Saturday, March 26, 2016

Europe Resists Implications of Brussels Attacks

How many more cities will ISIS have to attack before Europe realizes its survival depends on forcing the US to team up with Russia?
During the long decades of the Cold War, Europe was a pawn in the Great Standoff between the two ‘superpowers’.  Now there is only one hegemon, with Europe still staking its survival on the Atlantic bond. But the protector remains focused on the old enemy: the great landmass of Russia, backed by a billion and a half modernizing Chinese. The Islamic terrorists are playing footsie with Europe, while Washington’s strategists spin scenarios in beltway offices. (We no long refer to the American capital as ‘Washington’. Its agencies occupying land far and wide across the Potomac, it is now referred to as ‘the beltway’.)
I remember how those ‘best and brightest’ would sit around the policy planning offices of Carter’s State Department discussing the payloads and reach of the latest ICBM’s or whatever was current at the time, against the USSR, and I’m sure their numbers have grown exponentially across agencies that didn’t exist at the time. (A must-read article on the US military is here.)
How many Syrias will have to be destroyed before the American political class can resign itself to working with Russia against the real foe of both, putting aside Zbig’s grand plan to carve up that minerally wealthy nation, as outlined in his 1997 The Grand Chessboard?
President Obama’s speech in Havana, Cuba, two days ago, was remindful of those he gave as Presidential candidate in 2007 and 2008, echoing the tenor of his 20,000 word interview in the new Atlantic, in which he finally distanced himself from the US foreign policy establishment after almost eight years of obedience.
To an unbiased mind, these recent utterances would suggest that contrary to beltway wisdom and the media’s usual snide echoes, the worlds of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin share similar parameters: rule of law, sovereignty, democratic decision-making. Obama’s emphasis on these basic principles vis a vis Cuba also apply to Syria, while ‘sovereignty’ in particular requires the US, the EU, Russia and China, among others, to safeguard their territories from ISIS or its affiliates.
It’s so difficult to give up a tried and true enemy, that the Communist Soviet Union was able (with US help) to morph into a finance-friendly Russia, yet remain the US’s foremost adversary! The plan vis a vis China is merely to ‘contain’ it - as the Soviet Union was contained before it; but the plan vis a vis Russia, as expounded more recently in “Sbig’s Grand Chessboard and How the West Was Checkmated” starting with the Ukraine, has back-fired on Europe, conjointly with an overwhelming influx of refugees from the US’s Middle East and African wars, in which it was a willing partner. 
As Europe licks its wounds from one attack after another, knowing full well - as does Washington - that it cannot nip all of them in the bud, “Putin Apologists” will be wondering how long it will take it to unfreeze the Cold War, leaving Washington with no alternative than to “rally round the flag” of common sense, and team up with all those who are threatened by a barbaric takeover.
The more I think of it, the more I see an Obama/Putin duo as the best thing that could happen to the planet.  The question is, how would a lame-duck Obama gain vis a vis the US Congress the same authority that Putin enjoys vis a vis the Duma?  (He can have a kill list, but not get national health care, while Raul Castro drew attention in his remarks that every Cuban baby is born in a hospital, mothers in remote regions checking in days earlier to make sure.)

Oh well, at least the Cuban gambit will have strengthened Bernie’s chances……

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Obama’s’ Cuba Junket is Good for Bernie

It has taken over fifty years for the American system of government to spawn a President who could discuss US access to health care with the President of Cuba. At a joint press conference, it was clear that Obama welcomed Raul Castro’s insistence that the right to health care is just as important as the right to protest.
The Cuban president was courteous enough not to point out that American protesters, though rarely arrested, are likely to be pepper-sprayed, and that while pretty much all Americans have access to the internet, they can never be sure their phones are not being bugged or their messages read.  
While the Castro brothers, who have probably set the record for longevity in power (Zimbabwe’s Mugabe has only been in power since 1987) arrest people who demonstrate in favor of a system that makes health care dependent on wealth and charges for higher education, the American government spies on activists who believe their countrymen should enjoy those rights.  Not to mention how hard it would be for anyone promoting these ideas to get any but the most menial job.
The ‘war on terror’ allows our government to silence anyone who disagrees with the bedrock of our belief system: sink or swim free enterprise. 
I spent the better part of two years in Cuba from July 1963 to June 1965, speaking repeatedly and at length with Fidel, Raul, Che, Celia Sanchez and the other members of the government, about their individual reasons for participating in the Revolution. (When Raul stopped by my hotel room to size me up and discuss a time for an interview, his eye fell on Engel’s Origins of the Family and Private Property, which I was reading at the time:  As he headed for the door he said:  “Be careful the same thing that happened to me doesn’t happen to you!”
“What’s that?” I asked
“That you become a Communist!” 
I told him I wasn’t a joiner and that has never changed.  But one thing occured to me thinking about Barack and Bernie: the former moved seamlessly from being the mixed race son of a single mother in an obscure backwater, to suave interpreter of Wall Street aspirations, while the latter, in his seventh decade, remains the feisty defender of the man on the street he was in his student days.
At a time when US presidential candidates are doing their best not to contradict themselves from one day to the next, it is also refreshing to hear Raul Castro reiterate the same convictions he held fifty-four years ago: every human being is entitled to the basic necessities of life.

I revisited Cuba in 2011 when my book was presented at the Havana Book Fair and saw how much it had changed while remaining true to the revolution’s ideals: uniformed school kids flocked to the book fair, happy to be alive, while some of their older brothers and sisters were having trouble finding work worthy of their education, resorting to the courtship of foreign visitors to be able to enjoy the latest fashions.  No one was going hungry, a rancher I shared a meal with was well-dressed and young couples were being encouraged to take up farming, and Fidel was the first world leader to identify climate change as humanity’s greatest threat. Five years later, Raul clearly hopes to leave Cubans with more opportunities, while not sacrificing the fifty-odd year old gains Americans have yet to make.

P.S. My chronicle of the early years of the revolution will soon be available again from Tayen Lane, under the title Cuba: A Diary of the Revolution, Conversations with FIdel raul, Che and Celia Sanchez.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Hillary and the Arrow of Time

I’ve written about the arrow of time on several occasions. This rule of physics says that time never goes backward, and it has crucial implications for politics, as I show in my book A Taoist Politics.
The February 19, 2007 blog in which I foresaw Obama’s eventual victory, was titled Obama’s Breath of Fresh Air, Hillary’s Blast from the Past and Putin’s Credo. Astonishingly, the entire title still stands: American foreign policy is even more benighted than it was eight years ago, especially with respect to Russia.  On the domestic side, we did have Occupy, which according to Micah White, in part led to Black Lives Matter.  As White stresses in his new book The End of Protest, what makes the latest chapter in the black struggle qualitatively different is that it has forged links with liberation movements around the world. 
The downward spiral of the US accelerated after the 2008 economic crisis, causing the Russian president to draw ironic attention to our pretense of ’exceptionalism’. This year’s irony is Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’: When you are at the bottom, you can only go up.
As for Hillary, as part of her macho commander-in-chief image, she claims that America never ceased being great, seeing her time as First Lady as a prelude to sitting at the Oval Office desk in an effort to reverse the arrow of time.
  For the brash builder, the sky’s the limit. But outsmarting New York mayors and building codes is not the same thing as reversing climate change, or ending Islamic aggression. Trump implies that we can go back to a former greatness, when the only realistic thing we can hope for is to minimize disaster as we go irreversibly forward. 
When Donald brags about redoing Trump Towers on the Rio Grande, one is reminded of a stubborn four year-old. But the saddest thing is to see Hillary trying to outmacho him. As for her belief that today’s young women look up to those of us who instigated women’s lib, they rightly see us as grandmothers who don’t understand smart phones. Hillary plainly doesn’t realize that the current generation has taken our victories and run with them to a place we could not have imagined.
Many reluctant Hillary supporters believe she has more foreign policy credentials than even a US president needs.  But what about the way she is perceived by fellow leaders?
As reported by Adam Taylor in The Washington Post in June, 2014, opinions of world leaders expressed in her book Hard Choices, would not seem likely to elicit positive opinions of her in return.  Here are some of Adam’s quotes:

On Vladimir Putin: “While she stops shorting of comparing him to Adolf Hitler, she has some criticism. "He was disciplined and fit, a practitioner of judo, and he inspired hope and confidence among Russians still reeling from so much political change and economic adversity,"  Clinton says, before adding. "But he also proved over time to be thin-skinned and autocratic, resenting criticism and eventually cracking down on dissent and debate, including a free press and NGOs.” 

Had she been more attuned to Russian history, she could have pointed out that Putin succeeded a long series of leaders with one foot in the grave - and also perhaps that he was determined to put an end to the rape of the country’s mineral heritage.

“The few moments of detente between the two come when Clinton attempts to move outside of geopolitics, asking Putin about Siberian tigers and environmentalism. ‘He launched into an animated discourse in English on the fate of the tigers in the east, polar bears in the north, and other endangered species,’ she observes,” clearly missing a chance to note what should have been a convergence of views.  
“At one point Putin tells about his father saving his mother from certain death during the brutal Siege of Leningrad. … Clinton's tone suggests that perhaps she doesn't buy it.” 

Failure to show that you are aware of the price Russians paid in ‘The Great Patriotic War’, which we could  not have won without them, not to to mention lacking respect for the health of an opponents’ parents, would seem to rule out finding common ground with Russia.

Clinton is more positive when talking about Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and speaks at length about Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who she says was ‘perpetually tanned and well-tailored, spoke fluent English, had a taste for fine whiskey and the poetry of Pushkin.” 

Either she doesn’t know what foreign policies Lavrov has been advancing for the last dozen years, or she doesn’t think it’s worth commenting on them to future voters.

“David Cameron: Despite the ‘special relationship,’ the British prime minister, like his predecessor, Gordon Brown, is described in pleasant though unexciting and brief terms…..

Hugo Chavez: Clinton manages to both insult and dismiss the late Venezuelan leader with just a half-sentence: ‘A self-aggrandizing dictator who was more of an aggravation than a real threat, except to his own citizens.’”

After disposing of our ‘closest ally’ and one of the many thorns in our side in equally dismissive terms, Hillary turns to Recep Tayyip Erdogan: 

“Erdogan is an ‘ambitious, forceful, devout and effective politician,’ Clinton says, before going on to be more critical of the Turkish prime minister. ‘Despite positive developments under Erdogan, there was growing cause for concern, even alarm, about his government's treatment of political opponents and jour-nalists.’”  Referring to Erdogan's attempt to broker a new Iran deal, Hillary described him as a man who thought he was "actually able to bend history" to his will, but producing only ‘lackluster’ or even ‘counterproductive’ results.”  

How will she deal with a Turkish president whose belligerence toward the Kurds living under his rule embarrasses our NATO allies, not to mention his vicious crackdown on the press?

Anyone who truly believes that Hillary would have a leg up with foreign leaders when compared to Bernie is not living in the real world.  Our European allies have had alternating left and right regimes for decades, and they will remember the impeachment proceedings against her husband as well as our reckless destruction of Libya, Syria, and Iraq, whose leaders are part of the Arab left, and whose refugees are crowding their shores in a seemingly unstoppable flow.

As for the rest of the world, it’s difficult to think of any area where a US President who’s husband nearly killed welfare for single moms, or whose predecessor kills his own citizens by drone without trial, would be greeted with genuine respect and warmth.  

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, will be derided for his white hair and his Brooklyn accent, (Hispanics call him ‘el Viejito’), but his voting record as an independent and his uninterrupted commitment to socialist principles, will make him a breath of fresh air even for the social-democratic right across the world, a situation most have all but given up on.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Second US Revolution is Starting

When the time comes to write the history of the second American revolution - or perhaps the second civil war - no one will be able to say that they didn’t see it coming. We have seen it build day after day on our television screens: A big, sexually active, square-jawed billionaire decides a weekly tv show isn’t enough to feed his ego, so he runs for the presidency, getting 24 hour coverage.
Like every media star, he plays to his strengths, led by a stream of consciousness filled with the same dirty words we hear on television, encouraging his followers to attack those who disagree with his plan to ‘make America great again’.  It has only taken a few months for violence to appear, but Trump gets away with calling Bernie Sanders protesters ‘Communists’, blaming them for the incidents, when they are constitutionally against violence, whether at home or abroad.
The Sanders candidacy allowed the American left to come out in favor of social democracy.  Almost a century behind the rest of the Western World, it is finally possible for a socialist to appear on national television. Last August I wrote that we could be faced with a Trump/Sanders election, and nobody believed me because Sanders is facing a presumptive front runner. Today it’s clear that his uphill battle for the nomination is helped not only by Hillary’s foibles, but by Trump’s embrace of violence.
Most Americans have long believed that our country would continue its middle-of-the-road course, avoiding both fascism and communism. But they allowed money - always an ally of the right - unprecedented freedom to create never-before-seen disparities of wealth. With our comparative international quality of life scores embarrassingly low, reasoned condemnation of that policy sooner or later had to break through the pretense of exceptionalism.
Powerful economic interests want the country to continue its foreign wars, making it impossible to close the quality of life chasm. We may eventually discover that bankers and weapons manufacturers actually called on Trump.  As US workers began to discover that every other developed nation has better schools, free health care, free universities and a host of other benefits that flow from the conviction that the community must stand in solidarity with its individual members, just as do families, the 1% may have decided that it will not suffice to have brought the European welfare state to its knees to prevent them from demanding equal treatment. Even if the Islamist threat ensures continuing ‘patriotism’, they may need to feel certain that the thousands of militiamen and other Second Amendment fanatics at home will turn their guns on a resuscitated left rather than on them.
Trump may sincerely believe he can will the country back to  ‘greatness’, just as Hitler believed his ‘master race’ would rule Europe. But as the almost imperceptible drip drip of information about how the rest of the developed world lives reaches a critical mass of Americans, the many demanding equity will be met by the few defending power. 
America’s role in the world is also at play, as religious fanatics reject a ‘city upon a hill’ that has descended into a gutter of commercialism in which everything has a price, embodied by female forms. As shown by attacks on European women by Muslim immigrants, it doesn’t help Muslim men accept women as equals.
Most liberal Americans still believe that Sanders doesn’t stand a chance of getting the Democratic nomination, and those who support him see him as primarily a domestic reformer. But Bernie’s attitude is also what is needed to heal a rift with the Muslim world, for it was Christians who undertook the crusades that destroyed its rule over half a continent, (a rule that accepted Jews).
If Bernie can build on the stance he took the other day when he welcomed a hijab-clad student of political science to his microphone, telling her: “I am a Jew. Members of my family perished in the holocaust,” he could be seen as the right president for the United States, both domestically and internationally.
Journalists are finally daring to play back to us Trump’s encouragement of violence when he denies it, but they are only slightly more inclined to condemn him outright than are his challengers for the Republican nomination. All should review 1930’s German history, when democratic socialists failed to meet a similar challenge, before it is too late.
The rule of physics called ‘the arrow of time’ tells us that once a process reaches a certain momentum, it can only continue in a forward direction: the arrow of time is irreversible.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution, by Micah White

Micah White is that rare blend of activist and gifted writer, and his book comes just as we’re wondering whether we’ll be able to halt the descent toward fascism that Donald Trump represents. More than suggesting that ‘another world is possible’, it lays out coherent guidelines, broadening the discourse from nuts and bolts to theories and memes by blending the Ph’d’s reading list with the eager mind of the iconoclast. 

White took the best that academia has to offer, but also acted as a human shield in the occupied Palestinian territories, learning what it means to allow one’s life to depend on the solidarity of others.  His trajectory from Swarthmore college to Occupy via the Middle East and Adbusters has fashioned a modern-day renaissance man, evocative of Che Guevara for his ability to combine action with philosophy and who, while involved in the daily life of a small settlement, sees the world in all its complexities, past and present.

Adbusters can hardly be accused of mysticism, and most observers saw Occupy encampments around the world drawing together every imaginable strand of secular protest. They will be surprised when White mentions casually that he is no longer an atheist, suggesting a return or a turn toward Christianity. They will be even more surprised to see his denunciation of “intolerant secularism” paired with a “spiritual understanding of revolution’. White’s “unified theory” gives equal importance to theurgy, an approach to politics epitomized by the feminist/Wiccan Starhawk, as to structuralism, subjectivism and voluntarism.

"I actively entertain the possibility that revolutions may indeed be a supernatural phenomenon and therefore inexplicable, immeasurable, unpredictable and potentially outside the natural order. Leaving open the possibility that revolutions may be a supernatural (or divine) process allows us to find elements of truth within theurgism and unblind ourselves to approaches to social change that reigned in previous historical periods…. Theurgists believe that divine forces can be made to intervene in the world."

White is fascinated by the ancient history of revolt and does not hesitate to call up figures little known outside academia, seeing the strands that unite the Ghost Dancer Voyvoka of Wounded Knee fame and the Nika revolt against the Byzantine Empire in 532.  How better to drive home the fact that revolution and revolt are as eternal as the defense of one’s tribe or country?

Again and again, however, White is drawn to Christianity, detailing the origin of the Chi Ro, a sign in the heavens composed of a heart and a cross that is said to have inspired Constantine’s victory over a rival emperor and his conversion in the 4th century.  White notes that:

"Contemporary social movement often tell only one story about the signs that will precede the revolution: lots of people will be in the streets. The victory of Christianity challenges activists to wonder whether another story might be told, one in which an unexpected and rare natural phenomenon heralds a paradigm shift. Perhaps three hundred years from now a leader will be swayed to embrace our people’s movement by a long-prophesied event - an earthquake - that strikes on her inauguration day."

White comes down repeatedly on the side of women who are ‘on the brink of rising up against a male culture that has been fatally poisoned by pornography and video games,” echoing, perhaps inadvertently, Vladimir Putin’s and Western post-modernists’ condemnation of the decay of Western culture that is also at the root of Islamist attacks. And while White is clearly more taken with witchcraft and miracles than with liturgy, like many of today’s thinkers, he shares their conviction that humans have spiritual needs.

In A Taoist Politics: the Case for Sacredness, I explore the commonalities between ancient wisdom and modern physics, inviting the scientifically literate to see belief in God as a way of naming the order/disorder dyad of modern physics and the ancient Chinese Yin/Yang. Where White sees divine forces intervening in the world, I see the flow of energy through systems creating instabilities which, through bifurcations, can lead to revolutions. Noting that the idea of a steady state has been misinterpreted in the public mind as ‘static’, I describe it as “a magic moment in the vibrant regime of order/ disorder, poised far from equilibrium at the edge of chaos”. For White, revolutions are “a magic moment that leads to a new order, in a process repeated ad infinitum”. 

White’s view of activism gives an oblique nod to Malcolm Gladwell when he says that: “Voluntarists often think of activism as a ladder of engagement that begins with non-action …and climbs toward direct action, the goal being to escalate engagement up the ladder.” According to Gladwell, by disseminating information, networks create weak-tie connections, while strong-tie connections are needed to persevere in the face of danger. The difference between people who abandon an action and those who stay is not commitment, but a personal connection to the movement: close friends who are participating create the ‘strong tie’ necessary for high-risk activism. Requests for aid on the internet that demand little personal commitment may bring many responses but the ties they create, if any, are ‘weak’. Networks make it easier for activists to express themselves, but harder for that expression to have any impact.

While apparently accepting Gladwell’s analysis, White approaches activism from a more theoretical point of view. diagraming his ‘Unified Theory of Revolution” in four quadrants: subjectivism, theurgism, voluntarism and structuralism.  Encouraging activists to think outside the box, he states that “the playbook must be rewritten by each generation’, usefully noting that “repressive democracies encourage forms of protest that are least revolutionary and most ineffective.”

While for Gladwell, successful activism is organized hierarchically (the NAACP’s anti-bus campaign succeeded because top-down cells organized private rides for residents), for White it is many-faceted. He cites the Italian Five Star Movement that, unlike Occupy, formulated concrete demands. Highlighting another difference, White tells us that the Italian movement combines popular direct democracy, decision-making on-line, with a vetted membership.

One of White’s more disturbing scenarios is related to the environmental crisis. Pointing out that the world has already passed the key threshold of 400ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, he is ‘haunted by an eco-fascist nightmare’ in which humans fed on high-yield genetically modified corn replace machines to carry out physical labor:  “The virtues of 100 percent employment will be touted. We will see people chained to bicycle-powered charging stations for the elite’s electric vehicles.”

This ambitious work, part testimony, part history, part plan of action, lives up to its promise, even if it appears to be reaching for what may seem like a far-off goal: global revolution, and a “commonwealth of free world cities” achieved through a World Party. “Our long-term strategy is mundialization, forming these liberated cities into a global amalgamation that exerts a unified political will.”

The question of whether a World Party will be comfortable with the notion that revolutions could be a supernatural phenomenon pales in comparison to emergence of a Barnum and Bailey Hitler who doesn’t even tolerate peaceful protests.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Europe is Never Gonna Get it Together! (originally posted at New Eastern

Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wharton, Capote, Mann, Kafka, Svevo, Hesse, turn over in your graves! 
The cosmopolitan Europe of Paris, Vienna and Prague only managed to come together briefly over your tombs! Its thirty-some nations, each with their own language, quarrels and elephantine historical memories, will soon be gone, destroyed neither by Russian tanks nor American missiles, but by their refusal to unite.
If only the ‘construction of Europe’ had been more political and less bureaucratic!  If only Europeans, who still remember the worst war in history, could have persuaded each other of the need to create a European identity rather than a European bureau-cracy!
The stunning rapidity with which the European Union is falling apart is matched only by its dangers. Forget Brexit (the UK thinking of leaving), Grexit (Greece recently almost forced to leave), Nexit (the Netherlands threatening a referendum to match the Brit’s), forget the poor mayor of Calais trying to deal with 6,000 tented migrants determined to reach Britain on the other side of the Channel, and village officials on the Greek-Macedonian border desperate to reach Angela Merkel’s open arms.  
Forget that most of those who braved the treacherous Mediterranean to get to the Promised Land - Europe’s welfare state - are men in their twenties with nothing to lose.  Aside from God knows how many ISIS sleeper cells they may represent, just consider the inevitable anger when even humble countries put up barbed wire fences to keep them from passing through on the way to a German or Scandinavia El Dorado.  
If you think I’m a conspiracy-theorist, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified on yesterday Capitol Hill yesterday that ISIS was preparing more attacks in Europe and on the US. And the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified at the same hearing that ISIS was "taking advantage of the torrent of migrants to insert operatives into that flow," adding that they were "pretty skilled at phony passports so they can travel ostensibly as legitimate travelers.” 
Even if these young men were apolitical when they left a home country with 50% unemployment - or ISIS gangs - or US drone attacks, how long will it take for them to decide that enough is enough: the first world ransacks their third world, and doesn’t even have the decency to give them another chance at life!
Are the Europeans doing ISIS’ work for it?

Last year I wrote no fewer than six blogs about the inevitable Islamization of Europe, the most detailed being In Europe, the Arithmetic of Otherness and Sovereignty, dated March 3, 2015: 
Notwithstanding its conquests and achievements, seventy years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, a Europe of carefully tended landscapes, cathedrals and museums, is scarcely less fragmented than during the nineteen-thirties. While right-wing parties rise alarmingly in the polls, an official left mesmerized by the United States confronts a base that increasingly rebels against World Bank/IMF-imposed austerity and supports Palestine against America’s ally, Israel. While for the United States, Otherness requires regime change, a Europe in which the divide between Christianity and Islam is becoming increasingly violent preaches acceptance of Otherness. And while the United States ‘war on terrorism’ takes place outside its territory (or ‘homeland’), Washington’s fabricated crisis in Ukraine prevents Europeans from dealing with a situation that threatens their own ‘homelands’.

A large part of the responsibility for Europe’s coming apart at the seams can be attributed to the US’s ceaseless search for enemies to destroy, mindless of the consequences for its ‘allies’.  But Europe’s leaders must also bear their share of blame for accepting  to ‘follow the leader’.