Monday, March 25, 2013


The European torch of discontent has passed to the island of Cyprus, where for the first time Brussels is set to confiscate part of citizen savings. To punish individual depositors for banks' irresponsible behavior is like taking food out of the mouths of children, and ups the ante on anything done so far by a failing system. (Large sums of Russian money are also involved, and perhaps Russia’s reluctance to help is part of Putin’s announced crackdown on citizens who stash money abroad.) Cypriots are the latest victim of the German-inspired policy of austerity, and their treatment can only cause other Eurozone citizens to wonder whether they will be next.

RT’s Rory Suchet today compared the situation to the French revolution (when Marie Antoinette famously advised peasants lacking bread to eat cake). He wondered aloud whether the fate of Cypriot depositors will fan the flames of discontent across Europe, especially in Greece, Spain and Portugal, but also in France, where President Hollande appears to be struggling against Merkel’s greater Brussels clout.

What I am noticing is the difference between the European and American 99%: the former take to the streets by the thousands over the increased cost of food or education, or loss of jobs, while Americans can muster at best a few hundred on any given occasion.

The difference lies buried in history: Europe has had two major revolutions in the last two hundred years, precisely the French and the Russian. Both were about the rights of the 99% and contributed to a tradition of strong unions (everywhere but in the Soviet Union itself) that endures to this day. Quite differently, the American Revolution was not about the 99%: today it would be called a war of liberation from a foreign power, and it was instigated by the fledgling country’s 1%.  To speak of an American ‘revolution’ is misleading, not only historically, but in terms of contemporary social movements.

In Europe, to march, to demonstrate, to strike, are not decisions of last resort, but workers’ tools of protest always at the ready, while in the United States marches and demonstrations are undertaken by grass-roots movements which do not have 200 years of organized protests behind them.

The sad thing is that because mass action is not part of daily life in the seat of corporate/financial/military power, the European Union may not survive.  If that is the goal, however, the result may be as unintended as those of the Iraq, Afghanistan and Libyan wars.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Korean Pivot

The MSM appears to believe that Obama’s decision to beef up missile defenses in Alaska and on the West Coast is simply another element of his Pacific pivot designed to encircle China.  I believe the game of musical missiles is more intricate than that.

First off, the young Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has nothing to gain by attacking the United States, and one can assume that he is neither deranged nor stupid.  Therefor his threats must be serving some other purpose.

China, which has long been North Korea’s only ally, supplying it with energy and food, has suddenly joined the West in condemning its protege’s nuclear threats.  But perhaps its seeming abandonment of Pyongyang is mere appearance.  One possible scenario could start from the fact that both North Korea and China support Iran. Obama’s decision to reduce the European missile defense system theoretically aimed at Iran but credibly considered by Russia to be aimed at her, moving some of its hardware to the Western United States, largely takes the pressure off Iran to bow to what its allies agree is unreasonable interference in its nuclear research.

Alternately, there could to a quid pro quo between China and Obama whose quo we ignore. (Meanwhile, the turnabout keeps the chattering classes guessing.) One can even imagine Putin soliciting the new Chinese President Xi Jin Ping’s cooperation in a scenario that may again enable Obama to reset relations with Russia.

Thirdly, the missile reset comes just as Obama is about to visit Israel, the only country loudly crying ‘Wolf!’ and threatening to attack Iran preemptively.  Obama’s shift of hardware is a way of letting Israel know that - to paraphrase Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel - Obama is not the president of Israel, and has no intention of going along with the Jewish state’s bellicose stance toward Iran.

Finally, if Obama’s intention is to mollify Russia by downgrading Europe’s missile defenses, he must mollify the military/industrial complex that together with Wall Street now runs the world. Hence he robs Peter to pay Paul, moving the missiles from Europe to the west coast of the United States.

Whatever is moving the North Korean ‘threat’, I suspect President Obama’s knows that nothing he can do will prevent the Chinese economy from equalling that of the United States by 2017, as predicted by the Western-oriented OECD, to then overtake it.


Washington vs. Moscow: Competition vs. Cooperation

Since I began watching Russia Today - referred to by American politicians as ‘Putin’s Channel’ - I’ve been trying to figure out what the Russian President’s message is.

A recent guest of Thom Hartmann’s confirmed what I have been writing here: although Russia’s switch to capitalism began with a free-for-all, with its industries auctioned off to a clique of oligarchs, twenty-some years later, ‘Putin’s channel’ promotes a healthy mix of cooperation and competition. Steve Keen, author of ‘Debunking Economics” says the U.S. needs to return to making stuff rather than playing with financial bubbles. Another recent TV guest, economist Peter Brian Henry Dean of New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and author of the new book ‘Turnaround: Third World Lessons for First World Growth” noted that cooperation was indispensable to early American success, and points out that during the Cold War the Soviet Union promoted cooperation but failed to provide a framework for competition, while the U.S. did the opposite. Noting that both countries had to add their respective missing element, he added that Russia has embraced economic competition while maintaining the socialist inspired commitment to political cooperation embodied by the United Nations. The United States however continues to condemn social spending at both the domestic level and in its choice of foreign governments to back.

RT Documentaries on both foreign and domestic subjects suggest that Putin’s vision is a capitalism that harks back to FDR, where the 99% were protected from the excesses of the 1%. However, he’s not only concerned about politics and economics: the Russian leader appears to also hanker after an era when ‘fun’ was ‘clean’ and families were intact.  (The Pussy Riot trial is less a defense of religion than the belief that all freedoms have limits, in contradiction to Washington’s unqualified commitment to the First Amendment.)

I can’t conclude this article without mentioning the fact that the state of modern society, characterized by unlimited freedom, is what most troubles Muslims, hardening retrograde attitudes among Muslim clerics, delaying both women’s emancipation and democratization.

Egyptian President Morsi’s recent troubles over death sentences meted out to football fans who caused the deaths of seventy people exemplifies the Muslim Brotherhood’s determination to preserve the respect for the lives of others that characterizes all religions, as opposed to Western acquiescence to ‘anything goes’.

Capitalism provides the practical conditions for innovation, but the world as a whole only benefits when it is practiced within a framework of cooperation, and the same is true of societies.

P.S. Over the weekend, the new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made the following statement at a press conference: "Our government will work with the Obama administration to build a new type of relationship between great countries."   He also condemned confrontation, particularly in cyberspace: "I think we should not make groundless accusations against each other, and spend more time doing practical things that will contribute to cyber-security,"




Thursday, March 14, 2013

Deja Vu

> A Palestinian leader being warmly received in Moscow.

> China deciding to provide better social services.

> Latin American guerrillas educating peasants.

These are three stories that are in the news today.  The first and third are covered by RT, and I came across the second on a CNN web page devoted to China.

Predictably, the CNN story has a business focus;   however unlike the attitude of American business toward health benefits, which it tacitly approves (“The country can’t afford them”), the story on China emphasizes the benefit better health coverage will bring to the Chinese economy: people will spend more on consumer goods instead of saving for health needs. True to the basic tenet of American journalism, which often enables subliminal messages, CNN does not comment on the difference between the American and Chinese views on the economic advantages of subsidized health care.

The third story, featured on RT, is about the complex relations between independent gold miners in Columbia, the FARC guerrillas, and foreign mineral companies.  With the price of gold soaring, the long-standing tradition of small-scale mining - now carried out with the help of cell phones - has entered into conflict with large companies. The documentary moves from detailed coverage of the mining process and its health hazards, to political education and adjudication of village squabbles by modern day versions of Cuba's guerrilla fighters, assisted by laptops.

As for the first story, you have to be old enough to remember the Cold War to appreciate its irony: During that period, Moscow and Washington vied for influence in the Third World, and each had its client states and allies. Since then, most third world countries have come to see Washington as an adversary that is either out for its resources or raining bombs. These countries are once again looking to Moscow, no longer to emulate its centralized economic system, but because Russia opposes Washington’s aggressive stance. The presence of Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian head of the Israeli occupied West Bank reflects Russia’s support for the Palestinians, in direct opposition to America’s support for Israel, even as it relentlessly pursues its goal of ridding Palestine of its historical inhabitants in defiance of international law.

Broadly speaking, unlike the Cold War period, when Peking’s Communist party looked to Moscow as a Big Brother, the twenty-first century finds the two countries allied against Washington - even though one is still under Communist rule, while the other seeks to tame capitalism. Neither ideological nor cultural differences now prevent Peking and Moscow from forming a common front against Washington and backing the demands of the 120 Third World countries newly organized under the banner of the fifty year old Non-Aligned Movement.

The deja vu is stunning - but not nearly as much so as the planetary transformation it reflects and its implications for an American foreign policy focused on domination rather than cooperation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope of the Past or the Future?

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m:

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews hopes the Cardinal of Milan, Scola, will be chosen. Personally, I hope it will be the Brazilian, and if it is, it will signal recognition by 115 powerful prelates that the future belongs to the Southern hemisphere.

So far I haven’t heard anyone mention the Big Picture, only the sex scandals, yet that should be what observers focus upon.  Catholicism has been declining, often replaced, in Africa and Latin America, by one of the many Protestant denominations, while Islam is growing.  The next Pope will not only have to slowly move the Church into the twenty-first century in terms of private matters, he will have to steer the world through a growing confrontation with Islam’s splinter groups.

8:12: So the Cardinals split the difference, as they say: Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina is a defender of the poor, but he is against liberation theology and gay marriage. He is fluent in Italian, being not only of Italian origin as are many Argentinians, he was also a disciple of an organization that originated in Italy, Communion and Liberation. As a theological conservative he was close to the previous Pope, Benedict, who resigned. However, this seventy-six year old broke with protocol in his benediction and afterward, asking the faithful to pray for him and thanking them for their welcome.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

'Brussels Rules' on RT

RT is showing an extraordinary documentary, 'Brussels Business', that falls like a golden apple in my lap.  Ever since the European financial crisis of 2008 I have been convinced that the American financial/corporate sector was responsible for it.  In my non-expert way I assumed the Europeans had more or less individually been seduced by American ways and propaganda.

RT documents a step by step process begun in 1985 that allowed the heads of Europe’s great industries - which were already players on the world stage - to dictate to the leaders of the European Union how business would be conducted by a group of countries known for cradle-to-grave protection of its citizens: they would push for more flexible labor markets and fewer worker protections.

The documentary, based on material uncovered by an American researcher, features a European commissioner, Siim Kallas who tried to introduce lobbying transparency, but failed, thanks no doubt to the major European lobbying organization called ERT. It concludes with the testimony of an American lobbyist who tried to tell members of the commission that its lobbyists were as dangerous as their American counterparts, to no avail.

Though none of this is a surprise, it reminded me of an old suspicion on the part of ordinary Europeans, that the United States probably did not view with pleasure the rise of a powerful trading competitor who could still afford to offer its workers cradle-to-grave security.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why Did Ahmedinejad Attend Latin American Funeral?

This is the kind of event that typically gives rise to erroneous interpretations, such as ‘Venezuela and Iran are both oil-producing countries.  It was a business occasion.’  Or, ‘It was a chance for the Iranian leader to be seen on world television.’

The reality is that both Chavez and Ahmedinejad are on the side of the 99%.

What?! We know Chavez was a socialist, but the president of a country that is run by clerics? Well, yes: the Iranian revolution of 1978 was not about religion, it was about inequality, and its first leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, represented Shi’ism’s traditional defense of the downtrodden. (By the way, Jesus has been referred to as the first revolutionary...)

What is even stranger is that if you read Vladimir Putin’s statement on the death of the thrice elected Venezuelan president you would never guess that Russia is no longer a socialist country: "He was an extraordinary and powerful man who looked to the future and always set the highest bar for himself." Putin called for even stronger ties and praised the late president as “a close friend of Russia.”

Indeed, Russia’a UN Ambassador Anatoly Churkin, told reporters in New York that Chavez was "a great politician for his country, Latin America and the world.”  According to the Moscow Times, the Russian-Venezuelan partnership has developed strong political ties and led to large-scale humanitarian and development projects.      If you think this means that Russia and its allies are outliers with respect to the world community, take note of the statement by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

"President Chavez spoke to the challenges and aspirations of the most vulnerable Venezuelans. He provided decisive impetus for new regional integration movements, based on an eminently Latin American vision, while showing solidarity toward other nations in the hemisphere. His contribution to the current peace talks in Colombia between the Government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has been of vital importance.

"The secretary-general renews the commitment of the United Nations to work alongside the Government and the people of Venezuela in support of its development and prosperity."

Now here’s President Obama’s statement: "At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

The American president starts by insinuating that there could be trouble in Venezuela, just days after two American diplomats were expelled from the country amid accusations by the Vice-President and heir designate that the U.S. induced Chavez’ cancer (for example using polonium, an element that killed a Russian in London a few years ago).

Second, the President appears unaware of the depth of popular support enjoyed by Chavez, trying to drive a wedge between the Venezuelan people and the government that will succeed him.

Third, Obama shows himself to be concerned only with the ritual ‘democratic principles’ (never mind if they remain just principles), the rule of law (that can be bent to allow government assassination of citizens), and human rights (ditto).

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War which was all about competition for arms and allies, America’s former enemies, Russia and China, have moved on.  The other BRICS nations, Brazil, India and South Africa, also put cooperation above competition, having realized their combined strengths as well as the advantages of responding to the needs of the Third World. Only the United States refuses to acknowledge what the ‘failed system’ of socialism handed down to those free to understand it.