Voice of the Workingman to Be Poet Laureate

The Library of Congress will announce on Wednesday that Philip Levine, best known for his big-hearted, Whitmanesque poems about working-class Detroit, is to be the next poet laureate, succeeding W. S. Merwin.

He was selected from a long list of nominees by James Billington, the librarian of Congress, who said on Monday, “I find him an extraordinary discovery because he introduced me to a whole new world I hadn’t connected to in poetry before.”

“He’s the laureate, if you like, of the industrial heartland,” Mr. Billington added. “It’s a very, very American voice. I don’t know that in other countries you get poetry of that quality about the ordinary workingman.” Referring to Mr. Levine’s ironic and self-effacing nature, he said: “This wasn’t really a factor in the choice, but he doesn’t seem to have that element of posing that I suppose we all suffer from to one degree or another. He has that well under control.“

Ukraine’s Western-backed leaders voiced fears of an imminent Russian invasion of the industrial heartland, as NATO’s top commander warned of a “very sizeable” Russian troop presence on Ukraine’s eastern border. The warnings came a day after Kremlin troops seized Ukraine’s last airbase in Crimea, deploying armoured personnel carriers and stun grenades in a spectacular show of force after sealing the peninsula’s annexation. The interim leaders in Kiev fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin is developing a sense of impunity after being hit by only limited EU and US sanctions for taking the Black Sea cape. “The aim of Putin is not Crimea but all of Ukraine…. His troops massed at the border are ready to attack at any moment,” Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council chief Andriy Parubiy told a mass unity rally in Kiev.
Source: AFP

May 9th, 1915 - Battle of Aubers Ridge

Pictured - The Royal Munster Fusiliers are absolved by their chaplain prior to battle.

In spite of the pitched battle taking place for Ypres, Joffre did not set aside his plans for an Allied spring offensive to begin in May.   Attacking was central to the Franco-British plan.  The Germans were occupying France’s industrial heartland.  To sustain the war effort, they had to be taken back.  Patriotism affected the French battle plans as well, for the French army could not allow itself to stand on the defensive while their home was occupied.  Many soldiers had their families behind the German lines.  Furthermore, the French and British needed to take pressure off their Russian allies.  For all these reasons, the Entente armies launched their spring offensive on May 9th in Artois.

The plan called for an attack on Crown Prince Rupprecht’s German Sixth Army near Arras. Two different heights, Vimy Ridge and Aubers Ridge, were the main objectives.  General V.L. D’Urbal’s French Tenth Army focused on Vimy Ridge, while General Douglas Haig’s British First Army focused on Aubers Ridge.

But the Germans had learned a number of lessons in defensive warfare over the winter.  At the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, British and Indian troops had easily pierced shallow defensive lines.  This time the Germans had multiple lines of defense, well-built concrete dug-outs, and mazes of barbed wire.  Haig’s men were slaughtered as they tried to wade through tangles of wire, subjected to artillery and fire from concealed machine guns.  The attack on Aubers Ridge turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.


The Marxist-Leninist movement has always spoken a lot about giving attention to theory, but we have often not been able to recognise a theory when it stared us in the face. Of course we have to defend the essence of communist theory but this can only be done by continually breaking new ground in its application. Capitalism and imperialism are an actually Eurocentric system, in the sense that the rest of the world is super-exploited in the interests of the industrial heartland. If we pose the question in this way, it should be obvious that the main revolutionary creative forces will be found in the oppressed nations, because they are the ones on whom the system rests. But there is also a false Eurocentric ideology which presents this state of affairs as natural which justifies European dominance and presents it as the mainstream of historical progress. This ideology is pernicious - it exists not just in society at large but within the ‘left’ movement as well. In order to contribute to destroying the Eurocentric world system we have to destroy the ideology in the process of formulating a correct revolutionary theory and politics appropriate to the situation facing us.

Annual inflation in strife-torn Ukraine soared to some 61 percent in April, the state statistics agency said Wednesday, as the conflict in the east of the country continued to roil the stricken economy.

The year-on-year figure rose from some 53.7 percent in March as the ex-Soviet nation counts the cost of more than a year of bitter fighting with pro-Russian rebels that has ravaged its industrial heartland.

Leading the way was an 88 percent hike in utility prices and an increase of some 46 percent in the cost of medical services.

Ep. 406 David Stockman: Progressive Defenses of Obamanomics Are Laughable

Supporters of Barack Obama say his economic record is actually quite strong, and that right-wingers simply can’t accept that. David Stockman, formerly of the Reagan administration, reduces these claims to rubble, and then destroys the rubble.

About the Guest

David Stockman, a former member of the U.S. Congress, served as chairman of the Office of Management and Budget under Ronald Reagan (1981-1985). Following a subsequent career on Wall Street, Stockman opened his own private equity fund company, Heartland Industrial Partners, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Articles Discussed

Obama Outperforms Reagan On Jobs, Growth And Investing
Ignore the Haters: Obama Helped Save the U.S. Economy
15 Years Of Stimulus—–Nothing To Show


David Stockman, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America.

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Ep. 392 Fifteen Years of Stimulus, and Nothing to Show

Previous Appearances

Ep. 299 The Keynesian Toolbox Is Empty
Ep. 185 Stockman on War and the Fed
Ep. 128 David Stockman on Keynes and the GOP
Ep. 66 David Stockman on Krugman, the Fed, and the Future

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Europe's Industrial Heart Moves East, So No More Blue Banana,

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Europe’s Industrial Heart Moves East, So No More Blue Banana,

Once depicted as a “Blue Banana” stretching from Manchester to Milan, Europe’s industrial heartland has moved eastwards just as its political center of gravity has shifted to Germany. The term was coined in 1989 the year the Berlin Wall fell – to describe French geographer Roger Brunet’s work identifying a manufacturing megacity, visible from space at night as a band of light curving from England to Italy via the Netherlands, Belgium, West Germany and Switzerland.

Brunet was worried that France, a highly centralized economy dominated by Paris, was falling off the map. He developed the concept to urge the government to invest in infrastructure to connect the Paris-Lyon-Marseille axis to the highly urbanized European backbone of around 110 million people. A quarter of a century later, the continent’s industrial geography has morphed. A more fitting image might be a golden soccer ball centered on southern Germany and reaching into Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Romania.

“We have seen a huge relocation and concentration into a central European manufacturing core,” says Michael Landesmann, scientific director of the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies. Former-communist countries that joined the European Union in 2004 and 2007 have become the extended production line of German industry, no longer just supplying raw materials and components but assembling cars and some industrial machinery.

Manufacturing employment has declined everywhere in Europe as a share of the workforce but most sharply in Britain, France and Belgium, with the post-2008 economic crisis accelerating a trend driven by the globalization of supply chains. The shift in the balance of trade inside the now 28-member EU in the decade since its eastward enlargement began offers a striking illustration.

The golden football region – Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania – increased its share of intra-EU trade by a total of 5.3 percentage points between 2004 and 2013, the latest year for which final data is published. The biggest gains accrued to Germany with 2.2 percentage points.

Over the same period, the Atlantic Arc region englobing Britain, France, Ireland, Spain and Portugal lost a cumulative 4.4 percentage points in intra-EU market share, led downwards by Spain and the UK. Italy also lost 1.7 percentage points. How much this all matters is open to debate. To some extent, industrial jobs have been replaced by the growth of business services, especially in Britain, which has just overtaken France as the EU’s second biggest economic power. Manufacturing jobs in advanced economies have become increasingly highly skilled, while those parts of production for which high skill levels are not needed have been shifted to regions with lower labor costs.

In the knowledge economy, location may become increasingly irrelevant and industrial plants may wither in Europe as coal mines and steel mills largely did in the late 20th century. Yet Germany has built out its economic dominance of Europe by maintaining the largest manufacturing base. More worryingly, Landesmann says, Europe’s southern periphery has become largely disconnected industrially from the core since the euro zone debt crisis forced Greece, Spain and Portugal to seek bailouts for their governments or banks.

“The periphery and lower income regions are not linked to cross-border production networks. That is not easily reversible and it’s not just an exchange rate issue,” he said. Economists assume too blithely that such trends will balance themselves out over time, Landesmann said, arguing that the loss of manufacturing capacity on Europe’s southern fringes calls for policy action to build up peripheral countries’ export capacity.

Not everyone is quite so gloomy. Latest figures from Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, show exports from Spain, Portugal and Ireland are rising again. Ireland was the fastest growing economy in the euro zone last year with 4.8 percent growth, and Spain grew 2 percent, finally starting to turn the tide of mass unemployment.

U.S. auto giants Ford (F.N) and General Motors (GM.N) have just made major investments to increase car production in Spain. Ironically, Spain has increased its share of Europe’s industrial gross value added even as it has lost manufacturing jobs due to big gains in productivity.

These shifting patterns pose conundrums for EU policymakers and the European Investment Bank as they consider how to target a planned 315 billion euro strategic investment fund intended to attract private capital into long-term infrastructure projects.

Should the priority be to counter the growing north-south economic divide, reindustrialize the rust belt and the olive oil belt, focus on reducing dependence on fossil fuels such as imported Russian gas, or promote research and development in the industrial heartland?

While acknowledging that trying to reverse the tide of industrial concentration would be futile, Vincent Aussilloux and Arno Amabile of the French government’s policy planning agency France-Strategie, argue in a forthcoming paper that the EU needs to target strategic investment at the most depressed regions.

They also advocate a specific fund for the euro zone to provide loans and subsidies to develop research, small business and vocational training in the poorest peripheral areas. “This is also a political imperative so that Europe is once again identified with positive, future-oriented projects and not just with enforcing budget austerity,” they say, warning that the widening industrial gap could otherwise cause a political explosion.

Giro D'Italia 2015: Stage 12 Results, Overall Standings and Highlights

Philippe Gilbert of Belgium reigned supreme on Stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia in a sprint finish in Vicenza. However, the legendary Alberto Contador still holds the overall lead after a second-place finish.

Gilbert posted a time of 4:22:50 on the 190-kilometre stage, with Maglia Rosa holder Contador trailing by just three seconds.

The Giro’s official Twitter account confirmed the result:

Here are the Stage 12 results:

Here are the overall standings after Stage 12:

Thursday’s stage took place in the historic racing centre of Imola, heading south to the finish in the industrial heartland of Vicenza. The dry conditions were perfect for racing, with plenty of cloud cover to protect the cyclists. 

There were 187 riders at the start line, and Fabio Sabatini made one of a number of early attacks, attempting to split the leading pack. However, no rider was able to make a clean breakaway, and the race settled into a traditional formation. 

With 50 kilometres on the clock, the peloton remained firm and compact, wary of previous stages where riders have been able to escape the clutches of the field. 

And with almost half the race gone, five men finally broke free, with Patrick Gretsch, Davide Appollonio, Enrico Barbin, Kenny Elissonde and Nick Van der Lijke driving forward. The new leaders quickly built a two-minute gap, but the peloton reacted quickly to halve the deficit over a 10-kilometre period. 

Etixx-QuickStep took charge of proceedings at the front of the chasing bunch, reducing the gap to a mere 49 seconds as they successfully worked in tandem. And slowly but surely, the riders were individually caught, with parity achieved at the three-quarter point of the race. 

Gretsch attempted to consolidate his place at the front of the pack, but his early work was clearly causing him issues. As the peloton attacked the first climb on the day, it was Simon Geschke of Germany who took the points, clearly motivated to win the mountains jersey once again.

Tinkoff-Saxo then made their move with Contador on the third wheel, as conditions were affected by intermittent rain. The legendary Spaniard’s timing has been supreme during the Giro, and it seemed he had once again gotten his calculations close to perfection. 

With the peloton fast degrading, Simon Gerrans and Stef Clement’s day ended, as they crashed out in the deteriorating conditions on the descent. Astana positioned themselves at the front of the pack, with Contador close and Team Sky behind the overall leader. 

In the final kilometre, Contador attacked, but it was Gilbert who reacted first—and the rider took the win just ahead of the Spaniard. 

The Giro’s official Twitter account confirmed the overall Maglia Rosa race leader:

Contador looks unstoppable now, and his overall form is devastating. His pace on the descents is dangerous to his rivals, and his climbing is as good as ever.

With a lead of 17 seconds over Italy’s Fabio Aru, only a fall will see Contador robbed of the title he has worked so hard to earn.   

Aru certainly does not have Contador’s raw pace when racing wheel-to-wheel, in the final stages of races, but if he can maintain the gap he has the chance to prevail if the Tinkoff-Saxo rider makes a fatal mistake. 

from Bleacher Report - Front Page

It was almost 20 years ago that #MaJun sat and watched the rainbow-coloured #RiverFen, in #Shanxi province. As he turned to the skies in this coal and industrial heartland of #northChina he could see dozens of chimneys bellowing out their fumes.

He had been sent to the province on an assignment while working as a researcher for a foreign journalist in the late 1990s. The story then was about family planning and its impact on local communities, but it was the devastating pollution he witnessed that filled up his notepad.

It was these notes that would later form the basis of his first book, #China’s #WaterCrisis, which quickly came to signify the awakening of China’s #environmentalconsciousness – compared to #RachelCarson’s #SilentSpring in terms of its impact.

For Ma, now one of China’s most prominent environmental voices, that book and his time along the Fen River was the beginning of a two decade-long journey in raising awareness of China’s environmental crisis. It is one that has mirrored an ongoing and gradual acceptance within his homeland of the need to tackle the chronic levels of pollution caused by rapid and unchecked industrial growth.

Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, was winner of the 2015 #SkollFoundation award. Photograph: Skoll World Forum
In the last few years, officials have belatedly acknowledged the crisis with a series of reports. The findings confirmed Ma and other environmentalists’ worst fears. One-fifth of farmland is too polluted to grow crops, nearly 60% of groundwater is unfit for human use and air pollution is 20 times the recommended safe levels.

The human cost of this damage has been devastating: huge swaths of productive arable land taken out of food production over fears of rice contaminated with heavy metals, more than 450 so-called “cancer villages” where untreated or mistreated chemicals have polluted local communities, choking levels of air pollution causing underweight babies, rising levels of lung cancer and a decline in male fertility.

Economic toll of conflict builds up for Ukraine

There seems to be no bottom for Ukraine’s economy.

The extent of the damage caused by the conflict in the country’s east was highlighted in a report showing the economy had shrunk by almost a fifth since the violence began last year.

Other indicators likewise show a country on the edge, with inflation rampant and the state out of money.

With much of the country’s industry in the hands of pro-Russian rebels in the east, stabilizing the economy has become a big, if immensely difficult, task for President Petro Poroshenko’s government.

Here’s a look at the economic decline affecting this country of 45 million people.



Ukraine’s economy contracted by a stunning 17.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared with a year earlier, when the separatist conflict erupted.

The drop was worse than expected and illustrates the huge impact of the rebels taking over much of Ukraine’s industrial heartland in the country’s east.

“In 2014, Ukraine lost approximately 20 percent of its economy with industrial sector output in Donetsk and Luhansk regions falling by 30 to 40 percent,” Ukraine’s U.S.-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko told The Associated Press.

It was the tenth quarter of economic contraction in the last 11. The country had already spent large periods in recession during the two years before the separatist conflict broke out.

For average Ukrainians, that has translated into a drop in living standards. The economic decline has caused a plunge in the value of the national currency, which in turn pushed inflation to highs of 60.9 percent, meaning the cost of goods has soared far above modest increase in wages.

The region held by the rebels since last spring includes some of the country’s most important industrial sites, including major coalmines and steel producers. Companies based in pro-government territory have also been hit hard as the conflict disrupts supply chains.

That has meant the economy refocused toward services such as IT and agriculture, the main economic engine in western Ukraine. The country is a major producer of wheat and sunflower oil, and some see opportunities for investors to modernize Ukrainian farms, many of which are the successors to Soviet-era collectives.

“Agriculture is massively untapped in Ukraine,” says Graham Conlon, who heads Eastern Europe-focused law firm CMS Cameron McKenna’s Ukrainian corporate operations. “It doesn’t actually take much to improve productivity in that area, because productivity is anyway, compared to the world as a whole, still very low.”



Ukraine is battling to avoid default as the slide in the economy has dried up the state’s revenues.

Public debt has jumped to 73 percent of GDP from 41 percent last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and is rising.

Finance minister Jaresko trying to renegotiate debt terms with an array of creditors, part of an IMF rescue plan that also includes new loans.

The IMF announced the plan in February, saying it would raise some $40 billion. But only $15.5 billion of that amounts to new IMF funding, with smaller sums from other sources. More than a third of the total is meant to be unlocked by the renegotiations of debt.

Ukraine’s attempts to negotiate with a group of its creditors who hold around $10 billion of debt have so far been fraught.

Both sides stand to gain from a deal, however. If creditors hold out, that could push Ukraine to default on its debts, leaving the creditors with nothing at all.

Some state-owned companies are also struggling, especially the rail network Ukrzaliznytsya, which defaulted on its domestic debt last week and is restructuring all its private-sector debt.



Modernizing Ukraine’s economy to lay the ground for a recovery has proved hugely difficult.

Since protests ended the rule of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, Ukraine’s new leaders have tried to push through anti-corruption measures and open up state-dominated sectors of the economy, especially the energy market, to competition.

However, many efforts have become mired in political rivalry. Parliament voted to create a new anti-corruption agency in October, but it took six months to appoint a chief for the bureau and the body has yet to start work.

Efforts to cut red tape have been slow, while measures to remove allegedly corrupt officials with ties to the Yanukovych regime have run into accusations of a political witch-hunt.

As a result, the challenges facing Ukrainian businesses remain huge, says Oleg Ustenko, the Kiev-based executive director of the Bleyzer Foundation, a non-profit offshoot of venture capital firm SigmaBleyzer.

“There’s a high level of corruption here, there’s a high level of administrative pressure on business, there’s a low-quality justice system,” he says. “And on top of all that, there’s a war.”



Even though Ukraine’s crisis was sparked by protests in late 2013 calling for closer relations with the European Union and has since signed a deal strengthening its ties with the bloc, all of that has yet to translate into an economic gain.

EU countries cut import tariffs on Ukrainian goods after the agreement was signed, but it “didn’t lead to much of a tangible result,” Ustenko says. He believes the closer ties could have a bigger impact when free trade rules come into force Jan. 1, 2016.

The falling currency has also failed to help exports. Already the worst-performing currency in the world last year, the Ukrainian hryvnia has lost more than a quarter of its value so far this year. Instead of helping, exports to major EU economies fell in January and February, headlined by a one-third annual drop to Poland, Ukraine’s largest EU neighbor.

One aspect where Ukraine has seen some benefits from closer EU ties is that it gets more energy from the bloc, whereas it used to get almost all its gas from Russia.

“Today we receive almost two-thirds of our gas imports from the European Union, improving our energy security and reducing the overall costs in the process,” said Jaresko, the finance minister.

Ukraine GDP plunges 17.6% in first quarter of 2015

Ukraine GDP plunges 17.6% in first quarter of 2015

KIEV:  The Ukraine economy shrunk 17.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period last year, sapped by continuing violence in its eastern industrial heartland, the national statistics agency said Friday.A Ukrainian man looks at a burnt tractor, which was destroyed by mortar shelling in the village of Dmitrivka, on April 7, 2015.

The fall in Q1 GDP was 6.5 percent compared to…

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Mark Power. 

In 2011 I was commissioned by the small but progressive arts organisation Multistory to make work in the Black Country, an area to the west of Birmingham in the post-industrial heartland of the British Midlands, a place hit particularly hard by the current economic recession. Covering some 350 sq km, it’s home to just over one million people, with some 15% coming from Black, Minority or Ethnic origin.

I began by making a number of urban landscapes, but soon noticed the vast array of beauty salons and gentlemen’s clubs peppering the area. Investigating this further, I discovered historical precedents for the success of both beauty and sex industries in times of austerity. In response, I made a series of short movies in a number of thriving salons and nightclubs to ‘complement’ the apparent bleakness of the landscape depicted in the stills. In a further series, I photographed elegant footwear against a backdrop of grey concrete and crumbling brick.

Mark Power has been a big influence on my current work as Power studied the Black Country, I have been studying my hometown Kidderminster, trying to capture it and view it in a different light, taking note of the architecture there that I would usually ignore. What colours stand out from the washed out greys, this is something that Power does also.  

Ukraine's economy contracts 17.6 pct as conflict takes toll

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine’s economy contracted by a stunning 17.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015 from a year earlier as the country struggles to cope with the impact of unrest in the industrial heartland of the east.

The State Statistics Agency said Friday that the rate of economic slowdown worsened in every quarter last year.

Eastern Ukraine, where many major industries and coalmines are located, has been the stage of bitter fighting between government and separatist forces since last April.

The bloodshed has sparked the flight of 1.5 million people and left more than 7,000 people dead.

This year’s budget is predicated on an anticipated 5.5 percent drop in the size of the economy. Inflation is seen hitting at least 26.7 percent, although many economists believe it will be higher.

Ukraine GDP plunges 17.6% in first quarter of 2015

Kiev (AFP) - The Ukraine economy shrunk 17.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period last year, sapped by continuing violence in its eastern industrial heartland, the national statistics agency said Friday.

The fall in Q1 GDP was 6.5 percent compared to the final quarter of 2014, Ukraine’s state statistics service said. 

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