Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Time Mag Eases Americans into Reality

The only time I read Time magazine is in a doctor’s waiting room, but yesterday I asked to take the December 19th issue home with me because what could have been a standard year-end article turned out to be revolutionary. Ian Bremmer, President of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, breaks with the MSM’s failure to tell the world like it is to the American people. Titled ‘An Uneasy Path Abroad’ it confirms in soothing terms everything being written by Pepe Escobar, Paul Craig Roberts and others, about America’s declining position in the world.

I don’t know how most of my readers will see this, but I believe it marks a watershed: wrapped in Christmas paper, it outlines the new international reality after decades of failure by the American press to inform readers about the world beyond our seas.  Reviewing all the pluses in America’s arsenal, such as a young work force and the presence of the world’s biggest tech companies, it then admits: “Foreign policy is a different story. American power is on the wane, power being the ability to force others to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do.”Bremmer admits there are now “a growing number of emerging powers (with) more than enough power to ignore what America wants” - and horror of horrors! - “even to block U.S. plans they don’t like”.

Though the MSM has been denigrating the BRICS countries since they appeared on the scene a few years ago, Bremmer reveals to the American people that “In 2014 they launched a $50 million development bank, which together with China’s develop-ment bank and an expanding list of regional lending institutions makes borrowers less dependent on Western lenders.”

As for America’s European vassals born with the end of WWII, like the US they are “unhappy with Vladimir Putin and his  assault on Ukraine” (note the mild ‘unhappy’), but “Russia is not the Soviet Union. It’s not a global military power.” Bremmer should have elaborated on the fact that Russia, unlike the Soviet Union, is not Communist, and therefore we have no ideological reason to oppose it. However he does admit that: “European nations have far more economic exposure to Russia (another understatement for a region dependent on Russian gas to keep warm in winter) than America does.” Bremmer appears to be preparing Americans for the day when Europe declares its independence from Washington, although that day seems much farther off than grownups in the room would wish.
Blaming cooling Atlantic relations on things like the Merkel spying incident, and foreseeing more distancing from the torture report, Bremmer reveals a less obvious transformation when he admits that US influence in Europe has flowed through Britain.  As that country loosens ties with the EU, he says, US influence in Europe will lessen.

Acknowledging that the rise of China “will fray US ties with allies in Asia” he admits that “the American public won’t support a lasting US commitment to solve what are perceived to be other peoples’ problems.”  Citing numerous polls, Bremmer announces that “reliable public support is no longer there” (for an ambitious, expensive foreign policy) “and the world knows it.” Bremmer admits that ‘dollar dominance is on the wane” returning once again to China’s financial clout, crashing the wall of silence that greeted the creation of the “$40 billion Silk Road Fund designed to extend Chinese commercial influence across South and Central Asia and into Europe.”  Identified in his Wiki biography as a hard-edged Republican partisan who following World War II wanted the US to back the Nationalist government of Chang Kai-Check against Mao, Henry Luce must be turning over in his grave as the magazine he founded admits: “Nor will it be easy for the US to build greater support for market-driven capitalism, as China continues to demonstrate the growth potential of the state-driven variety”.

Turning to the Middle East quagmire, regarding efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, Bremmer notes much too mildly that: “The Saudis are not working as hard as they could to track funding and arms that militants from ISIS receive” and “even in areas where the US and Saudis have shared interests, the two countries are no longer closely coordinating their policies.”
Returning yet again to China, thus showing the extent to which it is his main concern, Bremmer concludes “Globalization will continue to spread new ideas, speed the flow of information, lift nations out of poverty (sic) and drive global consumption.  But it’s less likely than before to promote American values and an American worldview.”

Bremmer’s article is a salute to Pepe Escobar and Paul Craig Roberts among others, who day after day keep readers informed of what is really going on in the world.  I want particularly to recommend PCR’s latest contribution for its link to an in-depth analysis by an author identified as Larchmonter 445, about Russia-China military and economic cooperation in the face of what PRC believes is the US’s plan to destroy both countries in turn, using nuclear weapons. The article appeared on ’The Vineyard of the Saker’, which has half a dozen language versions and is planning one by Muslims. 

That Bremmer’s article should appear in what for almost a century has systematically promoted a conservative worldview to a vast American readership, is astonishing.  (Time was founded in 1923, and it was Luce who coined the expression ‘The American Century’ in 1941.) It suggests that as the American century wanes, the magazine that accompanied it no longer promotes interventionism, recommending instead that the United States calm down and live with the new world taking shape instead of destroying it.  

The Christmas Cauldron

I often refer to the planet as a system, but right now it feels more like a cauldron. I wrote this sentence last night but was too tired to continue.  This morning the news is about another shooting and another protest, near Ferguson, the presenter suggesting the US could be headed for another period similar to the nineteen sixties race war.

The comparison is inaccurate: not only because much has changed since the 1960’s, but because today’s protests have a different kind of energy behind them. They are less violent than in the past, and more focused, the marching and the chanting grounded in an awareness of the wider world that no American community possessed in the nineteen-sixties.  Critics have chided the now three year old Occupy Movement for having lacked a leader and an agenda, but we are witnessing its fruits: Occupy was about rejecting a system of government that disdains the needs of the many, but its participants were convinced that before you can propose something new you have to possess a detailed knowledge of what is wrong with the old.  That knowledge was elaborated and disseminated via ‘mike checks’.

Three years on, shouting “I can’t breathe” is not a one-off, superficial reaction to a specific death - or even a plethora of assassinations. It expresses a deep awareness of the flaws of the American system of government.  Although Americans are not presented with a lot of news about the rest of the world - Opednews being a significant exception even among on-line journals -  the limited information they receive, focusing on the ‘need’ to intervene in an ever longer list of locations across the globe, lets filter popular reactions to our aggressions.  Starting with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, those who today are in their 20’s and 30’s are increasingly aware that the injustices they face are mirrored across the world.  Just as the French Revolution divided American colonial politicians, today’s American protesters are beginning to insert their struggle against police killings into the  worldwide uprising against capitalism and globalization. Just as importantly,  they know that because they are ‘in the belly of the beast’,  they are a key element in that struggle, as the ‘forces of law and order’ become increasingly brutal in their determination to preserve the 1%’s advantages.

The cauldron is not one pot on a small fire, but a gigantic receptacle that gathers the determination of an expanding universal ‘umma’, a community of peoples who subscribe to different religions - or none - who live under a variety of political systems, and whose vision of the good life rejects modern behavioral models.

As I write this, France 24 reports on the latest conflict between secularism and religious tradition. One of the pillars of the French Revolution was a commitment to secular government, and probably no other country has stuck to that principle as has Catholic France for over two centuries.  But reacting to the presence of the largest Muslim population in Europe, traditiona-lists have installed creches in municipal buildings, only to see them challenged by the courts in the name of secularism. The growing reaction to these decisions is in large part enabled by the National Front Party of Marine Le Pen, which has moved from the far-right, anti-Semitic stance it embodied under her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder), to a mainly pro-tradition party which, together with similar parties in other European countries, salutes Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reclaim religious and family values.

What makes the present situation so frightening is that the cauldron contains fundamentalists determined to impose a barbaric version of Islam. Today ISIS shot down a Jordanian plane, capturing its pilot, while yesterday France reported on ISIS atrocities against Yazidi women in Northern Iraq. The struggle for equity between the global 1% and the 99% is accompanied by a growing realization that the traditional values lost in modernity’s pursuit of ever more ‘stuff’, are more important than was once believed. Peaceful but determined struggles to achieve a more equitable world must avoid being derailed by calls for war against militant Islam, which represents a brutal campaign to recapture those lost values. Fundamentalism will dissolve as the world restores some of the values it seeks to impose by force, side by side with governments committed to equity. The crucial question today is whether the 1% will allow this to happen.  Protesters chanting ‘I can’t breathe’ or equally mild accusations will increasingly be met with militarized force, thea cauldron a ready-made laboratory for the perfection of its use.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Day I Thought Would Never Come

In July, 1963, with the proceeds of my first book, “The Two Hundred Days of ‘8 /2’”, I used my French passport to travel to Cuba, which was already off-limits to Americans.  Having recently become part of the fourth estate, via the French News Agency’s Rome bureau, I wanted to find out whether the corporation I had joined met my standards for truth-telling.  Everything I had read in the international press, whether American, French or Italian, had been negative, but French free-lancers with whom I’d worked on stories in Rome were telling a very different story.  I had to find out who to trust.
The story of what turned into an almost two year stay on the Island of the Red Devils, complete with conversations with all the members of the 1964 government, (several each with Fidel, Raul, Che and a valued friendship with Celia Sanchez), is told in “Cuba, 1964: When the Revolution was Young”, and I’m probably the only writer to have received her first classes in Marxism from that indomitable quartet.  It had taken me three weeks to reach Fidel and before deciding whether to grant my request to do a (non-political) portrait of him for the French weekly Paris-Match he wanted to know how I lived, in particular what things I owned.  When I told him that my sole possessions of any value were a Fiat 600 and a typewriter, he rightly figured that I would be sympathetic to the Revolution (always spelled with a capital R in Cuba).
In Cuba, my passion for the cinema took a back seat to what  became a total immersion in the East/West conflict which, as I have written in many blogs, continues to this day.  After leaving the island in 1965 for Poland, then Hungary, I did not return until 2011, when the Italian version of my book was presented at the 20th International Havana Book Fair, whose theme that year was Latin America  The two week-long event coincided with the revolt in Tahrir Square, which I watched from time to time on television in my bed-breakfast in Old Havana.  While Hosni Mubarak was being ousted after a  U.S. backed thirty year rule that had no pretense of being democratic, Fidel Castro met with about twenty Latin American writers in a live six-hour televised conversation.
Washington’s refusal to entertain normal relations with the Cuban government would have gone on indefinitely if American power had an indefinite lease on life.  What is striking is that America’s fifty-year long Cuba policy coincided with its period of world supremacy. The fact that President Obama chose this moment to end the ridiculous standoff is probably not due to a need to rescue his disastrous reputation as perhaps the worst President in American history.  Nor is it a gesture toward the Latino community that will be crucial to Hillary’s campaign.  I believe it is a way too late attempt to regain the South American hemisphere as a consolation prize, as the BRICS join China’s new silk roads and even Europe, our sixty-five year old junior partner begins to question American hegemony.  The ill-fated Ukraine adventure makes clear that Washington never gave up on the goal of dismembering Russia, putting Europe once again on the front line. 
Nor is it any coincidence that Obama’s declaration coincides with the European Parliament’s recognition of a future Palestinian state. Obama will not win over Netanyahu any more than he won over Fidel and Raul Castro.  And although the day I thought would never come for Cuba has arrived, it is a bittersweet end to 2014, as the world Uncle Sam built heads for even greater trouble than it did in 1914, before America became too big for its boots.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Two Ways to Own the World

In a recent interview on RT’s ‘Breaking the Set’ Chris Hedges excoriated mainstream journalism while lamenting that jour-nalists can’t make a living from alternative media. The real problem is that many people don’t know the alternative exists, or don’t know the names of the serious journals, or don’t have access to a computer or a sophisticated phone. An Opednews writer recently suggested that we need to change the way journalism is taught in order to change the MSM, but that’s like trying to change the way newspapers are owned, or a constitution that allows money in elections.
 Perhaps we should consider instead the two ways of ‘owning’ the world. Governments seek to ‘own’ the world by taking over companies and countries. In order to be able to counter the actions of governments beyond their borders, citizens have to own not just their neighborhood or the town they live in, but the rest of the world, insofar as possible. I’m talking about becoming familiar with the domestic face of other countries, insofar as possible. When our government seeks to 'possess' the world, we must identify with it, becoming familiar with the domestic face of other countries, so that they become as real to us as our own.
My first media boss, the head of Agence France Presse’s Rome bureau, taught me a fundamental rule of journalism that translates as ‘death/miles’: the relative importance of a news item is largely determined by the number of deaths involved and how far away it is from the location of its readership. Very soon, however, I realized that there is a better way to judge journalism: how well does it take its readers inside foreign lands, as opposed to reporting on government policies vis a vis toward them (which we could call reverse death/miles)?
As someone who has done ‘immersion’ in half a dozen countries, I got an early start on being able to identify with other zeitgeists, thus when living in the U.S., as I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years, I see the world through a series of foreign eyes. And it’s precisely because everyone can’t do immersion that the media has to do a better job of taking people into foreign lands. France 24 and RT do just that.  From France’s ‘Reporters’, where stories are sent in by people on the ground in other countries, to its focus on Africa, it’s obvious that the government-supported outreach channel that broadcasts in several languages is world oriented. (Today you can catch a round table in which Mediterranean Arab artists and intellectuals discuss whether they are freer following the Arab Spring and what the Mediterranean means to them. Russia’s so-called ‘bullhorn’, RT, airs documentaries and news stories both Russian and foreign, while interviewers like razor-sharp Oxana Boyko fearlessly joust with international figures. Meanwhile the US media exclusively serves up sound bites with beltway insiders Washington’s about worlds which never actually revealed
Because the media fails to bring the world to life, Americans cannot imagine what their government’s actions mean to those on the receiving end, believing Bush Jr.’s ‘They hate us because we’re free’.  
Not only is Americans’ knowledge of other countries limited to the geography they notice when they travel, or the food, they haven’t a clue about the history of each country as it is transmitted from generation to generation. When it was announced this week that France’s most unpopular president ever had stopped off in Moscow from what was referred to as ‘a visit to Kazakhstan’, I wondered what on earth Francois Hollande could have been doing in that Central Asian country. Googling the news item, I discovered that he had not just ‘happened’ to go there after attending the conference of Francophone nations in Africa, but that he is the third French President to do so, France being Kazakstan’s fifth largest trading partner. And that’s because half of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power and Kazakstan is the world’s largest uranium exporter. According to Fox News Latino (sic) Hollande was accompanied by more than 50 corporate executives..…
Now back to the significance of his ‘improvised’ meeting with Putin at the Moscow airport. The first thing that came to mind on the basis of my long years of living in France was that maybe, just maybe, this could mark the start of Europe’s emancipation from the United States. (I tweeted ‘Hollande use of diplomacy in Ukraine crisis may be sign Europe ready to cut US umbilical cord’, and ‘Hoping de-escalation of Ukraine crisis could pave the way for delivery of warships’.) I might not have seen things that way had I not known that Hollande’s historically low approval rating was due to his handling of domestic policy, as Europe struggles to contain the fallout from the 2008 Wall St instigated financial crisis that has forced country after European country (including Merkel’s Germany), to adopt austerity measures (austerity in the welfare state!). And also, that until his election to the highest office, Hollande had been a socialist party ‘apparatchik’ (as he would be described by the US media were he not the president of a ‘friendly’ country). And finally, however much Hollande may have betrayed socialist egalitarian principles, he is likely to cling to the socialist principal that problems should be solved through negotiations, not war. And finally, that however much they currently hate Hollande, in the decade or so following the end of World War II, the US was seen very negatively by a large swathe of the French population that is still alive today.
As the cherry on the cake, I would not have seen Hollande’s initiative in quite the same way had I not been aware of France’s pride in its diplomatic tradition, and to a lesser but nonetheless real extent, its renewed conviction, dating from the De Gaulle era, of its enduring importance on the world scene.
Francois Hollande appears to be shooting for a two-fer: rescuing his disastrous standing in the polls by a) saving the jobs of shipbuilding workers (the second Mistral ship still to be built), and b) participating - and even appearing to lead! - what may be an initial attempt by European leaders to cut the umbilical leash that has made them the US’s poodle for decades.
During the Cold War, Germany, which had maintained close ties with the satellite nations of Eastern Europe, ultimately refused US demands to station Pershing missiles aimed at the Soviet Union on its territory.  Today, ‘Ossie’ (the familiar term for residents of the former East Germany) Angela Merkel has to work her way through the series of knots that tied Germany to the United States first through occupation, then through the continued existence of American bases, in order to disassociate her country from the neo-conservative plan to ‘finish the job’ of dismantling Russia that was interrupted with the fight against Nazi Germany.
Perhaps one reason why Hollande’s stopover in Moscow’s airport was given so little attention by the Western media is the fact that Kazakstan, whence he came, is a member of the Russian led customs union that the US doesn’t want Ukraine to join, reason for which it ousted its democratically elected President during the Maidan campaign energized by neo-Nazi battalions whose leaders are now part of the US-engineered Kiev government. For Americans, fascism is just a word, but it is a dirty word among most - if not all - Europeans, because their parents or grandparents lived under it. Beyond that, the struggle over Ukraine may just possibly be the watershed that cures Europe of its Atlantic tendencies. Just as Ukrainians (and Russians) are not really Europeans, Europeans are not Americans; both are Eurasians. And while Washington alternately derides and condemns Vladimir Putin’s claim that Eurasia is a really existing entity that represents the future, Europeans are increasingly attracted to his project, which is not about consumption but about values.

But since the US media is not about to start reporting on these and other on-going trends, I’m suggesting that readers of Opednews, whose offerings are renewed every twenty-four hours, post copies in supermarkets and on telephone poles, so that more people will know what their government is really doing abroad and how its actions are being perceived.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Of Kids and Drones and Culture Wars

The other day I viewed a French film with Catherine Deneuve that featured an impossible pre-teen boy, and I vaguely remembered having remarked on similar behavior in other recent French films. Having lived in France when kids and teens behaved very differently, I was saddened, once again. 
This morning RT ran a short feature on the upsurge of drones, including soon to be under-the-tree toy drones. Imagine a near future when kids will add a deadly panoply to their propensity to act out. The RT series is part of a broader take that includes battlefield weapons scheduled to soon make their own decisions about killing.

I know I’ll invite criticism for saying this, but I think we need to consider a heretofore taboo idea: could Putin possilby be right to oppose Western culture?

We’re headed for a time when the fight between different parts of the world will increasingly be about ‘morals’ - and that includes attitudes toward war, and violence in general. In the West, morality is almost a dirty word, while for most of humanity, it’s something people still care about. Even if the Western press doesn’t acknowledge it, Putin is far from alone. His determination to steer Russia back to traditional values is applauded by a growing cohort of right-wing Western leaders, but also, and increasingly, by anti-globalization movements that tend to be left-leaning. Most importantly, it puts him squarely on the side of Islamic polities, which account for a quarter of humanity. 

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, represents a sort of middle way between those anxious to create libeal consumer societies and Islamists who want to return to the Middle Ages. It was briefly in power in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak, but Tunisia’s Ennhada Party appears to have been the most adept at straddling this divide. Reading Eric Walberg’s “From Post-modernism to Post secuarlism: Re-Emerging Islamic Civilization”,  I learned that Ghannouchi is not only a politician but the movement’s intellectual leader. According to Walberg, for Ghannouchi, “The Islamic contribution is primarily a form of ethics, a transcendent morality that seems to have no place in today’s democrtic practice.” He criticizes the “total stripping of the state from religion, which turns the state into a mafia, the world economic system into an exercise in plundering, and politics into deception and hyocrisy.” In 2012, Ghannouchi, Ennhada’s leader since 1991, was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World and was also among Foreign Policy’s top global thinkers. (Apparently he did not take Washington’s bate, because in this year’s parliamentary election, Ennahda was defeated by a liberal rival.)

Reading about Tunisia, I was reminded of Samuel Huntingdon’s famous 1994 essay ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, that has recently been evoked - and dismissed - by political thinkers of right and left, both at home and abroad. It turned out I stiill had among my books a French translation, published by the magazine Commentaire together with rebuttals from various English and French language authors. I myself had dismissed the essay at the time, but now, rereading it, I recognize that although Huntingdon inevitably got some details wrong, its main thrust, that of a clash between liberalism and Islam, aptly describes what has been happening for the last decade. (Huntington sets the beginning of the clash in the nineites, with the Kosovo war.)

In other, not unrelated news, today the Russian currency, the rouble, took a significant tumble following on OPEC’s decision not to slow oil production in order to let its price closer to $100 a barrel. I strongly suspect that the preponderant Gulf producers were doing Washington’ bidding as part of a campaign to weaken Putin when they held firm on their decision. But in yet another demostration of the chessman’s talents, while that vote was taking place, Putin was in Turkey, making a deal with President Erdogan to route Russian oil through that country to Europe, instead of via the South Stream pipeline that was to have transited via Bulgaria: Brussels had leaned on Bulgaria to put the project on hold, and tonight both Bulgaria and Hungary are hoping Putin will reconsider, according to RT.com. 

The Russia/Turkey deal can be seen as merely an oppor-tunistic commercial alliance, but according to Walberg, Turkey wants to recreate an Ottoman Empire-type Califate, and that dovetails with Putin’s Eurasia project. A lot of ink is being spilled in the West about that project, with most analysts claiming that Putin wants to recreate the Soviet Union. They utterly fail to see an Orthodox Christian nation teaming up with neighboring Muslim nations in anything other than power relations. 

The West’s obssession with the broad arc of bedroom politics prevents it from seeing that tradition and morality are every bit as significant as power, and more significantly that morality is not only about sex. It warns of a mindless tomorrow in which some killing machines become independent of humans, and others become toys.

P.S. Today, (December 3), Steven Hawking predicted in an interview with the BBC that the development of artificial intelligence (of which he is the beneficiary) would lead to the demise of hte human race.....