Monday, November 29, 2010

The World is Angry

Wikileaks’ latest installment of incriminating inter-governmental communications comes just in time - perhaps - to wake governments up to their citizens’ anger.

‘The People’ are angry from England to South Korea and every-where in between, east and west, north and south. The anger has  dif-ferent targets, but it all boils down to the same issue: the leaders of the world, meaning governments and business, have dug us into a hole, and they have neither the will nor a clue how to get us out.

British students riot because they might have to pay $15,000 a year for college tuition.  (Our Ivy League parents only wish the bill were so low.)  The Irish (of the Republic of Ireland) just got a bailout from the European Union,  the latest country to discover that you cannot imitate the American way without consequences.  Before that there was Iceland, and waiting in the wings are Portugal, Spain, and Italy.  Recently bailed out Greece is being told it might have to pay a higher interest. All over Europe, workers and students are fighting budget cuts in the streets: strikes in China are less visible to the outside world.

During the Cold War what frightened people and governments alike was the threat of a nuclear attack.  Who would have thought that could be surpassed by anything?  Yet twenty years after the collapse of the Evil Empire, we’re not fighting the Jedi of an imaginary world, but our very own climate.

Are Kim Jon Il’s antics related to his realization that climate change might inundate his island realm?  At any rate, North Korea isn’t the only country behaving like there are no consequences when it attacks real estate in the South: When Wikileaks exposes the orders to U.S. diplomatic personal, including those at the U.N., to get DNA and credit card numbers from people, you know for sure that our leaders have spent more time watching reality TV than getting Ph.Ds.

World government, anyone?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Are Syria’s Protestants Being Persecuted because of C Street?

I know my readers are not foreign policy wonks but here’s something they might want to ponder:

This week’s Economist reports that although Syria is a secular country where all religions are welcome, the government has been telling foreigners serving Protestant churches it will not renew their visas.  The reason?  The churches have been proselytizing.

Reading Jeff Sharlet’s book C Street I would bet anything this isn’t so much about religion as it is about politics:  Members of (sic) The Family as the politicians who frequent the Washington house on C Street call themselves, travel a great deal at government expense to foreign countries for the purpose of influencing leaders to ‘accept Jesus without denying Mohamed'.

This is a really kooky idea, but it’s for real. The Ugandan government recently passed a draconian law against homosexuals, who now risk prison and even death as repeat ‘offenders’.  If you wonder why American legislators should be fingered, and don’t have time to read the book, read Sharlet’s article Junkets for Jesus in the November/December issue of Mother Jones.

Then if you hear about Syria’s ‘crackdown’, you’ll know that it’s because some governments are less willing than others to have their policies come under the influence of Protestant fundamentalists.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why Republicans Wont Compromise

Republicans’ determination not to compromise has many wondering why they would do something that risks pushing the country deeper into the hole. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that the reason for their behavior may be worse than suspected.

For the last few days Dylan Ratigan has been saying that the government does the bidding of six major corporations, but he fails to elaborate.  I will take a stab at that. Consider the recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to pour as much money as they want into politics.  Add the more recent news that unidentified foreign money is being used by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fund elections, and add the fact that U.S. jobs continue to be outsourced to foreign countries.

There is a reason why the Republicans - and to some extent the Demo-crats, who are part of the system - are stabbing American workers in the back: in the context of the global financial crisis, global corporations are no longer doing business the way they used to: to maintain global corporate bottom lines, jobs must be spread around the globe, even if American workers get hurt.

I believe that the influx of foreign capital into our Chamber of Commerce is the corporate world’s way of thanking American politicians for allowing jobs to continue to be lost at home so that more can be created abroad.

Not only does the interest of corporations not correspond to the that of American workers. It does not contribute to maintaining the planet’s ability to sustain humans. We need to reduce greenhouse gases to miti-gate climate change before it’s too late. This requires implementing a policy of de-growth in the industrialized world in order to bring the entire world to a ‘sufficient’ rather than extravagant level of development.

Two books worth reading on the idea of ‘sufficiency’, that favors citizens well-being rather than corporate profits are Ecologica, by Andre Gorz and Farewell to Growth by Serge Latouche.

Until these ideas enter the mainstream, not only the U.S. but the entire world will be doing the bidding of its corporations.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Word for Dems: We Did NOT Win the Cold War!

As Congress gears up for the fight to defend the half-baked health care program Obama was able to get past the insurance companies, it’s important for Americans to know that we did not win the Cold War.  By the latter half of the twentieth century, the competition for Third World allies was over, and the two superpowers had ceased to build up their obscene hoards of arms.  If you think about it, the fight with the Soviet Union boiled down to conflicting opinions on the role of government.

By the time Mikhail Gorbatchev became First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the regime had long since ceased to be monolithic. In 1986, he introduced perestroika “the development of democracy, socialist self-government, encouragement of initiative and creative endeavor, utmost respect for the individual and consideration for personal dignity." Two years later he introduced glasnost, or openness and transparency in the activities of all government institutions, together with freedom of information. Following upon these two major reforms, the transformation of the Soviet Union from a centrally-planned economy under one-party to something approaching a Western-style democracy was inevitable.

The United States is thirty years behind, just beginning to admit that there are different views of the proper role of government. It might never have done so had it not been for the half-baked health care program that President Obama was able to win from the insurance com-panies. Yet polls and reports tell us that Americans are the only civilized people on the face of the earth who would prefer to pay exorbitant sums for their health care rather than see it as a major item in the nation’s bud-get, alongside war and education.

A few courageous politicians such as Dennis Kucinich or Russ Feingold have dared to suggest that health care is a right, not a privilege.  They need to let the American people know that an overwhelming majority of the world’s people want their health care to be financed through taxes to their government, who pays the bills, rather than having to go into hock to do so individually.

Unlike for-profit companies, the government has every incentive to keep you healthy at the least cost. It was inevitable that the centralized Soviet system would eventually collapse under the weight of its own inefficiencies, but none of the countries liberated from Soviet rule has embraced for-profit health care.  (China did, and is now trying to correct its mistake.) When a capitalist system is no longer based on the production and sale of goods but on fictitious money with nowhere to go, it too collapses, as we are witnessing.

We should not wait for China to present us with the bill to start creating a different system, in which capital is regulated by government so that it once again serves a useful purpose.

People around the world who do not benefit from single-payer health care wish they did. Only Americans believe the fairy tale that if government is in charge, terrible things will happen to you. We need to realize that government and private sector employees being inter-changeable, government can be as innovative and efficient as Microsoft.

As long as Americans believe that we ‘won’ the Cold War, i.e., the dispute over the role of government, it will be difficult for politicians to confess that we are the only developed country that has not embraced some form of social democracy. This is also a ‘mixed economy’, in which the private sector is regulated and government makes sure everyone has a decent standard of living. It quite naturally involves some form of cradle to grave single-payer health care for all, with fancy private care as an option.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cuba, Haiti, Rachel Maddow and The American Taliban

Last night Rachel Maddow gave a stunning example of her analytical and didactic powers. Her lesson on how falsehoods are generated and ampli-fied by each successive commentator on the ultra right circuit should be taught in every social studies class.

Of course, it won’t.  Nor will students receive any useful information as to the proper role of government when they learn about Haiti’s triple whammy: first, last January’s earthquake, then floods, and now cholera.

Bill Clinton has been leading the Haitian relief effort, but he believes that getting the rubble out of Port au Prince eight months after the earthquake is an accomplishment, since it allows access to the tourist hotels that have been built while Haitians survive in tents.

There’s a visible gradation from the right’s outright lies, to the center’s blind-sided focus, to the valiant afternoon and evening news anchors at MSNBC, who still cannot bring themselves to pronounce the word social democracy, even when they could point out that it has nothing in common with national socialism, which is another word for fascism, and is the way the right describes Obama’s government.

Please, Ed Schultz, leave your hot buttons alone for a while and give your listeners some food for thought:  Haiti has been a United States pawn for the last hundred years.  Cuba has a fifty-year-old communist regime. Haiti’s few can fly to the U.S. if their homes perish in an earthquake, but even with international aide, the many are left indigent.

The story on neighboring Cuba is very different: No matter how many deprivations Cubans have suffered, in part because they would not give an inch to their powerful northern neighbor, even the dissident are glad they’re not Haitians. However meager the rations, when disaster strikes the government takes responsibility. It is able to do so because during their fifty years of defiance the Cubans have trained medical staff, built hospitals, and organized block by block to ensure the safety of all.

America’s internal enemies would take us back to a time when a popu-lation equal to that of Chicago today, had an area one-tenth the size of the lower forty-eight to do their thing in. They didn’t need income tax (although the government assessed one as early as 1862 because, unlike present governments, it didn’t think it could pay for war without one).  Carriages rode over dirt roads, there was no such thing as a life ‘saved’ by chemistry; most daily necessities were made or grown at home.

The Tea Party wants us to fight terrorism while being left alone by govern-ment. Maybe the militias in our northern woods plan to build a few gunships and sail over to Pakistan via India to take on the Taliban?

As Markos Moulitsas emphasizes in American Taliban , American fundamentalists and the Taliban are culturally in synch.  Maybe our Taliban fighters will get used to doing without television while they’re at it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More on Guerillas and Presidents

Two things come to mind on this post-election morning: how many of the newly elected Republicans are Tea Partiers?  Maybe they’ll tell us by the end of the day, but the worried took on John Boehner’s face as he announced that they were just going to have to cooperate with the Democrats can only mean that it’s not the president’s party he’s worried about, but his new troops.

While we wait with baited breath to see how far the Tea Party is going to carry its threats to ‘take back the country’, we can usefully reflect on how things are happening elsewhere.  As I wrote yesterday, a former Marxist guerilla was just elected president of the most powerful country in Latin America. This didn’t happen under any kind of martial law: the Worker’s Party has been in office for the last eight years, under Lula da Silva, one of the most respected politicians on the planet.

So what does this mean?  It means the United States always wants things to happen their way, right away.  The Soviet Union lasted some seventy years, and for most of that time provided the excuse for a never-before-seen military buildup on our part - as our cities went to pot and our education scores went down.

The former Soviet Union - now known, for all practical purposes as Russia - has become an oligarchy with elections, kind of like watered down ice-cream with whipped cream, that cooperates with us against a common enemy: radical Islam.

Does anybody honestly believe there is a fundamental difference between Marxist guerillas and Islamic fundamentalists - other than the whipped cream?  Let’s be real: communism is about worker control of the economy so that workers can get a fair shake. Socialism is about democratic control of the economy which is better than corporate state capitalism at giving everybody a fair shake.  Islamic fundamentalism, depending on the brand, is first and foremost about evicting a foreign culture from Islamic lands (Al Qaeda); secondly it’s about achieving a fair shake for the Palestinians who have been pushed aside by Israel (Hamas, Hezbollah, with the support of Iran); and covering all that like a lot of whipped cream is the desire of ordinary Muslims for a better life, especially if they are Shi’a Muslims, who revere Ali, who like the Prophet was for the little guys.

Tribal or ethnic pride - as in places like Sri Lanka and Africa - disappears as a cause of conflict when people are moving up in the world.  The idea that by bringing development to the world, the United States would ensure peace was not far off the mark: but its methods were.

What happened in Brazil? When you have a military dictatorship, the only thing  you can do to get rid of it is take to the woods with a gun. Once the military were ousted, activists like Dilma Rousseff could work for greater equality through politics. Lula Ignacio da Silva first stood for the presidency in 1989, not winning it until 2002. Coincidentally, American involvement in Brazilian politics was considerable up until the election of da Silva, when Brazil achieved real independence from the United States.

Am I suggesting that the Muslim countries could follow the Brazilian path to social-democratic government? Of course not :no two apples are not the same, much less apples and oranges. What I am suggesting is that in our impatience, we want to see the entire world become like us - which we think is the best way to be. (It also suits our corporate-military complex to have an outlet for their products. As I mentioned in a previous blog, Oliver Stone’s recent film South of the Border shows Nestor Kirchner the recently deceased former president of Argentina telling how George W Bush assured him that the way to economic progress was through war.)

But getting back to the Muslim world (over a billion people out of a total of six plus billion), Indonesia passes for democratic, but there is terrorist activity there; Saudi Arabia is fighting Al Qaeda at home and in Yemen, across its southern border; if the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan following a negotiated settlement of the war that is draining our budget, they are likely to prevent girls from going to school again.

On the other hand, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan have modern economies, the former has too many minorities to be successfully governed for any length of time, the second relies on a strong central government under Baath (socialist) rule, while Jordan has been ruled since independence from Britain by an enlightened hereditary monarch with strong ties to the United States and Israel.

So where am I going with this lesson in political geography?  I’m saying that countries and polities evolve in their own good time, according to their traditions and history: our interventions don’t make them evolve sooner or ‘better’: all humans want a fair shake from their own govern-ments. However, ‘modernity’ is very frightening to some, especially macho fundamentalists, whether in the U.S. or the Muslim world.  At the same time modernity brings awareness of more ‘things’ to more people, who then want development.

The Taliban may succeed for another generation in preventing women from leaving the house, but eventually they too will have to give in to the overwhelming influence of the outside world. Except for America’s right-wing fanatics, everyone in the world wants government-funded health care, even the Taliban, whose one claim to popularity is that they set up free clinics - like the Marxist guerrillas.......

The rest of the world has been moving forward without us for quite some time, (a few commentators are beginning to admit it if you listen closely).  There will be more Dilma Rousseff’s, and how they get from guerilla to president should not concern us.  Let’s worry, rather, here at home, about the Tea Party’s stated agenda of taking us back to colonial times. Brazil lifts millions out of poverty with family payments dependent only upon children attending school, while we are headed for a regime that wants to close down the Department of Education and do away with Social Security.  But perhaps we need not fear returning to the days of American isolationism, because three hundred years after that policy was enunciated, the Western Hemisphere is likely to become one big entity under Latin American rule.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mid-Terms' Supreme Irony

By now it would be trite to say that from watching our airwaves for the last month, Americans can scarcely be aware of the wider world.

But one coincidence seems particularly ironic: while we are hoping against hope that our country will not be delivered into the hands of right-wing fanatics (as Marcos Moulitsas correctly analyses them in American Taliban, just out at PoliPointPress), the largest country in Latin America and undisputed leader of the BRIC countries that also include Russia, India and China,  rejoices over the election of a female president who was once not a witch, but a Marxist guerilla.

The daughter of a Bulgarian immigrant and a schoolteacher, Dilma Rousseff was jailed and tortured by the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. She went on to study economics, but most of her energies were invested in Brazil’s long political fight.  After serving as President Lula da Silva’s Minister of Energy, she became his Chief of Staff in 2005, and Sunday was voted President of a country roughly the size of the United States, with the fifth largest population of the world.

While many Americans want to ‘take their country back’ to the time when average life expectancy was about fifty, when there were no iphones or ipads, no TV, no movies, no cars or planes and it took weeks to cross the Atlantic, Brazil, a country forty percent of whose population is of mixed origins, has elected its second Workers’ Party president.

Lula da Silva, the outgoing two-term president, has been called the most popular leader in the world, and I personally think he should be the next U.N. Secretary General. To our own president’s dismay, Lula is not only a major figure in the new Union of South American States, he negotiates worldwide, including with Iran’s Ahmedinejad.

Perhaps if Obama had sided with the Lula’s and Dilmas of this world, as the popular force that brought him to the White House wanted him too, Americans could be climbing up from darkness, instead of facing what could well turn out to be a right-wing coup.