Tuesday, May 26, 2015

American science will save Mexico from... the Americans

We can look at the illegal drug problem, first as an individual tragedy, something that destroys ordinary lives and secondly, and probably more importantly, as an enormous business that moves billions of dollars beyond the control of legitimate state authority and which corrupts said authority in a worldwide chain of corruption and violence that degrades the lives of millions of people, especially in poor and disorganized societies.

"Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States"
Porfirio Diaz

The oft repeated quote above has become a classic because it would be impossible to condense more truth in fewer words.

Continuing in this long tradition, the insatiable appetite of Americans for "recreational" drugs, and America's endless supply of freely available automatic weapons for Mexican narcos is literally destroying Mexico.
MEXICO CITY—The killing of a 6-year-old boy, allegedly at the hands of five children playing a game of kidnap, has stunned people here and raised questions about the effect the country’s wave of drug-related violence is having on society.(...) For the past decade, Chihuahua state was known as a murder capital as warring drug gangs fought over an important shipping route for cocaine and other illegal drugs heading to the U.S. Since 2008, the state has registered more than 17,000 homicides. In 2010, violence peaked at 111 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with an annual rate of about 4 per 100,000 in the U.S. and less than 1 per 100,000 in most of Europe. (...) In a recent study, (the Citizen Council for Security and Justice in Chihuahua, a civic group) and others like it asked dozens of children across the state what kind of violence they had witnessed in their communities. “We were astonished by the results,”(...) The children had latent memories of the homicides, kidnappings that happened in their neighborhoods. They drew dead bodies in soccer fields, corpses in a pool of blood. They drew weapons, and even bullets.” (emphasis mine) Wall Street Journal
About 70 percent of the guns seized in Mexico and submitted to a U.S. gun-tracing program came from the United States(...) Evidence that U.S. weapons trafficking has been fueling a bloody drug war that has cost more than 35,000 lives in Mexico since late 2006 has angered many Mexicans. "I accuse the U.S. weapons industry of (responsibility for) the deaths of thousands of people that are occurring in Mexico," former President Felipe Calderon said. "It is for profit, for the profits that it makes for the weapons industry." Huffington Post
Of course, as far as official America (the White House) is concerned this is all Mexico's fault:
Foreign sources of opium are responsible for the entire supply of heroin consumed in the U.S. Efforts to reduce domestic heroin availability face significant challenges. (...) according to UN estimates. During the 1990's, Latin America evolved as the primary supplier of heroin to the United States (...) opium poppy cultivation in Mexico remains high, and Mexico continues as the primary supplier of heroin to the United States. Estimated cultivation of opium poppy reached 10,500 hectares in 2012, with an estimated pure potential production of 26 metric tons.(...) The responsibility for curbing heroin production and trafficking lies primarily with the source countries. The profitability of growing opium poppy and the lack of resources or commitment by regional governments to implement crop substitution, alternative development, or eradication are key factors that prevent significant progress toward reducing opium production. (emphasis mine) The White House President Barack Obama
Paradoxically, legalizing marijuana in many places in the USA, thus making, good, reliable, local cannabis available at competitive prices, has been leading Mexico to produce more heroin.
Policy changes in America have given Mexico’s narco-farmers further incentives to focus on opium. Until not so long ago, Mexican traffickers made a lot of their money from cannabis. But these days most of the cannabis in America is home-grown. Nearly half the states have legalised medical marijuana, and four have voted to legalise it outright. Exporting pot to the United States is now like taking tequila to Mexico. Facing a glut in the cannabis market, Mexican farmers have turned to poppies. Economist
Here is the good news for Mexico: in a not too distant future, it will be possible to "brew" heroin in American garages or kitchens like meths: "Breaking Bad" style.
Shortening an industry’s supply chain is bound to affect the activities of existing suppliers. That is as true of the recreational-drugs industry as it is of any other. (...)  Savvy drug barons will therefore be reading their copies of Nature Chemical Biology with particular interest—for the current edition of the journal contains a paper describing a technology that could completely disrupt their business models.(...) For the authors of this paper, (...)have found the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle that will permit opiates to be made from glucose through the agency of yeast (...) instead of fermenting sugar into alcohol, you will be able to ferment it into morphine.(...) If strains of yeast that can turn out opiates are liberated from laboratories and pass into general circulation, brewing morphine-containing liquor for recreational use will be easy. It will be illegal, of course. And the authorities will, no doubt, try to crack down on it. But those who smuggle the stuff from places like Afghanistan may find themselves driven out of business by home-brew opium clubs based in garages. The Economist
You don't have to wear a tinfoil hat to sometimes think that the international "war on drugs" is just part of the game, useful in raising the street price of the product and an opportunity for taking more bribes.

Legalizing cannabis doesn't mean more people smoking it, just as legalizing alcohol after prohibition didn't mean mass-alcoholism, it just meant more tax money for the state.

It might be more productive to ask why so many Americans need so many mind-altering substances, in such quantities, to get through life.

Until that question is solved, the technology of home-brewed American heroin, which, like meths, will never be legal, could at least break the back of the Mexican drug cartels, save thousands of lives and finally, and not the least important for Americans, keep a large country bordering the United States, with a population of about 124M from dissolving into anarchy. DS
 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Baltimore and America's running sore

A recent report states that in March 2014 alone, police encounters in the United States resulted in 111 killings, twice as many as were killed by British police in the entire 20th century. U.S. police disproportionately and excessively target minorities at traffic stops, and U.S. courts disproportionately and excessively convict minorities of crimes.(...) The city’s chief of police resigned following a string of outrages, including the discovery of racist emails circulated within his police department that suggested Barack Obama “would not be president for very long because what black man holds a steady job for four years.”(...) While Wall Street stocks won’t take a hit from the riots in Baltimore, the image of the United States as a free, fair, and prosperous land for all certainly does. Some 150 years after the end of the U.S. Civil War, the United States has not overcome its reprehensible domestic legacy of racism. Foreign Policy
Poverty is a global problem, but how it affects young people’s sense of hope and well-being is not universal. Teenagers in Baltimore face poorer health and more negative outlooks than those in urban centers of Nigeria, India and China. That’s what we discovered in a study we published last year (...) witnessing community violence and having a low sense of social support may be especially relevant in determining the health and well-being of adolescents in disadvantaged urban environments. That feeling of a lack of social support extended to law enforcement. Shockingly, over 80 percent of Baltimore youth in our study had little or no trust in the police, the justice system, the broader government, or other public authorities.(...) Young people progress through schools without learning the skills sufficient to obtain living wages. Single parents must work two or three jobs to feed and shelter their families. Young people grow up without any successful role models. The result is that everyday life for some of these young people is so traumatic that the rates of PTSD match those of combat veterans.(emphasis mine) Washington Post 
One of the most pleasant things about being an American expatriate is escaping from daily exposure to America's endless racial tension. Billie Holiday said that to be black in America was like going through life wearing shoes one size too small, but it could be said that, for white America, playing life-long the role of the "tight shoe" itself, causes them to share in much of that same discomfort.

This is a problem that cries out for very active social policies that in the context of today's political paralysis are totally utopian. As I have pointed out in a previous post, racism is a classic tool for distracting public opinion from such issues as climate change or raising taxes on the "one-percent".

Before we even begin to design remedies we have to recognize that the African-American experience is totally exceptional. The Washington Post article I have quoted above speaks of the "lack of social support" in the Baltimore ghetto... This is not some failing of the community itself, it has been built into the system since the days of slavery. A coherent, "supportive" community in the context of slavery would have meant resistance, rebellion and revolt. It was vital for slave owners (and those who have taken their place) to strip the Africans they owned of any sense of community.

This a basic difference from all other American ethnic groups.

Immigrants, in contrast to slaves, came to communities of their countrymen, landsmen, connazionali etc, so that a Sicilian immigrant to New York had the mafia to protect him, or the first generation  Hasidim from Russia and Poland could live and work, form stable families and raise children in the same city. All of them arrived with practically no knowledge of the language and customs of their new home, and thanks to their community life their children had a secure and supportive environment in which to learn the new language and culture and become successful.

It was vital for the very survival of slavery and even of the slave owners themselves that Africans never have such sense of unity and community. The proof of this is that in one of the few places in the Americas where such a community spirit from "the old country" ever existed among African slaves, Brazil, the most successful slave revolt of all took place: the "Bahia Revolt".
In the eastern state of Bahia, slaves made up about one third of the labor force. Understanding the origin of these slaves is very important to understanding how the revolt was so successful. Most of the slaves came either from Senegambia (on the western coast of Africa), or from the Bight of Benin (modern-day Benin, Togo, and Nigeria). The slaves from these areas were almost entirely Muslim. The Wolof and Mandinke people of Senegambia were entirely Muslim by the 1400s(...) Even as slaves they managed to carry on an Islamic community with imams (scholars), mosques, schools, and communal prayer. In the capital of Bahia, Salvador, where the revolt would take place, over 20 different mosques existed, being built by both Muslim slaves, and freedmen (former slaves who had gained freedom).(...) The Wolof, Mandinke, Hausa, Nupe, and Yoruba all spoke different languages. While some people have ignorant ideas about Africa being one monolithic entity, it is a diverse continent of different people, cultures, and nations. These Muslim slaves in Bahia were as diverse as a group of French, German, Russian, and Greek speakers. Despite their ethnic differences, the unifying factor between all of them was Islam. Islam provided them with a common language to speak (Arabic), common customs, dietary habits, and behaviors.(...) After the revolt, a general fear of Africans, particularly Muslims, gripped the people of Brazil. The Brazilian government passed laws that led to a mass deportation of Africans back to Africa. One of the original goals of the Bahia Revolt was to be returned to Africa, so this can be seen as a partial victory for the rebellion. (emphasis mine) Lost Islamic History
You can see that even today, for the "good and the great", anything that would unite the African-American community in violent resistance, such as the deaths of innocent black men, is to be avoided or waltzed around, and if necessary quashed...  I can't imagine that American police being given military equipment such as armed personal carriers, grenade launchers and machine guns is an accident.

(Irony alert!) Maybe they are afraid that young, American black men are going to convert to Islam en masse.

Well, you say, much progress has been made over the years, we have an African-American president, don't we? American universities have opened their doors to black students, haven't they? Many African-Americans have been able to enter the professions and no longer have to live in poor, segregated neighborhoods, do they?

Actually that is part of the problem. As the snippet from the Washington Post, quoted above, points out, today young people in the ghetto have no successful role models. Before the Civil Rights movement, say during the "Harlem Renaissance" of the 1920s, both the poor and the successful black people, artists, musicians, millionaires, cleaning ladies and shoeshine boys all lived together in the same neighborhood, in communities rich in identity. Now poor young black people are simply the lowest form of urban lumpen proletariat. Comparing contemporary hip-hop lyrics to the Soul Music of the 60s and 70s gives an idea of their growing alienation.

We should never forget that the victories of the Civil Rights Movement took place during the propaganda battles of the Cold War and Martin Luther King shrewdly staged his most important actions in Birmingham Alabama, where the brutal, idiot, police chief, Bull Connor gave Soviet propaganda those wonderful photos of police dogs savaging young black men: those images and hundreds of others offset dozens of tours that Louis Armstrong made mugging and grinning his way around the Iron Curtain countries; tours which the USIA periodically organized to prove how happy American black people were.

Something had to be done.

Measures were taken to minimize the damage and the cream was skimmed off the African-American community. However when Reverend King extended his reach to the poor and disadvantaged of other colors he was quickly snuffed.

Later in a feat of post-modern, bi-partisan triangulation, Hillary's husband, Bill, cut off the welfare checks to Reagan's "welfare queens", thus literally condemning countless young black men and women to death.

Getting back to utopia.
 
If they ever could be put into effect, what would those utopian, active social polices that might change this dynamic consist of?

In my opinion, for what it is worth, the most cost effective, constructive and liberating measure, which would probably show results in less than a decade, would be to support the endless, legendary struggle of hard working, African-American women to raise their children and keep them out of trouble.

What would that solution be?

Take French lessons.

Huh?

Here is how it works:
In France, there is a heavily subsidized municipal daycare system, called la Crèche, which cares for children from three months to three years and it is here that the pace is set for a lifetime of attitudes. The Globe and Mail

(France) established a system of municipal, cooperative and parental creches equipped to take babies as young as three months, and opened pre-schools (maternelles) which every French child over the age of three (or even, outside big cities, two) could attend from 8.30am to 4.30pm with a half day on Wednesdays – for free. The Guardian

North of Paris, each morning, five days a week, Yacine and Sana, twin two-year-olds, come to the community crèche in Goutte d’Or, a working class neighborhood that has been home to generations of immigrants. Awaiting them are brightly coloured cubes they learn how to stack, and paint that they daub onto large sheets of paper. In large rooms and small corners, in daily rhythms that are carefully planned by a highly trained staff, Yacine and Sana play, eat and nap. The brother and sister have been coming to the crèche since they were three months old. Their elder sister Leila, now age five, came here before them.(...) The care the crèche offers is comprehensive, fusing health, nutrition and social services. In addition to doctors’ visits, there are regular sessions with teachers and psychologists. “Apart from its educational functions, the crèche plays a very important role in detecting and preventing children’s problems, which is especially crucial for families in difficult situations,” emphasizes the coordinator of the neighborhood crèches.  UNICEF

Finally France has an excellent universal preschool system, the ecole maternelle, where children are guaranteed a place from age 3 to 6. It runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. four days a week, and many maternelles offer a day care service after the school day ends. Here, kids learn all the important “soft skills” preschool provides as well as, in the final year, reading, writing, and basic math—preparing them for entry into the French primary school system. Slate
And it might even work politically in America eventually, because the family destroying effects of poverty are color blind and now, with the de-industrialization and Walmart+ization of the FIRE economy many working class white families are now as just fatherless, destructured, dysfunctional and headed by single women holding down several minimum wage jobs as many families headed by black women have been for quite some time.

In short:

Bringing the creche and the ecole maternelle to the USA might further empower American women and perhaps even more importantly bridge the political chasm between poor whites and poor blacks. Surely the starkest reality of progressive American politics is that there will never be a true left in the USA till poor white Americans and poor African-Americans join together to demand a new... (deal?) DS

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why are the Republicans at war with reality?

"None of the major problems facing humanity in the 21st century can be solved by the principles that still dominate the developed countries of the west: unlimited economic growth and technical progress, the ideal of individual autonomy, freedom of choice, electoral democracy. As is evident in the case of the environmental crisis, facing these problems will require in practice regulation by institutions, in theory a revision of both the current political rhetoric and even the more reputable intellectual constructions of liberalism. The question is can this be done within the framework of the rationalist, secularist and civilised tradition of the Enlightenment. As for left vs right, it will plainly remain central in an era which is increasing the gap between haves and have-nots. However, today the danger is that this struggle is being subsumed in the irrationalist mobilisations of ethnic or religious or other group identity." Eric Hobsbawm, historian - Prospect Magazine - March, 2007 

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias"
Stephen Colbert

Before we really get started we should clarify our terms, things like "liberal" and "reality", because American English is so freighted with euphemisms and constantly changing circumlocutions that it is easy to get lost in the fog. For example, when I was a boy North Korea would have been described as a "red state"... now Texas is.

Let us begin with "liberal".

In American English "liberal", depending on who is saying it can mean anything from mildly progressive to the "Weather Underground"... However liberal's universal or classic, "proper English" meaning is to be favorable to free trade, "laissez faire", economics, low taxes, "right to work" laws and deregulation... that makes Maggie Thatcher a "liberal".

So since we are speaking murky "murkin", by liberal we mean the left. So Stephen Colbert is basically saying that reality has a notably left wing bias. This takes us to "reality".

The reality I will be talking about can be pretty well summed up in two popular and contemporary books: Thomas Picketty's, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" about inequality and Naomi Klein's, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate", whose title speaks for itself.

To simplify brutally, "reality" as described by Piketty/Klein means that our planet earth is literally well on its way to being uninhabitable thanks to a tiny group (0.01%) of unimaginably wealthy individuals, who have grown wealthier and wealthier, even as the middle class has withered, an oligarchy who expect to live forever, and live forever very well indeed, probably in some gated community in what is now Antarctica.


"Perhaps it is worth remembering that Noah's Ark was not built to hold everyone, but just the lucky few."
Naomi Klein

 
The growing consciousness of this "reality" is causing many individuals who come from many very different social stratae, races, sexual orientations etc. to grow restless and dissatisfied with the present system and find themselves "at last compelled to face with sober senses (their) real conditions of life, and (their) relations with (their) kind".

In short, it is "us" versus "them".

This restless and dissatisfied state is often referred to, especially by those who deplore it, as "populism"

What does that mean?

Here is a favorable, Midwestern version of populism by Chicago's poet laureate, Carl Sandburg.

I AM THE PEOPLE, THE MOB

I AM the people--the mob--the crowd--the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is
done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
world's food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And
then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I
forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then--I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool--then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob--the crowd--the mass--will arrive then.
So what I am getting at is that those few unimaginably wealthy, now-unregulated, individuals and corporations who finance American politicians, especially Republican/Tea-Party ones, are afraid (terrified, soiling themselves from fear) that "the mob--the crowd--the mass" might just be about to "arrive" and they are willing to do anything, including making the most powerful country on earth ungovernable, in order to avoid that.

I'm sure that you are all too familiar with how this plays, but these two snippets below give the flavor perfectly and the only surprising thing I find in them is their puzzled, "how can they be so silly?" tone.
It’s a scary thought, but here it is: If some red states were to openly defy the authority of President Obama in the exercise of his constitutional duties, would today’s Republican Congress side with him? Or would they honor the insurrection?(...) The word “insurrection” does come to mind. Yet the resistance out West to federal authority has been received in virtual silence on Capitol Hill. It’s almost as if the GOP Congress wanted an uprising against the president. This country has drifted far beyond the rough-and-tumble give-and-take that historically occurs between the parties. It’s one thing to oppose the president’s policies. It’s quite another to refuse to acknowledge presidential authority. Colbert King - Washington Post

It is a peculiar, but unmistakable, phenomenon: As Barack Obama’s presidency heads into its twilight, the rage of the Republican establishment toward him is growing louder, angrier and more destructive.(...) even by the dismal standards of political discourse today, the tone of the current attacks is disturbing. So is their evident intent — to undermine not just Mr. Obama’s policies, but his very legitimacy as president. It is a line of attack that echoes Republicans’ earlier questioning of Mr. Obama’s American citizenship. Those attacks were blatantly racist in their message — reminding people that Mr. Obama was black, suggesting he was African, and planting the equally false idea that he was secretly Muslim. The current offensive is slightly more subtle, but it is impossible to dismiss the notion that race plays a role in it. Editorial - New York Times
If Piketty/Klein are right, and I believe they are, the only logical solution that might save our planet's habitability and social peace would be very stiff and omnipresent regulations on the use of energy and very high taxes on top incomes to cushion the effects of a massive reconversion of the economy... You notice I use the word "logical"

To think "logically", people must think calmly and clearly, rationally, so obviously to keep that from happening emotions must be created to keep rational thinking out of the picture. Fear, racism, anger, selfishness, hatred and war all drive out cool, collected thinking, so obviously fear, racism, anger, selfishness, hatred and war have to be promoted at all cost... cost is no problem when the future of the 0.01 percent's fortunes and power are at stake.

For those few who still read history there is nothing new here. After the defeat of WWI, with the  German population impoverished and the recent Russian revolution fresh in their minds the great industrialists of Germany were very "concerned" about the rise of Marxism in their country and took measures to put a stop to it.
By 1919 Krupp was already giving financial aid to one of the reactionary political groups which sowed the seed of the present Nazi ideology. Hugo Stinnes was an early contributor to the Nazi Party (National Socialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei). By 1924 other prominent industrialists and financiers, among them Fritz Thyssen, Albert Voegler, Adolph [sic] Kirdorf, and Kurt von Schroder, were secretly giving substantial sums to the Nazis. In 1931 members of the coalowners' association which Kirdorf headed pledged themselves to pay 50 pfennigs for each ton of' coal sold, the money to go to the organization which Hitler was building. The U.S. Kilgore Committee - "Who Financed Adolf Hitler?"
This all finally led to 4,200,000 Germans being killed in WWII (we are leaving out the 6,000,000 Jews and the 20,000,000 Russians), and of course Germany was a smoking ruin, filled with widows and orphans, but these industrialists like the Krupps and the Thyssens  made money leading up to the war, during the war (using slave labor), and after the war and the Krupps and the Thyssens, for example, are still some of richest families in Germany today. Like Naomi says, the staterooms on Noah's Ark are limited.

Every nation has its own idiosyncrasies, for example Germans wear lederhosen and Americans wear cowboy hats, so I don't imagine we'll be seeing torchlit parades of roman saluting, brown shirts, goosestepping down the broad avenues of Washington, or African-Americans being loaded onto boxcars either, for that matter.

American fascism will, like everything else American, have its own inimitable style, but I would argue that the beginning and perhaps more than the beginning, is unfolding right before our very eyes. DS




Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The real danger to Israel's survival is not Iran, it's IT and globalization

The selling point of starving or beating Iran into submission has always been that if they had even one atomic bomb they would use it to attack Israel, a nation which has from 80 to 200 such weapons, many of them in the form of long range missiles mounted on submarines, which guarantees Israel an invulnerable "second strike capability" .

The idea that Iran is planning to turn Israel, its Jewish inhabitants and a considerable number of Palestinian Muslims into a radioactive Auschwitz in exchange for having their entire nation and its 75,000,000 people turned into ashes is totally absurd. The Persians, though notably strict in their religious practice, are eminently rational and have been for thousands of years. They are just as rational as Khrushchev's USSR was. They would not start an atomic exchange that would mean the annihilation of their country.
 
The biggest problem brought on by the Iranians having a bomb would be that all the other countries in the region would want one too. That sounds terrible, but even if (Allah forbid) the Islamic State took over Saudi Arabia, I doubt that, (nutty as they are), even they would want to see the Kaaba, Mecca and Medina turned into molten glass on their watch. And I would think that the Egyptians (about the only existing nation older than Persia) are certainly as rational as the Persians.

So an atomic-weaponized Middle East would not mean a nuclear free for all, but it would mean that Israel's and America's freedom of action to behave like a colonial power "punishing the natives", would be forever curtailed.

It would be impossible for the USA to encourage Israel to continue a war like the one against Hezbollah in 2006 until it "finished the the job" or for America to have invaded an atomic weaponized Iraq for that matter either.

With atomic weapons in the mix, any action taken by Israel that could remotely set off a general war in the Middle East, where so much of the world's oil is, one with even the remotest possibility of an atomic exchange, would have to be snuffed out at the first whiff of smoke.

Lobby or no lobby, the USA would have to keep Israel on a very tight leash indeed and Israel and their lobby know that.

It is the fear of not being able to sufficiently cow the Muslim population of the Middle East, not any fear of Israel's perishing in a nuclear holocaust, that is at the bottom of Israel's drive to eliminate any vestige of Iran's nuclear program.
 
A climate of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) in the Middle East would certainly cramp Israel's style, and many Israelis would find that restraint intolerable and a significant number of the "best and the brightest" of Israel's technological elite, who could find work anywhere in the world on 24 hours notice, men and women who are essential to Israel vibrant tech economy, might very possibly take their families and head out for safer climes... Of course they plan on coming right back, but one thing leads to another... you know how it is.

Is this idea of a reverse Aliyah of geeks from Israel pure fantasy? Remember that for many hundreds of years the greatest source of Jewish wealth has always been right there between their ears, where it always was, and still is, eminently portable.
"Jews know that they can land on their feet in any corner of the world. The real test for us is to make Israel such an attractive place--cutting edge in science, education, culture, quality of life--that even American Jewish young people want to come here. If we cannot do this, even those who were born here will consciously decide to go to other places. This is a real problem." Ehud Barak
A recent survey by the Jerusalem-based Menachem Begin Heritage Center found that 59% of Israelis had approached or intended to approach a foreign embassy to ask for citizenship and a passport.(...) Insofar as Israel is very much a part of the global economy, it is no longer unusual for Israelis to commute to work in Europe and even the United States. A European or American passport renders the commute that much easier. A second-generation Israeli of Polish extraction might want a Polish passport so she can study and work freely throughout the E.U. for a few years. And an Israeli doing business in the Arab world would definitely need a second passport. And then there’s this: Despite the aspirations of Zionism to create a safe haven for the world’s Jews, Israel is hardly the safest place in the world. Can we blame Israeli parents for wanting their children to have another option, an insurance policy? The Forward
Helen Thomas, who for many years was the ancient mother superior of White House correspondents was immolated in a firestorm of her own making when she suggested that Israelis get out of the Middle East and return to Poland, Germany and America. I'm sure that one of the reasons the reaction to her off the cuff remarks was so violent was that she touched a nerve. Because as you can see from the quotes of Ehud Barack and The Forward above, quite a few Israelis are prepared and equipped to do just what she said.

Scientists, computer and aerospace engineers and the other practitioners of  the "cutting edge" technologies that make up the backbone of Israel's new information-society prosperity are in great demand in Europe and the USA and can find jobs in those countries at the drop of a hat and all that they need to continue working, without missing a beat, can probably fit onto the hard disk of a laptop computer.
 
Transferring them and their technology from one place to another would only take a matter of days. Overwhelmingly this elite is of European or American origin.

In short, if things got too rough, if the tension built up beyond a certain point the crème de la crème of Israel could be gone in a week... with nice jobs, nice homes and good schools for their children waiting for them wherever they went.

Now, of course, not all Israelis are from Poland, Russia, Germany and America, in fact over half of the Jews of Israel are "Mizrahim" or "Oriental" Jews, originally from places like Yemen, Morocco, Iraq, Algeria, etc. To cut to the chase, they are the poorest people of Israel, the least educated, with the fewest marketable skills, whose countries of origin wouldn't welcome them back, even if there were any jobs to be had in those places.

So even if a full scale war never finally broke out, if the tension became too nerve wracking, too constant, went on too long, Israel could experience a crippling brain drain and  gradually more elite Ashkenazim would take Helen Thomas's advice and at that point the vast majority of Jews left in Israel would be the less educated oriental Jews or the fundamentalist Haredim who don't even do military service. Israel would quickly be converted into a poor Middle Eastern country bordering Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
 
Where the tipping point would be is impossible to know, but I am sure that this is what Netanyahu loses sleep over, not the physical destruction of Israel and its people by rogue ayatollahs. DS

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Iran agreement and the Middle East

If you find the Middle East utterly baffling at this moment it shows that common sense has not abandoned you.

Trying to make sense of all that is happening these days in what Yasir Arafat called "Terra Sancta", puts you in a position rather like that of the French policemen scraping up all the tiny pieces of human beings spattered and scattered on Alpine slopes: because nothing will ever be the same in the Middle East after George W. Bush locked himself in the cockpit of America's foreign policy and crashed it into Iraq and then topped it off with a worldwide economic destabilization. 

The big difference being that Dubya, unlike Lubitz, can sit back home in Texas and admire his handy work.

A few years from now it will be possible to sort out the fallen debris of these catastrophes, keeping the vultures at bay and separating the DNA from the gum wrappers, but right now all we can really do is observe carefully and take names. DS

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Has Britain initiated the beginning of the end of US hegemony?

Often  what future historians will see as the most significant event of a period is buried under many other stories at the time it happens. Right now the battle against the Islamic State or the negotiations with Iran, the reelection of Netanyahu, or even the story of murderous millionaire occupy the front pages, but I would bet that in only a few years, Britain's defying the USA and joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will be seen as much more important. 

The following snippets will give you a pretty clear "story arc" of the British move.
The US has expressed concern over the UK's bid to become a founding member of a Chinese-backed development bank. The UK is the first big Western economy to apply for membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).(...) the US sees the Chinese effort as a ploy to dilute US control of the banking system, and has persuaded regional allies such as Australia, South Korea and Japan to stay out of the bank.(...) "We think that it's in the UK's national interest," said Mr Cameron's spokesperson. BBC

America’s sensitivity to the creation of banks such as AIIB is understandable. Rivalry between Washington and Beijing for global economic influence is intensifying. Since the end of the second world war, the US has been the dominant voice, partly thanks to the creation of the Washington-based World Bank and International Monetary Fund. China is now challenging the Bretton Woods set-up by creating financial bodies to help it gain greater political influence in the Asia-Pacific region and other parts of the world.(...) The US may want to stop the growth of these bodies. But its lacklustre stewardship of the Washington-based international financial institutions is one of the reasons rivals are proliferating. Financial Times

France, Germany and Italy have all agreed to follow Britain’s lead and join a China-led international development bank, according to European officials, delivering a blow to US efforts to keep leading western countries out of the new institution.(...) Australia, a key US ally in the Asia-Pacific region which had come under pressure from Washington to stay out of the new bank, has also said that it will now rethink that position.(...) South Korean media have reported that Seoul will also now rethink its decision not to join the AIIB. Japan, the US ally in the region that is most worried by China’s growing influence, is not expected to become a member. Financial Times
Why is this so important?

To simplify: American hegemonic power is based on a tripod of arms, economy and narrative (media, academia etc.). The two most unquestionably powerful are arms and economy.

America, as we are constantly being told, has the most powerful armed forces in the history of the world. But somehow, except for Panama and Grenada, America's wars don't seem to turn out that well. The last two, Afghanistan and Iraq, have turned out so badly and so fatigued American public opinion that we are forced to ask Madeline Albright's famous question, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?"

This takes us to the economy where America's power has at its heart the dollar. The greenback is the currency in which most of the world's commerce takes place... very, very simply put, the USA can very cheaply print as many dollars as it wants whenever it wants and everybody else has to use them to buy the things they need. Too good to be true? The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank could mean the end of that.

This excellent snippet from Thailand's "The Nation" will give you an idea of how much trouble the AIIB could mean for US power and the average American's pocketbook:
Once the AIIB gets off the ground, it will become an international financial institution to be reckoned with, offering financing for infrastructure projects in yuan-denominated loans. This is the underlying reason for Washington's concern over the creation of the AIIB. Allowing the yuan to flourish will hit the international standing of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency of choice. China, Russia and other BRICS countries are moving away from the dollar, preferring to trade among themselves in their own currencies. Not only will this reduce foreign exchange risks associated with the dollar, it will also promote the use of their own currencies. Washington cannot afford to let a new international foreign exchange regime come into being. With a budget deficit of $1 trillion a year, the US needs to finance its debt with borrowing. If the dollar's credibility is questionable, fewer and fewer countries and funds will be willing to become the US's creditors by buying up US bonds. The dollar will be dumped. Interest rates will rise, hurting the economy and the financial markets. The chain reaction will bring another round of financial crisis.(...) we have come to a point where the US can no longer dictate global events on its own terms. The fact that its allies are deserting to join the AIIB reflects the waning of Washington's influence. Its allies realize they will miss the boat if they fail to join the AIIB, because the growth opportunities are in Asia - not in Europe or the US, where structural problems have yet to be addressed.
And to top it off, using the AIIB, China will be able to finance the infrastructure that will unite Asia, Africa and Europe and very possibly isolate the USA with The New Silk Road.

In short: in only a few years the Communist Party of China, without firing a shot, has used the very tools of capitalism to reduce the power of the lords of modern capitalism.

 Sun Tzu would be proud. DS

Friday, March 13, 2015

Google wants (us?) to live forever

"Don't be evil" was the formal corporate motto (or slogan) of Google

“The famous Google mantra of ‘Don’t be evil’ is not entirely what it seems.”

“Evil is what Sergey [Brin] says is evil.”
“If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500? The answer is yes,” Bill Maris says one January afternoon in Mountain View, California. The president and managing partner of Google Ventures just turned 40, but he looks more like a 19-year-old college kid at midterm. He’s wearing sneakers and a gray denim shirt over a T-shirt; it looks like he hasn’t shaved in a few days. Bloomberg
When I first read about Google's plans for life eternal I thought I'd write a "think piece" about it, but then on researching the thing, I saw that many had trod the path before me. As I read though page after page I saw that Google was not alone, that Silicon Valley was filled with Forbes List billionaires putting oodles of money into research hoping to live forever.  

Reading on, it suddenly struck me that that I had seen this before... Then I remembered where... Aldous Huxley classic, "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan". 

Sergey Brin wants to become the Fifth Earl of Gonister!

Here is a quote from Wikipedia's summary of Huxley's masterpiece:
Written soon after Huxley left England and settled in California, the novel is Huxley's examination of American culture, particularly what he saw as its narcissism, superficiality, and obsession with youth.
Looked at with the eyes of Huxley, I began to think that today's Silicon Valley is nearly beyond parody and then a friend sent me this wonderful send up of the "sharing apps":

Getting serious for a moment, it seems truly "evil" that these Silicon Valley billionaires cannot see that the true health problem today is not eternal life or even a cure for cancer: it is the existence of many millions of human beings who do not have access to even the most rudimentary health care or sanitation. 

I am not asking these mega-geeks to "have a heart", I am asking them not to be stupid. In today's interconnected world which they have done so much to interconnect and which they want to interconnect infinitely, a virus that breeds in some filthy, overpopulated, third world slum, with no doctors and no toilets (near an international airport, naturally) can undergo a metamorphosis into an airborne, killer flu from one day to the next and be in San Jose in a matter of hours.

How can people who are supposed to be intelligent be so stupid? Maybe their intelligence is like "Rain Man" memorizing telephone books. DS