Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reading Putin's Tea Leaves

(I apologize for Word Press's failure to stick to one font color!)

Recently a friend emailed me the link http://www.binghamton.edu/fbc/commentaries/ to an article by a distinguished American historian, Emanuel Wallerstein, about an interview given by Hamid Karzai to the French paper Le Monde that laid out very clearly Karzai’s position on relations with the U.S. going forward, but which the New York Times only mentioned in passing.  Among other things, it revealed that if Karzai continues to refuse to sign the Status of Forces Agreement to regulate the presence of American military after the official pullout, President Obama is considering the possibility that it could just as well be signed by another Afghan official! Evidently, the slide away from legality affects not only drone strikes.
Wallerstein’s comment came to me just as I was beginning a several days long effort to report - in lieu of the New York Times - on Vladimir Putin’s year-end speech to the Russian Duma and guests from business and industry.
American pundits pour over every Presidential speech like divines reading tea leaves. But although the United States shares the planet with 200 other nations, they studiously ignore the speeches of other leaders, depriving Americans of the ability to evaluate their government’s foreign policy decisions.

Washington does not so much fear voters hearing the other side’s story, as discovering its worldview.  Americans must never know that most foreign leaders truly believe dialogue and negotiation are preferable to confrontation, an attitude that goes back to the early days of socialist thought. Whatever the failings of central planning, the belief that war is bad  is inseparable from the desire to improve the human condition. Our culture has become so twisted that we see every Other as a potential threat, to be punished if he disagrees with us. Recent events in Ukraine illustrate this attitude at its most shocking: American diplomats in the streets of Kiev warning the government that if it does not cave in to protesters’ demands to sign a trade deal with Europe, sanctions would follow!

For a century and a half the Other has been anyone concerned with equity.  Now it is purported to be religious fanaticism, however, Islamists are okay if they are pro-capitalist, as shown in the current embarrassing situation in Syria.  The conflict between the 1% and the 99% is as real today as it was when Marx and Engels wrote ‘Das Capital’; however it’s no longer about central planning versus entrepreneurship, rather it is about consumerism and the rape of the planet versus civilization. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin unleashed cowboy capitalism in Russia, but Putin has increasingly realized that this is a terrible system.  While supporting entrepreneurship, he defends the idea that government is the primary purveyor of human solidarity, as clearly reflected in his end of the year speech. You can read it at http://eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/6402.  Here are a few excerpts, starting with two basic ideas:

“Our Constitution brings together two fundamental priorities – the supreme value of rights and freedoms of citizens and a strong state, emphasizing their mutual obligation to respect and protect each other. But life does not stand still, and no constitutional process can ever be regarded as final.”  The necessary dialectic between a strong state and individual freedoms, as well as the common sense notion that constitutions need to evolve with society are diametrically opposed to the American canon in which the constitution is immutable and a strong state is seen as incompatible with individual freedoms. 
Recognizing that the Russian economy is inefficient and that some technology is harmful, Putin called for a modern technical and environmental regulatory system, albeit sensitive to economic complexities. Admitting that the Russian slowdown was due less to the global economic crisis than to internal failings such as low labor productivity and corruption, he called for high quality professional education, a flexible labor market, a good investment climate and modern technology, as do routinely the Presidents of European welfare states.  (Today, Angela Merkel was sworn in for a third term and pledged to uphold the welfare state...)
Turning to education, the Russian president stressed the need for increased mobility between the members of the Russian Federation, noting that the government had raised salaries in education and healthcare in order to attract top students, but condemning exorbitant prices for student dorms. Similarly with housing construction, he called on local authorities to make more land available and lessen the time it takes to get a building permit, while warning developers who fail to begin construction on schedule that they would lose the land. 
With respect to Russia’s mandatory health insurance, it should fully cover the provision of free medical assistance, but patients should be clear as to what they are entitled to free of charge.  Meanwhile the quality of social services should be improved with more efficient spending. 
Putin defined the welfare state as consisting of “the mutual responsibility of the state, the business community, and every Russian citizen’, and called for  greater participation of civil society in local government.  
Undoubtedly, some Americans would find this speech disturbing: the government appears to be organizing everything, to the point of putting a time frame on actions to be taken by the Duma and declaring that once a decision is taken, it should be implemented.  (Imagine Obama doing that!)  But in today’s ultra-complicated world, does the ordinary citizen really benefit from an economic and political free-for-all that allows the few to disregard the many?  
Oblivious to this reality, the media continues to treat the Russian leader as negatively as during the Cold War. Comparing two recent books about Vladimir Putin, The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen and The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia by Angus Roxburgh the New York Times’ Bill Keller made the following comments, while acknowledging that neither author had access to Putin:
“The Russians — in the attitude passed down from czar to party boss to this elected autocrat — must be instructed, talked down to, disciplined, kept in the dark, managed, manipulated. In Russia, what is called “Western-style democracy” leads to childish blithering and disorder. Russians know this in their hearts, supposedly, which is why they vote for Daddy Putin.”  

Later, however, Keller criticizes Ms Gessen for ‘having faith in the Russian people”...... 

Recognizing that “Putin did institute economic reforms that spurred growth, curbed inflation and got people actually paying their taxes”, he nonetheless accuses him of “allowing runaway corruption and largely reversing the privatization of major industries.” To the unbiased reader it seems obvious that the Russian leader put certain companies back under government control because of corruption!
In his 2012 review, Keller accuses Putin of “nationalist bluster in foreign relations; the reimposition of state controls over the resource-based economy; the jailing or killing of political opponents and electoral manipulation.”  Saying you want to cooperate with the rest of the world but that you will defend your nation’s integrity is nationalist bluster, really?  And the killing of political opponents is okay if it’s carried out by drones by not by a hired thug?
Referring to Masha Gessen’s book: “‘Even the most casual Putin-watcher has marveled at his narcissism, manifested in his odd habit of inviting cameras to record him bare-chested on horseback, swimming the butterfly stroke in a Siberian river, scuba diving and collecting skin samples from whales, among other stunts’. Gessen traces his self-absorption back to his youth.“  Does it not seem more likely that Putin wants to be seen as a vigorous, healthy outdoors man because the Soviet Union was ruled for several decades by octogenarians?  Indeed, Putin called on the legislators to encourage active lifestyles, and to: 

Tax on-line purchases;
Finance long-term scientific and technological research;
Create a national professional qualifications council, and a national jobs database;
Make country life more attractive by building modern infrastructures and draft proposals for development in what have heretofore been single-industry towns, targeting support for small and medium businesses;
Oh and by the way make it possible for employers to pay all their taxes at once, while giving tax breaks to regions that invest in industrial and technology parks. 
Putin proposed that people who have broken immigration rules should not be able to enter the country for three to ten years. But businesses should be able to apply for licenses to employ foreigners.
Both Inspections and offshore commercial activity should be better regulated and the latter taxed. While recognizing the need for qualified professionals, Putin wants them supervised, stating that there should be no ‘executive comfort zones’: business executives should be criminally liable for perjury.
Calling for better action against money-laundering, Putin also wants depositors’ money to be protected from failing banks.
Reflecting Russia’s reorientation toward the Pacific Ocean as a member of the BRICS nations that include China and India, he stressed the importance of developing the country’s vast Far East and Eastern Siberia.
Noting the increasingly contradictory nature of global development, Vladimir Putin stressed Russia’s historical responsibility as one of the key guarantors of global and regional stability that consistently espouses a value-based approach to international relations.
“We have always been proud of our nation. But we do not claim to be any sort of superpower with a claim to global or regional hegemony; we do not encroach on anyone’s interests, impose our patronage on anyone, or try to teach others how to live their lives.” Noting Russia’s many centuries of experience, “not of not so-called tolerance, neutered and barren, but the actual modern, life of different peoples within the framework of a single state,” he pledged to defend international law(There are currently 160 nationalities within the Russian Federation.)
With its usual ethnocentric bias, the European and American press take every opportunity to criticize Russia for its testy tolerance of gay life styles, overlooking Putin’s far more numerous followers in the developing world.  According to Putin, “the destruction of traditional values from above leads to negative consequences for society and is anti-democratic when it is contrary to the will of the majority.”
Confirming what I have written in recent blogs, Putin emphasized the importance “not only of material existence but also (religion and) spirituality, the values of humanism and global diversity.”

Finally, referring to the situation in Syria, he said the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons confirmed the indispensable role of the U.N., and together with the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program showed that “any international problem can and should be resolved exclusively through political means, without resorting to forceful actions that are rejected by most nations in the world.”

We may never know all the behind-the-scenes negotia-tions over Ukraine, however the entire thrust of Putin’s speech lends credence to his assertion that Russia wants a three-way negotiated solution. Even if we assume that Putin does not believe his own lofty words, that is less of a problem than the fact that American politicians do believe theirs, which reject compromise and negotiations in favor of the big stick. Whatever the future of Russia, as 2014 draws to a close, it is clear to anyone who looks beyond the New York Times that the world is increasingly weary of America’s bullying.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Honoring Mandela and Other Inconvenient Truths

Two very different stories grabbed my attention over the weekend: RT’s report on Romanian farmers’ opposition to fracking, and talking heads on MSNBC arguing about who was for or against Mandela’s release from prison, given that his party, the ANC (which has ruled Africa since his presidency) was considered a terrorist organization.

What have these two stories in common?  People power and how it is perceived.  Benefitting from years of campaigning in the U.S. against fracking, illustrated in documentaries such as Gas Land by Josh Fox, farmers in a remote corner of Romania, the least developed of the former satellite nations, ruled for twenty-four years by one man, forced oil giant Chevron to suspend its activities:

“Chevron can today confirm it has suspended activities in Silistea, Pungesti commune, Vaslui County as a result of unsafe conditions generated by unlawful and violent protester activities,” Chevron said in a statement.
All over the United States, people have been ‘fighting’ big oil and gas over fracking, with little or no success.  However Romanians, Bulgarians and other Europeans have not been content to sign petitions and organize demonstrations, they have camped out on fracking sites.  
Greenpeace launched an anti-fracking campaign in Great Britain in October, holding workshops in civil disobedience, direct action and other campaign strategies that attracted about 1,000 people, including some from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Poland.
But protesters in Poland had already fought Chevron to a standstill over the summer. While shooting a follow-up to his film Drill, Baby, Drill, about fracking in Poland and Pennsylvania, Lech Kowalski pointed out that Polish farming families had survived the Nazis, then the Soviets, and saw themselves as partisans fighting for the land, blocking the entrances and ready to throw Molotov cocktails.

The Bulgarian anti-fracking campaign was more peaceful, as big business claimed it was all about Russia losing its gas contracts, but farmers had the traditions of the land going for them and ultimately, theBulgariam government withdrew a previously granted permit to Chevron.

Local bans against fracking have been enacted in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, and France's highest legal body, the Constitutional Council, approved a 2011 ban on fracking passed by parliament. 

The worldwide anti-fracking campaign illustrates the difference between activists in the US and those in other countries, whose first-hand experience of war and ideological struggle determines a grittier form of activism.

Similarly, having had to organize resistance to invasion and occupation that involved acts of terrorism, Europeans were more inclined to view the ANC as freedom fighters, than terrorists.  Britain, though bombed, did not suffer occupation, and together with the US was the only country aside from South Africa itself, to have officially considered the ANC as a terrorist organization. 

The ways in which history weighs on the contemporary behavior of nations and peoples affect many different issues, all of which are ultimately about the extent to which ordinary people experience their inherent rights as human beings.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ukraine's Hissy Fit

Ukraine’s Hissy Fit

The country that used to be the breadbasket of Europe is a new bone of contention between the European Union and Russia. Ukraine, the land of the southern Russians (as Yugoslavia was the land of the southern Slavs), sits on Russia’s Western frontier. 

According to one RT commentator, the Poles and Lithuanians are pushing Brussels to bring Ukraine into the European fold. Although they have old scores to settle, these pale in comparison to a shared desire to cock a snoot at Russia in retaliation for a historical pattern of domination.

It is difficult for Westerners to understand why any country would want to join a European Union that is currently experiencing so many problems. In fact, this is a totally irrational desire: the Orthodox former Soviet Republics, whether it be Bela Rus, Ukraine or Georgia, are obsessed with not wanting to be identified with historically backward or Communist Russia. Notwithstanding their own backwardness they want to  be considered part of the culturally superior West.  Having lived in Eastern Europe for six years when it was still part of the Soviet Empire, I can testify that it is impossible to overestimate this longing.  When I worked at the Hungarian Radio, lack of recognition that together with Poland and Czechoslovakia it was indeed part of Europe was expressed as: ‘They think we still cook meat under the saddle.’  Of all the countries of the East European block, Hungary most actively strove to play the role of bridge between East and West. Its efforts culminated in the opening of its frontier with Austria starting in May 1989 that allowed thousands of East German tourists to reach the West. A previously unthinkable act, it led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November and the dissolution of the Soviet block.

But Bela Rus, Ukraine and Georgia have far less of a claim to a European identity than the Eastern European satellite nations. In the Middle Ages, Bela Rus, Ukraine and Russia were all part of the principality of Kiev, or Kievan Rus, which extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. While all three countries claim Kievan Rus as their cultural heritage, today independent Bela Rus and Ukraine constitute a sort of no-man’s land that buffers their vast and powerful neighbor.  As of 2011, Ukraine was the world's third-largest grain exporter, and according to Wikipedia, it is one of ten most attractive agricultural regions. Although regarded as a developing economy with high potential, indispensable economic and legal reforms would be more brutally implemented under Brussels tutelage than if they happened at Ukraine’s own pace.

And yet, for western Ukrainians, (as opposed to the pro-Russian eastern half), the fact that Brussels cannot afford to bring them up to speed economically is obviously less important than being part of glamorous, sophisticated Europe.  They probably feel that they are well-acquainted with hardship, but the demonstrators in Kiev should ask themselves whether they would they be happy in a European Union that is being forced to walk back its welfare state?  

With respect to mutual recriminations of behind-the-scenes manipulation of the population by both Russia and the EU, this is surely a fact: Napoleon and Hitler both contributed to Russia’s obsession with being surrounded, while the EU, increasingly beholden to Wall Street, carries out the Empire’s policy of intimidation and encroachment, seeking to diminish Russia’s growing clout by co-opting the countries on its borders, both economically, via the EU, and militarily through NATO. 
 In my 1989 book ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’ I wrote that the Soviet Union could not hope to become part of the European Union because it was simply too big to be considered primus inter pares.   That situation remains the same with the Russian Republic, which covers a land area almost four times that of the European Union, even though its population is only one third that of the EU.  Nor does Russia seek EU membership.  Rather, as Vladimir Putin put it a few days ago,  explaining the danger to Russia’s economy of the Ukraine being flooded with cheap European goods, ‘What do we have to do so that they (the EU) like us?’.  
Here too, we get the same sense of being considered culturally inferior by Europe. But Russia is allied with both China and India, two powerful emerging economies, all participants in the BRICS, which include forty percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of its GDP. In this game of chess it should be able to keep its cool, realizing that its ‘near abroad’ - Ukraine, Bela Rus and Georgia - do not represent its future as much as do the ‘far abroad’ BRiCS, for the ‘East’ is now also ‘the South’, and is destined to outweigh the ‘North’ and the ‘West’ however much these areas dominated the past.

P.S. This post was written two days ago.  Today we learn that China is coming to the financial rescue of Ukraine…….

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Stealing a March on 2014

Two weeks ago, an office I was calling was already having their Christmas party, so I figure it’s not too soon to be talking about 2014.
Next year’s date probably doesn’t remind most on-line readers of anything in particular, whether we’re talking about the millennial generation or the baby-boomers. But for someone who was a child during World War II, 2014 inevitably calls up 1914, when the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated in Sarajevo, setting off World War I. Today, we associate that city in the former Yugoslavia with the mass killing of Muslim men and boys by Serbs, as the country invented after that war fell apart. 

A hundred years ago the killing of one person started a war so savage that it ended with a shared vow: “Never again!”  And yet, that senseless butchery of thousands of young men in trenches by the newly invented machine gun merely paved the way for the use of other new technologies to assassinate Jews, Gays and Communists by the millions in Hitler’s crematoria.  This was followed by the dropping of two atom bombs in Japan, the Khmer Rouge killing by starvation or assassination between one and two million people, and on and on.

As the American media focuses tirelessly on the mid-term elections that will determine whether the needle on the political spectrum moves slightly left or right, it continues to turn its back on the struggle for equity marked indelibly by the milestone that followed 1914, 1917, the date of the Russian Revolution.

In the hundred years since 1917, notwithstanding two world wars and countless “minor” wars resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths, humanity has failed to solve the problem of equity. Coming at the height of robber baron capitalism, the Russian Revolution gave rise to capitalism’s most extreme incarnation, fascism, the alliance of state and oligarchy to squelch popular demands for economic justice. Although Russian peasants were still living under a form of feudalism, the workers and peasants in Eastern Europe were scarcely better off, and the October Revolution spread briefly to Hungary and to heavily indebted post-war Germany, allowing Hitler’s rise.

In response, resigned to the fact that World War I had not been ‘the war to end all wars’, the liberal democracies banded together to protect their interests against those of a resurgent Germany. They sided temporarily with the Soviet Union in order to achieve this (nor could they have succeeded otherwise). However, the two sides in the alliance had different aims: the capitalist world didn’t want its pursuit of wealth subservient to Germany’s, while the communist regime didn’t want Hitler to turn back the clock to the time when oligarchs ruled. Given that dichotomy, the postwar world could only lead to a full fledged standoff between two systems that competed for the allegiance of third world client states.

Several important things happened over the next fifty years: the number of client states increased as Third World countries achieved independence from their colonial masters, Eastern Europe came out from under the Soviet grip, and the Soviet Union itself broke apart, leaving Moscow to complete Peter the Great’s Westernization and achieve a major power status that went beyond ICBM’s. Almost simultaneously China reached a level of development that put it too in the running for major power status, and the two former communist allies which had for a time been enemies, realized they again shared a common goal: the defeat of financial capitalism in favor of worldwide development that would not throw the socialist baby out with the Communist bathwater.

Largely under-reported by America’s mainstream media, China offers no-strings attached development aid to Latin America and Africa, while Russia challenges the United States in the oil-rich Middle East (though it has plenty of oil of its own, as well as a cornucopia of other precious minerals).  While Beijing acts as Washington’s banker of last resort, Russia burnishes its legal and civil credentials, with one big advantage over its lesson-giving rival: Russia’s executive is closer to FDR’s than Obama’s. While gradually developing the ‘rule of law’ and ‘representative democracy’, Putin doesn’t have to coddle a Duma intent on sabotaging his Presidency, and he has the power to keep his oligarchs in check.  His relationship with the later is not only about power, but about a determination that consumption not become the supreme value, nor eliminate old fashioned morality.  In response to attacks by radical Islamists from Russia’s periphery, Putin supports a modernization that is compatible with family values  - as important in Islam as in other religions. This gives him a decided advantage in the Muslim world, whose opposition to ‘the West’ is precisely about life-style and morality.

What does all this bode for 2014? The strife in the Muslim world should be viewed as one overarching phenomenon, even if each country is unique. It is a systemic upheaval in which the antagonism between the haves and the have-nots overlaps with a conflict between secular and religious world views, that is likely to require at least one generation to overcome. In that respect, 2014 also harks back to another fateful date in the teens: 1517, when Martin Luther posted his critique of Catholicism on the door of a church in Germany, setting off what would become the Protestant Reformation. As I’ve written before (http://otherjonesii.blogspot.com/2012/06/islam-reformation.html), I do not believe it to be far-fetched to describe the what is happening in the Muslim world as a sort of Reformation.  The Christian Reformation coincided with the Renaissance, when modern science was born. Today, many Muslims, while not rejecting science, condemn the society that it has inspired. 

If a hundred years from now humanity is able to look back with more hope than we have today, it will be partly thanks to a worldwide questioning of that society’s lifestyle that threatens the planet.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Conversation with Fidel Castro after JFK's Assassination

Taking advantage of my dual U.S./French citizenship, in the summer of 1963 I flew to Cuba on a dare from the French photo-weekly Paris-Match to do a ‘portrait’ of Fidel Castro.  After the story was published, lavishly illustrated with photos of Fidel scuba-diving by the French photographer Roger Pic, I was invited back, having momentarily broken a Western anti-Cuba mold that began with the 1959 revolution and was exacerbated by the Missile Crisis the year before.
While making arrangements with an Italian publisher for the book I wanted to write (were the barbudos Communists before they made the revolution or not?), I was interning at Paris-Match.  We had just put the week’s issue to bed when news came of President Kennedy’s death.  We stayed up all night redoing the magazine, and I made up my mind to cash in my open invitation as soon as possible.

A week later I was on a flight to Havana from Prague.  As sometimes happened in those days, the plane developed engine trouble and we spent two days in cold, rainy Shannon, Ireland, the wheel of French cheese I was bringing for Fidel smelling up my hotel room.  Fidel’s doctor, friend and tireless aide de camp, Commandante Rene Vallejo, met me at the airport and took charge of the cheese.  A few days later, he and Fidel, plus a couple of security guards, woke me at 1 a.m. at the Habana Libre.

About ten days before the Kennedy assassination, Fidel had met with French journalist Jean Daniel, editor of l’Observateur (now Le Nouvel Observateur), and reports of that meeting had held out the hope of a truce with Kennedy.  (Eighteen years and I got into an argument with Daniel over socialist France’s new-found fascination with the United States - but that’s another story.)

In the fifty years since JFK’s assassination, including my ten-year stay in the U.S. in the seventies, and the thirteen years since I returned again, I’ve never had the impression that the American public was aware of what we Europeans had found so tragic: that JFK’s death came shortly after that fateful meeting with a prominent French journalist to whom Castro had entrusted a message for the American president (or maybe it was the other way around, memory fails me on this point today).  

Anyway, here was I sitting on the edge of my sofa-bed in my bathrobe as four men with beards found chairs and lit up their cigars.  They had just come from watching the Italian film ‘Divorce Italian Style’ and Fidel was imitating Mastroianni’s rendition of the maritally handicapped husband’s tics.

If I had thought we would zero in on the assassination of the American president, I was mistaken - as was often the case when trying to predict what the Cuban leader would do.  He made relatively short shrift of the subject:

“Kennedy was an enemy that we knew.  But Johnson has to think about the elections.”

I interjected: “That’s why I’m worried that he might do something spectacular that would put him on an equal footing with the Republicans.”

Fidel disagreed: “He’s trying to win over the liberals.  I don’t think he’ll try an invasion.”  He was glad that the Cuban consulate in Mexico happened to deny Oswald a Cuban transit visa to travel to the Soviet Union.  Had the visa been granted, the accusations against the ‘Castro-Communists’ would have been a lot more worrisome.

Vallejo mentioned a UPI report that Oswald had made a previous trip the Soviet Union for the CIA.

And that was that.  What Fidel really wanted to talk about was cyclone Flora, that had devastated the island a few weeks earlier.  He wanted me to be sure to hear about  it from those most affected.  The next day I viewed the newsreels showing the barbudos participating in the relief efforts, before going on a tour of the island with Alberto Korda.  You can read all about this and other events that took place during the year 1963-64 in my book ‘Cuba 1964: When the Revolution was Young’.  Pictures from my Cuban archive are on-line at duke.edu.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Privatization of the World

Each day brings fresh revelations of aberrant human behavior on the part of the 1%, followed by on-line petitions, demonstrations and appeals to intelligence or good conscience. At some point, activists must come to the realization that their actions cannot bring meaningful results because the behaviors they wish to correct are not exceptions but part of an overarching new normal.
Take for example the intensive lobbying on the part of American private prison companies to increase sentences for non-violent crimes.  The privatization of activities that were hitherto the purview of government, or were regulated by government, or were at least required to conform to national or international laws, are part of a massive, coordinated, plan to harness all human activity for the benefit of a few. Governments to whom petitions are addressed provide merely a semblance of control. 

The twentieth century saw the birth of fascism, an extreme form of capitalism in which the state is allied with a corporate oligarchy.  Hitler and Mussolini were defeated in World War II, but having discovered the goose that lays the golden egg, i.e., state-sponsored private enterprise, corporations have become so powerful that they no longer need a dictator to protect their activities. What President Eisenhower dubbed the military/industrial complex is now a many-headed hydra. Under the Reagan administration, it added finance, then George Bush continued Richard Nixon’s attack on legality by inventing the ‘unitary executive’; finally, under law professor Barack Obama the Imperial Presidency morphed into 21st century fascism, whose aim far outstrips that of Hitler’s crowd. They merely wanted to ‘rule’ the world: the one percent would privatize all activity in every conceivable area of human endeavor across the entire planet for profit.

The impossibility of achieving this through military means  was clear almost as soon as Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled, so while coping as best they could with the Pandora’s box of occupation, the Neo-Cons launched the Tea-Party to disrupt government at home, while crafting a diabolical plan to pimp the world using seemingly peaceful means. We’ll probably never know whether the 2008 financial debacle was a conspiracy, but one thing is certain: it created economic mayhem in our closest economic rival, Europe, which also offered its workers benefits that Americans might someday demand for themselves. Forced to implement ever greater austerity measures that have turned the welfare state upside down, stocking popular revolt, governments were finally offered a way out: their signatures on overarching treaties with the United States that would put paid to solidarity. The one intended to harness the Pacific community to America’s aims is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the one that will discipline Europe is the Trans-Atlantic Free trade Agreement (TAFTA). Drafted with major inputs from transnational corporations, they spell out the means by which the goals of the international 1% are to be implemented.

As I wrote in The Fatal Loneliness of American  Exceptionalism, “for centuries, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans kept the United States isolated from the give and take between neighbors on other continents. America remained alone and proud of it, interacting with other nations only to ensure that they served our needs, bought our products and agreed with our definition of freedom.“ Now, as the BRICS countries, led by China and Russia, increasingly threaten America’s lone superpower status,  it has codified these obligations.

Here are some slightly edited excerpts from an October paper on TAFTA by Global Research: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-us-eu-transatlantic-free-trade-agreement-tafta-big-business-corporate-power-grab/5352885:
“There is growing concern that the negotiations could open Europe’s floodgates to GMOs and shale gas (fracking),  threaten digital and labor rights and empower corporations to legally challenge a wide range of regula-tions which they dislike.
Recognition by the EU and the US of each others’ rules and regulations could reduce regulation to the lowest common denominator. The US wants all so-called barriers to trade, including controversial regulations protecting agriculture, food and data privacy, to be removed. The leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, made it clear that any agreement must reduce EU restrictions on genetically modified crops, chlorinated chickens and hormone-treated beef.
The European public does not want these things. Europeans want powerful corporations to be held to account and their practices regulated by elected representatives whom they trust to protect the public good. Under pretext of a legally binding treaty, TAFTA (would allow) corporations to impose unpopular and dangerous policies rejected by the democratic process.
Corporate demands include an ambitious liberalization of agricultural trade barriers with as few exceptions as possible. The lobbying group Food and Drink Europe, representing the largest food companies, Unilever, Kraft, NestlĂ©, etc. supported by feed and grain giants Cargill, Bunge, ADM, the agribusiness lobby COPA-COGECA, and the biotech industry on both sides of the Atlantic, are pushing for acceptance of low levels of unapproved genetically modified crops.  
The report also warns that the agreement could open the floodgates to multi-million Euro lawsuits from corporations who could challenge a country’s laws if they affect their bottom line. 
According to Pia Eberhardt, trade campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory and author of A Transatlantic Corporate Bill of Rights :
“The proposed investor rights show what the transatlantic trade deal is really about: It’s a power grab by corporations to rein in democracy and handcuff governments that seek to regulate in the public interest. It’s only a matter of time before European citizens start paying the price in higher taxes and diminished social protection.
“Where is the democracy surrounding this proposed TAFTA? Where is ordinary people’s protection from the ‘free’ market corporate-financial cabals that ultimately drive global economic policy and geo-political strategies? TAFTA is little more than a corporate power grab that pretends to promote growth, freedom, harmony and job creation.”
And French political activist Michel Collon adds:
“Under the treaty it would be illegal to tax financial trans-actions, prevent banks from speculating with depositors’ money, limit the size of companies, regulate imports and exports of oil and natural gas in order the protect the environment. Government power over education, health and public services would be curtailed, Big Pharma would be able to block generic drugs, internet providers could legally spy on us, trash content and even deprive us of access.”
As part of a worldwide plan, these agreements are not only detrimental to American workers. Unfortunately, even independent news sources cannot bring themselves to tell them that their foreign counterparts are in the same leaky boat as they are, therefore depriving them of jobs will not be a solution. As environmental threats pile onto economic uncertainty, it is more important than ever for Americans to widen their access to news: France 24 gives daily, detailed coverage of events in Europe, Africa and the Far East, while RT devotes considerable air-time to under-reported American news, international finance, the BRICS countries, and Latin America. Together they reveal the rich tapestry of a world that Americans only hear about when their leaders decide they ‘require’ intervention, but whose reality informs what happens to them.  
In 2000, the Andean peasants of Bolivia successfully defeated attempts by international water companies to tax their life-giving resource, ultimately bringing Evo Morales to the presidency. The question now is whether together, the citizens of the world, coming from widely different cultures and political traditions, will be able to defeat the ultimate threat to freedom and solidarity: the total privatization of their lives for profit.  The first step is to resist the temptation to focus on individual aberrations. This drains energy from the one big fight that determines all the rest: that against the international military/industrial/financial complex.  
Americans need to realize that on-line petitions are mere irritants to the system - the externalities of doing business. Recent revolts in places as different as Turkey and Brazil against the consumer society indicate a much greater level of awareness of what is at stake than exists currently in the United States. Americans are still divided over a health care reform that is still far from universal coverage, while the rest of the world considers it an aberration for education and health to be privatized.  This dichotomy shows that the best investment American activists can make of their time and efforts is to join with their counterparts in Europe and Asia to scuttle TAFTA and TPP.  If implemented, these two treaties will form the legal and structural basis for even more aberrant power behavior in every area of human life, therefore priority should be given to defeating them, rather than opposing  the individual ways in which the power structure sells humanity down the river. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why is US Relief Taking So Long?

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines a week ago and it is only now that the US military announces it is sending help.

Notwithstanding the Asian Pivot, that must include dozens of ships in the region, the response has been shockingly slow. (The typhoon had been forming since November 3rd...)

Yesterday the Philadelphia Metro signaled that once sailors returned from shore leave a US ship in nearby Hong Kong would take off for the disaster. Once they returned? Really? What happened to urgent recall of all personnel?

With climate disasters set to increase, Washington should be thinking about increased preparedness: this is one area where it can still shine - if it wants to.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Do I Write About The Big Picture?

I recently read that only 5% of Americans are interested in foreign affairs, and I believe that astonishing figure goes far toward explaining why we have been traipsing across the world in big boots for so long. The 'international community' our Presidents invoke to justify intervention appears to be coalescing in opposition to that behavior, so Americans need to start paying attention to daily events beyond our borders.

Forget about the butterfly wings flapping in Mexico that impact Siberia. What happens from day to day in the 200 countries Americans share the planet with have a direct - and newly cumulative - bearing on our daily lives: whether taxes go up or down, whether social security is solvent, whether schools are repaired, immigrants welcomed or deported - and especially, whether we will continue to dominate those 200 countries with the most awesome military and spying technologies the world has ever seen.

Rather than the butterfly, it’s useful to think in terms of phase transitions. A phase transition is a magic moment when a trend that was gathering pace reaches a tipping point and changes direction, whether for better or worse. The problems we face are disparate trends all leading eventually to phase transitions, but also, interacting and hence affecting each others phase transitions.

Another useful notion derived from modern physics is that the arrow of time is irreversible: once a trend takes off, it keeps going in the same direction until it reaches a phase transition. That is why when a political opposition campaigns for peaceful change, it rarely succeeds. It take a sustained acceleration of energy through a system to provoke a phase transition, or bifurcation. Examples are 1917 Russia, when the Mensheviks failed to obtain gradual, ‘civilized’ change and the more determined, better organized Bolsheviks imposed it by force. This also happened in Depression era Germany, where the social democrats capitulated to highy organized and energized Nazis.

The United States is witnessing a monumental phase transition from uncontested world power to has been, as one diplomatic blunder after another bring its ‘Atlantic’ partners closer to the point of view of former ‘Third World’ nations whose voices are poised to carry the day in international fora.

America’s decline is occurring more rapidly that its ascent. I cannot advise you on how to cope with it, but I will continue to report and analyze the sea changes that constitute its daily markers.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sea Changes V, Vi, VII and VIII

When Larry King signed on to RT, Vladimir Putin’s international television channel that broadcasts in English, Spanish and Arabic, one could rationalize that the aging TV personality may not have found another opportunity in the US after leaving CNN.

But now Donald Trump goes to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant and reveals plans to build a second Trump Tower.

And while that was happening, Germany and Brazil, whose leaders were among those spied on by the NSA, submitted a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly calling for internationally recognized rights to privacy.

If anyone is still wondering whether a new international configuration is taking shape (led by China, Russia, and the other BRICS nations, including Brazil), they need only to consider that during a Florida fund raiser President Obama wondered if it still made sense to maintain the Cuban embargo put in place when he was a toddler.

A few years ago lifting the Cuban embargo might have sufficed to save America’s reputation. But now, while it will of course benefit the Cubans, it’s too little too late to save the Empire.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Some Myths Never Die

What if the myth of American exceptionalism were linked to an insane idea? According to RT.com: “A report based on a secret NSA document and published this week in Der Spiegel and the Sydney Morning Herald, has named a number of cities in which Asian embassies have been used for electronic surveillance by a group of intelligence partners known as the "Five Eyes". The US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are bound by a written intelligence-sharing agreement. The embassies allegedly involved in the spying spree are [those in] Jakarta, Bangkok, Beijing, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia, among others.

Can spying by five AngloSaxon eyes be explained merely by their geographically justified interest in ‘Oriental’ Asian countries? Or does this juxtaposition hark back to a 150 year belief in ‘Aryan superiority’ as documented in James Bradley’s 2005 book ‘The Imperial Cruise’?

Bradley’s account uses a 1905 Pacific junket organized by then President Theodore Roosevelt as pretext for an investigation into a little-known pillar of American foreign policy, the myth of the superiority of the ‘Aryan’ race. This deleterious idea did not begin with Hitler, as most Americans believe, but goes back several centuries and has played a major role in the foreign policy of both Great Britain and the United States.

You have to read Bradley’s book to get the details, but let me just divulge here that in the early twentieth century Japan set out to prove that it was unlike the other Asian ‘barbarians’ by industrializing and adopting American ways, ultimately being seen by Washington as Honorary Aryans. So strong was his belief that the United States backed Japan in its epic 1904 war with white but non-Aryan and non-Protestant Russia over Manchuria.

One might think this crazy idea would have died a natural death since the second world war, but if it did, why are five ‘Aryan’ countries spying on a list of Asian nations to this day? And for that matter, is ‘the West’s’ battle with Islam partly a prolongation of the old myth of Aryan superiority that was brutally challenged when non-Aryans took on the bastion of White supremacy on 9/11?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

America's Finlandization of Europe

As Edward Snowden prepares to tell the German leaders everything he knows about American spying, and considers the possibility of moving his asylum from Moscow to Berlin, it’s time to take a retrospective look at Europe’s relations with Russia.

During the Cold War, Washington incessantly warned Europeans that even if Soviet tanks didn’t come rolling across the Central plain, the continent would be neutralized, as happened to Finland. For decades that country felt it had to avoid challenging its powerful neighbor, the Soviet Union, thus limiting its ability to pursue a truly independent foreign policy. (During that period social democratic Finland rose to become one of the most prosperous countries in the world…)

Somehow, pundits on both sides of the Atlantic warned, doughty Moscow was going to draw the prosperous, hip countries of Western Europe into its orbit and lock them away behind an Iron Curtain. Reagan wanted to install ‘defensive’ Pershing missiles in West Germany; if fired, they would have destroyed the heart of Europe in order to ‘save’ it from Communism. That insane project fortified the peace movements on both sides of the Iron Curtain and in a few short years led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the emancipation of the rest of Eastern Europe, and less than a year later, to the formal reunification of Germany’s two halves.

Notwithstanding this truly earth-shattering event, which no recognized pundit foresaw (I did, in my book ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’ which came out on the day the Berlin Wall fell), the governments of Europe stuck with Washington (those of the Eastern half being the most pro-American, even though Washington had not lifted a finger to liberate them). After 9/11, their osmosis with Uncle Sam led them to throw decades of strict banking regulations to the winds and buy into Wall Street’s Financial Follies. In 2008, the world’s largest economy was decapitated, along with its welfare system that included month-long vacations, maternity leave and a host of minor benefits that Americans could not even dream of.

Meanwhile, Russia got through the Yeltsin years, during which Western financiers got richer on the backs of its citizens, finally inventing a new power-sharing system between a law professor and a former KGB agent. The musical chairs between Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, who have alternated in the roles of President and Prime Minister, elicit condescending remarks from American pundits. But is this arrangement any less ‘democratic’ than alternations between the American Democratic and Republican parties which nowadays can hardly be told apart?

Under its duopoly, Russia’s involvement with Europe is not limited to supplying gas: besides being a member of the Council of Europe, (along with Ukraine and Azerbaijan, while the United States is only an observer...), Russian teams play European football, soccer, hockey, etc. (The Union of European Football Association includes Russia, Kazakstan, Moldova, Bela Rus and Ukraine....) While all this can be seen as a post-Communist friendly Finlandization (or the realization of Mikhail Gorbachev’s dream of ‘a common European home’), is it pure coincidence that it should come on the heels of a truly devastating American Finlandization of Europe.

The 2008 crash was no self-contained event from which the continent, five years on, is recovering. It put an end to a system that had provided its people with ever-broader support for everything from education to old-age care (known pejoratively as cradle-to-grave welfare) since the end of World War II.

The United States did not turn Europe into a battlefield, or even bring it under its direct control, as the Soviet Union supposedly aspired to do: it used the international financial system it controls to destroy a superior way of life built up over half a century. And following Edward Snowden’s revelations as to the extent and depth of America’s secret aggressions, Europe is increasingly likely to gravitate toward Russia and the other BRICS countries, leaving the United States to console itself with the conviction that the rest of the world hates it for its freedoms.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Luck Running Out

George' Clooney's 2005 film 'Good Night, and Good Luck', a tribute to the great journalist, Edward R. Morrow, who signed off with those words, should be shown again.

   Morrow was CBS's star newsman.  His boss William Paley, did not interfere with editorial decisions, but would "not allow editorial decisions' to bring down the network.  When Morrow denounced Joseph McCarthy, for conducting a veritable witch hunt against supposed Communists, Paley riled but stood behind him.

  Morrow felt compelled to break with the media's uncritical coverage of Congress's anti-communist crusade when the Air Force dismissed a pilot on grounds that his immigrant father had subscribed to a foreign newspaper, supposedly making the young man a security risk. His principled stance eventually led to McCarthy's downfall, and the film closes with a shot of President Eisenhower reminding Americans that "we have habeus corpus' and no one can take that from us.

A year after Clooney's film was released, in 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Patriot Act, eliminating habeus corpus for those suspected of terrorism - or, in an eery throwback to the airman's father - of associating with terrorist suspects. Seven years later, the corporate media maintains an obedient, united front against Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and a growing cohort of whistle-blowers.

  In the films' final take, Morrow maintains that television could be a powerful educational tool, but he was not heard in the big three boardrooms.  CNN came on the scene in 1980 with the desire to do better, but with Ted Turner's ouster, it became just another spin machine.  Neither the print media nor mainstream telelvision acknowledge the existence of foreign networks such as Al-Jazeera, France 24 or RT, hence most Americans haven't a clue as to what the rest of the world is thinking, doing or wanting.

  Publlc ignorance has led to a situation that even the most astute observers would have deemed impossible just six months ago: Edward Snowden is weighing whether to swap his Moscow asylum for Berlin, or testify remotely about NSA spying on the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. The arrow of time, combined with the acceleration of energy within the world system is moving it toward a bifurcation point that signals a change of era.  Notwithstanding Morrow's fervent wishes, our luck is running out.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bitcoin Getting a Lot of Attention

This is just another 'I told you so' post, reminding readers that I published a lengthy piece about Bitcoin on May 22, 2013 when few people had heard of it. Part of the job of a political blogger - in my view - is to recognize trends early on, which I call getting the 'gist' of[ what goes on in the world, as opposed to hard facts, which are of course crucial, but usually come too late to change. For details on what is going on with bitcoin, see RT.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Fatal Loneliness of American Exceptionalism

You have to be deaf, dumb and blind - or perhaps just media-challenged - not to notice that the world center of gravity is shifting from Washington to Moscow, as foreign leaders - and American whistleblowers - increasingly gravitate to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and sports fans book tickets to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, not far from Yalta, where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin planned the post-war carve-up of Europe. How could this have happened?

When the Puritan John Winthrop told British colonists in 1629 that America would be as Christ’s ‘city on a hill’, he meant it as a warning, ‘the eyes of the world upon us’ signifying that their behavior must be above reproach - or ‘exceptional’.

For almost three hundred years, two oceans kept the United States isolated from the give and take between neighbors on other continents. America remained alone and proud of it, interacting with other nations only to ensure that they served our needs, bought our products and agreed with our definition of freedom. Now we find ourselves worryingly alone, as the rest of the world coalesces around our former enemies to tackle the 21st century’s challenges. How could such a transformation happen?

America’s rejection of Otherness began with the Pilgrims, who exiled individual religious dissidents from their colonies. When they eventually threw off a British king, they created an enduring suspicion of both government and foreigners: in 1798, the first of several legislative acts codified that exceptional American trait with the four Aliens and Seditions Acts targeting Americans suspected of sympathy for a foreign power.

As I outlined in my 1989 book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde, published in France with a grant from the Centre National du Livre, there is also a fundamental difference between American and European definitions of democracy that stems from their diverging views of freedom. The American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of Human Rights lay down the same legal protections, but the young nation’s pursuit of happiness left mutual responsibility out in the cold, in contrast to Jacobin France’s proclamation of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’.

That motto swept across the world and eventually much of Europe and the Third World to build welfare states. In America, however suspicion of both government and foreigners endured: the notion of equal opportunity spawned by the natural wealth available to all foreclosed any notion of equity, in a powerful political tradition that denies the community’s responsibility for its citizens well-being. As government became a tool of capital, the drive to the West fostered entrepreneurship, while the less daring became ‘wage earners’. The progressive movement that came into its own with the fight against slavery was a victim of that trajectory. In 1917, Congress renewed its drive against all things foreign with another Sedition Act, and in 1918 it passed the Espionage and Aliens Act, which contradicted the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that:

“Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The media’s loss of independence contributed powerfully to this development. The New York Times’ nineteenth century definition of purpose was beyond reproach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times):

"We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good;—and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment and radical reform. We do not believe that everything in Society is either exactly right or exactly wrong;—what is good we desire to preserve and improve;—what is evil, to exterminate, or reform."

However, as advertising chipped away at lofty ideals, journalists were tamed to serve corporate needs. In the nineteen thirties, President Roosevelt was a member of the upper class, but like Lenin, Mao and later the Castro brothers, he knew that robber capitalism was leaving too many people out in the cold. The corporate-owned press conflated his New Deal with socialism, and socialism with ‘foreign’, strengthening right-wing resistance to progressive ideas.

In 1938, that resistance led Congress to create the infamous House un-American Activities Committee, unleashing what became known as a ‘witch hunt’ against suspected Communists, with Senator McCarthy doing likewise in the Senate. The ideological crime of leftists was enhanced by the conviction that they were ‘beholden to a foreign power’. Uncritically reported by the media, terrifying machinations lead to hundreds of ruined careers and several suicides. Sixty years later, legislation that deprives children of illegal immigrants born in the United States of citizen-ship, flouting centuries of Roman law known as jus sol, descends directly from the fear of Others and in particular foreigners that has held sway since the days of the Pilgrims.

As pride over victory in two world wars gave way to fear of ‘the Communist threat’, information about the wider world virtually disappeared from the media, and criticisms of that lack continue to be answered with finality that ‘the American public is not interested in foreign affairs’. While the rest of the world knows that fascism unabashedly serves the few, while socialism is at least intended to serve the many, America’s corporate-owned press deliberately confounds these two ideologies to justify condemning a religion that requires a daily act of charity.

The legal sidelining of our two hundred year old egalitarian constitution, amended only twenty-seven times, began with a 19th century Supreme Court clerk’s stroke of the pen that granted corporations the advantages of personhood. Money and perks have always been used to make government responsive to certain interests, but in no other country has this practice been codified. American enemies of solidarity recently shut down the government for two weeks in their efforts to kill Obamacare, as a world universally committed to universal free healthcare looked on in astonishment, and religious conflicts exacerbated by a lack of equity raged on.

The paranoia that defines the United States could have faded during the rebellious sixties, but the flamboyant raiments of the counter-culture’s political message only succeeded in fanning the flames until it was ‘born again’ under the neo-conservatives. Finally, we got Wall Street Wizards who divided us into consumers and debtors, as they bankrolled the plundering of the world’s wealth. In contrast to the rest of the world, America’s elegant architecture of checks and balances relies on volunteers for services that should be met by society as a whole, while right wing propaganda fosters a lazy attitude among government employees, reinforcing the impression that it is wasteful. We are only ‘citizens’ when we vote, and if needed services are not profitable, ‘we’ don’t get them, because they cost ‘tax-payers’ too much. The media blackout has been carried to such an extreme that Americans today are oblivious to the fact that the world is marching on without them under foreign iterations of the Pilgrims’ ethos.

Watch Putin’s English language channel (rt.com) for a few days and you will realize that capitalist Russia, far from throwing the solidarity baby out with the Communist bath water, sees itself as a social democracy (albeit with a less developed civil society than Western models), still convinced that society must protect its individual members from want (to use Franklin Roosevelt’s famous but long forgotten phrase). And in a supreme irony, today it is Russia that defends the principles that Washington had enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (modeled on revolutionary France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen) specifies that: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

More powerful than any man in the White House, Putin keeps his oligarchs in check, nurtures Russian Orthodoxy while encouraging moderniza-tion in the federation’s Islamic republics, and promotes traditional values while rejecting mindless consumption. Putting past squabbles aside, Russia has joined with China in a formidable opposition to America’s international agenda.

In America, individualism reigns supreme, yet the notion of each person’s intrinsic worth, based on his conscience, which I call internal authority, is ignored. Not only have we eliminated the individual’s say in how her money is spent, we have accepted the idea that we cannot afford solidarity to ourselves. Enchanted by cinematography, which makes the most unlikely fantasies seem real, and distracted by primitive soaps, Americans have abandoned most of their internal authority to the daily spin intended to save them from the big bad world of solidarity.

After more than fifty years of successful democratic socialism in Europe, Americans are still being told that only market capitalism is compatible with individual freedom. Hence the advent of whistleblowers, whose latest avatar is Edward Snowden. During the Vietnam war, American resisters found refuge in Canada: today as the 1% labors to make the 99% redundant, (see Charles Derber and Yale Magrass’s The Surplus Americans) they reveal government secrets from safe-havens in Moscow or Berlin, both capitals of former enemies...

While recognizing capitalism’s claim to creativity, the BRICS, plus most of Latin America and much of Europe, are united in their call for an end to state violence, decisive steps to save the planet from global warming and solidarity. Yet refusing to recognize that no country has achieved a fair distribution of wealth without government involvement, the United States continues to issue orders from its imaginary City Upon a Hill, oblivious to the fact that the world below is no longer listening. Touting American exceptionalism, Washington’s politicians are no different from Islamist clerics who promise their followers 72 virgins in paradise.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Does MSNBC's Ed Schultz Have it All Wrong?

MSNBC’s hardest-hitting political anchor (or whatever the term is) is going for broke against the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement because it will further destroy the American middle class. But that’s only part of the reason why we should oppose this agreement: the other part of the reason shows why workers in other countries also oppose it.

I believe it is not, as Ed claims, that the American 1% - in the guise of transnational corporations - wants to spend as little on wages and worker protection in order to make a maximum of profits. International corporations represent an international 1%, and THEY, as a group, want to make as much money as possible. NONE OF THEM care a damn about their 99% or anyone else’s. And of course they prefer to produce stuff where it costs least. But giving ‘American’ or ‘European’ jobs to Vietnamese doesn’t only hurt the former: it brings landowners’ serfs to cities where they become factory-owners serfs expected not only to produce but to consume in mindless cycle that really only benefits the 1%. (The 1% get to really choose what they consume, though it makes them increasingly mindless too.

Ed, I think you’re way to smart and knowledgeable to really believe your own rant. I suspect the problem is that in order to stay on MSNBC you have to limit yourself to telling only part of the story, the part that is relevant to American workers. I understand that. But please don’t try to suggest that Poor President Obama is just being advised by the wrong people. He’s too smart and knowledgeable not to know the color of the advice he is and has been getting since day one.

It’s unfortunate if admissions that even a personable, credentialed black man with a lovely family can’t save the United States from its accelerating decline are met with accusations of being a turncoat. But isn’t that similar to people who criticize Israel for imitating the Jews’ assassins being called anti-Semites?

When people like Ed Schultz can keep their job at MSNBC while telling the whole story, then progressives will be able to say in good faith that maybe this country can be saved without a revolution. Until then, pretending it’s so just kicks that can down the road.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The End of Periphery

I believe it was the prominent Academic, Emmanuel Wallerstein who coined the terms ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ to designate on the one hand Europe and the United States, and the rest of the world on the other. What we are seeing today is an end to that dichotomy.

The image that comes to mind is that of a sock that had been turned inside out, the better to slide over the foot. The part of the world that until now has been seen as ‘peripheral’ to the part that counts - the core - is increasingly becoming the part that counts, with the core becoming the ‘wrong side’ of the sock.

Just for starters we must consider the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa: a quarter of the world’s land area, more than 40% of the world’s population, in 2010 these five countries accounted for 25% of its gross national income.

So much for hard economic statistics. Just as significant are the political ‘facts on the ground’. The Arab Spring has been dismissed as irrelevant because it did not magically transform autocracies into liberal democracies. But spring invariable leads to summer, and what we are witnessing is a ‘long, hot summer’ not of sixties Black America but of the 21s century’s honey-colored world, mainly Africa and the Middle East, to be sure, but also important parts of the Far East, the Sub-continent and Latin America. Scarcely any part of the planet is spared.

News misleadingly focuses on daily crises, obscuring the fact that a significant part of the world is in a permanent state of effervescence. Because religion has recently become a major factor in many conflicts, we assume players are pursuing conflicting goals. In reality even religious enemies reflect the eternal struggle between haves and have-nots, and virtually everywhere there is growing resistance to the life-styles and choices imposed by the world’s minority.

A core dwindling in power must recognize that reality and focus as never before on ‘the big picture’. Otherwise we will fail to manage our transition from major player to one among many team players of the international community.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Another Thoughtful Piece About Israel

Laid up with the flu, I urge all readers of good will to read this piece which came to me from a correspondant abroad. Also, click on the link to see some outstanding photography.

Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism Ilan Pappe 18 October 2013

  When the Zionist movement appeared in Eastern Europe in the 1880s, it found it very difficult to persuade the leading rabbis and secular Jewish thinkers of the day to support it.

  The leading rabbis saw the political history in the Bible and the idea of Jewish sovereignty on the land of Israel as very marginal topics and were much more concerned, as indeed Judaism as a religion was, with the holy tracts that focused on the relationship between the believers themselves and in particular their relations with God.

  Secular liberal or socialist Jews also found the idea of Jewish nationalism unattractive. Liberal Jews hoped that a far more liberal world would solve the problems of persecution and anti-Semitism while avowed socialists and communists wished peoples of all religions, not just the Jews, to be liberated from oppression.

  Even the idea of a particular Jewish socialist movement, such as the Bund, was a bizarre one in their eyes. “Zionists fearful of seasickness” is how Leon Trotsky called the Bundists when they wanted to join the international communist movement.

  The secular Jews who founded the Zionist movement wanted paradoxically both to secularize Jewish life and to use the Bible as a justification for colonizing Palestine; in other words, they did not believe in God but He nonetheless promised them Palestine.

  This precarious logic was recognized even by the founder of the Zionist movement himself, Theodore Herzl, who therefore opted for Uganda, rather than Palestine, as the promised land of Zion. It was the pressure of Protestant scholars and politicians of the Bible, especially in Britain, who kept the gravitation of the Zionist movement towards Palestine.

Map of colonization

For them it was a double bill: you get rid of the Jews in Europe, and at the same time you fulfill the divine scheme in which the second coming of the Messiah will be precipitated by the return of the Jews — and their subsequent conversion to Christianity or their roasting in hell should they refuse.

  From that moment onwards the Bible became both the justification for, and the map of, the Zionist colonization of Palestine. Hardcore Zionists knew it would not be enough: colonizing the inhabited Palestine would require a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing. But portraying the dispossession of Palestine as the fulfillment of a divine Christian scheme was priceless for galvanizing global Christian support behind Zionism.

  The Bible was never taught as a singular text that carried any political or even national connotation in the various Jewish educational systems in either Europe or in the Arab world. What Zionism derogatorily called “Exile” — the fact that the vast majority of Jews lived not in Palestine but communities around the world — was considered by most religious Jews as an imperative existence and the basis for Jewish identity in modern time.

  Jews were not asked to do all they can to end the “Exile” — this particular condition could have only been transformed by the will of God and could not be hastened or tampered with by acts such as the one perpetrated by the Zionist movement.

  One of the greatest successes of the secular Zionist movement was creating a religious Zionist component that found rabbis willing to legitimize this act of tampering by claiming that the very act itself was proof that God’s will has been done.

These rabbis accepted the secular Zionist idea to turn the Bible into a book that stands by itself and conceded that a superficial knowledge of it became a core of one’s Jewishness even if all the other crucial religious imperatives were ignored.

  These were the same rabbis who after the 1967 War used the Bible as both the justification and roadmap for the judaization and de-Arabization of the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.

Extreme nationalism

In the 1990s the two movements — the one that does not believe in God and the one that impatiently decides to do His work — have fused into a lethal mixture of religious fanaticism with extreme nationalism. This alliance formed in the Israeli crucible is mirrored among Israel’s Jewish supporters around the world.

And yet this development has not completely eclipsed the very same Jewish groups that rejected Zionism when it first appeared in the late nineteenth century: those who are called in Israel the Ultra-Orthodox Jews — abhorred and detested in particular by liberal Zionists — and purely secular Jews who feel alien in the kind of “Jewish State” Israel became.

  A small number of the former — for example Neturei Karta — even profess allegiance to the Palestine Liberation Organization, while the vast majority of the Ultra-Orthodox express their anti-Zionism without necessarily offering support for Palestinian rights.

  Meanwhile, some of the secular Jews try to relive the dreams of their European and Arab grandparents in the pre-Zionist era: that group of people made their way as individuals, and not as a collective, in the various societies they found themselves in; more often than not injecting cosmopolitan, pluralist and multicultural ideas if they were gifted enough to write or teach about them.

  This new, and I should say inevitable, religious-nationalist mixture that now informs the Jewish society in Israel has also caused a large and significant number of young American Jews, and Jews elsewhere in the world, to distance themselves from Israel. This trend has become so significant that it seems that Israeli policy today relies more on Christian Zionists than on loyal Jews.

  It is possible, and indeed necessary, to reaffirm the pluralist non-Zionist ways of professing one’s relationship with Judaism; in fact this is the only road open to us if we wish to seek an equitable and just solution in Palestine.

  Whether Jews want to live there as Orthodox Jews — something that was always tolerated and respected in the Arab and Muslim worlds — or build together with like-minded Palestinians, locals and refugees, a more secular society, their presence in today’s Palestine is not by itself an obstacle to justice or peace.

  Whatever your ethnicity is, you can contribute to the making of a society based on continued dialogue between religion and secularism as well as between the third generation of settlers and the native population in a decolonizing state.

  Like all the other societies of the Arab world this one too would strive to find the bridge between past heritage and future visions. Its dilemmas will be the same as those which are now informing everyone who lives in the Arab world, in the heart of which lies the land of Palestine.

  The society in Palestine and present-day Israel cannot deal with these issues in isolation from the rest of the Arab world, and neither can any other Arab nation-state created by the colonialist agreements forged in the wake of the First World War.

For the Jews in today’s Israel to be part of a new, just and peaceful Palestine, there is an imperative to reconnect to the Jewish heritage before it was corrupted and distorted by Zionism. The fact that this distorted version is presented in some circles in the west as the face of Judaism itself is yet another rotten fruit of the wish of some of the victims of nationalist criminality — as the Jews were in central and Eastern Europe — to become such criminals themselves.

  Judaism, Christianity and Islam are what believers choose them to be. In pre-Zionist Palestine, the choice was for living together in the same towns and villages in one complete existence. In the turn of the twentieth century, it was even moving faster towards a more relaxed way of living. But alas, that was the path not taken.

  We should not lose hope that this is still possible in the future. We need to reclaim Judaism and extract it from the hands of the “Jewish State” as a first step towards building a joint place for those who lived and want to live there in the future.

  The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.

  Tags: zionism Judaism decolonization