Friday, July 29, 2011

Now Journalists Just Ask Why

Every journalism student learns that a story should provide the who, what, why, where and how of an event.  This directive eventually led to some professionals being rightly called ‘investigative journalists’, and we still have a few today, such as Jeremy Schahill who writes for The Nation and often appears on Democracy Now.  But by and large, journalists these days are content to endlessly ask ‘Why?’, as they report on the day’s aberrations.

This is particularly true when it comes to the behavior of the Republicans Party, now under the thumb of the Tea Party.  (Notice how commentators now refer to both parties, as though the Tea Party were a regularly constituted third party - or the Republican Party had two heads.)  It’s left to academics and a few other book writers such as Naomi Klein, to investigate what is going on with our government.

As journalists continue to wring their hands, a Marxist academic appearing yesterday on Democracy Now, suggests an incredibly shocking answer to the question of why Congress appears oblivious to the possibility of an American default.  In a book entitled ‘Capitalism Hits the Fan’ Richard Wolff, Emeritus Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst and visiting professor at New School University, affirms that the big banks, previously bailed out by tax payers, now lend money to the U.S. government.  Hence their indifference to - or rather their interest in - a default.

Hearing Professor Wolff, I began to wonder whether the intransigence of newly elected Tea Party members can be laid at the door of the Koch Brothers, who run training programs for would-be Tea Party members of Congress.  Could it be that these magnates are indoctrinating political actors with principles that appear not only right but harmless to the nation, in order to achieve aims that are wrong and a disaster for the nation - but are to the advantage of big finance?

I admit that this could in the end be self-defeating, and many readers will point this out.  But if today’s journalists have been incapable of discovering that the major banks are benefiting from loans to our beleaguered government, what else is being hidden from us?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Norwegians and Tainos

I keep wondering why the older boys/men on the island did not try to tackle the gunman.  But what is probably unbelievable to Americans is that the camp apparently had no weapons: the campers couldn’t imagine that anyone would want to kill them. They were like the Taino Indians of the Caribbean who assumed that Columbus was in good faith.

People who want to ‘take back our country’ to the time of the Founders, (who by the way instituted the idea of citizens with guns), should rather want to take the world back to the idyllic time when weapons were for killing game. Oh, life was short, there was no toilet paper, but without being perfect (nothing is...) Scandinavia seems to have raised several generations of folk who cooperate and welcome the stranger.

But let’s address the Norwegian tragedy from a hard-headed point of view, considering  never-mentioned facts:

As of 1 January 2010, the population of the EU was about 501.26 million people. Worldwide there are two billion Muslims, equal to nearly one-fourth of the total population.

Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity (2000 million to 1600 million). Although Islam is often associated with the Arab world and the Middle East, fewer than 15% of Muslims are Arab.  Over fifty countries have Muslim-majority populations, and there are groups of believers on nearly every continent.

The European right is in a tizzy over a few million Muslim immigrants, but it turns its back on the math: Caucasians are what I call the absolute minority on planet earth.  In 1950, whites were 27.98% of the world population. Now they account for only about 15%, and the number is expected to drop to less than 10% by 2060. Meanwhile, between now and 2060, the population of Black or sub-Sahara Africans, many of whom are Muslims, will grow almost 133% to 2.7 billion, or 25% of world population, up dramatically from 8.97% in 1950.

So, Europeans should not take it personally: they - and we - are largely outnumbered on planet earth by people of various colors.  Europeans can blame those who encouraged immigration when they needed workers, but that is irrelevant. More and more Muslims are destined to migrate to Europe, no matter what policies were or are followed.

This leaves Europeans with two options: turn to the xenophobic right, or remember that culturally, ‘invaders’ are eventually ‘conquered’ by their hosts.  The Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan in 'Western Muslims and the Future of Islam' encourages his co-religionaries to adapt their faith to the world around them while remaining true to its precepts.  Christians and Jews should learn those precepts which, as shown by the examples of Sufis and Shi’as, are closer to the progressive ethos than their own religions, requiring that thought and deed be examined for their repercussions on others.

Monday, July 25, 2011

An Alternative to World Religious War

The killings in Norway force us to recognize that a global religious war is gathering momentum. Efforts to persuade people to respect other religions fall on deaf ears because they partake of a linear, if then, tit for tat mindset.

In my book A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness , I show that the basis of morality is not God, but nature as a system of which humans are a part. As fundamentalists insist, this implies that morality must form the basis of politics.  It does not imply that this or that religion must dictate politics, but rather that humans cannot escape their place within a self-organizing whole.

The attraction of Nazism lies in its claim of racial superiority, which denies the systemic nature of reality.  The advantage of a Taoist mindset is that it is borne out by science.  Fritjof Capra was one of the first to point out the similarities between ancient wisdom and modern physics, and over the last forty years, many scientists have acknowledged them.  The similarities between Protestant and Islamic fundamentalism are beginning to dawn on political observers, but in a culture predicated on linear thinking, this does not suggest an alternative to the wars we are told we must fight.

Systems thinking and self-organization illustrate the circular character of the natural world. The idea of an all-powerful deity, above and therefore outside the natural world, is a linear concept, which leads to tit for tat thinking and actions.  Even a superficial look at the three religions of the book shows that they are all based on the linear notion of punishment, or tit for tat. Moses' God gave men rules, and punished without mercy any failure to respect them. Jesus' God also gave rules, but forgave transgressions in return for repen-tance. As for Mohammed's God, though he could also forgive, he ordered three prayers a day to ensure that believers would not forget the rules. (Later, zealots raised the number of prayers to five.)

The Tao te Ching, only 5000 characters long, still has meaning for us after 2,500 years:

The Tao that can be expressed

Is not the eternal Tao.

The Tao is nowhere to be found

Yet it nourishes and completes all things.

All things are born from Being

Being is born from non-Being.

Familiarity with the notion of a self-generating whole, rather than polemics that oppose rationality to belief, would appear to be the only way to conjure killing in the name of God.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Twin Fates of Grover Norquist and Cenk Uygur

Has the decades long director of Republican consciences been superseded by the even more absolutist Tea Party?  No one’s time in the sun is forever and Norquist has been the guardian of Republican anti-tax behavior for decades - although this is only now being acknowledged by the media. For him to cede his place even as his role is made public, marks a watershed.

In a mirror event, Cenk Uygur last week was offered double the money for a smaller role at MSNBC. His Young Turk attitude toward Washington was making his bosses nervous, not, as he speculates in a video that can be seen at he raised the six o’clock ratings even higher than those of Ed Schultz, but precisely because he did.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Libya and Us

It seems clear that one of the reasons why President Obama blew off Congress’s complaints about our involvement in Libya, was to gain time to psych out the self-appointed representatives of those trying to oust Colonel Qaddafi. Now, satisfied that the men in suits are good liberals, the United States has recognized them as the country’s legitimate government, and written a check for 30 billion dollars to help the fighters on the ground get their act together.

This policy will likely be followed in other Arab countries where the population has decided to seek ‘freedom’, (defined differently by each group).

America’s traditional definition of freedom is being challenged by the Tea Party.  But according to today’s New York Times, our diplomats hope the newly recognized Libyan Transitional National Council will use the 30 billion for traditional public services - “to pay for health care and electrical power for example”.

Do we have to go to war in Libya for the administration - or at least The New York Times - to recognize that health care is a responsibility of government?


Thursday, July 14, 2011

The People Versus their Rulers

Two readers of yesterday’s blog asked me to expand on it.  When I say that leaders agree, I don’t mean they too are angry, I mean they agree on the need to keep their respective peoples in check, even if they disagree about everything else.  And the reason why ‘the people’ need to be kept in check is because just about everywhere, greed has been given free reign, and the leaders’ job is to give it unconditional support.

But why greed?  I’m reading a book by Peter Corning called ‘The Fair Society’, which looks at the biological origins of ethics - and hence greed.  Corning’s thesis is that we are wired both for altruism and greed and it is culture that keeps these biological traits in balance. When a culture degenerates, limits are lost with those at the top best able to benefit.

When those at the bottom feel that unfairness has reached the breaking point, they revolt.  It’s always been that way, but now a myriad of new tools and weapons have created an unprecedented situation: we have a worldwide financial system but no world governance to regulate it; the world food system is impacted by the world financial system and world climate, with shortages producing refugees from both famine and war. Recently, the overall lack of fairness in the world has been recognized by one of the largest groups on the planet - the Muslim world - until now isolated by stringent cultural norms.

The veritable domino effect of the Arab Spring has turned to an Arab Summer, and is likely to become a Muslim decade.  Europe must face its population imbalance vis a vis Africa, only a few hundred miles away, which is turning it inexorably from colonizer to colonized.

As for America, never has a president been confronted with an array of challenges faced by Obama. They drive him to use previously condemned weapons, such as surveillance at home and renditions abroad.  His armies are valiant - but also mindlessly brutal - hence his diplomacy must both intimidate and cajole.  He needs bases in failed states such as Somalia or Yemen. The rhetoric of American excep-tionalism dictates he voice support for each group of rebels without knowing what their aspirations are.  Do cries for ‘freedom’, inspired by a century of American propaganda, mean the same thing to the fighters in Misrata as they do to Wall Street? By listening attentively to reports from the ground we can discover that for a plurality of both secular and religious Muslims ‘freedom’ is about fairness, which Corning describes as equity, equality and reciprocity.

For early Americans ‘liberty’ was a battle cry for self-rule, Once delivered from the British yoke, it became ‘freedom’, defined as the individual right to do as one chooses, on condition of not impinging on the Other’s equal right. Gradually, the condition was dropped, leaving unlimited freedom, a degradation of the principle of fairness upon which civil concord relies.

There is no going back: the arrow of time is irreversible and the system is racing toward a bifurcation. We can only buckle our seat belts and try to influence the outcome.  To do that we need to see the big picture.  All politics is no longer local and it’s no longer Americans versus our enemies, but ‘us’ - the people of the world - versus our rulers.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The World is Angry and its Leaders Agree

Turn on the TV and you’ll hear every manner of learned comments on the day’s dreary news, subtleties beyond measure.  But the bottom line becomes clearer every day: as the world goes to hell in a breadbasket, most of its inhabitants clamoring in vain for power brakes.

The world’s leaders may be competing for power, but knowing they cannot fix the mess they’ve created, all turn to their respective police and military, in an ultimate us against them. Known to some as Armageddon, the what, where, when and how are frivolous details that merely justify the paychecks of talking heads.

Political leaders once competed for land, then they competed over ideology, now any issue will do, and brinkmanship is down to its last chips.

Africa teams with refugees from famine and wars, but the U.N. has to beg permission of governments to open camps, as in the case with Kenya, reported by the BBC yesterday. When the powerful flaunt their gains, the underlings follow suit.  Everyone is in the game, but the ultimate stakes are human survival on a planet that has seen eons of turmoil, and is indifferent to our fate.



Saturday, July 9, 2011

Israel's Long Arm

Israel's ability to prevent private vessels from sailing from Greek ports, with the approval of the U.S., was scantily reported in the mainstream press.

Here is a link to a video of what happened when invited guests of the Palestinian Authority in the supposedly self-governing West Bank arrived at the Tel Aviv airport.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mother Jones Outdoes Herself

I apologize for not writing this week, I've been putting the final touches to my memoir, 'Lunch with Fellini, Dinner with Fidel, An American Woman's Journey from the Cold War to the Arab Spring'.

The illustrated book will be available on Girlebooks in a few days, as well as on Smashword, Amazon, and other sites.

I do want to signal the extraordinary July issue of Mother Jones.  Sometimes there is nothing of interest in a magazine, rarely are there three in-depth, important articles.

'The Overseer' takes you to America's largest prison, where the warden 'will make sure you find Jesus'.

In the same issue, (coincidence, or an accurate reflexion of what's going on in a significant part of America?) 'Escape from Memphis', reports on thousands of teenagers being sent by well-meaning Christian parents to homes where they believe they will be treated with compassion and respect, only to find out they are worse than jails.

'The Speedup' is a primer on why workers are forced to raise their productivity without getting any of the benefits.

This remarkable article is followed by a  run-down of past and present reflexions on the superiority of the shorter work week, both economically and socially, ideas which are developed in an excellent new book 'The Fair Society' by Peter Corning.