A Late Nod to 1 May

The presidential elections in Austria are happening right now and it came down to a right wing candidate and a green/left candidate. I was just asked to write why I’m supporting the green/left guy and I wrote a little statement which I’d like to share here as well:

In the age of globalization, which brings along the insecurities, inequality, destruction of the environment and of natural resources, overpopulation, migration and loss of human values, the left – which for me means humans before capital, and with each other, not against each other – is the only way to survive. I choose left for my son and the planet he’s going to inherit.  And if I could choose a mother, that’s whom I would choose. Because I believe our planet (and our civilization) destroyed by male values can only be rescued by switching to female modus operandi: nourishing, repairing, preserving, reconciling and being in tune with nature.

We don't have much time left.

Happy May 1 to all you workers!

It's International Workers' Day and people all around the world are out in the streets reminding of what workers fought for almost 130 years ago (and  in many countries is still lacking): fair treatment of the workers, fair wages, 8h work days, holidays.

It is surely no coincidence that yesterday, OECD issued a new study warning about growing inequality and a desperate need for tax reforms. It already sounds boring but: While rich are getting richer, their taxes are drastically sinking.

Here the link to OECD's study:

http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/OECD2014-FocusOnTopIncomes.pdf

And an image from Barcelona today:

“It is necessary to stop being a patient"

Eva Illouz, one of today’s most established sociologists (yes, I am a HUGE fan), whom German “Die Zeit” called one of a few people that will shape the thinking of tomorrow just published a very interesting essay on psychology titled “How therapy became a multimillion dollar industry”.  In 2008, Illouz published a book on this topic called “Saving the Modern Soul: Therapy, Emotions, and the Culture of Self-Help”. In her new essay, she talks about some very important and interesting (but also controversial: Israeli psychoanalysts attacked her strongly because of the essay) aspects of the commercialization of psychology.

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Go Francis!

I am definitely not a fan of what has become of Catholic Church. But it is always very exciting when you can find positive aspects in what you principally view as negative and other way round (Dear Angie, I think it is amazing that you had your healthy breasts- and soon ovaries - cut out: What a wonderful deconstruction of a sex symbol!) Back to the Catholic Church. I was very excited to read about Pope Francis railing against the dictatorship of an economy that became a self-righteous system and completely overtrumped (and enslaved) human beings. It is religions of the world that should scream loudest against injustice, against any threat to our soul, against neglecting that what makes us spiritual beings. 

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International Workers' Day and the Power of Information

1st of May is one of the days I miss Vienna the most. I miss big red-and-white flags hanging from the historic houses, and the blissful peace I feel when I wake up: As it is workers’ holiday, the drives have the right to rest so public transportation only starts functioning at noon. I miss decorated trams that later in the day drive through Vienna. Music on the streets. The parade I always wanted to go to and never did (yes, yes: Never postpone to tomorrow what you could do today). I miss that one day in the year when we celebrate labor. Workers and their rights. General human rights. Human dignity. The rights of people vs. rights of corporations. 

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Bye-bye Margaret!

O.K., so Margaret Thatcher is dead. She passed away couple of days ago and my Facebook wall is still full of her. As my friends are mostly left wing intellectuals (am I bragging?), my wall looks like a competition on who can say worse things about the “Iron Lady”. Yes, she was a horrible neoliberal who, together with her buddy Ronald Reagan, helped to create this mess we are living in. But I got so tired of reading bad things about her. It’s old. We know it. Leave it alone. Let’s invest our energy to find the way out of this mess rather than bash a long forgotten corpse. I felt the urge to write a note on Margaret Thatcher’s death because I feel weirdly connected to her. I do. In a very bizarre way. Since I had a back surgery at age of 15 in which my spine got supported with this long metal rod (called “Harrington”), my friends often referred to me as Iron Lady. I always liked it. For one, I literally do consist of a big amount of metal. But I always considered myself to be some kind of Iron Lady in other ways: I am strong, brave, ambitious. Indestructible. And this is where Margaret Thatcher is important. Whatever her political views were, she did do something good. She became the only female Prime Minister in the history of the UK. She fought for her position in the time and society in which parents still forbade their daughters to attend university believing there is no other position for them in this world then that of a housewife. Thanks to her, I grew up taking for granted that one of the world’s most important political personae is a woman. (On top of it all, she was also feminine – as far as her position would allow. And she was a mother.) Unfortunately, since she left politics, girls haven’t had a picture of a leading female politician to look up to, or simply take for granted.

Hopefully Hillary will change that in a few years.

Till then: Bye-bye Margaret!

120814075005-margaret-thatcher-sunglasses-story-top

Reconnect

Yesterday, Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving, when sales start in US), a woman pulled out pepper spray and injured 20 people in order to get a discounted Xbox. A man was leaving a store with his family and got shot when he didn’t want to give up his purchase. Another man was stabbed in a shopping mall. Rihanna’s latest video, widely watched in US is banned in France. It is showing, and glorifying, a couple of drug addicts smoking crack, popping pills, drinking, having sex, tattooing each other. All to a funky beat, her happily singing “We found love in a hopeless place”. It looks like so much fun! Her “S&M” video was banned in Europe for glorifying S&M practices. 

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Occupy Wall Street

Yes, I've been there. I had to. I am for change. I wrote about things Occupy people are fighting against (and for) in my essay about the financial crisis back in 2008 (see my "Ana Almighty"  article in The Vienna Review, December 2008). I wrote about it in my second book "Knockout" - let's hope it will come out soon.

I was excited to witness Occupy Wall Street. But it made me sad.

First, the whole neighborhood is under a blockade and there are more policemen and securities than traders. Walking through Wall Street felt like walking through Zagreb during the war - especially during an air raid. That was last year, before Occupy. It is even worse now. How fair and innocent can the financial sector be if it needs an army of policemen to protect it?

Second, Occupy Wall Street is actually Occupy Zuccotti Park - the protesters are squashed together in a tiny park away from the Wall Street and surrounded by Mc Donald's and Burger King and a million of police cars. There are more police cars then protesters. It looked like they were put there, where they don't disturb, and left until they lose the drive and just leave. And this is what will happen. It reminded me of Uni Brennt, the protest that started at the University of Vienna in 2009 and spread through Europe. Universities were occupied for months. There were workshops, work groups; famous intellectuals talked and supported, media covered. Students were left to protest until they lost the drive. Nothing has changed.

Don't ask me how to make a change. I don't know. Maybe we should all just quit our jobs in the same time.

Unfortunately, the danger is that with every try like this, which ends up in just dying away, people lose hope. Hope in their power and hope in their ability to change things. When we lose hope, we can take a triple dose of anti depressants and turn into robots. And this is exactly what the system needs.

And last, yesterday I found a large article about the big Occupy protests in Okland on the home page of Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard. Then I looked into LA Times. NY Times. Huffington Post. No one covered them. For the US media - and thus US public - they have never happened.

Yes, I'm sad. Still, the fact that so many people recognize problems, have a critical mind, want to find solutions, are willing to protest and say NO MORE - that is hope.

 

Only Bad Mood?

Norway: A right wing radical puts a bomb in the government building in Oslo and then goes to an island where he kills 77 teenagers in a summer camp organized by the social-democratic party. He wanted to warn the party, which he accused of letting too many Muslims into the country. Austria: A yearly youth study shows that more and more young people support FPÖ, the right-wing party. FPÖ directly appeals to (and then nourish) their fears. The study shows that Austrian youth is increasingly anxious. It also shows that those sympathizing FPÖ are much more scared (than those more left oriented) of the future: of inflation, terrorism and one day not receiving their pension.

USA: In current debt-ceiling debate, the Republicans are bringing the country - and the world economic system to the verge of a catastrophe. The only thing they want to achieve is – ultimate power. Even if the world crashes.

Brusselles: EU is facing a political disintegration and economic collapse. We’re facing a catastrophe, hand in hand with USA.

See any links? Well I do. For me, all of these are puzzle pieces of the same story. In September 2008, our western system known as democratic liberal capitalism proved to have failed. Under the strong lobby of those who hold the money, but not officially the power, we didn’t do what seemed impossible but was the only solution – erase and start from scratch. It wouldn’t have allowed rich to get richer, as they did since the crisis. Instead, we took the corpse, dabbed on it some make-up (couple of trillions of dollars worth of make-up) and pretended it’s going to be OK. Well, it’s not. The corpse has rottened and there’s nothing left but a huge mess and unpayable debt.

Of course people are scared. This could be the end of the world as we know it. The systems, the beliefs, the rules, the rulers, everything that should keep us in place and safe from chaos and suffering - it has all proved (continuously) to have failed. In our globalized world that means there’s nowhere to escape. We fail, you fail.

One more time, the only solution would be to start from scratch. But how do you start from scratch and change the whole paradigm? How do you explain to people who speed up when you signal you’d like to change a lane, just so that they don’t have to let you in front of them (even if it means endangering yours and their life) that the only way this poor planet and its billions of people can survive is if we LIVE solidarity, respect, altruism and modesty? There’s no space here for greed and power games.

Either we reach that or we’ll go through a catastrophe in the scale of WW III. Unfortunately, I’m afraid we’ll need to experience such a tragedy to (re-)learn real value. It’s human nature.

Yes, I’m in a bad mood today.

Democracy, Consumption & Bob the Builder

Zagreb  is not the town it was when I left 20 years ago. During the war in 90’s, the population doubled within shortest period, turning the city into a mess. And the only investments done were shopping malls and volleyball stadiums, while the old center was left to fall apart and hospitals haven’t changed since Franz Joseph (who died in 1916). The country is suffering financial crime and corruption. Many wild things have happened on Croatia. Here the latest. Couple of years ago, one of Croatian “moguls” decided to ruin Cvjetni Trg (one of most important squares in the city), tear down old (and actually protected) houses and build a shopping mall incl. residential area (for other moguls, or their children, I’d guess) and a public garage. Everyone who knows old European cities knows that there is no space for cars so the strategy has been to remove cars outside of city centers – Zagrebian (corrupt) politicians allowed this huge garage in the center, turning pedestrian zones (while other European cities fight for more pedestrian areas) into driveways and clogging the already clogged area. Already angry citizens got even angrier and for years, hundreds of thousands of Zagrebians went out on the streets to protest and tried everything to stop this project from happening. It was yet another proof of what an illusion democracy can be. Money decides.

The mall was opened yesterday and Jutarnji List (daily newspaper) has a couple of excellent pictures on their website. Some of which were really interesting.

While intellectuals (in sandals and sweaters) are protesting and getting arrested (why are they all men?), girls with carefully straightened hair and blasé looks patiently wait at H&M. And check out the guys who actually built the whole place but are complete outsiders to what’s going on. What a nice illustration of the world we live in...

Consumerism, capitalism and global poverty

As found in the IPK invitation: "Has there ever been a better reason to shop?" asks an ad for the Product RED American Express card, telling members who use the card that buying "cappuccinos or cashmere" will help to fight AIDS in Africa. Cofounded in 2006 by the rock star Bono, Product RED has been a particularly successful example of a new trend in celebrity-driven international aid and development, one explicitly linked to commerce, not philanthropy.

In Brand Aid, Lisa Ann Richey and Stefano Ponte offer a deeply informed and stinging critique of "compassionate consumption." Campaigns like Product RED and its precursors, such as Lance Armstrong's Livestrong and the pink-ribbon project in support of breast cancer research, advance the expansion of consumption far more than they meet the needs of the people they ostensibly serve. At the same time, such campaigns sell both the suffering of Africans with AIDS (in the case of Product RED) and the power of the average consumer to ameliorate it through familiar and highly effective media representations.

Using Product RED as its focal point, this book explores how corporations like American Express, Armani, Gap, and Hallmark promote compassionate consumption to improve their ethical profile and value without significantly altering their business model, protecting themselves from the threat to their bottom lines posed by a genuinely engaged consumer activism. Coupled with the phenomenon of celebrity activism and expertise as embodied by Bono, Richey and Ponte argue that this "causumerism" represents a deeply troubling shift in relief efforts, effectively delinking the relationship between capitalist production and global poverty.

Lisa Ann Richey is professor of international development studies at Roskilde University. She is the author of Population Politics and Development: From the Policies to the Clinics.

Stefano Ponte is senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. He is the coauthor of Trading Down: Africa, Value Chains, and the Global Economy and The Coffee Paradox: Global Markets, Commodity Trade, and the Elusive Promise of Development.

Institute for Public Knowledge

45 Years of Chiffon

Almost fainted in my bathroom while re-reading the June issue of British Vogue today. Those cool British fashion people had a wonderful idea of shooting a fashion editorial in Cuba ( with pictures of Che in the background of course). Because enormously expensive clothing looks soooo boring against a non-contrasting background. On one of the pictures, a svelte blond model (looking like an alien who just landed on Cuba) is sitting in front of a shabby wooden door painted with a Cuban flag, wearing what is described as following:

“HOW BETTER TO HANDLE THE HEAT THAN CHLOÉ’S WHITE WASHED BREEZY, CHIFFON LAYERS? Pleated silk cape, £910 (€1100). Pleated silk dress, £4,510 (€5400). Both Chloé, at Chloé, Harvey Nichols, Matches and Selfridges”

Average monthly salary in Cuba is £10. This means that someone can live for 45 years from these the two pieces of white washed breezy chiffon layers. 542 people can survive for a month.

What to say about this enormous amount of stupidity, ignorance and lack of sensibility? Except “I’ll never buy that shitty magazine again”. And be proud of handling the heat in a white cotton t-shirt (€5, at H&M).

P.S. I couldn’t fall asleep last night, so instead counting sheep, I did a bit more math. 45 yearly salaries translated to UK-terms would mean taking a picture of a Cuban woman in front of the Buckingham Palace wearing 2 layers of (white washed breezy) chiffon worth  £1,045,980 (€1,257,036). Have fun shopping!

G8 - The Fiasco of Change

G8 summit has finished today. Conclusion: the financial transaction tax as proposed by the EU has been rejected. Also, we should restraint the public spending and reduce our budgets. In plain English: While rich continues being freed of paying taxes tax while getting richer, we get to save on schools, pensions, medical care, infrastructure, and other. Great. Have we learned nothing from the financial crisis? Bravo, politicians. (Why don’t we just get rid of them?)

Please note that the news about the rejection of the transaction taxis is quite hard to find. G8 concluding that they are angry of Iran and N. Korea is so much more important.

P.S. What about the change Obama was promising? Anybody seen it?

"Sex and the City2". Or "We're all Stuck in the Dessert!"

“Sex and the City 2” is coming to European cinemas on Friday. I, as the ultimate S&C fan should be ecstatic. Well, I’m not. I passed by a cinema with a jumbo poster above the door featuring Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda (in a dessert?!) and I had a very strange feeling. It was a bit like looking at a corpse. A mixture of curiosity, disgust and sadness. S&C used to be our Bible. What we watched on TV screens were our lives. Yes, we were just like them. And our stories were just like theirs. We were educated, had great jobs, paid for our own luxury, we looked good, had enormous fun and we shagged gorgeous men (Really! I was so offended when Playboy commented on my book: “Is it at all possible that all those men were that gorgeous?” Yes, they were!). We were completely independent. And mesmerised with our lives. We were experiencing the probably best phase of our lives. And S&C was an affirmation for it all.

This was 12 years ago. Many things have changed since then. Towards the end, the series wasn’t as true, cheeky, crispy and fun as it was it the beginning. The first S&C movie came to cinemas and, although we were glad to see our old friends, we were disappointed. And now the 2nd part? I’m not sure. I’m even wondering if we should go to see it. I’m afraid it will be everything but empowering.

First of all: Sex is not what it used to be. The S&C sex, that is. The S&C sex was about freeing a new form of female sexuality. Sexuality which was in the same time our weapon and our shield. Sexuality as the ultimate proof of the newly conquered independence in all aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, the sexuality we freed back then has quickly turned against us. The moment we turned female sexuality into a mean for achieving a goal, somebody else used it for their own purposes: To earn money. In no time, our society has became overly sexualised and pornographised. Fashion copies SM styles. Music spots look like soft porn. School kids are watching hard core on their phones. Media is bombarding us with the new image of a woman, a über-sexualised, über-natural sex doll. She is created by using styling, plastic surgery and Photoshop. She fills us (both women and men) with craving for unreachable, constructed “perfection” and makes us spend billions trying to buy it.  She is turning women into objects. Again. Our grandmothers and mothers fought against this - how did we, the S&C generation, allow it to happen?

And then there was shopping. They spent fortune shopping. And they had enormous fun shopping. So had we. Shopping was symbolising the connection between our financial independence and our newly freed sexuality. We were buying (with our own money) sexy stuff that made us feel great about ourselves. And that helped us manipulate the world which is known to be easily manipulated by attractive looks. But hen came the financial crisis. And made it very clear to us that we became hostages of our own consumption. We worked to consume, we identified with the consumed, and we searched for fulfilment where it couldn’t be found.  It all became painful when we realised that the consumerist attitude reflected on other aspects of our lives. We were consuming men, relationships, friendships. Ourselves. And then came the threat of an environmental catastrophe. It is not fun paying for stuff which you know will burry you one day. No, we don’t shop any more.

S&C showed us how fantastic a friendship can be. A constructed family. Four friends, all obsessed with themselves and their tightest circle. Four friends and their never-ending search. For love, for the perfect relationship, for THE man, for happiness… The search lasted for 12 years. And it goes on. It used to be cute. It’s not anymore. Because it is a product of the individualisation which is ruining our society. One of the biggest lessons we were supposed to learn from the financial crisis is that globalisation made us all interdependent. We cannot be solely focused on ourselves anymore. If Greece crashes, Europe crashes. Same is with women. We cannot live our emancipation alone. There are African women sold to our men as sex workers. Indian women are sewing our jeans for $16 a month. And there are many gorgeous East European girls who, of lack of alternative to support themselves, accept traditional gender roles. They are willing to trade their youth and beauty for financial security. Having a beautiful East European wife who keeps her mouth shut and is satisfied with a gift of designer shoes became sort of a trend: Viennese businessmen travel to East Europe searching for wives. Scared of losing their “competitive advantage”, many West European girls are giving up emancipation.

Yes, the world has drastically changed in the 12 years since S&C first became a symbol of our emancipation. The financial crisis revealed a deeper crisis – our whole system is in crisis. In order to survive, we have to rethink everything anew: The economic system, the values, the priorities. To be able to inspire us again, S&C would have to drastically change. And here an idea: Now that it is clear that we have reached the limits of the male world order, how about offering a new alternative? A female, solidary, cooperative, humanistic world order.

I know - it is too much to wish from a US TV-series-turned-film.

But please, allow me to dream.

Altruism for sale

Have you noticed the new trend: “altruism for sale”? Yes, we are now we are selling out altruism to the corporations! Helping others, making a difference, the most crucial aspect in our feeling of fulfilment is being sold out. Altruism, so precious for our well being, has lately been suffering a crisis just as big, if not bigger, than our economy. We lose altruism, here comes 1984! Buy a certain Gucci bag and 25% of the retail price will go to UNICEF (for the trick, check out the small letters: only if you buy it between 16 November and 31 December). Kate Spade’s new collection is featuring those cute mittens and hats, all hand-made by women in Bosina. Those women get $7 pro piece, which is, according to Spade, double of what they normal wages. Oh how nice! The small letters say: It is a day’s work to knit such a hat. Its retail price is $85. Is it great help, is it fair, should we really be proud to make people earn $7 a day, only 500km from here? How about teaching them to fish instead of giving them a (small) fish? Roberto Coin, jewellery designer is helping CARE. A percentage of every package of Pampers goes to some charity (sorry, no details, am not into diapers). If you subscribe to The Economist, they will plant a tree for you. And you can even watch your tree online….

The trick is new: they are trying to make us feel better about spending money on unnecessary, overpriced stuff and keep the vicious circle of consumerism alive by promising that our action will benefit someone. Instant clearance of consciousness. Instant great feeling. Of course, the ones that benefit the most are the corporations. Rich getting richer. The effect is sad: we are deep into learning to hand over our responsibilities, decisions, even feelings, to the corporations. We only need to consume and everything else will be taken care of. This distances us even further from the actual problem. We don’t need to understand what is going on, and why. We don’t have to consciously decide to help someone, we don’t have to chose whom and why. Gucci/Economist/Spade will take care of that. And nothing changes. Gucci keeps on making millions, we keep on slaving to afford a Gucci bag and women in Bosnia keep on living in poverty. But hey, now we feel good about it! Thank you Gucci/Economist/Spade/Pampers.

From (and for) Unibrennt (uni is burning)

What fascinated me when I visited the demonstration/siege at the Vienna University (Audimax) yesterday was the fact that it was not only about education. I was extremely happy to arrive on time to listen to a speech by Corinna Milborn (author and journalist) who spoke about the multiple crises we are facing right now. She spoke about the fact that this is not only a financial crisis, but also political, environmental, educational, migration crisis. Among other speakers, Chistian Felber, the founder of Attack (the anti-globalization organization) in Austria, as well as Robert Misik, a renowned author and journalist were speaking in Audimax. Pity I missed them. Felber will speak again on Monday at 17h at the TU (University of Technology).

I must say: congratulations to this great agenda! It makes the movement move away from being only about the education to being about the system in general. Because, hey, if the system was not about the corporations/profits/moneymaking but the people, high quality education would not be in question. The protest is expanding throughout Austria and support comes from unions (metal/textile/food workers) and political parties (Grüne/Green & SPÖ/Social Party Austria), as well as the Upper Chamber of Employment. If you want to support, want to listen to the speeches, or are just curious, take a look at the agenda at http://unibrennt.at/?cat=8&lang=en

Here the information on speakers:

Corinna Milborn

Christian Felber

Robert Misik

And here a few pictures from yesterday. Check out my favourite banner: "Rich parents for everyone!"

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