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 ( 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.


According to famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, 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

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.