Monday, August 29, 2011

In Paris, Tony Judt and Ronald Dworkin Can Say They are Social-Democrats

The current issue of The Nation opened its pages to the teen-age son of Tony Judt, the historian who died a year go, after his last work Ill Fares the Land was published.

In June, Daniel Judt, a junior at the Dalton school in New York, was invited to a two day conference in Paris in honor of his father.  At the conference, Ronald Dworkin, professor of law and philosophy at NYU, said that the reason why we have forgotten how to talk about society in terms of ethics and morality rather than efficiency and productivity, is that we have a misconception of the meaning of freedom.

“Liberty is now commonly defined - especially in the United States - as the right to be free of restriction from a repressive state. Even if its actions benefit you and your community, your liberty is being infringed upon.” (The derogatory notion of the ‘nanny state’.)

Daniel Judt goes on to say: “Government is designed to provide safety, security and prosperity to citizens; it needs to ask things of us in return.” He calls for a high school course on the political questions of the day that would enable students “to realize that ethical and moral questions, not questions of money and production, are the true political questions.”

According to Judt: “In Dworkin’s view, if the course worked as intended, people would realize that the right policies to pursue are those of social democrats.  I agree with him (as did everyone in that conference room, and as do most reading this magazine).”

As the Tea Party presses on with its brain washing of the American public, it’s time for The Nation to break free of the curse of McCarthyism, and start openly promoting social democracy. Otherwise it will be found wanting with respect to the up-coming generation.

Gaddafi: Nothing is Forever

The real lesson to be learned from the fall of several Arab dictators, whether of right or left, is that nothing is forever, and that is one thing commentators - of right or left - never mention.

Sixty years ago the United States government was convinced the Soviet ‘monolith’ would last forever, unless we got up the courage to bomb it out of existence.  (At that time, we were still somewhat in awe of what we had wrought in Hiroshima - although those were ‘Oriental’ deaths.)

Now we talk about ‘boots on the ground’ not being there, while more or less hiding the fact that every category of military personal is there (the British at least own up to it), except those who wear combat boots.

Fidel Castro predicted in one of his op-ed pieces that the US would invade Libya; the Italian left now says it is NATO that is conquering Libya. However you see this uprising, the reasons for it are widely accepted: when the discontent of the governed reaches a tipping point, change is inevitable. Yet our smug references to ‘regime change’ shows how reluctant our leaders are to act accordingly. They would like us to believe that everything will fall into place with the right change at the top.

Nuclear power is still a threat - as Jonathan Schell continues to remind us - but now there are two additional threats to human life on earth: one is climate change, and the other, less investigated, is the tipping point of the global many against the global few.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two Versions of the News

Here's CNN's morning news for Wed August 24, 2011:

Gadhafi sends a message; rebels say they're in control

Gadhafi men won't let reporters out

Battle still looms after Gadhafi
Zakaria: New era in U.S. foreign policy
How credible are rebel leaders?
Keys to bright future | Or 'nightmare'

Irene strengthens, aims at U.S. | Tracker

9/11 families to be briefed on hacking

Casey Anthony must serve probation

Stocks set to open lower  CNNMoney

Syrian activists form 'national council'

DSK's team not worried about civil suit

Ticker: Palin content to wait?

Mayor runs city from hospital bed

Male bisexuality real, science says

Jay Bakker: 'I thought God hated me'

D.C. sights checked for quake damage


Economy hurts Labor Day travel plans
Bus explodes on first day of school

'Speak English' shop owner dies

Jews torn on Beck's Jerusalem rally

Pat Summitt has dementia, will coach

Facebook sets up privacy like Google+

Winehouse: Report shows alcohol

When kids ask same-sex questions

Jeweler's pooch eats $10,000 in diamonds

Now for the BBC today:

Rebels pushing to secure Tripoli

Kim Jong-il in rare Russia talks

Earthquake strikes US east coast

Tax us more, France's rich say

Alaska mother abused adopted son

Eleven killed in Australia blaze

Irene strengthens over Caribbean

West pushes for Syria sanctions

CNN doesn't mention the fact that France's rich ASK to be taxed more. The details are lluminating:

"Sixteen executives, including Europe's richest woman, the L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, offered in an open letter to pay a "special contribution" in a spirit of 'solidarity'.

It was signed by some of France's most high-profile chief executives, including Christophe de Margerie of oil firm Total, Frederic Oudea of bank Societe Generale, and Air France's Jean-Cyril Spinetta.

They said: "We, the presidents and leaders of industry, businessmen and women, bankers and wealthy citizens would like the richest people to have to pay a 'special contribution'.

"They said they had benefited from the French system and that: 'When the public finances deficit and the prospects of a worsening state debt threaten the future of France and Europe and when the government is asking everybody for solidarity, it seems necessary for us to contribute.'

They warned, however, that the contribution should not be so severe that it would provoke an exodus of the rich or increased tax avoidance.

The move follows a call by US billionaire investor Warren Buffett for higher taxes on the American ultra-rich."

The BBC couldn't resist adding this final caveat, which tries to detract from the French wealthy's message: "That they are part of a culture which since 1789 been concerned with solidarity."

Even with respect to human interest, the BBC range includes many countries, while on CNN, it's all about us - and our politicians.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Unveiling of Huntsman

My June 21st blog was titled: ‘My Bet is on Huntsman’.

Since declaring, he has been kept out of the limelight, either by decision of the media, or by his own strategy.  It has been amusing to see how, every once in a while, his name would be mentioned, followed by the dismissive comment that nobody knows who he is.

Of late, his name has been mentioned more often, and he has even been shown campaigning.  A little.

Last night he got full exposure with a bantering yet probing interview by Piers Morgan, which both men seemed to enjoy.

Huntsman enumerated all the strengths that I had, culminating with his service as President Obama’s ambassador to Peking.  The second part of the interview will air tonight at 9 p.m.

The face to face - as opposed to brief clips - revealed him to be a white version of Obama, matching him in intelligence and balance, yet jocular where Obama is pondered, feisty compared to no-drama-Obama.

At this point in time, I’d wager that the Republican grownups are a little less distraught, while Obama must be wondering whether it was clever of him to send Huntsman to China - no wild goose chase, it turns out.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


On the BBC website:

"Concerns over Israel-Gaza unrest

International concern is growing over the upsurge of violence between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, as cross-border attacks continue."

Concurrently, Fareed Zakaria's GPS hosted Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Jeffrey Sachs, the international economist, among others, for a surprisingly frank discussion of world chaos.  Bravo!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Israel's Overconfidence is Being Challenged

One thing that has surprised me about the Arab Spring is the seeming confidence of Israelis that this upheaval will leave them unscathed.

No matter what the particular circumstances of any given country, when one’s neighbors are experiencing long-lasting revolts, one cannot expect to remain unaffected.  In the case of Israel, the odds of the Arab street, which has long sided with the occupied Palestinians, becoming more involved in their cause as their rulers are deposed, are overwhelming.

Israel has borders with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. It has peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. But the area known as the Sheba Farms in northern Israel is considered as occupied territory by Syria, and Syria, backed by Iran, has long been considered by the Arab opposition as a ‘frontline state’ in its historical opposition to Israel.That is why the West is treading cautiously when it comes to the uprising against Bashar el-Assad.

Until the fall of MPresident Hosni Mubarak, Egypt and Israel had been at peace for thirty years. When the uprising against Mubarak began, Israel defended him, knowing that his ouster could allow ordinary Egyptians more say in the two countries’ relations. Now those fears have been realized: Egypt today recalled its Ambassador to Tel Aviv after Israeli soldiers, in pursuit of Palestinian terrorists, crossed into Egypt, killing five policemen. The incident is eeril similar to the one last year in which nine Turkish activists on a boat bound for Gaza were killed by Israeli soldiers rappelling onto the deck in international waters.  Relations with Turkey have been tense ever since.

A protester outside the Israeli Ebassy inCairo was auoted by the BBC as declaring:

"Israel is only interested in a subservient Egypt, not a free Egypt. By protesting outside the embassy we're sending them a clear message. This is not Mubarak's Egypt anymore. If you kill our soldiers, there will be consequences."

The BBC story continues: “On Friday, in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, a protester managed to take down the Israeli flag from the consulate there and replaced it with Egyptian and Palestinian flags.”

Read the whole report at: /





Friday, August 12, 2011

When Dream Becomes Nightmare, We're Clueless

Work hard and play by the rules and you will achieve the American Dream.  This booster phrase is what makes America unique.

‘Unique’ or ‘exceptional’ implies better.

Yet people in the developed world who have not been raised on that mantra by and large lead more satisfying lives. The much maligned European com-munity has low cost health care for all, low cost universities and vacations that Americans can hardly believe (around six weeks, usually taken partly in summer and partly in winter, keeping the ski slopes busy).  Our politicians call them lazy, and they have to be cajoled into helping us fight our wars.

How to explain this?  Well, ever since the French guillotined King Louis XVI and his queen who assumed ‘the people’ lacking bread could just as well eat cake, and even though The Revolution turned into The Terror, and Napoleon briefly conquered Europe, NO COUNTRY EXCEPT HITLER’S and his short-lived Quislings has effectively banned egalitarian politics. Only the United States does so. No European country today is led by Communists, but all are alternately led by right and left-wing coalition governments. The current crisis of the Euro zone, like that of Iceland a few years ago, is largely due to European bankers buying into  America’s cowboy capitalism.

At the beginning of the financial crisis, in 2008, pundits often reminded us that Roosevelt had told his supporters to ‘make him’ enact social policies.  They wonder why Obama cannot do the same. They never mention the fact that in the nineteen thirties, the United States had a vibrant progressive movement, a legal socialist party with 40,000 members, and a Communist Party which in 1919 had 60,000 members.  In the late thirties, this militant, organized left WAS able to ‘make’ Roosevelt enact vital reforms, before being decimated by McCarthyism.

Who is going to do that now?

Socially aware political leaders in the United States use their energy to dance around two forbidden words, like moths attracted to light but wary of being burned: socialism and fascism.  They can neither warn of a Tea Party led slide into fascism, nor suggest that we emulate our allies and build a coherent welfare state (not one that distributes welfare to the corporations and the rich).

Our self-inflicted censure has created an American Nightmare that is going to have long legs.



Thursday, August 11, 2011

The News we’re Given: Aljazeera vs. the BBC

Last night I made a list of the topics covered by Aljazeera, then by the BBC.  (In Philadelphia, Aljazeera can be heard at 5:30 on channel 35, before Democracy Now. The BBC is available on channel 23 at 5:30 and 6:30.)

Here is what each covered in one half hour:

1) The riots in Britain: not enough room in jails for all those arrested in Birmingham and Manchester.

2) Syria: Turkey expects reform within the next two weeks. Many Syrians have fled to Turkey, but Syrian security sneaks in to punish some.

3) Third week of Israeli protests over rising prices, tent cities springing up all over the country, organizers hope to bring people from different towns together, perhaps in centrally located Beer Sheba.

4) Vivid coverage of West Bank olive groves being torn up to make room for the partition wall.

5) Situation in Jordan: the Prime Minister is gambling that demonstrations will quiet down.

6) Will France lose its AAA rating?  The German opposition actually wants the government to pay more to bail out other countries.

7) Red Cross staff detained or killed in various Middle East/African countries.  Due to lawlessness, many Afghans fear to travel.

8) Italy:  In a formerly a quiet seaside resort near Rome, the Camorra mafia is losing out to a Nigerian mafia that brings in young women and forces them into prostitution.  Italian police shown taking into custody a young woman without papers.

9) China launches first aircraft carrier, bought from Russia, on a sea trial.

10. The Bangladeshi government has set up a war crimes tribunal forty years after the war of independence from Pakistan (1971).  Some are gratified, others note that many perpetrators are now part of opposition, and this is a way to get rid of them.

11. Finally, as the preferred place for Brazilians flush with money, Miami is experiencing a boom in apartment sales.  The prices are half what similar real estate goes for in Rio,   but things are very different in cities across the country.

Now to the BBC:

1) It led with a brief clip of Britain’s Prime Minister talking about the riots, then devoted three minutes to the status of French banks, which have lost 5% of their value, in particular the Societe Generale.  Heavy on interviews and comments, the BBC program devoted three minutes more to an interview with a Financial Times journalist as to where all this might lead.

2) A thirteen-year old British girl filmed riots, and three policemen were killed.  More had to be brought in, a constable spoke, the police were shown in action, and David Cameron called for a restoration of ‘standards and values’.  Labor agreed with the Conservatives that government is dealing with looters, not politically motivated rioters.

3) In Rome, Berlusconi continued talks with the trade unions over austerity measures.

4) China’s testing of an aircraft carrier elicited warnings of its military buildup.

5) The US imposed sanctions on Syria’s largest banks, according to the White House press officer, and Robin Wright was interviewed at length on the situation, noting that Syria borders on five countries, including Israel, which makes the situation more delicate than in the other Arab countries that have seen uprisings.

6) The US on Taliban: an Afghan widow says war is inevitable.

7) A NATO air raid  in Libya killed 85 civilians, poor families living in a rural area where there were no military targets. NATO had no evidence.

8) The Kenyan refugee camp of Dadar, in which thousands of Somalis have been living for two decades, is like a little town, with merchants, etc.

Which of these two news broadcasts would you rather have access to?  The BBC devotes so much time to talking heads that it covers fewer stories. (CNN and MSNBC have even more talking heads, and cover even fewer stories.) One can argue that these channels serve a more sophisticated audience, interested in what experts think, but this comes at a cost: Bangladeshi politics, Syrian refugees in Turkey being targeted by Syrian security, the Nigerian mafia in Italy, Red Cross employees being killed  - or Miami benefitting from the wealth of a BRIC country, paint a much more complex picture than the one presented to Americans. Seeing the world in more simplistic terms than other peoples results in an us versus them mentality, rather than a ‘we’re all in this together’ awareness.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Why We Fight in Libya: An Italian Perspective

Since the United States first intervened, via the security Council and NATO, in the Libyan uprising, neither the American public nor those from whom it expects explanations, seem to have a convincing backstory. An Italian on-line revue:, suggests five explanations for America’s involvement that I haven’t seen/heard here.

1. Oil.  After 2003, Libya opened its oil fields to western companies, but  took 90% of production. NATO is assisting the rebels of Benghazi in anticipation of much more favorable contracts for American, English and French oil companies. The German company Wintershall would be eased out, as would the Italian company ENI, which recently paid a billion dollars for concessions up to 2042.

2. Access to the African continent, which has an abundance of raw materials, and is governed by weak post-colonial states. The most powerful developed countries have long been competing for Africa’s riches. Now they are using ethnic and tribal proxies (abetting their ancient hatreds), to redesign their respective areas of influence. This new style colonialism will be administered by local elites.

3. To impede African unity. Over the past ten years, Gaddafi was instrumental in increasing the power of the Organization of African Unity, and pushed for the creation of an independent economic area.

4.  To block penetration of Africa by China, that is exploiting the continent’s riches on an ever wider scale.

5. To reestablish the US and NATO bases that Gadaffi had expelled forty years ago. (In a similar strategy, US support for Kosovo Albanians in their struggle against Serbia allowed it to establish its largest European base, camp Bondsteel.)

Italy reluctantly sent about 2000 soldiers to Libya as well as war planes and aircraft carriers, joining the coalition in order not to be shut out after the fall of Gaddafi. Although it was not in Italy’s interest to go to war, Prime Minister Berlusconi had no choice, given his country’s weak international situation. (Germany could afford to stay out of the conflict while being assured of its share of oil, thanks to its better economic situation.) The conflict drags on beyond initial expectation, straining Italy’s finances, and together with the African Union, the BRIC countries and several Latin American countries, it is calling for negotiations. But Europe’s military and financial instability suits the United States, therefore it has rejected the call.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Otherjones' Warnings Against the Tea Party

Over and over again, I've warned that the Tea Party represents a serious threat to our democracy:

July 20, 2010: “The Tea Party is Coming!

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.”

August 2, 2010: “An Open Letter to Vice-President Joe Biden

The Tea Party talks about taking back ‘our’ government. But when the right goes out for rifle practice, it’s getting ready to take back ‘its’ government.

It’s not gonna be people power. They’re gonna stop paying taxes because taxes benefit welfare moms. They’re gonna do away with social security because folks who’ve been clever with their money shouldn’t need a common pot.

They might actually ‘bring the boys home’ from wherever they’re fighting when the Tea Party comes to power, because they’re gonna need them on the frontier – I mean the border. They’re gonna need them to round up all the immigrants and ship them back to wherever they came from (Hitler shipped ‘inferior’ peoples to concentration camps and gas chambers, but our Tea Partiers are just gonna ship them back to wherever they came from, even if there’s nothing to eat there.)

So Joe – and Barack and Nancy, and John and Howard – quit holding your hands out. It’s unseemly. Money can’t buy spine. And if you don’t get it, hopefully ‘the people’ – who thought you had it – are gonna realize they don’t need more voices in the wilderness, but a top-down organization like a Tea Party – or a Politburo. Before the glaciers melt, the sea rises, the oil and gas wells and electric lines come tumbling down, leaving us without even a fridge to keep a people’s dinner in.”

September 25, 2010: “The Worst Inequality

As we head toward the mid-term elections, progressives will wring their hands in vain until some of its fat cats put their money where their inner beliefs are, breaking the spell of Seditions Acts, HUAC, (think McCarthy), and un-Americanism.

As the Tea Party gobbles up what’s left of the Republican Party, Goebbels would be proud. At first it seemed that the Palin-inspired movement would declare itself a Third Party, with good chances of winning elections as an emanation of one of the two established parties. Either because they didn’t believe a third party could win, or because they feared it just might this time, the leaders of the Grand Old Party, caved and joined the rebels.”

October 4th, 2010: “The Incredible Docility of the American Left

The opprobrium of ‘mob rule’ that attached to the bloody French Revolution has prevented Americans from taking literally their own Declaration of Independence which states: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of (the pursuit of life liberty and happiness), it is the citizens’ right, it is their duty, to throw off such a government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Instead, American progressives can only murmur disapproval when Tea Party candidates threaten to resort to ‘Second Amendment rights’, which owes its existence to the need for a militia with which to defend against the British, but which they claim allows every citizen to carry a gun with which potentially to eliminate leaders they resent.”

April 9, 2011: “A Salami Republic

Coming on the heels of the Wisconsin governor’s fight to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of government workers, the barely avoided federal government shutdown over the Tea Party’s determination to eliminate as much social spending as possible should cause Americans to revisit the rise of Hitler.


Conflicting ideals and concepts do not make it easy for Americans to see the implications of what is going on in their own country. The Tea Party would be a passing phenomenon were it not the child of a thirty-year long incubation by right-wing libertarians determined to limit democracy in the most powerful country. The budget crisis that has just come to an end, heralded by the attack on labor in Wisconsin and other states, utilized the same methods by which Hitler turned the Weimar Republic into a totalitarian state.


Taken individually, each cut may seem justified by our dire financial situation and basic good housekeeping. But seen side by side with the policies the President has consistently bid the country adopt, they are ominous; and more will come. The longer-term agreement will cut spending in the current 2011 fiscal year by about $38 billion, including $17.8 billion from benefit programs, known as ‘entitlements’. The Tea Party doesn’t think citizens are ‘entitled’ to anything but security protection from the government.”



Monday, August 1, 2011

Iceland's On-Going Revolution

An Italian radio program's story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt.  The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here's why:

Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors.  But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt.  In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent.  The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro.  At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution.  But only after much pain.

Geir Haarde, the Prime Minister of a Social Democratic coalition government, negotiated a two million one hundred thousand dollar loan, to which the Nordic countries added another two and a half million. But the foreign financial community pressured Iceland to impose drastic measures.  The FMI and the European Union wanted to take over its debt, claiming this was the only way for the country to pay back Holland and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse their citizens.

Protests and riots continued, eventually forcing the government to resign. Elections were brought forward to April 2009, resulting in a left-wing coalition which condemned the neoliberal economic system, but immediately gave in to its demands that Iceland pay off a total of three and a half million Euros.  This required each Icelandic citizen to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, at 5.5% interest, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. It was the straw that broke the reindeer’s back.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.

Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country.  As Icelanders went to vote, foreign bankers threatened to block any aid from the IMF.  The British government threatened to freeze Icelander savings and checking accounts. As Grimsson said: “We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North.  But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.” (How many times have I written that when Cubans see the dire state of their neighbor, Haiti, they count themselves lucky.)

In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt.  The IMF immediately froze its loan.  But the revolution (though not televised in the United States), would not be intimidated. With the support of a furious citizenry, the government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisis.  Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, as the other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.

But Icelanders didn't stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money.  (The one in use had been written when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, in 1918, the only difference with the Danish constitution being that the word ‘president’ replaced the word ‘king’.)

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

Some readers will remember that Iceland’s ninth century agrarian collapse was featured in Jared Diamond’s book by the same name. Today, that country is recovering from its financial collapse in ways just the opposite of those generally considered unavoidable, as confirmed yesterday by the new head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde to Fareed Zakaria. The people of Greece have been told that the privatization of their public sector is the only solution.  And those of Italy, Spain and Portugal are facing the same threat.

They should look to Iceland. Refusing to bow to foreign interests, that small country stated loud and clear that the people are sovereign.

That’s why it is not in the news anymore.