elgin Groseclose, 1961
The moneyed classes, the aristocracy, and the merchants, sensed the growing dissatisfaction among the masses, and in the hope of staving off rebellion, put up Solon for archonship in 594 B.C. The oligarchy had tried their best to enforce this law of debtor and creditor, with its disastrous series of contracts, and the only reason why they consented to invoke the aid of Solon was because they had lost the power of enforcing it any longer, in consequence of the newly awakened courage and combination of people.
Inaugurated as archon, Solon moved with amazing speed, and before the country knew what was happening, it was going through a social, economic and political revolution that completely revamped the character of the Athenian state and still amazes historians.

Solon assumed extra-legal powers, and with a facility for "catch" expressions that took hold of popular fancy, issued immediately a revolutionary decree under the appealing name "Shaking Off of Burdens". This decree, going at once to the heart of the money problem, tore down all the mortgage pillars of Athens and abrogated at once all agricultural and personal loans. It liberated all those debtors who were actually in slavery under previous legal adjudication, and it forbade any Athenian to pledge his own person or that of any member of his family as security for a loan.

A History of Interest Rates by Sidney Homer, Rutgers University Press, 1963
Solon’s reforms were radical and for the most part they endured. He canceled many debts secured by land and scaled down others. All those enslaved for debt were freed; those sold abroad for debt were redeemed at state expense. Political power was reapportioned according to property. The drachma was devalued by about one quarter. Weights and measures were increased in size. Citizenship was granted to immigrants who were skilled artisans. Judging from these reforms and their acceptance, the economic crisis of 594 B.C. was severe indeed.

Money and Man by Elgin Groseclose, 1961
Of course it shattered the credit structure of Athenian economy. Deprived of the security behind their assets, and with obligations of their own to meet, the landlords and the money lenders were thrown into practical bankruptcy. In solution to this problem, the crumbling financial edifice, Solon provided a partial moratorium by means of a debasement of the currency. The money question solved temporarily - it was to come up again and again in Greek history - Solon was now able to lay the foundation for the enduring structure of reform which brought into being that cynosure of history - the Athenian democracy.

To prevent complete authoritative meltdown, the Greek State responded to the economic crisis and looming revolution with the carrot of democracy.

Democracy (Random House Dictionary):
Government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them.

However, the system was not a pure democracy, but a democracy more representative of propertied individuals, individuals with the greatest ownership, individuals who derive the greatest interest income.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, 1980
When economic interest is seen behind the political clauses of the Constitution, then the document becomes not simply the work of wise men trying to establish a decent and orderly society, but the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges, while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure popular support.

To this day, the image of Solon graces the frieze of the United States Supreme Court building, captioned with "Equal Justice Under Law", impressively supported by pillars of Greek columns, an architectural style that continues to adorn buildings of Law and Money.

Solon (Random House Dictionary)
a wise lawgiver.

Confucious, Moses, and Solon

Debt: The Gift that Keeps Giving

Government to 'retire' some of its WW1 debt
31 Oct 2014
The UK Government has said that it will 'retire' £218m of the UK's £2bn First World War debt by refinancing bonds originally issued by Winston Churchill. The UK has paid a total of £1.26bn in interest on these bonds since then. The continued existence of the war bond debt illustrates the lasting shadow cast by World War One. According to the UK Treasury there are currently 11,200 registered holders of the bonds. In addition to the war bonds, some of the debt being refinanced by the Treasury dates back to the 18th Century.  One of these bonds was issued by William Gladstone in 1853 to consolidate the capital stock of the South Sea Company, which was founded in 1711. The South Sea Company collapsed during the South Sea Bubble financial crisis of 1720, leaving behind it a lot of debt. In 1932 Chancellor Neville Chamberlain converted some war bonds into "perpetuals". This gave the government the right not to pay back the loans, as long as they continued paying 3.5% interest on them. Perpetual bonds, as the name suggests, pay a steady stream of interest forever.

03 July 2015

Pope Francis Encyclica Laudato – 2015 Jun

Economic Growth 

Growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life. 

To accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth proves attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed. 

The deepest roots of our present failures have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.  

People’s quality of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth. 

Economic growth tends to certain standardization with the aim of simplifying procedures and reducing costs. A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth. 


The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them. 

The culture of relativism drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labor on them or enslaving them to pay their debts.  

The twenty-first century is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation states, chiefly because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, prevail over the political. 

Economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain. The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world. Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises. 

The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. The principle of the maximization of profits reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy. As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment. 

Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. People’s quality of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth.  

Talk of sustainable growth becomes a way of distracting attention and offering excuses.

Finance overwhelms the real economy. 


A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. 

Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live. 


IMF report: concern about Income Inequality impacting growth.
Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective
June 2015 

Inequality within most advanced and emerging markets and developing countries has increased, a phenomenon that has received considerable attention. President Obama called widening income inequality the “defining challenge of our time.” A recent Pew Research Center survey found that the gap between the rich and the poor is considered a major challenge worldwide, and Pope Francis has spoken out against the “economy of exclusion.” The extent of inequality, its drivers, and what to do about it have become some of the most hotly debated issues by policymakers and researchers alike. 

Equality, like fairness, is an important value in most societies. Irrespective of ideology, culture, and religion, people care about inequality. Widening inequality has significant implications for growth and macroeconomic stability; it can concentrate political and decision making power in the hands of a few, lead to a suboptimal use of human resources, cause political and economic instability, and raise crisis risk. The economic and social fallout from the global financial crisis and the resultant headwinds to global growth and employment have heightened the attention to rising income inequality. 

Building on earlier IMF work which has shown that income inequality matters for growth, we show that the income distribution itself matters for growth as well. In particular, our findings suggest that raising the income share of the poor and ensuring that there is no hollowing-out of the middle class is good for growth through a number of interrelated economic, social, and political channels.




The Lucifer Effect Series

The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts

The Lucifer Effect examines the processes of transformation at work when good or ordinary people do bad or evil things. Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others – or using one’s authority and systematic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf. Evil is knowing better but doing worse.

No person or state is incapable of evil. This behavior lies just under the surface of any of us. Each of us has the potential to be saint or sinner, altruistic or selfish, gentle or cruel, submissive or dominant, sane or mad, good or evil. We are born with a full range of capacities, each of which is activated and developed depending on the social and cultural circumstances that govern our lives. The potential for perversion is inherent in the very processes that make human beings do all the wonderful things we do.

Some of the world’s evil result from ordinary people operating in circumstances that selectively elicit bad behavior from their natures. They are so evil we couldn’t ever see ourselves doing the same thing. But if you consider the terrible pressure under which people were operating, then you automatically reassert their humanity – and that becomes alarming. You are forced to look at the situation and say, “What would I have done?” Sometimes the answer is not encouraging.

It is through understanding how such forces operate that we can resist, oppose, and prevent them from leading us into undesirable temptation. Such knowledge can liberate us from subjugation to the mighty grasp of conformity, compliance, persuasion, and other forms of social influence and coercion. Although evil can exist in any setting, we look most closely into its breeding ground in prisons and wars. They typically become crucibles, in which authority, power, and dominance are blended and, when covered over by secrecy, suspend our humanity, and rob us of the qualities we humans value most: caring, kindness, cooperation, and love.

Abu Ghraib Series – WIP
The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts
Psychological analysis is not “excusiology.” Individuals and groups who behave immorally or illegally must still be held responsible for their complicity and crimes. However, the situational and systemic factors that caused their behavior must be taken into account.


Further Lucifer Effect Resources


The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills

Cold War to the Terror War by Alfred McCoy, the shocking photographs from Abu Ghraib are nothing new.

Escape from Freedom by Eric Fromm, this classic reminds us of the first step a fascist leader takes even in a nominally democratic society.

The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib by Karen Greenberg and Joshua Dratel, exposing the perversion of legal skills by government lawyers.

Oath Betrayed by Steven H. Miles professor of medicine and bioethics.

Without Sanctuary, a documentary catalogue of lynching postcards

Photography of the Holocaust by Janina Struk


Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Experiment [1985]

Das Experiment is a German film based on the SPE that has been widely shown around the world.

Repetition by Polish artist ArturZmijewski. A forty-six minute film that highlights the seven days paid volunteers spent in his mock prison.

Faces of the Enemy, Sam Keen show how archetypes of the enemy are created by visual propaganda that most nations use against those judged to be the dangerous “them,” “outsiders,” “enemies.”

The Marine Machine a full, graphic depiction of the making of a Marine by William Mares

The Wave, a powerful docudrama of this simulated Nazi experience captured the transformation of good kids into pseudo Hitler Youth.

Suicide Killers by French filmmaker Pierre Rehov viewed many Palestinians in Israeli jails who were caught before detonating tier bombs or had abetted would-be attacks.



Stanford Prison Experiment” is the name of a rock band from Los Angeles whose intense music is a fusion of punk and noise, according to its leader, who learned about the SPE as a student at UCLA.


The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. British statesman Edmund Burke

We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil. Martin Luther King

Influence Tactics
Three simple influence tactics that have been consistently studied and documented by social psychologist: the foot-in-the door tactic, social modeling, and self-labeling of helpfulness.

[1] Our slow ascent into goodness step by step makes use of what social psychologists call the “foot-in-the-door” tactic. This tactic begins by first asking someone to do a small request, which most people readily perform, and then later on to ask them to comply with a related but much bigger request, which was the actual goal all along.

[2] Altruistic role models increase the likelihood that those around them will engage in positive, pro-social behavior.

[3] Give someone an identity label of the kind that you would like them to have as someone who will then do the action you want to elicit from them. When you tell a person that he or she is helpful, altruistic, and kind, that person is more likely to do helpful, altruistic, and kind behaviors for others.