Friday, February 24, 2012

State Capitalism vs. Decentralization

The January 21st issue of The Economist has a fascinating supplement on State Capitalism: everything you need to know but didn’t know it. The daily news needs to be reframed in this context.

As rebellion ramps up across the world, for the same reasons as always - the trampling of the many by the few - leaders and pundits still think in terms of the old paradigms: capitalism vs socialism.  But there’s a new system taking shape which is no better than the old one and could be worse in terms of saving the planet.

Any system that relies on continued growth contributes to the end of the planet as a human habitat. Capitalism, socialism and state capitalism all belong in that category.

According to The Economist , under state capitalism, the state holds a significant share in major economic institutions and industries, enabling it to  regulate and encourage activities it deems in the national interest.  It is being practiced in China, Russia, Brazil, India, and through sovereign funds in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, among others. Interestingly, the British conservative journal admits that ‘the long era of state activism has left a surprisingly powerful legacy’, mentioning that France’s electric company is 85% state-owned, Japan’s tobacco company is 50% owned by the government, and Germany’s Deutsche Telekom is 32% state-owned.  What it does not mention is that this situation evolved as part of Europe’s hundred plus year old history, of ‘enlightened’ state control over valuable resources and services.

As America’s railroads were being built by private money, Europe’s were built by nations.  Nineteenth century German Chancellor Bismarck invented the welfare state, and if Russia and China are today the foremost state capitalist systems, that is not unrelated to their communist past.

Humans will eventually breed themselves out of existence, thanks to ‘growth’, ‘progress’, and modern medicine (birth control having come too late), unless the pollution considered necessary to their survival is stopped. We have a choice between seeing 10 billion inhabitants living at an early  agricultural level by mid-century, or making drastic changes to our lifestyle now. (I beg science buffs not to dispute this deliberately grand generalization. Pay attention, instead, to the gist.)

The gist is that the choice is no longer between capitalism and socialism, but between state capitalism and decentralization. Between worldwide military/industrial/fascist power that is blinded by hubris, and small, participatory communities. Increasingly, some will try to overthrow the most powerful machine man has created, and others will build new ways of relating to one another, as they wait out the machine’s inevitable demise through war and depletion of the resources which enable it.

While the U.S. and Europe worry about the fate of their market economies, with Greece, the cradle of democracy, speeding to default, the new economic giants are inventing new ways to run their economies. The question is whether state capitalism will eventually contribute to saving the planet or not. And whether worldwide protesters and Occupiers will succeed in creating a different kind of society if they do not.

Today the Indian government proposed setting up a multilateral bank exclusively funded by developing nations to finance their projects. The proposal has been circulated to the BRIC group: Brazil, Russia, India and China - as well as to South Africa, and will be discussed alongside the meeting of Group of 20 finance ministers in Mexico City this weekend.

The World marches on without the Greatest Empire ever known.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Message from Birgitta Jonsdottir

Birgitta wrote: "Dear Deena Stryker - you can help by raising the awareness about the injustice all of us has to deal with by not having the same legal rights online as we have offline. Like someone said in relation to my case: we have all become Americans now- and not in a good way."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

U.S. Demands Icelandic Activist's Twitter Feeds

BIRGITTA JONSDOTTIR, a major figure in the Icelandic Revolution and now parliamentarian, is in a legal battle with the U.S. Department of Justice over TWEETS!

She posted this message:

"Overview @EFF on my ongoing legal battle with the USA #DoJ in relation to my volunteer work for #WikiLeaks in 2010."

I hope readers will circulate this information.  It's important for everyone.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Obsolete Brinksmanship

As we watch, helpless, the Greatest Imperial Power the world has ever known is allowing itself to be propelled into the Greatest War Ever Fought in pursuit of the oil that will enable it to continue to grow until it snuffs out human life. The presence in the White House of an eminently educated, aware man, has been no match for the Darth Vader like forces intent on seeing the 99% march lemming-like off a cliff.

Hyperbole?  I don’t think so: Even in the good old days of the Cold War there were enough weapons around to wipe out most of humanity: now they have proliferated, and a very small country is playing a game of chicken with the rest of us, supposedly to save itself from annihilation. Israel has not signed the non-proliferation treaty, and no one (except perhaps our president) knows how many nuclear weapons and delivery systems it has. The Jewish state claims to fear annihilation by Iran, which claims it’s not producing weapons but nuclear fuel for the day when its oil runs out.  (Unrelatedly, but similarly, Greece, which teeters on the brink of a default which could, theoretically, bring down the carefully nurtured ten year old Euro system, claims, with similar dramatic emphasis, that it is being ‘threatened’ by a fellow NATO member, Turkey, forcing it to cut pensions and salaries in order to preserve its military budget. Is there something about Mediterranean peoples that inclines to overstatement?  The Greek-Turkey standoff has been going on for so long that it isn’t even worth my while to Google it. My eighties book on the (then) potential for reunification of Europe, has an annex on the Greek/Turkish standoff.  I haven’t revisited the issue since, but it seems that nothing has changed.  (Cyprus comes into this equation, but it is more complicated than that.)

The Sunni/Shi’a divide, epitomized by Iran and Saudi Arabia, as I pointed out in a recent blog, is as relevant to all of this as the survival of a small state that refuses to play nice because it has a powerful backer - or the geopolitics of oil. Iran had a democratically elected president in 1953, (Mossadegh) who was overthrown by the CIA.  Then, in the eighties, when Sunni-ruled Iraq waged an eight-year war on Shi’a Iran, we backed Iraq (under the same Saddam Hussein whom we would overthrow in 2003...). That ultimately gave us Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Revolution (a modern outcome of Shi’a ideology). Iran’s client state Syria has been ruled by a Shi’te sect, the Alawites, for decades.  Putting an end to the civil war that opposes a mainly Sunni population to President Bashar Al Assad via military intervention of one type or another is not so much going to ‘isolate‘ Iran, as it will protect Israel. (Syria has been known as ‘the front-line state‘ by Palestinians and their supporters, because unlike Israel’s other border states - but like Iran - it has been a staunch Palestinian ally.)

European progressive blogs suggest the U.S. intends to choose a ship that has outlived its usefulness and sink it in the Straits of Hormuz, claiming it to be an act of war by Iran. If this sounds far-fetched, Franklin Roosevelt, who knew of the Japanese intent to bomb Pearl Harbor, moved our newer ships out of harm’s way.  And of course there was the shelling of the Maine off of Havana in 1898, used as a pretext for war with Spain and the acquisition of Cuba.

We can expect war with Iran and regime change in Syria, unless the thought of the combined capabilities of Russia and China forces Washington to rethink its justification for supporting Israel, right or wrong. Our closest ally Britain, is already involved in preserving the U.S. Sixth Fleet’s Bahrain base, where the ever down-trodden Shi’a of the Arab world are saying ‘Enough!‘  (A former high-ranking member of Scotland Yard, forced to resign in the wake of the Murdoch phone hacking scandal, quickly found new employment training the Gulf monarchy’s police.....)

While the U.S. is still behaving as though together with its allies like Israel and Great Britain, it dictates world outcomes, the world goes about its business without us. On February 20, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan held their third trilateral conference - this one focusing officially on counter-terrorism - in Islamabad, but also providing a venu for Iran to affirm its rights and its position in the region.

Brinksmanship is only justified in a world in which one major game is being played.  The information isolation of Americans, feeling safe between two giant seas, is a tragedy, for it leaves them ignorant of the other games being played on the world stage.

I recommend replacing MSNBC with Al Jazeera, which can be found once a day in most areas, and also, RT, the coy acronym for Russia’s English Service, which, with the participation of American and British journalists, gets Putin’s message across, but also much of importance to Americans.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Assad Gets It - But So Do the Rebels

Observers seem surprised that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has accepted to create a multi-party system, even as he goes on killing his people. A Facebook comment by a young Iranian woman a few days ago, tells why: all systems, all regimes, are equally undemocratic.

So Syria’s Russian allies must have suggested that a parliamen-tary system wouldn’t change anything, and after all, it’s an elegant way out.

Although that fact is staring them in the fact on their own streets, they didn’t realize that  the Syrian rebels, whoever they are, like the young Iranian woman on Facebook, have known for some time that democracy is only a word, and that in one way or another, to one extent or another, leaders always manage to get around it.

Until the 99% get the gist.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Obama's Crossed Legs

A month or so ago the media had fun with a shot of Mitt Romney crossing his legs as he tried to deal with an embarrassing question from an interviewer.

Today’s picture of President Obama meeting at the White House with the future president of China could give rise to similar comments, but except perhaps from Fox News, they are unlikely to be forthcoming.

Chinese vice-president Xi, a slightly burly man, sat obviously at ease legs apart, at the standard diagonal angle from his host, who could be observed with legs tightly crossed.

Meanwhile, in one of those serendipitousmoments, RT (Russian Television) showed Chinese president Hu Jintao receiving Europe's financial leaders in Peking, where they had come to solicit help from the country they had brought to its knees with the Opium wars a hundred and fifty years ago.

Following the news, RT underlined the Shi'a/Sunni divide in Bahrain (see my  yesterday's blog), and aired a smartly produced program entitled ‘The Spirit of Resistance’ about grass roots opposition to government and corporate greed in half a dozen developing countries.

And a retired army colonel, Douglass MacGregor, spoke brutally about the America’s continued presence in Iraq, saying Obama had capitulated over everything.

The program airs from Washington. Is there more to Obama’s crossed legs than meets the eye?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fifth (Relatively) Easy Piece: The Shi'a Arc

Yesterday’s news made me realize I had neglected a fifth item in my last blog.  Several channels mentioned the Shi’a in their coverage of the troubled Muslim countries of Bahrein, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria.  It should be clear by now that a very old antagonism hovers in the background of the story about oil.  Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan are the largest majority Shi’a countries.  But Shi’a constitute nearly forty percent of the total Muslim population of the Middle East. The Shi’a arc begins in India, where they constitute around one third of the Muslim population of that predominantly Hindu country.  Shi’a constitute a majority in Azerbaijan, with significant minorities in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kurdistan. Iran and Iraq and tiny Bahrein have majority Shi’a populations. but Shi’a also make up over 35% of the population in Lebanon, over 45% in Yemen, approximately 30% in Kuwait, over 20% in Turkey, and 15% in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Roughly speaking, the Shi’a constitute a northern arc beginning in central Asia,  and encompassing up to 200 million people.

The Sunni arc occupies the southern rim of the Middle East and Near East landmass, starting at the tip of the Arabian peninsula in Yemen, and centered in Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Sunni country, where religious authority is held by the puritan Salafists, whose Wahhabism inspired Al Qaeda. Along the Mediterranean lies Egypt, which since the days of Nasser has had a strong national and secular component, followed by have the countries of the Magreb: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, the Western Sahel and finally, up its west coast, Jordan, Syria and Turkey.

The Sunni/Shi’a fault line of the Eurasian continent where these two arcs meet is deepening, and the current fight over the future of Syria is the first round in a larger fight between Islam’s Sunnis and Shi’a as to which will dominate the Middle East. A resurgence of the traditionally down-trodden Shi’a across the Muslim world is a subset of the Arab Spring, but its ramifications go beyond the Arab or Muslim world.

Repeated visits by Iran’s President Ahmedinejad to Latin America do not seem incongruous if one considers the fact that Shi’ism has always been the revolutionary form of Islam, making it a natural ally of left-wing secular regimes, however far-flung.  In the seventh century, Mohammed’s cousin and designated successor, Ali, was brutally struck down by representatives of the merchant class. His followers, most of whom are ruled by wealthy Sunni majorities, represent the Muslim 99%.0   A must read if one is to understand the importance of Shi’ism today, is Resistance : The Essence of the Islamist Revolution by the British international civil servant Alastair Crooke. It gives the lie to lose talk about ‘terrorism’, and shows just how handicapped our diplomates would be in a philosophical conversation with them.

The Iranian Islamic revolution, changed the Shia–Sunni power equation in Muslim countries from Lebanon to India, arousing the traditionally subservient Shia, to the alarm of traditionally dominant Sunnis. What makes Syria unique is that it involves a reverse Sunni-Shi’a divide: strongly backed by Shi’a Iran, the Alawi minority, a Shi’a sect, rules over a majority Sunni population while its neighbor Lebanon, which it dominated militarily from 1975 to 2005, continues under the influence of Hezbollah, a fighting Shi’a minority.

When the veil of ignorance about Shi’ism is torn away, it becomes clear why both Russia and China have opposed strong measures against Syria: In a special section of the January 21st Economist , both these superpowers are described as paragons of State Capitalism.  What is significant about this assessment by a conservative publication is that the purpose of State Capitalism is to create greater equality among the classes. (On a more prosaic note, Russia must also bear in mind the majority Shi’a population in Azerbaijan, and China must be mindful of the 2% of Muslims, located mainly in the areas that border Central Asia, Tibet and Mongolia, i.e. Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu and Qinighai provinces,  known as the "Quran Belt".

America’s commitment to Israel - the main thing that interests many Americans  - must be seen in this light. It was born of belated shame for Franklin Roosevelt’s refusal to grant asylum to Jews being slaughtered by Hitler.  Then, as things evolved in the neighborhood of the Jewish Homeland, Israel, founded on modern, democratiic principles, was our natural ally against the majority Others: 'backward' Arabs, whose oil we coveted.  The Janus tail of oil supply and Zionism is now wagging the American dog, forcing us to permit behavior by the one that endangers the other.

It is folly to believe that we can somehow make everything right for Israel, but if we follow the daily news, we can see that America is determined to steer the political turmoil among her neighbors to its advantage. There is nothing new about this.  The Eurozone crisis is the long-term consequence of America’s post-World War II domination of Western Europe, which began with the ‘generous’ Marshall Plan: we saved Europe from the Nazis in order to remake it in our cowboy capitalist image. Then, using the tools of the late twentieth century, we did the same to Eastern Europe. Now, as the European 99% rebel against the world America created, and the remedies being forced down their throats after its failure, we are determined to steer the Arab Spring toward political/financial regimes that will espouse that model.

Fortunately for us and for them, its people see the writing on the wall.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Four (Relatively) Easy Pieces

Events come thick and fast.  No time to write every day.  So here are four briefs, each of which do not, in my opinion, warrant 500 words from me, because others provide that.  What they don’t provide are the backstories:

1) Greedy Bastards: Kudos to MSNBC’s Dylan Rattigan for showing that there are solutions to most every problem, and when individuals decide to find them, they can.  One comment: greedy doesn’t just happen, didn’t even just happen because one thing led to another and people had fun playing with other people’s lives: American Greed is forged in the classroom: what else to expect when, from nursery school on, kids are taught to do better than their piers, to come out on top, to win the prize.  In the recent Nation (Nov, 16th 2011) marking 20 years since the overthrow of the Soviet Union, Russians are reported as often being nostalgic for the sense of solidarity that was part of the Communist ethos (if not always practiced by the State).  Anna Makarenko, the great Soviet educator of the early 20th century, gave Soviet education a firm basis in cooperation.  Our system couldn’t be more different.

2) The turmoil the world is experiencing has two layers(inadvertent shades of Marx...): the economic layer is recognized as a worldwide phenomenon, hurting the poor and the poverty-stricken in every nation.  But there is a deeper layer, whether North or South, East or West, and that is religion.  In the Middle Ages Christians fought Muslims for hundreds of years, embarking on veritable ‘crusades’.  But only listen to the Tea Party’s latest standard-bearer, Rick Santorum, and it’s clear that the United States is in the midst of a home-grown religious crusade, even while it fights Muslims abroad. And the fervor is matched.  (I agree that the religious war has been reawakened partly to counter improving employment numbers, with a view ousting Obama in November. (Although Born-Again Christianity has made inroads abroad, it is unlikely to every be as powerful in secular-minded Europe as in Africa or Latin America, but nonetheless, the world is embroiled in a financial crisis doubled with a multi-pronged religious war.)

3) Religions are not people. Probably inspired by Mitt Romney’s famous quip that corporations are people, Rick Santorum (again) appears determined to establish that religions, too, are people, and should not have to pay for health care items that contradict ‘its’ conscience. (We used to say, its teachings, but note the slippery slope among Catholic opponents of the President’s new initiative.)

4) Finally, to understand what is happening in Syria, look at Egypt.  These two countries are the most powerful of Israel’s neighbors: for decades we paid handsomely to keep Egypt at least neutral where Israel was concerned.  Now the Egyptian people have overthrown the ruler we pampered, and are determined to have their say in their country’s policies.  It’s not the Muslim Brotherhood that is to be feared, nor even the Salafists per se, but the momentum built up by people who have lost their fear. No matter who sits at the top of the pyramid, Egypt can no longer be expected to support Israel, as it continues to cut off it nose to spite its face.  By arresting NGO workers and threatening to put them on trial, Egypt’s new rulers are taking a page from Iran, which arrested and tried American tourists (who, contrary to the aid workers in Egypt, were most likely just tourists).


Whatever the way they treat their people, Egypt’s (‘interim’) rulers have every reason to suspect that with Mubarak gone, the United States is trying desperately to ensure their loyalty, by, among other means, enlisting the cooperation of NGO workers (such as the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood).


The situation in Egypt leads to a very plausible suspicion that the uprising in Syria has been aided and abetted by the United States.  It is likely that a considerable number of Syrians are fed up with their government for any number of reasons, be they religious, tribal or economic. But is it unlikely that American agents infiltrated from Israel - or when possible from Lebanon - have had a hand in encouraging and perhaps arming their discontent? I find that irresistibly plausible.  Just think of the increased danger Israel has been in since the birth, a year ago, of the Arab Spring. Aside from that, not a day goes by without Israel and its protector, the United States, threatening Iran, because that country could eventually produce the nuclear weapons that Israel already has.  If Israel were to give in to its worst demons and actually assault Iran, would it not feel more secure if the Egyptian and Syrian governments could be counted on to remain neutral?


The prospects are currently not good in Egypt.  All the more reason for the White House, yesterday, to have mooted, for the first time, the possibility of considering some form of armed intervention against Syria’s Assad. Several news channels (perhaps the BBC and CNN - or maybe Democracy Now) showed a young Syrian man pointing to what was either a wounded or a dead young child, asking “How many Syrians have to die before you come to our rescue?”


That sounded very much like the anguished plea of someone who was led to expect Western support.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Big, Fiery Middle East Picture

The piecemeal nature of the information that reaches the American public - as well as its leaders - prevents us from seeing discrete events within a larger framework, the ‘big picture’ that I have been writing about for years, and which is now the title of Thom Hartmann’s show on Russia’s English language TV channel.

What’s the big picture in the Middle East?  1) Our client governments are trying to keep their people down, using increasingly brutal methods, which we are forced to condemn, but which differ only by degrees from our own. 2) The United States helps them hang on to power until the last minute, then backs the rebels we think will keep their country in our camp.  Not only because we need their oil, but because a radical shift toward independent power in that region puts Israel in real danger (as opposed to the boogeyman dangers it has been crying wolf about for decades: first Iraq, now Iran).

It is no surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood is defying the military rulers of Egypt after first supporting them following Mubarak’s ouster: the Brotherhood’s new generation of leaders are more interested in seeing their country break free of America’s virtual occupation - and its concomitant support of Israel - than in checking on headscarves.

As for Russia and China's dogged support of  Syria, it's not only about a Mediterranean port for the former, and business for the latter: it's about the Big Two's support for Iran, that has long backed Syria as the 'front line state' in the stand-off with Israel. But more broadly, it's about never allowing to be done to other rulers what you do not want done to you: that is, interference in the 'internal affairs' of a country, which usually ends in the deposition of the rulers.

The double veto of the Arab League's initiative at the U.N. to condemn President Assad was followed tonight in the United States by the first mention of the inevitability of military intervention: it will be undertaken as much in the hope of installing a govenment friendly to Israel as to 'save' the Syrian people.  But that is not likely to succeed.

No more than the Egyptians, are Syrians, once free, likely to befriend Israel. Yet Israel focuses obsessively on Iran’s putative nuclear program. Its leaders apparently believe the United States will be able to exact tacit support from new Arab leaders for its protection of Israel, whereas we cannot prevent Iran from lobbing a missile at it.

But Israel is in a state of denial: the flames predicted for years by Arab leaders as it became ever more intransigent toward the Palestinians, are erupting with greater ferocity than anyone imagined, because they are part of a bigger picture: worldwide revolt against America's military and cultural domination, in which Israel has become a junior partner.

Fixated on the supposed deleterious influence of Islam, we have failed to recognize that the Muslim world’s people and their new leaders possess far greater ideological literacy than our politicians. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insists on speaking to them as an unelected leader, it is clear that the United States cannot see the forest fire for the trees.

Were Israel to grant independence to the Palestinians tomorrow, the fire would not be contained.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Thom Hartmann on Russian TV and Fidel Castro’s Childhood Memoir

A faithful listener to public television, I only recently discovered where MIND TV’s Russian channel, RT, is located. I noticed the native English language news anchors, but one thing I didn’t expect to find on RT was our own Thom Hartmann.  He hosts an hour-long program called - hallelujah! -  ‘The Big Picture’!

My congratulations to Thom, who deserves a real life tv studio all to himself.  But I find it of even greater interest that it is the Russians who have given it to him.  Is there a faction in Russia’s TV world that supports the opposition by giving a platform to an American who is against the economic and social policies that Putin has imported?

But there could be something else going on here.  I’ve often mentioned that the Russians and the Chinese, due to their long communal tradition, are much more interested in seeing a world government , while American leaders fear it.  Perhaps Thom has been given an impressive pulpit in order to also further the cause of American voters desperate to see their government cease being the world’s policeman in a world where humans have become the tools of money. What a twofer!

The second part of my story is culled from the BBC news.  Starting yesterday, they have reported that the eighty-five year old father of the Cuban Revolution presented a thousand-page memoir ranging from his childhood and youth to 1958, the year before he ousted the American-backed dictator Batista.  Yet neither yesterday nor today did the BBC note that the 21st International Cuban Book Fair starts in a few days, and is devoted to the countries of the Caribbean.  Knowing how the Cubans do things (I was present at last year’s book fair) I can well imagine that the writers and other cultural figures invited to the fair will have been on hand for the launch of Fidel’s memoir.

Apparently, that’s not news.  Anymore than the Puerto Rican independence movement, or the fact that the PLO has an ambassador, whom I met last year, and who divides his time between several Caribbean islands, including the one we own.