Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: the year of the Arab Spring and the year that we killed bin Laden

David Seaton's News Links
“The foreseeable future is Islamist – this much we know. It’s just a reality that people have to come to terms with,” says Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Doha Center. “People want to see Islam play a larger role in political life and liberals are going to have to learn to speak the language of religion and stop being the anti-Islamist choice.” Financial Times
2011 was the year that the US bagged Osama bin Laden. Some commentators think that this was a great victory, the beginning of the end of the "war on terror". Frankly, I think that if anything, his living so long after bringing down the towers and setting up the USA for two wars that have done enormous damage to our economy, was a huge defeat for American prestige. Dead, bin Laden is as much or more of a symbol, for those who need a symbol, than he was while alive. I cannot imagine that any other such small group of people as Al Qaeda have ever done so much damage to an enemy, one which is considered the most powerful country in the history of the world. The cost to them in dead, wounded and captured, and the money they have spent, is infinitesimal compared to the pain they have inflicted on their enemy.
Most of all, their success is as a catalyst for change in the world of Islam. As we have seen in the Arab Spring, Islam vertebrates any alternative to the military-secret police-oligarchy structure of the security states which have been the clients of the west since they became "independent" of direct colonial rule, nothing else is strong enough or well organized enough. Somewhat similar to the Catholic Church in communist Poland.
What Al Qaeda has done has been to widen the playing field. Before bin Laden showed how serious all this was, Turkey's Erdogan would never have been considered a "moderate", someone that could be a positive example to the Muslim world. The same could be said about the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, some of whose DNA runs though al Qaeda's veins... they too are seen as moderates when compared to the fanatical Salafists... Now they are being hopefully compared to "Christian Democrats". They owe this to Al Qaeda.
What Al Qaeda want to do is to overthrow what they perceive as the client or puppet regimes of the United States in the Middle East and they are using  US power jujitsu fashion to do that. By drawing the USA into ever more aggressive actions in the world of Islam they stimulate aversion to the "moderate" regimes that cooperate with America, in doing so, thus hastening their demise.
What is Al Qaeda's purpose in bringing down these regimes?
To restore the "Caliphate".
Now this caliphate business may sound like something right out of the "1001 Arabian Nights", redolent of Sindbad the Sailor and Aladdin and his magic lamp, or a world empire,  but here it might be useful to recall that the last Islamic caliphate ended as recently March 3, 1924, when Kemal Ataturk closed it down, threw out the Sultan (Caliph) and officially ended the Ottoman empire and westernized Turkey.  Basically then, what al Qaeda are trying to achieve is the Islamic restoration of what was the Arab part of the Ottoman empire, but run by Arabs not by Turks...That's what Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O' Toole)  was promising the Arabs (Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn)... remember?
Is this really that weird?
If you stop and think for a bit and you know your world history since WWI, you will recall that every attempt to mobilize the Arabs in order for them break from the grip of the colonial powers and the USA: pan-Arab nationalism, local nationalism, Arab varieties of socialism, military dictators or a mixture of all of these, has proved ineffectual in advancing the agenda of unity and full sovereignty. Naturally Britain, France and, of course, the USA were pleased by this failure and have always done everything in their power, from bribes to coups, to assassinations, to make that outcome inevitable. Oil or Israel, its all the same from the pan-Arab nationalist point of view, keeping the Arabs down was always the bottom line.
By a process of elimination pan-Arab nationalism has hit on the most reductive version of Islam as the only movement, ideology and source of political energy that is so decocted and fibrous and emotionally satisfying to it adherents that it cannot be co-opted, re-engineered, de-contented and manipulated by the USA.
I have thought of a rather outlier example of how this works, drawn straight from American culture: jazz.
At the end of the 1930s jazz had developed to point where white musicians were able to play it very well. Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and Gene Krupa, would be notable examples. Many young African-American musicians, notably Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie, felt that their music was being stolen out from under them by white people and set out to create a way of playing that was so original and complex that the white musicians simply couldn't play it. Thus was "Be-bop" born.
What many Muslims, violent and non-violent alike seem to have hit on is that their ancestral religion is indigestible by globalization. It is a music that globalization, in its American version, simply cannot play: a sort of divine be-bop.
Today in countries like Egypt, even moderate Muslims, people that don't plan on putting a bomb in anybody's jockey shorts, are wearing beards and hijabs and chorusing, "Islam is the answer": They see it as a vaccine against being digested and assimilated and then excreted by the dynamics of globalization.
Are Muslims just being insanely paranoiac when they accuse the United States of trying to "destroy" Islam?
In my opinion, yes and no. "Yes", from the American point of view, where we think it jolly nice if some people go to church on Sunday, others go to temple on Saturday and, what the heck, others can go to mosque on Friday if they want to... but for the rest of what is left of the week, it is business as usual or else.
"No", from the point of view of many Muslims, if by "to destroy" means "to trivialize" their religion, which, in their view, is a seven day, 24 hour a day project, which is the arbiter of all human affairs. This is contrary to the rules of our economic system: within globalization the "market" has taken on the role that Islam assigns to God. Therefore Islam being indigestible in its present form must be reshaped or "Disneyfied" if you will. Except it can't be and still be Islam.
More than confronting the American people themselves, it seems to me that Muslim fundamentalists are confronting history's most powerful exponent of a system that was once described as turning "all that is solid into air" and profaning everything sacred; leaving commerce as the fundamental activity of all human beings. If we consider in what shape our economic system has left the teachings of Jesus Christ, perhaps the Muslims aren't as far off target as they appear at first glance.
If you stop and think about it, every traditional relationship between human beings that ever existed anywhere, clan, tribe, nationality, religion, family authority, has been either dissolved or degraded by our economic system: this is what we have lost in exchange for our standard of living. We happen to be cool with that, but not everybody else is.
Be that as it may, the principal objective of Muslim fundamentalists, in my opinion, is to eject an alien civilization (us), and all those who empower it (ME regimes), from the spiritual-emotional center of Islam. At heart this is just an continuation of the dismantling of the Euro-American (white) domination of the world that began at the end of WWII, a domination which globalization has given a new breath of life.
So basically this is yet another "national liberation struggle". If we look at the cost-effectiveness of everything Al Qaeda have done since the attack on the USS Cole and the African embassies and compare it with the sacrifices made by the Vietnamese people to finally gain their independence, I imagine that sooner or later the Muslim fundamentalists are going to succeed in driving us out of the Middle East.
What happens then?
Obviously if there is a general Islamist revolution in the Middle East followed by the Magreb, with America's client regimes falling like dominoes, it would have the immediate effect of pushing the price of oil through the roof and that alone would bring on a major economic crisis. It would be every man for himself as Europe, Japan and China scrambled to assure their energy supplies. This might bring protectionism roaring in, if it didn't start a series of wars. Israel, of course, might always do something crazy, but I think that in such a situation, observers might be amazed at how "prudent" the Israelis could be, if Egypt, Jordan and Syria, for example, fell to the Muslim Brotherhood in short succession.
Whatever finally happened, the period of transformation would be a harrowing, violent roller coaster ride, however, when the transformation had been completed, we would find the resulting situation:
  1. The new rulers would immediately have to find some way of feeding their populations
  2. The only thing they would have to sell to feed them would be oil
  3. The thirst of the developed and developing nations for oil would be as great as ever.
In those three points we have the makings of a workable peace.
What would that peace look like?
The best model I can think of would be some Muslim/post-Christian version of the Treaty of Westphalia, a miracle of diplomacy whereby Protestants and Catholics managed to end the "Thirty Years War", religious conflict in Europe, and perhaps most importantly enshrined the idea of state's non-meddling in the internal affairs of other states. This idea of inviolable sovereignty had managed to limp along for hundreds of years until Bush, Blair and now Obama, under aegis of the neocons and liberal interventionists trashed it... with the results we are living with today.
In some perfect neo-Westphalian world, the Muslim minority of Europe would be allowed to practice their religion in peace and the Christian and Jewish minorities in the Middle East practice theirs. Too good to be true? Well, the part about Christians and Jews being able to practice their religions in peace in the Middle East is a workmanlike description of how the Ottoman empire worked, otherwise how do you think that 19th century Zionist settlers under the patronage of the Rothschilds were allowed to settle in Palestine in the first place? And not just the Ottomans, many westerners don't realize that until Israel's appearance on the scene there had been a vibrant Jewish community in Mesopotamia for over 4,000 years!
The bit about the Ottoman empire being a place where the three religions "of the book" lived in peace is why, contrary to many commentators, I view very favorably Turkey's moves to cool their relations with Israel and reclaim a prominent place in the world of Islam. Turkey's role in the post-American-hegemony, multipolar world of compartmentalized and case by case globalization is a key one.
Of course the joker in the deck is Israel. There is always a possibility that Israel might, finding itself "eyeless in Gaza", Samson-like pull the whole thing down around their ears, but I don't think so. I imagine rather that there will be a series of tipping points, where American public opinion visibly sours on Israel's involving the US in an endless, fruitless series of wars that deteriorate America's power and endanger American lives and  the cost of gasoline, combined with the aforesaid rise of Islamic republics in the Middle East and the Magreb... not to mention Iran's future possession of the atomic bomb, followed closely by Egypt and Saudi Arabia (then probably called the Islamic Republic of  Mecca and Medina). These tipping points will send many Israelis with double nationality heading for the doors and make it obvious to those who stay that a more accommodating manner of behavior, shall we say, is now required.
"Yihye tov" as the Israelis say, which more or less means, "things will get better," but more accurately, "it will be alright on the night," meaning: "with optimism plus improvisation things will probably turn out OK". DS

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from News Links

David Seaton's News Links
The Holy Family with St Anne,
1628, Rubens, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

I have been posting this same piece every Christmas since 2006, so you might call it an "instant tradition". I wrote it in the depths of Bush's hate filled "war on terror", but I don't see any reason to ever stop posting it.

At Christmas time we commemorate the birth of a mysterious being: a miracle working Jewish carpenter, said to be the king of heaven. One who, even for those that do not believe in him, has been the central, self-defining, personality of Western civilization for over two thousand years.

Christmas is a time to be with family and friends, or to think of them and to remember them lovingly if they are very far away or no longer among the living. It is also a time when Christians are urged to wish for 'peace on earth, good will to men' and consequentially obliged to practice the Christian virtues of forgiving and loving their enemies. However, in order to truly love one's friends and to truly forgive and to begin to love one's enemies, it is obviously essential to first begin by being able to distinguish between one's friends and one's enemies. This is not always as easy as it would appear at first glance.

Today the relations between Islam and Christianity need, more than ever, to be examined and revised. Westerners ignorance and lack of appreciation of Islam is doubly aggravated by their ignorance of Muslim's traditional knowledge and esteem of Christianity... An esteem borne out by the number of Muslims named, "Miriam," (Mary) and "Isa", (Jesus).

Tragically, little is known in the West of Islam's affection for the Virgin Mary
(Umm Isa) to whom an entire chapter of the Koran is devoted.  Christmas time is uniquely suited to listening to its spellbinding recitation.

Karen Armstrong, a former nun and perhaps the English language's most interesting writer on comparative religions, published the article quoted below in The Guardian back in December of 2006. It makes a perfect Christmas meditation in these times of hatred and intolerance. DS
The Muslim prophet born in Bethlehem
Karen Armstrong - Guardian
Abstract: In 632, after five years of fearful warfare, the city of Mecca in the Arabian Hijaz voluntarily opened its gates to the Muslim army. No blood was shed and nobody was forced to convert to Islam, but the Prophet Muhammad ordered the destruction of all idols and icons of the Divine. There were a number of frescoes painted on the inner walls of the Kabah, the ancient granite shrine in the centre of Mecca, and one of them, it is said, depicted Mary and the infant Jesus. Immediately Muhammad covered it reverently with his cloak, ordering all the other pictures to be destroyed except that one. This story may surprise people in the west, who have regarded Islam as the implacable enemy of Christianity ever since the crusades, but it is salutary to recall it during the Christmas season when we are surrounded by similar images of the Virgin and Child. It reminds us that the so-called clash of civilisations was by no means inevitable. For centuries Muslims cherished the figure of Jesus, who is honoured in the Qur'an as one of the greatest of the prophets and, in the formative years of Islam, became a constituent part of the emergent Muslim identity. There are important lessons here for both Christians and Muslims - especially, perhaps, at Christmas. The Qur'an does not believe that Jesus is divine but it devotes more space to the story of his virginal conception and birth than does the New Testament, presenting it as richly symbolic of the birth of the Spirit in all human beings (Qur'an 19:17-29; 21:91). Like the great prophets, Mary receives this Spirit and bears Jesus, who will, in his turn, become an ayah, a revelation of peace, gentleness and compassion to the world.(...) The Muslim devotion to Jesus is a remarkable example of the way in which one tradition can be enriched by another. It cannot be said that Christians returned the compliment. While the Muslims were amassing their Jesus-traditions, Christian scholars in Europe were denouncing Muhammad as a lecher and charlatan, viciously addicted to violence. But today both Muslims and Christians are guilty of this kind of bigotry and often seem eager to see only the worst in each other. The Muslim devotion to Jesus shows that this was not always the case. In the past, before the political dislocations of modernity, Muslims were always able to engage in fruitful and stringent self-criticism. This year, on the birthday of the Prophet Jesus, they might ask themselves how they can revive their long tradition of pluralism and appreciation of other religions. For their part, meditating on the affinity that Muslims once felt for their faith, Christians might look into their own past and consider what they might have done to forfeit this respect.  READ IT ALL

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cher North Korea — mon semblable, — mon frère!

David Seaton's News Links
The great preponderance of this so-called truth is a confection of outright lies—not merely false but, more perniciously, a form of unreality, imposed with such relentlessness and violence on a people hermetically sealed from any alternative sources of information that it has become their only reality. A North Korean who does not believe the state’s every claim is left with the void of dumb disbelief, for it is impossible in Kim Il Sung Nation—as the North is sometimes described in its own proclamations—to find anything else to believe in.  Philip Gourevitch - The New Yorker
Hollywood, the news industry and television, all corporate controlled, have become instruments of inverted totalitarianism. They censor or ridicule those who critique or challenge corporate structures and assumptions. They saturate the airwaves with manufactured controversy, whether it is Tiger Woods or the dispute between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien. They manipulate images to make us confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge, which is how Barack Obama became president. And the draconian internal control employed by the Department of Homeland Security, the military and the police over any form of popular dissent, coupled with the corporate media’s censorship, does for inverted totalitarianism what thugs and bonfires of books do in classical totalitarian regimes.(...)The civic, patriotic and political language we use to describe ourselves remains unchanged. We pay fealty to the same national symbols and iconography. We find our collective identity in the same national myths. We continue to deify the Founding Fathers. But the America we celebrate is an illusion. It does not exist. Our government and judiciary have no real sovereignty. Our press provides diversion, not information. Our organs of security and power keep us as domesticated and as fearful as most Iraqis. Capitalism, as Karl Marx understood, when it emasculates government, becomes a revolutionary force. And this revolutionary force, best described as inverted totalitarianism, is plunging us into a state of neo-feudalism, perpetual war and severe repression. The Supreme Court decision is part of our transformation by the corporate state from citizens to prisoners. Chris Hedges - Truthdig
surrealism [səˈrɪəˌlɪzəm]
A movement in art and literature characterized by the evocative juxtaposition of incongruous images in order to include unconscious and dream elements.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

A salute to Thomas Friedman

David Seaton's News Links
Last Tuesday the 13th Thomas Friedman did a very brave thing, he published the following:
I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby. The real test is what would happen if Bibi tried to speak at, let’s say, the University of Wisconsin. My guess is that many students would boycott him and many Jewish students would stay away, not because they are hostile but because they are confused. Thomas Friedman - New York Times
This is a sample of the response he got:
The notion that the only reason politicians support Israel is because of Jewish money is a central myth of a new form of anti-Semitism which masquerades as a defense of American foreign policy against the depredations of a venal Israel lobby. This canard not only feeds off of the traditional themes of Jew-hatred, it also requires Friedman to ignore the deep roots of American backing for Zionism in our history and culture. Jonathan S. Tobin - Commentary
Anybody that reads my stuff will know that I am no fan of Thomas Friedman, but I have to admit that he has taken a very brave stand by writing the column he published last Tuesday in the New York Times. It is brave because you can be sure that Friedman, who is an observant Jew and an active participant in his community's life, is going to come under very heavy pressure from that community for what he wrote.  This is what Judge Richard Goldstone went through before he recanted from the UN report that bears his name:
When Richard Goldstone returned home to South Africa last May for his grandson’s bar mitzvah — an event that he was almost unable to paticipate in because of protests planned against him — he also attended a separate meeting whose details were kept secret until now. In the wake of Goldstone’s bombshell retraction of a key finding in the famous report that bears his name, those aware of what occurred at that meeting, individuals who have known him through the years, felt moved to disclose what happened. They joined many others in puzzling over what had prompted the famous jurist to change his mind — and, they hoped, Israel’s fate. The meeting, an official parlay between Goldstone and a cross-section of 10 of the South African Jewish community’s top leaders, had a profound impact on Goldstone, said one participant and another senior official briefed on it afterward.(...) The meeting in South Africa came on the heels of Goldstone’s 11th hour decision to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah — a decision he took only after threats were withdrawn by prominent community members to protest outside the synagogue. Did all this add up to an emotional punch that would cause Goldstone’s turnaround? It may be too simplistic to reduce the process to that. But several friends cited what they viewed as the cumulative toll of a stream of calumny hurled at the famously unemotional jurist.“It has been like watching an innocent man whipped at the stake,” said Goldstone’s friend Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founder of Ms. magazine. Forward
This is all par for the course, the default reaction of the Israel lobby is and always has been, "the whole world are hypocrites, Israel is terribly misunderstood, your eye punched my fist", when the problem for Israel is that, with every passing day, Israel is getting better and better understood than ever before and the mechanisms that give Israel impunity are getting clearer every day too. As even the head of Mossad says, Israel is getting to be a burden and not an asset for the USA. The question is how long can you keep a lead balloon airborne?
What Israel and friends of Israel should be concerned about is that the number of people in the "west" who are thoroughly sick of Israel is growing exponentially. The problem is that the people now in power in Israel believe that everyone who isn't Jewish, if you only scratch the surface, is a default antisemite anyway and it is naive to try to conform to their hypocritical rules of conduct.
Of course, in the end, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can lower the bar on judging what is antisemitism to the point where anyone that wont give a moral blank check to Israel is an antisemite. Then you are putting decent people in the same bag with David Duke and decent people resent that sort of thing.
Finally, people will have had enough and no matter how much military might or political leverage is employed, universally adverse opinion reaches a tipping point. People will simply refuse to swallow any more. At that point things begin to move very quickly and no amount of hasbara will hide the simple reality of an apartheid rogue state, armed with atomic weapons, that has managed to unman the American political class.
So today, it is hats off to Thomas Friedman, who has done something braver than many of us will ever have the chance to do. DS

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Global Village and the Global Village Idiot

David Seaton's News Links
Decontent: Auto industry term for removing features from upcoming model years, usually to save money. Urban Dictionary
There is a very dangerous mood about. Simple contempt for the political representatives, the media and the giants of finance, abounds. This is an inflammable mass, like gasoline vapors, just waiting for a spark. So much contempt for others always contains much self-contempt, which is perhaps humanity's most murderous emotion.
America has the good fortune to possess noble, time-tested, institutions, but institutions without people to color in the lines are only historical curiosities to be studied in libraries. Society and institutions are not one and the same thing. Great institutions, of themselves, are not enough; the society that inhabits them counts for much more. Institutions and societies can be hollowed out and the process is mysterious to all who live through it. We must also include our new technologies in the mix; they lend the speed of light to man's natural cupidity and stupidity and make our era look even more sordidly tacky than it would if all we had were the steam engine and the telegraph to magnify our will and transmit our desires.
We have come to a point where, with this alignment of the planets, in many countries around the world anything could happen. Only our long democratic history and our constitutional traditions reassure us that all will finally be well.
However, if we say that Guantanamo is twenty first century America's answer to habeas corpus, FISA, twenty first century America's answer to English common law, the Republican primary debates twenty first century America's answer to Abraham Lincoln and the bailout of the banks, twenty first century America's answer to free market capitalism; then how much of all that is really left?
A global village is bound to have a global village idiot. DS

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chris Hedges: impossible to tell more truths better and in less time

David Seaton's News Links
Since I live under a rock, Chris Hedges was completely off my radar, but I can't remember hearing more truths in 27 minutes in my whole life than those contained in this video. I find it especially interesting that a graduate of Harvard Divinity School should be a war correspondent. To have been good enough at it to become a bureau chief of the New York Times and then get canned for denouncing the invasion of Iraq is to have achieved a rare perfection. He seems to me a worthy successor to Noam Chomsky (may he live a hundred years). DS

Monday, December 12, 2011

Russia: be careful what you wish for

David Seaton's News Links

I think one should always be careful what one wishes for.. We've already seen it ourselves, how all the a la page Egyptian bloggers and tweeters and facebookies simply opened the door for the Islamists. 
Think about it for a moment.... What is the biggest party in Russia opposing Putin?
The Communist Party, right?
If you were Russian and angry about what so much of the developed world is angry about today: growing social and income inequality... who are the natural ones in Russia to address that issue directly?
The Communist Party, right?
If you were a Russian nostalgic for a glorious, triumphal past, who represents that in Russia?
The Communist Party, right?
If you simply found yourself as a Russian, impoverished, with an absurd pension and no medical care... who you gonna call?
The Communist Party, right?
And if a revolution/rebellion destabilized the present power structures in Russia, who are trained from infancy to relish and exploit such a situation, to become the "vanguard" of such a situation?
The Communist Party, right?
History is a laugh riot, when you think about it. DS

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Plan - B

David Seaton's News Links
Foreclosure is a national tragedy and a relentless drag on economic growth. Jobs can’t be created until demand increases, and demand won’t increase until consumers get out of debt, and housing is the biggest obstacle. If we had healthy institutions, the White House, both parties in Congress, the leaders of the biggest banks, and consumer groups would have sat down together and worked out a solution that keeps millions of people in their homes without wiping their debts completely clean. But we don’t, and so the history of the past few years has been written by Rick Santelli and Occupy Wall Street. George Packer - New Yorker
The big question that people who want to change things have to ask themselves over and over is "what is to be done". That is the question that OWS must ask itself and answer quickly if it doesn't want to peter out into irrelevance... something that would be tragic if it were to occur.
The role of OWS is pedagogical, it is about raising awareness, consciousness. This is the terrain of what is known as the "propaganda of the deed". A practical, non-violent, American illustration of this would be the lunch counter sit-ins and  freedom riders of the Civil Rights Movement, photogenic action which captured the attention of the media daily and soon the imagination and the "hearts and minds" of the American people. These acts were the thin wedge that opened up the conscience and the consciousness of Americans and changed the face of America.
In my opinion the tragedy of mass foreclosures and thousands upon thousands of Americans being evicted from their homes in the midst of the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression is an issue that has the same transformational potential.
Here is another quote from George Packer's article, that shows that political work is waiting to be done:
There’s no powerful D.C. lobby supporting Americans in Foreclosure, no mass movement of underwater mortgagees. Like unemployment, it’s a trauma that isolates people, leaving them to fend for themselves.
Few things could be more inspiring of compassion, empathy and fellow feeling than watching men, women and children being torn from their homes and ejected into the streets... only a heart of stone (and there are plenty of those) could fail to be moved by such a sight. Anyone who stands up for them and defends them is bound to win the sympathy and support of most decent human beings.
Showing the evicted -- or the about to be evicted-- that they are not alone, not leaving them to fend for themselves, would be the fulcrum that could turn the OWS into a powerful lever for changing the political life of America forever, in the same way that the Civil Rights Movement did.
How would this defense take place?
On one hand it would require an army of lawyers working pro bono to review all paper work leading to the foreclosures as much of it appears to be shoddy, slapdash and even outrageously fraudulent. Organizing this army of investigators and putting them on the case would win the gratitude and even the love of millions of Americans.
The next line of defense would be direct actions of non-violent, civil disobedience. Sit-ins, where dozens, hopefully hundreds, of activists would have to be carted away, one at a time, by police before the eviction could ever take place... with all the media recording it... every day, everywhere in America. The impact would be tremendous, transformational.
During these months of occupations, friendships of the like-minded without number have been made and a huge network of the politically conscious has been created. This instrument should be put to use in a way that connects in solidarity with the deepest fears of their fellow citizens. In doing this, a much, much more powerful instrument will be created, one that could forever change and purify the face of American politics. DS

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


David Seaton's News Leaks
The first round of voting in Egypt shows a strong showing for the Islamic parties, both the Muslim Brotherhood and the more extreme Salifist party Al-Nour. At this point the Islamists appear to have taken two thirds of the vote
This first round took place in urban districts where more western oriented parties were expected to make a good showing. The next round of voting will take place in rural areas, which are more traditional and conservative, so the final result will probably have the Islamists with clear, governing majorities. In the west there is now much wailing and gnashing of teeth at this turn of events. In my opinion, whether this is bad news or good news for the west depends much more on us than on the Egyptians.
The first task of a democratically elected government is to deliver the goods to the voters. As Egypt's tourist industry is probably its biggest source of foreign exchange, I would imagine that a stable, democratically elected government of any ideological color would try to create an environment where tourists feel safe. In my opinion a democratically elected Islamic government might be the most efficient bulwark imaginable against terrorist groups aiming to disrupt tourism, thereby emptying that government's coffers. Starting a war with Israel would also be a distraction from eliminating corruption and bringing better social services to the population, which have always been the hallmark issues of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is likely that in the medium to long term the most important result of the Egyptian revolution will be Egypt's return to being the intellectual and cultural center of the Arab world...  Without Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are only poor substitutes. A democratic Egypt (Islamic or not) will dynamize the entire region... neutralizing that soft power was Washington's aim in supporting Mubarak.
Probably the greatest danger to Israel from the new Egypt would come from Egypt's soft power, not its military forces. More than tanks and rockets, Egypt means movies and books and the Al-Azhar university (founded in 970AD). This renewed cultural projection and prestige will change the entire texture of Arab culture and Sunni Islam in the coming years.
The biggest error hand wringers are making is to confuse Egypt with Iran. Shiite Islam is a minority in the Muslim world and Iranians are not Arabs. The religion of Egypt is Sunni Islam and Egypt is the largest and most important Arabic speaking, Sunni Muslim country, so whatever the effect of an Islamist Egypt will be, it will be bigger than the effect of an Islamist Iran, because it will occur within the dominant religious current and in the principal language of the Middle East and in its most important nation.  It will be most interesting to see if Egypt joins Saudi Arabia in opposing Iran or whether they will extend their hand to the Ayatollahs.
As far as the USA is concerned the problem of the Middle East is a problem of domestic American politics. Israel is the measure of all things and Israel is a society in crisis and just as a person with a toothache, when tiny Israel twinges, the US political establishment can think of little else. And just as a person with a toothache has problems thinking straight. American policy in the Middle East is wallowing in incoherency and has been for years.
Israel is not in a happy situation, all the tides in the region are running against them and with all their eggs  in the American basket they watch uneasily  as the USA  pulls back from its military involvement in the Middle East.  Certainly any democratic regime in Egypt or any other Arab country is not going to be friendly to Israel, certainly while the Palestinians are being treated as they are...  As it stands today, I cannot image any revitalization and empowerment of the Arab masses could ever benefit Israel, I think it is way too late for that. The Israelis had a real chance for peace after Bush the First won the opening round of the Iraq war, they passed it up, too bad for them, ... Like Bessie Smith once put it, if they make their own bed hard, that's the way it lies. DS

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The magnificent quest for Shinola

David Seaton's News Links
Shinola, take a whiff

Watching the antics of Romney, Santorum, Bachman, Paul, Cain and Perry and contemplating the mere possibility that someone who should only be handled with forceps like Newt Gingrich could now lead a party once led by Abraham Lincoln or Dwight Eisenhower, one gets the feeling that the spirit of the republic is a little like the Bruce Willis character in "The Sixth Sense", he's dead but doesn't know it yet and only one small boy seems to understand the situation... Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement is that "small boy".
In American-Speak someone of little understanding is said to be unable to distinguish between excrement and shoe polish, we say then that he or she "can't tell shit from Shinola".  It appears that in the Occupy Wall Street movement, a perhaps critical mass of Americans have taken it upon themselves to investigate the why and the how of the odor coming from the collective "shoe" and have set about to do something about it. Not a moment too soon if the race for the Republican presidential nomination is any sort of a leading olfactory indicator of the nation's mental health.
There is certainly a sense that something is terribly wrong, something mysterious, but I think it could be something quite simple, if intractable, that is afflicting the system. Like the Bruce Willis character, we really don't understand our true situation. In my opinion we are going through something similar to what the USSR went through only a little more than twenty years ago. Twenty years may seem a long time to someone under forty, but in historical terms it is nothing more than a blink of the eye. From the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 to the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 is only twenty years.
Absurd, you say, the two systems are totally different, like oil and water... I would say that the similarities are more interesting than the differences and that America has simply been more efficient than the USSR was in resisting the same acids that are eating away at its structures in much the same way as they did on the Soviet's.
Both the USSR and the USA have relied on huge government spending to propel their economies. The role of government funded research has been essential in almost every high tech area: computers, the Internet, aviation, etc, in all of them the input of the state has been paramount. Where the United States won hands down was in turning the sophisticated technology so expensively acquired into affordable consumer products and fomenting never-never credit to keep them affordable when salaries stagnated.
"What about freedom?", you say, to which I would reply that the social control of the Soviet system was extraordinarily brutal and primitive compared to our system of social control, which is infinitely more sophisticated than theirs was. I never lived in the Soviet Union and my experience of how a well-oiled dictatorship controls public opinion comes from having lived in Franco's Spain. Franco lasted forty years and the Soviets lasted seventy. Although the USSR was communist and Spain's regime was authoritarian/fascist, the similarities in maintaining control would be great.
Under Franco, all newspapers were of course owned by people approved of by the regime, however until very late into the dictatorship, all articles appearing them were previously censored before publication, after that any violation of the regime's standards could be punished by imprisonment and fines. There was only one television channel to begin with, later two, both state owned and censored, as were all books, stage plays and  films, which were previously dubbed into Spanish. There were private radio stations, but they all connected to the state radio for all their hourly news programs. Here is something that will give you an idea of how paranoiac such a regime can be: radio dispatched taxis came into use in the USA in the late 1940s, but they were still forbidden in Spain until well after the dictator's death, as they constituted an independent communication network outside state control. There is no way that the Franco regime could have ever tolerated the Internet, cell phones, SMS or social networks. 
Getting back to the Soviet Union I have read that you needed very high level permission to even have access to a photocopying machine.  A system of social control cannot operate successfully in an environment of free movement of information. 
This is where the USA has always been more sophisticated and effective, however, like the mysterious intruder in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death", you can run, but you can't hide and the same forces that brought down the Soviets and would have made Franco's regime impossible, have morphed under the combination of US military technology, hooked to an insatiable consumer society and are now even eating away at the American system.
As we observe in the political paralysis of today, the Founding Fathers of 18th century, WASP, America created a political structure that is not designed to reflect a society as complex and multicolored as contemporary America's has turned out to be. 
The centrifugal forces of a country as huge and diverse as America's have been kept more or less under control until recently by what Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann called, "the management of consent", that is to say the American science of public relations applied to forming public opinion. Heretofore "freedom of the press" required the money to buy a press in the first place, therefore the creation of opinion was in the safe hands of people with enough money to pay to play. The major newspapers, radio and TV networks and of course Hollywood all worked together naturally to manufacture a national opinion leading to political consensus.
Herein lies the importance of the OWS, with its 99% slogan... this is a self generating phenomenon, which has required minimal capital outlay to influence the opinion of millions of people, which is helping many millions to tell the shit from the Shinola. This is totally outside the control of those who have always manufactured consent until now. OWS is only the beginning, in a couple of years it will be looked back on tenderly like watching a home movie of a baby's first steps.
However "our" system has been reacting to this danger its own technology and marketing have produced -- again with much more sophistication than the USSR or Franco could have ever have mustered -- and under the cover of the war on terrorism, or the protection of intellectual property, is putting mechanisms in place that only await a "national emergency" to tug on our leash.
In short "shoe sniffing" is a fight that is never fully won, but never must be lost.
A toast to Shinola! DS