Wednesday, November 23, 2016

s Authoritarianism Really a Bad Thing? (Nov 20)

I

In 1944, against a groundswell of concern for the democratic process, FDR ran and won a fourth presidential term, because Americans did not want an untried leader in the midst of two wars. (Unfortunately, Roosevelt died soon after that election, leaving President Truman to formulate the disastrous American policy toward the Soviet Union that brought us Cold Wars I and II.)

Today, FDR’s presidency would probably be considered ‘authoritarian’: he pretended not to see Japan preparing to attack Pearl Harbor, so that shocked Americans would finally be willing to declare war on both Japan and Germany. He is famous for packing the Supreme Court, and although they were milder than would have wanted the Progressive Movement, he wrung workers’ rights and protections out of Congress by signaling to his advisors “Make me do it.” He is still revered today, while one of the polities that ranks highest on key governance criteria is Singapore, a tiny, multi-ethnic country led by the same man for four decades. 

After achieving independence from Great Britain, Lee Kuan Yew moved Singapore’s Third World economy to First World affluence in a single generation. According to Wikileaks: “Lee Kuan Yew's emphasis on rapid economic growth, support for business entrepreneurship, and limitations on internal democracy shaped Singapore's policies for the next half-century. Freedom House ranks Singapore as "partly free” and The Economist ranks it as a "flawed democracy", however the ruling party gets 83 of 89 seats with 70% of the popular vote, while in the mid-eighties, Gallup reported Singaporeans’ confidence in the government and judicial system among the highest in the world.

Although Singapore ranks among the top countries for "order and security", "absence of corruption", and "effective criminal justice,” gatherings of five or more people require police permits, and protests may legally be held only at the Speakers' Corner. Yet, this multi-lingual (English, Chinese and Hindu), country is among the top internationally in education and government supported health care. Although the system can only be classified as authoritarian, there is absolutely zero chance that a US president will declare that its leader “has to go”.  That is because like Europe, it combines entre-preneurship with socialist citizen protections.

Today, ’authoritarianism’ is applied equally to the Saudi Arabian monarchy, where women are not allowed to drive, much less legislate, to China, where the Communist Party watches over the biggest ever economic miracle, and to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Interestingly, it was not applied to Dmitri Medvedev when he was President (Vladimir Putin serving as his Prime Minister).  Medvedev was referred to as ‘a man we can work with’ —and even as ’Our man in the Kremlin’.  At home, however, his ‘Atlanticist’, neo-liberal faction is referred to by Putin supporters, who cherish their social protections and believe the state should be in charge of a nation’s key sources of wealth, as a ‘fifth column’.

What was the state of Russia when Vladimir Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin, America’s first ‘man in the Kremlin’?

Putin first won election in 2000, three months after Yeltsin’s resignation for ill health. At forty-eight, thanks to his steadfastness as a KGB officer, then as advisor on international affairs to the mayor of St Petersburg, as head of the KGB, then Prime Minister to Boris Yeltsin (a president famous for his drunken displays), Putin was his designated successor at a time when Russia was in a shambles.

Its crown jewels had been privatized at rock bottom prices to a group of men who became known as ‘the oligarchs’.  State employees weren’t getting their paychecks on time — if at all — and virtually nothing had been done to build a fair liberal —or social democratic — system ten years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  (When Vladimir Putin declared that this event had been a catastrophe, he was not, as the Western press implies, alluding to the demise of Communism, but to the terrible social conditions in which rabid privatization left most Russians.)  
Putin is invariably tagged as a ‘former KGB officer’ by US journalists, who conveniently forget that the first President Bush ran the CIA for a year. The truth is that the Russian president’s wide-ranging jobs prepared him well for the challenge of reviving the largest country in the world, home to 160 ethnic groups speaking some 100 languages and practicing four different religions, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam—(estimates for this latter ranging from 5 - 14%).

The Western media claims that President Putin’s 80%+ ratings reflect a herd mentality, the result of centuries of autocratic rule under the Mongols (four centuries), the Tsars and the Communist Party.  In reality, unbeknownst to most Americans, today’s Russians enjoy individualist lifestyles, vacations abroad and the latest cars.

For twenty centuries, the lure of Athenian democracy (in which only free males participated) increased in tandem with the power of Kings.  But applying democracy has proved ever more difficult as populations and threats grew larger. As he prepares to leave office after eight years of Republican refusal to cooperate with his laudable projects, I suspect President Obama, like most other Western heads of state, secretly envies Putin his ability to get things done. 

When I was in Cuba in 1964, Fidel Castro was being billed in the US as a dictator. I asked then president Osvaldo Dorticos whether or not he agreed that it was risky to have a ‘king’, since one could never know whether inherited leadership would be good or bad. (The outside world did not know that the Cuban government was already experimenting with various forms of local democracy.) Today around the world, ‘the people’ are still impotent to prevent worsening economic conditions — and even war, which first fills the coffers of arms makers, then of  industry, needed to rebuild what war has  destroyed.  Yet Raul Castro has overseen a transition toward a form of national participatory democracy, and Putin appears to be encouraging the same approach in Russia. Meanwhile, in the West it becomes increasingly difficult to affirm that free and fair elections guarantee efficient government or popular satisfaction.

In the complex 21st century world, peace and prosperity are probably best achieved when strong central governments jointly deal with global challenges, while participatory local governments oversee domestic affairs. (Iceland, a country so sparsely populated that almost everyone knows everyone else, is successfully applying this system.)

Although he has been elected ‘fair and square’, Donald Trump may not make  it into the White House, whence he, together with Putin and Xi could move toward a multi-polar world organized along those lines. Guided by ‘an invisible hand’, thousands of people protest the neo-fascist, misogynist, racist president who defeated his neo-fascist rival preparing for nuclear-war against Russia, and whose backers, unlike the protesters, have the means to once again implement the ‘ultimate solution’ against an American president.









An American Phase Transition (Nov. 13)



After four days of unprecedented demonstrations across cities in the United States, the motives poked and prodded no one knows how they could be end. Whether or not President-elect Donald Trump makes conciliatory remarks, as suggested on a Sunday talk-show, at this point we can usefully see these demonstrations as systemic phenomena, whose mechanisms I outline in A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness:
"Since ancient Chinese times, feedback has been conceived as the opposites Yin/Yang growing out of each other. The Chinese knew instinctively that change occurs as a result of each element in a dyad acting upon the other, as many contemporary scientists recognize.
Today we know that energy flows into a system organize molecules, creating work. Lack of energy eventually results in a state of “equilibrium” or “entropy,” where ‘work’ cannot happen. Ideally, as the ancient Chinese intuited, the flow of energy through a system keeps it ‘just far enough’ from equilibrium to avoid entropy, or death, allowing ‘work’ to happen. But any number of factors can cause that flow to increase, creating runaway instability. While a certain amount of instability is necessary for work to happen, too much instability takes the system so ‘far from equilibrium’ that it eventually reaches a threshold known as a bifurcation point from which it “dissipates” into a new state."
The anti-Trump demonstrations can be seen as energy flows that increase instability, but what state will it dissipate into?
"Living systems are open to their environment, from which, via feedback, they receive matter and energy and into which they reject waste. They can, in theory go on forever. Very differently, non-living, or mechanical systems inevitably run down because they are separated from, or closed to their environment and its sources of energy. 
The components of political “systems” include human, geographic, historical and cultural elements. Currently most political systems are “closed,” in that ‘the many’ are largely kept outside the deliberations of ‘the few’. Dictatorship, which seeks to maintain a status quo (“equilibrium,”) indefinitely, ends when revolution opens the system to the many that have been kept outside."
The anti-Trump demonstrations are rocking a country that has always boasted of its smooth transitions of power — corresponding to the ideal state of ‘equilibrium’.  But once energy flows accelerate, they cannot be stopped. (The genie cannot be put back in the bottle.) In some instances they lead to revolutions, but even when they do not, they must run their course, and things will not be the same when they end.
"Francis Fukuyama notwithstanding, history will not be “over” until humanity is. To avoid self-inflicted extinction, we need to see history as an unending series of disruptions and bifurcations that will never achieve “it’,” however hard we try. We can only influence processes, knowing that there is no final point, no perfect world that we shall be able to sit back and enjoy once we have created it. Aside from the intolerable dullness of such an eventuality, it isn’t going to happen." 
Anti-Trump demonstrators are the result of two things: sociologically, a ‘me’ generation expectation that everything must be the way they want it to be at all times; but politically, and more importantly, they stem from ignorance of the fact that Hillary Clinton also represents a turn toward fascism, not for domestic reasons but because her foreign policy aim is war with Russia, seen as the first impediment to continued US hegemony (China being the second). Washington’s Democrats may be savoring this moment, but those on the street are oblivious to the fact that had Clinton been elected, protesters against her wars would be treated much more harshly than those who opposed the Vietnam War, by relentless spying and a militarized police. 




The New Paradigm: Good, Better, Best Versus Enough (Oct 31)



The world is entering a new paradigm: The fault-line is no longer only between left and right, but between a relatively small group committed to globalization and the rest. And among the rest, between Caucasians, and the larger, honey-colored world. America’s determination to impose neo-liberalism on the entire planet puts it at odds with two other nuclear powers, Russia and China, as well as with many other nations, who aspire to a multi-polar world in which the haves are prevented from riding roughshod over the ‘have-nots’.
For almost four centuries America prospered by insisting that more is never enough, laboring to spread this idea across the globe. Good, better, best has been its Trinity, requiring that individuals strive to ‘do better’ in order to be able to afford ‘the best’. In turn, producers claim that their  ‘stuff’ is ‘ever better’, until it gets to be ‘the best that money can buy’. As third world populations risk everything to gain access to more ‘stuff’, a few people are beginning to realize that more is not necessarily better. But it may be too late. 
The West toyed with the idea of enabling underdeveloped societies to prosper so their populations would not emigrate, but instead of putting its money where its mouth was, it continued to invade and plunder the south. (America’s forefathers wisely put the military under civilian control, but by the 21st century that precaution no longer sufficed, because civilians make weapons.) Wars are no longer fought for territory - or even ideals - but in service to the almighty bottom line. As a result, large numbers of people continue to leave familiar places for once prosperous destinations that are losing opportunities for work. Aside from growing Islamophobia, civilization’s latest ways of ‘doing’ — for those entitled by birth to ‘do’ — prevents gainful employment for all. In a grotesque example of helplessness, the French government sought to open a holding facility for refugees three kilometers from the Versailles Palace, touching off a storm from citizens who insist that venerating Louis XIV’s palace is more important than feeding the hungry.
Actually, there are two levels of conflict: in individual countries, between the 99% and the 1%, and across the world between Caucasians and the others, who vastly outnumber them. Across the North, the absence of jobs forces the 99% to demand a basic income for all, while the 1%, realizing the earth cannot be saved from climate change, make plans to leave it for another planet, abandoning the 99% to its fate.
As for the relatively small number of honey-colored peoples who manage to reach their shores, the implicit message of the Caucasians has been: “You have to become like us because we’re better.” But while ‘multiculturalists’ believe immigrants can and should adapt to their new homes, nationalists, - also known as post-moderns or the new right — while upholding equal rights, reject the policy of assimilation, because homogenous societies tend to be peaceful while melting pots all but guarantee strife between different races and religions: 

These contrasting views obscure the fact that the only way to prevent the planet from becoming inhospitable to humans is for the world to embrace a steady-state economy, in which we produce only what we need, recycling as much as possible. Unlike the desperate pursuit of ‘more’, only it can prevent humans - guests on the planet after all, — from wrecking the place.

Story to Watch: Dilma A First Step (Aug 31)


The impeachment of the Brazilian President marks a first in a series of successful steps the US is taking to bring the world back under its firm direction.  Why?  Because the largest country of the American southern hemisphere is also one of the BRICS, the largest emerging countries that came together starting in 2006, adding South Africa in 2010, in order to encourage commercial, political and cultural cooperation. In June 2012, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pledged $75 billion to boost the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on condition it implement key reforms. Since this did not happen, during the fifth BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa in 2013, members agreed to create a global financial institution intended to rival the IMF and the World Bank, which hitherto had been developing countries’ main sources of funding.
In 2016, with the world still in dire economic straits, the BRICS represent a significant challenge to US global dominance. US activities aimed at weakening Russia and China have almost become routine, and while the countries of Africa as well as the continent’s colonial history, are far too diverse for one country to stand out, very differently, since the Cuban Revolution, Latin America has organized itself into several independent organizations, including Mercosur and ALBA. The Neocons in Washington have pounced - or created — the first occasion to weaken Brazil, as membership in other Russia/China led clubs, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization foremost among them, grows. Most recently, Iran has been invited to join the SCO, as has Turkey, in the wake of the failed coup to oust President Erdogan.
Simultaneously with these developments, European leaders are increasingly daring to balk at signing the TTP, while grumblings grow louder in Asia against the TTIP.  Clearly, Washington has to take down whoever it can, to shore up neo-liberalism, starting with Brazil’s left-wing president, a seventy-year old woman, while continuing the transformation of Europe’s welfare state into an obedient neo-liberal puppy. 


Pick Your Fascism (Sept 1)


I was sure Donald Trump would get a bounce from his lightening trip to Mexico:  he would show that he can walk and chew gum at the same time, compared to a Hillary who would have planned the visit to a foreign president for months.
I was right about the bounce, but it’s clear that it has a whole other meaning: the meeting with the Mexican president forced Trump to show the dangerous side pundits have been warning of: vindictive, brutal, and playing to supporters who worship these traits.
Little more than a month separates American voters from the chance to pick which form  of fascism they will embrace: Hillary’s version that will, whip so-called allies into line and if ‘necessary’, nuking recalcitrant nations like Russia, to advance the goals of Wall Street, or Trump’s cruder incarnation at the point of citizens’ guns. 
But even more stunning has been the reaction of the morning’s tv anchors: usually quick to make the most of any hint of ‘breaking news’, as if fascism could only happen elsewhere, to other naive people.  Joe and Mika smoothly followed their cool comments on the night’s events buy announcing Trump’s next appearance at a black church, while CNN, as if nothing extraordinary was begging for a headline, announced that next week they will do a close-up on both candidates.

Is this how it happens? 

Honing in on Putophobia (Sept 13)



Though it may not make any sense to continue dissecting the US media’s take on Vladimir Putin, one is driven by indignation and amazement.
The panic in the US over the Russian President has reached such a pitch that September 11th’s Sunday Times devoted both an oped and a lengthy front-page story to the ‘former KGB officer’ (as if one of our most respected presidents, George Walker Bush, had not been head of the CIA!).
Dispatching the Oped first, it falls back apologetically on a brief history of American attitudes toward the Soviet Union and Russia, claiming that our present confusion is justified because “neither the US nor Russia knows what kind of power ‘it’ intends to be.  Painting an adversary as a mystery goes back a long way with Russia, and is now the default mode, and as for finding out what kind of power Russia wants to be it’s called ‘a multi-polar world’ and has been described over and over by Vladimir Putin.
Still leaning on the historical crutch, Ross Douthat claims that under George W Bush, the US became a ‘revolutionary’ power, preaching liberalism (!), while Putin now seeks to ‘destabilize’ the Western order, including through tacit support for Donald Trump.’
Conjuring up a word with sinister connotations, Douthat refers to the Russian annexation of Crimea (ignoring the overwhelming popular vote) as an ‘Anschluss’, and a ‘shadow war against (unidentified) neighbors’..  Compounding his show of ignorance, he suggests that if China is in the long run the bigger threat, the US should try to adopt ‘wary cooperation’ with Russia.  Apparently, Douthat has not heard that China and Russia are ever closer military and economic partners…. 
On now to the front page article: occupying half an inside page it shows this writer’s ignorance in the second paragraph, where he fails to identify the para-Olympian who raised the Russian flag as a Belo-Russian, referring to him misleadingly as ‘a pro-Putin athlete’ (Bela Rus is a Russian ally, but it’s verboten to divulge that Russia has allies.)
In the third paragraph, Putin is referred to snidely as ‘caring father of his people’: Indeed, a video currently available on the web from his first year (2000) as president shows him announcing an important social program, whose progress is plotted in speeches and interviews ever since. The writer, Andrew Higgens, goes on to say that Putin “projects an image of towering strength”, although he is below average height. This impression is confirmed in the recent photo of Putin and Obama shaking hands at the G20, Obama much taller, but leaning forward in what a Russian journalist called an ingratiating attitude, while Putin calmly stands his ground looking him in the eye. In a ridiculous quote, the famous chess master Gary Kasparov says: “Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink”(sic)…”Praising a brutal KGB dictator, whether you like Obama or hate him is despicable and dangerous.” (That KGB reference again…)
The next paragraph grudgingly admits Putin’s domestic support, (suggesting there must be something wrong with the Russian people), and among international leaders “scattered” across Europe (always that belittling choice of words), going on to specify inaccurately that these are all right-wing politicians like Trump. (Apparently Higgens has never heard of the ‘new (European) right’ which has little in common with America’s ‘Alt right’.)
Surprisingly, the Times longer doctors the facts about Crimea, stating that the Russian President ‘annexed’ it (without pretending he invaded it), but without signaling the largely Russian population’s 80-plus percent support for this in an internationally monitored referendum, or mentioning that in the nineties, the Kosovars were permitted to leave Serbia via a similar referendum.
According to the Times, Mr Putin “stirred up and armed a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine”, failing to mention that a US-backed coup had brought neo-Nazis to power in Kiev. This brings us to the crux of America’s ‘Russian Problem’, title of fore-mentioned oped: Utter lack of knowledge of Russian history, that facilitates biased reporting. When will the Times’ readers be told that Russia lost 26 million in the war against Nazi Germany to the US’s 400 thousand?  American history books fail to acknowledge the greater role played by Russia in defeating Hitler, however, a recent French historian points out that Europeans knew it at the time, but have had their memories blurred by a Western-oriented media.)
Higgens grudgingly acknowledges Russia’s commonality of interests with the US in terms of destroying ISIS, while failing to signal how long it has taken the US to agree, going on to state in a non-sequitur that Putin has “often faltered” in terms of keeping the promises he made before being elected in 2000. Accurately reporting that many of the oligarchs he promised to rid the country of had been ‘driven into exile’ or ‘cut down to size’, Higgens fails to identify one of the most crucial differences between the Russian and American presidents, namely, Putin’s ability to tell his oligarchs that they can continue their business activities as long as they refrain from meddling in politics!  The Times’ version: “They do not dare challenge the Kremlin” makes it sound sinister instead of being a loyal warning. The US president can’t even dream of imposing a similar rule, and that’s why he  has lost the world popularity contest to Putin.
Never mentioning the annual International Economic Forum held in St Petersburg - Russia’s historical showcase - Higgens says Russia’s economy is stuck in the doldrums, having failed to diversify (one wonders why all those international businessmen come to the forum, one of many international gatherings hosted by Putin each year). Simplistically, an ‘economy on the ropes’ forces Putin to ‘turn toward international affairs’ to maintain his rating.  Seeming to disparage “patriotic fervor”, Higgens warns that Russia’s claim to be an indispensable (where have I heard that word before?) player on the world stage have made world leaders ‘deeply wary’. He accuses Putin of having ‘inserted’ (another negative word) Russia not only into Syria but into that ‘even more intractable Israel-Palestinian conflict, describing Russian diplomats as “working frantically” (sic) to organize a meeting in Moscow between Bibi and Abbas.
Intent on echoing President Obama’s description of Russia as a ‘regional power’ by President Obama, Higgens accuses it of exercising its power ‘beyond the narrow (sic) confines of the former Soviet Union”, as if Russia were not the largest country in the world, covering nine time zones, with 14 neighbors!
Higgins mentions a Russian journalist who is “effectively barred from publishing in Russia” having to live ‘mostly’ in France.  In the ultimate put-down (perhaps the one clever idea), she “granted Putin an indisputable asset that appalls Moscow intellectuals but delights Donald Trump: “People elected him,” in a comment similar to Hillary Clinton describing Trump voters as a ‘basket of deplorables’. 
In what must be the own goal of the year, the article concludes on a diagnosis of America’s Russia problem: “Mr Putin’s popularity..has made him a seductive figure for Western politicians and electors, who often pine for decisive action and a more secure world, free from the uncertainties created by immigration, insecurity and economic globalization.”

Indeed.

The World Turns: Columbus, Luther and Putin (Aug 18)


Five centuries ago, the age of the West was born when an Italian nerd went looking for the Orient across the Atlantic, bumping into America. Notwithstanding its internal conflicts, the Old World initiated wars of discovery and conquest in the new, facing West for the first time.
 In the late nineteenth century, shortly after celebrating its centennial, America took over the Philippines and Hawaii, and in the 20th century it teamed up with Britain and France to weaken China, plying its population with opium. After winning two World Wars in Europe and also defeating Japan, linking two oceans, the US looked down on a world that suddenly seemed full of ‘others’. Alongside Peace Corps do-gooders, corporations and banks enrolled the Pentagon in efforts to turn them into good global citizens. This did not mean building their lives and their countries according to the UN Charter, but turning away from each ‘other’ toward ever more ‘stuff’.  
There is nothing in the house that Jack built that cannot be counted in coin, or turned into coin. There is always a buck to be made somewhere, new professions are born every day, as living is made easier, sometimes ridiculously so. In today’s America, you can hire someone to pack and unpack your house when you move, receive a dinner recipe along with the precise amount of each ingredient needed to prepare it, drop-off toddlers in centers open 24/7 instead of hiring a baby-sitter, and when you want to book a hotel, Trivago, a modern Aladdin’s lamp, allows you to click on the cheapest price. One of the few ‘industries’ that doesn’t involve fewer human interactions is the care of the elderly: if you can afford it - and there’s an insurance policy you can pay into during your active life for that - when you’re too old to cruise from one resort to another, you can be cared for in your own home by someone who will become your only companion, as your children and grand-children show up perfunctorily for major holidays.
While these innovations were taking place in the North (usually referred to as ‘the West’), brown people hop-scotched around wars and revolutions, their populations growing exponentially. It all happened so quickly that the current generation remembers things that were once free, such as water, as the free pleasures of proximity disappear down the elevator shafts of high-rises. They never know when their leaders will incur the displeasure of new overlords, who will resort to bombs, or drones, or at the very least false flag operations, stimulating unrest which, cleverly manipulated, will pave the way for new leaders to open their lands to more methodical plunder.
The competition between capitalism and communism during the Cold War saw each side recruiting followers in the Third World, but after the Soviet Union collapsed, most of them lined up behind the West. Now its leaders are wondering how they could have brought so much misery upon their people. As Wall St. puts the finishing touches to its destruction of the European welfare state, brown people are reshaping the Old World to their beliefs and customs, instead of adapting, forcing European parliaments, normally occupied with matters of war and peace, finance and health care, to legislate on women’s clothing. Only a hundred years ago in the West, the veil signaled a woman above reproach; now it is seen as anti-social: the hidden face could be that of a terrorist - in any case, what is she thinking behind her burka? I believe some of the women on European streets bundled up in robes console themselves for not being allowed to wear jeans and short hair, knowing they are irritating former colonial masters.  
While France and Italy bar the burkini (a full-body swim suit) from their beaches, citizens of Pisa try to stop a mosque from being built near the Leaning Tower, while the German government advises citizens to stockpile food and water in the event of a major terrorist attack. (The last time this sort of advice was issued was in the days of ‘duck and cover’. Apparently, Europeans experience the influx of Muslims almost as traumatically as the US experienced the nuclear threat.) After a fire in a refugee center, an RT reporter embarrassed conservative Germans by asking whether they realized they shared many of the same values as Muslim immigrants. Although Germany has been importing Turkish workers for decades, they did not.
Partly as a result of this failure, the world is undergoing a tectonic shift from West to East. For the past few years, Erdogan facilitated the sale of ISIS stolen oil and cared for its wounded, thinking they would help him recreate the Ottoman Empire. Now he is poised to join Russia in the fight against terrorism, trading in Turkey’s sixty-five year long NATO membership for the lead Muslim role in a community that stretches from the Bosphorus to the Pacific Ocean, and includes a large swathe of Muslim countries inhabited by Turkic peoples. 
Five hundred years after Martin Luther invented individual freedom and sanctified profit, the world turns toward the east, reinstating religion and responsibility in politics. Orthodox Christianity again plays a major role in Russia, China has rehabilitated its ancient Taoist and Confucian sages, and now preparations are under way for the Sunni Erdogan to visit Teheran, the capital of Shia Islam, as Islam’s warring cousins prepare to join the same organization. 
In the face of the Russian President’s two-fer, US arms-makers tout future sales to a world steeped in conflict, but Washington is removing its missiles from Turkey’s Incirlik air base, (one of the Air Force’s many ‘homes away from home’) to avoid running into the new Russian guests. 




Three Mice, a Horse and a Serpent (Sept 18)



I had a heated discussion with a woman of Lithuanian descent the other day on the subject of the ‘Russian threat’ to her country of origin, where she has friends and family.  She claimed the Baltic countries are desperate to be spared another Russian takeover like the one that happened in 1939, only ending in 1991 as part of the events that led to the implosion of the Soviet Union.
 When I asked her what Russia could possible gain from the addition of three countries whose total real estate, 67,574 mi², together constitute scarcely 1% of that of Russia’s 6.602 million mi², she claimed that the Baltic states had Baltic Sea oil.  When I pointed out that Russia has more oil than almost any country in the world, as well access to the Black Sea at Kaliningrad, and that it also has the ability to prospect in the Arctic, she claimed that the Baltic countries were ahead of Russia in terms of high tech. Unable to cite a single example, she fell back on  ‘Russia is massing troops on our borders.” When I pointed out that this was a perfectly legitimate response to the massing of NATO troops on Russia’s border, she refused to listen, continuing to repeat that Russia ‘threatens’ her country.
Curious as to whether history could account for such blindness, I went to Wikipedia, where I learned that  the origins of the Baltic peoples are very mixed, while its history involved Sweden, Germany and Poland and Belarus. After the 1939 Molotov/Ribbentrop pact divided Europe into spheres of influence, the Baltic countries were invaded by the Russian army and re-baptized as Soviet Socialist Republics, in which the predominantly independent farming population resisted collectivization.
This is where the story gets  really interesting: When Hitler took over the Baltic states as part of its invasion of the Soviet Union, similar to the takeover of the Ukraine, the populations of all these countries believed the Germans would free them from Soviet domination and agree to their independence. All were sorely disappointed. Both the Soviet Union and Germany practiced deportations and mass killings. and the latter re-occupied the Baltics in 1944, under the terms of the Potsdam Agreement In 1989, the Baltic states initiated a series of events that would be repeated in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria and culminating in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  
Twenty-five years later, it’s difficult to see any grounds for Baltic fear of a Russian takeover, given the Russian government’s ever closer cooperation with China in just about every area of significance, including the One Belt One Road project that is linking the Pacific with Europe via Central Asia. I believe the Baltics are crying wolf because they want to finally be considered part of Europe (aka the West), not to mention the attraction of NATO funding and materiel. The idea that these three tiny countries have anything to offer Russia is ludicrous, while Russia, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the role they played in the past, together with Poland Belarus and Ukraine, as transit routes into its territory.

In the game currently being played out, the Baltics states are like three mice who, through fear of an herbivore horse, allow themselves to be swallowed by a serpent. 

A Media in-Between



In the nineteen forties, as the US was fighting on two fronts, a popular song encouraged Americans to “Accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative, Latch on to the affirmative, And don't mess with Mister In-Between.”
Contemporary journalists are mostly too young to have heard that song, but it aptly describes what they’ve been taught to do: Being mostly negative, international news is simply not covered, giving Americans the impression that beyond the United States is a no-man’s land — unless a government is (nonsensically) killing its own people, requiring us to ride in on a white horse and save them.
Since the revival of the Cold War, journalists have honed their craft so finely that by adding or dropping a word here and there they convey an impression of righteousness when actually, barbarism (to borrow a wrongly used expression from our ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers) is running rampant.
Recently, NATO’s ever greater presence on Russia’s western frontier - the one taken throughout history by Europeans thinking they could take it over — is reported as “aggressive moves by Russia toward the tiny Baltic states, it’s planes daring to fly over the tanks we’ve massed on its border!”
The technique has been refined since 2014, when the US organized a coup in Ukraine (just as we had decades ago in Chile and Honduras, and as we tried to do in Georgia in 2008).  Having installed a neo-fascist government in Kiev, complete with swastika flaunting militias, we accuse Russia of invading its neighbor.  No mention of Eastern Ukraine’s Russian speakers’ visceral horror of a Neo-Nazi regime, stemming from the fact that Ukrainian nationalists fought alongside Hitler’s troops in the hopes of gaining independence from the Soviet Union. The Right Sector and similar groups today are free to operate across Ukraine according to the same ideology their “Banderisti" grandfathers defended, and they proved they haven’t changed in 2014 by killing ethnic Russian Ukrainians, as they did during the war, along with Poles and Jews, upping the ante by burning some alive.

Evidently ‘forgetting’ the number of times the US landed troops in a foreign country, ostensibly to protect American citizens living there (Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989), the US media, followed obediently by the rest of the Western press, is messing with a negative of its own fabrication, creating an ‘in-between’ that leaves readers wondering how they got presidential candidates with the highest ever negatives.

The Atlantic Widens


Since the end of World War II, Europe (its Western half, in any case) has been tied to the US via the Atlantic Alliance, forced to turn its back on the rest of the Eurasian continent of which it is a part. Originally, it was because of Communism, but since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, it’s because Russia has more resources than any other nation, that the US has maintained Europe in a state of readiness to respond to its ‘aggression’!
In my book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde, published in France on the day the Berlin wall fell, I opined that Western Europe could not afford to have two enemies at once: Germany and the Soviet Union.  The former had initiated three wars in one century, while the latter was merely a bogeyman incarnated by Ghengis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. Divided between East and West, Germany had posed no threat for over forty years, and France agonized over the prospect of its reunification as the crucial line of defense against Russia. Perhaps it was that secular fear of Germany that determined President Mitterand’s acquiescence to NATO’s relentless move beyond its eastern border to counter the distant threat.
Europe’s post-war dependency on a country situated an ocean away began with the Marshall Plan, which led to an ‘economic miracle’ and the ability to provide safety nets for everyone: a true worker’s paradise, “protected” by NATO. By the nineties, when France joined a 35 hour work week to six week vacations, and the countries of Eastern Europe lined up to join the European Union, Wall Street began to worry that American workers might demand the same benefits. Accordingly, it enrolled the World Bank and the IMF in a decades-long battle to impose neo-liberalism, which is ’liberal’ only to a chosen few, over social democracy, that guarantees a decent life for the many. Ironically, in ‘Where to Invade Next’ Michael Moore is amazed to discover European workers’ perks, just as they are being being flushed down the drain.
Several decades after Margaret Thatcher’s ‘there is no alternative’ (TINA) to austerity, neo-liberalism reigns triumphant across the European Union, taking down old members Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, France, and preventing the East from ever catching up. Having failed to shake its colonial mindset, the 1% participated in US wars across the Middle East, until it saw Muslim men, women and children traipsing across its fields. Cell phones having made it possible for hundreds of thousands to leave their war-torn or exploited countries for a chance at a better future, Europe’s leaders realized too late that they had been used by Uncle Sam. 

As businessmen realize what sanctions against their neighbor are costing them (but not Washington), they also notice that Russia protects its own in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. In a conclusion that is decades overdue, they realize that their survival requires them to cut the umbilical cord that stretches across the Atlantic. Predictably, the announcement by Jean-Claude Junker, President of the European Commission, that Europe needs its own military system, was poorly received in Washington, whose top brass repeat daily that it would ‘duplicate’ NATO instead of ‘complementing’ it. As with most watershed moment, the idea of a European Army is unlikely to be walked back. Costly sanctions against Russia, not to mention US determination to provoke it into war over Syria or Ukraine, suggests that an independent European defense is intended to gradually turn Europe toward the East, the Atlantic Ocean again separating it from the US.

Post-Modernism, the ‘Alt’ and ‘New’ Rights


At one point during World War II, Josef Stalin famously asked his then allies, Churchill and Roosevelt, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”, underlining the crucial role of brute force in world affairs. Military might has still not taken a back seat to negotiation, however, there is a growing conviction across the world and across political lines, that morality must play a role in public life.
Notwithstanding Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent posturing in front of the Hiroshima monument to the atomic victims of World World II, nuclear stockpiling continues unabated, while climate change competes as the ultimate threat of annihilation. Any hope of maintaining a human presence on earth can only come from a psychological turnaround. 
The nineteen-sixties call by the American counter-culture for a spiritual transformation was not heard, but since Donald Trump entered the presidential fray, and refugees from US wars in the Middle East stormed Europe, progressive warnings about the rise of fascism are. In Europe, everybody knows what fascism is so they don’t use the innocent sounding word Alt or ‘alternative’ to designate the militant far right. 
In addition, Europe has a New Right, that backs the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, who has tried hard to shed her father’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. (The nationalist part of her platform also finds favor with the Russian President, who is more of a social democrat than either a cowboy capitalist or a communist, and about whom more later.) 
The US’s ‘alt right’ is not easy to define. It’s nationalist, but so are most religious groups. On the other hand, to say it’s misogynous barely scratches the surface of its attitude toward women, which tends toward disparage-ment, as opposed to the religious right’s ‘respect’. Ultimately, it’s the alt right’s demonization of ‘the Other’ that separates it from the new right. For Hitler’s Nazis, the main ‘Others’ were Jews, but their xenophobia included Slavs, Communists and brown people across the board. The Alt right is against everyone who opposes its gun-toting, flag waving ‘patriotism’, putting it at odds with the New Right.
While both the European and the American left are reduced to desperate cries for ‘equality’, the new right has appropriated the left’s major memes, from individual flourishing to decentralization, anti-globalization and anti-consumerism, while abandoning the old right’s militarism and racism.
Its program is spelled out in a Manifesto published in 2000 by GRECE, a French think tank founded by the philosopher Alain de Benoist. This 14,000 word text could have been written by a leftist were it not for its opposition to multiculturalism, which by the way dovetails with Vladimir Putin’s opposition to the immigration of non-Europeans into ‘Caucasian’ societies. In response to what has hitherto been considered the most progressive view of human relations, the manifesto states:

</blockquote> The French New Right upholds the cause of peoples, because one is only justified in defending one’s difference from others if one is also able to defend the difference of others. This means that the right to difference cannot be used to exclude others who are different. The French New Right respects ethnic groups, languages, and regional cultures, as well as native religions. It supports peoples struggling against Western imperialism. The diversity of the human species is a treasure,  and  ‘universal’, does not oppose difference, but recognizes it. For the New Right, the struggle against racism is not won by negating the concept of race, nor by blending all races into an undifferentiated whole, but by refusing both exclusion and assimilation: neither apartheid nor the melting pot, but acceptance of the other as Other in a perspective of mutual enrichment.” <blockquote/>

Many leftists will agree that this argument makes sense.But they will wonder what a right-wing party could have against Western Imperialism. It’s that imperialism is the flip side of modernity, that generates alienation: While the contemporary left in the developed world has endorsed imperialism in a laudable commitment to equality, for the new right:

</blockquote>“Modernity designates the political and philosophical movement of the last three centuries of Western history…characterized by individualization, or the destruction of old forms of communal life; massification, or the adoption of standardized behavior and lifestyles; desacralization, which replaces the great religious narratives by a scientific interpretation of the world; rationalization, the domination of instrumental reason, the free market,  technical efficiency and universalization, the extension of a model of society postulated implicitly as the only rational possibility and thus as superior, to the entire planet. </blockquote/>

A couple of decades ago, that was a typical left-wing argument, but Neo-liberalism has traded ideals for efficiency, thought to guarantee the greatest good for the greatest number: “The  ‘free’ market is an exacerbation of rationalization in which standardization is confused with  superiority and equality implies conforming to a host country’s customs and standards of behavior.” 

France has recently revealed the degree to which conformity can become absurd: freedom to dress as one pleases, which enabled western women to abandon stays and long skirts for shorts, is now an obligation to uncover one’s body, turning so-called freedom into conformity. Progressives may argue that this is a convenient excuse for maintaining the bulk of humanity in an inferior condition, yet the abandonment of traditional social memes in the competition for ‘more’, seen as an intrinsic good, also leads to crime, drugs and alienation.

Referring to Russia, Vladimir Putin affirms that “It is clearly impossible to identify oneself only through one’s ethnicity or religion in such a large nation with a multi-ethnic population. … People must develop a civic identity on the basis of shared values, a patriotic consciousness, civic responsibility and solidarity, respect for the law and a sense of responsibility for their homeland’s fate, without losing touch with their ethnic or religious roots.”

According to the Arab website Al Monitor, file:///Users/deen/Documents/PUTIN/Putin’s%20Muslim%20family%20values.webarchive when Putin emphasizes Russians’ shared moral values, he connects them to the “traditional” values of Middle Eastern, Asian and other non-Western societies. “We can see how many Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization … People are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens the door to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis, so we consider it natural and right to defend these values.” While clearly identifying Russia as a largely Christian country, Putin draws a line between religious values and those of a decadent, secular West.

I witnessed the American cultural takeover of Europe, starting in the fifties, with the introduction of coca cola that gradually replaced the typical Frenchman’s glass of wine, as jazz flourished in the ‘caves’ of Paris and Berlin. Little did American expats realize at the time just how far the transformation of a world we loved would go, as together with the multifarious French left, we demonstrated against the Vietnam and Algerian wars. Never in a million years would we have imagined the cost that Europe would ultimately pay for what at the time was called ‘Americanization’ and is now called ‘globalization’ - or that a new right would most eloquently oppose this race to the bottom.



Authoritarianism versus “Democracy”



The US media went ape over Donald Trump’s interview with Larry King, accusing him of treason for positive remarks about Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian Russian president seen in the US as hardly better than a dictator. The Sunday Times’ two-pronged attack in the form of an Oped and a front-page article suggest it’s time to compare these two types of leadership. 
The US crusade to impose “democracy” around the world assumes that it’s better to have a president who cannot fulfill his promises rather than one who is able to prevent special interests from sabotaging the greater good. Going back a century, dictators are perfectly acceptable to the US when they’re our dictators, whether we’re talking about Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, or the Saudi Royal family that probably played a major role in the 9/11 attack, and is using US weapons to wage a vicious air war against tiny Yemen. 
The label ‘authoritarian’ is relatively recent and refers to strong leaders who are elected by universal suffrage but insist on getting their way. In the case of Russia, after some house - cleaning following a disastrous decade under Boris Yeltsin, who literally gave away the store, Vladimir Putin made it clear to Russian oligarchs that they are free to continue business as usual, as long as they don’t get in the way of the president’s plans to bring his country up to Western living standards.
The US media claims that elections that give Putin a comfortable parliamentary majority are rigged, as are his 80+ ratings. Apparently, the average Russian recognizes that “managed democracy” prevents the popular will from being thwarted by special interests.
Trump’s success among less educated voters suggests that they too would welcome a president who will not be prevented by Congress from fulfilling his electoral promises, whether or not they realize that single payer is more efficient than privately billed healthcare, or that climate change is a major threat. It has long been recognized that the US congress is more likely to reflect private interests than those of the majority, but few observers draw the obvious conclusion: far from being the most powerful man in the world, the American President is prevented from doing anything that interferes with the pursuit of wealth by a few. 
When campaigning for the people’s vote, candidates present a to-do list serving the interests of ‘the majority’. But due to the power of money, even when a president enjoys a congressional majority, the special interests espoused by individual representatives take precedence over his lofty projects, as they scratch each others’ backs.
Considering the ability of Congress to thwart the winner’s program, why does the presidential election dominate the news for more than a year? One reason may be to keep Americans from noticing their government’s aggressive behavior around the world, which takes precedence over the domestic to-do list. Surrounded by ‘advisors’, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that the president of the most powerful nation in the world is a figure-head, expected to do as he is told by the financial/industrial/military complex. The media’s job is to chronicle that obeisance, spinning American values into a veritable cocoon around its ‘exceptionalism’, leaving voters no mental space to independently evaluate world events and other leaders.
Polls suggest if the American electorate were presented with the portrait of a leader anonymously based on the words and actions of the Russian president, they would prefer him/her to any American president of recent memory, as Donald Trump likes to say.  American voters will probably never get to participate in that experiment, for the simple reason that Russia is the largest country in the world, with a treasure-trove of resources, in close alliance with a country whose own ‘managed democracy’ has brought the greatest number of people out of poverty in history. 
Consider also that twenty-first century America is light years beyond the founders’ agrarian society, whose relatively simple goals could be voted up or down by individuals and their neighbors. Given the finality of both nuclear war and climate change, “managed authoritarianism” may ultimately be a better 21st century choice than our distorted version of Athenian democracy.
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The Sins of the Fathers


The Bible orders that children not be forced to pay for their parents’ misbehavior, an injunction that has long since been replaced in Washington with guilt by association.
Ever since Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels stood up against nineteenth century robber barons, socialism has been anathema to America’s rulers. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, measures intended to keep socialism at bay culminated in the House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), chaired by Wisconsin Senator Joseph Mccarthy that black-listed thousands of Americans, accused of supporting the Soviet Union, some of whom committed suicide after losing their jobs.  
The USSR imploded in 1991, due to bad management by a series of aging politicians combined with American policies aimed at taking it down. And yet, a quarter of a century after embracing market capitalism, Russia is still the target of US attacks, both metaphorically and literally. When President Obama, castigating Russia’s ‘behavior’ as though he were rebuking a child, for supposedly violating US norms for the ‘world community’, President Putin replies that one country should not run the world. Together with most leaders, he calls for a multi-polar condominium in which the US would be one of four or five power centers. Unfortunately, Americans continue to be told their country is exceptional and hence must lead the world, while much of it is unhappy with the disastrous impact of US-style modernity on society’s social and mental health.
Once in a while, the MSM accuses Vladimir Putin of calling the West “degenerate”, without spelling out his reasons. Americans are unaware that the former FSB officer is profoundly religious, and that religion is central to his policies. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the Russian president’s commitment to Eastern Orthodoxy and its moral teachings also explains the support of traditional right-wing European parties, whether Catholic or Protestant. His critique of modernity also dovetails with the less familiar ‘new right’ and ‘post-modernists’ such as French philosopher Alain de Benoist and Italy’s Bepe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, both of whom condemn the impact of modernity on the soul. 
A recent book by a conservative French academic traces this outlook to Russian philosophers such as Berdyaev and writers such as Dostoevsky. In “Putin’s Russia” Ivan Blot captures this attitude in a definition that is simple and succinct: “When man has ever more ‘needs’, he becomes their slave, killing fraternity as individuals turn ever more inward.”  This critique is echoed to a remarkable extent by secularists around the world who oppose Having to Being, as I suggest in my book ‘A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness”.
The upcoming American election pits an unpredictable businessman against a professional politician with a long history of deception. The former appears to flirt with fascism, which makes it very difficult for most American progressives who focus more on domestic issues than on foreign policy, to back him although he announces a ‘realist’ foreign policy of ‘deals’ and ‘dialogue’. They are impressed by Hillary’s international ‘experience’ refusing to see the danger inherent in her anti-Russian rhetoric, implying that its current population should pay for their grandparents’ communist experiment.  
If Hillary becomes president, American children too will pay for the old Neocon plan of nuclear war with Russia.