Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Tea Party is Coming!

Did you get a frantic letter from Senator John Kerry, on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee? The usual plea for ever more money comes with a separate sheet warning that: “Republicans will do anything to see president Obama fail, and america will pay the price. The headline on the reverse quotes Rush Limbaugh saying: “We need to wipe them out!” Following are quotes from Tea Party darling Rand Paul, and other Republicans Pat Toomey, Roy Blunt and Linda McMahon.

Coincidentally, a former NAACP employee who years ago sent a white farmer to a white lawyer, so he could be “helped by one of his kind” lost her department of agriculture job for doing so after mentioning the incident in a speech. The TV, as CNN says, is ‘all over the story’, and the Tea Party is feeling vindi-cated after the blooper by popular radio host Mark Williams.

Both incidents bring to my mind the Russian Revolution.

“Whhaat?” you’ll say. Not Hitler? “I thought the danger we’re in with the Tea Party and the local militias is fascism!”

True, but I’m referring to how various unde-sirable events, however different they may be, come about. In the early 20th century there was a Russian Social Democratic Party whose majority was referred to as the Bolsheviks (for big) while the minority were called the Men-sheviks, for small, or minority. The latter were more inclined to cooperate with the Liberals at a time when most Russian activists broadly agreed on the need for reform.

BThe Bolsheviks staged a successful revolu-tion in Russia because the Mensheviks failed to stand up to the Liberals.

I’m drawing this picture with a broad stroke, because what’s important here is not the detail - about which some readers will inevitably nitpick - but the gist.

Not so long ago entire populations were cowed by the warning: ‘The Russians are coming!’ Now we’re told: “The terrorists are coming!”

But the Democratic Party’s frantic appeals for help are like closing the barn door after the horse got away: It’s not more money they need, it’s the courage to form a Social Democratic Party that will stand up to the Republicans and deal with terrorism with a cool head.

Before the Tea Party takes over.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Israel's Paranoia, Obama's Lockstep

Israel’s mounting paranoia offers an excellent opportunity to analyze how news is slanted, by whom, and to whom.

A friend in Europe emails me news from various sources, and recently I received a story whose original source was the Near East News Agency (NENA), a collaborative of journalists working in the Near East that publishes in Italian and English. The story was about Israel’s efforts to prevent its neighbor Jordan from building an independent nuclear energy capability.

Israel is one of four countries with known nuclear capabilities not to have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the others being India, Pakistan and North Korea. Not- withstanding its own rogue position, Israel has been waging a relentless campaign to persuade the world that Iran is a mortal threat, not only to Israel, but to everyone else.

Now, just in case its campaign against the relatively distant threat should ultimately be unsuccessful, Israel now asserts that an equal threat lies next door, in Jordan, a tiny Muslim country which has been its steadfast ally.

The NENA article emphasized that Israel, with the backing of the U.S., is withholding “acceptance” of its neighbor’s plans to build two nuclear fuel plants, until Jordan promises that it will send its nuclear fuel abroad for reprocessing. (The NENA article also revealed that Jordan possesses 3% of known uranium deposits.)

Curious to know more about this story, I went to the New York Times. A May 2 Times article placed the Israel/Jordan controversy within the larger scope of U.S. efforts to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty during a month-long international conference. It pointed out that diplomats were negotiating agreements for overseas reprocessing with Jordan and Bahrain, and indicated there might also be a deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Times article quoted a participating diplomat saying that these endeavors were part of an attempt to isolate the Iranians, but that Iran and others at the United Nations non-Proliferation Conference, including Egypt, were more interested in forcing the region’s one nuclear-weapons state, Israel, to acknowledge its atomic arsenal and sign on to the nonproliferation treaty.

Egypt, in particular, wants the Middle East to be nuclear arms free, but the Obama administration only supports this idea within the context of a broad regional peace.
In other words, for Washington, a nuclear-free Middle East is contingent on resolving the situation with Iran, rather than the situation between Israel and the Palestinians.

This is worrisome because Egypt, while lobbying for a conference next year on its proposal for a nuclear-free zone, also plans to build several nuclear reactors. According to The Times, Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak has hinted that if there is no agreement, his country might feel that needs to develop nuclear weapons, too.

Although the Times article has broader thrust, it manages to obscure the fact that the Obama administration accumulates blunders in the most volatile part of the world. Unlike the admittedly partisan NENA story, it fails to mention fthat Washington is threatening Jordan with a loss of 600 million a year in financial support if it goes ahead with a project that makes Israel nervous. Nor does it mention that our close allies, France and South Korea, are planning to help this tiny, resource poor county ensure its future energy needs.

Without several sources for world news, American voters are blindsided, taken totally unawares by major events. Nuclear non-pro-liferation is a major policy goal of President Obama. But alternate news sources reveal not only that in this, as in so many other laudable goals, his policies are counter-productive; they document the fact that a multi-faceted world can pursue laudable goals without us.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Our Wars are About Sex and Money

But they’re no longer about Cleopatras nose.

If we look at the world from a distance, instead of a series of highly differentiated conflicts, we see one big conflict that pits haves against have-nots, and simultaneously, license against sexual repression.

The buzz today is all about maybe talking to the Taliban. But we do not see the Taliban to, say, the way we saw the Germans during the second world war: essentially people of the same culture who had fallen prey to a national delusion of grandeur. We know the world the Taliban are defending tooth and nail is different in fundamental ways from ours, so how can we talk about leaving the Afghan people to their mercy?

I should say “the Afghan women”. For this is a war about license versus sexual repression. In the West, which is organized for the unlimited growth of capital, everything is a means to that end, and sexuality is tailored accordingly: men and women must constantly be concerned with looking young and if possible beautiful in order to attract a succession of mates. To that end, they purchase beauty products ever improved upon and clothing that will be out of fashion next year. And when women - and men - serve advertising to earn a paycheck, they become full-time sex symbols. The feminists denounced this long ago, but they got nowhere with this aspect of women’s lib because they didn’t realize that we live in a culture whose ultimate purpose is to increase returns on capital. Anything that achieves this is impervious to reform.

This is the nexus between the revolt of the have-nots (the Shiites), against ‘the West’, and the fierce determination of the repressive Sunni Wahabbi, represented by the Taliban, to preserve the sexual slavery of women. The differences between these two groups have us in a state of utter confusion: the greater conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia - which has recently spread to the Horn of Africa - is about the unequal distribution of wealth. In those areas where fundamentalist Sunni Islam holds sway, it is also about maintaining the subjection of women, considered as possessions.

Given that the Taliban fall into this latter category, we could possibly persuade them to abandon the wealth provided by poppies for that which could be extracted from high priced minerals - apparently ’discovered’ in the nick of time, but perhaps in fact the heretofore unavowed reason for the eight-year Afghan war. In that case, the liberation of Afghanistan’s women would have to wait until the influx of wealth from that economic bonanza overwhelms tradition, as is beginning to happen in other Muslim countries.

The fight for equity that is foremost in the Shia dominated areas, (Iran, and recently Iraq, where the long suffering Shia majority are now in power), is not that of equity in the traditional Marxist sense, but as Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah makes clear, in the sense of the Radical Enlightenment about which Princeton’s Jonathan Israel writes.

And so, in reality, our foreign wars mirror our domestic situation: the United States is increasingly polarized between a growing minority of Christian fundamentalists, whose women are expected to remain in the home, often schooling their children to shield them from the secular education system, while workers, blacks, Latinos, single mothers, and those with special needs begin at last to organize events such as the Second US Social Forum recently held in Detroit, where residents are inventing new forms of urban self-sufficiency instead of waiting for government to solve society’s problems. At the very same time, however, Tea Partyers are pushing back against these initiatives, also in the name of not waiting for government to do so.
Monday night Larry King rebroadcast his recent interview with Bill Maher, who in a rare moment of passion, said what American progressives are thinking on this Independence Day: “There is no Tea Party equivalent for us. We have two parties, but only one politics, and while the Tea Party is pushing the Republicans to the far right, no one is pushing the Democrats to the left.”

While Christian fundamentalist women do not cover their heads, they are expected to remain in the home - and to vote for a politics of inequality based on a consumerism that relies heavily on fashion models and wrestling match sex queens.

Talking to the Taliban and Hezbollah, is only likely to be productive if and when “the West” drops the capital W that implies superiority and accepts the inanity of chasing after oil and gas in order to continue a way of life that besides demeaning one of life’s great pleasures, will render the planet inhospitable to humans.

It took the admission by BP that it may ultimately not be able to plug the leak in the Gulf for President Obama to commit major funding for solar power. Energy Secretary Chu fears that we might be reaching a tipping point on climate change, yet he suggested we could save a lot by adopting tougher energy standards for new buildings, implying that the consumer society these represent could continue in the face of a point of no return for the planet.

Replace Allah and Jehovah with nature and it’s clear that our conflict with Islam is importantly about how we live our individual lives. Before we can hope to see them move toward more personal freedom, we have to reconsider what we do with our own.

Friday, July 2, 2010

There is Nothing that can "Never Happen Again"

The expression first became a rallying cry during the First World War, with the slogan “Never Again.”  Then there came Buchenwald, and it was “never again” all over again.

Katrina was a natural disaster piled on top of Army Corps indifference, which was never to be allowed to happen again.

The more recent worldwide financial debacle really concentrated minds worldwide, so that, two years later, heads of finance from the countries that make things happen (even things that are never supposed to happen again) gathered in Toronto to make sure that this particular event should never happen again. The President returned home with an assignment from the countries that America used to tell what do do, which was to kick domestic opposition into line to create a Consumer Protection Agency (or whatever it’s called, don’t hold me to names) so that at least if this does happen again, it won’t be our fault.

The President was unwise to hold that it would never happen again.  But hardly less wise than BP that has been assuring us that thanks to its good faith and its technical know-how what we could all a “magnitude ten” oil spill would never happen again.

Never?  With more than 3000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico alone, not to mention those we haven’t been told about in other oceans and on other lands.

Or, less spectacularly, the gas rigs whose numbers remain secret, on lands that used to be picture postcard perfect, throughout the country, fracking, or fracturing the soil hundreds of yards down, pumping scarce water laden with chemicals into once fertile land, sending fumes into the water pipes of nearby kitchens, causing them to burn in contact with a match.  At this point, the question becomes: “Never what?”

Never more jobs lost, never more private prisons built, never more men in search of work arrested, never more soldiers turned into invalids - never more what?

I don’t know if it was due to his famous poem “The Raven” that the early nineteenth century writer Edgar Allan Poe is seen as a forerunner  of science fiction, but surely our powerless lives today, would have been considered science-fiction in his time.

The hero of Poe’s poem hallucinates a black raven sitting unruffled over his bedroom door, repeating only one word: ‘Nevermore”.  He mourns the loss of his love Lenore, and asks the raven if there is “balm in Gilead”, to which the answer is also “Nevermore”.
Still not getting it, the poet implores:
‘Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore     But: “Quoth the raven,`Nevermore.'”

Now, with a dramatic gesture the poet orders the beast to:

“Get back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!”

“Take thy form from off my door!.... and leave no black plume as    a token of that lie...!”
“The raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming

Unable to accept the finality of death, Poe wanted desperately to bring back the past.  We, very differently, imagine that we can prevent its repetition.   But like Poe's demon, we are dreaming.