Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Real Question About Syria

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

What is happening across the Middle East?  1) Our client governments use increasingly brutal methods to keep their people down; 2) The United States tries to prevent these governments from losing power, not mainly because we need their oil, but because a radical shift toward any kind of people 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).  (Likewise, Russian support for Syria may be about retaining port on the Mediterranean, or a carved-in-stone policy of not supporting enemies of the state, but it is also about supporting the 'front-line state'.)

One can only wonder why Israel is focusing so obsessively on Iran’s  putative nuclear program, when it is surrounded, if not by hostile regimes, then certainly by hostile populations.  Israel has been brutally occupying Palestinian lands for decades, acting as a veritable Goliath vis a vis a weaker Arab people, and the Arab street know that its rulers have been American puppets for decades, as part of the U.S.’s commitment to defend Israel.

As they fixate on the supposed deleterious influence of Islam, our politicians take no account of ideology. Across the Muslim world, the 99% wants more equity, while we want docile regimes run for and by the 1%.  On Israel’s southern border, it is no surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood is defying the military rulers of Egypt after seeming to support them after Mubarak’s ouster: the Brotherhood’s new generation of leaders are more interested in seeing their country break free of American domination than in checking on headscarves, while the military would be inclined to continue Mubarak's subservience to the U.S., its weapons supplier.

As far as I have seen, no news channel has viewed the Syrian crisis in terms of the Arab world’s greater or lesser hostility toward Israel.  The Assad regime has constituted a resolute enemy on Israel’s northern border, and Israel would feel more secure if Syria were run by American puppets.

American nervousness over the composition of the rebel movement is not about whether it is democratic, but about the attitude toward Israel of those who could replace Assad.  We would like to cherry pick the political figures who will replace Assad, but we really have no way of knowing which ones will go along with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Death Grip of Our Founding Fathers

It is truly amazing that the future of health care in the U.S. will be determined by the opinion of the Supreme Court concerning the meaning of our 236 year old Constitution.

Surely, the Founding Fathers who argued over Article One, Section Eight, which includes the Commerce Clause, could not have foreseen that their concern with regulating trade between the colonial states, the Indians and foreign powers, would one day be used to deprive a sigificant minority of Amerians of health care.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the United States is unique among nations in being governed by an ancient document.  Americans are made to worship the stability of their system of government, contrasted to the succession of constitutions that have typified other nations.  But there comes a point where 'stability' becomes paralysis. The campaign to amend the Constitution so that it reflects the modern world should get a boost from the Supreme Court’s decision as to whether President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (known derogatorily as Obamacare) is constitutional - even if, by some miracle, it goes against the challengers.

The tendency of the mainstream media to pretend that anything the political establishment does is okay, is as damaging as its tendency to ignore political actions by other powers.  A couple of years ago I noted in this blog that then-President Putin was calling for the dollar to no longer be the world’s reserve currency.  Now the BRICS countries (the major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are holding their fourth annual summit in New Delhi, at which they are actually discussing the creation of alternatives to the Western dominated IMF and World Bank.

Such a project might have appeared as nothing more than a pipe-dream a few years ago, but the financial meltdown - better weathered by the BRICS countries than by the West, by the way - is making it ever more likely.

Stay tuned to places like France 24, (France’s English language service which still pronounces its name in French) RT, or Al-Jazeera - all of which you can find on the web - to know what’s really going on in a world where progressive change rather than paralyzing tradition is operating.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Russia to the Rescue!

If, like many progressive Americans, you despair of the major news channels, but are lucky enough to live either in the Northeast, D.C., California, the Chicago area, or the Carolinas, you have an alternative:  Russian Television, coyly known as ‘RT’ has been available since October on your local MIND TV channel.  Staffed with American, British and other native English speaking newscasters and hosts, and featuring progressive writers like Chris Hedges, Thom Hartmann, and many others, RT  broadcasts 24/7 to over 100 countries on five continents from its studios in Moscow and D.C.  It’s motto is: “Question More”.

Of course you’ll get Russian news with a Russian slant, but you can allow for that, whereas the world news covered by RT is usually absent form MSNBC or Democracy Now (though some of it may be found on Grit TV - I haven’t checked).

Today, Friday, March 23, I learned that the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, unanimously approved a new law which should make it easier to create and register political parties, requiring only 500 members instead of the 45,000 threshold that contributed to widespread dissatisfaction with the last election.  Also, major Russian energy companies have been trying to delay or opt out of the government’s ambitious privatization program ahead of an imminent power change in the Kremlin.  (You can see these stories at

In international news I learned that a European Security Conference is wrapping up in Moscow, at which President Medvedev called on the United States to get with it: although the U.S. is participating in this conference, Americans don’t hear about it.  Someone may mention in passing that the Russians want our guarantee that a projected missile defense shield will not be targeted at them in writing, making it sound like an unreasonable demand.  This item is particularly interesting because it illustrates the fact that other major players, such as the European Union, are increasingly united and bold in their opposition to America’s plans to rule the world.

RT reporting on the Syrian crisis tends to mirror Russia’s support of President Assad, but it also features members of the opposition.  Of late it has been highly critical of Al-Jazeera’s handling of the crisis, which tends to mirror the American position.  About a week ago RT reported with obvious glee that several anchors and at least one high-ranking manager had quit over what they considered ‘the supposedly third-world friendly’ Dubai-based channel’s pro-Americana bias.

In American news, RT reported today that a woman was injured Wednesday during a police crackdown on OWS, and that the Occupy Movement is calling for a general strike on May first.  This date will probably not mean anything to most Americans, but it has been the rest of the world’s Labor Day for decades.  The call itself is highly significant, since the last time a general strike affected large parts of the U.S. was in 1877 with the Great Railroad Strike.

There is a lot of business news on RT, including what sounds like pretty detailed analysis by several of the channels young, female anchors perched on high stools in short tight skirts.  (Most of the male feature anchors tend to be older and not very attractive...)

Who would have thought that some day Americans would have to rely on Russian Television to find out what’s going on in the world - and at home:


A Marine based in Camp Pendleton, California, created a Facebook page called “Armed Forces Tea Party,” which currently has approximately 19,000 likes and slogans such as “NObama” and “One Nation, under Obama, with poverty and unemployment for all.” Authorities say he has been under the microscope since 2010.


Serendipitously, only days after it cleared Congress, President Obama signed H.R. 347, which makes it a felony to cause a disturbance at certain political events — essentially criminalizing protest in the States.


A feature currently being shone analyses our infatuation with guns, featuring lengthy interviews with Virginia gun owners on the occasion of that state’s lifting of the law the limits gun purchases to one a month.


In sum, all our dirty laundry is hung out to dry by the country we think we defeated twenty years ago. Worldwide.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Apologies, Next Story and an Important Link

Family matters have prevented me from posting anything since March 6th.  I hope to be able to return with an imiportant story in the next few days.  The title will be 'Russia to the Rescue'!

Meanwhile, I urge my readers to go to the following link for the results of some impressive studies about the ethics of the 1% vs the 99% in daily life:

It was sent to me by Tony Shin, of the Occupy  Wall Street movement.




Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Occupy Movement and Worldwide Protest

It is just as wrong to believe the American Occupy movement is leading the worldwide protest, as it is to see it as a mirror image of the protests occurring worldwide, both in terms of its origins and aspirations.

Europeans may have adopted the slogan ‘we are the 99%’, but for them this is merely the up-dated handle of a two-hundred year revolutionary history. The saga that began in a privately-owned square in lower Manhattan on September 17th, 2011, was not organized by unions or other established move-ments or political parties.  It was inspired by first-hand reports of the Arab Spring as well as of the encampments of the Spanish Indignados , victims of the European financial crisisAlthough there are hundreds - even thousands - of ad hoc activist groups in the United States, only a few individuals, mostly academics, are in touch with foreign movements or organizations. In fact, ‘Occupy’ was the result of a dare launched by a brash anti-Madison Avenue magazine called ‘Adbusters’, published in Canada, with a 250,000 circulation.

Straight from Adbusters’ ‘About’ page:

We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist network of the information age. Our aim is to topple the existing power structure and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century.

Adbusters is an ecological magazine, dedicated to examining the relationship between human beings and their physical and mental environment. We want a world in which the economy and ecology resonate in balance.

On July 13th Adbusters sent out a call: “Are you ready for a Tahrir moment?” and that idiosyncratic message set in motion what followed.

A collectively written book entitled ‘Occupy Wall Street’, recently published by OR Books, traces the entire evolution of a phenomenon that continues to grow outside the tradition of both European social movements and Arab liberation movements.

A detailed description of the encampment in a privately-owned park a few blocks from the U.S. Stock Exchange, reveals the existence of two philosophically separate areas, one where reformists set  up their tents, and the other where more radical participants organized communal sleeping quarters.  The reformists appear to have constituted the main participants in the daily General Assemblies that became the hallmark of the movement, but facilitators (as opposed to ‘leaders’) quickly evolved working groups for every aspect of daily life. During its two-month existence, librarians, medics, artists, cooks, security kept the encampment running, while others planned actions, handled communications and outreach.  Tourists came to admire the phenomenon, and thanks to the ubiquitous availability of the internet, sympathizers from around the world phoned in orders for food to be delivered from nearby restaurants.  Lawyers volunteered to be on call when people were arrested for their activities: activists inked their telephone numbers on their arms.

The encampment lasted until November 17th, when it was violently dispersed by New York Police at the order of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  But not before it had organized resistance to foreclosures in the lower middle class borough of Brooklyn, across the East River, and staked out an indoor meeting place in the atrium of a skyscraper at 60, Wall St.

In this massive, elegant, brightly lit space with waterfalls and palm trees, bankers and traders of the neighborhood come for a quiet sandwich, while homeless take refuge from the street, just sitting or perhaps playing chess - not a surprising Manhattan scene.  Occupy working groups hold meetings there, in full sight and sound of the other users of the space.

As with this out of the ordinary meeting place, what has probably gone unreported outside the U.S. (where the phenomenon itself has only been consistently reported in the blogosphere!) is the vast number of protests that were organized across New York.  The City University of New York alone counts 480,000 (four hundred and eighty thousand) students, and there are in addition about one hundred private colleges and universities in the city, including Columbia.  Students, young workers and the unemployed with time to spare make up the major portion of Occupy activists, and this is what distinguishes the phenomenon from the myriad of anti-war, pro-reform, groups that have persisted since resistance to the war in Vietnam and the nationwide civil rights movement.  These have been kept alive by members of the ‘old left’, who are gradually dying out, participation by anyone under fifty a rarity. Through a medium uniquely familiar to them, the Occupy Movement re-activated American youth. They have been joined and supported by the ‘old Left’,  and  include every segment of that population:  radical women, Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, LGBTs and any other minority you can think of.

For two months, Zucotti Park renamed Liberty Plaza, was a unique venue for artists, and tourists flocked to the oblong space as much for its festive atmosphere as to witness the now ubiquitous ‘mic check’. This unique communication tool came into being when the mayor banned microphones, speakers and even battery-powered bullhorns from the encampment, promising thirty days in jail to violators. To overcome this impediment, the participants in a rally or meeting repeat, phrase by phrase, what a speaker says, until those farthest away have heard the phrase.  Speaking in unison builds a powerful sense of togetherness, which more than made up for the slowness of proceedings.

In Philadelphia, where I live, the Occupiers, camped on an enormous plaza in front of City Hall, welcomed the homeless, who often suffer from addiction, and tried to help them. When they realized the problem could not be solved in an encampment, they leaned on city authorities to become more active.  Following a two-week notice by the mayor, the camp was evicted on December 6th, with the participation of mounted police.   It has since repaired to various indoor locations, mainly a neighboring Quaker Meeting House and a Methodist church.  (American Churches are where most anti-war and other progressive groups have been welcome, in a tradition that goes back to the Underground Railroad and reached its zenith with the Civil Rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King.)

Through daily actions and meetings, actively creates community, while exploring the modalities through which community can effect change.  From deep breathing to the incredibly quiet atmosphere of more than a hundred people weighing in on both process and content through hand signals, the Occupiers debate issues of non-violence vs violence, elections vs. alternative solutions, and the best way to join forces with other groups.

Which is a nice segway to  the crucial difference between the Occupiers and the 99%ers in the rest of the world: Occupy brings together ‘people of faith’ or ‘belonging to faith-based traditions’, Anarchists, Democrats (especially Black Democrats) who hope that somehow Obama will get it together in a second term, libertarians (who make it easy for some to claim/wish that in reality the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers have a lot in common), ‘faint-hearted’ liberals and those who think social democracy would be a good thing.

Almost since the beginning, the media has been asking: “What do they want?  What’s their program?” Journalists are aware that around the world the 99% have very definite ideas about what they want, but they never reveal what those ideas are, because they’re usually farther left than social democracy. Even ‘The Swedish model is only mentioned in the American press when it runs into a snag, implying that our 99%ers are not missing anything. No matter the evidence, ‘liberal democracy’, which gives each citizen a vote, is touted, in the oft-quoted phrase of Winston Churchill, as ‘the worst system with the exception of all others’. If people want the financial system to be regulated, that’s up to the Congress that results from the one man one vote system, and if there are lobbyists, why that’s part of free speech, even if the idea would make Churchill turn over in his grave.

It’s important for the worldwide 99% to know that the Occupy Movement is coming from a long history of declining trade-union membership and effective-ness. In the early fifties, as the Cold War ramped up, Senator Joseph McCarthy held months of infamous hearings for the purpose of identifying Communists in and out of government, and its legacy has been a total lack of American ideological literacy even among most activists.  It appears that the majority of Occupy participants continue to assume that system reform represents the best hope for a better America, as it fights desperately to maintain an Empire fast slipping from its grasp.

However during the course of the winter, the dichotomy represented by the two areas of encampment at Liberty Park has given rise to a separate group calling for world-wide revolution  According to its website: “ is the unofficial de facto online resource for the growing occupation movement happening on Wall Street and around the world. We're an affinity group committed to doing technical support work for resistance movements. We're not a subcommittee of the NYCGA (New York City general Assembly) nor affiliated with Adbusters, anonymous or any other organization.”

Ideology is slowly coming to the fore, and I discover that Philadelphia has a long Anarchist tradition.  I ponder whether that is why the space for Marxism and its offshoots has remained empty here in my home town where there is so much Brotherly Love.