Tuesday, December 25, 2012

P.S. on Africa

Yesterday's news on RT was that the U.S. is sending troops to 35 African countries, starting with Mali, and including  Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger in order to prepare for any advances from al-Qaeda linked groups. "Americans will also train and equip forces in Kenya and Somalia, .... to stand up to al-Shabab militants. Despite the troops being deployed to more than half of the countries in Africa', according to the AP the U.S. will try to minimize evidence of its footprint across the continent.

This is not about aid and assistance, but about minerals and arable land, and the new policy of training and equiping indigenous military forces to do our work for us.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Propos Egypt's Constitututional Referendum

France 24 recently reported on a book from Renaissance Capital that confirms my belief that Africa will continue on a rapid growth curve for the foreseeable future. Like all liberals, Charles Robertson affirms that although the transition from subsistence farming is always painful, with inequality comes an overall increase in well-being.

The coming decades will see if he’s right. For the time being, Africans displaced from ancestral lands by agro-business would disagree: The profits are not for them, and their resentment feeds political violence.  Had Europe and the United States engaged in peaceful relations with Africa over the last century, increasingly educated indigenous rulers might have been able to gradually steer a peaceful transition from medieval Islam to the modern Islam now trying to birth. Instead, colonial rule gave way to an American Middle East and African policy that conflicted with  unchanging religiously-inspired cultural traditions setting off a wave of Islamic resistance, starting with Al Queda.

The Egyptian referendum on a constitution drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood should be seen as part of an Islamic Reformation. This transition is made more difficult by the fight to the death between Christian and Muslim fundamentalisms, both equally retrograde. Is there a qualitative intellectual difference between the rapture and seventy-two virgins? Or between Mohamed’s flight to Jerusalem and Jesus’ resurrection?

It’s only a short step between the rapture and God wanting us to rule the world, and an equally short step from believing that God’s law trumps man’s to resisting man’s laws to the death. The Egyptian Constitution, with all its flaws, must be seen as a valid alternative to Boko Haram and other Salafist militias intent on imposing God's law exclusively.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Ship is Turning

Today the big news for me is that Fareed Zakaria has been allowed to inform his listeners that the best countries to live in are those of Scandinavia!  And this was no passing remark.  The CNN talk show host used the United States’ low grades in everything from education to health care compared to other countries to explain that although Sweden, Denmark and Norway tax more than other developed countries, their citizens are better educated and have the highest standard of living in the world.  Departing from the decades-long dismissal of the northern welfare states as both unsustainable and too expensive, Zakaria admitted that taxes are high, but in return no one is left in need.  At a time when austerity is rampant elsewhere these countries would not consider putting limits on unemployment compensation or other supports to those in need.

The fact that a widely watched TV host can now provide these facts without being obligated to add a strong of negatives or condemnation is the equivalent of a ship initiating a one hundred and eighty degree turn. We know this can only be done gradually because ships are cumbersome, but hopefully, this ship represents a different second term for Obama.

An ever so slight change in Hillary Clinton’s and Obama’s tone vis a vis Israel following the UN decision to grant Palestine non-member observer status - which implies recognition - was con-demned by the U.S., however that condemnation was followed by an equally unmistakable condemnation of Israel for initiating building 3,000 new settlements which would cut the occupied West Bank in two, virtually foreclosing any possibility of a two-state solution.

Although mainstream television can talk of nothing but the fiscal cliff, the real news these days is that notwithstanding very scary contradictions, the American ship of state may at last be slowly beginning to turn toward the rest of the world.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

P.S. to Yesterday's Post

In my enumeration of future trends I failed to mention the one that partly underlies all the others, and that is the exponential increase in world population and the ever more authoritarian methods governments feel they must use to keep populations in line, given the conflicting aspirations of the two groups.

Populations benefit from new means of communication with which to meet the increased use of force by government, but the latter will inevitably win out.

This brings us to another major trend, that between centralization, technology and the rape of the earth and the decentralizing, earth friendly aspirations of Occupy and other grass roots movements around the world.

Rather than a clash of civilizations, we are witnessing a clash of cultures, as expressed in all the other trends.



Friday, December 7, 2012

It's All Clear Now

Sixty-seven years ago, when the first atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, a new world was born, which after a world war and a cold war is now fully matured: current newscasts tell us or imply that:

a) unemployed American youth end up either in jail or in the military;

b) in future the military will  rely ever less on humans and more on drones and droids;

c) increasingly, covert operations will rule the day, fomenting revolts mainly in the Middle East oil pit so that we can invade ‘to save lives’ and replace old dictators with new ones;

d) Europe will gradually become a Russian sphere of influence via oil and gas pipelines;

e) Islam will gradually replace Christianity as the dominant religion in Europe,

f) as brown people from the southern hemisphere gradually outnumber whites;

g) India and China will duke it out in the Asian Pacific seas,

h) as Latin American countries follow the lead of Ecuador and Bolivia, writing constitutions that reflect 21st century human and planetary rights.

i) The United States will continue to disregard international legal and human rights standards as well as the threat of catastrophic global warming in an increasingly futile effort to spread its domina-tion across Africa and the Middle East.

The pursuit of material goods goes hand in hand with violence and sexual vulgarity.  Although class antagonisms will never disappear, the fault lines of the twenty-first century will be less ideological and more cultural. Russia and China will continue to support a return to pre-counter-cultural morality, making common cause with Islam in that respect. (It is not clear whether India will ultimately do likewise, but this seems unlikely.)

The crisis in Egypt is largely a cultural one, in which a modernizing Islam faces opposition from a public ‘liberated’ from religious dogma but in thrall to the absolutism of ‘freedom’ epitomized by a First Amendment definition of free speech.  That freedom is contradicted by ever the increasing surveillance of our telephone and cyber conversations, adding another dimension to 21st century struggles: between a world in which the haves use hierarchical organization and technology to thwart aspirations for decentralization and solidarity among all living entities, including the planet.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

World Free for All

The bad news today on RT is of renewed chaos in Egypt, of Syrian rebels threatening to use chemical weapons, as an 8,000 man US troop carrier heads for the Syrian coast. The good news is that privately-owned U.S. prisons are the perfect answer to outsourcing. People the free market doesn’t have jobs for are locked up on the slightest charge, where, in privately-owned prisons they complete with third world factories making clothes and other items for big box stores and designers, raking in billions for their keepers.

For MSNBC and its sisters, the world is limited to the debate over the ‘fiscal cliff’. Maybe that’s because even as Mitch McConnell clings to the Republican hard line, stocks rise. The bad news is that Obama’s quest for middle class tax breaks is as elusive as King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail. The good news is that England’s future queen Kate got her morning sickness under control, and can be seen leaning weakly on William’s arm.

No less importantly, talks jointly sponsored with Norway between the FARC rebels and the Columbian government entered their second round in Havana, as North Korea prepares to launch a long-range rocket.

Luckily, NASA issued a statement affirming that contrary to Mayan predictions, the world is not going to end on December 21st ‘or any time this year”. So what’s not to like?  After all, Pearl Harbor was seventy-one years ago!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

RT Reads my Mind!

This morning, as usual, I got up and turned on the TV to RT’s hourly news. Seeing reports of violent clashes in Egypt following approval of President Morsi’s constitution, I think: “The US has got to have a hand in this.”  For days I had been guessing that it was probably not fortuitous that Morsi gave himself sweeping powers right after playing a major role in diffusing the Israeli threat to invade Gaza, after eight days of horrific bombing.  But I hadn’t completed the thought. Now I was hearing on RT that indeed that connection exists, and big time.

According to the commentator, Morsi’s Gaza intervention established his bona fides as a valuable partner in America’s quest for Middle East control: We have to abandon our erstwhile right-wing allies because the Arab street simply will not tolerate them any longer, but better they be replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood, the ‘con-servative’ Islamic party, than by the Salafists - or socialists. In any case, Morsi knew that the US would not intervene on the side of the Egyptian street if he gave himself sweeping powers.  The quid pro quo was seen today with Hillary Clinton taking the Israelis to task for announcing the building of 3,000 new homes in the occupied West Bank.

Let’s see if this scenario plays out.

Friday, November 30, 2012

German Jews on UN Palestinian Vote

Here is a letter from a German Jewish orgqanization, European Jews for a Just Peace Germany, commenting on yesterday's historic UN vote granting the Palestinian territories observer status.

"On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a resolution for the founding of two states: The state of Israel and the state of Palestine, between which the land of Palestine was to be divided.

Exactly 65 years later, the Palestinians have appealed to the UN to honor that decision, only this time they are asking the UN to recognize a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, on a mere quarter of former Palestine.

The Juedische Stimme (Jewish Voice for a Just Peace, EJJP Germany) firmly believes in the right of the Palestinians to life, freedom and self-determination. Regardless of the various opinions over which is the best way to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, or what kind of state or states should be formed to best serve the people living in the area, we believe that the Palestinians have the right to choose their own destiny and to be recognized by the international community.

As European citizens, we are particularly appalled by the hypocrisy of the German government, which decided to abstain. For two decades the German government, among others, has been calling for a “two-state solution” as a way towards “peace.” Now it is clear that it meant no such thing. The German government has shirked its responsibility to support the Palestinian demand, which is both peaceful and legitimate.

Over the past two decades, Germany has played a destructive role in EU discussions   over the Israeli occupation. German votes in the European Council have often been used to block sanctions against Israel, thereby giving Israel full freedom to continue its occupation in the knowledge that there will be no consequences, leaving Israel unaccountable for its crimes. We should like to remind the German government that complicity in crime is also a crime.

We are outraged that German government policy is based on the fact that it can profit more from war (for example through the sale of weapons) than from peace in the Middle East.

As Jews, we also wish to emphasize that the forming of a Palestinian state is a prerogative of the Palestinian people and should in no way be used to justify the existence of Israel as a “Jewish” state in the sense of Jews having more rights than other citizens. Whether an independent Palestinian state is established or not, we will continue to struggle for democracy and for the equal rights of all people living in the area and will not accept any laws that favor one religious, racial or national group over another.

As Jews, we also reject outright any argument that Germany should deny the Palestinian right to self-determination because of its “special relationship” with Israel. Abusing the rights of Palestinians can never compensate for past crimes against Jews, and Israel does not have the right to exploit the Jewish people to justify its illegal territorial expansionism.

29. November, 2012"

Monday, November 26, 2012

Medvedev Philosopher

In a recent interview to the French news agency AFP  and the newspaper Le Figaro, Russian Prime Minister and former President Dmitri Medvedev made two remarks that  one doesn’t often hear from political figures.

The first remark was a nod to an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus who famously said that one could not enter the same river twice.  Asked whether he would consider running for president again, Medvedev used his humanities credentials to make a political point, saying: “Generally, one should never decline anything. Never say never, as you know, especially since I have entered this river already and this is a river that can be entered twice.”

The second remark blew my mind.   Asked whether certain new laws had restricted freedom, Medvedev said: "I do not think that is so.” Then he asked: “What does a ‘free person’ mean,” It’s not a person who is told by his government, 'You are free.' No, a person is free when he feels free irrespective of his place of residence – whether it be Russia, Europe or Africa."

The French interviewer thought this meant that ‘freedom is only measured individually’.  I take it to mean that Medvedev is one of the few politicians who understands that freedom is something we carry inside, for, contrary to the freedom to act, it  cannot be limited by others.

In my next blog I will comment on a recent NY Times article on Putin’s search for a new ideology.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Making the Middle East Safe for Israel

It’s disheartening to watch/hear the cream of American political commentators defending Israel’s nth insult to international law and decency.

What can be behind the seeming suicidal behavior of a small country that is surrounded by more or less hostile neighbors?  (A country as big and powerful as Russia fears encirclement, as its opposition to the European defense shield shows.)  Is Israel living a self-fulfilling prophecy (the world hates us, we must defend ourselves, and the best defense, as our tragic history has shown, is offense)?

Or could there be a grand capitalist plan behind all this?  Get rid of pesky left-wing governments in the Middle East in order to grab the oil, taming the peoples’ desire for equity so that Israel can continue to flourish?

Here is a statement by Noam Chomsky that reached me from my Italian publisher (sic):

The incursion and bombardment of Gaza is not about destroying Hamas. It is not about stopping rocket fire into Israel, it is not about achieving peace.

The Israeli decision to rain death and destruction on Gaza, to use lethal weapons of the modern battlefield on a largely defenseless civilian population, is the final phase in a decades-long campaign to ethnically-cleanse Palestinians.

Israel uses sophisticated attack jets and naval vessels to bomb densely-crowded refugee camps, schools, apartment blocks, mosques, and slums to attack a population that has no air force, no air defense, no navy, no heavy weapons, no artillery units, no mechanized armor, no command in control, no army… and calls it a war. It is not a war, it is murder.

When Israelis in the occupied territories now claim that they have to defend themselves, they are defending themselves in the sense that any military occupier has to defend itself against the population they are crushing. You can't defend yourself when you're militarily occupying someone else's land. 



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Time for an International 'Estates General'?

Having at last uploaded the final version of my memoir, which hopefully will be available next week, I can turn to the events that have - or have not - been making the headlines lately, depending on your news source.

The most significant events were the coordinated twenty European country mass demonstrations, work stoppages and general strikes that took place early in the week.

Then came the Israeli attack on Gaza, in retaliation for a few homemade missiles launched by an occupied people against their occupier - launches that have been going on for years.  This morning on RT’s website an Israeli peace activist revealed that negotiations for a settlement were under way with the Hamas leader the Israelis assassinated to start the latest round of aggression.  RT also revealed that Anonymous has hacked into hundreds of Israeli official websites in support of the Palestinians.

These and other events taking place daily across the planet bring to mind two things: one, that Lenin’s injunction ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’ is finally being heard; and two, that Khruschev’s seemingly absurd nineteen sixties warning, ‘We will bury you‘ could also be coming true, and three, that it may be time for a worldwide version of the French Revolution’s  ‘Estates General’.

Neither the French nor the Russian Revolutions had worldwide capabilities.  But thanks mainly to the IT revolution, activists in the oil rich Niger Delta and Brazilian tribes determined to stop construction of a major dam, all know what each other are doing, feeding off of each other, sharing tactics, and coordinating actions, with the ability to disseminate their actions worldwide.

As for Russia, Westerners are familiar with the salient political events of the twentieth century, but RT provides a sense of the immense mineral wealth within that country’s borders at time when the world’s greatest assets are underground.  For decades the Soviet Union tried to influence Third World countries politically, building or delaying the emergence of socialist regimes (see Cuba), details of that support little known outside the political circles concerned.  Today, Russia has other cards to play: its support for Third World countries, mainly in Africa, comes in the form of news reports and documentaries on the dire living conditions of its peoples, broadcasting worldwide the struggles against Western mineral conglomerates that are raping the continent. (RT also has an Arabic service and a Spanish service....)

This morning I heard that in response to China’s growing clout President Obama is preparing to tour several Asian countries. China’s new President, precisely because he is not elected and doesn’t have to contend with filibusters and other forms of congressional opposition, can announce with the smile that has replaced Hu’s stern demeanor, that China will press forward both economically and militarily. And on the occasion of the 15th Communist Party Congress that anointed him, RT took its cameras to the streets of major cities and shopping malls, in which the high collar blue denim uniforms of old have been replaced by the latest Western fashions. (In the Soviet Union, blue denim jeans replaced drab Communist garments, eventually ushering in perestroika and what followed...)


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Is the U.S. President Still the Most Powerful Man in the World?

In 2008 I still felt the American elections were crucial to the entire world because of the aura of the United States and its sheer military might.

Difficult as it will be for most Americans to admit, and notwithstanding our thousand bases around the world, that is no longer true.

The hopeless wars we are fighting are only one piece of evidence.  Every week brings new events that usually however do not make it into the mainstream media. Last week if you happen to be an RT viewer you would have learned that China and Nicaragua are planning to cut a new canal through Central America - right in our own back yard.  (Yet we still do not recognize the government of Cuba....)

There’s no point in reiterating how low our reputation has fallen abroad, especially in the Arab world, but let me just say here that I’m getting pretty tired of hearing the media imply, as MSNBC just did, that the 100 point drop in the Dow at opening was due to the financial situation in Europe.  One of the best kept secrets these days is that the Euro crisis is a direct consequence of the irresponsible behavior of Wall Street that brought on the 2008 crash.

I’ll be writing more often once I finish proofing the paperback edition of my memoir:  ‘Lunch with Fellini, Dinner with Fidel: A Journey from the Cold War to the Arab Spring’.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Big Picture is Changing

These days, if you want to understand the Big Picture, pay attention to short takes. Friday, Brits demonstrated in huge numbers across the country against austerity.  One of their fears is that they could lose the National Health System (one of the numbers at the opening of the London Olympics was an obviously fond salute to this institution created after the Second World War, and which Britons can’t conceive of doing without).

Coincidentally, a report on Libya noted that one of the reasons for the continuing chaos is that the post-Ghaddafi government plans to nationalize the health service. Most people in the U.S. and perhaps also in Europe, assume that the regime we overthrew in Tripoli was not only authoritarian, but benighted. Although it was a dictatorship, it was politically progressive under the aegis of a little green book that emulated Mai Tse Tung’s little red book.

The Syrian regime, like Saddam’s Iraq, and the Mullah’s Iran, also has a national health system. Bashar al Assad’s regime, however ‘dictatorial’ is a politically progressive regime, as was that of Ghaddafi in Libya, under the aegis of a little green book that emulated Mao Tse Tung’s little red book. Is it just a coincidence that these countries have either been devastated by U.S. sponsored attacks or are slated to be?

The end of the Cold War did not mark the end of American hostility toward any even vaguely socialistic regime. The focus on oil obscures Washington’s determination to stamp out regimes that engage in re-distribution. Yet isn’t this what global demonstrations are about?

But there’s more to the current Big Picture. Also on Friday, RT mentioned that the presidents of both Turkey and Iran, who back opposing sides in the conflict in Syria met at a regional meeting, with Turkey agreeing on the need for a ceasefire although it supports the regime.

Turkey’s slight retreat from its hard line against Syrian President Assad reveals a broader situation: the Sunni Arab Middle East is bracketed by two non-Arab nations, Sunni Turkey and Shi’ite Iran, who have long and proud histories, as opposed to their neighbors. (Saudi Arabia is the other major player in the area, but it cannot refer to either a glorious cultural past or home grown military power.)

Is this meaningful in the days of social media and face recognition? I believe it is, because populations are aware of history, and those of the Gulf monarchies that today conspire with the mainly Sunni Syrian opposition to overthrow the only remaining progressive Arab government know that their sands were barren until oil was found.  (Some of my readers will argue that Israel is the most progressive government of the region, but more and more people around the world believe its behavior toward the Palestinians, whom it displaced, prevents it from any longer claiming that title.)

I believe that the ideological and the religious tracks in the upheaval of the Muslim world will increasingly converge, the Sunni/Shi’a divide evolving from a strictly religious enmity to a divide between the haves and the have-nots, or as we say today, between the 99% and the 1%.

If you think this is wishful thinking, consider that Egypt’s Sunni President Morsi recently went to Teheran to attend the Non-Aligned Summit, meeting with the Shi’ite host, President Ahmed-inejad, to discuss the Syrian crisis. For decades Americans have been told that there are two opposing forces, Communism and Capitalism, with only the latter being civilized. It is difficult for them to wrap their heads around a blurring of this line. Yet just yesterday, the Colombian rebels who fought the neo-liberal government for five decades met in Oslo for peace talks intended to bring about a more progressive regime in that Latin American country - with a second round of negotiations set to open in Havana. (Yet Obama cannot even contemplate calling off the Cuban blockade.)

For Oslo, capital of the highly successful Nor-wegian welfare state, and Havana, which is no longer a strictly communist economy, to be playing dual roles in Latin America is the equivalent of the Turkey/Iran role in the Middle East. Both of these developments signal profound changes in the big picture, which any future American President should - but probably will not be allowed to - recognize, at least publicly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Turkey and Its Neighbors

In 1989, my book ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’, was published in France.  In the context of what I had been the first to call ‘A Europe of Thirty’ as I foresaw the continent’s reunification, I noted that Turkey would only feel it had ‘arrived’ when it could join the European Union, but that this sentiment betrayed its history as the seat of the Ottoman Empire that had dominated the Islamic world for five hundred years.

Today, Turkey is a key player in an escalating Middle East crisis. By spearheading Western aggression against Syria to protect Israel from an imaginary attack by Iran, it is paying back NATO for the decades during which it benefitted from the alliance’s ‘protection’ against the Soviet Union. (In the West, Turkey was known as ‘NATO’s sou-thern bulwark’ against the Communist threat.) Turkey’s neighborhood has changed dramatically since the Cold War, yet for NATO, Moscow is still an enemy, as it protests the Alliance’s interference in Syria’s internal affairs.

Not unrelatedly, this week, the Nobel committee awarded its annual Peace Prize to the European Union, citing the successful transformation of thirty countries that had warred for centuries into a peaceful and prosperous polity. Most observers were astonished by the prize, given the potentially earth-shattering crisis of Europe’s common currency, the Euro. And while the Nobel Committee piously hopes its decision will encourage a peaceful resolution, neutral Switzerland gears up to once again receive refugees.

The Second World War has not been forgotten by  Greece which suffered a brutal German occupation, followed by the defeat of its powerful left wing under heavy-handed British/American influence. As for the Spanish, they have not forgotten their Civil War against a fascist dictator that set the stage for Hitler’s aggressions. But should Europe descend once again into conflict, it will not be over territory, but about the chasm between the 99% and the 1%.

To understand the significance of what is happening today, we should go back to 1848, when the Communist Manifesto enjoined the workers of the world to unite. The slogan was subsequently adopted by the Soviet Union and many workers’ parties, but until now, the capitalist system had remained too powerful for the workers of the world to think as one.

Until now. Three weeks before what is perhaps the most crucial American presidential election, populations in thirty-odd countries are in the street banging on pots and pans in opposition to the world America has created, while neither candidate can be expected to break from the policies that led to that opposition.

In 1989 I surmised that one of the reasons why the United States had not imposed sanctions on China after the events of Tiananmen Square was to prevent a rap-prochement between China and the URSS. Thirteen years later, the two former communist countries are united in their opposition to Western military action against the Syrian government, support Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear technology, and share similar attitudes toward just about any American policy you can think of.

The common front of these two rising powers is a response to the near total loss of control over world events by Western leaders who bought into the American dream of unlimited wealth. As China and Russia call for coope-ration and dialogue, the energy of desperation flows through the world system at an accelerating rate, driving it toward a bifurcation whose outcome no one can predict. And yet, no special concern is palpable.

Was the world similarly oblivious as Hitler built up his armies to overpower Europe in 1939? No one had dreamed there could be war in 1914 until an assassin’s bullet killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in partly Muslim Bosnia-Herzegovina. Today, as Europe’s politicians and bankers ponder how to save the Euro, its peoples spearhead worldwide opposition to Wall Street rule, while a dispute over power in a small Muslim country on its border could ignite the entire Eurasian continent.

If the Christian/Muslim enmity begun in the Middle Ages, and the struggle for equity that began with the French Revolution come together in what could be an ultimate conflagration it will be the fault neither of Iran nor of Syria.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Chavez' Win and Europe's Crisis

Even the mainstream media today admit that Hugo Chavez’ re-election to a fourth term as President of Venezuela is thanks to the oil money he has consistently spent on his people’s welfare.

Yesterday, for the first time I heard a pundit declare with evident satisfaction that the Euro crisis signals an end to the European Welfare State built up after the Second World War. If this is true, we can only wonder why after half a century, that model is in peril, and we would probably have to conclude that a new element has been introduced into the system.

A financial expert recently remarked that the European Union is the biggest economy in the world, followed by the United States. This suggests that economies can in fact remain buoyant while taking equitable care of populations, as long as they steer clear of the dicey games of global finance which, over the last ten or so years, have increasingly affected systems worldwide.

The unraveling of the European Union would constitute a crushing blow to peace in the world, exposing the multi-ethnic Eurasian peninsula to yet another replay of past conflicts between neighbors, while Eurasia’s southern, Muslim tier explodes in religious wars that increasingly enfold demands for equity.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the period since the Second World War has also seen repeated, determined efforts by the United States to prevent Latin America from wresting control of its assets from American companies in order to better the lives of its peoples.  In the last ten or so years, the number of Latin American countries having elected left of center governments has seen an unprecedented increase, to the certain displeasure of international mineral and agricultural conglomerates.

If we add to these developments Washington’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, supposedly to contain China, we have to seriously consider the possibility that what is actually driving the world today is international finance's determination to keep the global 1% on top, with war as an economic tool in service of that goal - as it was after the Great Depression.

We will have to face the fact that the great conflict of the twentieth century between right and left has not ended, but is merely disguised as ethnic and religious intolerance.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Really Drives U.S. Middle East Policy

For several weeks now newscasters have admitted they don’t understand why the United States appears to be supporting groups linked to Al Qaeda,  such as the Salafists - or at the very least the Muslim Brotherhood, which is often considered little beter. To understand what is going on, we need to consider the fundamental difference between the Sunni and Shi’a versions of Islam and its relationship to the political divide.

The Sunnis - to which belong the Salafists, Wahhabis, Muslim Brotherhood, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and other Gulf monarchies - have traditionally represented the ruling classes, while relatively large segments of their populations espouse Shi'isn, the form of Islam traditionally favored by the lower classes.  (The Sunni/Shi’a divide has roots in the poitical rifts that occured after the death of Mohamed.)

But it’s more complicated than that: Iran is ruled by a Shi’a theocracy installed by a revolution whose roots go back to a socialist Prime Minister deposed in a CIA coup in 1953. As for Syria, it is ruled by Alawites, a small Shi’a sect long associated with the Ba’ath Party, an Arab socialist party which also ruled Iraq until we deposed its leader, Saddam Hussein; and Libya’s recently deposed leader Muammar Ghaddafi also considered himself a socialist. Whatever one may think of these various leaders (to the extent that we, as outsiders, are entitled to assess their validity as rulers of their respective peoples...), it should be clear that America’s determination to effect regime change in the Middle East is not only about oil.

Whatever the official doctrine may be, the ideological war between capitalism and socialism is not over, but merely confined to Third World countries which, during the Cold War, were aligned with either the Soviet Union or the United States. As the Arab Spring shows, the conflict between recognition of community responsibility toward its most vulnerable and the conviction that it’s each man for himself, is no longer limited to secular ideologies, causing the United States to no longer know who its friends are.

One thing is certain: Washington prefers the Saudi and Qatari Wahhabi regimes because they are part of Sunni Islam’s Western oriented consensus based on the supremacy of money, as opposed to the Syrian and Iranian regimes which are welfare states. (Syria continued the secular educational system it inherited from France after the Second World War, and Syrian women are the most liberated of the Arab world. Until the 1960s the Alawites were not considered true Muslims either by mainstream Shi’a or Sunnis, because their version of Islam incorporates elements of other religions and is often practiced sitting and in silence rather than prostrated and voiced.)

When it comes to countries like Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, America’s political class is ill-equipped to see beyond the fact that these are Muslim countries. They are unfamiliar with the ideological currents that have marked their recent history.

Perhaps the most glaring example of America’s ideological handicap is it’s view of Hezbollah: the Shi’a leader Nasrallah has a sophisticated knowledge of Western philosophy and ideology, and in the 2006 war with Israel he instituted the ‘flat’ systems of the Argentinian cooperative movement. Yet he is seen as a ranting representative of a benighted ideology.

Moving now to Egypt, a longtime American ally, its new President, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood supports freedom of religion, peace, democracy and the Palestinian cause, opposing American imperialism. As a recent analysis by the French journalist Thierry Meyssan pointed out, Morsi talks to both Iran and Saudi Arabia, but will not organize Egypt to suit the United States or Israel.

Although the Cold War is officially over, a United States dominated by neo-conservatism and the financial sector, is still determined to stamp out any regime that espouses a socialist ethos. It is no coincidence that besides being the homeland of the Jews to whom the U.S. refused entrance when they were being gassed by Nazi Germany, Israel is the only neo-liberal country in the region.

Less obviously, the socialist ethos partly explains why both Russia and China oppose U.S. policies: Just as our ideology harks back to our genocide of the Indians, the two former (to all intents and purposes) Communist countries are still influenced by the basic socialist ethos of solidarity and peace. And that is why both support Ahmedinejad, who expounded on these principles at the U.N. General Assembly this week.

Following the pattern I’ve been describing here, The Iranian president’s speech could only be greeted by cynical derision by Western officialdom, which cannot for a nanosecond appear to recognize his sincerity, at the risk of being expected to emulate him.

Unfortunately for these severely handi-capped politicians, Ahmedinejad’s ideals are recognized by the European 99%, from Spain, to Greece, to Italy and France, as they demonstrate ever more determinedly against IMF-inspired austerity. Washington blames the Europeans for the crisis of their common currency, passing over the world-wide penetration of crooked Wall Street financial institutions. The American public’s ignorance of other countries’ history and politics make it gullible, but your average European or Middle Easterner knows otherwise.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

William, Kate and the Prophet

The escalating crisis over the YouTube release of a despicable film ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed is supposedly about freedom of speech. America’s sacred First Amendment enshrines it as a basic right, while in other parts of the world, that freedom, like any other, is deemed to have limits.

The recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United stating that corporations are people and that money is speech is widely seen by progressive Americans as unjustifiable under the First Amendment. They honor the principle famously expressed by Voltaire: ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” but admit that it should be against the law to cry ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre. In other words, all good men should defend another’s right to voice his opinions, however unpalatable. But as in the fundamentals of a free press, fact (a possible fire) should be separated from opinion (how one views another person).  This boils down to saying that opinion is sacred, but acts are not.

Here again, as in the definition of democracy in my previous post, the socialist tradition differs.  There is no such thing as absolute external freedom; our only absolute freedom is that which we carry within ourselves.  Therefore, we cannot be punished for our thoughts. However, if voicing an opinion can be as dangerous to some lives as crying fire, the public expression of opinion must have limits.

Today a satirical French paper published cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Mohamed, and as a result, the French government has had to put a number of its embassies on alert. Knowing the French for having lived among them for thirty years, I would venture to say that most of them consider this an abuse of ‘freedom of the press’!

The difference in attitudes toward freedom of the press can also be seen in Third World demands for a new Information Order that began in the seventies, and are being revived by the newly vocal Non-Aligned Movement. Though no longer ‘socialist’, Russia and China - both supporters of the NAM - believe journalists, like banks, should have a code of ethics. This means reporting on events that concern responsible citizens wanting to weigh on decisions, while ignoring cheap ‘human interest’ stories.

Do we really need to see William’s wife in the nude? The paparazzo who took the pictures and the magazines that published them are of the same ilk as the perpetrators of Innocence of Muslims. Tabloids - or TV coverage of women wrestlers - do not foster inner peace. All religious leaders call for that peace and ridiculing any of them can only be the work of people whose vision of humanity is twisted beyond recognition.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Two Versions of Democracy

One of the most regrettable yet enduring aspects of Cold War rhetoric in the United States has been the claim that the other side hides imperialist goals beneath siren calls for cooperation and compromise.

In reality, we’re dealing with two different definition of democracy: for Americans, democracy is all about about voting and competition, while compromise and cooperation are part of the socialist tradition.

Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian leaders continue to call for dialogue and compromise in conflictual situations, such as the current crisis in Syria, while the United States, true to its own tradition, calls for military solutions.  (Competition is about winning...)

The latest example of this tendency is the dispute over a couple of small islands claimed by both Japan and China and which are rumored to sit on sigificant gas and oil deposits. While only a few weeks ago Japan was featured in an important Chinese trade show, suddenly, Chinese are rioting in the streets against their neighbor and the United States signs a new missile defense deal with Japan. Washington says it’s about protecting its ally from North Korea, but critics suggests that’s like claiming the European missile defense system is aimed at Iran, and not at Russia.

While the Syrian conflict could plausibly be attributed to a real desire for change from one family rule, the Japan/China island dispute hardly appears to warrant military escalation. One has to wonder whether gearing up for war on several fronts is all about the United States trying to save the cowboy capitalist system from a final crash, as Russia and China, with their respective versions of regulated state capitalism, indulge in a bit of schadenfreude.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Innocence of the West

Following on my previous blog, I think it’s important to understand the way in which the reaction to Innocence of Muslims is a ‘clash of civilizations’. Twenty-first century religion is linked to morality and ethics through the facet of our culture known as consumerism. The adultery portrayed in The Scarlet Letter was not mediated by any commercial activity; today it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the costume of a stripper and the wardrobe of an inner city high school student.

The reason for this is that our corporatocracy is dedicated without nuance to selling stuff, from weapons to use against those who sit on oil, to the ever bigger TVs that have replaced ever bigger automobiles, to the latest fashions made in Third World sweatshops, to infinite variations on breakfast cereals and a lipstick for every outfit.

This culture has just reached its nadir in the shape of a film portraying Mohammed as a childish skirt-chaser surrounded by dumb and dumber acolytes. The media understandably focuses on pictures of the riots the film has provoked. But the words used to describe it are studiously mild. No commentator has suggested that if a similarly mocking and denigrating film were made about Christ, Christians would be horrified. Today, playing it safe, American, French and Russian TV are all referring to the film as ‘controversial’, telling us what it has done, but not what it is.
 Rather than talk patronizingly of a clash of civilizations, we need to realize that our ‘civilization’ is not what most other peoples would call civilized. Worshipping individualism, modern society sees freedom rather than ‘virtue’ as the highest moral value. Westerners are so used to vulgarity that we no longer see it. The  populations all over the world that are attacking our embassies and burning our flag may not have college degrees, but they know disgusting when they see it.

The West’s cultural inability to recognize the boorishness and ugliness of the film has prompted a desperate search for another explanation of the violence we are witnessing. If neither poverty nor the theft of resources have stocked such deep anger, why a ‘mere’ film? Because the film is seen as reflecting the West's true attitude ttoward Islam. Muslims who granted the U.S. ‘attenuating national security circumstances’ for its repeated invasions of their lands now feel they were duped. The fact that Washington dissociates itself from the film is irrelevant because its actions seem to condone it.  Like the proverbial butterfly effect, the sick creation of a convicted felon has turned a significant number of people against what has hitherto been the most powerful country in history.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why So Surprised?

When 9/11 happened, I remember wondering why most Americans were surprised.  Having recently returned from living abroad, foreign resentment was obvious to me.  I had observed it in half a dozen countries over a period of forty years.

Surely it’s no coincidence that American embassies in the Muslim world are being targeted soon after the 11th anniversary 9/11. What is utterly beyond belief is the way in which the daily and spreading escalation of hostile acts toward the United States are reported and commented.

It’s as if the events of the last few days are located in a different mental drawer from the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, the special forces advising rebels in Syria, the troops in Afghanistan (increasingly the brunt of ‘blue on green’ attacks), the victims of a senseless war in Iraq, the continued refusal of Israel to accept a Palestinian state, etc., etc.

What is surprising is not that Muslims are demonstrating violently against the United States and its allies such as Germany, it’s that this hasn’t happened sooner.  As the country that sells more arms than all others combined, that has close to one thousand foreign bases, that ‘sends in the Marines’ when Others refuse the neo-liberal package we would press on them, our indignation at their violence can only be feigned.

We ‘give’ them all that money, cry our representatives.  How dare they?  Really?  We ‘give’ them billions to spend where and as they please?  I don’t think so.  The foreign policy version of corporate socialism consists of sending money to weak foreign governments so they can buy our products - including our arms.

Eleven years after 9/11, we still don’t have a clue about the rest of the world.  Several commentators today seemed to believe that the current violence would die down ('Friday after prayers is the time when Muslims are most likely to vent their anger').  This is to ignore both the irreversibility of the arrow of time and the increased flow of energy within the system called Islam.

The last few days represent a watershed in  the history of Western/Islamic relations.  Thanks to the advances of digital technology, more and more individuals around the world - particularly Muslims - are realizing that they can reject our ‘message’, and stand up to our implicit and explicit threats.

Instead of arguing over whether to apologize for our own wanton behavior, our presidential candidates should consider the wisdom of abandoning it.  Alas, the irreversibility of the arrow of time suggests that this is not going to happen.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Democratic Convention: A Magic Eraser

The well-intentioned hosts of MSNBC’s news programs were right to point out the difference between the atmosphere at the Republican and Democratic Conventions: the former, angry and bellicose, the latter exuberant and dedicated.

But just as the Republicans passed over in silence the war in Afghanistan, the Democrats behaved as though the man they were supporting had no such thing as a kill list;  that authorizes the assassination of American citizdens without trial had not taken unto himself full power over all means of communication in the event of a ‘national security emergency’ (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/07/06/executive-order-assignment-national-security-and-emergency-preparedness); supported Israel’s bellicose stance vis a vis a country that has never started a war, countenanced the rise of private prisons and privatized education - and promised that the United States would never lose its status Uber Alles.

Confronted with the evidence that it is too late for the United States to undo the damage it has wrought around the world - damage brought on by his predecessors - and unable to impose a new ethos on his masters, President Obama has closed his eyes and driven full speed into deeper conflicts: a desperate attempt to control the Middle East in the face of popular opposition - all the more determined that it comes after decades of resignation - and as if that were not enough, picking up the Chinese gauntlet by sending Marines to Australia and conducting exercises in the South China Sea.

Obama’s Middle East policy harks all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt. But he alone will own his Pacific policy, and it will be doomed because unlike Roosevelt, he will be unable to justify it by a domestic policy of freedom from fear and freedom from want.























Sunday, September 2, 2012

You Won't See it in the NYT

Today's item is a poorly redacted press release issued at the closing of the !6th Summit of Non-Aligned Nations, also known as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which was held throughout the past week in Iran's capital, Tehran.  I'm posting it here because I could not find it in the New York Times.  (In the Washington Post I found articles focusing on Egyptian President Morsi's speech at the conference in which he declared his support for the Syrian opposition, but nothing on the fundamental principles of the NAM, which were reiterated at the meeting.)

When assessing Morsi's statement, which caused the Syrian delegation to walk out, keep in mind that he represents Sunni Islam while Assad represents a dissident form of Shi'ism that allows for the country to be ruled by a Socialist Arab Party, the Ba'ath. As I have said before, too little attention is paid to the political aspect of the Sunni/Shi'a divide.  It is important to remember that the Iranian regime considers itself to represent the lower classes, as does the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood represented by Morsi.

As long as we try to simplify what is in reality a highly complex situation, which I described in a June blog (http://otherjones.com/2012/06/) as a sort of Islamic Reformation, we will find it difficult to grapple with the new Middle East.  For the Washington Post, the fact that Morsi criticized Iran's ally, Syria, in Tehran, is proof that the international gathering of countries representing more than half of the world's population was a flop.  Morsi's message was described as a 'sweeping statment' and his support of Syrian rebels a 'blindside blow' to Iran.  It's as if America's allies never disagree with us on specific matters, while agreeing on basic principles.  Or as if Morsi himself had not come to power via a popular uprising demanding more democracy.  (Egyptians were rebelling against a far-right regime, while Syria's Assad has brought many socialist-inspired reforms to Syria, which is why he continues to have the support of much of the international left.)

Here is the press release on the NAM Final Document:

Tehran, Iran – At its concluding session on Friday The 16th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit, adopted the Tehran Declaration, the Final Document and a separate report on the work of its Palestine Committee. The Tehran Declaration reiterated the goals and principles of the movement and rejected western hegemony, which sought to impose its will through coercive measures.

The 120 participants also affirmed their firm support and solidarity with Syria in its just fight to restore its sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights based on the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. They emphasized that the steps taken by Israel to change the legal and demographic situation of the occupied Syrian Golan violate UN Security Council resolution 497 of 1981 which declared Israel’s annexation of the Golan as null and void and called on Israel to withdraw to the June 4th, 1967 line. The NAM condemned US sanctions on Syria, stressing that they violate international law and the UN Charter.

NAM delegates expressed their appreciation of the efforts by former UN envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, and welcomed Lakhdar al-Ibrahimi as the new international envoy, calling on members to facilitate his mission.

The declaration reiterated NAM’s principled stance on the non-use of or the threat of force against the safety and territorial integrity of any country.

It also reiterated the movement’s support for the establishment of a zone free of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, calling on Israel, the only country in the region that has not joined the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, to do so without delay and put its nuclear facilities under the Comprehensive Safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Tehran Declaration also stressed the NAM leaders’ deep concern over Israel’s possession of nuclear energy which they said constitutes a constant threat to the security of neighboring and other countries. The NAM leaders condemned Israel for continuing to develop and stockpile nuclear weapons.

Recognizing that terrorist acts are a violation of international law, affecting safety, territorial integrity and stability, and threatening regional and national security, not to mention destabilizing legitimate governments, systems and the political unity of individual countries, they called on all countries to cooperate in confronting the funding of terrorism.

The  leaders condemned all forms of terrorism and called for refraining from any political, diplomatic, moral or material support to terrorism, urging all countries to make sure that the situation of refugees or any other situation not be used by perpetrators, organizers and facilitators of terrorist acts.





Saturday, September 1, 2012

Desert Toys

If you still think of the Middle East as an obscure backwater, read the figures posted by the Congressional Research Service for recent U.S. arms sales as reported by Stieven Ramdharie, a political writer in Brussels.

Thanks to the the so-called ‘threat’ from Iran, the U.S. took in an unprecedented 66.3 billion dollars selling arms in 2011, three times more than in 2010. By selling record numbers of F-15s, Apache helicopters and Patriot missiles, Boeing and Lockheed Martin made up for cuts in military spending in the U.S. and Europe.

Qatar, which played an important role in the Libyan conflict, is about to sign an agreement for 58 latest model Apache helicopters, while Oman, whose crucial role is in the Straits of Hormuz, bought twelve F-16 fighter jets last December that can neutralize their aging Iranian counter-parts. Qatar will spend 2.5 billion to buy 200 German Leopold tanks, and Saudi Arabia is expected to put out 12.6 billion for 600 or 800 of these beasts. Together with Israel, the Kingdom has the most modern planes in the region. Having  added 7.2 billion dollars forth of European fighter jets to its Air Force in 2007, Riyadh recently purchased another 84 Boeing F-25 fighter jets while modernizing another seventy. Last year it spent nearly 33 billion in the U.S., helping to shore up the American export balance.

As for the Emirates, their 2010 defense budget of 16 trillion put them in second place in the region, ahead of Israel, and they recently acquired American antimissile defense systems and transport helicopters worth 4.5 billion.

The battle for the future of Syria is recognized primarily as the first step in a campaign to neutralize Iran, and the players are identified as Israel and the United States. However, it is a mistake to think in terms of a neatly contained “surgical strike” that would leave neighboring countries intact.

The Middle East has never experienced a regional-wide war comparable to those that have devastated Europe time and again. But the fact that Persian, Shi’ite Iran has never attacked another country and would have everything to lose by doing so, is obviously irrelevant in the present situation: As the American economy declines perhaps terminally, the ruling military-industrial complex, remembering the economic benefits it reaped from the Second World War, is going all-out to bring conflict to an area whose wealth is counted not in factories and farmland, but in barrels of oil preserved underground.
























Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Hundred Years that Changed the World

Last night Turner Classic Movies showed a three hour film titled, in defiance of the rules of syntax ‘Fifty-Five Days At Peking’.

Aside from remarking what a handsome man Charlton Heston was in 1963, I found it impossible not to dwell on the fact that in just a century, China went from being a victim of the West to being on track to rule the world. (Incidentally looking up The Boxer Rebellion of 1901, recounted in the film, I discovered that Chinese Muslim troops played a major role in the 55 Day Peking Battle, being armed with more modern weapons than the Imperial Army that was trying to defeat the eight Western countries making unreasonable demands on Inperial China. Though I was multi-tasking during the second half of the film I believe this aspect of the conflict was ignored.)

These days, the popular expression ‘what goes around comes around’ is an understatement: not only is China set to become the biggest world economy, the Arab Muslim world vaulted onto the world stage with a bang, and together these two groups are recasting the world scene.

As part of this phenomenon, another country being portrayed by the Western press as both backward and a mortal threat to the world via nuclear weapons, Iran is hosting the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Teheran. The irony is further illustrated by the fact that it is Egypt that is handing over the presidency of the organization to Iran, and that Egypt’s new President Mohamed Morsi, will attend. Modern Egypt’s most famous president, Nasser, was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961, together with Yugoslavia's president, Tito; India's first prime minister, Nehru; Ghana's first president Nkrumah; and Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, all of whom advocated a middle course for states in the Developing World between the Western and Eastern blocs in the Cold War.

Although the movement has been little in the news in recent years, the main ideas behind it, of equality between nations and the peaceful resolution of disputes, have been reinvigorated by the phenomenon of globalization that succeeded the Cold War as the main threat to peace. Over 100 countries representing 55% of the world’s population and 26% of world GDP are attending the Teheran Summit, as is Ban-ki-Moon, the U.N. Secretary General - who was pressured not to do so by the U.S. and Israel.

Like most of the movement’s members, India was formerly a basket case. Now it is one of the rapidly developing nations known as the BRICS, and is a full participant in the event. Russia on the other hand appears to be absent, perhaps to emphasize that it doesn’t need to be aligned or non-aligned with anybody. (The other two BRIC nations, Brazil and China are attending the conference as observers, with China’s stance corresponding to its active economic role in many developing countries.)

Iran’s timing couldn’t be more appropriate in terms of growing threats by the West over its nuclear program, as the American presidential election draws near. But the financial crisis that is hitting the West much harder than the BRIC countries also makes this show of solidarity more than half of the world’s population as stunning as China’s leap from famine to fame. Unfortunately, it is not only the Democratic and Republican Party Conventions, but also a supine media that prevents Americans from seeing the tectonic shift under way from a Western dominated world that never believed in the lofty ideals of the United Nations, to one that knows they are our only hope.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Sunday News

There isn’t much hard news on Sunday, but to make up for that France 24, the English language French channel, airs amazing features from around the world.

Today I was gratified to see that the Islamic Reformation I wrote about last month (http://otherjones.com/2012/06/29/islams-reformation/) is alive and well in Tunisia, as evidenced by a high class fashion show featuring men’s wear intended by its designer as a gentle tease to Salafists.

I’ve repeatedly heard China referred to as the world’s second largest polluter, but France 24 featured a city that is trying to be the greenest in the Middle Kingdom: kids are taught to spare the planet from day one in school, some electricity is already being generated by solar panels, and the government sends scientists to the wind turbine factory. More people need to realize that without strong governments we have almost no chance of beating the climate threat.

In that respect, the August 27/September 3 Nation was a disappointment. Had I not seem Ari Berman on TV I would have thought his piece on Obama had been written by a senior member of the parliamentary left in this country. The phrase ‘despite the many disappointments of his presidency, Barack Obama remains a vehicle for change in America’ contradicts the one that follows: (his) ‘weaknesses reflect (those of) the left in a system dominated by money, democratic disfunction and a myopic media.‘

Such hand-wringing typifies what I call the modern Mensheviks, whose timidity in Tsarist Russia led to 70 years of Communism. Neatly ducking that responsibility, Berman warns that a Romney victory would result in chaos. Did he really mean to deny that anarchism represents the highest level of political philosophy, in which each individual is responsible to himself and the community  (unlike libertarianism in which it’s each individual for himself....)?

With the demise of the global Communist threat, as the Republican Convention approaches, the Tampa security apparatus warns of the role ‘anarchists’ might play in the protests. As in the days of the Czar, a black bloc emerges when Mensheviks reach a nadir of pusillanimity.

P.S. Britain today backed down from its threat to invade the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, confronted with a solid Latin American block condemning its readiness to disregard centuries of international diplomatic rules.  Another example of an increasingly polarized world in which the 99% countries - formerly known as the Third World - are beginning to weigh more than the 1% countries, soon to be known as the former rulers of the world.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Snow in August

Can anyone with a grain of sense really believe that the new demonstrations in Tahrir Square are spontaneous, as Egyptian President Morsi turns toward Iran and China?

The land of the Pharaohs, long associated mainly with tourism, is suddenly playing a significant role as the outlines of a new world order i take shape for those with eyes to see.

Armageddon may be an understatement for the outcome of a situation in which a country surrounded by more or less hostile neighbors sees its protector challenged by former underdogs who now account for more than a quarter of the world's land area and more than 40% of the world's population and 18.5 trillion of the world’s total 70 trillion GDP.

That the BRICS are not merely a snappy acronym was underscored at the 2012 BRICS conference in New Delhi. The media focuses on the significance of America’s debt to China, but fails to highlight the related implications of two important agreements signed by the BRICS countries Development Banks, the “Master Agreement on Extending Credit Facility in Local Currencies” and “BRICS Multilateral Letter of Credit Confirmation Facility Agreement”.

Aside from China and Russia, another BRICS nation, Brazil, played a role in seeking to resolve the antagonism of the West toward Iran in 2010, when together with Turkey it proposed that its uranium stockpiles be turned into fuel abroad. President Morsi’s current overture toward Iran is no small development. A couple of weeks ago the Chinese fleet sailed through the Mediterranean on its way to Ukraine. According to an on-line publication, The Diplomat, that focuses on Asia, a People’s LIberation Army Navy (PLAN) escort fleet, which included a destroyer, a missile frigate, and an auxiliary refueling ship, crossed the Suez Canal, with Cairo’s permission, on their way to the Mediterranean. Although Egyptian media initially said that the vessels could hold military exercises in the Mediterranean, they continued on through the Dardanelles to Ukraine.

If the CIA is not working covertly 24/7 to undermine Israel’s most significant neighbor in the person of its new president - whatever his political color might be - as it openly supports the deposition of the president of Israel’s other significant neighbor, Syria - I say we can expect snow in August.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Hillary Sandwich

To find out what’s going on in the world you can choose between the hundreds of ponderous analyses published every days in as many languages.

Or, you can ponder Forbes' Magazine’s choice of the top three most influential women in the world: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Out of curiosity I tried to find Forbes’ last year’s list, but it had already been updated to reflect this year’s choice.  So I went to 2010, and here is what I found:

“The top-10 ranking alone reveals three powerhouse black women, whose success plants the seed of possibility for generations of women to follow: Michelle Obama (No. 1), Oprah Winfrey (No. 3) and Beyonce Knowles (No. 9). The GLBT community is also well represented at the top. Openly gay Ellen DeGeneres (No. 10) has brought lesbianism to the mainstream with massive platforms .... .At just 24, Gaga wields a daily audience of 25 million on Facebook and Twitter and earns $62 million a year. Indra Nooyi (No. 6), CEO of $43 billion beverage giant PepsiCo, is an Indian-American. German Chancellor Angela Merkel (No. 4) and Australian mega-bank Westpac CEO, Gail Kelly (No. 8), reflect a growing global distribution of power.”

The glossy business magazine’s editors probably never imagined how the list would look two years later: Merkel went from number 4 to number 1, while Rousseff went from 95 to 3, and Michelle Obama went from first place to 7th. In terms of the relative importance of show people, Oprah went from 3 to 11 and Lady Gaga from 7 to 14.

One of the things I take away from these shifts is that someone on the prestigious magazine has realized that the political and economic situation of the world deserves more attention than show-biz and social mores. But it may even be dawning on some that the world’s center of gravity is no longer in Washington, even if Hillary is in second place.

Germany remains Europe’s powerhouse, but Hillary’s recent African safari is a hopeless attempt to stem the influence on that massive continent of China and India. And Brazil is one of the four BRIC countries (the fourth being Russia) that are calling the shots as fast as we are losing it  (South Africa was recently tacked on to the list, probably more as a gesture to the other huge continent besides Latin America that is coming into its own than thanks to its economy, at least at present.)

Whichever way you slice it, the oft-heard expression ‘a multi-polar world’ serves as much to paper over America’s decline as to showcase new power centers.  We cannot predict the respective importance of Brasilia, Moscow, Peking or New Delhi within the new configuration that is emerging, but one thing we can be certain of is that, as I wrote in my 1989 book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde ‘solutions will no longer be found in Washington but in ‘Peking, New Delhi and’.....Moscow.

Forbes’ list of most powerful women on the world stage is meant to be entertaining, but it’s message signals a tectonic shift.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Poodle Politics

When Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair supported George Bush’s invasion of Iraq he was accused of being America’s poodle by independent-minded Brits, who considered this to be the be-all and end-all of subservience, given that the United States originated as a British Colony.

The extent to which time flies is evidenced by the present subservience to the United States not only of Britain but also of Sweden, a country which, in the name of its sovereign independence, maintained a position of neutrality during the bloodiest conflict the world had thus far seen, i.e., the Second World War.

‘Poodle politics’ is merely a slur, but behind it lie sacrosanct principles of international relations stretching back almost four hundred years. The modern concept of nation-state sovereignty is based on two things: territoriality and the absence of a role for external agents in domestic affairs.  It was codified in The Peace of Westphalia, a series of treaties signed between various European states at the end of the Thirty Years religious wars.  Although the birth of the European Union, the rise of multinational corporations and globalization have seriously dented Westphalian notions of sovereignty, the 1961 Vienna Convention on International Relations, under the auspices of the United Nations, continues define the diplomatic relations between sovereign states.

As reported in the press, Article 22 of that convention clearly stipulates that:

1.The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

2.The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

3.The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.
And yet the British Foreign Office threatens to storm the Ecadoran Embassy to arrest Julian Assange!  It appears superbly unaware of the damage done to Britain’s reputation in Latin America by the 1982 Falklands War against Argentina, as well as of the added fact that Latin America is no longer anyone's ‘back yard’, but an increasingly significant international player. Fast-growing Brazil and sassy governments in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Argentina are only too happy to support little Ecuador’s brave stance against an ever smaller nation that is still living in the glorious days of ‘perfidious Albion’.

As for Sweden, long criticized by the United States as the standard-bearer of the Nordic welfare system, it today stands as a different shining example: that of the fundamental similarity of interests between nation-states, defined by the Peace of Westphalia, as opposed to those of citizens, which have yet to be codified.


Friday, August 17, 2012

To the Moon!

I’ve been vindicated, thinking for some time now that there is a reason why the 1% doesn’t give a hoot about the 99% and that is that they plan to desert the earth for another planet, understanding full well that it is likely to become inhospitable to humans in the near future.

Well today on RT, an entrepreneur who specializes in space exploration for minerals, Dr. Scott Page, justified his business by quoting Stephan Hawking.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7wxo7ZHge0&list=UUczrL-2b-gYK3l4yDld4XlQ&index=2&feature=plcp


According to famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking,http://bigthink.com/dangerous-ideas/5-stephen-hawkings-warning-abandon-earth-or-face-extinction it's time to free ourselves from Mother Earth. "I believe that the long-term future of the human race must be in space," Hawking tells Big Think. "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years, let alone the next thousand, or million. The human race shouldn't have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. Let's hope we can avoid dropping the basket until we have spread the load."
“Even if humans manage to avoid a nuclear stand-off over the next thousand years, our fate on this planet is still pretty much certain. University of Sussex astrophysicist Dr. Robert Smith says eventually the aging Sun will accelerate global warming to a point where all of Earth's water will simply evaporate.”

Another website makes the case that space travel is going to be very expensive, especially building an adequate ‘vehicle’.  Probably one of the major reasons for banksters to be stashing it away.  Can’t you just see these guys used to the ultimate luxuries as space colonizers?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Knock-Down Drag Out Battle has Begun

RT this morning interviewed half a dozen people about the astonishing developments in the case of Julian Assange. After weeks of reflection, the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, granted him asylum. In response, the government of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth vowed to storm the Ecuadoran Embassy in London where Assange has been holed up for weeks awaiting the decision.

As all the commentators pointed out, this is unprecedented in the annals of diplomatic history and contravenes every law on the subject EXCEPT A BRITISH LAW would allow the government to remove a foreign embassy’s diplomatic status! I have neither the time nor the inclination to research this ridiculous law, but I am certain it will be discussed on RT if it has not already. (Busy with a tech support issue I have not been watching for the last hour or so.) What interests me as always is the big picture, and what this development signifies in terms of the overall situation of the world

. I believe this is a watershed moment for what is commonly referred to as ‘the international community’, which I would designate in broader terms as ‘humankind’. Perhaps a bit over the top, but not when you consider that virtually all peoples, from the Amazonian jungle to Myanmar to sinking islands, are affected by the decisions of a few thousand actors on the world stage. Not only is the fate of the world controlled by the 1%, the means at their disposal are ever more frightening: digital technology, like every other ‘advance’ in civilization, has enabled the 99% to weigh more heavily in the balance, but it is also providing ever more frightening means for the 1% to lash back. Julian Assange’s safety is paramount, and the 99% will rally to his defense. But the 99% also wants climate control, an end to nuclear weapons, and equity, and it is now becoming clear that the chances of these goals being realized is very slim indeed.

At the same time, however, and although the Cold War has been over for almost twenty years, the world is again dividing into camps: on one side those whom Richard Falk refers to (see my yesterday’s blog) as the Maximalist proponents of a New Geopolitics, and on the other the Old Geopolitics, with the Minimalist New Geopolitics floundering in the middle. Assange’s defenders represent the first category, those seeking a new, participatory democracy, the U.S. and its allies represent the second, while the rest of the world represents the last desperate attempts to prolong the life of parliamentary democracy which has resulted in the Old Geopolitics resorting to ever increasing lethal force and surveillance.

And as in any conflict, the party with the most apparent strength is digging in, choosing to ignore the implications for the civilization it purports to defend. The Julian Assange asylum case constitutes the opening round in a knock down drag out battle between the forces of light and darkness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The House that Tom, Dick and Harry Built

Thomas Jefferson envisaged a nation of small, independent and probably agnostic farmers. He has been consistently ignored. In the twentieth century Harry Truman ordered the atom bomb to be dropped on two Japanese cities, and Richard Nixon hired plumbers to spy on Democratic activist Daniel Ellsberg, after he released the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War. More than forty years later, we need a new roof on the American house.

If I am not mentioning the most recent ‘builders’, it’s merely because they would not have made for a catchy title needed to draw readers into an analysis of the current situation that relies on unfamiliar theories.  Its author is Richard Falk, whom I began reading when he was a Princeton Professor of International Law in the nineteen seventies, and who currently serves as the U.N. rapporteur on Palestine. He posted the piece 'Is there a New Geopolitics?' on Al-Jazeera’s website http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/08/201281123554276263.html.

I am paraphrasing it here because I believe it to be more relevant than the contributions of alternative media darling Noam Chomsky, although the two academics are roughly contemporaries and claim the same progressive high ground.

What Falk calls the Old Geopolitical Framework relies on the “juridical idea of the equality of sovereign states while being fully responsive to the geopolitical facts of life stressing their inequality.”

At its founding the UN reflected this framework, “with the General Assembly exhibiting the idea of equality while the Security Council incorporates inequality via the veto power given the five permanent members.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the international political framework became unipolar, as illustrated by the international coalition that under American leadership threw Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991.

Recent developments suggest that a New Geopolitics is being born, “premised on the primacy of soft power criteria of influence and status, and (which) is more universalistic and less statist.”

The spread of soft power can be seen in the growing number of countries that have launched English languages channels which are American in style but carry a universalist message. Among these are China, Russia, France, Japan and Germany. The latter’s self-described mission is to “promote intercultural dialogue and work to further international understanding and tolerance”...

If you watch any of these channels you will sense that they all share this mission.

But while Falk and others talk about ‘soft power’ as opposed to military or hard power, I believe its most significant aspect is what I have been calling the legacy of the socialist ethos that exists in Russia, China, and the BRIC countries such as Brazil and India where socialism remains part of the political culture, regardless of the economic system.

Falk writes that “The claim of (the BRIC) states to (...) high stature is not based primarily on their military capabilities or their alliance affiliations, but is associated with their economic endowments, and their astonishing record of growing importance in trade, investment, and financial settings. Such a trend is also being formalized in relation to economic globalization, with the shifts from a Cold War Group of Seven, to an enlarged Group of Eight, and finally to the present Group of Twenty.”

This appears to present the newly important world players as perhaps more ‘neo-liberally’ than ‘social-democratically’ inclined, by which I mean that they recognize the basic rights of employment, food, education and health care denied by the United States.

Falk then refers to the end of colonization in these terms: “The successful challenge of the colonial order by various movements of liberation throughout Asia and Africa strongly established a trend in conflict resolution in which the militarily superior side was being compelled to accept political defeat,” leading him to the failed conflicts initiated by the U.S. over the last fifty years, starting with the Korean War and the fact that “the staple currency of the Old Geopolitics - military power - seems recently to erode and discredit rather than extend the historical role and agency of political actors.”

As happened with Japan and Germany, defeated in the WW II, “(in) a telling sign of the emergence of the New Geopolitics as now defining contemporary strategic goals, Brazil is far more interested in acquiring a permanent seat in the Security Council than in becoming a member of the nuclear weapons club.” Ironically, American politicians tend to discount the international organization....

Falk notes that “hard power is increasingly frustrated when tested by determined nationalist forces, even those with seemingly modest military capabilities. The greater complexity associated with globalization has created new political spaces that are being filled in various ways by both civil society representatives and private sector actors.

True, but I disagree with his conclusion that: “Such patterns of participation exert strong pressure to move the New Geopolitics toward more peaceful and less war oriented standard operating procedures.”

The double-headed financial and climate crisis demonstrates that this statement does not accurately describe the motivations of independent actors, which are overwhelmingly opposed to what Falk describes as “the civil society vision of the New Geopolitics strongly inclined toward the transformative direction of Global Democracy, making all institutions of governance subject to the imperatives of transparency, accountability, stakeholder participation, rule of law, and attention to the human interest/global justice/climate change diplomacy.” The evidence is overwhelming that the 1% show no sign of bowing to the demands of the 99%.

While indulging in a wishful thinking that denies growing popular opposition to austerity, Falk admits there are two models of the New Geopolitics:

A de-Westernized Minimal Model that envisions a state-centric world order that defined by soft power criteria of status and influence, while remaining dominated by a few state actors and  the prescriptions and values of neoliberal globalization.

A Maximal Model dedicated to institutions and practices that embody Global Democracy, and reorient Economic Globalization toward sustainable development that puts peoples and earth first, with priority to the most deprived.

Falk recognizes that in the current transitional phase the Old Geopolitics subsists “but is rarely capable of translating its preferences into desired outcomes.... turning the world into a borderless and terrorized war zone.”

Implicitly countering those who reject the idea that terrorism stems from inequities, Falk notes that Old Geopolitics wars against distant countries are an inadequate response to the 9/11 attacks given that the adversaries are not territorial sovereign states but a non-territorial network of political extremist adding that the problem can only be successfully addressed by soft power methods that identify the legitimate grievances that induced recourse to violent political behavior in the first place.

Falk appears to be unique in pointing out that popular uprisings reveal a yearning for what he calls ‘substantive democracy’, a new transformative politics that includes a ‘distrust’ (sic) of military and police operations and opposition to Western manipulation. The backlash in the Arab world shows the resilience of the hard power governance typical of the Old Geopolitics: as its main centers become increasingly discredited, they produce a tightening of control at home, and an intensification of military operations abroad, a pattern followed by American presidents from both political parties in response to the 9/11 attacks.

Falk wraps up his piece noting that for the New Geopolitics there is likely to be increasing tension as the minimalists seek realignment without attending to social and economic inequities, while the maximalists insist on the long march to Global Democracy. Another way of saying that the house that Tom, Dick and Harry built is not about to get a new roof: neo-liberalism is going to have a long and painful death as the 99% struggle to enact participatory democracy in a world teetering on the brink of economic and climate collapse.



Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cuba Seen by The New York Times

I first visited Cuba in 1963 for the express purpose of verifying whether the American press was reporting accurately on the Revolution, four years old at the time and a major issue in our foreign policy. It soon became clear to me that the answer to my question was ‘no’. And almost fifty years later, America’s journalistic gold standard, The New York Times has remained true to its Cold War practices.  A friend was kind enough to forward me a July 16 article entitled: “Cuba Hits Wall in 2-Year Push to Expand the Private Sector”.

For starters, this eye-catching title is not reflected in what follows.  “Hitting a wall” implies that something can go no further.  Yet none of the information in the article implies this. Here is my point by point deconstruction:

To say that there is an “aging leadership” is not saying anything new! Raul recognized this in 2011:www.ft.com/intl/cms/s0/88c36e58-6834-11e0-81c3-00144feab49a.html#axzz210K2QDDo

The Cuban President is in fact taking lessons on how to move from a centrally directed economy to what is known as a ‘mixed’, or part private, part public economy, as his recent trips abroad show: www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/cuban-leader-raul-castro-visits-communist-ally-vietnam-during-asian-trip/2012/07/07/gJQAl8aYTW_story.html

After Vietnam, Raul Castro went to Peking and Moscow. You don’t have to be a foreign policy expert to guess he’s in search of ways to modify course that have worked in other formerly centralized economies.

The Times article informs us that: “Nearly a quarter of a million (Cubans) have opted to work for themselves over the past 20 months, opening restaurants, snack bars and makeshift shops, driving taxis and fixing cellphones. Together with those who took advantage of an earlier experiment with privatization in the 1990s, about 387,000 Cubans, out of a population of about 11 million, are now self-employed. Cubans are also buying and selling homes and cars among themselves for the first time in 50 years.”

This is the only piece of positive information that isn’t followed by a negative comment. The information that “The government aims to trim state payrolls by 170,000 this year and add 240,000 private-sector jobs” is describes as “a tough goal given that just 24,000 Cubans took out licenses for self-employment in the first five months of the year.” But then, as if recognizing that this comment contradicts the previous paragraph, the writer provides a quote - from unidentified ‘experts’: “Given the lack of progress, the government’s pledge in April to move about 40 percent of the country’s output to the non state sector in five years is less and less plausible.”

The journalist does quote one economist by name, probably because he was born in Cuba: “At the rate they are going, there is no way they will reach that figure,” said Carmelo Mesa-Lago, a Cuban-born professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh.’ But a quick look at Mesa-Lago’s Wiki bio suggests that this is an isolated comment by someone who is in fact supportive of what the Cuban government is doing:progreso-weekly.com/2/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1712:mesa-lago-2-years-to-break-the-cuba-us-impasse&catid=36:in-cuba&Itemid=54 .

Referring only obliquely to the American trade embargo the Times explains how goods sold in private shops get to Cuba: ‘With no access to a wholesale market, Cubans turn to friends, relatives and so-called mules for everything from food to trinkets to iPhones. This parallel trade has ballooned to more than $1 billion per year.

The reader thinks: ‘Well, that sounds pretty good.’ But immediately comes the downer: The new entrepreneurs are slapped with a 100% import tariff. And instead of noting that all countries slap tariffs on imports, and quoting a government source on the decision, the Times notes that: ‘State-owned shops were losing business to street vendors’, followed by a throwaway quote from a man in the street: ‘It shows the state isn’t ready to compete with the private sector.’ No Cuban in his right mind would imagine that state-owned shops could compete with private ones bringing in individually chosen goodies. A budding entrepreneur, ‘alarmed’ by the new tariff, says: “Things seem to be tightening up.”

Tightening up?  As in ‘embargo’, perhaps?

“Economists, businesspeople and diplomats” (again those anonymous sources) “believe President Raúl Castro is treading carefully because of resistance from midlevel functionaries reluctant to lose their perks, and from conservative officials nervous about the social and political impact of economic enfranchisement.”

Why would functionaries lose their perks? And what negative social and political impact would opening up the economy have? These empty phrases with nothing to back them up are followed by:

“The Cuban leader, who has sworn off the ‘shock therapies’ that ruptured (sic) the Soviet Union, said in a speech in December that the government would proceed ‘without hurry or improvisation, working to overcome the old dogmatic mind-set and correcting any mistakes in a timely fashion.’”

To the unbiased mind, these words sound eminently reasonable.  But the Times is only interested in discontent, no matter how absurd: “The pace of change has been too slow for people like Yelena López de la Paz, who went bust because of competition, lack of experience and low margins.” Come again? And isn’t competition what capitalism is all about?

Now comes an entirely new angle, which would deserve an article of its own, but here is dismissed in one tantalizing sentence. “With the National Assembly set to meet next Monday,” (July 23) “Cubans are anticipating an expansion of the number of co-ops beyond the existing agricultural ones.”

Coops?  The reader probably wants to know more, but there is no link to the very well-documented article that comes up in a Googe search: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=31966.

“Separately, (meaning ‘for its part’ or ‘in addition’?) ) the government is turning small, state businesses, including cafes and watch repair shops, over to employees in some provinces. It has lifted a $4 ceiling on the value of contracts between state entities and individuals and is subcontracting work, such as construction, to independent operators.” These steps reflect a worldwide movement toward coops and worker ownership, but are unlikely to influence U.S. policy any time soon.

Jumping back and forth, the article offers this admonition: “Caution is at odds with Cubans’ urgent needs, some say. Orlando Márquez Hidalgo, editor of the Catholic magazine Palabra Nueva in Cuba, said recently that if workers laid off by the public sector failed to find other jobs, their ‘discontent and frustration’ would grow, as would ‘the number of those who dissent or wish to leave. Time is vital,” he said.

Than back to the unhappy entrepreneur: “‘They opened these businesses so that people could survive and so that they, too, would survive, but I don’t think anybody is getting rich. That would be — I don’t know — capitalism’” (sic).

“For a 23-year-old accounting student who runs a busy snack bar in her home in a Havana suburb, restrictions stem from a continued distrust of individual wealth. ‘They just haven’t gotten things organized,’ said Ms. Albite, who gave up on getting a bank loan to buy a $700 refrigerator because she was asked to provide two guarantors, each of whom would have to leave the full amount in escrow until she had repaid.”

Which is it?  Distrust of individual wealth or lack of organization?  I would guess that the precautions over loans are due to the fact that all this is very new for the leadership.

The article ends on a final negative note concerning a development of greater significance than the first hesitant steps of Cuba’s new entrepreneurs: Referring to the expected pullout of a Spanish company that was drilling for oil off the Cuban coast: “The dry well (it encountered) dented Cuba’s prospects of reducing its dependence on Venezuela, which provides billions of dollars’ worth of oil each year in exchange for a range of Cuban services.” (‘Services?’ How about ‘the work of Cuban doctors sent by their government in exchange for oil’?)

Given the Times’ fifty year record on objectivity when writing about Cuba, don’t be surprised if it turns out to have erred in writing off Cuban oil - a tactic increasingly used by the American mainstream media to deny developments that Washington does not like.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fascism From Above and Below

Democracy is caught in a vise between increasingly authoritarian governments beholden to the corporatocracy, and baton-wielding populist parties beholden to no one.

The foreign television channels broadcasting in the U.S. report on a daily basis from Greece, where the dire economic situation has driven the suicide rate up sharply, and where a nationalist party, mockingly called the Golden Dawn, takes African and Asian immigrants as scapegoats, as if turning them out of their hospital beds could make up for the economic austerity imposed by the European Union.

After being targeted by Voice of America during the Cold War, Russia’s RT delights in drawing attention to everything that isn’t right in the United States, zeroing in on stories the mainstream media ‘misses’. RT may have reported on President Obama’s latest executive order before the American press did, following a calculated Friday afternoon signing. The order gives the President full control over all communications in emergencies, and spells out the steps to be taken under tight deadlines in order for the plan to become operational.  You can see the story here: rt.com/usa/news/obama-president-order-communications-770/ and a follow-up here: rt.com/usa/news/white-house-systems-order-142/.

And then there is TomDispatch’s latest guest writer, David Vine www.tomdispatch.com/post/175568/tomgram%3A_david_vine%2C_u.s._empire_of_bases_grows/?utm_source=TomDispatch detailing the new strategy behind our more than one thousand foreign bases: fewer gigantic ones, many small ones known euphemistically as ‘lily pads’. Often located in out-of-the-way places, they enable special ops forces and such to turn up anywhere on short notice.

Not to mention the New York Times’ July 15th story revealing that our cell phones let the government know where we are at any given moment - and even, supposedly, where we will shortly be.  Or the covert airport scanners disguised as pillars that can tell what you ate for breakfast as you walk by.

To take democracy for a reality in a world where the ‘choice’ is between being tracked and spied upon by those in power or beaten up by those imitating power is a mistake that I fear we will come to regret - when it is too late.







Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ever New News

There is no doubt in my mind that the news is the best show in town.  And on condition that you are watching the right channels, it is ever new.

While American TV continues to belabor a Presidential election that is four months away, you can learn from France 24 that there are more than a hundred thousand Chinese living in Spain and moreover, that with the backing of the Peking government, they are making money hand over fist in a country more than twenty percent of whose workers are out of a job.  One star entrepreneur says  Spaniards have not been properly educated.  In the face of the Spanish economic downturn he tells an assembled group of countrymen that they must stick together.

Not compete, but stick together! Could it be that a Communist education is the best preparation for making it in the capitalist world?

A related story is Cuban President Raul Castro’s trip to Peking, first, and then to Moscow.  The purpose of this pilgrimage to the high seats of Cuba’s formerly Communist allies is undoubtedly to get some advice for Cuba’s turn from strict communism to an as yet unacknowledged form of social democracy.  Meanwhile we learn from RT that the President of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, allowed himself to be removed from power on June 22 after a flimsy two-hour impeachment debate in order to avoid bloodshed promised by his opponents.  Lugo is a leftist and the U.S. has been trying to establish a base in Paraguay for several years.

France 24 devotes considerable air time to events in the Maghreb, that is Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.  Today it covers the first legal congress of the moderate Islamic Party Ennhada, which holds the largest number of seats in Parliament and governs in coalition with a center-left and leftist party. Echoing last week’s interview with Tunisia’s foreign minister mentioned in my previous blog, the report emphasized Tunisia’s persistent drive toward a moderate /socialist/Islamic form of governance.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi chose Saudi Arabia as the destination of his first official visit abroad.  This looks like a typical Middle Eastern power play, since the Saudi monarchy is Israel and America’s staunchest ally in the region, while practicing Wahabism, the most conservative form of Sunni Islam, which inspired Al-Qaeda, while Morsi has to reassure the Egyptian revolutionaries of his moderate bone fides.

Finally, in a detailed analysis of the falling ratings of MSN, progressive Americans’ last best hope among the major channels, RT’s Liz Whal interviews Cenk Uyghur, who epitomizes its failure, while announcing that RT has risen to first place among foreign news channels in Canada.