Friday, April 22, 2016

The Pope’s Divisions

The American media shows little interest in Bernie Sanders’ weekend meeting with Pope Francis, having predicted that it was not included in Sanders’ invitation to speak at a Vatican conference.  Similarly, Joseph Stalin is known to have responded to Western advice to consider the Vatican’s attitude with outright contempt: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”
Stalin’s quip unlined what was at the time the crucial factor in world affairs: the role of brute force. Military might has still not taken a backseat to negotiation, however, what has ‘come around’ is a growing conviction across the world, and even across political lines, of the crucial role of morality in public life.  Or better said, the lack of ethical standards in both public and private behavior.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin is not the only public figure to lament ‘The degeneracy of Western morality’, he is almost alone in being targeted. Yet notwithstanding Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent posturing at the Hiroshima monument to the victims of America’s nuclear attack, the US continues to stockpile and even update weapons many times more lethal than necessary to decimate the human population.  
In terms of man’s ability to erase himself from the living world, there is nowhere to go but down. If there is any hope of maintaining a human presence on earth, it can only come from a psychological turnaround.  The movement known as the counter-culture has been advocating a spiritual transformation since the nineteen-sixties. That’s ‘yesterday’ in terms of evolution, but while relatively few leaders are willing to admit it, people across the globe know instinctively that it’s crunch time.
Fidel Castro was one of the first prominent leaders to call climate change the greatest threat to humanity, at least five years ago to my knowledge. Yet it wasn’t until last November that economically significant leaders got down to serious business at the Cop 21 in Paris, after half a dozen useless international climate change conferences. Meanwhile, several other global threats had arisen, from ISIS to the Zika virus  - with no progress at all on limiting the world’s nuclear stockpiles.
It may not be an exaggeration to suggest that the ‘degeneracy of Western culture’, in which anything goes, and the same female body that is free to enjoy sex serves to illustrate the fact that everything is monetized, plays an unrecognized role.  Energy companies blast the last drops of shale oil or gas from far beneath the earth’s surface, knowing full well they are aiding and abetting catastrophic climate change: a few days ago there were two major earthquakes in Japan, followed by one on the other side of the Pacific, in Ecuador. I expect science will eventually link them together and both to the pursuit of ‘more’.
During the second world war, it was said that Pope Pius XII was not doing all he could to save Europe’s Jews, and his successors continued the Church’s long tradition of support for the ruling elites. At last, following upon the austere Benedict XVIth, Francis has arrived, positioning himself beside reformers across the globe: from the Castro brothers in Cuba, to the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church Pope Kyrill in Moscow to….Bernie Sanders, the first prominent socialist candidate for the US presidency since Eugene Debs in the nineteenth century.  For decades, Europe’s Christian Democratic parties, with their close ties to the Vatican, helped Washington steer the continent, but today President Putin’s close advisor, Sergei Glaziev, advocates a political/ecoNomic system based on Russia’s traditional Orthodox church and Tolstoy’s blend of religion and socialism — while China builds its own version of ‘capitalist socialism’.

Whether or not Bernie Sanders succeeds in de-throning Hillary Clinton as Wall Street’s presidential nominee, he stands beside the world’s most  influential progressives, who agree on the priority of replacing military divisions with ethics.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Privatization of Globalization

As French demonstrations against new labor laws turn violent, and British Prime Minister David Cameron is caught in off-shore shenanigans, it’s time to examine the words ‘globalization’ and ‘privatization’.
The privatization of resources and services that has been pursued relentlessly by the World Bank and the IMF for decades, resulting in bigger lower classes and richer upper classes across the world, is usually seen in the context of a given country’s economic situation. But the division of the world into some 200 sovereign national states corresponds ever less to reality: the image of a king in his castle that has morphed into one of Presidents in their ‘white’ houses, is a modern fairy tale: kings fought over terrestrial boundaries, while presidents safeguard the cross-border investments of their financiers.
“Globalization” and “privatization” are viewed as distinct phenomena having nothing to do with one another. In reality, they are dependent upon each other: only a privately owned company can enter into negotiations with another privately owned company, as nations do amongst themselves on the diplomatic front: if your town owns its gasworks, or its electrical grid, it may cooperate with its twins in other towns, but it is unlikely to try to take over the electrical grid of its state or region. A privately-owned electric company, however, will try to acquire the assets of other privately-owner electric companies - or automobile companies, or battery manufacturers. 
Privatization of a nation’s assets such as coal and oil - or agricultural land - benefits the so-called national one percent, who gradually fold their possessions into those of a global one percent.  We have gone from the king in his castle as ultimate ruler of lands administered by princes, to boards of directors as ultimate rulers of nations administered by their respective local one percents.
There is increasing talk currently of decentralization and direct democracy, and the 150th anniversary issue of The Nation includes a fascinating article by Joel Rogers on just how such a system could work at the national level.  However, there appears to be a gap between the focus on national participatory democracy and the reality of globalization as it is being practiced with increasing efficacy. No thought is given to the necessary link between national participatory democracy and the international system. Yet a pre-existing international political architecture makes national participatory democracy more doable. Since its founding, the UN has interacted solely with national governments. The revamping of the United Nations as part of a future secretary general’s remit should include its transformation into a body capable of interacting with national representative entities, which is turn would interact with participatory entities on the local level.

The up-coming election of a new UN Secretary General offers a unique opportunity to participatory democracy activists to move their campaign to a new level. An article to follow will discuss the major international figures they could recruit.

The Elders

Who are the international figures who could work with a new United Nations Secretary General to transform that body into one capable of interacting with participatory democratic bodies around the world?
The ready-made group that comes to mind is The Elders, founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela and comprising a dozen independent, progressive world leaders committed to building peace and advancing human rights. The Elders work on solutions to global problems, from climate change to violent conflict, acting as “a fiercely independent and robust force for good, tackling complex and intractable issues - especially those that are not popular.”
After last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris, representatives of the world’s diverse religions gathered in Chicago and in London to  show their unity, and in February of this year, Pope Francis embraced Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba. Anyone remembering that Cuba was the center of a crisis that almost brought the world to nuclear war in 1962, will be struck by the symbolism of this encounter.
Meanwhile, the leading republican candidate for president of the United States could best be described as the anti-Francis, and upon his return from a triumphant visit to the United States, the Pope alluded to Donald Trump, saying that someone who builds walls instead of bridges is not a Christian.
Francis’ has followed this up with an invitation to Bernie Sanders to speak at a conference on social issues and the environment in Rome on the day after he is scheduled to debate Hillary Clinton in New York. One should put nothing past the Vatican’s latest tenant when it comes to world politics, even if it has taken a millennium to reverse the tragic history of Christian-Muslim relations that began in the eleventh century with Pope Urban’s first crusades. Francis is undoubtedly the most charismatic of current religious figures, with a much larger following than the equally media-savvy Dalai Lama.
Mandela’s Elders would probably welcome the cooperation of other religious leaders, including Iran’s Shia Khatami, a Sunni leader such as Tunisia’s Ghannouchi, a Jewish and a Hindu leader. But such cooperation can only really make a difference if it can recruit major political leaders to its cause - or, said differently, if major current leaders reach out to them for support.
As I wrote in my previous article “The Privatization of Globalization”, the king in his castle was the supreme ruler of lands administered by princes, while today’s presidents are beholden to their nation’s boards of directors. The growing world-wide campaign for participatory democracy will have a better chance of succeeding if it can rely on a world body tailored to such a polity.  This year’s ‘election’ of a new Secretary General of the United Nations is a unique opportunity to move the world body toward one of governance, a role that has consistently been rejected by the world’s lone superpower, the United States, but is embraced by those who would like to see a multi-polar world.
The UN’s success as peace-keeper, whether in terms of Security Council resolutions or the dispatch of blue helmets to troubled areas, has been largely a failure. The disjuncture between a finely-layered bureaucratic structure representing 200 nations, and the proliferation of ad hoc armies that challenge national governments makes that task even more difficult. One can hope that the development of participatory democracy at the national level would diminish the likelihood of such groups arising. On the international level, participatory democracies will be less likely to engage in wars of aggression that seek to transform traditional societies for the economic benefit of the 1%, with resulting profound changes in social mores. Muslim terrorist groups appear to be more determined to impose their view of society than to challenge globalization.  Indeed, as I have written more than once, Islamists come in two basic versions: pro-capitalist and left-leaning. 
As the cherry on the cake, the decisive factor in participatory democracy is likely to be a tilt toward the left accompanied by a revamped UN that will emit guidelines that, as opposed to those structured by globalization, are designed to favor the many over the few.

The Elders
Nelson Mandela - founder
Marti Atissari - Finland
Kofi Annan forer UN Sec Gen
Ela Bhatt - INdia Cooperatiive organizer
Lakhdar Brahimi - Algerian UN diplomat
Gro Harlan Bruntland - deputy chair, ex-Norway Prime Min
Fernando Cardoso - Ex prez Brazil implemented land reform
Jimmy Carter - Ex USPrez
Hina Brulani - Pakistani lawyer women’s right campaigner
Graca Machel - former freedom fighter and ex mined Mozamb
Mary Robinson - ex pres Ireland and ex UN commission h.r.

Desmond Tutu -ex capetown archbishop, Nobel prize,
Ernesto Zedillo - ex Mexico Pres, land reform, inclusive globaliza

UN Countdown

Who would have thought, in 1944, as the US, Great Britain and Stalin’s Soviet Union finalized plans for an international institution they hoped would be better than the League of Nations at making the world a peaceful place, that the United Nation would so quickly lose the backing of Washington, while the President of Russia would eventually campaign to return it to its founding principles? 
When the US realized it could no longer control either the Security Council or the General Assembly, whose members have gone from a founding 51 mainly ‘Northerners’, to almost 200 mainly ‘Southerners’, it turned to disparagement, while keeping a firm hand on the choice of Secretary General. We’re due to get a new Secgen before the year is over and for the first time, Russia is challenging the right of the US to determine who that will be. 
President Putin wants to make the world body more representative of the many, rather than a vehicle for domination by the few. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, representing an informal grouping of past high-ranking officials known as The Elders, came out recently for a woman, while Moscow wants Eastern Europe to have a turn.
According to International Business Times, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, who currently serves as the director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) is one possibility, and the international effort to restore the ancient ruins of Palmyra in war-torn Syria will bring her to international prominence. Vesna Pusić, who serves as the first deputy prime minister and Minister of Foreign and European affairs of Croatia, is another possibility, while Dalia Grybauuskaite, President of Lithuania, would probably not have President Putin’s backing, given the Baltic countries’ claim that Russia threatens them.
Should the next Secretary General be sought from the ranks of the 140 Non-Aligned countries, Brazil’s President Dilma Roussef, a declared candidate, may have ruled herself out with growing calls for her impeachment over a huge bribery scandal. From Western Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel could probably win President Putin’s backing, and although she is a Westerner now, she was born and grew up in East Germany.
Several Eastern European male candidates might be acceptable to Moscow, including Vuk Jeremić, former Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former President of the United Nations General Assembly, or János Áder, President of Hungary, whose Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has loudly sided with Putin on many issues.
The unexpected convergence of social views between the European far-right and the Russian President, points to the cultural divide that overlays the world’s left/right divide, and I’m positing that it is likely to influence the selection of the next UN leader. 
The twentieth century was consumed in a knock-down drag-out battle between fascism and one form or another of socialism. In the seventies, a prominent American political scientist, Samuel Huntington penned an essay that became a meme. “A Clash of Civilizations?” is suggestive of what we’re seeing today, although Huntington got his time-frame wrong and painted the clash broadly between whites and non-whites, which he called “the Confucian/Muslim civilizations”. While China headed down a path of exponential economic growth, the Islamic world took center stage against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, however it loudly opposes the societal model that grew out of capitalism, in which 1) the female body illustrates the fact that 2) anything goes’, and 3) everything can be monetized. 
Last New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, a thousand men believed to be of North African origin sexually molested dozens of celebrating women. If, as has been suggested, they entered the EU as part of the summer’s migrant wave with the deliberate aim of challenging Western culture, this is as troubling as European arson against refugee accommodations. In any case, while Huntington focused almost exclusively on the danger of nuclear war and economic issues, it turns out that the clash of civilizations is largely about sex. Most recently, the mayor of a small German town advised local women to dress less provocatively, causing indignation, probably to no avail: historically ‘intruders’ have transformed their hosts instead of conforming to their culture.
 At its best, the West’s definition of sexual equality suggests that respect and complicity are inseparable from pleasure, however, the culture of more led to the notion that everything can be denominated in coin, which in turn led to the commercialization and trivialization of sex. While women worldwide continue to demand sexual equality, Muslim men in particular, while submitting to the Prophet’s injunctions, are not ready to acknowledge those of women.
Until recently, it has seemed that current Western memes are one hundred percent against them. For example, although genital mutilation is still practiced in many parts of Africa and the Middle East, Ghana recently produce its own version of Sex and the City. This American series ran for six years, definitively burying the Puritan dogma that dominated American culture for over three centuries, giving rise to Prohibition and Freud: sex is now recognized not only as ‘good for you’ but as no more related to feelings than is chewing gum. 
But now that meme turns out to be more damaging than was Puritanism: The April 11th issue of Time Magazine devotes its cover story to a revolt against pornography by young American men! The Western press has reserved some of its most disparaging remarks for Vladimir Putin’s condemnation of the West’s “degradation and primitivization of culture,” and this latest bombshell is going to require some high-wire journalistic doublespeak. The six page story details large numbers of physically fit young men who find that spending hours each day watching widely accessible porn is causing erectile disfunction (ED). This condition, usually reserved for older men, is preventing them from having sex even when they are strongly attracted to someone. Their plight has become so dire that they have set up internet sites to teach their peers how to wean themselves off porn so that they can enjoy a normal sex life!  
One young man interviewed emphasized that this was not about morality, but about reacquiring the ability to enjoy sex, but it comes at  a signally opportune moment: As the climate crisis deepens, people realize that greater economic equity must be accompanied by a lesser emphasis on ‘things’, replaced by stronger interpersonal and family ties. Less porn and more good sex can only contribute to that. 
While mindful of sweeping generalizations, I am convinced that the current standoff between neo-liberal ‘freedom’ and conservative ‘tradition’ is as fundamental and meaningful as the economic antagonism between the many and the few. The West’s primacy of external freedom (freedom to act) has led to the loss of internal freedom, which includes moral certainties and spirituality. The same people who defended Charlie Hebdo’s right to mock Muhammad defend the Russian group that performed ‘sacrilegiously’ in a church. But if First Amendment defenders of ‘free speech’ think back to the American Founders, they will realize that the universe those (…men) inhabited, far from being similar to ours, would be more easily recognized in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and much of the rest of the world. 
According to Sergei Glaziev, an academic who is close to President Putin, a multi-polar world order - of which a re-imagined UN would be an integral part - could be based on a synthesis of social-conservatism that combines the values of the world’s religions with the achievements of the welfare state, and the imperative of sustainable development. The same mindset could help build an anti-war coalition and establish, in Glaziev’s words “universally acceptable principles for harmonizing social, cultural, and economic relations worldwide”. 

For those who may wonder about traditional morality’s incompatibility with the socialist ethos, the Russian President recently pointed out that both the Bible and Islam anticipate socialism, confirming that a future UN is likely to have a much broader vision than the original.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

ISIS: A US Cultural Failure

Reporting from Belgium on the terrorist attacks, MSNBC’s Chris Jansing mentioned how impressed she was at the level of knowledge Europeans appear to have of the American political scene, wondering how great an effect Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim pronouncements could have had on the perpetrators of the Brussels bombings. That seemingly casual remark qualifies as the understatement of the year with respect to the failure of the mainstream press to inform Americans about the wider world, even as part of it appears to be finally taking some responsibility for Trump’s frightening rise.
CNN’s Sunday star, Fareed Zakaria trumpeted an hour-long special called ‘Blindsided’ that purports to show that the US should have recognized the danger posed by ISIS several years ago.  More interesting than the blame-game are excerpts from a documentary by the German reporter, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which, by the way, aired on RT weeks ago, showing daily life under ISIS and explaining that its captive populations quickly realize its a living hell.
The report recognizes that it’s not really a mystery why so many Western young people travel to join the Islamic army. Bred on violent movies, tv programs and video games, many fantasize about real violence; I would add that though largely non-religious, they may feel confusedly that something is missing from their lives, making the idea of a religious organization focusing on action appealing.
Al Baghdadi, the man who brought ISIS into being, benefitted from another American cultural failure: a lack of historical, ideological and religious literacy. He was picked up randomly early in the Iraq war and spent time in Camp Bucca where he was, according to Fareed Zakaria’s special report, ‘trusted’, allowed to teach Islam to fellow inmates (which Islam, who would have known?), released as harmless just as Al-Zawahiri, the violent head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, was on the rise.
President George W. Bush, the most ignorant of a long series of ignorant American presidents, claimed that Muslims hate us for our freedom. Fareed points out that after 9/11, the world stood with US - even Palestine’s Yasser Arafat. But not Muslims like Majid Nawaz, a Pakistani-born British citizen who says: “After 9/11, didn’t you realize that we’ve been crying too, as you bombed our cities?” “What cities?”, you ask. “Your ignorance is as great as your violence.”  
Zakaria recognizes, a bit late, that Islam has been under constant attack from the West starting with the genocide of Bosnian Muslims in the 1990’s, Palestine, Chechnya, etc.  This on-going violence inevitably made many Muslims more fanatical about their faith.  Arrested in Egypt, Nawaz realized while in jail with other Sunni extremists that ISIS would create a hell on earth. He now heads the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank that “aims to challenge extremist narratives while advocating pluralistic, democratic alternatives that are consistent with universal human rights.” In other words, it seeks to persuade Muslims that human laws have a place alongside the laws of God. 
Although Zakaria blames the Iraqi Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose appointment was engineered by Iran, for the rise of the Sunni group ISIS, his conclusion, that the fight against it will be long and potentially threatening the US (he contradicts himself several times on this), he bypasses the implications staring him in the face: the US must team up, not only with Russia, vulnerable to Sunni extremism on its long southern border, it must also work with Shia Iran, ISIS’ most credible Muslim enemy.
This requires completely rethinking our foreign policy and pivoting - not to the Asian rimland to contain China - but to the Asian heartland that includes Russia, Iran and the ‘Stans’.

Ukraine, in all of this, would be irrelevant were it not for the fact that the fascist thugs of the regime we put in place are encouraging Europe’s extreme right as it fumbles over how to integrate the wave of Muslim refugees fleeing Sunni lands, as shown by today’s massive demonstrations in the heart of Brussels, headquarters of NATO, that was hit by two terrorist attacks this week.