Monday, January 3, 2011

Ideas for Transformation - I

A Daily Kos reader of my Chris Hedges article asked me to provide some ideas for transformation. That’s an awesome responsibility, and has to start with a few basic points.  Then I’ll try to provide a new way of thinking about politics.

Put succinctly, I believe that with brief exceptions, ALL RULERS take advantage of the ruled to the fullest extent that they can get away with.  It’s amazing how similar rulers are, no matter what the country or regime. Notwithstanding their differences, they are acutely aware of having in common the fact of being, as Johann Galtung long ago said: “Top  dogs.”  Recently, as populations have soared, and life has become more complicated, it has become become more difficult to rule, resulting in a proliferation of security apparatuses. While much fear of the Soviet Union was based on the fact that it was ‘a police state’, today, not only Russia and China, but the United States has thousands of sites across the land dedicated to security.

In China, as in the United States after World War II, foreign affairs was conducted by the pro-detente foreign ministry. (In the fifties, Joseph McCarthy accused the State Department of ‘losing China’, and recently the  Tea Party has admonished politicians to ‘Man Up’!) Currently, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is mocked as the “ministry for selling out the country”, and some readers sent it calcium pills to “stiffen its spine”. Like America’s mainstream media, China’s commercial media has found that nationalism sells. According to Susan Shirk, an American academic “...readers as well as censors like stories complaining about Japan, Taiwan and America, and the most influential foreign policy journalism appears in the hardline nationalist The Global Times.”

In China, as in the U.S. and Russia, state security has acquired a bigger role in foreign policy, as have mid-level bureaucrats in domestic ministries, more nationalistic than senior foreign-ministry officials.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, when the state’s assets were handed out to eager entrepreneurs, the ‘oligarchs’ became favorite targets of the increa-singly impoverished middle class. The January 13th issue of The New York Review details the treatment meted out to two prominent oil tycoons who, for having favored greater legality in the business world, were seen as political threats and hence became personal enemies of Putin. Their oil company Yukos was taken over by the state and they were convicted to seven years at hard labor. Those sentences were just extended for fourteen years on charges of embezzlement. The story is part of an analysis of the mushrooming Russian security apparatus, and its implications for the rivalry between Putin and Medvedev.

The Economist’s yearbook, The World in 2011 reports that Vladimir Putin portrays the 1990s, “when Russia struggled to embrace economic and political freedoms, as a decade of chaos and disintegration, halted only by his coming to power. Political freedoms achieved in the 1990s, including regional elections, competitive politics and independent (of the Kremlin) television, have eroded.....Russian elections are increasingly reminiscent of the Soviet era, when choice was narrowed to one candidate and one party.” Believe it or not, there is no attempt to hide this consensus at the top. The United Russia party received 92% of the votes in the last election, and both Putin and Medvedev run under its banner. Putin told journalists over a year ago that at some point the two of them would “sit down and decide which run would run in 2012”.

In the United States, lack of education accounts for the public’s failure to realize that the American Democratic and Republican parties are only slight variations on a predominantly centrist theme.. According to a March 12, 2010 article in The New York Times:

“After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Educa-tion....approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economic textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philoso-phies in a more positive light.

Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 amendments to the 120-page curriculum standards affecting history, sociology and economics courses from elementary to high school....There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc claimed expertise on certain topics.”

Education is undergoing a change whose political implications have failed to attract attention. In Britain, the United States, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and perhaps other countries that I may have overlooked, university fees are being raised dramatically. (In China, high school students have trashed canteens to protest the rising cost of school meals.)

What is the reason for this growing tendency to increase the cost of higher education? Might it have something to do with the lack of jobs that await graduates? Raising tuition costs is a disincentive to enrollment, with the long-term result that there will be fewer highly educated people out of work. Why does that matter?  Because the more educated people are, the more able they are to put two and two together.  As Che told me, almost fifty years ago, the leaders of revolutions invariably belong to the middle class.  Will it really matter whether a potential revolutionary has a high school diploma or a BA?  Among other lacks, high school curricula do not include the study of economic systems or ideologies....

Another age-old problem, is trying to solve current problems according to yesterday’s paradigms. While the Chinese, according to The Economist, believe that the West needs them more than it needs us, Henry Kissinger, who engineered the 1972 trip to China by then-President Nixon that reopened relations with the Communist country, warns that ‘bringing China into the global order would be even harder than bringing in Germany a century ago.” (This presumably refers to the punishments meted out after World War I that impoverished the country and led to the rise of Hitler.)

The China that Kissinger talks of “bringing in” to the global order, now has the second largest economy, and is our primary banker.

Governments have the same crank fears, and use the same tools to influence their citizens and keep them in line, hence people everywhere complain of not being heard by rulers. But even as Chinese rulers are made increasingly nervous by millions of citizens venting on the net, the battle over net neutrality in the United States seems destined to favor the powerful.

Each state applies the means that its population will tolerate to crush dissent. In China and Cuba, dissidents are jailed, and when freed, prevented from traveling to receive international prizes. The United States can now legally assassinate American terror suspects without trial, and Julian Assange is detained in loyal Britain on spurious Swedish sex charges with a view to hauling him in front of an American Grand Jury for leaking American secrets to the world.

Individual protests, including hunger strikes, serve to alert the wider world to government abuses in a particular country. By revealing malfeasance and plans by the most powerful nation to take over increa-sing parts of the world, by making public conversations between world actors large and small, Wikileaks reveals to the global community both its ignorance and its impotence in the face of the corporate state. But will it bring change?

Below: Seeing politics in systems terms.

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