Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

It’s a corny title, but I don’t know of a better one to describe the situation of our President.

Like the Mickey Mouse character in Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasy’, who carries buckets of water ever faster to try to stop a flood he caused in his master’s house, President Obama rushes from one fire to another, to no avail.  The US is no longer the world’s policeman, but its fireman.  And no matter how many buckets of water we carry, the fire just keeps spreading.

The latest developments in Iraq are really no surprise.  In the early nineties, I translated a book by a Lebanese diplomat (whose name, alas I have forgotten) on the regimes and events that led up to the invasion of Kuwait.  It pictured an astonishing succession of megalomaniac leaders, and an unending series of expansionist policies.  Under all these rulers, the majority Shi’a were the underdogs, as in other Middle Eastern countries with the exception of Iran. The Kurds are a people without a country, living in a territory that is located in Turkey and Iran as well as Iraq.  Our eight-year occupation has been but an interlude in Iraq’s internal drama.

And for us, Iraq is part of the past.  What keeps President Obama running, is the new world that is rumbling into existence through earthquakes, floods, nuclear disasters, financial meltdowns, and rigged elections.  American efforts to carry on as usual, by setting up a base in Australia, or seeking one in the Stans, will be as ephemeral as a child’s soap bubbles.

While Americans are held in thrall by the ‘race’ to the White House, history marches on, as it always has.  Efforts to compare the present crisis with the Civil War, or other hard times, ignore the fact that the WORLD was a different place.  America’s oscillation between isolationism and domination trained its people to either ignore or look down upon what happens beyond our shores and our borders.  Hence they fail to visualize our decline within the confines of that larger world.

It’s too late for us to put out the fires ignited by our hubris and our indifference.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Israel's Black Problem

It’s a good thing I get emails from Europe, because if I had to rely on the American media, I’d miss a lot of what’s going on in the world.  Even Amy Goodman has passed on the rambunctious anti-immigrant demonstrations Thursday in Tel Aviv.  The video made it on-line before Ha’aretz pulled the story: http://electronicintifada.net/blog/ali-abunimah/israeli-jewish-hate-rally-against-africans-tel-aviv-caught-video-haaretz-deletes.

Surprised to learn there are significant numbers of Sudanese and other third world immigrants/refugees in Israel, I looked up the Sudanese case.  According to Wikipedia:

Illegal immigration from Africa to Israel (often also referred to as Infiltration from Africa to Israel by the Israeli media and by Israeli government organizations is the name of a pheno-menon that began in the second half of the 2000s in which a large number of Illegal immigrants from Africa entered Israel illegally, mainly through the fenced border between Israel and Egypt. According to the data of the Israeli Interior Ministry, the number of these illegal immigrants amounted to 26,635 people to July 2010.

Many of the illegal immigrants seek an asylum status under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of the United Nations. Only a fraction of all the illegal immigrants is actually eligible for this status. However, many of them, mostly citizens of Eritrea and Sudan, cannot be forcibly deported from Israel. The Eritrea citizens (who, since 2009, form the majority of the illegal immigrants in Israel) cannot be deported due to the opinion of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that Eritrea has a difficult internal situation and a forced recruitment and therefore the Eritrean immigrants are defined as a "temporary humanitarian protection group". Despite the fact that a similar opinion does not exist in relation to citizens of Sudan, Israel does not deport them back to Egypt due to a real fear for their fate. Although the immigrants entered Israel from Egypt, Israel cannot deport them back to Egypt because the Egyptians refuse to give an undertaking not to deport the immigrants to their countries of origin. Accordingly, the Israeli authorities grant a temporary residence permit to the illegal immigrants, which needs to be renew every three months. Various authorities in Israel estimate that between 80-90 percent of the illegal immigrants live primarily in Tel Aviv and Eilat.


According to The Jewish Virtual Library www.jewishvirtual-library.orgjsource/Immigration/SudaneseRefugees.html:


“According to a 1954 Israeli law, all infiltrators from enemy states, such as Sudan which harbors terrorists, must be detained until their refugee status can be confirmed. Israel took in less than 2,000 refugees in 2007. Many of these refugees were caught in Be’er Sheva crossing the border. They spent time in prison or detention centers, such as the Ketziot Prison complex which was set up to hold 2,000 refugees in small trailers of the sort used in construction sites.”

Apparently, anti-black and anti-Muslim sentiment has been building in Israel, and Thursday’s demonstrations were sparked by a failure of the government to build new detention centers.  A leader of the nationalist National Union party, Ben Ari took to a park in a Tel Aviv heavily populated with African migrants with a bull horn to tell protesters how he has been harassing the Israeli government to free up money for the construction of the promised centers.

In response, the Africans and their Israeli defenders, shouted ‘Prison, No, Freedom, Yes’. An Israeli woman yelled that the Israelis would change their minds if their children ‘had to be in classrooms with 30 African children, who do not want to learn Hebrew’, English, yes, but not Hebrew.’

The anger will sound eerily familiar to Americans who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, fifty years ago. What is different is the fact that Israel is surrounded by Arab countries, and feeling increasingly nervous about what the Arab Spring could mean for its security. Seared for eternity by the Holocaust, Israelis have gone from one extreme to the other: no longer afraid to defend themselves, they have adopted the motto that the best defense is offense.

That is why, as the street demonstrates against Darfuris and other immigrant workers, the Israeli government hammers away at the danger posed by Iran.  It’s a two-pronged effort to deny the tides of history.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Corrections Regarding Iran

From Neill LeRoux, on my Facebook page:

"Besides the RQ 170, Iran has two other US Spy Drones in its possession as well as 4 Israeli Spy Drones... thats quite some collection.

Its also an indication of just how aggressively the US and Israel have been spying on Iran.

Iran complies with all inspection demands made on her by the nuclear inspection body. On average there are 2.5 inspections carried out each and every day.
The greatest threat posed by Iran to Israel and the US is not nuclear... its economic.

Iran has an advanced defence industry. It manufactures most of its own missile systems. It even exports weapons. Its Electronics industry is equally advanced producing its own semi-conductors and components needed for computers, communications etc. It is the worlds fourth largest oil producer and OPEC's second. It possesses competent and accomplished ship-repair and ship building facilities. It is earmarked to become Asia's largest auto manufacturer in the near future.

One should never lose sight of the fact that it is largely self sufficient and possesses vast resources. It is also friends with both Russia and China. It also doesn't waste money attacking other countries all the time..."

The story of her weapons drive is a hoax.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Huntsman/Gingrich Debate

There’s something that has escaped me regarding the Republican presidential debates: perhaps they are carried routinely by Fox, but none of the other channels mention when and where they can be heard.

This was doubly irritating yesterday when I really wanted to listen to the Huntsman/Gingrich debate.  I started consulting my TV Guide around 5 p.m. concentrating on the 8 pm hour.  Nothing.

Finally I went to Huntsman’s website and saw that the debate had been held at 4 pm and that it would be viewable on C-Span at 8 pm.  But C-Span was showing hour-long House speeches til well after ten.  Finally, on the C-Span website, I was able to hear the debate.

Huntsman’s responses were much more structured, reflecting real knowledge, as opposed to Gingrich, who always seemed to be improvising generalities.  The most important things Huntsman said concerned our relationship with China. Although I don’t think we should elect someone president just because they’ve been Ambassador to the Middle Kingdom, Huntsman’s views are significantly more evolved than those of Obama. At a time when China is our main competitor economically and ecologically, the President has adopted a nineteenth century policy, consisting of beefing up our presence in China’s neighborhood.  (This reminds us of our efforts to install missile defenses to ‘protect Europe’, close to a justifiably wary Russia.) Huntsman’s most salient comment was: “We’re good at tactical thinking, but China is the best long-term strategic thinker.”

Naively, I thought the debate would be all over the morning news.  Chuck Todd’s team were only concerned with the Romney/Gingrich battle.

Maybe tonight we’ll hear about Gingrich and Huntsman, who could almost have been a stand-in for the former Obama, were it not for his insistence that Medicare should be on the table. I don’t know whether he packed the hall, but the applause when he walked out on the stage was twice the volume of that reserved for Newt.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal on December 10th /online.wsj.com/article/declarations.html, Peggy Noonan says that Gingrich “ described himself as "definer of civilization . . . leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces,."  She added: “He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, "Watch this!"

Just what we need in the China Sea.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Russians Join the Movement

A week of massive demonstrations protesting rigged parliamentary elections failed to suggest to any journalist I heard or read that Vladimir Putin’s hold on Russia may be weakening. Finally, the BBC dares to speculate that he may not be elected President next spring.

How could anyone have thought Russian politics would continue as usual when that usually docile population is out in the streets by the thousands every day, risking police brutality?

The man Putin put in his place when his first two terms as president ran out, Dmitry Medvedev, has ordered an inquiry.  However much he may have ruled in Putin’s shadow, Medvedev is as different from his mentor as could be. Born into a family of academics, Medvedev taught law at St. Petersburg University before becoming involved in politics.  I happen to have attended a small conference in Strasbourg in which a young man from St Petersburg who was working closely with the innovative mayor, Anatoly Sobchak was remarked for his shyness.

The next few months are likely to see a battle for power between the academic and the KGB head. Most of that battle will not be in the news, especially in the United States. Yet it will be a pendant to the American Presidential election, which will also pit a law professor against, probably, a hawk, at a time when the 99% are coalescing around the world.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Huntsman, Again

On May 21 I published a blog titled  ‘My Bet is On Huntsman’:

“On February 19th, 2007, I wrote in this space that ‘Obama would ‘continue a graceful yet powerful surge to the White House’.

Today I predict that barring an Act of God, John Huntsman, the only candidate that Obama rightly fears, will represent the Republican party in the 2012 presidential election.

Huntsman made his debut on mainstream TV yesterday from a New Hampshire living room, chatting with John King.  It was a relaxed, yet extensive introduction to the man who until a month ago was President Obama’s Ambassador to China.

Last night on Rachel Maddow’s show this ‘also Mormon’ ex-governor of Utah got plaudits from the progressive Democratic ex-mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson......A Huntsman/Obama debate, more than any other today conceivable, will be worth watching.

The only opposition candidate who is an intellectual match for Obama, Huntsman will appeal to those who have given up on the President’s ability to bring change, hoping that this sophisticated Republican will tame his greedy fellows.

Unless the Chinese disavow him, his insider’s view of the country that is overtaking us will be valuable to the business community. Yet he is perfectly credible in shirt-sleeves.

Huntsman will be dubbed a ‘Rockefeller Republican’ by the pundits. A Nation reader wrote this week that Republicans used to believe in government, convinced they could manage it better than Democrats. The 2012 election will not be over who can manage government better, but how much of it there should be.  And Huntsman will argue that there is too much of it in China.”

On June 5th I wrote “The Unwrapping of Huntsman”, and on August 23, in a show of great creativity, I followed with “The Unveiling of Huntsman”:

"The face to face with Piers Morgan ”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.”

Today I’m wondering whether Huntsman has been kept in the shadows, interviewed once in a while by a major news personality - today, by Christiane Amanpour - by Republican Party design, or a semi-conscious awareness that every other candidate was a loser?  Even at this late date, I would not rule out an upset.

Tomorrow Huntsman will engage in a ‘Lincoln-Douglas’ type of debate, intended to allow for extended answers, with frontrunner Newt Gingrich.  The famous Lincoln/Douglas debate is described at length and compared to contemporary debates at www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16054669.

Huntsman says he has managed to climb above 5% in New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary election of the 2012 Presidential campaign on January 10th.

As an early and consistent Obama supporter, I can think of several reasons why the President has not been able to carry out his promise of change. Though I cannot imagine voting for a Republican, at this axial moment in world history, it may be that he could achieve with a Republican Congress what Nixon achieved by reinstating relations with China, which Democratic Presidents had not dared to do.

On the other hand, I do not really believe that any country will be conducting business as usual, two years after the Arab Spring, already a worldwide revolt of the few against the many.