Monday, August 27, 2012

The Algerian Warning

Ignored by the West at its peril, dismissed as a unique case of both Islamist and regime viciousness, Algeria can also be viewed as a warning to the comfortable West of things to come: Algeria the neo-liberal showcase.

Algeria and the U.S. are two sides of the neo-liberal coin: the rich exist on a foundation of exploitation. While perhaps true as far as it goes, that static perspective conceals a more threatening reality: Algeria is the end point of neo-liberalism, the U.S. in the 1970s the beginning. While certainly morally troubling, for Americans in the 1970s, that might have imparted a somewhat reassuring message, but after 2008, U.S. citizens find themselves in a rather less encouraging position, visibly further down the road in the direction of Algeria. With millions out of work and more millions out of their homes while financial criminals receive taxpayer bailouts and a “stay out of jail free” card, with a health care system designed for profit rather than public health, with wages declining even as job security and job benefits are evaporating, Americans are beginning to see in the distance the impoverishment of society for the enrichment of the rich that constitutes the only system any living Algerian has ever known.

Algeria neither produces nor invests, living off resource exports, Lyes Akram tells us, with the profits going everywhere except to the people, one might add. With neither rule of law nor political institutions that protect the people, “the situation could not be more dangerous.”

l’Algérie est probablement le seul pays au monde dont l’économie est compréhensible aux enfants de 5 ou 6  ans. Deux axes. On ne produit quasiment rien et on n’investit pas. On importe presque tout et on exporte nos ressources qui sont surtout épuisables. En outre, la rente n’offre pas une vie décente au Algériens, à cause des rapines effrénées et de la corruption débridée. Même si les Algériens voulaient, pour des raisons déraisonnables, oublier l’illégitimité du régime, lui pardonner ses crimes passés et présents, il n’est nullement dans leur droit de permettre des crimes à l’encontre des générations futures. Puisque à l’évidence, la politique économique du régime, c’est l’assassinat de l’économie et la dilapidation irréversibles des ressources.Défaillance totale, ruine de l’économie, destruction du système éducatif, décomposition de la société, mais aussi, rappelle Hocine Aït-Ahmed, « Cinquante ans après la proclamation de l’indépendance nationale, nous voici face aux mêmes absences : Absence d’un Etat de droit, absence de vie politique, absence de constitution digne de ce nom, absence d’institutions légitimes capables de protéger le peuple autant que le pays des abus et d’assurer son droit à vivre dans la liberté et la dignité ». La situation du pays est on ne peut plus dangereuse.

While the Algerian author does not appear to have been thinking about Americans, for us to dismiss the plight of Algerians as irrelevant to the future of U.S. society would be a dangerous delusion. Algeria and America are inexorably bound by our thirst for their oil and the ease with which the Algerian military/intelligence dictatorship (that is the polite description; some Algerians would choose the word “voyoucratie” [thugocracy]) sell the line that only they stand between us and the barbaric hordes of fundamentalist Islam/middle class democracy. (What difference, after all, is there between revolutionary violence and true democracy from the perspective of a repressive and kleptocratic elite? Either way, if you are Pinochet or Somoza, you lose your privileges.)

With the social contract defined by the New Deal now being shredded--e.g., by the breaking of public worker contracts (in Wisconsin) and retirement contracts (throughout the U.S.), the conspiracy theory that the elite might intentionally impoverish the U.S. population—defining it as “superfluous”—just as the population of Algeria has, since 1992, been defined as superfluous, is beginning to appear a bit less crazy. Perhaps it is time we reevaluated the post-colonial experience of Algerians.

The Ugly Truth about Algeria

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Israel Radicalizes U.S. Politics

Clearly, a war against Iran would be bad news, but even if war is avoided, the crisis atmosphere being generated by Israeli politicians is causing severe long-term damage to the national security of all involved states – the U.S., Israel, and Iran.

Many observers have warned that a US war with Iran would be a disaster far worse than the US occupation of Iraq. Americans need to remember the lessons of the Iraq war: we did not win. Whether or not the U.S. was defeated outright in its attempt to conquer and occupy Iraq may be argued; the ultimate outcome will not be known for years. But U.S. forces were pretty clearly booted out. All those monster bases designed to project U.S. military force throughout the region are now in the hands of Iraqis, are they not? And those Iraqis are leaning pretty publicly to the side of Tehran, are they not? Aside from a handful of much richer corporate CEOs, what American would call that “victory?” Iran is a much harder target than Iraq, likely requiring far more blood and treasure. Clearly, Israel's efforts to provoke impressionable US politicians into attacking Iran constitute a clear and present danger to US national security.

But even if no war occurs, the US will still have suffered grievous harm from Israeli behavior. Regardless of whether or not Israel actually wants a war against Iran, its politicians are generating dangerous war fever in the US and are thus radicalizing US politics. The minimal result of this is the strengthening of short-sighted, violence-prone extremists in the U.S., provoking global instability and an accident-prone U.S. foreign policy. Almost certainly, this militarization of foreign policy will be accompanied by bigger, more centralized, more elitist domestic government. The second result of war fever is the long-term strengthening of the military-industrial complex and the concomitant weakening of US diplomacy. The third result, flowing from the first two, is that US foreign policy is constrained, and, as US flexibility decreases, the US will become weaker, less able to deal with the complex international challenges it faces. Decision-makers under the pressure of public war fever will plan less carefully, consider a narrower range of options, and will inevitably find violent options easier to choose for short-term political reasons even if those options are understood to offer little chance of long-term success. Finally, as should be obvious, this whole process will, as it strengthens those US political circles favoring militarism, weaken US democracy and undermine US civil liberties for war fever and democracy are bitter enemies.

The actual dynamics of these changes provoked by war fever are even more complicated and ominous than the above enumeration suggests, for they interact, generating positive mutual feedback loops: i.e., the longer politics are radicalized, the greater the gap between any real justification for war and the degree of war fever. War fever becomes less and less a response to reality, more and more a result of the internal dynamics of political behavior: war becomes justified by war fever. The more politics are radicalized, the weaker become politicians advocating cautious, reasoned evaluation of policy choices and the stronger become politicians willing to exploit tension for personal gain, which instantly translates into the personal gain of the leaders of the military-industrial complex. As this process continues, those CEOs, in turn, do not only get richer but interfere in politics, turning into advocates of the wars from which they benefit. Few will be the citizens who point out the obvious conflict of interest. The stronger the extremist coalition becomes, the more international tensions will rise for other countries will react to the rising U.S. challenge, either by arming and preparing to resist or, as is evidenced by the behavior of elites from Pakistan to Paraguay, by cooperating with U.S. elites against the interests of their own people, thereby provoking popular resistance, which in turn will lead to violence that will be cited by U.S. extremists as “proof” that a foreign policy based on war is required and as justification for curbing the domestic U.S. civil liberties that are frequently the primary target of extremist U.S.politicians in the first place. Expansionist Israeli politicians crying wolf about regional adversaries as a cover for their plans to colonize the West Bank provide, in turn, marvelous cover for rich Americans who want to transfer the funds of social service programs into their own pockets. The new partnership between the Israeli right wing and the U.S. super-rich stands on a foundation of solid gold.

The nuclear argument, not to mention the far more fundamental general strategic argument, between Iran, the U.S., and Israel, has many facets. Regardless of one's opinion of the alleged Iranian nuclear threat, regardless of one's opinion of the quality of Iranian governance, regardless of one's opinion of Iran's political challenge to U.S. regional supremacy, the tactics being pursued by Israeli politicians are causing profound long-term harm to U.S., and Israeli, national security and are poisoning the political culture of both countries as well. 

In sum, even if no war with Iran occurs and even if the feared Iranian nuclear challenge evaporates in the noonday sun, Israel will have caused severe long-term harm to US national security and to US political culture by its waving of the bloody flag. The endless public crisis atmosphere being generated by Israeli politicians does not help protect Israel; it hobbles Israeli and American decision-makers, who cannot completely insulate themselves from public emotions. It also strengthens radicals in Iran because public war fevers are contagious. Right-wing, violence-prone politicians willing to exploit public fears for private advantage on all sides are strengthened; moderates are made to appear disloyal; decision-makers get tunnel vision; CEOs of military-industrial corporations and extremist politicians profit while the long-term security of all diminishes.

Thanks, Israel. With friends like you...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Israeli Settler Terror: It's Official

If Netanyahu's political allies in the West Bank are committing terrorism, the U.S. may still defend Israeli security, but why is it cooperating with the Netanyahu regime?

In a major step toward an honest public evaluation of Israel, the State Department has finally recognized the existence of organized violence against Palestinian residents by the (illegal*) Israeli settlers as "terrorism."
One may sneer that the State Department was the last organization on earth to realize this, but that would be to miss the significance of the event.

Washington tightly ties its foreign policy to the Netanyahu regime despite the fact that illegal encroachment on Palestinian territory by Israelis is at the core of Netanyahu's whole approach to governing Israel. For Washington officially to recognize that the settlers Israel is supporting include terrorists shines an embarrassingly bright light on the contradiction between Washington's claim that it opposes terrorism and its alliance with Israel.

Admittedly, the State Department report went to great lengths to bury the admission, beginning the Israeli section by characterizing Israel as a "resolute counterterrorism partner," even though the characterization of behavior by political allies of Netanyahu as "terrorism" would seem to contradict that assessment. In addition, the report depicted settler terrorism as isolated acts rather than anything like a steady campaign. Moreover, Washington has yet to come to grips with the degree to which the Israeli army and police (and therefore the Netanyahu regime as well) support not just the theft of land from Palestinians for illegal Israeli settlers but also the specific acts of terror that they commit as well. Nevertheless, State's recognition that it is indeed "terror" would seem to make it only a matter of time before the issue of Tel Aviv's attitude toward that terror also surfaces, and that will in turn put further cracks in the edifice of  the U.S.-Israeli alliance...unless Tel Aviv can bring itself to crack down on the very domestic terrorists whose votes Israeli politicians so covet.
* Yes, illegal:

A report by the Israeli human rights organisation, Peace Now, listed the many ways Israeli governments have been using to confiscate Palestinian land. It stated that over the years, Israel has been using various legal and bureaucratic procedures to confiscate Palestinian land and use it for building colonies. These included “seizure for military purposes; declaration of state lands; seizure of absentee property”; and “confiscation for public needs and initial registration.” This way, “Israel has managed to take over about 50 per cent of the land in the West Bank.”...

A comprehensive report by the Israeli human rights organisation, BeitSelem, concluded that the colonisation policy created in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a regime based on discrimination “reminiscent of ... the Apartheid regime in South Africa.” [American Task Force.]

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tools of the Rich

The citizens of the U.S. are shortchanging themselves by allowing the super-rich to define taboos in order to prevent society from considering fundamental reforms that might preserve our democracy, enhance our security, and improve our the expense of constraining the ability of the super-rich to amass more wealth.

Politics in the U.S.—at the level of policy-making—has a degree of rigidity, narrow-mindedness, and short-sightedness that causes enormous harm to the security and quality of life of Americans.  These constraints are self-imposed; more precisely, they are intentionally imposed by the elite to constrain the voters from exercising their full legal democratic rights of popular oversight. Accepted without a second thought, these unstated and unreasoned taboos prevent Americans from taking full advantage of their vast natural and intellectual resources. The result is a set of interlocked policies that needlessly undermine American security and worsen the general quality of life in American society. 

Taboos obstructing honest evaluation of fundamental policy choices prevent American society from moving effectively in new and desperately needed directions. The American system is based on open debate to find answers to complex problems. That is the best system yet discovered for resolving national problems, but it only works when society faces its options honestly. New directions do exist for addressing this set of challenges, but the roads will only be found if we are
willing to look for them.

these fundamental policy choices—precisely the ones meriting the most meticulous public debate—are typically the public policy decisions made with the least care, the least debate, the least thought. The results include a foreign policy based on military force even when force intensifies hostility; health care as a business rather than a right; environmental policy favoring consumption now rather than preservation for future generations; and an economic policy that has been enriching the super-rich by impoverishing the rest since the Reagan era.

Sure, everyone talks about health care and foreign policy and economics and the environment, but look at content of the debates: it focuses on details. Should we, perhaps, modify the degree of Wall Street regulation a bit (while still leaving the main offenders in business)? Should we, perhaps, talk to international adversaries (in order to get them to do what we previously used the threat of violence to achieve)? Should we, perhaps, add a few soldiers in uniform to your Muslim country of choice or should we use mercenary forces out of uniform (but without altering our goal of suppressing dissent)? Should we, perhaps, pass a new environmental protection law (but without holding corporate executives criminally responsible for their cheating on the laws already passed)? Should we, perhaps, add a sliver of the disadvantaged to the rolls of those favored with health insurance (but surely without endangering the massive profits of the health care industry)?

The basic questions that address fundamental direction are seldom voiced. They are taboo. 

·          A foreign policy of true compromise with reformist Islam is a taboo subject.
·          A health care policy that rejects socialism for the health care industry and institutes socialism for the disadvantaged is a taboo subject.
·          An environmental policy that punishes corporate polluters and preserves the environment (allowing economic functions only within those constraints) is a taboo subject (the recent New York Times expose of corporations polluting the nation’s drinking water notwithstanding).
·          A financial system that puts society first, employing capital only as a tool for the common good by constraining exploitation and stimulating responsible productivity is a taboo subject.

Americans do have certain cultural/political advantages. Perhaps the greatest is the consensus that those who break taboos are not killed, so, yes, I can voice these complaints in safety, something I would not be able to do in, say, China, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. While I am grateful for this, it does not invalidate my argument. Taboos work more subtly in the U.S.: those who violate them may speak; they are simply ignored. In terms of having influence, if you challenge taboos, you will be cut out of the debate, will no longer be heard, will effectively no longer exist except as an official non-person, an “…ist,” as in “racist, socialist, leftist.” In (we imagine) highly stable, albeit tenuous, Neolithic times, banishment of those who broke village taboos by speaking out may have enhanced group survival; in the contemporary rapidly evolving world, by precluding flexibility, observing taboos invites disaster.

U.S. has an historic power advantage over its adversaries (even after a decade of behaving like a rogue elephant), the best higher education establishment on earth (albeit a very weak primary and secondary education system), and enormous resources. These advantages give American society an incredibly fruitful array of options. That is, Americans have the collective power to do an unimagined range of different things...if they can open their minds sufficiently to imagine taking new directions toward a fundamentally more just and effective society. Whatever the route to a perfect society, we will never find it (or even succeed in treading water in today's volatile world) if we censor ourselves from discussing the basic options about the fundamental direction of public policy.

These taboos do not arise by chance. Examine these taboos and you will see that each prevents discussion of an issue captured by the super-rich. We cannot discuss the fundamental militarist posture of U.S. foreign policy because that would call into question the war profiteering of arms manufacturing corporations. We cannot discuss the relationship between global overheating and energy policy because that would call into question government favoritism toward Big Energy (in turn of course not unrelated to a foreign policy based on force and collaboration with repressive third world regimes). We cannot discuss the idea of health care as a right because that would not just imperil the wealth of Big Pharma but would start a chain reaction undermining the whole concept of putting the incomes of the corporate elite ahead of the common welfare. We cannot discuss the relative merits of a financial system for the purpose of accumulating capital in private hands vs. a financial system for the social good because that would bring down the whole class system in which Americans sadly do not realize they exist…because the strengthening class system is the greatest taboo of all.  Debate is the foundation of democracy; taboos are tools of the ruling class.

The most recent example of how taboos cripple open debate of fundamental social issues is Romney’s blatant effort to reinforce the insidious taboo against discussing class in American society. The reason for this taboo is clear: as long as we are forbidden from mentioning “class” (except to deny the relevance of the concept for our uniquely perfect system), we cannot even ask if class distinctions are getting worse or if the tax code is biased in favor of the upper class or if the upper class (which cannot, by definition, even exist in the U.S.) might possibly be destroying our democracy. And obviously the taboo on discussing classes also conveniently prevents us from seeing the class war that the rich have been fighting with great success against American society for the past generation.

To avoid all such potentially embarrassing discussion, Romney is accusing Obama of running a campaign based on “hatred.” It is way beyond curious that Romney could so neatly have stuffed his foot in his mouth by raising the issue of politicians who run campaigns based on "hatred" just as he decides to put the most mean-spirited man in Washington a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Romney has handed Obama his response on a silver platter: "Yes," he should say, "this campaign is about hatred." Depriving the most unfortunate while bailing out financial criminals and engorging an obese Pentagon with grossly overpriced weapons designed to defeat an empire that is only visible when Uncle Sam looks in the mirror can go by no better name than "hatred."

Hatred has its uses, and what Americans should hate includes: immoral politicians on the take from the rich to deprive the man in the street just to make the rich richer; big corporations demanding welfare for themselves while denying decent wages to their own employees; financial criminals on Wall St. taking bailouts while designing schemes to defraud homeowners and investors; hypocritical politicians claiming that fleecing the poor to enrich the rich is "patriotism;" war profiteers making $25 million a year who take their corporate headquarters overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes on the profits they made fighting wars harmful to U.S. national security...wars for which they campaigned.

And so, ironically, I reach agreement with financial fat cat Romney. "Yes, sir. You are right. This election is about hatred." And Obama needs to find the backbone to face the divide between the radical right-wing Republicans (unfortunately, the only breed of Republican still standing) and the American people. 
It has come to this: there is no longer room for compromise. Our house cannot stand 99.9% slave, 0.1% free. We are at war--the people vs. the super-rich, democracy vs. a class system. Those who equivocate and respect taboos are lackeys of the super-rich. Obama needs to decide which side he is on…or Americans need to vote for the Green Party.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Romney Dares Refer to 'Hatred'?!?

Romney has accused Obama of campaigning on "hatred." Now that he has brought up that particular topic...

It is way beyond curious that Romney could so neatly have stuffed his foot in his mouth by raising the issue of politicians who run campaigns based on "hatred" just as he decides to put the most mean-spirited man in Washington  a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Obama's response is handed him on a silver platter: "Yes," he should say, "this campaign is about hatred." Depriving the most unfortunate while bailing out financial criminals and engorging an obese Pentagon with grossly overpriced weapons designed to defeat an empire that is only visible when Uncle Sam looks in the mirror can go by no better name than "hatred."

Here's what I hate: immoral politicians on the take from the rich to deprive the man in the street just to make the rich richer; big corporations demanding welfare for themselves while denying decent wages to their own employees; financial criminals on Wall St. taking bailouts while designing schemes to defraud homeowners and investors; hypocritical politicians claiming that fleecing the poor to enrich the rich is "patriotism;" war profiteers making $25 million a year who take their corporate headquarters overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes on the profits they made fighting wars harmful to U.S. national security...for which they campaigned.

And so, ironically, I reach agreement with financial fat cat Romney. "Yes, sir. You are right. This election is about hatred." And Obama needs to find the backbone to face the divide between the radical right-wing Republicans (unfortunately, the only breed of Republicans still standing) and the American people. It has come to this: there is no longer room for compromise. Our house can no longer stand 99.9% slave, 0.1% free. We are at war - the people vs. the super-rich. Obama needs to decide which side he is on.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Peruvian Protests Against Mining Pollution Expand

As the tense stand-off between Peru’s Humala Administration and the population of Cajamarca over central government support for gold mining against the wishes of the residents, protests over misbehavior by international corporations in Peru is spreading.

On August 6, protesters in Yungay province, Anchash region began taking action against a mining operation that is polluting Huascaran National Park with cyanide, with the local leader complaining that the Humala Administration has shown “no interest.”

This is not the first problem in the Anchash region this year with pollution by mining corporations. A pattern of central government cooperation with international corporations at the expense of local residents is becoming steadily clearer, and the predictable result is rising instability as the population struggles to be heard."

Points to Watch:

Policy Process Fairness

To make effective policy and to understand what game policy-makers are playing, process must be distinguished from policy. If the policy is a search for peace, but the process is seen by the adversary as intentionally designed to put them at a disadvantage, the result is likely to be violence.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Neo-liberal Crisis Threatens Peru

Crisis threatens Peru, with presumed populist Humala taking a corporatist stand. Rhetoric is hardening on both sides, and no one appears able to define the struggle between the rural poor and international gold mining interests in a positive-sum manner.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Democracy or War?

Attitude toward democracy and war seem critical factors in the evolution of the U.S., judging from four core trends currently evident: rising corporate control, rising corruption, rising elite preference for war over negotiation, and the strengthening of class divisions. (Part I of this series on the future prospects of the U.S. discussed the four trends.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

From American Dream to American Illusion

Rising government acceptance of corporate corruption, intensifying corporate control over politics, rising preference in Washington for a foreign policy based on force rather than diplomacy, and accentuation of class divisions with rising inequality in the U.S. constitute a shift in direction away from the post-WWII growth of the middle class and democracy. The decline in the prospects of the average American have been so slow that most seem unconscious of the change, but in the space of one generation, the American Dream has been transformed into the American Illusion. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sovereignty Imposes Responsibility

Sovereignty, Washington has informed the world, comes with responsibilities. Sounds good so far, but I have yet to hear Washington enumerate the responsibilities that come with its own sovereignty. Presumably the list would include the responsibility to attack every bad guy it wants to attack anywhere on the planet regardless of the attitude of the local population and regardless of whether or not that guy has actually been proven, by any standard, to be “bad,” and regardless of whether or not that guy has directed his “bad” behavior at the U.S. Presumably, the responsibilities of U.S. sovereignty do not include attacking corporate criminals who despoil the earth or allied politicians who foment war. The list of responsibilities adherent to the sovereignty of other states is of course different.

The Enemy of Society

U.S. society remains, despite war and recession, sufficiently comfortable and deluded so that it refuses to face up to the harm it is suffering from allowing its pro-business/anti-people system to continue to exist. It is not necessary to eliminate business, which is a useful tool, but when that tool is transformed by a misguided elite into an idol existing not to benefit society but for its own sake, then the fundamental shape and values of society are warped, and the tool becomes a weapon employed by rich CEOs to plunder the wealth of everyone else. The solution is to create institutions that serve, not exploit.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Venezuela: Victim or Target?

Washington, Bogota, and Caracas agree that the cocaine that used to be exported from Colombia to the U.S. is now being exported from Venezuela to the U.S. A decade of U.S. arms and money has apparently just moved the drug gangs’ headquarters to a neighboring piece of jungle. MSM rhetoric has a profound anti-Venezuelan bias. As Washington appears to be shifting its focus from the Mideast to Latin America, will Venezuela be treated as victim or target?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Class War in America

The super-rich have launched a class war against the people of the U.S., a war that, for most of our politically naive population, was revealed only with the Financial Crisis of 2008, yet the super-rich continue to gain ground. An extraordinarily clear statement describing how this class war against America is being fought was given in testimony before Congress on July 10, 2012 by Dennis Kelleher, President and CEO of Better Markets, Inc. His statement is invaluable in outlining concisely what occurred and forecasting in detail the likely consequences of a continued failure of Washington to start representing the interests of, not corporations and the super-rich, but the American people. Every word is worth reading. What follows is just the outline.