Friday, August 14, 2015

Cuba Comes in From the Cold

As they watch the US flag being raised over the Embassy in Havana that was closed for 54 years, (by the same Marines who lowered it then), Americans will hear news reports that emphasize the lack of certain individual rights that drove many Cubans to flee to the US. What they don't know is that Cuba is recognized the world over for the quality of its free health care and education system, 
which is also free nursery to post-doc. When I returned to Cuba four years ago I saw that many newly minted engineers and scientists could not find work in their fields. But this problem is not unique to Cuba: it is true in most developing countries, and will only disappear by cooperative efforts rather than by American-led trade agreements that increase the wealth of the 1%.[tag]
Tourists from around the world have been visiting Cuba throughout the five decades in which Americans were banned by their government from doing so, as those who are now able to go there will notice. Personally, I'll be curious to see whether three generations of Cubans who have been educated to the idea that life should not revolve around 'stuff' will be transformed into avid consumers. I'm wagering that the educational system as well as government messages will have succeeded in creating, if not the 'new man' that Che told me about in 1964, at least a population aware of the planetary consequences of an American-style consumer-society.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Scandinavia Joins the Crowd

For weeks now the foreign news has been following the immigrant drama playing out between France and Great Britain, as refugees from the Middle East and Africa try to stow away on trucks crossing the English Channel.  Before making it to Calais, many camp in pup tents in various locations in Paris, formerly known as The City of Light.  But England and France are not the only countries being up-ended by uncontrollable immigration, and the tidal wave fleeing US and European-led violence in their home countries has boosted the popularity of far-right groups across the continent, with Germany’s Pegida as the most vociferous.
A couple of years ago a Norwegian fascist killed almost a hundred young socialists in a youth camp near Oslo, becoming the first anti-immigrant Scandinavian to reach the public eye.  But as RT recently reported, the Swedish city of Malmo has been the scene of repeated anti-immigrant crimes. While violence is ubiquitous all over the world, it is difficult to imagine it in Scandinavia, seen for decades as an almost perfect place.
Not to mention the Nordic countries’ well-known commitment to the developing world, going back decades to the time when it was known as the ‘Third’ world.  What has happened to transform the Scandinavian paradise, whose welfare system inspired that of the entire EU, into a place just like any other, where the presence of dark folk gives rise to shootings and car burnings?  According to RT, the Malmo police are running out of space to store confiscated weapons, and there have been 68 shootings so far in 2015. As one youth put it: “Hand grenades grow on trees.” Others claim that whites are becoming a minority.
Few Americans know just how far the Nordic countries have carried their commitment to universal human rights, consistently being in the forefront of NGO’s helping desperately poor developing countries, as shown in many documentaries and news reports over the years. It seems Scandinavians are discovering that it is one thing to travel to underprivileged areas of the globe to lend a helping hand, and another to stand next to under-privileged immigrants in their supermarket checkout - or see their children sitting next to them in school.
In other words, Scandinavians at home turn out to be just as racist as any other white folk - or maybe it’s just the lesser educated. Whatever the explanation, it is certain that we are witnessing a sea change in the attitudes of the most ‘enlightened’ members of the world’s minority - its Caucasians - toward its majority: people of color.
Hitherto, white people have dominated a world that is, in fact, the color of honey in all its varieties, as I write in America Revealed to a Honey-Colored World. The growing stream of economic migrants from Africa and the Middle East shows that many are not willing to wait until peace and prosperity come to their countries: informed by the internet about how the rich world lives, they are risking their lives to achieve the same living standards.
When the European powers were colonizing Africa in the nineteenth century, they never dreamed their actions would come to haunt their descendants. The power of the white world seemed to rule out the possibility of the black and brown worlds ever rebelling. Even during the decolonization period that followed World War II, who could have imagined that a failure to assist newly independent countries to develop, enlisting their upper classes instead to pillage their resources, would result in pristine-white Europe being subjected to a reverse invasion by dark-skinned peoples, most of whom are not ‘even’ Christians, but Muslims.
Not since the Ottoman invasion of Eastern Europe has Christianity been threatened in its bastions. The Caliphate occupied those lands for four hundred years, setting them up to be far less developed than Western Europe. The Turkish onslaught was halted in 1526 at battle of Mohacs, and Hungarians are quick to point out what the West owes them for stopping the Ottoman penetration of Habsburg lands before they reached Vienna.
At the Western end of Europe, the Muslims conquered Spain in the eighth century, remaining there until Columbus discovered America in 1492, and although tourists admire the monuments they left behind, until the twenty-first century, most Europeans never dreamt they could become a minority in their own lands.  Of course, that is not yet the case, but far right parties have been protesting, some, like France’s National Front, for decades, originally against government encouragement of immigration to meet manpower needs.
The National Front got it right: Europe will gradually be Islamized: but it is wrong to claim that this transformation can be avoided: numbers are incontrovertible. In 2014, the population of Africa was 1.2 billion. That of the European Union was 507 million, less than half.  And it’s not a question of space: the EU counts 1.67 million square miles while that of Africa has 11.67 million square miles.  Africa has more than double the population of Europe, but it is six times larger.
Not only: according to Wikipedia, “Africa has a large quantity of natural resources including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum and cocoa beans, woods and tropical fruits” - and oil,”  so it would be difficult to make the case that African emigration is due to natural causes.

As for the Middle East, Western intervention has made it the most violent part of the world, sending thousands fleeing for their lives from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, straining the resources of neighboring countries. Europe is the logical place for them to go, and most immigrants believe they will not be welcomed with open arms because of the Union’s commitment to human rights. Recently, one Syria refugee having reached the Greek island of Kos, near Turkey, declared to France 24:  “In my own country I am not a human being.  Here I am a human being.”  The following day, one of his countrymen stood in the same place shouting:  “Why are we being kept locked in a stadium with neither food nor water?  Why? Why?”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trump vs Sanders: The End of Rep/Dem Rule

I know it's early days and anything can happen, but I believe there is a real possibility that American voters will be choosing between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in 2016.  (With Hillary out of the feminist picture, their respective running mates would likely be Carly Fiorina and Jill Stein.) 

American voters are finally realizing that they have been stuck for decades in what is referred to as the ideal political 'center', but in reality is a steadily worsening situation for the majority, to the advantage of a tiny minority. The United States is the only developed country that has not made room for any kind of socialist party, no matter how democratic, that could counter-balance the weight of corporate capital and ensure a fair deal for the average citizen.

But then, why Trump?  Because he offers American voters something they have consciously been aching for: a leader who projects strength (just look at that jaw!)  Donald Trump reminds me of 'Il Duce’: Mussolini was a small man, but in his high boots and khaki jodhpurs he looked like he could lick the world. Many short men suffer from a Mussolini complex, but Trump is six foot three. 

Moving on, America’s Middle East quagmire exemplifies nothing if not repeated bungling, and the electorate, notwithstanding a coopted media, finally sees that.  If Trump can convince undecideds that he will treat existing illegals 'fairly' (as he wants to be treated by the RNC), and protect women's right to choose, he will appeal to two of the Democratic Party’s major constituencies. notwithstanding that in social policy he is the antithesis of Bernie Sanders, claiming that trickle-down, if done right, can lift all Americans to a life of Reilly.

But why Bernie Sanders?  Notwithstanding black accusations of indifference, he will stand corrected. Black consciousness having moved from yearning for Africa in the sixties to forging ties to liberation movements around the world, Black Lives Matter is the right movement in the right place at the right time.  Similarly, Hispanics take a page from Latin America’s left-wing and the indigenous movement claims its place in the sun. (It's not for nothing that Obama made peace with Cuba: relations with the entire southern continent, home to large indigenous populations, were at stake, as its elected rulers made clear.)

Finally, the rise of ISIS, abetted by Washington's political rednecks, is a threat that can only grow, not so much thanks to American support as to its murderous presence in Muslim lands.   Violence at home and abroad is finally creating a true left-right divide in the United States, in place of the so-called Rep/Dem middle ground in which the country has been mired for decades, while the world evolved.

If Trump's wealth frees him from lobbyists, as he claims, he will potentially be the closest thing to a king that America has ever had, the only possible president since FDR who could really 'get things done'. The problem is that he aspires to be like Ronald Reagan, and that is where Bernie Sanders comes in.

Though international violence is sometimes dressed in misleading costumes (as in ISIS versus Hezbollah), the world continues to be divided between right and left, and with Sanders, a democratic socialist, the US will finally be participating in that struggle. Democratic socialism includes both private and public ownership in order to ensure that every human being receives food, shelter, education and medical care. It is practiced across Europe as well as in Russia and China, and is the reason why NATO seeks regime change in Moscow before taking on China’s ‘peaceful rise’. 

The world is no longer divided between Communism and Capitalism, but between social democracy and fascism, in which government is subordinated to private enterprise. This is the same alternative that presented itself to Germany a century ago, after the Russian Revolution. Historical research shows that the US only fought Germany because Hitler was out of control: the real enemy, then as now, is any regime that touts cooperation rather than conflict, and the responsibility of the community for the individual, as in all human families.

Trump vs Sanders may sound like a fantasy, but it’s probably the only alternative to revolution, for which American police departments, oath keepers and the military are preparing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Islamic Resistance to Imperialism, by Eric Walberg

Eric Walberg is a Canadian journalist who converted to Islam and has been covering the Middle East for a number of years.  I do not know whether there are other books about Islam by converts, but this one is written by someone who is fiercely political and who sees Islam as a remedy to the world’s ills.
Although Walberg does not say so explicitly, the notion of resistance to imperialism has been basic to Islam since the beginning of the Palestinian struggle against Great Britain in the nineteenth century.  After the creation of Israel, Iran, Lebanon and Syria became known as ‘frontline states’ in that resistance (see my review of
This is an ambitious book that may suffer from being at once an argument for Islam as the solution to the woes of the modern world and an analysis of the various aspects of Islamism as well as a history of Islamism’s progress or lack thereof by country.
The fact that Islam is the fastest growing religion on the planet - growing faster, according to Time magazine, than the population - notwithstanding Islamophobia - suggests that its appeal is fundamentally different from that of other religions, and Walberg makes that point eloquently, quoting Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian, on the Iranian revolution:
“Young people believe Islam is the solution to the ills in society after the failure of western democracy, socialism and communism to address the political and socio-economic difficulties.” It prompted Saudi rebels to occupy the Kaaba that same year in an attempt to spark revolution, Syrian Muslims to rise against their secular dictator Hafez al-Assad in 1980 and future Al-Qaeda leader Aymin Zawahiri to conspire to assassinate Egyptian president Sadat in 1981.”
And just as the US is credited with contributing to the rise of ISIS, according to Walberg “the imperialists had a strong influence on the development of political Islam during Great game II (empire against communism) encouraging Muslims opposed to theism/secularism and their nationality and/or socialist offshoots to resist leaders such as the Syrian and Iraqi Baathists and Egypt’s Nasser. This resistance caught fire in the 1980s as Afghans were catalyzed to oppose the Soviet occupation…”
In Part I Walberg sets out a theory of political Islam, first confronting “Political Spirituality and Jihad”, then the “Sunni Failure in Egypt” with theoreticians Banna and Qut’b, and finally Shia Success in Iran.  
Part II traces “The Expanding Parameters of Political Islam”, reviewing the theory of violence against invaders as opposed to Bin Laden’s violence in the Imperial Center, Zawahiri’s violence against client Regimes, the legacy of Al-Qaeda, Terrorism before an after 9/11.
In “The Perils of Cooperation” Walberg reviews recent history in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and Turkey, four very different examples, turning then to “The Perils of Implementation”, which includes a much longer list of countries that have flirted or invested in Islamic power.
Finally he considers the Return of the Caliphate, Color Revolutions and the Arab Spring, to conclude with the Twenty-First Century Umma’s Striving for a New Modernity, Muslim, Christian-Jewish Understanding and Post-materialism.
There are two strands to political Islam, the first being exploitation:
"Western economies for nearly 100 years have been sustained and built on cheap fossil fuel from the Middle East and Persian Gulf. While the vast majority of people in the Muslim world remain impoverished, their tiny ruling elites, sequestered into statelets, have enriched themselves by aligning with Western powers and allowing them to exploit the energy and mineral resources of Muslim lands."
Walberg notes that “traditional Muslim scholars, the ulama, were not much help.  Confronted by invaders, and faced at home with movements which sought to emulate the West, including nationalists and secularists, they retreated, shutting down debate about how to extricate the Muslim world from the grip of empire.”
In one of the most original insights of his books, Walberg writes: 
"The new economic order, embedded in the legal systems being fashioned by the occupiers, was resisted by both secularists and Islamists. Marx et al clarified the underlying problem: ‘the law’  in each land was being fashioned to meet the needs of the economic order, where all economic activity was condoned as long as it is carried out in conformity with ‘the law’."
For Walberg:
 "it is this enforced ascendancy of economic power over the popular political will that makes political Islam necessary today, after the defeat of the communist resistance to capitalism.  Nothing short of a ‘new law’ will do, where a code of ethics is embedded.  The communist revolutions for the most part failed to achieve this and Islamists became the main force of resistance to imperialism by default."
With this notion Islamic Resistance to Imperialism rejoins the growing global movement known as post-modernism, which is both cultural and economic, a rejection of senseless materialism based on the notion that ‘more stuff is better’, and a realization that community is better than rampant individualism that leaves scope for a religion whose God demands above all that humans treat each other with ‘’respect, justice and dignity’. 
In one of his most original contributions, Walberg makes the case that humans are wired for religion:
"Why would this ability of the brain evolve, if there were no underlying truth to it? The most sensible explanation is that indeed religion is the living embodiment of moral truth which helps people align themselves with the moral axis of the universe (and thereby survive). This is possible without religion, but requires a highly developed moral sense.
(In A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness, I wrote:  “Now, as always, the masses need rituals and communion, while intellectuals require their serenity to be based on logic. By adding a touch of poetic intuition to scientific certainties, Taoism can bring serenity to non-believers while softening the impact of Otherness on believers.)
In the second part of the book, after reviewing the contributions of major players and in particular the various Sunni/Salafi movements, Walberg chronicles efforts to achieve an Islamic umma country by country according to two rubrics, cooperation with the empire and efforts to create an islamic state, in which the Iranian Revolution of 1979 is of course given pride of place. (Walberg documents its ideological background extensively in Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games (2011).) No less significantly, he clarifies the oft confused similarities and differences between Hamas and Hezbollah, describing the Islamic State project, and concluding with efforts to arrive at a caliphate that would unite Sunnis and Shia, thus freeing the Middle East of its main source of turbulence.

Monday, July 27, 2015

High-Level French Delegation to Crimea signals "The Power of Impossible Ideas"

Right now, a delegation of French politicians and entrepreneurs is visiting the Crimea, to ascertain for themselves whether the referendum that brought the peninsula back to Russia was backed by guns or was a legitimate expression of the will of its people. The visit comes as failing French dairy farmers stop tourist traffic to Mont St Michel and parliament responds by voting massive subsidies. The unprecedented initiative illustrates Europe’s growing resentment of Washington-ordered commercial sanctions against Russia, which has retaliated in kind, and could be likened to citizen diplomacy, since it happened in defiance of the French Foreign Ministry.

In a book published in 2012, a mother of four from California documents the birth of an idea - citizen diplomacy - and its achievements over thirty years. Sharon Tennison has succeeded in melding documented milestones, illustrated by black and white photographs, with narratives worthy of a book of fiction. At a time when the threat of nuclear war between the US and Russia that first motivated her in the 1970s is again looming, her achievement is worthy of attention - and emulation.

When the US government asked hospitals to set aside beds for victims of a nuclear attack, Sharon was asked by Physicians for a Sane Nuclear Policy to speak to groups about the insanity of nuclear war. After writing to President Reagan, she was informed she had been ‘handed over to the State Department’, and when she and a group of friends visited the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco to request travel visas in 1983, the FBI tried to dissuade her from taking ordinary citizens to visit the Empire of Evil.

Since those early days, Sharon has taken about 2000 Americans to visit the USSR/Russia, and about 7000 Russians and other nationalities to the US for training in business and other fields, 6000 in business management training. Under Gorbachev, the Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI) brought both AA and Rotary to the Soviet Union. The trips to Russia focus on bringing ordinary people together to talk about their lives, based on shared professional or personal interests. 

Anti-Russian propaganda suggests that the US media maintains Americans in a view of Russia that no longer corresponds to reality, painting the portrait of a drab and bureaucratic country. Unlike what went on during the Cold War, when Communist leaders were rarely singled out unless they banged a shoe in the Security Council. With US encouragement, Russia’s first president, Yeltsin, allowed the pillaging of Russia’s precious resources by oligarchs, yet anti-Putin propaganda is widespread at present, in the face of admittedly high ratings at home, which, it is suggested, simply mean that Russians like authoritarian governments. 

Tennison, though nearly eighty, continues her efforts, convinced, like most progressives around the world, that a nuclear war is on the Neo-conservatives’ table. To get an idea of what her powerful idea is all about, here is her report on a recent trip to Volgograd:

 Our group of 20 citizen diplomats was composed of several travelers who had NEVER been to Russia. For them the trip was a new travelogue with Russian faces, discussions, home visits, and businesses appearing every few hours for the entire trip. I think all would say it was a real eye-opening experience. For others who had been there one or more times, they were shocked at the physical changes in Russia and the Russian people since they last traveled there.  Several who have traveled to Russia multiple times over the past dozen years had kept up with Russia's progress, and were fascinated to see into small and large private businesses, think tanks, have frank discussions with many new Russians; even for these watchful observers, Russia is still changing for the better.  Last for me, it was intriguing to see how ordinary (and not so ordinary) Russians are faring under the US sanctions and the loss of European trading partners. Of course, depending on whom one talks to, one gets different points of view. The following represents the opinions of the bulk of those Russians with whom I spoke.

1.  The most startling fact for me is how well Russian people are withstanding being cut off from their normal long-standing markets and trading partners in Europe––and how they are faring since their ruble lost about half of its value in the past year. They were concerned about how long this period might last, but none registered serious fear or diffuse apprehension.  Unlike us, Russians have gone through so much worse in their past. This is apparently rather small by comparison.

2.  Next, how healthy and vibrant Russia looks today. Not in my 32 years of traveling around Russia has this country looked so prosperous and orderly.  It definitely doesn't look like an isolated country under sanctions. It looks like a healthy, robust place with a great deal of modernity present everywhere.                                        

3.  There is a definite pride in Russia's citizenry that I had not seen previously. Today Russians respect themselves and their country, as opposed to the former years when, when to one degree or another, they seemed burdened with insecurities and self-doubt.

4.  Russia's structures, from 18th century buildings to today's skyscrapers, are well kept these days. Unlike yesteryear, streets and sidewalks are clean.  We traveled by metros, minibuses, and cars inside these cities––and across the countrysides by train and occasionally by cars. Highways are finally in good shape, city streets also, and they are as well marked as ours––this is new. Pedestrians have the right away with traffic now! We saw few dilapidated houses, except for rows of original wooden houses in Volgograd.  Russia's villages are disappearing which is a great loss to those who still revere village life. Khrushchev's five-story apartment buildings are being razed with numerous elegant residential buildings going up in each city. I counted 19 cranes from one vantage point in Ekaterinburg.

5.  Beauty and Russian classicism "are back" in Russia.  Having survived the ugliness of the Soviet period, the bleakness and breakdown of the 1990s, Russian designers and architects have finally come upon classic styles for new building construction and decorating. 

6.  It seems to me that Russian people have found their comfort zone.  They don't aspire to be like Americans or Europeans or anyone else.  They feel good about being Russian and belonging to Russia. I think this is due to finally settling into their "national idea" of themselves (a combination of classicism from the Tsarist era including the re-emerging Russian Orthodox faith, built-in social services from the Soviet era, plus a renewed sense of Russia's cutting edge scientists and the Russian nation rising in the world). They have been searching for "what" Russia would become since the 1980s and no doubt even earlier. They appear to have internally settled this issue for the present.

7. Russians are open and honest that they have a long road ahead of them, seeing that there is much to do to refine civic responsibility, law and order,  health care, social issues, democratizing issues and to get corruption under control.

8. Russians know they are a major country coming up in the world, yet one gets no sense that they are hungry for power.  They aspire to be part of a developing multipolar world, where nations cooperate as opposed to break into competing alliances. I agree, this is the only way that makes sense at this juncture of our world's evolution. Russians are still a modest people, and not given to grandiosity or exceptionalism, in private or in public.

9.  Russian people are still questioning what system will be best for them to develop.  Is it American Democracy? No.  Is it full blown Socialism? No.  Is it full Capitalism?  No.  Is it private sectorism?  Yes, definitely.   It is some combination of these with plenty of safeguards to support excellent education, culture, the needs of children, the disabled and pensioners, etc.  

10. Political system: They seem to still be searching for what's best for Russia ….  but are comfortable with their current trajectory at the moment.  Putin's approval rate in the Levada independent poll this week is  89%––probably the highest in the world for a head of state.  Are there those who dislike Putin, who think he should vacate the presidency and make room for someone younger without a KGB background?  Definitely.  Frequently they are the younger educated males in the major cities who believe that Putin is the root of all of Russia's challenges in the world. Those with whom I had long discussions have a lot of holes in their perceptions.  They are a thin minority but it's good for Russian society for them to exercise other points of view––even if most won't agree with them.

11. Personal freedoms:  Most Russians have the main freedoms that they cherish.  Remembering communism, they feel great that they can travel abroad at will, be safe in their homes, safe on their streets, choose any kind of work they wish, move wherever they want, educate their children as they please, read whatever they like, have whatever friends they wish, and they are glad to lead a normal life in Russia. There are Russians who push for more freedoms, they too are good for society. However, those who do such acts as desecrating the National Cathedral are not among them. Average Russians don't respect exhibitionism in any form.

12.What would Russians change, if they could?  First of all they wish for fewer taxes, less bureaucracy, less corruption and more incentives for private business.  They want a more highly organized and efficient society. They want to better understand how to innovate and instigate new levels of Russian production.

13. Russians want to build the great society for themselves and for anyone who comes there to live. They don't tolerate outsiders' ideas of how to build their country. They are frank …. if you come to Russia to live, you are expected to learn the language, live by Russian laws, work and support yourself. You don't go to Russia in order to change it. Russians themselves have the right to change Russia, but foreigners do not.

14. Russians want to help develop a more egalitarian world, one that supports growth and also takes care of societies' less advantaged peoples. 

15. Russians and their leadership in the Kremlin and elsewhere have ZERO interest in taking over more land.  Nothing would cripple them more quickly than having angry Estonians, Latvians or Ukrainians under their roof.  In addition, Russia has more land than they can use. They have more natural resources than they can extract and use/sell over the next 50 years. As far as Crimea goes, they and the Crimeans have understood themselves as the same people for centuries.  But for a drunk Khrushchev who gave Crimea to Ukraine without consulting the Crimeans in 1954, Crimea would have been part of Russia up to this day.  Rumors that Russia will take any of the Soviet space back into Russia, including Ukraine, are pure fabrications to benefit the objectives of those who are trying to reduce Russia's ability to be competitive in the world.

 Sharon Tennison

June 2015

Story to Watch, July 25, 2015

Yesterday, one of my favorite foreign news channels, probably France 24, reported that President Obama doesn’t want Great Britain to leave the European Union (not the Euro, which it never joined), although Prime Minister Cameron is planning to hold a referendum on the question. The reason for Obama’s opposition to something the Brits want is that it is through London that the US more or less controls Brussels.

But the more interesting question is why Cameron wants to leave the EU:  according to this news source, in broad strokes, he believes Great Britain never should have had to leave India, which it used to run. Updated to 2015 that means he thinks it should have close economic ties with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and the SCO (The Shanghai Cooperation Agreement, that includes most of the countries of Central and East Asia), which held a joint summit last week in a town in southern Russia that no one outside of Eurasia had ever heard of, Ufa.  (“Uffa", with the accent on the ‘u’ is Italian for fed up….)

National Review Calls Bernie Sanders a Nazi

Just when I think my fellow Americans are beginning to get their political categories straight, a fellow journalist proves me wrong. For years I have been lamenting the lack of political literacy among American policy-makers, while assuming that even compliant journalists have been educated as to the differences between socialism, social democracy, communism and nazism. I'm wondering how many journalists will read the article in the National Review by Kevin D. Williamson titled: "Bernie's Strange Brew of Nationalism and Socialism”

This is the latest example of a journalistic method that avoids analysis by twisting definitions, or mixing unrelated issues. In the 1970s I identified this tactic in a NYT review of Michael Harrington's Socialism that picked on things such a poor proof-reading to denigrate the book's ideas, and it is still a trusted technique.

Williamson calls Bernie's focus on the outsourcing of jobs to third world countries 'nationalism', a blatant misuse of the word. The Norton Dictionary of Modern Thought defines it as: (1)"The feeling of belonging to a group united by common racial, linguistic and historical ties, and usually identified with a particular territory. (2) A corresponding IDEOLOGY which exalts the NATION-STATE as the ideal form of political organization with an overriding claim on the loyalty of its citizens

Personally, I think it's a shame that Bernie has to pander to his industrial base by criticizing outsourcing, because socialism calls for the international solidarity of workers, who are everywhere exploited. But international solidarity corresponds to a higher level of class consciousness than that prevalent among American workers educated to believe in the survival of the fittest through competition, so I am glad Sanders knows he cannot win an election unless he stands up for American workers.

One of the most iconoclastic characteristics of the Cuban Revolution has been its consistent demonstration of international solidarity, as evidenced by sending troops to fight for the liberation of the African nation of Angola, as well as by being the first to send doctors to the continent's Ebola-stricken countries decades later. After fifty-six years of revolution, most Cubans take international solidarity for granted.

Moving on, the author, devoid of ideological literacy, can only rely on small details to make his point: the bumper-stickers of the attending public are more likely to say "PEACE than the more popular COEXIST. (Actually, he should have said 'the more sophisticated Coexist', but never mind.) This is followed by "'half-literate' denunciations of CORPORATE OLIGARCHY" with nothing to back up his claim.
Williamson does identify a clever ploy by Bernie's handlers: reserve a venue too small for the expected crowd so that pictures will give the impression of an overflow audience. How wicked is that!

Similarly, Bernie calling his listeners 'brothers and sisters' is hardly a typical socialist meme. The writer recognizes this, saying 'you get the feeling that after a couple of beers one of these characters is going to slip up and let out a 'comrade'. Yo Williamson, 'brothers and sisters' is black talk, whereas no part of the American public has embraced the term 'comrade' (maybe the Black Panthers?).

A woman in the audience says her husband has been trying to get her to move to a 'socialist country' such as Norway. "which of course is not a socialist country; it's an oil emirate". Throw in a colorful allusion, however nonsensical. Although Norway exports oil, like the other Scandinavian countries and the rest of Europe, it is and has been a parliamentary social democracy for decades. (The aim of the Troika is to destroy the European welfare state, starting with Greece.)

Then there's the inevitable bait and switch: suddenly you realize that Williamson, while ostensibly still talking about jobs, is now referring to trade deficits, saying ours is relatively the same with Canada as with China, as if that were relevant.

Next he interviews a Bernie volunteer who studied in Germany and wonders why the US can't have a similar system, "that interposes the government between employers and employees -- for example, mandatory paid maternity and paternity leave: I ask myself: 'Why do they have these nice things, and we can't?' I ask him to answer his own question, and his answer is at once familiar and frightening: 'Germany is very homogeneous. They have lots of white people. We're very diverse. We have the melting pot, and that's a big struggle.'"
Sure, it's easier to educate a homogeneous population to the advantages of social democracy than a heterogeneous one; easier to have workers sitting on company boards when they share the same culture and education. Bernie can't hope to "recreate the Danish model in New Jersey or Texas", but that doesn't mean we can't have more equality in the US. Actually, the young man's comment about immigration is also incorrect: Germany has had a large Muslim minority for decades, as has France, about 10% of their respective populations.What this article shows is how difficult it is going to be for American workers
to demonstrate solidarity with workers across the world, and Bernie is to be commended for not renouncing solidarity with immigrants, even though he has to stand up for American jobs. Implying that immigration is a challenge for leftists, Williamson quotes an article in the New Republic demanding that progressives oppose Obama's immigration reforms; but one can hardly call that publication 'leftist'.

(As for being able to identify a leftist or a conservative, an idea which Williamson mocks, I remember following American election results at the Paris Embassy, and looking around at the members of the expat audience, it wasn't hard to figure out which were what.)

Williamson trashes the community in which Bernie is speaking, calling it "the perfect setting for the mock-religious fervor that the senator brings to the stump." Then he criticizes Bernie's pronunciation, using the word 'oligarchy' as an example, accusing him of the "need to tick off every progressive box". But this is hardly surprising given the buyers' remorse Obama has generated. US vs THEM is only a no-no in the minds of so-called 'objective' journalists for whom class warfare is a conspiracy theory.

Back to criticizing the Scandinavian welfare state, the problem is that it is consensus-driven, leading to "crushing conformity that is imposed on practically every aspect of life." Williamson fails to admit that it is also "a stabilizing and moderating force in politics, allowing for the emergence of a subtle, sophisticat-ed and remarkably broad social agreement that contains political disputes". Bernie's politics, however, are the polar opposite of Scandinavian: "He's got a debilitating case of Tea Party envy.”

Williamson fails to note - if he is aware of it - that the Scandinavian states were not born with consensus: they had a haughty upper class and workers had to fight for small gains at the turn of the twentieth century, the welfare state coming into full bloom only after the second world war, as it did more gradually and less systematically in the rest of Europe. As for the countries of Eastern Europe, it has often been pointed out many workers there regret the loss of the protections they enjoyed under the 'Soviet yoke.'

But now comes the coup de maitre: the identification of 'the traditional bogeymen of conspiracy theorists, "from Father Coughlin and Henry Ford to Louis Farrakhan, Wall Street, etc". The radical political language of the 1970s and 1980s spoke of a capitalist conspiracy or a conspiracy of bankers (a conspiracy of Jewish bankers, in the ugliest versions), a notion to which Sanders pays ongoing tribute with the phrase 'rigged economy.'"

Notice how Williamson sidesteps the issue of money in politics: "Bernie swears to introduce a constitutional amendment reversing Supreme Court decisions that affirmed the free-speech protections of people and organizations filming documentaries, organizing Web campaigns, and airing television commercials in the hopes of influencing elections or public attitudes toward public issues." Apparently, Citizens United was all about the innocent making of documentaries and the "hope of influencing elections". A distracted reader might be tempted to agree that corporations are people and thus, as Williamson claims, the court's decision that they are not is the equivalent of repealing the First Amendment.

Finally, the writer returns to his shtick about national socialism, lumping together Venezuela's former socialist president Hugo Chavez, Julius Rosenberg who with his wife was famously executed for passing information to the Soviet Union, and Julius Streicher, a prominent Nazi propagandist prior to World War II! At a time when American workers are becoming aware that European workers have a better deal than they do, in a bid to derail campaigns for meaningful change, conservative writers resort to an old tactic: equating socialism with fascism. It's frightening to think that the average American reader of this screed is likely to buy it hook, line and sinker - and rarely has a popular expression been so appropriate!