Monday, December 3, 2007

Chavez Loses, Putin Wins: Should we Rejoice?

This week-end’s two elections were a bell-weather for the state of the planet and our place as Americans in it.

First of all it should be said that our networks actively contributed to both results, betraying the international norm of non-interference in the international affairs of other nations.

Having tried twice to depose Chavez, it’s no wonder that our media conducted an active campaign against the referendum that would have allowed him to stand for president indefinitely: on Friday CNN reported gleefully that Chavez was cursing the network, and indeed it looks like it convinced about fifteen percent of Chavez’s erstwhile supporters that maybe they would regret giving him such sweeping powers, notwithstanding all the good things he has done for them. And then of course there were the Venezuelan upper middle class and the students, most of whom still probably come from that segment of the population, who were out on the streets en masse defending their iherited well being.

Now over to Russia. Last night CNN ran a chilling feature by Christiane Amanpour about the Russian democratic opposition’s suffering - including prison and murder - for calling Putin on his reversal of the democratization process begun by his predecesor, Yeltsin. We heard about Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko, both murdered, but Amanpour’s report revealed that over 200 journalists have been killed in recent years, with only six deaths successfully investigated. An early crime of Putin’s was keeping Russian journalists from reporting on the war in Chechnya.

What does all this mean to us? Theoretically, Putin is at least a sometimes ally, although much has changed since George Bush saw a soul behind the cold blue eyes. Let’s say he is an unavoidable partner in the increasingly difficult task of policing the world. We’re often at cross purposes when we try to whip into line those pesky dark-skinned majorities that get in the way of our adventuresome advance toward the high-tech destruction of the globe. Yet even a casual look such as you might spare over dinner at the methods each uses to keep his own people in line, reveals uncomfortable (thanks, Al Gore) truths: the difference is in the details and the degree of brutality, never in the intent. Both have long-since blurred the line (it was only tenuous in Russia), between what democracies and dictatorships (or the ever more popular ‘authoritarian regimes’) are supposed to do.

The world is becoming an ever messier place, full of entire populations of sorcerer’s apprentices, who, under their rich country masters, aspire to share the lives the means for which we have been pillaging them for for centuries. Richard Kiniry, who heads the Philadelphia Ethical Society, yesterday gave a wonderful appraisal of the world population problem, suggesting that it is not the poor, with their vegetarian diets, who are causing global warming, even though there are so many of them. It’s us SUV driving meat-eaters, (I must confess to the latter sin, but I believe that without meat homo sapiens might not have triumphed over his competitors who perhaps did not have his hunting skills). Guess what Lou Dobbs, the rest of the world wants to become meat-eaters.

Which brings us back to Chavez: the halls of official Washington are probably bubbling over with joy at the defeat of the real enemy: not the one with the missiles, the cornucopic mineral wealth and the land mass that stretches from Europe to the Pacific, whose people have just stated their preference for a thousand year tradition of authoritarianism as long as it shepherds ever greater numbers into SUVs and Gucci boots. No, the real enemy, the one we actively sought to defeat with our wireless reach, is the red-shirted man who with the money from the oil he sells us for our SUVs gives houses to the poor, wanted to cut the workday from eight to six hours, and continue trying to build yet another version of socialism. The kind of socialism that sells heating oil to poor North American families at a discount, and believes that Latin America should be a more ecological and fairer place than North America.(Which, while accepting the verdict of the polls, he immediatelly stated he would continue to try to do.)

Meanwhile, of course we support Musharraf, even if he refreshes his entire supreme court, jailing the former judges, imposes martial law and rounds up protesters with the same brutality as any well armed police force provided with the latest means of quelling dissent. The reason? We need him to try to keep the Taliban at bay, while we duke it out with the Chinese and his enemies, the Indians, over who gets Iran’s oil over which Iran, like Iraq, is to have no say. It’s no coincidence that Iraq has failed to pass an oil bill. CNN has never told us it’s because it was written by us to relieve them of the burden of control. Hence it’s no surprise that Iran can’t get its mind around the fact that a country across the Atlantic wants to usurp their natural role in the region, in a reading of globalization that negates both history and geography.

As I’m writing in a bigger piece which may or may not find its place into the print media, we’re living through a second, global Cold War, and whether we’re talking about fundamentalists and the various kinds of terrorism tthey espouse (from the scare tactics of some Christians to the bombs of some Islamists), or the tactics employed by the Putins, or the Musharrafs, or the Burmese generals, these are the tools and methods employed by those who at any given time have the upper hand, to manage the conflict between haves and have-nots, which did not disappear with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but merely became more complex, as the relatively straightforward question of hunger doubled up with the alarming evidence that the planet will refuse to feed us if we insist on also driving SUVs.

The Americans, the Russians, the Chinese, and the Indians, to cite the most powerful players, and those who rule over the rest of the world, including Chavez the Christian socialist, Ahmadinejad the Muslim populist, the Buddhist Burmese generals with their mineral wealth, the African Mugabe stuck in an anti-British time-warp, are each trying to make the world work for their respective projects. They’re all trying to solve the problems created by a global revolt against inequality as its runs up against the impetus to create wealth by the few that can.

Susan J, Douglas may be getting more directly to the point in a piece in "In These Times", entitled “Tax and Spend? Hell, Yeah!”, than the deep thinkers like Paul Krugman, Robert Reich and Tony Judd, as they try to square the world’s cries for equity with capitalism as we know it. The solution Douglas refers to is called a mixed economy, it’s what the Scandinavian countries have been doing for decades and it works. Brought up on a history of government fear of the wider world, that culminated in McCarthyism, which the Neo-cons expanded to include everyone who wasn’t us, Democrats know that the word socialism is the kiss of death for any campaign. So they fall back on the hardly more acceptable label of populist and look even wimpier.

All they have to do is use the word “mixed economy”as one candidate actually did, under his breath at the last debate. (I couldn’t see which one it was given the speed of lightening with which the camera pans away from offenders). In a mixed economy, people who like to play with money and take risks get to create and innovate, which is where the fun is, then they contribute most of the money that results to the government so it can take care of those who just want to have a job, schools for their kids, and health care. Government has to provide these basics in order for populations to be healthy and productive. What they do with their productivity should not determine their level of security, only the level at which they can afford the superfluous.

The Democratic candidates desperately need to square the circle between capitalism, which makes too many victims, including he planet, and socialism, which is a much needed reordering of priorities in the developing world but doesn’t suit once societies have reached a certain level of development. Of late they have taken to prancing around Roosevelt's New Deal without calling it by its real name: a mixed economy. Only when they can get up their nerve, will that majority of Americans who aspire to be in synch with the world’s majority, put them in charge of relations with the world’s unruly leaders.

P.S. I’m unlikely to be blogging until after Jan 1.

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