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.