Friday, December 31, 2010

Ending the First Decade of the 21rst Century

David Seaton's News Links
Sometimes after writing a long, rather ponderous piece like my last one, I like to follow it with a shorter and lighter version of more or less the same thing. This is some sort of a parallel text that grows out of its predecessor.

We are at the end of the first decade of a new millennia, something that doesn't happen every day. I've chosen two images to describe the decade we are leaving behind us. I imagine most people who wished to portray these years, would use the Twin Towers in flames, the idea being that "everything changed" when Al Qaida busted up New York. I don't think so. I think that "everything changed" when people began to see that even by running faster they weren't getting anywhere.

The first picture at the top of this piece is of Bernie Madoff, disguised as an Obama poster. By this I don't wish to insinuate that Obama is a crook like Madoff, I am more interested in illustrating disillusionment. Those who hoped that Bernie would  make them rich without their doing a lick of work were bitterly disappointed as were those who thought that by simply casting their vote, when Obama arrived in Washington the waters of  the Potomac would part and Pharaoh's hosts would be engulfed: they too have felt similarly short changed. Since Obama chose to take upon himself the mantle or the  brand, of "Hope", he has also been stuck with the dregs of "Hopelessness", when he  turned out to be such a damp squib. With  Madoff as the "Audacity of Hope" poster boy, I wished to create a poetic image of the wise folk saying that, "hope is not a plan".

The decade we leave behind us was the story of the disasters brought on by the money changers in the temples of Wall Street and by the paralysis of the American political system as it is being dragged helplessly toward Grover Norquist's bathtub.

So Bernie symbolizes the malodorous financial sector and President Obama symbolizes the starved and frozen political system and the poster symbolizes the marketing involved in making some  people think that Bernie Madoff possessed the secret of endlessly multiplying wealth,  while other people thought that Barack Obama had the secret of healing all of  America's defects and disasters and making the lion lie down with the lamb,  all the while feeding the multitude on five loaves and two fishes. When the guy who can do that finally shows up, no poster will be needed to illustrate, that as Bob Marley put it, "There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation"....  We have not gotten that far yet... I hope, I hope, I am still amazed that so many people thought we had.

As far removed as from each other the intentions of both men surely must be, those who gave  Madoff their money and those who gave their votes to Obama, would all probably  rather not be reminded of what a distance there is between what they expected, waited and hoped for and what they finally received.

The next image is simply is graph that illustrates the leitmotif of most working  people's lives today: that even by running faster, they aren't making progress,  that the brass ring is no longer within their grasp no matter how fast the merry-go-round spins. That middle class life is turning out to be  just another Ponzi scheme, like Bernie's.

Hat to: Jon Taplin

There are lot of wonderful graphs around, but I can't think of another that describes the middle class mood so well as this one does. I would like to see some further information to confirm my hunch that, as child labor is still illegal, the slight rise in household median income, while real hourly wages first declined then stagnated, is mostly due to all the housewives and mothers joining the work force.

The next ten years will be colored by the bad taste of so much disillusionment and there will be no lack of demagogues eager to poison the system further. 

Hope? Been there, done that.

Lucidity is the only thing that will save us now. DS

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's 2011... singing in Grover Norquist's bathtub

Singing in the bathtub
Happy once again
Watching all my troubles
Go swinging down the drain

Singing through the soap suds
Life is full of hope
You can sing with feeling
While feeling for the soap.
"Singing in the Bathtub"

David Seaton's News Links
It's New Year's; this is when we are supposed to look over the past and think about the future. With the USA the situation is pretty simple: a large percentage of Americans are batshit crazy and the state itself is in tatters.

Simple concept, but how it might play out could get complicated

Many observers in America, and around the world, are asking themselves "Why are so many Americans so crazy?" and "Why is nothing done about it?". The answer to the first question is that living in a cloud of misinformation, they are being driven insane.
Over half of surveyed Republicans said they believe that the president is a socialist Muslim who wants to take away gun rights and turn over U.S. sovereignty to the U.N. What’s deeper, though, is the vitriol of those beliefs, with a substantial number of Republicans believing that Obama resents America's heritage (47 percent), is the "domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of" (45 percent), wants to use an economic or terrorist event as an excuse to take dictatorial powers (41 percent), is doing some of the same stuff that Hitler did (38 percent), and may, in fact, be the Anti-Christ (24 percent). Daily Beast    
There is always the temptation to see certain people as reasonable when they aren't. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18", was the favorite bible passage of Lyndon Baines Johnson and it describes the basic attitude of all successful negotiators. The lesson learned from the epic battle to pass a more than tame and mediocre health bill is that it is impossible to negotiate with whipped up insanity.

Before going further it is essential to understand that a racism as ingrained as America's is about much more than the color of a person's skin. It is a traditional element of social control and is much more about controlling the white people than about controlling the black people.

All of this insanity, from tea party to Antichrist is about using racism to distract people from seeing clearly what is right in front of their faces: the American Dream has run out of road. The ideal of upward social mobility for anyone willing to work hard is only a memory.

The idea is very simple, classic really. The system is in crisis, social inequality is widening and hardening, so stimulating paranoia and racism is a simple and effective way of keeping people from thinking about things like taxing the rich in order to get good public schools, affordable health care and other such Bolshevik twaddle.

Essentially what we have is Rupert Murdoch in the role of Joseph Goebbels,  with Beck and company playing post-modern George Wallace, nightly on Fox.

To understand this craziness we have to turn it inside out. The first thing about it that catches my attention in the Harris and similar polls is that a significant portion of the American population is totally paranoid and extremely suggestible. If we discount genetics and/or some hallucinogen that has been added to the water, we would have to look at objective factors to account for this vulnerability.

To begin with America's cult of competition, of dividing people from childhood into "winners" and "losers", has created an entire nation within the nation of losers: an enormous mass of people who feel terrible about themselves.

The American Dream is based on social mobility, but a great many Americans have not "moved" up since they arrived, even many who arrived during colonial times. At this moment many are on an express elevator moving down.

Since colonial times the subjugation and humiliation of African-Americans has provided a valuable tool in defusing social tensions in the rest of the population.

It all goes back that far.

Probably the most valuable service to domestic peace that slaves provided even, or especially, for those who didn't own them, was the role of being someone even the most miserable white person could feel superior to.

The most grievous problem encased in American racism is not the racism in itself, the problem is a society or a culture that divides human beings into "winners" and "losers" and punishes the losers so mercilessly. These unfortunates simply cannot survive psychologically without their "whipping boy". Racism is a tool of social control. The classic "divide and rule".

That is the dirty little family secret of American capitalism: keeping the races at each others throats prevents the social democracy that exists in practically every other country of similar economic development.

God knows that America is full of desperately miserable white people. Not all of them are poor, not by long shot. The Tea Party is living proof of that.

For losing and feeling miserable in America is not just economic, a study of marketing messages will give you an idea of the infinite ways that an American can be a "loser".

The entire American consumer economy, which is 70% of the total, is based on making people feel bad about themselves, making them feel poor, ugly, sick, helpless, stupid, inadequate and then offering to sell them something to relieve the pain of rejection and failure. A person of color might blame all the frustrations of life on race prejudice and he or she would probably be right in most cases. The white loser, and they are legion, hasn't ever had even that safety valve.

Those whites who fear they might be "losers" themselves, and if we look at the economic and psychological facts of life in today's American, that might include most American whites, desperately need someone to look down upon as a psychological safety valve and of course, since time immemorial African-Americans, even the lightest skinned among them, have served that purpose. Their status as loser was even pleasing to the abolitionists that wanted to "uplift" them.

For literally hundreds of years, besides this role as the official ultimate-loser, no other role beyond entertaining or lifting heavy loads was permitted them.

In 1952 an African-American author, Ralph Ellison published a ground breaking novel, “The Invisible Man”, whose title many critics feel defined the experience of people of African descent in America: that of being invisible and voiceless. In the years that followed, the people of color in the United States raised their voices and became visible, to the great and continuing discomfort of many whites. The white people of the US south who once voted solidly Democratic have punished that party’s leadership of the civil rights movement by voting solidly Republican ever since… the key to the victories of Nixon, Reagan and Bush. The “Conservative Revolution”, that only favors the rich, is based on the resentment of poor whites and gives the wealthy the necessary numbers to win elections. It was discovered that the poor whites of the American south (and not just the south), in desperate need of good public schools and socialized medicine hated black people more than they loved their own children or themselves. Talk about tragic.

With Barack Obama much of this resentment is coming to head.

Up till now, American "identity" politics was always played with surrogates: WASP or "waspable" white men wearing masks.

Thus Bill Clinton was "America's first black president". The whatever WASP whose turn it was to woo Latinos, would eat tacos and say "juntos podemos" with an atrocious accent etc, etc. Candidates would attempt to show that they were "sensitive" to the feminist agenda and so on. Absolutely de rigueur for all white, male and protestant presidentiables was a photo at Yad Vashem sporting a yomulka. This all came with the turf like kissing babies. It was all a game.

The problems start when the Democrats decided to use "originals" instead of the traditional, "ballo in maschera". The whole charade begins to fall apart without the WASP surrogates.

All of this resentful white anger has been directed heretofore against surrogates: the Jimmy Carters, the Ted Kennedys, the Walter Mondales, the Dukakises, the Gores and the Kerrys; and all the racism was disguised in euphemisms like "state's rights" or "liberal" or "elitist" or "un-American".

Now for the first time the American white ultra-right have got the chance to actually organize and march against a real black man who incarnates all the euphemisms, instead of a surrogate.

Even a "JFK meets Sydney Poitier" figure like president Barack Obama, or especially like Obama, is an unbearable provocation -- a lifetime membership card in the "loser" club -- for millions of American white people.

Here is about the shortest and sweetest description possible of how tragic that is
The deeper point--the ones the tea partiers haven’t courage nor the brains to see--is that our technological age has laid bare a core fact of American life: that our corporatist state uses white men and women just like it uses black, brown and yellow ones--as cannon fodder. There is little “upward mobility.” Your children probably won’t live as well as you, much less better. Your 2nd and 3rd mortgages made them billions and then they bankrupted you. They stole your future itself. Leonce Gaiter
The ideas expressed by Leonce Gaiter here are not very complicated, they would be practically self-evident if so much time and media effort plus financial fiction had not been expended in clouding all these realities. Gaiter makes clear that many people are finally finding themselves to be much less "middle class" then their advertising created fantasies led them to believe. Their treasured self-image is well tarnished and they are discovering that, as Gaiter says, "our corporatist state uses white men and women just like it uses black, brown and yellow ones--as cannon fodder." So in this crisis any person who lives from his salary and whose only patrimony is/was the house he lives/lived in, is, in the words of Marx and Engels, "at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind".  Alas, few are equipped either by temperament or by training to face with "sober senses" either the "real conditions" of their lives or the "relations with their kind". This lack makes them easy prey for movements like the Tea Party that fill the paths to truth with the traditional red herrings of American racism disguised as libertarianism. This nauseating and supremely effective tactic is being trotted out once again. The day when Americans in similar economic straits cease to see skin color and see clearly and soberly what they all have in common, in the same way  that the wealthy and powerful minority always have: on that day will the battle for social justice in the United States be more than half won. Keeping them from doing so has always been a growth industry.

Perhaps the joker in the right's deck, the spanner in the works, is the growing Hispanic vote. This is a vote that is in many ways socially conservative: family values etc, but very offended by racism directed toward them. A party of angry "white" people has very little attraction for this otherwise quite heterogeneous (Dominicans are very different from Mexicans) group. I certainly think it would be nearly impossible for a Tea Partied Republican Party to take and hold this, America's fastest growing, demographic niche.

Supposing we ever got racism licked, then we get to the really hard part.

If somehow this intrumentalized racism were neutralized, if white, brown and black could see their common needs and pull together to get what they need... what would be the instrument to use?

The term, "Welfare State" might give you the idea that the "state" is place to start... and the directing force of the state is the "government".  The desire to "fare" or "go" well using the "state" as the instrument.

What, then, is the "state of the government" or "state of the state" at this moment?

"Reagan’s view of government as the problem is increasingly at odds with a nation whose system of health care relies on large for-profit entities designed to make money rather than improve health; whose economy is dependent on global capital and on global corporations and financial institutions with no particular loyalty to America; and much of whose fuel comes from unstable and dangerous areas of the world. Under these conditions, government is the only entity that can look out for our interests." Robert Reich

The shortest and anything but the sweetest description of the philosophy of government that has dominated American thinking since the 80s, is the following famous quote:
"I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."  - Grover Norquist
Norquist doesn't really need a bathtub anymore, a simple washbasin might get it... government was already sending up bubbles in the floods of Katrina. You might say that today's politicians are rubber ducks in Norquist's bathtub.

For me this is the most disquieting thought of all... that even if the American people desired a welfare state, as many well may do, there might no longer be an instrument capable of executing that desire.

Here is a small sample of some of the nuts and bolts of this Norquist-bathtub government:
More than 100 American cities could go bust next year as the debt crisis that has taken down banks and countries threatens next to spark a municipal meltdown, a leading analyst has warned.(...)  US states have spent nearly half a trillion dollars more than they have collected in taxes, and face a $1tn hole in their pension funds, said the CBS programme, apocalyptically titled The Day of Reckoning. Detroit is cutting police, lighting, road repairs and cleaning services affecting as much as 20% of the population. The city, which has been on the skids for almost two decades with the decline of the US auto industry, does not generate enough wealth to maintain services for its 900,000 inhabitants. The nearby state of Illinois has spent twice as much money as it has collected and is about six months behind on creditor payments. The University of Illinois alone is owed $400m, the CBS programme said. The state has a 21% chances of default, more than any other, according to CMA Datavision, a derivatives information provider. California has raised state university tuition fees by 32%. Arizona has sold its state capitol and supreme court buildings to investors, and leases them back. - Guardian
Our friend Norquist is cool with states going bathtub, er, bankrupt:
Some critics allege that a state bankruptcy code would be used as a tool to “smash unions.” On the contrary, government employee unions and their dogged defense of the status quo are, in fact, smashing budgets and credit ratings in California, Illinois, New York and other states where they are dominant and have outsized influence in the state capitol.  Though it is true that the bond market might not be happy with a state filing for bankruptcy, as Skeel noted, the market is already beginning to take the possibility of default in certain states into account. California, for example, put $10 billion in revenue anticipation notes on the market in November — yet was only able to sell $6 billion worth. Advocacy for permitting state bankruptcy should not be confused with a desire for states to go bankrupt. In fact, simply having bankruptcy as a tool at states’ disposal is likely to be a boon to lawmakers trying to rectify their unsustainable financial plight.  The mere “threat of bankruptcy,” as Michael Barone recently noted in National Review Online, “would put a powerful weapon in the hands of governors and legislatures: They can tell their unions that they have to accept cuts now or face a much more dire fate in bankruptcy court.” - Grover Norquist
This is getting to be painfully obvious:
Congressional Republicans appear to be quietly but methodically executing a plan that would a) avoid a federal bailout of spendthrift states and b) cripple public employee unions by pushing cash-strapped states such as California and Illinois to declare bankruptcy. This may be the biggest political battle in Washington, my Capitol Hill sources tell me, of 2011. That’s why the most intriguing aspect of President Barack Obama’s tax deal with Republicans is what the compromise fails to include — a provision to continue the Build America Bonds program.  BABs now account for more than 20 percent of new debt sold by states and local governments thanks to a federal rebate equal to 35 percent of interest costs on the bonds. The subsidy program ends on Dec. 31.  And my Reuters colleagues report that a GOP congressional aide said Republicans “have a very firm line on BABS — we are not going to allow them to be included.” James Pethokoukis - Reuters
There seems to be no arrow left in the systems quiver to stop this, certainly not in Barack Obama's quiver.

When Robert Reich speaks of health care saying that America's "economy is dependent on global capital and on global corporations and financial institutions with no particular loyalty to America", he is underlining one of the principal facts of our world today, i.e. non-state actors, like multinational corporations, effectively controlled by a few individuals, a small percentage of the share holders and/or a management elite, are often more powerful than elected governments. This means, as Reich points out, that empowering government, which we elect, is the only defense we have against these unelected, non-state actors, who are indifferent to our welfare, whose only motive is profit.

Lets compare for a moment  the competence and seriousness of Robert Reich's corporate America to Norquist's "bathtub ready" US government. Try to imagine for a moment the  secret formula for Coca Cola in the hands of someone like  Pfc Bradley Manning... Impossible, isn't it... The management at Coca Cola are serious  folks. But the US Army allows an enormous mass of extraordinarily sensitive cables that could adversely affect US foreign policy in unimaginable ways in such hands as those of 23 year old "Bradass".

After a bout of intense introspection and self-criticism, I think that my strong desire to see the Wikileaks data-dump as the work of a foreign espionage network is in great part a reaction of denial from another, simpler but much more disturbing conclusion. One that literally fills me with horror. Remember that when politicians and thinktankers talk about cutting expenses, they are always talking about things like teacher's salaries or pensions and other "entitlements", never about "defense" spending. America's armed forces have always had preference of place at the trough. We might therefore assume that they of all American institutions would be immune from the "heck of a job-ism" of the rest of the stone broke and sorry-assed res publica.
Well, no, it seems the Army is just as incompetent as the rest of the system. If the secrets entrusted to the US Army are as vulnerable as Enron's emails... then the last one out, please turn off the lights.

In my opinion, it is no exageration to say that there is less difference between libertarians of the left, such as Assange, and those of the right, such as Norquist, than between either of them and those like myself that believe in big, well-funded government that is able to provide its citizens with good infrastucture, good regulations, good education and good health services and that has the power and the legitimacy to collect the necessary taxes to pay for those things. Make no mistake, the Assanges and the Norquists are executing a pincer movement.
When people riff about the impact of Wikileaks, you typically hear how it’s forever changed diplomacy or intelligence-gathering. The more ambitious accounts will mention the implications for journalism, too. All of that’s true and vaguely relevant. But it also misses the deeper point. The Wikileaks revolution isn’t only about airing secrets and transacting information. It’s about dismantling large organizations—from corporations to government bureaucracies. It may well lead to their extinction.(...) All of a sudden, the very same things that made it more efficient to work with your colleagues—the fact that everyone had a detailed understanding of the mission and methodology—become enormous liabilities. In a Wikileaks world, the greater the number of people who intimately understand your organization, the more candidates there are for revealing that information to millions of voyeurs. Wikileaks is, in effect, a huge tax on internal coordination. And, as any economist will tell you, the way to get less of something is to tax it. As a practical matter, that means the days of bureaucracies in the tens of thousands of employees are probably numbered. In a decade or two, we may not only see USAID spun off from the State Department. We may see dozens of mini-State Departments servicing separate regions of the world. Or hundreds of micro-State Departments—one for every country on the planet. Don’t like the stranglehold that a handful of megabanks have on the financial sector? Don’t worry! Twenty years from now there won’t be such a thing as megabanks, because the cost of employing 100,000 potential leakers will be prohibitive.(...) I’d guess that most organizations a generation from now will be pretty small by contemporary standards, with highly convoluted cell-like structures. Large numbers of people within the organization may not even know one another’s name, much less what colleagues spend their days doing, or the information they see on a regular basis. There will be redundant layers of security and activity, so that the loss of any one node can’t disable the whole network. Which is to say, thanks to Wikileaks, the organizations of the future will look a lot like …  Wikileaks. -  Noam Scheiber - The New Republic
I am almost sure that Mr. Assange and Mr. Norquist would be horrified to know that they are brothers in arms in the war to destroy the state, but in fact they are... at the very least their efforts are overlapping and complimentary: Assange  by facilitating such endless kibitzing, as to make the cooperation by a large number of state employees in any great project, even those beneficial to society, well nigh impossible and Norquist by depriving those state employees of the funds with which to act, supposing they could.

Both Assange and Norquist would surely justify their words and actions as a defense of freedom.

I think it might be in order then to examine the practical meaning of the word "freedom".

A very workmanlike definition might be FDR's "Four Freedoms", they are as follows:
  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear
I for one, am in complete agreement with the contents of this list, however I think that for them to be realistically applicable to all of humanity, without exception, their order should be reversed.

It seems to me that a person who is hungry or/and afraid and without access to adequate medical care for herself and her children, has little time or even need for the other freedoms and that a person without an opportunity for decent schooling will have trouble expressing his needs, no matter how much freedom to express them that he is given. It might also be useful to note that many regimes that skimp on freedoms one, three and four, often encourage their subjects to worship; as fear and want are often great stimulants to prayer.

It would seem to me that both Messrs Assange and Norquist, each in his way, are having success in dragging the state into the bathroom and drowning it in the name of point one, the freedom of speech and expression.

At this moment millions of Americans are losing their homes, millions of American don't get enough to eat, American life expectancy is going down, millions of American children go to substandard schools, millions of Americans don't have access to good health care, America's infant mortality rate is simply obscene and wealth distribution in America is even more unequal than in India. Freedom? Adding insult to injury more like it.

My affirmation is that without a strong state serving its people, freedoms three and four, will only be enjoyed by the wealthy and that to ensure that such a strong state exists and that it defends the welfare of its people, those who call themselves progressives should use freedom one vigorously and then with the aid of freedom two and a long-handled spoon, go and drain Mr. Norquists bathtub. DS

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The unbearable levity of Wikileaks and the right to dance

David Seaton's News Links
I received the following comment on my last post:
So previously, you did not think that globalization and instant communication tools were radiically changing the world?  It wasn't until wikileaks that you realized this was happening? Helloooo?  
To which I am tempted to reply with the old French proverb:
"Plus ça change, plus ça reste la même chose."
Strangely enough, I think the world has changed very little because of this glut of eavesdropping... we are just getting to see "how the sausages are made"... and it won't make a bit of difference if we know or not... Unless we all decide to become vegetarians. To eat sausages is to be complicit in making of the sausages.

I am much more impressed by the civil disturbances in France, Greece, Italy and the UK than by denial of service attacks on a credit card company. Thinking that you can "change the world" at the click of a mouse is the height of couch potato-ism.
I am convinced that only things that actually bring people out into the streets have meaning anymore: school fees, reduction of pensions and unemployment insurance.

We are flooded with "information", scandals, lies and cupidity ... We see it all and cluck, "tsk, tsk".... or write  few righteous lines in our blog or a scathing comment on someone else's, then we go and vote for Tweedledee or Tweedledum... and four years later go and vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee. We change channel. We change our brand of aftershave.

Speaking of quaint foreign proverbs, there is a rather horrible Spanish one that affirms that you cannot deny a man who is being hanged the right to his little dance...            
At the end of the rope.

Wikileaks is such a little dance.

What have we really discovered with the Wikileaks data-dump besides the knowledge that some of America's most sensitive diplomatic information is at the mercy of someone who signs himself, "Bradass"?

America is decadent. That is news?

What can this enormous fund of data teach us?

Perhaps we have found out that Santa Claus does not exist?

That Mommy and Daddy bring the presents?

Santa or no Santa, do we still want to see all that loot under the tree at Christmas?

You bet we do!

So globalization and instant communication tools are radically changing the world?  

Plus ça change, plus ça reste la même chose. DS

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Wikileaks cables: the portrait of an empire

Not really the image that America would like to project at this moment

David Seaton's News Links
There are Wikileaks cables from almost every imaginable part of the world, but since I live in Spain, I'll fill you in on some of the dump's specific effects on Spanish political life.
Just yesterday we saw how the Wikileaks dump has made it impossible for Spanish politicians to pass a stiff law protecting intellectual property, which was one of the primary objects of US pressure on the Spanish government.
Communications from the U.S. State Department show the U.S. government threatened to blacklist Spain by putting it on its Special 301 list unless its government toughened its anti-piracy laws.  The cables were based on meetings between top Spanish economic ministers, industry representatives concerned about protecting their copyrights and U.S. officials. Spanish editorial writer Esperanza Hernandez wrote this week that Spanish officials “behaved in a way that was subservient in defending the interests of the United States to the detriment of the rights of Spanish citizens to access culture and knowledge through the Internet.” AHN News
It was never going to be an easy sell, Spain has 20% general unemployment and youth unemployment is estimated at around 40%.  Movie tickets are expensive, at around €8 ($10.50), a typical, legal CD might cost €18 ($25) and a legal DVD of a film  about the same. Bought from a sub-Saharan African street vendor,  operating in a market known as the "Top-Blankets", all these entertainment goods can be had for a fraction of those prices... and downloaded bootleg from the Internet, for the cost of the bandwidth and the virgin disk. An Internet connection sufficient to download films can he had for as little as €20/month. If you consider that average salaries for (employed) workers range from €12,000-€18,000/year, then you can see that legal entertainment is out of the reach of the average working class family, not to mention the unemployed.
Just doing a bit of math you can see that no  Spanish politician in his or her right mind would want to risk his career by  repressing pirate downloads without enormous pressure from the USA. The Minister of Culture was reported publicly wailing that "Obama is worried" about Spanish pirate downloads.
Below are a few more press clippings to give an idea of other ways that  the data-dump specifically affects Spain:
The US embassy in Madrid pressured Spain to shelve court cases against US government and military officials concerning incidents during the Iraq war and alleged torture at Guantanamo, according to WikiLeaks documents. Monsters and Critics

In what could be the first legal case to use filtered WikiLeaks documents as evidence, the family of a Spanish cameraman killed in 2003 by a US tank shell during the battle for Baghdad filed a complaint Monday. They seek to open an investigation into whether high-ranking officials here colluded with the US Embassy to stop charges being filed against three American soldiers, including a colonel. Christian Science Monitor
Heavy stuff.
The story of how the US embassy pressured the Spanish government and judiciary over the News cameraman killed in Iraq is especially galling to Spanish sensibilities:
Among the cables is one from May 14, 2007, authored by Eduardo Aguirre, a conservative Cuban-American banker appointed U.S. ambassador to Spain by George W. Bush. Aguirre wrote: "For our side, it will be important to continue to raise the Couso case, in which three U.S. servicemen face charges related to the 2003 death of Spanish cameraman Jose Couso during the battle for Baghdad." Jose Couso was a young cameraman with the Spanish TV network Telecinco. He was filming from the balcony of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on April 8, 2003, when a U.S. Army tank fired on the hotel packed with journalists, killing Couso and a Reuters cameraman. Ambassador Aguirre was trying to quash the lawsuit brought by the Couso family in Spain. The U.S. ambassador was also pressuring the Spanish government to drop a precedent-setting case against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials. In that same memo, Aguirre writes, "The Deputy Justice Minister also said the GOS [government of Spain] strongly opposes a case brought against former Secretary Rumsfeld and will work to get it dismissed. The judge involved in that case has told us he has already started the process of dismissing the case." These revelations are rocking the Spanish government, as the cables clearly show U.S. attempts to disrupt the Spanish justice system. Ambassador Aguirre told Spain's El Pais newspaper several years ago, "I am George Bush's plumber, I will solve all the problems George gives me." Amy Goodman
At this writing, former ambassador Eduardo Aguirre is now on the board of Spanish bank operating in the USA.
For someone who is American born and bred, but who lives in Spain and will probably end up as a dual national over here, Wikileaks is very much a mixed bag.
On one hand, having lived abroad most of my life in several different countries, over several decades, I understand that, at least for the moment, the United States of America, with its diplomacy and with its military and economic presence, warts and all, devoid of any of its professed ideological transcendence or "exceptionalism", provides the world with what little real structure it presently possesses*. The leaked cables in their banality are the sound of the world being governed in much the way that the British ruled India. The Wikileaks cables show us clearly, if we ever doubted it, that we are the citizens of a de facto empire, the wilting "Pax Americana".
That is on one hand, and on the other hand, because of what the spam diploma mills of the Internet call "life experience", I am more aware than the majority of Americans that this "governance" of the world is applied mostly without the consent or, much of the time, without even the knowledge of those so "governed". Wikileaks has made official what most informed people have always suspected: the power is in constant use, but functioning under the law of diminishing returns.
We can feel the symptoms all around us: this empire is beginning to crumble and there doesn't seem to be much of anything to take its place. That crumbling sensation and the realization that the world has no "plan B", no viable substitute for the Pax-Americana is what, for me, defines our era. The Wikileaks data-dump has now made this situation clear for all to see.
In a sense this is like the world being told that it has an untreatable disease of uncertain prognosis. No coherent plan of action immediately presents itself. Perhaps ignorance and simply getting on with life would be the better option.  That may no longer be possible. DS
*The United Nations, in which many of us had placed our best hopes for a "world government" appears to have turned into a sort of travel agency for serial rapists.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Wikileaks: comparing conspiracy theories

Image by Christian Ségal      
David Seaton's News Links
It isn't as if conspiracies don't exist, but generally stupidity or incompetence explain most disasters and even real conspiracies don't tend to be as elaborate as their legion of fans would like to believe. But if we define a "conspiracy" as when two or more people combine to do something that would normally carry punishment in such a way so as not to be punished, then there are quite a few of them around. Certainly the Wikileaks data-dump would qualify as one under that definition.

Until Wikileaks itself leaks, we are forced to speculate. Without entering the baroque, we have to proceed from the simple to the more complex.

The first question would be: is the simplest explanation the true one?

There are two basic simple explanations as far as I can see:

One: Pfc Manning is a brave and principled young man, who, shocked by his country's criminal behavior, decided to blow the whistle and sought out Julian Assange, another brave and principled young man, who decided to help him.


Two: Pfc Manning, who had broken up with his boyfriend was depressed and, feeling a bit spiteful, decided to commit the biggest electronic security coup de main since British intelligence broke the German code, "Ultra" during WWII. Julian Assange, a megalomaniac and a lousy lay, saw his chance for super stardom and a lifetime supply of condom-free groupies and decided to aid and abet him.

There is probably some truth in both versions, but if you think anything this big is that simple, you probably would have no trouble believing that the Swedish prosecutor is chasing Assange around Europe solely because of a broken condom... As well he may be... like I say, for the moment we are flying blind.

I, for one, happen to think that a very competent foreign intelligence service has been involved in this and is using Assange thirst for the limelight to cover their tracks.

Right off the bat, before we go any farther, I'll tell you I don't think Israel is behind Wikileaks' data-dump.

I don't see them gaining very much from it, certainly not enough to justify the risk.

I would say that there are two major countries that have enough motives to take the risks involved: Russia and China.

Russia has the human assets in the west, the experience and the know how to pull it off easily.

China has much more motivation than the Russians, although both countries benefit from the data-dump, witness Putin "nominating" Assange for the Nobel Prize.

For me the prime suspect is still China.

Why would the Chinese do this?

In my scenario, the United States is accusing China of currency manipulation. America's government is very interested in China revaluing their currency in order to make US exports more competitive. The Chinese are not cooperating. To put on pressure, the US has been organizing a human rights, "transparency" and democracy blitz to embarrass the Chinese. This mixture of Internet, bloggers and  human rights NGOs are the formula used in all the "color" revolutions such as the "Orange Revolution" in the Ukraine or the Twitter led "Green Revolution. The Chinese naturally resent having these techniques employed on them.

My idea is that the Chinese have had two objectives. To embarrass the United States and to change the subject of conversation from Liu Xiaobo's Noble Peace Prize, for example, or Tibet, or "The Great Firewall" that blocks access to the Internet in China.

"The Americans demand transparency?" say the Chinese in my scenario, "We'll see how much they really like it."  "You like Glasnost, here two helpings, rice on the side".

So far, if they weren't behind the data-dump, they are certainly benefiting from it more than anyone else I can think of. People are talking of little else. Liu Xiaobo's Noble Peace Prize ceremony was overshadowed by the daily delivery of American diplomacy's dirty laundry. Brilliant! Turn the enemy's strength against him. Sun Tzu is grinning from ear to ear somewhere in the Taoist heaven.

Assange's biggest mistake was to take the bait and turn himself, or let himself be turned into, the poster boy for the data-dump. People who have in turn taken the bait and accepted him as a hero are going to be bitterly disillusioned. This is all political and Assange has just made himself the butt of a million jokes. He is the one who insisted that he be the poster boy of Wikileaks... so now this is about him and all his busted condoms.

"Outing" the State Department, using Army personnel, is the ultimate in hardball. If Assange had done it to the Russians he would have died of plutonium poisoning and if he had done it to the Israelis his body would probably never be found. And if he had done it to the Chinese... yum, yum. Assange is counting on the Americans not being as rough as the above mentioned... big mistake, we're just more hypocritical. DS

Friday, December 17, 2010

The travails of Pfc Bradley Manning

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day -- for seven straight months and counting -- he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he's barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he's being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not "like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole," but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out. Salon
David Seaton's News Links
We are living is rather surreal times, so it is normal that a conversation like this one about Pfc Manning can have a dream-like quality of disassociation at times. I think I first realized how totally wacky our world had become, when after 9-11 Dubya said that America's reaction to the attack should be to go out shopping. The Manning conversation is moving in that direction.

When we talk about Private Manning (or anyone else wearing the uniform of the US armed forces) we are talking about a member of a collective that is at this moment engaged in two wars. Members of this group, wearing the same uniform as Manning are regularly getting killed and maimed. You might say that this is all deadly serious for this particular collective, group or "family". What has been leaked appears to be State Department material, but it could easily include the order of battle of US forces. From a military point of view, this is all  "code red", heads must roll, serious. For the army the most important thing now is to find out if this is just an isolated individual acting alone and make sure it never happens again.

There is plenty of room to discuss the role of Julian Assange, myself I think he's a messianic scumbag, but most of my friends think he is a hero, like I say, plenty of room for discussion. But Private Manning is either a poor, innocent, chump, who has been skillfully manipulated by Assange, or if not he is person who has betrayed the trust of his comrades and anyone who volunteers to join the army must know that carries a price.

There seems to be some confusion about military discipline. My late father was a US Army officer for over twelve years, with service in field artillery and the Corp of Engineers, and as he colorfully explained it to me once, this is how the military operates, "Cap'n stubs his toe, hollers 'SHIT!', whole company squats and sounds off back, "WHAT COLOR... SIR!!"  Soldiers are supposed to follow orders, fall on grenades, take machine gun nests, sit on bayonets, peel potatoes  and clean latrines with their toothbrushes, not have opinions, that is what soldering is about. If you think differently, you've probably seen "Judgment at Nuremberg" too many times.
I don't defend injustice, but the justice of the military is different from civilian justice, just as military music is different from normal music. The first thing to remember about soldiers, even though it sounds dramatic, is that they are expected to actually die as part of their job description. The first loyalty is to the group, because those are the people that have got your back... to let them down, to put them in any kind of unnecessary danger is a cardinal sin. Loyalty and honor are a fetish, with death around. The mentality is so different from the civilian mentality that there is always tension between them. Manning should never have been allowed in the army in the first place, I don't think he ever understood where he was... maybe now, when it is too late, he is getting the idea.
Reading more about him, I think it would be an understatement to say that he wasn't military material, that he was as cut out for army life as Ewan McGregor's character in  "I love you Phillip Morris". However,  Pfc Manning volunteered to serve, he wasn't drafted against his will, he took an oath, he knew that what he was doing was a serious breech of military discipline. I would think the only possible defense he could have would be temporary insanity. I feel sorry for him, but there are people I feel much more sorry for, like, for instance,  another Pfc, the late Erin L. McLyman. Somehow I don't think Erin would have cut Bradley much slack. DS

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is "freedom" just another word for nothing left to lose?

David Seaton's News Links
There is a world, a universe, of pain in the following quote from the Financial Times:
If you want something to get angry about, I wouldn’t look at tuition fees. I’d look at a little graph produced by Leon Feinstein of the Institute for Education, which shows tests of cognitive development given to almost 2,500 children at the age of 22 months, 42 months, five years and 10 years. The very brightest 22-month-old working-class kids were inexorably overhauled by the very dimmest children of professional or managerial parents – apparently by the age of about seven, and emphatically by the age of 10. -  Financial Times
If this is true about Great Britain, which still has some scraps of its once fine welfare state intact, it is surely doubly or triply true of the United States of America. Has a study similar to Leon Feinstein's  even been done in America yet? I imagine so, studies like Feinstein's seem to roll off of America's back like water off a duck.

Just the other day a judge in Virginia declared president Obama's minimalist health care bill, "unconstitutional", meaning that millions of Americans are to be condemned to pain and early death, because of a document written over two hundred years ago by an assembly of wealthy men living on land stolen from the Indians (all of them) worked for them by African slaves (many of them). These men gave a lot of thought to "freedom", but I would argue that their idea of freedom was an aristocratic one, a worship of the sacred "individual" similar to the slave-based economy that fostered the philosophy of ancient Greece. Such individualism is postulated on a great mass of invisible "half-people", who may, as is often the case in America today, not even be needed or fitted for productive work, not even recruits for Marx's "reserve army of labor".

We are talking about human beings with one life to live, whose potential to contribute, to be useful to themselves and to society is being thrown, flushed, away. Common sense and common decency reel from this thought.

In America, when we talk about poor education for poor children, we may quite possibly be talking about physical hunger too. Conservative estimates put the figure at about 13 million hungry children in the USA. Here is how "Bread for the World" breaks it down:
--36.3 million people--including 13 million children--live in households that experience hunger or the risk of hunger. This represents more than one in ten 0households in the United States (11.2 percent). This is an increase of 1.4 million, from 34.9, million in 2002.
--3.5 percent of U.S. households experience hunger. Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. 9.6 million people, including 3 million children, live in these homes.
--7.7 percent of U.S. households are at risk of hunger. Members of these households have lower quality diets or must resort to seeking emergency food because they cannot always afford the food they need. 26.6 million people, including 10.3 million children, live in these homes.
One blogger confronted with these statistics, did a little math and wrote the following:
Think about this. Recently 20 billion dollars was given to Bank of America to bail them out. With that amount every hungry child in America could eat for a year
The judge in Virginia that struck down the gelded health plan would probably call that "socialist demagoguery". Maybe it is: I'm cool with that.

Many think that nothing will happen, that America' poor of today are to degraded to react. An "anonymous" reader wrote this in response to a recent post of mine, speculating about the possibility of civil strife similar to Europe's in the USA:
It's hard for me to imagine the unemployed rebelling. It's not that people are necessarily apathetic, but they're unarmed (I mean in things like useful education, intelligent political discourse) and bombarded with jingoism and bread and circuses nonsense. And beyond the deficit in political awareness, there are the practical problems of always being cold and tired and sick and having all your energies taken up with just getting by.
I would reply that many of those soon to be out of  a job, out of their homes, with no savings, or their saving eaten up, and soon to be destitute are "armed" with an education and even armed without quotation marks and that history shows that peoples in this world even more brutalized, hungry, alienated and empty handed than today's Americans, have risen up before and rebelled. DS

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Holbrooke and Assange: the end of empire and the dying Roman

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

"You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."
The last words of Richard Holbrooke
David Seaton's News Links
America's most famous über-diplomat went out like an old Roman: his last words, lucid and noble, are worthy of the best moments that American history has to offer. 

We all have to die, but it has been Richard Holbrooke's good fortune to die like an imperial hero out of a novel by Kipling, his last words will be printed in school books and perhaps future schoolchildren will have to memorize them.

If it is still possible for the servants of an empire to die nobly, the death of empires themselves tend to be rather messier. The evidence of the passing of America's empire is all around us, but a recording of its last words, as revealed by Wikileaks, reminds me more of  the dying words of the gangster, Dutch Schultz, than of Richard Holbrooke's classic Roman dignity. 

Read Schultz's soliloquy and see if you don't agree:
The Last Words of Dutch Schultz
Statements made by Arthur (Dutch Schultz) Flegenheimer were taken down by a Newark police stenographer, F. J. Lang. The notes covered a period from about 4 o'clock Thursday afternoon until Schultz died. During that period he was delirious most of the time, but lucid at intervals. A transcript of all he said follows:

Schultz at this time was irrational, suffering with a fever of 106 degrees and a bullet in his stomach. Sergeant Luke Conlon and other detectives from Newark police headquarters were at his bedside. One of the officers had a newspaper.

(Schultz noticed newspaper and spoke) - Has it been in any other papers? George, don't make no full moves. What have you done with him? Oh, mama, mama, mama. Oh stop it, stop it; eh, oh, oh. Sure, sure, mama. Now listen, Phil, fun is fun. Ah please, papa. What happened to the sixteen? Oh, oh, he done it, please. John, please, oh, did you buy the hotel? You promised a million sure. Get out. I wished I knew. Please make it quick, fast and furious. Please. Fast and furious. Please help me get out; I am getting my wind back, thank God. Please, please, oh please. You will have to please tell him, you got no case.  You get ahead with the dot dash system didn't I speak that time last night. Whose number is that in your pocket book, Phi1 13780. Who was it? Oh- please, please. Reserve decision. Police, police, Henry and Frankie. Oh, oh, dog biscuits and when he is happy he doesn't get happy please, please to do this. Then Henry, Henry, Frankie you didn't even meet me. The glove will fit what I say oh, Kayiyi, oh Kayiyi. Sure who cares when you are through? How do you know this? How do you know this? Well, then oh, Cocoa know thinks he is a grandpa again. He is jumping around. No Hobo and Poboe I think he means the same thing.

Q. (from Sergeant Conlon) - Who shot you?

A.- The boss himself.

Q.- He did?

A.- Yes, I don't know.

Q.- What did he shoot you for?

A.- I showed him boss; did you hear him meet me? An appointment. Appeal stuck. All right, mother.

Q.- Was it the boss shot you?

A.- Who shot me? No one.

Q.- We will help you.

A.- Will you help me up? O.K. I won't be such a big creep. Oh, mama. I can't go through with it, please. Oh, and then he clips me; come on. Cut that out, we don't owe a nickel; hold it; instead, hold it against him; I am a pretty good pretzler -Winifred- Department of Justice. I even got it from the department. Sir, please stop it. Say listen the last night!

(Statement by Sergeant Conlon) - Don't holler.

A.- I don't want to holler.

Q.- What did they shoot you for?

A.- I don't know, sir. Honestly I don't. I don't even know who was with me, honestly. I was in the toilet and when I reached the -the boy came at me.

Q.- The big fellow gave it to you?

A.- Yes, he gave it to me.

Q.- Do you know who this big fellow was?

A.- No. If he wanted to break the ring no, please I get a month. They did it. Come on. (A name, not clear) cut me off and says you are not to be the beneficiary of this will. Is that right? I will be checked and double-checked and please pull for me. Will you pull? How many good ones and how many bad ones? Please I had nothing with him he was a cowboy in one of the seven days a week fight. No business; no hangout; no friends; nothing; just what you pick up and what you need. I don't know who shot me. Don't put anyone near this check~ you might have -please do it for me. Let me get up. heh? In the olden days they waited and they waited. Please give me a shot. It is from the factory. Sure, that is a bad. Well, oh good ahead that happens for trying. I don't want harmony. I want harmony. Oh, mamma, mamma! Who give it to him? Who give it to him? Let me in the district -fire-factory that he was nowhere near. It smoldered No, no. There are only ten of us and there ten million fighting somewhere of you, so get your onions up and we will throw up the truce flag. Oh, please let me up. Please shift me. Police are here. Communistic...strike...baloney...honestly this is a habit I get; sometimes I give it and sometimes I don't. Oh, I am all in. That settles it. Are you sure? Please let me get in and eat. Let him harass himself to you and then bother you. Please don't ask me to go there. I don't want to. I still don't want him in the path. It is no use to stage a riot. The sidewalk was in trouble and the bears were in trouble and I broke it up. Please put me in that room. Please keep him in control. My gilt edged stuff and those dirty rats have tuned in. Please mother, don't tear, don't rip; that is something that shouldn't be spoken about. Please get me up, my friends. Please, look out. The shooting is a bit wild, and that kind of shooting saved a man's life. No payrolls. No wells. No coupons. That would be entirely out. Pardon me, I forgot I am plaintiff and not defendant. Look out. Look out for him. Please. He owed me money; he owes everyone money. Why can't he just pullout and give me control? Please, mother, you pick me up now. Please, you know me. No. Don't you scare me. My friends and I think I do a better job. Police are looking for you allover. Be instrumental in letting us know. They are English-men and they are a type I don't know who is best, they or us. Oh, sir, get the doll a roofing. You can play jacks and girls do that with a soft ball and do tricks with it. I take all events into consideration. No. No. And it is no. It is confused and its says no. A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim. Did you hear me?

Q. (By Detective) - Who shot you?

A.- I don't know.

Q.- How many shots were fired?

A.- I don't know.

Q.- How many?

A.- Two thousand. Come one, get some money in that treasury. We need it. Come on, please get it. I can't tell you to. That is not what you have in the book. Oh, please warden. What am I going to do for money? Please put me up on my feet at once. You are a hard boiled man. Did you hear me? I would hear it, the Circuit Court would hear it, and the Supreme Court might hear it. If that ain't the pay-off. Please crack down on the Chinaman's friends and Hitler's commander. I am sore and I am going up and I am going to give you honey if I can. Mother is the best bet and don't let Satan draw you too fast.

Q. (By Detective) - What did the big fellow shoot you for?

A.- Him? John? Over a million, five million dollars.

Q.- You want to get well, don't you?

A.- Yes.

Q.- Then lie quiet.

A.- Yes, I will lie quiet.

Q.- John shot and we will take care of John.

A.- That is what caused the trouble. Look out. Please let me up. If you do this, you can go on and jump right here in the lake. I know who they are. They are French people. All right. Look out, look out. Oh, my memory is gone. A work relief police. Who gets it? I don't know and I don't want to know, but look out. It can be traced. He changed for the worse. Please look out; my fortunes have changed and come back and went back since that. It was desperate. I am wobbly. You ain't got nothing on him but you got it on his helper.

Q. (By detective ) - Control yourself.

A.- But I am dying.

(Statement by detective) - No, you are not.

A.- Come on, mama. All right, dear, you have to get it.

At this point, Schultz's wife, Frances, was brought to his bedside. She spoke.

(Statement by Mrs. Schultz) - This is Frances.

Schultz began to talk again, saying:

Then pull me out. I am half crazy. They won't let me get up. They dyed my shoes. Open those shoes. Give me something. I am so sick. Give me some water, the only thing that I want. Open this up and break it so I can touch you. Danny, please get me in the car.

At this point Mrs. Schultz left the room.

(Sergeant Conlon questioned Schultz again) - Who shot you?

A.- I don't know. I didn't even get a look. I don't know who can have done it. Anybody. Kindly take my shoes off. (He was told that they were off.) No. There is a handcuff on them. The Baron says these things. I know what I am doing here with my collection of papers. It isn't worth a nickel to two guys like you or me but to a collector it is worth a fortune. It is priceless. I am going to turn it over to... Turn you back to me, please Henry. I am so sick now. The police are getting many complaints. Look out. I want that G-note. Look out for Jimmy Valentine for he is an old pal of mine. Come on, come on, Jim. Ok, ok, I am all through. Can't do another thing. Look out mamma, look out for her. You can't beat him. Police, mamma, Helen, mother, please take me out. I will settle the indictment. Come on, open the soap duckets. The chimney sweeps. Talk to the sword. Shut up, you got a big mouth! Please help me up, Henry. Max, come over here. French-Canadian bean soup. I want to pay. Let them leave me alone.

Schultz sank into unconsciousness then. It was 6:40 P.M. He died less than two hours later, without saying anything else.
I wonder if future historians (here I usually say, future Chinese historians) will be able to make any more sense of the contents of  the Wikileaks data-dump than students of gangteralia can make of Arthur Flegenheimer's last words? Some think them poetry, some think they hold the key to endless gangland mysteries or even the location of buried treasure... others think they are only the product of a disintegrating mind. 

Frankly, I think my little metaphor is nearly perfect. DS

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wikileaks (virtual world) versus lynching the Prince of Wales (real world)

David Seaton's News Links
On Saturday the 11th of December, about 50 people demonstrated in favor of Julian Assange in front of the US Embassy in London. The demonstration was organized on the Internet. 

Two days before, in the same city, a crowd of rioting students nearly lynched the Prince of Wales and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall. The royal couple's bodyguards were at the point of drawing their guns... imagine the political repercussions if they had smoked a few students... or had even fired warning shots into the air.

Before going any farther I must say that nobody loves the Internet more than I do. Thanks to the Net I have been able to triple my modest income, not to speak of all the fun and opportunities for self-expression that I have found on it. Having said that, I have lately become a bit skeptical about the political power of the Internet.

This recent skepticism of mine has it origins last spring, when the Spanish right wing was trying to crucify Judge Garzón. There was immediately a page in FaceBook supporting him and thousands of people "friended" it. Shortly after its online, viral success, this page, with thousands of "friends" and an enthusiastic stream of hourly outpourings of support on its wall, called for a demonstration of support for judge Garzón in a plaza in the center of Madrid, near the Court House, where Garzón had his offices. The page was all abuzz, you thought we were about to storm the Winter Palace.... The wife and I got on a bus and went... about twenty other people actually showed up.

Not long after that the major left wing institutions: trade unions, political parties etc, organized a demonstration for Garzón in the Puerta del Sol: the official center of Spain, and my wife and I went to that one too... thousands upon thousands of other people showed up too. This demonstration made a big difference, the right still want to crucify him, but they are more afraid to make their move now.

This experience was the filter through which I have observing all of this. Virtual people are virtual people and real people are real people was the conclusion I came to.

Wikileaks and the hacktivists that are attacking Twitter and MasterCard etc are going to do little more in the medium and long run than make some people very rich. Anyone who comes up with the technical answers to making the net secure for governments and large corporations will now not only have the blessing of China and Russia, but also of the USA and the EU and carte blanche, unlimited budget. This will make the net less fun and less free, but governments are not going to fall. That only happens when people actually take it to the streets.

But, Englishmen physically attacking the Prince of Wales... That is significant. England is not Czarist Russia or Bourbon France... The English don't do that sort of thing... Till they do it. 

Except in black neighborhoods during the 60s, Americans don't take it to the streets either, just like the English don't try to beat up the heir to their throne, right?


Here is how an old hound whose been around, Arnaud de Borchgrave, succinctly describes the present situation:
The progressive Paladin in the White House is no more. There are 15 million jobless and even more if one counts those whose benefits have run out and those who have stopped looking. There are several million of still vigorous over 50 who can see neither job nor retirement benefits for the rest of their lives.
Friend Beetlejuice sent me this text from  a very interesting article in TruthDig by Columbia University professor Moshe Adler entitled "Low Taxes are the Problem, Not the Solution":
"It is not inconceivable that 13 months from now, after the extension of unemployment benefits expires, the Obama/Republican plan will result in the kind of street riots we’ve begun to see across Europe, led here by the unemployed. The larger-than-ever deficit will make renewing the extension of unemployment benefits unacceptable, particularly to a Republican-dominated House. University students fed up with higher tuitions and employed workers fed up with the high prices for government services could even join in. In an economy with an impoverished middle class and political instability, investors will become even harder to find."
I am not belittling the significance of the harm that WikiLeaks has done to elite communication and the harm it may do to some governments who will be embarrassed to have their citizens become aware of their subservience to Washington, but those 25 million jobless and "vigorous" over 50s that de Borchgrave is talking about could care less. When They get violent, then things will move... they may get much, much worse, with real repression and the US Army being employed in American streets under Bush's Homeland Security Act but they will move. When they break out the tear gas and the rubber bullets, mouse pushing is willy pulling.

So that is why I take the attack on the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall more seriously than the DNS attacks by "Anonymous".

Zeitgeist it is called. DS