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 (

"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 ( 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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sea Change IV

Yesterday, Sunday, witnessed the first incident in America’s populist revolution, financed by fascism’s indispensable oligarchs.

The angry veterans attacking the barrier to the closed World War II Memorial on the Washington Mall and hanging pieces of it on the White House fence, egged on by Sarah Palin and other Tea Party stalwarts were not demonstrating about unmet servicemen’s needs. Embodying the constitutionally guaranteed citizen’s right to bear arms, they were warning of things to come. Signs calling for Obama’s impeachment were a dry-run for the day when the thousands of militias drilling in America’s woods will be convened to ‘take their country back through the barrel of a gun’.

Prominent figures on the left have called for Obama’s impeachment, however yesterday’s vets are after him for wanting to provide health care to all, betraying the ideal of rugged individualism called for by the founding fathers. The foreseeable lack of lack of support for such a bill requires a bait and switch to external enemies ready to pounce should we default on our debt.

The Koch brothers and their allies do not discount the consequences of an American default on the world economy: they discount its importance, compared with the advantage of getting rid of Obama. If they can do away with the last vestiges of democracy represented by a presidential figurehead, they will be able to move ahead with their agenda, together with the global 1%.

P.S. The October 4th Nation editorial evokes ‘Elysium’. Could they be reading my blogs?`

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Let Them Eat.....Golden Rice

The celebrated French queen who went to the guillotine for dissing her bread-starved people with phrases like ‘let them eat cake’, lives on in the hearts of today’s royalty, known as the 1%.

One of international royalty’s foremost princes is the seed conglomerate Monsanto, whose name is belied by its policies. Not only does Monsanto haul into court farmers who dare to save their own seeds from season to season instead of buying Monsanto’s, which are good for only one use, it experiments with the lives of third world children with ‘improved crops’ such rice that accumulates provitamin A in the grain, supposedly saving millions from blindness. Monsanto claims third world countries will be able to reuse the seeds, but what is to prevent the agricultural bully from changing its mind, and meanwhile who benefits from the expensive laboratory process?

A recent New York Times article on opposition to the golden rice experiment being carried out in the Philippines failed to mention the widely disseminated story about French rats fed with genetically modified grain that had grown humungous tumors.

Maybe golden rice will turn out to be a wonderful thing. But it is criminal to start feeding it to humans before we know what it does to mice.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What Did I Tell You?

It’s always nice when something you have written is confirmed by recognized experts. Here is a recent Otherjones post:

TUESDAY, JULY 9, 2013 The U.S. Chooses Capitalist Muslims

Nothing about the Arab uprisings is crystal clear, however signs point to America’s preference for pro-capitalist religious groups over those that lean leftward.

A recent blog by the French activist Thierry Meyssan refers to conspiracy theories surrounding New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s Muslim wife, Huma Abedin, long-time Hillary Clinton associate.  Reading up on these accusations, I noticed that Ms Abedin, whose mother heads the women’s section of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Sisterhood, has been defended by several major Republican figures, starting with John McCain, who unequivocally represent American capitalism.

Though taking Meyssan’s convoluted assertions with a grain of salt, given the need for oil from an area long ruled by religion, it is not hard to believe that the United States took the practical decision to work with ‘moderate’ Muslims, that is pro-capitalist Muslims instead of trying to secularize them. American willingness to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban that is presently threatening to break our ties to President Karzai, our hitherto ally could not be  more eloquent. And this is just one example of an apparently incoherent Middle East policy.

Though Sunnis occasionally lean left, as was the case with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party, leftist Muslims are usually found among Shi’as, such as the Iranian and Syrian governments.  Though Western media refer to the Iranian ‘Revolution’ of 1979, they avoid identifying it with its predecessors, the French, Russian Chinese or Cuban revolutions, all of which are associated with idea of equity.

In the case of Syria, the media never mentions that Assad’s is the only secular Arab regime, that its eduction system is modeled on the French (Syria having been a French protectorate before independence), that as under up-from-the-military-ranks dictator Saddam Hussein, women enjoy Western-style equality, from divorce to education to careers.

Whether or not Anthony Weiner’s wife is a closet Islamist or not, it is a fact that the U.S. first backed Morsi than decided to ditch him, perhaps fearing a change from the dependable policy vis a vis Israel of Mubarak. Similarly, the Egyptian military was trained in the United States (practicing Muslim General al-Sisi appearing to incarnate the ‘young dynamic’ ruler wished for by the secular opposi-tion group Tamarod...), and that responding to ‘calls from the people’ to topple rulers is right out of the US playbook.

And yet, military might cannot ensure a coherent American Middle East policy, given the myriad expediencies that cloud the region’s fundamental rivalries: secular vs. religious, Sunni vs. Shi’a, left vs. right, traditionalists vs. moderns, ‘democratizing’ Sunni’s represented by the Brotherhood vs. socializing Shi’a Alawites. We can expect more confusion in Washington as Tamarod groups gain momentum, via the internet, in Alawite Syria, Sunni Tunisia and Bahrain, which hosts the Sixth Fleet. As in Musliim Brotherhood Turkey, this phenomenon born in Egypt represents those who reject both religious rule and shopping malls.

Here now is a partial transcript of today’s fascinating Democracy Now! that focuses on Middle East oil and oil pipelines:

AMY GOODMAN: In Carbon Democracy, you have a very interesting chapter called "McJihad." Explain it, and especially this week on the 12th anniversary of the occupation of Afghanistan.

TIMOTHY MITCHELL: Yes, I wrote "McJihad" initially in response to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, because that was the time, of course, when the U.S. declared this crusade against forms of militant and jihadist Islam. And it was a time when people began talking about a clash of civilizations, about the West standing for enlightenment and reason, and opposing itself to the forms of unreason and illiberal politics represented by something that was called "jihad," Islamic radicalism of various forms. There’s a very different history of the relationship between the U.S. and the variety of forms of political Islam, and one of the main parts of that relationship has been a strong alliance between the United States and conservative Islamic forces, such as those that are in power in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Gulf. And I think one has to understand the reason the U.S. came to depend on anti-democratic forces to maintain the kinds of interests and positions it had in the region to make more sense of the rise of radical Islamic forces in the more recent period.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the meeting of the Taliban in the United States?

TIMOTHY MITCHELL: Yes. Before the attacks of 9/11, when the Taliban had first come to power in Afghanistan in the previous decade, the U.S. was very interested in the possibility of working with them. At that time, they were interested in the possibility of negotiating routes for pipelines we were talking about earlier, the pipelines from the Caspian and the Central Asian region, and interested in that. And they saw the Taliban as someone they could work with. In fact, they made the explicit reference in the State Department meetings when the Taliban visited Washington, met with Ronald Reagan. And—

AMY GOODMAN: They came to Texas?

TIMOTHY MITCHELL: They came to Texas and—

AMY GOODMAN: Met with the Bushes?

TIMOTHY MITCHELL: —met with the Bushes there and talked about the Taliban as being just like the Saudis. I mean, these are the kind of people we can work with, because we need people who are conservative, who believe in a strict application of Islamic law. This will create the kind of state we would be interested in.

Experts are vital to understanding the world around us. But the rest of us can also trust what events are telling us, what I call getting 'the gist'.

Sea Change III

Cui bono the demise of Europe? It is very difficult for this writer, who spent a total of forty-five years living in various European countries, to believe that the 2008 economic debacle, which hit America’s European allies harder than the others, has simply been an example of mindless Wall Street - or European bankster - greed.

I’m inclined to believe that the demise of a major competitor that adds insult to injury by making American workers wonder why they don’t have five- week vacations and nearly free health care suits American business in more ways than one.

The fact that the Republican party, egged on by its radical fringe, has actually caused the government to shut down because President Obama believes that once voted into law his health care system should be funded like any other government expenditure, should make even the most trusting citizen doubt the media. One Republican actually declared on television that ‘Your health care is your problem’, putting the United States on record as the only developed country in the world to flatly reject the idea of solidarity.

There was no way the United States was ever going to make the European Union willingly abandon so funda-mental a principle (enshrined, by the way, in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights). So perhaps it used an economic weapon of mass destruction, hitting two birds with one stone.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sea Change II

This year’s U.N. General Assembly has also been a sea-changing event. Not only did Dilma Rousseff, a former Brazilian guerrilla fighter who became president of her country in 2011, open the proceedings with a very stateswoman-like indictment of American foreign policy, following revelations that not only those of her government, but her personal communications had been hacked by the NSA. After a conversation with President Obama who has yet to make a formal apology, she had cancelled her state visit and announced a plan to render her country independent of American communication networks.

A few days later Iran’s new President Hassan Rohani reversed the playbook used by his predecessor. His call for a denuclearized Middle East that included not the slightest attack on Israel won broad approval. this all but forced President Obama, who had campaigned on a promise to speak to enemy leaders, to break a thirty year official silence between the two countries in a phone conversation during which he admitted Iran’s right to nuclear technology and endorsed a diplomatic approach to resolving their differences. This is a monumental event that for the first time leaves Israel on its own to continue claiming, as it has for decades, that Iran is six months away from a bomb. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not disappoint when came his turn to address the GA, claiming that Teheran has missiles that can reach New York, home to a large percentage of American Jews.

Meanwhile Bolivian President Evo Morales announced that since dismissing the IMF and American ‘advisors’, his country has registered 4% growth. In an interview to Spanish media, the Latin American leader called for President Obama to be indicted for crimes against humanity for his attack on Libya, and to stand trial in front of an international tribunal presided by heads of state and human rights organizations.

What do these events mean? With the growing prominence of the BRICS nations - Russia, China, Brazil, India and South Africa - representing two-thirds of the world’s population and 40% of its economy - the mass of countries formerly known as The Third World no longer feels it has to pay lip service to the lone superpower. Europe, Israel and Australia and Europe remain as the United States’ sole Western allies, with the latter in the depths of an existential economic crisis, the subject of Sea Change III.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sea Change I

A sea change is taking place in the international arena, but most Americans will not notice it because the discrete events that mark it are systematically under-reported by our media. Today’s event is an upbeat one, a rarity. Russia will host the 1914 Winter Olympics in what appears to be a completely remodeled blackSea resort of Sochi. The Soviet Union hosted the summer Olympics in 1980, but this was during the Afghan War, which caused many countries to boycott the event. Today, the United States is bogged down in Afghanistan and Vladimir Putin is having the first installment of what promises to be a long drawn out revenge. The reception of the Olympic Flame in Moscow was a spectacle that could have been orchestrated in New York - or London if you remember last year’s Olympic extravaganza. It’s important for Americans to go beyond the event itself to take the full measure of its significance. American presidents routinely call on governments that are not our allies to ‘rejoin the community of nations’. WIth Russia, it is getting more than it bargained for. The flame will not only travel through Russia’s nine time zones, it will be transported by sea and air, and even go up in space, coming down just in time for the kick-off. It will be interesting to see which media instinct wins out among America’s big three cable companies: the urge to report a colorful story, or the 1%’s requirement that it show and tell only negative things about our former enemy.