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.