Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Populism: the natives are restless

Populism: A political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.  American Heritage Dictionary

The state of the union is obstreperous. Dyspepsia is the new equilibrium. All the passion in American politics is oppositional. The American people know what they don't like, which is: everything.  Joel Achenbach - Washington Post
(...) I don't hate these guys because they're rich and went to fancy private schools. Hell, I'm rich and went to a fancy private school. I look at these people as my cultural peers and what angers me about them is that, with many coming from backgrounds similar to mine, these guys chose to go into a life of crime and did so in a way that is going to fuck things up for everyone, rich and poor, for a generation.  Matt Taibbi (hat to Mike Doyle)
David Seaton's News Links
Before trying to hack away at any of the Gordian knots of American politics, I'd like to use the Haitian crisis as a horribly simple, reductio ad absurdum, metaphor for some of the mechanisms at play.

A country in a strategic location not far from Cuba and Venezuela has been devastated. The poorest people have lost their homes, there are no jobs, no money, there is little to eat, the government has disappeared. The natives are obviously restless. The ruling elite, lighter skinned than the poorer majority of the citizens, live in undamaged gated communities in the mountains surrounding the capital. The rich are afraid that the poor will climb the mountains to take their food. The United States has thrown a naval and aerial blockade around the island and taken over the airport, carefully controlling who and what can enter and leave. Despite the massive desire of American citizens to help,  the official criteria of strictly controlling who can enter and leave the island obviously takes priority over aiding the population. As an example of this priority, here is an excerpt from an interview Amy Goodman did with Michael Moore:
(...) And this situation with the National Nurses Union, they went out to their membership. Who would be willing to go to Haiti right now? Over 11,000, almost 12,000 nurses—12,000 nurses—around this country have signed up, who are willing to go right now to Haiti. I don’t know if I heard it on your show last week or someplace else. You know, essentially one nurse could provide help for dozens of people. So just imagine if we could get 12,000 nurses there, with the necessary supplies, how many people could have been helped. I mean, this offer was made days and days ago. AMY GOODMAN: To whom? MICHAEL MOORE: To the Obama administration from the executive director of the National Nurses Union. She contacted the administration. She got put off. She had no response. Then they sent her to some low-level person that had no authority to do anything. And then, finally, she’s contacting me. And she says, “Do you know any way to get a hold of President Obama?” And I’m going, “Well, this is pretty pathetic if you’re having to call me. I mean, you are the largest nurses union. You are, I believe, one of the vice presidents of the AFL-CIO, of the main board of the AFL-CIO, and you can’t get a call in to the White House to get 12,000 nurses down there?"
The mechanism that I am trying to illustrate is that power's first and most elemental interest is to not lose control. This takes precedence over everything else when a situation deteriorates dramatically.

Obviously Haiti's suffering is starkly real and much of America's suffering is tinged with neurosis, but there is the similarity of people perceiving that the systems, institutions and the individuals that a society expects to guarantee the general welfare do not function. When this feeling is general, people lose respect for the power structure. Here is Thomas Wilson, chairman and CEO of Allstate Insurance Co. quoted by the  McClatcy Newspapers:
"Middle-class Americans just don't believe in the business community or the government, and they're pointing fingers at both of them. It's not just one of them. Half of the people don't trust corporations, unions or banks. If you ask them how do you think politicians are doing, 80 percent rank their politicians as fair or poor... I think that's a problem because in a free market and a democracy, you have to have people believing in institutions. This ought to be a wake-up call."
You might say, in referring to the American people, that in their case too, "the natives are restless".  When the power structure notices this sort of thing getting out of hand it tends to panic. A very graphic example of this is can be seen in the classic footage of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu's last speech on 21 December 1989. The look on his face when he sees that the people no longer fear him is one of the most uniquely powerful images of what losing the charisma of power really means. A few days after making this speech Ceaușescu was in front of a firing squad.

It is in this light that the Supreme Court of the United State's (SCOTUS) decision to remove all restraints and controls to corporate money's "investments" in American politics should be seen. I consider it nothing less than a coup d'etat. It is no longer "it can happen here" it is, "it has happened here".

In a short time terrified politicians will vote any law that domestic and foreign multinationals tell them to vote and however strange these laws may be SCOTUS will declare them perfectly constitutional and it will all be perfectly legal and democratic.

They are making this naked grab for power because they are afraid... The natives are restless.

The other day I read an article in the New Yorker about the Teabaggers. As the article paints it they appear to be a genuine movement of angry citizens, one which moneyed interests are trying to control for their own ends. This shouldn't be so difficult for us to understand as the same thing has happened to the movement that took Barack Obama to the White House. Up till now the only winner has been Wall Street.

Of course powerful interests are trying to get in front of the parade, but make no mistake, the people, both on the left and on the right, are genuinely pissed off.

As I see it both the disillusioned Obamites and the Teabaggers are chewing on the same problem from different angles. The left sees that the problems facing the nation: health, infrastructure, education, reviving the economy and protecting America's workers from having their jobs off-shored, will require government's massive intervention and that will require raising taxes, especially on the rich. The populist right, on the other want to reduce government's role to the minimum, cutting taxes to starve it into irrelevance because they see government as evil.

They are both right.

The only possible protection from the bottomless greed of the globalized multinationals, whose only reason to exist is to maximize profits, and who by doing so are destroying America's solid mass middle class way of life, is the state. And a state that it literally owned by those multinationals is worse than no state at all. So they are both right.

The United State's entire crisis in all its aspects; geopolitical, economic etc, comes out of the rot and corruption in the relation between America's behemoth corporations, which are in the control of a tiny minority of the population, and the political system accompanied by the media that facilitate this relationship. And my prediction, and it's an easy one, is that we are going to see some mighty curious things happening in the next few years. 'Curiouser and curiouser' as Alice said.

Without transparency and strict regulation in political financing, those of us who are politically active, both on  left and the right, are going to  be made fools of over and over again. Winning the campaign financing battle is the essential fight: until that war is won all the arguments between left and right are pure onanism and should be put aside till those reforms have been accomplished DS

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SCOTUS, SCROTUS... Le Geek C'est Chic!

David Seaton's News Links
Struggling my way though the blood and garbage that passes for world affairs, bent on preparing one of my Jeremiads, in the midst of the dreckfest  I stumbled upon what seems to be the new, home handyman version of Bobby McFerrin: a young French music student who signs Jean-Baptiste Craipeau.

All by himself, armed with just a computer, a webcam, Youtube and masses of talent, he has made this amazing (38-voice!) acapella version of Michael Jackson's, "You Rock My World". I instantly thought, "I must  share this with my world weary News Links readers. DS

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Supreme Court decision (continued)

David Seaton's News Links
Many of the comments on the SCOTUS decision have centered on the technicalities of what constitutes a "corporation" and quite a few of them seem to be of the "how many angels can dance on the head of pin?" variety. I feel that this question should not get lost in a forest of technicalities, at heart there is an issue here that you could say transcends even the US Constitution, without, of course, contradicting its intentions.

At the bottom of this whole business is something very simple, something which we might consider the basis of our civilization, not just our democracy: protecting the many powerless from the oppression of the powerful few.

It is in the nature of things, that if left to themselves, without regulation or restriction, a few people finally control almost everything, in much the same way that in a troop of monkeys a few alpha-males monopolize all the females. Monopolies are the natural state of things in a world "red in tooth and claw". Anti-trust legislation, seats reserved for the physically challenged on public transport, even very ancient institutions such as monogamy and the keeping of the sabbath, all were designed to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak.

Many are not aware that today's huge corporations that have outsourced so many of America's jobs, are actually controlled by a very small percentage of the total equity... all that power is in reality concentrated in a very few hands.

In reality we are not talking about faceless corporations that represent objectively the interests of their shareholders. The percentage of the total shares that actually control the boards of these organizations usually is very small, often tiny. In fact we are talking about a very small group of men... in America and abroad that will make the decisions of whom to back in elections and, make no mistake, they are just as given to having strange ideas and caprices as the rest of us... perhaps more so, as their chance of living out their fantasies is much greater than ours. Their humors and their whims are in many ways what control our lives. With this ruling, more so. What the Supreme Court's decision has done is to convert the Congress and the Senate, in fact all elected institutions in the USA into a great smorgasbord for these men (mostly men).

There are some who think that this is how it should be: the "Darwinists", the followers of Ayn Rand like Alan Greenspan, the disciples of Milton Friedman and of course the former National Socialist Party of pre-war Germany. For all of the above, the weak exist to provide the strong with a living. What the Supreme Court decision has done is to further empower this philosophy.

You may well ask: "McCain-Feingold has only been in place since 2002, how did democracy survive before the law?"

How indeed.

It didn't.

You've put your finger right into the wound. Campaign finance is at the core of America's decadence.

That is the beauty of this SCOTUS decision, it makes people wake up and understand what the United States really is... (fill in blank).

McCain/Feingold was a trap for SCOTUS and they fell into it, for as Joni Mitchill sang:
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Supreme Court decision or the death of democracy

David Seaton's News Links
I don't consider the title of this post hyperbole. Things are that bad.

The massive corruption of the American political system has been consecrated by the highest tribunal in the land. The modest fig leaf of McCain-Feingold has been ripped off the big swinging dick of corporate power and any pretense of maintaining the republic that the Founding Fathers intended has been summarily liquidated.

Think of the most sordid and benighted tinpot banana republic you can imagine, then add aircraft carriers and infinite atomic bombs and you will have a pale idea of what this Supreme Court of the United States has just solemnly and officially created.

Today Honduras is a shining city on the hill compared to the USA.

Church bells should be ringing and flags should be at half mast all over the land. Citizens (if that word is even still applicable) should be massing in the streets to protest... if they don't, that will be even worse news than the ruling itself. DS

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


"Under the latest ruins are all the previous ruins" - El Roto

Them that's got shall get
Them that's not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

Yes, the strong gets more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don't ever make the grade
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

Money, you've got lots of friends
Crowding round the door
When you're gone, spending ends
They don't come no more
Rich relations give
Crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don't take too much
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own
He just worry 'bout nothin'
Cause he's got his own
"God Bless the Child That's Got his Own" - Billie Holiday
David Seaton's News Links
El Roto and Billie Holiday are hard acts to follow; his caption and her song really sum up the situation in Haiti yesterday, today and probably tomorrow too.

I wanted to wait a few days before posting on Haiti, waiting till the 24/7 news cycle took a couple of turns and other events began to push the dead bodies and the lines of slim black people with tortured faces off the front pages. Looks like Scott Brown and Massachusetts are doing the trick. There is a "new kid in town" and the Haitian story is cooling off.

The cartoon and the song express Haiti's plight perfectly, "Them that's got shall get, them that's not shall lose". And "under the latest ruins are all the previous ruins". People are full of suggestions on how the Haitians should change or be changed, but I am interested in some things I'm reading that don't make sense to me, and which raise questions in my mind. I've chosen this little snippet from CNN to represent them:
Four of the 10 American rescue teams mobilized in the hours following the earthquake in Haiti are returning home Tuesday -- having never traveled farther than their local airports. Federal government officials said the four -- including teams in Texas, Ohio and two in California -- were not flown there because Haiti could not "absorb" them and because they were being held as relief for crews that made it into the country. Disaster experts said a bottleneck at the main airport in Port-au-Prince could have prevented the crews from entering Haiti quickly, but they scoffed at the suggestion that the teams, skilled in locating and freeing people entombed in collapsed buildings, should be held in reserve. "That 72-hour window [in which most rescues are attempted] is not some casual number," said Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. "It's actually a very serious [calculation of when most lives can be saved]."
There is something strange going on and I am not sure exactly what it is, or why.

Aircraft carriers, helicopters and thousands of US marines are being mobilized and sent toward an island right next door to the USA. You would think it would all be a hop, skip and a jump, yet everything is moving in slow motion, like in a proverbial bad dream.

The airport of Port au Prince has been taken over by US forces and so have the ruins of the presidential palace, but instead of the presence of American troops speeding up aid, it seems to be slowing things down.

Now this is very strange, because the one thing that the US armed forces do better than any other war machine in history is logistics... Logistics is truly an American art, this skill is legendary. In Vietnam the grunts in the rice paddies had steaks and beer flown in to them by helicopter in the middle of battles. Bases in Iraq have things like bowling alleys... Americans are obscene geniuses at getting masses of crap anywhere in no time flat... and no excuses about inefficient bureaucrats, because a lot of this stuff is done by Halliburton these days and although they may not be the girl next door, if you give them enough money they can and will do almost anything.

So obviously if things are going slowly, it is not because of incompetence, but because they are meant to go slowly. What I can't figure out is why.

What is more important than getting medical care, food, water and decent tents to these poor people... and burying the dead? Something must be.

What is there is Haiti that takes priority over all the injured people without care and nourishment? There must be something, what could it be?

Today, I don't want to speculate, this all too tragic and weird, but I suggest watching closely in the coming days and weeks for clues. I sense that this is very important, but I don't understand it. I simply want to alert my readers to this angle and wait for the little light bulb to go on. DS

Ps. I'd like to close with another great Spanish cartoonist, El Mundo's Ricardo, who sums up the future reconstruction of Haiti masterfully. The writing on the man's knapsack says, "International Aid".

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Religion and politics

 "Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French...and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you, if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Okay, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out -- the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other...They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come..."   Pat Robertson (enormously successful American, ultra-right, religious wacko)

For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.  Matthew 25:35-46

David Seaton's News Links
I received this comment on my previous post in another venue where I cross-post:
This post strikes me as a jeremiad like Pat Robertson's. While it is more sophisticated than his, it is very much in the same vein. You describe the start of, and predict the continuation of, the ruin of the U.S., its sins and its possible redemption. Just like Robertson on Haiti.
It's an interesting theme, but before going on I  think I should clarify my position.

Full disclosure: I personally consider myself a "deist" in a bhakti yoga, Sufi, or African-American gospel vein, I personally experience that there is something "out" or "in" there that under certain conditions electrifies my spirit and stirs my emotions in the most joyous way: is it "Grace" or a weak mind? Who knows?  I ask for little more. Like a famous 19th century Indian guru said, "when I am confronted with an orchard full of ripe mangoes, I don't stop to count the trees and calculate the value of the harvest, I get busy and... eat mangoes".
Getting back to Robertson.

One thing is to attribute what insurance companies call, an "act of God" to the devil and rather another to suggest that if the USA, having made some hugely significant errors, may have to pick up the check for those errors

I think Pat Robertson is a totally despicable, slimy individual. The more despicable because he manipulates to his behalf and the people who sponsor him, the deepest psychological mechanisms of our species in order for his listeners to support policies which are harmful to them.

Pat Robertson, like a pedophile priest, is a person who causes people to hold religion in contempt. If Robertson were in fact a Christian, as he so loudly proclaims, he would tremble in fear of this saying:
"It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to lose faith." Luke 17:2
So much for Robertson, lets get on with religion.

Part of the problem a lot of people have with all of this is one of language.

Most of the language used to describe religious thought comes wrapped in an obscure, if evocative, way of speaking originating before the scientific revolution. For example, it sounds strange to modern ears when King Solomon says, "The fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom" but when translated into modern, post-scientific revolution  language it can seem more relevant.  I'm sure any pale and sweating financial analyst with any sense that survived  the days when Lehman Brothers went down, would agree with the statement. "humility in the face of unknowable unknowns is a good risk strategy"... The two statements are basically the same.

When a devout Muslim says, "see you tomorrow" and then adds, "inshallah" or when a traditional Spaniard, says, "hasta mañana"  and  adds, "si Díos quiere", they are both simply recognizing the mystery that tomorrow holds for us all. I'm sure that most of those 200,000 Haitians buried under the rubble were full of plans for what they were going to do next week.   As my grandmother would have said, "there but for the grace of God go I".                          

The place in the human spirit or psyche where religion is born or "invented", if you will, is the most delicate and fertile in our makeup. Not only is religion born there, so is art, poetry and music and of course our dreams. Probably the best Sherpa for this mountain would be Carl Gustav Jung. But Marx will also serve to cast some light. Karl Mark's famous "opium" remark has been much misquoted in this regard, in fact what he said is full of compassion, humanity and understanding. This is the full quote:
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.
I think that first we cure the disease and then we can think about tapering off the opium. And perhaps the "opium" could even be used to actually cure the disease.

At the point, where the disease of oppression has been cured, there is no conflict left at all, no question of religion being alienation.  At that point we enter the territory of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal whose famous "wager" postulates, quoting Wikipedia, 'that even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain, and nothing to lose.' Pascal said:
Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful.
How does all this fit into what I am trying to say about American politics?

To begin with, in the vast majority, the working people of America are religious, probably for the reasons that Marx enumerates. To attack that deep spiritual need is to make enemies of them and cause them to fall directly into the hands of those who are oppressing them. That is what Robertson and his ilk are about.

I think that it is probable that the parents and the grandparents of those who today listen to Pat Robertson, who brood about the Apocalypse and Rapture and make up the base of Sarah Palin, voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt... and their great-grandparents voted for Williams Jennings Bryant... Changing those votes is really what Robertson and his ilk are about... The Reagan revolution would have been impossible without it. Probably the dumbest thing that America's progressives have ever done has been to abandon the field of transcendence to the wing-nuts.

Harnessing spiritual, transcendental meaning and energy in the cause of liberating humanity from its oppressors is certainly the most intelligent and probably the most effective course... That is what "Liberation Theology" is about... it might be encapsulated in Bryant's famous phrase: "thou shalt not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold". Change "globalization" for "gold" and you have a whole political program that would move masses. DS

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The joys of bankruptcy, or is this January 1914?

Angry populism lurks just beneath the surface of two-party politics in America. Just listen to Sarah Palin or her counterparts on American talk radio and yell television. Over the long term, the political stakes in reforming Wall Street are as high as the economic. Robert Reich - Financial Times
“The fact that Wall Street is enjoying record profits and bonuses in the wake of receiving trillions of dollars in government assistance — while so many families are struggling to stay afloat — has only heightened the sense of confusion.” Phil Angelides - Chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and the people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French...and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you, if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Okay, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out -- the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other...They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come..."
Pat Robertson (enormously successful American, ultra-right, religious wacko)
David Seaton's News Links
One of my favorite commentators on world affairs is Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times: he is always insightful and fresh and often provocative in his rather sly, kindly, way.

Rachman has recently written a column that has caused quite a stir, entitled: "Bankruptcy could be good for America", where he says:
In Winnie-the-Pooh, there is a significant moment when the bear is asked whether he wants honey or condensed milk with his bread. He replies “both”. You can get away with this sort of thing if you are a much loved character in children’s literature. But it is more problematic when great nations start behaving in a childish fashion. When Americans are asked what they want – lower taxes, more lavish social spending or the world’s best-funded military machine – their collective answer tends to be “all of the above”.
He lists a series of financial crises which led to reform in a number of countries that has brought them increased prosperity and winds up:
(T)he Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) all needed a fiscal crisis to set them on the road to economic reform and national resurgence. America may one day be lucky enough to experience its very own national fiscal crisis. Let us hope it is not wasted.
It is hard to imagine such a fundamental part of the scheme of things as the USA going bankrupt, the effects could mean the end of financial life as we know it on our planet.  But having said that, a lot of bad things have happened over time that nobody in their right mind wanted to happen... but they did.

World War One, for example.

It came at the end of nearly a century of barely interrupted peace, years of progress in every field of human endeavor without equal in the history of our species

The extent of the destruction of our civilization, human, cultural, geopolitical and even psychological by World War One was "unimaginable" in the years running up to it. It was no less than the end of the idea of "progress": the inevitable march of humanity to a better state. And the way it started and developed in the summer of 1914, while supposedly powerful, intelligent men, who understood perfectly what was happening, looked on in helpless, impotent, horror, might be a foretelling of what we are living through today. The moral of the story is that just because a scenario is too horrible to contemplate is no reason that it couldn't occur.

Frankly, I don't think America's bankruptcy would be a good thing, especially because it would most probably lead to outright fascism in the USA. Americans are armed to the teeth and given to substance abuse and I don't think they are just going to meekly sit back and accept pauperization, especially now that the financial system has proved to be such a scam.

I don't think any of this will be led by Sarah Palin, I don't think she has the chops. Palin for me is a sort of "Joan the Baptist", not fit to the tie the sandal of the one she foretells: she is a sign, a portent of an effective way of addressing "ordinary people"... and not a good one.

I believe that Rupert Murdoch, like the German financiers that originally backed Hitler, will finally find himself in the position of having created someone he cannot control. I've got my eyes peeled, but I haven't seen America's version of Mussolini yet. But as function creates the organ, if the jobs don't come back, you can be sure this figure will appear. He or she already exists, but who exactly it is that at this very moment is slouching toward Jerusalem on the Potomac remains to be seen. There will be little to stand in this person's way unless the jobs come back. The jobs have to come back or there will be blood.

Of course at the heart of all this dysfunction is the paralysis of our political system which hasn't been this corrupt since the days of Jay Gould, a time when the world was a much simpler place. That colossal web of corruption is the "Catch-22" that makes any significant change in our society and its way of doing things of tenuous credibility

The movement that spawned Ronald Reagan has ruined America. The "conservative revolution" has been a political form of AIDS which has destroyed all the system's antibodies and left it prostrate and at the mercy of all the countless parasites, vultures and wiseguys that America has always produced, consumed avidly and even exported.

We have seen where the deregulation and laissez-faire of Reagan and Thatcher have finally taken us, those are yesterday's recipes and they are clearly failing the majority of the people in our developed countries and destroying the middle class which has been the secret of our post WWII social peace. It is time for the the market fundamentalists, the Milton Friedman-Taliban, to FOAD and let others step up to the plate.

Someone like me, who has become increasingly skeptical of the American political system, is tempted to see Barack Obama and Sarah Palin as two sides of the same coin; as the system's "good cop and bad cop"; Obamaites and Teabaggers, being mirror movements both acting as the system's "lighting rods", one on the left and the other in the right of what Gore Vidal calls "the party of property", leading the lightning bolts of people's righteous anger off harmlessly into the ground... leaving the interests of those who have caused the damage basically unaffected... Or are you seriously expecting Sarah Palin and Fox to rein in Wall Street? (You can see that Obama has no intention of really doing so by the people he has set to watch the store).

Taking into account the laughable bunch of odds and sods that passes for a "left" in the USA, the most probable movement will be to the wacko right. If the USA had any credible social democrats, even of the housebroken Olaf Palme or Willy Brandt variety, there might be some chance of putting the country on a proper footing. As it is, I think there is a good chance of some real trouble. Certainly, protectionism and trade wars are on the cards.

A tiny ray of hope:

Last Saturday I saw Michael Moore's latest film, "Capitalism, a love story". Aside from his stunts, like putting crime scene tape around Wall Street -- cheap clowning which I'm getting a little tired of -- much of the film was brilliant. Especially the montage section about the rise of Reagan and its consequences.

What really impressed me for its political daring was the "Liberation Theology" line that Moore was taking. He affirms without any caveats in the film that capitalism isn't "Christian": that the values of capitalism are totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. In other words, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Moore even had a couple of priests and bishop, say this clearly in the film.

The talk itself wasn't that surprising to me, I grew up around a lot of Catholic progressives. A cousin of mine from Saint Louis was Michael Harrington's closest friend since they were babies and his mother and Harrington's mother were inseparable friends since they were little girls. Thus I am totally aware that not all Irish Catholics are like Pat Buchanan. So I'm sure this is not something that just popped into Michael Moore's head: these are his roots.

Now, Michael Moore is nothing if not an opportunist and he is very shrewd and a masterful agitation-propagandist from head to foot, and as an icon of the left, I think he feels that the moment is ripe for Liberation Theology.

I hope he is right.

Americans are very religious people, by and large and if there is one thing that unites most working class and rural whites, African-Americans and Hispanics, it is their love for Jesus, who, as Moore points out, was never a friend of the wealthy and the powerful... As embarrassing as many of my readers may find that simple statement of fact.

There has to be found or be created, an overlap between American progressives and the Evangelicals. That is why I often say that what the American left needs today is a new William Jennings Bryant.

In a sense the question is: are American progressives going to identify defending American workers, their homes and their jobs as their primary task or are they going to identify themselves as defenders of the values of an illustrated upper-middle class? Both positions have their value, but it might be more intelligent at this moment to defend the first and reserve the second for better times.

The one thing that  I am sure of is that if the jobs don't come back to the USA real quick there is going to be hell to pay. Globalization is going to fall apart on that one. The jobs have to come back or everything will fall apart. DS

Friday, January 08, 2010

Off to Yemen to drink the Yemenade

Yemen... let's put up a parking lot

David Seaton's News Links
The foiled attack on the Christmas flight to Detroit and the wildly successful attack on the CIA in Afghanistan, which has publicized the intimate relations between the CIA and Jordanian intelligence and simultaneously poisoned that relationship, have: revived the "Global War on Terror " (GWOT), are drawing the US deeper into military action in the Middle East, have brought Muslim black-Africa into the conversation, have embarrassed Obama and have put the closing of Guantanamo prison on a back burner... That was their purpose: mission accomplished... Cost = one operative dead, the other captured.

To me it is obvious that Al Qaeda waited patiently till Obama had made his commitment to Afghanistan before initiating these actions and I wouldn't be in the least surprised if Iraq began to heat up again, big time. I imagine al Qaeda have been waiting till the USA had begun to draw down troops there and move them to Afghanistan to return Iraq to the headlines just as the US moves to engage in Yemen.

The United States finds itself in the position of a fighting bull, running from one end of the ring to another charging every cape offered it to until it is exhausted, what the Mexicans call a "pachanga". That is what Al Qaeda has set out to do. Again: mission accomplished.

In the midst of all of this it might be good to pause, step back and take a look at the "big picture".

What is Al Qaeda really after? The destruction of the USA? In my opinion, no, not really. In fact I think that they could care less about the USA itself. The role the United States plays in supporting corrupt police states that repress Islamic parties in the Middle East is what Al Qaeda are attacking. Even Israel is secondary to them: it motivates their "troops", but it is not the main ring in their circus.

All this was especially evident in the suicide attack in Afghanistan, which brought to the attention of the very anti-American people of Jordan, whose population is 60 percent Palestinian, that their king was in the pocket of the CIA. The anger produced by Gaza was used to defeat the CIA in Afghanistan and degrade the Jordanian monarchy in the process: a brilliant carom shot and an effective morale builder and recruiting poster.

What al Qaeda want to do is to overthrow what they perceive as the client or puppet regimes of the United States in the Middle East and they are using  US power jujitsu fashion to do that. By drawing the USA into ever more aggressive actions in the world of Islam they stimulate aversion to the "moderate" regimes that cooperate with America, in doing so, thus hastening their demise.

What is Al Qaeda's purpose in bringing down these regimes?

To restore the "Caliphate".


Now this caliphate business may sound like something right out of the "1001 Arabian Nights", redolent of Sindbad the Sailor and Aladdin and his magic lamp, or a world empire,  but here it might be useful to recall that the last Islamic caliphate ended as recently March 3, 1924, when Kemal Ataturk closed it down, threw out the Sultan (Caliph) and officially ended the Ottoman empire and westernized Turkey.  Basically then, what al Qaeda are trying to achieve is the Islamic restoration of what was the Arab part of the Ottoman empire, but run by Arabs not by Turks...That's what Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O' Toole)  was promising the Arabs (Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn)... remember?

Is this really that weird?

If you stop and think for a bit and you know your world history since WWI, you will recall that every attempt to mobilize the Arabs in order for them break from the grip of the colonial powers and the USA: pan-Arab nationalism, local nationalism, Arab varieties of socialism, military dictators or a mixture of all of these, has proved ineffectual in advancing the agenda of unity and full sovereignty. Naturally Britain, France and, of course, the USA were pleased by this failure and have always done everything in their power, from bribes to coups, to assassinations, to make that outcome inevitable. Oil or Israel, its all the same from the pan-Arab nationalist point of view, keeping the Arabs down was always the bottom line.

By a process of elimination pan-Arab nationalism has hit on the most reductive version of Islam as the only movement, ideology and source of political energy that is so decocted and fibrous and emotionally satisfying to it adherents that it cannot be co-opted, re-engineered, de-contented and manipulated by the USA.

I have thought of a rather outlier example of how this works, drawn straight from American culture: jazz.

At the end of the 1930s jazz had developed to point where white musicians were able to play it very well. Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden  and Gene Krupa, would be notable examples. Many young African-American musicians, notably Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie, felt that their music was being stolen out from under them by white people and set out to create a way of playing that was so original and complex that the white musicians simply couldn't play it. Thus was "Be-bop" born.

What many Muslims, violent and non-violent alike seem to have hit on is that their ancestral religion is indigestible by globalization. It is a music that globalization, in its American version, simply cannot play: a sort of divine be-bop.

Today in countries like Egypt even moderate Muslims, people that don't plan on putting a bomb in anybody's jockey shorts, are wearing beards and hijabs and chorusing, "Islam is the answer": They see it as a vaccine against being digested and assimilated and then excreted by the dynamics of globalization.

Are Muslims just being insanely paranoiac when they accuse the United States of trying to "destroy" Islam?

In my opinion, yes and no. "Yes", from the American point of view, where we think it jolly nice if some people go to church on Sunday, others go to temple on Saturday and, what the heck, others can go to mosque on Friday if they want to... but for the rest of what is left of the week, it is business as usual or else.

"No", from the point of view of many Muslims, if by "to destroy" means "to trivialize" their religion, which, in their view, is a seven day, 24 hour a day project, which is the arbiter of all human affairs. This is contrary to the rules of our economic system: within globalization the "market" has taken on the role that Islam assigns to God. Therefore Islam being indigestible in its present form must be reshaped or "Disneyfied" if you will. Except it can't be and still be Islam.

More than confronting the American people themselves, it seems to me that Muslim fundamentalists are confronting history's most powerful exponent of a system that was once described as turning "all that is solid into air", leaving commerce as the fundamental activity of all human beings. If we consider in what shape our economic system has left the teachings of Jesus Christ, perhaps the Muslims aren't as far off target as they appear at first glance.

If you stop and think about it, every traditional relationship between human beings that ever existed anywhere, clan, tribe, nationality, religion, family authority, has been either dissolved or degraded by our economic system: this is what we have lost in exchange for our standard of living. We happen to be cool with that, but not everybody else is.

Be that as it may, the principal objective of Muslim fundamentalists, in my opinion, is to eject an alien civilization (us), and all those who empower it (ME regimes), from the spiritual-emotional center of Islam. At heart this is just an continuation of the dismantling of the Euro-American (white) domination of the world that began at the end of WWII, a domination which globalization has given a new breath of life.

So basically this is yet another "national liberation struggle". If we look at the cost-effectiveness of everything Al Qaeda have done since the attack on the USS Cole and the African embassies and compare it with the sacrifices made by the Vietnamese people to finally gain their independence, I imagine that sooner or later the Muslim fundamentalists are going to succeed in driving us out of the Middle East.

What happens then?

Obviously if there is a general Islamist revolution in the Middle East followed by the Magreb, with America's client regimes falling like dominoes, it would have the immediate effect of pushing the price of oil through the roof and that alone would bring on a major economic crisis. It would be every man for himself as Europe, Japan and China scrambled to assure their energy supplies. This might bring protectionism roaring in, if it didn't start a series of wars. Israel, of course, might always do something crazy, but I think that in such a situation, observers might be amazed at how "prudent" the Israelis could be, if Egypt, Jordan and Syria, for example, fell to the Muslim Brotherhood in short succession.

Whatever finally happened, the period of transformation would be a harrowing, violent roller coaster ride, however, when the transformation had been completed, we would find the resulting situation:
  • The new rulers would immediately have to find some way of feeding their populations
  • The only thing they would have to sell to feed them would be oil
  • The thirst of the developed and developing nations for oil would be as great as ever.
In those three points we have the makings of a workable peace.

What would that peace look like?

The best model I can think of would be some Muslim/post-Christian version of the Treaty of Westphalia, a miracle of diplomacy whereby Protestants and Catholics managed to end the "Thirty Years War", religious conflict in Europe, and perhaps most importantly enshrined the idea of state's non-meddling in the internal affairs of other states. This idea of inviolable sovereignty had managed to limp along for hundreds of years until Bush and Blair under aegis of the neocons trashed it... with the results we are living with today.

In some perfect neo-Westphalian world, the Muslim minority of Europe would be allowed to practice their religion in peace and the Christian and Jewish minorities in the Middle East practice theirs. Too good to be true? Well, the part about Christians and Jews being able to practice their religions in peace in the Middle East is a workmanlike description of how the Ottoman empire worked, otherwise how do you think that 19th century Zionist settlers under the patronage of the Rothschilds were allowed to settle in Palestine in the first place?

The bit about the Ottoman empire being a place where the three religions "of the book" lived in peace is why, contrary to many commentators, I view very favorably Turkey's moves to cool their relations with Israel and reclaim a prominent place in the world of Islam. Turkey's role in the post-American-hegemony, multipolar world of compartmentalized and case by case globalization is a key one.

Of course the joker in the deck is Israel. There is always a possibility that Israel might, finding itself "eyeless in Gaza", Samson-like pull the whole thing down around their ears, but I don't think so. I imagine rather that there will be a series of tipping points, where American public opinion visibly sours on Israel's involving the US in an endless, fruitless series of wars that deteriorate America's power and endanger American lives, combined with the aforesaid rise of Islamic republics in the Middle East and the Magreb... not to mention Iran's future possession of the atomic bomb, followed closely by Egypt and Saudi Arabia (then probably called the Islamic Republic of  Mecca and Medina). These tipping points will send many Israelis with double nationality heading for the doors and make it obvious to those who stay that a more accommodating manner of behavior, shall we say, is now required.

"Yihye tov" as the Israelis say, which more or less means, "things will get better," but more accurately, "it will be alright on the night," meaning: "with optimism plus improvisation things will probably turn out OK".

Summing up, this decade will surely be horrible and dangerous, like the  period of the above mentioned Thirty Years War, but the peace that may follow it, like the peace that followed that endless religious war, could be very stable and last for quite a long time. DS