Monday, November 29, 2010

Why isn't Julian Assange in Guantanamo? Where are the drones?

Peter King, a member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said the latest release "manifests Mr Assange's purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan".  BBC News
David Seaton's News Links
Let us assume for a moment that the United State of America is a democracy and it's officials represent the American people and that its institutions genuinely represent, define and defend the interests of the American people.

Let us also assume, merely for argument's sake, that as Congressman and member of the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives, Peter King, says, the  release of the latest batch from Wikileaks proves Julian Assange's, "purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan". 

Taking these two assumptions as true: that one, America's government has the democratic legitimacy to define and defend the interests of the American people, and two, Julian Assange is aiding the enemies of the United State in time of war, then the following question arises.

Why isn't Julian Assange either dead or imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp?

If this question seems overly provocative,  a mere boutade, let me remind readers that at this very moment remote control, drone aircraft are probably flying the skies of Pakistan and Yemen, armed with rockets, looking to fire them at men, women and even children who the US government believes to have "purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan". And of course, Guantanamo Bay prison is chock full of people held without trial or habeas corpus, who the US government believes to have "purposeful intent to damage not only our national interests in fighting the war on terror, but also undermines the very safety of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan".

What makes Assange any different from all of them?

You might think it is because Julian Assange, although not a citizen of the United States, is an Australian and Australia is an American ally... But, there have been  quite a few Australians in Guantanamo and Brits and citizens of other allied countries and American drones over Pakistan have killed citizens of countries allied to the USA and even American citizens

What makes Assange any different from all of them? 

Frankly the only difference I can see is that Mr. Assange is not a Muslim.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the United States of America has finally gathered to itself, under one flag, all the venal, violent defects of a militaristic empire and combined them with all the potential feebleness of a democracy and the results of this mixture are being splashed all over the world's newspapers and the only reaction up till now is that Sweden is accusing Julian Assange of date-rape. DS

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

North Korea or Murdoch: the art is knowing how to push the envelope

Korean strongman, Kim Jong-il and his son and successor, Kim Jong-un

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There is a lot of speculation, and practically no hard intelligence, as to why North Korea is behaving so strangely of late. Sinking a South Korean ship and killing 45 sailors, showing off their advanced atomic facilities to a visiting American scientist and now, shelling a South Korean island near the capital Seoul, again causing loss of life... and apparently nobody really knows why.
A war between the two Koreas  could take place, a miscalculation or a misreading could set off a nuclear exchange... that is how serious this bizarre business is.
Why is all this happening?

Anybody's guess it seems?

Here is mine.

I have long had the impression that the behavior of the players of international politics is very similar to that of small unsupervised, schoolchildren... Out on the "playground", left to their own devices they are savages and when they are constrained by superior force, they behave no better than said schoolchildren in the hands of a befuddled, substitute teacher, they try to see what they can get away with.
Look at this sequence:
(E)very time North Korea flexes its muscles, threatens its neighbor, or violates international law it gains stature unavailable to it via any other means. Think about it: North Korea has a GDP smaller than Costa Rica, roughly the half the size of that of say, the Sudan. Finally, every time the North does one of these things, the response of the rest of the world actually, brings about benefits. After the "official condemnations" die down and the sanctions are proved to be ineffective -- as they inevitably are when pitched against a country in which the will or discomfort of the people does not exactly drive the political system -- North Korea gets a reward of some sort, a deal, an aid package, energy supplies, food. Best of all, the rest of the world accepts its word on vital matters even though North Korea has never ever kept its promises. David Rothkopf - Foreign Policy

"Mr. Lee said he expects further incidents by the North — including perhaps another nuclear test — in the coming weeks, perhaps to coincide with Kim Jong-un’s birthday on Jan. 8. The North has previously tested two nuclear devices." Lee Sung-yoon,professor of international politics at Tufts University, quoted in the New York Times
The other day I wrote about why I thought Rupert Murdoch's creature, Glenn Beck, was being allowed to engage in Jew-baiting, something which in American discourse, in the context of a top rated network TV program, is the political equivalent of testing a nuclear device. My conclusion is that Murdoch did it just to prove he could.

He did it, he has gotten away with it and now some very powerful people feel themselves less powerful and see Murdoch as even more powerful than they did before.

My conclusion is that the North Korean's motive is the same as Murdoch's: by showing what they can do and not be punished they underline their power and raise the price that would have to be paid to make them cease and desist.

The major difference in my mind is that Rupert Murdoch is much more powerful and more dangerous than North Korea. Like the poet said, "things fall apart". DS

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Homage to Ireland in Her Hour of Need

Now that they've gone stone broke and are dirt poor again. Lets send the Irish a big hug and kiss for all the fun they've always provided. Just as a token, this trailer from my favorite Irish theme film, (apologies to John Ford and "The Quiet Man")... Alan Parker's, "The Commitments".

You think this film is merely "Oirish" and not really Irish? Here is a Youtube comment on this film from a Mick who signs "DoctorWeeTodd"
"Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Haitian cholera: opening soon in theaters near you... not

Haitian Venus
A Collier County woman is Florida's first documented case of cholera imported from Haiti. The woman, who lives in southwest Florida, had been visiting family in the region of the earthquake-devastated nation that is at the center of its cholera epidemic.(...)"We really don't anticipate that we will see any sustained transmission caused by Haiti in Florida or anywhere else in the United States," Torok said. "The risk is so low because our water and sanitation systems really minimize the risk to folks." The cholera outbreak in Haiti, officially reported in late October, has claimed more than 1,000 lives, according to the World Health Organization. St. Petersburg Times
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What is most obscene about the cholera outbreak in Haiti is that the woman lying naked and close to death on the pavement in the photo above, is only a short distance from the USA and that the highly contagious disease, one that is killing her and hundreds more like her, is not considered a major health risk in the USA, where a case has already been reported, because, "our water and sanitation systems really minimize the danger to folks".

I invite my readers to roll all that around in their minds for a while and consider the implications.
And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?  And he [God] said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. -- Genesis 4: 9-10

Religion in the United States has a high adherence level, compared to other developed countries, and diversity in beliefs. Wikipedia
Go figure. DS

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beck, rhymes with yecch: Murdoch flirts with antisemitism... Why?

Welcome to the "Glenn Beck Program," where Jews are Nazis and those who exploit ancient anti-Semitic conspiracy narratives are friends of the Jews.  Michael Wolraich - CNN

“Soros' people called me to say I am an anti-Semite because I was going to air this," he says in one program. "Probably, I am more supportive of Israel and Jews than George Soros." Haaretz

“While I, too, may disagree with many of Soros’ views and analysis on the issues, to bring in this kind of innuendo about his past is unacceptable. To hold a young boy responsible for what was going on around him during the Holocaust as part of a larger effort to denigrate the man is repugnant. The Holocaust was a horrific time, and many people had to make excruciating choices to ensure their survival. George Soros has been forthright about his childhood experiences and his family’s history, and there the matter should rest." Abraham Foxman, Chairman, Anti-Defamation League

"Go to bed with dogs, wake up with fleas"
Old Spanish proverb
David Seaton's News Links
I'm not sure that the true significance of Glenn Beck's attack on George Soros is being evaluated correctly and in the proper perspective.

The question that people should be asking themselves is not whether Glenn Beck's remarks are antisemitic, because the only people who can define antisemitism are the Jewish people themselves and Abe Foxman is the person America's Jewish community has endowed with the power to decide what is or isn't defamation. Thus if Foxman, speaking ex-cathedra on this question, says that Beck's remarks are "unacceptable" and "repugnant", then that clinches it: Beck has crossed the red line into antisemitism.

That being so, the question people should be asking themselves is why Rupert Murdoch (Beck is merely Murdoch's creature) has decided to play with what is considered the "third rail" (touch it and you die, your career is finished) to end all third rails in US politics, which is antisemitism. And even to take it upon himself to break one of the touchiest of all taboos, which for a gentile to say who is a "good" or a "bad" Jew. And even more provocatively, he has allowed, or most probably encouraged,  Glenn Beck to connect the word "Jew" with the word "conspiracy". In today's America this, as Michael Wolraich points out at CNN, is to enter the world of Lyndon LaRouche. Murdoch has also allowed Beck to mention the most unmentionable of all unmentionables, the "don't go there" of all the don't go there subjects: the Jews that collaborated with the Nazis. No less than Hannah Arendt, one of the 20th century's most prestigious political scholars, was dragged over the coals for mentioning it in her controversial book "Eichmann in Jerusalem". 

In short it would be nearly impossible to offend more Jewish sensibilities in such a short time than Beck has, all the while professing his "more papist than the pope" loyalty to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel. Perfectly outrageous. People are outraged. Mission accomplished

Why is Murdoch doing this?

My theory is that he is doing it to prove he can do it.

To prove that he, Rupert Murdoch, can break all the rules and emerge unscathed, can waltz blithely where others have had to crawl on their bellies in abject repentance or be expelled to the outer darkness where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth .

Why should Murdoch want to do that?

He is playing a mind game with the Zionist right wing, both in America and Israel.


I think he wants to shake down AIPAC, that is why, and he is "talking trash" to make them nervous.

At this moment the Obama administration is trying to get a settlement freeze and then define the borders of a Palestinian state with a view to creating said state, thus ending the dream of a "Greater Israel". To fight this off, AIPAC is going to need all the help they can get and Fox would have to be a key player in that fight.

Murdoch doesn't want to be taken for granted... that is his message.

He wants to show all observers that he is the boss. That people crawl before him, that he doesn't crawl before anyone...  that his support is costly.

What is his price? I have no idea as yet. All I know is that with Ayn Rand dead, Rupert Murdoch is one of the nastiest pieces of work to share our planet and whatever the price, it will be a devil's bargain. DS

Friday, November 12, 2010

UK Students trash British Conservatives' HQ ... the children's crusade

Students have finally had enough. Fees were introduced in 1998 and we hardly heard a squeak; they were bumped up to over £3,000 in 2006 and no one revolted. But today students smashed their way into the Tory party campaign HQ in a show of anger against a political elite they believe have abandoned them. Patrick Smith - Guardian
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I am quite sure that the student protests in London are as significant as the recent student protests in France,  perhaps more so, and they represent what may quickly become a Europe-wide trend.

Up till now the children of the credit bubble have had little to rebel against, all the things that the 1968 generation fought for, especially sexual freedom, this generation have had in abundance. While they enjoyed their freedom or became bored with it they became proficient with computers, cell phone messaging and social nets, all valuable skills for potential agitators. Now as politicians like David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy are attacking their futures, their education and even their future pensions, they have something more challenging than "Grand Theft Auto" to test their skills against.  And perhaps they will be able to do something that the students of 1968 couldn't do in those times of prosperity and full employment, make common cause with working people and the older generations.

Now the battle is not just about personal freedom and imperialist wars as it was back them, it is about health, education and welfare: the basics.

I'm astounded at how oblivious Cameron and Sarkozy are to the danger they are running.

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my favorite hobby horses is criticizing the blockheadedness of post Cold War politicians who seem to have totally lost their fear of popular wrath.

Those who are cheerfully going about the work of dismantling the welfare state seem blissfully unaware that the welfare state was created by men as, or even more conservative then themselves, (Bismark, for example) in order to avoid revolutionary social movements which would destabilize and jeopardize the entire economic system and society itself. This was a strategy that was so eminently successful that it practically has destroyed revolutionary praxis. 

In my opinion dismantling the welfare state at this time is similar to a person who has successfully survived an operation for lung cancer and endured the ensuing chemotherapy and then, finding himself now in  remission, decides that it is ok for him to go back to smoking, the very thing that caused his cancer in the first place: idiotic.

It occurs to me that this tunnel vision, expressed in the obsession of  placating the financial markets,which  ignores popular anger, is the result of the rise and predominance of the FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) economy and the diminishing influence of manufacturing and agriculture.

The financial sector works with platonic mathematical models: money in the abstract moves with the speed of light. Fortunes that buy admiration, sex and luxury are made by simply tapping the key of a computer in a cubicle or on a trading floor.  All very clean and a bit autistic.

Reality, unfortunately, in as much as it touches living organisms, is never that clean and neat.

Thus farmers and manufacturers understand how the world of living creatures works better than financiers do.

They understand better, because both farmers and manufacturers exploit living creatures for profit and, leaving ethical question aside, to do this they need to have what farmers call "stock sense": an understanding of the animal off of which they make their living.

Take pigs for example.

A pig lives on death row from the day he is born.

Few animals are as reviled as the pig, the very word "pig" is an insult... and yet, perhaps no other animal on earth is eaten with such relish as the pig. Thus there is money to be made in raising pigs

Very few of those who live off of pigs like them personally, however pig raisers make sure that their pigs get plenty to eat, clean water to drink and clean air to breathe and they make sure that their charges excrement is removed at timely intervals... They also provide them with free veterinary care. The farmers don't do this for love of the pig or from the goodness of their hearts, but simply because if pigs aren't treated like this, they wont get fat soon enough or their flesh pass health inspection after they are slaughtered.

Pigs are not alone.

The short time that chickens pass among the living is also accompanied by a careful attention to their health and diet, as commodity chickens are terribly vulnerable to contagious diseases: plagues that can wipe out a farmer's investment in only a few days or sometimes hours.

Dairy cows have a bit better time of it than most food producers, live longer lives and often get special treatment, as it has been shown that not only clean food and air and lack of stress improves the quantity and quality of the milk they produce, even playing classical music for the cows helps increase milk production. To get the most and the best milk from a cow a farmer will even play Mozart for her.

So, if not properly cared for hens don't lay, pigs don't get fat and cows don't give milk.

In short, farmers know that to make decent a profit from their animals they must treat them carefully and that signs such as wet noses, shiny fur, neat feathers, bright eyes and a good appetite and the quantity and quality of their droppings, all must be watched closely if a good business is to be made from them.

In manufacture everything we have said about pigs, chickens and cows goes in spades for people too.

Manufacturers know as much about the human beings  they exploit as farmers know about pigs, chickens and cows and for much the same reasons: their livelihood depends on getting as much work, both in quantity and quality that they can with the smallest cash outlay possible. 

As an example of how the techniques of animal husbandry can be advantageously applied to humans, soccer became the British working class passion par exellence, because 19th century factory owners encouraged their workers to play football in order to keep them healthy and productive in the miserable conditions of the industrial revolution.

Exploiting human animals is a dicey business however.

We are talking about a very bad monkey here, one who can sabotage a factory, go slow, work to rule, go on strike: an animal that to be most profitable requires much training and re-training and much "motivation".

Like farming, manufacture is a messy, hands-on affair, filled with the sort of intangible things that sentient beings produce that are difficult to quantify in  numbers. This makes farming and manufacture unattractive for most Masters of Business Administration.

People don't feel right spending all those years at Harvard or Stanford, just to have to get a recalcitrant assembly line up and running or to stand up to their knees in manure in the middle of a freezing night holding a lantern for a vet himself up to his elbows performing a breech delivery on a struggling milch cow.

To leave the farm, to leave the factory floor and then move to a quiet office to follow numbers that flit across a screen, and while doing it make millions of dollars more than ever would be possible in either the factory or on the farm is a no-brainer.

Managing filthy pigs or cantankerous people with grease on their hands is not an attractive career choice for a good student today. Pigs are a drag.  So are people.

Truly though, I can't imagine Walt Whitman celebrating these masters of the universe.

A curious thing: if nobody ate pigs or eggs or chickens or drank milk, there would be no cows, pigs or chickens: nobody keeps them for pets. That's the way things work.

Here is an example: right up until the 1970s Spain used to be filled with donkeys, an emblematic animal, Sancho Panza rode one, they had a million uses... now there are hardly any donkeys left... The modern world doesn't need donkeys and donkeys can't do anything about it.

In many developed countries it appears that what goes for donkeys goes for human beings too. Their messy needs and wants get in the way of the beautiful numbers. Let us then move all the messy things far away and leave ourselves to contemplate our  exquisite numbers as they shimmer and dance on the screen and fill our bank accounts.

And so in love are they with their platonic models and their markets, that they blithely assume that those whose lives they disrupt and futures they jeopardize will simply oblige them by just shriveling up and blowing away.

But, unlike donkeys, human beings, before they disappear, can do much nastier things than just bray and kick. That is what I think is beginning to happen in the streets of London and Paris. DS

Monday, November 08, 2010

Tales of Globalization: USA and India: a marriage made in... heaven?

"I believe that the relationship between the United States and India will, in fact, be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st Century." President Obama - BBC News
The most dramatic and remarkable improvement in consumption has been of those who were already the richest people in India – that is the top 20 per cent of the urban population. (...)  the most dramatic evidence is for the bottom 80 per cent of the rural population – well more than half of India’s total population. For these people, who now number nearly 600 million, per capita consumption has actually declined since 1989-90. In other words, even the official statistics of the government still show that more than half of India has lower consumption per person than more than 10 years ago, after a decade when national income were supposed to be growing at around 6 per cent!  International Development Economics Associates
C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.  Nicholas Kristof - New York Times
"The German export successes are not the result of some sort of currency manipulation, but of the increased competitiveness of companies. The American growth model, on the other hand, is in a deep crisis. The United States lived on borrowed money for too long, inflating its financial sector unnecessarily and neglecting its small and mid-sized industrial companies. There are many reasons for America's problems, but they don't include German export surpluses." German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble - Der Spiegel
David Seaton's News Links
For me the quotes above tell a story all by themselves... Writing further comment approaches "gilding the lily".  It would be possible to rearrange them in any order and they would always tell the same story. Still, I'll try and riff a little bit on them.
The comparisons between the USA  and India are painfully apt: in the USA the top 1% of the population owns 42.7% of the country's wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owns only 7%. In India the top 1% owns 16% of the wealth, while the bottom 80% owns 30% of India' wealth. So we can see the Indians have some catching up to do, because US income distribution  is more unequal than India's.
What do the top one percent of India and the USA buy with their wealth?
Probably they buy German cars, washing machines, stoves, etc, for their homes and German capital goods for their factories (the American factories are mostly in places like China and Mexico these days). 
Why do the rich buy German stuff?
Because if you can afford it, you want the best and the Germans still make the best. They train their workers so well that despite paying  them high wages they are still competitive. They are competitive because of the enormous added value that well trained workers can add to a well engineered product. 
Once upon a time you could say the same thing about the USA too.
Wolfgang Schäuble is cruel but truthful when he says:
The United States lived on borrowed money for too long, inflating its financial sector unnecessarily and neglecting its small and mid-sized industrial companies.
He might have added that you can't digitize a BMW or a Miele washing machine and download them from The Pirate Bay. The "intelligence economy" is all very well, but brains are equitably distributed around the world, and computers are cheap and easy to assemble by semi-skilled workers...  but people who can do the fit and finish of a Porsche are neither equitably distributed nor cheap.
So, yes, I am afraid the president of the United States is correct in saying that India and the United States will define each other in the coming century: India reaching America's level of inequality and the USA perhaps developing an Indian-like caste system. DS

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Why I truly miss George W. Bush

"I prefer bad people to stupid people, because bad people sometimes give it a rest" José Ortega y Gasset

The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur." George W. Bush

"Do you have blacks in Brazil, too?" George W. Bush, to Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." George W. Bush

"If you look at the U.S., you look at who we’re electing to Congress, to the Senate—they can’t read. I’ll bet you a bunch of these people don’t have passports. We’re about to start a trade war with China if we’re not careful here, only because nobody knows where China is. Nobody knows what China is." Michael Bloomberg (ht Doonesbury)

C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.   Nicholas Kristof - New York Times

What this election suggests to me is that the United States may have finally lost its ability to adapt politically to the systemic crises that it has periodically faced. America emerged from the Civil War, the depression of the 1890s, World War I, and the Great Depression and World War II stronger than ever—with a more buoyant economy and greater international standing. A large part of the reason was the political system’s ability to provide the leadership the country needed. But what this election suggests to me is that this may no longer be the case. John B. Judis - The New Republic
David Seaton's News Links
What do I miss most about George W. Bush?

I miss "hope".

George W. Bush gave the American people hope.

When Bush was president I, and many like me, had the hope that the United State's fundamental problem was that the president of the United States was stupid.

Now that Bush has gone, and we have elected a president who is said to have a very a high IQ, and a couple of years have passed, and looking around ourselves, it is becoming clear that things are no better, it is obvious that the problem we and the world are facing isn't that simple.

It is beginning to look as if perhaps the political system itself and perhaps even the country itself are stupid; that George W. Bush and the United States of America were a perfect fit.

And if that is true, then it is quite difficult not to lose hope. DS

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Tea Time 2010: Hope trashed, audacity smashed and change unbelievable

"2008 answered the question,' Is America ready for a black president?' In 2010 we'll answer 'Are we ready for an orange speaker?'" — Paul Begala (hat Doonesbury)
David Seaton's News Links
It seems that much of the fate of the Republic is presently in the hands of a tearful man, dyed orange, whose surname is a homophone for what the British call a "stiffy". 
Thus, gentle reader, is our country's contemporary history being written. 
Make no mistake, the Tea Party has had a resounding success. It's principal mission, freezing up the legislative system by terrorizing moderate conservatives has been accomplished.
Why has this been done?
My encapsulated analysis of the present predicament:
  • America's social fabric is woven principally around the "dream" of upward social mobility and material prosperity. That's why most of our ancestors arrived on America's shores in the first place.
  • Anything that threatens that "dream", seriously threatens America's "domestic tranquility", which the Constitution considers fundamental to "ensure".
  • Globalization as it is presently organized is threatening the upward mobility and material prosperity of America's workers, the middle class and those who aspire to the middle class, thus nullifying America's "mission statement".
  • In short the survival of the Republic itself is jeopardized by unregulated globalization
  • To change that situation would require among other things much more regulation, elimination of tax havens and some sort of universal "Tobin tax".
  • That would cost many of the "good and the great" a lot of power, "freedom" and money.
  • To avoid all that bother, some of said "good and the great" stir up the inherent social and racial tensions of America's crazy quilt society, using instruments such as the Astro-Turf Tea Party,  in order to thwart any curtailment of their power, wealth and prestige by simply bringing the law making process to a halt, giving them time to think what to do next.
  • Thanks to the present campaign financing laws, the Republic is practically defenseless in the face of these wealthy predators.
The question surely is, "can anything be done about this?"
Something has to be done to fix America's infrastructure, fix the public schools, reduce defense spending, insure upward social mobility and generally shore up the middle class whose prosperity is the glue that holds American society together.
We have seen that a Democratic president, swept into office on a wave of popularity and approval, with a Democratic majority in both houses, has been able to do very little to solve any of America's most pressing problems except to shore up Wall Street and pass a decaffeinated health plan. By now it would seem obvious that it would be absurdly optimistic to expect much more from him or them, even if they someday regained that popularity and those majorities.

Yet something must be done.
I confess that I have given up hope on any great citizens movement in the style of MLK's civil rights campaigns financed by the "widow's mite".  Things have gone too far: the Supreme Court ruling, "Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission" has made such a truly grassroots, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" scenario even more of a fantasy than it was when Frank Capra filmed it.
How could anything be done, or who could do something about this?
Since the politicians are up for sale, where can the victims find the money to buy them off?
Norman Mailer once wrote that the people of New York state voted for the über-moderate Republican Nelson Rockefeller, because they figured that since he owned most of the state, he would take good care of it. Perhaps that is the only path left.
Perhaps progressives or at least "concerned" and mentally stable citizens need to find their "own" millionaires. I think it  may finally come down to which set of millionaires you want to be ruled by.
If this be the case then we might hope that some public spirited super richniks such as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Ted Turner and George Soros might found and fund a political action community to put fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg into the White House and between them all pay for enough Astro-Turf to "terrorize" all the hacks in the Senate and Congress into passing some serious legislation.
Not exactly the "Audacity of Hope", is it, but maybe the only possible next step to keep the country from collapsing in its own hapless, helpless idiocy. DS

Monday, November 01, 2010

Tea Party, the "dream vacuum" and the souring of America

Real disaster: the Potato Famine Memorial in Dublin, Ireland

Disaster as masochistic fantasy: my favorite doomster, Dimitri Orlov
From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States. - Wikipedia

When I got to America on a college scholarship, I realized that the real American Dream was somewhat different from Dallas. I visited college friends in their hometowns and was struck by the spacious suburban houses and the gleaming appliances — even when their parents had simple, modest jobs. The modern American Dream, for me, was this general prosperity and well-being for the average person. European civilization had produced the great cathedrals of the world. America had the two-car garage. And this middle-class contentment created a country of optimists. Compared with the fatalism and socialist lethargy that was pervasive in India those days, Americans had a sunny attitude toward life that was utterly refreshing. Fareed Zakaria - Time
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If the box office and the mainstream media are any guide, America's contemporary psyche is oozing vampires and zombies, werewolves and predatory bankers, doomsday scenarios,  nightmares of gay and dusky Muslim freeloaders spawning goldbugs and militiamen hoarding guns and gold against the End of Days or simply hyperinflation.

Why are Americans so obsessed with disaster if most Americans owe their being in America to one disaster or another?

It would probably startle a lot of Americans to think that most of them have much of their origins in a massive European "ethnic cleansing".

In the 19th century 50,000,000 Europeans migrated from Europe for diverse reasons, principally overpopulation, leading to lack of food and jobs in their native lands. Europe expelled them and as we see in the Wikipedia quote, thirty of those 50 million went to the USA.

Today there is nowhere left for their descendants to run to.

All of these Europeans were uprooted from their ancestral lands and their previous family and social relationships; they came from very diverse ethnic stock and religious traditions. The one thing they had in common was that America allowed them to "be fruitful and multiply". And except for a very epidermal, Hollywoody sort of pop culture, which America has diluted and homogenized and then marketed to the rest of the world, that myth of growth, the realistic possibility that anyone who works hard can live well, is still the real glue that holds Americans together as a people.

Calvin Coolidge defined us perfectly when he said, "the chief business of the American people is business". The market place is what brings us together. We live doing business with each other and through most of our history, business has been good.

That elementary social fabric is what globalization is putting at risk.

A traditional nation state is where people all speak the same language, and have done so for centuries, have been intermarrying for so long that they all bear a family resemblance to each other, have a common history and usually a common religious heritage. A "people based" state like this is able to go through tremendous shocks like a carbonized Germany did at the end of World War Two or a dysfunctional Russia did when the USSR went down, total destruction of a "way of life", without any serious "identity crisis".

The American personality has not been created from such bone and gristle, it is based on something as illusive as a "dream".

I first became aware of this problem when I was very young. During the Korean War, many American prisoners were successfully "brainwashed" by the enemy and led to collaborate and make "treasonous" statements. There were dozens of articles about this, it was briefly a national obsession, but one article I read as a kid stuck in my mind. It was about the Turkish army, which fought alongside the USA in Korea. Although many American prisoners were "turned", by the Chinese and North Koreans not one Turkish prisoner was turned, not one.

The disparity between Turkish and American prisoners finally came down to this: the American prisoners, felt isolated, lost and alone in the face of the enemy and were trying to make friends with the Chinese, to cut a deal, to split the difference.  The Turkish soldiers, on the other hand were Anatolian peasants, pious Muslims, for the most part: for them, the Chinese might as well have been Martians, or goats for that matter; having anything to do with them, much less betraying their group, was unthinkable for the Turks in their ethnocentric "turkishness".

Of course, a significant part of America's wonderful flexibility is owed to our lack of such a strong identity, our ability to include and assimilate new members to our nebulous "us-ness". In a sense our lack of a pure, deeply rooted, ethnic identity is our identity. Nothing is as essentially un-American as the idea of ethnic purity.

But this strength can become a painful weakness if America's foundational myth, the promise of a good life and upward social mobility for oneself and one's children, is shattered. That would mean a potential identity crisis, similar to what would happen in Poland or Ireland, if they stopped being Catholic, or if Israel stopped being Jewish, or if the French forgot how to cook.

Of course, Americans do have a recognizable national character or at least a series of stereotypes that the world agrees are accurate. In the world's eyes Americans are innocent, friendly, generous, open, inventive and willing to take risks. I would maintain that those characteristics are the product of the open and generous economy and I have observed that many people who arrived in America as adults, men and women who speak heavily accented English and who only know Abraham Lincoln as the face on the five dollar bill, have quickly acquired those same characteristics... in fact they came to America hoping to acquire them.

If Americans lose those traits then all that will be left is another stereotype that the whole world recognizes as "genuinely American": a bottomless hunger for money and a willingness, to work, to borrow beyond any possibility of ever paying back, or to even steal spectacularly in order to get their hands on it.

And make no mistake a growthless America would finally strangle and extinguish precisely those very qualities that the world loves in Americans: generosity, openness, friendliness and the willingness to take risks and empower all those American defects that the world loathes: greed, violence and racism.

All of the American virtues have had their origins in the seemingly infinite generosity, openness and friendliness of America's economy and our willingness to take risks was born in witnessing over and over again how taking risks paid off. All of America's defects  - greed, violence and racism - come from the fierce Darwinist battle to achieve the promised wealth and social mobility. Those are the poles of America's personality.

There is no need to fantasize on the disaster eroticism of the Orlov or Kunstler or 2012 variety. When someone as well informed as Fareed Zakaria can write the following we know that the disaster is already here:
Steven Rattner, who helped restructure the automobile industry, tells the story of getting a new General Motors plant online in Michigan by bringing management and unions together. "The unions agreed to allow 40% of the new plant to operate at $14-an-hour wages," he says, "which is half of GM's normal wages. The management agreed to invest in this new plant. But here's the problem: workers at GM's Mexican operations make $7 an hour, and today they are as productive as American workers. And think of this: $14 an hour translates into about $35,000 a year. That's below the median family income. The whole experience left me frightened about the fate of the American worker." (...) Capital and technology are mobile; labor isn't. American workers are located in America. (...) Technology and globalization are working together at warp speed, creating a powerful new reality. Many more goods and services can now be produced anywhere on the globe. China and India have added literally hundreds of millions of new workers to the global labor pool, producing the same goods and services as Western workers at a fraction of the price. Far from being basket-case economies and banana republics, many developing economies are now stable and well managed, and companies can do business in them with ease. At some point, all these differences add up to mean that global competition is having quite a new impact on life in the U.S. 
That paragraph is as clear a death sentence of generosity, openness, friendliness and the willingness to take risks that I can imagine. Upward social mobility, the very heart of the "American Dream" will be frozen if America's middle class is gelded.  When that  finally happens, the bright side of the  American "soul" will have been decontented.

America is a very complex and contradictory society and all of its infinite contradictions, tensions and endemic racism and violence have heretofore been contained by upward social mobility, high growth and finally in desperation, by low interest, house flipping credit. That all seems to have run out of road

When people's world crumbles and tumbles round their ears, they lose most of their capacity to trust others and fall back on "does this person look like me, talk like me, think like me and pray like me?" in order to deal with chaos and discouragement. Don't take my word for it, consult any Serb, Croat, Kosovar, Ibo, Hausa, Hutu, Tutsi, Turk or Kurd, Israeli or Palestinian, Belfast Protestant or Belfast Catholic that you may have handy. They will fill you in on the details of how this all plays out. Any one of them can teach you how to say, "I want my country back" in the local lingo.

We are already seeing this taking place. The "dream vacuum" is what the people who fund the Tea Party are exploiting to their benefit. The souring of the American character is a growth industry and the Kochs and the Murdochs, the Limbaughs and the Becks are getting in at the ground floor.

Of course the crowning irony of it all is that American capitalism, which initially created America's phenomenal middle class prosperity, has now created the very globalization that is on a path to destroy America's society itself. Keeping this system's "freedom" to operate without interference, taxation, or regulation is the ultimate goal of those who finance the Tea Party and much of the rest of the political system.

"Divide and rule" is the oldest method in existence for a minority to control a majority. Using this tactic Britain was able to control 300 million Indians using little more than 20,000 soldiers. The ratio of "controllers" to "controlled" in the present American scenario is infinitely more productive than British India's, as befits our MBA era of optimization.

So finally we can see that the very same anger caused by globalization's destruction of America's social fabric is being used by those who benefit most from globalization to keep that social fabric from reacting and bringing globalization under its control. DS