Monday, April 14, 2014

Copycats and the Arrow of Time

I’ve often written about the application of the modern physics principle that the arrow of time is irreversible to world affairs and politics in general.  Today it is combined with copycat behaviors, thus becoming all the more important to understand

As Ukrainians pursue the historically-dictated split of their country, the West once again joining with Poland while the largely Russian-speaking East either becomes independent or joins again with Russia, using popular brute force not seen in Europe since the Second World War - or perhaps the Russian Revolution - European demonstrators fed up with Brussels and IMF imposed austerity are obviously thinking ‘We can do that, too!’

Ever since the end of World War II, in which Communist and Socialist parties across Europe played a major role in resisting and undermining German occupation, trade unions have provided the left with a strong backbone, allowing workers to demand and obtain benefits American workers cannot even imagine.  Their resilience continues to be seen every day on images of demonstrations across the European continent against levels of unemployment that hitherto had not existed in the welfare states.

European workers are also well aware of the role militarism plays in diminished social welfare, as EU countries have allowed themselves to be increasingly co-opted by Washington since 9/11.  Although Vladimir Putin correctly noted the similarity between Kosovo’s right to independence and that of Crimea, the crisis in Ukraine is different from the nineteen-nineties war in Serbia.  Serbia lay in the heart of a Europe that was merely in the process of becoming united.  Ukraine’s only claim to belong to a united Europe lies in its long history of being part of Poland; but it has an even longer history of being part of Russia.  As for today’s Europeans, the fact that Ukraine looms as a putative relative inevitably dares them to show that they are just as capable of putting their bodies where their convictions are.

So much for the copycat aspect of the situation.  As for the irreversibility of the arrow of time, this refers to the fact that once a trend is set in motion, it continues until it reaches a bifurcation point, when it can ‘dissipate’ (in the language of physics) to something different.  What direction bifurcations take is unpredictable, but is usually influenced by previous history.  Translated, this means that as revolts gather steam, the likelihood of them being stopped through negotiation or compromise is slight because each side is propelled inexorably forward.  Revolutions and wars are the most obvious examples of bifurcations.  



Friday, April 11, 2014

Turning Point

Today may mark a turning point not only in two places that have been in the news these days - Venezuela and Ukraine - but also in the larger political story of our times.

In Venezuela, President Maduro negotiated with his opposition on TV. In Ukraine, Prime MInister Yatsenyuk promised his obstreperous polity more autonomy, backing down from a threat of force to evict Eastern Ukrainians from government buildings they’ve been occupying for the last week demanding referenda.

Some will say I’m seeing what I want to see, but but I prefer to identify trends rather than small discrete victories.  And time will tell: I believe these are markers in the slow but certain turn of civilization away from two hundred years of large political systems and toward the real people’s power that coincidentally is dictated by the looming climate crisis. 

In a world that exhibits an increasing diversity of ideas, ideologies, and religions, in which desperate southern peoples still risk life and limb for what they believe will be a better life in the north, those hitherto on the fringes of their respective societies - the Greens, the students, the women, the minorities that exist in every land - are becoming the dominant voices, no longer waiting to be heard by the powerful, but taking matters into their own hands.  In order to survive, governments, like those of Maduro and Yatsenyuk, must adapt to that new reality.  These two men represent diametrically opposite philosophies, but tellingly, both are dealing with the same new world.




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fascism: Which Flavor Do You Prefer?

News that another far-right European party has garnered about 20% of the vote in parliamentary elections, as just happened in Hungary, is increasingly deja vue.  The banalization of Fascism across Europe is matched only by its pugnacity in Ukraine.  But are not revelations about the transfer of Hitler’s accomplices to the U.S., there to nurture a Neo-Conservative movement relatively recently out of the closet even more disturbing? (http://zcomm.org/zmagazine/operation-nazifi)
And what to make of the philosophy said to be behind Vladimir Putin’s ‘Eurasian’ plans, the work of the nineteenth century Berdyaev, refurbished by one Alexander Dugin, who seeks to create a Fourth Political Theory, after liberalism, communism and fascism?

As I’ve written before, governing the sheer number of people on the planet appears all but impossible without the use of force, yet totalitarianism continues to be most loudly condemned by those practicing it: the United States spies on the entire world, including its so-called allies, it assassinates its own citizens without a trial in its determination to rule the world.  Even worse, though no one seems to notice, it consistently supports fascist-like political actors, ranging from Al Qaeda to Al-Sissi (http://otherjonesii.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-us-chooses-capitalist-muslims.html).

I’m tired of reading the same lament over and over: “How can our rulers be so stupid?”  If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, but if it systematically implements fascistic policies, it’s not fascism, it’s that 
‘they’ don’t get it.  Really!

Moving on to the once and forever enemy, Russia/the Soviet Union/Russia, Putin may or may not be another fascist disguised as defender of the common man.  It is clear he is against globalization, but should we not be concerned at rumors that he seeks to reconstitute - not the old Soviet Union but a new entity englobing the same area, this time in the name of a ‘Eurasian’ ‘difference’ from both Europe and Asia? (http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/08/06/eurasian-union-myth-imitation-or-real-thing/ghpt?reloadFlag=1)

The one interesting thing about this rumored project is that its theorists affirm similarities between the traditions of Russian Orthodoxy and those of Islam.  An interesting idea, as the Arab Springs degenerate into more of the same, that I will investigate.  On the surface, it would appear they are referring to common social attitudes.

Ultimately, though, climate change aiding, we may be seeing the end of ideologies, with peoples across the globe realizing that they they have other fundamental notions in common: the rejection of Big Ideas backed by Big Guns, for the Big Business successors of nation-states. As organized revolts against militarized governments become increasingly difficult, the trend is shifting toward small groups that trust the individual authorities of their members to organize their lives.







Friday, March 28, 2014

Maidan: Occupy on Steroids

While the Right Sector threatens the Ukrainian government it brought to power for killing one of their own, others in Maidan Square are planting vegetables. (Who knew the climate at that latitude would allow it in March?)
Along with the green shoots shown on RT, this is the first real indication the outside world has that not all the demonstrators who brought down a corrupt but democra-tically elected government are wing nuts.  Among those planning to remain in he square until they are satisfied that Ukraine has an honest government are perhaps more ‘Occupiers’ than we thought.  

As long as Tea Partiers fail to agree that the community owes solidarity to its members I will be leery of lumping them together with Occupiers. However it is becoming increasingly clear from rumblings around the world - and even in Muslim nations such as Turkey and Tunisia - that the decentralization meme is spreading: the realization that people have to take charge of their lives, not as individuals pitted against other individuals, but as communities.


The shadow of Fascism that has been lengthening across Europe will not be erased by armies in the service of capital, since capital is complicit in its rise.  But it may not be entirely unreasonable to hope that it could be obliterated by individuals thinking for themselves  - and hence truly free - working together.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Obama in Chocolate Factory Earning his Keep

Yesterday I happened onto France 24 just as it was airing President Obama’s speech to a select group of Belgian students  in the presence of the king and queen and government officials at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a fancy theatre.  He started by saying: ‘What’s not to like in a country famous for its chocolate and beer?”
It was the old Obama, the one we loved and admired when he ran for his first term, the Obama of Dreams from my Father, a brilliant intellectual who knows where the major capitals are - yet caring, and funny.  You could tell he was happy to once again be in front of a young audience that could respond to his message with enthusiasm.  It was a message that glossed over centuries of strife to emphasize the noble documents they spawned but did not always follow, giving rise to the most powerful military alliance the world has ever known.

Here in the capital of EuroNatoLand, he lectured the next generation of leaders about the meaning of freedom and democracy, and the need to defend those values lest they be taken away by - essentially - the same country their parents were taught to fear all during the Cold War.

But the only enemy tanks Belgium and the rest of Western Europe have known were not Russian, but German, and every European youth has been taught what that meant. And because of that history, European youth is largely pacifist (unless you count the resentment, among the lower classes, of Muslim immigrants).  

Of course this lengthy speech was not broadcast in the United States, but you can read it here http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-president-obama-gives-speech-addressing-europe-russia-on-march-26/2014/03/26/07ae80ae-b503-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html  and still catch the French debate that followed online at http://www.france24.com/en/20140326-the-debate-obama-europe-pivot-part-one-ukraine-crimea-nato-diplomacy-defence/. (The French channel also documented the enormous number of security vehicles and personnel accompanying the president on the American taxpayers’ dime, conjuring up a Hollywood  rendition of Cleopatra’s trip to Rome.)

Here are some of the more outrageous claims the President made, perhaps thinking that Europeans are as ignorant as Americans of world events: 

“We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain (sic). Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.“ Never mind that Al Qaeda was not inIraq before we invaded, while now it controls parts of the country, together with parts of Syria.

“NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years.” NATO bombed Serbia without a UN mandate, while Obama accuses Russia of not getting UN permission to hold a referendum in Crimea.

“We are confronted with the belief among some that bigger nations can bully smaller ones to get their way — that recycled maxim that might somehow makes right.” Give a Professor of Constitutional Law a little chocolate and beer and he’ll say anything to earn his keep.  

Obama ended his speech by linking individual and national responsibility in a magisterial sweep from respecting gay rights to being strong in the face of conflict and corruption, calling for freedom to triumph over tyranny, ‘for that is what forever stirs in the human heart.”

Such an ending could not fail to stir enthusiastic applause.  But I could find no mention of the speech today in either the Belgian or French press.



Monday, March 24, 2014

The Rise and Fall of American Exceptionalism

A few months ago, Vladimir Putin wrote an Oped in the New York Times questioning America’s claim to excep-tionalism. In fact, he was saying out loud what leaders all over the world were increasingly muttering under their breath. One of the reasons why the Russian President could permit himself to retaliate for a century of Russia bashing by the West is his relationship with Europe, gain-ed not by sending tanks across the continent (which is in fact a peninsula of Eurasia), but through close economic ties built up after the fall of the Soviet Union. 
Europe is an exercise in Other toleration among a hundred different peoples in a relatively small area. While seeing itself as superior to other nations and civilizations, it is acutely aware of being part of the wider world, whose center of gravity is moving toward the BRICS countries led by Russia and China.
In a fundamental difference, America’s notion of Otherness has always implied rejection. The Pilgrim’s leader, John Winthrop told them that ‘the eyes of the world’ would be upon Christ’s ‘city on a hill’, hence their behavior must be above reproach - or ‘exceptional’. They saw toleration as a moral failing and exiled individual religious dissidents from their colonies. The subsequent overthrow of British sovereignty signaled an enduring suspicion of both government and foreigners: in 1798, the first of several legislative acts codified that exceptional American trait with the four Aliens and Seditions Acts targeting Americans suspected of sympathy for a foreign power.  

For almost three hundred years, two oceans kept the United States isolated from the give and take between neighbors on other continents. America remained alone and proud of it, interacting with other nations only to ensure that they served our needs, bought our products and agreed with our definition of freedom.

As I outlined in my 1989 book Une autre Europe, un autre Monde, published in France with a grant from the Centre National du Livre, there is a fundamental difference be-tween American and European definitions of democracy stemming from their diverging views of freedom. The American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of Human Rights lay down the same legal protections, but the young nation’s pursuit of happiness left mutual responsibility out in the cold, in contrast to the Jacobin proclamation of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’. 

That motto swept across the globe and eventually led much of Europe and the Third World to build welfare states. In America, however suspicion of both government and foreigners endured: the notion of equal opportunity spawned by the natural wealth available to all foreclosed any notion of community responsibility for individual well-being. As government became a tool of capital, the drive to the West fostered entrepreneurship, while the less daring became ‘wage earners’. The progressive move-ment that came into its own with the fight against slavery was a victim of that trajectory. In 1917, Congress renewed its drive against all things foreign with another Sedition Act, and in 1918 it passed the Espionage and Aliens Act, which contradicted the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that: 

<blockquote>“Whenever any Form of Government be-comes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. </blockquote>

The media’s loss of independence contributed powerfully to this development. The New York Times’ nineteenth century definition of purpose was beyond reproach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times): 

<blockquote> We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good;—and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment and radical reform. We do not believe that everything in Society is either exactly right or exactly wrong;—what is good we desire to preserve and improve;—what is evil, to exterminate, or reform. </blockquote>

However, as advertising chipped away at lofty ideals, journalists were tamed to serve corporate needs. In the nineteen thirties, President Roosevelt was a member of the upper class, but like Lenin, Mao and later the Castro brothers, he knew that robber capitalism was leaving too many people out in the cold. The corporate-owned press obediently conflated his New Deal with socialism, and socialism with ‘foreign’, strengthening right-wing resis-tance to progressive ideas. 

In 1938, that resistance led Congress to create the infamous House un-American Activities Committee, unleashing what became known as a ‘witch hunt’ against suspected Communists, with Senator McCarthy doing likewise in the Senate. The ideological crime of leftists was enhanced by the conviction that they were ‘beholden to a foreign power’. Uncritically reported by the media, ter-rifying machinations lead to hundreds of ruined careers and several suicides. Sixty years later, legislation that deprives children of illegal immigrants born in the United States of citizenship, flouting centuries of Roman law known as jus sol, descends directly from the fear of Others and in particular foreigners that has held sway since the days of the Pilgrims. (Openly murderous organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, formed after the Civil War endure to this day, inspiring skinheads and Neo-Nazis.)

Information about the wider world has virtually disappear-ed from the media, and criticisms of that lack continue to be answered with finality that ‘the American public is not interested in foreign affairs’. The rest of the world knows that fascism unabashedly serves the few, while socialism is at least intended to serve the many, but America’s lapdog press deliberately confounds these two ideologies and condemns a religion that requires a daily act of charity.

The legal sidelining of our two hundred year old egalitarian constitution, amended only twenty-seven times, began with a 19th century Supreme Court clerk’s stroke of the pen that granted corporations the advantages of personhood. Money and perks have always been used to make government responsive to certain interests, but in no other country has this practice been codified. American enemies of solidarity recently shut down the government for two weeks in their efforts to kill Obamacare, as a world univer-sally committed to free healthcare looked on in astonishment, and religious conflicts exacerbated by a lack of equity spread across the globe.

The paranoia that defines the United States could have faded during the rebellious sixties, but the flamboyant raiments of the counter-culture’s political message only succeeded in fanning the flames until it was ‘born again’ under the neo-conservatives. Finally, we got Wall Street Wizards who divided us into consumers and debtors, as they bankrolled the plundering of the world’s wealth. In contrast to the rest of the world, America relies on volunteers for services that should be met by society as a whole, while right wing propaganda fosters a lazy attitude among government employees, reinforcing the impression that it is wasteful. We are only ‘citizens’ when we vote, and if needed services are not profitable, ‘we’ don’t get them, because they cost ‘tax-payers’ too much. The media blackout has been carried to such an extreme that Ameri-cans are oblivious to the fact that the world is marching on without them. 

Watch Putin’s English language channel (RT.com) for a few days and you will realize that capitalist Russia, far from throwing the solidarity baby out with the Communist bath water, sees itself as a social democracy (albeit with a less developed civil society than Western models), convinced that the community must protect its individual members from want (to use Franklin Roosevelt’s famous but long forgotten phrase). In a supreme irony, it is Russia that now defends the principles enshrined by Washington in the United Nations Charter. They are modeled on revolutionary France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen which specifies that: 

<blockquote>Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circum-stances beyond his control.</blockquote>

RT systematically takes the side of the Third World against the IMF’s ‘structural adjustments’. President Putin simultaneously promotes family values and encourages modernization and in the federation’s Islamic republics while condemning mindless consumption. Putting past squabbles aside, Russia has joined with China in a formidable opposition to America’s agenda of globalization powered by a me-society.  

In contrast, although individualism reigns supreme, the notion of each person’s intrinsic worth, based on his conscience, which I call internal authority, is ignored in the land of the free. Not only have we eliminated the indivi-dual’s say in how her money is spent, we have accepted the idea that we cannot afford solidarity to ourselves. Enchanted by cinematography, which makes the most unlikely fantasies seem real, and distracted by so-called reality-tv, Americans have abandoned most of their internal authority to the daily spin intended to save them from the big bad world of solidarity. 

It took two aggressive wars for whistleblowers such as Jullian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden to appear. However, in a sign of the times, while Vietnam war resisters found refuge in Canada, today their safe-havens are Moscow and Berlin, both capitals of former enemies. Calling these heroes traitors, refusing to recognize that no country has achieved a fair distribution of wealth without government involvement, the United States continues to issue orders from its imaginary City Upon a Hill. But the world is no longer listening: while recognizing capitalism’s claim to creativity, most of its inhabitants want an end to state violence, meaningful steps to save the planet from global warming and broad-based solidarity. The leaders seen as most committed to this agenda will win their backing.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Pro-Assad Syrian Resident from California Speaks

The U.S. is not so much pursuing a new Cold War with Russia, as trying to destabilize it militarily from both near and far: in Syria and in Ukraine.  After OpedNews contributor Lilly Martin, a California born, medical professional married to a Syrian who has raised two children in that country commented on one of my articles, I asked her to describe the Syrian tragedy from inside.  Pay particular attention to the last paragraph of her assessment, about Syria’s long-standing policy known as ‘resistance’, which is never mentioned by Western media: 

“You asked me about my assessment of the current President of Syria. Prior to the crisis, Assad’s general approval rating was maybe 75%.After the crisis began, and it became apparent that it was a foreign engineered ‘regime change’ project, and not anything real, or grassroots, his approval went up slightly, let’s say 80%.

As of today, based on what I hear from friends, relatives, neighbors and various contacts I have across Syria, it is about 80%.  I work helping the refugees from Aleppo, so I hear their stories as well, which are from a different community than where I live in Latakia. (Ed note: Latakia is the border area with Turkey largely inhabited by Alawites.)

My assessment is supported by an identical statement of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Aleppo, who  in 2011 was in Paris on church business and stopped in at  the FRANCE 24, the English language  TV channel that is very anti-Assad.  It toes the line of France, and the Holland policy of support for the rebels.

This innocent cleric stated what he saw and felt, but the TV presenter almost  flipped!  She shouted, “But this is not what we are hearing from Syria at all!”  He replied, “Well, I can’t tell you anything but the truth.”  His true statement did not line up with her assumption that every-one in Syria hated him.  Not so.

I have been here 21 years, I lived under his father’s leadership, and watched the new President come to office in 2000.  When his first term finished in 2007 I thought he might start a ‘new’ election process, but he didn’t.  Now in 2014, May 7th, Syria will have the very first free election based on voters, and not the one party system, as before.  There are now 30 registered legal parties, one of which is lead by a woman.  The campaign is just beginning, the candidates have been requested to submit their names, and also sign up for campaign funds.  The election is open to any Syrian age 18 and over, no pre-registering required, no party affiliation required, you can be  independent of any party, and you can vote for any party.

The elementary schools have already begun a program in which the children participate in ‘play’ votes, in order to teach kids the value of voting, because they will be the next generation of voters.  This is all brand new here!  Before, it was one party, the members voted, then a general referendum public vote was done to accept the party’s candidate.

The new constitution was drafted and passed about 2 years ago.  It abolished the one party system.  Article #3 was controversial, because it demands the President be Muslim. Many people wanted NO religion mentioned, because for 40 years there has been a secular form of government here, but even the Socialists and Communists who were on the drafting com-mittee said that socially the Syrians are not ready for a change on that point, and in the end, even the Christian community accepted it.  Maybe one day they will amend it. 

I feel that if the ‘revolution’ in Syria, which began March 2011, had been truly a grass roots uprising of the actual Syrian people, living in Syria,  the regime change could have happened in 3-6 months.  But, from the outset it was so clear that it lacked the local, homegrown sup-port of residents on the ground.  It was always a foreign and  ex-patriate affair, funded and supported by various Gulf and Western countries for various reasons, none of which was freedom or democracy. I hope that the election can go forward in peace and order and the Syrian people can have their voices heard.  

I know they want a leader who will be strong and will continue a policy of resistance. This is  another huge factor because the West doesn’t understand that Syria’s policy of resistance is not sectarian. The vast majority of Syrians, regardless of religion or sect, support resisting the Israeli occupation.  After all, it is the brutal occupation of Palestine which is the real cancer of the Middle East.

Best regards,
Lilly Martin, Latakia, Syria"


P.S. Lilly posts regularly on her Facebook page ‘Syria is My Home’.