Monday, October 29, 2007


In week-end news, Indian farmers from all over the country marched to the capital to bring their grievances to the government: farmers are committing suicide in record numbers due to the takeover by agribusiness, which forces them to borrow to buy expensive, non reusable seeds. When crops fail, as they do, the farmers can’t pay back their loans and have nothing to fall back on.

The point of all this is not the why of the march but the how. Some people walked for weeks, mostly barefoot, to the capital, where they sat down and demanded the government listen to them - which it apparently did.

The developing world appears to have some advantages over the developed world: can you see irate Americans walking across the country to Washington and sitting there? I believe sit-ins were invented by Gandhi and taken up by the 60’s student movement, but we don’t have time to sit anymore.

Sit and wait for our elected representatives to do what we elected them for. We think we’re making a difference when we demonstrate for a few hours. But even a nation-wide chain like the one that took place last Saturday is not going to change an iota in Washington. At rallies, we make speeches to ourselves. To make a difference, protesters would have to drive to the capital and paralyze the place. But Californians wouldn’t be able to afford the gas!

The Cubans had to face peak oil when the ex-Soviet Union cut off its subsidies in the early nineties. Their inventiveness, which I’m familiar with, like the Indian farmers’ single-mindedness, has nothing to do with the spin that passes for information and policy in the so-called developed world. Take the apartment complex I live in: in an effort to recruit new tenants, they advertise a concierge to help us manage our busy schedules instead of fixing the fifty-year old pipes that regularly cause inundations.

Meanwhile, housing in Havana is getting a face-lift courtesy of the U.N. which is helping restore Havana to its original splendor. While tourists from everywhere but the U.S. admire the new paint and plaster, George Bush exhorts their governments to cut off relations with Cuba, rejecting Raul Castro’s recent call for dialogue, in the same hubristic way he has rejected Iran’s calls for dialogue over the years. (See Barbara Slavin’s new book, “Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies”, for details about the U.S.-Iran relationship.)

Monday, October 22, 2007


Yesterday was Sunday, usually a quiet day for news with an eye to the networks. So perhaps it was a deliberate decision on the part of CNN to briefly crack open the door on an astonishing fact: Erik Prince, the CEO of Blackwater has financed with this own money a prototype humvee said to be inpervious to IEDs. MOREOVER, this enterprising ex-Navy seal has organized the development of a “privately funded surveillance airship to fly around the world”.

I will be curious to see who if anyone, picks up this story today, and whether any of our stalwart presidential candidates considers it worthy of attention. Maybe the Clintons consider Prince’s efforts part of a worthy cause: making the world safe for investment while raising the means of as many would-be consumers as possible. So that the presence of Mark Penn at the head of Hillary’s campaign is no contradiction to his also being the CEO of Burston Marsteller, the PR firm that defends Blackwater’s practices on the ground.

Barack Obama wants desperately to close the money gap with HIllary, but as I wrote in a return email, what good is money if your mouth isn’t in the right place?

Meanwhile, such are the serendipities of semi-compulsive TV watching, the original Goldfinger nemesis, Sean Connery, appeared this week-end in a 1999 caper with Catherine Zeta-Jones in which the latter exclaims, upon contemplating the favelas and skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur: “Isn’t it beautiful?!” The film chronicles the efforts of the pair to enter into possession of “billions”, each time upping the ante of their exploits, oblivious to the question of what they could do with all that money. As the hub of millennium financial transfers, Malaysia teems with police in riot gear, a preview of what awaits all of us if the stock market continues heedless of the “health” of the world economy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


It’s been a week since “Democracy Now” revealed that Mark Penn, who heads Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is also the CEO of the PR firm that works to sanitize the name of Blackwater.

And yet, as far as I know, none of Hillary’s competitors in the race for the White House, has picked up on this. Those of us who had hoped that something would trip up the frontrunner have to face the uncomfortable truth that if there were a banana peel in her path, the holier than thou contenders would rush to clear the way.

To be fair, one has to pose the question of guilt by association: is working with someone who works to clear Blackwater the same as, say, taking money from a lobbyist for a cause one pretends to disavow? I seem to remember that a certain Abrahms got in trouble for doing something like that. .
Well, at least we have the consolation of knowing that in our society that runs on advertising and related gimmicks, Madison Avenue has finally seen fit to climb on the bandwagon of climate change. Maybe we’ll be saved after all, as a species if not as a country!

Friday, October 5, 2007


My apologies for a blog riddled with typos. I probably couldn’t see straight after writing such a lengthy comment!

What I wrote in that blog about there being a new world paradigm was confirmed by a seemingly bland comment by the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN. When Amy Goodman tried to get him to talk about the United States, instead of sounding off, he dismissed the subject as being irrelevant.

In a tacit recognition of both the new paradigm and the ineffectiveness of the international system, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and a number of other elders who’ve dubbed themselves the “wise men” are trying to resolve the conflict in Darfur. This can be seen as the latest in a series of efforts by groups of intellectuals and philanthropists to effect change where institutions fail.
But perhaps the reason for the failure of institutions is not organization or equipment, but the fact that they reflect a power structure that is no longer operational.

When the Burmese right-wing military dictatorship can count on the support of China’s Communist government because what matters is oil and gas; when starving North Korea finally bows to the necessity of building sturdy bridges to opulent South Korea; when the presumably atheist leader of a Catholic country in Latin America finds common ground with an Islamic regime in the Middle East; and when - finally - an American presidential candidate refuses to wear a flag in his lapel because he doesn’t want to be associated with the policies it currently stands for, you can be sure the world has come under a new paradigm.

Climate change, in the role of an external threat, has probably played a role in concentrating the minds of politicians, but the main factor, I believe, is the acceleration of change within the world system, which inevitably results in bifurcations. Bifurcations can lead either to greater order and stability, for which a handy label is democracy, or total chaos, known as anarchy, and which inevitably leads to totalitarianism. It’s important to know that anarchy is not the opposite of democracy, but the opposite of totalitarianism, and that democracy is an almost magic moment of relative equilibrium between the two extremes.

Less than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world has left behind the fifty year long Cold War, to enter a series of hot wars that are nominally about religion but in reality are about the struggle for equity. That struggle is what always has and always will drive system change, and the fate of democracy. The United States lost its leading role because it failed to understand that simple fact. Now it’s a whole new ball game.