Tuesday, December 15, 2009

350 into 7 Won’t Go

If you’ve been following Amy Goodman from Copenhagen, you know that the U.S., Great Britain and Denmark, the host country, drafted a non-binding agreement to be submitted for approval as the final document of the conference on climate change.

Three highly developed countries concocted a document that would essentially put the onus for limiting green house gases on the developing countries.  Adding insult to injurt, where experts estimate that the developing world would need about 500 billion dollars a year to leapfrog dirty energy and build green economies, the Small Three (small at heart) offer.....7 billion.

One has to wonder whether these people really believe in climate change, or whether their superior lifestyles lead them to believe that somehow it won’t affect them.

The evidence is that it will affect the developing countries much more seriously than the developed world, but how do these leaders expect to cope with the desperation of, say, one fifth (a conservative estimate) of humanity, that will inevitably spill over into the rich enclaves?

Judging by the indignation, the anger, the determination not to go down without a fight expressed by the thousands of participants in the counter-conference in Copenhagen, the Big Three’s gesture evokes the oblivion of Marie Antoinette, who suggested that if French peasants couldn’t afford cake, they should eat bread.

The guillotine to which she was led, still not comprehending, would be a useful icon for the threat posed by global warming: more meaningful, perhaps, than a ticking clock.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plan C of Plan B

Plan C of Plan B

I must apologize to my readers for not posting blogs more often: it’s not the inspiration that’s lacking, but time, as I prepare to offer a select number of my black and white 1964 Cuba pictures for sale as high quality, numbered, signed prints.  I’m also “tweaking” one of the chapters of my memoir so that can appear as a stand alone article, entitled “The Loneliness of American Exceptionalism”.

Well, now on to plans B and C.  If you’ve been watching Amy Goodman’s daily broadcasts from the climate conference in Copenhagen, you know that two days ago the U.S., Britain and Denmark were discovered to have crafted a final, non-binding document that essentially expects the developing world to bear the brunt of climate mitigation.  That document is known as Plan B, and maybe it will be torn to shreds by the delegates from the Group of 77 (which includes over a hundred countries by now), thanks in part to the presence in Copenhagen not only of protesters from all over the world, but of an organized shadow conference.

What I find interesting are the little-known projects that undoubtedly lie behind Plan B.  First, there are NASA programs intended to eventually allow colonization in space, perhaps on Mars, where the presence of water has recently been confirmed.  The reason why so much money is being invested in these costly explorations is climate change: there has to be another place for humans to go when earth become uninhabitable.  (Google this if you think I’m delirious.)

If you wonder why Britain would once again follow the United States, at a time when high-ranking military and intelligence officials are testifying to the abysmal way it got into the war in Iraq, it’s because the second issue is population growth.  Recently a major British think-tank, the Optimum Population Trust, proposed the adoption of zero net migration: that immigration be limited to the number of persons leaving Britain in a given year.  Such a program could be expected to cut Britain’s projected 2081 population from 85 billion to 57 billion.

I don’t yet know whether the developing countries see the British idea as state intervention in favor of a Malthusian effort to limit their populations, but you can be sure it will feed into reactions in Copenhagen.  As for Denmark, one has to wonder what the back story is. It probably has something to do with a very small country’s worries about unsustainable population growth.  But the Dane’s role as host country must be making some of its largely progressive citizens uneasy.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Barack/Raul Same Combat

At first I didn’t believe it when a friend told me that Cuba was holding maneuvers to forestall any possible American invasion.  Coincidentally, I’d just been reading the latest issue of In These Times , which has a feature on Cuba written by half a dozen Cubans living on the island.  All the contributors agree that the biggest problem is getting enough food, and there seems to be a disconnect between salaries, the value of the convertible peso, and the cost of basic items such as shoes or transportation.

Under these circumstances, and with a new American president who seems inclined to mend fences with the regime in Havana, I wonder why Cuba would spend money and resources to carry out military maneuvers which, we are told, had been planned in 2004, when Bush was President and there was no end in sight to the standoff.

I turn on the television and hear a ranking Republican senator declare that given the need to send about 35,000 more troops to Afghanistan to prop up a blatantly corrupt government, we should suspend the heroics on health care.

It is unlikely that the administration will cave to this recommendation. But sending troops to Afghanistan - or “finishing the job”, an ugly expression that Obama has taken over from Bush with his war - may do more to alleviate the American jobless rate than the dire fate of Afghan women. Similarly, Raul’s maneuvers are intended to show Barack that he should not try to roll back the leftward movement in Latin America, even if that means continuing hard times for Cubans.

Every government does what it has to do to stay in power, whether it be a fifty-year old regime in dire need of renewal, or looming mid-term elections threatened by hawks.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

No-Drama Obama and the Middle Kingdom

If ever proof was needed of the disconnect between the Mainstream Media (MSM) and reality, it was on show this week.  While the pundits lamented that Obama looked weak during his 9 day trip to Asia, Amy Goodman was interviewing British writer Martin Jacques (pronounced Jakes) about his new book:  “When China Rules the World”.

According to Jacques, China isn’t so much a nation-state as a “civilization state”.  In other words, while nation states didn’t form until the second millennium of our era, this vast country has shared one civilization for a couple of thousand years.  China’s civilization is China, even today.  That civilization was China under a long line of Emperors, under Mao’s communism and the Great Leap Forward, and it’s still China under Hu Jintao’s state capitalism.

As an example Jacques cited the rise of Mandarin in what used to be China’s “tributary states” - the rest of Asia.  Mandarin is often taught as a third language, after English.  Jacques expects that American ways of thinking that spread around the world, will be replaced by Chinese ways of thinking. This is of more than anecdotal interest: the question of whether they are competitors, challengers or a threat to the United States, are not the way the Chinese do see the world.

Perhaps because he went to school in Indonesia, Obama understands the way the Chinese think, answering critics that the purpose of this first visit was establish a rapport. Those who criticize him for not “getting more” our of his visit to China, not only don’t understand China, they live on another planet.  China owns our economy, lock, stock and barrel.  Where would we be if they sold off their Treasury bonds?  As for it someday being a military threat, nothing in what I have read, including the conservative British Economist supports that suspicion.  Yes, they are determined to get their hands on as much of the world’s raw materials as possible in this genuine leap forward, as I have written before, sending engineers and workmen to exploit riches in Africa and Latin America.  But we can hardly fault them for doing, under state capitalism, what we did under robber baron capitalism.

As for human rights, are we so sure that we’re better than they when continue sending people to foreign countries to be tortured to protect our security?  Every government does things that Human Rights defenders disapprove, depending on its particular circumstances. We do renditions, China locks up dissidents.  There is dirty laundry everywhere,  and everywhere, citizens fight back.  Every government shares with its pairs reprehensible practices of one kind or another against individuals.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shortest Take - Mark this Date

Oprah Winfrey is going to lauch her own TV channel when she ends The Oprah Winfrey Show next year.  My money is on her doing something serious with that channel, like educating her viewers, so they realize they should be watching the progressive media, such a Democracy Now and Grit TV, to name a few.

Friday, November 13, 2009

IRONY OF THE WEEK: "I want a Latvian Obama"

The November 16th issue of The Nation is not only of special interest because of the interview with Mikhail Gorbachev by Katrina vanden Heuvel and Professor Stephen F. Cohen. It includes a revealing analysis of Yugoslav nationalism that led to war after the break-up of the country, and a no less revealing, in-depth article on what the global economic meltdown did to to the tiny Baltic state of Latvia  - and why.  Toward the end of that article one member of the mostly female new team at the Ministry of Economics, laughs and says: “I want a Latvian Obama.”

There could well be a Latvian Obama. The tragedy, for us, is that the real Obama will never have the Latvian tools with which to make the American economy right.  First of all, he doesn’t have anything even remotely resembling a Ministry of Economics - think of that for a minute: a Ministry of Economics!  Even if in a large country like ours we would need to break economic matters down into several specialized ministries as is the case in most European countries, the vaunted American presidential system may be why for years China referred to the United States as a “toothless tiger”.

We’re only seeing that now, in the aftermath of the economic meltdown that nearly did in several countries.  I  had noticed from the beginning of the financial crisis that the countries that were driven to the brink, such as Iceland, were countries that had abandoned stodgier, but safer economic practices to emulate the American way.  I cannot recall what the other countries were at the moment, but apparently, Latvia was one of them.  As the writer, Kristina Rizga points out, unlike its two Baltic neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, left opposition parties have not been part of the ruling coalition in Parliament since 1991 (when the Soviet Union was dissolved).  She writes:  “That has meant that neoliberalism has dominated Latvian politics virtually unchallenged since 1991”  Elsewhere, Rizga quotes Valdis Novikovs, who emigrated to England, then returned.  As the cost of labor doubled from 2006 to 1008, he noticed that his countrymen were traveling to Germany and Finland to buy cheaper clothes and furniture.  In 1007, Latvia had the second-highest trade deficit in the EU, after Bulgaria.

What’s my point here?  The United States cajoled, bribed, pressured the rest of the world into following its economic model of “shock capitalism”.  Those that have most successfully limited the damage of the world meltdown are those in the west that are, or in Eastern Europe have managed to partly remain, social democratic after the fall of communism.

President Obama, alas, has no social democratic structures to work with.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Imagine a Fort Hood in Lebanon

Imagine you’re a devout Christian, born and raised in Lebanon (a country made up of several religious groups, including Christians).  You are in the Lebanese Army, which turns against its Christian minority.  Your army colleagues taunt you, you try unsuccessfully to promote Christianity among them.  One day, they move you from a desk job to the infantry,  put a rifle in your hand and tell you to raid a Christian house.


Major Mansour was in something like that situation: he was about to be shipped to Afghanistan, where fellow Muslims are being tortured and killed by U.S. soldiers.  Mansour is a psychiatrist who has spent the last half dozen years trying to help soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by their involvement in such activities.  He has tried to resign from the army, even offering to reimburse the medical training he received, the army has refused.

As an individual, he’s apparently a bit fragile: perhaps that why he has no wife, going on forty.  For a long time he has told himself that his country, the United States, is the country where he is the most free to practice his faith.  But part of the faith forbids him from killing fellow Muslims.

Is he guilty?  Of course?  But who will throw the first stone?

Monday, November 2, 2009


These days newscasters are reminding us that November 9th is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and the satellite regimes in Eastern Europe.

Nobody seems to be making the connection between President Obama and Mikhail Gorbatchev, the all-too-shorted lived First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who brought in glastnost, or transparency, and then perestroika, or reform, hoping thereby to save the Communist system.

Gorbatchev was hailed as a great statesman everywhere but in his own country, and was deposed in a bloodless coup by his vice president after six years.  The coup led to the rise of Boris Yeltsin, who dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991.

Why do I see a parallel here?  Well, in trying to steer the Soviet Union from Communism to Social Democracy he encountered the resistance of an aging population accustomed to the social net which was a basic feature of the Communist system, and fearful of change.

Change was in fact accelerated under Yeltsin, whose former apparatchiks dismantled the country’s industrial structures for their private gain.

Gorbatchev wanted to end the forty-five year long Cold War with the United States that featured mutually assured destruction by nuclear arms.

Like Gorbatchev, our president is highly regarded internationally, and for the same reasons: a belief in dialogue rather than arms.

Russia is generally considered to have fared less well since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, than it would have if Gorbatchev had been allowed to implement a transformation to a social-democratic system rather than one of robber baron capitalism.

The vocal opponents of Barack Obama are also mightily afraid of changes that involve the introduction of benefits similar to the ones that Gorbatchev’s opponents wanted to hold on to.

With the tea-partyers and birthers we are witnessing an American version of the Yeltsin era.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Time for Isolationism Again?

[caption id="attachment_704" align="alignleft" width="219" caption="Caption: "Well, that was a waste of time""]Caption: "Well, that was a waste of time"


This may sound like nonsense in the age of globalization, but think a minute.  Globalization is the physical manifestation of interdependence, the fact that everything is related, that actions taken in one part of the globe have unpredictable repercussions in other parts of the globe. It neither precludes nor invites isolationism, which is the avoidance of military interventions in other countries. We can conduct military operations in other countries while acknowledging economic and ecological interdependence. Alternatively, we could cooperate with the rest of the world without intervening in the affairs of other nations. Isolationism grew out of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 which informed the powers of the Old World that the Americas were no longer open to European colonization, and that any effort to extend European political influence in the New World would be considered by the United States as “dangerous to our peace and safety."

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt extended the Monroe Doctrine to include the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of small states in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts.  This led to systematic intervention in the affairs of Latin America.  In fact, it was the Monroe Doctrine that led to our first colonial war, that in the Philippines and Cuba, ostensibly part of turn of twentieth century efforts to eject Spain from the New Continent, and known as the Spanish-American War.

When in 1914, World War I broke out in Europe, still believing in the Monroe Doctrine’s assertions of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries, most Americans were against joining the fight.  After the armistice of 1918, America again reverted to isolationism. It is widely believed that President Roosevelt  allowed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to proceed in order to convince the American public of the need to join the struggle against Nazi Germany, and its ally, Japan.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.  America rose to become the dominant power of the world, and after a seventy-odd year run, the Soviet Union collapsed as a result of internal and external pressures.  By that time (1991), the world had been largely decolonized.  While the French maintained several client states in Africa, the United States eventually left the ex-French colony of Vietnam to its own devices and largely ignored Africa.

Meanwhile, as Americas remained in thrall to President Nixon’s 1972 historic trip to China, that marked the reestablishment of normal relations after more than 20 years, China quietly made its way into the modern world. By the time Americans woke up to the fact that their massive debt was in Chinese hands, China had the second largest economy after ours, contributing an equal amount to global warming, and initiating important projects in both Africa and Latin America.

The small but significant detail that has been omitted from this account is the conflict in the Middle East.  As the benefactor of the state of Israel created in 1948 by the United Nations, America has gone from being a distant on-looker to the travails of the “old continent”, only reluctantly entering the fray, to being the main player in a region that combines most of the world’s oil wealth with a societal struggle over modernity.

The Monroe Doctrine has long been forgotten, but a new doctrine outlining America’s role in the world has not been drawn up.  President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize for tentatively making peace and denuclearization the core of his foreign policy.  Yet as a result of decisions taken by his predecessor,  American soldiers are dying in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, leaving Obama’s preference for diplomacy between a rock and a hard place.

With a little help from the military-industrial complex, 9/11 replaced isolationism with a frantic obsession with security, in which fear of Islamic terrorism   piggybacks on a century-old fear of socialism. Moderates want the United States to disentangle itself from the civil wars of the Middle East and Southeast Asia (where Afghanistan and Pakistan lie), replacing isolationism with cooperative resolution of world problems  that would allow it to improve education and health care at home. Such a foreign policy allows a countries’ resources to be beneficially divided between the needs of their people and those of the outside world.

After standing superbly apart from the travails of the world, then shaping it to suit its own needs, that is where America must ultimately place itself.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Browning of America

When President Obama has a huge tent set up in front of the White House to host a concert of Latin American groups, it’s time to comment on the news that’s been trickling out: by 2050, the majority of Americans will be former minorities: that means blacks, Latinos and Asians.

In 1989, while writing a book that foresaw the reunification of Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I did the global math.   At that time there were approximately 1.4 billion Caucasians,  825 million Arabs and Persians, 600 African blacks and 2.4 billion Asians, for a total population of 5,1 billion.

Today, the figures for China and India are, respectively, 1.3 and 1,1 billion respectively, not including all the other Asian countries, such as Indonesia with a population of 300,000 and Japan with 127,000.  Brazil has the fifth largest population in the world, Indonesia being fourth.

The U.S. has only 307 billion, Russia has 141 billion and the European Union  a little less than 500 billion.  Counting Australia and New Zealand with 26 million together, that makes a total Caucasian population of less than 1 billion.  However you care to arrange the other colors on your mental map, it’s clear that Caucasians are what I call the absolute minority on the planet, which today has a population of about 6.7 billion.  That’s a little over one seventh.

When the majority of the population of the United States ceases to be Caucasian, in a few decades, we will still be relatively more Caucasian than the world taken as a whole.  This doesn’t mean that we will be better than the rest of the world.  It means that we will need to do a lot of mental catching up to situate ourselves as one seventh of a decidedly non-white world, which I like to think of as the color of honey in all its varieties.


A propos of "From Dominos to Hopscoth", this cartoon in this week's The Nation magazine

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Nobel Hopes Obama will Stop Replacing Dominos with Hopscotch

Certainly the president's efforts to begin ridding the world of nukes is worth the prize. And with most of the war-lie action concentrated in the Middle East, it draws attention to the fact that Israel too has a nuclear arsenal.

But in terms of the big picture, the American president is being strongly advised to replace the Vietnam era domino theory (you let one country “fall” to communism, others follow”), with the game of hopscotch (vulgarly known as whackamole).

First, in pursuit of Bin Laden, we invaded Afghanistan.  But they didn’t have any oil, so our master storytellers invented Iraqi links to Al Quada and biological weapons, and we invaded that country.  Having, as our military is fond of saying “just about finished the job there”, we’re back concentrating on Afghanistan, which, after nine years, is proving, as it always has, resistant to remodeling.  But during this interval, Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, got a new, civilian government that seems to see the disadvantages of worrying more about India than about Al Quada and the Taliban, a Pushtun group that it shares with Afghanistan.

This set-up already has our under-subscribed military stretched thin.  But we’ve made it our business to carp at Iran, a country which has not given sanctuary to any terrorists, nor invaded anyone, because they MAY BE developing an atomic weapon.  We justify our concern for that by the idea that such as-yet non-existent weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah and Hamas, who are Israel’s enemies.

The hop-scotch terrain that has replaced the game of dominos is not quite complete: Somalia, on the horn of Africa, whence pirates have been brazenly attacking ships in open waters and holding them for huge ransoms, perhaps the oldest failed state, now appears as the next possible haven for Al Quada and Company (Senator Feingold actually mentioned this last night, stealing my thunder).

In the end, I think the Nobel Committee wanted to help Obama resist donning Superman’s cape: for this game of hopscotch, Air Force One - or even a new helicopter just wouldn’t cut it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

To Think we Used to Run this Place!

How oblivious can folks be?  I just heard on CNN that the Chicago delegation to Copenhagen was planning a party tonight.  Oh, they weren’t partying in advance of the vote,no, said Tony Harris but they were all ready to party tonight.

To political junkies like me, sports is hardly worth mentioning. But we also know that everything is political.

When I worked in the Carter State Department as a speech writer for the Assistant Secretary of Cultural and Educational Affairs, Joe Duffey, I was privileged to receive every day on my desk a slew of cables on a variety of non-classified subjects from all over the world.  I’ll never forget the one that ended with the worlds: “And to think we used to run this place.”  Whatever the issue was, is unimportant.  What matters is the person writing the report somehow thought that the United States was destined to run the world forever.

Apparently, that conviction has had long legs: Tony Harris couldn’t get over the fact that America had lost a bid to host the summer Olympics ON THE FIRST ROUND! Around the time of my stint at State everyone knew the Bob Dylan song “Blowin in the Wind”. For those who may never have heard it, or forgotten it, the refrain is: “The answer, my friend is blowin in the wind.” (How many times must a cannonball fly before they’re forever banned, How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free? How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?

The question of what country would be likely to win the 2026 summer Olympics seemed to me a pretty open and shut case: Europe and America had recently hosted Olympics; China had represented Asia, hosting this year’s games. Only Africa and Latin America had never hosted the games. Africa wasn’t in the running, so that left Brazil. So much for the really obvious. For those who follow the news, equally obvious was the fact that Brazil is an up and coming economic power, one of the four BRIC nations, with Russia, India and China, that are snapping at our heels. Not to mention that Brazil’s president, known as Lula around the world, is a former worker and trade union leader who was twice elected, and who had the cojones to say to the other world leaders that it was the blue-eyed people who had caused the financial meltdown.

Recently, CNN has been advertising an up-coming series on being Latino in America (whose correct name is “The United States of America”, as we’re likely to hear more and more often). Part of the media, at least, has gotten around to telling us that by 2050, minorities will be the majority. When in the early nineties I began to write the book that eventually became “A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness”, (qwhich you can order from my website, www.otherjones.com or from Amazon, I wrote:

"As those eager for modernity migrate to the northern hemisphere, its current inhabitants need to accept that the 21st century is likely to be the color of honey in its countless varieties. Those who remain in the South need to realize that neither hatred nor resignation will lead to a better future, and also, that the past is never the future, for the simple reason that life consists of partly random movement and change."

It is long past time for the Caucasians of this world to begin to adapt to the fact that we constitute what could be called the absolute minority on the face of the planet, even as the planet demonstrates almost daily how inhospitable it can be to humans of every hue.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Borrowings and Synchronicities

Today Democracy Now showed images of men in military uniform bundling a G20 protester into a car. Officially, they were not military.  Then why were they wearing unmistakably military camouflage-type uniforms?  Last week I saw a man in military uniform talking at length to two civilians, in plain view on a busy street.  I thought the military were not supposed to walk around in uniform.  I guess relaxing the rule is a way of getting us used to the sight.  Can’t help being reminded of the early days of Castro’s Cuba, where so many civilians were militiamen, toting rifles, that it was part of the decor: the people’s decor.

I almost forgot to mention the loud noise-making truck used against protesters in Pittsburgh.  Does that remind you of one of torture’s latest tools?

Last night I watched a late forties film on TCM.  It was instructive.  The yarn turned on the efforts of a bright, honest Agricultural Extension Officer to save a motherless family from disaster when the know-it-all father insists on cutting down trees that are all that stand between him and a gigantic mudslide.  The instructive part was the backstory: the widowed father called his children to regular “democratic meetings” where decisions were - at times heavy-handedly - made.  Inspired by the government sponsoed 4H Club (Head, Heart, Hand, Health), the ten year old daughter wants desperately to raise two lambs on her own, but the father says having her own lambs would mean she doesn’t want to share with the family.  In the end he confesses that those “democratic” meetings were his way of hiding the fact that he was afraid to compete.

Get that?

That was before McCarthy, Watergate, and hopelessly rigid dancer Tom Delay.

In one of those almost daily synchronicities the cry out for recognition. Arundati Roy, that wonderful Indian writer/activist, told Amy Goodman and Anjali Kamat that in the biggest democracy in the world, democracy has become fused to market fundamentalism.  Roy’s latest book is entitled: “Field Notes on Democracy” and is about creeping fascism in the land of Gandhi.  The government’s latest  inspiration is to encourage as many people as possible to leave the countryside for the cities.  Could the dream of lowering the percentage of those required to feed the country present the added incentive that people are easier to control in cities?  According to Roy, certain Indian states are seeing massive starvation and protests, and hence a growing Maoist influence.

If you have a local TV channel like Philadelphia’s Drexel, you can watch Grit TV with Laura Flanders and videos of events like Bioneers, Trade Union meetings, Latino organizing events and other documentary proof that the frozen American tundra may be melting.  As the Siberian tundra melts, methane, more harmful than CO2, is being released into the atmosphere.  We’re in a race between greed’s destruction of the planet, and the awakening of its inhabitants to the power of the many through the melting of meticulously crafted inhibitions.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Otherjones' Index 1

Taking a cue from the brilliant Harpers’ Index, I’m starting a slightly different one.  It will be something like a game score card, tallying the “strikes” that left and right make in a game that would be funny if it were not deadly serious.

One for the left: Ralph Nader comes out with a book entitled:  “Only the superrich can save us”.  (This is not meant as a joke.  It is a novel based on the fact that all revolutions are led by the upper class.)

One for the right: The National Endowment for the Arts is called out for contacting artists to suggest that they illustrate some of the President’s important themes, such as global warming and health care.  The NEA is a government agency and therefore must remain “non-political”!

One for the left: Michael Moore’s film “Capitalism: A Love Story” may do more to alert Americans of the idiocy of their political system than all the intelligent, well-documented, well-written books on the subject.

One for the right: ACORN, a national community organizing collective that helped Obama get elected, is accused of skullduggery on a par with Lehman Brothers.

Readers may wonder why I bother with these carryings-on.  It’s because little by little, the right is inching its way toward something that would be worse than a come-back: the closing of a trap around a people that led the world for half a century.  Like a great ship that cannot turn on a dime, the “force” that Chris Hedges referred to when, a few years ago, he wrote “War is a Force that Give us Meaning”, is now a force that is taking us, not “down a slippery slope” but on a descent into hell.

As I write in “A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness”, one has to be on the right side of the issues, all the while knowing that we can only tend toward our goals, which can never be irreversible. For many of us, this is getting more and more difficult.

The trap that the right, via a constant barrage of “revelations”, is closing around the American people, would outlaw political activity in so many ways, to so many categories of people and circumstances, that we could scarcely call ourselves a polity.

Theoretically, the President has a “bully pulpit” to make his views known, but a federal agency cannot invite artists to illustrate his goals. And unlike countries with parliamentary systems with multiple - often many -  political parties, we do not have “party” newspapers, hence the bully  pulpit is a fiction, because the president has no media outlet to get his case across to the population at large.  The press is supposed to be a watchdog, but it has turned into a sinister voice for every indiscriminate negativism.  The so-called ‘objectivity’ of the most powerful news channel, CNN is but a veil over the insidious tones of its presenters - as opposed to its “analysts” who have an official ax to grind: Democrat or Republican.

President Obama is not only a prisoner of the forces that allowed him to become president, stacking his cabinet with the star players of our economic disaster, his cool and his intelligence are shackled by chains forged over two hundred plus years of constitutional, legislative and other devices intended to keep the few on top.

It is unlikely, under these circumstances, that the superrich will save us, because by and large they are as ignorant as the masses.  Our only hope is that the rest of the world will save us by forcing global reforms, and asserting the power of the many.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Are We Headed for a Race War?

When Republican Representative Joe WIlson broke with 200 year of congressional tradition to heckle President Obama during a crucial speech to a joint session, condemnation was widespread.  But to most it came merely as an afterthought that this might not have happened to a white president,

I had been noticing how little we see of the other players in the administration and how much we see of the President.  I thought that was a good idea until recently.  In the health care debate and more generally the public’s attitude concerning the role of government, it’s beginning to look like this set-up, which encourages the public to associate the issue to a black individual, is counter-productive.  For all the joy among the majority of Americans at seeing a black person become president, the opposite seems increasingly true of more fundamentalist republican  voters. They are systematically being organized into tea parties by their cynical leaders, whose goal is to get rid of the Obama administration by any means possible.

Had Obama not walked into a hornet’s nest of major problems he might have been able to secure health care for all.  But everything the legacy left to him by the Bush administration forces him to do, stirs up public anger against big government, now represented by a black man.

One could compare this social crisis to the attitude of troops in war: those who are defending their homeland usually fight better than invaders.  The participants in the tea party are troops defending a homeland of rugged individualism, resentment of government and fear of the outside world.  The availability and talents of former Bush executives harnesses this great energy with ruthless determination to preserve an America that can no longer exist in today’s world, and that is excoriated by it.

Ironically, Joe Wilson was censured by the House of Representatives on the day that the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush during his last visit to Baghdad, was released after spending nine months in jail, claiming he was tortured.

Tranquil Americans used to fear the left. Now, if they are at all aware of what is going on, they should fear the right.  Fascism as an organized form of government would not be able to exist without storm troupers, brown shirts, “know-nothings’....or tea partyers.  As various observers testify to the fact that college students do not see education as enrichment, but merely as a meal ticket, we should not be surprised that so many adults are susceptible to propaganda about race and socialism - nor even that they are capable of putting socialism as synonymous with fascism.

Ignorance, rather than foreign enemies or even the stock market, should be our biggest worry.

Health Care Reformers: Beware of Words

At the excellent Philadelphia meeting featuring Wendell Potter, the former Cigna spokesman who now campaigns for health care reform and against health care for profit, I noticed the use of the words “services” and “benefits” when describing what insurance companies do. Think how misleading those ubiquitous terms are. It’s similar to the use of the term “service” when referring to a person’s choice to become a politician. Our representatives and senators “serve”. “Service” runs in the bloodlines of famous families. The term would only be used correctly if becoming a representative or a senator were purely voluntary. Similarly, people “serve” in the military. We used to have “selective service”, then we had “the draft”, more accurate. Now we have a volunteer army whose personnel “serves” - and sacrifices for - the country. Let’s be clear: recruits don’t “serve” the country, they serve special interests.
Getting back to health care, what insurance companies provide are not “benefits”: we don’t “benefit” from paying through our noses to insurance companies so that doctors (supposedly following ‘government guidelines - did you know that? ) can overcharge tenfold. Similarly, we should not use the term “benefit” to describe social security checks: it’s our money, allocated back to us at a shockingly low rate of return.
Now for the most damaging use of language in the fight for health care. Some activists remember to mention in passing that we are the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t have some form of “single payer” health care. Then they go on to say that, actually, France doesn’t really have a single payer plan. When I ask these activists where they get their information, they can’t remember. One of them assured me he had to be right because he had a Ph.d in political a science from an Ivy League university. That same activist rightly goes around reminding people not to believe what they read in the corporate press, yet he has apparently swallowed information dispensed by a university professor without question.
I have lived abroad for most of my life, and the only country I lived in that didn’t have government-run health care - and this was forty-five years ago - was Italy, which got a government-run system in 1978 that covers everyone. In France everybody pays a health care tax, you pay a small co-pay for freely chosen doctor’s visits and medications, every aspect of health care is covered. The fact that this is done through various professional entities does not mean that France doesn’t have single-payer. These entities merely administer the governmental system for their employees. Also, doctors can get permission to charge rates above what is covered by the government, for those who wish to pay the additional cost. You don’t get better care, or quicker care, by paying extra. I thirty years I never heard of a waiting list for care. France spends half what we do and if the French live longer it’s not just because they drink wine.
The left wrings its hands and wonders why it can’t get Americans out on the street to demand health care. Perhaps not surprisingly, in this morning’s event someone asked how other countries managed to get single payer health care. Neither Wendell Potter nor the journalist Rob Kall had a ready answer. No wonder: the people of Europe didn’t have to DO anything to get universal health care. It’s part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which all the countries signed, and, thanks to the legality of every conceivable type of left-wing party and an uninterrupted working-class tradition, no government could question this basic principle. That’s what is meant when someone says: “The Europeans can’t understand why we don’t have universal health care.”
So please, activists, don’t contradict yourselves when you say this, by adding the caveat that this or that European country doesn’t really have single-payer. You’re shooting us all in the foot.
P.S. Government run health care was mandated in the Kaiser’s Germany by the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismark in 1870. Most of the other European countries got it either just before or just after the Second World War.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

TIme to Call in the Lafayette Brigade!

It’s time for the Lafayette brigade, Mr President.

During our revolutionary war, only the French came to our aid – but it was decisive.  Now, if you were to ask them, the heads of all the European countries would testify before Congress how they deliver quality health care to all their citizens.

Of course, they don’t have our defense budget, but they do contribute to the wars we initiate. They also don’t spend as much money on health care as we do, and their health outcomes are superior to ours.

How is it that the OMB doesn’t factor in money spent by lobbyists when they calculate the cost of health care?

During the eighteen years I spent in France from 1981 to 1999, French unemployment was as high as ours is now.  Yet the French economy didn’t tank, and everyone had the same health coverage as when unemployment was lower.  Whether I lived in Paris or in the provinces, I chose my own doctors and hospitals, paying a small copay for visits and medications. With a chronic back problem, I got physical-therapy several times a week for years, as part of my coverage.

You don’t say it loud enough, or often enough, Mr President: the rest of the developed world looks down on us because haven’t progressed morally to the point where we believe health care is a right.

And finally, why should it be such a big deal to move health care from the workplace to the government?  You know health care is a burden for companies.  And why should you not be interested in putting the health care insurers out of business if you believe profits are not warranted when it comes to health care?  There are plenty of other things for them to ensure, and the employees would simply transfer from a private employer to a government employer.

The crucial thing you never say, Mr. President, is that Americans have go to stop seeing government as a necessary evil: why do we send our soldiers to fight in foreign countries to bring them a functioning government if we think government is so bad?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What Needs to be Said

My last blog about love and war didn’t seem to resonate.  It was probably too telegraphic.  But an image on this morning’s CNN impels me to try again.  It showed the American civilian employees who were guarding our embassy in Iraq or Afghanistan and were caught half naked partying.

I don’t have the slightest doubt that this picture elicited disgust in anyone who saw it, whether or not they had a religious conviction or background.  Recognition of that fact should make it easier for secularists to understand where Muslim extremists are coming from.  Unlike the pictures from Abu Ghraib, this one illustrates potently what the Egyptian writer Qut’b was carrying on about in the fifties and sixties, and begs for a redefinition of the word “lewd”.  In my Heritage dictionary I find: “licentious, lustful,  obscene,” and “obsolete: wicked,” from Middle English, originally, ignorant, vulgar”.

I think we need to resuscitate the Middle English meanings: ignorant, vulgar.

Ignorant because a person who behaves in a lewd manner denies that he/she is part of the Whole.  A flower is never lewd, a tree is never vulgar, even a pig has its dignity.  The Whole of which we are a part, Gaia, consisting of the earth and its biosphere, is what we are.  As Gary Zukav playfully but seriously said:

“That which is is that which is.   There is nothing which is not that which is. There is nothing other than that which is. We are part of that which is. In fact,we are that which is.”

So we are not being puritanical when we condemn this behavior: we are saying that its practitioners are violating our own “is-ness”.  Similarly, when Muslims say “God is Great”, they are referring to that which is.  As Alastair Crooke tells us in “Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution, quoting an anonymous Shi’a cleric:

The reflexive introspection on ‘being’ that is the route to a comprehension of the oneness of man with man, man with nature and man with the universe, implies the curbing of the personal. The understanding of connectedness with other humans and with the surrounds diminishes the sense of individual ‘self’.

An individual’s relationship with God does not emerge instantaneously out of a single act of faith as St Paul suggests to Christians.  It emerges slowly from the experience of the living God’s demand that humans behave towards one another with justice, equity and compassion.

Echoing Buddhism, Crooke’s interlocutor notes that:

“The knowledge or ‘relationship with God’ is only to be achieved through restraining the ego or ‘nafs’, rather than privileging it as in the West, which has elevated individualism to become the basis around which politics, economics and society is organized.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Is There a Difference Between One War and Another, One Love and Another?

Distractedly watching Free Speech TV as I prepared lunch, see, hearing, victims of the attack on Falluja in all their gory detail, I suddenly wondered whether there is a qualitative difference in the way human beings suffer atrocities over historical time.

We are focused on the increasing lethality of weapons, the horrors of gas chambers, tanks bulldozing
houses, IEDs, the whole panoply of 'weapons of mass destruction'. And in the course of the same day we will be offered relief in the form of movies, sitcoms or even reality shows that feature the trials and ecstasy of love.

No wonder Buddhists talk of an eternal wheel of life, having invented "Stop the world, let me off!" millennia before Jerry Lewis (or whoever is famous for that quote).  For Buddhists, you are only let off the wheel
of samsara when through a series of rebirths, you perfect your soul.  Then you are entitled to return no more, you are released from the wheel.

Does such a belief foster resignation?  It's not supposed to.  It's supposed to inspire humans to love and help their fellows.  Enlightened self -interest.

What about us?  What could we be doing/not doing when we realize that what we are witnessing is ever more of the same, not only in our time, but throughout history - and pre-history.

Yesterday Poland marked the 70th anniversary of the German invasion that started World War II. But it was not a straight-forward remembrance. Vladimir Putin was there to acknowledge wrong-doing by the Soviet Union, which having conspired with Germany to carve up Poland, invaded from the east two weeks later.

People who read ancient history instead of the newspaper may have a point: war is war is war, as in a rose is a rose is a rose.

By extension, the same applies to love, which is why Romeo and Juliet has been playing for centuries.

But until we figure out how to reincarnate ourselves, say, 10 or 50 years hence, to see the outcomes of today's passions, an inner voice, sometimes known a conscience, but which I call our internal authority, tells us we must participate, trying to be on the right side of the issues, all the while knowing that the opposite of what we try to encourage, will eventually win out, and the struggle will start again.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Open Letter to the President: K.I.S. Sir!

Dear President Obama:

The often rowdy debates over your plan to reform health care reveal your fundamental mistake

in thinking that you could prevail if you were cautious.

Caution inspired an extremely complicated organizational chart, which your opponents show off at Town Hall meetings.  Who wouldn't run from that?  More bureaucracy means more money, and dividing up the responsibilities is never efficient.

In order to keep the elite happy, America bends over backwards to plug all sorts of gaps and lacks: we have volunteerism instead of a real safety net.  Americans pay taxes just like people in the welfare states, but since their taxes don't go for social projects, they pay again with their time and effort.

The argument that you would have to to "raise taxes" should be answered with the following: Americans pay income tax and health care contributions via their employer.  The problem is that the health care contributions go to maintain a for profit system.  The same amounts would be paid if we had a single payer system, and the "taxes" part would not have to be any bigger than it is now, because it would be combined with the health care contributions which instead of funding profits would fund non-profit health care.

Of course, there's an elephant in the room, and that's our military engagements: you cannot permit

yourself to point out that if we hadn't decided to keep troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, discussions

about the cost of saving American lives would dissolve into thin air.

Speaking of Town Hall Meetings, I don't believe there were any when President Bush went to

war in 2001 and 2003, nor when you decided to pretty much continue his war policies.

What's the point of having  public debates about health care when we don't have public debates

about going to war?  For all the valor of the anti-war movement, everybody knows that once the horse is out of the barn it's too late to close the door.

By not designing health care reform as a single payer system, which is what all civilized countries have in one form or another, you're rapidly finding  yourself in the same mess as the Clintons, which will force you, in order not to fail completely, as they did, to compromise away the public option which you thought could save the present system while taking care of the uninsured.

The single payer system is the only one that makes sense economically and socially.  You gave the establishment what it wanted by continuing its war policies.  If you don't stand up to it now by clearing the table of all the compromises being studiously worked on to save a dying social system, the beast will continue to suffer a long drawn out illness before collapsing of its own weight.

The simultaneous conflation of health care reform with fascism and communism is the result of our political and media class lumping them together as totalitarianism regimes.  The fascist regimes didn't provide universal health care, the socialist regimes did.  The American public's knowledge of social systems is abysmal and can no longer be ignored if you really want to bring change to America.

There have to be continuing town halls all over the country led by different people and different groups about the role of government in a democratic society, so that Americans can first of all acquire healthy brains.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Amy Goodman reported this morning on Democracy Now that opponents to health care reform at town hall meetings have been saying "Who cares about those who don't have health care?"

The self-reliance that motivated many people in various parts of the world to immigrate to America, the self-reliance that was necessary on the frontier - and the control the Federal Government had over who got what land on the frontier - have come together a couple of hundred years later to distort the very meaning of government.

The motto "that government is best which governs the least" has to be taken IN CONTEXT.  It is not a repudiation of government as such, but a word of caution least government slide from providing services that individuals cannot organize - such as roads and armies - to ensuring that the freedom of one individual does not encroach on the freedom of another.

In the early days of the republic, the need for solidarity among individuals was obvious.  As individuals became less able to provide solidarity for one another, that role was shifted to government.  You are not called in the middle of the night to deliver your neighbor's baby because there is a hospital equipped to do that.  But when your neighbor knocks on your door because she ran out of milk, you say "too bad for you, lady".

Health care has evolved from something the friendly neighborhood doctor could pretty much take care of, to a complicated science involving high technology (while hopefully retaining its early quality as an art).  So instead of  your neighbor counting on you to be there for her when she goes into labor, she should be able to count on you to pay your share of the expense of building, equipping and running the hospital she will deliver at.

If government weren't there, you'd be driving your high-end BMW on dirt roads.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Some Americans are still Living in the 19th Century

I am one hundred percent in favor of universal, single payer health care, because I have lived in several countries that have that system and I have experienced it first hand.  It is a great relief not to have to worry about paying the doctor, or affording medication.
But the health care reform now under discussion seems to have generated a very complicated organizational chart, which would scare anyone.

That is because the President  is afraid to go all the way, so we end up with a very complicated system that is trying to meet all the criticisms of all the sectors involved.  I was present at the now infamous town hall meeting run by Senator Specter and Secretary Sebelius in Philadelphia ten days ago, and when an opponent of the plan held up the chart she had printed from the government's own website, I was appalled.

A single payer system is a simple, straight forward system. It can be organized in various ways.  The president should send a commission around to see how other countries do it and report back.  Then Congress should chose one of these example, knowing that it has been working for decades.  There would be no guesswork involved.

The Germans have had universal, single payer health care since the Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck instituted it in 1870!  In most other countries of Europe, everyone has been covered since the end of the second world war, and that was 54 years ago!.

Is our government less capable than those of other countries?

Our government is running Medicare to everyone's satisfaction.  It runs a lot of things.  Without a government, we would be in a state of anarchy.  Why do we have what amounts to an anarchical system of health care?

I just heard ex-presidential candidate Ron Paul saying his doesn't agree that every human being is entitled to health care. Many of those I heard at Senator Specter's meeting wanted to make sure no government money would be spent on abortions, at the same time as they proclaimed loudly that people, once born, are not entitled to health care!

Maybe Americans are particularly wary of government because our country was created by fighting the British government.  Maybe there's some confusion between a foreign occupier and one's own elected government.

Maybe if more people realized that a government that responds to the majority's needs is a good thing, not to be confused with a foreign government that occupies your country, we would understand why peoples we occupy hate us, and at the same time, we would feel better about our own government doing things that need doing here, and which we cannot do equitably without it.

The very idea of making a profit (as opposed to getting a salary), out of saving lives should be abhorrent to us.

While we bicker over how to pay for universal health care, we overlook the fact that, according to figures heard on CNN this morning, it would suffice to do away with private insurance companies and their profits to pay for all the uninsured.

Or maybe it's the fact that Americans are so used to being the world leader, that we cannot imagine that some things are being done better by others.

Let's not be afraid to follow, and catch up to the rest of the world, in the 21st century.

Friday, July 31, 2009


An email today from a progressive organization confirmed that 76% of Americans prefer single payer health care.  They were asking for money to air an ad that merely told senators that the matter was urgent.
Why not put out an add that explains what single-payer is, just in case the figures are misleading?

Most people know they want health care that covers everyone and is affordable.  Few people know how the single payer version of that would work:  It would mean that insurance companies, which exist to make a profit for their shareholders, would no longer be involved in insuring health.  The government would be responsible for paying health care bills - no profit involved.  Doctors and other health professionals would negotiate their rate of remuneration with the government on a yearly or bi-yearly basis. Same for hospitals.  The government would buy prescription drugs at bulk rates with citizens paying a fraction of what they pay now.

As negotiations drag on and it becomes clear that opponents of "government run health care" are doing everything they can to water down the plan and stall it in Congress, I say the real culprits are the media.  They've had at least two years, since the democratic candidates declared for the presidency, knowing that health care would be high on their agenda if elected, to educate the public about the various types of health care systems that exist around the world.

Michael Moore gave them a great opening with "Sicko".  Even those who recognized its relevance, didn't take up the call.  I have

lived almost half my life in countries that have single-payer health care, mainly France, which, God knows, is heavy on bureaucracy. The health care system has been called the best in the world by the World Health Organization. I can testify to it being readily available, and all-encompassing.  To be sure, everyone pays a hefty but progressive tax to fund health care, but it's an expense that doesn't figure on your budget after that.   It would be unheard up for someone to go bankrupt because of health bills.

Even now, tune in to your favorite - or most reviled - television station.  You'll seek in vain a detailed analysis of single payer - or a discussion between opponents and supporters that provides details as to the crucial difference.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beating Health Care to Death

Three things astonish me about the health care debate.  One is that it seems to be the only issue that raises red flags about future costs. The second is the myth that bureaucrats only come in government garb, and the third is the difference between a salary for an honest day's work and a profit.
Profit is taken by investors after the costs of running a business, including salaries, have been paid.  A non-profit business is one that covers its costs, including the salaries of its officers and employees, but doesn't reward anyone for simply having provided the capital. Commentators never seem to get around to pointing this out.  Even when they affirm that health care is a right, not a privilege, they don't seem to follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion, which is that there is no reason to reward anyone for providing the capital required to run health care.
This leads to the second point (counting backwards), which is that government does not have a monopoly on bureaucracy.  Anyone who pushes papers rather than creating something, whether it be a piece of art or an automobile, is essentially a bureaucrat.  The ultimate bureaucrat is someone whose papers determine what happens to you, whether you like it or not.  So when opponents of health care reform cry out: "Don't let a bureaucrat make your health choices, he's right: but private health insurers, like governments, are run as bureaucracies.  The difference is that when the health insurance bureaucrats have been paid their salaries, investors receive profits.  When a government bureaucrat gets his salary, the expense stops there.  The government doesn't make a profit on health care.  By definition, a government doesn't make a profit on anything.
That's why we pay taxes.  Our taxes are the equivalent of the capital that investors put into a private company.  Investors are rewarded with the profits the company makes. We are rewarded for paying taxes with the benefits they enable government to provide us, starting with our right to live a healthy life.
Now to the third, or first point:  There being little leeway to argue away the above facts, opponents of tax-based, non-profit health care, as opposed to investor-based health care for profit, raise the red flag of future deficits.  But they do not do that when it comes to the costs of war.  Or any other non-life enhancing expenditure.
Beyond that, there seems to be a gentleman's agreement among all parties in congress that comparing the cost of war to that of health care is taboo.
And beyond that, pointing out that we are going to war in order to secure the carbon with which to render the planet inhospitable to humans would be unthinkable.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

National Assembly to end the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Eleven days already since my last post!    My only excuse is that I've been trying to advance other writing projects. Multi-tasking is the sign of our times, alas.
Over this past weekend about 300 people representing various anti-war and anti-imperialist groups came together in a small college near Pittsburgh to decide upon events for the coming months.  The main focus was the G-20 conference scheduled for end of September in Pittsburgh proper.

The anti-war, anti-occupation movement will be there, supporting the ousted Honduran president, Zelaya, the Haitian people who campaign for the return of president Aristide, and the Gazans in their 1400 sq. mile open-air prison.

The determination of the various speakers was impressive.  They represented groups which had hitherto not come together, putting aside theoretical or tactical differences.

The workshops were lively and well-headed. David Swanson of "After Downing Street" and Cindy Sheehan were there, and CIndy told me what we need is a  revolution. I don't know whether she is working on such a project, but I understand why she said it.

My book:  "A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness" uses modern science to explain how societies get to revolutions and other bifurcations.

As I told the Assembly, there is a disconnect between our efforts to "get people back to work", or "get credit flowing" and the state of the planet.

What we should be lobbying for, and demonstrating for when the G20 meet is 4 hour working days that will enable everyone to have a job producing less "stuff" that uses dwindling resources and pollutes the planet.

Being anti-imperialist is a good thing.  But it's what imperialism does that matters.  If we eliminate imperialism and we continue in the same life patterns that it promotes, we are not going to make a decisive difference in the destiny of humans or of the planet.

This is not a circumstance where we an afford to take one problem at a time: first stop the wars, then get rid of imperialism, then consider radical changes in the way we live and work.

Imperialism rendered the plundering of the planet all the more violent, but every civilization, unawares, has done it.

Imperialism comes at a time when the planet is saying "Enough!"  The planet, as James Lovelock tells us, will endure. But it could rapidly become unfit for human habitation.

Negotiations on climate change and the elimination of nuclear weapons are, OVERALL, more relevant to the continuation of human life than the defeating of imperialism and the ending of any particular war or regime.

Bring Bush to Justice, as David Swanson urges, yes!  Get out of Afpak and Iraq,  as all peace activists are calling for, yes! But our military presence in the Middle and Far East is part of a larger plan, which is why, for us to stand down there - or in any region of the world - there would have to be a change in the largerplan: from trying to get the most oil to produce the most stuff, which will render our habitat inhabitable, to the much more challenging task, from the perspective of an over/under-developed twenty-first century, of making ourselves once again part of the environment that is the only place where we can thrive.

Chances are that if we can manage that, we will become more socialist and less imperialist in the process.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Readers will have noticed that this site has only one page and even that is incomplete.  I’m still trying to find the right host, and even with support, building a site is difficult.  My apologies.  I hope readers will be patient, as other writing projects must take priority.

Perhaps it’s just as well, because, well, what can one say about the state of the world that hasn’t already been said?  I think we focus too much on the daily story, the latest coup, the growing ranks of homeless and hungry, here and abroad.  I’m trying to find the right balance between being on the right side of the issues - or history, as President Obama said recently - and accepting that life equals disorder.

Of course we have to be on the right side of the issues!  But perhaps we can manage that better if we realize that the various dramas that are being played out are variations on one theme: that of inequality.  A moving documentary seen on public television narrated by Mia Farrow iabout Rwanda fourteen years after the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus shows how survivors and murderers - who have been released from jail - are coping with forgiveness, as they try to put their lives back together.  We have always been told that this was a tribal issue, but in the intro-duction to the documentary, I learned that the Tutsis constituted a sort of upper class of farmers, while the Hutu were herdsmen.  If you dig a little into any conflict, you usually find a significant economic factor.

A step in the right direction toward building a global economic system was recently taken by the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who called for new international institutions to regulate finance, feed the hungry and create jobs.

At the same time, a coup in Honduras leaves observers wondering: the ousted president was a left-winger, yet the coup was condemned by President Obama.  Will it eventually turn out that right-wing elements in the CIA cooperated with the Honduran military to oust a president who is supported not only by a majority of Hondurans,but by the growing cohort of Latin American left wing governments?  And that the purpose would be to embarrass President Obama?

July 4
This  morning the news is that Ahmadinejad’s side is heating up, a full three weeks after the election.  A major hardline newspaper called for Moussavi and former president Khatami to be tried in a “people’s court”.  I wrote in a previous blog that nothing could stop the situation in Iran from getting out of hand.  No one could know at the outset what the coming bifurcation would lead to. Just as it seemed that Iran could enjoy a green revolution, the flow of energy through the system accelerated to a bifurcation point that took the direction of greater repression.
Britain and the United States are too conscious of the military danger to be behind this: but Israel may be trying to force its “masters” to include Iran in its military intervention in the region, which already includes Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  They may be right to assume that the American public will continue to do nothing, as “NATO” gets deeper and deeper into a quagmire.

In case you think I"m being too pessimistic, get this: yesterday, 1000 immigrants were sworn in as American citizens in front of a castle at......  Disney World.  It would be funny if it weren't tragic: your new government is telling you right from the start that life in America is one big fairy tale.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


The events in Iran are a perfect example of a systemic process at work.  A stable state is one which is known in physics as “far enough from equilibrium”, which means that the flow of energy through the system is sufficient to maintain the system but not too much to cause it to race uncontrollably to a bifurcation.

There is nothing unusual about what is going on in Iran. This is  what underlies every situation in which observers wring their hands and wonder why the protagonists don’t stop what they’re doing.   Why they don’t pull back from the brink,  The reason is that they cannot.  When humans reach a certain point in their impetus for change, no amount of rationality can reverse the direction they are going in. As in physics, the momentum of energy in the system reaches a point from which it cannot reverse itself.

When observers say that this has been building for a long time, they are referring to elements of the process: discontent of various kinds among various groups of the population.  In each of these groups, the energy has been steadily accelerating, until an event like a stolen election pushes the acceleration over the top.

We can expect more bloodshed in Iran.  But also, as President Obama intuitively senses (or maybe he has studied systems), a new situation is being shaped by what is happening.  Men cannot control the process, but the process itself is a forward motion.  Not necessarily better, but certainly different.  A bifurcation point leads to a new system, which can be either more or less organized than the preceding one: it can lead to anarchy, or totalitarianism.  Eventually the system will evolve to a higher level of organization and civilization.

But this too is a process. To foresee its general outlines, we need to pay attention to the fact that every evening the population stands on the rooftops and calls out “God is Great!”  This is not a sop to the power that is over them, it is a condemnation of that power for betraying the legacy of the Prophet, which was at the origin of the Iranian Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini, That legacy is a striving for equality.

The fundamental difference between the Shi’a and the Sunni is one of class.  The Shi’a believe in egalitarianism, the Sunni believe in a class society.  When participants in today’s events say they are not interested in the Western interpretation of freedom, do not think they are paying lip service to the regime in power.  They want freedom with equality, not what we call “freedom of opportunity” which, as one famous revolutionary told me many years ago, means freedom to be hungry.

And if many of the Iranian women, who play such a crucial part in this saga, are wearing headscarves, it’s also in homage to the Prophet, for whom women were equals.