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Friday, September 6, 2013

Questions for Habermas

Is communicative rationality, and politics based on that rationality, possible under conditions of a global panopticon? What about deliberative democracy?

What does the mass destruction of the private sphere do to the possibility of morally justified action?  Is collective action even possible any more? Can modern society exist without a constitutionally protected private/public membrane?

On an even more abstract level, can there be public sphere without private sphere? What do we have if both are gone?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pseudo-Naive Questions For A Political Economy of Airfares

I was in the process of making some travel arrangements (life is complicated, don't ask me). All that has brought me to some--to me, interesting--questions. Maybe it's just me, but I really don't understand some basic things here.

Here is the breakdown of a roundtrip itinerary between NYC and Europe, as reported by the online booking program I am using, a few minutes ago:

"Flight $250.00
Taxes & Fees $679.70"

I have a set of questions.

First: is this for real? A roundtrip flight, involving two legs both ways (e.g., EWR-ZRH, ZRH-BUD, or something like that, and return the same way), costs $250? If it is not real, why do airlines indicate these charges? How do they make ends meet? Has the airline business become a non-profit branch of the economy, and they are flying just to soothe their consciences, but otherwise at a financial loss?

Second: What is the deal with the "Taxes and Fees"? Aren't they supposed to give me a precise breakdown of what "Taxes" and what "Fees" I am paying, and to whom? Would any dinner guest accept a bill from a restaurant that says: "Meal: $15.00. Taxes and Tips: $79.95?" If customers wouldn't accept it from a restaurant, why do they accept it from a travel agency or an airline?

Third: I understand most airports are, at least in the US and Europe, private property nowadays. If so, they cannot possibly charge "Taxes," only "Fees." Fine. But why aren't they even giving me the cost breakdown among airport security (which is a set of private companies in Europe, while the TSA is part of the federal government in the US), baggage handling, etc.?

Fourth: One hears chatter, off and on, about "fuel surcharges." I suppose the idea is that such charges are not presented as part of the ticket price so that they can come down once there is a slump in hydrocarbon prices. But: do they ever come down? Since nobody tells me what part of my "Fees" are "fuel surcharges," I will never be able to tell whether the airline has actually dropped them or keeps charging "behind their customers' backs" so to speak.

Fifth: Is all this just basically a bookkeeping trick, so that airlines can claim they only make, say, $250 on a trip for which the traveller pays a total of $930? Put differently, how are those "Fees" reported to the tax authorities?

Finally, If I am paying "Taxes" on my air tickets, why can I not write them off from my income? It seems to me the "Taxes" I pay for my tickets constitute taxation of my already taxed (net) income. Unless of course if they are VAT-type of taxes. If that's what they are, which state am I paying the VAT to, in the case of, say, a flight originating from the US, making a stopover in Switzerland, and arriving in Hungary (and back)?

Just askin'.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Questions (Almost) Nobody Seems To Ask


  • What about the spectacular failure of the global policy, diplomatic and other international relations apparatuses of the states of the world that allowed the Syria crisis to come to this point?
  • What exactly is stopping normalcy (peaceful solutions) from kicking in? 
  • Where are the benign and convincing efforts of the parties not involved in the conflict to force those involved to the negotiating table? 
  • What exactly are diplomats, international lawyers and intelligence services doing while the crisis proliferates to the point of genocide? 
  • Specifically, WHERE IS THE EUROPEAN UNION--according to its own rhetoric, the "soft power" that is designed to spread peace and tranquility in the world? 
  • Along the same lines, what is the position of the European Union vis-a-vis its member state(s) that are eager to engage in a war?
  • How did we get to the point where war is seen as the only "policy tool"? 
  • Let's say, somebody has "crossed the red line," whatever that is--who said that tomahawk missiles are the only tool to react? 
  • WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE on whodunit? 
  • Seeing all this, what kind of global politics do we have? 
  • What processes produce people that launch nerve gas on civilians? 
  • Who supplied the nerve gas? 
  • Who taught them to use it? 
  • Who advises them? 
  • Who are they anyway? What is wrong with them? 
  • What processes produce the people that let things get this far? 
  • Where is the UN? Who determined that the UN can only investigate the presence / absence of nerve agents, and not who deployed them? 
  • Is the UN accountable to anybody for this negligence?
  • Why is nobody talking about the unbearable vulgarity of all this?

cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta