Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

It’s a corny title, but I don’t know of a better one to describe the situation of our President.

Like the Mickey Mouse character in Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasy’, who carries buckets of water ever faster to try to stop a flood he caused in his master’s house, President Obama rushes from one fire to another, to no avail.  The US is no longer the world’s policeman, but its fireman.  And no matter how many buckets of water we carry, the fire just keeps spreading.

The latest developments in Iraq are really no surprise.  In the early nineties, I translated a book by a Lebanese diplomat (whose name, alas I have forgotten) on the regimes and events that led up to the invasion of Kuwait.  It pictured an astonishing succession of megalomaniac leaders, and an unending series of expansionist policies.  Under all these rulers, the majority Shi’a were the underdogs, as in other Middle Eastern countries with the exception of Iran. The Kurds are a people without a country, living in a territory that is located in Turkey and Iran as well as Iraq.  Our eight-year occupation has been but an interlude in Iraq’s internal drama.

And for us, Iraq is part of the past.  What keeps President Obama running, is the new world that is rumbling into existence through earthquakes, floods, nuclear disasters, financial meltdowns, and rigged elections.  American efforts to carry on as usual, by setting up a base in Australia, or seeking one in the Stans, will be as ephemeral as a child’s soap bubbles.

While Americans are held in thrall by the ‘race’ to the White House, history marches on, as it always has.  Efforts to compare the present crisis with the Civil War, or other hard times, ignore the fact that the WORLD was a different place.  America’s oscillation between isolationism and domination trained its people to either ignore or look down upon what happens beyond our shores and our borders.  Hence they fail to visualize our decline within the confines of that larger world.

It’s too late for us to put out the fires ignited by our hubris and our indifference.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Israel's Black Problem

It’s a good thing I get emails from Europe, because if I had to rely on the American media, I’d miss a lot of what’s going on in the world.  Even Amy Goodman has passed on the rambunctious anti-immigrant demonstrations Thursday in Tel Aviv.  The video made it on-line before Ha’aretz pulled the story: http://electronicintifada.net/blog/ali-abunimah/israeli-jewish-hate-rally-against-africans-tel-aviv-caught-video-haaretz-deletes.

Surprised to learn there are significant numbers of Sudanese and other third world immigrants/refugees in Israel, I looked up the Sudanese case.  According to Wikipedia:

Illegal immigration from Africa to Israel (often also referred to as Infiltration from Africa to Israel by the Israeli media and by Israeli government organizations is the name of a pheno-menon that began in the second half of the 2000s in which a large number of Illegal immigrants from Africa entered Israel illegally, mainly through the fenced border between Israel and Egypt. According to the data of the Israeli Interior Ministry, the number of these illegal immigrants amounted to 26,635 people to July 2010.

Many of the illegal immigrants seek an asylum status under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of the United Nations. Only a fraction of all the illegal immigrants is actually eligible for this status. However, many of them, mostly citizens of Eritrea and Sudan, cannot be forcibly deported from Israel. The Eritrea citizens (who, since 2009, form the majority of the illegal immigrants in Israel) cannot be deported due to the opinion of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that Eritrea has a difficult internal situation and a forced recruitment and therefore the Eritrean immigrants are defined as a "temporary humanitarian protection group". Despite the fact that a similar opinion does not exist in relation to citizens of Sudan, Israel does not deport them back to Egypt due to a real fear for their fate. Although the immigrants entered Israel from Egypt, Israel cannot deport them back to Egypt because the Egyptians refuse to give an undertaking not to deport the immigrants to their countries of origin. Accordingly, the Israeli authorities grant a temporary residence permit to the illegal immigrants, which needs to be renew every three months. Various authorities in Israel estimate that between 80-90 percent of the illegal immigrants live primarily in Tel Aviv and Eilat.

 

According to The Jewish Virtual Library www.jewishvirtual-library.orgjsource/Immigration/SudaneseRefugees.html:

 

“According to a 1954 Israeli law, all infiltrators from enemy states, such as Sudan which harbors terrorists, must be detained until their refugee status can be confirmed. Israel took in less than 2,000 refugees in 2007. Many of these refugees were caught in Be’er Sheva crossing the border. They spent time in prison or detention centers, such as the Ketziot Prison complex which was set up to hold 2,000 refugees in small trailers of the sort used in construction sites.”

Apparently, anti-black and anti-Muslim sentiment has been building in Israel, and Thursday’s demonstrations were sparked by a failure of the government to build new detention centers.  A leader of the nationalist National Union party, Ben Ari took to a park in a Tel Aviv heavily populated with African migrants with a bull horn to tell protesters how he has been harassing the Israeli government to free up money for the construction of the promised centers.

In response, the Africans and their Israeli defenders, shouted ‘Prison, No, Freedom, Yes’. An Israeli woman yelled that the Israelis would change their minds if their children ‘had to be in classrooms with 30 African children, who do not want to learn Hebrew’, English, yes, but not Hebrew.’

The anger will sound eerily familiar to Americans who witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, fifty years ago. What is different is the fact that Israel is surrounded by Arab countries, and feeling increasingly nervous about what the Arab Spring could mean for its security. Seared for eternity by the Holocaust, Israelis have gone from one extreme to the other: no longer afraid to defend themselves, they have adopted the motto that the best defense is offense.

That is why, as the street demonstrates against Darfuris and other immigrant workers, the Israeli government hammers away at the danger posed by Iran.  It’s a two-pronged effort to deny the tides of history.

 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Corrections Regarding Iran

From Neill LeRoux, on my Facebook page:

"Besides the RQ 170, Iran has two other US Spy Drones in its possession as well as 4 Israeli Spy Drones... thats quite some collection.

Its also an indication of just how aggressively the US and Israel have been spying on Iran.

Iran complies with all inspection demands made on her by the nuclear inspection body. On average there are 2.5 inspections carried out each and every day.
The greatest threat posed by Iran to Israel and the US is not nuclear... its economic.

Iran has an advanced defence industry. It manufactures most of its own missile systems. It even exports weapons. Its Electronics industry is equally advanced producing its own semi-conductors and components needed for computers, communications etc. It is the worlds fourth largest oil producer and OPEC's second. It possesses competent and accomplished ship-repair and ship building facilities. It is earmarked to become Asia's largest auto manufacturer in the near future.

One should never lose sight of the fact that it is largely self sufficient and possesses vast resources. It is also friends with both Russia and China. It also doesn't waste money attacking other countries all the time..."

The story of her weapons drive is a hoax.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Huntsman/Gingrich Debate

There’s something that has escaped me regarding the Republican presidential debates: perhaps they are carried routinely by Fox, but none of the other channels mention when and where they can be heard.

This was doubly irritating yesterday when I really wanted to listen to the Huntsman/Gingrich debate.  I started consulting my TV Guide around 5 p.m. concentrating on the 8 pm hour.  Nothing.

Finally I went to Huntsman’s website and saw that the debate had been held at 4 pm and that it would be viewable on C-Span at 8 pm.  But C-Span was showing hour-long House speeches til well after ten.  Finally, on the C-Span website, I was able to hear the debate.

Huntsman’s responses were much more structured, reflecting real knowledge, as opposed to Gingrich, who always seemed to be improvising generalities.  The most important things Huntsman said concerned our relationship with China. Although I don’t think we should elect someone president just because they’ve been Ambassador to the Middle Kingdom, Huntsman’s views are significantly more evolved than those of Obama. At a time when China is our main competitor economically and ecologically, the President has adopted a nineteenth century policy, consisting of beefing up our presence in China’s neighborhood.  (This reminds us of our efforts to install missile defenses to ‘protect Europe’, close to a justifiably wary Russia.) Huntsman’s most salient comment was: “We’re good at tactical thinking, but China is the best long-term strategic thinker.”

Naively, I thought the debate would be all over the morning news.  Chuck Todd’s team were only concerned with the Romney/Gingrich battle.

Maybe tonight we’ll hear about Gingrich and Huntsman, who could almost have been a stand-in for the former Obama, were it not for his insistence that Medicare should be on the table. I don’t know whether he packed the hall, but the applause when he walked out on the stage was twice the volume of that reserved for Newt.

In an article for the Wall Street Journal on December 10th /online.wsj.com/article/declarations.html, Peggy Noonan says that Gingrich “ described himself as "definer of civilization . . . leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces,."  She added: “He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, "Watch this!"

Just what we need in the China Sea.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Russians Join the Movement

A week of massive demonstrations protesting rigged parliamentary elections failed to suggest to any journalist I heard or read that Vladimir Putin’s hold on Russia may be weakening. Finally, the BBC dares to speculate that he may not be elected President next spring.

How could anyone have thought Russian politics would continue as usual when that usually docile population is out in the streets by the thousands every day, risking police brutality?

The man Putin put in his place when his first two terms as president ran out, Dmitry Medvedev, has ordered an inquiry.  However much he may have ruled in Putin’s shadow, Medvedev is as different from his mentor as could be. Born into a family of academics, Medvedev taught law at St. Petersburg University before becoming involved in politics.  I happen to have attended a small conference in Strasbourg in which a young man from St Petersburg who was working closely with the innovative mayor, Anatoly Sobchak was remarked for his shyness.

The next few months are likely to see a battle for power between the academic and the KGB head. Most of that battle will not be in the news, especially in the United States. Yet it will be a pendant to the American Presidential election, which will also pit a law professor against, probably, a hawk, at a time when the 99% are coalescing around the world.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Huntsman, Again

On May 21 I published a blog titled  ‘My Bet is On Huntsman’:

“On February 19th, 2007, I wrote in this space that ‘Obama would ‘continue a graceful yet powerful surge to the White House’.

Today I predict that barring an Act of God, John Huntsman, the only candidate that Obama rightly fears, will represent the Republican party in the 2012 presidential election.

Huntsman made his debut on mainstream TV yesterday from a New Hampshire living room, chatting with John King.  It was a relaxed, yet extensive introduction to the man who until a month ago was President Obama’s Ambassador to China.

Last night on Rachel Maddow’s show this ‘also Mormon’ ex-governor of Utah got plaudits from the progressive Democratic ex-mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson......A Huntsman/Obama debate, more than any other today conceivable, will be worth watching.

The only opposition candidate who is an intellectual match for Obama, Huntsman will appeal to those who have given up on the President’s ability to bring change, hoping that this sophisticated Republican will tame his greedy fellows.

Unless the Chinese disavow him, his insider’s view of the country that is overtaking us will be valuable to the business community. Yet he is perfectly credible in shirt-sleeves.

Huntsman will be dubbed a ‘Rockefeller Republican’ by the pundits. A Nation reader wrote this week that Republicans used to believe in government, convinced they could manage it better than Democrats. The 2012 election will not be over who can manage government better, but how much of it there should be.  And Huntsman will argue that there is too much of it in China.”

On June 5th I wrote “The Unwrapping of Huntsman”, and on August 23, in a show of great creativity, I followed with “The Unveiling of Huntsman”:

"The face to face with Piers Morgan ”revealed him to be a white version of Obama, matching him in intelligence and balance, yet jocular where Obama is pondered, feisty compared to no-drama-Obama.

At this point in time, I’d wager that the Republican grownups are a little less distraught, while Obama must be wondering whether it was clever of him to send Huntsman to China - no wild goose chase, it turns out.”

Today I’m wondering whether Huntsman has been kept in the shadows, interviewed once in a while by a major news personality - today, by Christiane Amanpour - by Republican Party design, or a semi-conscious awareness that every other candidate was a loser?  Even at this late date, I would not rule out an upset.

Tomorrow Huntsman will engage in a ‘Lincoln-Douglas’ type of debate, intended to allow for extended answers, with frontrunner Newt Gingrich.  The famous Lincoln/Douglas debate is described at length and compared to contemporary debates at www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16054669.

Huntsman says he has managed to climb above 5% in New Hampshire, which will hold the first primary election of the 2012 Presidential campaign on January 10th.

As an early and consistent Obama supporter, I can think of several reasons why the President has not been able to carry out his promise of change. Though I cannot imagine voting for a Republican, at this axial moment in world history, it may be that he could achieve with a Republican Congress what Nixon achieved by reinstating relations with China, which Democratic Presidents had not dared to do.

On the other hand, I do not really believe that any country will be conducting business as usual, two years after the Arab Spring, already a worldwide revolt of the few against the many.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Political Use of the Three Ring Circus

Every morning when I wake up and turn on the TV while making breakfast, I have the same reaction: why is the news all about which presidential candidate said or did what,  and what are his chances of being the candidate to face Obama, and what does so and so think about it, and what is the White House doing about it?

Finally, this morning I got one of those alpha moments as I was waking up: we’re witnessing the political harnessing of the three ring circus!

If I remember correctly, in your standard circus, there is usually one ring where the main attractions are featured, while the other two are there to fill the space. (My readers, ever ready to pounce on the slightest erroneous detail, will forgive me if my circus facts are totally wrong: I’m taking ‘poetic license’ today, for the cause.)

With respect to the news, what we have is a very good imitation of a three ring circus: Keep the audience’s attention focused on the main ring, no matter what happens in the other two.

In the two side rings the Climate Conference in Durban (South Africa) gears up, even as BP lures winter vacationers to the Gulf Coast which it trashed a few years ago; Iranian students sack the British Embassy in Teheran; NATO quibbles with Pakistan over whose first shot resulted in 24 Pakistani military deaths; Russia approves the Arab Leagues sanctions against Syria, and Northern Israel is shelled from Lebanon.

I’m reminded that in recent days someone, I think it was Chris Matthews, replayed a 2007 Democracy Now interview of  retired General Wesley Clarke in which he describes how, ten days after 9/11, a Pentagon officer informed him of plans to achieve regime change in no fewer than seven Middle Eastern countries.

Yet in the main circus ring, the news is all about Herman Cain’s love life.

 

Occupation or Revolution?

Here is a recent quote from the Occupy movement:

“The Occupy movement is born of the simple belief that humanity could meet our common needs if not for the predation and greed of the very few.”

That is a left-wing credo no matter how you slice it.

Now two quotes from Ted Rall’s new book, not very cleverly titled The Anti-American Manifesto:

“The story of the United States of America as we know it - not merely as the world’s dominant superpower, but as a discrete political, economic, and geographic entity - is drawing to a close, due to a convergence of emerging economic, environmental and political crises ...Nothing lasts forever, empires least of all. There’s going to be an intense, violent, probably haphazard struggle for control.  It’s going to come down to us versus them.”

As the Occupy movement continues to spread throughout the country, pundits continue to ask when it will make specific demands, or put forth a program. If Ted Rall is right, the situation is beyond repair by demands, or even a change of program. If the Occupy movement decides to get behind any presidential candidate, the logical choice would be Green Party candidate, Jill Stein. But there is a consensus among Occupiers and others that elections will be useless, at least until the Constitution is amended (for which there is a call: http://movetoamend.org/).

The independent third party that does not want to be a party, Americans Elect apparently thinks the right person in the White House will solve all our problems. It has adopted the method used in Iceland to nominate and vote for candidates on-line. But that does not make it a left-wing operation. Its CEO, Elliot Ackerman admits: “A lot of the folks that engage with us are socially liberal and fiscally conservative.”  In a word, libertarians.

Honor goes to the Occupy movement for being peaceable, while groups that are likely to be attracted to Americans Elect have been practicing military skills for years in the woods. As Occupiers take pepper spray and tear gas sitting down, a tight-knit right-wing/libertarian community flocks to gun shows and exchanges ideas for taking on the government.

Personally, I agree with Rall that violence is inevitable: his historical and political ducks are lined up perfectly. But he contradicts himself when he suggests toward the end of his book that the enemies of our enemies should be our friends, and therefore that the left should enter into a temporary alliance with the right that knows how to shoot.

In defense of this idea he refers to the French partisan groups that helped end the Nazi occupation of their country.  Some were Catholic and right-wing, others were Catholic and left-wing, still others were Communists or Socialists. They cooperated to oust the Germans, knowing they would thrash out their differences afterward. Like other European countries, the French are still doing that, which is why they have been governed alternately by the left and the right, with the social benefits gained by a powerful left never in question.

Alas, we are not a European country benefitting from a socialist tradition that has endured since the French Revolution.  As Rall points out, the statement in the 1776 Declaration of Independence giving us the right, and even the duty, to overthrow an unsatisfactory government, was quickly counter-manded by the four Aliens and Seditions Acts, that authorized deportation of anyone advocating the overthrow of the government, by the way, forever linking foreigners with sedition.  Our government by and for the people lasted only twenty-two years, the last of act being passed by 1798.

Dylan Ratigan interviewed Rall on November 9th, www.youtube.com/watch?v=namL_pIqsVo, with his friendly way of navigating the unimaginable. The negative comments to the transcript were all from the woodsmen. Neither the Occupiers nor the left’s high priests had anything to say.

Yet Rall’s book draws a blueprint for action: the formation by anyone and everyone of small action cells consisting of people that can fully trust each other. As India’s Adivasi discovered when they refused to leave their mineral rich forest, confrontation with a well-funded, trained military, non-violence rarely works. The Adivasi need the support of the Maoists to stay in their homes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Oakland, Zucotti, Adivasi, Same Story

I was just formulating a comment to the raid on the Oakland protesters, helicopters and all, when a raid on Zucotti park in New York was reported.

Few readers may remember that in 2002, President Bush quashed a proposal by Vice President Cheney to use U.S. troops to arrest the Lackawanna Six, accused of being terrorists.

Now, the Fourth Amendment bans “unreasonable” searches and seizures without probable cause. And the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement capacity.

In the Lackawanna discussions, the Cheney camp cited an Oct. 23, 2001 memorandum from the Justice Department affirming that domestic use of the military against Al Qaeda would be legal because it served a national security rather than a law enforcement purpose.

The memorandum, declassified in March, was written by John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in response to a question by then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales about the president’s authority to use the military to combat terrorist activities in the United States, was.  It affirmed that:  “The president has ample constitutional and statutory authority to deploy the military against international or foreign terrorists operating within the United States.”.

News reports of the Oakland evacuation www.nydailynews.com/news/national/occupy-oakland-camp-cleared-police-roughly-20-arrests-made-pre-dawn-raid-article-1.977229?localLinksEnabled=false signal police helicopters flying overhead as police moved in to evacuate the protest site.

You don’t have to be paranoid to imagine the day when U.S. army helicopters will be called in to quell riots set off by bank closings, layoffs or unmanageable weather events.  It’s already happening in what is called ‘the biggest democracy in the world’.

The Indian writer Arundati Roy, appeared yesterday on Democracy Now. According to Wikipedia, India is characterized as a ‘sovereign socialist secular democratic republic”, and its ruling party, the INC, is described as ‘center left’.  But those labels have not protected it from the ravages of the world financial system.

Roy’s soft voice is the first one I hear lamenting that other countries aspire to the American model. (It didn’t just happen to India, but to Iceland and most of Europe, and their peoples know the Euro crisis stems from that fatal attraction.)

In 2005 the Indian government signed Memorandums of Understanding to allow international mining companies to harvest the minerals from the country’s Central Forest. Then it set up Operation Green Hunt, in which two hundred thousand heavily armed troops pushed 350 thousand Adivasi (traditional forest dwellers) out of 600 villages, forcing them into camps.

In her new book, "Walking with the Comrades," Arundati Roy describes her time among the Adivasi, who are supported by Maoist guerillas, each group borrowing from the other. For Roy, the forest in Central India and New York’s Zucotti Park “in the heart of Empire”, are connected, and OW needs to formulate “some kind of vision to replace this particular model in which a small group of people have unlimited power and wealth.”

In order for social democratic governments around the world to be spared the siren calls of Wall Street, America must work its way to a social democratic system, the only one that can meet the just demands of the 99%. Failing that, there will eventually be Maoists in the Central Plains, and army helicopters over our cities, to rein in domestic 'terrorists'.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bacevich on the End of American Dominance and Cockburn on the OM

Ever since reading his book ‘Washington Rules’ I have admired Andrew Bacevich. Today he publishes in Tom Dispatch and Alternet a piece that establishes new rules for American political commentators. They need no longer sidestep the real issue: that of ideology.

Bacevich’s main points are:

- “Ours has long been a political system based on expectations of ever-increasing material abundance, promising more for everyone. Confronted with evidence of a radically changing environment, those holding (or aspiring to) positions of influence simply turn a blind eye, refusing even to begin to adjust to a new reality.

- “We can neither liberate nor dominate nor tame the Islamic world.

US policy in the Middle East has been “to keep a lid on, exclude mischief-makers, and at the same time extract from the Middle East whatever it had on offer.  The preferred American MO was to align with authoritarian regimes, offering arms, security guarantees, and other blandishments in return for promises of behavior consistent with Washington’s preferences.  Concern for the wellbeing of peoples living in the region (Israelis excepted) never figured as more than an afterthought.

Taking Bacevich’s arguments one step further, in a Nation piece on the Occupy Movement: The International Battlefield, from Athens to Oakland”, Alexander Cockburn actually dares to quote Lenin: “There is never a final collapse of capitalism unless there is an alternative.”

Many will be quick to assume that Cockburn is siding with his fence-sitting colleagues.  In fact, instead of focusing on its lack of specific demands, he says: “The strength of the occupy movement lies in the simplicity and truth of its basic message: the few are rich the many are poor.  In terms of its pretensions, the capitalist system has failed.”

Now that two prominent writers have confirmed the conclusions of lesser contributors to the debate, hopefully the worldwide movement of the many can achieve what Lenin’s call: ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ could not: the end of a system that he observed in its childhood, before Freud, Jung, Maslow, Eric Berne and insider trading.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

LOL: The Bear Exited Front, but the Dragon Entered Rear

The Cuban Missile Crisis will go down in history as the time when the Third World War was almost started.  It happened in October, 1962.  President John F. Kennedy feared the Nikita Khruschev had placed Soviet missiles in Cuba to threaten the U.S.  After days of a tense stand-off, the missiles were removed, essentially putting paid to the claim that Cuba constituted a threat to the U.S.

In 1991, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Bear exited the island that stands ninety miles off the tip of Florida.

Now, fifty years later, we learn from today’s BBC.com report, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-1565524, that the Chinese Dragon had been ramping up its presence in Cuba for several years. Five hundred Cuban students are now learning Mandarin at the Confucius Institute of the University of Havana.

China is Cuba’s second largest trading partner after Venezuela, and is participating in preparations to exploit Cuba’s off-shore oil fields.

Whether it fears the bear or the dragon, the eagle has been shooting itself in the foot for more than half a century.

 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is the Cradle of Civilization Broken - or Is Civilization?

I don’t know if it’s still being taught in K-12, but I learned that ancient Greece was the cradle of Western Civilization - you know, the Parthenon, the original Democracy 101.

The Golden Age of Greek culture, known as Classical Greece, occured five hundred years before the birth of Christ.  The death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period, which ended with the annexation of Greece by Rome in 146 BC.

Greek culture conquered Rome, but the importance of "Greece proper" (that is, the territory of modern Greece) declined sharply. The great centers of Hellenistic culture were now Alexandria and Antioch, capitals of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria, their influence reaching as far as Afghanistan until the advent of Christianity

Roman rule marked the end of Greek political independence for centuries. After that came the Greek Byzantine Empire, which in turn was conquered by the Ottoman Turks whose rule lasted to the early nineteenth century. (Turkey ruled over all of Eastern Europe for 500 years, creating the economic lag that many in the West thought was the result of Postwar Soviet rule.)

Following the Ottoman defeat, Greece had several interim governments, until the Kingdom of Greece was founded in 1832. It lasted until 1924, when it gave way to the second Hellenic Republic. Republican Greece was largely dominated by the revolutionary and statesman George Venizelos, known as the father of modern Greece.  After several premierships and revolts, he was exiled in 1935, and Greece again became a Kingdom.

When the Second World War broke out, the Greek King was allied with the Germans. As in many European countries, it was the Communist Party that organized the resistance, first against the Germans, then the Italians. The world war was succeeded by a civil war in Greece, as progressives fought for a republic, with the Communist Party remaining legal until 1948. With British—and later the US - help, the monarchy won the day. The Marshall Plan, enabled Greece to begin to develop. But in 1967 a military junta took power in a coup, ruling Greece until 1974.

From 1974 until the present, power has alternated between conservatives and socialists. Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and adopted the Euro in 2001. New infrastructure, funds from the EU, and growing revenues from tourism, shipping, and light industry brought Greeks an unprecedented standard of living.

During that period, left and right alternated in power.  But from 2004 to 2009, as the international financial crisis was building, Greece was led by the conservatives. The socialist George Papandreou took over a country deeply in trouble, and as in many countries across the globe, has not been able to satisfy both his people and international finance.

Whether or not the Greek crisis further imperils the Euro by spreading to Italy - a much larger economy - it marks the end of the civilization to which it gave birth.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Greece Tries to Grab the Torch of Freedom from Iceland



On October 27th a grand conference was held in Reykjavik complete with representatives of the IMF, the government and the financial sector, to congratulate themselves on the deeds that squelched Iceland’s revolution.

Here is the text of a letter signed by twenty-two activists from all walks of life on behalf of the general public and sent to the foreign participants before the conference, to point out the discrepancies between the government’s claims and reality.  They also lit red warning flares in front of the building where the conference was to take place.

 

“The present state of Iceland's economy is clearly much different from that envisaged at the beginning of the IMF program for economic stabilization and reconstruction in the fourth quarter of 2008. Foreign debt at  the end of 2010 was almost double the target level under the program, while public sector debt, unemployment and inflation were all significantly higher than projected.

Before the Icelandic banking crisis in 2008, the debt of the state treasury was 26% of GDP. According to official numbers the debt has risen to 111% of GDP, but the gross national debt is officially placed at 280% of GDP. Net treasury balance has deteriorated by 140 billion Kroner or 26% of GDP between the second quarter of 2010 and the second quarter of 2011. We estimate that since the banking crisis started, Iceland has borrowed up to around 100% of GDP.  This does not include substantial foreign exchange reserve loans provided under the IMF program. Interest payments on government debt now stand at 20% of government revenue.

Municipalities

At the end of 2010, municipal liabilities were up to 586 billion Kroner. By excluding the Reykjav√≠k Energy company‘s public guarantees of close to 300 billion Kroner and 47 billion of unfunded public pension liabilities, gross municipal debt remains at approx. 310 billion. This is equivalent to 20 % of GDP or 154% of municipal revenue.

Financial system

The cost of resurrecting the Icelandic banking system in late 2008 has been estimated at 64% of GDP, a world record. Domes-tic assets, mostly loans to productive Icelandic companies and individuals, were transferred to the new banks at 45-65% of their value. Yet bank customers are still being charged for full repayment to a failed credit regime, resulting in massive bankruptcies, foreclosures, asset stripping and job losses.

The public

At this moment at least 20% of Icelandic families are unable to repay their loans in full, and around 40% are in devastating circumstances. Only 10% of all homes are able to meet the repayments on their alleged liabilities.

Personal income after taxes has been down 27.4% for the past 3 years while prices have risen 40%, resulting in sharply reduced consumption and demand. Increasing numbers of Icelanders are eligible for food handouts although public figures are hard to come by and not necessarily accurate. Breadlines are longer and municipal welfare expenses have risen by 62% since the start of the banking crisis.

According to last year‘s tax returns, private property and real estate values have gone down while debt has gone up for Icelandic homeowners. Families in positive equity are 8.1% fewer, while the number of families in negative equity has increased by 12.1% since the preceding year.


    1. Officially, unemployment is now 6.7%, an optimistic number, since many have signed up as students in order to get student loans rather than unemployment benefits. Close to 5,600 people, almost 2% of the population, or more than one family every day have left the country to seek work and a better quality of life elsewhere. A considerable number are without benefits and therefore counted. From public reports in 2010, the jobs lost can be estimated closer to 22,500 or a 8.2%.



Conclusion

The main reason for the Icelandic financial crisis was a grossly oversized banking sector. The public finds it odd that the government should be enthusiastically attempting to rebuild a failed system instead of promoting growth in the real economy. While the burden of the systemic banking catastrophe has been imposed primarily on the common people, instead of mandating general debt relief, the government is allowing the banks to decide on a case by case basis basis, how individual problems are handled. This approach is designed to maximize repayment rather than providing any semblance of compensation for the widespread embezzlement of citizens.

 

These policies have fueled inequality. People are outraged that high-level executives and owners of failed businesses are receiving massive debt write-offs while keeping ill-gotten profits,  and continuing their operations while the public takes the consequences. Elected representatives defending the interests of the financial sector at the expense of the public, have become a real threat to social stability in Iceland.

 

The financial elite has transferred its exposures and liabilities to the public balance sheet just as they have in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and elsewhere The primary victims of the financial crisis have been democracy and the rule of law.”

 

One of my Icelandic correspondents put the situation more succinctly: “Social benefits are unchanged in kronas, but due to inflation, higher taxes and other outside influences, purchasing power has dropped around 40% - the government calls that preservation!”

 

Two progressive American economists, Joseph Stieglitz and Paul Krugman, spoke at the conference, and both, more or less directly, criticized the austerity measures imposed on the people of Iceland, who had nothing to do with the 2008 crash.

 

While the self-congratulatory ritual was taking place in Reykyavik, meanwhile, the people of Athens were picking up the torch of rebellion. Unlike the Europeans, who understandably want to preserve the Euro, their common currency, the people of Iceland think the Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, did the right thing by inviting his countrymen to vote on the ‘rescue’ package being offered them. One Icelandic blogger noted with glee that this is the first time a population is invited to vote on the common currency. If it is defeated, it is understood that Greece would have to leave the Euro, endangering the entire financial system.

This situation constitutes a major world crisis, and the underlying reason for it is that whether in the tundra or by a warm blue sea, the people are demanding to rule.

 

Nov. 4th - Greece is being taken in hand, too.

 

 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jeffrey Sachs Lets Cat Out of Bag

Finally!

World-renknowned economist Jeffrey Sachs who, among other things, administered shock treatment to one of the Eastern European countries after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, has now come to realize that this is not the right path. He supports the OWS movement.

On Fareed Zakaria's GPS today he stated clearly that countries need a mixed economy, a collaboration between government and business.  He duked it out calmly but convincingly with British conservative economist Niall Ferguson, a leading proponent of the argument that the 1% create jobs, and a regular on GPS.

I have been waiting for a long time for someone authoritative to come out of the closet on this, and Sachs made my day.  He stated that other developed countries, including those in Europe, having significantly higher tax rates than the U.S., which allows their governments to invest in infrastructure, education, health, and housing.

Having lived in half a dozen European countries (on both sides of the then Iron Curtain) I have been trying to get this message across to my compatriots.  But who am I?

Here is an excerpt from Sach's bio as it appears on the home page of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, www.earth.columbia.edu/articles/view/1770:

"Jeffrey D. Sachs is the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is also Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. From 2002 to 2006, he was Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed goals to reduce extreme poverty, disease, and hunger by the year 2015. Sachs is also President and Co-Founder of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization aimed at ending extreme global poverty.

Professor Sachs is widely considered to be the leading international economic advisor of his generation.  For more than 20 years Professor Sachs has been in the forefront of the challenges of economic development, poverty alleviation, and enlightened globalization, promoting policies to help all parts of the world to benefit from expanding economic opportunities and wellbeing.  He is also one of the leading voices for combining economic development with environmental sustainability, and as Director of the Earth Institute leads large-scale efforts to promote the mitigation of human-induced climate change."

Ironically, Zakaria chose to end his program with the news that Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was reelected by a landslide, after continuing her dead husband's social democratic economic policies.  The Nestor de Kirchner brought the party that grew out of the Peronist movement into the Socialist International.

Under the two Kirchners, Argentina went in ten years from a failed economy to 9% annual growth.  Zakaria felt obliged to close on a familiar note of warning: inflation is creeping up in Argentina, and soon it will be time for a reckoning.

I am not an economist, but I would bet that economists like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman would tell Zakaria that it is possible to tinker with the system to prevent inflation from getting out of control.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yes We Can Has Become No You Can't

Got a lot of flack on Daily Kos for this post this afternoon, but tonight's news includes everything in my 'kitchen sink' piece, which follows:

Even those who campaigned most fervently for Barack Obama in 2008 are beginning to realize that, for whatever reasons, he has failed them. Yes You Can Has Become No You Can’t.

As the few begin to realize the breadth and depth of the disaster they have created ,established standards for police behavior are jettisoned, leading to violence against the many.

I was out of the country during the Viet Nam War, but the campus violence reported then will have been as nothing compared to what is coming. At that time, ‘the people’ were saying to power ‘No you can’t make war in a faraway land for spurious reasons’ (the so-called Communist threat).  Now power is saying to the people ‘No, you can’t prevent us from taking all the marbles’.

The spotlight shines mainly on financial crimes, but the Tea Party is relentlessly at work at the state level. Melissa Harris Perry reported this morning on MSNBC that Mississippi wants to amend its Bill of Rights to define a fertilized egg as a human being.  (The irony is that meanwhile we continue to fight Muslims because women are second-class citizens.)

How did this come about? In the sixties, counter-culture ideology was limited to ‘make love, not war’.  The middle class went on living as before, many better than before as the postwar economic miracle kept giving. But the cult of economic growth led to working class poverty. Today we are fighting a nine year old war in Afghanistan, and only winding up in Iraq to make troops and materiel available for other interventions, as we scrounge for the last barrels of oil that keep our economy going for the few.

Heavily influenced by Buddhism, instead of socialism, the 60s ideology failed to reject the capitalist ideology and tuned out the message of the “Limits to Growth”. Today’s 99 are against war, and are finally beginning to realize that only a mixed economy can provide greater equity.  But they too are failing to connect the dots: capitalist-driven greed is rendering the planet unfit for human survival, and we are now confront with “The Tragedy of the Commons”.

P.S. Tunisia’s first ever democratic election resulted in Islamists gaining the largest number of votes, with two left of center parties dividing most of the rest. The Arab Spring’s left-wing tradition goes way back, via France.

P.P.S.  Anyone notice various people in the Occupy Movement sporting Palestinian kheffias?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Broken World

On the same day that I read the gut wrenching article in the November Harpers by Ed Vulliamy entitled ‘Broken Britain’ that details how Britain went from relative prosperity to a country falling apart in ways familiar to Americans, I receive a link to a scientific study that identifies the 147 corporations and banks that literally rule the world:

www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228354.500-revealed--the-capitalist-network-that-runs-the-world.html.

As thoughtful people everywhere ask over and over again the question “why are ‘they’ doing this?”, the answer becomes increasingly clear: the earth cannot support the 10 billion people projected for mid or late century, hence those with power have set about seeing to it that increasing numbers become expendable.

Here are two excerpts from Vulliamy’s article:

(Prime Minister) “Cameron spoke of a ‘slow-motion moral collapse’  of the country he used to call, when in opposition ‘broken Britain’.  He insisted on the need to confront ‘the attitudes and assumptions that have brought parts of our society to this shocking state, including irresponsibility, selfishness, behaving as if your choices had no consequences.’

.......

“The ‘moral collapse’, it seems, starts at the top  Yet no one wants to connect the dots - to look at the miasma of treaties, social and political alliances, cycles of back-scratching and mutual convergences that define the British elite.  Britain’s problems are singular: singularly serious, singularly fetid, and singularly vulgar.  The country that packages itself as ‘Cool Britannia’ has become greedy, obsessed with commercialism at the expense of any other value or norm...”

After detailing the disastrous state of formerly state-owned utilities and services, Vulliamy compares them to those of France, Germany and the Netherlands, countries with a healthy respect for government-owned public service entities, and which until recently, harbored an equally healthy mistrust of American style capitalism; none of them has seen the kind of violence that rocks Britain.

Back now to the New Scientist study, as reviewed by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd on Alternet:

“Less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network.... Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JP Morgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group. [...]”

A complex systems expert who has advised Deutsche Bank remarked that it is disconcerting to see how connected things really are.

“For OWS purposes: Merrill Lynch is at number 10, Goldman Sachs at 18, Morgan Stanley at 21, Bank of America at 25. Number one? Barclays, (the British bank) “which currently helps fund Robert Mugabe, among other things.

The scientists in the study were split on whether economic concentration necessarily amounted to political power, but it's certainly a porous distinction in some places.”

Progressive writers need to stop walking back from the evidence.

 

_Join the  Petition to Amend at /movetoamend.org/node/2325?q=motion-amend.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Got It!

Oct, 25th Apologies!  For some strange reason (sic), I sent out the notice about this post, but forgot to post it!

Corporate newscasters like Dylan are not the only ones who demonstrate a lack of ideological literacy. Their ignorance partly accounts of that of the brave and joyous occupiers of Wall Street, who are sounding more and more like the sixties, having recreated a commune in a New York City park.

An excellent article in the new NYR by Michael Greenberg, makes clear the reason why occupiers insist they’re neither right nor left: it’s because they reject both Democrats and Republicans, for being subservient to the corporatocracy. Notwithstanding this stark reality, in the minds of the protesters, the Dems are in their new iteration are still ‘left’ and the Republicans are ‘right’. Hence to be against both is to be ‘neither left nor right’.

They have yet to realize that the Dems are not ‘left’ according to the definition of left in the rest of the world. If they get access to Ideology 101, they will know the difference between Communism, Socialism and Social Democracy For more than fifty years the latter has brought Europe prosperity and peace - until, with Barack Obama’s election it allowed itself to believe that the Democratic Party was once again a Left party (meaning it would succeed in gradually transforming the corporatocracy that hurts so many citizens, into an American version of social democracy). The commonly held belief by the European and American ‘left’ that the Democratic Party was on its side resulted in the blind faith in the American financial system that led to the massive financial crisis that affected mainly us and them.

The Occupiers need to add to their new form of participatory democracy an on-going sketch of a governing system that will allow us to get from growth at all costs, to sustainable no-growth societies. They could add to their reading ‘Ecologica’ by the French essayist Andre Gorz, information about bitcoin, local currencies and the many experiments in self-governance and survival that are out there.

Sign the "Move to Amend Petition"!

Finally, we have a chance to change some of the rules.  Don't let it pass you by.

http://movetoamend.org/motion-to-amend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Will Dylan Ratigan Get Away with It?

The man keeps repeating it, like a mantra:  the Occupy movement is not a left/right issue.  Maybe he needs to read some history that goes further back than Teddy Roosevelt, and includes the other side of the pond.

One begins to suspect that the MSNBC host is being handed a line by the White House.

It wouldn't be the first time, but this time it's particularly galling because Ratigan pretends to be on the side of the 99.

I'd like him to explain to me how the existence of a numerical expression 99/1 can represent anything but class warfare, which by definition pits the left (the 99) against the right (the 1 percenters).  Calling it a top/bottom issue show's his total lack of ideological culture, on par with that of most of his audience.

Will someone with more clout than me call him on this, or is he going to get away with it?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Not a Left/Right Issue, Dylan?

It’s tempting to think that the MSNBC p.m. roster is mostly on the people’s side, but even Dylan Ratigan disappoints.

Today he insisted over and over that the Occupy Movement’s issue with the banks was not a left/right issue. We just need somehow to regulate them and our problems will be solved.

The Occupy Movement would not be a left/right issue IF we had a mixed economy (a part government, part private system). Then we could, as in Europe, call for increased regulation of the banking system and a return to the sanity that prevailed before it caved to the call of the American Siren (see Greek mythology).

Iceland’s was only the most flamboyant crisis, and the countries that by and large avoided the 2008 crash and its aftermath are the fast-developing BRIC countries, which kept their financial systems in check in order to lift huge populations out of dire poverty, even as we pushed more and more of our populations into poverty.

It’s going to take a lot of education to make the public realize that this is class warfare, in other words, a left/right issue.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Iranian Plot

The tale of Iran plotting to have Mexican drug lords kill the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. really does sound ridiculous.

I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that this was a Mossad sting.  Israel is not about to give up on its campaign to have Iran eliminated.  Never mind its more immediate problems.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Impossible Dreams of Tea Partiers and Occupiers

Today Fareed Zakaria interviewed various ‘experts’ on how to get America back on its feet: the diagnosis was severe, but all his guests agreed that if we do the right things, America’s best days are ahead.  (Never mind that, according to Tom Friedman, we are not only behind China, but also Brazil... And never mind that the fault lies as much with the media as with government.)

Sadly, From what I’m reading about New York and witnessing in Philadelphia, the much hoped for movement on the left that could be the counterpart to the Tea Party, shows the same lack of ideological literacy. Both want to ‘take back America’, one focusing on bootstraps, the other on cumbaya. The Tea Party thinks we can return to the early days of the country, when almost anyone could get rich if he were shrewd. The Occupy Wall Street and Move to Amend (the Constitution) movements model their demands on the Declaration of Independence, emphasizing the right of the people to be heard, but failing to mention the right to overthrow a government that doesn’t hear them.

With different emphases, both movements are about preserving a three hundred year old ‘liberal’ system.  The Tea Party sees solidarity as individual subordination to ‘the state’, urging competition and personal responsibility; the Occupiers also decry behemoth government, but  rather than calling for states ‘rights’ they favor decentralization, local power and cooperation. Both are out of synch with the rest of the world, which, starting more than a century ago, has tended to replace ‘liberalism’ with various forms of social democracy, based on cooperation and solidarity.

Pundits harp on the shortcomings of our system of education: not enough math and science (never mind that reading is at an abysmal level). Never do they mention the social sciences, the history, geography and economics of various governing systems. A pretty teenager at the occupation of Philadelphia’s City Hall held a sign that read: “Let’s Remain Focused and Not be Like The Tea Party”. I could not convince her that what made the Tea Party dangerous was precisely its ability to focus.

The suggested amendments to the Constitution and the list of grievances of the Occupy movement constitute a good start.  But to think that the present economic system can be reformed is as much a misconception as the one that led to Mikhail Gorbachev’s downfall. Believing the Soviet system could be reformed, he was ousted by Boris Yeltsin, who understood that it wasn’t meeting the needs of the people. But central planning was replaced in Russia and Eastern Europe by the American free market system instead of the social democratic systems that had brought prosperity to Northern and Western Europe, making them vulnerable when the financial bubble burst.

Unless the occupy movement accepts that it is indeed engaged in a mighty class war, it will be co-opted. Here’s an excerpt from Van Jones’ ‘Take Back the American Dream’ Conference of October 4th:

“A coalition of liberal organizations are planning to push for a liberal agenda and recruit progressive politicians at every level of government — with or without President Obama.

Taking hold of the momentum generated by the “Occupy Wall Street” protests occurring across the country, the liberal leaders have drafted plans to implement what they call an “American Autumn” — a realignment of American politics inspired by the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East dubbed the “Arab Spring.”

Really? Do Robert Reich and Jan Schakowsky think we can solve our problems by bringing together various shades of liberalism, as opposed to the ‘messy’ mix of liberals, communists, socialists, sunnis, shi’as, salafists, copts and others who together are trying to overthrow their authoritarian/liberal regimes?

Thanks partly to the failure of our mainstream media to inform and enlighten, most of the participants in our protest movements do not know that even when the European right governs, it cannot eliminate the gains made by working people in the last century. The demonstrations in Europe are presented as betrayals of the liberal cause, requiring IMF style austerity measures. But Europe’s financial crisis follows on the siren’s call of deregulation in a script written by the United States. Our ‘occupy’ movement should emulate the people of Europe, by affirming the superiority of cooperation over competition and solidarity over profit. After all, even liberalism’s star performer Tom Friedman touts a public/private system, only he doesn’t call it social democracy - yet.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy New York Declaration

Whenever the mainstream media deigns to mention the Occupy Wall St movement that has been going on for more than three weeks now, its one comment is that there are no demands.  When I went to look up the demands, I happened onto this declaration, which suggests that the demands are not negligable.  I reproduce it here in its entirety.  Comment tomorrow.

TRANSLATIONS: FRENCHSLOVAK (why Slovakia?  Because Slavoj Zizek!), SPANISHGERMANITALIAN




As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why France isn't Really in the News

As the United States continues to harp on the danger of a Eurozone collapse, I thought it would be interesting to read one of Europe’s foremost newspapers, France’s Le Monde. (Alas, I do not master German.)

On the day Fareed Zakaria was treating ‘the most powerful man in Europe’, Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, as if he were a wayward student, Le Monde published an article on the Eurozone crisis.  Here is an adaptation:

Usually, the world’s grandees focus on the succession of crises in the emerging economies of Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.  This time, and for the second time, the epicenter of the crisis is in the West.

All the talks make the same point: if true international cooperation and coordination fails to come about, we risk a crisis whose breadth and depth are beyond reckoning. This time, even if the debt problems of America, the Middle East or Japan are real, the sick man is rich, opulent Western Europe. To varying degrees, certain European countries have borrowed more than was reasonable. Faced with the Western world’s economic lethargy, they cannot count on growth to ensure payments on their debt.

For several days, declarations from the biggest emerging countries leave little doubt as to how they see the situation.  Rightly, they consider that Europe has the means to solve its problems without international help, and that the remedies the West has already imposed should have been adopted in Greece. They will not come to the rescue.

Nor should Europe expect any significant help from the IMF.  Madame Lagarde continues to issue dramatic warnings, and the prevailing sentiment at the meeting was well expressed by the Financial Times: “There is no more time to solve the Eurozone’s problems and avoid a world recession.” Europe is in crisis and it’s up to the Europeans to act.  No one will step up to the plate, aside from one-off gestures here and there.  But the agreement between the G20, the IMF and the European Union is more like a declaration of intent rather than a real commitment.

All agree on the need for concerted action, starting with the urgent creation of a crisis center. Europe’s institutions, fragmented and complex, deliver a cacophony of incoherent messages that create skepticism abroad about Europe’s ability to manage its crisis.  The Governor of the the Bank of Brazil offered three crucial lessons in crisis remediation:
> The more a country waits, the more it costs.
> it must have a credible plan
> To be credible, its leaders should refer only to firm decisions.

Many governments are surprised at the lack of action with respect to a problem that is, after all, relatively limited: that of Greece.  Several larger countries have experienced similar problems, even to the point of defaulting, for example Argentina which survived ten years of misery.

Wolfgang Schauble, the German Finance Minister, presented an outline for reform of the International Financial Institute which has the advantage of clarity and coherence. It also calls for fiscal coordination, which he rightly believes to be the indispensable complement to monetary union.  Europe has painfully realized the need to deepen the Eurozone via political institutions and structures capable of managing that coordination.

There was unanimous agreement with former president of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volker, who stated that Europe must now give itself an institution that will oversee and if necessary, intervene in the budgets of the Eurozone countries. Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the European Central Bank, agreed.”

Not surprisingly, this Washington-inspired common front drew sharp reactions from Le Monde’s readers.  (It is interesting for me to note that since I left France in 2000, the readership of this daily, considered to be one of the most serious papers in Europe, now includes people who cannot write French correctly. Never mind, education is a worldwide problem.)  Here are some of the comments posted on Le Monde’s site:

“The fuse is lit and Wall Street, the City and Switzerland are in trouble:
Almost 10 billion of the 15 billion ghost assets have evaporated.  The rest (and probably a lot more) will evaporate during the fourth quarter of this year, which will see the ‘implosive fusion’ of world financial assets. The main reactors will be Wall St and the City.  As foreseen by the European Laboratory of Political Anticipation (LEAP), the solutions to the problem of Euroland countries’ debts will lead to the formation of a critical mass, after which control will be impossible.  But most of the fuel that will feed the reaction and turn it into a real planetary shock is in the United States.  Since July 2011 the process has barely begun. The worst is still to come - and soon.

But let’s turn to Greece’s third crisis: Every time Washington and London have serious problems, Greece is brought to center stage. This summer was catastrophic for the United States. Now in recession, having seen its credit rating downgraded (something the experts considered impossible only six months ago), and with the paralysis of its political system exposed for all the world to see, it is incapable of taking even token measures to reduce its deficit.  At the same time, Great Britain slips deeper into a depression: austerity measures that fail to affect the budget deficit, provoke violent riots, plunging the country into the worst social crisis it has ever seen. As ever widening collusion with Rupert Murdoch is exposed, the coalition government no longer knows why it governs. The situation was ripe for a new media focus on the Greek crisis, and its logical consequence, the end of the Euro!”

Here is the text of a petition launched on a French website  www.petitions24.net/pour_labandon_de_la_dette_et_la_nationalisation_des_banques) calling for French banks to be nationalized:

‘We are well aware that our countries’ debts poison Europe. (The U.S. has the same problem, as do the developing countries. Many countries are on the brink of implosion; Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and now Italy, to mention only the most visible.)  We do not pay enough attention to the social movements this situation provokes, and which also are starting in France, one of the countries that could become bankrupt.

Until 1973, during a period known as the ‘Glorious Thirty’, much of Europe developed at an unprecedented rate.  Countries were able to manage their budgets indepen-dently, by requesting their central banks to print money when necessary. Then President Pompidou decided that European countries should only finance their debt by borrowing from private banks. http://www.notre-ecole.net/...

His finance minister, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, pushed through the January 3, 1973 law whose Article 15 specified: ‘The public treasury may not present its assets to the Banque de France’, meaning that the national bank could not directly finance the State. This law was confirmed by Article 104 of the Maastricht Treaty - which then became Article 123 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The Eurozone is unique in having this prohibition engraved in the stone of a treaty.  It means that its members are forced to borrow on the financial markets, with interest, for needs not covered by other sources of revenue. Yet countries like the US, Great Britain or Japan do not hesitate to borrow from their central banks when their economic needs require it. In France, banks can borrow at 1% from the European Central Bank and lend to the United States at 3, 5, 7% or more. (Andre-Jacques Holbecq).

This decision threw a spanner in the works.  With higher interest rates added to the debt, countries could no longer repay their loans quickly enough to avoid additional interest - a vicious circle generated by composite interest: more loans must be taken out in order to pay back the original interest, raising the level of debt.

Using France as an example, based on the end of 2009 (the debt has increased since): “The yearly increase in the pubic debt from 1980 to 2009 corresponds approximately to the yearly interest on the debt, which consequently snowballs.  In constant Euros, France’s debt went from 239 billion Euros (21% of GNP at the end of 1999 to 1489 billion Euros (78% of GNP) or an increase of 1250 billion Euros.  During the same period, we paid about 1340 billion Euros in interest to various private lenders - banks and credit firms, pension funds, life insurance companies, etc. (Andre-Jacques Holbecq).

They tried to tell us that this transformation from prosperity to indebtedness was a consequence of the ‘oil’ crisis of 1974, which is actually a legitimate demand since until then we were benefitting from energy resources at ridiculously low prices.   The banks that increased their debt were aided by the states provoked the financial crisis of 2007.

Scapegoats had to be found. Austerity plans succeeded one another, leading to privatizations and the dismantling of public services, as governments try to make their citizens responsible for the deficits they incurred." (Note this language:  What we call the safety net, implying that it is only there for exceptional circumstances, is referred to in a matter of fact way as ‘social services’, which are part of everyone’s life. Also note the repeated use of the words 'just' and 'justice'.)

The recent crisis showed the lack of scruples of the financial sector, which, at the height of the storm, continued to speculate on the misery of the world, in particular on basic foodstuffs, with the poorest countries deprived of the minimum necessary for survival, creating widespread famine.

On behalf of these countries so unjustly treated, we demand reparations by way of debt forgiveness, both vis a vis banks and other governments.
    We must say no to so much injustice, as the citizens of the world are asked to pay the price of errors committed by others.

Private banks must renounce the debts which enabled them to live well all these years. Otherwise our countries will fall like houses of cards, cards rigged from the beginning that leave us no chance of escape.’

 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

GE Superboss Trips over his own Feet

This morning Fareed Zakaria interviewed the CEO of General Electric, tapped by President Obama to help fix the jobs crisis.  For a while Jeffrey Immelt sounded like a reasonable, old school Republican, only to find himself embarrassed by the fact that GE’s customers span the globe - and GE jobs follow.

But his worst moment came at the end (beware long interviews, even if you head one of the biggest companies in the world).  Bragging about his business relations with China, Immelt said he ordered his managers to study China’s Five Years Plans because, unlike legislation that keeps U.S. business uncertain about the future, with China, business knows what to expect. The Chinese Politburo does not have to reckon with an organized opposition, either political or industrial, hence its decisions are implemented.

With the world financial crisis felt mainly in the West, China is also all that stands in the way of a U.S. default, as the BRICs and other developing countries see consistently high growth rates. Referring to the Euro Zone crisis, Immelt warned that Greece was not the biggest problem: “It’s a tiny economy”, he said, “while Italy’s is the seventh largest in the world, and if it goes belly up, the rest of the Euro zone will not be able to save it.” According to Fareed, Christine Lagarde will probably be the last non-Asian head of the IMF.

Before moving on to an inconclusive debate about next Tuesday’s Palestinian request for statehood at the Security Council,  Fareed gave a no-holds barred critique of Obama’s Cuba policy. Our Caribbean nemesis turns out to have one of the biggest undersea reserves of petroleum in the world. Cuba watchers have known exploration was under way, but this probably wasn’t taken seriously by the White House. Otherwise why, just days ago, would Obama have declared that Cuba has not democratized enough to merit a lifting of our embargo? As oil companies from every corner of the globe rush to be part of the action off Cuba’s shores, we can only sit and watch. Worse, if there is an incident like last year’s BP disaster off the coast of Louisiana, Florida will be the most affected, and we would be hoisted by our own petard, our embargo forbidding us from sending men or machines to minimize the damage.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Great Disconnect

Every morning I turn on the TV while eating breakfast, hoping that by some far-fetched miracle, it will broadcast some of the news I saw yesterday on Aljazeera - or China News - or Indonesian News.
Alas, whether on CNN or MSNBC, the only thing going is the latest installment of the national soap opera.  How do those high paid anchors sleep at night?
Oh, there is talk here and there of America’s decline (by far the best of which is Adam Gopnik’s long, funny piece in the October 12th New Yorker, ‘Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat’). But most air time is taken up with convoluted calculations and analyses of ‘who’s on first, what’s on second’. In our on-going marathon, barely interrupted by a quadrennial election, there is a void:
'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
-And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
- And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
-And God saw the light, that it was good.' But alas: 'and God divided the light from the darkness.'
Many Americans seem to believe that God separated them (the light, the City Upon a Hill), from the rest of humanity (those of various shades of darkness). Hence they accept to be force-fed an endless soap opera instead of enlightening (sic) and ever changing facts about the rest of the world:
- The deadly floods in Pakistan, leaving survivors to sleep outdoors in the continuing rain (Pakistan is only mentioned when we have a bone to pick with its military);
- The attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo by Egyptians who have long disapproved of their government’s cooperation with a Jewish state determined never to allow the Palestinians a state of their own;
- The futuristic fair in China's far western region of Xinjiang, intended to placate the Uighurs, a Turkic speaking Muslim people, who feel neglected;
- The Guatemalan presidential election that pits an ex-general against a businessman, with Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchu polling little more than 2 per cent.
Not coincidentally, President Obama recently stated that Cuba is not doing enough for him to lift the decades old blockade, even as it turns toward a mixed (capitalist/-socialist) economy. The one that would enable us to have single-payer health care and decent support for the unemployed, as the world economy contracts (see Sarah Jaffe’s piece on the notion of jobs becoming obsolete on yesterday’s Alternet).
The more our airwaves are occupied with navel gazing, the fewer tools we’ll have to solve our own problems and cooperate with those at the bottom of the hill.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What News Service Do You Read?

Here is a comparison of the way in which CNN and the BBC treated Turkey’s recall of its Ambassador to Israel over Israel’s refusal to apologize for killing nine Turkish citizens in a raid on a boat trying to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid last year.

Not until the seventh paragraph of the story did CNN state what the issue was. It cites the insult to Israel in the first paragraph, then emphasizes Israel’s positive attitude:

“Turkey's fiery (sic) prime minister ratcheted up rapidly-escalating tensions with Israel on Tuesday, comparing Ankara's once-close middle eastern ally to a "spoiled boy" and announcing additional sanctions would soon be imposed.”

....

“Multiple Israeli sources said they are doing what they can to be responsible and reverse the negative dynamic. Some Israeli officials believe the current troubles between the two countries are minor bumps that can be smoothed out with time and the proper diplomacy.”

Others believe the deteriorating relationship has little to do with Israel and more to do with a reorientation of Turkish foreign policy towards the Muslim world.

A possible Erdogan trip to Gaza is contributing to that school of thought. Diplomats in Cairo and Ankara tell CNN that Erdogan is tentatively scheduled to visit Cairo next week. There is growing speculation in local media that the Turkish prime minister may try to visit Gaza via Egypt's Rafah border crossing."

......

"Despite deteriorating political relations between Jerusalem and Ankara, trade has grown substantially between the two countries over the last year, according to Turkish government statistics."

The BBC gets right to the heart of the matter:

“Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador on 2 September and also suspended military co-operation with Israel last week.

The move follows the expulsion of Israel's ambassador over its refusal to apologize for the 2010 raid on a flotilla of activists heading for Gaza, in which nine Turks were killed.

A UN report has concluded that Israel used 'excessive force' in its raid, but that the naval blockade was legal.

Turkey has vowed to take the case to the International Court of Justice.  Based in The Hague, the ICJ is a permanent UN court set up to rule on state-to-state disputes."

.....

"Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives. But Mr Erdogan described the raid as "savagery" and accused Israel of acting like 'a spoiled boy' in the region.”

In an update of the story, read at 11.30 eastern time, the BBC elaborated on the court’s findings, concluding with: “The report noted ‘forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range’".

At that time, CNN had not added anything to its story.

On Labor Day, American and Arab Workers on the Global Up and Down Escalators

As we celebrate this pro forma holiday - a last chance for a barbecue, where it isn’t raining - and we prepare for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, what is the status of American workers compared to those in Muslim nations?

This week’s Nation is devoted to the Arab Awakening.  The depth of the articles is remarkable, providing the most complete picture of the situation in the Middle East that I have read. What struck me reading them is that having risen up, Arab workers have crucial choices that American workers do not have: they argue freely whether to have an Islamic state, or a liberal or social democratic state. True, the fifty-year old Muslim Brotherhood is using its grass roots experience to organize for the coming elections. But it is no longer monolithic.

The Arab peoples do not simply form a compendium of events and players. Their struggle illustrates where the United States on one hand, and the rest of the world on the other, are going. The vast majority of the world’s peoples are on an ‘up’ escalator, rising from deprivation of economic and civil rights to espouse the most avant-garde ideas of sustainability, economic and gender equality. Like a lone ship passing in the night, the United States is on the down escalator that would take us back to where the Arab street has been for centuries.

- While large swathes of Arab youth fight for a secular, democratic society, the Tea Party preaches a return to the Protestant fundamentalism of the Pilgrims, which is not very different from Islamic fundamentalism.

- While trade unions are playing an important role in Tunisia, Yemen, and Egypt, American trade unions are being driven into extinction. (French colonization of North Africa brought much suffering to its people, but it also brought a tradition of strong trade unions...)

- While Arab women participate in freedom squares, inspiring Israelis to set up similar camps in Tel Aviv and other towns, Michelle Bachman tells American women to ‘obey’ their husbands.

What does all this mean?

First of all, as I have pointed out before, nothing is forever.  All empires die: the Western Roman Empire lasted 500 years, the French and British Empires, about 400 years each, Hitler’s Empire, 12 years, the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe, 45. (I expect that readers who focus mainly on numbers, will call me out on some of this, but I continue to hope that most will retain the overall message of my posts. I am numerically challenged, but I usually get my insights right.)

If we take as our starting point the end of World War II, when the United States occupied Japan and Germany, and gradually become the dominant force in Western, then Eastern Europe and the Middle East, by 2010, the American Empire has lasted 65 years.

Increasingly, the pundits dare to murmur, sotto voce, that this country is in decline. I believe the reasons go beyond the inevitable ‘what goes around comes around’: they are at root due to our rejection of the path taken by all the other developed nations after the second world war, under the broad heading of social democracy.

In the United States, the terms Marxism, Communism, Socialism, have consistently provided ready markers for a suavely organized campaign against the many. Now, as Arab peoples debate every ideological and religious belief under the sun, we are fed a continuous diet of carefully hedged opinions as to who might be the next Republican presidential candidate, and whether he or she might constitute a serious challenge to the man who only three years ago represented our best hope of breaking out of our cage.

 

Monday, August 29, 2011

In Paris, Tony Judt and Ronald Dworkin Can Say They are Social-Democrats

The current issue of The Nation opened its pages to the teen-age son of Tony Judt, the historian who died a year go, after his last work Ill Fares the Land was published.

In June, Daniel Judt, a junior at the Dalton school in New York, was invited to a two day conference in Paris in honor of his father.  At the conference, Ronald Dworkin, professor of law and philosophy at NYU, said that the reason why we have forgotten how to talk about society in terms of ethics and morality rather than efficiency and productivity, is that we have a misconception of the meaning of freedom.

“Liberty is now commonly defined - especially in the United States - as the right to be free of restriction from a repressive state. Even if its actions benefit you and your community, your liberty is being infringed upon.” (The derogatory notion of the ‘nanny state’.)

Daniel Judt goes on to say: “Government is designed to provide safety, security and prosperity to citizens; it needs to ask things of us in return.” He calls for a high school course on the political questions of the day that would enable students “to realize that ethical and moral questions, not questions of money and production, are the true political questions.”

According to Judt: “In Dworkin’s view, if the course worked as intended, people would realize that the right policies to pursue are those of social democrats.  I agree with him (as did everyone in that conference room, and as do most reading this magazine).”

As the Tea Party presses on with its brain washing of the American public, it’s time for The Nation to break free of the curse of McCarthyism, and start openly promoting social democracy. Otherwise it will be found wanting with respect to the up-coming generation.

Gaddafi: Nothing is Forever

The real lesson to be learned from the fall of several Arab dictators, whether of right or left, is that nothing is forever, and that is one thing commentators - of right or left - never mention.

Sixty years ago the United States government was convinced the Soviet ‘monolith’ would last forever, unless we got up the courage to bomb it out of existence.  (At that time, we were still somewhat in awe of what we had wrought in Hiroshima - although those were ‘Oriental’ deaths.)

Now we talk about ‘boots on the ground’ not being there, while more or less hiding the fact that every category of military personal is there (the British at least own up to it), except those who wear combat boots.

Fidel Castro predicted in one of his op-ed pieces that the US would invade Libya; the Italian left now says it is NATO that is conquering Libya. However you see this uprising, the reasons for it are widely accepted: when the discontent of the governed reaches a tipping point, change is inevitable. Yet our smug references to ‘regime change’ shows how reluctant our leaders are to act accordingly. They would like us to believe that everything will fall into place with the right change at the top.

Nuclear power is still a threat - as Jonathan Schell continues to remind us - but now there are two additional threats to human life on earth: one is climate change, and the other, less investigated, is the tipping point of the global many against the global few.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two Versions of the News

Here's CNN's morning news for Wed August 24, 2011:

Gadhafi sends a message; rebels say they're in control

Gadhafi men won't let reporters out

LIBYA OPINION & ANALYSIS
Battle still looms after Gadhafi
Zakaria: New era in U.S. foreign policy
How credible are rebel leaders?
Keys to bright future | Or 'nightmare'

LATEST NEWS
Irene strengthens, aims at U.S. | Tracker

9/11 families to be briefed on hacking

Casey Anthony must serve probation

Stocks set to open lower  CNNMoney

Syrian activists form 'national council'

DSK's team not worried about civil suit

Ticker: Palin content to wait?

Mayor runs city from hospital bed

Male bisexuality real, science says

Jay Bakker: 'I thought God hated me'

D.C. sights checked for quake damage

FEATURED

Economy hurts Labor Day travel plans
Bus explodes on first day of school

'Speak English' shop owner dies

Jews torn on Beck's Jerusalem rally

Pat Summitt has dementia, will coach
SI

Facebook sets up privacy like Google+

Winehouse: Report shows alcohol

When kids ask same-sex questions

Jeweler's pooch eats $10,000 in diamonds

Now for the BBC today:

Rebels pushing to secure Tripoli

Kim Jong-il in rare Russia talks

Earthquake strikes US east coast

Tax us more, France's rich say

Alaska mother abused adopted son

Eleven killed in Australia blaze

Irene strengthens over Caribbean

West pushes for Syria sanctions

CNN doesn't mention the fact that France's rich ASK to be taxed more. The details are lluminating:

"Sixteen executives, including Europe's richest woman, the L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, offered in an open letter to pay a "special contribution" in a spirit of 'solidarity'.

It was signed by some of France's most high-profile chief executives, including Christophe de Margerie of oil firm Total, Frederic Oudea of bank Societe Generale, and Air France's Jean-Cyril Spinetta.

They said: "We, the presidents and leaders of industry, businessmen and women, bankers and wealthy citizens would like the richest people to have to pay a 'special contribution'.

"They said they had benefited from the French system and that: 'When the public finances deficit and the prospects of a worsening state debt threaten the future of France and Europe and when the government is asking everybody for solidarity, it seems necessary for us to contribute.'

They warned, however, that the contribution should not be so severe that it would provoke an exodus of the rich or increased tax avoidance.

The move follows a call by US billionaire investor Warren Buffett for higher taxes on the American ultra-rich."

The BBC couldn't resist adding this final caveat, which tries to detract from the French wealthy's message: "That they are part of a culture which since 1789 been concerned with solidarity."

Even with respect to human interest, the BBC range includes many countries, while on CNN, it's all about us - and our politicians.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Unveiling of Huntsman

My June 21st blog was titled: ‘My Bet is on Huntsman’.

Since declaring, he has been kept out of the limelight, either by decision of the media, or by his own strategy.  It has been amusing to see how, every once in a while, his name would be mentioned, followed by the dismissive comment that nobody knows who he is.

Of late, his name has been mentioned more often, and he has even been shown campaigning.  A little.

Last night he got full exposure with a bantering yet probing interview by Piers Morgan, which both men seemed to enjoy.

Huntsman enumerated all the strengths that I had, culminating with his service as President Obama’s ambassador to Peking.  The second part of the interview will air tonight at 9 p.m.

The face to face - as opposed to brief clips - revealed him to be a white version of Obama, matching him in intelligence and balance, yet jocular where Obama is pondered, feisty compared to no-drama-Obama.

At this point in time, I’d wager that the Republican grownups are a little less distraught, while Obama must be wondering whether it was clever of him to send Huntsman to China - no wild goose chase, it turns out.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Surprise!

On the BBC website:

"Concerns over Israel-Gaza unrest

International concern is growing over the upsurge of violence between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, as cross-border attacks continue."

Concurrently, Fareed Zakaria's GPS hosted Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Jeffrey Sachs, the international economist, among others, for a surprisingly frank discussion of world chaos.  Bravo!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Israel's Overconfidence is Being Challenged

One thing that has surprised me about the Arab Spring is the seeming confidence of Israelis that this upheaval will leave them unscathed.

No matter what the particular circumstances of any given country, when one’s neighbors are experiencing long-lasting revolts, one cannot expect to remain unaffected.  In the case of Israel, the odds of the Arab street, which has long sided with the occupied Palestinians, becoming more involved in their cause as their rulers are deposed, are overwhelming.

Israel has borders with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. It has peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. But the area known as the Sheba Farms in northern Israel is considered as occupied territory by Syria, and Syria, backed by Iran, has long been considered by the Arab opposition as a ‘frontline state’ in its historical opposition to Israel.That is why the West is treading cautiously when it comes to the uprising against Bashar el-Assad.

Until the fall of MPresident Hosni Mubarak, Egypt and Israel had been at peace for thirty years. When the uprising against Mubarak began, Israel defended him, knowing that his ouster could allow ordinary Egyptians more say in the two countries’ relations. Now those fears have been realized: Egypt today recalled its Ambassador to Tel Aviv after Israeli soldiers, in pursuit of Palestinian terrorists, crossed into Egypt, killing five policemen. The incident is eeril similar to the one last year in which nine Turkish activists on a boat bound for Gaza were killed by Israeli soldiers rappelling onto the deck in international waters.  Relations with Turkey have been tense ever since.

A protester outside the Israeli Ebassy inCairo was auoted by the BBC as declaring:

"Israel is only interested in a subservient Egypt, not a free Egypt. By protesting outside the embassy we're sending them a clear message. This is not Mubarak's Egypt anymore. If you kill our soldiers, there will be consequences."

The BBC story continues: “On Friday, in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, a protester managed to take down the Israeli flag from the consulate there and replaced it with Egyptian and Palestinian flags.”

Read the whole report at: /www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14600357.

 

 

 

 

Friday, August 12, 2011

When Dream Becomes Nightmare, We're Clueless

Work hard and play by the rules and you will achieve the American Dream.  This booster phrase is what makes America unique.

‘Unique’ or ‘exceptional’ implies better.

Yet people in the developed world who have not been raised on that mantra by and large lead more satisfying lives. The much maligned European com-munity has low cost health care for all, low cost universities and vacations that Americans can hardly believe (around six weeks, usually taken partly in summer and partly in winter, keeping the ski slopes busy).  Our politicians call them lazy, and they have to be cajoled into helping us fight our wars.

How to explain this?  Well, ever since the French guillotined King Louis XVI and his queen who assumed ‘the people’ lacking bread could just as well eat cake, and even though The Revolution turned into The Terror, and Napoleon briefly conquered Europe, NO COUNTRY EXCEPT HITLER’S and his short-lived Quislings has effectively banned egalitarian politics. Only the United States does so. No European country today is led by Communists, but all are alternately led by right and left-wing coalition governments. The current crisis of the Euro zone, like that of Iceland a few years ago, is largely due to European bankers buying into  America’s cowboy capitalism.

At the beginning of the financial crisis, in 2008, pundits often reminded us that Roosevelt had told his supporters to ‘make him’ enact social policies.  They wonder why Obama cannot do the same. They never mention the fact that in the nineteen thirties, the United States had a vibrant progressive movement, a legal socialist party with 40,000 members, and a Communist Party which in 1919 had 60,000 members.  In the late thirties, this militant, organized left WAS able to ‘make’ Roosevelt enact vital reforms, before being decimated by McCarthyism.

Who is going to do that now?

Socially aware political leaders in the United States use their energy to dance around two forbidden words, like moths attracted to light but wary of being burned: socialism and fascism.  They can neither warn of a Tea Party led slide into fascism, nor suggest that we emulate our allies and build a coherent welfare state (not one that distributes welfare to the corporations and the rich).

Our self-inflicted censure has created an American Nightmare that is going to have long legs.

 

 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The News we’re Given: Aljazeera vs. the BBC

Last night I made a list of the topics covered by Aljazeera, then by the BBC.  (In Philadelphia, Aljazeera can be heard at 5:30 on channel 35, before Democracy Now. The BBC is available on channel 23 at 5:30 and 6:30.)

Here is what each covered in one half hour:

1) The riots in Britain: not enough room in jails for all those arrested in Birmingham and Manchester.

2) Syria: Turkey expects reform within the next two weeks. Many Syrians have fled to Turkey, but Syrian security sneaks in to punish some.

3) Third week of Israeli protests over rising prices, tent cities springing up all over the country, organizers hope to bring people from different towns together, perhaps in centrally located Beer Sheba.

4) Vivid coverage of West Bank olive groves being torn up to make room for the partition wall.

5) Situation in Jordan: the Prime Minister is gambling that demonstrations will quiet down.

6) Will France lose its AAA rating?  The German opposition actually wants the government to pay more to bail out other countries.

7) Red Cross staff detained or killed in various Middle East/African countries.  Due to lawlessness, many Afghans fear to travel.

8) Italy:  In a formerly a quiet seaside resort near Rome, the Camorra mafia is losing out to a Nigerian mafia that brings in young women and forces them into prostitution.  Italian police shown taking into custody a young woman without papers.

9) China launches first aircraft carrier, bought from Russia, on a sea trial.

10. The Bangladeshi government has set up a war crimes tribunal forty years after the war of independence from Pakistan (1971).  Some are gratified, others note that many perpetrators are now part of opposition, and this is a way to get rid of them.

11. Finally, as the preferred place for Brazilians flush with money, Miami is experiencing a boom in apartment sales.  The prices are half what similar real estate goes for in Rio,   but things are very different in cities across the country.

Now to the BBC:

1) It led with a brief clip of Britain’s Prime Minister talking about the riots, then devoted three minutes to the status of French banks, which have lost 5% of their value, in particular the Societe Generale.  Heavy on interviews and comments, the BBC program devoted three minutes more to an interview with a Financial Times journalist as to where all this might lead.

2) A thirteen-year old British girl filmed riots, and three policemen were killed.  More had to be brought in, a constable spoke, the police were shown in action, and David Cameron called for a restoration of ‘standards and values’.  Labor agreed with the Conservatives that government is dealing with looters, not politically motivated rioters.

3) In Rome, Berlusconi continued talks with the trade unions over austerity measures.

4) China’s testing of an aircraft carrier elicited warnings of its military buildup.

5) The US imposed sanctions on Syria’s largest banks, according to the White House press officer, and Robin Wright was interviewed at length on the situation, noting that Syria borders on five countries, including Israel, which makes the situation more delicate than in the other Arab countries that have seen uprisings.

6) The US on Taliban: an Afghan widow says war is inevitable.

7) A NATO air raid  in Libya killed 85 civilians, poor families living in a rural area where there were no military targets. NATO had no evidence.

8) The Kenyan refugee camp of Dadar, in which thousands of Somalis have been living for two decades, is like a little town, with merchants, etc.

Which of these two news broadcasts would you rather have access to?  The BBC devotes so much time to talking heads that it covers fewer stories. (CNN and MSNBC have even more talking heads, and cover even fewer stories.) One can argue that these channels serve a more sophisticated audience, interested in what experts think, but this comes at a cost: Bangladeshi politics, Syrian refugees in Turkey being targeted by Syrian security, the Nigerian mafia in Italy, Red Cross employees being killed  - or Miami benefitting from the wealth of a BRIC country, paint a much more complex picture than the one presented to Americans. Seeing the world in more simplistic terms than other peoples results in an us versus them mentality, rather than a ‘we’re all in this together’ awareness.