Thursday, January 30, 2014

Salami Tactics Then and Now

As the Ukraine descends into armed combat between the police of a legitimate government and Neo-Nazi thugs with European backers, it’s none to soon to be talking about fascism.
After defeating German, Italian and Japanese fascism that threatened American power in the mid twentieth century, Washington turned against its former ally, the Soviet Union, and then China, when the Communists won their struggle for power there in 1949; for Communism was the real enemy of corporate power! Sixty-five years later, fascism is resurgent, overtly in Europe, covertly in the United States. And yet, when left-leaning American intellectuals utter the F word, it is with lowered voice, perhaps fearing accusations of irresponsi-bility, or a lack of academic rigor. should they  compare what is happening in the United States with the process that took place in Germany in the nineteen twenties and thirties, culminating in the Second World War, and ultimately, the banalization of ethnic cleansing. The events in Ukraine require Americans and Europeans to review that history, unless we want to relive Nazi Germany. 
After the Nazis were defeated, the Soviet Union took over Eastern Europe. One local leader boasted of destroying his country’s non-Communist parties by ‘cutting them off like slices of salami’, re-baptizing what Hitler had called his ‘piecemeal strategy’. Today we talk about frogs allowing the water they are in to be gradually brought to a boil until it is too late to jump out. Efforts by right-wing parties to lure Ukraine, whose Western half fought with the Germans, into the EU, suggest that it may be too late for Europe to avoid another fascist takeover: thanks to genuine political freedom that affords all parties the same protections, fascist parties are on the ballot in every country, with between ten and twenty percent of the vote.
American fascist parties are not on the ballot, and yet Americans are seeing their freedoms being cut away, slice by slice, by the government, and with each slice, we dispose of fewer means to prevent the next cut. The corporate media condemns Hitler-worshipping hate groups, but appears not to notice that the NSA, PRISM, FISA, facial recognition, police drones, etc. are techno-logically embellished equivalents of the means Hitler used to consolidate power with the backing of Germany’s industrialists. 
The German excuse for territorial aggression was ‘Lebensraum’, literally, ‘room to live’. Today, the world military/industrial/financial complex headquartered in Washington is determined to secure the raw materials that will enable the 1 percent to maintain itself on a dying Earth until it can colonize another planet. If you think I’m elucubrating, I’m not alone. See Neil Bloomkamp’s Elysium, in which two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made planet called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, dying Earth. Bloomkamp isn’t elucubrating: government research on space colo-nization has been going on for years and is now also being carried out by private companies. Implementation of the project will require the acquiescence of the 99%, who in fact are just now emerging from McCarthy’s closet to demand the rights, benefits and personal freedoms that have been enjoyed for decades by workers in the European Union. This awakening makes it doubly necessary to take down the welfare state, which not only ensures a decent living for all, but is a major economic competitor. If the economic crisis of 2008 created by Wall St. turns out to have dealt it a fatal blow, it will not, I believe, be an unin-tended consequence.
On the surface, what is happening in 21st century America looks nothing like when took place in 1930‘s Germany. However, it is still about the fundamental question of equity whether it be between the few and the many, or between governments. American determination to topple the Syrian president is the latest example of the latter: Since its independence in 1946, Syria has been the only secular Arab state, and under the Arab Baath Socialist Party it has maintained that distinction. It has been the contention of this writer for many months that the current world crisis is at bottom about equity, as illustrated by the array of religious, secular and progressive forces vying for power in the Arab world. And we cannot understand this if we are ignorant of the historical conflict between fascism and communism.
The fact that fascism developed precisely as a nationalist competitor for workers’ allegiance in the years following the victory of the many in Russia is largely ignored today. The fact is that the Russian Revolution led to brief takeovers in both Germany and its former ally Hungary by Communist and Socialist governments, creating a veritable Red Scare across Europe. After a turbulent two years, Germany’s first ever parliamentary system, the Weimar Republic, was created.  As a sign of the times, it was led by democratic socialists, and op-posed by conservatives, monarchists, communists, as well as Hitler’s so-called ‘national-socialist’ party. 
The 1918 armistice had formalized the loss of Germany’s African colonies, excised part of its homeland to create new nations and condemned it, as the aggressor, to huge reparations. Hitler’s career took off in the early twenties with charis-matic speeches that stoked the resentment of over this punishment among farmers, war veterans and the middle class. Hitler and his friends tried unsuccessfully to take over the country in 1923, in what was called the Beer Hall Putsch. 
What follows is a rough comparison between the rise of fascism in Germany (where it was known as Nazism, the German contraction of ‘national socialism’, and contemporary America, where, a globalized economy is rewarding the 1% while imposing hardships on the majority, as happened in post World War I Germany. 
⦿ While in prison, Hitler dictated Mein Kampf, an autobiography that promoted the ideology (inspired by the American eugenist, Madison Grant), that would lead to a massive extermination of European Jews, gays, Gypsies and Communists.
 • In post 9/11 America, Fox News, the novels of Glenn Beck, and the position papers concocted by the Koch brothers’ minions wage an unrelenting assault on blacks, Hispanics, women and the LGBT community.
⦿ Hitler was released from prison in 1924 in a becalmed political and economic situation. With no grounds for agitation, he promised that his National Socialist German Workers’ party (NAZIS) would only seek power through legal means. But when the Great Depression hit six years later, the social democrats were too divided to block the replacement of a grand coalition by a minority cabinet. Hitler then defeated the socialist faction of his own party and imposed the ‘leader principle’: unquestioning obedience to those above. During the series of unworkable parliaments that followed, the Catholic chancellor, Heinrich Brüning was forced to rule by decree. 
• The lack of unity among post-war Germany’s social democrats could be compared to twenty-first century America’s progressive Democrats allowing the Clintonites to fill President Obama’s cabinet with the people whose policies had led to the 2008 financial debacle and who would continue Bush’s war policies. The ‘leader principle’ was a forerunner of the Imperial Presidency and the notion that “When the President does it, it’s legal.”
(The current situation is also remindful of the inability of Russia’s Mensheviks to insist on social reforms that eventually allowed the better disciplined Bolsheviks to resort to revolution.  However it is not certain that there will be an American Revolution due to government initiatives to make one impossible - the boiling water.)
⦿ In September, 1930, Chancellor Brüning was forced to call premature elections. The Nazis moved from the ninth-smallest party to the second largest, winning 18.3% of the vote. 
• Two years after Barack Obama’s stunning first Presidential victory, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party was able to reduce his health care initiative to a bare minimum of what has long existed in other countries, and the Republicans re-bounded in the mid-term elections. 
⦿ In 1932, Chancellor Brüning's austerity pro-gram having brought little economic improvement from the harsh conditions of the Depression, Hitler was able to run for the presidency against the aging Paul von Hindenburg, with the support of Germany's most powerful industrialists. 
• Whoever runs in the 2016 American election will, like Obama, take orders from the military/industrial/ financial complex that grew out of the Second World War. 
⦿ President Hindenburg won the election but Hitler came in second, and as parliament continued to be hamstrung, the German business class urged that he be appointed to head a government ‘inde-pendent from political parties’. President Hinden-burg finally agreed, hoping to contain the Nazis within a conservative cabinet, and Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor on 30 January 1933.
• American fascists do not run for the highest office, however, in France in 2004, after fifty years of symbolic runs for the presidency, far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second to the conser-vative Jacques Chirac, booting the socialist that had been tipped to win out of the race. Then in 2012, Le Pen’s daughter Marine obtained 23 percent in the presidential poll, sending shock waves through the French political scene, and bringing to power a weak socialist who has turned out to be one of France’s worst presidents. And following the Greece's economic debacle, the Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party garnered seven percent of the vote, entering the Parliament.
⦿ When the fractured German opposition again failed to cobble together a majority against his party, Hitler was able to persuade Hindenburg to dissolve parliament for a second time. Next, he barred its left wing delegates and pushed through the Enabling Act that gave his cabinet legislative powers for four years, transforming his govern-ment into a legal dictatorship.
• Wikileaks files from the early 1970s reveal Henry Kissinger saying: ‘The illegal we do right away. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.” The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision of 2010 allows individual states to find ingenious ways to prevent Democratic victories: eliminating last-minute registration, requiring photo IDs, redrawing voting districts, and even eliminating some, forcing residents to travel elsewhere to vote. 
Although more subtle machinations have been going on for decades, American workers still  do not quite believe the country’s rich are flouting the constitution in order to keep them in their place. In  Germany, Hitler benefitted from an exceptionally  dire situation, but the foundation for America’s takeover was laid out in our founding documents. As I noted in my March 4 blog the constitution, in contrast to constitutions inspired by the French revolution that enshrine equality, the American Declaration of Independence promises the ‘pursuit of happiness’. After a two-hundred year run, this motto has led to a no holds barred pursuit of ‘stuff’, a stunning loss of community, the rape of the planet and growing worldwide resentment. 
We’ll probably never know the truth about that resentment’s first major manifestation on 9/11, however it probably has a Nazi precedent: 
⦿ After the second dissolution of the Weimar parliament, German elections were scheduled for early March, 1933. On February 27th, the Reich-stag was set on fire, a Dutch communist was found in the building, and the fire was attributed to a communist plot. Hitler’s government responded by issuing the Reichstag Fire Decree that suspended basic rights, including habeas corpus
• Bush would do the same after 9/11 with the Patriot Act. Although the Military Commissions Act fails to specify who designates persons as ‘enemy combatants’, depriving them of habeus corpus, Congress rubber stamped it, and President Obama continues its heinous policies. In creating enemies to disguise our rape of the planet, we have become an under-developed but increasingly organized salami republic that whittles its democracy away slice by slice.
⦿ During Hitler’s methodical pursuit of absolute power, leaders of the German Communist Party and others were arrested, forced to flee, or murdered. 
• President Obama uses drones to assassinate suspected enemies, including American citizens abroad. As almost two hundred prisoners in their 11th year of captivity at Guantanamo without charges went on hunger strike, Julian Assange marked a year in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London and Chelsea Manning was convicted of revealing America’s war crimes to the world. In an ironic twist, Edward Snowden was granted political asylum in Russia, while computer hackers working to disseminate his leaks have left the United States for safer lives in Germany - a former enemy upon whom the US still spies.
⦿ In July, 1934, Hitler used allegations of a Stormtroopers’ plot to purge that military organi-zation’s leadership and other ‘enemies’ during the ‘Night of the Long Knives’. When Hindenburg died the following month, the cabinet made Hitler both Führer und Reichskanzler (leader and chancellor), violating both the Constitution and the Enabling Act. According to the Constitution. the president of the High Court of Justice should have become acting president until new elections could be held. As for the Enabling Act, it barred Hitler from taking any action that tampered with the presidency.  But no one dared object.
In August, almost eighty-five percent of Germans approved the merger of the presidency with the chancellorship, eliminating nearly all institutional restraints on Hitler’s power - and the last legal means by which he could be removed. In little more than a decade Germany went from a parliamentary democracy in which citizens were represented by elected representatives, to a dictatorship whose propaganda machine engi-neered the answers to simplistic referenda questions.
As head of state, Hitler now became Supreme Commander of the armed forces. Normally, soldiers and sailors swear loyalty to the holder of the office of supreme commander, not to a specific person, but the oath became one of personal loyalty to Hitler. 
• It’s probably unlikely that something like this could happen in the United States, yet in 1940, planning to one day seek a higher office, French Colonel Charles de Gaulle required those who joined him in London to coordinate resistance to the German occupation to sign an oath of loyalty to his person. 
⦿ Though no well-meaning German wanted what happened to their country, in a dire economic situation, they embraced a leader who held up imaginary enemies and promised to restore their former glory.
• Today, in the United States, the Koch brother’s position papers affirm that collective bargaining is not a right, since it does not appear in the Constitution; that children of immigrants born in this country have no claim to citizenship, violating the ancient Anglo-Saxon tradition of jus sol; that the soul of an eight-week old fetus has rights, but health care is a privilege; and finally, that China is a bona fide trading partner, while Cuba is an existential threat. 
Glib talk of democracy and rule of law are echoed by promises to ‘take the country back’ to the time of the founders via ‘second amendment remedies’ administered by a population that doesn’t know in what state the battle of Concord was fought. Birthers, Tea Partiers and right-wing libertarians take advantage of an educational system that produces ideological illiterates to accuse workers of being at once fascists, communists and socialists, while supporting salami tactics to impose really existing fascism.
The refusal of Wisconsin’s workers to be stripped of their legal bargaining rights in 2011 could have marked the beginning of a second American Revolution, adding economic equality to political equality. But the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to allow unlimited corporate spending for elections enabled the governor to overcome their resistance with not even a pretense of legality: as the lone Democratic representative in the Wiscon-sin legislature demanded that the rules of pro-cedure be followed, the Republicans drowned out his voice.
What, exactly, would prevent a similar episode from taking place in the United States House of Representatives? As legislative attempts to muzzle American workers continue, what will be the role of hundreds of militias playing war games in Ame-rica’s woods? Their stated enemy is an encroaching government, but will they fight it in the name of equity, or merely to defend their right to carry weapons, ultimately joining with the police and the army against those ‘too lazy to work’?
If we do not bear in mind Hitler’s rise to power eighty years ago, the dramas of the twentieth century will pale in comparison to what awaits us. Unless national priorities can be reordered to meet the two major threats provoked by runaway capitalism’s pursuit of inequality, wars and climate change, actions taken under the guise of saving us from sharia law, coupled with inaction to prevent a climate meltdown will lead to a point of no return.  
As Middle East populations increasingly prefer to experiment with hybrid regimes that include Muslim parties but have more in common with the Radical Enlightenment than with runaway capita-lism, notwithstanding the biggest military the world has ever seen and the most sophisticated spying apparatus, the United States will continue unable to impose its will. And yet, if Americans continue to see these rebellions as merely part of the news cycle, the right-wing will gain total control of our lives. 
When today’s tumultuous events had their first beginnings with the attack on the Twin Towers, few Muslims heeded fundamentalist calls for jihad. But the new generation watching our films and hearing our invitations to ‘freedom’ are becoming increa-singly aware that their unelected leaders are our clients and poodles who resist calls for democra-tization to further our goals.
While in their secret forums such as the Bilderberg Conference, the world’s 1% fine tune strategies to eventually escape a devastated planet, resistance grows among an increasingly redundant 99%, provoking the turn from runaway capitalism to fascism in order to prevent open revolt.
A growing phalanx of intellectuals tries to awaken Americans to what is happening. Foremost among them is Chris Hedges, who led an incon-clusive class action suit against the Obama Administration over the FISA Act that allows it to detain Americans indefinitely on charges of aiding the enemy, including journalists reporting on the enemy. A former seminarian, Hedges continues to hope that America can change. But the interna-tional grass roots are beginning to suspect that leaders are neither stupid nor incompetent, and hence that the possibility of electing better ones is an illusion. That realization is buttressed by the fact that the arrow of time is irreversible. Only an increased flow of energy into a system can provoke a change of direction. 
An increased flow of energy into a political system can take the form of revolution or war. The Middle East and Africa are experiencing what I call the Reformation of Islam, bound to play out over decades, as did the Reformation of Christianity.  However, it should not be permitted to obscure the continuation of a historical fight for equity.
It is that fight - and not a Holy Crusade - that has provoked a resurgent fascism. 
In Europe we are witnessing a grass roots fascism that is linked to the increasing presence of Muslims in a Christian continent proud of its tradi-tions. European intellectuals are not about to point out that the Old World is confronting an unstop-pable trend that the EU should deal with intelli-gently instead of pretending that the continent is not being transformed.

In the United States we are seeing a top-down fascism incarnated in the ever more intimate alliance between big business and government. And unlike what happened in Germany, where a lone megalomaniac was almost assassinated, to defeat the 1%’s aggressions will require a global revolution.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Enemy Never Changes

The start of the Geneva II talks on the Syrian Crisis illustrates the fact that for the Western media the only issue in the ‘war on terror’ is religion. The ideological factors involved in the American-led campaign to oust President Bashar al-Assad, as well as in demonstrations around the globe are whited out.  News channels will mention in passing that in Turkey or Egypt there are also ‘leftists’ on the street, but the word has no ‘consistency’, it’s just a label. Similarly, in the case of Syria, the fact that the Alawites are the least dogmatic Muslims, that the Baath is a socialist party and heads the only Arab secular state, is ignored.
This obfuscation makes it look as though religious demonstrators are not interested in equity, and reduces the ideologically motivated demonstrators to a rabble. In truth, although the world has often been wracked by religious wars, ‘revolts’ have most often been about equity, the many against the few - or the other way around, and capitalism is no more ‘the end of history’ than is communism or socialism.  

Often my posts provoke accusations of pro-Russian ‘propaganda’, however they are the result of decades of observation that included six years living behind the Iron Curtain, studying (systems theory), reading and writing about international affairs and comparing various news media. 

Those who a few days ago criticized my linking the events in Kiev to the upcoming Olympic games in Russia, fail to realize that news today is almost always part of a big picture rather than an isolated event. Knee-jerk reactions, or accusations of ‘having an agenda’ often follow blogs that imply approval of Russia’s international positions. They hide the reality of both class warfare and the dire threat of planetary ruin.  

Still committed to ‘growth’, President Putin does not meet my standards for ecological sanity, but on RT there is no such thing as a sound bite.  The journalists on ‘capitalist’ Russia’s international news channel are free to discuss any subject in detail, including decentralization and cooperatively run industries. Equity is a theme that runs through everything from documentaries to interviews, and both Russian and international news.

Yesterday, Oksana Boyko, one of RT”s keenest minds, discussed the need for more direct democracy with Roslyn Fuller, an Irish professor of international law who sells photos of her body to support whistle-blowers.  If Fuller appears on CNN, she will come across as an entirely different person from the one who held a wide ranging discussion of law and parliamentary, as opposed to direct democracy with a skeptical and even provocative journalist. 

Alas, even the blogosphere is almost entirely devoted to dissecting American politics and the misdeeds of the system, as if its two oceans made the United States truly independent of the rest of the world. That was how multi-lingual former ambassador Charles Freeman aptly phrased it recently to Oksana Boyko.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sochi 2014: US vs. Russia

Today’s news that the Russian government is hunting for four Dagestani terrorists is accompanied by the seemingly casual announcement that the U.S. is so worried about terrorist attacks during the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the Russian Black Sea resort located on the other side of the Caucasus Mountains from Dagestan, that it has poised warships in the Black Sea ready to evacuate victims.
As world opinion appears to be shifting from half a century of deference to Washington to a sometimes grudging preference for Russia’s international positions, the Obama administration will increasingly engage in anti-Russian propaganda and mischief as the February games approach.  This afternoon, MSNBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel told Andrea Mitchell from Moscow that the U.S. finds Russian cooperation on security insuf-ficient, and the Voice of America website complained that Washington is not getting all the information it needs to protect its athletes in the Games. 

Although the Russian President declares that his country is prepared for any eventuality, fear is likely to inhibit American travel to the other side of the world in the middle of winter.  Does anyone know whether the U.S. had ships poised off the British Coast during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, even though Britain had suffered terrorist attacks in the preceding years?

Perhaps not unrelated to Russia’s chance to show it can compete with the West in organizing a major international event, violent anti-government demonstrations in the Ukrainian capital Kiev have been on-going since the country’s president decided to forego an agreement with the European Union last November. Kiev is 860 miles from Sochi (a relatively small distance as Russian geography goes), and today, Washington accused the Ukrainian government of using excessive force, notwithstanding that dozens of policemen have been injured by club-wielding demonstrators. Their leader is world heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko, whose far-right party, called strike, blow or punch, is allied with the Ukrainian neo-Nazi party Svoboda. Rumors that neo-Nazis from Eastern Ukraine have been the driving force in the months’ long uprising have been ignored by the Western media and no wonder: As with Washing-ton’s embarassing support of Al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria, an Assistant Secretary of State was photographed giving the Ukrainian demonstrators cookies. 

Recently, there were two bombings in Volgograd, a major rail hub six hundred miles northeast of Sochi, accompanied by specific threats against the games on the part of a militant Sunni group that is fighting for Dagestani independence.   (The Caucasus Muslim region of Dagestan was the home of the Boston bombers...) One of the men seemed to be referring to potential American spectators when he said:  "We've prepared a present for you and all tourists who come over."

Alfred McCoy’s recent analysis ( of the fact that the national security state is not about national security, but about the blackmailing of national and foreign leaders in order to keep them in line, couldn’t be more a propos. The policy began with the conquest of the Philippines more than a hundred years ago and was perfected by J. Edgar Hoover, who founded the FBI in 1935 and led it until his death in 1972, accumu-lating embarrassing files even on the country’s presidents.

 In the Philippines, as elsewhere, the U.S. resorted to all sorts of dirty tricks to get its way.  But whatever happens in Sochi next month, it is unlikely to fundamentally alter the current direction of the arrow of time, away from American world leadership and toward a bigger role for Russia.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

U.S.: Deus ex Machina or Sorceror's Apprentice?

In May of 2012, President Obama addressed graduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy in these terms:

"I see an American century because no other nation seeks the role that we play in global affairs, and no other nation can play the role that we play in global affairs." 

Less than two years later, not only has the president’s claim of American exceptionalism been widely derided, the country is in disarray on the world stage.  In 2012, American troops having at last departed, Iraq was expected to flourish, even though some neighboring Syrians were chafing under one-family rule.  Today, both Syria and Iraq are enmeshed in new levels of violence, as Al Qaeda and its Sunni offshoots battle each other while simultaneously battling their Shiite rulers. 

In an article published on January 2, 2014 in the Palestine Chronicle, (, Ralph Nader lays the blame for Iraq’s meltdown on George.W. Bush: “ Today, Iraq remains a country you destroyed, a country where over a million Iraqis, including many children and infants (remember Fallujah?) lost their lives, millions more were sickened or injured, and millions more were forced to become refugees, including most of the Iraqi Christians. Iraq is a country rife with sectarian strife that your prolonged invasion provoked into what is now open warfare. Iraq is a country where al-Qaeda is spreading with explosions taking 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 lives per day. Just this week, it was reported that the U.S. has sent Hellfire air-to-ground missiles to Iraq’s air force to be used against encampments of ‘the country’s branch of al-Qaeda.’ There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before your invasion. Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were mortal enemies.”

I fault Nader for not including Obama in his condemnation of Middle East policy.  Surely a man who has been in the White House for the last five years, and under whom our troops were finally withdrawn from Iraq, bears a heavy responsibility for that country’s current state. Considering the last hundred years of our history, it is nothing short of astonishing that far from calling the shots, Washington is now reduced to supplying arms to various militia groups whose agendas are far from clear, while appearing to fear they will end up in the hands of those we know to be our enemies - or who might become our enemies tomorrow. 

But the disconnect between stated fears and really existing concerns only exists because Washington cannot divulge its true criterion for judging others, which is acceptance of the 1%’s globalization agenda.  Its applicability is complicated by Washington’s inability to perceive the religious/cultural substrate that colors support for or opposition to the world military/industrial/financial complex. Not to mention the desire of countries such as Saudi Arabia to assert a determining role.  Or even plain old fashioned Arab, Iraqi or Syrian nationalism - or the concerns of the Druze in Syria and Lebanon, the survival of Christians, or the Kurds’ legitimate demand for a country, all groups successfully managed by the Ottomans for seven hundred years.  

From the time of the Roman Empire, political entities composed of different nationalities have only been successfully ruled by some form of despotism.  And yet,
seeing ethnic and religious issues as mere details in any political picture, the United States fails to recognize that it is ‘dictators’ who have long been ‘indispensable’ in keeping countries with diverse populations from disintegrating.  In the nineteen nineties I translated into French a book that details the history of Iraq leading up to the first Gulf War (The Making of the Gulf War: Origins of Kuwait's Long-Standing Territorial Dispute with Iraq By H. Rahman London: Ithaca, 1997.) It shows that Saddam Hussein was merely the latest in a long line of Iraqi rulers who, in their attempt to shape disparate peoples into a modern country, had recourse to policies and behaviors that today justify calls for regime change.  (Another example was Tito, who ruled the cobbled together nation of Yugoslavia with an iron first until his death - when the country split into half a dozen warring entities for the better part of two decades.)  

When Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush, he may not have subscribed to the Neo-con agenda of systematic regime change in the Middle East.  However, as a product of the American melting pot, he too assumes Washington can wave a magic wand over the world and will liberal polities into being. The Middle East requires us to recognize country Muslims’ solidarity Islam, and city Muslims’ rejection of mindless consumerism and speculation, distinguishing between a medieval attitude toward women (shared by Christians until relatively recently), and the commercially inspired vulgarity that has nothing to do with women’s liberation.

In this respect, the latest news is that Americans going to fight with Islamists in Iraq or Syria are being trained to commit terrorism upon their return to the U.S.  No one appears to be asking what differentiates them from the veterans who return from combat to oppose war.  What aspects of Al Qaeda’s opposition to the United States do they identify with?  Is it simply a more violent opposition to imperialism, or have these young men adopted some Salafist attitudes toward modernity?

Eschewing intellectual questioning in favor of a military that ‘mistakes’ three year-olds for enemy combatants, Obama has taken us from being the world’s deus ex machina to an avatar of Walt Disney’s ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, that can ever less seek, or be recognized as playing, a beneficial role on the world stage.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Guidelines for 2014

Recently, it has seemed that every national New Year’s celebration tries to outdo the last, even as each year that passes is more dire than the last.  I’ll bet there are precedents in history…

As half the world descends into chaos while the other half stares at its navel, a few things are becoming increasingly clear: not only is ‘terrorism’ in the eye of the beholder, but the 1% wants socialism for itself even if that means feudalism for the 99%.  For proof, consider that one of America’s closest allies, Saudi Arabia, funds the jihadists who are intent on imposing an Islamist state not only in Syria but also in Iraq, where five thousands Americans lost their lives and more than 100,000 are estimated to have been wounded, in order, supposedly, to create a democratic state.

U.S. troops having departed in 2011, in 2013 Al Qaeda linked jihadis proclaimed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (which refers to Syria). While the international focus is on the civil war in that latter country, in 2013, in supposedly pacified Iraq, terrorist attacks made 8,000 victims, as many as at the height of the war in 2008. And yet, notwithstanding what can only be considered an unmitigated military disaster, neither the Congress nor the street are calling to impeach the President.  How can that be?

The problem is that we are using the wrong metric to measure success: if we substitute corporate profits for the spread of democracy, the outcome of the Iraq war makes perfect sense. We’ve long known that  war is good for the bottom line, but now, for globalized capitalism it also doesn’t matter whether a government applies sharia law, promotes education, or pursues nuclear weapons, as long as it keeps its eye on the only criterion that counts: the 1%‘s global bottom line.

Thus Israel can refuse statehood to Palestinians, and Sunni Saudi Arabia can forbid women from driving and both can still be America’s allies in the campaign against Syria, where, until two years ago, a government led by the Arab Socialist  Ba’ath Party stood out as the most progressive in the Islamic Middle East, with an education system modeled on the French, women in Western dress, and peaceful relations among the country’s half dozen religions, while being known in progressive circles as ‘the frontline state’ vis a vis the Israeli occupation. Israel in turn labels Hezbollah, the leftist Shi’ite militia that plays a significant political role in Lebanon and supports Assad, a terrorist organization financed by Teheran, whom it accuses of pursuing a nuclear weapon, while itself refusing to subject its own nuclear arsenal to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. 

Systematic lack of information muddies the waters, preventing the American public from focusing on what really matters: the relentless pursuit of wealth by the 1%, to the detriment of the 99%, regardless of political or religious affiliations.  Overall, with respect to the religious dimensions of the growing number of conflicts in the world Vladimir Putin is in a better position than the man in the White House.  Even though he does not have to placate a large fundamentalist electorate as does the American president, he emphasizes the importance of spirituality in his public pronouncements and has even broken with the Soviet anathema against organized religion, as illustrated by the sentencing of the Pussy Rioters to two years in prison for disrespecting a Russian cathedral.

The arrest of Greenpeace activists trying to prevent Arctic drilling suggests that the Russian President cannot afford to throw a wet blanket on his people’s desire to imitate Western ways, even if that means taking a rain check on renewable energy. But although he cannot yet make global warming a priority, he clearly agrees with a growing international consensus that competition must be replaced by cooperation if humanity is to survive.  Did he not meet with the ‘People’s Pope’ Francis, whose Christmas calls for a halt to consumerism echo those one can hear every day on Russia’s international channel, RT?  

The new world fault line is no longer between capitalists and socialists, but between the advocates of mindless consumption and those who recognize that Nature Bats Last. Interestingly, the followers of each worldview fall into the eternal categories they represent, of equity versus greed.